Srikrishna's Childhood Pranks and the Philosophical Tenets of the Bhagavatam

This article is part 13 of 20 in the series Puranas

The first aspect is Srikrishna’s childhood. Like in the daily lives of most children in the world, we notice several playful and naughty episodes in the boy Krishna’s life. These pranks appear exaggerated in the episodes of stealing butter and milk. The poet inflates these themes in order to create a panoramic and strong picture in the minds of the readers. In poetry, it is a natural process to take a small or minor element and exaggerate it to gigantic proportions. However, in history, courts of law, and banks, the subjects we speak must be carefully weighed and expressed without any inaccuracy. Numbers and weights and measures are not important in poetry. The intrinsic nature of the subject must be clearly imprinted in the reader’s mind. Owing to this intent, the words of the poet become a magnifying glass. A mustard seed will become a pumpkin. Those who read poetry keeping in mind that it is indeed poetry will not confound the poet’s exaggeration as an error. It is essential for the success of poetry to inculcate a feeling of wonder in the mind of the connoisseur. Therefore, we don’t need to get into the minute details of the descriptions of Krishna’s boyhood exploits. (Srikrishna Parikshanam, pp 32-33)

As regards the play with the Gopikas, the following is DVG’s conclusion:

1.    Srikrishna was not lascivious or a womaniser.

2.    He fulfilled the desires of those who came to him seeking fulfilment.

3.    He gave treatment for their diseases.

4.    It was the treatment done through gentle persuasion and not punishment. It was akin to the method of instruction of a teacher who has genuine affection for his pupils who are still children.

5.    Srikrishna’s methods worked. Those who sought his help eventually reverted to the right path.

6.    The Gopikas were not loose women; they were not prostitutes.

7.    Apart from being loyal to their husbands, they had devotion only for Srikrishna, and no other man.

8.    This devotion stemmed from their recognition that he was indeed the human form and incarnation of Paramatman.

9.    Just as how Draupadi had five husbands, the Gopis had two husbands. Krishna was their Divine husband.

10. The Gopas—i.e., their husbands, did not feel that their wives were separated from them.

11. Sexual lust is a common human impulse. It has no distinctions of man and woman. It is well-concealed in some; in others, it is explicit. No harm or fury is caused to the society from people who don’t express it freely. It becomes a disease to those who are unable to control it. Thus it calls for treatment. 

12. Thus, the moniker of corajāraśikhāmai (crown-jewel of thieves and Casanovas) applied to Srikrishna is actually an allegation hurled at him by poets and Harikatha exponents. In reality, it is a humorous exaggeration; however, it has become so extreme as to cover the truth and publicize untruth. (pp 35-36)

DVG has analysed these elements in great detail by providing a solid body of evidence.

“The Gopis were suffering from a disease called sexual desire. It did not lend itself to any other cure. Thus, Srikrishna was that Divine Doctor who gave it the treatment that would cure it and put them on the path of virtue.” This is DVG’s stand. In addition, he offers a caution. He says that this method was a special Dharma (viśeṣa Dharma) of Divine People like Srikrishna who had mastered their senses, had transcended desire itself and all their actions were solely aimed at the welfare of the world. Therefore, only Ishwaras like him could adopt such methods. If ordinary humans attempted such endeavours, it would culminate in certain disaster.

When we examine works like the Bhagavatam and Vishnupurana, we find substantial evidence for this stand of DVG.

The Mahabharata and the 11th Skanda of the Bhagavatam are good works to analyse Srikrishna’s policy of statecraft and his philosophical expositions.

Chapter 5: The Philosophical Elements in the Bhagavatam

A Profound Constitution of Poetry

Describing the glory of the Bhagavatam, the Padmapurana says:

pibata bhāgavataṃ rasamālayam |
muhuraho rasikā bhuvi bhāvukāḥ ||

This is extraordinarily meaningful. In fact, the tenth Skanda, especially, is a Constitution of Poetry imbued with the laws of Rasa and Bhava. Earlier in this essay, we have already seen several instances that prove this. The same holds true for the latter portion of this Skanda. Episodes such as Rukmini’s love for Krishna (Chapters 53, 54), the love-laden conversations of Krishna and Rukmini (60), the episode of Sudama (80-81), meeting of the Nandas and the Yadavas on the battlefield of Kurukshetra (82), abduction of Subhadra (86)—all these are congealed cakes of Rasa. Tender feelings of love, mirth, and affection are expressed here in a truly beautiful manner. All these episodes can easily vie with and even triumph over any Mahakavya.

Philosophical Discursion

A specialty of the Bhagavatam is its brilliant analysis and contemplation of deep philosophical topics in the form of hymns and discourses. It deliberately creates several situations, and all these situations are interwoven within the story of the Bhagavatam. The story of the Bhagavan (Srikrishna) is a pure canvas on which to paint profound philosophical tenets. Further atop it is pictured an abundance of spiritual topics in an appealing manner.

What are the philosophical and spiritual treatises expounded herein? Is it Dvaita? Advaita? Vishishtadvaita? Or some other Darshana? All sects of Sanatana Dharma have written commentaries on the Bhagavatam in accordance with the teaching of their own sects. Following the āgama of the pañcarātra, a new philosophical school named bhāgavata-darśana has been propounded by recent commentators and scholars. Indeed, Vidvans have the special ability to strangle the nuances of language and dig out newer meanings according to their convenience. Bhartruhari, the great philosopher who predated Adi Sankara says the following about the meaning of the Veda:

tasyārthavādarūpāṇi niḥśritāḥ svavikalpajāḥ ||
ekatvināṃ dvaitināṃ ca pravādā bahudhā matāḥ || (vākyapadīya, brahmakāṇḍa, śloka 8) 

Using the interpretative verses and phrases of the Vedas, the Advaitins and Dvaitins have propounded all sorts of statements arising solely out of their defects of their own minds.

Note: In the foregoing verse, arthavāda literally means, “statement of meaning.”

After this, Bhartruhari has set out his own stand in “satyā viśuddhistatroktā…” Bhartruhari was an Advaitin. He was an exponent of the śabdabrahma (transcendental sound of the Veda). Seekers of philosophical Truth may examine these verses of the tenth Skanda of the Bhagavatam:

1.  evaṃ svamāyāraciteśvasau pumān |
guṇeṣu rāgānugato vimuhyati || (1.43)

2. bhavo nirodhaḥ sthitirapyavidyayā |
kṛtā yatastvayyabhayāśrayātmani || (2.39)

3. tadanu tvaṃ hyapraviṣṭaḥ praviṣṭa iva bhāvayase || (3.14)

4. rūpaṃ yattat prāhuravyaktamādyaṃ |
brahma jyotirnirguṇam nirvikāraṃ ||
sattāmātraṃ nirviśeṣaṃ nirīhaṃ |
sa tvaṃ sākṣāt viṣṇuradhyātmadīpaḥ || (3.24)

5. eka eva paro hyātmā sarveṣāmapi dehināṃ |
nāneva gṛhyate mūḍhairyathā jyotiryathā nabhaḥ || (54 - 44)

5. yathā śayāna ātmānaṃ viṣayān phalameva ca |
anubhuṅktepyasatyarthe tathāpnotyabudho bhavaṃ || (54 - 48)    

To be continued         



Mahamahopadhyaya Vidwan Ranganatha Sharma was a renowned Sanskrit scholar and an authority on Vyakarana or Grammar. He is noted for his translation of the entire Valmiki Ramayana into Kannada, which was published with a foreword by DVG. He has authored several books in Kannada and Sanskrit. He is a recipient of the national award for Sanskrit learning and has received the Rajyotsava Award.  



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इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


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