“Religiofication” as Eric Hoffer defined it, was all about turning practical purposes into holy causes. As noted, this leads to the politicization of religion and the religiofication of politics.
Krishna, it was who probably, replaced animal fat with dairy fat – and his love of butter was an indicator of this change. Krishna’s jumping into the polluted Yamuna, to get his ball, and the killing of Kaaliya nag, is how he cleaned the Yamuna – by transforming a kill-and-eat food system to grow-and-eat system.
Thus Krishna’s contribution in politics, ethics, combat-and-warcraft, transportation, animal husbandry, agriculture have never been duplicated in history.
Krishna’s two most famous killings were Kamsa and Jarasanda. Both these rulers were prolific ‘imprisoners’. Krishna killed both of them – and Narakasura. All three have been mentioned as rulers who imprisoned people.
Here is an interesting review of literature and treatment of Krishna in India – over the centuries. The narrative below misses out many such points – but remains a powerful study of the forgotten colossus – the political Krishna.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote Krishna-Charitra in 1886. Since then, more than a century has gone by. This work of Bankim, one of the finest in Bengali literature, has remained within the confines of Bengali, totally unknown to the vast readership of the country as well as of the world. Bankim brought Krishna out from a maze of confusion and misinterpretations created by myriads of interpolations and inexactitudes propagated by many ill-informed and little-informed Western writers. He had the gigantic task of separating the grain from the chaff in his quest for the historicity of Krishna and, in that process, to some extent, that of the Mahabharata.
Bankim’s was the first attempt to establish the historicity of Krishna and consequently of that portion of the Mahabharata that deals with Krishna. In the process we find that Krishna emerges as a supreme human being with all the desirable human qualities in all their resplendence, and not as a God churning out miracle after miracle from his divine repertoire. Bankim put forward Krishna as an ideal before the nation to be emulated, to be followed as a ideal man and not to be worshipped as a god who remains a Utopian dream forever.
Bankim was a pioneer, a pathfinder who limited his study only to Krishna, basing his research entirely on cold logic and scientific analysis. He destroyed some extremely popular myths which had found their way into the socio-cultural milieu of the entire country, namely the miraculous slaying of Kamsa, Jarasandha, Sishupala, Jayadratha and Drona. He established them as a simple matter of normal battle, bereft of any divine interference of godly prowess or base political machination.
Bankim began to write Krishna-Charitra as a skeptic but by the time he reached the end he had become a devotee of Krishna, an ardent believer in Krishna as God.
Bankim identified the decadent ‘Babus’ in Kamalakanter Daptar, Muchiram Gur etc., lashed at them viciously and resurrected Krishna from confusion, misinterpretation and intellectual oblivion to put him up before them as an idea who must be followed, emulated, as an ideal around whom they should mould their own personalities. Like the proverbial phoenix, must arise a generation of rejuvenated youth, conscious of their responsibility in a subject country, led by the hand of the Krishna he had created. Bankim provided Krishna. We have seen the excellent impact of it in the history of our Independence.
Why did Bankim choose Krishna and not Rama, the other epic hero who could do no wrong’ the maryada purushottama considered the ideal human being throughout the length and breadth of the country? There is a reason. Bankim was mainly concerned with Bengal. He was a part of the Bengal Renaissance and his target population was the Bengali. He wrote in Bengali for the Bengali reader and Rama is not the popular deity in Bengal. It is Krishna throughout. Therefore, he decided to deal with the character of Krishna. He knew that he could get the attention of the common Bengali only if he wrote Krishna-Charitra and not Rama-Charitra. But he found the Krishna of Chaitanya, the Krishna of the brilliant Vaishnava poets Jayadev, Vidyapati, Chandidas etc., the Krishna of the Bhakti cult, a romantic, erotic and rather soppy Krishna who went about gallivanting in the groves of Vrindavana along with Radha, Chandravali and other gopis, playing his irresistible flute. The whole of Bengal was drowned in the worship of this Krishna.
