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Krishna’s Sixteen Thousand Wives

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Krishna's Sixteen Thousand Wives

The princesses prayed for the causeless mercy of Krishna with a desire to become His wives.

The Ancient Vedic Scriptures Tell About The Most Extraordinary Marriage In History

by His Holiness Satsvarupa Dasa Gosvami

His Holiness Satsvarupa dasa Gosvami is the personal secretary of His Divine Grace A.C. BhaktiVedanta Swami Prabhupada.

A RECENT ARTICLE in the “Religion” section of Newsweek magazine included a charge from “one wizened Hardwar scholar” that the founder and spiritual master of the Krishna consciousness movement, His Divine Grace A.C. BhaktiVedanta Swami Prabhupada, had by an adroit juggling of the Vedic texts “sold his celibate followers on an erroneous belief in Krishna, a popular rural god with 16,000 wives.” This is not the first time Newsweek has published criticisms of the Krishna consciousness movement. When devotees challenged Newsweek for having published a similar quotation, this one from a supposed scholar in the West, the Newsweek staff replied, “All of these [quotations] were presented without any effort on the part of Newsweek’s editors to evoke any particular response; we prefer to offer our readers a wide range of facts and outlooks so that they may draw their own well-informed conclusions.” Any critical reader must surely recognize, however, that Newsweek’s editors carefully choose those facts and quotations that amplify their own views. This is not wrong, of course. But what is the competence of a mundane news magazine to evaluate spiritual truth? As it is said, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And this especially applies when a magazine with 17 ½ million readers presents its own slant on spiritual life as an impartially selected “wide range of facts and opinions.” Thus those who draw their spiritual knowledge from weekly news magazines are more likely to find fallacies than well-informed conclusions. For as this article will show, belief in Krishna is not at all erroneous, nor is Krishna merely a “rural god.” And His extraordinary marriage to 16,000 wives is not the mythological escapade of a popular pagan deity. Rather, it is singular evidence that Krishna is indeed the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

The basic defect in Newsweek’s reporting on the Krishna consciousness movement is that it rests upon the authoritative statements of uncertified and, indeed, bogus authorities. Newsweek reporter Tony Clifton journeyed up the Ganges to solicit the supposedly expert spiritual opinions of the sadhus (holy men) of Rishikesh (the Dwelling of the Hermits). There he found “hundreds of holy men who do nothing more than ‘subdue’ their bodies almost to the point of death. Some starve themselves; others stand like storks on one leg for months at a time.” Truly, Tony Clifton was impressed. “I saw one sadhu,” he reported, “who has held his right arm outstretched for so long that it has atrophied. Another. . . lies on a bed of nails and never speaks.” Here, he concluded, was “precisely the kind of discipline that has kept Hinduism alive for 3,500 years.”

But we must ask ourselves, how does Tony Clifton know what has kept Hinduism alive? He may be an expert political correspondent. He seems comfortable and convincing in his reports on Mrs. Gandhi’s government. But what does he know about sadhus and spiritual life? Bhagavad-gita, the most revered of India’s sacred books, explicitly states that those who undergo obdurate self-torture are “asuras,” or ungodly demons (Bg. 17.5-7). What about that, Mr. Clifton? What makes one a sadhu, anyway? Is the naked mendicant who sleeps on a bed of nails automatically a sadhu? What about the sword-swallower and the fire-eater at Ringling Brothers? Are they sadhus too?

If one wants to understand Krishna, one must understand Him from genuine authorities, not from the fakirs in the streets of Hardwar. The statement that Krishna is “a rural god with 16,000 wives” is a blunder that shows that its speaker does not even know the basic biography of Krishna. When Krishna appeared on earth 5,000 years ago. He lived in the rural village of Vrndavana, but in His life as a cowherd boy He never took even one wife. He married only after He left Vrndavana and became an opulent king in the city of Dvaraka.

