By Shivarama Swami
Challenging the intellects of great philosophers, the Supreme Lord runs in fear of His mother – and He’s not pretending.
Yashoda wiped her hands in the folds of her sari, and, creeping like a detective on the tips of her toes, she followed the path left by her son, step by buttery step.
O great sages! O demigods! O perfected devotees! Meditate upon the ruby glow of the lotus feet of the universal mother as she balances on her soft petal toes!
At the top of the stairway leading to the back garden was a latticed window. Stealthily approaching it, Yashoda peeked out, and lo and behold, in the courtyard below she saw Him whom yogis fail to see in their hearts even after many years of penance.
Standing on a large, upturned wooden mortar, His lotus eyes rolling in agitation, Krishna was silently clapping His hands to catch the attention of nearby monkeys.
“I cannot believe it,” she whispered.
Balancing on the mortar, Krishna looked like a gopa-conductor bringing monkey-musicians to attention. Yashoda watched the monkeys fearlessly approach as Krishna sat down on the mortar, crossed His chubby legs in a svastikasana, and placed the pot in His lap.
“Where did He learn to sit like a yogi?”
The wind answered, “Mother! He is the guru of all yogis.”
Seeing all the monkeys heeding Krishna’s call, she added, “But it is all for naught. He is now transformed from the prince of yogis into the king of monkeys!”
Krishna kept the monkeys in order with clicking sounds while systematically handing yogurt to one after the other. Unable to suppress her joy, Yashoda covered her mouth to keep from laughing.
“No doubt they have a natural affinity for each other.”
As He fed the monkeys, Krishna repeatedly looked to the left and to the right. His lotus eyes dancing nervously on the stage of transcendental emotion, His mind echoed the cries of His every limb:
“When is she coming? From which direction will she come?”
Krishna’s plan was to disappear.
He thought, “Yogis who worship Me in My atomic form, pervading all subtle elements, fixing their minds on that alone, attain the mystic perfection of anima.”
Yet try as He might, Krishna was unable to accomplish His desire.
Some invisible force restrained Him. Some force greater than His own kept Him from disappearing.
But what power was superior to Krishna’s mysticism?
The power of Mother Yashoda’s love!
And the wielder of that power was now tip-toeing down the palace stairs, planning to catch her thieving son unawares as He pondered how He, of all beings, had fallen from the yogic path.
* * * *
Yashoda-devi had been looking through the latticed window into the courtyard below. Eager to play the role that Fate had scripted for her, she craned her neck, turning sideways to better see without being seen. Then, slowly, with measured steps, she cautiously followed Krishna’s footprints down the stairs, halting inside the doorway to have another peek.
Krishna mistakenly sat with His back to the house, giving His mother the added advantage of sneaking up on Him. Yet the monkeys were His sentinels, and facing her, they would react to her approach.
Queen Yashoda waited for the opportune moment, and when it came, careful not to step on fallen leaves or twigs, she moved forward.
As she took her first step, excitement so stirred Yashoda’s being as to challenge her balance. However, the birds on the balcony thought that restraining her laughter was an even greater challenge still.
Taking her next step, Mother Yashoda noticed her husband’s jewelled walking stick against the wall. “He must have forgotten it in the flurry of his departure. For unprecedented mischief, unprecedented discipline is required.”
She grasped the stick.
As she did, the earth seemed to shake. What would happen to the creation and its residents if their shelter and support was beaten?
“I will not hit Him,” she thought, “but I will give Him a good scare.”
Mountains, rivers, and demigods sighed in relief.
Unable to stand by idly, a breeze asked, “What will you do when you reach your son?”
Yashoda’s heart replied, “I will catch Him. What else?”
“Do you think you can catch me?”
“Why are you causing a disturbance?”
“Because what you are undertaking may be far more difficult than you anticipate, O Queen!”
Unable to follow her order, the wind whispered softly in Krishna’s ear, “O Lord! She whom You cannot see or hear, but fear most, is near. Flee!”
Krishna spun around!
He who enchants the demigods with His monsoon-hued limbs saw Yashoda approaching. In fear He leapt to His feet. Standing atop the mortar, Krishna caught His mother’s intent gaze, and for a moment their eyes locked.
Mother Yashoda was like a yogi in trance. In the way that a mystic is fully absorbed on his Lord, she was fully fixed on her son. But unlike a yogi, the queen held a stick.
Krishna’s gaze went from hers to the cane.
He knew that punishment was inevitable,
“But a stick! Is she actually holding a stick?”
He who sees everything everywhere doubted what He now saw. To clear His vision, He blinked.
She was holding a stick.
Krishna had seen His mother raise a stick to chase monkeys and to herd cows, but never to discipline Him. He was incredulous.
“Is she really threatening Me with a stick?”
The jewels on the stick flashed in the morning sun: “O Lord! You are the supreme chastiser and I Your instrument. Yet I am helpless in the hands of Your mother. Please do not take offence.”
But Krishna had no time for pardons.
Jumping from the mortar, He was like Prahlada thrown from a cliff into an abyss unknown. But who would catch Him? How would this escapade end? How was this happening?
Landing on His chubby feet, Krishna stole another look at His mother. Was this all real?
“Is she really coming at Me with a stick?”
The wind answered, “Run! Run!”
