Janmastami: Why does Krishna Appear?
by Gauranga Darshan Das
Krishna who appeared on the Mother Earth by her invitation, also appears in our hearts when we invite Him. That is Janmastami – to invite Krishna into our hearts with our love, and to open our hearts to receive His love.
The midnight of the eighth day of the dark fortnight of the month of Bhadrapada. Day long nectarean Krishna-katha alongside some soul-stirring kirtan that gets started when the clock strikes twelve simply heightens the festive spirit. All this, to celebrate Janmastami, the appearance of the delight of Braja, Krishna. This day is immediately followed by our beloved acarya Srila Prabhupada’s day of appearance who literally followed Krishna in every way possible, even in terms of birthdays! He keeps leading our way back to Godhead even today.
Lord Krishna is unborn. Still, history indicates that He took birth about fifty centuries ago. Why? – This article presents wherefore Krishna appeared in this world, along with the divine nature of His appearance, and the result of knowing about His appearance and activities.
Divine Nature of Krishna’s appearance
The Lord is never compelled to take a form like an ordinary conditioned soul. Krishna’s appearance and disappearance are compared to the sunrise and sunset respectively. Sunrise in not the sun’s birth, similarly, Krishna’s appearance in this world is not exactly His birth, but just the beginning of His pastimes. Sunset is not the sun’s death; similarly, Krishna’s disappearance from this planet is not His death, instead, it is the conclusion of His pastimes here. When the sun sets at one place, he rises in the other hemisphere, similarly, when Krishna disappears from one universe, He appears in a different universe to perform His pastimes. When the sun sets, he rises again the next day. Similarly, Krishna concludes His pastimes during one day of Brahma and reappears in the next only to resume His pastimes.
While a conditioned soul is forced to take birth according to karma, Krishna is never obliged to appear in this material world in some form. Yet, He willingly appears in various forms, to accomplish various things. He specifically descends whenever there is a decline in dharma and increase in adharma, to reverse the situation (BG 4.7). All His forms, appearances and activities are divine. One who understands this is liberated, as Krishna Himself promises in the following shloka.
janma karma ca me divyam
evaṁ yo vetti tattvataḥ
tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma
naiti mām eti so ’rjuna
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (BG 4.9)
The following are various reasons for Krishna’s appearance. Firstly, Krishna Himself gives three reasons for His appearance in the Bhagavad-gita (4.8)
vināśāya ca duṣkṛtām
sambhavāmi yuge yuge
1. Protection & Reciprocation (paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṁ)
Krishna is the supreme well-wisher of all living beings. He is especially the protector of all His surrendered devotees who take exclusive shelter of His divine lotus feet. He relieves them from all sinful reactions, sufferings, and obstacles on the spiritual path. He protects whatever they have, and supplies whatever they need for their spiritual progress. The following verse describes His solemn vow to protect His devotees:
tasman mac-charanam gostham
so ’yam me vrata ahitah
“I must therefore protect the cowherd community by My transcendental potency, for I am their shelter, I am their master, and indeed they are My own family. After all, I have taken a vow to protect My devotees.” (SB 10.25.18)
In fact, protecting the virtuous people is the primary reason among the three reasons mentioned in the Gita. When Mother Earth was overburdened by demoniac people who posed themselves as kings, the Lord appeared on the Earth to relieve her from suffering. He protected all the residents of Vrindavan from various demons, and after coming to Mathura, He protected the virtuous residents of Mathura from the demoniac king Kamsa. Later Krishna protected several other devotees like Rukmini who was troubled by her brother Rukmi, the 16,100 princesses who were kidnapped by Narakasura, the 20,000 kings who were arrested by Jarasandha, and so on. Krishna even protected the devatas when the demons troubled them. Mother Kunti expresses that one of the reasons for Krishna’s appearance is to cause prosperity (kshemaya) to all good people in this world.
