Stories of Krsna enchant, inspire, and educate our kids
Sometimes I curse myself for having the talent to tell stories because my kids don’t spare me this task even at the end of a very long tiring day! But most times, I am grateful to be able to tell stories because they are so enjoyable even when we repeat them for the ‘n’th time. Of course this is possible only because we narrate the pastimes of Lord Krsna, which are transcendental. Contrast this with having to tell the story of the Three Little Pigs or Cinderella every day!
One lady, eager to make her child a whiz, would sing ABC to put her to sleep. But how many times can you sing ABC? One day she got totally fed up singing ABC and became frustrated because her child would not respond to any other tune. Then, I sang Hare Krsna to the same tune and the child went to sleep almost immediately. In this method, both the singer and the child gained pleasure.
Similarly, stories of Krsna, being spiritual in nature do not tire the speaker or the sincere listener. Lord Caitanya, during His stay in Puri, would hear the histories of Prahlada and Dhruva everyday and experience ecstasy remembering the devotion of these child devotees.
Narrating the pastimes of Krsna to children can begin very early. Fortunately, by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada and the tireless services of his talented followers, ISKCON has a great album of paintings and children’s books to engage our children. We can teach children to concentrate on Krsna when they are as early as young as six months by showing pictures of Krsna that we have on the wall, pointing out the birds and animals, Krsna’s sweet smile and ornaments, and other features in the picture. The child may not reproduce immediately what is being said; it may even seem that the child is not responding; but actually, we are making very deep impressions on the child. This activity also makes it practically easy to feed the child without having to run after the child throughout the house or the yard.
As the child learns to sit in one place, we can introduce books with large pictures and start telling simple pastimes. Once the child begins to talk, we can narrate the stories in a very simple way making it possible for the child to recite the same. This helps us to spend quality Krsna conscious time with the children.
When my daughter, Bhagyavati Radha, returned home from her kindergarten class, she picked up her toy phone and told me to speak to her classmate. I spoke generally to Sreya (her friend) asking if she had taken lunch, was she going to sleep now, etc. But then, Bhagya had me call another classmate, then another… Finally, since it was getting mundane and the game was not stopping, I decided to add a Krsna conscious touch. I picked up the phone, called Mayank (another friend), and said, “Mayank do you know? Rama and Laksmana went to the forest. There they saw evil woman Tataka. Tataka said, “boo..boo!” Rama shot an arrow. Evil woman Tataka fell down, bapoo!” Each sentence had an action to go with it. By the time I had called all of Bhagya’s classmates and told them the story, Bhagya had a story to tell people with action! It was a happily spent afternoon. (until my children learnt the words “kill” and “die” from schoolmates, I was only using the words “fell down” to indicate death.)
Who is it that doesn’t like to hear stories? Prabhupada even gave us the sweet order to listen to the Krsna book as we eat. Kids love stories so much that just to go on listening they will eat more than what they normally do! When kids don’t come for their meal even after repeated calls, just sit with a Krsna story book, start reading, and you will see them rushing down. Getting kids addicted to stories of Krsna has great advantages.
Appreciating Krsna: Easy method to discipline
We know that of the nine methods of devotion, sravanam or hearing about the Lord is the topmost as there begins our appreciation and attachment to the Lord. Once the children realize what a great hero Rama/Krsna is, then, they desire to be “friends” with Them. They understand that they should not be like the misbehaving demons that get killed but be devotees who are protected and cared for by this great Hero. Thus, discipline naturally sets in.
At our programs for children, we never preach moral values. We simply tell stories of Krsna, we engage the kids in activities related to Krsna and the first response we get from parents is that the child is so much more obedient, respectful and peaceful. Since Lord Rama, Lord Krsna and their great devotees demonstrate proper behavior in their lives, children naturally imbibe appropriate behavior. Story telling thus acts as a magic wand that brings about discipline and love for the Supreme Lord at the same time.
These days we read regularly reports of violent behavior in children caused by exposure to violent scenes in movies and TV serials. When we consider the majority of the pastimes of Lord Krsna and His incarnations, they are also actually stories of fighting. But the effect on the children is very different. Srila Prabhupada explains this in a lecture as follows: Krsna’s this fighting lila, pastimes, and the rasa-lila pastime, they are all the same because Krsna is the center. Krsna being center, whatever in connection with Krsna is there, that becomes also Krsna.
