Krishna’s Rasa-lila (9)

The word Rasa-lila, arrived at by the sandhi (meeting of two words) of “Rasa” meaning aesthetics and Lila meaning “Dance” can be loosely translated as “The Dance Divine“. It has also been a subject of much derision and mirth for Hindus themselves and a stick to beat the Hindu religion for people of other religions.

A reading of the section from the “Rasa Lila episode of the Srimad Bhagavata under “The Gopis plea” (verses 31-41), should clarify the true purport of this “play” of the divine:

…”Lord, we have abandoned our all to serve thy feet. Accept us as the Supreme Being accepts all who go to him seeking liberation”Abandon us not, O Thou of mysterious ways! who art the source of all codes, the Lord of all, the topic of instruction for all scriptures and teachers – For art Thou not the closest relative, the dearest object of Love for all Jivas, being the soul of their souls? The really wise man entertains love only to Thee – the ever lovable Soul of one’s soul…”

Sanatana Dharma talks about the 9 modes of Bhakthi or devotion – Shravana (listening to the glories of the lord), Kirtana (Singing), Smarana (Constant remembrance), Archana (Worship),  Paadasevana (Service of the needy) , Vandana (Prayer and Prostration),  Dasyatva (Lord-servant relationship), Sakhya (The lord is my friend), Atmanivedan (Surrender, Sharanagathi)

The Rasa-Lila of the Gopis would fall under the category of Atmanivedana, complete surrender to the Supreme being the indwelling atman where all body-consciousness is lost, and sex is sublimated in the divine essence of the lord of love within.

Mira Bai the 16th century mystic was a living example of this. She was in every sense a Gopi, she thought of herself as Radha and her Giridhar was all that mattered to he:

Friends, I am completely dyed in this (i.e. Krishna’s) colour. I drank the cup of immortal bliss, and became drunk. My inebriation never goes away, however many crores of ways I try “*

“Mira danced with ankle-bells on her feet. People called Mira mad; my mother-in-law said I ruined the family reputation. Rana sent me a cup of poison and Mira drank it laughing. I have dedicated my body and soul at the feet of Hari. I thirst for the nectar of the sight of him. Mira’s lord is Giridhar Nagar; I come for refuge to him…“*

The last word on this has to be left to the inimitable Osho (Rajneesh):

Rasalila is dance of Cosmic Consciousness with individualised Consciousness, It is a State of Mind were bliss manifests. One can experience this the way Sufis experienced. This (Rasalila) is Maharaas where Krishna represents the whole of the male element in creation known in sanskrit as the Purusha. The Gopis represent the entire female principle of Prakriti and this Maharaas represents the combine dance of Prakriti and Purusha… ” – Krishna, the man and his Philosophy by Osho; Chapter 9: The Cosmos is a dance of Opposites.

*Poison to Nectar The Life and Work of Mirabai by Madhu Kishwar and Ruth Vanita. Available at:

Krishna dances on Kaliya’s hood (8)

This is one of the most popular stories from the Srimad Bhagavata. Paintings and Sculptures have immortalized this story. The question however is do we take this story at face value? How do we answer sceptics who laugh at the fact that someone could dance on the hood/head of a snake? That is what this post intends to do. As with all stories in the Bhagavata, this story too has a deep allegorical significance and comes with a message for each one of us.

In the Kalindi (Yamuna) river, within a deep cavern lived a black, large, and vicious serpent – Kaliya. He had 5 hoods and 5 mouths and from each mouth the most vicious poison spurted continuously and seeped into the clear waters of the Yamuna. Slowly the water turned so poisonous that first the fishes that lived there and then the animals and birds that frequented this river to quench their thirst started dying. Soon the fumes of the poison rose high above the waters and even birds that flew over this part of the Kalindi dropped dead. Then the wind that blew over the Kalindi carried the poison into the homes of the inhabitants of Vraja and a few of them choked to death.