The cane added, “If the queen can raise a stick, she can also use it.”
Krishna needed no further advice. He ran.
As Krishna ran at full speed, His newly-fitted earrings swung wildly, shooting coloured rays across His cheeks. Being in such close proximity to Him, the earrings attained a good fortune that had heretofore been Yashoda’s: the bliss of kissing His lotus face. By this blessing Krishna’s earrings would become famous as the chief of His ornaments.
Yet even this chief adornment, the kundala, failed to beautify Krishna as well as He beautified Himself, He whose divine form was, indeed, the ornament of all ornaments.
The demigods observed this fountainhead of beauty, and were enchanted. Nothing could compare to the charm of this child. They concluded that this was due to the distinctiveness of Gokula: only here could the sweetness of Krishna’s beauty be fully manifested, and only in Gokula could His extraordinary feature as a cowherd be revealed.
Fascinated, one demigod said to the other, “How extraordinary! For the crime of stealing fresh yogurt, the Supreme Lord is being threatened by a stick-wielding gopi. Moreover, He who is feared by demons and us demigods alike is running away in fear of her.”
Overhearing this conversation – similar to one that they had had earlier – the birds nodded their heads in agreement and listened to the demigods converse.
“Is He really afraid, or just running as if He were afraid?”
“Of course Krishna knows how much she loves Him; therefore He is also confident that she cannot be angry for long.”
“But is that really the case? Look at His face.”
“In this land of Gokula there is no chance of pretense for even the Supreme Lord. The law of sweetness dictates that He behaves like an ordinary child.”
“We must therefore conclude that He is full of fear.”
“Yes! Such a display of emotion may be bewildering even to the learned, but the Lord’s associates say bhaya-bhavanaya, Krishna is possessed ‘by thoughts of fear.’”
That was the demigods’ conclusion. Krishna was afraid.
In the meantime, reasoning that there would be many people on the road, Krishna ran towards the front gates. Surely the queen would not strike Him in the presence of her subjects. And even if she tried, He could hide among the crowds or find a guardian amongst them.
Once again, He who is the wisdom of the wise erred in judgement. It was Dipavali day, and almost everyone had left for the festival. The customary gathering for a royal audience was absent. Knowing this, all-wise Yashoda-devi ran after Krishna without hesitation.
Krishna was perplexed at His own conduct: “Why am I running away?”
Panting, Krishna answered His own question: “Because she holds the secret of unconditional love. And that love can control, catch, and punish Me.”
Using her superior intelligence, beautiful Yashoda applied psychological intimidation to compensate for her weariness.
“Stop! Stop You thief and liar! How dare You run from Your mother! Stop where You are and stop carrying on so!”
Yashoda’s order did not fall on deaf ears. Krishna had never disobeyed His mother. But then neither had she ever threatened Him with a stick. Slowing somewhat, but still keeping His distance, He turned to call over His shoulder, “I will stop if you drop your stick.”
“If You are afraid of punishment, then why did You break my butter churn and ransack my storehouse?”
Still looking at His mother from the corner of His eyes, Krishna’s voice wavered, “I will never do it again.”
Then, looking at the stick, He added, “Please drop the stick.”
This contest was not just between mother and son. There was a third participant: Yogamaya. And Yogamaya decided that it was time to offer oblations into the fire of Yashoda’s aspiration.
The brief respite had refreshed Yashoda, but like yogis and jnanis, she was unable to capture Him. Yet, driven by love, she continued to try! And as she did, the momentum of her movements caused her garlanded hair-knot to come undone and its flowers to fall at her feet. Trying to atone for having tattled on her, the wind made the flowers fall before and behind the queen, offering pushpanjali.
In truth the demigods had orchestrated this shower of flowers in an effort to worship the Lord’s mother. Although there was only a handful of flowers in her hair, by the demigods’ desire a continuous stream of petals softened the ground where she stepped and another stream worshipped her footprints, the most sacred of sacred places.
Although thoughts of Yashoda’s stick distressed Krishna to the extreme, He could not help but smile at the demigods’ worship. “They have done well!”
Running as fast as she could, Yashoda tried to close the distance between her and Krishna, but no matter how she tried she could not quite reach Him. Sometimes it appeared as if they were a gust of wind, sometimes that they were a blur of monsoon blue, sometimes that they were a small cloud followed by a larger cloud. Yet always they were a picture of beauty, and a treat for the eyes.
“O Mother! O sinless one! Please drop that stick. Do not punish Me with it. If you drop it, I will come to you.”
Weighing in balance His plea and her own fatigue, Yashoda made as if to throw away the stick, while actually hiding it behind her.
“I have thrown it away.”
Deceived, Krishna slowed. With Yashoda still running at full speed, the mystical arm’s distance vanished and she wrapped her right hand around His right wrist.
“Now You are caught, rascal!”
And He was!
Unattainable by the prayers of brahmanas, the speculation of jnanis, or the meditation of yogis, Krishna was now arrested by the love of Mother Yashoda.
After all, He was just a plaything in the drama of her motherly affection.
[Excerpted from Sri Damodara-janani, Chapter 4. Available at srsbooks.com. The details presented here about this well-known pastime are drawn from the commentaries of Vaishnava acharyas in the line of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.]