Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Loves of Krishna in Indian Painting and Poetry by W. G. Archer

Part 1 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Andrea Ball and PG Distributed

[Illustration: _Radha and Krishna in the Grove_ Kangra
(Punjab Hills), c. 1785]






I am deeply indebted to Dr. A.L. Basham for generous guidance throughout
the preparation of this book, to George Keyt for permitting me to quote
extensively from his brilliant translation of the _Gita Govinda_, and to
Deben Bhattacharya who supplied me with new translations of later poems
and discussed a number of important points. I must also express my deep
gratitude to Mildred Archer and to Gopi Krishna Kanoria for valued
criticism and advice, to Messrs. Faber and Faber, the Harvill Press,
Messrs. Macmillan, the Oxford University Press, the Phoenix House and
Messrs. Sidgwick and Jackson for permitting me to quote passages from
works still copyright, to Professor J. Brough for an informative note on
Bhanu Datta's _Rasamanjari_ and to all those owners of collections who
have either allowed me to reproduce pictures in their possession or have
kindly supplied me with photographs.

Part of the material for this book was delivered as lectures to the Royal
Asiatic Society, the Royal India, Pakistan and Ceylon Society and at the
Victoria and Albert Museum.





i Birth and Early Adventures
ii The Loves of the Cowgirls
iii The Death of the Tyrant

i The Return to Court
ii Marriages and Offspring
iii Last Phases
iv The _Purana_ Re-considered

i The Triumph of Radha
ii The _Gita Govinda_
iii Later Poetry
iv The _Rasika Priya_









During the twentieth century, a certain type of Indian painting began to
fascinate the West. Unlike Mughal art, it was a product of Hindu courts in
Rajasthan and the Punjab Hills and unlike Mughal painting, its chief
concern was with the varied phases of romance. Ladies would be shown
brooding in their chambers as storm clouds mounted in the sky. A girl
might be portrayed desperately fondling a plantain tree, gripping a pet
falcon, the symbol of her lover, or hurrying through the rainy darkness
intent only on reaching a longed-for tryst. A prince would appear lying on
a terrace, his outstretched arms striving vainly to detain a calm beauty
or welcoming with delight a bashful girl as she slowly advanced. In all
these pictures, romantic love was treated as the highest good and physical
passion was interpreted with a freshness and innocence unequalled in the
world's art.

Such paintings were, at first sight, easy to appreciate. Although they
alternated between two methods of expression--the first a style of savage
distortion, the second a style of the softest grace--each manner enlivened
the common subject.[1] Yet in two respects elucidation was vitally
necessary. Just as in Japan, the lover might express his longings by
cryptic references to Nature, the Indian artist employed poetic symbols to
charge his subjects with romantic ardour. Flowers were never merely
flowers nor clouds clouds. The symbols of Indian poetry--the lotus swaying
in a stream, the flowering creeper embracing a trunk--were intended to
suggest passion-haunted ladies. The mingling of clouds, rain and lightning
symbolized the embraces of lovers, and commonplace objects such as dishes,
vases, ewers and lamps were brought into subtle conjunction to hint at
'the right true end of love.' What, in fact, might seem at first sight to
be a simple portrait, proved on closer understanding to be a study in
despair, a revelation of delight or a clue to rapture, each image with its
sexual implications contriving to express some nuance of longing. In these
pictures, only a part of the meaning was apparent and without a
comprehension of the poetry, much of its true significance was lost.

Such an obstacle to understanding was real enough but, as the eye ranged
over this new kind of love-painting, a second difficulty appeared. In many
pictures, the lover had special characteristics. He was shown with a crown
of peacock's feathers, clad in a golden _dhoti_ and in every case his skin
was mauve or slate-blue.[2] In certain cases, the lady of his choice
appeared bowing at his feet, her pose suggesting the deepest adoration;
yet, in other pictures, his role was quite different. He was then a
resolute warrior, fighting and destroying demons. It was clear, in fact,
that here was no ordinary lover but one who might also be a god. At the
same time, other perplexing circumstances were present. The lover's
appearance was that of an aristocratic youth and the ladies whom he loved
had the bearing of elegant princesses. Yet often the scene of their
encounters was a forest thick with flowering trees. His companions were
cowherds and the objects of his love were not the ladies of a court but
cowgirls. Other activities betrayed the same lowly sphere. In certain
pictures, he was shown eating with cowherds, sharing in their sports,
grazing the cattle and himself milking cows. That such a lover should
dominate the paintings was perplexing in the extreme and just as cultured
Indians would be baffled by Italian and Flemish painting unless they
already knew the life of Christ, it was clear that part, even the
majority, of these pictures would remain obscure unless the character of
their central figure was first explained. One further point remained. In
many cases, the pictures were not intended to be viewed in isolation but
were illustrations of a text. Many were inscribed with Sanskrit or Hindi
verses and in each case there was an intimate connection between the
content of the picture and the poem's subject. To understand the pictures,
therefore, some acquaintance with these texts was necessary for only in
this way could the identity and role of the blue-skinned lover be
appreciated. He was, in fact, Krishna--an incarnation of God--and in his
worship some of the deepest requirements of the Indian spirit found
ecstatic release.

The purpose of this book is to throw some light on Indian painting by
presenting the story of Krishna in the clearest possible terms. It might
be supposed that, of all Indian gods, Krishna was already the one best
known to the West and therefore, perhaps, the one least requiring
explanation. Among modern poets, Sacheverell Sitwell devotes a whole poem
in _Canons of Giant Art_ to describing Krishna's effect.

Rain falls and ceases, all the forest trembles:
Mystery walks the woods once more,
We hear a flute.
It moves on earth, it is the god who plays
With the flute to his lips and music in his breath:
The god is Krishna in his lovely youth.

Louis MacNeice in _Ten Burnt Offerings_ describes a much-loved cat,

Fluid as Krishna chasing the milkmaids.

And the same Krishna, flute player and lover of milkmaids, is familiar to
British audiences from the dancing of Ram Gopal. Yet side by side with
this magnetic figure, a second, strangely different Krishna is also known.
This second Krishna is the preacher of the _Bhagavad Gita_, the great
sermon delivered on the battle-field of Kurukshetra. It is a cardinal
document of Indian ethics, and consoled Mahatma Gandhi during his work for
Indian independence. It has for many years been known in the West but has
recently attracted fresh attention through a modern translation by
Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda. This Krishna of the _Gita_
is clearly quite different in character from the Krishna of the milkmaids
and, without some effort at reconciliation, the two must obviously present
a baffling enigma. Indeed so great is the contrast that many Englishmen,
entranced by the lover, might be astonished to hear of a more didactic
role, while those who value the _Gita_ might easily be disturbed on
finding its author so daringly identified with the theory and practice of
romantic love. The truth, if we are to admit it, is that despite
considerable acquaintance with Krishna as a name, few educated people in
the West have intimate knowledge of his story. In fact, we have only to
ask some basic questions to realize how slender is general understanding.
What, for example, were the circumstances in which Krishna was born and
why did he enter the world? Of which Indian god is he an incarnation? Who
were his parents and how did he come to live among cowherds? Who were
Radha and Rukmini? In what ways did he love the milkmaids and why has this
aspect of his story assumed such big proportions in Indian religion? Why,
in fact, is God a romantic lover? Just as few Indians, even highly
educated Indians, could survive a friendly cross-examination on details of
the New Testament, the majority of cultured Englishmen would find it hard
to answer even a few of these simple questions.

It is to remedy in part this situation that I have marshalled the material
given in this book. With certain types of issue I have made no attempt to
deal. I have not, for example, discussed statements such as 'Krishna was
not a god but a hero of a rough tribe of cowherds.' 'The Gita is an
interpolation.' 'There is general agreement on the historicity of
Krishna.' 'Radha appears to be a late addition.' Higher Criticism, whether
applied to the Bible or to the classics of Indian religion must
necessarily remain a small scholars' preserve--of vital importance to the
few but of little account to the main body of believers or to artists
illustrating adored themes. I have rather been concerned to present
information about Krishna in the form in which it has actually reached
Indian minds and has influenced belief and worship. During the last two
thousand years, various texts have dealt with Krishna, emphasizing first
one and then another aspect of his character and in the process assembling
more and more details. These texts are still revered by Indians and
although they are the product of widely separated eras, all of them have
still an air of contemporary authority. By considering them in historical
sequence, we can understand not only the subject-matter of romantic Indian
painting but realize why Krishna, the adored lover, should still enchant
religious India.

[Footnote 1: Note 1.]

[Footnote 2: Note 2.]



The first reference to Krishna occurs in the _Chandogya Upanishad_ of
perhaps the sixth century B.C. _Upanishads_ were 'forest sittings' or
'sessions with teachers.' Sages and their disciples discussed the nature
of life and strove to determine the soul's exact relationship to God. The
starting-point was the theory of re-incarnation. Death, it was believed,
did not end the soul. Death was merely a stepping-stone to another life,
the soul moving from existence to existence in one long effort to escape
re-birth. From this cycle, only one experience could bring release and
that was consciousness or actual knowledge of the supreme Spirit. When
that state was achieved, the soul blended with the Godhead and the cycle
ended. The problem of problems, therefore, was how to attain such
knowledge. The _Chandogya Upanishad_ does not offer any startling solution
to this matter. The teacher who conducts the session is a certain Ghora of
the Angirasa family and it is the person of his disciple rather than his
actual message which concerns us. The disciple is called Krishna and his
mother has the name Devaki. Devaki is the later Krishna's mother and there
is accordingly every reason to suppose that the two Krishnas are the same.
Nothing, however, is stated of this early Krishna's career and although
parts of the sage's teachings have been compared to passages in the
_Gita_,[3] Krishna himself remains a vague and dim name.

For the next few centuries, knowledge of Krishna remains in this
fragmentary state. Nothing further is recorded and not until the great
Indian epic, the _Mahabharata_, crystallizes out between the fourth
century B.C. and the fourth century A.D. does a more detailed Krishna make
his appearance.[4] By the end of this period, many vital changes had taken
place. The Indian world-view had become much clearer and it is possible
not only to connect Krishna with a definite character but to see him in
clear relation to cosmic events. The supreme Spirit was now envisaged as a
single all-powerful God, known according to his functions as Brahma,
Vishnu and Siva. As Brahma, he brought into existence three
worlds--heaven, earth and the nether regions--and also created gods or
lesser divinities, earth and nature spirits, demons, ogres and men
themselves. Siva, for his part, was God the final dissolver or destroyer,
the source of reproductive energy and the inspirer of asceticism. He was
thought of in many forms--as a potent ascetic, a butcher wild for blood, a
serene dancer--and in his character of regenerator was represented by his
symbol, the _lingam_ or phallus. The third aspect, Vishnu, was God in his
character of loving protector and preserver. This great Trinity was
ultimately supreme but under it were a number of lesser powers. Those that
represented the forces of good were called _devas_ or gods. They were led
by their king, Indra, lord of clouds, and associated with him were gods
such as Agni (fire), Varuna (water), Surya the sun and Kama the god of
passion. These gods lived in Indra's heaven, a region above the world but
lower than Vaikuntha, the heaven of Vishnu. Dancing-girls and musicians
lived with them and the whole heaven resembled a majestic court on earth.
From this heaven the gods issued from time to time intervening in human
affairs. Demons, on the other hand, were their exact opposites. They
represented powers of evil, were constantly at war with the gods and took
vicious pleasure in vexing or annoying the good. Below gods and demons
were men themselves.

In this three-tiered universe, transmigration of souls was still the basic
fact but methods of obtaining release were now much clearer. A man was
born, died and then was born again. If he acted well, did his duty and
worked ceaselessly for good, he followed what was known as the path of
_dharma_ or righteousness. This ensured that at each succeeding birth he
would start a stage more favourably off than in his previous existence
till, by sheer goodness of character, he qualified for admission to
Indra's heaven and might even be accounted a god. The achievement of this
status, however, did not complete his cycle, for the ultimate goal still
remained. This was the same as in earlier centuries--release from living
by union with or absorption into the supreme Spirit; and only when the
individual soul had reached this stage was the cycle of birth and re-birth
completed. The reverse of this process was illustrated by the fate of
demons. If a man lapsed from right living, his second state was always
worse than his first. He might then be born in humble surroundings or if
his crimes were sufficiently great, he became a demon. As such, his
capacity for evil was greatly increased and his chances of ultimate
salvation correspondingly worsened. Yet even for demons, the ultimate goal
was the same--release from living and blissful identification with the

_Dharma_ alone, however, could not directly achieve this end. This could
be done by the path of _yoga_ or self-discipline--a path which involved
penances, meditation and asceticism. By ridding his mind of all desires
and attachments, by concentrating on pure abstractions, the ascetic
'obtained insight which no words could express. Gradually plumbing the
cosmic mystery, his soul entered realms far beyond the comparatively
tawdry heavens where the great gods dwelt in light and splendour. Going
"from darkness to darkness deeper yet," he solved the mystery beyond all
mysteries; he understood, fully and finally, the nature of the universe
and of himself and he reached a realm of truth and bliss, beyond birth and
death. And with this transcendent knowledge came another realization--he
was completely, utterly, free. He had found ultimate salvation, the final
triumph of the soul.'[5] Such a complete identification with the supreme
Spirit, however, was not easily come by and often many existences were
required before the yogi could achieve this sublime end.

