Srirama and Srikrishna
Mahavishnu incarnated as Srirama in the Treta Yuga and as Srikrishna in the Dwapara Yuga. Both incarnations were donned for destroying evil and upholding Dharma. Srirama did this work in the form of an ordinary mortal. He voluntarily subjected himself to all the trials and tribulations that fall upon any human being in this world. He was assailed by several problems. He confronted all of these with extraordinary courage, triumphed, and became renowned as a Mahatma and puruṣottama (literally, the best among men). When deities like Brahma praise him verily as the Paramatman, he says, “What are you saying! I am an ordinary person named Rama. I am Dasharatha’s son.” (ātmānaṃ mānuṣaṃ manye rāmaṃ daśarathātmajam (yuddha kāṇḍa: 120.11)). He does not dream of any other woman apart from Sita.
Srikrishna’s story is of another sort. Right at his birth he shows his divine form and tells them who he really is. His childhood exploits are superhuman. The Yadavas, Pandavas, and Rajas of faraway kingdoms know that he is indeed the Lord of the World, that he is Mahavishnu. They know that he has taken this avatar for the well-being of the world. However, it is difficult to say with certainty how people like Rukmi, Jarasandha, Shishupala and others regarded him. But even people who know who he really is sometimes behave with him in an immature fashion. This is difficult to explain.
Srikrishna never hides his real form. When time comes, he shows that he is indeed the Paramatman through his words and deeds.
Srikrishna did not opt for strict monogamy. Apart from eight wives, he married thousands of other women. He indulged in amorous play with Gopis in Nandagokula. Although he was fond of beauty and amour, the number of sixteen thousand and a hundred wives attributed to him does not sit well with our imagination. Likewise, the claim that he sired lakhs of children from these women stretches our belief. Thus, we can only surmise that such fantastic imputations were the methods which the Bhagavatas used in order to emphasise the infinite strength of endless glory of Paramatman.
It is important for the reader to remember what the Bhagavata says: Srikrishna was always present in the home of each of these wives as their husband and performed the daily rites of ceremonial bath, Sandhyavandanam, Homam, charity, etc. That is, there were sixteen thousand Srikrishnas, residing in these homes each.
Regarding Srikrishna’s sport with the Gopikas, we have already summarized Dr. D.V.G’s opinion. In this context, we can also note the following.
It was perhaps the intent of the Bhagavatas to show that the love that the Gopikas had towards Srikrishna was one of the expressions of Bhakti. The behaviour of these women who ignored even their husbands and merged with Srikrishna is certainly against commonly accepted rules of morality. However, their intense love was not reserved for an ordinary mortal but for the omnipresent Bhagavan. The stand of the Bhagavatas is that this love was the ultimate Dharma that transcended this world. Thus, although the primary impulse of these women stemmed from lust, it was not impure. In reality, Srikrishna was not the “other man” to these women. He was the very Atman that resides in the heart of every unstained connoisseur. He was not an outsider to anyone. If it is Dharma on the part of a man who forgets his wife and children in his intense Bhakti for the Bhagavan, the same reasoning should hold valid for women who do likewise. In this context, it is not appropriate to even make distinctions of gender. Bhakti is nothing but the highest and most truthful love one has towards the Bhagavan. But once again, the objection that the love of the Gopikas originated in the impulse of lust will arise. But that very objection is immaterial by itself. Fire will burn a person who touches it irrespective of his impulse. Likewise, sugar will taste sweet if we put it in our mouth.
Uddhava goes to Brindavana from Madhura carrying Srikrishna’s message. The Gopis approach him and confide their anguished pangs of separation from Srikrishna. Like frenzied women, they cry their hearts out. Uddhava who is stunned by this sheer intensity of their love for Krishna says:
kvemāḥ striyo vanacarīrvyabhicāraduṣṭāḥ
“Where are those women who are endowed with a lustful nature, roaming around in the forests? And where are these women who have such profound and intense Bhakti for Srikrishna? Just like how the best medicine gives the desired results even if it is consumed in ignorance, Paramatman personally bestows his divine blessings even to fools who inadvertently chant his name.”
