Gokulashtami: A Walk Down Childhood Memory Lane
To children, Sri Krishna was the companion, guide, beloved, friend, guru and the supreme lord.
This Gokulashtami, it will be fitting to reminisce the divine experiences that Krishna gifted us with.
Sri Krishna bhakti has always been integral to Tamil land from time immemorial. Lord Krishna has been the companion of every child in his or her heart. He has been the idol and the beloved, the lover and hero. He has been that one friend you can rely on. He is the god friend with whom you can share not just your fears but also your jokes.
Every generation has renewed and handed over Krishna bhakti to the next. As the children of 1970s Tamil Nadu, how exactly did we receive this divine experience from our elders?
This Gokulashtami, let us reminisce the experiences we took for granted, and the boons that were showered upon us. Feeling nostalgia on a Janmashtami day is indeed quite a good experience.
Children of Tamil Nadu know Gokulam, the illustrious magazine for children. The first issue of the magazine carried a cover of Krishna stealing butter and curd along with not only his cowherd friends but also animals — monkeys mainly.
The logo of the magazine portrayed two of the most beloved of gods for children of India — Ganesha and Krishna — with the lines of Mahakavi Bharati that said, "children you should have love for all life forms and unflinching faith in the divine". It gifted the children with the idea of dharma — practical dharma.
A contributor to Gokulam was one of the top intellectuals of India who can write incisively on politics, philosophy, geo-politics and exquisite literature. He was feared and admired for his sword-sharp intelligence, but he wrote in the simplest language on dharmic lessons for children. Yes. C Rajagopalachari, shortly Rajaji, wrote in Gokulam. He wrote about dharma.
Guess who wrote for us children the Bhagavata in a way that stole our hearts? It was one of the greatest Saivaite scholars and seer, Thirumurga Kirupananda Varriyar. One of the most venerated of dharmic scholars, and a person of great spiritual standing, Varriyar's words provided wisdom to the finest scholars of religion and literature of those times in Tamil Nadu. But he was writing for us children, and we did not realise his greatness. He was to us just ‘Varriyar thatha’ (grand father) who tells beautiful stories in the most entertaining manner. Coupled with the illustrations by ‘Vinu’, which brought to life the episodes of Bhagavatam we drank at the fountain of eternal life in every issue of Gokulam. Later, the serial was made into a book Kannan Kaniyamudham, the ambrosia of Kannan. Oh! Aren't we blessed?
Gokulam was fun too, and there was Krishna in the fun. The front page of Gokulam featured tidbit cartoon like Sri Krishna visiting the 1970s Madras, and what he sees.
A doctor advises Krishna that he should eat more butter without making it tough for his parents to feed him. A music sabha secretary hunting for talent informs Krishna that being a genius he can have a great future signing up with his sabha.
Krishna himself improvises his ways of helping himself to the buttermilk by attaching tubes to pots hung at heights. Such cartoons also signified deep spirituality. An old man irritatingly tells Krishna, "Krishna please do not be a chatterbox, and go away. I am reading Bhagavad Gita now." Ouch!
Then there was also Balamitra. An Andhra-based children's magazine. It was also published in Tamil with Tamil contribution. Every cover of Balamitra featured beautiful pictures of Sri Krishna (art by Maruthi) in daring adventures, protecting the weak and helpless.
The inside stories explained the incident. In the December 1978 issue of Balamitra, one Jaffer Nachiyar from Karaikal wrote how much she enjoyed Krishna killing Vyomasura and freeing of the cowherd girls that she read it again and again, no less than eight times. She added that she was a Muslim girl who loved and respected all religions.
We did not know then the churning that was going around us in Tamil Nadu — the Dravidianist takeover and atheist propaganda and all that. In our world of childhood, Sri Krishna has always been there — the companion, guide, beloved, friend, guru and ultimately the supreme lord.
Have you ever wondered why and how Tamil Nadu, despite the political takeover of Dravidianist parties and pumping in of such enormous money by breaking India forces for almost seven decades now, if not more, still is Hindu and is dharmic at the societal level?
I would suggest the reader goes through the early issues of Gokulam to know how we, the educated current generation, threw away that advantage created by the ‘punya balam’ given to us by our ancestors.
Balamitra has long ceased to appear in Tamil and it seems that its Telugu edition too has stopped. Chandamama has stopped. Amar Chitra Katha after Uncle Pai had slowly changed and now in my opinion, has fully become anti-Hindu. Uncle Pai would have wept.
Nostalgia can be painful.
When one wonders what this generation will have to say about us with respect to passing on Sri Krishna bhakti to them, it's painful.
Have we failed? Are we of this generation the weakest link in the chain? Then one sees the Sri Krishna paintings of Keshav floating through the digital space and entering the hearts of this generation.
When we see the beautiful paintings of Sri Krishna, which our inimitable Keshav creates with love, wielding his brush and pencil, we know that Sri Krishna bhakti of this land is eternal — and our dharma is sanatana.
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