Putting aside the opinions of the pseudo-sadhus of Rishikesh and Hardwar, we can find the authentic description of Krishna’s life and identity in India’s ancient Vedic scriptures, especially in Srimad-Bhagavatam. Srimad-Bhagavatam is the 5,000-year-old natural commentary on the famed Vedanta-sutra. which gives classical definitions of the Absolute Truth in terse Sanskrit codes. Since Vedanta-sutra is extremely complex and difficult to follow, its author, the sage Vyasadeva, composed Srimad-Bhagavatam to describe the Absolute Truth more clearly. Both Vedanta-sutra and Srimad-Bhagavatam begin with the same phrase—janmady asya yatah—which refers to “the source from which everything emanates.” Vedanta, however, describes this source abstractly, whereas Srimad-Bhagavatam explicitly reveals this source to be Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Many other Vedic scriptures confirm Krishna’s identity as the Supreme Truth. The Atharva Veda, for example, says, brahmanyo Devaki-putrah: “Krishna, the son of Devaki, is the Supreme Personality.” Similarly, the Brahma-samhita says, isvarah paramah Krishnah: “Krishna is the supreme controller.” And in Bhagavad-gita Sri Krishna Himself confirms that He is the original source of everything (aham sarvasya prabhavah) and that nothing is superior to Him (mattah parataram nanyat kincid asti dhananjayah). Since Bhagavad-gita has deeply influenced writers and philosophers for thousands of years, Krishna’s being the speaker of the Gita also testifies to His supremacy.

“Although I am eternal,” Krishna says in the Gita, “and My transcendental body never deteriorates, and although I am the Lord of all sentient beings, I still appear in this world in every millennium in My original transcendental form.” (Bg. 4.6) Krishna appeared 5,000 years ago as the son of Nanda and Yasoda in the small Indian village of Vrndavana. His life is described in Srimad-Bhagavatam’s Tenth Canto, which His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has summarized in his two-volume work Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Everyone in Vrndavana dearly loved Krishna-as a butter thief, a transcendental flute player, the tender of thousands of cows and, even when He was but a small child, the killer of many demons. He was the most dearly beloved of His parents, the cows, the calves, and the boys and girls of Vrndavana. Krishna’s pastimes in Vrndavana are His most confidential, and one can enter into them only by unalloyed affection for Krishna in His original form as a cowherd boy. Not by practicing rigid austerities in the Himalayas, performing yogic meditation, or becoming a religion editor for a big magazine can one ever hope to realize this most perfect knowledge of Krishna.

After spending His boyhood in Vrndavana, Krishna lived as King of the opulent city of Dvaraka. Only there did He marry. In Dvaraka, Krishna played the role of a ksatriya. Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita, as the supreme creator, He has designed human society with four natural divisions. Thus according to a person’s qualities, one works as either a brahmana (an intellectual or spiritual teacher), a ksatriya (an administrator or warrior), a vaisya (an agriculturalist and protector of cows), or a sudra (a laborer or servant). In a society that recognizes these natural divisions, everyone can execute the duties of his occupation as a service to the Supreme Lord and thus achieve the real purpose of human life-to go back home, back to the kingdom of God. Krishna Himself, being the Supreme Godhead, the creator and maintainer of the universe, is above all these social divisions, yet in His pastimes He acted first as cowherd and then as king, just to set the perfect example of how a vaisya or ksatriya should live.

In India during the time of Krishna’s appearance, ksatriya kings often had more than one wife, and Krishna had eight. Later, He married more than 16,000 wives. Srila Prabhupada comments, however, that we should not have been surprised if He had married even sixteen million wives, for Krishna, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is unlimited. Indeed, we may note with wonder that Krishna married only 16,108 wives.

