The Scapegoat – Part 1

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Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

Of all the avataras, the Krishnavatara is the one where the Lord afforded full play to His penchant for “leelA”. He indulged in all sorts of fun and games possible, setting a precedent for current day players. More, the little Lord made mischief His principal occupation. Lying, thievery of milk, butter and curds, pranks of every imaginable type played upon unsuspecting Gopis and others-the misdeeds of KannapirAn are indeed beyond enumeration. His mother Yasoda despaired of ever making the brat conform to socially acceptable standards of behaviour and resorted to novel modes of punishment like tying Him to the grindstone, to enforce good conduct. It is one thing to be abused by one’s detractors, but quite another to earn the opprobrium of one’s own clan. It is understandable for asurAs like Ravana, Sisupala ,Hiranyakasipu and Hiranyaksha to shower abuseon the Lord, as it is their nature (svabhAvam). However, to be berated by loving Gopis and by one’s own mother calls for misdeeds of a very high order, which were the principal occupation of Sri Krishna. Hearken to the Gopis roundly cursing the brat (upon discovering the empty and broken pot which originally contained fresh butter, churned with much labour from a cauldron of curds)-“VEyinanna tOl madavAr veNnai uNdAn ivan endru Esa nindra EmperumAn evvuL kidandAnE”. Azhwars have never been known to speak anything but in superlatives of the Lord. If they themselves speak of Sri Krishna as a black-hearted knave (“puram pOl uLLum kariyAn”) and as a lawless lout (“dharumam ariyA kurumban”), one can imagine the extent to which the Lord has been guilty of infamous conduct in this avatara.

A thief who gains notoriety for his habitual stealing gets blamed not only for his own crimes but also for all the unsolved ones happening in the locality. This is natural, for once he establishes a pattern of misdeeds, people tend to lookno farther for the culprit when there is another theft or burglary, as it is both convenient and reasonable to blame it on the known offender rather than search laboriously for a fresh criminal. Likewise, Sri Krishna too gets unjustly castigated for some mischief perpetrated long before He was born. Sri Krishna’s misdemeanours are so frequent and varied, that people take it for granted that He is behind all pranks, tricks and petty thefts of dairy products happening in NandagOkulam. Sri Yasoda is afraid of precisely such a situation and cautions the little Lord in this regard-

“PallAyiravar piLLaigaL ivvooril teemaigaL seivAr
ellAm un mEl andri pOgAdu empirAningE vArAi”

Sri Yasoda’s fears of unjust accusation attaching to her ward are proved true, when Sri Krishna gets blamed for something, which occurred thousands of years before He arrived on this earth. And, surprisingly, the person who fires this salvo is none but Sri Nammazhwar. Here is the beautiful pasuram-

“MAnEy nokki madavALai mArvil vaitthAi MadhavA!
koonE chidaya uNdai vill niratthil teritthAi GovindA!
VAnOr sOdi MaNivaNNA! MadhusoodA! nee aruLAi un
TEnE malarum tiruppAdam sErumAru vinayEnE”

Theline we are concerned with is the second one in the aforesaid pasuram-

“koonE chidaya uNdai vill niratthil teritthAi”. This refers to the Lord’s act of using a sling or catapult for propelling a missile aimed at the hunchback of Mantara, which causes her considerable pain. This was not done purposefully, but Mantara came across the line of fire and got hurt accidentally.

As everybody knows, this episode could have happened only during the Ramavatara, Mantara being the maidservant of KaikEyi. There is not even a remote connection between Mantara and Krishnavatara. And while recounting this misdeed, it would have been properon the Azhwar’s part to append the name of Rama- “koonE chidaya uNdai vill niratthil teritthAi Rama”, or if alliteration and metre were to be preserved, Azhwar could have plumped for “koonE chidaya uNdai vill niratthil teritthAi KOdandA!”. Without doing what is normally expected of him, Azhwar addresses Govindan (another beautiful sobriquet of Sri Krishna) while mentioning this misdeed, making it appear as if it is Yasoda’s brat who is responsible. As if He hasn’t suffered enough ignominy, why lay the blame for this act of His long-gone predecessor on Sri Krishna?

