“As far as Krishna’s transcendental pastimes are concerned, they are mostly executed during the kaumara, pauganda and kaishora periods. His affectionate pastimes with His parents are executed during His kaumara age. His friendship with the cowherd boys is exhibited during the pauganda period. And His friendship with the gopis is exhibited during the age of kaishora.” (The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 26)
The Sanskrit words are yada yada hi. In this particular context the meaning is “whenever and wherever.” The timing is necessary for explanation since man is otherwise perplexed as to the presence of the Divine. Where is He? Does He exist? Why isn’t He here right now? Does He listen to our prayers?
He descends to this world as Himself whenever and wherever. The conditions are a decline in religious practice [dharma] and a sharp increase in irreligion [adharma]. The purpose of such descents is to punish the miscreants and protect the saintly people.
The timing is for our understanding, but for the Supreme Lord time has no influence. It is like a dead hourglass. It is stopped; no sand is falling. When considering time that is in motion, there is still no birth, death, old age or disease. No change to the transcendental body of the Supreme Lord.
He is described as nava-yauvanam, which means “always youthful.” Like someone who has just entered the teenage years, Shri Krishna always remains this way. Still, in some pictures He is depicted as an infant, a child, or an adolescent. These are different periods of development during Krishna’s time on earth in His original self, with corresponding pastimes for each stage.
From the time of birth to the sixth year is kaumara. For Krishna there is no birth, so the janma actually refers to an appearance. He is always around regardless, but we lack the proper eyes to notice His presence. The visible, manifest form with the two hands appearing before the eyes of the inhabitants of the earthly realm, with accompanying paraphernalia, is the birth. One who knows the transcendental nature of Krishna’s birth escapes the cycle of birth and death for themselves.
“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 kaumara period sees the interaction with the parents. The birth parents are Vasudeva and Devaki, but they miss out almost entirely. Vasudeva transfers the newborn Krishna to the neighboring town of Gokula to keep Him safe. There the foster-parents, Nanda and Yashoda, enjoy taking care of God as a child.
They think that He will not survive without their love and affection. This creates an urgency for service, which is most appreciated by the Supreme Lord. They witness His learning to crawl, walk and talk. They hear about His stealing butter from the neighbors. They even get frightened from time to time when Krishna is apparently in danger from powerful bad characters coming to kill Him. Of course even in the kaumara form Shri Krishna retains full potency; no one is able to defeat Him.
Between the ages of six and ten is known as pauganda. This time period is especially suited for friendship with the cowherd boys, referred to as sakhas or gopas in Sanskrit. Nanda is the leader of the farm community that is based on cow protection. Though very young, Krishna is given responsibility over the many calves. He and His friends go out to the fields every day, and there is so much enjoyment. Krishna sometimes wrestles with His friends. They eat lunch together. They make jokes. When the calves scatter about, Krishna climbs to the top of Govardhana Hill and plays His flute. This amazing sound captures everyone’s attention.
This is the period from ten to sixteen. Krishna enjoys with the cowherd women, the gopis. They are the topmost devotees, as they even abandon regard for religious principles in their interactions with God. They are more afraid of not seeing Krishna than they are of possibly going to hell. Their devotion is the most appreciated, and so Krishna is not a miser when it comes to associating with them. The interactions are most famously depicted in the rasa-dance scene, where God expands Himself into identical forms so that each gopi feels like they are dancing with Krishna alone, under the brightest moon of the year, Sharada Purnima.
Once the yauvana stage arrives, Krishna leaves Vrindavana for Mathura and then Dvaraka. There are more pastimes, of course, but for devotees nothing compares to the time spent in Vrindavana. It is said that Krishna never leaves Vrindavana. Even to this day He is there, present in the love of the residents, who constantly chant His holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Though unchanged phases to see,
Krishna’s lila in Vrindavana three.
At first beautiful son to the mother,
Stealing butter one home to another.
Then with cowherd boys playing,
Later dance with gopis displaying.
Actually always in that place to stay,
Through bhakti seen even to this day.
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