On 5 Sep 2015, which happened to be Krishna Janmashtami, a facebook page (Indian Quotes) shared an image of Krishna stealing the clothes of Gopikas with the text that read, “What if you were one of these women?”. The image was accompanied by a note which read:
“Many educated women while celebrating the story of Lord Krishna promote a playful notion of Lord Krishna’s act of stealing the clothes of young women taking bath in a river.
Now imagine you are a woman. Will you still call it ‘Krishna-Leela’ if someone steals your clothes when you are taking bath, make you stand naked in a field and make you beg him for the clothes to be returned ?
We are what we teach our children. Teach ‘Krishna Leela’ from the women’s point of view and tell your children that stripping a woman without her consent is equivalent to sexual harassment. Our children will grow up to be better than what we worship.”
My friend Priyanka Sharma had shared this image-text from the Indian Quotes page on her timeline. Here I am reproducing a slice of the conversation that took place between Priyanka and me after she shared the image-text.
Samvartha ‘Sahil’: As a non-believer let me respond to you sharing a photo/ post from ‘Indian Quotes’ about Krishna and his act of stealing clothes. Mahabharata, Ramayana are oral tales and they were constructed much before they were written down under the name of Vyasa and Valmiki. The chances of these texts having tribal origin is high. In tribal communities nudity is not seen as ‘shame’ and men and women bathe in the same river and are not ashamed to take their clothes off in the presence of each other. In such a scenario ‘stealing’ of clothes becomes ‘playfulness’ and not ‘sexual harassment’ it appears to me. Or am I giving too much margin? Correct me if I am wrong to believe that texts of a different age and whose origins are from a different culture (way of life) cannot be looked through the modern lens which is ideologically heavy. Mahabharata sees the act of Draupadi being stripped as ‘wrong’. But is not seeing this as ‘wrong’. It is not as simplistic as we would like to believe that Draupadi is being disrobed by a Kaurava where as this is Krishna. The texts are more complicated than we read them through our modern lens. I may be wrong Priyanka. But this is what I felt.
Priyanka Sharma: Thanks for sharing this. Certainly adds to my knowledge. You might be very right here, but the thing is these myths and tales get too decide our morality till now. I mean, if this is playfulness, which is fine by me, then what about Krishna having 16000( or a similar big number) wives is disturbing. The explanation that i have heard was that, since he was the biggest, powerful( for lack of better words) of Vishnu than Rama and he got 16000 women hence, does not leave me with any respect for these stories and their men.
Samvartha ‘Sahil’: Mythologies mostly operate on metaphors, as I see. At least my reading of mythologies says so. It demands a different framework to read, it appears to me. And come on, 16,000 women as wives is practically impossible. It is said that the entire of Mathura was in love with him and considered heart in heart that they were wives of Krishna. To this day in some of the tribes in Karnataka (mysore region) the women wear two mangal-sootras (obviously not the brahminical ones) and even when their husband dies they take off only one of those mangal-sootras. The other is for Krishna. They believe they are married to Krishna and the husband of the world is only a mortal husband but the immortal husband is Krishna and so even when their husband die they do not consider themselves as widows. Krishna is alive and they are wives of Krishna
Priyanka Sharma: It is a mythical creature we are talking about, everything is possible. We did have some 16000 wives, some principle wives, Rohini, Rukamini were few of them 🙂
Samvartha ‘Sahil’: If the tribal women who consider themselves to be married to Krishna are counted then the count will be more than 16,000. What if such a community has written the life of Krishna? Then obviously it will said, by them, that Krishna had/s 16,000 wives where 16,000 is a round figure and not a solid count of census.
Priyanka Sharma: Apart from these women, Krishna himself married so many women four to eight, I am not sure. How good is that? Also, if women considered themselves married to Krishna then, the number 16000 why just this? They could have just said women considered him as a husband…where does this number come from?
Samvartha ‘Sahil’: Its just a random number. Like Gulzar says, “ek sau solah chaand ki raatein.” What is important to him is not the number but the fact that someone kept a count of that. Similarly what could have been the case with Krishna is that they wanted to say he had many wives and came up with a random number 16000. They could have said “many consider themselves as their wives” but we have to understand that they are CONSIDERING themselves as his wife is looking from outside. To them they ARE his wives. I am not even trying to say that mythologies are egalitarian by nature. There are objectionable things in mythologies too. But in my reading, as a skeptic, I have never felt that mythology endorses anything. It is like a ‘mirror’ and ‘light’ which reflects what is happening in the world and throws light on the unseen aspects of human nature. For mythology (to me mythologies are not at all religious) human nature is more important and the possibilities of it (good or bad) and mythologies are not all texts of ‘dharma’ (in terms of how to lead a good life and what is right and what is wrong).
Priyanka Sharma: I agree to almost everything you just said. As far my knowledge goes, the gods brahma, vishnu and mahesh, shiva is the one with tribal attributes.
Samvartha ‘Sahil’: Read Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya’s magnum-opus Lokayata. There is a chapter on Ganesha. On how its a symbol of a tribal group with an elephant totem’s victory over a tribal group having mice as its totem smile
Priyanka Sharma: Will do. But Ganesha is shiva’s son, hence the tribal lineage. But Vishnu, of whom Krishna is an incarnation has not been associated with tribal culture.
Samvartha ‘Sahil’: Of the first five avataars of Vishnu four avataars – matsya, koorma, varaaha, narasimha– are animistic. Does that say something? Buddha is not an avataar but has been incorporated into the dashaavataar. Could the first four also have been the same? To be honest Rama and Krishna do not even come across as some divine creatures ya Rama is such a weak and trrible person in Ramayana unlike the way these people picture him with broad chest and like a warrior with bow and arrow!!
Priyanka Sharma: Anyway, all these stories, tribal or not, don’t have the women’s perspective I think. So perhaps we’ll never know what Krishna did was right or wrong, maybe.
[Special thanks to Priyanka Sharma]