A very happy Janmashtami to all my readers! May Lord Krishna’s grace always be with you!
Today is the perfect day to meditate upon Bala Gopala, the young Lord Krishna, the cowherd who charmed the Gopikas ages ago, and who continues to charm millions even today. Don’t you think that Krishna as a child is quite irresistible? Mischievous and endearing, he is both child and God. When He steals butter from his mother’s pantry, He is a child; when He opens His mouth to show the universe contained within, He is God. When He allows Himself to be tied by a rope to His waist in punishment for his mischief, He is a child; when He drags the mortar he is tied to and uproots two trees, He is God. When He dances and plays with his friends, He is a child; when He dances on the serpent Kalinga’s head, He is God. So it is that we, his devotees, love Him like a child but worship Him like a God.
Bala Gopala is a God that children are drawn to very easily. I remember how attached I was to Him as a child. I thought of Him almost as a playmate, as a friend. How close He seemed at that time! There is a story which illustrates just that feeling. In fact, as a child of seven or eight, I acted in a play put up by Chinmaya Mission which was based on this story.
Once upon a time there was a young lad from a very poor family. Since his father had died, he was brought up by his mother. They lived in a little hamlet at the edge of a forest. When he was about seven, he started school. There were no schools in his hamlet; he had to go across the forest to the town on the other side. There were many wild animals in the forest and our little friend was fearful every time he had to cross.
“Mother, I am so afraid of the forest! Can you not walk with me to school?” He asked her.
She smiled at him. “Don’t be afraid. Your brother Gopala grazes his cattle in the forest. Call out to him if you are afraid, He will take care of you” said the wise and devout lady.
The next day as he entered the forest he grew fearful as always. Remembering his mother’s words, he called out “Brother Gopala, where are you? I am afraid, will you not walk with me?”.
He heard a voice in response and soon a young cowherd joined him, a beautiful dark-skinned little boy in yellow clothes, a joyous visage and a peacock feather tucked jauntily in his hair. They laughed and played as little boys do. At the other edge of the forest Gopala waved him goodbye. This continued until the end of the term when all the students gave a gift to the teacher to honour him. Our lad was much too poor to afford anything but still he asked his mother.
“I must take a gift for my teacher mother. Is there anything you can give me?”.
Shaking her head she said “No son, I have nothing worthy as a gift. Why don’t you ask your brother Gopala? I am sure he can find you something”.
Which he did. Gopala gave him a small pot of yoghurt to give to his teacher. At the school, our little boy hesitated as his gift looked not very impressive compared to the gifts of the other children. Still, when it was his turn, he gave the small pot of yoghurt to the teacher, saying that it was from his brother ‘Gopala’. The teacher took it with thanks and poured out the yoghurt into a bigger pot. Much to his surprise, the little pot refilled. He kept pouring it out and it kept refilling! Realising who his pupil’s ‘brother’ was, he asked to be taken to the forest so he could see for himself. But much to the little boy’s dismay, much as he called out to his brother, he didn’t appear.
Finally he cried out piteously “Brother Gopala, don’t you love me anymore?”
They heard a voice in response. “I will always love you. I will appear only for you, for only you are worthy of seeing me.”
Hearing this the teacher was moved to tears and embraced the boy, for thanks to him he had at least heard the Divine Cowherd’s voice!
I ponder on the tale today, wondering what lessons I can glean from it. God is very close to the innocent, is he not. The little boy was not even praying; nor did he call out to God. Then whose call was He answering? It seems to me it was the mother whose prayers were answered. She tied Lord Krishna to her boy with the deft knot of love and prayer just like Yashoda tied Him to the mortar with her own bonds of love. We who have lost our innocence, what is our recourse I wonder? Innocence once lost can never be regained, can it? Something to think about….
To celebrate the day, I have chosen a beautiful composition in Bhairavi by Muthuswami Dikshithar. The words describe Lord Krishna – his appearance, his actions, his qualities, his powers. You can use each line as a gateway to a meditation on who He is. Or you could forget it all and drown in the haunting notes of Bhairavi which takes you to exactly the same place in the presence of God.
There are so many beautiful renditions of this kriti that it is difficult for me to choose one! Since I decided on the music two days ago, I have listened to at least a dozen or so renditions and I like so many of them! So here are some of my recommendations :
T.N.Seshagopalan gives a very solid and energy filled performance in this CD from 1990.
M.Balamuralikrishna’s rendition is softer, smoother and very peaceful. A touch of sadness and pathos in his Bhairavi, don’t you think?
