Krishna’s life is full of inspiration. This Janmashtami, I bring you the story of Krishna. #HappyJanmashtami

Being born in jail to being Prince

Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu was born on the eighth day of the waning moon of Bhadrapad month of the Hindu calendar as the eighth son of Devaki and Vasudev. The first six children were brutally killed at birth. The seventh son, Krishna’s elder brother Balaram, was saved thanks to mystic powers. Krishna was born in jail. Krishna’s parents hailed from powerful royal families of the Yadav clan, but were sent behind bars after a prophecy told Krishna’s maternal uncle Kansa was told that Devaki’s eighth son would kill him. As soon as Krishna’s birth at midnight, divine powers put the guards of the jail to deep sleep, unlocked the shackles Devaki and Vasudev were bound to and flung open the jail gates. Vasudev, in a bid to save Krishna from the wrath of Kansa took him to a village called Gokul and handed the new-born to his friend Nand. Krishna thus grew up in the loving care of Nand and his wife Yashoda who loved and looked after him as their own son. Krishna grew up in Gokul and Vrindavan. Nand was a cowherd by profession and Krishna too developed liking for cows. Krishna learnt to play the flute so well that the cows would gather around him when he played. Cows were not the only ones mesmerized by Krishnas flute. The milkmaids of Gokul fell for the tunes and charms of Krishna. Radha was the one Krishna was fond of and turned out to his first love, which never resulted in wedlock. Krishna was very fond of butter and would steal the same from the homes of Gokul. Out of love and affection, all the mischiefs were laughed off by people. Not everything in Krishna’s childhood was about flutes, butter and cows. As he grew up, he became a challenger of sorts. In one instance when the village was preparing for a grand festive worship of Indra, the king of the gods, Krishna advised people against doing the same. Krishna wanted the cows to be worshipped instead. Irked by the remarks, Indra unleashed thunderstorms on Gokul having people run for cover. Krishna lifted a hillock called Govardhan to protect against the torrential rains. Days passed and Indra finally gave up. He appeared and apologized for his act. Krishna was gracious and accepted the apology granting Indra a boon. Indra asked Krishna to befriend and protect his son Arjun which Krishna smilingly granted. On another instance, the cows of Gokul started dying after drinking from the river. It was understood as the effect of a venomous snake called Kalia which had polluted the water. Out of his love for cows, Krishna dived into the river without a second thought and tamed the snake once and for all.  Krishna danced on the hoods of the mighty snake who agreed to move on to a different place. Meanwhile, Kansa had not forgotten the fact that Devaki’s eight son was still alive. Stories of Krishna’s heroics with Indra and Kalia reached far and wide. Kansa, on hearing them was now sure that the flute playing cowherd of Gokul was none other than Devaki’s eight son. He made numerous attempts on Krishna’s life. None were successful given the mystic powers of Krishna. Kansa, frustrated with the failed attempts of his choicest assassins, now decided to take on Krishna himself. He called for Balaram and Krishna, now in their teens, to his capital Mathura. Before Krishna could meet Kansa in person, he was subject to numerous challenges such as facing a rampaging elephant to bouts with Kansa’s best wrestlers. The challenges proved to be too little given Krishna’s powers and confidence. Eventually, the prophecy proved to be true as Krishna killed Kansa. After Kansa’s death, his father and Krishna’s grandfather King Ugrasen, together with Krishna’s parents were freed from the dungeons of Mathura. Krishna reinstated Ugrasen as King and Ugrasen appointed the young princes Balaram and Krishna as his ministers in court. Thus, after years of anarchy, there was peace in Mathura. With his house in order and Mathura set to prosper under the leadership of Ugrasen, Krishna then moved to Gurukul under the tutelage of Guru Sandipani. That’s where he learnt law, administration, scriptures, and martial arts – everything a future King ought to know. Krishna became friends with a poor Brahmin Sudama, setting an example of putting relations above social status. As a fee for his education, Krishna promised Guru Sandipani to find him his long lost son, which he fulfilled. Happy with Krishna, Sandipani gave him a divine conch Panchajanya, which later became Krishna’s signature war cry. Parshuram, the wielder of the axe, visited Krishna on his last day in Gurukul. He reminded Krishna of his duties as the torchbearer of truth and handed over a powerful discus – the Sudarshan Chakra. Krishna was the only one during his time to have that divine discus at his disposal. Back in Mathura, things weren’t as Krishna had left. Kansa’s allies, particularly the devilish and powerful Jarasand had opened a barrage of attacks on Mathura to avenge Kansa’s death. Mathura was bleeding. Balaram insisted Krishna unleash his discus and end the story once and for all to which Krishna asserted that not every neck in the world is worthy of using a divine weapon on and that of Jarasand was certainly not. After much deliberation, Krishna came forward and made a proposal. He proposed to move the kingdom from Mathura to a far off city called Dwarka, surrounded by water and safe. The Yadav clan did not welcome the idea and there was uproar in the court. The clan felt that the world would see the move as fleeing from battle and name them cowards. Krishna convinced the Yadav’s after much debate yet ended up getting the title “Ranchor” or the one who runs away from battle. Krishna got the city of Dwarka constructed by the celestial architect Vishwakarma. Thus began a new era for the Yadav’s of Dwarka. Krishna the prince had now earned the reputation that of a fine general and minister of Dwarka. One day, he received a letter from Rukmini, the princess of Vidarbh. Rukmini’s family was keen on getting her married to Shishupal, the crown prince of the kingdom of Cheddi. Rukmini was against the idea and sought help from Krishna. Rukmini was sure her plea won’t go unanswered and she was elated to see Krishna reach Vidarbh to fetch her. Rukmini happily accepted Krishna as her better half and got on his chariot, knowing there was no looking back. On their way Krishna defeated Rukmini’s brother and his army when they blocked path. The cowherd from Gokul was now a King in Dwarka and Rukmini was the first of his many queens. The infant born in a jail now had a prospering and peaceful kingdom, a powerful army and a divine weapon to use.

