“Some of Lord Krishna's pastimes are mentioned in the Mahabharata as maushala-lila. These include the stories of the destruction of the Yadu dynasty, Krishna's disappearance, His being pierced by a hunter's arrow, the story of Krishna's being an incarnation of a piece of hair (kesha-avatara) as well as mahishi-harana, the kidnapping of Krishna's queens. Actually these are not factual but are related for the bewilderment of the asuras who want to prove that Krishna is an ordinary human being. They are false in the sense that these pastimes are not eternal, nor are they transcendental or spiritual.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 23.117-118)Download this episode (right click and save)
Remembrance and forgetfulness. Two important factors in religion. Remembrance brings a person towards their original occupation, their dharma. Once that dharma is established, remembrance helps to keep a person in that mindset.
“I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.15)
Forgetfulness leads towards darkness, ignorance of one’s true identity. Interestingly, both come from the Supreme Lord, Shri Krishna. He rests within the heart as the Supersoul, and He sanctions all decisions. This means that He allows forgetfulness of Him; such is His kindness. Everyone follows Him in all respects.
He maintains this kindness even when He appears personally. After all, just because a person asks to see God does not mean they are qualified to understand who He is. So many people from the past saw Him right in front of their eyes and failed to recognize Him. Though shastra is there specifically for the benefit of the devotees, to increase their remembrance of Him, Krishna also includes pastimes that are for the bewilderment of the asuras.
1. Incarnating from a piece of hair
Krishna is all-attractive. That is the meaning to His name. Another meaning is “blackish.” Some enemies of God like to point to statements in the Mahabharata that describe Krishna to be an incarnation from the black hair of Narayana, who is Vishnu. Never mind that Narayana is God Himself, just a different manifestation from Him. Never mind that if Vishnu is God that He could surely incarnate in any way He chooses.
The asuras, those who are in favor of continued forgetfulness of both God and their own nature as eternal spiritual beings, try to exploit this description as a way to diminish Krishna. Their argument is, “How can Krishna be God if He comes from a black hair? Black is an inauspicious color.” Indeed, the Supreme puts these words in the Mahabharata intentionally, to give the asuras what they want.
2. Being pierced in the foot by a hunter
Krishna’s appearance in the world is still celebrated to this day on the occasion known as Janmashtami. The original Personality of Godhead appeared from the womb of mother Devaki. The incident is described in English as an appearance instead of a birth, since by definition God has no birth. There is no death for Him, either.
The disappearance of Krishna took place through the shot fired in the foot by a hunter. This was many years later. Krishna was resting underneath a tree. The incident fulfilled the curse of Gandhari and made true the words of Durvasa Muni. Also, in some circles the incident is believed to be the arrival of bad karma. In His previous appearance as Shri Rama, the Supreme Lord shot a combatant in the back, which goes against the standard rules of warfare. Now that combatant came back and returned the favor.
Krishna is above karma. He is not beholden to any curse. He does not need to apply a paste of payasam on His feet to keep Him safe. There is no difference between body and spirit for Him. Still, the incident helps to reinforce the idea of karma for those who cannot move beyond it. It gives strength to the atheists, supporting their denials of the Divinity of the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita.
3. The destruction of the Yadu dynasty
Another name for Krishna is Yadunandana. He is the delight of the Yadu dynasty. He was their leader in the city of gates known as Dvaraka. The place had unimaginable opulence. Krishna Himself lived with over sixteen thousand wives, each in a separate palace.
Yet today that city is underwater. The entire dynasty was destroyed through infighting. The events were foretold, and the less intelligent are left wondering how it could have happened. After all, it was God’s community. Isn’t that heaven on earth? How did it descend into madness and chaos? Again, the incident was to teach many lessons, including the temporary nature of things in the material world. It also gives further strength to the belief of the atheists in their way of life.
4. The kidnapping of Krishna’s queens
After the destruction of the Yadu dynasty and the return of Krishna to the spiritual world, the bow-warrior Arjuna was in charge of Krishna’s queens. An interesting thing happened. He lost in a battle against people who weren’t very skilled in fighting. The incident taught several lessons, the most important of which is that without Krishna’s sanction nothing can take place. He is the strength of the strong.
Arjuna was previously victorious, in the Bharata War, because Krishna was there to give Him strength. Now the Lord was in Vaikuntha, so Arjuna no longer had the same ability. The acharyas explain that Krishna Himself was fighting for the other side, reclaiming His queens and bringing them back to the spiritual world. The asuras use the incident to show that Krishna’s great devotees aren’t so great. Neither are His queens, since they were handed over to rogues. The devotees know the truth of the matter.
5. Krishna’s disappearance
“Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, are cast by Me into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.19)
As mentioned before, the end to the pastimes took place through a shot fired by a hunter into Krishna’s sole. From reading the Mahabharata we see that Krishna immediately returned to the spiritual world. This is the evidence of the disappearance, that there was no death. Still, the atheists will hang onto the incident to show that Krishna is nothing special. He is mortal, after all. In this way they are cast repeatedly into lower species, where they get to act out on their ignorance, lifetime after lifetime.
Krishna not only for devotees came,
Mercy given to atheists the same.
From hair of Narayana in Mahabharata told,
Leaving from hunter’s shot piercing sole.
Against lesser rogues Arjuna suffering defeat,
From infighting Yadus destruction to meet.
So that in ignorance always to stay,
Lord’s powerful illusion at play.