Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Shri Krshn: Notes on his ‘Leela’ and why he is 'Neelamber', 'Ghanshyam' and 'Shyam'.

Author's Note: This is the 2nd in this 'Shri Krshn' series. Do read Part-I [HERE]. There I have tried to explain why he is called 'Bhagavan'. 

You may also read the 'Pot Luck' series: Part-I [HERE] and Part-II [HERE].  

In this post, I will try to share my thoughts about (what is popularly known as) Shri Krishna's leela and why he is depicted as having a sky-blue (Neelamber), dark (Ghanshyam) and dark-blue (Shyam) complexion.

Krishna (also: Krishn, Krsna. Sanskrit: Krshn) means "that attracts" or "all-attractive". From classical texts we gather that Shri Krishna possessed a magnetic personality, crimson cheeks, 'coral lips', eyes shaped like lotus petals (Pundarikaksha, Padmalochan, puṣkara-locanaḥ, puṣkara-akṣaḥ, puṣkara-īkṣaṇah), head bedecked with peacock feathers, a fascinating face, an enchanting smile, a perfectly proportioned body and a sky-blue complexion - features largely due to the delicate blending of the martian, saturnine, venusian and lunar characteristics (i.e., due to the dominance of the influences of the Moon and Venus, with Saturn and Mars.)

So, what we can conclude is this: Shri Krishna was a figure of matchless good looks, grace and splendor that no mortal eyes had ever witnessed. He also possessed extraordinary conversational ability. However, to my mind, his 'sky-blue complexion' is a metaphor - to indicate that he achieved the exalted status of divinity (that of 'Bhagavan') and was regarded as a part of or a manifestation of the Parameshwar or the Parmaatmaa, by the people of the Dwapar Yug, the 3rd era. So, His depiction with a 'sky-blue complexion' is perhaps to essentially state that since he is divine, he has 'descended from the skies'. [The 'Supreme Being' or the 'Supreme Soul' - the 'Parameshwar' or the 'Parmaatmaa' - the forces of the universe, has no shape, no form and no gender. Do read the 1st part of this series: HERE. There I have tried to explain as to how and why Shri Krishna became 'Bhagavan' Shri Krishna.]

'Neel' means blue and 'amber' means sky, therefore 'Neelamber' means 'the blue sky'. 'Neelesh' means 'the Blue God', and is one of the many names of Shri Vishnu, "The Preserver." The name is a combination (sandhi) of two words: Neel (Blue) and Ish (Master, Lord or God). Ish or Esh is also a Sanskrit word for head. Hence, the name can also be interpreted as 'Blue Head,' which refers to Shri Vishnu who too is often described as the 'Lotus-Eyed One'. 'Neelesh' also means 'the destroyer of adharm'. Shri Krishna is a friend to the wise and the good-hearted (the dharmic), a foe to the wicked and the malicious (the adharmic); he fought the latter in order to restore the balance in society. He is therefore considered to be a manifestation (avatar) of Shri Vishnu - "The Preserver" or "The Balancer."

The name 'Neelesh' is also used to refer to Shiva, who too is known as "The Destroyer of Adharm." Shiva is said to have absorbed the poison that was generated as a result of the 'churning of the ocean' (samudra-manthan) and acquired a bluish hue. However, his action protected mother Earth (Prithvi, Bhu-Loka) and prevented Prithvi, Prakriti (nature) and Srishti (creation) from coming to harm.

Krishna also means 'dark' (Ghanshyam). However, the word 'Krishna' has yet another meaning, that of the all-absorbing one.

During his lifetime, he was the target of malicious attacks. Accusations, abuse and insults were hurled at him; several small-minded people orchestrated these. But Shri Krishna never stooped low nor responded back in kind. He simply tolerated them, rather absorbed them all - with his characteristic grace, and hence is also referred to as the all-absorbing one. He possessed a passionate zeal to safeguard dharma - the principles and ideals of 'the right path' or the 'way of life' as it should be - for the good of mankind and for civilization to flourish well. He was focused in his pursuit of dharma and his energies, actions, thoughts and words were accordingly channeled. ['Sanaatan Dharma' or the 'Sanaatan Path' rooted in the Vedic wisdom is the 'way of life' that Shri Krishna endeavored to re-establish, by cleansing it of the unwanted aspects and elements that had seeped in over time. Sanaatan = timeless.]

