The animal kingdom consists of loners, herds and those who come together during the mating and child-rearing time. Human beings, on the other hand, are generally sociable and prefer to live with a modicum of contact with each other. This bonding results in the formation of society, with laws governing its smooth functioning. Ancient people came together for sheer physical survival, the basic necessity for any follow-on activity. Religion is one of the strongest reasons of banding together.
Travelling, economic, political coming together has tangible results. Religion, on the contrary, has arbitrary reasons of grouping. This, therefore, is the hardest to forge; but once forged, this is also one of the hardest to break. A cursory look at the destruction in the names of conflicting man-named divinities will give an idea of the colossal power of faith. Much like nuclear energy, religion can be used to augment and annihilate humanity. The quality of the religion lies solely with its practitioners.
Look around the universe we are situated in. The earth (which we seem to try our best to collectively destroy) is just a tiny dot on this vast spatial map that seems too small a space to contain our total egos.
There is a spark that exists within all of creation. The beggar on the street has been born as vitally as the billionaire who zips past him in her/his limousine. The dance of creation, preservation and destruction is present in the long-drawn-out life spans of galaxies as well as the moments of the bugs that come out in the rain. This subtle force is divinity. This is equal for every denizen in existence. For example, the sun falls equally on all earth creatures. This intangible, immense, unknowable force is divinity in its essence.
Sanskrit has a very interesting word for the atom: ‘Paramaanu’. This means the smallest, irreducible primary of Parabrahman of Infinity or Godhead. This is a common factor to all. Scientists have proved that the whole of the physical creation is nothing but a different permutation combination of the five elements, namely earth, water, fire, space and air.
The moment the highest and most inclusive good in existence is sought to be named, defined and isolated, the narrative changes sharply from being divine to human. The word ‘Bhagavaan’ implies that which is able to go into the root of everything, by definition a super-human feat.
Religion and its foundation of philosophy are tools for human beings to understand and appreciate the divine. By themselves all religions and philosophies are merely a set of tenets to follow or reject as a way of life. These take one to the neighbourhood of God. Entry to that rarefied space is possible only through love.
Even though the statement ‘I love you/ him/ them/ God’ ( add your preferred deity ), starts with the first person singular, generally that letter on which the ego rides, by definition love is happy, warm, accepting and affirming. There is a certain abandon in love. What is abandoned are conflict and exclusion.
Krishna, the ninth incarnation of Maha Vishnu, the Preserver of the Hindu Trinity is considered to be the most complete of all earth-walked forms of the deity. Krishna’s story can be divided into the record of his birth, infanthood and early youth (the Bhagavatham) and that of his latter life to his ascension to heaven (the Mahabharatham).
Worship of Krishna differs sharply in these parts. There is the Great Mother Goddess, Vishnu Maya who stands in as substitute for Krishna who is in imminent risk of being killed by his uncle, Kamsa. There is Yashoda, his foster mother who is the one lucky enough to enjoy all his childhood mischief. As the famous Tamil song goes ‘What special prayer did Yashoda do to suckle, scold, pamper, bathe, clothe, punish and sing lullabies to Him who pervades everything?’ (Enna thavam cheythathu Yashoda).
Nandagopa the cowherd chieftain of Gokulam, Vrindavan with his kinsmen and their simple village kids love Krishna, as do the cattle they tend. The Gopis love to complain about Krishna’s butter-filching exploits to a happily beleaguered Yashoda, almost as much as they love their darling butter thief. The gopikas are drawn to this charming boy by lassoes of moon-drenched flute song. Their love for Krishna becomes their only valid chastity.
The most precious of Krishna’s loves is Radha, the daughter of Vrishabhanu, himself an owner of many cattle, a mark of economic status those (even these!) days. She is an older woman, married to Ayyanar who finds that he is sharing his wife with God. Krishna’s many miracles prove time and again that he is definitely not merely human.
The boundless, non-competitive love that these simple people have for Krishna is highlighted to the more sophisticated of Krishna’s latter-life associates. As a politician of Mathura, who starts his stint with the assassination of his uncle, the cowherd boy of Vrindavan deliberately puts aside his love for streams and meadows, plants and cattle, boisterous games, honey toned flute, stolen milk products and kisses and the people who loved him unconditionally.
Krishna becomes his cousins’ mentor. All of Krishna’s actions are honed towards that Age of Adharma, or Kaliyuga. Yet, at the very end of his life this God turns to that which matters most. Love.
Uddhav, Krishna’s cousin and devotee, is one of the last persons to see Krishna alive. Wounded in his leg by the hunter Jara (as a Karmic payback in his previous incarnation as Rama killing Vali, cousin of monkey king Sugreeva, who later helps Rama rescue his wife Sita from Ravana’s Lanka), Krishna calmly awaits his own death. Desolate though Uddhav is, he is curious to know just where and what Krishna, who has absorbed into his body the souls of all who died in the Mahabharata war, will melt into! Uddhav is astounded to find Radha, who loved Krishna beyond herself and the fact that her love never returned to Vrindavan, that he married many times over, that he played kingmaker to persons of questionable lineage and qualities, manifest in front of Krishna. It is in that limitless ocean of love that the Lord submerges and exists.
Any branch of philosophy or thought that claims to be close to divinity may well do to remember that Krishna was accessible to the flora, fauna and the inhabitants of his childhood as well as the foes who fought him bitterly. The shortest distance between humanity and divinity is, after all, that potent four letter word, love.