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Śukadeva Gosvāmī was very much encouraged when Mahārāja Parīkṣit asked him why the cowherd boys did not discuss the death of Aghāsura until after one year had passed. He explained thus: “My dear King, you are making the subject matter of the transcendental pastimes of Kṛṣṇa fresher by your inquisitiveness.”
It is said that it is the nature of a devotee to constantly apply his mind, energy, words, ears, etc., in hearing and chanting about Kṛṣṇa. This is called Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and for one who is rapt in hearing and chanting about Kṛṣṇa, the subject matter never becomes hackneyed or old. That is the significance of transcendental subject matter in contrast to material subject matter. Material subject matter becomes stale, and one cannot hear a certain subject for a long time; he wants change. But as far as transcendental subject matter is concerned, it is called nitya-nava-navāyamāna. This means that one can go on chanting and hearing about the Lord and never feel tired but remain fresh and eager to hear more and more.
It is the duty of the spiritual master to disclose all confidential subject matter to the inquisitive and sincere disciple. Thus Śukadeva Gosvāmī began to explain why the killing of Aghāsura was not discussed until one year had passed. Śukadeva Gosvāmī told the King, “Now hear of this secret with attention. After saving His friends from the mouth of Aghāsura and killing the demon, Lord Kṛṣṇa brought His friends to the bank of the Yamunā and addressed them as follows: “My dear friends, just see how this spot is very nice for taking lunch and playing on the soft, sandy Yamunā bank. You can see how the lotus flowers in the water are beautifully blown and how they distribute their fragrance all around. The chirping of the birds along with the cooing of the peacocks, surrounded by the whispering of the leaves in the trees, combine and present sound vibrations that echo one another. And this just enriches the beautiful scenery created by the trees here. Let us have our lunch in this spot because it is already late and we are feeling hungry. Let the calves remain near us, and let them drink water from the Yamunā. While we engage in our lunch-taking, the calves may engage in eating the soft grasses that are in this spot.”
On hearing this proposal from Kṛṣṇa, all the boys became very glad and said, “Certainly, let us all sit down here to take our lunch.” They then let loose the calves to eat the soft grass. Sitting down on the ground and keeping Kṛṣṇa in the center, they began to open their lunch boxes brought from home. Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa was seated in the center of the circle, and all the boys kept their faces toward Him. They ate and constantly enjoyed seeing the Lord face to face. Kṛṣṇa appeared to be the whorl of a lotus flower, and the boys surrounding Him appeared to be its different petals. The boys collected flowers, leaves of flowers and the bark of trees and placed their lunch on them, as well as in their boxes, and thus they began to eat their lunch, keeping company with Kṛṣṇa. While taking lunch, each boy began to manifest different kinds of relations with Kṛṣṇa, and they enjoyed each other’s company with joking words. While Lord Kṛṣṇa was thus enjoying lunch with His friends, His flute was pushed within the belt of His cloth on His right side, and His bugle and cane were pushed in on the left-hand side of His cloth. In his left palm He was holding a lump of food prepared with yogurt, butter, rice and pieces of fruit salad, which could be seen through His petallike finger-joints. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who accepts the results of all great sacrifices, was laughing and joking, enjoying lunch with His friends in Vṛndāvana. And thus the scene was being observed by the demigods from heaven. As for the boys, they were simply enjoying transcendental bliss in the company of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
At that time, the calves that were pasturing nearby entered into the deep forest, allured by new grasses, and gradually went out of sight. When the boys saw that the calves were not nearby, they became afraid for their safety, and they immediately cried out, “Kṛṣṇa!” Kṛṣṇa is the killer of fear personified. Everyone is afraid of fear personified, but fear personified is afraid of Kṛṣṇa. By crying out the word “Kṛṣṇa,” the boys at once transcended the fearful situation. Out of His great affection, Kṛṣṇa did not want His friends to give up their pleasing lunch engagement and go searching for the calves. He therefore said, “My dear friends, you need not interrupt your lunch. Go on enjoying. I am going personally to find the calves.” Thus Lord Kṛṣṇa, still carrying the lump of yogurt-and-rice preparation in His left hand, immediately started to search out the calves in the caves and bushes. He searched in the mountain holes and in the forests, but nowhere could He find them.