Krishna’s appearance is not just for protecting His devotees, but also to experiencing and tasting the sweet, loving relationships He has with them (prema-rasa-niryāsa karite āsvādana, CC Adi 4.15). The Lord appears to the bless the pious, and expand the glories of His devotees. To satisfy His great devotee Yadu, Krishna had appeared in the Yadu dynasty, just as sandalwood appears in the Malaya Hills. Krishna appeared as the son of Mother Devaki and noble-hearted Vasudeva, in reciprocation with their desire, love and affection. (SB 1.8.31-33)
He appeared to establish prema in the hearts of all of us, the supreme goal of life. Although, He is omnipresent, still, Krishna specially appeared in this world to attract our minds back to His lotus feet, just so that we could see Him everywhere and in everything and, could serve and love Him everywhere and in everything. Thus, Krishna performs pastimes to reclaim those in the mode of pure goodness. (SB 1.2.34)
2. Punishing the Vicious (vināśāya ca duṣkṛtām)
When Mother Earth was overburdened like a boat at sea and was aggrieved, Lord Brahma prayed for the appearance of Lord Krishna. To reciprocate with the devotion of Bhumi and Brahma, Lord Krishna appeared to destroy the demoniac forces on earth and diminish the trouble earth faced. (SB 1.8.34)
bhuvo nāva ivodadhau
jāto hy ātma-bhuvārthitaḥ
Krishna exterminated several demons in Vrindavan namely, Putana, Sakatasura, Trnavarta, Bakasura, Vatsasura, Aghasura, Aristasura, Vyomasura, Keshi and so on. Many of these tyrants appeared in Vrindavan in innocent forms like a calf, a crane, a cowherd boy, a motherly woman and so on. Lord Krishna exposed their real forms and attitudes and destroyed them to ultimately liberate them from demoniac life.
In Mathura, Krishna killed unrighteous people like Kamsa, and his associates including his brothers, wrestlers and elephant Kuvalayapida. He also defeated the great armies of Jarasandha seventeen times and later empowered His devotees to kill demons like Kalayavana, Duryodhana, and Jarasandha. In Dwaraka and Hastinapura too, Krishna killed several demons like Sishupala, Dantavakra, Vidhurata, Salva, Kasiraja, Paundraka and so on. Mother Kunti also confirms that Krishna appears on this planet to destroy the asuras who envy devotees and the devatas (vadhāya ca sura-dviṣām, SB 1.8.33).
3. Establishing Dharma & Bhakti (dharma-saṁsthāpanārthāya)
Dharma is enacted directly by the Lord (dharmam tu sakshat bhagavat pranitam). Lord Krishna delivered the teachings of dharma to humanity through the Bhagavad Gita. Apart from teaching, Krishna also sets a good example of Varnasrama dharma by performing His duties as a cowherd boy in Vrindavan, and a prince and householder in Dwaraka. He also enunciates the various dharmas that humankind must take to. Above all the dharmas, is the paro-dharma or the supreme duty of all living beings which is to perform unmotivated and uninterrupted loving devotional service unto the Supreme Lord Krishna. That is known as bhakti-yoga. Ultimately Lord Krishna appeared to establish and propagate bhakti in this world.
Although Krishna unveiled karma-yoga, jnana-yoga, and dhyana-yoga in the Bhagavad Gita, His conclusive message in the Gita is taking up bhakti-yoga, the Supreme path that connects all the living beings to Krishna and reinstates them in their eternal glory as servants, lovers, and associates of the Supreme Lord. Thus, Krishna is the Supreme teacher, and protector of Dharma.
It is also mentioned in the Sri Caitanya-caritamrita (Adi 4.15) that Krishna wanted to propagate devotional service in the world on the platform of spontaneous attraction (rāga-mārga bhakti loke karite pracāraṇa). Mother Kunti said:
bhave ’smin kliśyamānānām
kariṣyann iti kecana
Krishna appeared for the sake of rejuvenating the devotional service of hearing, remembering, worshiping and so on in order that the conditioned souls suffering from material pangs might take advantage and gain liberation.