Instead of the emotionalism of the lyric poet, he brought out the toughness of the epic poet. He attempted to replace the erotic Krishna of the Bhagavata, Harivamsa, Chaitanya and the Vaishnava poets by the tremendously powerful personality of the epic, totally divested of his godhood, and involved in nation building, shifting power centers, politics, diplomacy, using peace and war according to requirement’ in short, using his overpowering but human wisdom and intelligence in the struggle for supremacy, resulting finally in the establishment of truth over falsehood, of good over evil, and of right over wrong. Here we find a Krishna bathed in the brutality and complexity of real-life struggle who is far removed from the flute-wielding romantic totally immersed in inane activities like hallisha krida. We find a strategist, a diplomat and a warrior, instead of a lover, a stealer of women’s hearts and butter and cheese.
The tremendous political acumen of Krishna is highlighted in the way he used all the four principles of Dandaniti to destroy the malignant power centers, create new alliances that emerged as counter balances to the existing power structure and use diplomacy to bolster the Yadava interest. He used war and peace, he used marriages and he used his basic superior intelligence for this one purpose. Consequently, the Yadavas accepted him as their supreme commander. It took some time. It also took some effort. But in the final analysis, he emerged as the leader whose judgement and veracity could not be disputed. His political acumen combined with his sharp intellect, personal courage and physical prowess established him as a major force. The contemporary powers came to regard the Yadavas under Krishna with respect and fear. It has not been spelt out clearly anywhere in the Mahabharata but his guiding principle must have been the establishment of a Yadava hegemony on the political map of northern India. Every evidence seems to indicate that. To understand his plans and actions clearly, the political situation of the country at the time of Krishna must be visualized.
The prevalent political situation has its roots in Yayati’s lust. He gave the kingdom of Pratisthana (later shifted to Hastinapura by Hasti and his son Vaikunthan) to his youngest son Puru, depriving his other sons, Yadu, Turvasu, Druhyu and Anu. Consequently, they established themselves elsewhere in the country. For the purpose of our discussion, we shall ignore the others as they are not relevant and concentrate in the progeny of only Yadu and Puru, i.e. the Yadavas and the Pauravas.
Between Yayati and Yudhisthira and Krishna, there are twenty-six generations. Much naturally happened during these years. We find a sort of internal conflict within the Paurava and Yadava clans and also existence of bad blood between the Yadavas and Pauravas. These naturally had developed and distanced the clans and sub-clans over a period covering these twenty-six generations. The main Paurava line continued at Hastinapura. We find Dhritarastra ruling a very powerful political assemblage that included such stalwarts as Bhishma, Drona, Kripa, Kama, Ashvatthama, Vidura and Sakuni.
Another line of the Pauravas left Hastinapura (or were made to leave) and conquered Chedi from the Yadavas. This was another reason for the Yadava-Paurava enmity that began with the ouster of Yadu. Later, of course, this line re-established the Yadavas at Chedi and moved on to establish their sway in Magadha. We find one of the finest statesmen of the time, ruling at Magadha was Jarasandha, who easily was superior to any contemporary, including Krishna, in might, diplomacy and power. He even managed to alienate the Southern Yadavas from the mainline Yadavas of Mathura and bring them inseparably under his tutelage. This Paurava line became supremely antagonistic towards the Mathura Yadavas after the slaying of Kamsa. Jarasandha vowed to annihilate them totally.
The third Paurava line went and established themselves at Panchala (around Badaun, Bareilly etc.), and were known as the Panchalas. There was bitter enmity between these relations and neighbours which even the gap of generations could not dilute. In fact it went on increasing, finally culminating in the Kuru-Panchala War.
