Veṇugopāla: Kṛṣṇa and his enchanting Flute

A mithila painting of Krishna playing the flute Bharti Dhayal 1961

The Bhāgavata Purāṇa paints a vivid imagery of the beautiful young Kṛṣṇa’s pastime of playing the flute and enchanting the cows and the cowherds alike.When the young women of Vraja hear the sound of his flute, they are rendered speechless, overcome by an intoxicating lust and simply lose themselves in ecstatic love for Him.

kusumita-vanarāji-śuṣmi-bhṛṅga dvija-kula-ghuṣṭa-saraḥ-sarin-mahīdhram
madhupatir avagāhya cārayan gāḥ saha-paśu-pāla-balaś cukūja veṇum ||
ŚB 10.21.2

“The lakes, rivers and hills of Vṛndāvana resounded with the sounds of maddened bees and flocks of birds moving about the flowering trees. In the company of the cowherd boys and Balarāma, Madhupati [Śrī Kṛṣṇa] entered that forest, and while herding his cows, began to play His flute.”

barhāpīḍaṁ naṭa-vara-vapuḥ karṇayoḥ karṇikāraṁ
bibhrad vāsaḥ kanaka-kapiśaṁ vaijayantīṁ ca mālām
randhrān veṇor adhara-sudhayāpūrayan gopa-vṛndair
vṛndāraṇyaṁ sva-pada-ramaṇaṁ prāviśad gīta-kīrtiḥ || 10.21.5

“Wearing a peacock-feather upon His head, blue karṇikāra flowers on His ears, donning a yellow garment as brilliant as gold, and a garland of Vaijayantī, Lord Kṛṣṇa exhibited His transcendental form as the greatest of dancers as He entered the forest of Vṛndāvana, beautifying it with the marks of His footprints. He filled the holes of His flute with the nectar of His lips, and the cowherd boys sang His glories.”

The nectarine sentiment of bhakti reflected in these verses is taken a step further when envy is expressed for the flute by the gopis for having the privilege of being touched by the lips of the beautiful Mādhava.

“O gopis! what auspicious acts must have been performed by this flute,
For it enjoys the nectar flowing from the lips of Dāmodara,
leaving only a taste for us gopīs, for whom that nectar is truly meant!
The forefathers of the flute — the bamboo trees — shed tears of joy through the realease of flowing sap.
The mother of the flute — the banks of the rivers from which the bamboo is born, feels jubilation, and her blooming lotuses stand up like hair on her body;
Gazing at Krishna, whose pleasing form and behavior
are utterly elating for all women, and hearing the enchanting music
emanating from his flute,
The hearts of the gods’ wives are agitated with passion.
while they move in heavenly chariots, they become bewildered
and their belts loosen, as flowers fall from their hair.
When rivers hear the flute-song of Mukunda,
their flowing currents are interrupted
and their waters swirl in agitation out of intense desire for him.
The water, with waves like arms, seizes the feet of Murari
and present offerings of lotus flowers to Him.”

Surdas reflects the same sentiment that is seen in the Bhagavatha Purana, and personifies Kṛṣṇa’s flute, Muralī, as a woman:

“These days Murali has become so proud she refuses to speak to a soul,
As if she’d found in the land of his lotus mouth
a kingdom to supply her every joy.
Insolent girl — his hands are her throne, his lips her parasol,
His hair her whisk as she reigns, my friend, over a court of cows.
There she decrees that the waters of the Yamuna
stop on their course to the sea,
And as for the gods in the city of the gods,
she summons their chariots to earth.
Stable things move, and moving things are still — both are triumphs for her
As she undoes the way the Creator set things up to institute her own design.
That bamboo flute rules all, says Sur — god, sage, man, and snake:
Even Shri’s Lord — he forgets his Shri, obsessed with his new-found love.”

The chapter in the Bhāgavatha goes on to describe the effect. of Kṛṣṇa’s flute on the flora and fauna of Vṛndāvan:

vṛndāvanaṁ sakhi bhuvo vitanoti kīṛtiṁ
yad devakī-suta-padāmbuja-labdha-lakṣmi
govinda-veṇum anu matta-mayūra-nṛtyaṁ
prekṣyādri-sānv-avaratānya-samasta-sattvam || 10.21.10

“O friend! Vṛndāvana is spreading the glory of the earth, having obtained the trasure of being touched by the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, the son of Devakī. Peacocks dance madly when they hear Govinda’s flute, and other creatures which witness this sight from the hilltops are all stunned.”

“Using their raised ears as vessels, the cows drink the nectar of the flute-song flowing from Kṛṣṇa’s mouth. Their calves, with mouths full of milk from their mothers, stand still as they behold Govinda through tear-filled eyes.” (Bhāgavatha 10.21.13)

The effect Krishna has on cows is also described by bhakti poet Dnyandev imagines himself inhabiting a familiar pastoral scene in the early life of Kṛṣṇa.

“The cows are going toward the woods,
Pendha, the cowherd is walking along.
‘‘O cowherd Kanhoba, take them to Yamuna for a drink.’’
Enchanted by the call of the flute, all the cows return.
They forget to graze and stand still, mesmerized.
Dnyandev [is] there as a companion, holding a stick,
a cowherd herding the cows on that riverbank.”

Kṛṣṇa fluting to the gopis Pahari, probably Kangra, circa 1850

Dnyandev also writes of the cowherds blissful dance to the transcendental song of Kṛṣṇa’s flute:

“Charmed by the flute engrossed in Govinda,
how the cowherds dance in bliss!
Hari herds the cows on the bank of the Yamuna.
The cowherds enjoy and chant.
Here, there, and everywhere Pendha goes on frolicking.
Krishna is mimicking and making faces at him.
The cows stand still, forgetting their calves.
Krishna rushes them along homeward.
In the heart of Dnyandev Krishna goes on living . . .
the cowherd entertaining His people with love.”

Kṛṣṇa, charmingly poised on one foot beneath a blossoming tree, entertains adoring gopis with the divine song of his flute. Mankot, Uttarakhand, c. 1730

Surdas describes the beauty of the flute-weilding Veṇugopāla:

“A beautiful flute glistens on his lotus mouth.
Mohan is playing and singing his ragas
as he comes back from grazing the cows.
His curly, tousled hair is so lovely it looks
like the maneuvers of a militia of bees
Who resent that Murali alone drinks his honey
and want to capture some of their own.
His eyebrows arch as if Kama too had come,
charming bow in hand, to give them aid,
For the nectar of the lips of the Lord of Surdas
has bred in them a deep unease.”

References:

  1. Krishna: A Sourcebook Edwin Bryant

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