Yaśodā and Kṛṣṇa

The painting is of Yaśodā and Kṛṣṇa, from Mewar, dated to circa 1800 — c. 1820. Yaśodā holds her hands above her head, and infant Kṛṣṇa next to her raises his hands in order to be lifted up. This composition occurs frequently in Mewari painting from the 15th century onwards, a portrayal which allows the devotee to perceive Kṛṣṇa as an endearing child deserving of unconditional love.

Yaśodā and Kṛṣṇa represent the ultimate symbolism of the mother-son relationship. As the infant Kṛṣṇa grew, Yaśodā and Nanda showered their paternal love and affection upon Him. Yaśodā never lost an opportunity to admire the beauty and grace of her little son Kṛṣṇa.

तरक्षुनखमण्डलं नवतमालपत्रद्युतिं
शिशुंरुचिररोचनाकृत तमालपत्रश्रियम् ।
धृतप्रतिसरं कटिस्फुरित पट्टसूत्रस्रजं
व्रजेशगृहिणी सुतं न किल वीक्ष्य तृप्तिं ययौ ॥

“When Yaśodā saw her beautiful and charming son, the child Kṛṣṇa, possessing the complexion of a newly grown tamāla tree (which has dark bark), wearing a necklace with a tiger claw, with a tilaka*, armlets tied with silk threads and silk clothing around His waist, Yaśoda could never be satiated by the child’s beauty.”
(Bhaktirasāmṛta Sindhu by Rūpa Gosvāmī)

The following description of Yaśodā’s maternal love for Śrī Kṛṣṇa is found in the Bhaktirasāmṛta Sindhu:

तनौ मन्त्रन्यासं प्रणयति हरेर् गद्गदमयी
सबाष्पाक्षी रक्षातिलकम् अलिके कल्पयति च ।
स्नुवाना प्रत्यूषे दिशति च भुजे कार्मणम् असौ
यशोदा मूर्तेव स्फुरति सुतवात्सल्य-पटली ॥

“After rising early in the morning, Yaśodā would first offer her breast milk to Kṛṣṇa, then began to chant various mantras for his protection. She would decorate his forehead elaborately and tie protective talismans on his arms. All that Yaśodā did for Kṛṣṇa are emblematic of her deep maternal love for Kṛṣṇa.”

Thinking about Yaśodā and Kṛṣṇa always reminds me of this composition by in Tamil by Paapanaasam Sivan in the beautiful rāga Kāpi, ‘ennatavam seydanai, yaśōda’. In the lyrics, laden with longing and nectarine bhakti for Śrī Kṛṣṇa, Yaśodā is perceived as exceptionally fortunate to be the mother of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. He says that Yaśodā is exceedingly blessed that the Supreme Lord himself has come in the form of an infant, and endearingly addresses her as “mother”. The composer asks Yaśodā what austerities she had undertaken to have the privilege of caressing and loving the child Śri Kṛṣṇa, when such an honor was bestowed upon great sages like the sons of Brahmā only after intense yōga and penance.

The meaning of the lyrics, briefly:
“Yaśodā, what tapas did you undertake, that the Parabrahmā himself calls you lovingly, “ammā” (mother)? To take Kṛṣṇa, the One who created the fourteen worlds, to lift him into your arms, to rock him to sleep, to feed him milk, what supreme tapas did you do, Yaśodā? O mother! what noble penance did you undertake, that, to the great envy of even Brahmā and Indra, you could tie Kṛṣṇa himself to the grinding stone, silence him and make him beg you for your mercy! What great sages like Sanaka (and the four sons of Brahmā) achieved through great tapas and yoga, what they reached by prodigious effort, you achieved so easily — what tapas did you do to have this great fortune?”

The sentiment captured by the kriti is also reminiscent of a ślokā in the Bhāgavatha Purāṇa (10.9.9):

तामात्तयष्टिं प्रसमीक्ष्य सत्वर-
स्ततोऽवरुह्यापससार भीतवत् ।
गोप्यन्वधावन्न यमाप योगिनां
क्षमं प्रवेष्टुं तपसेरितं मन: ॥

“When Śrī Kṛṣṇa (the butter thief) saw His mother, stick in hand, He quickly got down from the top of the mortar and began to flee as if afraid of her. Although yogīs try to reach Him through meditation, desiring to become one with the the effulgence of Paramātmā, though they undergo great austerities and penances, fail to reach Him. But Yaśodā, thinking that same Kṛṣṇa to be her son, began to chase after Him.”

(*tilaka or the sectarian mark upon the forehead is also called tamāla, since it is often made of sandal with the juice of the fruit of the Tamāla tree, a dark-barked tree that adorns the groves of Vrindāvan. Tilaka was also made with goracana, a traditional yellow pigment made of concentrated cows’ urine.)

“Hari – how I love, love my little Mādhav.
He clambers over a threshold and tumbles,
but grasps with his lotus-petal palm and crawls on.
He has come to Yaśodā on account of love
and placed his feet upon this earth,
The feet that he used to outwit King Bali,
the feet from which the Ganges flowed
as a trickle of sweat from beneath the toenails,
The feet whose visage captivated Brahmā and the gods,
generating millions of moons and suns:
Those feet, says Sūrdās, inspired me to offer,
offer up my all.”


  1. The Memory of Love: Surdas Sings to Krishna by John Stratton Hawley

2. Krishna: A Sourcebook by Edwin Bryant


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