The Yadavas spread all over. The mainline Yadavas remained in and around Mathura. Other lines went to Dvaraka, Mahismati, Vidarbha. Chedi, Avanti, Dasharna, even up to Mysore. The entire Paurava kingdom practically was surrounded by the Yadavas. But though the Yadavas were a large clan, there was no cohesion among them. There was a lot of conflict within the Mathura Yadavas, mainly due to Kamsa who became king after imprisoning his father Ugrasena. There was no peace due to the power struggle between Andhakas, Shinis, Sattvatas, Vrishnis etc. The southern Yadavas were not friendly towards the Mathura Yadavas. Even though two of Vasudeva’s sisters were married to the kings of Karusha Chedi, they remained firmly on the side of Jarasandha who took advantage of the situation. He married his daughters to Kamsa, supported him in his ascendancy and brought Mathura too under his control. In this way, it was Jarasandha who controlled the entire Yadava clan for some time. Even when Jarasandha attacked the Mathura Yadavas, Vidarbha, Chedi, Dasharna, Avanti, Karusha etc. joined his imperial forces.
Besides these warring relatives, there were other power centers in the country. The most important were the Matsyas of Virata (Jaipur of today) who played a vital role in shaping the course of history of the time, Salva of Sauva (Punjab) and Paudrak Vasudeva of Anga, Pundravardhana etc. Also, there were Gonanda of Kashmir, Subala of Gandhara, etc. These were all friendly towards Jarasandha and joined the imperial forces in their campaign against Mathura.
This, in very short, was the political situation of northern India when Krishna appeared on the scene with his heroic abilities, superior intellect and tremendous political foresight. He, having been thrown into the situation, was quite clear in his objective. He had to retrieve the Yadavas from the political quagmire into which they had fallen and slowly re-establish them as the supreme power in North India to take their rightful place as the heirs of Yayati by replacing the usurpers, the Pauravas. His course of action was also clear to him. He had to bring back unity among the belligerent Yadavas. He achieved this which a master’stroke of diplomacy, a combination of brain and brawn. He slew Kamsa and his henchmen but did not assume power himself. Neither did he put Vasudeva, his father, on the throne. Instead, he brought back Ugrasena, Kamsa’s hapless father and set him on the throne. This endeared him to all the Yadavas, irrespective of clans, including Kamsa’s supporters. Then, when Jarasandha attacked to avenge the death of his son-in-law, he kindled the Yadavas with the spirit of patriotism and provided inimitable leadership in the defence of Mathura. It is a remarkable achievement of Krishna that he was able to defend Mathura with a handful of Yadavas against the colossal imperial army that included practically all the major powers of India, namely, Salva, Gonanda of Kashmir, Chedi, Bhishmaka, Virata and of course Duryodhana and his brothers. This imperial force was thwarted time and again not only by Krishna’s personal courage and prowess, but also by the leadership provided by him. All the Yadavas stood by him as one. By the time he retreated to Dvaraka in the face of the superior forces of Jarasandha, he had achieved his goal. The entire Yadava clan, the Bhojas, Vrishnis, Andhakas, Shinis, Kukuras, Sattvatas etc. swore by him and looked up to him as their natural leader in all matters of importance. Every future incident reconfirmed his position as leader and the bond of the Yadava brotherhood went from strength to strength. The path was not free of obstacles. Nevertheless, he achieved what he wanted-unity among the Yadavas. He did not succeed in bringing the southern Yadavas immediately into his fold. But by this time, the Mathura-Dvaraka Yadavas had already emerged as a major force, feared even by Hastinapura.
Having united the Yadavas, Krishna found it necessary to consolidate. Though powerful, the Yadavas were politically isolated and had powerful enemies. So, he needed political alliances, which would help him in containing or removing the enemies. His main adversary was Jarasandha and his allies. He realised that only after destroying him, could he turn his attention to Hastinapura, his final goal. That Duryodhana joined Jarasandha in the siege of Mathura, must have weighed with him considerably in his antipathy towards the Pauravas. But, first of all, the alliances.