Our wizened Hardwar scholar sardonically comments that the followers of the Krishna consciousness movement worship a god with 16,000 wives whereas they themselves are celibate, as if to suggest that the devotees believe in Krishna so that they may derive some kind of vicarious sexual enjoyment from worshiping a deity who is either fictitious, lusty or both. Had he been not only wizened but wise as well, our so-called scholar might have avoided such crassness. As stated in the Padma Purana (atah sri-Krishna-namadi na bhaved grahyam indriyaih), one cannot understand Krishna through speculation or conjecture because Krishna is beyond the mind and senses. Sri Krishna Himself declares in Bhagavad-gita:

avajananti mam mudha
manusim tanum asritam
param bhavam ajananto
mama bhuta-mahesvaram

“Only fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be.” (Bg. 9.11) Pure devotees of Krishna, however, who know Krishna to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, enjoy transcendental pleasure simply by chanting His holy names-Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Thus freed from the desires of the material world, they engage fully in Krishna’s pure devotional service, knowing Him to be the Supreme Personality, original and inexhaustible.

The Vedic sages who dedicated their lives to pursuing the Absolute Truth had no reason to waste time with made-up tales of an imaginary sexual superhero. As a powerful and strictly renounced sage, Sukadeva Gosvami, the original speaker of Srimad-Bhagavatam, would never have taken part in discourses about Krishna’s marriages if they were ordinary sexual affairs. Therefore his keen interest in Krishna’s marriages proves that they have nothing to do with mundane lust. Furthermore, Vedic philosophers like Vyasadeva and Narada worship these pastimes and declare that hearing about them can free one from the suffering of repeated birth and death. These are the truly revered authorities on spiritual understanding, and theirs are the opinions we should regard as conclusive, not those of a nameless scholar.

We should also note for the sake of accuracy that the followers of Krishna are not necessarily celibate. This is another misconception. Many Krishna conscious devotees are married, and the movement’s Gurukula school in Dallas, Texas, with its abundance of Krishna conscious children, gives evidence that they are not at all celibate. In Krishna consciousness, one need not give up sex; one need only regulate sex, like everything else, to serve Krishna, the Supreme Lord.

Now, just how did Krishna come to marry 16,000 wives? We can find the history of this pastime in Srimad-Bhagavatam (or Srila Prabhupada’s summary study Krishna). Once a demoniac king named Bhaumasura was creating disturbances all over the universe, going even so far as stealing treasure from the demigods of the higher planets. Finally, acting on an appeal from the demigod Indra, Krishna, with His wife Satyabhama, rode forth from His palace on the back of His giant eagle, Garuda, to put an end to Bhaumasura’s mischief.

Flying on the back of Garuda, Krishna appeared like a blackish cloud, shining with electricity, gliding by the sun. Garuda, an expansion of the Supreme Lord, is almost as powerful as the Lord Himself. Followers of the Vedas praise him as one of Krishna’s most elevated devotees, for he always intimately serves the Lord by carrying the Lord wherever He desires.

Arriving at Bhaumasura’s fortress, Krishna found it surrounded by many protective barriers. After routing Bhaumasura’s outlying circle of military guards, Krishna used His transcendental club and Sudarsana cakra, a razor-sharp weapon of pure energy that appears like a whirling disc of light, to smash through a network of electricity, a watery moat, and a wall of deadly gas. Then, fighting from the sky, Krishna killed Bhaumasura’s remaining military commanders one by one and finally beheaded Bhaumasura with His Sudarsana. Thus Krishna manifested His fighting spirit to vanquish the demon and demonstrate the unlimited variety of His activities.

After Bhaumasura’s death, Krishna entered the demon’s opulent palace, where he found 16,100 princesses, whom the demon had kidnapped. When the princesses saw the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, they were captivated by His beauty. Thus they prayed for His causeless mercy with a desire to become His wives. According to the Vedic social system, the demon’s carrying off the girls had dishonored them; no one, therefore, would have married them. Krishna, however, as the Supersoul in everyone’s heart, could understand their pure desire. Therefore He decided to accept them as His wives.

The marriage was not merely a token of acceptance. To be actually present as the ever-faithful husband of each princess, Krishna expanded Himself into 16,100 forms. Thus, 16,100 Krishnas married the 16,100 princesses in 16,100 different palaces-all in one auspicious moment. Thus He proved that He is indeed the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Krishna accepted these 16,100 girls not because of a desire to gratify His senses but because of their pure devotion. Krishna is atmarama, self-satisfied. Moreover, in the spiritual world He is served constantly, with great reverence and affection, by thousands of transcendental goddesses of fortune. Only because these 16,100 princesses prayed to Him with pure hearts did Krishna agree to accept them.

