“He [the Lord] was only thumb high, but He was all transcendental. He had a very beautiful, blackish, infallible body, and He wore a dress of lightning yellow and a helmet of blazing gold. Thus He was seen by the child.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.12.8)
Though within the womb of his mother, the child could sense the scorching heat of the brahmastra weapon. Life had already begun, though emergence from the womb had yet to take place. The weapon was set to utilize intense heat to do its damage, but for some reason it wasn’t working on this tiny embryo. A more powerful force was there to counteract the heat. As small as it was, the counteracting energy still had a form. The child remembered the form and all that it did for him. Just as his grandparents had honored and served that form in its original manifestation of Lord Krishna, so Parikshit never forgot what it did for him.
That vision seen by the child was of Lord Narayana, the four-armed form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Though Narayana lives in the spiritual sky of Vaikuntha, He is all-pervading. Therefore the vision of Him residing within the mind of the devotee is as powerful as His personal self. His personal intervention marked by His appearance within the womb of Uttara also did not change His position. True opulence fires in all necessary directions. In tennis one player may have a powerful serve, but unless they can return serve and win points with groundstrokes and volleys, they will not be successful. One golfer may be good at driving the ball long distances, but if they cannot putt on the greens, they will not win tournaments.
“Actual greatness, however, is not one-sided. One who is actually great can become greater than the greatest and smaller than the smallest.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Ch 13)
True greatness means being both very large and very small in ability. Spacesuits, rocket ships and large vehicle transports show greatness in size and ability, but the same dexterity can’t be accomplished within a smaller form. That dexterity may have been there previously, but it cannot be repeated. The living entity survived living in the tiniest size body within the womb, but upon reaching adulthood, the same feat can’t be repeated. There is no magic pill to diminish your size down to nothing again. You can put on a suit and travel to outer space, but you can’t take off your body and crawl through tiny spaces.
With the Supreme Lord, His exhibitions of strength and dexterity travel in both directions, the large and the small. In His impersonal form He is the virat-rupa, or the universal manifestation. Picture all the “stuff” of the world. If you could get the largest truck imaginable and fill it with stuff, you would have everything. That entire collection is one way to imagine the Supreme Lord’s standing. At the same time, He is smaller than the smallest, residing within the heart of every living entity as the Supersoul, the charioteer waiting to steer the individual in the proper direction. Without knowing that you have that driver inside of you, you will live a life of constant fear and worry. You have someone waiting to give you sound advice, but unless you know they are there, how will you take advantage of their association?
Both the virat-rupa and the Paramatma [Supersoul] represent an original personality. His spiritual form is so amazing that no one can properly understand it. Nevertheless, it still exists and it can be shown to the living entity if they are fortunate enough. Maharaja Parikshit had the great fortune in several ways. Though generally it is not considered a good thing to get attacked while you are in the womb, when you have the most powerful figure protecting you from that attack, there is nothing to fear. In the process, you learn to appreciate your position with respect to your savior, and you get to bask in the sweetness of His vision.
Some five thousand years ago there was a great war to end all wars. Mother earth was feeling the burden of the sinful population treading her land, so the Supreme Lord decided that He would relieve that burden. Instead of doing the job all by Himself, He coordinated events in such a way that the bellicose parties would fight with each other. Only a select few would survive, and those personally protected by the Lord in His form of Shri Krishna would emerge victorious.
The Pandavas were the five brothers favored by Krishna, who acted as the charioteer to the leading warrior Arjuna. Towards the end of the war, one of the fighters for the opposing army was captured and then subsequently released. As revenge for the humiliation, the fiend, Ashvatthama, released a fiery weapon towards the womb of Uttara. Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu was slain during the war, and his child was within the womb of his wife Uttara. Ashvatthama thus decided on infanticide as payback. Uttara’s womb carried the lone member of the dynasty to survive in the future, to carry the family name going forward.
The brahmastra is a weapon of intense fire. To counteract it, you need intense cold. Lord Krishna stepped in and saved the child within the womb. Parikshit saw God while he was protected. He did not notice a bright light of Brahman or a gigantic cosmic manifestation. He did not perceive an unidentifiable force. Rather, He saw an opulent form that had four arms which was nicely adorned. Thus from the incident we see that God always retains His spiritual attributes, regardless of the area of space He apparently takes up.
The deity reinforces this fact. Though made of stone, wood, or resin, and maybe only a few feet tall in height, the archa-vigraha is as good as the original form of the Personality of Godhead because worship of it is authorized. The deity is the benediction from the higher being, who allows those with an obstructed vision to get to know Him better. When you first meet someone, they likely won’t tell you everything about themselves. They would rather gradually reveal this knowledge once they see that you are interested in what they have to say. They also want to be sure that you will not divulge their secrets to just any person and that the relationship you have with them is meaningful.
In the same way, the conditioned living entity, who is filled with so many personal motives, isn’t qualified to accept all the truths of spiritual life right away. Yet they still want a worshipable figure. They want to love someone without motivation and without interruption. If they feel the person they are loving will compete with them, then walls are erected, emotional barriers preventing the rival from gaining an unfair advantage.
With the deity, there is no such worry, as you simply look at it and derive pleasure. If you feel so inclined, offer it some water, flowers, or fruits. If you want to spend even more time, prepare elaborate dishes made of ingredients that belong to the mode of goodness, those foods free of animal flesh and other impurities like garlic and onions. Add the key ingredient of love and first present the offering to your spiritual master and you are assured of pleasing the intended object of worship. Though God is never limited to a certain height, He will assume the form of the deity to meet your needs for worship. He tailors His appearance to suit your understanding, such is His kindness.
In the case of Parikshit, the circumstance called for a tiny form to enter a womb and counteract the brahmastra weapon. Krishna did just that, and the form of Narayana that Parikshit saw for just a brief moment would be remembered for the rest of his life. That sort of ajnata-sukriti, or unintended spiritual merit, stayed with him, sort of like a piggy bank that holds gathered money. The stock doesn’t deplete over time, as you can’t really lose spiritual merits. If you unknowingly acquire auspiciousness relating to Krishna, the maturity of that reservoir leads you to do things like chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
If you spend your saved money on a good, service, or experience, the money is lost; there is a debit to your account balance. In bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, the reservoir spent in connecting with Krishna only further grows the account, affording you more opportunities to serve the same person and continue to derive pleasure. The transcendental form that Parikshit saw marked the beginning of his devotional life, which he would remain dedicated to up until the time of his death. The sacred Shrimad Bhagavatam has Parikshit as a main character for a reason. He was favored by God at both the beginning and end of life. Seeing Narayana was the beginning of His understanding, and from that meeting further dedication in bhakti developed, to the point that He never forgot that form. If we should be so fortunate to see the Supreme Lord in any of His non-different forms, including the sweet vision of the two-armed Krishna, our spiritual merits will increase all the same, allowing us to spend our way into transcendental ecstasy.
From fire of brahmastra about to burn,
Towards savior Narayana embryo did turn.
To stop fiend Ashvatthama’s attack,
He used divine powers to push fire back.
Not a formless energy or bright light,
Instead had four arms, made a beautiful sight.
That vision of Supreme Lord he never did forget.
The saved Parikshit devotion to God in his heart set.
Know that sum of spiritual merits never to decrease,
With each expenditure, chances for devotion increase.