Krishna saw that to destroy Jarasandha, he had to use the Pauravas, the other most powerful nation. For that, he needed to make an inroad into them. Luck was with him. He found the Pandavas. There were three distinct reasons why the Pandavas must be chosen as allies. First, they were individually extremely gifted, not only in the art of warfare but also in the qualities of head and heart. Most important, they too were isolated, without much political support and constantly persecuted and hunted by their kinsmen of Hastinapura. They needed help. Secondly, they were matrimonially linked with the Panchalas, the biggest hardcore enemies of Hastinapura. That too suited him very well. Thirdly, the Pandavas were his natural allies, being his first cousins, through their mother Kunti who was the sister of his father Vasudeva. Providence was therefore with him. He needed the Pandava-Panchala alliance and they needed the power of the Yadavas at their back. He therefore extended the hand of friendship which was gratefully accepted. He chose for his friend Arjuna, who he saw was the most versatile, balanced and capable among the five. Arjuna was certainly the kingpin in this alliance and he needed cultivating. He did it with such consummate grace and finesse that Arjuna could nor even think without Krishna and was always willing to do what was pleasing to Krishna. So, what began as a political need ended up as a deep emotional involvement for both. This attitude of Arjuna had far-reaching effects. It was not for nothing that Arjuna’s grandson inherited the empire. Krishna ensured it with a Yadava angle to it. It was a dubious Paurava inheritance with a strong Yadava flavor. He conceived a plan the moment he saw the Pandavas and nurtured it fondly, always progressing steadily towards the fructification of his ultimate plan.
Krishna used another traditional diplomatic instrument, matrimony, for securing political alliances. His grandfather and father used it, with only limited success. Pritha, Vasudeva’s sister, was married to Pandu who did not live long. So this alliance did not produce the expected results, except, that it provided Krishna with the invincible Pandavas and, through them, with a strong foothold in the Hastinapura sphere of influence. Two other sisters were married to the Yadavas of Chedi and Karusha. These were not successful at all as, in spite of these marriages, Chedi and Karusha remained firmly in alliance with Jarasandha. However, there was another powerful Yadava kingdom in the neighborhood of Chedi. which also was an ally of Jarasandha. This was Bhishmaka of Vidarbha and his son Rukmi. Bhishmaka was also very friendly with Sishupala of Chedi and had planned to marry Rukmini, his daughter, with Sishupala. Krishna wanted to rectify the situation and win the powerful Yadavas of Vidarbha to his side. He abducted and married Rukmini hoping that this marriage would unite the Vidarbhas with the Mathura-Dvaraka Yadavas, but this effort failed. Vidarbha was incensed with the abduction and was driven more firmly to Jarasandha. This also enraged Sishpuala of Chedi, who was already a sworn enemy of his cousin Krishna. In the end of course, we find that Rukmi came to join the Pandava forces on the eve of the war, with an expressed desire ‘to do something pleasing to Krishna.’ But how much of it was political expediency (since the Krishna of now was a much more powerful person than the Krishna of yore) and how much of it was his genuine feeling for a brother-in-law, is a matter of conjecture. But it did not matter any more. Neither Krishna, nor the Pandavas needed him.
When Krishna realised that he would have to base his activities solely on this Pandava-Panchala alliance he strove to make it more lasting and powerful. He wanted to bring the Yadavas too into this alliance. And this he decided would be done through Arjuna. He arranged the marriage of his sister Subhadra with Arjuna which was most unusual, as Arjuna and Subhadra were first cousins. Unusual but politically very useful. Also this marriage brought the Yadavas into the Panchala-Pandava alliance firmly. This marriage therefore he nurtured fondly. He brought up Abhimanyu and trained him to be the equal of Arjuna and himself. Such allegiance was not paid to the sons of Draupadi, which is significant. The new alliance becomes powerful but not enough. Now Abhimanyu had to be married. Opportunity presented itself in the form of the Matsya Princess, Uttara. Why did Arjuna prefer Abhimanyu and not any of the sons of Draupadi who were equally available and marriageable? Perhaps, Krishna’s farsightedness and well-laid plains bore fruit now. Arjuna was never in love with Draupadi. His beloved was Subhadra whom he married out of love. So, it was not surprising that he considered Subhadra and Abhimanyu to be his family. Draupadi after all was not his alone. She was more of a political entity, a matter of convenience. Also, Abhimanyu was the rephew of Krishna, Arjuna’s friend, philosopher and guide. Arjuna would always do what pleased Krishna. Who else could he choose except Abhimanyu? This marriage further confirmed the Yadava claim on Hastinapura’s throne, because Abhimanyu’s son Parikshit would be the king of Hastinapura later. And Abhimanyu or Parikshit were more Yadavas than Pauravas. Abhimanyu’s mother and grandmother were Yadavas. His father was not strictly a Paurava. Both Arjuna and Pandu did not have any Paurava blood in them. Both were ‘kshetrajna’ sons of their family.
