“When Lord Krishna was present in this material world to manifest His eternal pastimes of the transcendental realm of Goloka Vrindavana as an attraction for the people in general, He displayed a unique picture of subordination before His foster mother, Yashoda. The Lord, in His naturally childish playful activities, used to spoil the stocked butter of mother Yashoda by breaking the pots and distributing the contents to His friends and playmates, including the celebrated monkeys of Vrindavana, who took advantage of the Lord's munificence.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.31 Purport)
Mother Yashoda works so hard during the day to maintain the household. A good mother never gets the proper credit she deserves. Selfless in motive, the mother runs the household, attends to the needs of the children, both large and small. There are the children designated by nature, who need help in doing everything from getting up in the morning to dressing properly for school. Then there is the biggest child in the husband, who needs help in similar areas and also admonishment with respect to errant and forgetful behavior. Yet the leader of the family assumes her duties in stride, not asking for anything in return. She wants everyone else to be happy, and for this so much work needs to be completed every single day. Bearing this in mind, it’s a little strange that the person who created this and many other universes, a person who is all-knowing, would delight in foiling a good mother’s work, in making her tasks a little more difficult to complete. Through the elation that would result, the hidden meaning to the plan of the greatest plan-maker would be revealed.
“Mom, I’m hungry. Mom, I need something good to eat. Mom, can you make my favorite dish tonight? Mom, I need a ride to such and such place, can you take me?” For such statements to be uttered by children is not out of the ordinary, but if you look at them on the surface, they indicate odd behavior. The human being craves freedom, for the many violent uprisings throughout the course of human history have revealed this fact. Without freedom of action, man feels trapped, made to work against his will and restricted from doing those things that he likes to do. Yet concomitant with freedom is responsibility. If I want to be able to do whatever I want, I should at least know how to do what it is I am desirous of.
With each pursuit that freedom enables comes responsibility. If I want the freedom to be able to play sports, I should take the responsibility to prepare myself for the games. Preparation doesn’t just involve the action on the field of play. One must additionally eat and sleep properly, which requires consideration to both time and quantity of consumption. Ideally, my exercise of freedom should not impose on the ability of others to enjoy life. I may want the freedom to go places and experience new things, but if others are obligated to take me from one place to another and manage my wellbeing, where is the question of their freedom?
The head of the household takes all of this into consideration when the dependents want this thing or that. Freedom is wonderful, but the good mother knows that the children shouldn’t have too much of it. Rather, accepting responsibility during childhood bodes well for the individual when they mature into adulthood. Nevertheless, the specific requests made by the children are more times than not granted by the mother. Though they may specifically ask for things, she doesn’t consider her child to be spoiled. Rather, the opportunity to serve is the greatest reward, for that is the way the parent offers love. If the child were completely self-sufficient or if they never asked for anything, how could the parents show their love?
Shri Krishna, the Supreme Lord, knows these ins and outs of human behavior. In the science that describes the interactions the living beings have with God, the exchanges of transcendental emotions are known as rasas. The offering of paternal affection is known as vatsalya-rasa, which was particularly enjoyed by mother Yashoda. The living being gets its yearning for freedom from its identifying aspect: the spirit soul. Lord Krishna is intimately familiar with the properties of the soul, so for those who are desirous of exercising their freedom in the spiritual arena, He creates a playing field filled with circumstances just suitable for the occasion.
Some five thousand years ago, the ideal playing field on this earth was Vrindavana. It is still the best place to interact with Krishna, but during the Dvapara Yuga the conditions were the most auspicious, as the object of service had personally descended to earth. The idea that the Divine can make appearances before us and not become tainted by the material elements and their inhibiting influence requires some faith to be extended by the sincere listener in the beginning. This shouldn’t be too foreign a practice, as the first day in every new class in college requires the same trust. The professor hands out the syllabus, and even though the required work may appear daunting, based on the credentials of the instructor the student understands that if they follow the coursework and complete the necessary assignments, they will be better off for it.
In a similar manner, accepting the statements found in Vedic texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita on faith in the beginning can only lead to a better condition in the future. Even if one is of a different religious persuasion or not spiritually inclined at all, just hearing from these works will delight the mind, carrying it to a time and place of supernatural purity. Vrindavana is the home of homes, and its caretaking mother is Vrinda Devi, the goddess of devotion who creates circumstances favorable for the exchange of transcendental mellows.
