“While Krishna was going to the fruit vendor very hastily, most of the grains He was holding fell. Nonetheless, the fruit vendor filled Krishna’s hands with fruits, and her fruit basket was immediately filled with jewels and gold.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.11.11)
Janmashtami is the appearance day celebration of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The appearance day is the equivalent of the birthday, except that since God never actually takes birth, the occasions of His advents on earth are referred to as appearances. Celebrating the anniversary of this day is important because not everyone has the time nor the dedication to always think about God. In reality, every day should be treated as Krishna’s birthday, for His blessings are around us at all times. Yet by just remembering the Lord’s appearance and His transcendental activities, one makes great progress towards the ultimate spiritual perfection, that of thinking of the Lord at the time of death. Just a little service, a small exchange of sincere emotion and love, directed at the Lord can prove to be pivotal in turning our fortunes around. This principle was illustrated in one small incident during the Lord’s youth.
When we speak of Krishna’s youth, it is in reference to the timeline of His stay on earth. Around five thousand years ago, there was a powerful king named Kamsa who was ruling over Mathura, a town in what is presently known as India. During those times, “back in the day” so to speak, there was no such thing as India. The land was called Bharatavarsha, for the inhabitants of that land were descendants of the great King Bharata. Sometimes when a king or military leader is very successful or popular, the land will be named after him. This is true nowadays of celebrity figures as well. A famous baseball player, musician, or politician will have streets, buildings, and bridges named after them. Maharaja Bharata was so great that the entire planet was named after him.
Though he was the King of Mathura, Kamsa’s presence was felt in the neighboring lands as well. He crafted strategic alliances with other kings as a way to consolidate his power. Normally this kind of reign isn’t a bad thing. If we have a pious king, one who is dedicated to the welfare of the innocent, it would surely be a good thing to have that king’s presence felt in as large an area as possible. Sadly, this was not the case with Kamsa. From the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the crown jewel of Vedic literature, we understand that Kamsa was formerly a pious soul who made a transgression that caused him to be thrown into the material world. Upon landing in this temporary and miserable place where God is forgotten and man is allured by the energy known as maya, Kamsa assumed all demonic qualities. He was pious from time to time, but his underlying nature was that of a demon. This was by design, for Lord Krishna Himself was destined to come to earth to kill him. When Krishna fights with enemies, His adversaries are no ordinary human beings. Since they act as God’s sparring partners, these demons are some of the most exalted personalities.
Kamsa was made aware of his future fate at the most unexpected of moments. His sister Devaki had just gotten married to a kshatriya named Vasudeva. In Vedic style marriages, or in any traditional type of marriage, the bride is deemed to be given away to the groom’s family. Since that is the case, the marriage ceremony represents the parting of the girl from the family she grew up with. To ease the pain of separation, the tradition is that the bride’s brother will usually escort her, along with her husband, to her new home. This is what occurred with Kamsa and Devaki. During their ride to Vasudeva’s home, a voice in the sky proclaimed that Devaki’s eighth son would kill Kamsa. Shocked to hear this announcement, Kamsa took out his sword and was ready to kill his sister immediately. This was certainly strange behavior, for Devaki had done nothing wrong. Yet not wanting to risk future injury, Kamsa lost all sense of rationale. Vasudeva kindly stepped in and was able to pacify Kamsa with clever words. Vasudeva offered to give up each one of Devaki’s sons to Kamsa as a sign of good faith. This way, the husband and wife could go on living, and Kamsa’s fears could be alleviated.
Day and night Kamsa thought about Devaki’s eighth son. He couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t eat, whatever he would do, wherever he would go, he would simply think about this eighth child. Not wanting to take any chances, Kamsa had Vasudeva and Devaki locked up in a jail. With every child that was born to Devaki, Kamsa would take it and throw it against a stone wall. There is much controversy today about the abortion issue, where the child is killed within the womb through some medical procedure. Kamsa didn’t mess around with that idea; he went straight for infanticide. Leaving no room for doubt, he killed the infants in the worst possible way. One certainly has to be the greatest barbarian to take to such action.
