Gopala Champu 2: Krishna's childhood in Braj



1.2 Bālya-vilāsa

The second campū (pūraṇas 3-14) contains the description of Krishna's birth and boyhood.

Chapter 3: Krishna's birth, the fortune that fulfilled the desire of people of Vraja.

In this chapter, the two brothers, Madhukantha and Snigdhakantha, begin their narration of Krishna's life. Madhukantha first takes the primary role of the recitation, while Snigdhakantha asks questions and provides asides and footnotes to his speech. Taking up a Vraja-centred approach which places the Vrindavan Krishna in a position of ontological superiority over the Krishna of Mathura, Jiva does not follow the familiar narrative sequence found in the Puranas, but rather gives an account of Nanda and Yashoda's family background, their desire for a son and the fulfilment of that desire. The chapter contains a number of scholastic arguments to support this contravention of the traditional view.

[One can look here at Kṛṣṇa-sandarbha 174, etc., for further details.]

First Jiva describes the assembly hall and the seating arrangements. When everyone is in place, Nanda asks the two young bards to begin. Madhu- and Snigdha- make their introductory prayers (the nandi) which include an obeisance to the tradition of BhP reciters.

śrīmān yo bhagavān svayaṁ vijayate brahmā surarṣir mahān
vyāsas tat-prabhavaḥ parīkṣid api yāv ugraśravaḥ-śaunakau |
śrīmad-bhāgavata-prathā-praṇayinas tān viśva-nistāriṇaḥ
śrī-goṣṭhasya mahiṣṭhatāṁ prathayituṁ kamrān namaskurmahe ||
The victorious husband of the goddess of fortune,
Narayan, is the original supreme lord.
He, Brahma, the sage amongst the gods,
Narada, the great Vyasa, his son Shuka,
as well as Parikshit, Ugrashravas and Shaunaka,
are the ones who established the traditions
of the Bhagavata Purana.

To these persons who have saved the universe
we offer our obeisances [for the sake of this blessing]:
[that we may] establish the supreme majesty
of the glorious cowherd settlement.
[Compare BhP 12.13.19:

kasmai yena vibhāsito yam atulo jñāna-pradīpaḥ purā
tad-rūpeṇa ca nāradāya munaye kṛṣṇāya tad-rūpiṇā |
yogīndrāya tad-ātmanātha bhagavad-rātāya kāruṇyatas
tac chuddhaṁ vimalaṁ viśokam amṛtaṁ satyaṁ paraṁ dhīmahi ||

We meditate on the Supreme Truth, pure, spotless, devoid of sorrow, and immortal, who out of compassionate lit this peerless lamp of knowledge for Brahmā in the distant past, and then in that form [passed it on] to Nārada Muni, and in that form to Kåñëa [Dvaipāyana Vyāsa], and in that form to the chief of yogis [Śuka] and then as Śuka to Bhagavadrāta [King Parékñit].]

The narrative then begins with an account of Nanda's family tree, explaining the relation which exists between it and Vasudeva's family in Mathura. Nanda's father, Parjanya, retires and leaves Nanda's eldest brother Upananda in charge of the community. Upananda then abdicates in favour of Nanda, citing their names as an indication of his own subservience to him (upa signifying "below").

Nanda and Yashoda discuss their desire for a son and perform austerities to that end. At the end of one year's rigorous following of the dvadashi rules, Narayana comes in a dream and tells them that the beautiful child upon whom they meditated was indeed devoted to them and would soon be born to them. Paurnamasi, a woman ascetic and disciple of Narada, arrives in Vraja with the Brahman boy Madhumangala in expectation of Krishna's birth. Rohini is sent to Vraja by Vasudeva. Balarama is transferred by Yogamaya into Rohini's womb and is then born.

The beauty of Krishna's mother in pregnancy and the auspicious signs prevalent at the time of his birth are described. Vasudeva and Devaki have a four-armed son, in accordance with the object of their meditations. Before recounting this part of the story, however, Madhukantha remembers his guru Narada's warning not to reveal to the Vrajavasins that Krishna is God, but rather to tell them that whatever glories he possesses are due to Nanda's devotion to Narayana and the resultant blessing of the god. As a result of these blessings, the child is always accompanied by Yogamaya, Narayan's personal energy, and this accounts for Krishna's miraculous abilities. Madhukantha allows that these things can be said because the residents of Vraja already know them through Garga (BhP 10.8, below, 1.6). The story of the exchange of children takes on a different form from that found in BhP:
When out of fear of the wicked Kamsa Devaki's desire arose that Krishna should manifest a two-armed form and conceal the four-armed form in which he had been conceived, then that new two-armed form which had previously entered into Yashoda along with Maya came to Mathura and materialized, assimilating the four-armed form. Maya had been situated in a particular body (that of a little girl) within the womb of Yashoda, but in a formless form she acted as his conveyor, carrying him bodily through the air just like the winds which carry odours move the petals of a blue lotus. Without being noticed, she first brought him there by boldly seizing him and then gave the mother Yashoda herself the semblance of the physical distress of childbirth.

