Krishna Connections
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Krishna Connections

August 20, 2022

Yesterday was Krishna Janmashtami, Lord Krishna’s birthday.

Among the Hindu Gods, Krishna, for me, is by far the most human, and that’s why I like him. He is a God of paradoxes, like us mortals.

As mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik observed, Krishna challenges all conventional notions of divinity and appropriate social conduct.

His name literally translates as ‘black’, challenging the traditional Indian discomfort with the dark complexion. He is visualised as either cowherd or charioteer, never as priest or king.

Krishna’s mother is not his real mother, his beloved is not his wife, and the women he rescues are neither his subjects nor members of his family.

His love-making is not really love-making; his war is not really war. There is always more than meets the eye. And so, only Krishna, of all the avatars, sports a smile, a mischievous, meaningful smile. There is always more than meets the eye.

Krishna embraces worldly life with its myriad sensual and spiritual complexities, rather than seeking to reject or control it.

A very ‘unreligious’ attitude for a God! And that makes him very interesting and relatable.

In these very polarised times, I have two stories related to Lord Krishna that should remind us that we can be better Indians. They are stories of how art and society benefit when there is kindness and acceptance above religion.

Painting by artist Kamal Ahmed titled Navaneetha Chora depicts Krishna -Balarama along with Gopalakas caught stealing butter by Krishna’s mother Yashoda at Nanda Gokula. This is from a series of about 50 paintings depicting various bala leelas (childhood pranks) of Krishna from Bhagavata Purana.

Salabega was the son of a Mughal Subedar in 17th century Odisha. He followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Mughal army, and during a war campaign, Salabega was severely injured.

Since his mother was a Hindu and a devotee of Lord Jagannatha, the other name for Krishna, he prayed to Lord Jagannatha. He became well and was so grateful that he went to Puri to visit the Jagannatha Temple. He was not allowed inside because he was Muslim.

Salabega was heartbroken, but he didn’t give up. Instead, Salabega expressed his thanks by composing and singing Bhajans in praise of Lord Jagannatha. He then waited to get his darshan during the Rath Yatra when the deity of Lord Jagannatha is brought out in a huge chariot allowing the public to have darshan.

The story is that, while Salabega got his darshan, he did not get entry into the Temple, so he built a hut on the Rath Yatra route to see his favourite God every year.

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One year, Salabega was out of town; he fell sick and could not make it back in time for the Yatra. He prayed to Lord Jagannatha to wait for him. After all, he gets to see him only once a year since he is not allowed into the Temple.

 Sadly, the Rath Yatra began, and as the chariot of Lord Jagannatha was being taken on the usual route, the wheels got stuck. The Yatra stopped. It happened to get stuck right in front of Salabega’s hut.

No one could figure out how to fix the problem immediately, so the chariot remained in front of Salabega’s hut. After a few days, while they were trying to fix the problem, Salabega arrived, and for the first time, he was allowed to go                                                              near the deity.

He prayed to his heart’s content and then stepped back. After a while, the chariot wheels, which were reluctant to budge, suddenly moved! 

Even today, 400 years later, the Chariot of Lord Jagannatha, one of the most celebrated Gods in the Hindu pantheon, stops for only one mortal, and that is for a Muslim man!

This is the beauty of India. Yes, modern politics makes us forget that being humane comes first.

The second story is a personal one I wrote about earlier, but it is relevant to present an abridged version on Krishna Janmashtami.

In 2020, for New Year, I got a gift. It was a beautifully wrapped slim package. The note on it said it was from R.G. Singh of Ramsons Kala Pratishtana Art Foundation.

The gift was tedious to unwrap as it had too many layers. So when R.G. Singh called to check if I had received the present and what I thought of it, I asked him if he had sent me Draupadi.

Confused, he asked me, “What do you mean?” I replied, “Because unwrapping your gift seems to be never-ending.” Finally, at wit’s end, I ripped it apart and viola! A beautiful painting of Lord Krishna playing with his friends lay before me.

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But what made this painting a great gift was not just the image of Lord Krishna but the painter whose work I always wanted but never could get — Kamal Ahmed from Gadag.

Artist Kamal Ahmed has evolved a unique style of painting that does not conform to any of the known Indian schools of painting, but they are beautiful. His life story is just as admirable as his paintings.

Kamal Ahmed

Kamal was born in a poor Muslim family in Gadag, North Karnataka. That he had six other siblings didn’t make life easy. The financial burden hindered his education until he was accepted into the Thontadarya Mutt in Gadag.

At the Mutt, he got free education and food. And it was here that he was exposed to Hindu mythology which inspired him to begin his artistic journey.

