-----------------It was during one of the visits to Mylapore Kabaleeshwarar temple that I found about the 'Giri traders'. Its a big store which sells a lot of uninteresting articles but they have a book shop in 3rd floor which basically is strewn with books in every language (of India, of course) and as I've been finding it often now, the place has a lot of rare books or old editions of rare books (which are considerably cheap!) and a group of staff who can locate the books in that organized mess.
So a couple of months back, I was walking through that aisle and after spending what seemed to be a lot of time, was able to locate a book 'Krishna - The playful divine' by Pavan.K.Varma. A yellowish looking book with a bit torn front, it looked like an absolute steal when I bought it.
In the pantheon of gods that we have, Krishna and Muruga display a human quality which helps one to easily identify with them. They seem to be having had some smaller origins before being absorbed into the mainstream Hindu consciousness. Of course, one was primarily an Aryan god and another a Dravidian one. There are quite a bit of interesting tangle of stories associated with both of them.
But being what we are, we rely on people from western countries to do this job for us. Kamil Zvelebil did this for Muruga and Krishna has been explored, debated and a lot of books have been written based on the myth that is associated and the man that is Krishna.
Pavan K. Varma, author of this book 'Krishna - the playful divine', treats his Subject without much sentimentality or getting affected by the divinity of Krishna. The book is a fantastic research work which explore Krishna's evolution, from the man to the myth to being one of the most revered God of modern India.
The book traces Krishna's birth till his deification and tries to explain the miracles associated with Him. But it does it with a cold rationality which showcases the extensive literature that is available on the subject and the author's familiarization with most of it.
Reading the book, after having known most of the story of Krishna, the book still surprises with its interpretation of events and the different regional specializations that goes into the making of Krishna. It starts with Krishna's birth and childhood and goes on to discuss the various incidents associated with Him as the absorption of the worship of various little Gods like Indra, Varuna etc to the growing cult of Krishna. The 'Kaliya Vadam' becomes the symbol of the defeat of the Naga tribe in the forest.
This is followed by a chapter titled 'Lover', which by the way is the most discussed aspect of Krishna. Quoting from Harivamsa to Nammalwar, the love He had for the gopis and most of all, Radha is explored. The svakiya (that Radha is Krishna's wife) or Parakiya(that she was another man's wife or unmarried) debate is explained and we are told that it was settled only in 1717 through a council in Bengal and decided, perhaps unthinkable today, that it was parakiya. And goes on to discuss the virtues of such a relationship.
Given the Victorian morality norms that have crept into our lives in the past 200 years, it is a bit difficult to place this in context with our thought process of today.The arrival of Christian missionaries in the 18th and 19th century basically changed this tradition as the attacks on Hinduism during this period was based on the 'moral depravity' of the 'natives' with their 'unparalleled sexual degradation'. It is this that drives the way we look into things even today. Pavan Sharma calls this a betrayal of the worship of Krishna as lover (in celebrating Rasaleela or even discussing it) and squarely puts the blame on the Evangelicals and the Hindu revivalist movements who just ran along with the narrative put forwarded by them.
The chapter ends with the discussion of Krishna's departure from Brindavanand the fact that he never returns to it in his later life.
The next three chapters (Warrior, savior, God) deal with how the Krishna myth evolved into a worship and the philosophy as given in Gita. The philosophy of Gita is juxtaposed with the various thought schools of the western world and discussed.
The individuals pursuit of a meaning for the life herein and the uncertainty of the life hereafter forms the basis of this discussion. Having read Gita a few times, it basically is a blueprint to live life as it should be lived and the fact that Gita allows interpretation at different levels is very essential in understanding the relevance of the same.
What I found missing was a discussion of Krishna's relationship with Draupadi (also known as Krishnai due to her Krishna-bhakthi). This is important as Draupadi's hands were first offered to Krishna and only after his rejection (citing that He treats her as a sister), did she gets to go for the swayamvara. Though the story is cited in context with the Mahabharatha war, there is no in-depth discussion as in the case of the Radha-Krishna relationship.