Krishna is often shown as having a dark-blue complexion. Not just blue, but, a deep blue, like the velvet blue that sometimes can be seen in a dark sky, like a blue that one may have at times seen from the deck of a ship thousands of miles from shore on the Pacific Ocean.

This perhaps can be explained thus: whenever there is something of unfathomable depth, it appears to be deep blue - be it the sky or the ocean or anything else. The water of the ocean looks blue from afar. But if you go near and take the water in your palms, you will no longer find it blue; it will be very clear, transparent.

It's darkness or dark-blue hue is illusion (maya), not the illusion that we understand today - the type practiced by modern-day magicians (also referred to as 'illusionists'), but something far deeper, something that is much more intense and unfathomable ... and is part of Prakriti (nature) and Srishti (Creation) itself. Krishna was an awesome 'illusionist' too - the best of his era (yug) no doubt, but of all times as well. He was a Yogeeswara.

'Yogeeswara' - is a Sanskrit word and means 'a great yogi who is equivalent to the Almighty'. It is also defined as 'one who reaches the level of Ishvara (the Almighty) through Yog and meditation'. Shri Krishna had mastered Yog - in all its forms, and derived his immense strength and power, of the body (sharira), the mind (manas) and the senses (indriyas) - from this timeless treasure-trove of 'illumined knowledge' (jnana) - Yog. This illumined knowledge (jnana, also: gyana) illumines the mind (manas) to such an extent that one is blessed with profound wisdom, perception, insight and foresight. That is to say, one becomes Trikalagya, a "bhuta-bhavya-bhavat-prabhu" or "The Master of all things past, future, and present". [Nirukti - trikAla vartinAm seshi - The Master of all things that exist in the past, present, and future.] In short, one 'acquires' the Tritiya-Nayan - the Third-Eye. This 'illumined knowledge' (jnana) had been accumulated by the great sages of yore (the Munis, the Rishis, the Yogis, the Maharshis and the Brhmarshis) through the ages - from nature (Prakriti), universe (Brhmaand) and space (Vyoma; this word contains the word "OM" or "AUM" - the sound of primal energy, the sound of the universe itself). The great sages of yore passed on this immense jnana to their deserving disciples and pupils (shishyas) - in the 'guru-shishya parampara' (tradition). It is due to his mastery of Yog that Shri Krishna was able to perform many tasks that appear to be magic or a miracle - to us, and which we refer to as his leela. [Yog should not be confused with what passes for Yoga - in modern times.]

The new moon (also referred to as Neelesh) appears to be dark or deep blue in colour. 'Neelesh' means 'god of the blue sky' and refers to the moon. Dark blue skies and a glowing moon exude peace and serenity. Shri Krishna is much admired for his radiance, calm and serene disposition even in the face of adversity. He is without ego (ahamkara). 

The Go-loka: though interpreted as Shri Krishna's abode in the spiritual sky (Goloka-Paravyoma), methinks: it perhaps refers to the entire Brhmaand (Universe and beyond). And it is dark or dark-blue in colour - Krishna-loka. Even the planet that we inhabit, mother Earth (Prithvi-Loka or Bhu-Loka) appear to be dark or dark-blue - in and from space (Vyoma).

Dark or dark-blue is all pervading, is omnipotent, is everywhere. Yet it is maya, illusion, and is a manifestation of the deep, unfathomable aspect of Prakriti and Srishti (nature and creation). And no matter how much we endeavour to unravel all the mysteries of nature or creation, some aspects of it will continue to remain incomprehensible and elusive to us - as maya or 'illusion'. This IS symbolized by dark or dark-blue. Therefore, for the sake of balance in creation (whether in Brhmaand, Prakriti or Srishti) we must understand and accept this, and bow to Prakriti (and to Srishti). [Dark-blue is Shyam; the colour of dusk - the colour that Prakriti wears after sunset. Dark is Ghanshyam; the colour of Prakriti - at night.]

