For representational purposes | Picture credits: Express Photo
For representational purposes | Picture credits: Express Photo

Such a very happy birthday this week

Homes in the South use white rice flour to make ‘baby footprints’ from the front door to the puja room.

It’s Janmashtami this week, marking the birthday of the Holy Child in our midst. I often think the Yamuna must brim with so many memories and surely, the sweetest must be of that stormy Shravan night long ago when a lone man with a basket on his head set his trembling feet in her roaring waters. Curiously, it always rains on Janmashtami whether or not it rains the previous day or the day after.

To this day, people all over India, from Meghalaya to Malabar, celebrate Janmashtami with loving attention to detail. Temples stay open until past midnight since Krishna was born late at night. Devotees sing and dance continuously to celebrate the holy hour when the star Rohini was in the ascendant and Mahavishnu appeared in his eighth avatar—his ‘Purna Avatar’ or complete avatar.

I have been to such Janmashtami celebrations in the North and marvelled at how even very staid-looking people and feeble-looking elders surrendered to the rhythm of the ‘temple band’ and danced unselfconsciously. It is known as being swept away by ‘Hari Chhand’, God’s Metre or rhythm. What fortunate children, who were taken to this party of parties. Indian culture holds that Nritya Seva or worship through dance is deeply pleasing to God.

There is a lovely belief even now that when we dance before God, he joins in and dances with us. A 13th century Marathi abhang that is still sung in the Bhajana Sampradaya or genre of devotional music, goes, “Namdev kirtan kari, premabhara naatse Panduranga.” Namdev, the Bhakti poet, says he can sense Krishna lovingly dance in joy when Namdev sings to him. Speaking of which, if you would like to hear a thrilling rhythmic piece about Krishna’s dance on the serpent’s head, do look on YouTube for ‘Kalinga Nartana Thillana’.

In the North, many homes set up a jhanki or cradle scene with a small image of ‘Laddoo Gopal’ or Baby Krishna crawling. They buy tiny dresses and pearl bead crowns for this endearing image. The image is also known as ‘Navaneeta Chora’ or Butter Thief. Visitors tug at the rope of the cradle to symbolically lull Baby Krishna to sleep.

Homes in the South use white rice flour to make ‘baby footprints’ from the front door to the puja room. A ball of freshly churned, sweet white butter awaits Baby Krishna there should he choose to drop by. Even if he ‘does not’, the home won’t be found lacking in welcome.

Will he really come to our house, ask excited children. We can’t claim to know God’s ways. But we could think of these small, sweet gestures, whatever our faith, as greeting cards to God to express our love and thanks for being present in our lives. In my view, festivals are culturally and emotionally fulfilling. The rest is between you and God. As Goswami Tulsidas put it in the 16th century, “As you perceive God, so does God appear to you.”

Beyond the joyous mood of Janmashtami, however, there is a dark point to ponder over in the babyhood of Sri Krishna. The grim circumstances of his birth in jail and Yogmaya’s warning to Kamsa that his killer was alive put Krishna in danger almost at once. He killed his first demon when he was only seven days old by sucking the life out of Putana’s poisoned breast.

The Yadavas in their bewilderment and love normalised Baby Krishna’s feats but a modern person shudders to think of how many attempts were made and what powerful forces were used to kill that baby. What a variety of demons was sent by Kamsa, some so deceptively harmless at first like Putana. It is as engrossing as a Harry Potter novel. No wonder gifted storytellers thrilled listeners for centuries with the exploits of Krishna, even as an infant.

Krishna was barely three months old when he killed Shakatasura the Cart Demon. This demon entered an ordinary wooden handcart and lurked there, waiting for an opportunity to run over Krishna. But Krishna, who was left under it by Yashoda while busy, kicked it with his baby foot, killing the demon on the spot.

After that, Krishna was whirled away by Trinavarta the Tornado Demon. He hoped to dash Krishna to death by dropping him from a great height. But the infant grew so heavy that Trinavarta himself was dragged down. He hit a boulder when he fell and died instantly.

Vatsasura, the Calf Demon, came by not long after. He blended in with Nanda’s herds disguised as a tender young calf, hoping to get at Krishna when the chance arose. But Krishna recognised him. To the horror of the cowherds, who loved their cattle and never mistreated them, Krishna seized the demon calf by its hindlegs and dashed it to death against a tree. The demon’s real form appeared when he died and only then did the cowherds realise the danger that had been averted.

Bakasura, the Crane Demon, appeared next. He was Putana’s brother and a close friend of Kamsa. He took the form of an outsize crane and tried to pierce Krishna with his sharp beak. But Krishna wrenched his beak apart until it snapped, and Bakasura was no more.

Aghasura, the eldest brother of Bakasura and Putana, then assumed the form of a monstrous snake. He opened his jaw wide like a cave, hoping to swallow Krishna. A number of little gopa boys even trooped in unknowingly. But Krishna killed Aghasura with fierce blows and saved them.

Next, Arishtasura, the Bull Demon, charged at Krishna one day to trample him to death. Krishna seized him by the horns and threw him back eighteen paces. Arishtasura charged again and this time, the little boy killed him.

In some cases, if we think about it, Krishna used his attackers’ strength against them, like in the principle of martial arts. This Janmashtami, perhaps we may be inspired by Krishna to successfully tackle our own inner demons.

Renuka Narayanan


The New Indian Express