LORD Krsna's appearance in deity form is another display of His compassion, another opportunity for loving exchange with Him. The deity is not a material idol. With our present eyes and other senses we can perceive only matter, though we may appreciate the existence of spirit. For example, when a person dies we note that consciousness, the soul's energy, leaves the body, but we cannot see the soul itself depart. The supreme soul, the Lord of the universal body, is similarly not visible to material eyes, but He makes Himself visible as a deity to accept our service. All the material elements are God's energies. He can use them as He likes and appear as He likes. He is omnipotent. For Him there is no distinction between matter and spirit.
One may fashion a deity of wood, stone, clay, or jewels, or the deity may be a painting or a drawing. Mind too is God's subtle material energy, so a mental image of the Lord in line with scripture is also a worshipable deity. The key is that the deity must be a form authorized by scripture, just as a mail box must be authorized by the post office. Dropping your mail in any old box will not do. As each mailbox has the support of the entire postal system, the deity form authorized by the Lord through scripture has the same unlimited potency as the Lord Himself.
If service to the deity were material idol worship, as critics say, then the critics' own mental images of God would be idols as well. Mind is in itself no less material, no closer to spirit, than granite or styrofoam. In fact, those who maintain mental images of God as impersonal or void, or as an old man, do serve fanciful material idols, since according to revealed scripture God is neither void nor impersonal nor old. Service rendered to an authorized deity on the other hand, whether we fashion the deity of stone, wood, paint, or mental elements, is service to the Lord Himself, to His original personal form of eternity, bliss, and knowledge. Servants of the deity gradually realize that they are in direct contact with the supreme person.
The Festival of the Chariots: In Memory of Kurukshetra
In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna states that His birth and activities are transcendental. He does not take birth and die against His will, as we do, but descends out of compassion to orchestrate loving pastimes with His devotees. Queen Kunti, the great devotee-poet, opines that Krsna, while present in every particle in all existence, appears in human society like a dancing actor, undetected by unfortunate men with the intelligence of donkeys. Devotees remember and celebrate the pastimes of Lord Krsna, which he displays in places such as Vrndavana, Dwaraka, Hastinapura, and Kurukshetra.
Kurukshetra is the site a few hundred miles north of Hastinapura, modern Delhi, where Lord Krsna spoke the Bhagavad-gita and to which, many years before that, He once journeyed as a pilgrim. Accompanied by His brother, Balarama, and sister, Subhadra, and by other gener-als of the Yadu dynasty, Lord Krsna came to Kurukshetra, renowned even then as an ancient holy place, for fasting and prayer during a full solar eclipse.
Arriving from His coastal kingdom of Dwaraka, He met with commanders of the Kuru dynasty, including Bhisma, Drona, Dhrtarastra, and Duryodhana, with the Pandavas, headed by King Yudhisthira, and with many other heads of state. The gathering of leaders, along with their wives and retinues, made for a magnificent religious, diplomatic, and social occasion. The Yadus and other dignitaries appeared in full-dress regalia, carrying their swords and other weapons. Kurukshetra resounded with the rumbling of ornate royal chariots drawn by powerful horses as graceful as ocean waves. Guests and celebrities made their entrances riding on great elephants that moved like clouds in the sky.
Though at home amid this splendor and pageantry, Lord Krsna had grown up among the gentle cowherd men and women of the village of Vrndavana. Political dangers had obliged Krsna's father, Vasudeva, a Yadu prince, to place Krsna and Balarama from Their births under the care of Vrndavana's King Nanda. Nanda and his wife, Yasoda, raised Krsna and Balarama as their own children, and the two boys became the darlings not only of Their foster parents but of the entire village. While Krsna roamed the forests and fields of Vrndavana during His youth, playing and tending cows with His cowherd boyfriends and Balarama, the hearts of everyone in Vrndavana went with Him. In particular the young cowherd girls, or gopis, could not tolerate even a moment without seeing Krsna. When at the age of sixteen Krsna reluctantly left Vrndavana to take up princely duties, the gopis were devastated and longed day and night for His return.
Eyes Only for Krsna
Hearing that Krsna would be at Kurukshetra for the solar eclipse, all Vrndavana prepared to go. Loading gifts and belongings on ox carts, the simple rural cowherd boys, girls, men, and women made their way north to the gala royal assembly. Religion and diplomacy were not high on their agenda. They wanted only to see Krsna and Balarama, their life and soul.
They arrived at Kurukshetra to a warm welcome from the Yadus, who were their intimate friends and relatives. Inquiring about each other's well-being, everyone cried in jubilation while their smiling faces bloomed like lotus flowers. Both parties were great devotees of Krsna, and their talk turned around Him. The Yadus, despite their regal opulence and their participation in the lofty religious rituals at Kurukshetra, had no interest in wealth or piety. In all their duties and activities their sole object of devotion was Krsna. And as for the residents of Vrndavana, they circulated in the dazzling grandeur of the Kurukshetra assembly with eyes only for Krsna, their dearmost cowherd boy.
Nanda and Yasoda's affection for Krsna was so strong that despite hearing Krsna praised by the assembled kings as the omnipotent and omnipresent Supreme Lord, they could think of Him only as their little child. At the first opportunity, they took Krsna and Balarama aside to talk, placing the grown princes on their laps like eight-year-olds.
The gopis, though also not denying Krsna's royalty or His position as the Supreme, were interested less than anyone in these trappings. They were overjoyed to see Krsna again, but the hubbub at Kurukshetra was a distraction. The crowds of people, along with horses, elephants, and the din of huge chariots moving here and there, left little room for intimacy. Krsna wore the formal attire of a prince and moved in the company of military officers. Drawing Krsna away from the crowds, the gopis requested Him to return with them to Vrndavana. Vrndavana was quiet, they pointed out, with beautiful streams and flower gardens. You could hear the buzzing of bees and the chirping of birds. Krsna wouldn't need to dress up in all this finery or take part in all these ceremonious matters. In Vrndavana the gopis and Krsna could be alone together again.
Though Krsna regretfully explained that He could not yet fulfill the gopis' request, and although after a three-month visit with His dear childhood family and friends He returned to Dwaraka, the gopis forever aspired to have Him back. They longed to leave Kurukshetra with Krsna in tow on His grand royal chariot, pulling Him with them down the road to Vrndavana.