Being the source of strength to the Pandavs

The Pandav’s were Krishna’s distant cousins. By the time Krishna met them, they were in deep crisis having survived an attempt on their lives. A long standing dispute with their first cousins Kauravs had lead Pandav’s leave their kingdom of Hastinapur in live a life that of vagabonds. Arjun had just won Draupadi’s hand in marriage when Krishna recognized his cousins. Krishna followed the Pandav’s to their hut and advised them to visit Hastinapur and rightfully claim what belongs to them – half of the kingdom. The Pandav’s did as advised and what seemed to be an unfair settlement got Khandavprasth – the barren and deep forested region of Hastinapur as their share. Krishna instilled the thought of making the most of what they have in the Pandavs. With Krishna as the guiding light, Arjun asked Agni, the god of fire to turn the forests into ashes thus making way for a city that would be their capital. The forests were home to Nagas, the snakes and demons. The burning of Khandavprasth didn’t go well with Indra, an ally of the Nagas. Indra sent thunderstorms and winds to douse the fire. The Nagas too resisted the fire and thus began a battle. Krishna defeated the Nagas and Arjun did the same to Indra. Agni eventually burnt the forest down and the demons too conceded defeat. Satiated, Agni gifted Arjun a divine chariot and a powerful bow. Maya, a demon who’s life Arjun spared, built a magnificent palace for the Pandavs. The palace was grand and considered second to none, not even the one owned by Indra. Thus, with Krishna by their side, the Pandav’s turned barren Khandavprasth into a great city and named it Indraprasth. Yudhisthir, the eldest of the Pandav’s, then shared with Krishna his ambition of becoming an emperor. Krishna supported the idea and explained the political situation to Yudhisthir. Sharing his acute assessment of each and every kingdom in question. Krishna, like an expert on the topic, put forth in front of Yudhisthir a plan of action needed to be an emperor. Krishna convinced Yudhisthir that Jarasand was by far the biggest obstacle and had to be gotten rid of. Krishna got Bheem, the second of the Pandav siblings challenge Jarasand into a duel and shared the secret of killing Jarasand. Useful and timely tips from Krishna were enough for the powerful Bheem to squash Jarasand to death. The Pandav’s defeated other smaller kingdoms who resisted and thus an auspicious date was chosen for Yudhisthir’s coronation as emperor. Indraprasth was decorated like never before as it hosted the holiest of the sages and the most powerful allies and relatives of the Pandav’s. The Kuru cousins too graced the occasion. Krishna was being honoured by the Pandav’s before the ceremony when Shishupal entered the scene. A distant cousin of both Krishna and the Pandav’s, Shishupal has his own reasons to hate Krishna for he was deprived of marrying Rukmini. As per a prophecy made at Shishupal’s birth, he was destined to be killed by Krishna. Shishupal’s mother plead to Krishna for mercy and Krishna promised her that he would forgive Shishupal hundred times before taking the difficult decision of killing him. In front of the gathering in Yudhisthir’s court, Shishupal hurled the choicest of abuses on Krishna, insulting and mocking him. Krishna merely smiled as he was busy counting. He had to keep his word made to Shishupal’s mother. When Shishupal got close to the triple digit mark, Krishna warned him of dire consequences if he doesn’t stop. Shishupal ignored and continued with his barrage of insults. On hearing the hundredth insult, Krishna fired his discus at Shishupal, which slit his throat to death. The scene shook