The Celestial Lover
By Nandini Sen (India)
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Ecstasy overcame Bhoomi every time she looked at the image of her Lord. Dolefulness would give way to delight and petulance to pleasure each time she allowed her eyes to feast upon the image of her Lord and master. Nothing seemed to matter anymore and everything, including her own existence, ceased to matter when she joined her palms in reverence before her Lord. His perpetual smile was all the reassurance that Bhoomi needed to continue the devotion and worship.
But that was about all that her poor Lord could really do. Her Lord was just an idol after all. An exceedingly handsome idol with doe-like eyes and scarlet lips; an idol adorned with jewelry… an idol resplendent in its yellow robe and crown made of peacock feathers.
Bhoomi’s Lord was none other than the ruler of the Three Worlds, Lord Krishna.
However, there is no dearth of devotion in our little world. Gods and Goddesses occupy plenty of space and importance in our petty lives. We carry their crumpled pictures in our wallets, they are seen frequently on our indispensable electronic gadgets as wallpapers and screensavers, we always respect the ‘God-fearing’ and seldom the atheists, and who can forget that revered corner in our homes for idols and images where shoes and skeptics are not welcome. We feast in their names and we fast in their names. Without their blessings we do not begin journeys and tasks. We believe that the Gods predetermine our marriages. A few fortunate souls even dream of the Gods by night.
In other words, we love the Gods. Not most of the time though. We love the Gods only when convenience and opportunity, our bosom friends, or affliction, our enemy, gives us the chance to love the Gods.
When suffering does not plague us and there is convenience, our love for the Gods assumes a mild form. We visit holy places, pray, thank the Gods, ask for forgiveness and scurry out of that mental state.
But when affliction strikes, most of us become zealous devotees who pray fervently, chant incessantly, fast copiously. Many of us grow charitable and benign overnight; for such beings devotion becomes synonymous with donation during misery. So strong grows our love for God then that we forget how badly or well we’ve fared in the field of deeds. So dire becomes our need to seek Gods’ blessings that all we think of are ways to please the Gods and seek their precious blessings.
And when there are no thorns we have to tread upon, contentedly we go on with our lives sparing only an occasional thought for the Gods.
However when the inevitable affliction of old age strikes, our love for the Gods permanently increases. We pray and worship diligently, fear God a lot, threaten youngsters to believe in Him or face his terrible wrath and plead with him to take us away at the slightest hint of trouble.
Therefore for most of us its really circumstances, the element of surprise in our lives, that determine the quality and quantity of our love for the Gods.
Such is the kind of devotion we have no dearth of.
But Bhoomi’s devotion was of another breed and nature altogether. She did not love Lord Krishna on her own terms. She did not need changing circumstances or convenience as reasons to be lost in the love of her Lord. She stood steady and unwavering in the path of her devotion. Everything she did, she did for Lord Krishna.
She seldom went about her daily chores without His name on her lips and never let a day pass by without worshipping Him. Everyday, after an early morning bath, she would offer Him a sweet or a fruit and only then put the first morsel of food in her mouth. The next day, the fruit or sweet that had been offered to the Lord would be given to some passing urchin or beggar.
Bhoomi visited His temple every week, but in her heart, His worship was constantly going on. She also made sure she had the chance and time to worship her Lord for a couple of hours in the day and in the evening. Lovingly, she would offer him flowers everyday, sing devotional songs and pray sincerely in the course of her worship. Her prayers would be imbued with praises for Him; rarely did she desire anything for herself.
In the evenings she would listen to and hum along devotional songs on Lord Krishna, light incense sticks, pray, and blow the conch-shell to signify the end of her evening prayers.
She also chanted His name many times in the day. Softly she would mutter under her breath-‘Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna , Hare Hare…’
Bhoomi was not a Vaishnavite, by virtue of her birth. She was no scholar of religious studies either. She was not familiar with the other profound philosophical treatises of Hinduism. She had not even fully read the Bhagavad-Gita.
But she knew the painful details of Lord Krishna’s legend. She was simply fascinated by the ancient myths woven around Lord Krishna; the story of the miraculous swap after His birth, His feats of strength and His wisdom on the battlefield that eventually led to the victory of the Pandavas.
