Krishna’s Leelas: Do we really understand these acts ?

Krishna's Leelas: Do we really understand these acts ?

Lord Krishna is the most revered, most charming and favorite God in India. However, Krishna leelas – the acts of Lord Krishna are often misinterpreted by people, not knowing the esoteric Vedantic meanings hidden in them. Hence an attempt is made in this article.   

The Lord’s acts are called ‘leelas’ – particularly when the Lord descends as an Avatar. We use the word ‘karma’ for the acts of men – or jeevas, the living entities in the broader sense. The difference between leela and karma is that karma binds the jeeva whereas leela does not bind. Karma is mostly for the self while leela always is for the benefit of the world. Leela is often seen happening to rescue   devotees. Karma is prompted by ‘buddhi’ (intellect) acting on account of past karmas, samskaaras[1] and vaasanas[2]; Leela is on account of the Lord’s sankalpa – a flash like vibration in the Universal Force. Leela is usually described as ‘Ram leela’, ‘Krishna leela’ or ‘Shiv leela’ as per the Avatar of God performing it or in whose presence the act is performed by ‘maaya’ the universal force of creation which motivates the living entities.

Krishna leelas have inspired many a poet to write poems in praise of the Lord in ecstasy since centuries. However, a proper appreciation of the same is necessary to the devotees and critics as well, since the connected stories are also widely misunderstood by the general folk.

“Lord Krishna is directly the Supreme God descended on earth. The acts done by the supreme God in His human Form are beyond our comprehension. From the worldly point of view they may appear controversial to some people like acts of theft, debauchery etc., but they are full of Vedantic purport giving a total philosophy of life” Says Sadguru Mathaji Krishnapriya[3].

The Supreme God as a sweet child

KrishnaIt is said in ‘Bhaagavatam’ that the most endearing child Krishna was so playful among the Gopis that they all went to mother Yasoda with several stories about Him. On every occasion it was mentioned that He was a small child at that time and not a grown up lad. Unless a boy attains puberty he can not develop a desire for amorous pleasures with women. It is a fact of life. As such it is beyond comprehension that Krishna’s playful acts with Gopis could be of sexual nature.

The truth is that, Gopis were aspirants of ‘Brahma vidya’, the highest science and yoga of attaining the supreme Lord. Just as a consort would dedicate all her activities to her husband and master, Gopis were dedicating all the activities of their body, senses and soul to the supreme God and were hence called Gopis (The word ‘gopi’ literally means a lady who could hide her inner thoughts and acts). The Lord has taken compassion on the aspirants who are engrossed in Brahman, seeking liberation and eternal Bliss and pining for Him; the result is in the form of childhood leelas of Krishna.  When an aspirant is seeking experience of that Bliss earnestly, the yearning of the devotee at that time will be immense and looks never-ending. The Lord would pretend just like an innocent child. The Lord adopts several ways of removing the many- faceted ignorance of His devotees. All the childhood acts of Krishna depict only such ways of the Lord playfully sprinkled on the world of His devotees.

Childhood leelas explained:

  1. A Gopi complained to mother Yasoda that little Krishna entered her house, eaten some cream and curd in the pot and while leaving smeared some curd on the face of her daughter-in-law. Mother-in-law was finding fault with her daughter-in-law thinking that she drank the entire curd and cream and a quarrel ensued. What a mischievous act?

Look at Krishna’s explanation: “the daughter-in-law is going to be the future home maker and manager at home. Why are you depriving her of her share of milk, curd or butter? Look at your hankering for materials! When you have authority you have no tolerance. What is the use? I am seeing how well united your family members are. Do not prove by quarrelling about a little cream for the young lady member of the family. “

There are three hankerings known in the world. The animals hanker for offspring. A male bird hankers for a female. And a human is craving always for material objects. These are known in Sanskrit by the word ‘eeshana traya[4]

Lord Krishna actually has shown in this act that the devotee should always strive to come out of the knots and entanglements of the worldly affairs.

  1. One Gopi complained to mother Yasoda that Krishna, though a small kid, enters her house stealthily, tries to catch the pot of milk hanging on a net (rope hanger to hold pots tied sufficiently at a height to keep away from cats and animals), and since it is too high up above, he gathers a few bricks and stones, stands on them and still not able to reach the top of the pot then makes a hole in the bottom and lo! Then drinks the stream of milk flowing from there!! Also, he does this along with his friends, standing on their shoulders and freely distributes among them[5].

Krishna’s explanation: “Oh ignorant ones! Entire Universe belongs to me; and all the objects and materials in it too. You had the idea of hiding things from me and making them not reachable for me. Is there any plan or scheme which is not known to me? I can achieve the object with your own materials. Give up the idea that you can hide things or make them unreachable for me.”  That is the inner meaning.[6]

  1. One Gopi complained to mother Yasoda that Krishna enters one house, eats from a few pots of milk and butter, and throws the empty ones in front of another house; and then a quarrel ensued between the two houses.

Krishna explains: people lose prudence in their greed. They resort to abusing and blaming others without discretion even for petty things. People are not used to think like ‘What kind of person the other one is, whether he has done any thing wrong earlier etc.,’. If you can not think prudently, it is not in your interest or welfare. If you can not leave such wrong thinking what is the use of my company for you?  When people get angry they lose their balance of mind and behave meanly. They can not find the truth. Therefore you must conquer your anger and arrogance to realize Me”. That’s it.

  1. Gopis complained to mother Yasoda that Krishna has taken away the milk boiled and stored in the pots, given it to the maids and thrown away the pots. He also let loose the calves to milk from the cows.

By this act Krishna wanted to teach a lesson to the Gopis that storing too much for tomorrow at the cost of not distributing to the needy today is bad.  Gopis were milking the cows too much, for the sake of boiling the milk and storing it, not even leaving enough for the calves. Such greediness is detrimental, and can take them away from god’s favors. It is foolish to save so much for tomorrow when no one is sure of tomorrow. Krishna wanted them to rise above such pettiness.

  1. One Gopi complained to mother Yasoda that when she lamented that she had no children Krishna embraced her and said ‘take me as your husband. You will have several children’. Is it proper for a small kid to talk like this?

Krishna and gopisWhile it looks funny for a small child talking like that, there is a hidden meaning in it. Krishna is saying, “Oh innocent lady! What a foolish thing it is for lamenting for childlessness. Do you think sons born to you will uplift you for eternal happiness? There are different kinds of children. The best way is to take God as your husband. Then you will have plenty of children since entire world is His progeny.  For the temporary period that you are here, why are worrying for these mundane things like children? “

God realization or ‘saakshaatkaar’ is like a child born to devotee. Just as a woman would dedicate all her thoughts, actions and results and even her body and soul lovingly to her husband, the devotee too should dedicate to the Lord like he is the wife and the Lord is the husband, and due to such devotion a son called ‘divine knowledge’ would take birth. This is the further inner meaning.

  1. One Gopi complained to mother Yasoda that her daughter seeing Krishna in front of their house, called him and asked his name, then instead of telling his name he came close and bitten her lips. What kind of mischievous child he is!

Lord Krishna’s explanation: “What a strange thing that you forgot Me so quickly! Just recently you were with Me in Goloka (the highest abode of the Lord); since I planned my avatar to this planet earth, many of you have descended here to be with Me during my avatar. Such being the case how strange it is to ask Me my name! Now I suppose you know who I am” (Indeed what a boon it was for her that he kissed and reminded her about His true love…)

In all the stanzas of Bhaagavatham whether in Sanskrit or other languages, the apparent meaning looks as if the Gopis are complaining about mischievous lad Krishna but at the same time by a little change of punctuation or accent it shows that they are indeed praising Him as their beloved Lord Krishna who alone is capable of doing such wonderful acts in a playful manner. When they say ‘is it appropriate for a small child? Or did we ever hear of such things happening with a small child’ they also mean that only a great divine personality can do such acts. It was unheard of earlier that God has incarnated Himself as a small child to teach Vedanta and esoteric philosophy.

In her reply to the complaining Gopis, mother Yasoda says he is mostly playing in her lap or sleeping and smiling to himself in sleep. Since all the worlds are within the Lord’s entity he is mostly looking inward taking care of these worlds. That is what meant by Yasoda saying little Krishna seldom opens his eyes wanting things, mostly happy playing with himself with a smile. It only shows the ‘nitya trupta’ (always content and happy) nature of God. Mother Yasoda also addresses the Gopis who came to her in very pleasing words and appreciates the fact that the Gopis have understood the Brahman nature of the beloved sweet child Lord Krishna.

Krishna as a noble human being – from cowherd to King

When you want to study about the incarnation of the Supreme God, you should never treat Him on par with a fellow human being or any other living entity. He is the Brahman – who is beyond any finite body or form or characteristic. He is all pervading; Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient.

It is regrettable to hear that Krishna is misunderstood and blamed as a thief and debaucher constantly by some people as if blaming him is a legacy or a hereditary disease for them. While knowing from Bhagavatam that He is the Supreme God incarnate and after reading about His miracles in various chapters, yet people think that his stealing of butter from cowherds and stealing of cloths of Gopis  was unbecoming of him.

Let us for a moment forget or ignore that He was incarnation of the Supreme-God. Let us say that Krishna was an ordinary human of noble birth endowed with some extra-ordinary strength and talent. Let us now look at His acts and deeds from this angle and examine whether there was any harm to the society because of it or he needs to be blamed for various deeds.

Actually Krishna was born as a commoner (in the jail) and grew as a commoner (in Gokul) but taught how to live nobly and transcend life by his own example. That is His greatness. Krishna did lot of sacrifice; no doubt he enjoyed life’s luxuries too. Being a person of rare beauty and charm, he was a singer, adventurer, philosopher, politician of high order, and unselfish benefactor.

He saw the deteriorating polity of those times, caused Emperor Yudhister to perform ‘Rajasuya yagna’  in order to bring all the kings and princes under one roof of centralized governance. Thus He was a great intellectual who saved the kingdoms and kings from anarchy and demonic rule.  Although Krishna performed several  miracles, looking at his other part of life where he did things like any ordinary human being, He was treated as a human being only and not as an avatar by many people of His times.

After He killed king Kamsa in Mathura He never returned to Brindavan. He sent back Nanda, his foster parent and Chief of Brindavan along with his other friends who came from Brindavan after he met his real parents Devaki and Vasudev. He has not played with the cowherd women and men after going to Mathura. Since His parents Nanda and Yasoda and Gopikas were lamenting and longing for Him, He sent Uddhav to console them, but he did not go.   Several things happened like conquering king Jarasandha, Kaalayavan and others, construction of Dwarika city and migration of entire clan and capital from Mathura to Dwarika etc.  He sent His brother Balarama to Brindavan after some time to look up Nanda, Yasoda and others and convey Krishna’s concern for them. In turn, Balarama conveyed their anxieties and longing for Him to Krishna. Thus it is seen that He has no worldly attachment for his playmates of Brindavan.

krishna-instructs-arjunaThe sacred thread ceremony for Krishna was performed in Mathura after the death of king Kamsa. As per tradition he was of the age of eleven at that time (for Kshatriyas the age of eleven is prescribed for Upanayan ceremony). It means that whatever playful acts he did with Gopis at Brindavan were all below the age of ten. If that is so how can you blame a small boy of below ten years for amorous and immoral acts with cowherd ladies for which He was not capable at all.

When Krishna went with friends for grazing cattle it is said that he was of six years of age. He played on the Flute after going to Brindavan and all the Gopis were attracted by it. Then we have the story of stealing the cloths of Gopis at that age. Govardhana puja was performed on His suggestion since he was the son of the head of the clan. When he lifted Govardhan Mountain he was said to be seven years of age. Then comes the episode of playing flute and ‘raas leela’ on the full-moon night of  sharat (month after rainy season with clear sky and pleasant whether). All the cowherd women flocked to Him that night and danced and played with him. All of them were having a family at home which means they were all quite elder to him. He was still a lad of nine or ten years. How can you blame him that he was indulging in amorous acts?

Krishna was a beautiful charming young boy and being son of Nanda, the head of Gokul, people were attracted to him easily. He has not stolen gold ornaments or other valuables from any neighbors except taking away milk and butter. That too he was not drinking or eating it alone. Some was given to his friends, some smeared on the mouths of sleeping ones, tying the hair of people to each other; all these do not qualify him to be a thief but like playful acts of an aristocratic child. These acts never harmed anyone; stealing cloths by a six year child can have no extra intention than care-free playfulness. Gopis were all much elder to him. The words ‘rasa’ or ‘rathi’ or ‘raga’ etc., are used in Sanskrit texts by the poets and sages in the sublime meaning of divine love and ecstasy and not in the deteriorated or vulgar sarcasm of modern day writers and readers. The “raas panchadhyaayi” of Bhagavatham clearly establishes the higher state of yogic nature of the Gopis and one cannot see mundane conversation of amoral activity.

One thing has to be kept in mind that Krishna was a charming boy with a pleasing smile, playing music and having done several acts of saving his people from demons and calamities. Because of this, the Gopis and others too men, women, children and everybody were naturally attracted towards him very much. They have seen the love and affection of Krishna and his acts of superior strength always protecting them for no return of favor.  Added to that, their noble and saatwik qualities matched with Krishna’s enchanting personality; they were naturally meeting and playing with lot of love and affection. The enjoyment was more of heart and soul and not a sensual enjoyment. Since Krishna was always with them at heart and not due to a physical relation, he could immediately leave them and go with Akrura to Mathura when the call came.  That is the difference between ordinary people and great souls.

Krishna was full of sacrifices; he did everything for those who depended on Him rising above any undue attachment. Whether it is a Gopika or Sudama or Arjuna or Akrura, whether it is Draupadi or Kunti, he always extended his protective arm. When thousands of Kshatriya ladies imprisoned by Narakaasura were released by him, they had the shame and fear of returning to their families lest they would be abandoned by their own kith and kin. Who would accept them into respectable household? And Krishna accepted them all and gave them shelter and new life; look at that sacrifice! What a great deed of benevolence and protection! He did such great deeds while dealing with various kings, Pandavas, Kauravas and all ordinary citizens of His kingdom. He was an ideal and practical philosopher and a selfless crusader of Dharma. There is no one who is equal to or comparable to Him, past, present or future. Whether you accept Him as God or not, his acts were harmless, beneficial to the world and His character was unblemished.

Hari Om Tat Sat.

~  Surampudi Venkateswara Rao (Bengaluru)

[1] Refinement / imprint of virtuous deeds

[2] Traces of strong habitual acts; impressions sub-consciously left on the mind which produce pleasure or pain.

[3] Mathaji Krishnapriya (1923-1987) was a great spiritual Guru and devotee of Lord krishna, from Aandhra Pradesh. Her devotion and spiritual teachings gave a proper meaning of Krishnaleela. Some contents of this article are taken from her spiritual teachings published by Sai Krishna Seva Samiti (saikrishnaseva@gmail.com).

[4]daareshana’ craving for woman; ‘putreshana’ craving for child; ‘dhaneshana’ craving for wealth/property or material objects.

[5] This act of Krishna has come to be celebrated as  the famous ‘Govinda pot breaking or dahi handi’ in India, as part of ‘Krishna Janmaastami’ celebrations usually falling in the month of August every year ever since.

[6] The teaching of Lord Krishna that He is omniscient and omnipotent and omnipresent appears repeatedly in various leelas.


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  • I would like to say that when Krishna stole the gopi’s clothes they were all around six years of age were doing a vrat for Katyayani Mata to achieve Krishna as their husbands , right in Srimad bhagavatam it says they were young children not Old Gopis. One more thing is that some people say that Radha is elder to Krishna, but it is clear in books of different devotees that she is younger. In animations and other things they show them as older .