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17 August, 2013

In Indian Culture... Why do we celebrate Lord Krishna's birthday?

In Indian Culture...
Why do we celebrate Lord Krishna's birthday?

       Krishna was a dynamic incarnation of Lord Vishnu.  He was an Avatara.  An Avatara is one who is attuned to the supreme Consciousness from birth.  Krishna's incarnation brought about a profound and powerful influence upon Indian thought and life.  There is no aspect of Indian life, culture and civilisation which does not receive his revitalising touch.  India's philosophy and religion, mysticism and poetry, painting and sculpture, music an dance articulated Krishna's theme and thought.  Every aspect of Krishna's life and deeds has a mystic symbolism indicating a sublime truth.  Some of them are explained below.  They should set a direction to the reader for deeper study and discovery of the allegorical significance of the entire story of Krishna.

Krishna meaning

       Krishna in Sanskrit means dark.  Krishna represents the inner Self, Atman.  The Atman is dark in the sense that it is unknown to man as long as he is involved in his terrestrial experiences. Man's  knowledge  is limited to the realms of perceptions, emotions and thoughts.  He gains these experiences through his three equipments of body, mind and intellect.  He knows not the Atman within.  The body, mind and intellect by themselves are inert and insentient.  They constitute the material aspect of man.  The Atman is his spiritual being.  The Atman is the living principle in man which transforms his inert matter into a living being.

Krishna in blue colour and wears yellow clothes

       Krishna in blue colour and wears yellow clothes. Blue colour has always been associated with infinity.  The sky appears blue.  So does the ocean.  Yellow colour  represents  earth.  When sand is introduced in a colourless flame, the flame turns yellow.  The blue form of Krishna clothed in yellow therefore suggest the infinite Reality reduced to finite human being.

Krishna's incarnation

       The incarnation of Krishna represents the descent of God on earth.  This idea of the limitless, formless Reality being constricted and restricted to a limited, human form is again suggested by Krishna's birth in a prison.  The divine child was however not confined to the prison.  No sooner was Krishna born the prison doors miraculously flung open.  The guards could not hold the child back.  The child's father, Vasudeva, carried him out of the prison in spite of the severe restrictions imposed on him.

      This episode is meant to convey that the infinite Being can never be really restricted or limited to the human form.  A Godman is ever free and liberated.  The Atman in a man is limitless.  Only his body, mind and intellect are limited finite.  These material equipments have a beginning and an end.  They cannot restrict the Atman.  The Atman is eternal, all-pervading, infinite.  Krishna represents that Atman.

       Krishna was born in Mathura.  His uncle, Kamsa was a tyrant.  Kamsa imprisoned his father and usurped the throne of Mathura.  He reigned over Mathura.  His minister Chanura was equally wicked and cruel.  Under the rule of these two tyrants Mathura suffered greatly from confusion and chaos.  Krishna destroyed both and restored peace and order in that land.  The word mathuram means sweetness.  The land of Mathura represents the personality of man.  Man's essential nature is his Atman.  His real nature is ever sweet, peaceful and blissful.  But when the evil forces of ego and egocentric desires usurp man's personality he suffers from stress and strain, worries and  anxieties He is agitated and sorrowful. He loses his blissful nature.  To regain the lost bliss man as to destroy his ego and egocentric desires and establish his identity with his supreme Self.

Puranic Story

       There is a Puranic story which speaks of Krishna killing a mighty serpent with many heads.  It lived in a lake poisoning its water.  The entire village suffered because of this dragon.  Krishna ultimately crushed down its heads.  But as he crushed them other heads sprung up in their place.  Krishna ultimately crushed all the heads and vanquished the serpent.  He danced on its crested head playing the flute.  The wives of the dragon paid homage to the Lord.

Allegorical significance

       This story again has an allegorical significance.  The lake represents the mind.  The dragon and its many heads the ego and egocentric desires.  The ego and egocentric desires poison the mind and make its world miserable.  When man turns his attention inwards, when he contemplates and meditates upon his Atman, upon Krishna he overcomes his ego and egocentric desires. Thereafter he revels in the bliss of Realisation.  the sense-objects of the world become subservient to such a man.  This is symbolised by the wives of the serpent paying homage to Krishna.