the gathering as all witnessed the power of Krishna’s weapon. In the process of unleashing the discus, Krishna’s finger bled. Draupadi couldn’t stand Krishna’s wound and without a second thought, tore a piece from her robe to bandage the bleeding finger. Krishna was deeply touched by the gesture and felt indebted to Draupadi. He promised her of duly returning the favour at the right time. Yudhisthir became the emperor and Krishna came to be recognized as the kingmaker. The string of successes earned by the Pandav’s didn’t go down well, as expected, by the Kaurav cousins. Duryodhan, the eldest of the Kaurav cousins was green with envy. Draupadi’s mocking added salt to the wounds and thus lay the stage for a plot. Shakuni, Duryodhan’s uncle and an expert in gambling, invited the Pandav’s to Hastinapur for a game. Shakuni’s trickery worked as Yudhisthir lost round after round losing his wealth, assets, kingdom, brothers and himself. The last round had Draupadi at stake and that too was lost. Duryodhan rejoiced as he had all the Pandav’s as slaves. It wasn’t all for Duryodhan. He summoned Draupadi and asked her to be stripped in the court. The courts men stood appalled as the politics in Hastinapur had reached its nadir. The seniors tried to intervene but failed. It was Duryodhan’s day after all. Draupadi was dragged into the court full of damp eyes and tied tongues. When all her attempts to save her honour failed and she was about to get stripped, all she did was thought of Krishna and prayed to him for help. Though not present, Krishna’s mystic powers ensured the robe being pulled off Draupadi’s body kept extending and never really came of her body. The gathering, already stunned with the turn of events, witnessed a miracle. Krishna had kept his word, yet again. The mess that ensued led the Pandav’s into thirteen years of exile. With their kingdom lost and their self-esteem shattered, they left for the forests. Krishna took the sons of Pandav’s with him to Dwarka and assumed the role of their guardian. It was during this period that Krishna advised Arjun penance for divine weapons instead of brooding over the incidents. Krishna wanted Arjun to prepare for a war which would be inevitable if all attempts to reconcile fail. With Arjun set out for the task, Krishna advised the other Pandav’s and Draupadi to patiently wait for exile to end. By the time the exile imposed on the Pandav’s ended, Arjun’s quiver was full of divine weapons, making him the most powerful archer on earth. The Pandav’s on the advice of Krishna sent emissaries of peace to the Kaurav’s. Round of discussions between both camps failed and war was inevitable. Both camps called on their allies to join forces and started forging alliances with the neutral powers. Krishna had already declared that in case of a war, he would not participate as a warrior however the powerful army of Dwarka was available. Both Arjun and Duryodhan arrived at Dwarka to seek help from Krishna. Whilst Krishna slept, Duryodhan sat by Krishna’s head and Arjun stood by Krishna’s feet. When Krishna’s woke up, he saw Arjun and even after being told that it was Duryodhan who came first, Krishna asked Arjun to choose between him and his army. Krishna’s based this on who he saw first and not who came first. Arjun was quick to choose Krishna and asked him to be his charioteer in the biggest war of his life. Krishna readily agreed. Duryodhan feigned feeling sorry to have lost Krishna’s support in the war but happily left Dwarka with Krishna’s mighty army. Duryodhan thought he got the better deal as an armless Krishna seemed to be of no use to him. Arjun saw Krishna as the supreme self and returned assured of victory.

