“I cannot understand how you could have selected this cowherd boy, Krishna, and have left aside all these other great personalities. I think Krishna to be no better than a crow - how can He be fit to accept the first worship in this great sacrifice? We cannot even ascertain as yet to which caste this Krishna belongs or what His actual occupational duty is.” (Shishupala, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 19)Download this episode (right click and save)
Poor Shishupala. Everything was already arranged. The son of King Bhishmaka wanted Shishupala to wed Rukmini Devi, who is the goddess of fortune herself. Rukmi arranged everything, except Rukmini had other ideas. Her heart was given to the Supreme Lord, Shri Krishna. She made this decision without seeing Him. Just from hearing alone her mind was made up.
Proving that pure devotion satisfies all requirements for renunciation and knowledge, Rukmini came up with a plan. Through a letter, she advised Krishna to come and kidnap her on the day of the marriage to Shishupala. The Supreme Lord is the deliverer of the surrendered souls, and so He kindly obliged.
Years later, the scorned Shishupala stood in an assembly hosted by King Yudhishthira. It was a Rajasuya sacrifice, which made it a heavily attended event. So many respectable personalities were there. Sahadeva recommended that Krishna be the beneficiary of the Agrapuja, or the first worship. Pretty much everyone agreed.
Shishupala was the lone exception who made his objections known. In giving the arguments against Krishna, he actually praised the Supreme Lord. Every negative was actually a positive, if understood properly.
1. Acknowledged the will of time
Shishupala started his speech by giving credit to the power of time. Known as kala in Sanskrit, it is the great devourer. I can take precaution in an endeavor, but there is no guarantee of a successful outcome. Whatever time has destined to happen will occur. Shishupala figured that it was destiny that caused the otherwise intelligent attendees to choose Krishna over others.
“The Blessed Lord said: Time I am, destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people. With the exception of you [the Pandavas], all the soldiers here on both sides will be slain.” (Bhagavad-gita, 11.32)
In the Bhagavad-gita the same Krishna reveals that He is time. By praising kala, Shishupala was actually paying honor to Krishna. The Supreme Lord was ultimately responsible for the honor, and there was nothing Shishupala could do about it.
2. Knowledge and renunciation defeated
Another argument Shishupala made was that there were so many people in attendance who were known for their knowledge and renunciation. Jnana and vairagya are two important opulences that are available in a material existence. They are also unique to the human birth. The monkey may live in the forest, but they are not renounced. They live according to their nature; there is no decision to voluntarily live without certain things.
The fact that Krishna still received the honor proves that jnana and vairagya are not everything. The Supreme Lord is above material qualities. He has knowledge and renunciation in full, even when He apparently doesn’t put them on display.
3. Unknown caste
Here Shishupala references the somewhat confusing circumstances surrounding Krishna’s birth. Indeed, there is no birth for God. He is the birth-less and death-less one. When He comes to this world, it is more an appearance. In the Bhagavad-gita He says that a person who knows the divine, divyam, nature of His birth and activities does not go through the cycle of birth and death anymore.
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.9)
Krishna first appeared from the womb of mother Devaki in the prison cell in Mathura. Since He was transferred so soon thereafter to Gokula, Yashoda was also considered His mother. So to which caste did He belong? Devaki’s husband was of kshatriya origin. This is a warrior/administrator. Yashoda’s husband Nanda was of vaishya origin. He was essentially a dairy farmer.
This criticism of Krishna is actually high praise, since it shows that God never belongs to any caste. Ancestry makes absolutely no impact on His qualities, which are transcendental.
4. Unknown occupation
It’s only natural for a person to be judged by their occupation. The candidates running for President of the United States are assessed on their past experience. If a candidate ran a business, it is studied whether or not the business was successful. A lawyer has other factors on which they are judged.
Since Krishna grew up in Vrindavana, part of His childhood duties was tending to the calves. He was a cowherd. In adulthood He moved back to Mathura, eventually shifting to Dvaraka. There He was the king. Thus His actual occupation wasn’t clear. Again this criticism from Shishupala is really praise. The Supreme Lord is never to be judged on occupation. He can do the work of the entire world without effort.
5. Acts outside of Vedic injunctions
Krishna became known as Ranchor when He and Balarama fled the battlefield against Jarasandha. This is easy to criticize, but in the larger picture we see that Krishna had already defeated the aggressor Jarasandha so many times.
As a child Krishna stole butter from the homes of the neighbors. He danced in the forest under the bright, full moon with the gopis, the cowherd women. Krishna urged the people of the town to skip the annual worship in honor of Indra, the king of heaven. Worship was directed to Govardhana Hill instead.
Shishupala was indeed accurate when he said that Krishna acted outside of Vedic injunctions. Again, this is high praise, as it proves that the Supreme Lord is always above the rules. The rules are there to help the souls in illusion find their way out, to return again to the shelter of devotional service.
Krishna did not mind these insults, but others in the assembly were ready to fight Shishupala over them. The Supreme Lord quelled the tension by releasing His sudarshana-chakra. That beautiful disc severed the head of the jealous Shishupala, who got the benediction of liberation since he died directly at the hands of God.
Idea of Krishna for Agrapuja made,
Highest honor in Rajasuya sacrifice paid.
Well with Shishupala didn’t sit,
Hurled insult after insult not to quit.
That Lord of caste and occupation not known,
Against Vedic injunctions, acting in ways His own.
Inadvertently that criticism stringing,
Garland of glories of Krishna singing.