Krishna who saw this, knew he had to act immediately. He jumped into the waters of the Kalindi and with powerful strokes reached the cavern where Kaliya lived and challenged him to a fight. The fight was long and brutal. Initially the powerful Kaliya coiled around Krishna and almost choked him, frightening the inhabitants of Vraja for whom Krishna was their only refuge and last hope. Krishna however, fought back and soon gained the upperhand. Pummelling Kaliya into submission, he climbed onto his hood and started his divine dance – the dance of the Universe.

Kaliya’s hoods once proud and erect, soon started drooping in submission and humility. Kaliya’s wives too came out and begged Krishna to spare Kaliya. Krishna agreed but on the condition that Kaliya would go away from Vraja and Kalinda forever. Thus was Vraja and its people saved by the divine Krishna.

Now let’s look at the allegorical significance:

Kaliya with his five hoods is representative of our 5 sense organs (More details in this post here) that are constantly turned outward. The Kalindi (Yamuna) signifies the mind – tranquil and clear when under control; but turbid, viscous, and vicious when under the influence of the senses. The poison seeping into the Kalindi is the uncontrolled actions of the senses. The deep caverns of the Kalindi represent the deepest, unreached areas of the mind. Krishna is the indwelling atman, the soul. It is with the power of our own soul that we will be able to go to war against our own senses, defeat them and attain tranquility – It is in tranquility that the mind realizes that the dance within and without of the atman and the Universe is one and the same…


Krishna the householder (7)

This story is connected to the story of the liberation of Narakasura and Krishna marrying the 16,000 women imprisoned in his castle. You can read that post here where the allegorical significance of the 16,000 wives was discussed. There is one more reference to this story of 16,000 wives of Krishna in the Bhagavata involving the intrepid Deva-Rishi (Sage of the gods) Narada. This episode appears under the same name that I have used for this post “Krishna the householder” (Skandha:10; Chapter:69)

When Sage Narada heard the story of Narakasura’s liberation and Krishna’s marriage to the 16,000 damsels, he couldn’t believe what he was hearing and his curiosity was piqued. “How could one man simultaneously marry 16,000 women and how could one man manage such a large number of wives and  household? Surely there must be more to this than what I hear…” So thinking the curious Narada traveled to Dwaraka to find out the truth.

Even as he entered the city of Dwaraka, Narada heard the sweet chirping of birds and the buzzing of bees, he saw great Sarus cranes swimming gracefully on lakes covered with lotuses and lilies of various hues. The houses leading up to the mansion of Krishna were all bedecked with flowers and precious stones. He finally entered the private chambers of Krishna and saw with his own eyes the 16,000 chambers!

He entered one and saw Krishna talking to his beloved wife Rukmini. He quickly went to the next chamber and saw there too Krishna playing dice with Satya and Uddhava. He walked into another chamber and saw Krishna playing with little children. In yet another chamber there was no Krishna, but then he looked out of the window and there was Krishna tending to the agricultural fields himself. In another house he saw Krishna doing his Sandhya rituals, in another he saw Krishna and Balarama engaged in a wrestling bout. He walked out into the garden and saw Krishna engaged in watersports with beautiful damsels. He walked into the magnificent court and saw there Krishna in deep deliberation with his ministers. In another chamber he saw Krishna in deep meditation…

It was Krishna, Krishna, Krishna everywhere. Narada walked out in a daze and then realization hit him…

He knew then that all this was the play of the supreme being, who is all pervasive and at the same time is also the indwelling spirit within each being. It is that very same soul, the atman that is present in each animate and inanimate being – this is the UNIVERSALITY OF THE CONCEPT OF GODHEAD unique to Sanatana Dharma, the concept of:

एकं सद्विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति
Ekam Sat; Vipra Bahuda Vadanthi

“That which exists, that truth is but one; the sages and the knowers call it by different names”

The one atman pervades, envelops, invades, and animates everything… To paraphrase Swami Vivekananda “I am but an exaggeration of the amoeba…”


Krishna steals the Gopis’ clothes (6)

This is yet another aspect of Krishna’s life that is ridiculed and often questioned. The question of Krishna’s 16,000 wives and its allegorical significance was discussed in an earlier post. (Click here to read). This question of why a “God” would indulge in such dalliances is uppermost in most people’s minds and is often a source of embarrassment for Hindus and mirth for people of other religious denominations.