When Devaki finally gave birth to her eighth child, it was in the middle of the night, at midnight to be more exact. This was no ordinary child; it was the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. Krishna came to earth to save Devaki and Vasudeva, who technically became His biological parents. In order to reveal His divine nature to His parents, Krishna appeared in His four-handed form of Lord Vishnu. Devotees of Vishnu are known as Vaishnavas. Since there is no difference between Krishna and Vishnu, for they are the same original God, devotees of Krishna are also known as Vaishnavas. After offering wonderful prayers to Vishnu, both Devaki and Vasudeva began to worry about what Kamsa would do. Krishna was their savior after all, so if Kamsa were to kill Him, all hope would be lost. Krishna’s parents asked Him to hide His true form out of fear of Kamsa. The Lord then requested Vasudeva to transfer Him to the nearby town of Gokula, which was headed by Nanda Maharaja.
In the dead of night, while all the guards were sleeping, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in His blissful, love-evoking infant form, was taken by Vasudeva from Mathura to Gokula. Though the guards were asleep and the shackles removed from Vasudeva, the path to Gokula was not without impediment. There was a strong storm which threatened to obstruct Vasudeva’s path across a raging river. Yet miraculously, Ananta Shesha Naga, the serpent bed of Lord Vishnu in the spiritual sky, appeared on the scene and acted as an umbrella for Krishna and Vasudeva. Just as Shri Lakshmana had stood alongside Lord Rama many thousands of years before, the same Ananta Shesha Naga came to protect Rama in His form of Krishna. As he waded through the Yamuna River, which had kindly allowed for Krishna’s passage, Vasudeva held his son above his head so as to keep Krishna safe from the water. With Ananta Shesha Naga acting as the umbrella for both of them, the scene became quite a memorable one. On the day of Janmashtami, this scene of the three great personalities travelling to Gokula is often remembered by Vaishnavas.
Upon reaching Gokula, Vasudeva dropped Krishna off at Nanda Maharaja’s house, while at the same time taking the baby girl who had just been born to Nanda’s wife Yashoda. A short while after Vasudeva’s return to Mathura with the little girl, Kamsa found out about the birth of Devaki’s eighth child. Even though the prophecy said that it would be Devaki’s eighth son to kill him, Kamsa wasn’t going to take any chances. When he was about ready to throw the girl on the stone slab, the child slipped out of his hands and took to the sky. The child revealed her true form, that of Goddess Durga, the faithful servant of Lord Krishna and controller of the material energy. She laughed at Kamsa and told him that his angel of death had already appeared in this world and was ready to kill him. Though over the next few years Kamsa would try his best to have the child Krishna killed, he would be unsuccessful in his attempts. Eventually Krishna would come to Mathura and kill Kamsa and thus fulfill the prophecy.
Krishna’s childhood in Gokula and Vrindavana is what the devotees are especially fond of. The residents of these towns loved Krishna. This was especially true of Krishna’s foster-parents Nanda and Yashoda. There are so many incidents from Krishna’s childhood that evoke emotions of love and attachment; so one can learn great lessons from all of them. One incident in particular really crystallizes the relationship between the devotee and God and what it takes to keep this relationship intact.
Nanda Maharaja belonged to the farming community, technically known as the vaishyas. The Vedic system for societal maintenance calls for four divisions, or classes, of men. The third division is the vaishya, and their duty is to engage in agriculture, banking, cow protection, and general commerce. The four divisions can be thought of in terms of the different work prescribed to employees of a successful company. In any profitable company, there will be different people engaged in different work. Some people will serve as the leaders; they will be in charge of the big picture, determining what the future course of action will be. There are others who serve as the laborers; they will take to the nitty-gritty, hard labor. Others will be involved in assessing risk and running analysis on profits and future outlooks. Others will be the brains of the productivity side; they will write software and manage the human and physical assets. For the company to be successful, each person must do the job they are best suited for. If a person is suited to be a leader, it would be silly to put them in charge of the hard labor, the nuts and bolts of the operation. If a person is suited to be a salesmen, it would be silly to put them in charge of writing software and doing work that didn’t involve human interaction.