The political outcome of this marriage was an invincible alliance of Paurava-Panchala-Yadava-Matsya which the marriage of one of Draupadi’s sons could not have brought about effectively. It brought the Yadavas into direct contact with the Matsyas. This axis very conclusively set up a balance of power which more or less neutralised the immense authority of the Hastinapura monolith.
In all this power game, what is bewildering is the marriage between Krishna’s son Samba and Duryodhana’s daughter Lakshmana. It is true that Krishna did not know anything about it. It was Balarama who went and rescued Samba and Lakshmana from the clutches of Duryodhana who had forcibly detained Samba for his misadventure of marrying aud trying to abduct Lakshmana. This is intriguing. Did the marriage please Krishna? Or was he enraged? Did it add to his negative feelings towards Duryodhana for imprisoning his son or was he happy on being presented with another, possibly useful, alliance? However, this marriage did not in any way affect the course of history, nor does it throw any light on the character of Krishna.
All through these happenings on the matrimonial front, Krishna kept himself busy, with eliminating those malignant powers that were irretrievably inimical towards the Yadava cause. No amount of diplomacy would have helped. Some he removed himself, others he tackled with the help of the Pandavas. He systematically destroyed Kamsa, Kalyavana, Hamsa Dimbaka and Sauvaraj Salva. Then he saw that unless Jarasandha was eliminated, the Magadha confederacy, the most powerful one at the time, could not be broken. He also knew that there was no power in the country that could take on the Magadha confederacy in direct conflict. Nor could he handle it alone. So he took recourse to stratagem and, with the help of Bhima and Arjuna, slew Jarasandha. Then he went on to destroy Sishupala of Chedi, Paundraka Vasudeva of Pundravardhana and other minor adversaries to clear the stage for the final holocaust which he knew must come. The Magadha confederacy was completely defused. He had realized that if all these people came to help the Kauravas, nothing could save the Pandava alliance.
An interesting gambit, which was often employed by Krishna, also bought him considerable allegiance from the erstwhile enemies. He never usurped the territory of the vanquished. He established their surviving relatives or the throne and returned the territory. He made Ugrasena, father of Kamsa, the king of the Yadavas. He gave the empire of Jarasandha to his son Sahadeva. He made Dhrislaketu the king of Chedi after his father Sishupala was slain. These kings gave their loyalty to Krishna out of gratitude for his magnanimity. Consequently we find them at the side of the Pandavas during the War. Kalhana tells us that Krishna placed one of the female relatives of Gonanda on the throne of Kashmir. He was a kingmaker and not a king. And in the history of mankind we have seen time and again that it is the kingmaker who wields real power, never the king thus made.