There remained a third way--the path of _bhakti_ or devotion to God. If a
man loved God not as an abstract spirit but as a loving Person, if he
loved with intensity and singleness of heart, adoration itself might
obtain for him the same reward as a succession of good lives. Vishnu as
protector might reward love with love and confer immediately the blessing
of salvation.

The result, then, was that three courses were now open to a man and
whether he followed one or other depended on his own particular cast of
mind, the degree of his will-power, the strength of his passions and
finally, his capacity for renunciation, righteousness and love. On these
qualifications the upshot would largely depend. But they were not the only
factors. Since gods and demons were part of the world, a man could be
aided or frustrated according as gods or demons chose to intervene. Life
could, in fact, be viewed from two angles. On the one hand it was one long
effort to blend with the Godhead--an effort which only the individual
could make. On the other hand, it was a war between good and evil, gods
and demons; and to such a contest, God as Vishnu could not remain
indifferent. While the forces of evil might properly be allowed to test or
tax the good, they could never be permitted completely to win the day.
When, therefore, evil appeared to be in the ascendant, Vishnu intervened
and corrected the balance. He took flesh and entering the world, slew
demons, heartened the righteous and from time to time conferred salvation
by directly exempting individuals from further re-births.

It is these beliefs which govern the _Mahabharata_ epic and provide the
clue to Krishna's role. Its prime subject is a feud between two families,
a feud which racks and finally destroys them. At the same time, it is very
much more. Prior to the events narrated in the text, Vishnu has already
undergone seven incarnations, taking the forms of a fish, tortoise, boar
and man-lion and later those of Vamana the dwarf, Parasurama ('Rama with
the Axe'), and finally, the princely Rama. In each of these incarnations
he has intervened and, for the time being, rectified the balance. During
the period covered by the epic, he undergoes an eighth incarnation and it
is in connection with this supremely vital intervention that Krishna

To understand the character which now unfolds, we must briefly consider
the central story of the _Mahabharata_. This is narrated in the most
baffling and stupendous detail. Cumbrous names confront us on every side
while digressions and sub-plots add to the general atmosphere of confusion
and complexity. It is idle to hope that this vast panorama can arouse
great interest in the West and even in India it is unlikely that many
would now approach its gigantic recital with premonitions of delight. It
is rather as a necessary background that its main outlines must be
grasped, for without them Krishna's character and career can hardly be

The epic begins with two rival families each possessed of a common
ancestor, Kuru, but standing in bitter rivalry to each other. Kuru is
succeeded by his second son, Pandu, and later by Dhritarashtra, his first
son but blind. Pandu has five sons, who are called Pandavas after him,
while Dhritarashtra has a hundred sons called Kauravas after Kuru, their
common grandfather. As children the two families grow up at the same
court, but almost immediately jealousies arise which are to have a deadly
outcome. Hatred begins when in boyish contests the Pandavas outdo the
Kauravas. The latter resent their arrogance and presently their father,
the blind king, is persuaded to approve a plot by which the five Pandavas
will be killed. They are to sleep in a house which during the night will
be burnt down. The plot, however, miscarries. The house is burnt, but
unbeknown to the Kauravas, the five brothers escape and taking with them
their mother, Kunti, go for safety to the forest. Here they wander for a
while disguised as Brahmans or priests but reach at last the kingdom of
Panchala. The King of Panchala has a daughter, Draupadi, whose husband is
to be chosen by a public archery competition. Arjuna, one of the five
brothers, wins the contest and gains her as bride. The Pandavas, however,
are polyandrous and thus, on being married to one brother, Draupadi is
also married to the other four. At the wedding the Pandavas disclose their
identities. The Kauravas learn that they are still alive and in due course
are reconciled. They reinstate the Pandavas and give them half the
kingdom. Before Arjuna, however, can profit from the truce, he infringes
by accident his elder brother's privacy by stumbling on him while he is
with their common wife. As a consequence he violates a standing agreement
and has no alternative but to go into exile for twelve years. Arjuna
leaves the court, visits other lands, acquires a new wife and makes a new
alliance. In other respects, all is well and the two families look forward
to many years of peaceful co-existence.

The fates, however, seem determined on their destruction. The leader of
the Pandavas is their eldest brother, Yudhisthira. He conquers many other
lands and is encouraged to claim the title, 'ruler of the world.' The
claim is made at a great sacrifice accompanied by a feast. The claim
incenses the Kauravas and once again the ancient feud revives. Themselves
expert gamblers, they challenge Yudhisthira to a contest by dice.
Yudhisthira stupidly agrees and wagering first his kingdom, then his
brothers and finally his wife, loses all and goes again into exile. With
him go the other Pandavas, including Arjuna who has since returned. For
twelve years they roam the forests, brooding on their fate and planning
revenge. When their exile ends, they at once declare war. Both sides seek
allies, efforts at peacemaking are foiled and the two clash on the
battle-field of Kurukshetra. For eighteen days the battle rages till
finally the Pandavas are victorious. Their success, however, is at an
appalling cost. During the contest all five Pandavas lose their sons. The
hundred sons of their rival, the blind king Dhritarashtra, are dead and
with a sense of tragic futility, the epic ends.

It is as an actor in this tangled drama that Krishna appears. Alongside
the Pandavas and the Kauravas in Northern India is a powerful people, the
Yadavas. They live by grazing cattle but possess towns including a
capital, the city of Dwarka in Western India. At this capital resides
their ruler or king and with him is a powerful prince, Krishna. This
Krishna is related to the rival families, for his father, Vasudeva, is
brother of Kunti, the Pandavas' mother. From the outset, therefore, he is
placed in intimate proximity to the chief protagonists. For the moment,
however, he himself is not involved and it is only after the Pandavas have
gone into exile and reached the kingdom of Panchala that he makes his
entrance. The occasion is the archery contest for the hand of Draupadi.
Krishna is there as an honoured guest and when Arjuna makes the winning
shot, he immediately recognizes the five Pandavas as his kinsmen although
as refugees they are still disguised as Brahmans. When the assembled
princes angrily protest at Draupadi's union with a Brahman, and seem about
to fight, Krishna intervenes and persuades them to accept the decision.
Later he secretly meets the Pandavas and sends them wedding presents.
Already, therefore, he is fulfilling a significant role. He is a powerful
leader, a relative of the central figures and if only because the feud is
not his own, he is above the conflict and to some extent capable of
influencing its outcome.

His next appearance brings him closer still to the Pandavas. When Arjuna
is exiled for his breach of marriage etiquette, he visits Krishna in his
city of Dwarka. A great festival is held and in the course of it Arjuna
falls in love with Krishna's sister, Subhadra. Krishna favours the
marriage but advises Arjuna to marry her by capture. Arjuna does so and by
becoming Krishna's brother-in-law cements still further their

This friendship has one further consequence, for, after Arjuna has
completed his exile and returned to the Pandava court, Krishna visits him
and the two go into the country for a picnic. 'After a few days, Arjuna
said to Krishna, "The summer days have come. Let us go to the River Jumna,
amuse ourselves with some friends and come back in the evening." Krishna
replied, "I would like that very much. Let us go for a bathe." So Arjuna
and Krishna set out with their friends. Reaching a fine spot fit for
pleasure and overgrown with trees, where several tall houses had been
built, the party went inside. Food and wine, wreaths of flowers and
fragrant perfumes were laid out and at once they began to frolic at their
will. The girls in the party with delightful rounded haunches, large
breasts and handsome eyes began to flirt as Arjuna and Krishna commanded.
Some played about in the woods, some in the water, some inside the houses.
And Draupadi and Subhadra who were also in the party gave the girls and
women costly dresses and garments. Then some of them began to dance, some
to sing, some laughed and joked, some drank wine. And the houses and
woods, filled with the noise of flutes and drums, became the very seat of

A little later, Krishna is accorded special status. At the sacrifice
performed by Yudhisthira as 'ruler of the world,' gifts of honour are
distributed. Krishna is among the assembled guests and is proposed as
first recipient. Only one person objects, a certain king Sisupala, who
nurses a standing grievance against him. A quarrel ensues and during it
Krishna kills him. Krishna's priority is then acclaimed but the incident
serves also to demonstrate his ability as a fighter.

One other aspect of Krishna's character remains to be noted. Besides being
a bold warrior, he is above all an astute and able ally. During the
Pandavas' final exile in the forest, he urges them to repudiate their
banishment and make war. When the exile is over and war is near, he acts
as peace-maker, urging the Kauravas to make concessions. When he is foiled
by Duryodhana, the blind king's son, he attempts to have him kidnapped.
Finally, once the great battle is joined, he offers both sides a choice.
Each may have the help either of himself alone or of his immediate
kinsmen, the Vrishnis. The Vrishnis will fight in the battle, while
Krishna himself will merely advise from a distance. The Kauravas choose
the fighters, the Pandavas Krishna. Krishna accordingly aids the Pandavas
with counsel. He accompanies Arjuna as his charioteer and during the
battle is a constant advocate of treachery. As Kama, a leading Kaurava,
fights Arjuna, his chariot gets stuck and he dismounts to see to it. The
rules of war demand that Arjuna should now break off but Krishna urges him
to continue and Kama is killed unresisting. Similarly when Bhima, one of
the five Pandava brothers, is fighting Duryodhana with his club, Krishna
eggs him on to deal a foul blow. Bhima does so and Duryodhana dies from a
broken thigh. In all these encounters, Krishna shows himself completely
amoral, achieving his ends by the very audacity of his means.

So far, Krishna's character is merely that of a feudal magnate, and there
is nothing in his views or conduct to suggest that he is Vishnu or God.
Two incidents in the epic, however, suddenly reveal his true role. The
first is when Yudhisthira has gambled away Draupadi and the Kauravas are
intent on her dishonour. They attempt to make her naked. As one of them
tries to remove her clothes, Draupadi beseeches Krishna as Vishnu to
intervene and save her. Krishna does so and by his help she remains
clothed; however many times her dress is removed. The second occasion is
on the final battle-field of Kurukshetra. Arjuna, seeing so many brothers,
uncles and cousins ranged on either side is moved to pity at the senseless
nature of the strife and confides his anguished doubts in Krishna. Krishna
seems, at first, to be only his friend, his brother-in-law and adviser. He
points out that to a warrior nothing is nobler than a righteous war and
declares, 'Do your duty always but without attachment.' He then advocates
the two paths of _yoga_(knowledge) and _dharma_ (righteousness). 'Even if
a man falls away from the practice of _yoga_, he will still win the heaven
of the doers of good deeds and dwell there many long years. After that, he
will be reborn into the home of pure and prosperous parents. He will then
regain that spiritual discernment which he acquired in his former body;
and so he will strive harder than ever for perfection. Because of his
practices in the previous life, he will be driven on toward union with the
Spirit, even in spite of himself. For the man who has once asked the way
to the Spirit goes farther than any mere fulfiller of the Vedic rituals.
By struggling hard, that yogi will move gradually towards perfection
through many births and reach the highest goal at last[7].

But it is the path of _bhakti_ or devotion to a personal God which
commands Krishna's strongest approval and leads him to make his startling
revelation. 'Have your mind in Me, be devoted to Me. To Me shall you come.
What is true I promise. Dear are you to Me. They who make Me their supreme
object, they to Me are dear. Though I am the unborn, the changeless Self,
I condition my nature and am born by my power. To save the good and
destroy evildoers, to establish the right, I am born from age to age. He
who knows this when he comes to die is not reborn but comes to Me.' He
speaks, in fact, as Vishnu himself.

This declaration is to prove the vital clue to Krishna's character. It is
to be expanded in later texts and is to account for the fervour with which
he is soon to be adored. For the present, however, his claim is in the
nature of an aside. After the battle, he resumes his life as a prince and
it is more for his shrewdness as a councillor than his teaching as God
that he is honoured and revered. Yet special majesty surrounds him and
when, thirty-six years after the conflict, a hunter mistakes him for a
deer and kills him by shooting him in the right foot[8], the Pandavas are
inconsolable. They retreat to the Himalayas, die one by one and are
translated to Indra's heaven[9].

