Wednesday, August 24, 2016

K is for Krishna

Re-posting this one to celebrate Krishna's birthday today.
Happy Janmashthami!
Butter thief or makhan chor was how Krishna was introduced to me. I was little. Stories were my classroom. My mother and grandmother were the storytellers.

Who's Krishna?

Our God. Or rather, my mother's favourite God. My mother's family (her parents) called Krishna their Ishta Devata or their favourite deity.

It may sound strange to you -- this business of favourite deity and choosing a God to worship. In fact, I've been asked this question many times by friends, acquaintances, colleagues and students- Why do Hindus have so many Gods?

When my eleven year old students in London asked me this question during a RE (Religious Education) lesson, I read up and researched a bit to find out a way to explain to them. I used an explanation I found online to make my point one rainy afternoon in October of 2005.

'Do you wear the same clothes to go swimming as you do when it's snowing outside?'

No, Mrs Jain. (in unison)

When you look at your holiday photos, or birthday photos or school photos, do you notice you look different in different clothes?

Yes, Mrs Jain.  (in unison)

Do you become a  different person every time you change an outfit?

No, Mrs Jain.  (in unison)

Here's Kelly's photo when she went to Spain last summer, and this one was last week at her nana's 90th and today Kelly is in school uniform. Is that 3 Kellies, then?

The shuffling shoes and loss of eye contact meant I had less than 7 seconds to wrap up and make my point, and I did.

Our different Gods may look different, they may have different qualities, but they are all representing the One God. Just like you look different in different clothes but you are still the same person. As a Hindu, I can choose which God I like and make him/ her my companion and friend and guide. Isn't that the point of Faith? To find a way to make the best versions of ourselves with a little help from a friend?

Looking back, I sound like such a boring teacher! Poor poppets.

I digress.

As children, we would listen to our grandmother tell us tales of Krishna stealing butter and getting caught, lying to his mother and getting punished for it, being naughty and teasing his friends. He seemed so accessible.

His antics change as he grows into a young man. In his youth, he is a model lover. His girl friends (gopiyan) adore him. He adores Radha and teases her all the time. He plays the flute and herds cows. And you thought that Bollywood heroes are a modern invention?
This image was sent to me by my friend Mimi who took a photo of a wall mural in a restaurant. 
I love it.

Murali Manohar or flute charmer is another name by which we call him.

He will kill demons and destroy corrupt Kings. He will recite the Bhagwad Gita. His words and their meaning will be sung and recited in Hindu homes all over India and abroad by aging grandparents. Sometimes, these words will enter the souls of the young and take root. Most times, they'll become another hymn to be recited as a ritual, without any thought given to their meaning or relevance.

Krishna has been many things to me in my lifetime.

Lying on a charpoy in our veranda under the twinkling shadow of sapta rishi (Ursa Major), my mother's chiffon dupatta (scarf) would flutter over my eyes in the evening breeze. I remember covering my eyes with it, while listening to her Krishna stories, imagining him stealing all that butter, some smeared on his mouth while he protested his innocence. Only the yellow light of the lamp was visible from our veranda. Rainbows appeared around the yellow light when I saw it through the dupatta. Playing hide and seek with the rainbows, I'd beg my mother to tell us another Krishna story, the one about his evil uncle, or the one when he stole all his friends' clothes when they went  swimming, or the one when he showed the entire universe to his mother...or....or...the requests were many, the time was limited.

I met Mark, an ISKCON devotee in Budapest yesterday. He told me about organic farming and I said I'd like to volunteer once my son goes to university. This chance meeting with Mark gave me my K. I was pondering over Kabir, Kolkata, Kareri while flying back to Doha, when Krishna presented himself. I was saved.

It's impossible to write about Krishna in a single post and that too when I'm typing with eyes half shut --I'm shattered. It's late and I've had a long day.

I'll leave you with a quote from Bhagvad Gita. It's easy to understand but very difficult to imbibe. I try and fail almost every day. But, I try gain. It's the reward bit I get stuck on. I'm working on it.

You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. 

For more information about ISKCON:

http://www.iskcon.org/

12 comments:

  1. I love your explanation for different Gods! It wasn't boring at all. I think you are a natural born teacher (compliment).

    Shelly @ http://hangryfork.com

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    1. Thank you for the compliment Shelly:) You've made my day.

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  2. I learnt new reasoning on different Gods, tthat will be easy to digest for my students, thank you for sharing. I leave no stone unturned to share his stories with my class as well. Krishna rocks!

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    1. I can only imagine and be a bit jealous of your Saturday classes Pinkz. How awesome for you to be able to relish in these stories all over again.

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  3. "Our different Gods may look different, they may have different qualities, but they are all representing the One God. Just like you look different in different clothes but you are still the same person. As a Hindu, I can choose which God I like and make him/ her my companion and friend and guide. Isn't that the point of Faith? To find a way to make the best versions of ourselves with a little help from a friend?"

    I think this is a great explanation.

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    2. Thank you msmatch. Teaching makes us better students.

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  4. Love your explanation if our numerous Gods. It'll surely be helpful. Enjoyed it

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    1. Thanks Seema. The explanation I used here is based on ideas collected through books and resources to make RE easier for my students. So I can only take credit for this version of the explanation. I think I only changed the abstract notion of body and spirit to clothes and photos. But it worked and still does (even with adults). It's good to see you here. xx

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  5. Beautiful! Beautiful! Beautiful! Krishna cannot be described easily no way! I was introduced to him by my neighbor's grandmother. The stories were so intriguing Kansa, gopis, makkhan chor, pootana, and the mahabharatha ( which my father told me.... And recently, my son chose him to do a study on for his blogging assignment, when he did the presentation dressed as Krishna, I could see the whole class was transfixed.. How can anyone be like Krishna? naughty, playful, wise, courageous, spiritual, fighter of justice and the list goes....... Thank you so much for writing about him...

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    1. I have goosebumps Ish...that's how your comment has made me feel. And guess what, for me, all the Sikh Gurus and their stories were brought to life by my neighbour's three grown up daughters (didis). We are so blessed to have grown up at a time when storytelling was part of our everyday. Thank you once again for this comment. xx

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    2. Wow! I am speechless! I miss those days of hopping over to the neighbor's house for a story. such precious memories! A great-grandmother always told a story about a prince's coronation in Tamil in complete slow-motion and I was transfixed, even though I did not understand everything.. but over a period of time I did :)

      What a great way to bond over generations, languages and religions.....

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