The dew-covered grass, the predawn hours, the dawn, the mist-covered hills and the cloud-kissed forests seem dark-blue. The pristine snow on the mountains, the Pārijāt, the Banyan tree (Sanskrit: Vata vrksha), the Peepal tree (Sanskrit: Ashvatha), the Tulsi (Sanskrit: Tulasī), the Aparaajita, the Palash, the Atasi, the Akund (Sanskrit: Arca), the Ashok, the Bel (Sanskrit: Bilwa), the Champak (Sanskrit: Campaka), the Yuthika (Juhī), the Kadamba vana (the Kadam forest), the Japāa kusuma (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), the Bakulah (Maulsari), the Karnikār  (karnayoh karnikāram, Kanak Champā), the Tamāl (Tamala, Himalayan Garcinia), the Mālatī, the Punnāg  (Punnaga, Sultan Champa), the Mādhavī (Atimukta, meaning: completely liberated), the Kovidār (Kovidara, Purple orchid tree), the Ketakī (Kewdā), the Pātal (Paral), the Gunjā (Gunjaa, Gunj), the Kund  (Kundo, Star jasmine), the Bandhook  (Midday Flower) - all appear to be dark-blue, draped in the morning mist or in the evening twilight. Even the elegant deodars (Sanskrit: devadāru) have dark bluish-green leaves. [Hari and Hara, means 'green' and green is the colour draped by Prakriti - during the day. Vishnu and Shiva - the cosmic forces of the universe are also known as Hari and Hara respectively, and as Hari-Hara in their syncretic form.]

Therefore, dark (Ghanshyam), dark-blue (Shyam) and green (Hari-Hara) are the colours of the universe and of creation, rather they signify creation per se. Our ancients' understood this and revered nature. They also worshiped the water-bodies: the oceans (samudra), the rivers (nadh and nadi) and the lakes (sarovara.)

According to the scriptural description of the Brhmaand the entire planet earth is called Bharatavarsha, but particularly the area that lies south of the Himalayas has also been referred to as Bharatavarsha (also: Bharatvarsh.)

Bharatavarsha literally means the continent ('varsha'. Sanskrit) that is dedicated ('rata') to light, wisdom ('bha'). Our Vedic Rishis and Munis devoted themselves to the quest for the eternal truth or 'illumined knowledge' and ultimate reality or bliss for the mind and soul, kevala jnana, satchidananda.

Bharata means "the cherished", Bharatavarsha is the land of Bharata; it is the bhumi of the Bharatas. The ancient 'Bharatas' worshipped Ma Ganga (the holy and mighty river Ganga), the mighty Brahmaputra (Brhmaputr), the sacred river Saraswati (now lost, but which existed during Shri Krishna's time), the Alaknanda (also: Alakananda, one of the two head-streams of the river Ganga), the Bhagirathi (the other head-stream of the river Ganga, it is longer than the Alaknanda and is the source stream), the Mandakini (one of the five head-streams of the river Ganga), the Kaveri (the river Cauvery), the Tapi (the river Tapati), the Narmada, the Sindhu (the river Indus), the Suvastu (now: the river Swat), the Sutlej and the Chenab (known as Śutudri [or Satadru] and Chandrabhaga respectively - during the Vedic period), the Ravi, the Vipasa (the river Beas), the Jhelum (Sanskrit: Vitastā), the Karnali (Ghaghara) ... among several more.

The waters of all these rivers sustain life - be that of humans, animals, birds or plants. They sustain the lives of all living beings and have been doing so since time immemorial. Their waters appear to be blue, dark-blue, but in reality IS transparent. One can see one's image in them. [Shri Krishna too is transparent, yet the possessor of unfathomable depth: of wisdom, of knowledge, of intellect and of perception. And He holds a mirror to us, so that we can see ourselves, or rather the outcome of our actions and words - in it.]

