From a young age, we are told — do as Rama did and do as Krishna said. It is easy to understand Rama, and even if we cannot follow in his footsteps, we can understand what it means to live by his values and principles. It is hard to understand Krishna. With Krishna, there is no path.
While Krishna is perhaps the most popular of our devatas, he is also the most elusive. We are like the hapless gopis, chasing him into the forest wildernesses of Vraj, desperately trying to catch him. And the more we try to hold onto him, the further he slips away from our grasping fingers.
We love him without quite being able to pinpoint why. We love him in parts but are unable to digest or even comprehend the whole — we love him as the darling prankster of Vraj, the friend of the gopās, the lover of the gopīs, the consort of Radharani, the king of Dwaraka, the refuge of Draupadi and Pandavas, the deliverer of the Gita, the political mastermind behind the most apocalyptic war ever known. Many of us cannot integrate the Krishna of Vraj with the Yogeshwara Krishna of the Mahabharata; we can only love him in pieces.
We do not always remember the Krishna who burned the Khandava forest and smiled at the death of Ghatotkacha, whose ruthless approach to the war gave even Balarama, his elder brother, pause. Even as we are enchanted by the rās-līla, we are troubled knowing that he left behind Radharani and the gopīs without a second glance.
If we favor Radha, we are haunted by knowing that he never came back for her. If we favor Rukmini, we are haunted knowing that there was another who eclipsed even her, the very incarnation of Sri.
The one who demanded that the Kuru war be seen through to the end, that Yudhishthira lie about the death of Ashwatthama, that Bhima defeats Duryodhana through trickery, that Arjuna shoots at an unarmed Karna — that very Krishna was also the pragmatist who had no qualms about becoming the the one who ran away from the battlefield, retreating from Mathura to Dwaraka after repeated attacks from Jarasandha (whom the Yadavas bested each time but could never wholly defeat).
He is indisputably our one and only sampūrṇa avatār , and yet there was no such glorious reign known as Krishna Rajya. He did not win Rukmini in a swayamvar but rather had to steal her away, and…