Bhoomi adored Him at every stage of His life. She loved Him as an infant, as a mischievous child, as a wanton lover and as the prudent advisor of the Pandavas.
She had a good collection of books on Lord Krishna. But they were not philosophical books that elaborated on the spirit of Krishna . Rather they were mostly on legends constructed about Krishna, books on traditional folklore about Krishna that have helped in creating His conventional image in most of our psyches. The image of a lofty God on a pedestal, an immortal God without imperfections, a God who smiles unceasingly, a just God who blesses when pleased and curses when incensed.
Nonetheless, Bhoomi loved Lord Krishna truly and purely. It wasn’t for the greed of blessings or fear of His wrath that she was His devotee. She simply loved Lord Krishna for who she knew Him as, not for what he could bestow upon her or take away from her. Like a perennial fountain whose waters never ceased to gush forth, her love and faith in her Lord was sure and constant.
Bhoomi lived with her widowed mother. There were no fiscal or filial problems in the house. In fact there was not the slightest lack of anything in the house; Bhoomi’s father had left behind quite a fortune.
Bhoomi’s mother was also a devout Hindu. She attended copious spiritual discourses, visited temples almost daily and frequently organized Pujas at home. She had several girlfriends, all middle-aged and bored like her, and whenever they met without a definite plan on the day’s agenda, they sat about in close proximity to one another and became catty about absent friends. But in the vicinity of sacred spaces and holy gurus, these women were quick to change into garbs of piety and goodness they so reveled in throwing aside in unholy spaces devoid of idols and preachers.
But Bhoomi was different. Her love was different. Her devotion was different. The external world had nothing to do with it. In her own little cocoon she lived, surrounded by her profound love for Lord Krishna. Reproach or praise did nothing to change her love for Him.
And that is the very thing God is pleased with.
In a different realm, unknown to mankind dwelled Lord Krishna. Although he was omnipresent at all times, this was His true home and abode.
From here, He constantly kept an eye on us petty mortals. Our false prayers were not inaudible to Him, neither our terrible misdeeds screened from Him.
He saw it all and knew it all.
And since He knew it all, He was aware that Bhoomi did not sham devotion. She truly loved Krishna and so much that He did not want her love to remain unrequited. Men and women had come to and gone from this world for countless centuries but very few of them had left behind even a whiff of the fragrance of their devotion for the Gods. But most of them were the dead poets and saints who were now merely read about and remained mostly as flickering flames in the minds of a few people.
But not in Lord Krishna’s mind. True devotion always delighted Him and He had returned the love His devotees had harbored for Him.
Now, He wanted to return Bhoomi, his devotee’s love.
So steadfast was her love and so deep her devotion that it had melted a God’s heart to putty. Just like a mere mortal in love, Lord Krishna thought constantly of her. Among the billions of human hearts that knew Him and revered Him, He knew there was just one solitary heart that knew nothing but Him. Bhoomi’s. Her soul was not Mirabai’s. Nor Soordas’s. Yet her devotion was unmatched. Just like theirs was.
So Lord Krishna decided to pay Bhoomi a visit in order to tell her that He knew she loved Him truly and that He loved her as much. He wanted to tell her that her love for Him had vanquished him, won Him over and that He could no longer let her feel that her love was unrequited. He could no longer feign to have a heart of stone, even though mortals worshipped a Krishna made of stone, for her love made Him go weak on His knees. Her love shrouded Him like an omnipresent cloak of affection and devotion; and it was a cloak so warm and reassuring that He did not have the desire to cast it aside.
He would reciprocate her love, He had decided.
For this purpose, Lord Krishna decided to assume the form of a gentle looking young man whose innocence could conquer skepticism and disbelief. Perhaps, she would not even believe that He was Lord Krishna in flesh and blood, standing before her very own eyes. He would have to convince her then, and that would require charming words and an innocent countenance.
Lord Krishna was very excited. This was to be His first sojourn to our planet in many centuries but that was not why His heart was beating fast. This was a visit being made for the sake of love and somehow He felt that it would be a most memorable visit.