The manager of the most sacred home in Vrindavana is the person who Shri Krishna especially blessed. How did He arrange for this? If Jesus were to come up to us, would we not feel a tremendous thrill? If the Supreme Lord in our worshipable form of choice were to bestow His glance upon us, revealing His identity and form, should that not be enough to fulfill the mission of life? While seeing God is wonderful, the spirit soul still craves action under conditions of freedom. Better than seeing God is being able to interact with Him. Better than interacting with Him is serving Him with every thought, word and deed.
This is precisely what mother Yashoda did. Under the pretense of motherly duties completed to maintain a family consisting of the child Shri Krishna and the father Nanda, Yashoda went to work every day. Though these were traditional times, where the women weren’t formally educated or allowed to freely intermingle with other men not their husbands, mothers like Yashoda worked very, very hard. Everything they did was for the benefit of their household. Shri Krishna enjoyed mother Yashoda’s cooking very much, but since He also took delight in enchanting the other residents of Vrindavana, He would sometimes steal from the stocks of butter in the homes of the neighbors.
The mothers would complain to Yashoda, but they secretly loved the fact that the adorable Krishna was attracted to their homes. They would find new places to hide their butter so that Shyamasundara and His friends would think of more elaborate plots for how to get to the secret stash. Mother Yashoda took Krishna’s activity as impetus to work harder at churning butter in her own home. In addition to cooking and caring for her dependents, Yashoda would sit down peacefully and churn butter in a pot; all the while singing of her beloved son’s most cherished activities. Aside from His playful pastimes, Krishna had thwarted the attacks of several ghoulish creatures who had infiltrated Vrindavana. As a child killing powerful creatures is completely out of the ordinary, Yashoda decided she wanted to remember those incidents all the time. What better way to immortalize a set of activities than to put them into song format that can be sung over and over again?
Since Yashoda worked so hard for His satisfaction, you would think that Krishna would oblige by being a well-behaved son. On the contrary, under the pretense of feigned anger over having been neglected for a moment while feeding, Krishna broke the pot of butter His mother took so much time to fill. To make matters worse, He ate some of the butter and distributed the rest to monkeys, animals who are known for stealing others’ food. It may sound strange to those who have never been in India for too long, but in places like Vrindavana and Chitrakuta, monkeys roam the streets just like ordinary citizens. They cause a disturbance by sneaking up on people and stealing whatever they have in their hands, hoping it is food. The unsuspecting visitors have to pay attention especially to their eyeglasses, as monkeys are fond of taking these.
As monkeys are already prone towards theft, the fact that Krishna was voluntarily handing over Yashoda’s wonderful butter was a brave act of defiance. Yet the mother delighted in this naughty behavior of her son. As He was playing the part of a delightful child, Yashoda made sure to stay true to the role of a caring mother. She chased Krishna with a whipping stick and then bound Him to a mortar as punishment. Rather than child abuse, this was a sparkling display of divine love, for the event is so wonderful that people still sing about it to this day.
When Krishna was caught He faked tears of fear, which rolled down His face, mixing with the anjana, or eye-ointment, so carefully applied by His mother. This scene of Krishna crying after being caught by mother Yashoda was appreciated by Kunti Devi, the mother of the famous Pandava brothers. During adulthood, Krishna was particularly favorable to the Pandavas. After the brothers survived numerous attempts made on their lives and eventually reclaimed the throne of Hastinapura that was rightfully theirs, Kunti Devi offered a set of prayers to Krishna, thanking Him for His kindness and attention. In these wonderful offerings, she remarked on the good fortune of Yashoda, who was able to tie up the Supreme Lord with ropes of affection.
Mother Yashoda worked hard to keep her family happy, and the young Krishna made sure she worked even harder. While carrying out duties it is easy to forget the purpose behind them, the tie that holds all the actions together. Shri Krishna purposefully created situations where His mother could stop working for a few brief moments and give Him personal attention. That same opportunity is created for every living entity desirous of transcendental association, freedom of spiritual movement. Through the excuse of following a routine in bhakti-yoga, the devoted soul can take time out of their busy day to give attention to Krishna. By regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the beloved darling of Vrindavana will play regularly on the field of your mind.
Have to take care of my duties you’ll say,
But how to make this work actually pay?
From Shri Krishna’s charming glance you’ll find,
Supreme wisdom, tie that everything binds.
Children, young and old, to ask have the nerve,
Mother responds, never gets credit she deserves.
Yashoda to Krishna’s welfare was dedicated,
Lord acted like her efforts not appreciated.
All done for transcendental love to increase,
In caring for Krishna Yashoda never to cease.