Whenever virtue declines and evil dominates, God manifests as an avatar; an embodied being (sometimes a human being, sometimes an animal being) to protect that which is good, for the sake of love, light and balance. One such incarnation was Krishna.
A unique aspect of the avatar Krishna is his multifaceted nature. His different lilas, or plays, can be seen as four roles that He played for the sake of humanity. They give examples of the varied relationships that a soul can cultivate with God. One can relate to God as a child, a lover, a master or a friend.
The appearance day (birthday) of Shri Krishna occurs in the summer. The scene is a dungeon prison in the city of Mathura. It is the rainy season, and midnight. Vasudeva assists his wife Devaki as she gives birth to their eighth child, a beautiful baby boy. In order to escape from being killed by his uncle the evil King Kamsa, baby Krishna is taken to a nearby village, Gokul, to be adopted and raised by the cow-herder Nanda, and his wife, Yashoda. An adorable child, he lives in Gokul and enchants his parents and the village folk. The relationship that Yashoda has with her baby is an example of worshiping God by loving Him as if He is your child.
When he grows into a young, ravishing man, Krishna expands his territory to include Vrindavan, a nearby town. Thus begins the next phase of his life, the Vrindavan Lila. He plays the flute and makes dalliance with Radha and the other gopis (cowgirls) and acts as a friend to the gopas (cowboys) in and around the forests of Vrindavan and along the beloved banks of the river Yamuna. The gopis approach him in a sexual way, desiring him as their lover. As the lover of Radha and the gopis, Krishna exemplifies the most exalted of relationships that the soul can have with God, that of a lover.
Krishna is adorned with a peacock feather and his ears are graced with flowers. Krishna’s clothes are the color of bright gold. He wears a garland of forest wildflowers. He fills the holes of his flute with the honey nectar from his lips. As he enters Vrindavan, he is surrounded by the gopis, who vie for his attention. His lotus feet appear splendid and create dalliance wherever they touch the ground.
When Krishna reaches full manhood, he leaves Vrindavan and travels to Dwaraka. There he marries Rukmini and rules as a King, giving us a manifestation of God as a King or master that we may love and worship. While in Dwaraka, Krishna becomes the friend and advisor of Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers, who asks his help in winning the great Mahabharata war. This is when Shri Krishna manifests as Arjuna’s chariot driver and gives the famous discourse on Yoga that comprises the classic scripture, The Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna’s relationship to Krishna is as a friend.
In these four lilas, or plays, Shri Krishna gives us examples of the various relationships through which one can approach God. They are the same relationships that exist in “ordinary” life, but when they are used by the soul to reach God, they become elevated relationships and drop their mundane nature. These relationships can be summarized as: master/servant, friend/friend, parent/child, and lover/beloved.
But as Shri Krishna gently reminds us in The Bhagavad Gita: “…any way that you choose to approach me, if it is sincere, I will surely come to you.”