The waters reflect the colour of the sky, but the sky too is transparent, yet appears to be a clear blue - during the day, and takes on a dark-blue hue after sundown, during the night and during a gathering storm. This dark-blue hue of the sky or the clouds is maya, illusion, and is a result of the deep, unfathomable aspect of Prakriti (or Srishti). [Shri Krishna's complexion is similar to the waters of these rivers - on whose banks he has lived and learnt. His complexion is also similar to the dark-blue skies - beneath which he has slept. This is symbolic of the necessity to preserve nature in all its beauty and glory and make it an essential reason for our being. It is a lesson not to destroy, exploit and denude Prakriti's or creation's gifts to mankind.]

But what we have done - for several generations now - is the complete opposite. We must reflect on our actions and try to make amends - collectively. Or else, we shall all perish.

If we were (or are) to heed Shri Krishna's words and advise, we would prosper - collectively. But if we do not pay heed and what's more, if we do just the opposite, and are blinded by greed and selfishness, we are doomed - collectively. [This is another reason why Shri Krishna has been depicted with dark or dark-blue complexion. Black is all absorbing while dark-blue represents calm and serenity. However, both dark/black and dark-blue can be used to indicate something fearsome, like a gathering storm, a cyclone, a tornado, a hurricane or an eclipse. Or perhaps something far more fearsome: Pra-laya or Mahapralaya - destruction and annihilation. Remember, Vishnu - the force of preservation and balance is Hari (green), while Shiv - the force of destruction is Hara (green); yet they both are depicted as blue. They are Hari-Hara, one and the same. Shri Krishna symbolizes this perfectly, he encompasses both Vishnu and Shiv, hence he is the greatest of all avatars.]

Shri Krishna propounded and extolled the concept of loka-sangraha in the Srimad Bhagavad Geeta. The principle of loka-sangraha is based on the idea, rather on the intent of "welfare for all" or "the welfare of the world". Meaning: to run the world selflessly by taking care of each other with affection, compassion, love and truth. This is the daivi sampada (noble virtues) that Shri Krishna enunciated in the Bhagavad Geeta. These principles sustain life. 'Coz we can live and grow only when we make others to live and grow, i.e., collectively. But this 'collectively' also includes all living beings (all jiva: birds, animals, plants, insects, etc) and in harmony with nature and creation (i.e., Prakriti and Srishti). This IS the Sanaatan Vedic Dharma. [Methinks: Shri Krishna, through his concept rather philosophy of loka-sangraha urged every right-thinking person to reach-out to each other, i.e. reach-out to other like-minded persons. In other words: to gather people that are bound by the principles of dharma and are committed to upholding them - so as to achieve certain common goals, that needless to say, would benefit society. BTW, the word 'Vedic' means: from the 'Veda'. 'Veda' comes from the Sanskrit root 'Vid' which means: 'to know' and this in turn has given rise to 'Vidya' or knowledge. So, 'Sanaatan Vedic Dharma' IS the treasure-trove of timeless knowledge - that our ancients learnt from nature (Prakriti), universe (Brhmaand) and space (Vyoma) - and then accumulated within the Vedas. This timeless knowledge IS essentially a 'way of life'.]

Shri Vishnu is called "The Preserver" or "The Balancer", and given Shri Krishna's inclinations towards Loka-sangraha or Loka Kalyana, he is 'attached' to Shri Vishnu. That is: considered as an avatar (manifestation) of Shri Vishnu.

However, we need not look too far in order to see or understand what is happening around us. People indulge in all sorts of adharm and then go back and offer a few grains of sugar to the ants - so as to negate bad karma! This is the result of words and actions dictated by arrogance and ignorance, among other aasuri sampada (ignoble traits or qualities).

Our environment is being ravaged, our mountains are being desecrated, our hills are being razed to the ground, our trees are being massacred, our birds and animals are struggling to survive, our water-bodies are being indiscriminately polluted, nuclear wastes are dumped in them; civilizations are being decimated and there is a competition to grab the resources of the world. No tactics is considered too low - in order to achieve all this. And to top it all: some folks are now all set to mine the asteroids too and after Curiosity ... let's hope that Mars continues to hold on to its title: that of being the 'Red Planet'.