Krishna playing a flute

       Krishna is often represented as playing a flute.  The enchanting music emanating from the flute of the Lord is the bliss of Godhood enjoyed by the Man-of-Realisation.  The flute is hollow but it can produce enchanting music.  So too when man empties himself of his vasanas and desires the Divinity within him flows out with enchanting bliss.  Man has to give up all his claims upon his body, mind and intellect, give up all his egocentric connections, all thoughts of 'mine' and 'thine', rise above them all and chant Om (Krishna), to remove all selfishness from the flute of his body and fill it with the divine breath of om.  Man becomes God.

Krishna with Gopis

       The milkmaids of Brindavan were called gopis.  These gopis were enchanted by the divine music flowing out of Krishna's flute.  They danced in their  ecstasy  around Krishna.  The dance of the gopi is known as rasa-lila.  

      Krishna again represents the Atman, pure consciousness while gopis represent thoughts.  Atman in man is the enlivening factor by which he becomes conscious of his thoughts.  Thoughts by themselves are insentient.  In the presence of Consciousness thoughts gain sentiency or consciousness.  Thoughts dance around the Atman as it were.  But the Atman is ever-immaculate.  It is unaffected by the thoughts around it.  So is Krishna pure, immaculate.  He remains detached and unaffected by the dancing gopis.  Losing this allegorical significance of the rasa-lila much criticism has been levelled against Krishna's association with the gopis.  

     The gopis were in fact deeply devoted to Lord Krishna.  They remembered Krishna  throughout  the day in all their activities.  Their limbs were ceaselessly engaged in their obligatory duties while their minds were constantly attuned to the Lord.  To dedicate oneself to a higher being and work in the world without ego and egocentric desire is karma yoga.  When man works in a spirit of karma yoga he gets rid of his vasans, desires. This idea is suggested by Krishna stealing the butter which the gopis had churned and collected in their pots.  The desires for realisation of the Self alone  remains.  The last  trace of desire gets eliminated by itself through single-pointed meditation upon the Lord.  

       In verse 66 of Chapter XVIII of the Bhagavad Gita the Lord gives man this assurance:

"Abandoning all dharmas, take refuge in Me alone, I will liberate thee from all sins, grieve not."

       There is yet another beautiful incident in Krishna's life indicating his absolute state of detachment.  It served as an eye-opener to the two wives of Krishna when they began to  doubt  his association with many gopis.

Sage Durvasa - Nitya upavasi

       One day the great sage Durvasa camped with his many disciples on the opposite bank of river Yamuna where Krishna lived.  Krishna wives saw the sage and prepared a lot of sweetmeats to take to him.  In the evening when both the ladies with their trays of delicacies approached the river it was flooded.  They could not cross over to the other bank to make the offering to the sage.  They returned and sought krishna's help.  Krishna asked them to go back to the river-side and pray to Mother Yamuna (the rivers in India are deified as goddesses), "If sage Durvasa is nitya upavasi please show us the way".  Nitya means eternal, permanent.  Upavasi means one who fasts.  So nitya upavasi is one who is always observing fast.  The ladies did not understand the implication.  They  followed Krishna's advice and prayed to Goddess Yamuna.  The goddess granted their prayer and instantly the waters subsided.  They crossed over and offered sweets to the sage.  The sage ate every bit of the food and returned the empty trays.  A nitya upavasi!

Krishna - Nithya brahmacari

       Krishna's wife took the sage's blessings and reached the river bank to return home.  Again, the river was flooded preventing them from crossing over.  This time they sought the help of Durvas.  The sage advised them to go back to the river bank and pray to goddess Yamuna, "If Krishna is a nitya brahmacari please show us the way".  Nitya brahmachari means permanent celibate.  The ladies followed the advice and prayed to the Yamuna.  To their amazement the waters subsided forthwith enabling the to cross over to the other bank.

Significance of the Durvasa Story

      The significance of this episode is obvious.  Durvasa was totally free from mental attachment to any type of food.  He had absolutely no desire or craving for them.  Eating to him was a ritual, an obligatory function.  Such a person though eating eats not.  A man of perfect detachment "even though acting acts not"  (BHagavad gita Chapter IV, Verse 20).  Durvasa belonged to that rare category.  He was ever mentally detached from food.  Hence, he was called a nitya upavasi even as he was eating like any other man.

       The same principle applies to Krishna.  It is not man's physical expression but his mental impression that determines his attachment or detachment to the world.  Krishna's association with the gopis did not in any way affect his total detachment, his mental resignation from them.  He was ever maintaining an inward dispassion and disinterest even as he was closely associating with the gopis.  His mind was ever in a state of Brahmacharya celibacy.  Hence, he was called nitya brahmacari. 