Therefore, Krishna succeeds in all his plans. He unites the Yadavas. He removes the enemies. He makes the Yadavas very powerful through various alliances. He uses marriage effectively for the purpose. And for the final battle, he sets up a powerful axis of Yadava-Panchala-Pandava-Matsya aided by his grateful proteges against the Hastinapura allies. All the time, the Pandava interest is never lost sight of. When suddenly, at the end of the War, Abhimanyu’s unborn son was also killed (which eventuality even he had not foreseen), he resurrected him so that he could become king. Why did he do it? Why not one of Draupadi’s sons who also had died on the same night? The tragedy of Draupadi was that nobody really cared for her. She was a queen, she was a wife and she was a woman with very feminine emotions and frailities. This Draupadi was always ignored. She was a piece on the political chess-board of the time, to be used at convenience. Arjuna preferred Abhimanyu to her sons, because he was Subhadra’s son and Krishna’s nephew. Krishna preferred him because he was Subhadra’s son and more or less a Yadava. For the same reason, he resurrected Parikshit. Draupadi’s sons were not Yadava relations and for Krishna it was necessary that a Yadava relation survived to rule Hastinapura. It was a political necessity for him. He was all for Draupadi. But whenever there was any clash of interest between Draupadi and Subhadra, he invariably chose Subhadra’s cause, because the Yadava interest coincided with that of Subhadra, not Draupadi. For Krishna, blood was always thicker than water. Therefore, it was Subhadra and her progeny who must survive to carry on a Yadava history (even if it is in the guise of a Paurava history).
The blood and water theory seems to be apposite when we consider an aspect of the Mahabharata which is not much talked about. Why did the Yadavas refrain from joining the War? Why did no one question them on this? Again it was Krishna. Krishna offered only himself without arms, and an akshauhini of Narayani Sena (probably mercenaries) who were as powerful as he was (mere sales talk, no doubt, but enough to fool Duryodhana). That is all. Satyaki joined the Pandavas out of friendship with Arjuna and Hardikya Kritavarma joined the Kauravas, out of an old enmity with Krishna, And, most surprisingly, at the end of the War when everyone died, the only survivors, besides the Pandavas, were Satyaki and Kritavarma. Krishna, one feels, prevented the Yadavas from annihilation by keeping them away. Out of all the nations, only the Yadavas survived to be supreme and to be the rulers of the earth. It was an unparalleled master-stroke which may not be a appreciated but was in total consonance with his policy of establishing a Yadava hegemony.
At the end of it all when all the dust settles down on Kurukshetra, when the earth has drained the blood of eighteen akshauhinis and is ready once again to pick up the reins of life after bathing in death, we find the Yadavas at the helm of affairs. And a little later, we find Subhadra’s grandson Parikshit on the throne of Hastinapura and Krishna’s grandson, Vajra, on the throne of Indraprastha that was founded by the Pandavas on the site of Yayati’s ancient capital. The wheel had indeed turned full circle. Yayati created a rift between Puru and Yadu by throwing out Yadu. His successor, after 26 generations, brought the Yadavas back into power in the land of their ancestors. If one is a little more gracious to Krishna, one can of course say that he brought the progeny of two brothers, who had fallen out, once again together in Parikshit who was both a Paurava as well as a Yadava.
Power brings decadence and decadence destroys a race. The Yadavas were no exception to this rule. They destroyed each other before the grieving eyes of Krishna. He had made them powerful, saved them from the war and brought them so far. But he could not save them from themselves. This was the peculiar tragedy of Krishna. Nevertheless, he succeeded in placing the Paurava-Yadava Parikshit on the throne of Hastinapura. This is where he won.
Bankim perhaps did not get an opportunity to place this aspect of Krishna-Charitraon record. He did not give Krishna the credit for being a supreme leader of men, a diplomat of indisputable caliber and unrivalled political far sight. Bankim failed to place Krishna in the political geography of the country and to underline his political acumen in bringing about a completely new political set’up. Bankim missed this master statesman, but then, as he himself has said, Krishna is an ideal person in every field of human activity. Therefore, we have no difficulty in including Krishna’s political excellence within Bankim’s comprehensive definition.
via Bankim’s Krishna-Charita by Maj. Gen. Shekhar Sen.
In the rest of the world, religion was politicized and politics underwent religiofication. But India with the tradition of भारत-तंत्र Bharat-tantra stopped at deification of political figures.
Outside India, even Gautama Buddha, a huge political reformer, in post-Saraswati India, was deified – while in India he was revered as a teacher.
Piercing this mist of religiofication, will be the biggest challenge that Indians face.