By the same token, a successful and peaceful society requires the cooperation of all four divisions. Since Nanda Maharaja belonged to the mercantile division, he and his family spent most of their time engaged in cow protection. If one keeps a few cows protected and well-maintained, they can have all of their economic problems solved. Nanda Maharaja’s family also took part in agriculture, so they had a decent stock of grain in their house. Grain, milk, butter, yogurt, etc., are all that is needed to survive in this world. There is no need for the eating of animal flesh when these commodities are in good supply.
On one occasion, a fruit vendor came to Nanda’s house. At the time, Krishna was very young; He could barely walk or speak. Krishna delighted everyone around Him, especially when He took to imitating the activities of the adults. It is quite common to see young children try to imitate the activities of adults, and Krishna was no different in this regard. The fruit vendor had a surplus supply of various fruits, so they would go out and sell the surplus around town. The buying and selling during those times took place through the barter system. This also teaches us how currencies work. The currency of a given area can actually be anything. In times past, the currencies of particular areas have been gold coins, seashells, and even cigarettes.
When this fruit vendor would come to Nanda’s house, they would receive grains in exchange for the fruit. Obviously there would be a certain amount of grain needed to purchase a certain amount of fruit. Whatever was peaceably and voluntarily agreed upon was the going exchange rate. Lord Krishna must have seen these exchanges going on from time to time. On one particular occasion, baby Krishna decided to make His own exchange. He grabbed a small handful of grains and eagerly approached the vendor to make the trade. Since He was a small child, obviously He couldn’t fit much grain into His hands. To make matters worse, while running towards the vendor, much of the grain fell out of Krishna’s hands. The small child was a little despondent upon seeing that He didn’t have much to offer the fruit vendor, but the vendor was so taken by Krishna’s sincerity that they made the exchange anyway. The Supreme Personality of Godhead kindly offered some grains with love and sincerity, and this was all the fruit vendor needed. This was deemed a fair exchange.
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)
After giving Krishna the fruit, the vendor looked at their basket and saw that all the fruit had been transformed into valuable jewels. Everyone was quite astonished and they couldn’t figure out what had happened. The vendor, who was honest, sincere, and a pure devotee of Krishna, offered some small fruits to Krishna and was rewarded with jewels. Obviously as an honest and humble person, the fruit vendor didn’t require these jewels, but the Lord wanted to make them happy. With a more valuable commodity, the vendor wouldn’t have to worry so much about making a living.
This one incident is a great reminder of the meaning of life and how we can go about utilizing everything in our possession the proper way. Since God is the creator, He is the original owner of everything. All of our possessions, bodily attributes, and familial relationships are due to Krishna’s mercy. The Lord offered the fruit vendor a small quantity of grain, but the Lord has already given us much more. The fruit vendor was more than satisfied with this blessing from the Lord, so they returned the favor by parting with something that was valuable to them, a commodity which was the source of their livelihood. By the same token, we should be equally as kind to the Lord by offering Him everything in our possession, including those things we value the most. The most valuable thing that we own is time, so this is what we should sacrifice to the Lord.
The best way to give our time to Krishna is to chant the Lord’s holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This chanting process is most sublime because it takes care of hearing, speaking, and remembering. Moreover, it is a sacrifice, the yajna of of all yajnas. On Janmashtami Day, and on every other day of the year, we should make the necessary sacrifice to spend time with Krishna. Just as the fruit vendor had their ordinary commodity turned into valuable jewels, the chanting sacrifice will reward us with the beautification of everything in our lives, including our own bodies. At the time of death, our soul will get an upgrade of bodies, from a temporary and miserable one to an eternally blissful and spiritual one. This spiritual body will allow us to associate with Krishna all the time, thus enabling us to derive the same pleasure felt by the residents of Gokula.