Even as Uddhava roams around the streets of Brindavana, his mind is occupied with the thoughts of this intense love of the Gopikas. At one point, he is overcome with emotion:
āsāmaho caraṇareṇujuṣāmahaṃ syāṃ
vrundāvano kimapi gulmalatauśadhīnāṃ || (47-61)
“Shouldn’t I be born in this Vrundavana as a bush, shrub, creeper and plant sanctified by the dust of the feet of these Gopikas?”
“The Vedas continue to seek the best path to attain the Bhagavan. But these cow-tending women have already attained that exalted status by following the path prescribed by the Arya-Dharma, invisible even to the Vedas!”
This is well and good. From all this, we definitely get the justification of the Gopikas. However, does this mean that Srikrishna, the very embodiment of Dharma, can use the love of the Gopikas in this condemnable fashion? Can he endorse and encourage such behaviour? To answer this question, we must not regard Srikrishna as a mere human being. Because he is the very Parameshwara who rules and sustains the entire cosmos, he has conducted himself in like manner in his avatara as Srikrishna. The profound devotion that originates in a Bhakta owing to the accumulation of virtues in past births is given a boost by Srikrishna. This is his method of working.
ye yathā māṃ prapadyante tāṃstathaiva bhajāmyaham || (bhagavad gīta 4.11)
Those who worship me with specific desires, I grant them those desires accordingly.
The Gopikas were endowed with peerless love for him. Thus, it was Srikrishna’s duty to bolster it and bless them accordingly. He never became bound by their love. When duty summoned him, he broke those bonds like a strand of grass and departed for Mathura. He never looked back at Brindavana nor did he remember the Gopis. After years pass, they meet him again at Kurukshetra, an incident in which the outpouring of their love reaches a climactic pitch. At this juncture, he delivers a profound discourse on spirituality, consoles them and sends them back.
The Bhagavan is unattached and free. Who is an outsider to the Paramatman who is all-pervading and omniscient, who resides in the very Atman of everyone? Who is the “other woman?” Where is the woman in this world that he has not touched? Which is the place, which is the transaction that is a secret to him? Where is that virtuous woman (pativrata) who can keep away Bhagavan Vayu as the “other man?”
When the Gopikas meet Srikrishna at Kurukshetra after several decades, he says to them:
“Even animals who repose Bhakti in me, attain Moksha. You developed love for me on account of your own virtues. That love will make you merge in me and deliver Moksha. I am the Beginning, End, I am the Insider and Outsider to every sentient and other beings.” (83-45, 47)
The Bhagavats were not unaware of the moral restrictions governing the relationship of the Gopikas with Srikrishna. Indeed, Parikshita poses this question to the Rishi Shuka:
“Bhagavan took the avatara of Srikrishna in order to establish Dharma and destroy evil in this world. Thus, He who acted as the bridge to Dharma, who delivered discourses on Dharma—how did such a person commit the sin of associating himself with other women? What was the intent of committing such heinous actions?”
The reply of Rishi Shuka was as follows:
“We have seen many instances of Parameshwara transgressing the path of Dharma and performing undesirable acts. This is not a sin in whose those are endowed with divine resplendence. They’re akin to fire which burns and consumes everything. However, those who do not have this resplendence must not even contemplate such actions even in their mind.” (33-27-31)
However, the person who incarnates for the explicit purpose of educating and disciplining the world must definitively walk only on the path of Dharma and become an ideal for others, right? Why did the ideal embodied by Srirama become side-lined in the case of Srikrishna? To learn the answer to this, it must be remembered that Srirama conducted himself entirely as a human being. However, Srikrishna upheld and repeatedly showed his divinity.
To be continued