Random Thoughts on Janmashtami
In our family tradition of Hinduism- we are on first name terms with our Gods. It is a relationship of deep love, and utmost familiarity. I would often listen to my grandmothers berating God (usually the child form of Rama or Krishna) in very informal language – ni in Tamil, tu ki bhasha in Hindi. They were very clear that the Gods were younger than them, as they were worshipped in the bala (child) form, and that had full rights to scold them. And, there was so much love, affection, and pathos in the chiding. As, i grew older, i realised that this too was Bhakti. The seeing of the Omnipresent as real, and having lucid conversations with them.
So, i grew up with Krishna almost like a real realtime entity – – the kind my grandmothers would chide, like they would me. Except that He was invisible. As I began reading, i read whatever i could on Him- essentially Amar Chitra Katha, the highly abridged version of the Mahabharata, and KM Munshi’s excellent Krishnavatara, which he unfortunately never finished. Dr Munshi pulls off that balance between the God part of Krishna and the young man on his journey part of Krishna very well. And, the books were well constructed. And, the Krishna in my head began emerging as a more vivid 3 dimensional personality. He was fun. He was a great friend, there was good bromance in the books, as was there romance. As i grew older, i began reading more on him – the Puranas, modern interpretations, the Bhagvad Gita, essays around the Gita, more comics, – i just liked seeing the various interpretations around Him.
My favourite part of the story of Krishna, is the period from before his birth to the death of Kansa. The Krishna of Gokul. The Krishna of Vrindavan.
The period before his birth is an era of great darkness. An era of a brutal, ruthless king, Kansa, who no one can check. There is a tremendous sense of fear across the kingdom, and people are praying for a redeemer. Kansa gave the people a glimpse of what he capable of, by his behaviour to his favourite sister and her husband. He imprisoned them, so that they can have children he can kill. He was a man who thought nothing about smashing the head of his newborn nephews against a stone. All because of a prophecy that foretold that a child, Krishna, will be born, who will kill Kansa and bring liberation to the people of the region. As the children are born, and murdered, people’s hopes wane. But people continue praying. For the birth of God. And, the well being of God. Praying for the well being of God, is such an evolved thought. And, that too comes from a devotion that personifies and personalises God. It is that faith that however bad things maybe, your own personal God will come and save you from the situation, that keeps religions going from one generation to the next. Faith, in God, in miracles, and a better tomorrow. It isn’t rules and dogmas that keeps religions going. It is faith – and a large part of faith is love.
Janmashtami is not just about the birth of Krishna, it is about the unshakeable faith of those who believed he will be born to lead them out of fear. And, love. And Hope. The night before is the night of utmost darkness, and steadfast faith, at the end of which there is hope, joy, and celebration. There is the birth of Krishna – who will sort everything out. And that is what we celebrate, faith bore out, and the redeemer was born.