Krishna means "all-attractive" and avatar means "descent of the divine." Today is Krishna Janmastami, the birth or descent of Krishna, the god worshipped by millions of Hindus around the world. Krishna appeared on this earth, at midnight, approximately 5,000 years ago in Mathura, located in Northern India, 91 miles south of New Delhi.
Krishna is God as never seen before. He wore many hats: child, friend, servant, romantic lover, cowherd boy and killer of demons. For someone coming from a Western paradigm and even for some Hindus, Krishna can easily be passed off as a mythological figure created by a fiction writer for the purpose of entertainment.
However, hundreds of millions of people will perform severe fasts, engage in extended rituals and worship, recite extensively his activities and also the verses of the Bhagavad Gita for the purpose of remembering him and his activities on this day and throughout the year.
Krishna is the speaker of the Bhagavad Gita ("the song of God"), which is considered by many Hindus as the most prominent, referenced and commented-on scriptural text in all of India. The Gita serves as the guidebook for many Hindus and non-Hindus on how to live a life of devotion to God, while also cultivating a healthy detachment from the things of this world. In the past and even in the present, plaintiffs and defendants have sworn on the Gita in the courts of law in India.
Krishna's life has become the subject matter of textbooks in Hinduism classes in many universities and the subject of debate amongst philosophers and theologians. Those who are unfamiliar with his life and activities are befuddled by Krishna, while the devotees rejoice upon hearing and reading the wonderful stories of his life.
One of the most endearing qualities demonstrated by Krishna during his earthly manifestation was his willingness to relate to his devotees in multiple capacities. Even though he is the supreme deity according to the Gita and some of the Puranas, he always experiences great joy in the service of his devotees.
In the role of a child, he would carry the shoes of his father. Similar to Jesus washing the feet of his 12 disciples during the last supper, Krishna, with great joy, washed the feet of great saintly persons. The most prominent act of service demonstrated by Krishna was immediately after he spoke the Gita, when he drove Arjuna's chariot around like a humble chauffeur. The entire time, he obeyed, like a servant, every order of Arjuna.
These descriptions of Krishna's activities can be very difficult to comprehend, especially if one is used to the notion of God being the supreme father who is angry, jealous and eager to punish those who don't follow his law. There are descriptions that better fit Krishna: He's a poet, a singer, a dancer, he likes to serve, and all one has to do is look at a sunset, sunrise or any of the other wonders of nature and it becomes easy to understand the creative and artistic side of Krishna.
What I found especially intriguing about Krishna was the description given in an ancient Hindu text, the Brahma Samhita: "He has an eternal blissful spiritual body ... He is a person possessing the beauty of a blooming youth..." God is not an old man with a long white beard. I found this to be a very refreshing idea! If God is old, that means he falls under the influence of time and is subject to decay and possibly even death. Here he's described as an eternally youthful person beyond time and space.
It's not possible for us, with our limited and inaccurate sense perception and logic, to comprehend the nature, quality and personhood of Krishna. Hindu scriptures and sages explain that one needs to qualify oneself to understand God. Purifying one's senses, mind, consciousness and soul is the prerequisite for gaining access to this knowledge.
For example, before studying calculus, one needs to qualify one's self by studying arithmetic, algebra and geometry. Otherwise, more advanced subjects won't make any sense. Qualities of pride, envy, greed, anger and selfish desire must be purged as they cloud the ego.
Simultaneously, humility, nonviolence, forgiveness and tolerance need to be implemented into our character as they bring clarity into our lives. Without an endeavor to fulfill these prerequisites, God will only remain a theoretical concept.
Getting to know Krishna is a lot like getting to know anyone, as it requires time and commitment. Krishna explains in the Gita that he doesn't need anything nor does he want anything, but one who renders service to him becomes his friend. All-in-all, even though He's the supreme creator and the cause of all causes, he's looking to engage in a loving reciprocal relationship with those who are interested and he promises that it will be a two-way street where he's willing to do his part.