Thus since Krsna is pure goodness, when we remember Him, we slowly reduce our degrees of passion and ignorance. Of course, the fighting pastimes of Lord Krsna also need to be balanced by the narration of His naughty pastimes such as damodara-lila, playing with the cowherd friends, and the histories of devotees who showed exemplary tolerance such as Prahlada Maharaja.
Once at the weekly Bhakta Prahlada School (BPS) program, one child asked why we were only telling Krsna stories and not Rama stories. As I answered, I could feel real gratitude to Krsna for having enacted so many easy and little pastimes to narrate to children. How many childhood pastimes of Lord Rama are written down by Valmiki? Nobody knows more than one or two. But Krsna is so kind that He has given us so many little interesting pastimes to tell children and thus arouse their devotion for Him. Krsna’s kindness in giving liberation and the eternal abode to Aghasura and Putana respectively, help children understand very easily the concept of body and soul and how even in killing, Krsna actually blesses.
As children grow older, they are going to look for newer stories. Parents should readily be equipped with the pastimes of great devotees of the Lord such as the Alvars, the unlimited devotees of Panduraìga etc. These pastimes also make the child understand very firmly that the Deity of the Lord is non-different from the Lord. We are also so blessed that Deities in ISKCON temples such as Lord Nrsimha and Lord Jagannatha in Mayapur enact so many pastimes making us realize that the Lord is never far from us. His pastimes with devotees do not belong to just bygone ages but are a daily reality.
Once the children get into the habit of listening to stories, it is easy to use stories to teach moral values or instill necessary qualities. According to the need, we can be creative and construct stories to convey these. Take for example this simple story:
Sumukhi and Dumukhi are two sisters. While Sumukhi is obedient, Dumukhi is stubborn and independent. Once when their father was going out of town, Dumukhi insisted on traveling with him. Mother told Dumukhi that father was going to be busy at meetings and would not be able to take care of her. She would have to stay alone in the hotel room. Dumukhi would not listen and wanted to have her way. To let her learn her lesson the hard way, father took Dumukhi along with him. Since he had to attend to his office duties, he would lock her up in the hotel room and attend to her only during meal times. Needless to say, Dumukhi was thoroughly bored. On the other hand, Sumukhi who had stayed back at home was visited suddenly by her uncle. He took his children along with Sumukhi around the city. They had a great time. When Dumukhi came back home she was very sorry to have heard that she had missed the good times with their uncle and remembering how boring it had been to be alone in the hotel room, vowed that she would listen to her parents in the future.
A story such as this, which describes the distress that came from not listening to the parents, and the reward that the obedient child gets, entices a child to follow the example of the obedient child. Stories objectively told can cause a change of mind more easily than a one-hour lecture that the child will simply not wait to hear. Parents should use some creativity to construct stories appropriate to the disciplinary needs of their children.
Here is another example, more suited to our visits to the temple.
Pabli and Puduli are brothers. Once when they visited the temple with their parents, four-year-old Puduli demanded to buy something from the gift shop. His father agreed and said that he would take him after the arati. But Puduli wanted to go right away skipping the arati. He was making so much noise that father had to take him away. When they came back from the shop, the arati had finished and Pabli was washing his hand. Puduli rushed to him and enquired what he had eaten. Pabli said that the pujari had given all devotees very tasty rabadi and because it was flowing out of his hands he had eaten it all without saving any for his brother. Puduli was very disappointed that he had missed out on his favorite prasada. Father explained that he should have listened to him and waited for the arati to be over before going to the shop. Puduli decided that the next time he should wait and not leave the temple hall before the arati was over.
Narrating Krsna stories before bedtime helps the child to remain in Krsna consciousness as they go into slumber and in the morning we can have fun hearing them narrate funny dreams where the Lord would have appeared in some way. Just this morning, my small son Nitai said, “A duck got hurt in the knee and foot. He was placed on a swing. Lord Rama was lying down on another swing. Lord Rama is Lord Visnu, isn’t it? So with His hand from here (indicating where the second arm on the right chest would be), he was swinging the duck!” What a weird dream! But the pleasure of remembering Lord Rama in his sleep is enough to keep our whole day happy! And how wonderful to realize that the Lord loves all creatures!
Tarini Radha Devi Dasi is a disciple of Jayapataka Swami. She is the mother of four children, and she coordinates children’s programs in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.