“Ordinarily, if a king leaves the battlefield without fighting he is called a coward, but when Krishna enacts this pastime, leaving the battlefield without fighting, He is worshiped by the devotee. A demon always tries to measure the opulence of Krishna, whereas the devotee never tries to measure His strength and opulence, but always surrenders unto Him and worships Him. By following the footsteps of pure devotees we can know that Krishna, the Ranchorji, did not leave the battlefield because He was afraid, but because He had some other purpose.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 51)
“Why did Krishna run away from Jarasandha? This is described in Shrimad Bhagavatam. I understand that the incident is part of the narrative of Krishna-lila, but someone might be disturbed upon hearing it. They would rather the Supreme Personality of Godhead stand tall, like Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
“In reading Vedic literature, I learned the many rules for kshatriya warriors. You are not supposed to attack someone from behind, for instance. If your opponent loses the facility of his chariot, you are supposed to descend from yours and take the battle to the ground level.
“Leaving the battlefield while an enemy is attacking you is never a praiseworthy tactic. Yet, with Krishna the incident is still celebrated. He earned a new name from it. Someone might be confused. It sounds like devotees just rationalize whatever behavior they see from Krishna, whether good or bad.”
To begin, a person has to rationalize. Who is actually able to understand beyond the limits of time and space? How can I comprehend what ananta means in terms of the body-spirit combination? How can a person really be anadi, or without beginning?
अव्यक्तं व्यक्तिम् आपन्नं
मन्यन्ते माम् अबुद्धयः
परं भावम् अजानन्तो
avyaktaṁ vyaktim āpannaṁ
manyante mām abuddhayaḥ
paraṁ bhāvam ajānanto
“Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.24)
If we are looking to analyze from the angle of bravery, we would say that Krishna’s cowardice started from the time of birth. He asked Vasudeva for the transfer to Gokula. Though a baby, Krishna still fled from King Kamsa of Mathura, during the dark of night, while everyone else was sleeping.
There was one foe that Krishna did kill indirectly. He led the enemy into a cave, which then caused a meeting with a sleeping man. The man was awoken by the enemy, and due to anger he burned the enemy using fire from his eyes.
“The sleeping man had been lying down for a very long time. When he was awakened by the kicking of Kalayavana, he immediately opened his eyes and began to look around in all directions. At last he began to see Kalayavana, who was standing nearby. This man was untimely awakened and therefore very angry, and when he looked upon Kalayavana in his angry mood, rays of fire emanated from his eyes, and Kalayavana burned into ashes within a moment.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 49)
The ones criticizing Krishna conveniently forget the many prior attempts from Jarasandha. He had attacked before, and he never emerged victorious. Despite witnessing the potency of God directly in front of him, Jarasandha did not change his behavior.
Fleeing from the battlefield facilitated the creation of the city known as Dvaraka. Friends and family were safe there. Krishna could then be free to battle others in a focused way. Jarasandha’s slaying was destined to come from Bhima, as well.
If the demons are so puffed up in their temporary ability, why do they fail at catching God? Why did not Jarasandha succeed? If Krishna was so weak and afraid, how was He able to outsmart the supposedly stronger party?
These incidents are nothing to lament. They are celebrated to show how the Supreme Lord always wins. Devotion stands the test of time. Victories and defeats are like the waves of the ocean hitting the shore. Sometimes the water remains in the distance. Just when you think you are safe, a massive wave approaches to inundate the area.
Krishna-lila itself is not a necessary requirement for the proper functioning of society. Time takes care of the miscreants, but the vision of the Lord is to benefit those who are devoted to Him in thought, word, and deed.
Repeated in attack to proceed,
Jarasandha never embarrassed indeed.
Until finally Krishna fled,
Like Kalayavana into cave led.
For higher purpose still,
Destiny to fulfill.
Incident pleasing to hear,
Devotees with nothing to fear.