Such an account is obviously a great advance on the _Chandogya Upanishad_.
Yet, as we ponder its intricate drama, we are faced with several
intractable issues. It is true that a detailed character has emerged, a
figure who is identified with definite actions and certain clear-cut
principles. It is true also that his character as Vishnu has been
asserted. But it is Krishna the feudal hero who throughout the story
takes, by far, the leading part. Between this hero and Krishna the God,
there is no very clear connection. The circumstances in which Vishnu has
taken form as Krishna are nowhere made plain. Except on the two occasions
mentioned, Krishna is apparently not recognized as God by others and does
not himself claim this status. Indeed it is virtually only as an
afterthought that the epic is used to transmit his great sermon, and
almost by accident that he becomes the most significant figure in the
story. Even the sermon at first sight seems at variance with his actions
as a councillor--his repeated recourse to treachery ill consorting with
the paramountcy of duty. In point of fact, such a conflict can be easily
reconciled for if God is supreme, he is above and beyond morals. He can
act in any way he pleases and yet, as God, can expect and receive the
highest reverence. God, in fact, is superior to ethics. And this viewpoint
is, in fact, to prove a basic assumption in later versions of the story.
Here it is sufficient to note that while the _Mahabharata_ describes these
two contrasting modes of behaviour, no attempt is made to face the exact
issue. Krishna as God has been introduced rather than explained and we are
left with the feeling that much more than has been recorded remains to be

This feeling may well have dogged the writers who put the _Mahabharata_
into its present shape for, a little later, possibly during the sixth
century A.D., an appendix was added. This appendix was called the
_Harivansa_ or Genealogy of Krishna[10] and in it were provided all those
details so manifestly wanting in the epic itself. The exact nature of
Krishna is explained--the circumstances of his birth, his youth and
childhood, the whole being welded into a coherent scheme. In this story
Krishna the feudal magnate takes a natural place but there is no longer
any contradiction between his character as a prince and his character as
God. He is, above all, an incarnation of Vishnu and his immediate purpose
is to vanquish a particular tyrant and hearten the righteous. This
viewpoint is maintained in the _Vishnu Purana_, another text of about the
sixth century and is developed and illustrated in the tenth and eleventh
books of the _Bhagavata Purana_. It is this latter text--a vast compendium
of perhaps the ninth or tenth century--which affords the fullest account
in literature of Krishna's story.

[Footnote 3: Note 3.]

[Footnote 4: Note 4.]

[Footnote 5: A.L. Basham, _The Wonder that was India_, 245.]

[Footnote 6: _Mahabharata, Adi Parva_, Section 224 (Roy, I, 615-16).]

[Footnote 7: C. Isherwood and S. Prabhavananda, _The Song of God,
Bhagavad-Gita_, 86-7.]

[Footnote 8: Plate 2.]

[Footnote 9: Note 5.]

[Footnote 10: Note 6.]



(i) Birth and Early Adventures

The _Bhagavata Purana_ is couched in the form of a dialogue between a sage
and a king. The king is the successor of the Pandavas but is doomed to die
within a week for having by accident insulted a holy ascetic. To ensure
his salvation, he spends the week listening to the _Bhagavata Purana_ and
concentrating his mind on Krishna whom he declares to be his helper.[11]

Book Ten begins by describing the particular situation which leads to
Krishna's birth. The scene is Mathura, a town in northern India, adjoining
the kingdom of the Kauravas. The surrounding country is known as Braj and
its ruling families are the Yadavas. Just outside Mathura is the district
of Gokula which is inhabited by cowherds. These are on friendly terms with
the Yadavas, but are inferior to them in caste and status. The time is
some fifty years or more before the battle of Kurukshetra and the ruling
king is Ugrasena. Ugrasena's queen is Pavanarekha and a mishap to her sets
in train a series of momentous events.

One day she is taking the air in a park, when she misses her way and finds
herself alone. A demon, Drumalika, is passing and, entranced by her grace,
decides to ravish her. He takes the form of her husband, Ugrasena, and
despite Pavanarekha's protests proceeds to enjoy her. Afterwards he
assumes his true shape. Pavanarekha is dismayed but the demon tells her
that he has given her a son who will 'vanquish the nine divisions of the
earth, rule supreme and fight Krishna.' Pavanarekha tells her maids that a
monkey has been troubling her. Ten months later a son is born. He is named
Kansa and the court rejoices.

As Kansa grows up he reveals his demon's nature. He ignores his father's
words, murders children and defeats in battle King Jarasandha of
Magadha.[12] The latter gives him two daughters in marriage. He then
deposes his father, throws him into prison, assumes his powers and bans
the worship of Vishnu. As his crimes increase, he extends his conquests.
At last Earth can bear the burden no longer and appeals to the gods to
approach the supreme Deity, Brahma, to rid her of the load. Brahma as
Creator can hardly do this, but Vishnu as Preserver agrees to intervene
and plans are laid. Among the Yadava nobility are two upright persons. The
first is Devaka, the younger brother of King Ugrasena and thus an uncle to
the tyrant. The second is a certain Vasudeva. Devaka has six daughters,
all of whom he marries to Vasudeva. The seventh is called Devaki. Vishnu
announces that Devaki will also be married to Vasudeva, and plucking out
two of his hairs--one black and one white--he declares that these will be
the means by which he will ease Earth's burden. The white hair is part of
Sesha, the great serpent, which is itself a part of Vishnu and this will
be impersonated as Devaki's seventh child. The black hair is Vishnu's own
self which will be impersonated as Devaki's eighth child. The child from
the white hair will be known as Balarama and the child from the black hair
as Krishna. As Krishna, Vishnu will then kill Kansa. Earth is gratified
and retires and the stage is set for Krishna's coming.

Devaki, with Kansa's approval, is now married to Vasudeva. The wedding is
being celebrated in the grandest manner when a voice from heaven is heard
saying, 'Kansa, the eighth son of her whom you are now escorting will
cause your destruction. You shall die at his hand.' Kansa is greatly
alarmed and is about to slay Devaki when Vasudeva agrees to yield him all
their sons. Kansa accordingly spares her. Each of Devaki's first six sons,
however, is delivered up at birth and each is slaughtered.

As the time for fulfilling the prophecy approaches, Kansa grows fearful.
He learns that gods and goddesses are being born as cowherds and cowgirls
and, interpreting this as a sign that Krishna's birth is near, he commands
his men to slaughter every cowherd in the city. A great round-up ensues
and many cowherds are killed. The leading cowherd is a wealthy herdsman
named Nanda, who lives with his wife Yasoda in the country district of
Gokula. Although of lower caste, he is Vasudeva's chief friend and in view
of the imminent dangers confronting his family, it is to Nanda that
Vasudeva now sends one of his other wives, Rohini. Devaki has meanwhile
conceived her seventh son, the white hair of Vishnu, and soon to be
recognized as Krishna's brother. To avoid his murder by Kansa, Vishnu has
the foetus transferred from Devaki's womb to that of Rohini, and the
child, named Balarama, is born to Rohini, Kansa being informed that Devaki
has miscarried. The eighth pregnancy now occurs. Kansa increases his
precautions. Devaki and Vasudeva are handcuffed and manacled. Guards are
mounted and besides these, elephants, lions and dogs are placed outside.
The unborn child, however, tells them not to fear and Devaki and Vasudeva
compose their minds.

Krishna is now born, dark as a cloud and with eyes like lotuses. He is
clad in a yellow vest and wears a crown. He takes the form of Vishnu and
commands Vasudeva to bear him to Nanda's house in Gokula and substitute
him for the infant daughter who has just been born to Yasoda, Nanda's
wife. Devaki and Vasudeva worship him. The vision then fades and they
discover the new-born child crying at their side. They debate what to
do--Devaki urging Vasudeva to take the baby to Nanda's house where Rohini,
his other wife, is still living and where Yasoda will receive it. Vasudeva
is wondering how to escape when his handcuffs and chains fall off, the
doors open and the guards are seen to be asleep. Placing Krishna in a
basket, he puts it on his head and sets out for Gokula. As he goes, lions
roar, the rain pours down and the river Jumna faces him. There is no help
but to ford it and Vasudeva accordingly enters the stream. The water gets
higher and higher until it reaches his nose. When he can go no farther,
the infant Krishna stretches out a foot, calms the river and the water
subsides. Vasudeva now arrives at Nanda's house where he finds that Yasoda
has borne a girl and is in a trance. Vasudeva puts Krishna beside her,
takes up the baby girl, recrosses the river and joins Devaki in her
prison. The doors shut, the handcuffs and fetters close on them again and
as the baby starts to cry, the guards awake. A sentry then carries Kansa
the news. Kansa hurries to the spot, seizes the child and tries to dash it
on a stone. As he does so the child becomes the goddess Devi and
exclaiming that Kansa's enemy is born elsewhere and nothing can save him,
vanishes into heaven.[13] Kansa is greatly shaken and orders all male
children to be killed,[14] but releases Vasudeva and Devaki.

Meanwhile Nanda, the rich herdsman, is celebrating the birth. Pandits and
astrologers are sent for, the child's horoscope is cast and his destiny
foretold. He will be a second deity like Brahma himself. He will destroy
demons, relieve the land of Braj of all its cares, be called the lord of
the cowgirls and be praised the whole world over. Nanda promises to
dedicate cows, loads the Brahmans with presents, and summons all the
musicians and singers of the city. Singing, dancing and music break forth,
the courtyards throng with people, and the cowherds of Gokula come in with
their wives. On their heads are pitchers full of curd and as a magical
means of ensuring prosperity, they proceed to throw it over the
gathering. Nanda presents them with cloth and betel and they depart elated
at the news.

Some days later Nanda learns of Kansa's order to seize all male children
and, deeming it prudent to offer presents, he collects the cowherds in a
body and goes to Mathura to pay tribute. Kansa receives him and on his way
back Vasudeva meets him at the river. He dare not disclose his secret that
Krishna is not Nanda's son but his own. At the same time he cannot
suppress his anxiety as a father. He contents himself by telling Nanda
that demons and evil spirits are abroad seeking to destroy young children
and urges him to return to Gokula as quickly as possible.

The _Purana_ now concentrates on two main themes: on Krishna's infancy in
Gokula, dilating on his baby pranks, his capacity for mischief, the love
he arouses in the hearts of his foster-mother, Yasoda, and of all the
married cowgirls and, secondly, on his supernatural powers and skill in
ridding the country of troublesome demons. These are at first shown as
hostile to Krishna only, but as the story unfolds, his role gradually
widens and we see him acting as the cowherds' ally, protecting them from
harm, attacking the forces of evil and thus fulfilling the supreme purpose
for which he has been born. From time to time the cowherds realize that
Krishna is Vishnu and adore him as God. Then amnesia intervenes. They
retain no recollection of the vision and see him simply as a youthful
cowherd, charming in manner, whose skill in slaying demons arouses their
love. In this way Krishna lives among them--in fact, God, but in the eyes
of the people, a young boy.[15]

The first demon to threaten Krishna's life is a huge ogress named Putana.
Her role is that of child-killer--any child who is suckled in the night by
Putana instantly dying. Putana assumes the form of a sweet and charming
girl, dabs her breasts with poison and while Nanda is still at Mathura,
comes gaily to his house. Entranced by her appearance, Yasoda allows her
to hold the baby Krishna and then to suckle him. Krishna, however, is
impervious to the poison, and fastening his mouth to her breast, he begins
to suck her life out with the milk. Putana, feeling her life going, rushes
wildly from the village, but to no avail. Krishna continues sucking and
the ogress dies. When Yasoda and Rohini catch up with her, they find her
huge carcass lying on the ground with Krishna still sucking her breast.
'Taking him up quickly and kissing him, they pressed him to their bosoms
and hurried home.'

Nanda now arrives from Mathura and congratulates the cowherds on their
escape--so great was Putana's size that her body might have crushed and
overwhelmed the whole colony. He then arranges for her burning but as her
flesh is being consumed, a strange perfume is noticed for Krishna, when
killing her, had granted her salvation.

A second demon now intervenes. It is twenty-seven days since Krishna's
birth. Brahmans and cowherds have been summoned to a feast, the cowgirls
are singing songs and everyone is laughing and eating. Krishna for the
time being is out of their minds, having been put to sleep beneath a heavy
cart loaded with pitchers. A little later he wakes up, begins to cry for
the breast and finding no one there wriggles about and starts to suck a
toe. At this moment the demon, Saktasura, is flying through the sky. He
notices the child and alights on the cart. His weight cracks it but before
the cart can collapse, Krishna kicks out so sharply that the demon dies
and the cart falls to pieces. Hearing a great crash, the cowgirls dash to
the spot, marvelling that although the cart is in splinters and all the
pots broken, Krishna has survived.

