“Sometimes the naughty babies would crawl up to the cowshed, catch the tail of a calf and stand up. The calves, being disturbed, would immediately begin running here and there, and the children would be dragged over clay and cow dung. To see this fun, Yashoda and Rohini would call all their neighboring friends, the gopis.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 8 )
Immerse yourself in the transcendental nectar made up of the eternal pastimes of Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the most attractive person in any room He walks into. Every person is predisposed towards worshiping, but unless that inkling is matched with the worthiest recipient, the search for real pleasure will futilely continue. Yet just by hearing about the Supreme Lord, especially in His original form of Krishna, the awakening of the dormant God consciousness resting within the heart can become a reality in a second. Krishna should be remembered every single day, for do we forgo eating, sleeping or having fun on most days? If routine work follows a schedule, then why shouldn’t our worship of Krishna, the greatest source of pleasure? Even if there are impediments inhibiting daily worship, such as the tendency to view religious life as a chore instead of a delight, just remember Krishna on Janmashtami, once a year on the anniversary that marks His appearance in this wonderful world.
How can we declare this world to be wonderful? Just turning on the news reveals evidence of how not wonderful this place is. Natural disasters, lying politicians, gruesome murderers living around the block, and so many other horrible sites leave us asking the question, “Why am I here? Why is life so bad?” Yet the paramahamsas, the topmost transcendentalists, consider this place, or any place for that matter, wonderful because it comes from the Lord. Moreover, though He is not personally involved in the daily operations of a land separated from Him, God will still periodically make appearances. Just as the sun rises and sets at regular intervals, the time period of creation when viewed from the perspective of a day has regularly scheduled appearances by the Supreme Lord. Janmashtami celebrates Shri Krishna’s descent to this phenomenal land in His personal self, without any need of changing His form or highlighting certain qualities.
What do we mean by this? Every life form, an autonomous spark directed by the spirit soul within, comes from God. If Krishna is so pure and perfect, how can those things which expand from Him be deficient? Doesn’t this reveal a flaw in the Creator? The expansions are also eternally existing entities, but their constitutional position is a little different. God is the superior and His expansions are the inferior. There are different gradations of expansions, with some not even having any intelligence. The internal potency expansions are like Krishna in quality, while the external expansions are material, not having any spiritual identity. The living entities are part of Krishna’s superior energy, but they can choose in favor of the external energy’s association.
“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.7)
To aid the marginal potency fragments in choosing in favor of returning to the Lord’s association, Krishna periodically comes to earth in various non-different forms. These are personal expansions, while the living entities are referred to as separated expansions. The avataras, or incarnations, are fully endowed with Krishna’s features and they can attract the hearts and minds of the pure hearted saints. The difference between a saint and a wicked character can be seen in the type of pain they inflict. Both the good and the bad cause pain to others, but the saints cause pain by their separation and the miscreants by their presence. Similarly, when Krishna’s incarnations appear on earth, they inflict pain on the nefarious characters trying to stamp out any presence of religion in the world. While He roams the land, the Lord gives pleasure to His devotees, but when He leaves there is tremendous pain. Separation anxiety from Krishna is so acute that the pain actually ends up being beneficial, sort of like the “hurts so good” concept.
To alleviate the pain of separation caused by Krishna’s absence, the devotees try to remember the Lord as often as possible. Thankfully the kind-hearted saints of the past documented the activities of Krishna’s avatars in wonderful texts like the Ramayana and Puranas. On Janmashtami, devotees remember the appearance and activities of Krishna Himself, the Supreme Lord coming to earth in His original form. The descriptions of Krishna’s life and pastimes on earth are found in many texts, including the Harivamsha and Mahabharata, but they are best sequenced together in the tenth canto of the sacred Shrimad Bhagavatam, which is also known as the Bhagavata Purana.
What was so memorable about Krishna’s time on earth? For starters, His birth was not ordinary. For Krishna, there is never birth or death. Actually, the same holds true for the living entities, as nothing can kill the imperishable soul. Birth and death really refer to the spirit soul’s acceptance and rejection of bodies through reincarnation, which is fueled by karma. This doesn’t apply to Krishna, however, as everything He does is at His own whim. His birth in the prison cell in Mathura was at His choosing, as His parents Mother Devaki and Vasudeva had previously undergone many austerities to become qualified to have God come as their son.