The statement that Krishna married 16,100 wives is not at all an exaggeration. As explained in Bhagavad-gita, Krishna expands Himself into the heart of every living being as the Supersoul to give memory, forgetfulness and knowledge. Consequently, for Him to come out of the hearts of 16,100 of His devotees is not at all impossible. Krishna behaved with each queen like an ordinary mortal. He built them each a palace and gave each queen personal attention and opulence beyond compare.

In each palace, Krishna was performing a different kind of pastime with His sixteen thousand wives.

In one palace the sage Narada found Lord Krishna acting as an affectionate father with His children. In each palace, Krishna was performing a different kind of pastime.

We must admit, however, that Krishna’s marrying so many wives greatly strains our usual concepts of reality. But we are not alone in our perplexity. Even Krishna’s greatest devotees cannot fully comprehend Krishna’s pastimes. Krishna’s great devotee Narada Muni, who eternally travels to praise Krishna in different planets throughout the universe, heard of Krishna’s marriage and wanted to see for himself how Krishna was living with His wives. He therefore approached the palace of Krishna and His principal queen, Rukmini.

Narada Muni entered the palace, a wonderful structure with pillars and arches that glowed with sapphires, diamonds, ivory and gold. Krishna was being fanned by Rukmini, but when He heard that Narada had come, He immediately went forth to greet him. Taking the opportunity to show the world how to honor a devotee, He washed the sage’s feet, gave him something to eat and asked if there were anything He could do to serve him. Narada, however, did not forget his own position. He prayed to the Lord, “Please grant that I may never forget Your lotus feet in any condition of my life.” Narada then left that palace and entered another.

This time he found the Lord, in the company of another queen, playing chess with His confidential friend Uddhava. But when Lord Krishna again rose to offer him respect, Narada simply walked out in astonishment. As a great sage who can travel from planet to planet without the aid of any vehicle, Narada knows how yogis, by mystic perfection, can expand themselves into as many as eight forms. Those eight forms, however, will all look the same, like duplicate snapshots; the expanded forms cannot act independently. Therefore, when Narada saw Krishna acting independently in individual expansions, he was filled with the greatest wonder.

Narada entered another palace and found the Lord acting as an affectionate father with His children. In another palace he found Krishna consulting ministers on business; in another, performing religious duties with His wife; and in still others, meditating, giving charity and seeing to the marriages of His sons. In each palace, Krishna was performing a different kind of pastime.

Having seen one single Krishna living simultaneously in 16,100 different palaces, Narada prayed to Lord Krishna: “My dear Lord, You have revealed to me Your inconceivable mystic power, by which You are personally present in each palace. You are indeed the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Please give me Your blessings and permission to travel all over the universes to sing the glories of Your transcendental activities.”

Krishna replied to Narada that He was displaying such varieties of householder life just to teach the whole world how to act. Ordinarily, householder life entangles one in material affairs, which are the cause of suffering in a cycle of repeated birth and death. But when Krishna is the center, one’s household is sanctified, and thus even while executing the duties of family life one may progress on the path back to Godhead. Lord Krishna, therefore, in His pastimes as Dvaraka’s king, set the example of ideal family life while at the same time proving Himself the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

This, then, is the way to understand Lord Krishna and His transcendental pastimes. Those who view Krishna with mundane eyes, and who have only mundane news magazines to guide them, will see Krishna to be no more than a mythological figure or an ordinary human being. But those with clear vision, who have learned about Krishna from authentic spiritual authorities, will understand the import of His pastimes. As stated in Bhagavad-gita, simply by virtue of this understanding, they will be able to transcend the entire material world and join Krishna and His pure devotees in the eternal world of pure devotional service.

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