I am writing a topic close to my heart i.e., about my Giridhara Gopala. It is the grace of the Lord that we have managed to survive the pandemic. If you and your family are safe from Corona for more than two years, it is the blessing of the Lord. “Faith can move mountains”. This is what my grandmother always used to tell me. My belief in her old words of wisdom was reinstated whenever I visit the temples of my Lord Krishna.
There are many places close to the Lord in our Aryavarta or Bharat Varsha. In the north it would be Mathura (Krishna Janmabhoomi), and Vrindavan (Vraj Bhoomi) and Dwaraka (Samadhi), in the south it would be Guruvayur, where he resides as Guruvayurappan as Bala Krishna or “Unni” as he is known in Kerala. I still remember my childhood pilgrimage to this ‘punyabhoomi’ or holy place. Even today, when I stand with folded hands and closed eyes in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple, I can feel the presence of my Giridhar Gopala and I would slowly sing the song “Giridhar Gopala pala” sung by Bharat Ratna M.S. Subba Lakshmi, a Meera Bhajan from the film Meera.
Before talking about Guruvayur let me talk about my Lord, as today many people do not have time to tell their children about their culture, religion and traditions. But my childhood was not like that as I grew up hearing stories of my Lord and later read Amar Chitra Katha when I could read.
In Hinduism, Mathura is the birthplace of Lord Krishna and the capital of the kingdom of Surasena ruled by Kamsa, the maternal uncle of Krishna. He is worshipped as the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu and also as the supreme god in his own right. He is the god of protection, compassion, tenderness, and love. He is one of the most popular and widely revered among all Indian gods. Krishna's birthday is celebrated every year by Hindus on Krishna Janmashtami, which falls in late August or early September every year. The name "Krishna" originates from the Sanskrit word ‘Kṛṣṇa’, which is primarily an adjective meaning "black", "dark", or "dark blue". The waning moon, in Sanskrit is also called Krishna Paksha, relating to the adjective, meaning "darkening".
The basic sources of Krishna’s story are the epic Mahabharata and Bhagwat Purana. Krishna was the eighth child of Kamsa’s sister Devaki and Vasudev. It is said Devaki was Kamsa’s beloved sister till he heard an oracle say “the eighth child of Devaki is born to slay you”. An enraged Kamsa imprisoned Devaki and Vasudev and killed seven children of the couple. He was awaiting the birth of the eight child to kill it too. However, fate had decided something else. On the night Devaki gave birth there was a huge storm and by Lord’s will everybody was sleeping in the prison. Taking advantage of this and with help from Sheshnag to protect the Lord from rain, Vasudev went to Vrindavan and left the baby with the chief of the clan Nanda and took away the daughter of Nanda and Yashoda. He replaced the girl in the prison. When Kamsa tried to kill the girl Yog Maya, who flew from his hands and said “the one who is supposed to kill you is living elsewhere”. Kamsa sent his guards all over his kingdom to locate all new-born babies. He killed all of them but could not locate Krishna.
This is where Vrindavan comes in. It is one of the most holy places in India. It is located in the Braj Bhoomi region, and is where, my Lord spent most of his childhood days as the son of Nanda and Yashoda. The town hosts many temples which is, dedicated to the worship of Radha– Krishna. My childhood i.e., the time before internet and mobile phones and one hundred plus TV channels and OTT platforms, was spent listening to stories of Lord Krishna from my grandmother or reading Amar Chitra Katha. He is a “makhan chor, natkat balak, and energetic imp with the literal ability to move mountains. He’s also very romantic and plays the bansuri (flute) with divine grace.