The parents were in prison because Kamsa wanted to kill Devaki’s eighth child, for it had been prophesized that this child would lead to the king’s death. Since Krishna appeared at midnight, Janmashtami is a full day celebration, with the festivities culminating at night with the clock striking twelve to mark the occasion of the Lord’s emergence from Devaki’s womb. To show that He was the Supreme Lord, Krishna displayed His Vishnu form, which has four hands and is opulently adorned. Afraid of what Kamsa would do, the parents were eager to protect Krishna. The Lord then advised Vasudeva to transfer Him to the neighboring town of Vrindavana, where Yashoda, the wife of King Nanda, had just given birth to a daughter. Krishna would go to Vrindavana and the daughter would be placed in the prison cell.
The girl was Durga Devi, Lord Shiva’s wife who is in charge of this material creation, which is thus known as Devi-dhama. She is known as Durga because her energy, material nature, is very difficult to overcome. She would give a glimpse of this difficulty to Kamsa, who tried to throw her against a stone wall when he found out that Devaki had delivered another child. But before he could kill her, the child slipped out of his hands and went into the sky, taking on a beautiful form with eight hands. She then warned Kamsa that the child he had feared so much had actually been born already.
Meanwhile in Vrindavana, everyone marveled at the young child seemingly delivered by Mother Yashoda. Krishna is described as maha-tejah in the Vedas, which means that He is marvelously resplendent. He has this glow about Him that follows Him wherever He goes. Of all the pastimes enacted by Krishna, it would be hard to argue against His childhood pranks in Vrindavana being the most endearing. Just think of how much pleasure parents derive from their own children walking about, trying to crawl, trying to say their first words, getting in trouble, etc. Now add to the fact that your child is the Supreme Lord Himself, and you can begin to imagine just how happy Nanda and Yashoda felt at having their most wonderful blessing in their lives.
Krishna’s elder brother Balarama was also raised in Vrindavana. Both Krishna and Balarama were sons of Vasudeva and Devaki, though they were raised in Vrindavana to avoid Kamsa in the early years. Balarama is the same Ananta Shesha Naga, the serpent bed on whom Lord Vishnu resides in the spiritual sky. Krishna and Balarama did everything together in their childhood, including play different pranks and exhibit naughty behavior. When they began to crawl, they would both regularly get dirt on their bodies. Krishna was raised in Vrindavana by Mother Yashoda and Balarama by Mother Rohini. The mothers would smear their children with saffron in the morning, but by midday the boys would be covered with dirt and come to their mothers. All the hard work of preparation had gone for naught, but seeing their children so happily engaged in play gave the mothers endless delight.
Vrindavana was a farm community, so there were many cows around. The milk products produced by the cows would be used to maintain the citizens. Thus the cows were honored, respected and taken care of. As is natural for young, curious children, Krishna and Balarama would make their way to the different places in the community that were mysterious and unknown to them, places that adults regularly went. The cowshed was obviously one of these places. Krishna and Balarama would make their way to where the cows were and grab their tails. An adult cow is rather large compared to a child that can’t even walk yet, so we can just imagine what would happen next.
The cows, feeling the pressure on their tails, would then run away. Krishna and Balarama of course did not let go. Hence they would go for a ride in the mud and cow dung, similar to how people “jet ski” on the water for fun. Seeing the beautiful Krishna and Balarama roaming around in the mud like this brought great delight to the mothers and the gopis, the cowherd women of the community. They would huddle up together to enjoy the fun. Actually, just remembering this sight every day is enough to cure the most punishing mental ailment. To be given the chance to witness this, the gopis had to be extremely pious and fortunate. The Supreme Lord, who cannot be caught by the penances of ascetics, the meditation of yogis, or the study of Vedantists, was being dragged around by cows through the mud of Vrindavana. Transcendental love ruled over the community.
As time went by, Krishna would fulfill the prophesy known to Kamsa about his death. More pastimes would occur later on in life as well, but Krishna’s time spent in Vrindavana is what the devotees remember the most. Janmashtami allows any person of any religious persuasion to bask in the delightful sound vibrations of Krishna-katha. Just by regularly hearing about Krishna, one is sure to become a devotee. One who never forgets the beautiful Shyamasundara, the youth who roamed the sacred land of Vrindavana with Balarama and had the complexion of a dark raincloud, will find felicity in both this life and the next.