From being peacemaker to being charioteer 

Emissaries were sent, meetings were held and alliances were sealed. Both Kauravs and Pandavs had now amassed huge armies with thousands of chariots, horses, elephants and millions of men lining up infantry battalions. Conches, drums and bugles were prepared. Bows were primed and arrows were dipped in poison. Swords and spears were sharpened. The barren land of Kurukshetra was chosen as the battleground. The war was slated to be nothing less than an apocalypse. This made Krishna make a last attempt at restoring peace. He chose to go to Hastinapur himself as the messenger of the Pandavs. Krishna reached Hastinapur amidst fanfare and was greeted with protocols deemed fit for a royal guest. In the court of Hastinapur, Krishna explained the dire consequences of war and urged Duryodhan to be fair to Pandavs. The negotiation eventually came down to Pandavs settling for mere five villages instead of Indraprasth which too was denied by Duryodhan. On further persuasion, Duryodhan was so furious that he ordered the guards to capture and imprison Krishna. This is when Krishna exhibited his original form as the master of the universe. The court was left awestruck and the guards attempting to capture Krishna ran amok. Before leaving Hastinapur, Krishna spent time with Karn. He revealed Karn’s true identity as the eldest of the Pandav cousins. The reality stunned Karn as he was one of the most trusted ally by Duryodhan’s side and was to eventually fight his own brothers.  Krishna offered Karn to switch sides. Krishna stated that with Karn doing so, the war which seemed inevitable would end before it starts. Too staunch to Duryodhan and having come far too ahead in his rivalry with Arjun, Karn humbly denies the offer. All roads now lead to Kurukshetra. Both armies lined up for battle. The fine generals on both sides inspected enemy formations. The fluttering of the flags was the only thing heard in the battle ground as the armies stood alert waiting to hear the sound of the conch followed by the command to attack. The butchery was about to begin when Krishna found Arjun in a pensive mood. On asking where his thoughts were, Arjun expressed his inhibitions in fighting his relatives. What followed was a discourse from Krishna on karma which enlightened Arjun. Krishna also showed Arjun his divine form. Realizing his duty, Arjun got ready for battle and a twang from his bow sent shivers across the enemy forces. The battle began. The Pandav forces were being inflicted major damage from Bhishma, the commander in chief of the Kauravs. Not only was he one of the most fierce and powerful of warriors, he was also blessed with a boon. He and only he could choose the time of his death, making him almost immortal. With no solution in mind, the Pandav’s approached Krishna who came with a novel idea. Krishna knew Bhishma would lower his weapons if a Pandav general Shikhandi were to fight him. Krishna knew their history. Shikhandi accompanied Arjun on his chariot the next day. With a human shield of sorts in front of an armless opponent, Arjun fired multiple arrows permanently incapacitating Bhishma. The hurdle was crossed only to meet another. Drona took over as the commander in chief of the Kaurav army. More clinical in his approach than Bhishma, Drona was proving to be a bigger threat. He made numerous attempts to take Yudhisthir prisoner with the objective of ending the war with a Kaurav victory. Arjun managed to thwart the move every time in the nick of time. In one such attempt, the Kaurav’s had almost succeeded by engaging Arjun in a different combat whilst creating a formation no one else among the Pandav generals could tackle. The day was saved by Abhimanyu, Krishna’s nephew and Arjun’s son who never returned to the camp. Jayadrath, a general in the Kaurav army had proven to be the reason of Abhimanyu’s death and Arjun promised to immolate himself if Jayadrath were alive till sunset the next day. When Arjun wasn’t able to locate Jayadrath, Krishna used his divine powers to create an eclipse. Thinking the sun has set, Jayadrath came out in the open mocking Arjun. Soon, the sun reappeared on the horizon to everyone’s shock. Krishna reassured Arjun and twang went Arjun’s bow. Jayadrath was history and Arjun had kept his word. With no respite from the menacing Drona, Krishna was the one looked up with hope. Whilst