Next Maya gave Yashoda the illusion that the physical shape (i.e. Krishna's form) in her womb had been born to her, and then removing herself out of the womb appeared [as a baby girl] lying down on the maternity bed. In other words, she did what she had done in transferring Samkarshana from Devaki's womb to that of Rohini.

Although Jiva seems to be making a deliberate distinction between Maya and Yogamaya, we know from BhP that the Yogamaya who did the work of transferring Balaram from Devaki’s womb is the same person who is born of Yashoda. The identification with Paurnamasi is ambiguous at this point, and certainly Nanda and the others never indicate overtly that they know she is Yogamaya or anything more than an elderly human ascetic to whom they give special respect, e.g., after the birth of Krishna (GCP 4.28). The multi-polarity of Yogamaya’s identity is evident in later chapters also. Cf. GCU 32.58ff..

After this, Vasudeva exchanges the combined Krishna (i.e. his own son and that of Nanda) for Yogamaya according to the familiar narrative found in the HV, etc.

Chapter 4: Celebrating the birth of Nanda's son.

Here Snigdhakantha takes up the narrative according to the orthodox pattern set in the Puranas. The Nandotsava (BhP 10.5) is a new creation of the Bhagavata, nothing of the sort being present in the ViP, HV. The spreading of the news of Krishna's birth, Nanda's joy on hearing the news, the arrival of panegyrists, etc. are described. These are followed by a detailed account of the performance of the jatakarman rites after which Nanda bathes with the other cowherds and visits Paurnamasi, who is feeling satisfied at the achievement of her desires.

Chapter 5: Learning about the killing of Putana

Elements of BhP 10.4, 5 and 6 are combined in this chapter. Madhukantha recites. A messenger comes from Vasudeva to Nanda telling him of Kamsa's dealings with him. Nanda is also told of the need to pay the annual tax and decides to make for Mathura. Nanda meets Vasudeva, "his brother", who tells him to hurry home, warning of possible dangers.

Nanda and Vasudeva are cousins as explained in GCP 3.19 and Krishna Sandarbha 115. They have the common ancestor, the Yadu Devamidha, who is the grandfather of both, though Nanda’s grandmother was a vaishya, while Vasudeva’s was a kshatriya.

In the meantime Putana comes in the disguise of a beautiful woman and attempts to poison Krishna, but is herself killed. Yashoda finds Krishna on the corpse's belly. Nanda returns and sees Putana's corpse. Nanda and the cowherds think that Vasudeva has become a rishi or a yogi that he has correctly foretold disturbances. Jiva drops the description of Putana's body given in BhP 10.6.15-16 and the sermon on the divine effects of association with Krishna which is the punch-line of the BhP version (10.6.36-43).

Chapter 6: The toppling of the great cart and other childhood deeds

The main feature of this chapter, which follows ViP v.6 and BhP 10.7-8, is the name-giving ceremony performed by Vasudeva's priest Garga at which he also reads the horoscopes of the two boys. The events described in this chapter take place when Krishna is three months old when he turns over onto his belly. On the festival marking this occasion, Krishna topples a cart under which he has been placed (ViP v.6.1-2, BhP 10.7.5-6b). Jiva drops the extensive eulogizing of brahmans found in BhP 10.7, and goes on to 10.8. Vasudeva sends Garga to perform Krishna's name giving ceremony. Garga makes predictions about the two boys' futures, revealing their greatness. The chapter concludes with rather charming descriptions of the toddlers Krishna and Balarama learning to walk and talk, and their increasing naughtiness as they grow up.

Chapter 7: Krishna's audacious childhood thievery

This chapter is based on four different stories, all original to the BhP, found in three different chapters, 10.7.18-37, 10.8.32-44. 10.11.10-1. The first of these is the killing of Trinavarta, a demon who comes in the form of a whirlwind; the second, Yashoda's two visions of the universe in Krishna's mouth, once after Krishna is accused of eating mud. The praises of Yashoda found in BhP (10.8.45) and the questions by Parikshit (46-7) and the explanation of Yashoda and Nanda's previous birth, etc. are all dropped from Jiva's version of the story. The third event takes place when Krishna exchanges his jewels for the fruit of a kind vendor. Finally, the two boys play with calves and cause numerous difficulties for their mothers. The gopis accuse Krishna of thievery and other audacious acts in their homes, all of which Yashoda contests in an amusing song.