The child Krishna was adored for his mischievous pranks and he also performed many miracles and slew demons like Putana who came to kill him. He was the apple of the eye of his parents. He used to steal butter from ever house in Gokul, so lovingly called “makkan chor” or thief of butter. He had a group of friends. Let me now tell you the story of Krishna giving darshan to Yashoda of his Divine Form or Vishwa Roopa. Vyasa stated in Mahabharata that Devarishi Narada once visited Krishna at Vrindavan. Krishna was playing in the sand and was seen swallowing it. Mother Yashoda, on seeing it, was furious with Krishna for disobeying her and punished him by tying him to a grinding stone. Upon witnessing this act Narada stated as per a Tamil poet “ enna tavam cheidanai yasoda engum nirai parabhrammam ammavenr-azhaikka (Yashoda, what sacrifice did you do, that the almighty himself calls you dear, Mother”)? Upon this request, it is said that Krishna opened his mouth in front of Yashoda, who sees the Seven Oceans and the entire Universe and also Lord Narayana seated on Adishesha, attended upon by his consort Mahalakshmi. On seeing this , Mother Yashoda fainted to be revived by Krishna and attended by Narada, who explains to her about Krishna's life.
As a youth, the cowherd Krishna became renowned as a lover, the sound of his flute prompting the gopis to leave their homes to dance ecstatically with him in the moonlight. His favorite was the beautiful Radha.
Later, Krishna and his brother Balarama returned to Mathura to slay the wicked Kamsa when Krishna was only eleven years old. He never returned to Vrindavan to see Yashoda or Radha. His grandfather Ugrasen was made the King. After living in Mathura for many years, he realized Mathura was not safe. Sri Krishna moving to Dwarka (Gujarat ) is misjudged by some people, who think Sri Krishna ran away from Mathura afraid of Jarasandha and Kalyavan (both had boons which prevented Krishna from killing them). That is why he got the name Ranchod. It is not true as Krishna moved to Dwaraka only to save the Yadavas.
It was Bhima, the second Pandava (son of Kunti, sister of Vasudev), his cousin who killed Jarasandha but Kalyavan followed the Lord to Dwarka to kill him. Krishna now acted like running away from him and ran into a cave in which King Muchukunda was sleeping. The King had got a boon from Devas that whoever woke him up would be burned into ashes. Kalyavan mistook the sleeping King for Krishna and woke him up. He met his end when he was turned into ashes.
The Kingdom of Dwaraka came to an end due to the curse of Gandhari, the mother of Duryodhana after the Kurukshetra War. She shouted at Krishna as to why, in spite of her being his staunch devotee, and Pandavas and Kauravas, being created and sustained by Lord Krishna himself, he let the debacle happen. Why couldn't he have averted the war itself? On seeing, his all-knowing smile even at such a time, she cursed the entire Yadava family to be killed in the next 36 years and Krishna himself to be killed. Sri Krishna granted her curse to come true. Krishna returned to Dwaraka and took good care of his subjects. During this time, the Yadavas attained wealth and prosperity. The Yadavas were considered to be quarrelsome people and in the lap of luxury, they lost their morals and humility. Soon after a fight took place between Yadavas and all were killed except Daruka, Balarama and Krishna. The city created by the Lord is now under the sea.
Krishna started thinking about the ways and means to attain samadhi and for Gandhari’s curse to be true . He remembered the words of Rishi Durvasa. Long time ago as per the wish of saint Durvasa, he applied Payasam (liquid food prepared with milk, sugar and rice) throughout the Rishi’s body. As his legs were resting on ground, he could not apply it to his feet. Durvasa observed it and said: “Krishna! You have not applied Payasam to my foot. Your death is in your foot.” Many years later, Lord Krishna was lying down under a tree and went into Yoga Samadhi. At that time a hunter Jara entered that forest. He thought, the moving foot of Krishna as a deer and shot a lethal arrow that pierced into Krishna’s feet. As soon as the hunter reached Krishna, he realized his mistake and pleaded the Lord for forgiveness. Lord Krishna consoled him and told him how his death was inevitable. Some believe that Jara was the Vanara King of Kishkinda, Bali in his previous birth. The previous incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Sri Rama killed Bali hiding behind a tree. Bali cursed him and said “in your next birth, I will kill you similarly”. So, the two curses came true. The lesson we learn is be it god or human, curses might come true.
Now read on more for who is Guruvayur Appan and the temples dedicated to him in India…
(At the outset, it was Sri Ganesha, Mata Saraswati, my Guru who inspired me to write this article. I am only an instrument and it was my Giridhar Gopala who came as thoughts in my mind, which got converted into words. Dedicated to Late Uncle Pai for Amar Chitra Katha and the late B.R Chopra for the serial Mahabharat).