About the Book
Of all Vishnu's avatars, Krishna is regarded as the purna avatar, the complete incarnation, for he encapsulates in himself the entire gamut of emotions and attributes that constitute the ideal human personality. He is the most accessible of gods, and bridges the gap between the mortal and the immortal.
In this book, Pavan Varma, the best selling author of Krishna: The Playful Divine, succeeds brilliantly in communicating the exuberance, the charm and the complexity of this popular deity. Drawing upon the Puranas, classical literature, bhakti poetry and folklore, he has painted a rich and varied portrait of the blue god-as the delightfully mischievous child, the uninhibited lover, the formidable warrior, the wise and pragmatic philosopher, and the Supreme God.
About the Author
A member of the Indian Foreign Service, Pavan K. Varma is the author of Krishna: The Playful Divine; Ghalib: The Man, The Times; The Great Indian Middle Class and Maximize Your Life (with Renuka Narayanan). He has also translated a selection of Kaifi Azmi's Urdu poems into English.
Pavan Varma is currently India's Ambassador to Cyprus.
Parts of this book, written specially for the Penguin India series on short biographies of Hindu gods and goddesses, are derived from my earlier book, Krishna: The Playful Divine. The writing of both these books has been for me an intensely rewarding experience. It provided me with an opportunity to rediscover Hindu religion and mythology, its loftiness, its pragmatism, its sublime sensitivities and its daring resolve to imbue reverence with humour, passion and tenderness.
In any society, individual autonomy acquires meaning only if it is based on at least a basic knowledge of the conditioning and contextual factors that constitute the inheritance of that society. The malaise of our times is that, in many respects, we, as a nation, are adrift from our own moorings. Forms, symbols and rituals remain, without an understanding of the substance, meanings and precepts that animate them. All the more reason for us to once again familiarize ourselves with the bequest of Krishna.
My thanks are due to David Davidar and Ravi singh. I hope this edition will help more people understand India's most popular deity.
Krishna is perhaps the most popular Hindu divinity. From time immemorial he has captured the imagination of the Hindu mind, and, in his own inimitable way, provided succour to millions of believers. The purpose of this book is to try and explore the persistence of his appeal. Beyond a point, faith, reinforced over centuries, is not a matter of analysis. But it is often possible to desegregate and examine the components that account for the strength of its hold and the richness of its contents. Krishna is an extremely lovable god. He is a personal saviour. His divinity is accessible and his personality has human resonances in such plenitude that, almost immediately, the gap between the mortal and the immortal is bridged. Unlike other incarnations of Vishnu, Krishna is regarded as a purna avatar, the complete incarnation, encapsulating in himself the entire canvas of emotions and attributes that constitute the ideal human personality.
A study of Krishna is important also for the insight it provides into the concept of divinity in the Hindu ethos. To a foreigner, or a non-Hindu, the escapades of the child Kanha, or the dalliances of Murari, could appear a trifle bizarre. But the attraction of Krishna lies precisely in this exuberance of his multifaceted personality. The gopis adore him as Bal Gopal, the irrepressibly mischievous yet innocent child; they love him as Shyam, the dark and bewitching flute player; the Pandavas and Kauravas vie to have him on their side in the Mahabharata; the percipience of his upadesha gives salvation to Arjuna; and the lure of his personal charm enables millions to alleviate the engulfing ennui of their lives. The godhood of Krishna was never supposed to be put on a remote and aloof pedestal. The love and reverence he invoked was never meant to be monochromatic. I have often felt that a Hindu lives in a kind of harmonious schizophrenia, wherein the vision of the Almighty, serene and beyond all categories at one level, hardly diminishes this joyous and even extravagant humanization, at another. To the Hindu mind, divinity is not necessarily a hostage to conventional yardsticks of behaviour. It is meaningful for the images it evokes, for the emotions it releases, for the ends it achieves and for the sheer joy and bliss it symbolizes and guarantees.
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