contemplating a solution, Krishna spotted an elephant with the same name as Drona’s son Ashwatthama and got a brainwave. Krishna got the elephant killed and asked the Pandav generals to inform Drona that Ashwatthama was slain in battle. The Pandav’s did as directed leaving Drona shattered. The thought of losing his son made Drona lower his weapons. One of the Pandav generals beheaded an armless Drona, must to the fury of Arjun. As the battle progressed, the Kaurav army kept suffering losses and losing their generals. With Drona out of the way, Karn took over the reins of the Kaurav army. Karn and Arjun were arch rivals since the day they met and Karn was the last hope for the Kauravs. Krishna was more than watchful than ever as Arjun’s charioteer knowing Karn held a divine weapon that could be lethal for Arjun. The duels between Karn and Arjun were the fiercest with each proving to be better than the other every now and then. Krishna put to use both his divine powers and his skills as a charioteer to support Arjun in the battles with Karn. Karn eventually used his one divine weapon elsewhere which relieved Krishna. The one threat looming over Arjun was gone. In what turned out to be Karn’s last day in the battle, Krishna made Arjun fire a divine arrow on Karn killing him when he was armless and not ready for battle. Karn’s killing was against the rules of battle and called an act of cowardice on Arjun’s part. Krishna justified the act stating that breaching rules was a precedent set by the Kauravs and Arjun had only followed suit. Victory was just one step away. Duryodhan had to be killed for the war to be called over and Bheem was the one to take on Duryodhan in a one to one duel. Like Karn and Arjun, these two mace wielding warriors too shared mutual despise for the longest time. The duel saw both of them pouncing at one another like wild elephants. Bheem had more power but Duryodhan was more agile. More than that, Duryodhan’s mother had used her powers to turn his body into iron. It was Krishna who tricked Duryodhan to ensure his thigh was left vulnerable. If rules of a mace duel had to be followed, Bheem could not have emerged victorious. But Krishna has already thought of a plan. Knowing very well that it was against the rules, Krishna prompted Bheem to hit Duryondhan’s thigh. Bheem did as directed and in a couple of strikes, broke Duryondhan’s thigh bone into pieces leaving him bleed to death. It was dusk when the Pandav’s left the battlefield once and for all. The Pandav’s had won the war and Krishna, without using any weapon himself, played the most instrumental role in the victory. Ashwatthama was an immortal and one of the three Kaurav generals left alive. He wanted to avenge the killing of his father Drona. Whilst Duryodhan bled awaiting death, Ashwatthama went on a wild killing spree by the night. He killed all of Draupadi’s sons thinking they were the Pandav’s. Duryodhan was dead by the time Ashwatthama came to tell the tale. By morning, it was clear that the Pandav’s were alive and were on the hunt for Ashwatthama, furious at the killing of their sons. In an attempt to end the Pandav lineage, Ashwatthama fired a divine arrow killing Abhimanyu’s son in his mother’s womb. Infuriated, Krishna cursed Ashwatthama and used his divine power yet again, this time to give life to a stillborn who grew up to be King Parikshit.

Being cursed

Though Krishna secured the lineage of the Hastinapur kingdom, he ended up with a curse. Duryondhan’s mother blamed Krishna for the war, telling him that he could have tried harder to avert the mayhem at Kurukshetra if he really wished to. Overwhelmed by the sorrow of losing all her sons, she cursed Krishna that he too would witness the end of his clan just as she did. Krishna gracefully accepted the curse. Yudhisthir was reinstated as emperor. With the well-being of the Pandavs restored, Krishna went back to Dwarka. After years, a drunken brawl in Dwarka turned into a civil war in which the Yadav folks killed each other. Distraught, Krishna headed towards the forests for meditation. A hunter mistook Krishna’s foot for a deer and shot an arrow that fatally wounded him. With that, the age of the eighth incarnation of Vishnu came to an end.

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One thought on “The Many Shades of Krishna

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