The third is by T.M.Krishna and he makes an interesting technical note about the Bhairavi he sings being the ‘original’ of Muthuswami Dikshithar school. I also like his neraval very much. It is from the album December Season 2009 and is available in Dunya and Spotify for online listening (needs registration).
Footnote (Lyrics) :
Language : Sanskrit
बाल गोपाल पालयाशु माम्
भक्त वत्सल कृपा जलधे हरे
नील नीरद शरीर धीर तर
नीरज कर निरुपम आनन्द कर
(मध्यम काल साहित्यम्)
लीलया गोप वेष धर मुरळी धर
श्री धर दामोदर वर
चाणूर मल्ल हरण निपुण तर
चरण निहत शकटासुर मुर हर
माणिक्य मकुट हार वलय धर
मत्तेभ कुम्भ भेदन पटु तर
वाणीशार्चित पीताम्बर धर **
वैजयन्ती वन माला धर **
आणवादि विजय मानसाकर
अपहत कंसासुर नत भूसुर
(मध्यम काल साहित्यम्)
द्रोण कर्ण दुर्योधनादि हर
द्रौपदी मान संरक्षण कर
वैणिक गायक गुरु गुह नुत
पुर वैरि विहित (alt: विनुत ) गोपिका मनोहर
** these two lines don’t seem to be sung..
Transliteration in English :
bAla gOpAla pAlayAshu mAm
bhakta vatsala kRpA jaladhE harE
nIla nIrada sharIra dhIra tara
nIraja kara nirupamAnanda kara
(madhyama kAla sAhityam)
lIlayA gOpa vEsha dhara muraLI dhara
shrI dhara dAmOdara vara
chANUra malla haraNa nipuNa tara
charaNa nihata shakaTAsura mura hara
mANikya makuTa hAra valaya dhara
mattEbha kumbha bhEdana paTu tara
vANIshArchita pItAmbara dhara **
vaijayantI vana mAlA dhara **
ANavAdi vijaya mAnasAkara
apahata kaMsAsura nata bhUsura
(madhyama kAla sAhityam)
drONa karNa duryOdhanAdi hara
draupadI mAna saMrakshaNa kara
vaiNika gAyaka guru guha nuta
pura vairi vihita (alt: vinuta) gOpikA manOhara
** these two lines don’t seem to be sung..
O The Child (bAla) Cowherd (gOpAla), protect (pAlayAshu) me (mAm)! O Hari (harE), you are dear (vatsala) to your devotees (bhakta), an ocean (jaladhi) of mercy (kRpA).
With a body (sharIra) like (here it means the colour of) blue (nIla) rain clouds (nIrada), you are most wise (dhIra tara). Your hands (kara) are like a lotus (nIraja). You bestow (kara=the one who causes) incomparable (nirupama) bliss (Ananda). You assumed the appearance (vesha dhara) of a cowherd (gOpa) by divine sport (lIlayA). You hold (dhara) a flute (muraLI). You are bearer of fortune (shrI dhara, name of Vishnu, also means He who holds Lakshmi). You are excellent (vara) Damodara, one whose waist was tied with a rope (from the Damodara Lila).
You are the one who destroyed (haraNa) the wrestler (malla) Chanura with great skill (nipuNa tara). You slew (nihata) Shakatasura with your feet (charaNa). You are the destroyer (hara) of Mura. You are wearing (suffix dhara) crown (mukuTa) of rubies (mAnikya), garlands (hAra) and armlets/bangles (valaya). You very skilfully (paTu tara) fractured/broke (bhEdana) the high forehead (kumbha) of a mad /furious (matta) elephant (ibha) (from the story of the killing of the elephant Kuvalayapida). You are worshipped (archita) by Brahma, husband (Isha) of Saraswati (vANI). You wear (suffix dhara) yellow (pIta) garments (ambara). You wear (suffix dhara) a garland (mAlA) of forest (vana) flowers (vaijayantI, a kind of forest flower). You are victorious (vijaya) over egoism (ANava) etc (Adi) by his excellent (Akara) mental powers (mAnasa). You destroyed (apahita) the demon (asura) Kamsa. You are worshipped (nata) by Brahmanas (bhUsura). You defeated (hara) Drona, Karna, Duryodhana etc (Adi). You protected (samrakshaNa kara) Drapadi’s honour (mAna). You are praised (nuta) by the Veena player (vaiNika) and singer / musician (gAyaka) Guruguha (signature of the composer). You put in order (vihita) the enemies (vairi) of the town (pura) [does this refer to His protecting Dwaraka? I am unsure about this. The alternate word vinuta is translated often as praised so here it could mean ‘praised by the enemies ‘]. You are the enchanter (manOhara) of the cowherdesses (gOpikA).