Nations and people are being torn apart: in the name of faith, charity, history, culture, language, friendship, research, media, commerce, sports and what have you. One group is pitched against the other; some stereotyped as martial race, others pampered as agrarian or trading classes while the least useful ones are sidelined as savage tribals. Ethnic differences are so rife that once the friendly colonizers and 'liberators' leave, a once-prosperous nation finds itself engulfed in civil war and in economic ruins. It cannot sustain as one country any more. People are too busy saving this beautiful planet from sundry aliens and extra-terrestrials on 70 mm, while decimating nations, culture and priceless heritage in real time.

From one point of view, Maharshi Ved Vyas's 'Mahābhārat' is a study of the use and abuse of power. It is not that power is good or bad in itself. It is essentially a force, a weapon that can be used to save and foster or to harm and extort. Shri Krishna's over-riding concern has been that those who use power rightfully, for establishing dharm or for loka-sangraha, must be victorious. He does not suffer from the limitations of Bhishma Pitamah or Karna regarding attachment to a vow as a be-all and end-all.

He had no hesitation in surmounting loyalty to kith and kin in slaying his maternal uncle, Raja Kansh - who had become a tyrant; as well as his cousin, Shishupala, who had allied himself with the imperialistic ambitions of the nefarious Jarasandha, the ruler of Magadha. Free from greed for personal aggrandizement, Krishna refused to become the ruler of the Yadavas in Mathura, and reinstated the old Ugrasena back on the throne. Kansh had let himself be manipulated by his friend Jarasandha, then dethroned and imprisoned his own father - the aged Ugrasena. [The 'Yadavas' refer to the Chandravanshi or the moon-worshiping Yadava clan/Yadu vansh/Yaduvamsa to which Shri Krishna belonged.]

The opposite of Jarasandha in his goal, Krishna would be no samrat or emperor, for his status is that of svarat, he removes the tyrants and aggrandizers of public wealth. Finally, the killing of Jarasandha restores independence to nearly a hundred chieftains/kings, frees the Yadava clans and indeed the country as a whole - of the spectre of the all-constricting Magadhan python. Here is the idea of loka-sangraha ("welfare for all" or the "welfare of the world") exemplified. Shri Krishna's use of power is precisely what should have engaged Bhishma Pitamah: protect the virtuous - the dharmic, and destroy the malicious - the adharmic [paritranaya sadhunam vinasaya ca duskrtam.]

Shri Krishna was not motivated by personal glory, nor was he looking to earn a great name for himself. He did not annex territories, expand his kingdom or indulge in rape, loot and plunder. Whatever he did was for the greater good of mankind and for civilization to flourish well (Loka-Kalyana). His was Nishkam Karm; he was simply doing his duty, that of upholding dharm - without expecting anything in return.

Years ago, a statue of Shri Krishna (carved out of stone) was discovered during the excavation at Gorakhpur (in Uttar Pradesh.) The English version of the Sanskrit sloka found on it is as below:

"When there are clouds of hypocrisy and when the sins turn into the storm, then - my melodious flute takes a form of small spear."

This is just another way of saying what he had already said - in his prequel to that legendary Dharmyudh [the battle of principles, of righteousness and of moral ethics] - in the Dharmshetr Kurukshetr:

paritranaya sadhunam
vinasaya ca duskrtam
sambhavami yuge yuge

[The above sloka is part of the Srimad Bhagavat Gita, Chapter IV-8. Please do read the 1st part of this series: HERE, for my interpretation of it.] The whole life of Bhagavan Shri Krishna was like the roaring sound of a conch. He undertook a vow, that of fighting adharm - injustice and profanity in all its forms, and establishing justice - by upholding dharma, restoring peace, order and balance in society, and did his best to fulfill it.