The third attack occurs when Krishna is five months old. Yasoda is sitting
with him in her lap when she notices that he has suddenly become very
heavy. At the same time, the whirlwind demon, Trinavarta, raises a great
storm. The sky darkens, trees are uprooted and thatch dislodged. As Yasoda
sets Krishna down, Trinavarta seizes him and whirls him into the air.
Yasoda finds him suddenly gone and calls out, 'Krishna, Krishna.' The
cowgirls and cowherds join her in the search, peering for him in the gusty
gloom of the dark storm. Full of misery, they search the forest and can
find him nowhere. Krishna, riding through the air, however, can see their
distress. He twists Trinavarta round, forces him down and dashes him to
death against a stone. As he does so, the storm lightens, the wind drops
and the cowherds and cowgirls regain their homes. There they discover a
demon lying dead with Krishna playing on its chest. Filled with relief,
Yasoda picks him up and hugs him to her breast.

Vasudeva now instructs his family priest, Garga the sage, to go to Gokula,
meet Nanda and give Krishna and Balarama proper names. Rohini, he points
out, has had a son, Balarama, and Nanda has also had a son, Krishna. It is
time that each should be formally named. The sage is delighted to receive
the commission and on arriving is warmly welcomed. He declines, however,
to announce the children's names in public, fearing that his connection
with Vasudeva will cause Raja Kansa to connect Krishna with the eighth
child--his fated enemy. Nanda accordingly takes him inside his house and
there the sage names the two children. Balarama is given seven names, but
Krishna's names, he declares, are numberless. Since, however, Krishna was
once born in Vasudeva's house, he is called Vasudeva. As to their
qualities, the sage goes on, both are gods. It is impossible to understand
their state, but having killed Kansa, they will remove the burdens of the
world. He then goes silently away. This is the first time that Nanda and
Yasoda are told the true facts of Krishna's birth. They do not, however,
make any comment and for the time being it is as if they are still quite
ignorant of Krishna's destiny. They continue to treat him as their son and
no hint escapes them of his true identity.

Meanwhile Krishna, along with Rohini's son, Balarama, is growing up as a
baby. He crawls about the courtyard, lisps his words, plays with toys and
pulls the calves' tails, Yasoda and Rohini all the time showering upon him
their doting love. When he can walk, Krishna starts to go about with other
children and there then ensues a series of naughty pranks. His favourite
pastime is to raid the houses of the cowgirls, pilfer their cream and
curds, steal butter and upset milk pails. When, as sometimes happens, the
butter is hung from the roof, they pile up some of the household
furniture. One of the boys then mounts upon it, another climbs on his
shoulders, and in this way gets the butter down.[16] As the pilfering
increases, the married cowgirls learn that Krishna is the ringleader and
contrive one day to catch him in the act. 'You little thief,' they say,
'At last we've caught you. So it's you who took our butter and curds. You
won't escape us now.' And taking him by the hand they march him to Yasoda.
Krishna, however, is not to be outwitted. Employing his supernatural
powers, he substitutes the cowgirls' own sons for himself and while they
go to Yasoda, himself slips off and joins his playmates in the fields.
When the cowgirls reach Yasoda, they complain of Krishna's thefts and tell
her that at last they have caught him and here he is. Yasoda answers, 'But
this is not Krishna. These are your own sons.' The cowgirls look at the
children, discover the trick, are covered in confusion and burst out
laughing. Yasoda then sends for Krishna and forbids him to steal from
other people's houses. Krishna pretends to be highly indignant. He calls
the cowgirls liars and accuses them of always making him do their work. If
he is not having to hold a milk pail or a calf, he says, he is doing a
household chore or even keeping watch for them while they neglect their
work and gossip. The cowgirls listen in astonishment and go away.

Another day Krishna is playing in a courtyard and takes it into his head
to eat some dirt. Yasoda is told of it and in a fit of anger runs towards
him with a stick. 'Why are you eating mud?' she cries. 'What mud?' says
Krishna. 'The mud one of your friends has just told me you have eaten. If
you haven't eaten it, open your mouth.' Krishna opens it and looking
inside, Yasoda sees the three worlds. In a moment of perception, she
realizes that Krishna is God. 'What am I doing in looking upon the Lord of
the three worlds as my son?' she cries. Then the vision fades and she
picks up Krishna and kisses him.

Another day, Yasoda asks the married cowgirls to assist her in churning
milk. They clean the house, set up a large vessel, prepare the churning
staff and string, and start to churn. Krishna is awakened by the noise and
finding no one about comes crying to Yasoda. 'I am hungry, mother,' he
says. 'Why have you not given me anything to eat?' And in a fit of
petulance he starts to throw the butter about and kick over the pitchers.
Yasoda tells him not to be so naughty, sits him on her lap and gives him
some milk. While she is doing this, a cowgirl tells her that the milk has
boiled over and Yasoda jumps up leaving Krishna alone. While she is away
he breaks the pots, scatters the curds, makes a mess of all the rooms and,
taking a pot full of butter, runs away with it into the fields. There he
seats himself on an upturned mortar, assembles the other boys and vastly
pleased with himself, laughingly shares the butter out. When Yasoda
returns and sees the mess, she seizes a stick and goes to look for
Krishna. She cannot find it in her heart, however, to be angry for long
and when Krishna says, 'Mother, let me go. I did not do it,' she laughs
and throws the stick away. Then pretending to be still very angry, she
takes him home and ties him to a mortar. A little later a great crash is
heard. Two huge trees have fallen and when the cowherds hurry to the spot,
they find that Krishna has dragged the mortar between the trunks, pulled
them down and is quietly sitting between them.[17] Two youths--by name Nala
and Kuvara--have been imprisoned in the trees and Krishna's action has
released them. When she sees that Krishna is safe, Yasoda unties him from
the mortar and hugs him to her.

This incident of the trees now forces Nanda to make a decision. The
various happenings have been profoundly unnerving and he feels that it is
no longer safe to stay in Gokula. He decides therefore to move a day's
march farther on, to cross the river and settle in the forests of
Brindaban. The cowherds accordingly load up their possessions on carts and
the move ensues.[18]

The story now enters its second phase. Krishna is no longer a mischievous
baby, indulging in tantrums yet wringing the heart with his childish
antics. He is now five years old and of an age to make himself useful. He
asks to be allowed to graze the calves. At first Yasoda is unwilling. 'We
have got so many servants,' she says. 'It is their job to take the calves
out. Why go yourself? You are the protection of my eye-lids and dearer to
me than my eyes.' Krishna, however, insists and in the end she entrusts
him and Balarama to the other young cowherds, telling them on no account
to leave them alone in the forest, but to bring them safely home. Her
words are, in fact, only too necessary, for Kansa, the tyrant king, is
still in quest of the child who is to kill him. His demon minions are
still on the alert, attacking any likely boy, and as Krishna plays with
the cowherds and tends the calves, he suffers a further series of attacks.

A cow demon, Vatsasura, tries to mingle with the herd. The calves sense
its presence and as it sidles up, Krishna seizes it by the hind leg,
whirls it round his head and dashes it to death. A crane demon, Bakasura,
then approaches. The cowherds recognize it, but while they are wondering
how to escape, the crane opens its beak and engulfs Krishna. Krishna,
however, becomes so hot that the crane cannot retain him. It lets him go.
Krishna then tears its beak in two, rounds up the calves and taking the
cowherd boys with him, returns home.

Another day Krishna is out in the forest with the cowherds and the calves,
when a snake demon, Ugrasura, sucks them into its mouth. Krishna expands
his body to such an extent that the snake bursts. The calves and cowherd
children come tumbling out and all praise Krishna for saving them. On the
way back, Krishna suggests that they should have a picnic and choosing a
great _kadam_ tree, they sweep the place clean, set out their food and
proceed to enjoy it. As they eat, the gods look down, noting how handsome
the young Krishna has grown. Among the gods is Brahma, who decides to
tease Krishna by hiding the calves while the cowherd children are
eating.[19] He takes them to a cave and when Krishna goes in search of
them, hides the cowherd children as well. Krishna, however, is not to be
deterred. Creating duplicates of every calf and boy he brings them home.
No one detects that anything is wrong and for a year they live as if
nothing has happened. Brahma has meanwhile sunk himself in meditation, but
suddenly recalls his prank and hurries out to set matters right. He is
astonished to find the original calves and children still sleeping in the
cave, while their counterparts roam the forest. He humbly worships
Krishna, restores the original calves and children and returns to his
abode. When the cowherd children awake, Krishna shows them the calves. No
one realizes what has happened. The picnic continues and laughing and
playing they go home.

We now enter the third phase of Krishna's childhood. He is eight years old
and is therefore competent to graze not merely the calves but the cows as
well.[20] Nanda accordingly performs the necessary ritual and Krishna goes
with the cowherds to the forest.

An idyllic phase in Krishna's life now starts. 'At this time Krishna and
Balarama, accompanied by the cow-boys, traversed the forests, that echoed
with the hum of bees and the peacock's cry. Sometimes they sang in chorus
or danced together; sometimes they sought shelter from the cold beneath
the trees; sometimes they decorated themselves with flowery garlands,
sometimes with peacocks' feathers; sometimes they stained themselves of
various hues with the minerals of the mountain; sometimes weary they
reposed on beds of leaves, and sometimes imitated in mirth the muttering
of the thundercloud; sometimes they excited their juvenile associates to
sing, and sometimes they mimicked the cry of the peacock with their pipes.
In this manner participating in various feelings and emotions, and
affectionately attached to each other, they wandered, sporting and happy,
through the wood. At eveningtide came Krishna and Balarama, like to
cowboys, along with the cows and the cowherds. At eveningtide the two
immortals, having come to the cow-pens, joined heartily in whatever sports
amused the sons of the herdsmen.'[21]

One day as they are grazing the cows, they play a game. Krishna divides
the cows and cowherds into two sides and collecting flowers and fruits
pretends that they are weapons. They then stage a mock battle, pelting
each other with the fruits. A little later Balarama takes them to a grove
of palm trees. The ass demon, Dhenuka, guards it. Balarama, however,
seizes it by its hind legs, twists it round and hurls it into a high tree.
From the tree the demon falls down dead. When Dhenuka's companion asses
hasten to the spot, Krishna kills them also. The cowherds then pick the
coconuts to their hearts' content, fill a quantity of baskets and having
grazed the cows, go strolling home.

The next morning Krishna rises early, calls the cowherds and takes the
cows to the forest. As they are grazing them by the Jumna, they reach a
dangerous whirlpool. In this whirlpool lives the giant snake, Kaliya,
whose poison has befouled the water, curdling it into a great froth. The
cowherds and the cattle drink some of it, are taken ill, but revive at
Krishna's glance. They then play ball. A solitary _kadam_ tree is on the
bank. Krishna climbs it and a cowherd throws the ball up to him. The ball
goes into the water and Krishna, thinking this the moment for quelling the
great snake, plunges in after it. Kaliya detects that an intruder has
entered the pool, begins to spout poison and fire and encircles Krishna in
its coils. In their alarm the cowherds send word to Nanda and along with
Yasoda, Rohini and the other cowgirls, he hastens to the scene. Krishna
can no longer be seen and in her agitation Yasoda is about to throw
herself in. Krishna, however, is merely playing with the snake. In a
moment he expands his body, jumps from the coils and begins to dance on
the snake's heads. 'Having the weight of three worlds,' the _Purana_ says,
'Krishna was very heavy.' The snake fails to sustain this dancing burden,
its heads droop and blood flows from its tongues. It is about to die when
the snake-queens bow at Krishna's feet and implore his mercy. Krishna
relents, spares the snake's life but banishes it to a distant island.[22]
He then leaves the river, but the exhaustion of the cowherds and cowgirls
is so great that they decide to stay in the forest for the night and
return to Brindaban next morning. Their trials, however, are far from
over. At midnight there is a heavy storm and a huge conflagration. Scarlet
flames leap up, dense smoke engulfs the forest and many cattle are burnt
alive. Finding themselves in great danger, Nanda, Yasoda and the cowherds
call on Krishna to save them. Krishna quietly rises up, sucks the fire
into his mouth and ends the blaze.

The hot weather now comes. Trees are heavy with blossom, peacocks strut in
the glades and a general lethargy seizes the cowherds. One day Krishna and
his friends are out with the cattle when Pralamba, a demon in human form,
comes to join them. Krishna warns Balarama of the demon's presence and
tells him to await an opportunity to kill him. He then divides the
cowherds into two groups and starts them on the game of guessing fruits
and flowers. Krishna's side loses and as a penalty they have to run a
certain distance carrying Balarama's side on their shoulders. Pralamba
carries Balarama. He runs so fast that he quickly outstrips the others. As
he reaches the forest, he changes size, becoming 'large as a black hill.'
He is about to kill Balarama when Balarama himself rains blows upon him
and kills him instead.[23] While this is happening, the cows get lost,
another forest fire ensues and Krishna has once again to intervene. He
extinguishes the fire, regains the cattle and escorts the cowherds to
their homes.[24] When the others hear what has happened, they are filled
with wonder 'but obtain no clue to the actions of Krishna.'

During all this time, Krishna as 'son' of the wealthiest and most
influential cowherd, Nanda, has been readily accepted by the cowherd
children as their natural leader. His lack of fear, his bravery in coping
with demons, his resourcefulness in extricating the cowherds from awkward
situations, his complete self-confidence and finally his princely bearing
have revealed him as someone altogether above the ordinary. From time to
time he has disclosed his true nature as Vishnu but almost immediately has
exercised his 'illusory' power and prevented the cowherds from remembering
it. He has consequently lived among them as God but their love and
admiration are still for him as a boy. It is at this point that the
_Purana_ now moves to what is perhaps its most significant phase--a
description of Krishna's effects on the cowgirls.

[Footnote 11: Note 7.]

[Footnote 12: Magadha--a region corresponding to present-day South Bihar.]

[Footnote 13: Plate 3.]

[Footnote 14: Note 8.]

[Footnote 15: Note 9.]

[Footnote 16: Plate 4.]

[Footnote 17: Plate 5.]

[Footnote 18: Plate 6. In the _Harivansa_, the cause of the migration is
given as a dangerous influx of wolves.]

[Footnote 19: Note 10.]

[Footnote 20: Plate 7.]

[Footnote 21: Note 7.]

[Footnote 22: Plate 8.]

[Footnote 23: Plate 9.]

[Footnote 24: Plate 10.]

(ii) The Loves of the Cowgirls

We have seen how during his infancy Krishna's pranks have already made
him the darling of the women. As he grows up, he acquires a more adult
charm. In years he is still a boy but we are suddenly confronted with
what is to prove the very heart of the story--his romances with the
cowgirls. Although all of them are married, the cowgirls find his presence
irresistible and despite the warnings of morality and the existence of
their husbands, each falls utterly in love with him. As Krishna wanders in
the forest, the cowgirls can talk of nothing but his charms. They do their
work but their thoughts are on him. They stay at home but all the time
each is filled with desperate longing. One day Krishna plays on his flute
in the forest. Playing the flute is the cowherds' special art and Krishna
has, therefore, learnt it in his childhood. But, as in everything else,
his skill is quite exceptional and Krishna's playing has thus a beauty all
its own. From where they are working the cowgirls hear it and at once are
plunged in agitation. They gather on the road and say to each other,
'Krishna is dancing and singing in the forest and will not be home till
evening. Only then shall we see him and be happy.'

One cowgirl says, 'That happy flute to be played on by Krishna! Little
wonder that having drunk the nectar of his lips the flute should trill
like the clouds. Alas! Krishna's flute is dearer to him than we are for
he keeps it with him night and day. The flute is our rival. Never is
Krishna parted from it.' A second cowgirl speaks. 'It is because the flute
continually thought of Krishna that it gained this bliss.' And a third
says, 'Oh! why has Krishna not made us into flutes that we might stay with
him day and night?' The situation in fact has changed overnight for far
from merely appealing to the cowgirls' maternal instincts, Krishna is now
the darling object of their most intense passion.

Faced with this situation, the cowgirls discuss how best to gain Krishna
as their lover. They recall that bathing in the early winter is believed
to wipe out sin and fulfil the heart's desires. They accordingly go to the
river Jumna, bathe in its waters and after making clay images of Parvati,
Siva's consort, pray to her to make Krishna theirs. They go on doing this
for many days.

One day they choose a part of the river where there is a steep bank.
Taking off their clothes they leave them on the grass verge, enter the
water and swim around calling out their love for Krishna. Unknown to them,
Krishna is in the vicinity and is grazing the cows. He steals quietly up,
sees them in the river, makes their clothes into a bundle and then climbs
up with it into a tree. When the cowgirls come out of the water, they
cannot find their clothes until at last one of them spies Krishna sitting
in the tree. The cowgirls hurriedly squat down in the water entreating
Krishna to return their clothes. Krishna, however, tells them to come up
out of the water and ask him one by one. The cowgirls say, 'But this will
make us naked. You are making an end of our friendship.' Krishna says,
'Then you shall not have your clothes back.' The cowgirls answer, 'Why do
you treat us so? It is only for you that we have bathed all these days.'
Krishna answers, 'If that is really so, then do not be bashful or deceive
me. Come and take your clothes.' Finding no alternative, the cowgirls
argue amongst themselves that since Krishna already knows the secrets of
their minds and bodies, there is no point in being ashamed before him,
and they come up out of the water shielding their nakedness with their
hands.[25] Krishna tells them to raise their hands and then he will return
their clothes. The cowgirls do so begging him not to make fun of them and
to give them at least something in return. Krishna now hands the clothes
back giving as excuse for his conduct the following somewhat specious
reason. 'I was only giving you a lesson,' he says. 'The god Varuna lives
in water, so if anyone goes naked into it he loses his character. This was
a secret, but now you know it.' Then he relents. 'I have told you this
because of your love. Go home now but come back in the early autumn and we
will dance together.' Hearing this the cowgirls put on their clothes and
wild with love return to their village.

At this point the cowgirls' love for Krishna is clearly physical. Although
precocious in his handling of the situation, Krishna is still the rich
herdsman's handsome son and it is as this rather than as God that they
regard him. Yet the position is never wholly free from doubt for in loving
Krishna as a youth, it is as if they are from time to time aware of
adoring him as God. No precise identifications are made and yet so strong
are their passions that seemingly only God himself could evoke them. And
although no definite explanation is offered, it is perhaps this same idea
which underlies the following incident.

One day Krishna is in the forest when his cowherd companions complain
of feeling hungry. Krishna observes smoke rising from the direction of
Mathura and infers that the Brahmans are cooking food preparatory to
making sacrifice. He asks the cowherds to tell them that Krishna is hungry
and would like some of this food. The Brahmans of Mathura angrily spurn
the request, saying 'Who but a low cowherd would ask for food in the midst
of a sacrifice?' 'Go and ask their wives,' Krishna says, 'for being kind
and virtuous they will surely give you some.' Krishna's power with women
is then demonstrated once more. His fame as a stealer of hearts has
preceded him and the cowherds have only to mention his name for the wives
of the Brahmans to run to serve him. They bring out gold dishes, load them
with food, brush their husbands aside and hurry to the forest. One husband
stops his wife, but rather than be left behind the woman leaves her body
and reaches Krishna before the others. When the women arrive they marvel
at Krishna's beauty. 'He is Nanda's son,' they say. 'We heard his name and
everything else was driven from our minds. Let us gaze on this darling
object of our lives. O Krishna, it is due to you that we have seen you and
thus got rid of all our sins. Those stupid Brahmans, our husbands, mistook
you for a mere man. But you are God. As God they offer to you prayers,
penance, sacrifice and love. How then can they deny you food?' Krishna
replies that they should not worship him for he is only the child of the
cowherd, Nanda. He was hungry and they took pity on him, and he only
regrets that being far from home he cannot return their hospitality. They
must now go home as their presence is needed for the sacrifices and their
husbands must still be waiting. So cool an answer dismays the women and
they say, 'Great king, we loved your lotus-like face. We came to you
despite our families. They tried to stop us but we ignored them. If they
do not take us back, where shall we go? And one of us, prevented by her
husband, gave her life rather than not see you.' At this Krishna smiles,
reveals the woman and says, 'Whoever loves God never dies. She was here
before you.' Krishna then eats the food and assuring them that their
husbands will say nothing, sends them back to Mathura. When they arrive,
they find the Brahmans chastened and contrite--cursing their folly in
having failed to recognize Krishna as God and envious of their wives for
having seen him and given him food.

Having humbled the Brahmans, Krishna now turns to the gods, choosing
Indra, their chief, for attack. The moment is his annual worship when the
cowherds offer sweets, rice, saffron, sandal and incense. Seeing them
busy, Krishna asks Nanda what is the point of all their preparations. What
good can Indra really do? he asks. He is only a god, not God himself. He
is often worsted by demons and abjectly put to flight. In fact he has no
power at all. Men prosper because of their virtues or their fates, not
because of Indra. As cowherds, their business is to carry on agriculture
and trade and to tend cows and Brahmans. Their earliest books, the Vedas,
require them not to abandon their family customs and Krishna then cites as
an ancient practice the custom of placating the spirits of the forests and
hills. This custom, he says, they have wrongly superseded in favour of
Indra and they must now revive it. Nanda sees the force of Krishna's
remarks and holds a meeting. 'Do not brush aside his words as those of a
mere boy,' he says. 'If we face the facts, we have really nothing to do
with the ruler of the gods. It is on the forests, rivers and the great
hill, Govardhana, that we really depend.' The cowherds applaud this
advice, resolve to abandon the gods and in their place to worship the
mountain, Govardhana. The worship of the hill is then performed. Krishna
advises the cowherds to shut their eyes and the spirit of the hill will
then show itself. He then assumes the spirit's form himself, telling Nanda
and the cowherds that in response to their worship the mountain spirit has
appeared. The cowherds' eyes are easily deceived. Beholding, as they
think, Govardhana himself, they make offerings and go rejoicing home.

Such an act of defiance greatly enrages Indra and he assembles all the
gods. He forgets that earlier in the story it was the gods themselves who
begged Vishnu to be born on earth and that many of their number have even
taken birth as cowherds and cowgirls in order to delight in Krishna as
his incarnation. Instead he sees Krishna as 'a great talker, a silly
unintelligent child and very proud.' He scoffs at the cowherds for
regarding Krishna as a god, and in order to reinstate himself he orders
the clouds to rain down torrents. The cowherds, faced with floods on every
side, appeal to Krishna. Krishna, however, is fully alive to the position.
He calms their fears and raising the hill Govardhana, supports it on his
little finger.[26] The cowherds and cattle take shelter under it and
although Indra himself comes and pours down rain for seven days, Braj and
its inhabitants stay dry. Indra is compelled to admit that Vishnu has
indeed descended in the form of Krishna and retires to his abode. Krishna
then sets the hill down in its former place. Following this discomfiture,
Indra comes down from the sky accompanied by his white elephant and by
Surabhi, the cow of plenty. He offers his submission to Krishna, is
pardoned and returns.

All these events bring to a head the problem which has been exercising
the cowherds for long--who and what is Krishna? Obviously no simple boy
could lift the mountain on his finger. He must clearly be someone much
greater and they conclude that Krishna can only be Vishnu himself. They
accordingly beseech him to show them the paradise of Vishnu. Krishna
agrees, creates a paradise and shows it to them. The cowherds see it and
praise his name. Yet it is part of the story that these flashes of insight
should be evanescent--that having realized one instant that Krishna is
God, the cowherds should regard him the next instant as one of themselves.
Having revealed his true nature, therefore, Krishna becomes a cowherd once
again and is accepted by the cowherds as being only that.

One further incident must be recorded. In compliance with a vow, Nanda
assembles the cowherds and cowgirls and goes to the shrine of Devi, the
Earth Mother, to celebrate Krishna's twelfth birthday. There they make
lavish offerings of milk, curds and butter and thank the goddess for
protecting Krishna for so long. Night comes on and they camp near the
shrine. As Nanda is sleeping, a huge python begins to swallow his foot.[27]
Nanda calls to Krishna, who hastens to his rescue. Logs are taken from
a fire, but as soon as the snake is touched by Krishna, a handsome young
man emerges and stands before him with folded hands. He explains that he
was once the celestial dancer, Sudarsana who in excess of pride drove his
chariot backwards and forwards a hundred times over the place where a
holy man was meditating. As a consequence he was cursed and told to
become a python until Krishna came and released him. To attract Krishna's
attention he has seized the foot of Nanda. Krishna bids him go and,
ascending his chariot, Sudarsana returns to the gods.