Suddenly He felt transformed into a smitten teenager who no longer knew any reason or logic; one whose whole being ached with love and desire and one who was going on a mission. On a mission to confess his love and let the feelings that plagued him day and night gush forth.
He was tongue-tied yet enthusiastic, shy yet bold and scared yet fearless.
How amazing is the power of love! Lord Krishna had fallen into it and retrogressed to human form. How pathetic and yet how wonderful!
It was a Saturday evening. After a banal day spent at home with her mother, Bhoomi decided to visit the Krishna temple in the neighborhood.
Saturday evenings were always crowded at the Krishna temple but that was hardly strong enough reason for Bhoomi to not visit her Lord.
Incense smoke, the sound of conch shell and temple rings clogged the temple atmosphere. Paradoxically, temples were always loud and distracting. Most people mumbled short prayers and sat down to stare at others while a few others simply scampered away to attend other more significant businesses. Among those who sat down, women carefully noticed other women to observe what they were wearing while young men stared at young women from the corners of their little eyes. Some young women coyly returned those stares feeling shy and flattered at the same time. Elderly people gazed at other elderly people while playful toddlers ran about the place. The timid little ones sat close to their parents, looking quite bewildered, as though trying to make sense of what was going on. Their parents looked weary and bored and glanced about the whole place frantically searching for return glances and stares, although they hardly received any. Families seldom get any attention at all; they are such a dreadfully familiar sight.
In the background, the raucous voice of the priest chanted on, “Hare Rama, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna , Hare Hare…”
Bhoomi, the true devotee, walked inside the temple at this time. She took confident strides towards the idol of her beloved. Once she was close to the idol, lovingly and longingly she looked at her Lord. After half a minute, she kneeled like a wounded soldier, continuing to gawk at the smiling Krishna before her. She then bowed in reverence before her Lord and remained in that position for quite a long time. Then she stood up, as though in a daze, with a half smile on her lips and chimed the bell. Quietly she took prashad from the priest and stepped backwards, slowly, glancing backwards once in a while, taking care not to tread upon another. She could not possibly turn her back against the Lord; so she walked backwards till she reached the exit stairs.
After that three rounds she did about the temple and started heading homewards. Hers was a short visit to the temple, but a truly meaningful one. Nothing ever distracted her; so single-minded was her devotion to the Lord. Pure, unadulterated devotion; not a drop of anything else existed in her heart.
She decided to take the short route back home. It was a little deserted but Bhoomi did not mind that. She preferred solitude. With downcast eyes she started walking on the dark, lonely road.
“Bhoomi?” A gentle voice called out.
Bhoomi turned back to see a gentle-looking youth, wearing an amiable countenance and a beautiful smile. That was about all she could see in the dark.
“Yes?” She replied, raising her eyebrows.
“I have come. Your prayers have been answered. I could contain myself no longer than this. Your love for me is indeed as vast as the sky and as deep as the fathomless sea. I do not have a heart of stone. Your love for me has won me over, my sweet maiden! You are the conqueror Bhoomi; while I am the slave!”
An awkward silence prevailed. Bhoomi listened in utter amazement.
In a tremulous voice, filled with excitement Lord Krishna continued, “For a while I was skeptical. I waited and watched to see if a fellow mortal could rob your heart and make you forget me. I waited and watched to see if your love for me would wane with the passage of time as unreciprocated love usually does but… you finally passed all tests. You have triumphed in this complex game of love. Rare is your love and unequalled your devotion! I created humans to be mortal so that their love for each other and me could linger on as immortal tales in this world. But I armed them with the most potent instrument of all- the mind. And with their devious minds, they forgot me and pursued other things, drew boundaries, waged wars, slaughtered fellow humans and merely asked for forgiveness, led squalid lives, amassed superfluous wealth, created more temptations than the ones I had created; each more ensnaring than the preceding, unraveled Nature’s secrets, tried playing God and finally died miserable deaths never sparing a thought for Me, The Creator, through their lives except in times of dilemma and convenience.”
Lord Krishna paused and sighed. The wind whistled in the background. Bhoomi stood there silently as if her feet had been fixed to the ground.
