"Each one prays to God according to his own light" ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Festivals of India


Janmashthami (also known as Krishnasthami or Gokulasthami) commemorates the birth of Sri Krishna. This is an article that was written by Sri Krishna Prem about this supremely sacred manifestation.

It is now more than 5000 years since the Supreme Lord manifested Himself with all His powers in the prison of Kamsa in Mathura. Five thousand times since then, the drama of His birth has been celebrated with rejoicing in palace and hovel, in countless towns and villages. Useless to repeat the of told story of that Divine Birth for it is known to all how :
Nishite tamadbhute jayamane janardana...

Festivals Of India
Festival Calendar
Raksha Bandhan
Akshay Trithiya
Guru Purnima
Ganesh Chaturthi

At midnight in the thickest darkness, when people were suffering great afflictions, Vishnu, the Dweller in every heart, revealed Himself out of the divine Devaki in His full glory like the full moon sun rising in the East.

I have said that it is known to all, and so it is in the sense that the story of the historical event is known to most, but what of the inner significance? How far do we know that?

Sri Krishna has said that those who know the essential nature of His Divine Birth and actions gain liberation and go to Him. What is this knowledge that gives such great results and how may it be attained? Certainly no knowledge of mere historical facts, however great, has been able to give mukti, and it is not from books that the mritasanjivani vidya (the life giving knowledge) can be learnt. The Bhagavata describes the birth of the Lord as ghuyam, secret and says:
Evam janmani karmani...

The action of Him who is actionless, the birth of Him who is birthless - the wise describe the secrets told in the Vedas concerning Him who is the Lord of the heart.

History may teach us that he who is born must surely die, but it can never teach us what is meant by the birth of the birthless, while philosophy is even worse, for it will gravely inform us that that which is birthless can never be born. Clearly, we shall gain no help from these branches of knowledge, but must turn in anther direction if we are to understand the supreme mystery of the ages.

Let us first try and get some idea of the purpose of the Avatara. All know Sri Krishna's statement that He comes for the salvation of the good and the destruction of the wicked, but, if this is mere historical fact, if this destruction of the wicked merely took place at the end of Dwapara yuga, then it will be small consolation to those who seek salvation now or are oppressed by the wicked in this twenty first century. If on the other hand, it is said that He saves the good and destroys the wicked at all times, then it will not be clear what the necessity of avatars is at all.

In the first place who are these wicked ones who are destroyed by the Lord? We all like to flatter ourselves that we are the good, and that those who oppose us are the wicked. Did not both parties in the late war pray to God to destroy the wicked enemies and save their righteous selves? It pleases us to think that all our misfortunes are the result of our oppressors and that, if they were destroyed or converted, we should be perfectly all right. But this is an entire delusion. It is not external enemies who oppress us but we ourselves who oppress ourselves
Atmaiva atmano bandhu

"The self, verily, is the friend of the self; and the self is also the enemy of the self" ~ Gita

But how is the fact that an avatar took place in Dwapara Yuga, or at any other time, going to affect the destruction of the six enemies (desire, anger, greed, delusion, envy and pride) so firmly established in my heart? In fact it is not going to do so if my idea of an avatar is merely one of some wondrous Divine hero who descended on this earth long ago, performed His marvelous feats and then vanished once more.

In reality, the actions of the avatar are all symbolic and were performed in order to teach blind mortals the inner truths which they are not able to perceive with their own limited vision.

That the Supreme Reality is one but exists in many forms; that this vast universe exists with that one reality that all powers "bad" as well as "good" issue forth from Him and in the end return to Him; that He is the inner self of all beings; and that no bonds can bind the man who attains to Him; how difficult it is for us to understand these truths. The mind, used only to dealing with material objects, recoils, baffled, and is unable to grasp them in their naked spiritual reality. We may even meditate upon them, but for want of a foot hold we can make small progress. If, however, we turn to the contemplation of Sri Krishna's Lilas as revealed by tradition our task will become much easier.

We see the one Krishna dancing with many gopis and each gopi thinking her lord is with her alone; we see the whole universe with all its gods and men within the body of the Lord on Kurukshteras battlefield; we see the return of Kamsa to Krishna liberated in the very moment of destruction; we see the Divine Charioteer guiding all but bearing no weapons in the great battle and we see the fetters and bolts open of themselves as Vasudeva emerges from the prison with the Divine Child in His arms. Meditating with love and devotion on the thought of these Lilas, the knowledge of their inner meaning will naturally and automatically spring up in our hearts and those truths that we failed to understand in the dry form of philosophic statements will come to life in our soul in their essential spiritual nature beyond the range of words and thoughts.

It is for this reason that the lilas of Krishna are said to be nitya - eternal. It is not that Sri Krishna is forever beheading an eternally terrified Kamsa in an eternal Mathura, but the spiritual laws which are symbolized for our benefit by these acts, are always operating in our hearts and in the world, now as much as five thousand years ago.

Now as then the people are oppressed by evil rulers, but those rulers are not material kings, It is kama krodha, lobha and moha that are the true rulers of this world, our so called kings and we are merely puppets in their hands. It is they who oppress us with their tyranny and shut us up in the prison of the body.There in our hearts the birth of Sri Krishna has to take place, or else there can be no salvation for us.

It is in Vasudeva and Devaki alone that Sri Krishna is born and who they are we can learn from the Bhagavat itself:
sattvam vishuddham vasudeca...
"It is pure sattva that is called Vasudev," for it is in that pure sattva that the Lord makes His appearance unveiled by rajas and tamas; and Sridhar Swami explains that sattva means either sattva guna or else the anthakarna( mind).

Who Devaki is may be seen from the adjectives applied to her devarupini, sarvadevamaya , Devaki is the Daivi prakriti which is the refuge of the mahatmas (daivim prakritim ashrita). The living light of pure consciousness which streams like the Ganga from the feet of the Lord and in which He Himself becomes manifest when the antakarna is pure and sattvik. When the Divine birth takes place in our hearts the fetters of our bondage will fall from us, the bolts of our prison houses will open and the wonders of the Lila will commence.

Had it not been for the vivid imagery of the historic Lila we should never open our eyes to the glory of the nitya lila. We should remain the fools who despise him when refuged in a human body ( manushim tanum ashritam) not knowing His supreme nature, Him the Lord of all beings.
Param bahavam ajananto..
Certain it is that we are unable to directly perceive that Supreme Lord who the shastras declare beyond the reach of speech and thought, unless He Himself takes birth in our hearts and equally certain it is that without knowledge of Him we can never escape the bondage we are in.
tameva vidhitva atu mrituyum eti...
"Having known Him the sage crosses beyond death; there is no other path to Eternal welfare."

We are back to the question from which we set out.How are we to know the action of the Actionless and the birth of the Birthless?

From the Bhagavat comes the answer:
Sa veda dhateu... 1.3.38
"Only he can know the nature of the Supreme Creator, the all powerful wielder of the Chakra , who with sincere and ceaseless devotion serves the fragrance of His Lotus feet."

By the practice of loving devotion our hearts will be purified and in those purified hearts He Himself will be born. He is birthless for He is in our hearts already. Then too we will see the action of the Actionless, for He acts not, yet by His presence will our enemies die.Then we shall understand His words:
Partiranay sadhuan viasay ca dushkria,
"For the salvation of the good , for the destruction of the evil, for the establishment of Dharma, I am born from age to age;"
and then at last will His further word come true
Tyaktava deham punar janama...
"Having abandoned the body, he cometh not to birth but cometh to Me."

Photo Credit: Nirguna Dasi

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.