Celebrating belief

This weekend, Hindus around the world are celebrating “Krishna Janmashtami” (the birth of Lord Krishna, an incarnate of Vishnu, Supreme Being and a deity venerated as the “Preserver” in Hindu Trinity (“Trimurti”) that includes Brahma (Creator) and Shiva (Destroyer).

Krishna was born during a period of chaos in the region around present day Mathura (Uttar Pradesh in India) where freedom was curtailed and people were being persecuted for their belief.  The ruler of the land, Krishna’s maternal uncle had been warned by a soothsayer that his nephew would slay him.  So, he jailed his sister and her husband, Krishna’s parents, with instructions that their baby was to be slaughtered at birth. However, Gods and nature conspired to create the environment for baby Krishna to be spirited out of prison by his father and delivered to foster parents, in whose loving care he grew up.

Krishna the incarnate’s role-plays are embellished through many stories and “bhajans” (religious songs).  Krishna’s multifaceted personality includes being depicted as a dark and very good-looking person with a serene visage that belied his playful nature, a true friend, wise counsellor and statesman, lover of animals and people all of whom would fall into a trance when he played his divine flute.

A mischievous and playful child, he would frequently steal fresh butter churned by his foster mother but when accosted, would lie that the other kids were jealous and therefore blamed him, even as his foster mother lovingly saw through his act.  As a young cowherd, Krishna was the heartthrob of all the “gopis” (cowgirls) and his antics about teasing them are legendary.  He would break their “matkis” (clay pots) as they returned homewards, fetching water or, hide their clothes as they bathed in the local river.  The cowgirls loved the attention he bestowed on the selected ones, although he loved only one of them.  All this is said to have taken place in a different age, over 3,000 years BCE (Before the Common Era).

I recall the many times my mother admonished us if we scolded our very young kids when they indulged in horse play around her living room.  She would gently say, “Krishna kanhayya apni leela hi toh dikhaa rahen hain” (Lord Krishna is merely showing his “play”).  Do not use negative language to correct the child.”  Her logic was that if we used a “negative” approach it could lead to adverse results.  So, instead of saying, “Don’t do this” a better option might be, “Should we try this (a different approach) now?”  She would tell us that each of us goes through life trying to live up to an image that we create for ourselves, or based on others’ perception of us.  “When you keep reinforcing the message “he/she is a good child” instead of “he/she is naughty or quite a character” the child will start to act out the part assigned to her/him.  Call a child a brat and that’s who they’ll turn into.”  Our kids (and their children now) have turned out fine (at least this far), so there might be some truth in what she used to say to us.

I end with a poem titled Krishna Kanhayya composed by the eminent Urdu poet Hafeez Jalandhari, famous for composing Pakistan’s National Anthem in 1952.  He was born in Jalandhar (India) but moved to Lahore (Pakistan) after The Partition in 1947.  The poem came to my attention a few years ago through an article published in Pakistan’s leading newspaper The Dawn by a student and writer of South Asian history, Nikhil Mandalaparthy.  Wonder how such a syncretic composition on a Hindu deity by a Muslim poet might be viewed today!

Only a few select verses from the rather lengthy poem are reproduced below, together with a feeble attempt at translation:

Ai dekhne wālo
is husn ko dekho
is raaz ko samjho
O onlookers,
gaze upon this beauty
try and understand this mystery
… yeh paikar-e-tanvīr
yeh Krishan kī tasvīr
… This embodiment of light
(that is) the image of Krishna.
… duniyā se nirālā
yeh bāñsurī wālā
gokul kā gwālā
Not of this world
this flute player
this cowherd of Gokul (historic town)
… hairān hooñ kyā hai
ik shān-e-ḳhudā hai
I am perplexed by what he is
He is the Majesty of God
but-ḳhāne ke andar
ḳhud husn kā but-gar
but ban gayā ā kar
Inside the temple
Himself the sculptor of elegance
has come (to reside) as the idol
woh gopiyoñ ke sāth
hāthoñ meiñ diye hāth
raqsāñ huā Brijnāth
Together with the gopis
placing his hand in theirs
the Lord of Braj (Gokul/Mathura) is dancing
bansī meiñ jo lay hai
nasha hai na mai hai
kuchh aur hī shai hai
The melody that flows from his flute
is neither intoxication nor wine
but something beyond (such objects)
ai hind ke rājā
ik bār phir ā jā
dukh dard miTā jā
O’ king of India,
come just once more
Destroy our suffering and pain
tū āye to shāan āye
tū āye to jāan āye
If you come, glory will come
if you come, life will come
āanāa na akele
hoñ sāth woh mele
sakhiyoñ ke jhamele
Don’t come alone
let the festivals also come, accompanied by

(flirtatious) bickering with female-friends …

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