Re-posting this one to celebrate Krishna's birthday today.
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.
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.
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: