“All glories to Kunja-vihari, whose garments surpass the splendor of gold, whose crown is decorated with a splendid peacock feather, and whose new, glistening youthfulness delights the women of Vraja.” (Shrila Rupa Gosvami, Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, 5)
rañjano jayati kuñja-vihārī
“With Krishna there is always something wonderful to gaze upon. This began with His initial arrival into our town. The splendid youth belonging to Nanda Maharaja and mother Yashoda delighted us with His vision as an infant. To see Him grow up, try to crawl and walk alongside His elder brother Balarama was a true gift. He delighted us with His muffled speech, and He would kindly grab whatever things we asked of Him. He would bring the father’s slippers when requested and would also try to trade grains for fruit with the vendor. Not to mention the many times He survived the attacks of wicked characters, He is always exciting us in some way or another. Even when He is not involved in any specific action, just looking at Him is enough to bring pleasure. There are so many attractive aspects to His personal self.”
In his Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, Shrila Rupa Gosvami remembers some of these features and kindly praises them. In the verse quoted above, the feather worn on Krishna’s crown is mentioned. The feather is from a peacock, and it has since become a symbol to remind devotees of their beloved, the lord of their life breath. To have a lord of your thoughts is only natural, as we all must think of something or someone. But to have that controller be God Himself is most worthwhile.
But what about other divine figures? Why can’t someone think of Jesus instead of Krishna? How about the formless energy known as Brahman? What about their significant other, like a wife? How about the beloved children? Didn’t Yashoda and Nanda always think of their son? So why shouldn’t we do the same with our children?
The tendency to devote thoughts to someone else is already there, and so in the Vedic tradition the recommendation to focus on the Supreme Lord in His personal form is not to simply introduce another item of focus. The fact is the objects around us are temporary, as are the relationships we have to them. Think of the person who gets divorced and then finds another person to marry. They once focused on one person, but then later on they focused on someone else. The divorce may not even have been their fault; they could have been completely faithful. Yet due to the workings of nature, the influence of destiny, they couldn’t stay with their first spouse; thus requiring a change of focus. The same holds true for parents attached to their children, as eventually the children will have to grow up and provide for themselves. They might also have their own children to take care of.
With respect to other religious traditions and their specific divine figures, the Vedas are not contradictory in this regard. Rather, the same spiritual force is described in greater detail. It is also revealed that according to time and place, the Almighty will send a representative or personally appear Himself to deliver the appropriate message. Hence we see the many different spiritual traditions in existence, including the many subdivisions to the Vedic tradition. Despite the variation, there is still only one God, and according to the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam, His original form is Shyamasundara, the beautiful youth with a dark complexion. He is also known as Krishna because He is all-attractive. This means that He attracts anyone and everyone, irrespective of sectarian boundaries.
The same Krishna is also known as Kunja-vihari, or one who enjoys play in the forest. Krishna’s preferred forest is Vrindavana, a land where there are only devotees. Imagine gathering together all of your friends in one place. It’s sometimes difficult to say who is your best friend, as you have different relationships with different people. Some person may be your friend in the workplace, while another is your friend from school. One person enjoys playing the same sport that you do, while another is your preferred confidante. If you could have a party with all of them invited, you would never get bored. You would always have something fun to do.
Vrindavana is like that for Krishna, and the relationships to Him are not identical. The young cowherd boys enjoy playing with Krishna during the day. The young gopis enjoy dancing with Him at night, and the mothers enjoy just looking at Him. The peacock feather on His crown is the perfect accompaniment. The Lord also has a youthfulness that delights all of the women. The golden garments add to the charm, and so the women always have something to contemplate on, even while they are working.
Through their example, we see that real yoga does not require residence in a remote area, where everything else is given up. A yogi has a consciousness linked to the divine, so whichever situation is ideal for creating and maintaining that link is the best. Vrindavana is filled with devotees, so any place the gopis and gopas travel to is a pilgrimage site, for if they don’t see Kunja-vihari, they can at least remember Him.
That same remembrance is available to us today through the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This most potent method of bhakti-yoga creates a replica of the Vrindavana atmosphere within the mind. If one is serious in their chanting, and in their hearing and remembering of the Supreme Lord, then the external conditions automatically become auspicious as well.
How does this work exactly? Think about if you really wanted to watch the big game that’s on television this upcoming Sunday. You will automatically find ways to make it happen, won’t you? You might need to adjust your schedule, upgrade your television set, and complete all of your other tasks beforehand. This way there won’t be any distractions when you watch the game.
In a similar manner, if your desire is to connect with God on a daily basis, anything that gets in the way will turn into an unwanted hindrance. The Vaishnava saints like Shrila Rupa Gosvami and his followers have kindly pointed out some of the common anarthas, or non-profitable things, so that we won’t have to discover them on our own. Meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex are the most unprofitable activities, and if they are removed when practicing bhakti-yoga, the chances of remembering Krishna increase all the more. And since there is so much to look at on the Lord’s wonderful transcendental body, there is no need to fear bhakti-yoga ever becoming a boring activity.
What will I look at today?
Perhaps His forest play?
With gopas to the fields He goes,
Fun with Him always everyone knows.
From His youthfulness mothers take delight,
Peacock feather on crown a splendid sight.
In Vrindavana His pastimes unfold,
Krishna, who wears garments colored gold.