At the time when Aghāsura was killed and the demigods were looking on the incident with great surprise, Brahmā, who was born of the lotus flower growing out of the navel of Viṣṇu, also came to see. He was surprised how a little boy like Kṛṣṇa could act so wonderfully. Although he was informed that the little cowherd boy was the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he wanted to see more of the Lord’s glorious pastimes, and thus he stole all the calves and cowherd boys and took them to a different place. Lord Kṛṣṇa, therefore, in spite of searching for the calves, could not find them, and He even lost His boyfriends on the bank of the Yamunā, where they had been taking their lunch. In the form of a cowherd boy, Lord Kṛṣṇa was very little in comparison to Brahmā, but because He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, He could immediately understand that all the calves and boys had been stolen by Brahmā. Kṛṣṇa thought, “Brahmā has taken away all the boys and calves. How can I alone return to Vṛndāvana? The mothers will be aggrieved!”
Therefore in order to satisfy the mothers of His friends, as well as to convince Brahmā of the supremacy of the Personality of Godhead, He immediately expanded Himself as the cowherd boys and calves. In the Vedas it is said that the Supreme Personality of Godhead has already expanded Himself into so many living entities by His energy. Therefore it was not very difficult for Him to expand Himself again into so many boys and calves. He expanded Himself to become exactly like the boys, who were of all different features and facial and bodily construction, and who were different in their clothing and ornaments and in their behavior and personal activities. In other words, although each boy, being an individual soul, had entirely different tastes, activities and behavior, Kṛṣṇa exactly expanded Himself into all the different positions of the individual boys. He also became the calves, who were also of different sizes, colors, activities, etc. This was possible because everything is an expansion of Kṛṣṇa’s energy. In the Viṣṇu Purāṇa it is said, parasya brahmaṇaḥ śaktiḥ. Whatever we actually see in the cosmic manifestation—be it matter or the activities of the living entities—is simply an expansion of the energies of the Lord, as heat and light are the different expansions of fire.
Thus expanding Himself as the boys and calves in their individual capacities, and surrounded by such expansions of Himself, Kṛṣṇa entered the village of Vṛndāvana. The residents had no knowledge of what had happened. After entering the village of Vṛndāvana, all the calves entered their respective cowsheds, and the boys went to their respective mothers and homes.
The mothers of the boys heard the vibration of their flutes before their entrance, and to receive them, they came out of their homes and embraced them. And out of maternal affection, milk was flowing from their breasts, and they allowed the boys to drink it. However, their offering was not exactly to their boys but to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who had expanded Himself into such boys. This was a chance for all the mothers of Vṛndāvana to feed the Supreme Personality of Godhead with their own milk. Therefore not only did Lord Kṛṣṇa give Yaśodā the chance to feed Him, but this time He gave the chance to all the elder gopīs.
All the boys dealt with their mothers as usual, and the mothers also, on the approach of evening, bathed their respective children, decorated them with tilaka and ornaments and gave them necessary food after the day’s labor. The cows also, who had been away in the pasturing ground, returned in the evening and called their respective calves. The calves immediately came to their mothers, and the mothers began to lick the bodies of the calves. These relations of the cows and the gopīs with their calves and boys remained unchanged, although actually the original calves and boys were not there. Actually the cows’ affection for their calves and the elder gopīs’ affection for the boys causelessly increased. Their affection increased naturally, even though the calves and boys were not their offspring. Although the cows and elder gopīs of Vṛndāvana had greater affection for Kṛṣṇa than for their own offspring, after this incident their affection for their offspring increased unlimitedly, exactly as it did for Kṛṣṇa. For one year continuously, Kṛṣṇa Himself expanded as the calves and cowherd boys and was present in the pasturing ground.
As it is stated in the Bhagavad-gītā, Kṛṣṇa’s expansion is situated in everyone’s heart as the Supersoul. Similarly, instead of expanding Himself as the Supersoul, He expanded Himself as a portion of calves and cowherd boys for one continuous year.
