By Gauranga Darshan Das
“Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes are most enchanting, but when His devotees narrate them,
they taste even more nectarean, being mixed with their love.”
Isn’t it ironic to see a rich man steal like a petty thief? Isn’t it even more astonishing to see him steal food, as if he were a hungry, poverty-stricken man?! What if God acts like this?
Lord Kṛṣṇa is the supreme proprietor of all the material and spiritual worlds, and is the husband of the goddess of fortune. He was the son of the king of Vṛndāvana, Nanda Mahārāja, and was lovingly raised by queen Yaśodā. Yet He was accustomed to stealing in the houses of vraja-gopīs, the ladies of Vṛndāvana. And what does He steal? Not gold or wealth, but some milk and butter!
Kṛṣṇa’s naughty pranks know no bounds. Although the gopīs relish them, they rebuked Him externally. They went to mother Yaśodā and lodged complaints against Kṛṣṇa. At times Yaśodā defended her darling Kṛṣṇa. The following is just a sample verse from the Bhagāvatam (10.8.29) that the gopīs spoke to Yaśodā, describing the stealing activities of naughty Kṛṣṇa.
vatsān muncan kvacid asamaye krośa-sanjāta-hāsaḥ
steyaṁ svādv atty atha dadhi-payaḥ kalpitaiḥ steya-yogaiḥ
markān bhokṣyan vibhajati sa cen nātti bhāṇḍaṁ bhinnatti
dravyālābhe sagṛha-kupito yāty upakrośya tokān
Releases calves at odd times
(vatsān muñcan kvacid asamaye)
The gopīs said in agitation, “Kṛṣṇa comes to our houses and releases the calves (vatsān muñcan).”
Yaśodā said, “What is Kṛṣṇa’s fault in this? He cares for the calves.”
The gopīs, “But He does it when it is not milking time (kvacid asamaye). The calves naturally drink all the milk, and when we go for milking the cows, we don’t get any milk!”
Yaśodā, “Kṛṣṇa is just a child. He has done this out of ignorance. There are many people in the house. Can they not prevent it?”
The gopīs, “No, this boy comes when they are busy in various household engagements, and then releases our calves.”
Yaśodā, “Why don’t you frighten Him?”
Mellows down anger with a smile (krośa-sañjāta-hāsaḥ)
The gopīs, “When we become angry (krośa-sañjāta) at Him and shout, ‘Beat Him, tie Him up…’ He merely smiles (hāsaḥ). Smitten by His intoxicating smile, we just helplessly watch Him do His dirty work.”
Yaśodā asked, “But, why does He release the calves at all?”
Eats milk products by stealing
(steyaṁ svādv atty atha dadhi-payaḥ)
Laughing, the gopīs imitate Kṛṣṇa’s answer, “‘I want to drink milk!’” They described, “Kṛṣṇa releases the calves to make people run here and there. And then He enters our houses, steals whatever He likes and eats (steyaṁ atty atha) our tasty (svādv) milk and curd (dadhi-payaḥ). Yet, we are unable to do anything, while He drinks the milk and curd even as He relishes the spoils of His thievery right in front of our eyes! He just sits there and eating, not even posturing to running away, while we stand there watching His antics bewildered by His smile.”
Yaśodā said, “Oh you are so unkind! Why didn’t you just give Him some milk before He takes it by Himself? The boy must be hungry. Why don’t you just let Him eat till His belly’s full?”
With smiling brows, the gopīs said, “His belly is always full, since He is always being fed by you. It is not a question of hunger. He has a taste for stealing! He wants stolen milk only, not the milk which we give Him. If we give Him milk, He will not drink it.”
Yaśodā said, “Fine! But what is the loss if He takes little milk from your storehouse?”
The gopīs replied, “He takes the tastiest milk (svādv) that we set aside for our husbands.”
Yaśodā defended Kṛṣṇa, “It is not possible for an untaught, innocent child to steal from you, for you are very clever.”
