The Paramacharya of Kanchi Shri Chandrashekarendra Saraswathi while discussing the differences amongst the Vedas, Vedantas (Upanishads), and Puranas called the Puranas “Bootha-Kannadi” a Tamizh word for “Magnifying Glass” His point being that while the Vedas to a certain extent are ritualistic the Upanishads (also called Vedantas because they occur at the “anta” or end of the Vedas) are metaphysical, spiritual, philosophical and therefore may appeal to only a few sections of the society and to that extent they may be considered elitist. The Puranas on the other hand teach these very same spiritual and philosophical truths through myths, allegories, and stories – the heroes and villains here are larger than life, the demons and Asuras are huge, pot-bellied, with bulbous noses, and of gargantuan proportions. The heroes are mythical, handsome, pristine in character, and no matter what the difficulties always emerge victorious in the end. However, the underlying truths and morals these stories teach are closely related to and/or are similar to that expounded in the Vedas and Vedantas.
While in the Mahabharata, Krishna is portrayed more as a human being with shades of grey along with occasional hints at his divinity, in the Bhagavata he is elevated to the status of the supreme indwelling divinity, the supreme personality of Godhead – it is this dichotomy in characterization that has led to the clash of ideologies between the Rational-Secularists who can’t accept the Krishna of Mahabharata as divine versus the Bhakta (devotee) for whom the supreme personality of Krishna floats like an untainted leaf above the murky waters of the universe…
In all of this, the take home message is this: It all depends on what path you want to take to approach the divinity within – If it is Karma or the path of action, then it is the Vedas. If it is Jnana or the path of the discriminating-intellect and Spirituality then it is Vedanta (Upanishads). If it is Bhakti or devotion then it is the Bhagavata/Puranas. A combination of any of these or all of these is also par for the course.
In this particular story, Krishna travels to the city of Kosala to ask Raja Nagnajit to give his daughter Satya* (also known as Nagnajiti) to him in marriage. Raja Nagnajit however lays a condition that whoever wants to marry his daughter Satya must first tame 7 unruly bulls – these bulls were wild, nasty, uncontrollable beasts that had gored and badly wounded or killed many a brave kshatriya warrior. Krishna agrees without a moment’s hesitation, girds his loins and jumps into the arena. He easily tames the bulls, passes a rope through each of their noses and literally leads them by their noses around the arena and ties them to a large post in the middle of the arena and wins Satya’s hand.
Let’s now see if we can draw some allegorical lesson and/or moral from this story:
Seven (7) is a magic number in religion and spirituality across all religions/sects. In Hinduism / Sanatana Dharma, the number 7 is almost ubiquitous (found almost everywhere) – the 7 worlds or planes of existence (Bhu to Satya that appears before the Gayathri Mantra and during Sankalpa), 7 chakras, 7 notes of music, Saptha-padhi (7 steps in marriage), 7 Maha-Nadhis (rivers) and so on. Although several lessons can be drawn from this story, I prefer the following interpretation:
The 7 unruly bulls are symbolic of:
- The 5 sense organs / Pancha Jnanendriyas (Shotra = Ears; Chakshu = Eyes; Grahna = Nose; Jihva = Tongue; Tvak = Skin)
- The 5 sense perceptions (The corresponding sensory centers in the brain that perceive what the above 5 sense organs gather during their interactions)
- The 5 organs of action / Pancha Karmendriyas (Paada = Feet/Legs; Pani = Hands; Payu = Anus/Rectum; Upastha = Genitals; Vak = Mouth/Speech)
- Avidya (Ignorance)
- Kama-Krodha (Desire-Anger)
- Karma (Fruits of action / Expectation)
- Vaasanas (Tendencies / Habits)
Control and sublimation of all of the above leads to the revelation of
TRUTH (SATYA) – the ultimate reality
Note: In the South Indian Azhwar (Alwar) tradition, Satya becomes Nappinnai.