The _Purana_ now returns to Krishna's encounters with the cowgirls, their
passionate longings and ardent desire to have him as their lover. Since
the incident at the river, they have been waiting for him to keep his
promise. Krishna, however, has appeared blandly indifferent--going to the
forest, playing with the cowherds but coldly ignoring the cowgirls
themselves. When autumn comes, however, the beauty of the nights stirs his
feelings. Belatedly he recalls his promise and decides to fulfil it. That
night his flute sounds in the forest, its notes reaching the ears of the
cowgirls and thrilling them to the core. Like girls in tribal India today,
they know it is a call to love. They put on new clothes, brush aside their
husbands, ignore the other members of their families and hurry to the
forest. As they arrive, Krishna stands superbly before them. He wears a
crown of peacocks' feathers and a yellow dhoti and his blue-black skin
shines in the moonlight. As the cowgirls throng to see him, he twits them
on their conduct. Are they not frightened at coming into the dark forest?
What are they doing abandoning their families? Is not such wild behaviour
quite unbefitting married girls? Should not a married girl obey her
husband in all things and never for a moment leave him? Having enjoyed the
deep forest and the moonlight, let them return at once and soothe their
injured spouses. The cowgirls are stunned to hear such words, hang their
heads, sigh and dig their toes into the ground. They begin to weep and at
last turn on Krishna, saying 'Oh! why have you deceived us so? It was your
flute that made us come. We have left our husbands for you. We live for
your love. Where are we to go?' 'If you really love me,' Krishna answers
'Dance and sing with me.' His words fill the cowgirls with delight and
surrounding Krishna 'like golden creepers growing on a dark-coloured
hill,' they go with him to the banks of the Jumna. Here Krishna has
conjured up a golden circular terrace ornamented with pearls and diamonds
and cooled by sprouting plantains. The moon pours down, saturating the
forest. The cowgirls' joy increases. They beautify their bodies and then,
wild with love, join with Krishna in singing and dancing. Modesty deserts
them and they do whatever pleases them, regarding Krishna as their lover.
As the night goes on, Krishna 'appears as beautiful as the moon amidst the

As the cowgirls' ecstasies proceed, Krishna feels that they are fast
exceeding themselves. They think that he is in their power and are already
swelling with pride. He decides therefore to leave them suddenly, and
taking a single girl with him vanishes from the dance.[28] When they find
him gone, the cowgirls are at a loss to know what to do. 'Only a moment
ago,' one of them says, 'Krishna's arms were about my neck, and now he has
gone.' They begin to comb the forest, anxiously asking the trees, birds
and animals, for news. As they go, they recall Krishna's many winning
ways, his sweetnesses of character, his heart-provoking charms and begin
to mimic his acts--the slaying of Putana, the quelling of Kaliya, the
lifting of the hill Govardhana. One girl imitates Krishna dancing and
another Krishna playing. In all these ways they strive to evoke his
passionately-desired presence. At length they discover Krishna's
footprints and a little farther on those of a woman beside them. They
follow the trail which leads them to a bed of leaves and on the leaves
they find a looking-glass. 'What was Krishna doing with this?' they ask.
'He must have taken it with him,' a cowgirl answers, 'so that while he
braided his darling's hair, she could still perceive his lovely form.' And
burning with love, they continue looking.

While they are searching, the particular cowgirl who has gone with Krishna
is tempted to take liberties. Thinking Krishna is her slave, she complains
of feeling tired and asks him to carry her on his shoulders. Krishna
smiles, sits down and asks her to mount. But as she puts out her hands, he
vanishes and she remains standing with hands outstretched.[29] Tears stream
from her eyes. She is filled with bitter grief and cries 'O Krishna! best
of lovers, where have you gone? Take pity.'

As she is bemoaning her fate, her companions arrive.[30] They put their
arms around her, comfort her as best they can, and then, taking her with
them, continue through the moonlight their vain and anguished search.
Krishna still evades them and they return to the terrace where the night's
dancing had begun. There they once again implore Krishna to have pity,
declaring that there is none like him in charm, that he is endlessly
fascinating and that in all of them he has aroused extremities of
passionate love. But the night is empty, their cries go unanswered, and
moaning for the Krishna they adore, they toss and writhe on the ground.

At last, Krishna relents. He stands among them and seeing him, their cares
vanish 'as creepers revive when sprinkled with the water of life.' Some
of the cowgirls hardly dare to be angry but others upbraid him for so
brusquely deserting them. To all, Krishna gives the same answer. He is not
to be judged by ordinary standards. He is a constant fulfiller of desire.
It was to test the strength of their love that he left them in the forest.
They have survived this stringent test and convinced him of their love.
The girls are in no mood to query his explanation and 'uniting with him'
they overwhelm him with frantic caresses.

Krishna now uses his 'delusive power' in order to provide each girl with
a semblance of himself. He asks them to dance and then projects a whole
series of Krishnas. 'The cowgirls in pairs joined hands and Krishna was
in their midst. Each thought he was at her side and did not recognize him
near anyone else. They put their fingers in his fingers and whirled about
with rapturous delight. Krishna in their midst was like a lovely cloud
surrounded by lightning. Singing, dancing, embracing and loving, they
passed the hours in extremities of bliss. They took off their clothes,
their ornaments and jewels and offered them to Krishna. The gods in heaven
gazed on the scene and all the goddesses longed to join. The singing
mounted in the night air. The winds were stilled and the streams ceased to
flow. The stars were entranced and the water of life poured down from the
great moon. So the night went on--on and on--and only when six months were
over did the dancers end their joy.'

As, at last, the dance concludes, Krishna takes the cowgirls to the Jumna,
bathes with them in the water, rids himself of fatigue and then after once
again gratifying their passions, bids them go home. When they reach their
houses, no one is aware that they have not been there all the time.

[Footnote 25: Plate 11.]

[Footnote 26: Plate 12.]

[Footnote 27: Note 11.]

[Footnote 28: Plate 13.]

[Footnote 29: Plate 14.]

[Footnote 30: Plate 15.]

(iii) The Death of the Tyrant

This scene with its crescendos of excitement, its delight in physical
passion and ecstatic exploration of sexual desire is, in many ways, the
climax of Krishna's pastoral career. It expresses the devotion felt for
him by the cowgirls. It stresses his loving delight in their company. It
suggests the blissful character of the ultimate union. No further
revelation, in fact, is necessary for this is the crux of Krishna's life.
None the less the ostensible reason for his birth remains--to rid the
earth of the vicious tyrant Kansa--and to this the _Purana_ now returns.

We have seen how in his anxious quest for the child who is to kill him,
Kansa has dispatched his demon warriors on roving commissions, authorizing
them to attack and kill all likely children. Many children have in this
way been slaughtered but Kansa is still uncertain whether his prime
purpose has been fulfilled. He has no certain knowledge that among the
dead children is his dreaded enemy. He is still unaware that Krishna is
destined to be his foe and he therefore continues the hunt, his demon
emissaries pouncing like commandos on youthful stragglers and hounding
them to their deaths. Among such youths Krishna is still an obvious target
and although unaware that this is the true object of their quest, demons
continue to harry him.

One night Krishna and Balarama are in the forest with the cowgirls when a
yaksha demon, Sankhasura, a jewel flashing in his head, comes among them.
He drives the cowgirls off but hearing their cries, Krishna follows after.
Balarama stays with the girls while Krishna catches and beheads the demon.

On another occasion, Krishna and Balarama are returning at evening with
the cows when a bull demon careers amongst them. He runs amok scattering
the cattle in all directions. Krishna, however, is not at all daunted and
after wrestling with the bull, catches its horns and breaks its neck.

To such blind attacks there is no immediate end. One day, however, a sage
discloses to Kansa the true identity of his enemy. He tells him in what
manner Balarama and Krishna were born, how Balarama was transferred
from Devaki's womb to that of Rohini, and how Krishna was transported
to Nanda's house in Gokula. Kansa is now confronted with the ghastly
truth--how Vasudeva's willingness to surrender his first six sons has
lulled his suspicions, how his confidence in Vasudeva has been entirely
misplaced, and how completely he has been deceived. He sends for Vasudeva
and is on the point of killing him when the sage interposes, advising
Kansa to imprison Vasudeva for the present and meanwhile make an all-out
attempt to kill or capture Balarama and Krishna. Kansa sees the force of
his remarks, spares Vasudeva for the moment, throws him and Devaki into
jail and dispatches a special demon, the horse Kesi, on a murderous

As the horse speeds on its way, Kansa assembles his demon councillors,
explains the situation to them and asks for their advice. If Krishna
should not be killed in the forest, the only alternative, the demons
suggest, is to decoy him to Mathura. Let a handsome theatre be built, a
sacrifice to Siva held and a special festival of arms proclaimed. All the
cowherds will naturally come to see it. Nanda, the rich herdsman, will
bring presents, Krishna and Balarama will come with other cowherds. When
they have arrived the wrestler Chanura can throw them down and kill them.
Kansa is delighted at the suggestion, adding only that a savage elephant
should be stationed at the gate ready to tear Krishna and Balarama to
pieces immediately they enter. He then dismisses his demon advisers and
sends for Akrura, the chief of the Yadavas and a leading member of his
court. Akrura, he judges, will be the best person to decoy Krishna to
Mathura. He accordingly briefs him as to his intentions and instructs him
to await orders. Akrura deems it politic to express compliance but
secretly is overjoyed that he will thus obtain access to the Krishna he

The first stage of Kansa's master plan is now brought into effect. The
horse demon, Kesi, reaches Brindaban and begins to paw the ground and kick
up its heels. The cowherds are frightened but Krishna dares it to attack.
The horse tries to bite him but Krishna plunges his hand down its throat
and expands it to a vast size until the demon bursts. Its remains litter
the ground but Krishna is so unmoved that he merely summons the cowherd
children to play a game. Squatting with them under a fig tree, he names
one of them a general, another a minister, a third a councillor and
himself pretending to be a raja plays with them at being king. A little
later they join him in a game of blind man's bluff.

This unexpected _denouement_ enrages Kansa but instead of desisting from
the attempt and bringing into force the second part of his plan, he
decides to make one further effort to murder his hated foe. He accordingly
summons the wolf demon, Vyamasura, gives him detailed instructions and
dispatches him to Brindaban. The demon hies to the forest, arriving while
Krishna and the children are still at blind man's buff. He has dressed
himself as a beggar and going humbly up to Krishna asks if he may join in.
Krishna tells him to choose whatever game he likes and the demon says,
'What about the game of wolf and rams?' 'Very well,' Krishna answers, 'You
be the wolf and the cowherd boys the rams.' They start to play and the
demon rounds up all the children and keeps them in a cave. Then, assuming
true wolf's form he pounces on Krishna. Krishna, however, is quite
prepared and seizing the wolf by the throat, strangles it to death.

Akrura is now sent for and instructed to go to Brindaban and return with
Krishna to Mathura. He sets out and as he journeys allows his thoughts to
dwell on the approaching meeting. 'Now,' he muses 'has my life borne
fruit; my night is followed by the dawn of day; since I shall see the
countenance of Vishnu, whose eyes are like the expanded leaf of the lotus.
I shall behold that lotus-eyed aspect of Vishnu, which, when seen only in
imagination, takes away the sins of men. I shall today behold that glory
of glories, the mouth of Vishnu, whence proceeded the Vedas, and all their
dependent sciences. I shall see the sovereign of the world, by whom the
world is sustained; who is worshipped as the best of males, as the male
sacrifice in sacrificial rites. I shall see Vishnu, who is without
beginning or end; by worshipping whom with a hundred sacrifices, Indra
obtained the sovereignty over the gods. The soul of all, the knower of
all, he who is all and is present in all, he who is permanent, undecaying,
all-pervading will converse with me. He, the unborn, who has preserved the
world in the various forms of a fish, tortoise, a boar, a horse, a lion
will this day speak to me. Now the lord of the earth, who assumes shapes
at will, has taken upon him the condition of humanity, to accomplish some
object cherished in his heart. Glory to that being whose deceptive
adoption of father, son, brother, friend, mother, and relative, the world
is unable to penetrate. May he in whom cause and effect, and the world
itself, is comprehended, be propitious to me, through his truth; for
always do I put my trust in that unborn, eternal Vishnu; by meditation on
whom man becomes the repository of all good things.'[31]

He goes on to think of how he will kneel before Krishna with folded hands
and afterwards put on his head the dust of Krishna's feet--the same feet
which 'have come to destroy crime, which fell on the snake Kaliya's head
and which have danced with the cowgirls in the forest.' Krishna, he
believes, will know at once that he is not Kansa's envoy and will receive
him with kindness. And this is what actually ensues. Meeting Krishna
outside Brindaban, he falls at his feet, Krishna lifts him up, embraces
him and brings him into Nanda's house. Akrura tells Nanda and Krishna
how Kansa has oppressed the people of Mathura, imprisoned Vasudeva and
Devaki and has now sent him to invite them to attend the festival of
arms. Krishna listens and at once agrees to go, while Nanda sends out a
town-crier to announce by beat of drum that all the cowherds should get
ready to leave the next day. When morning comes, Krishna leaves in a
chariot, accompanied by the cowherds and their children.

The news of his sudden departure devastates the cowgirls. Since the
circular dance in which their love was consummated, they have been meeting
Krishna every evening and delighting in his company. And during the
daytime their passionate longings have centred solely on him. That he
should leave them so abruptly causes them complete dismay and they are
only comforted when Krishna assures them that he will return after a few

On the way to Mathura Akrura bathes in the Jumna and is granted a vision
of Krishna as Vishnu himself.

