Krishna As Child: Part-II
The image of Krishna the butter thief has caught the imagination of both believers and non-believers in a way few other images have. Krishna, on all fours, holding a ball of butter in his hand (laddoo Gopal), is a ubiquitous icon all over India. It is an aspect which has found pervasive reflection in both sculpture and painting, and is a favourite theme in the folk songs, poetry and plays depicting his life. For those initiated in his lore, whether by birth, faith or exposure, the acceptance of this theme of his childhood is unquestioning, even axiomatic: For those not so initiated, it is a matter of some surprise that a god, who ought to be the very symbol of rectitude, should in fact be celebrated for his stealing. It is worthwhile, therefore, to dwell a little on this ‘peculiar’ trait of the blue god.
The world, according to Hindu mythology, was created as an extension of the Almighty’s leela or divine play, the effortless unfolding of his unbounded energy. In this sense, the Supreme, when incarnate in the form of a human ‘avatar’, merely continues that play. This leela is beyond conventional morality, but not because that is its essential character. It is beyond such categories because it emanates from Him who is goodness incarnate. Thus, the butter thief is but one more manifestation of his infinite, untainted and joyous energy. It is god merely playing a role, but with gusto. Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, and also an avatar of Vishnu, was known as Maryada-Purushottam (rectitude personified).
In contrast, Krishna’s appellation is that of Leela-Purushottam (playfulness personified). He is also regarded as being the ‘puma avatar’ (the complete incarnation). Krishna, the complete god, had to be, therefore, the complete child-not only good but also mischievous, not only obedient but also wayward, not only well-behaved but also troublesome. His was not a portrayal of the divine accepting the human mantle with reluctance. As the butter thief, he is the uninhibited child, wilfully pursuing his aim, oblivious to the categories of right and wrong in adult life. This boisterous conduct is expected of him, and he cannot but live up to this image.
And there is to his stealing a projection of overwhelming innocence. He takes what he wants because he has not yet learnt that he is not expected to do so. He asks for what he wants and throws a tantrum if denied, because he knows no other way of getting his way. The gopis* anger at his conduct is never sustained for long. They complain to Yasoda but mostly in mock indignation. Yasoda scolds him, even punishes him, such as when she ties him to the wooden mortar, but her stern visage is perpetually on the verge of breaking down under an upsurge of maternal affection. Indeed, his mischief is so attractive in its aggressive innocence, that the gopis- quite hopelessly in love with this adorable child-miss it when he fails to raid their homes.