When we think of Lord Krishna, we almost always picturize him with a flute on his lips. Hearing the melodious music that flowed out of the flute, the gopis of Vrindavan would drop whatever they were doing and rush to his side. In fact, they were jealous of his flute as he always carried it with him and his lips caressed it like a lover. The gopis even asked the flute, “What merit do you have, that Krishna loves you so much and allows you to drink the sweet nectar from his lips? What beauty does he see in you? When Krishna plays you, peacocks begin to dance with joy, the bird begin to chirp and sing, poisonous snakes become quiet and humble, cows stop grazing, and calves stop sucking at their mothers’ breasts. It’s as if your music attracts the Jiva or souls of all living beings in Vrindavan. Tell us what your secret is, so that we can also receive Krishna’s love without having to beg for it.
The flute replied, “Friends, and lovers of my Lord, the truth is, I have no merits whatsoever. I am not beautiful and I have not cast a magic spell on Krishna. I am just a simple reed that was born in the forest. I am hollow and I lack beauty. It was the Lord who asked me to empty myself so that he could fill me with love. I merely obeyed him. I cannot create any music. It’s he who plays me to create music. I have understood the truth that every creature is a flute, and Krishna is the one who plays the flute. He creates sad or happy melodies according to his desire and the creature’s karma. If you can destroy your ego and surrender completely to Krishna, you too can become his melody and merge with him. Destroy your ego and make your mind completely pure if you want to get close to him, the way I am. If you want his love, you must surrender to him fully.
The flute narrated its story. It was once a bamboo plant growing, along with other bamboo plants on the banks of the Yamuna river, where Krishna often played with his friends. But unlike the other bamboo plants that grew tall and proud, it stood with its head bent in a humble posture. People used to come and cut all the tall bamboo plants, but they left this bamboo plant alone as it was bent. Meanwhile, Krishna came looking for a bamboo plant to make a flute for himself. His eyes fell on the bent bamboo plant, and he chose it to make his flute, as it seemed humble to him. Krishna then asked the bamboo plant if he could cut it to make his flute. The plant asked, “Is there no other way?” “No,” said Krishna. Being humble, the plant agreed and said, “Do what you wish. I surrender to you completely.” Krishna cut the bamboo and made 8 holes in it. Each time he made a hole, the bamboo plant cried out in pain. But it did not ask him to stop. Finally, Krishna crafted a beautiful flute from the bamboo plant. From that day onwards, it became his faithful companion.
In India, flutes are made from bamboo plants that are specially cultivated for the purpose. The bamboo cannot have a tough bark. Once the bamboo is cut, one end is closed, so only one end is left open. One can spot a spiritual analogy here. In a discourse, Kidambi Narayanan says that a person with pride and ego can be likened to a bamboo plant with a hard bark. Such a person is unfit for spiritual contemplation. To realize God, one needs to cultivate his thoughts in the same way that bamboo plants are cultivated to make flutes. This will help one to focus on God. They need to shut out all other thoughts except those of God. This can be compared to the flute being dipped in a solution to season it. Likewise, one’s mind must be seasoned to receive God’s grace. Just as melody flows from the flute, Bhakti or devotion flows from a person in whose heart God resides. For this reason, Krishna chose the flute to be his musical instrument.
When Krishna played the flute, everyone in the three worlds was mesmerized, including Lord Shiva and Brahma. In Yadavabhudayam, Vedanta Desika says that when the Gopikas went to Krishna on hearing him play his flute, the instrument spoke to them. He compares it to the Paramatma’s joyous reception of those who approach him with true devotion or Bhakti. According to the Scriptures, Krishna’s flute is his greatest weapon. With it, he conquers his devotees’ hearts. For when he plays the flute, his devotees cannot help but run to him. It is his call to them, and they can never ignore it.
Krishna, the 8th avatar of Lord Vishnu, was born on the 8th day of Krishna Paksha (dark lunar fortnight) in the month of Bhadrapada (August – September). The day is celebrated by Hindus in India and abroad as Krishna Jayanthi or Krishna Janmashtami. Krishna Jayanthi 2021 or Krishna Janmashtami 2021 is on August 30.
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