Chapter 8: Pacifying the child who was bound by the waist

This chapter covers the contents of HV 1.7.13-30; ViP v.6.13-21; BhP 10.9.1-10.11.9. The BhP has departed greatly from the earlier versions, adding primarily the following features: (a) the entire account of Krishna's stealing and mischief (b) the story of the two sons of Kuvera, their cursing and their salvation at the hands of Krishna.

The bulk of BhP 10.10 deals with the story of Narada's curse of the two sons of Kuvera to take birth as the arjuna trees and the prayers that they recited after liberation. This is not repeated by Jiva.

Yashoda churns curd while everyone else has gone to the Indrayaj‹a. Rohini's absence at this time is a typical instance of a narrative detail Jiva has taken from Sanatan's VT (9.17). Yashoda's song, mentioned in BhP is supplied by Jiva. The story of Krishna's breaking pots and stealing yoghurt, being chased and caught by Yashoda, tied to a mortar and Krishna's pulling the mortar between two trees and pulling them down are all told in the traditional way. The conclusion is described with originality: Nanda hears the sound of the crash and comes to Krishna, who runs to his father, crying. Krishna tells his father what his mother had done which leads to some bad feeling between the parents. Krishna spends the rest of the day with his father until finally his guilt-ridden mother is forgiven in a great burst of tears.

Chapter 9: Entering the Vrindavan forest

Nanda suspects that our two bards are none other than the cursed sons of Kuvera, Nalakuvara and Manigriva themselves. Snigdha- confirms this before Madhu- begins narrating more of Krishna's childhood pranks. This takes the form of an anecdote of Yashoda and Rohini retrieving Krishna and Balarama from the Yamuna banks where they are absorbed in play (BhP 10.11.12-20). Many of the BhP verses, the speeches of the mothers and children, are quoted, interspersed with prose. Krishna's uncle Upananda hears about this and thinks that since Brihadvana is proving to be a dangerous place, with all the calamities that have befallen the cowherds there up to the falling of the arjuna trees and with the boys becoming harder and harder to control, that they should all leave for Vrindavan. Upananda gives arguments before Nanda and the other elders and the decision is taken to pack up and move. The description of this great move is original and entertaining. Yashoda and Rohini answer their children's questions as they spot strange animals, etc., on the way. They draw close to Vrindavan and cross the Yamuna on rafts and there set up a new encampment at Chattikara. This chapter is based to a great extent on HV 52-3, adopting some of the folk character of that work.

[Cf. Ingalls, D. “The Harivamsa as a mahakavya” in L. Renou (ed.) 1969, 384-6.]

Chapter 10: Killing the calf-demon and others

In this chapter we have Krishna's initiation into taking care of the calves. We also get three demon-killings: those of Vatsasura, Bakasura and Vyomasura. These are described in the BhP alone and are not to be found in any other puranic account. The sources are BhP 10.11.37-59 for the first two demons and 10.37.27-34 for Vyomasura. This rearrangement of the order of events in Krishna's life is based on VT 11.37. The early portion of the chapter is somewhat original with amusing descriptions of the young boys imitating the adults while taking care of the calves:

tataś ca tau vatsāṁs tṛṇair āpyāyya jalam āpāyya sarvān vilokitavantau | śrī-kṛṣṇas tu teṣu kasyacid gaṇḍādi-kaṇḍūti-khaṇḍanena bāhu-daṇḍa-kṛta-kaṇṭhāvaguṇṭhanena mātaraṁ militum iccasi melayiṣyāmi iti tat-karṇe mithaḥ kapola-melana-pūrvaka-vṛthā-varṇanena ca tam upacarya sukham upalabdhavān

When the two brothers saw that all the calves had been satisfied with grass and had been given water to drink, Krishna took one of the calves aside and scratching its cheeks, covered its neck with his arm. He then put his cheek against its and spoke into its ear, saying meaningless things like, "Do you want to see your mother? I will bring you to her." In this way he enjoyed himself by tending to the calf.

