The Krishna Obsession

Justice Markandey Katju-

Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.

This article can be regarded as a sequel to my earlier article ‘The Krishna legend’ published in

Of all the deities in the Hindu pantheon of gods, Lord Krishna is the most enrapturing and fascinating. He has obsessed many poets and millions of his devotees in India, almost driving them crazy.

Foremost among the poets was Raskhan ( 1548-1628 ), who surprisingly enough was not even a Hindu but a Muslim ( his mazhar can be seen even today near Gokul, across the river Jamuna, a short distance from Mathura city ).

Raskhan’s poetry reveals that he was simply entranced by Krishna, as evident from his famous poem ‘ Maanush hon to wahin Raskhan– ‘ which is inscribed in his mazhar:

In this beautiful poem he says that though great sages like Naarad, Sukhdev and Vyas spent decades praying to Lord Krishna but still could not get his ‘darshan’ ( glimpse ), the same Lord is made to dance by Yadav village girls for getting some ‘chhaachh’ ( butter milk ) which he craved for:

Another poet who was a Krishna devotee was Meerabai. She was no ordinary woman, but the Queen of Mewar, the kingdom of the Sisodias, the highest among the Rajputs of Rajasthan, whose capital was Udaipur. She became so obsessed by Krishna worship that she began singing and dancing in His praise in the streets and bazaars, something which shocked the conservative Rajput aristocracy. How could their Queen dance and sing in public places? People said Meera had gone mad, and Meera’s ‘saas’ ( mother in law ) said she had destroyed the family’s honor. The Rana ( king ) sent a bowl of poison for her to drink, but she drank it and just smiled, and nothing happened to her ( as Lord Krishna was her protector )

The Tamil poet saint Andal was also a Krishna devotee, and she is remarkable.

I have been to her home town Srivilliputhur in Tamilnadu, and it is obvious she never travelled outside Tamilnadu, as she lived centuries ago when there were no modern methods of transport. Yet in her famous poem Tiruppavai ( which is particularly sung in Tamil Nadu every year by thousands of people in the month of Maagh or January ) she describes scenes of Mathura, Vrinadavan and the rural vicinity so vividly and accurately ( which I can vouch for from personal knowledge as I have visited those places ) that one wonders how on earth could she do it.

The Hindi poet Surdas’ poetry and Krishna bhakti is well known. In one beautiful poem he mentions about an account when Krishna’s close friend Uddhav ( Udho ) tells Krishna, who was now living in his kingdom’s capital Mathura, to persuade the gopis ( maidens ) of Vrindavan ( where Krishna had spent his early youth ) to forget him. After all, says Uddhav, they had earlier only an adolescent infatuation for Krishna, but now that they had grown up they would be married and have husbands and families of their own. On hearing Uddhav, Krishna smiled, and told him to go to Vrindavan as his representative.

When Uddhav reached Vrindavan and tried to persuade the gopis, they said he had gone mad. They said they had only one heart, not ten or twenty, and that had gone with Krishna. When Uddhav returned to Mathura, Lord Krishna again smiled, and told him he knew what would happen, but Uddhav had to learn from personal experience.

Here Uddhav represents reason, and the gopis represent emotion or passion, and the moral of the story is that reason is not enough for humans, they must have passion too.

There is similarly poetry of poets in other parts of India too full of devotion to Krishna e.g. Eknath and Tukaram in Marathi. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu spread Krishna worship in Bengal.

I have mentioned all this as it is my firm belief that only a genuine people’s revolution led by modern-minded leaders can relieve the Indian people from their present socio-economic distress. For that, patriotic passion among the people is absolutely essential so that a mighty historical struggle can be waged for transforming India and uplifting it into the front ranks of the countries of the world.

In the Middle Ages great social revolutions could only be achieved in religious garb, e.g. Prophet Mohammad’s teachings, or the Protestant revolt of Martin Luther, and in India the bhakti movement of Kabir and other saints. Today, however, it can only be achieved by secular and patriotic ideas, but with the passion as in Krishna bhakti.