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purAna & the sibling ideal-Part 6

From: sudarshan (
Date: Fri Oct 02 1998 - 04:45:00 PDT

Dear bhAgavatOttamA-s,

In the "purAni-c" story we are currently following Vishnu, the brother of
Parvati, demonstrated to the whole world what true "sahodara-dharma" is ---
highest ideal of filial affection ! 

Taking the guise of a common cowherd the Supreme Lord followed Parvati unto
the earthly world for the sole and express purpose of being able to
shepherd his lost and forlorn ("vAzhA-vatti") sister. 

Vishnu himself was under no curse of Siva; He was not obliged to suffer the
indignity of an earthly appearance which His hapless sister was fated to
undertake; He took up no cudgels with Siva; He made
no attempt at interference into the private discord between sister and

Instead Lord Narayana chose to act, silently and voluntarily, in the most
effective way a brother could perhaps do under the circumstances. 

He simply chose to heap upon Himself the same misery that Parameshwara's
curse had cast upon Amba. He simply decided to be beside Amba in her hour
of crisis... and to remain her constant companion both physically and
morally... providing filial solace in the
period of harrowing confinement she spent as a derelict cow on earth.

A brother's empathy is a gift of the gods, indeed! 

Nothing ever substitutes the warmth of reassurance and the courage of
fortitude that a sibling's
mere presence provides a sister as she burns in the private hell of marital
distress and trauma. 

Vishnu thus took the form of a common cowherd and faithfully followed the
cow across the lands, hills and lakes.... 

Brother and sister, celestial exiles both, travelled through scores of
villages, across expanses of
grassland and over miles of deserts.....  

It is said in the "purAna" that Narayana, by and by, came to enjoy His role
as a ragged cowherd. In fact so much did he like the job of tending to His
sister, Parvati the cow,  that Narayana decided secretly that if ever He
was obliged to return to earth in another "avatAra" He would surely again
don the guise of a common cowherd. 

The ancient seers explain that was why in his Krishna "avatAra" the Lord
thoroughly enjoyed Himself in Brindavanam, frolicking and sporting as He
went amidst the bucolic community of calves and cows! Of all the
epithets that stuck to Krishna in those times, it is said, the one most
endearing to Him was "gOpala" --- "He who loves to tend to the cows"! Of
all his friends then, those dearest to His heart were the "gOpikA-s" -- the
"milk-maidens of "AyarpAdi" who tended the herds ("perrUm passukkal"
vide "AndAl's tirup-pAvai")"!

Indeed the very sight of jostling herds of cows, the great SriVaishnava
poet, Swami Vedanta Desikan has sung (in one magnificent and immortal
phrase in his "gOpAla-vimshati" (Verse#3)), the sight of herds brought on
alternatively "both misty tears and beaming smiles to the cowherd lad,
Krishna's visage":

 "..... aasra-vilEkshaNam-anukshana manda-hAsam....gOpAla-dimba
The sight of herds, it is said, always reminded the Lord of the harrowing
days that He and His sister, Parvati together underwent in bygone times of
another "yugA". It unfolded to Him many poignant, bitter-sweet memories of
the untold travails and tribulations that He and Parvati, the Divine
Siblings, suffered thanks to the terrible curse of Siva......

Now what are those special memories? And what are those "travails and
which He and Parvati experienced? What are those extraordinary memories
that moved the
cowherd Krishna, the "avatAra" of the Supreme Lord Narayana, to moments of
such melting nostalgia as described by the poet?

To find out we will go to the next post.