The latter portion of the chapter is less interesting with the formulaic accounts of Kamsa despatching demons to be killed by Krishna. Jiva makes the killing of the calf-demon somewhat more pleasurable by adding a learned discussion between the two toddlers as they observe the demon in calf-disguise about the possible sinfulness of killing such a creature (paras. 32-43).

Chapter 11: The deliverance of Agha and Brahma

This chapter covers BhP 10.12-14 in its entirety. It is thus the first chapter in which we have more condensation than elaboration.

Sanatan begins his comments on BhP 10.12 with a defense of the chapter’s authenticity, which had previously been put into question by Madhva and his followers. Jiva does not follow BhP exactly here.

The boys are brought together in the morning before going out on their daily activity of calf-herding by the call of Krishna's buffalo-horn call. The cowherd boys play together, following closely 10.12.5-14. Jiva drops BhP 10.12.35-44, 13.1-4 which contains questions by Parikshit about why no one noticed the death of Agha for a year, which introduces the incident of Brahma stealing the boys and cows (BhP 10.13-14). Surprisingly, the story about the cows running away to join the calves who are also expansions of Krishna (BhP 10.13) is missing from Jiva's version.

While Krishna is picnicking with the boys, Brahma comes to test Krishna by stealing the calves and his friends. Krishna, knowing the culprit, decides to teach him a lesson by transforming himself into identical forms of the calves and cowherds. When Brahma turns back to see what he has done, he sees that the calves and cowherds are still there. Krishna then turns them all into Narayan-style four-armed forms which completely shatters Brahma's amour propre. He offers prayers, only one verse of which is quoted here, though they are amongst the longest and elsewhere most cited in the BhP (10.14.1-40). Jiva is here more preoccupied by Krishna's studied indifference to Brahma's panegyrics. The fanciful description of the humbled Brahma is entertaining:

ekam ekam adhaḥ kṛtvā mukhaṁ tatra caturmukhaḥ |
namann anya-mukhasyordhvī-bhāvāt pūrtiṁ jagāma na ||
yadyapi na naman mumude vidhir ekāsyānavāg-bhāvāt |
tadapi harer mukhacandrā-lokālopān mudaṁ lebhe ||
Bowing one face after the other
the four-faced Brahma paid homage;
each time, however, one face remained looking upward,
so he felt no satisfaction.

Even though Brahma did not feel pleasure in bowing
due to the failure of one face to look downward,
nevertheless, because his vision of Krishna's face was uninterrupted,
he gained another kind of pleasure.
Brahma returns the calves and cowherd boys and Krishna is reunited with them. They have not, however, noticed their own absence at all and they resume their picnic as though nothing has happened.

Chapter 12: Krishna goes pasturing the cows

The theme of this chapter, inspired by BhP 10.15.1-18, is the playing of the cowherd boys as Krishna graduates to taking care of the cows. Krishna enters the pauganda age and is considered sufficiently old to take care of the cows. He is initiated into that activity after his uncles suggest it to his father. This occasions a great festival as Krishna and Balarama go off to the pastures for the first time. Jiva shows that he has read the thesaurus of bovine husbandry in the course of his descriptions of their cowherding activities.

Chapter 13: Punishing Kaliya's fire-like fierceness

The contents of this chapter cover BhP 10.15.42 through to the end of 10.17. The story is one of the best known in the Krishna tradition, and already developed at length in the HV 55-6 and ViP v.7.1-80. On that particular day, Krishna again goes to the forest without Balarama, for the latter is being feted. The cows and cowherd boys fall unconscious after drinking the water of Kaliya's lake. Krishna climbs the kadamba tree and jumps into Kaliya's lake. Jiva's version has no mention of the theme of Krishna having descended for the purpose of destroying the wicked, one that is especially developed in ViP and HV. Everyone is anxious for Krishna; Balarama arrives on the scene and citing Garga's predictions says that no harm can befall him. Balarama's exhortations in ViP (v.7.27-34) contain much greater praise, while in BhP (10.16.16) he says nothing. Krishna finally demonstrates his prowess by dancing on the serpent's heads, causing him to surrender, and is supplicated by Kaliya's wives from whom he finally accepts a number of gifts. That night some of Kamsa's spies set fire to the reeds near the river where the fatigued Vrajavasins are staying and Krishna blows the fire out, or alternatively swallows it. The latter interpretation is stated by Jiva to be a fancy of the poets.



Introduction and Purva-champu chapters 1-2

Purva-champu, Balya Vilasa

Purva-champu, Kaishora-vilasa

Uttara-champu, Uddhava and Balaram’s visits to Vraja

Krishna returns to Vraja and marries the gopis


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