“I create humans and set them free afterwards. Like untamed horses, I let each do as he or she pleases. I know each one’s deeds, good and bad, and judge them accordingly. So when I created you, even I did not know your love for me would blossom like the loveliest flower. In times of gain or loss, you have not forgotten me, in agony or ecstasy you have not ignored me, neither in tears nor in smiles have you neglected your beloved Lord… Oh Bhoomi your love stands out in the three worlds like a glittering torch, compelling even the Gods to bask in its glory!”
Another moment of silence elapsed.
“Don’t you want to say something to your Lord?”
Bhoomi blinked rapidly. She was skeptical and terrified that this was an imposter who knew of her weakness and was playing a prank on her only to jeer at her afterwards.
“No, my dear, no. I’m no imposter, no human being who is here to play a cruel joke. I’m your Lord, your Krishna , and your beloved!
Bhoomi was taken aback. A prankster could not possibly possess the skill of mind reading so perfectly. Even if this wasn’t Lord Krishna, it was certainly not an ordinary human being, she thought.
“Are you indeed Lord Krishna?” Bhoomi stammered in a quivering voice.
Lord Krishna did not answer. He walked a few restive steps backwards, stretched out his arms and began, “Yes! I’m your Lord Krishna! The meaning of your life! Come, touch me to believe it is indeed me and not a figment of your imagination!”
Bhoomi still stood like a statue where she had been standing.
Suddenly, she was the lifeless idol and He was the loving devotee. God himself, creator of all things abominable and admirable, stood there rejected for the first time.
Another minute passed. Bhoomi did not come close to her Lord.
Lord Krishna slowly put his outstretched arms down in dismay. He looked at the ground. An insect ran along his foot. He looked up and glanced about Him and sighed. A long, deep sigh of frustration. He felt annoyed with Himself that He was God and therefore His love was not willing to believe Him or His love for her as a palpable reality that existed.
Once more He began, “What does your heart say Bhoomi? Don’t you believe me? What do you want me to prove to you? Do I have to cause a flood or a storm to establish your faith in me? Will I have to float in air to show you that I’m Lord Krishna? Tell me, please tell me, what I can do!”
Both observed silence for a while again.
Then, Bhoomi spoke up, “If you really are Lord Krishna then… what do you want from a humble mortal like myself? Why are you here, the Lord of all things, mighty and small?”
“To let you know, my dear, that the God you so devoutly worship is not just an idol made of stone but a living being with emotions, strong and mild, with a mind, that differentiates between the logical and the illogical and a heart that is overflowing with love for you!”
“What can you give me in return for all the love that I have given you?” Bhoomi said skeptically. Even cynically; almost as if trying to probe the stranger she thought was an imposter.
“This may not sound credible or possible to you but… I have come to take you, if you will come of course, to the divine realm of the celestial world to live with me!”
Bhoomi looked on. Suspicion loomed large in her eyes. But Lord Krishna understood well enough that an invitation to visit paradise for any mortal was unimaginable even in the best of their dreams! So He decided to do something that would make her believe that this was no ordinary mortal trying to deceive Bhoomi.
He levitated almost fifteen feet above the ground and remained suspended in the air for quite some time.
Flabbergasted and dumbstruck, Bhoomi finally gathered the courage to mutter, “I…I believe you. Please, come down now.”
As Lord Krishna began descending, so did Bhoomi’s image about her beloved Lord.
There, she thought of Him as a mighty God unaffected by the temptations that enticed puny humans, and here He was, as weak as a mortal, willing to bow before an ordinary girl? How ordinary and banal! She thought of Him as having a colossal heart that was imbibed with love for every living creature but His heart seemed to be so tiny that it could contain love only for her! How shameful! And He had even stooped low enough to assume human form for the sake of love… how petty and foolish! She was wrong about Him; the whole world was wrong about Him. This was no superior, splendid Lord but an ordinary God with a common mortal’s heart and a powerless mind whose sense of judgment was shrouded by something as trivial as mere love. She felt it was better to love a human who ascended to divinity in love than worship a God who descended to humanity in love.
