“The inhabitants of Vrindavana used to say, ‘Krishna is always manifest before us with a complexion like a blackish cloud. He holds His wonderful flute in His lotus hands. He is dressed in yellow silks and bedecked with a peacock feather on His head. When Krishna walks near Govardhan Hill with these personal features, all the inhabitants of the heavenly planets, as well as the inhabitants of this earth, feel transcendental bliss and consider themselves the eternal servants of the Lord.’” (The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 36)
An unusual complexion for sure. Who do we know that has this particular color on their body? “Black and blue” typically refers to injuries. Bruises, contusions and the like from playing sports or getting physically attacked. If we saw someone whose entire body was blue, we would think something was seriously wrong. Perhaps there was a lack of oxygen.
Yet this is precisely how the transcendental body of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is described. There are further comparisons given to help us better understand. There is the indranila mani, the sapphire. There is the atasi flower. There is the tamala tree, found especially in the sacred land of Vrindavana.
Further complicating matters are the multiple meanings to the Sanskrit word shyama. This is the word most often used for describing the body of God. Even the term “body” is a little misleading, as for God there is no such dichotomy. He doesn’t go through the cycle of birth and death. The avataras descend from the spiritual world, and they remain transcendental to the modes of nature and the miseries associated with material living.
“Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.24)
Shyama can mean greenish, brownish, or the more common translation of dark blue. For the original form of the Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, one common comparison is to the dark raincloud. He is Shyamasundara, meaning beautifully dark. He is also Ghanashyama, which means the dark cloud about to pour down rain.
The comparison is helpful for our understanding, but there are ways that Krishna is not like the ordinary raincloud, as well. He is something unique, for sure.
1. He is not harmful
We can look to the incident of the first Govardhana Puja for evidence. The people of Vrindavana were accustomed to worshiping Indra, the king of heaven. Though a religious practice externally, deep down it was more of a business transaction. Provide sufficient materials and perform the puja in a proper way and there would be something beneficial in return.
Just as in a free market economy transactions don’t take place unless there is a benefit to each side, so with demigod worship there is something in it for everyone involved. Indra’s pride and importance swell through accepting the offerings, and the people get the desired rainfall, which is necessary for growing food.
One year Krishna Himself was in Vrindavana, playing the role of the son of the king, Nanda Maharaja. Still in an outward vision of a small child, Krishna convinced the father to worship Govardhana Hill instead. The preparations were already set for Indra, but everything got shifted for the nearby hill at the last moment.
Interestingly enough, the people still got rainfall. Except this time it was more than they bargained for. What they previously had to perform a puja to get came through Indra’s wrath instead of satisfaction. The king of heaven was so perturbed with the snub that instead of forgiving the incident due to past customer loyalty, he punished the people who were so good to him for so long. He sent to the area the most devastating raincloud, the one typically reserved for the end of the creation.
2. He has intelligence
Once rain starts to fall, that is it. It doesn’t consider the target. If someone has purchased a brand new pair of shoes that will surely get ruined by so much contact with water, the rain doesn’t suddenly alter its course. It doesn’t take a pause to give people time to get out of the way.
3. No duality
The rain is harmful for one person and beneficial for another. That is the way of duality, which is everywhere in a material existence. Fire helps to heat the home during a cold winter’s night, and yet that same fire can burn down the entire establishment if left unchecked. The seasons come and go, and each has benefits and demerits.
Shri Krishna is not like this. There is no duality with His association, even when looking at the form of Narayana, who has four hands. In two hands are items of peace: the lotus flower and the conchshell. In the other two hands are weapons: the sudarshana-chakra and the club. One side is for giving pleasure to the devotees and the other for punishing the miscreants. This falls in line with the stated purpose of the avataras.
“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.8)
But in fact the effect is the same. The punishment is extremely beneficial to the “bad guys.” They get liberation by being killed directly by Krishna. Liberation is the ultimate purification. The devotees continue in their devotion with Krishna’s association, as there is no limit to the bliss a person feels in sharanagati, or full surrender.
The dark raincloud that is Krishna has intelligence. He applies discrimination to the requests of His worshipers. He is not obligated to say “yes,” nor does He get angry when neglected. If He were to get upset, then the entire world would be in line for punishment, since man has forgotten God for so many lifetimes.
Ghanashyama showers His amazing mercy on everyone who has contact with Him. This is the special benefit of connecting directly with God, as opposed to only understanding the abstract concept of Brahman or the localized expansion of Supersoul.
Unusual bodily hue,
Krishna showing blue.
But comparisons help to understand,
Like cloud with imminent rain at hand.
But different too in ways many,
To devotees harm not causing any.
Intelligence and from duality free,
A most pleasing sight is He.