Invents ways of stealing
The gopīs described Kṛṣṇa’s expertise in stealing, “Innocent! Your son is uncannily intelligent. He has invented (kalpitaiḥ) innovative methods of stealing (steya-yogaiḥ) unseen or unheard of. He is so skillful that He releases our calves even whilst we are directly watching, mystifying us with His smile.”
Yaśodā said, “This is the result of piety of your ancestors that Kṛṣṇa is enjoying at your homes what is not given by you misers. Why don’t you accept this joyfully?”
Distributes Butter to Monkeys (markān bhokṣyan vibhajati)
The gopīs said, “We are happy if He eats our butter, even with His friends. But before He eats it, He divides it (vibhajati) and gives it to the monkeys to eat (markān bhokṣyan). But the monkeys had overeaten already and their bellies were already full.”
(sa cen nātti bhāṇḍaṁ bhinnatti)
The gopīs continued, “So they don’t eat. Even if one monkey does not eat the butter (sa cen na atti), Kṛṣṇa also does not eat it! He would say, ‘Without you, what is the use of My eating? I will not eat.’” Then, in distress, He simply breaks the pots (bhāṇḍaṁ bhinnatti). And sometimes, since He has eaten already, He does not eat the stolen food but still breaks the pots and blames others.”
Yaśodā said, “If you know all this, why don’t you hide the pots? By not doing so, you are making my playful child agitated.”
The gopīs replied, “We tried hiding our pots. But if Kṛṣṇa can’t find the eatables (dravya alābhe), He (sa) becomes angry at the residents of the house (gṛha-kupito). He becomes furious when the gopīs do not follow His order to give butter to the monkeys that have come to the door. He would say, ‘Stay there, and I will come tomorrow morning with a flaming coal in my hand. If you don’t give Me yogurt, I will burn your house down along with the elders and children.’”
(yāty upakrośya tokān)
The gopīs continued, “Then He would pinch and irritate the babies (upakrośya tokān) or scratch them with His nails, and run away (yāty).”
In this way, there was no end to the complaints of the gopīs about Kṛṣṇa. Sometimes, as the gopīs spoke, Kṛṣṇa would be present there, but displayed very gentle behavior, as if He were so innocent and the gopīs’ complaints were all lies.
Sometimes mother Yaśodā defended Kṛṣṇa in front of the gopīs, but sometimes she also chastised Kṛṣṇa to discipline Him and teach Him good conduct. That was her absorption in her eternal mood as the mother of Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Godhead, acting as the Supreme Thief. By stealing butter, however, Kṛṣṇa was actually stealing the butter-like hearts of the gopīs. He was not hungry for milk, but was hungry for the milk of their motherly love.
It was actually the greatest pleasure of the gopīs to see Kṛṣṇa stealing from their homes. In fact, they prepared all kinds of milk products in anticipation that Kṛṣṇa would come and steal them. Although the gopīs relished the stealing activities of Kṛṣṇa, they rebuked Him externally. These simple gopīs were very much appreciative of Yaśodā’s fortune in being Kṛṣṇa’s mother. But they thought she must be bereft of the pleasure of witnessing Kṛṣṇa’s stealing pastimes, for He wouldn’t steal butter in her house. To give the same pleasure to Yaśodā, the gopīs went to her house to narrate Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes of stealing in the garb of complaining against Him.
Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes are most enchanting, but when His pure devotees like the gopīs or Śukadeva Gosvāmī in the Bhāgavatam narrate them, they taste even more nectarean, being mixed with the love of these devotees. Thus, Mother Yaśodā experienced a greater pleasure upon hearing about Kṛṣṇa’s stealing pastimes from the gopīs than the gopīs did by witnessing them firsthand. The gopīs’ apparent angry complaints were nothing but expressions of their loving affection for Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme butter thief (makhana-cora) who steals everyone’s pure heart.
This article is based on the commentaries of Śrīla Prabhupāda, Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravarti Thākura and Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī on Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 10.8.29.