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The story of Krishna’s death has been told and re-told many times. In the Mausala Parva of the Mahabharata, the tale of Yadavas coming to ruin by in-fighting has been narrated in detail. It is said that they fought with clubs made of eraka grass. At the end of this book, a hunter’s stray arrow finds Krishna’s foot and kills him.
There is historical basis to the story as well. The Yadavas were known to be a hostile people, quick to reach for their weapons, so even allowing for poetic exaggerations and later interpolations, we can accept the theory that their race ended by infighting. If the story is to be believed, Krishna kills many of his countrymen with his own hands.
He is perhaps the most stoic of all Indian heroes. Throughout the Mahabharata, he comes across as someone who can be everything for everybody, and yet nothing for anybody. He’s called ‘the one who belongs to everyone and yet is attainable by no one’. He welcomes death too with the same unemotional aloofness that is typical of his character. He forgives Jara, the hunter, with magnanimity, assuring him that it was all pre-ordained. He smiled at death with the same detachment with which he lived his life.
However, after his death, after the epoch had come to an end, Krishna the playful lover-boy was re-born in Mathura in songs and poems. He became the God of the cowherds.
If we were to read the Mahabharata as a sole text, Krishna is an elusive personality. He is often heard declaring love and friendship to many, but we see him rarely mourn over any death in the Kurukshetra war. No matter what happens, the expression we most associate with Krishna is that of a knowing smile. In the end, he kills his own people, for whose welfare he has given his whole life. If there is one message that could be attributed to the Krishna of the Mahabharata, it is this: do not attach yourself to results and emotions. Perform your duty. Accept the consequences, whatever they may be.
Krishna of the Mahabharata was the ultimate Karma Yogi. The master of detachment.
Maybe this is why when people resurrected him as a God, they made him the complete opposite. He became a God with the warmest human qualities: the naughty child, the playmate of simple cowherds, and the eternal love of all the young women of India.
Historically, the story of Krishna’s childhood was written after the original Mahabharata, so this theory has merit. But maybe segregating the two Krishnas is not necessary. Is it too far-fetched to believe that a loving, naughty, emotional child grew up in his youth to become stoic, unemotional (at least openly) and stern? Maybe that is the true narrative in the Mahabharata, how life shaped a cowherd who loved nothing more than eating butter and playing the flute into the greatest hero (or villain?) of his age. Did he have to become ruthless along the way? Did he have to grow a veneer of toughness? Did he have to kill his emotions?
Sure. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe that’s just part of growing up.

Kanishtha Thapa

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