“While Vasudeva was carrying his son Krishna in the falling rain, Lord Shesha in the shape of a serpent spread His hood over the head of Vasudeva so that he would not be hampered by the rainfall.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 3)
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“The Supreme Personality of Godhead” is the chosen English translation for the Sanskrit word Bhagavan by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The use of the lengthy term is both accurate and intentional. There is more to the Divine than just “God,” which implies greatness but stops short at defining it. God is all-pervading, but that doesn’t necessarily describe features belonging to an individual.
Bhagavan is an individual, distinct from me and you. He is the supreme personal, meaning that His abilities are beyond our comprehension. He is the supreme amongst all forms of Godhead, which means that the Divine has many forms. Even the living entities are divine in nature. We are eternals being maintained by the chief eternal, nityo nityanam chetanash chetananam.
A good way to understand the mysteries of Bhagavan is to study pictures of Him. There can only be pictures if there are authorized descriptions, descending from people who saw Him directly and understood Him. An adversary looking at Bhagavan has a completely different assessment; they fail to notice the greatness. Their testimony is thus of little value. The devotees know Him as He is, since they follow the formula provided in the Bhagavad-gita.
“Now hear, O son of Pritha [Arjuna], how by practicing yoga in full consciousness of Me, with mind attached to Me, you can know Me in full, free from doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.1)
The speaker of the Gita is known as Krishna, and He is Bhagavan Himself. There are many famous images of Krishna, and each tells so much.
1. Crossing the Yamuna River with Vasudeva
In this image we see a man old enough to be a father carrying a child in a basket. The basket is held above the head as the man wades deep in the river. There is a strong rainstorm, and the child is protected from the falling drops by a collection of serpents. They emerge from the back of the child’s head, as if to intentionally act as an umbrella.
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.9)
The setting of this image is shortly after Krishna’s appearance in this world. As He states in the Bhagavad-gita, His janma, or birth, is transcendental, divyam. One who knows the real nature of how He appears and acts in this world, karma, does not take birth again after dying.
Krishna appeared as the eighth child of Devaki, who was imprisoned at the time with her husband Vasudeva. The two were persecuted by Devaki’s brother Kamsa, who was the king of Mathura. Krishna descended to rid the world of Kamsa and other asuras like him. To get the wheels in motion, after Krishna took birth, He first showed His four-handed form of Narayana, who is also Bhagavan.
Then Krishna asked to be transferred to Gokula. Vasudeva kindly obliged. The father was able to escape from the prison, as the guards were all sleeping. The next issue was crossing the river. Due to his strong devotion, Vasudeva had no fear in walking through the river. The newborn Krishna was spared from the falling rain by Ananta Shesha Naga. This is the serpent bed of Lord Vishnu in the spiritual world. From this image we see that wherever Krishna goes, His associates come with Him. Ananta Shesha Naga is always there, ready to serve.
2. Stealing butter
Growing up in Gokula, Krishna was a naughty child. He was notorious for stealing butter. His family had plenty in stock. The foster parents, Nanda and Yashoda, maintained many cows. They were anything but poor. But Krishna enjoyed sneaking into the homes of the neighbors and enjoying their butter. They occasionally protested, but that did not stop the child. Indeed, at heart the neighbors were delighted that the adorable Krishna was giving them so much attention.
3. Sitting in Yashoda’s lap
One of Krishna’s many names is Yashodanandana. He is the delight of the caring mother. Krishna is everything to her. She had the notable honor of acting as Krishna’s mother during the childhood years. Devaki gave birth to Krishna, but she was in Mathura awaiting the eventual end to the reign of terror of her brother.
Yashoda’s love is in the mood of vatsalya-rasa. This is protection or parental affection. From this image we see that the relationship with God can go beyond just fear or asking for stuff. Mother Yashoda thinks that if she does not serve her child, He will die. She gives so much love, and Krishna happily obliges by accepting her service and reciprocating through His charming presence.
4. Standing with Radha
This is one of the most common images of Krishna. He is depicted standing next to a beautiful young lady. She is Radharani, the queen of Vrindavana. Whenever Bhagavan is depicted in a worshipable form, He has the goddess of fortune by His side. Narayana has Lakshmi Devi. Shri Rama has Sita. Krishna has Radha.
One is God Himself, and the other is the energy of God. More specifically, Radha is the pleasure-potency. She is in full Krishna consciousness, never deviating for even a moment. The two share an amazing love, with enough intricacy to occupy the interested mind for many lifetimes over. Theirs is more than just amorous affection; it is an eternal bond that every living entity actually has with the Supreme Lord, though in the conditioned state they have forgotten.
5. On the chariot with Arjuna
In this image Shri Krishna is a little older, though it’s difficult to tell the exact difference in years since the Gokula time period. Since He is nava-yauvanam, Krishna’s body always looks fresh and new, like someone who has just entered the teenage years. Here Krishna is the teacher to Arjuna, though that wasn’t always the relationship. Moments prior, He was the kind and dedicated chariot driver. Moments prior to that, He was the dear friend and relation as cousin.
Krishna teaches Arjuna because the warrior needs help. Arjuna has doubts over how to proceed in a war about to commence. Krishna takes the occasion to teach not only about fighting and ruling a kingdom, but also the meaning to life in general. Life and death, the purpose to an existence, the changing of bodies, the influence of time, the controlling agents of the world, and the supreme person Himself – these topics and more Krishna goes over briefly but completely in a conversation known as the Bhagavad-gita.
Amazing, beyond our capacity to go,
How then the Supreme Lord to know?
At different pictures with attention gaze,
Crossing Yamuna, Shesha Naga with Him stays.
Into homes of neighbors butter to steal,
Blessed by His presence, special to feel.
In lap of loving mother sitting,
Radha by His side befitting.
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