Srila Prabhupada describes in the purport of this shloka, “The Lord, however, out of His causeless mercy, because He is more merciful to the suffering living beings than they can expect, appears before them and renovates the principles of devotional service comprised of hearing, chanting, remembering, serving, worshiping, praying, cooperating and surrendering unto Him. Adoption of all the above-mentioned items, or any one of them, can help a conditioned soul get out of the tangle of nescience and thus become liberated from all material sufferings created by the living being illusioned by the external energy.”
This is also confirmed in various shlokas in the Srimad Bhagavatam.
supuṇyaṁ vyatanod yaśaḥ
To show causeless mercy upon the devotees who would take birth in this Age of Kali, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, acted in such a way that simply by remembering Him one will be freed from all the lamentation and unhappiness of material existence. [In other words, He acted so that all future devotees, by accepting the instructions of Kṛṣṇa consciousness stated in Bhagavad-gītā, could be relieved from the pangs of material existence.] (SB 9.24.61)
Fulfilling the Mission through Devotees
Lord Krishna accomplishes all His missions through His devotees as well. Although, Krishna has personally killed many demons and protected the devotees, in the Kurukshetra war, He empowered and assisted the Pandavas to kill the miscreants and protect the innocent. Although, Krishna is capable of reducing the burden of earth Himself, He empowered Arjuna to destroy the celebrated warriors of the earth who stood on the side of adharma. He empowered Bhima to kill Jarasandha, all the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra, and many others. Krishna taught the Uddhava-gita to His dear devotee Uddhava and enabled Him to give those spiritual teachings to the sages of Badarikasrama. Krishna likes to giving more credit to His devotees than He takes for Himself. He desires to see His devotees glorified.
The Spirit of Celebrating Janmastami
Although, Krishna experiences supreme spiritual bliss in the spiritual world, He descends into this world for all the abovementioned reasons, and thus tries to attract our hearts towards Himself. We can approach Him to the degree we understand His heart and reciprocate with His attempt to reclaim us. Krishna reveals Himself to us in tune with our attitude.
Before Lord Krishna appeared on this planet, His parents Mother Devaki and Vasudeva underwent a lot of difficulties. Mother Devaki had to helplessly witness the ruthless murder of her six children being carried out by her cruel brother Kamsa. Finally, Krishna appeared as her child. Similarly, we can have Krishna appear in our hearts and live in there, when we are willing to undergo whatever difficulties or austerities are necessary for our purification, and are eager to lovingly serve Him.
Srila Prabhupada, out of his deep compassion, underwent various difficulties and austerities so that Krishna makes His appearance in the lives of all the suffering conditioned souls in this world. When Srila Prabhupada was travelling to the West in the Jaladuta, he celebrated Janmasthami while passing through the Arabian sea. He gave a small inspiring talk to the sailors and co-passengers of Jaladuta, cooked some prasad, did some kirtan and thus celebrated Janmasthami in those circumstances. When we have love and devotion, when we are eager for Krishna’s appearance in our hearts, and also share the fortune of having Krishna’s appearance in the lives of everyone around us. We can always celebrate Janmasthami under any circumstances. Because of Srila Prabhupada’s sincere efforts, today hundreds and thousands of devotees are celebrating Janamstami in various parts of the world. It all began with Srila Prabhupada’s eagerness to spread Krishna consciousness all over the world and enable the appearance of Krishna in the lives of one and all.
Srila Prabhupada had complete faith in the instructions of his spiritual master and the mercy of Lord Krishna empowered with which, he confidently and courageously crossed the oceans and went to the other side of the globe, to places that he had never seen before. He did so only to inspire countless people to celebrate Janmastami.
Krishna appeared in the prison cell of Kamsa and illuminated the entire prison cell with His divine spiritual effulgence. Our heart is also like a prison cell and if we invite Krishna into our hearts by sincerely performing bhakti, Krishna surely and eagerly enters our hearts and illuminates our hearts with His divine spiritual blessings, knowledge, inspiration and guidance, enabling us to come closer to His lotus feet. Let us all pray for the appearance of the Krishna in our hearts this Janmastami. Hare Krishna!