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Sometimes Krishna is human, at other times he is God

Author Gurcharan Das
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The Problem, of course, is that is not merely the master strategist of the Pandavas, he is also a God. He is not simply a god, but he is ‘the God’. The epic thus has a difficult task in defending his dirty tricks. It tells us early in Book One that the war of the was needed because demons had begun to oppress the world. The earth had appealed to Brahma, who had asked the other gods for help. Thus, some gods assumed human form. One of them was Krishna - an incarnation of the great god Vishnu.

We first meet Krishna at Draupadi’s Swayamvara, where she is to choose her husband from among competing princes. Krishna appears to be dark and handsome, a nice enough young man of the Yadava clan. He is not a suitor, but he recognizes the disguised In the assembly between them and other royal suitors. Later, as he is leaving for Dwarka with his brother Balaram, he salutes his aunt Kunti, but like a good diplomat, he avoids the subject that is on everyone’s mind - the extraordinary situation that has got into by marrying all the five Pandava brothers. Next, we run into Krishna at Prabhasa, a pilgrimage spot, where he has become as the epic says, “Arjuna’s dearest friend”. Soon they become related as Krishna contrives to have his sister abducted by and married to Arjuna, The abduction is typical of the daring adventures of the two young men.

Early on, Krishna shows a penchant for cunning and mischief. He devises a deceitful strategy to overcome the menacing ogre King Jarasandha, who has terrified and repeatedly attacked the innocent Yadavas. As a result, Krishna’s kinsmen have had to flee for safety from Mathura to Dwarka on the western coast of India. Krishna gets and to join him, and the three disguise themselves as Brahmin novitiates. They provoke Jarasandha, spurn his offerings, break his kettledrums and snatch garlands from his shops, before finally killing the wicked King. Jarasandha’s end could have been achieved more easily without all the drama, but that would have been too easy for a mischievous god who loves tricks not unlike the Greek hero Odysseus.

In the Udyogaparvan, as we know, Krishna works hard to bring about a truce and prevent war. This Krishna is bright, keen-witted enterprising and eloquent. He is also a crafty negotiator. That he does not succeed is not his fault, but that of Duryodhana, who is “a large tree full of anger” and who refuses to part even with five villages for the Pandavas. But his finest hour comes in the Gita as godly charioteer of Arjuna. He stands confident and debonair ready to do battle, amidst the arrayed forces and the tumult of the conches. Just as war is about to begin his commander swoons. He does not have much success in persuading Arjuna until he resorts to his authority as God. As we have seen, Arjuna sees the most amazing sights – all created animals on the earth enter Krishna’s mouth, “driven powerfully and inevitably, like all rivers merging into the ocean and disappearing like insects plunging into the fire only to die”. Krishna says. “I am Time, and as Time, I destroy the world.” The awestruck Pandava can only say, “I salute you. I salute you in front and from behind and on all sides.”

Once the battle begins, Arjuna and the Pandavas forget Krishna’s divinity. The epic vacillates - sometimes Krishna is human, at the other times he is God. He plays innocent pranks, he frets over the outcome of battles. As a war counselor, he advises the Pandavas to perform dirty tricks. Until the end they are never quite sure of winning - even with God on their side - and there is real suspense over the outcome of the war. After Duryodhana’s fall, Krishna tells Yudhishthira, “It is lucky that you won!”

These are not the sentiments of an omnipotent God. So, who is Krishna, man or God? There are many opinions. Some Scholars believe he was a Kuladevata, an ethnic and family god of a confederation of Rajput clans. He was also probably a ‘Patron God of the Pandavas’. Others believe that Krishna was not a God in the ‘original’ Mahabharata or in the parts generally thought to be its earliest versions : his godly aspects are later interpolations with the rise of the devotional worship of Krishna. Sukthankar thought that “There is no cogent reason to separate Sri Krishna from the other chief actors in this drama… just as the latter are uniformly treated as incarnations of the minor gods and the anti gods of the Indian pantheon, so Sri Krishna is also consistently treated as the incarnation of the Supreme Being."

[Published with permission from Penguin Random House India, from the book "The Difficulty of Being Good", by Gurcharan Das]

[Sketch : Devdutt Pattnaik ]
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