Monday, October 31, 2011

Death of Krishna - An alternate view

On one of the last few pages of Amar Chitra Katha’s edition of ‘Dashavatara’ is a visual of Krsna sitting under a tree while a hunter, mistaking Krsna’s foot to be that of a deer, shoots it. Upon impact, Krsna meets instant death and is then shown starting his ascent to the heavens as this moment thus marks the end of Vsnu’s avatar as Krsna in the Treta Yuga.

Such a simple and widely known explanation for Krsna’s eventual demise tickled my curiosity. Is this really how such a well-known figure from the Indian epics died? Could there be another way to explain his death?

To better understand the variations of how Krsna’s life might have ended I looked around and found S Acharya’s book called ‘Suns of God’ that tries to draw conspiracy theory parallels between Krsna, Christ and Buddha. Notwithstanding its generic viewpoint on various things, the one section which caught my attention was called ‘Krsna Crucified?’ which narrates a slightly different variant of the Amar Chitra Katha version of it. Here the author suggests that due to the various enemies Krsna had made for himself (with the infighting in the Yadava clan) a man named Angada (explanation further below) took him to the banks of the Ganga and executed him with arrows. His mortal frame then stuck to a tree for a while which, perhaps by whatever divine force was in him, bore ‘bright red flowers and diffused around it the sweetest perfumes’. By the time his biggest follower Arjna could reach the spot, Krsna’s mortal soul had already vanished.

The attacker (hunter) mentioned in Acharya’s book – Angada – is said to have been the vanara Baali’s son reincarnation. During the Ramayana, he is said to have been oblivious to the fact that it was in fact Rama who had killed his father Baali during the tussle with Sugriva. Rama assures him that he shall be given a chance to avenge his father’s death and this, we are told, comes true in Rama’s next incarnation as Krsna when Angada is reborn as the hunter who ends up killing Krsna.

This telling made me recall another episode called ‘Hamsa Geeta’ which also talks about the last moments of Krsna. In this version one of Krsna’s closest allies Uddhava (who is often mentioned in the Bhagavata Purana) is said to have been the last person to have seen Krsna alive. During his dying moments, Krsna narrates to him the ‘Hamsa Geeta’ which is a variant of the ‘Bhagavata Geeta’. The term ‘hamsa’ comes from the word ‘Parama Hamsa’ indicating the grace in the supreme one. Devdutt Patnaik, as a matter of fact, had written an article on this specific episode It is also after this that Uddhava narrates the end of Krsna to Vidura in one of Bhagavad Purana's book # 3's verse. While the rhetoric in the purana is obviously maintained that Krsna's divinity became 'invisible to the mortal eye' we can perhaps also read it as 'is no longer visible since he is no longer with us', thus indicating his death as a humanly entity.

Yet another version of his death revolves around Gandhari’s curse. According to that Gandhari had cursed that both Krsna and his clan would meet a sorry end. Upon the untimely killings of all her sons she is said to have been enraged at Krsna for not doing enough to stop the battle and admonished him for letting her sons die. This curse, we are told, thus returned to kill everyone Krsna considered family through internal back biting and growing mistrust thus resulting in the downfall of not just the Yadavas but also the subsequent end of Dvarka.

Now let us consider a version that sort of combines all these variations.

It has been often discussed that Dvarka, Krsna’s magical city, was one of the most spectacular places ever created. After the coronation of Yudhishtra in Hastinapura, Krsna returned to Dvarka to establish a robust and completely democratic society. Some of the narrations of Dvarka are so unbelievable that they transcend words. Now, either by curse (if you believe in that sort of thing) or due to the changing times and lifestyles people had begun to take everything for granted. The new generations that came after Krsna not only perhaps began abusing their privileges but also didn’t have the patriotic bone in them to care for their land. Their blatant lack of respect towards anything decent and their hopeless disconnect with the historical past cannot be overruled as a reason for their eventual downfall. As is commonplace in stories of royals the quick degeneration of trust invariably lead to greed and there on to the next obvious stage of crime. The gradual yet inevitable end, hence, was waiting to happen. Given the kind of visionary king Krsna is said to have been, it can be safely assumed that he saw all of this coming. In this process, we can also assume that he did a lot to try and maintain harmony in his land but with little success. The rabid nature of things took an ugly turn when he possibly ended up making more foes than friends – both within and outside his family. It isn’t too hard to believe either that thanks to his immensely controversial role in the Kurukshetra war, there were a lot of folks who were just waiting for the right time to strike and take Krsna out of the equation. If this is seen as a possibility then the Acharya’s mention of Krsna’s execution becomes a reality. Krsna is said to have been more than a 120 years when he died (not unnatural for someone in that time given how we have people living past 100 even today). So we can safely assume he wasn’t in the best of health given the tribulations he had had to go through. So it could be that he was indeed overpowered, taken to the river bank and shot to death by poison arrows by those who wanted unabridged power and control over Dvarka. This then could have been witnessed by Uddhava (Krsna’s close friend) but given how powerless he was before such forces it is conceivable that he did little else than take a dying Krsna in his arms and listen to the ‘Hamsa Geeta’ rendition. Arjna is mentioned in the Bhagavata as having visited Dvarka after Krsna’s death and brought over a lot of people from a submerging city. He is even said to have cremated Krsna’s father Vasudeva by using young Vajra, Krsna’s great grandson, to perform the final duties. If this were indeed the case is it then really so hard to believe that on hearing of Krsna’s gruesome murder he didn’t come running as fast as he could to be with him? So the possibility of him also cremating Krsna also emerges. It could be perhaps after this that he stayed on in Dvarka to take care of business until the flooding by the sea began and evacuation started.

Now, to establish Krsna’s divinity this version of mine does not suffice. In this version Krsna comes out as a tired and exasperated ruler who had a brilliant vision for his people which was later smeared with the charcoal of lust and avarice. At an age where he had little power over what was happening, Krsna’s helplessness gets depicted in a pitifully humane shade. To avoid such a meek portrayal of an otherwise legendary character from the epic it was perhaps important to pen his death (as was done with most of his life) with the ink of the majestic. Hence the version of a hunter (whose previous birth was that of Angada) and him mistaking Krsna’s feet to be that of a deer’s ears was perhaps constructed. Such a connection also fits well in suggesting that Krsna indeed was the next incarnation of Vsnu after Rama. Curiously enough, this bridging of epics seems a little too convenient for my taste and hence this piece to try and connect dots that might have been removed with time’s eraser.

2 reflections:

kusublakki said...

Never knew that there were so many versions for the death of Krishna. Makes a very interesting read!

Yogi said...

Hey..awesome article dude..taught me a lot of information I didnt know..really appreciate your effort from the heart :)