Five thousand years ago Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, appeared on earth to attract the people of the world back to Him. This year the annual celebration of Lord Krsna’s birthday, Janmastami, falls on August 27. Janmastami is perhaps the most widely celebrated of all the religious holidays of India, and each year, regardless of sectarian affiliation, hundreds of millions of Indians attend the temples, hold festivals, and worship in their homes. Now, owing to the work of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, many people of many nations are learning the significance of Janmastami.
The birth and activities of Lord Krsna are transcendental, even when they appear ordinary and material. But for those who are hearing about Lord Krsna for the first time, there may appear to be contradictions about His birth. For example, if He is the eternal God, the source of everything, why does He have a mother and father?
Or we may also question the relevance of Krsna’s birth: Can it help us with our immediate concerns in today’s world? Even a great devotee, Queen Kunti, expressed bewilderment about the birth of Lord Krsna. In her prayers in the Srimad-Bhagavatam we find: “It is bewildering, O soul of the universe, that You take birth, although You are the vital force and the unborn.”
The apparent contradiction is solved when we understand the true nature of Godhead and the true nature of the soul. Krsna Himself explains in the Bhagavad-gita that He, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is eternal. All other living entities, being part and parcel of Him, are also eternal. In other words, we are like God in that in our original position we are free of birth and death. But there is a difference between ourselves and God. We are tiny individual souls, subject to falling under the illusory influence of Krsna’s material energy, maya. He never comes under the spell of the material world, which is His creation. So when He chooses to come into the material world, He is not forced to do so, as are the individual souls. Krsna’s “birth” is not the incarnation of a spiritual soul within a material body. Krsna descends into this world in His eternal, spiritual form. “Although I am unborn and My transcendental body never deteriorates … I still appear in every millennium in My original transcendental form.” (Bg. 4.6)
Even Arjuna, Krsna’s intimate friend and the disciple to whom Krsna taught the Bhagavad-gita, was at first puzzled by Krsna’s appearance in the world. When Krsna informed Arjuna that He had first taught the Bhagavad-gita many thousands of years ago to the sun-god, Vivasvan, Arjuna raised his doubt. Arjuna knew Krsna as his contemporary friend. How could Krsna be referring to a talk He had had with a person who lived thousands of years ago? “Many, many births both you and I have passed,” Lord Krsna replied. “I can remember all of them, but you cannot.”
Even if we theoretically accept that God appears on earth by His own spiritual power, we may ask why He chooses to come here. Krsna certifies that the material planets are all “places of misery where repeated birth and death take place.” Why then does He leave His superior, blissful abode for this one? Krsna directly answers this in the Bhagavad-gita (4.7-8):
Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, and a predominant rise of irreligious practice—at that time I descend Myself. To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I Myself appear, millennium after millennium
To teach the universal religion, the Personality of Godhead appears in numerous forms, or incarnations, such as Lord Rama, Lord Buddha, Lord Jesus Christ, and Muhammad. There are many bona fide representatives of God, as revealed in the scriptures of the world. But when God appears as Krsna, He appears in His original form as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In all cases the mission is the same: to lead people to God consciousness and obedience to the principles of religion. Sometimes Krsna Himself appears, and sometimes He sends one of His sons or servants to represent Him.
Since Krsna can do His work in any of these empowered forms, we may ask why He comes in His original form. That appearance in His original, eternal form of Krsna is His causeless mercy, bestowed upon the living entities so that they can concentrate on the Supreme Lord as He is and not on mental concoctions or imaginations, which impersonalistic, speculative philosophies wrongly think the Lord’s forms to be. Also, Lord Sri Krsna comes in His original form to mitigate the anxieties of the pure devotees, who are very anxious to see Him. This is the prime purpose of Krsna’s appearance.
Still, one may doubt, “Krsna’s appearance may be pleasing to His pure devotees, but what has this to do with me?” Most people are more concerned with their own birthdays, the birthdays of friends and family members, or the birthdays of national heroes. Being without spiritual realization, they focus their love on temporary objects; they cannot imagine the significance of Krsna’s appearance. Even those who attend the temples of Lord Krsna on Janmastami sometimes take it as a ritual. But if, by the grace of Krsna’s devotees, one comes to understand the significance of Krsna’s appearance in the world, it is the greatest gain. As it is stated in the Bhagavad-gita, “One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in the material world, but attains My eternal abode.” (Bg. 4.9)
To know everything about God is impossible. But if we become even a little faithful in hearing about the appearance of Krsna, the ensuing transcendental knowledge can free us from repeated birth and death. As Prabhupada has stated, “One who can understand the truth of the appearance of the Personality of Godhead is already liberated from material bondage, and therefore he returns to the kingdom of God immediately after quitting the present material body.”
On Janmastami the Krsna consciousness movement holds gala festivals in all of its centers, and the public is invited. These festivals consist of presentations and celebrations—through drama, art, music, and dance—of the divine birth of Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. There is joyous kirtana (the congregational singing of the Hare Krsna mantra and other songs) and a huge feast. Please join with the devotees of Krsna, have a good afternoon or evening, and receive the tremendous spiritual benefit of understanding more about Krsna’s appearance and activities in this world. Consult our address list (see pg. 20-21) for the Hare Krsna center nearest you.—SDG