Krishna eaten mud

       In his childhood, Krishna is said to have eaten mud on an occasion.  His mother Yasoda chided him.  Krishna denied having eaten mud.  Yasoda would not take his word.  She asked him to open his mouth.  The child did so.  Yasoda was  wonder-struck  to see the entire universe within the child's mouth.  This episode has a deep philosophical implication.

       Krishna is the Infinite, Omnipresent, Omnipotent Reality. The Reality alone exists.  Nothing else does.  The universe is nothing but the same Reality, though seen differently by men with limited vision.  Yasoda was one of those who could not see the supreme Being in Krishna.  She only saw her child in him.  But in truth Krishna is that all-pervading Reality which includes the earth as well.  The earth is a part of the Reality which Krishna is.  Krishna therefore gave the right answer to his mother when he denied eating earth.  How can Krishna (Reality) eat mud (Reality)? Krishna was therefore speaking the Truth.  when Yasoda insisted on knowing the truth Krishna had to reveal it by opening his mouth and showing the universe in Him.

Krishna as a baby sucking his own big toe

       Man's essential nature is the supreme Reality.  The world is also nothing but Reality.  Yet man finds the necessity to run after the world of objects for his pleasures.  Is this not an absurd situation--Reality in the form of man  craving  to enjoy Reality in the form of the world?  This absurdity of man's pursuit is subtly implied when Krishna as a baby is showing sucking his own big toe.

Krishna holding a staff & jnana mudra in hand

       Lord Krishna is also described as a holding a staff in one hand and showing a symbol of wisdom, jnana mudra with the other.  A staff is used by a cowherd boy to drive the cattle to the pasture lands for grazing.  The jnana mudra is a symbol made by holding the little, ring and middle fingers erect and bringing the index finger to touch the middle portion of the thumb.  This again has a philosophical meaning.  Krishna represents the Atman in man.  Atman is the Life-Principle which enlivens his body, mind and intellect.  Without the life spark man cannot act at all.  All actions are possible because of the life spark.  Actions broadly classified fall under two distinct heads - actions that are degrading and devolutionary and those that are elevating and evolutionary.  Man can make use of the Atman to evolve or to devolve.  Atman is neutral.  It helps man to pursue whatever direction he wants.

       The first type of actions is indicated by Krishna holding the staff.  The cattle represents the sense organs.  The sense organs constantly feed upon the sense-objects of the world.  Eyes go to colour and form, ears go to sound, the tongue to taste etc.,  the sense-objects are the  pastures  for the sense organs.  Man spends all his life driving his sense organs to their respective fields of enjoyment for sensual pleasures.  He uses his Life-Principle   merely to indulge in sense gratification.  That seems to be his main occupation in life.

Jnana Mudra

     The other type of actions, indicated by the jnana mudra, leads man to Self-realisation.  the index finger represents the ego.  It is the pointing finger which creates duality, plurality.  Man develops his ego by his association and identification with his body, mind and intellect, with his gross, subtle and causal bodies, with his sattvika, rajasika and tamasika gunas.  This idea is indicated by the index finger remaining in contact with the other three fingers. The thumb  represents  represents the Atman by virtue of the vital role it plays in all actions.  The index finger bending towards the thumb to form a circle shows the ego's detachment from the three bodies or gunas and total surrender to the Atman.  When man does that he reaches his Infinite state, the state of Self-realisation.  This Infinitude is indicated by making a circle.  The circle has no beginning or end.  That which has no beginning or end is said to be infinite. Krishna gives this choice of action to man, that is to spend his life time in merely gratifying his senses or to transcend the limitations of his body, mind and intellect and reach the state of Realisation. Krishna is a mere witness, a sakshi.  He does not interfere with your choice.  He merely presents the truth for you to decide your course of life.


       In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna surrenders to Krishna completely and seeks his advice.  Krishna gives him the entire philosophy of life in the eighteen chapters of the gita.  Towards the end of the last chapter he declares to Arjuna, "I have declared the highest wisdom to you, reflect upon it and act as you choose to".

Source:  Excerpts from the book on The Symbolism of Hindu Gods and Rituals by Swami A Parthasarathy


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usha said...

Janmashtami is celebrated to welcome and enjoy Lord Krishna's birth. The birth of Lord Krishna took place when the various planets were in auspicious places. On this special day workship lord Krishna to get a multiple benefits.Read More