It is the very humanness of Shri Krishna that is part of his aura and charm, and is also behind the irresistible fascination that he exercises and exerts over millions - transcending eras. You see, He graced this earth some five millennium ago, in the previous era - the Dwapar Yug, and this is the twenty-first century/the Kali Yug. Frankly, even without going into the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, just a reading of the Mahābhārat itself brings out powerfully the remarkable qualities of the head, the heart and the hand (kara-puṣkara - lotus palms) that makes Shri Krishna pre-eminent among statesmen, counselors, diplomats, philosophers and among leaders of people and nations too. He was not a Warrior-Prince or a Warrior-Saint, but a Soldier-Statesman that strove to re-establish dharma - by fighting all forms of adharm. He was a Yug Purush that also became Bhagavan

I am tempted to attempt a definition of the word 'Yug Purush'. The renowned American thinker, poet, author, historian, philosopher and leading transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau, said: "A man is wise with the wisdom of his time only, and ignorant with its ignorance." This is true of people like us, because we are mere ordinary mortals, ordinary people. But, once in a while or perhaps in every era (yug), a handful of people appear amidst us - who prove to be an exception to this rule. At one level, these exceptional and extraordinary people are products of their time, but at another level they transcend their times. Their perceptions, their insights, their thoughts, their actions and their concerns are truly universal, in time and in space; since they are neither constrained by the circumstances of their birth nor are they limited by the ignorance of their time. They are truly incomparable. Shri Krishna is one such exceptional transcendental 'Yug Purush', who belongs to all 'yugs' or eras. And in these times of turbulence and violence (that has become the hallmark of 'Kali Yug' in the last millennium or so) - his wisdom, his knowledge, his advice and his philosophy are more relevant than ever before. 

On the auspicious occasion of Janmashtami (the birth anniversary of Bhagavan Shri Krishna), I pay my humble tributes to this transcendental legend, this magnificent 'Yug Purush', this greatest of Bhagavans.

Shubh Janmasthami. II Jai Shri Krshn II

(More later…)

Photograph: Courtesy: Link.


  1. But what we have done - for several generations now - is the complete opposite. We must reflect on our actions and try to make amends - collectively. Or else, we shall all perish........
    Nations and people are being torn apart: in the name of faith, charity, history, friendship, research, media, commerce, sports and what have you............... how appropriate....we have slowly and painfully buried almost everything that was great and unmatched about our country....hope we wake up before it is too late....

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  3. @ Sunil: Yes, ghor Kali Yug! Even our scriptures, etc have been twisted beyond recognition by waves of vested interests that manifested themselves (and still do) in all shapes and sizes. ‘Aasuri Sampada’ (ignoble traits) holds sway and none have thoughts of ‘Loka-Sangraha’ or ‘Loka-Kalyana’ in their hearts and minds. Undeserving folks now award titles like ‘Baba’, ‘Maa’, and ‘Swami’ to themselves and move around in swish cars and private jets. There is a competition between groups of humans about who is superior and the utterances of which among them is the Supreme and the Ultimate!!

    Even ‘Yog’ – that treasure-trove of illumined knowledge (jnana) that illumines the mind (manas) to such an extent that one is blessed with profound wisdom, perception, insight and foresight, i.e., becomes “Trikalagya,” or “The Master of all things past, future, and present” – has now been reduced to a joke, as well as a money-and-perks earning instrument.

    As I have said in this post: “Dark or dark-blue is all pervading, is omnipotent, is everywhere. Yet it is 'maya,' - illusion, and is a manifestation of the deep, unfathomable aspect of 'Prakriti' and 'Srishti' (nature and creation). And no matter how much we endeavour to unravel all the mysteries of nature or creation, some aspects of it will continue to remain unfathomable to us – as 'maya' or 'illusion'. This is symbolized by dark or dark-blue. Therefore, for the sake of balance in creation (whether in Brhmaand, Prakriti or Srishti) we must understand and accept this, and bow to Prakriti (and to Srishti)."

    Our ancients' understood this and revered nature. We do not. But Prakriti and Srishti are supreme; will deal with the arrogance and ignorance of certain humans – in her own way.

    However, those of us that do not agree with, or accept what certain humans are perpetuating, should try to do our duty, our “dharm” - as per Shri Krishna’s doctrine of “Karm Yog” and make use our “Daivi Sampada” (noble virtues) as best as we can :)