Reaching Mathura, Nanda and the cowherds pitch their tents outside the
city walls[32] while Krishna with Balarama and the cowherd children go
inside the city for a walk. As they wander through the streets, the news
of their arrival precedes them and women, excited by Krishna's name,
throng the rooftops, balconies and windows. 'Some ran off in the middle of
their dinner: others while bathing and others while engaged in plaiting
their hair. They forgot all dalliance with their husbands and went to look
at Krishna.' As Krishna proceeds, he meets some of Kansa's washermen
carrying with them bundles of clothes. He asks them to give him some and
when they refuse, he attacks one of them and strikes off his head. The
others drop their bundles and run for their lives. The cowherd children
try to dress themselves up but not knowing how to wear the clothes, some
of them put their arms into trousers and their legs into coats. Krishna
laughs at their mistakes until a tailor, a servant of Kansa, repudiates
his master, glorifies Krishna and sets the clothes right. A little later,
a gardener takes them to his house and places garlands round their necks.
As they are leaving, they meet a young woman, a hunchback, carrying a pot
of scented ointment. Krishna cannot resist flirting with her and asks her
for whom she is carrying the ointment. The girl, Kubja, sees the amorous
look in his eyes and being greatly taken by his beauty answers 'Dear one,
do you not know that I am a servant of Raja Kansa and though a hunchback
am entrusted with making his perfumes?' 'Lovely one,' Krishna answers,
'Give us a little of this ointment, just enough to rub on our bodies.'
'Take some,' says Kubja, and giving it to Krishna and Balarama, she allows
them to rub it on their bodies. When they have finished, Krishna takes her
under the chin, lifts her head and at the same time, presses her feet down
with his toes. In this way he straightens her back, thereby changing her
into the loveliest of girls. Filled with love and gratitude, Kubja catches
Krishna by the dress and begs him to come and visit her. Krishna promises
to go later and smilingly dismisses her.

Krishna now reaches the gate where the bow of Siva 'as long as three palm
trees' and very heavy, is being guarded by soldiers. He picks it up, bends
it to the full and breaks it in pieces. When the guards attack him, he
kills them and presently slaughters all the reinforcements which Kansa
sends. When the battle is over, he strolls calmly back to the cowherds'

Next day, Krishna and the cowherds enter Mathura to attend the sports.
Krishna is obstructed by a giant elephant, attacks it and after a great
fight kills it. He and Balarama then extract the tusks and parade with
them in the arena. It is now the turn of Kansa's wrestlers. Their leader,
Chanura, dares Krishna to give Kansa a little amusement by wrestling with
him. Krishna takes him at his word and again after a fierce combat leaves
the wrestler dead on the ground.[34] At the same time, Balarama attacks and
kills a second wrestler, Mustaka. When other wrestlers strive to kill
Krishna and Balarama, they also are dispatched. Seeing first one and then
another plan go astray, Kansa orders his remaining demons to fetch
Vasudeva, Devaki and Ugrasena, declaring that after he has killed them he
will put the two young men to death. This declaration seals his fate. In a
flash Krishna slays Kansa's demons and then, leaping on the dais where
Kansa is sitting, he seizes him by the hair and hurls him to the ground.
Kansa is killed and all Mathura rejoices. Kansa's eight demon brothers are
then slain and only when Krishna has dragged Kansa's body to the river
Jumna and is sure that not a single demon is left do he and Balarama
desist from fighting.

[Footnote 31: Note 7.]

[Footnote 32: Plate 16.]

[Footnote 33: Plate 16.]

[Footnote 34: Plate 17.]



(i) The Return to Court

The death of Kansa brings to a close the first phase of Krishna's career.
His primary aim has now been accomplished. The tyrant whose excesses have
for so long vexed the righteous is dead. Earth's prayer has been granted.
Krishna has reached, in fact, a turning-point in his life and on what he
now decides the rest of his career depends. If he holds that his earthly
mission is ended, he must quit his mortal body, resume his sublime
celestial state and once again become the Vishnu whose attributes have
been praised by Akrura when journeying to Brindaban. If, on the other
hand, he regards his mission as still unfulfilled, is he to return to
Brindaban or should he remain instead at Mathura? At Brindaban, his foster
parents, Nanda and Yasoda, his friends the cowherds and his loves the
cowgirls long for his return. He has spent idyllic days in their company.
He has saved them from the dangers inherent in forest life. He has kept a
host of demon marauders at bay. At the same time, his magnetic charms have
aroused the most intense devotion. If he returns, it will be to dwell with
people who have doted on him as a child, adored him as a youth and who
love him as a man. On the other hand, Mathura, it is clear, has also
strong claims. Although reared and bred among the cowherds, Krishna is, in
fact, a child of Mathura. Although smuggled from the prison immediately
afterwards, it was in Mathura that he left his mother's womb. His true
father is Vasudeva, a leader of the Yadava nobility and member of the
Mathura ruling caste. His true mother, Devaki, is related to the Mathura
royal family. If his youth and infancy have been passed among the
cowherds, this was due to special reasons. His father's substitution of
him at birth for Yasoda's baby daughter was dictated by the dire perils
which would have confronted him had he remained with his mother. It was,
at most, a desperate expedient for saving his life and although the
tyrant's unremitting search for the child who was to kill him prolonged
his stay in Brindaban, his transportation there was never intended as a
permanent arrangement. A deception has been practised. Nanda and Yasoda
regard and believe Krishna to be their son. None the less there has been
no formal adoption and it is Vasudeva and Devaki who are his parents.

It is this which decides the issue. As one who by birth and blood belongs
to Mathura, Krishna can hardly desert it now that the main obstacle to his
return--the tyrant Kansa--has been removed. His plain duty is to his
parents and his castemen. Painful therefore as the severance must be, he
decides to abandon the cowherds and see them no more. He is perhaps
fortified in his decision by the knowledge that even in his relations with
the cowgirls a climax has been reached. A return would merely repeat their
nightly ecstasies, not achieve a fresh experience. Finally although Kansa
himself has been killed, his demon allies are still at large. Mathura and
Krishna's kinsmen, the Yadavas, are far from safe. He can hardly desert
them until their interests have been permanently safeguarded and by then
he will have become a feudal princeling, the very reverse of the young
cowherd who night after night has thrilled the cowgirls with his flute.

Following the tyrant's death, then, a train of complicated adjustments are
set in motion. The first step is to re-establish Krishna with his true
parents who are still in jail where the tyrant has confined them. Krishna
accordingly goes to visit them, frees them from their shackles and stands
before them with folded hands. For an instant Vasudeva and Devaki know
that Krishna is God and that in order to destroy demons he has come on
earth. They are about to worship him when Krishna dispels this knowledge
and they look on him and Balarama as their sons. Then Krishna addresses
them. For all these long years Vasudeva and Devaki have known that Krishna
and Balarama were their children and have suffered accordingly. It was not
Krishna's fault that he and Balarama were placed in Nanda's charge. Yet
although parted from their mother, they have never forgotten her. It pains
them to think that they have done so little to make her happy, that they
have never had her society and have wasted their time with strangers. And
he reminds them that in the world only those who serve their fathers and
mothers obtain power. Vasudeva and Devaki are greatly touched by Krishna's
words. Their former woe vanishes and they embrace Krishna and Balarama

Having acknowledged Vasudeva and Devaki as his true parents, Krishna has
now to adjust his social position. Since Nanda and the cowherds belong to
a lower caste than that of Vasudeva and the other Yadavas, Krishna and
Balarama, who have eaten and drunk with the cowherds and have been brought
up with them, are not true members of the Yadava community. The family
priest is accordingly consulted and it is decided that a ceremony for
admitting them into caste must be performed. This is done and Krishna and
Balarama are given the customary sacred threads. They are now no longer
cowherds but true Yadavas. At the same time they are given a spiritual
preceptor who instructs them in the sacred texts and manuals of learning.
When they have finished the course, they express their gratitude by
restoring to him his dead son who has been drowned in the sea.

One further obligation springs from their new position. We have seen how
in the epic, the _Mahabharata_, Krishna stands in a special relation to
the Pandavas, the faction which emerges victorious from the great feud.
The mother of the Pandavas is called Kunti and it is Kunti who is the
sister of Krishna's father, Vasudeva. Since he is now with his true
father, rumours concerning Kunti reach Krishna and he learns that along
with her sons, the five Pandavas, she is being harassed by the Kaurava
king, the blind Dhritarashtra, egged on by his son, the evil Duryodhana.
Being now a part of his father's family, Krishna can hardly be indifferent
to the fate of so intimate a relative. Akrura, the leading Yadava
diplomat, whom the tyrant had employed to bring Krishna to Mathura, is
accordingly despatched on yet another mission. He is to visit the Kauravas
and Pandavas, ascertain the facts, console Krishna's aunt, Kunti, and then
return and report. Akrura reaches the Kauravas' capital and discovers that
the rumours are only too correct. Relations between the two families are
strained to breaking point. The blind king is at the mercy of his son,
Duryodhana, and it is the latter who is ceaselessly harrying Kunti and her
sons. A little later, as we have already seen, a final attempt on their
lives will be made, they will be induced to sleep in a new house, the
house will be fired and only by a fortunate chance will the Pandavas
escape to the forest and dwell in safety. This, however, is in the future
and for the moment Kunti and her sons are still at court. Akrura assures
Kunti of Krishna's abiding concern and returns to Mathura. Krishna and
Balarama are perturbed to hear his news, deliberate on whether to
intervene, but decide for the moment to do nothing.

The second adjustment which Krishna has now to make is to reconcile the
cowherds to his permanent departure from them and to wean them from their
passionate adherence to his presence. This is much more difficult. We have
seen how on the journey to Mathura, Krishna has been accompanied by Nanda
and the cowherds and how during the closing struggle with the tyrant they
also have been present. When the fight is finally over, they prepare to
depart, taking it for granted that Krishna and Balarama will come with
them. Krishna has therefore to disillusion Nanda. He breaks the news to
him that it is not he and Yasoda who are actually his parents but Vasudeva
and Devaki. He loads Nanda with jewels and costly dresses and thanks him
again and again for all his loving care. He then explains that he has now
to stay in Mathura for a time to meet his castemen, the Yadavas. Nanda is
greatly saddened by the news. The cowherds strive to dissuade him but
Krishna is adamant. He retains a few cowherds with him, but the rest
return to Brindaban, Krishna promising that after a time he will visit
them. On arrival Nanda strives in vain to console Yasoda and is forced to
tell her that Krishna has now acknowledged Vasudeva as his true father,
that he has probably left Brindaban for good and that his own early
intuition that Krishna was God is correct. Yasoda, as she thinks of her
lost 'son,' is overwhelmed with grief, but recovers when she realizes that
actually he is God. As to the cowgirls, their grief is endless as they
recall Krishna's heart-ensnaring charms.

Such a step is obviously only the first move in what must necessarily be a
long and arduous operation. Finding it impossible to say outright that he
will never see them again, Krishna has committed himself to paying the
cowherds a visit. Yet he realizes that nothing can be gained by such a
step since, if his future lies with the princely Yadavas, any mingling
with the cowherds will merely disrupt this final role. Yet clearly he
cannot just abandon his former associates without any regard at all for
their proper feelings. Weaning is necessary, and it must above all be
gradual. He decides, therefore, that since he himself cannot go, someone
must be sent on his behalf. Accordingly, he instructs a friend, Udho, to
go to Brindaban, meet the cowherds and make excuses for his absence. At
the same time, he must urge the cowgirls to give up regarding Krishna as
their lover but worship him as God. Udho is accordingly dressed in
Krishna's clothes, thereby making him appear a real substitute and is
despatched in Krishna's chariot.

When Udho arrives, he finds Nanda and Yasoda still lamenting Krishna's
absence and the cowgirls still longing for him as their lover. He begs
them to regard Krishna as God--as someone who is constantly near those who
love him even if he cannot be seen. Krishna, he says, has forbidden them
to hope for any further impassioned ecstasies and now requires them to
offer him their devotion only. If they do penance and meditate, Krishna
will never leave them. From the day they commenced thinking of him, none
have been so much loved as they. 'As earth, wind, water, fire, rain dwell
in the body, so Krishna dwells in you; but through the influence of his
delusive power seems to be apart.' Udho's pleading shocks and embitters
the cowgirls. 'How can he talk to us like that?' they ask. 'It is
Krishna's body that we adore, not some invisible idea high up in the sky.
How has Krishna suddenly become invisible and imperceptible, a being
without qualities and form, when all along he has delighted us with his
physical charms. As to penance and meditation, these concern widows. What
woman does penance while her husband is alive? It is all the doing of
Kubja, the girl of Mathura whose charms have captivated Krishna. Were it
not for Kubja and other beauties of Mathura, Krishna would now be with us
in Brindaban. Had we known he would not return, we would never have let
him go.' In such words they repudiate Udho's message, upbraid Krishna for
his fickle conduct and demonstrate with what intensity they still adore

Udho is reduced to silence and can only marvel at the cowgirls' bliss in
abandoning everything to think only of Krishna. Finally they send Krishna
the message--that if he really desires them to abandon loving him with
their bodies and resort to penance, he himself must come and show them how
to do it. Unless he comes, they will die of neglect.

