“O Lord, Your lotus face, which is encircled by locks of soft black hair tinged with red, is kissed again and again by mother Yashoda, and Your lips are reddish like the bimba fruit. May this beautiful vision of Your lotus face be ever manifest in my heart. Thousands and thousands of other benedictions are of no use to me.” (Shri Damodarashtaka, 5)
idaḿ te mukhāmbhojam atyanta-nīlair
vṛtaḿ kuntalaiḥ snigdha-raktaiś ca gopyā
muhuś cumbitaḿ bimba-raktādharaḿ me
manasy āvirāstām alaḿ lakṣa-lābhaiḥ
The Damodarashtaka is a celebration of a most wonderful relationship between mother and son. The mother is the queen of Vraja, the wife of the king, Nanda Maharaja. She is a gopi, or cowherd woman, and is known by name as Yashoda. Her adorable child has hundreds of thousands of names, and one of them relates to something specific that Yashoda once did. Known as Damodara because of being bound to a mortar through the belly, that child reciprocates the pure love offered by His mother.
How strong is the relationship between the two? In the verse quoted above, we see that the boy’s face is like a lotus. Ambhoja is the Sanskrit word used here to describe the beautiful visage of the small child who runs away after breaking a pot of yogurt in anger. Mother Yashoda chases after Him, as if missing that beautiful lotus, unable to live without it. She loves that face so much that she kisses it again and again.
In many verses in Vedic literature the comparison is made to the sun as a way to describe God. In the Bhagavad-gita, the same Damodara, all grown up and on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, tells Arjuna that He is the light of the sun. The sun is one amazing thing, and yet it is not self-illuminating. Krishna, the Supreme Lord, the adorable Damodara in Yashoda’s courtyard, is the light behind that sun.
raso ‘ham apsu kaunteyaprabhāsmi śaśi-sūryayoḥpraṇavaḥ sarva-vedeṣuśabdaḥ khe pauruṣaṁ nṛṣu
“O son of Kunti [Arjuna], I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.8)
The typical comparison is to Krishna being the sun and the devotees being reliant on His light. Those who truly love God, having pure motives, are compared to the day lotus. That purest of flowers rests upon the surface of the pond. When the sun rises, the flower gradually opens. When the day is done, the lotus closes once again. The reaction is spontaneous, sort of how the devotees love God as soon as they get sight of Him and become morose as soon as He leaves their vision.
Here the comparison is somewhat reversed. Krishna’s face is compared to the lotus. It has so much love for the mother, who is like the sun. This sun goes towards the lotus and shines its light on it constantly. She does this by kissing that lotus-like face again and again. She does not stop, as she is not consciously aware of God’s tremendous potency. She has no interest in it, either. To her Damodara is everything. He is her life and soul. When that lotus floats away, the sun that is Yashoda finds it and again shines her light.
Krishna is the most powerful. The light He provides to the sun is amazing. Even in the form of a child He retains that potency. He thwarts the attackers sent by Kamsa from the neighboring town of Mathura. He lifts massive hills and holds them up with His pinky finger. He finds ways to steal butter from the neighboring homes, even when the ladies think they have secured their stocks.
In spite of being so powerful, He voluntarily assumes the role of a lotus in front of Yashoda. Through His Damodara pastimes He shows that God can become subordinate to the love of others. He doesn’t need anything, yet He accepts everything from Yashoda. He doesn’t need kisses, but He allows the dear mother to offer them countless times. He stays bound to the mortar so that she can see Him.
This means that the light of devotion is strong as well. It can capture the attention of the person who is the source of all light. It can shine so brightly that those who have lived in darkness for so long find their way out. Like a flashlight leading out of the tunnel of nowhere, the influence of Yashoda and those who follow her is life-saving.
Today that light shines through the holy name itself. The form of address for Yashoda’s son brings a rescuing light through the ears. Therefore when around lovers of the jewel of Vrindavana, a constant chant is heard: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
When out of the darkness of ignorance, any person can become a kind of sun, offering their light to the lotus-like face of Damodara. They can daily offer their prayers and well wishes. They can swim in the ocean of transcendental bliss by describing Damodara. They can offer Him candles during the month of Kartika and they can rest assured knowing that Yashoda’s son can be kissed again and again. That lotus will not swim away as long as devotion remains firm and the sound of the holy name does not get lost.
For Yashoda never an opportunity missed,
On the cheeks by her Damodara kissed.
Again and again, love never waning,
Like lotus-face sight of sun gaining.
Being God despite still accepting,
His bhaktas Damodara never rejecting.
Damodarashtaka this relationship celebrating,
That mother’s love saint’s heart appreciating.