Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #26 – I Would Only Believe in a God Who Can Dance!

June 26th, 2023

I often tell the story of how my budding conviction that Śrī Krishna was God became reinforced while going to school. In 1971, I was studying philosophy in university, and in one class the definition of God was given: “That being of which no greater can be conceived.” That stuck in my mind. Shortly after, my former roommate, who had joined the Krishna temple in California, returned to campus and gifted me the newly published Krishna Book. I believe Krishna Book was the first time in the western world, which also meant it was the first for the devotees in the Hare Krishna Movement, that the full pastimes of Krishna were being described in English. I immediately started reading it. Somewhere around the second chapter, where Krishna’s immanence and transcendence were being described, I had an epiphany: “Usually, God is described mostly as just all-pervading and all-powerful, but I now can describe a being greater than that—one who is not only omniscient and omnipotent as described here, but one who doesn’t have the defect of impersonality, who, in addition to Their supreme power, experiences perfect love in relationship with parents, friends, and lovers.” Yes, I concluded, Krishna is that being of which no greater can be conceived! I chuckled, for my reasoning also made sense of the great philosopher Nietzsche’s most famous and puzzling statement, “I would only believe in a God who can dance!”


This post will be about God who can dance. I will do that through the Kālīya pastime, where Śrī Krishna, who is known as the most excellent of dancers (naṭa-vara), gracefully leaps and twirls on the head of the many hooded serpent. I hope you relish the description of Krishna’s dancing, although no description can do justice to the sweetness and talent of the original guru of all dance, Śrī Krishna. That description is certainly more than charming, but I am describing it for a particular reason. I want to vividly illustrate my theme—that to deny in the Absolute, the most excellent of qualities and talents, like out of this world dancing, is to deny Their supremacy, for a being without such demonstrable talent, is certainly not one of whom no greater can be conceived.


To make a long story short:[1]


Śrī Krishna had jumped into to the water of the Yamuna to subdue the many headed Kālīya serpent, who was poisoning her waters. He eventually winds up on top of Kālīya, whose broad hoods were situated high above the river. As Kālīya repeatedly tried to bite Krishna using one of his thousand heads, Krishna would dexterously avoid the sting and jump from one broad, stage-like hood to another. As Krishna, who is ādi-guru kalatra—the original guru of all arts, including the supreme maestro of the art of movement—moved in this way, He naturally began to rhythmically bang Kālīya’s hoods with His heels like a Kuchipudi classical dancer, but even far more expertly.[2] The demigods, realizing that Krishna wanted to dance, immediately arrived on the scene with their instruments to accompany Him. First came Indra with his mridanga and then Śrī Nārada with his vina. Soon all the demigods were present offering their enthusiasm and artistic skills to assist in Krishna’s unprecedented serpent dance by carefully observing the extraordinary rhythm of His feet so that they could perfectly accompany Him. The gandharvas, the denizens of the planet of the unparalleled singers, also arrived, and from deep within their hearts they began belting out the glories of Krishna’s dance in the most melodious and sweet voices. Lord Shiva, who brought his drum known as the Damaru, was also there, as were the vidyādharas, the denizens of the planet of the great musicians, bringing flutes, trumpets, and all sorts of percussion instruments to further inspire Krishna’s dancing by a symphony of suras.[3] Only the Apsarās, the best of the heavenly dancers, stood by idly, too embarrassed to demonstrate their own skill in comparison to the extraordinary artistry of the supreme performer. Nonetheless, the whole scene became a festival for the Vrajavāsīs, who were on the shore dancing, cheering wildly, and watching with amazement, while from above the heavenly performers were doing the same.


Reflecting back more than fifty years ago to my faith building epiphany, I still say with the same confidence, I would only believe in a God who can dance!



[1] My description of Śrī Krishna dancing on Kālīya comes mostly from the lecture of Śrīla Radha Govinda Swami on this subject.

[2] In his commentary to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.16.26, Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura describes that just as a dancer sometimes dances on metal plates to show his expertise, Krishna danced on the hoods of Kālīya. See https://youtu.be/ko5sKNuSLbs?t=82 and https://youtu.be/vGH1a1fs6O8?t=434

[3] Suras means demigods.

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