It would appear as though the Azhwar is unable to bring the haloed name of Sri Rama into the context, because itis impossible for him to associate the Chakkravartthi Tirumagan with any infamous act, even an accidental occurrence. And the moment Azhwar comes across any misdemeanour, he is automatically reminded of the lawless brat Krishna and attributes the catapult episode too to the much-maligned Yasodai iLam singam, more as a spontaneous reaction than due to any premeditated plan to lay the blame at the cowherd’s doorstep, rather than at that of the Ayodhya palace.

The Eedu MuppatthArAyirappadi has an interesting story to narrate here, with the remark, “teembu sEruvadu KrishnanukkE AgayAlE pOm pazhi ellAm amaNan talaiyOdE ennumA pOle avan talayil Erittu solludal”. The vyAkhyAtA says that all mischief is usually attributed to Sri Krishna, just as the Digambar (nude) monk was made to bear the blame for somebody’s death. For those who are curious, here is the story:-

A Brahmin built a compound wall at the rear of his house to keep out midnight marauders. The very day the wallwas built, even before it could dry and firm up, a thief tried to enter the compound. The wall, still wet and infirm, collapsed, killing the burglar inthe process. The thief’s wife, who came to know of this, went to the King’s court, holding the Brahmin responsible for her husband’s death and seeking punishment for the offender and compensation for herself.

This king was a rank idiot and quite a stranger to concepts like justice, fairplay etc. When the strange case came up for hearing, the King ordered the Brahmin to be executed for the offence of causing the burglar’s death. Alarmed, the Brahmin told the king that it was really the fault of the mason for having left the newly constructed wall wet, without ensuring its safety. “Off with the mason’s head!”cried the foolish king, whose habit it was to rush to conclusions without any thought. The mason, when brought to the King’s court, blamed his assistant for having poured too much water during construction, which led to the wall remaining wet and unset. Sentenced to death immediately, the mason’s helper in turn blamed thepotter for having made the pot too big, as a result of which the helper had unwittingly poured more water than necessary. When the King condemned the potter to capital punishment, he in turn blamed a young woman who had kept walking this way and that, distracting his attention and resulting in the pot becoming oversized. In the game of Pass the Buck, the lady held the washerman (to whom she had entrusted clothes for cleaning and who failed to deliver on time, making her visit his shop twice or thrice) responsible. When the washerman was bound hand and foot and brought to the court for receiving sentence, he in turn told the King that a nude monk had been sitting unmoved on the washing stone, impeding the washing process. The monk was then brought before the King, who held the former squarely responsible for the burglar’s death. As the monk was observing a vow of lifelong silence, he didn’t reply to the ridiculous charge andwas ultimately executed on the orders of the idiotic ruler.

This is a story narrated toindicate that blame often attaches to the most innocent of bystanders, who has had absolutely nothing to do with the crime, as did the guilt, for hitting Mantara’s hump with a catapulted missile, to Sri Krishna, though the Prince of Ayodhya was the real, albeit unwitting perpetrator of the act. Though Sri Valmiki doesn’t narrate the incident, Kamban does- he makes Sri Rama recount the occurrenceand the disastrous effect it had on His coronation which was effectively stopped by a vengeful Mantara, who took the hit from the catapult literally to heart and worked through a gullible Kaikeyi to banish Sri Rama to fourteen long yearsof exile-

“ siriyar endru igazhndu nOvu seivana seyyal mattru in
neri igandu yAn Or teemai izhaittalAl uNarcchi neeNdu
kuriyadAm mEniyAya kooniyAl kuvavu tOLAi!
Veriyana eidi noidin ventuyar kadalin veezhndEn”

There are any number of such gems strewn over the vast mine of Divya Prabanda commentaries, which can be had for the asking and await discovery by the connoisseur of Bhagavat anubhavam.

To be continued in Part-2

This Article is written by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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