Denying that Kṛṣṇa is Indian may be a form of cultural appropriation

With the globalization of bhakti, people argue that Kṛṣṇa is not Indian because God cannot belong to any country. So the idea that Kṛṣṇa is Indian is sectarian and ought to be rejected.

Sounds nice, but is it the truth? Lets look at the evidence.

Kṛṣṇa is described only in Indian scriptures.

All historians will agree unanimously that the Bhāgavatam and Bhagavad Gitā are Indian scriptures. These scriptures teach that Kṛṣṇa was born in India. They show that He married Indian girls with Indian names. Kṛṣṇa was born in the Yadu dynasty, which exists only in India. There is no evidence to the contrary. People outside India today do not have the name ‘Yādava’. Kṛṣṇa is known as Yādava, Vāsudeva which are all Indian names. Of course Kṛṣṇa is Indian!

Nobody is Indian from the point of ātmā.

True, but when we say Indian or Japanese or American, we are referring to where the body is from. Kṛṣṇa was born in Mathurā which is located in India.  Find it here on the map! Visit India and you can find his birthplace there. So Kṛṣṇa’s body is from India. One may propose that His body is transcendental, but every historian, geologist and archeologist would agree that Kṛṣṇa was born in India, and He gave up His body in Dwaraka. Both are in India.

But India is a name invented by the British!

This is a straw-man. Call it whatever you like- Indian, Vedic, Vraja culture- it is all from the place that is known to the world today as India. The word Indian in today’s context refers to a specific place and a type of culture. And despite the fact that India has many different sub-cultures, and has lost a lot of its traditional culture, when one says that Kṛṣṇa is Indian, one means Kṛṣṇa’s culture is one of the sub-cultures in India- whether extant or not.

Kṛṣṇa spoke Indian languages

Kṛṣṇa spoke Braja-bhāṣa in Vṛndāvan.  This language is obviously Indian and did not exist in the West.

Kṛṣṇa wore Indian dress, ate Indian food and married Indian girls

Kṛṣṇa’s wives are Indian with Indian names. He had children with Indian names. He ate Indian food. He wore Indian dress. Of course, people argue that the dress worn by Indians today is not Vedic dress, because the kurta was introduced by the Muslims. They argue the sari is not Indian either. But the gopīs were also not wearing jeans and tank-tops, and Kṛṣṇa is not described as wearing suit and tie! What would be a closer approximation of Kṛṣṇa’s culture- the one prevailing in Vṛndāvan of the devotees in the Caitanya Vaiṣṇava paramparā, or modern Western culture?

How do we relate to the pastimes in the Bhāgavatam? By observing the culture in  the villages of Vraja, which was intact even 50-100 years ago, although it is fast disappearing because the locals are adopting Western dress, culture and habits. The girls there still carry pots on their heads filled with milk and butter, draw water from the wells and commute on bullock carts. This culture has continued for thousands of years.

Kṛṣṇa is not God but a person with likes and dislikes

God doesn’t belong to any country, but Kṛṣṇa is not God.  He is a cowherd boy. Sri Caitanya Mahāprabhu speaks (CC madhya 19.106):

श्यामं एव परमं रुपम् पुरी मधुपुरी वरा वयः कैशोरकं ध्येयम् आद्यो एव परो रसः
śyāmam eva paraṁ rūpaṁ purī madhu-purī varā
vayaḥ kaiśorakaṁ dhyeyam ādya eva paro rasaḥ

Śyāma is the best form, the best abode is Mathurā, His kaiśora form (youth) is to be meditated upon, and the highest rasa is mādhurya.

Now Caitanya Mahaprabhu could be accused of being sectarian because He says Mathurā is the highest abode. Why not Dwarakā, or Jagannātha Puri or New York? Why did Mahāprabhu appear in Bengal and not in Australia? Mahāprabhu prefers the form that Kṛṣṇa took in Vṛndāvan. Mahāprabhu speaks Bengali and not English. Mahāprabhu did not journey to New York or London to find Kṛṣṇa. He journeyed to Vṛndāvan and instructed his disciples to excavate Kṛṣṇa’s temples there.

Kṛṣṇa has His likes and dislikes. The Bhāgavatam describes that He accepted Putanā even though she came to kill Him because she was dressed like a gopī. If she had worn a bikini, Kṛṣṇa would not have accepted her. Dress, culture and language all matter to Him and His gopīs. The gopīs dont even venture out of Vṛndāvan to Mathurā because they want Kṛṣṇa in a particular form, dress and mood. Because Kṛṣṇa is a person, we have to conform to His likes and dislikes. At least there should be an appreciation for the tradition and the paramparā.

Denying that Kṛṣṇa is Indian, and then calling those who disagree as sectarian, may be a rather arrogant method for some to appropriate Kṛṣṇa for their own ends, a type of cultural appropriation.

In bhakti, we are trying to please Kṛṣṇa. That means acting in a way He wishes, not in the way we wish. There is a protocol, which is laid out in the limbs of bhakti given by Rupa Goswami. Indeed this is why Rupa Goswami has formulated the limbs of bhakti.

Of course, Vraja-bhakti is not meant for Indians alone as Rupa Goswami points out – it is for all people. My experience is that people outside of India are as serious and interested in it as modern Indians. It is important for everyone to preserve the tradition and respect it rather than minimize it.

7 replies »

  1. This is brilliant!!! Its inconceivable that i understand this point now…back in the days i would have argued a bit. This is to the core, the reality, one can read Gopala Campu, Sri Brhad Bhagavatamrta etc…the plain truth is Krishna is a person with likes, dislikes,preferances. Thats why Uttama Bhakti is not easy to understand, now i see. Thank you Prabhu!


  2. I found this to be an interesting perspective, but was wondering how one would distinguish this from neo-sahajiyistic idea that dressing as a gopi or gopa would please Krishna?

    And to what extent should a willing devotee change his life-style? dress is simple to change, at least when we are in association of devotees, but how about language, food, profession? do a serious aspirant have to learn the Indian languages, have food the Indian way, and take up jobs in agriculture? Grateful for the post


    • This article is not directly or indirectly related to sahajism. The point is that one should not be dismissive of Vrindavan’s dress, food and language but to be respectful because that tradition is very much part of Krsna’s culture.


  3. But aren’t these a part of accepting the philosophy and practice of bhakti?

    I was wondering if “Vedic” would have been a better term than “Indian”. It is more inclusive because we at least understand that at some point in history the whole world was following Vedic culture and its remnants can be found in many countries… Also today’s India is also becoming more westernized – the whole world seems to be moving away from the Vedic heritage… Thank you.


    • Please read the article again. I write: “Call it whatever you like- Indian, Vedic, Vraja culture- it is all from the place that is known to the world today as India.”


  4. It is quite similar even in the neighbouring countries like Nepal… Maybe the Indian Subcontinent then. Thank you for the article though…


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