This is part of the famous speech in the Bhagavad Gita, when Lord Krishna describes God, at the battlefield of Kurukshetra in the great epic Mahabharata, when Arjuna had appealed to his friend Krishna.
Who is Krishna? Lord Krishna, is perhaps the most popular and powerful eighth incarnations of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver in the Hindu Trinity. Krishna literally means ‘black’ which to me symbolises the deep dark blue-black of the unfathomable. I think of the vast night skies and depth of the oceans. He was dark, mysterious, charming, handsome, and enigmatic and devotees go ecstatic on hearing his name.
People consider Krishna their leader, hero, protector, philosopher, teacher and friend all rolled into one. Krishna has influenced Indian thought, life and culture in a myriad of ways. He has influenced not only its religion and philosophy, but also into its mysticism and literature, painting and sculpture, dance and music, and all aspects of Indian folklore.
During Muslim rule, Krishna was popularly drawn as the lover in Moghul-paintings, thus preserving the beloved image in that period.
The narrative of the birth of Lord Krishna is in itself an awe-inspiring phenomenon.
It is said Mother Earth, unable to bear the pressures of evil forces appealed to the Divine to alleviate suffering. One such evil force was Kamsa, the ruler of Mathura (in northern India). On the day Kamsa's sister Devaki was married to Vasudeva, a divine voice was heard prophesying that Devaki's eighth son would destroy Kamsa. Kamsa unsheathed his sword to kill his sister but Vasudeva intervened and implored Kamsa to spare his bride, promising to hand over every new born child to Kamsa. Kamsa relented but immediately imprisoned both Devaki and her husband Vasudeva.
When Devaki gave birth to her first child, Kamsa came to the prison cell and slaughtered the newborn. In this way, he killed the first six sons of Devaki.
As Devaki and Vasudeva started lamenting the fate of the eighth child, suddenly Lord Vishnu, appeared before them and said he himself was coming to rescue them and the people of Mathura. Thus, this child was born from an immaculate conception.
He asked Vasudeva to carry him to the house of his friend, the cowherd chief Nanda in Gokula right after his birth, where Nanda's wife Yashoda had given birth to a daughter. He was to exchange his boy and bring Yashoda's baby daughter back to the prison. Vishnu assured them that "nothing shall bar your path".
At midnight on ashtami, the divine baby was born in Kamsa's prison. Remembering the divine instructions, Vasudeva clasped the child to his bosom and started for Gokula, but found that his legs were in chains. He jerked his legs and was unfettered! The massive iron-barred doors unlocked and opened up.
While crossing river Yamuna, Vasudeva held his baby high over his head. The rain fell in torrents and the river was epidemic, but the water made way for Vasudeva and miraculously a five-hooded snake followed him from behind and provided shelter over the baby.
When Vasudeva reached Gokula, he found the door of Nanda's house open. He exchanged the babies and hurried back to the prison of Kamsa with the baby girl. Early in the morning, all the people at Gokula rejoiced the birth of Nanda's beautiful male child. Vasudeva came back to Mathura and as he entered, the doors of the prison closed themselves.
When Kamsa came to know about the birth, he rushed inside the prison and tried to kill the baby. But this time it skipped from his hand and reaching the sky, she was transformed into the goddess, who told Kamsa: "O foolish! What will you get by killing me? Your nemesis is already born somewhere else."
In his youth Krishna killed Kamsa along with all his cruel associates, liberated his parents from prison, and reinstated Ugrasen as the King of Mathura.
Janmashtami is the birthday of Krishna. Krishna was born at midnight on – ashtami on a dark fortnight in the Hindu month of Shravan (August-September).
Bhakti/devotion although not confined to any one aspect, was well known to be expressions of personal love that transcends the boundaries of formal reverence. This bhakti movement devoted to Krishna became prominent in southern India in the 7th to 9th centuries AD. The Alvar-, woman saint-poet, Andal’s popular songs of Tiruppavai, in which she conceives herself as a gopi, is the most famous of the oldest works in this genre. The movement spread northwards from Tamil Nadu through Karnataka and Maharashtra and by the fifteenth century it was established in Bengal and northern India.
In my inquiring youth my father told me, that the root-mantra of Krishna, Kali and Christ were the same. I have reflected on this and find it interesting that despite differences, there are similarities in just the names of ‘Krishna’ and ‘Christ.’ Prabhupada, the founder of the ISKON movement, has said, “When an Indian person calls on Krishna, he often says, Krsna. Krsna is a Sanskrit word meaning attraction. So when we address God as Christ, Krsna, or Krishna we indicate the same all-attractive Supreme Personality of Godhead…”
In our corner in Wales, on the 14th of August, we had an invitation to attend Carmarthen’s first Ratha Yatra (festival of the chariots). In my childhood there was a Ratha Yatra, where the chariot of Devi, literally passed our door.
I could not resist and worked towards attending the procession in my mobility-scooter, with my husband, John who during his hitch-hiking days had met Bhaktivedanta's Swami Prabhupada quite by chance in Amsterdam!
Although there was the usual perplexed curious looks, there was even more support and enthusiasm from the people. One Welsh woman, working in the newsagent’s came out and swayed heartily, quite oblivious, obviously transported to the ‘Hare Krishna chants. The pageant stopped for a while, respecting her devotions. As we continued up the street and completed the parade in the park, we were all treated to a tasty satvic vegetarian meal, characteristic to the hospitality of the movement. The effect of having chanted and listening to the ‘Hare Krishna mantra that Saturday, left me feeling quite ‘charged-up.’ I could not think of a better way of an explosion of Joy, Peace, Goodwill and Love.
Happy Janmashtami - Hare Krishna!