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  • Krishna Went Out to Play
  • Translated by Andrew Schelling (bio)

kṛṣṇenāmbho gatena rantum adhunā mṛd bhakṣitā svecchayāsatyaṃ kṛṣṇa ka evam āha musalī mithyāmbha paśyānanamvyādehīti vikāsite 'tha vadane dṛṣṭvā samastaṃ jagatmātā yasya jagāma vismayapadam pāyāt sa vaḥ keśavaḥ

  • kṛṣṇeṇa. by Krishna

  • ambho. mother

  • gatena. went

  • rantum. to play

  • adhunā. now

  • mṛd. (f.) dirt

  • bhakṣitā. was eaten

  • sva-icchayā. (ind.) at his desire

  • satyaṃ. true

  • ka. who

  • evam. thus

  • āha. said

  • musalī. “the one with a club,” Krishna’s brother Balarama

  • mithyā. (ind.) wrong, a lie

  • ambha. mother

  • paśya. (imp.) look

  • ananam. (at my) mouth

  • vi-ādehi. (vy-ā-dā) (imp.) open your mouth

  • iti. [quotation marks]

  • vikāsite. (loc. abs.) when he opened his mouth

  • atha. now

  • vadane. into his mouth

  • dṛṣṭvā. having looked

  • samastaṃ. entire

  • jagat. world (universe)

  • mātā. Mother

  • yasya. of him

  • jagāma. went

  • vismaya-padam: to the foot of wonder

  • vismaya. to wonderment, astonishment

  • padam. foot

  • pāyāt. (optative) may he protect

  • sa. he

  • vaḥ. you (all)

  • keśavaḥ. epithet of Krishna [End Page 94]

Krishna went out to play, Motherand ate dirtIs that true, Krishna?Who said it?Your brotherA lie! Look in my mouth—Open it—and awestruck she saw thewhole UniverseMay Keśava protect you.

A poem based on one of the well-known tales of Krishna’s childhood. Sanskrit scholar Jeffrey Masson writes, “the emphasis is on the elusiveness of the epi phany.” Caṇḍaka’s poem shows Krishna “as a young boy, impetuous, playful, disdainful of his elders, who at a given moment allows them an insight into his mystery.” No matter how often Krishna exposes his identity by accomplishing superhuman feats as an infant, everybody, including his foster mother, forgets that he is lord of the universe. Between his supernatural adventures, he behaves like a mischievous child, and this is central to his līlā (divine play). Vaiṣṇava philosophers explain it all theologically. Caṇḍaka’s audience would have known the story intimately from hearing it during their own childhoods.

Krishna is an avatar, descended to Earth to slay a serpent demon that has been terrorizing the region. His mother is really a foster mother who found him in rushes by the river. Psychoanalytic-minded Western scholars make a great deal of the theme: forgetting, remembering, forgetting again. The play between vulnerable infant and impossibly powerful hero draws attention, along with the motif of humble foster parents: “the myth of the birth of the hero.” The charm of Caṇḍaka’s poem is that it compresses the familiar into a tight lyric—a magical talisman you could slip in your pocket. The quick exchange between Krishna and his mother occurs without iti (quotation marks) until after paśyānanam (look in my mouth!). In Sanskrit, quotations are indicated by iti, and typically occur at the end of quoted text. Generally there is no marker to show where quotation begins, adding to the potential for ambiguity.

Blessings at verse-end are common to religious prayers. Classical poets would insert them, sometimes ironically, sometimes for humor, though here I think the blessing is to seal the poem, the amulet, the way a craftsman would bless a nearly finished sculpture with a prayer that awakens the deity lying dormant within the rūpa (image).

Keśava (pronounced KAY-sha-va) is an epithet for Krishna that refers to his long hair. [End Page 95]

Andrew Schelling

Andrew Schelling, born in 1953 at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Washington, D.C., has written, edited, or translated twenty books. Early opposition to American involvement in Vietnam, plus an encounter with India’s texts, set him on a lifelong engagement with Asian literature. He studied Sanskrit at the University of California at Berkeley, and began to translate from its classical poetry tradition around 1978. His first book, Dropping the Bow: Poems of Ancient India, received the Academy of American Poets translation award in 1992, the first time the Academy had honored work done from an Asian language. Schelling’s own poetry and essays emerge from...


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