A proper reading of the Srimad Bhagavata should put this in the proper perspective, but unfortunately a lack of Sanskrit knowledge and poorly rendered translations along with fanciful storytelling have done little justice to the underlying meaning and purport of the puranas.

In this story, the Gopis or Gopikas (literally cowherd wives) go to the banks of the Kalindi (Yamuna) river during the “Vasanta” (Spring) season, make an idol of Goddess Katyayani using the soil from the banks of the Kalindi and worship her everyday. Their  one-point prayer to mother Katyayani is “Mother, please make the son of Nanda (Krishna) our goal. We would like to attain to that divine personage, Krishna who is the embodiment of supreme bliss…

This went on for more than a month – The Gopis would wake up early and walk to the banks of Kalindi, singing Krishna’s glories, bathe in the cold waters of the river, worship Katyayani and go back to their homes. As the days passed by the Gopis became more and more desperate to get a glimpse of the supreme being – Krishna.

One day the Gopis as usual discarded their clothes on the banks of the Kalindi and entered the cold waters for their ritual bath. When they finished their bath, all the while singing and chanting the names and glories of Krishna and looked to the river bank, they saw that their clothes had disappeared! Soon, they heard the lilting tunes of the flute… divine music floating through the air – they looked up at the large tree on the edge of the river bank and there was the smiling visage of the supreme personality – Krishna playing the divine music of the Universe

Even as they were joyous that they had neared their goal, they were embarrassed and ashamed to step out of the water naked. They beseeched Krishna to hand over their clothes but he was adamant. He told them…

Step out of the water, approach me, and raise your hands and you shall
receive what you want

“After much hesitation they did and they experienced the supreme bliss of merger with Krishna, that indwelling, all pervading universal spirit – the Atman”

This story highlights the concept of Saranagathi – complete, total, unquestioned surrender to the all knowing spirit of the Universe giving up all inhibitions, expectations, beliefs, worries, and all the other myriad emotions that cloud our understanding of our true identity.

Nakedness in both the literal, metaphorical, and allegorical sense is a concept deeply embedded in Sanatana Dharma. Many of our greatest saints and mystics have often found the trappings of not just wealth but also clothes unnecessary (new age Gurus seem to be an exception to this rule) – Ramana Maharishi wore nothing more than a loin cloth, Akka Mahadevi was covered only in her tresses, Sadasiva Brahmendra was a naked avadhuta. So also Trailanga Swami (the walking Shiva of Varanasi).

Their surrender in the sense of “Naked you came; naked you shall go” is epitomized in this story of Krishna and the Gopis.

Krishna is tied to the mortar (5)

This particular story has two stories rolled into one. Once Kubera’s twin sons Nalakubara and Manigriva were cursed by Sage Narada (they must have done something really vile for the normally sweet tempered Narada to lose it, but that’s a different story) to be born as two Arjuna (Terminalia Arjunatrees and spend 100 years before they would be liberated from their curse. These two incarnated as twin Arjuna trees in the region of Vraja (Gokula) close to where Krishna lived with his foster parents – Yashoda and Nanda.

Little Krishna was a restless and naughty child. He simply couldn’t and wouldn’t stay at one place. He would not allow his mother Yashoda to concentrate on her daily duties. He was always up to some mischief.

One day little Krishna was particularly naughty and mischievous. Yashoda at her wits end tied him up with a rope to a large stone mortar so that he would stay at one place and she could get back to churning curds for butter.