One day, a few days before a year had passed, Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma were maintaining the calves in the forest when They saw some cows grazing on the top of Govardhana Hill. The cows could see down into the valley where the calves were being taken care of by the boys. Suddenly, on sighting the calves, the cows began to run toward them. They leaped downhill with joined front and rear legs. The cows were so melted with affection for the calves that they did not care about the rough path from the top of Govardhana Hill down to the pasturing ground. They approached the calves with their milk bags full of milk, and they raised their tails upwards. When they were coming down the hill, their milk bags were pouring milk on the ground out of intense maternal affection for the calves, although they were not their own calves. These cows had their own calves, and the calves that were grazing beneath Govardhana Hill were larger; they were not expected to drink milk directly from the milk bag but were satisfied with the grass. Yet all the cows came immediately and began to lick their bodies, and the calves also began to suck milk from the milk bags. There appeared to be a great bond of affection between the cows and calves.
When the cows were running down from the top of Govardhana Hill, the men who were taking care of them tried to stop them. Older cows are taken care of by the men, and the calves are taken care of by the boys; and as far as possible, the calves are kept separate from the cows, so that the calves do not drink all the available milk. Therefore the men who were taking care of the cows on the top of Govardhana Hill tried to stop them, but they failed. Baffled by their failure, they were feeling ashamed and angry. They were very unhappy, but when they came down and saw their children taking care of the calves, they all of a sudden became very affectionate toward the children. It was very astonishing. Although the men came down disappointed, baffled and angry, as soon as they saw their own children, their hearts melted with great affection. At once their anger, dissatisfaction and unhappiness disappeared. They began to show paternal love for the children, and with great affection they lifted them in their arms and embraced them. They began to smell their children’s heads and enjoy their company with great happiness. After embracing their children, the men took the cows back to the top of Govardhana Hill. Along the way they began to think of their children, and affectionate tears fell from their eyes.
When Balarāma saw this extraordinary exchange of affection between the cows and the calves and between the fathers and their children—when neither the calves nor the children needed so much care—He began to wonder why this extraordinary thing had happened. He was astonished to see all the residents of Vṛndāvana so affectionate to their own children, exactly as they had been to Kṛṣṇa. Similarly, the cows had grown affectionate to the calves—as much as to Kṛṣṇa. Balarāma therefore concluded that the extraordinary show of affection was something mystical, either performed by the demigods or by some powerful man. Otherwise, how could this wonderful change take place? He concluded that this mystical change must have been caused by Kṛṣṇa, whom Balarāma considered His worshipable Personality of Godhead. He thought, “It was arranged by Kṛṣṇa, and even I could not check its mystic power.” Thus Balarāma understood that all those boys and calves were only expansions of Kṛṣṇa.
Balarāma inquired from Kṛṣṇa about the actual situation. He said, “My dear Kṛṣṇa, in the beginning I thought that all these calves and cowherd boys were either great sages and saintly persons or demigods, but at present it appears that they are actually Your expansions. They are all You; You Yourself are playing as the calves and boys. What is the mystery of this situation? Where have those other calves and boys gone? And why are You expanding Yourself as the calves and boys? Will You kindly tell Me what is the cause?” At the request of Balarāma, Kṛṣṇa briefly explained the whole situation: how the calves and boys were stolen by Brahmā and how He was concealing the incident by expanding Himself so people would not know that the original calves and boys were missing.
While Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma were talking, Brahmā returned after a moment’s interval (according to the duration of his life). We have information of Lord Brahmā’s duration of life from the Bhagavad-gītā: 1,000 times the duration of the four ages, or 1,000 x 4,320,000 years, constitute Brahmā’s twelve hours. Similarly, one moment of Brahmā’s time is equal to one year of our solar calculation. After one moment of Brahmā’s calculation, Brahmā came back to see the fun caused by his stealing the boys and calves. But he was also afraid that he was playing with fire. Kṛṣṇa was his master, and he had played mischief for fun by taking away His calves and boys. He was really anxious, so he did not stay away very long; he came back after a moment (of his calculation). He saw that all the boys and calves were playing with Kṛṣṇa in the same way as when he had come upon them, although he was confident that he had taken them and made them lie down asleep under the spell of his mystic power. Brahmā began to think, “All the boys and calves were taken away by me, and I know they are still sleeping. How is it that a similar batch of boys and calves is playing with Kṛṣṇa? Is it that they are not influenced by my mystic power? Have they been playing continually for one year with Kṛṣṇa?” Brahmā tried to understand who they were and how they were uninfluenced by his mystic power, but he could not ascertain it. In other words, he himself came under the spell of his own mystic power. The influence of his mystic power appeared like snow in darkness or a glowworm in the daytime. During the night’s darkness, the glowworm can show some glittering power, and the snow piled up on the top of a hill or on the ground can shine during the daytime. But at night the snow has no silver glitter, nor does the glowworm have any illuminating power during the daytime. Similarly, when the small mystic power exhibited by Brahmā was before the mystic power of Kṛṣṇa, it was just like snow at night or a glowworm during the day. When a man of small mystic power wants to show potency in the presence of greater mystic power, he diminishes his own influence; he does not increase it. Even such a great personality as Brahmā, when he wanted to show his mystic power before Kṛṣṇa, became ludicrous. Brahmā was thus confused about his own mystic power.