A few days later, Udho returns to Mathura bringing with him milk and
butter as presents to Krishna from Nanda and Yasoda and escorting Rohini,
Vasudeva's other wife and Balarama's mother. He gives Krishna the
cowgirls' message and reports how all Brindaban longs for his return.
'Great King,' he says, 'I cannot tell you how they love you. You are their
life. Night and day they think of you. Their love for you is complete as
perfect worship. I gave them your advice concerning penance, but I have
learnt from them perfect adoration. They will only be content when they
see and touch you again.' Krishna listens and is silent. It is clear that
efforts at weaning the cowgirls from him have so far failed and something
further must be attempted.

Yet his resolve to sever all connections with his former life remains and
it is perhaps symbolic of his purpose that he now recalls the hunch-back
girl, Kubja, takes Udho with him and in a single ecstatic visit becomes
her lover. As he reaches her house, the girl greets him with delight,
takes him inside and seats him on a couch of flowers. Udho stays outside
and then while Krishna waits, the girl quickly bathes, scents herself,
combs her hair and changes her dress. Then 'with gaiety and endearment'
she approaches Krishna. Krishna, however, takes her by the hand and
places her near him. Their passions rise and the two achieve the utmost
bliss. Krishna then leaves her, rejoins Udho and 'blushing and smiling'
returns home.

The third step which Krishna must take is to deal with the political and
military situation which has arisen from the slaying of the tyrant. We
have seen how Kansa, although actually begotten by a demon was officially
a son of Ugrasena, the king of Mathura, and as one of his many demon acts,
had dethroned his father and seized the kingdom for himself. Ugrasena is
still alive and the obvious course, therefore, is to reinstate him on the
throne. Ugrasena, however, is unwilling to assume power and he and the
other Yadavas implore Krishna to accept the title for himself. Krishna,
however, has no desire to become king. He therefore overcomes Ugrasena's
hesitations and in due course the latter is enthroned.

This settles the succession problem, but almost immediately a graver issue
arises. During his reign of terror, Kansa had made war on Jarasandha, king
of Magadha. He had defeated him but as part of the peace terms had taken
two of his daughters as queens. These have now been widowed by his death
and repairing to their father's court, they rail bitterly against Krishna
and beg their father to avenge their husband's death. Jarasandha, although
a former rival of Kansa, is also a demon and can therefore summon to his
aid a number of demon allies. Great armies are accordingly mobilized.
Mathura is surrounded and the Yadavas are in dire peril. Krishna and
Balarama, however, are undismayed. They attack the foes single-handed and
by dint of their supernatural powers, utterly rout them. Jarasandha is
captured but released so that he may return to the attack and even more
demons may then be slaughtered. He returns in all seventeen times, is
vanquished on each occasion but returns once more. This time he is aided
by another demon, Kalayavana, and seeing the constant strain of such
attacks, Krishna decides to evacuate the Yadavas and settle them at a new
base. He commissions the divine architect, Visvakarma, to build a new city
in the sea. This is done in one night, the city is called Dwarka[35] and
there the Yadavas with all their goods are transported. When this has been
done, Krishna and Balarama trick the demons. They pretend to be utterly
defeated, retreat from Mathura and in despair ascend a tall hill. The
demon armies surround them and there appears to be no possible way of
escape. Jarasandha orders wood to be brought from the surrounding towns
and villages, piled up round the hill, saturated with oil and then set
fire to. A vast flame shoots up. The whole hill is ablaze but Krishna and
Balarama slip out unseen, take the road to Mathura and finally reach
Dwarka. When the hill is reduced to ashes, Jarasandha concludes that
Krishna and Balarama have perished. He advances to Mathura, occupies the
empty town, proclaims his authority and returns to Magadha.

[Footnote 35: Dwarka is sited on the western seaboard, 300 miles north-west
of Bombay.]

(ii) Marriages and Offspring

The immediate position, then, is that Krishna has abandoned his life among
the cowherds, has been accepted as a Yadava, has coped with the difficult
and dangerous situation arising from the tyrant king's death and finally
has saved the Yadavas from extinction by demons. This, however, has meant
the abandonment of Mathura and the movement of the Yadavas to a new city,
Dwarka. The same problem, therefore, which faced him earlier, confronts
him once again. Having obtained immunity for the Yadavas and brought them
to a new land, can Krishna now regard his mission as accomplished? Or must
he linger on earth still longer? The answer can hardly be in doubt; for
although the Yadavas appear to be installed in good surroundings, demon
hordes still range the world. The tyrant Kansa was only the worst and most
powerful member of the demon hosts. The war with Jarasandha has rid the
world of many demons, but vast numbers remain and until their ranks have
been appreciably reduced, Krishna's mission will be unfulfilled. Only one
course of action, therefore, is possible. He must accept a permanent
position in Yadava society, live as an honoured noble, a prince of the
blood royal and as occasion warrants continue to intervene in the struggle
between the good and the bad.

Such a decision is taken and Krishna installs himself at Dwarka. Before he
can fulfil his duties as an adult member of the race, however, certain
preliminaries are necessary and among them is the important issue of his
marriage. Both he and Balarama require wives and the question is how are
they to get them. Balarama's problem is easily settled by a marriage to
Revati, a princess. Krishna's, on the other hand, is less straightforward
and he is still undecided when news is brought that the Raja of Kundulpur
has a daughter of matchless loveliness, her name Rukmini. Her eyes, it was
said, were like a doe's, her complexion like a flower, her face dazzling
as the moon. Rukmini in turn has overheard some beggars reciting Krishna's
exploits, has fallen in love with his image and is at once delighted and
disturbed. In this way each is fascinated by the other. Almost
immediately, however, a crisis occurs. Rukmini's brother, Rukma, urges her
father to marry her to a rival, Sisupala. Krishna's claims as Vishnu
incarnate are advanced in vain and he is ridiculed as being just a
cowherd. Against his better judgment her father acquiesces and
arrangements for a wedding with Sisupala go forward. Rukmini now takes the
daring step of sending a message to Krishna, declaring her love and asking
him to save her. Krishna reads it with delight. He at once leaves for
Kundulpur, finding it gay with flags and banners, golden spires and
wreaths of flowers. Sisupala has arrived, but in addition, there is
Krishna's old enemy, Jarasandha, encamped with an army of demons. Rukmini
is in despair until she learns that Krishna also has arrived. A little
later Balarama reaches the scene, bringing with him an army. Sisupala is
dismayed at his arrival and both sides watch each other's movements. The
wedding day now dawns and Rukmini, guarded by Sisupala's soldiers, goes
outside the city to worship at a shrine to Devi.[36] As she nears the
shrine, Krishna suddenly appears. Rukmini gazes with adoration at him. He
springs among the soldiers, lifts her into his chariot and rushes her

This summary abduction is more than Sisupala can bear. Troops career after
Krishna. Armies engage. A vast battle ensues. As they fight, Rukmini looks
timorously on. At last, Balarama vanquishes the demon hosts, 'as a white
elephant scatters lotuses.' Sisupala and Jarasandha flee, but Rukmini's
evil brother, Rukma, returns to the fray, strives feverishly to kill
Krishna, fails and is taken captive. His life is spared at Rukmini's
behest, but he is led away, his hands tied behind his back and his
moustaches shaven off. Balarama intercedes and effects his release and
Rukma goes away to brood on his discomfiture and plot revenge. Krishna now
returns to Dwarka in triumph, is given a rapturous welcome and a little
later celebrates his marriage with full ritual. 'Priests recited the
Vedas, Krishna circled round with Rukmini. Drums resounded. The delighted
gods rained down flowers; demi-gods, saints, bards and celestial musicians
were all spectators from the sky.'

Having married Rukmini, Krishna has now the full status of a grown prince.
But he is nothing if not supernormal; and just as earlier in his career he
has showered his affection on a host of cowgirls, he now acquires a whole
succession of further wives. The first is Jambhavati, the second
Satyabhama. Satyabhama's father is a certain Sattrajit who has obtained
from the sun the boon of a jewel. The jewel flashes with light and Krishna
advises him to surrender it to King Ugrasena. The man refuses; whereupon
his brother seizes it and goes away to the forest. Here a lion pounces
upon him, devours the man and his horse and hides the jewel. The lion is
then killed by a bear who centuries earlier had served with Vishnu's
earlier incarnation, Rama, during his campaign against the demon king of
Lanka.[37] The bear carries away the jewel and gives it to its mate. When
Sattrajit hears that his brother is missing, he concludes that Krishna has
caused his death and starts a whispering campaign, accusing Krishna of
making away with the jewel. Krishna hears of the slander and at once
decides to search for the missing man, recover the jewel and thus silence
his accuser for ever. As he goes through the forest, Krishna finds a cave
where the dead lion is lying. He enters it, grapples with the bear but is
quickly recognized by the bear as Krishna himself. The bear bows before
him and begs him to accept his daughter Jambhavati in marriage. He
includes the jewel as part of the dowry. Krishna marries the girl and
returns. Back at the court he upbraids Sattrajit for falsely accusing him.
'I did not take the jewel,' he says. 'The bear took it. Now he has given
the jewel to me and also his daughter. Take back your jewel and be
silent.' Sattrajit is overwhelmed with shame and by way of amends gives
Krishna his own daughter, Satyabhama. Krishna marries her and Sattrajit
begs him to take the jewel also. Krishna refuses and the jewel remains
with its owner. A little later, Sattrajit is murdered and the jewel once
again stolen. The murderer thief is tracked down by Krishna and killed,
but only after many delays is the jewel at last recovered from Akrura--the
leading Yadava who earlier in the story has acted first as Raja Kansa's
envoy to Krishna and later as Krishna's envoy to Kunti. Krishna orders him
to return it to its owner, Sattrajit's grandson. Akrura places it at
Krishna's feet and Krishna gives it to Satyabhama. The upshot, then, is
that the slander is ended, the jewel is regained and in the process
Krishna acquires two further wives.

These extra marriages, however, by no means end the tally of his consorts,
for during a visit to his relatives, the Pandavas, now returned from exile
and for the moment safely reinstalled in their kingdom, he sees a lovely
girl, Kalindi, wandering in the forest. She is the daughter of the sun and
has been sent to dwell by a river until her appointed bridegroom, Krishna,
arrives to claim her. Krishna is delighted with her youth, places her in
his chariot and on his return to Dwarka, celebrates their wedding. A
little later other girls are married to him, in many cases only after a
fierce struggle with demons. In this way, he obtains eight queens, at the
same time advancing his prime purpose of ridding the world of demons.

At this point, the _Purana_ embarks on an episode which, at first sight,
appears to have very little to do with its main subject. In fact, however,
its relevance is great for, as a consequence, Krishna the prince acquires
as many female companions as he had enjoyed as a youth. The episode begins
with Earth again appearing in heaven. Having successfully engineered
Krishna's birth, she does special penance and again beseeches the supreme
Trinity to grant her a boon. This boon is a son who will never be equalled
and who will never die. Brahma, Vishnu and Siva agree to give her a son,
Naraka, but on the following conditions: he will conquer all the kings of
the earth, rout the gods in the sky, carry off the earrings of Aditi (the
mother of the gods), wear them himself, take the canopy of Indra and place
it over his own head and finally, collect together but not marry sixteen
thousand one hundred virgin daughters of different kings. Krishna will
then attack him and at Earth's own behest, will kill Naraka and take to
Dwarka all the imprisoned girls. Earth says, 'Why should I ever tell
anyone to kill my own son?' and is silent. None the less the boon is
granted, the conditions are in due course fulfilled and after a furious
encounter with Naraka at his city of Pragjyotisha,[38] Krishna is once
again victorious. During the battle, Muru or Mura, the arch demon, aided
by seven sons, strenuously defends the city. Krishna kills him by cutting
off his five heads but has then to resist whole armies of demons assembled
by the sons. When these also have been destroyed, Krishna meets Naraka and
after a vicious contest finally kills him, recovering in consequence the
earrings of Aditi and the canopy of Indra. Naraka's palace is then opened
and reveals the bevy of imprisoned girls. As they gaze on Krishna, their
reactions are reminiscent of the cowgirls'. They implore Krishna to take
them away and allow them to lavish on him their impassioned love. Krishna
agrees, chariots are sent for and the vast concourse of passion-stricken
girls is transported to Dwarka. Here Krishna marries them, showering
affection on each of the sixteen thousand and one hundred 'and displaying
unceasing love for his eight queens.'

Such an incident revives an aspect of Krishna's early character which up
to the present has been somewhat obscured by other events. Besides slaying
demons he has all along been sensitive to feminine needs, arousing in
women passionate adoration and at the same time fulfilling the most
intense of their physical desires. It is these qualities which
characterize his later career.

Having on one occasion given Rukmini, his first consort, a flower of the

Book of the day: