Earlier this week, Hindus around the world celebrated the appearance of Lord Sri Krishna on Janmastami, meaning the eighth day of the lunar month. Janmastami is one of the most joyous and festive holidays celebrated by Hindus regardless of sampradaya, full of kirtan and devotional storytelling and games like breaking the butterpot. Please enjoy this reflection on finding meaning in Janmastami from HSC’s Communications Director Allegra Lovejoy.
Behind the joyfulness of welcoming baby Krishna, there is deep symbolism in the story surrounding Krishna’s birth. Krishna is born to royal parents – parents who have been kept in a brother-in-law’s prison for ten years. On his parents’ wedding day, his uncle Kamsa heard a divine prophecy that their eighth son – Krishna – would be the cause of his death. Gripped by fear of losing everything he had gained, Kamsa imprisoned his sister and her new husband and killed each of their children at birth, until Krishna escaped to his foster family in the rural village of Gokul.
Kamsa, Devaki, and Vasudev each represent a different aspect of how we can relate to our Divine Beloved. Kamsa had deep attachment to his identity, position, fame, power, and wealth. The idea of anyone threatening his position terrified him, leading him to react in heinous ways, such as trying to kill his sister, imprisoning her and her husband, taking over Vasudeva’s kingdom, killing their newborn babies, and sending demonic assassins to kill Krishna and other children. Years later, when Krishna comes to Kamsa’s kingdom to challenge him, the Bhagavat Purana tells us that Krishna wins the affection and loyalty of Kamsa’s servants; comes dressed in Kamsa’s own clothing taken from the washermen; and takes the weapons of Kamsa’s own soldiers. These insults threaten Kamsa’s desire for power and control.
Often, when we face criticism or face the loss of a job, a relationship, or a prized position, we cling to it, fearing the emptiness that waits if this attachment is lost. We can react to others out of jealousy or anger and take any perceived slights very personally. Kamsa knew Krishna was Divine, but he hated him anyway because Krishna threatened Kamsa’s identity. He would rather destroy him than let go of his desire for power. When we experience challenges to our identity and attachments, can we turn our resistance around, release our tight hold on our identity, and welcome the Divine’s intervention to open our hearts?
Vasudev demonstrates intellectual engagement with the Divine. Vasudev’s detached and thoughtful character is demonstrated when he tries to reason with Kamsa while Kamsa is trying to kill Devaki. In this reading, Devaki represents pure faith. The Bhagavat Purana tells us that when Krishna is born, Vasudev sees him in his four-armed form – representing Maha-Vishnu – and offers prayers of gratitude using formal words to the sages and to Krishna himself. Devaki is described as appearing like a goddess during the time of her pregnancy and Krishna’s birth. She sees Krishna as a tiny sweet baby, yet still offers intimate prayers of faith and love to him as her beloved Lord. Devaki went through tremendous austerities of giving up her position as a queen for ten years in prison – and giving birth while in prison shackles, as inmates do today – yet her love for Krishna was only intensified through this experience.
Janmastami is a time for us to reflect on whether we can move from a Kamsa-like attitude of getting everything we want, when we want it – to an attitude of thoughtfulness and reason – or even to an attitude of gratitude and love. This celebratory time is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on an area of attachment that could be getting in the way of the Divine in our lives and to pray for Krishna to work his magic and bring his light into that darkness.