In order to convince Brahmā that all those calves and boys were not the original ones, the calves and boys who were playing with Kṛṣṇa transformed into Viṣṇu forms. Actually, the original ones were sleeping under the spell of Brahmā’s mystic power, but the present ones, seen by Brahmā, were all immediate expansions of Kṛṣṇa, or Viṣṇu. Viṣṇu is the expansion of Kṛṣṇa, so the Viṣṇu forms appeared before Brahmā. All the Viṣṇu forms were of bluish color and dressed in yellow garments; all of Them had four hands decorated with club, disc, lotus flower and conchshell. On Their heads were glittering golden helmets inlaid with jewels; They were bedecked with pearls and earrings and garlanded with beautiful flowers. On Their chests was the mark of Śrīvatsa, Their arms were decorated with armlets and other jewelry, and Their necks were just like conchshells. Their legs were decorated with bells, Their waists with golden belts, and Their fingers with jeweled rings. Brahmā also saw that upon the whole body of each Lord Viṣṇu, from the lotus feet up to the top of the head, fresh tulasī leaves and buds had been thrown. Another significant feature of the Viṣṇu forms was that all of Them were looking transcendentally beautiful. Their smiling resembled the moonshine, and Their glancing resembled the early rising of the sun. Just by Their glancing They showed Themselves to be the creators and maintainers of the modes of ignorance and passion. Viṣṇu represents the mode of goodness, Brahmā represents the mode of passion, and Lord Śiva represents the mode of ignorance. Therefore as the maintainer of everything in the cosmic manifestation, Viṣṇu is also the creator and maintainer of Brahmā and Lord Śiva.
After this manifestation of Lord Viṣṇu, Brahmā saw that many other Brahmās and Śivas and demigods and even insignificant living entities down to the ants and very small straws—movable and immovable living entities—were dancing, surrounding Lord Viṣṇu. Their dancing was accompanied by various kinds of music, and all of Them were worshiping Lord Viṣṇu. Brahmā realized that all those Viṣṇu forms were complete in mystic power, from the aṇimā perfection of becoming small like an atom up to becoming infinite like the cosmic manifestation. All the mystic powers of Brahmā, Śiva, all the demigods and the twenty-four elements of cosmic manifestation were fully represented in the person of Viṣṇu. By the influence of Lord Viṣṇu, all subordinate mystic powers were engaged in His worship. He was being worshiped by time, space, the cosmic manifestation, reformation, desire, activity and the three qualities of material nature. Lord Viṣṇu, Brahmā also realized, is the reservoir of all truth, knowledge and bliss. He is the combination of three transcendental features, namely eternity, knowledge and bliss, and He is the object of worship by the followers of the Upaniṣads. Brahmā realized that all the different forms of boys and calves transformed into Viṣṇu forms were not transformed by a mysticism of the type that a yogī or a demigod can display by specific powers invested in him. The calves and boys transformed into viṣṇu-mūrtis, or Viṣṇu forms, were not displays of viṣṇu-māyā, or Viṣṇu’s energy, but were Viṣṇu Himself. The respective qualifications of Viṣṇu and viṣṇu-māyā are just like fire and heat. In the heat there is the qualification of fire, namely warmth; and yet heat is not fire. The manifestation of the Viṣṇu forms of the boys and calves was not like the heat but was rather the fire—they were all actually Viṣṇu. Factually, the qualification of Viṣṇu is full truth, full knowledge and full bliss. Another example can be given with material objects, which are reflected in many, many forms. For example, the sun is reflected in many waterpots, but the reflections of the sun in the many pots are not actually the sun. There is no actual heat or light from the suns in the pots, although they appear like the sun. But the forms which Kṛṣṇa assumed were each and every one full Viṣṇu. The specific word used in this connection is satya-jñānānantānanda: satya means truth; jñāna, full knowledge; ananta, unlimited; and ānanda, full bliss.
The glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead are so great that the impersonalistic followers of the Upaniṣads cannot reach the platform of knowledge to understand them. Especially the transcendental forms of the Lord are beyond the reach of the impersonalists, who can only understand, through studying the Upaniṣads, that the Absolute Truth is not matter, or is not materially restricted. From Kṛṣṇa’s expansion into Viṣṇu forms, Lord Brahmā could understand by his limited potency that everything movable and immovable within the cosmic manifestation is existing due to the expansion of the energy of the Supreme Lord.
When Brahmā was thus standing baffled in his limited power and conscious of his limited activities within the eleven senses, he could realize that he was also a creation of the material energy, just like a puppet. As a puppet has no independent power to dance but dances according to the direction of the puppet master, so the demigods and living entities are all subordinate to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As it is stated in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, the only master is Kṛṣṇa, and all others are His servants. The whole world is under the waves of the material spell, and beings are floating like straws in water. So their struggle for existence is continuing. But as soon as one becomes conscious that he is the eternal servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, this māyā, or illusory struggle for existence, is immediately stopped.
Lord Brahmā, who has full control over the goddess of learning and who is considered to be the best authority in Vedic knowledge, was thus perplexed, being unable to understand the extraordinary power manifested by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In the mundane world, even a personality like Brahmā is unable to understand the mystic power of the Supreme Lord. Not only did Brahmā fail to understand, but he was perplexed even to see the display which was being manifested by Kṛṣṇa before him.
Kṛṣṇa took compassion upon Brahmā because of his inability to see how Kṛṣṇa was displaying the forms of Viṣṇu and transforming Himself into calves and cowherd boys, and thus, while fully manifesting the Viṣṇu expansions, He suddenly pulled His curtain of yogamāyā over the scene. In the Bhagavad-gītā it is said that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is not visible due to the curtain spread by yogamāyā. That which covers the reality is mahā-māyā, or the external energy, which does not allow a conditioned soul to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead beyond the cosmic manifestation. But the energy which partially manifests the Supreme Personality of Godhead and partially does not allow one to see is called yogamāyā. Brahmā is not an ordinary conditioned soul. He is far, far superior to all the other demigods, and yet he could not comprehend the display of the Supreme Personality of Godhead; therefore Kṛṣṇa willingly stopped manifesting any further potency. The conditioned soul not only becomes bewildered but is completely unable to understand. The curtain of yogamāyā was drawn so that Brahmā would not become more and more perplexed.
When Brahmā was relieved from his perplexity, he appeared to awaken from an almost dead state, and he began to open his eyes with great difficulty. Thus he could see the external cosmic manifestation with common eyes. He saw all around him the superexcellent view of Vṛndāvana—full with trees—which is the source of life for all living entities. He could appreciate the transcendental land of Vṛndāvana, where all the living entities are transcendental to ordinary nature. In the forest of Vṛndāvana, even ferocious animals like tigers live peacefully along with the deer and human beings. He could understand that because of the presence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vṛndāvana is transcendental to all other places and is free of lust and greed.
Brahmā thus found Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, playing the part of a small cowherd boy; he saw that little child with a lump of food in His left hand, searching out His friends and calves, just as He had actually been doing one year before, after their disappearance.
Immediately Brahmā descended from his great swan carrier and fell down before the Lord just like a golden stick. The word used among the Vaiṣṇavas for offering respect is daṇḍavat. This word means “falling down like a stick”; one should offer respect to the superior Vaiṣṇava by falling down straight, with his body just like a stick. So Brahmā fell down before the Lord just like a stick to offer respect; and because the complexion of Brahmā is golden, he appeared to be like a golden stick lying down before Lord Kṛṣṇa. All the four helmets on the heads of Brahmā touched the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa. Brahmā, being very joyful, began to shed tears, and he washed the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa with his tears. Repeatedly he fell and rose as he recalled the wonderful activities of the Lord. After repeating obeisances for a long time, Brahmā stood up and smeared his hands over his eyes. Seeing the Lord before him, he, trembling, began to offer prayers with great respect, humility and attention.
Thus ends the Bhaktivedanta purport of the Thirteenth Chapter of Kṛṣṇa, "The Stealing of the Boys and Calves by Brahmā."