“Our dear friend Yashoda, your son sometimes comes to our houses before the milking of the cows and releases the calves, and when the master of the house becomes angry, your son merely smiles. Sometimes He devises some process by which He steals palatable curd, butter and milk, which He then eats and drinks. When the monkeys assemble, He divides it with them, and when the monkeys have their bellies so full that they won’t take more, He breaks the pots. Sometimes, if He gets no opportunity to steal butter or milk from a house, He will be angry at the householders, and for His revenge He will agitate the small children by pinching them. Then, when the children begin crying, Krishna will go away.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.8.29)
वत्सान् मुञ्चन् क्वचिदसमये क्रोशसञ्जातहास:
स्तेयं स्वाद्वत्त्यथ दधिपय: कल्पितै: स्तेययोगै: ।
मर्कान् भोक्ष्यन् विभजति स चेन्नात्ति भाण्डं भिन्नत्ति
द्रव्यालाभे सगृहकुपितो यात्युपक्रोश्य तोकान् ॥
vatsān muñcan kvacid asamaye krośa-sañjāta-hāsaḥ
steyaṁ svādv atty atha dadhi-payaḥ kalpitaiḥ steya-yogaiḥ
markān bhokṣyan vibhajati sa cen nātti bhāṇḍaṁ bhinnatti
dravyālābhe sagṛha-kupito yāty upakrośya tokān
“There are several famous depictions of Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. You have Him standing with Shrimati Radharani, who is the goddess of fortune. They aren’t necessarily married, but they are eternally together. That image is a window into the spiritual world.
“You have Krishna dancing with the gopis. This is under the brightest moon of the year, Sharada Purnima. There is an amazing display of potency, as Krishna expands Himself to be able to dance with each gopi individually. None of them feel left out.
“The image I am particularly drawn to is the one of Krishna stealing butter. He is a young child, and one of His lotus-like hands dips into a pot of butter. This is prohibited behavior. He is not supposed to be doing this. The pot belongs to one of the neighbors.
“How is an outsider supposed to understand the image? They will certainly see it. With the rapid dissemination of information in the modern day, millions of people could come across the image without even knowing who Krishna is.
“What is the explanation from the side of the devotees? Other than preferring the beauty of the image and the simplicity of the exchange, how would they explain the worship side? Should we not be fearing God? Should we not avoid smiling when viewing Him? Should not religion be taken with a serious approach?”
It is precisely because of God’s factual standing as the most powerful person in the world that the image is so striking. The devotee sees the influence of the Divine everywhere. In the rivers. In the trees which blossom at the appropriate season, giving assurance of the delivery of appropriate results to those following karma.
अवश्यं लभते जन्तुः फलं पापस्य कर्मणः।
घोरं पर्यागते काले द्रुमाः पुष्पमिवार्तवम्।।
avaśyaṃ labhate jantuḥ phalaṃ pāpasya karmaṇaḥ।
ghoraṃ paryāgate kāle drumāḥ puṣpamivārtavam।।
“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)
They see God even within calamity. Moments prior mankind was boasting of its accomplishments, how it has advanced beyond primitive times. Discoveries in science and technology have removed the blind allegiance to an invisible person in the sky, you see.
In an instant, the Supreme Lord shows His face through the blanket ignorance covering the population. The same mankind behaves as if they never heard of disease before, as if hiding within the house for years on end is somehow going to prolong life indefinitely. This ignorance is one side of God. It is the work of His illusory potency known as maya.
Devotees see full potency in the darling child of Nanda and Yashoda. When He reaches into the pot for butter, it is to give satisfaction to the members of the community of Gokula. They live for Him, after all. Their work is not for nothing. The output gets sacrificed for the highest cause, for the pleasure of the origin of everything.
Those who are familiar with God’s standing appreciate the underlying story depicted in the image. Krishna in Gokula is slowly unveiling the power He holds. That power is always within Him. He is the same God whether drinking milk from the breast of mother Yashoda or dealing with the witch named Putana.
When there is a more intimate relationship with Krishna, there is no need for a display of potency in terms of greatness. There is full appreciation of His loving exchanges with those who are devoted to Him.
The image of the butter thief shows that God’s kindness extends to the reach of appearing in the home as a dependent and acting in ways to keep everyone conscious of His activities. There are no limits, in truth, and so the exchanges can continue into the infinite future.
The demons arriving from the neighboring town of Mathura would gradually come to know that this eighth child of Devaki was indeed the angel of death for Kamsa. That wicked king would learn the hard way. He should have known from the warning he previously received, but sometimes the challengers insist on visible evidence.
It was still a helpless child, after all. How could Krishna be safe against the attacks of powerful asuras like Putana and Trinavarta? Even the people of Gokula marveled at Krishna’s ability to survive. It was as if Vishnu Himself were protecting them. Vishnu Himself was there, stealing their butter and enchanting their hearts.
Eternal bond sealing,
When their butter stealing.
Despite gopis resisting,
Now famous image depicting.
In Gokula that power unveiling,
Over asuras always prevailing.
The advanced never with reason to fear,
Since maintaining that connection dear.