Krishna as soon as he saw his mother was out of sight, started walking towards the Arjuna trees with the large stone mortar trailing behind him. These twin trees had rooted themselves close to one another with only a small interspace between them. Little Krishna squeezed himself through the interspace but the stone mortar got stuck crosswise between the twin Arjuna trees.

Little Krishna pulled the mortar with all his strength and with such force that the two great trees cracked in the middle, their roots were uprooted and they fell to the ground with a loud crash. Nalakubara and Manigriva were liberated and they went back to their heavenly abode.

Although a simple story, as with all puranic stories it contains a symbolic expression of a profound truth:

The two trees symbolize the apparent duality of existence between the real and the unreal – the jeeva/atman (individual) and the paramatman (Supreme). The mortar crashing against the trees is the sudden shattering of the illusion of duality. The uprooted trees and liberation of the twins of Kubera are symbolic of the liberation of the atman from its attachment to the gross world and realization of the supreme indwelling principle within…

Also symbolic is the use of the “Arjuna” trees to tell this story. It could have been any other tree but then wasn’t the Bhagavad Gita recited to the warrior “Arjuna” by Sri Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra?


Krishna reveals the Universe (4)

There is a story in the Srimad Bhagavata about Krishna eating mud. One day while little Krishna was playing with Balarama and the other cowherd boys, he picked up a little bit of soil from the wet earth under his feet and put it into his mouth. Balarama and the other boys ran to Yashoda and complained about this.

Yashoda ran up to little Krishna and scolded him saying “Why did you do this? Why do you eat mud stealthily?” Krishna stood with tears rolling down his cheeks and told her “They are lying. I did not eat mud, mother. If you think I am lying and they are telling the truth, please look into my mouth” When he opened his mouth, the story goes that Yashoda saw within Krishna’s mouth the entire Universe – a microcosm of the macrocosm… the moving and the unmoving entities – the galaxies, the planets, stars, suns, cycle of constant creation and destruction, birth and death, the arrows of time, the individual, primeval, and supreme consciousness pervading, impregnating, and invading all sentient and insentient beings…

For a moment, Yashoda was stunned and too shaken to say anything –

Many of us have had these moments when a little bit of the spirit descends on us – the sudden tearing-up of the eyes, an involuntary shudder, a “disquieting quietness”  that cannot be explained… 

Sri Aurobindo captures this evocatively in the first few lines of his “The Hour of God

There are moments when the Spirit moves among men and the breath of the Lord is abroad on the waters of our being; there are others when it retires and men are left to act in the strength or weakness of their own egoism…

Even before she could register what was happening, Krishna closed his mouth and the moment was gone she was his mother again and he her dear son…

There are four (4) Mahavakyas (Great Statements) from each of the 4 vedas that occur in each of their associated Upanishads that define and summarize the quintessence of vedantic thought and are relevant to this story. These four statements indicate the unity between the individual (consciousness) and the universal (consciousness) as experienced by Yashoda:

  1. प्रज्ञानम् ब्रह्म “Pragnyanam Brahma” – “Conscious-Intelligence is Brahman” [Aitareya Upanishad; 3.3 of Rig Veda]

  2. अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि “Aham Brahm-asmi – “I am that Brahman. Atman / Conscious-Intelligence / integrated part of that universal consciousness” [Brihadaranyaka Upanishad; 1.4.10 of Yajur Veda]

  3. तत् त्वम् असि “Tat-tvam Asi” – “You are that (Brahman)” [Chandogya Upanishad; 6.8.7 of Sama Veda]

  4. अयम् आत्मा ब्रह्म “Ayam Aatma Brahma” – This self, this atman is that Brahman / Supreme Consciousness [Mandukya Upanishad; 1.2 of the Atharva Veda]

These four statements could be examined or understood individually or as a graduated progression of the inner realization – I prefer the latter:

First the understanding that there is an Omniscient consciousness that pervades everything in the universe. Second a fragment of this consciousness is present in each sentient and insentient being and is Omnipresent. Finally, the realization that this omnipresent being is the atman which is a part of the supreme paramatman.