Today, he is a practising Muslim who loves painting Hindu Gods and their stories! In the case of Kamal, he likes painting, especially Bala Krishna.

Now, thanks to an open-minded Muslim family that admitted their son to a Hindu Mutt, choosing their child’s education over religion and thanks to a Mutt that saw a poor boy who needed education rather than an ideal candidate for conversion, we have art today.

Also, thanks to a non-threatening environment, a young boy absorbed the stories of a new religion without prejudice or suspicion, and today, we have an exemplary artist with a unique style.

An artist who, while performing namaz at his local mosque in Gadag, travels all the way down to Udupi to visit the Krishna Temple to feel inspired.

This painting hangs before me as a symbol of what India should be. This painting is a new addition to a painting by Mohammed Osman, also a Muslim artist from a village near Hyderabad, who too loves painting Lord Krishna but more so decorated Basava during Sankranthi.

In these turbulent times where people have become so divisive, and as we celebrate Krishna Janmashtami, let’s take hope from the stories of Salabega and Kamal Ahmed. And let’s be inspired by Mutts like Thontadarya Mutt, who chose to propagate knowledge, acceptance and kindness rather than sneakily plan conversions.

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2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Krishna Connections”

  1. Gautam says:

    No one celebrates Krishna Janmashtami better than the ISKCON. The BVB kendras around the world are simply waste of space doing nothing.
    The ISKON in England, with a sprawling HQ near London with a grand Krishna Temple, and a branch in London, distributes free lunch to the University of London, during the University working days. During Krishna Janmashtami, their free lunch consists of a fruit and a sweet item!
    While Mr Ganapathy praises Mathoor Krishnmaurthy, who in his 20+ years of living in London, did absolutely nothing to spread the Hinduism and spiritual stories related to Krishna Janmashtami and other occasions like Navarathri,; He was quoting from scripts, and all the time was more interested in ensuring that his future son-in-law for his adopted daughter came to London, studied married his daughter and then prepared him to take over from him in the BVB London Kendra-nepotism in Indian style , exported to London!
    He brushed aside any suggestion of inviting Hinduism lover like the Beatle ( the famous pop group) George Horrison, who was generous in donation to the causes of Hinduism, but was satisfied with a meagre collection of just a few thousand Pounds, enough to house the BVB London Kendra in a renovated crumbled church building in a run down area of London. It is almost a forgotten institution in England, even among the Indian diaspora.
    The Beatle George Harrison, was impressed with the work of ISKCON, and their charity of feeding the poor , particularly at the time of Krishna Janmashtami donated £20 million to them to carry on their good work. The above sprawling ISKCON centre and Krishna Temple near London is where the crowd of Indian diaspora in England go. The Swami Narayan Temple in London attracts similar crowd, and is busy in charity work.

  2. XXXX says:

    Mathoor was the wrong person for the job of director of London BVB Kendra. He had influence at the BVB HQ in Bombay, thanks to the links he cultivated with personalities like MS Subbulakshmi, who he invited to sing in the aid of BVB London Kendra construction, and the tickets income was not much. Most Indian diaspora in England were of N Indian origin, and it was foolish to invite a south Indian Carnatic musician for the recital in aid of the funds for the construction of the London BVB Kendra. The sum he got after deductions of expenses was hardly $10,000! This could have been got from a single donation from a N Indian businessman settled in England!!
    Whatever was achieved for London BVB Kendtra, it was due to its president then, Maneklal Dalal, the chief of Air India, London , and his wife an English woman, who had contacts in England. Mathoor was simply their assistant, but after arriving back in Bangalore, boasted about his achievements in London. Typical Indian mind set!
    Mathoor was not comfortable in talking in English, never understood the culture of England, not surprised too when he rejected the suggestion of inviting the Beetle George Harrison, never knew who the Beetle pop group were! He laughed when suggested about George Harrison becoming a Hindu, as Mathoor moved in a narrow circle, as his focus was always to reward his future son in law! Indeed, George Harrison became a Hindu, and his ashes were immersed in Ganga.
    If Mathoor had celebrated Krishna Janmashtami, invited ISKCON office bearers in England , George Harrison and Lata Mangeshkar to sing on the occasion, he could have got a large sum from the ticket sales and donations running into millions of Pounds ( Dollars). Inviting the British PM would have attracted many English donors. He did not.
    A wrong sort of person , typical Indian failure!
    Today ISKCON celebrates Krishna Janmashtami in style in England, sends thousands of prasadams to Hindu house holds in England. Their free lunch to London University students has attracted attention and praise. Meanwhile the London BVB Kendra sits in a cul de sac, not noticed by many, but managed by-you guessed it -Mathoor’s son in law! A great achievement!!

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