On Krishna and Trees

BY: SUN STAFF - 8.8 2019

Excerpted from an article by M.L. Varadpande.

The Bhagavata Purana narrates how one day, Krishna, addressing His young cowherd friends in the Vrinda forest on the banks of river Yamuna, said: "Look at these bountiful trees. They live for the benefit of others. There is not a single part of the tree which is not useful. With their beautiful foliage, fragrant flowers, cool shade, roots, bark, wood, sprouts, fruits they serve". Nobody returns without benefiting, who approaches the tree.

Krishna implored His fellow cowherds to follow the example of the tree in life. The tree has a special significance in the life and teachings of Krishna. During His early days he virtually lived in the forest surrounded by trees. Poet Jayadeva described him as one living in the forest full of trees swayed by the gentle fragrant breeze cooled by the Yamuna waters. Krishna looked bewitching with a colourful garland of fragrant flowers.

Krishna compares human life with a tree. In the Bhagavad Gita, echoing the concept of Katho-panishads, he says human life is like the eternal Ashvattha tree having roots growing above and branches beneath. Puranas say that during the great deluge, pralaya, when everything drowned in turbulent waters, Krishna, assuming the form of a divine child, sleeps on the leaf of the Ashvattha tree, the tree of life.

Krishna is identified with His flute, simplest of musical instruments made of bamboo, enchanting the entire world. On a full moon night, enchanted by the dense Vrinda forest on the banks of the river, Krishna played His flute. The gopis rushed to dance with Him on the white sands, intoxicated with divine music.

When Krishna came to know that the poisonous vapours emitted by Kalia, the cobra, were destroying trees, foliage, and grass on the banks of the river Yamuna, he was worried. In order to save the environment, Krishna fought the destructive demon, and overcame Him by dancing on the snake's hood, holding Kalia's tail in His hand. Krishna overpowered Kalia who then had to leave.

In this context the tree of Kadamba is mentioned. Kadamba trees are still found in large numbers in the Braj region. Groves of Kadamba trees, known as Kasaba Khandi, existed till recently in the region. This tree was the favourite of Krishna and a number of lilas are associated with Kadamba trees. To drive away Kalia he jumped into the Yamuna river after climbing onto a Kadamba tree. Mischievous Krishna stole the clothes of young gopis bathing in the river Yamuna and hid in the Kadamba tree.

While planning the city of Dwarka, Krishna earmarked extensive spaces for growing trees and plants of different varieties. He had a fascination for rare plants. Puranas say that Krishna fought a pitched battle with Indra, the king of gods, to bring the sapling of the Parijata tree which grew only in heaven, particularly Nandanvana, to plant it on earth.

Krishna's fondness for trees, plants, bowers with thick foliage was translated into the concept of Nikunja Lila by Premopasaka Sampradayas of Braj. According to it, the devotees should meditate upon the divine couple, Radha and Krishna's Nikunja Lila and attain spiritual bliss.

Hita Harivamsha, founder of Radha Vallabha Sampradaya, in a love lyric about Nikunja Lila says: "Today at dawn there was a shower of rapture in the bower, where the happy pair was delighting themselves, one dark and one fair". This vision became part of spiritual meditation. Krishna's message to devotees was: "Be like the tree".