There was silence once more. Lord Krishna knew exactly what was going on inside her mind. For the first time ever, He felt terrified of His creation. He felt He was terribly misunderstood by one and all including His greatest devotee Bhoomi. Humans worshipped His inanimate idol and probably that was all they expected Him to remain. A stoical, lofty God unmoved by human sentiments but pleased with offerings of sweets, flowers and money. They conjured Him to merely reward the pious with temporal gifts and punish the sinners by inflicting suffering upon them. In His place they imagined a harsh judge who sat on a throne and blessed and cursed and did nothing much apart from that.
And how could the great Lord possibly fall in love? He, who could never fall or stoop or bend or bow, how could He fall in love with an inferior subject of His own kingdom and retrogress to human form?
He had expected Bhoomi’s love to be different, to be more egalitarian than that. But she too, like the rest of the world, saw herself as the lowly and Him as, the grand. She could not absorb or accept that the mighty Lord she so honored could possibly come down to her level- petty, mortal level.
How perfect and wonderful it would be if He too was mortal; then she would not misunderstand Him! This was not love between two races or two species but two aliens from different worlds! And how could such love be fruitful?!
Moments of silence were buried by more moments of silence till the barrier of silence between them became so formidable that the God and the girl felt afraid to break it.
Lord Krishna could divine what Bhoomi was thinking and Bhoomi knew that He could read her mind.
She felt it was unnecessary to say anything to Him; and she felt intimidated to do so as well. She knew that He was aware His image had come tumbling and crumbling down before her mind. She did not want to wound a former beloved with reproachful words.
Both stood, face to face, without swapping a word.
After a long time, Bhoomi finally decided to go back home. Her heart felt lighter; it no longer carried the devotion it always did, for Lord Krishna. She did not hate Him either. She was just baffled about it all. She did not know if she would be able to love a Krishna whose image was warped in her mind.
Before this encounter, every pore of her being oozed love for Lord Krishna; now, her whole being seemed empty. She felt prepared for punishment, from the Lord, if any, but could not help her disappointment in His ungodly ways.
Lord Krishna did not utter another word either. He knew that it was futile to pursue the matter any further. He knew He had fallen in her eyes as a God, probably never to rise again, because Bhoomi’s beloved was a God and not a lover. He only wished He had used His powers of clairvoyance to know this was going to happen. But the love-struck seldom think, let alone think judiciously.
In a kind of stupor, Bhoomi slowly turned in the other direction and walked two steps. Then she halted and slowly turned towards the Lord again.
Her heart was stronger- it had already expelled Lord Krishna, the God, from its premises. As for her mind- it was still trying to digest what had just occurred. Yet, she could not resist harboring ambivalent thoughts at the same time.
She was feeling eager to narrate her tale to the world although it was too incredible to be believed by anyone. Still, she made a half-resolve to expose the true God- who actually was self-indulgent enough to be flattered by a human’s love and was probably too imperfect Himself to judge human beings. On the other hand, she was also feeling quite proud of her own accomplishment; after all God himself had condescended to meet her, a mere human, for the sake of her love. There must be something about her, she wondered, that turned a God into a man.
She turned and looked at Him for less than a minute.
He smiled at her.
She smiled back. She turned then towards the path in front and slowly walked away.
Turning her back against the Lord.
Lord Krishna was left standing where He had been. Solitary, speechless, jilted and heart-broken stood the ruler of the three worlds.
At once, He felt enraged at Himself for creating the malicious humans.
That was followed by feeling angry at His exalted status –the abominable status that led His beloved to spurn His love.
But the Gods are usually wise and soon Lord Krishna’s wisdom returned to Him. He knew He had learnt a significant lesson- that, for the world He had created, falling in love was an imperfect thing that only mortals could indulge in. The Gods weren’t humans and weren’t expected to behave like them either. They were superior; meant only to design indelible destinies, and pay well and penalize where necessary. No matter how much a devotee loved Him, he or she would not be able to bear reciprocation of their love from a God because it was blasphemy for a God to feel human sentiments.
And how could it be imagined that blasphemy would be committed by an entity that could never err because He was God? He was seen only as an accountant of deeds who was malevolent to the wicked and benevolent to the good, without having attachment to either.
Therefore, if He did something wrong, it would be unforgivable.
The celestial lover went back to His astral abode, a humbled but wiser God.