Sunday, August 21, 2011

The flute, the peacock feather and the stolen butter

As I have grown older, I have grown less religious, and more spiritual. Religious dogma no longer appeals to me, and rituals seem meaningless. Like scores of people like me, who have been trained in the ways of science, religion has slowly moved from the shrine in the house and the temple in the neighborhood, to the sublime -- right where my scientific understanding stops, and curiosity continues to linger on.

I was brought up as a Shaivite, and to me, Shiva has, and always will, represent the image of God in my mind's eye. But Shiva, like the rest of the Hindu holy trinity,  is a God without birth and death. At a fundamental level, we Hindus like to keep a big distance between us, and our gods. But, the debate has always raged on if God created man in his image, or man created God. I think, the Hindus have a very elegant solution to this problem. When they want a distant and unapproachable God, they put him on top of a snow clad mountain, or at the bottom of a deep ocean, sleeping on a snake, that doubles as a bed. And, when they want God to be close, they invite him over for dinner. As an Avatar.

The followers of Vishnu, have really made an art form of this. They have taken every kind of human emotion you can think of, and associated a reincarnation of Vishnu to them. So, Vishnu, the preserver, was born nine times as a mere mortal, and is expected to come back once more. In the reign of the current Manu, which corresponds to an epoch in Hinduism. Of His reincarnations, Rama, Krishna, and Buddha, are the most revered, and their followers are a religion unto themselves. Strictly speaking, the concept of Avatar does not exist in Shaivism, and so, I have always been fascinated by the Avatars of Vishnu.

Specially Krishna.

Our religious texts say that there are sixteen different types of art forms that a human being can possibly master. And Krishna, was supposedly a master in each one of them. From getting away after being caught stealing butter as a child, to the very effective seduction of beautiful Gopikas, Krishna was really the true  master of the arts. Adorned with a peacock feather in his hair, when he played his flute, the music was supposedly divine.

But, if we leave the myths aside, I am fascinated by an aspect of Krishna, that is attributed to Him, in the Mahabharata, one of the two Hindu religious epics. In the battlefield, he counsels his protege, Arjuna, on the meaning of life. One can go off to a distant monastery or a far-away mountain to try and discover the meaning of life, as Sadhus do all the time. But, as a solider once told me, you get the true meaning of life when you look death in the eye. And a battlefield, is one such place, that gives you the opportunity.

Krishna's sermon to Arjuna -- the Bhagwadgita, or the divine song, is considered the holiest text of the Hindus. I remember, when my father saw me off at a train station, during my first journey to college. He had handed me a pocket-book edition of the Bhagwadgita. His tip, was to read a random verse of the holy book, whenever I was in doubt, of any kind. In all these years, Krishna, and his divine song, have never failed me, during the times of crisis, or otherwise.

Tomorrow, on the day of Janamashtami, countless Hindus around the world will be celebrating the birth of Krishna. As I am not much into rituals, I will perhaps do what I like to do on occasions like this. Open up a random page of the Bhagwadgita. And pay my respects to the Avatar who sang, the song divine.

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