Krishna’s best friend

Indian Mythology 22 Comments

Published in Speaking Tree, August 21, 2011


Krishna had a friend called Uddhava, a cousin just like Arjuna, the Pandava. While Arjuna was the son of Kunti, Vasudeva’s sister, Uddhava was the son of Devabhaga, Vasudeva’s brother. Born and raised in Mathura, Uddhava was a great intellectual, educated by Brihaspati, the guru of the Devas. He was amongst the first Yadava to befriend Krishna when the latter was brought by Kamsa to Mathura from Vrindavan. In some traditions, Uddhava grew up with Krishna in Vrindavan.

The two could not be more different from each other. Uddhava was raised in the city.Krishna was raised in a village of cowherds. Uddhava was educated.Krishna was uneducated. Uddhava was a serious scholar of the scriptures.Krishna was a charming rake. Uddhava silently suffered Kamsa’s excesses. Krishna overthrew Kamsa and became a rebel and hero.Though opposites, Uddhava had the wisdom to realize Krishna was no ordinary soul; he was special. And Krishna saw in Uddhava a seeker, a genuine student, not a smug academician.

Uddhava is famous for two major events. In one, he is asked to go to Vrindavan and convey to the milkmaids there that Krishna, contrary to the promise he had made, would never ever be coming back. In the other, he has to go to Dwaraka and inform everyone there that the Yadava clan has been destroyed and Krishna is dead. Both events are associated with separation, pain and death. While Uddhava is the beneficiary in the first event (Krishna comes to him), he is the victim in the other (Krishna leaves him).

When Uddhava goes to Vrindavan, the eager and anxious milkmaids mistake him for Krishna, for he comes in the same chariot that took Krishna away and as Krishna’s cousin, he has similar features. But then they realize, Uddhava is no Krishna. He does not know how to comfort. He does not know how to be emotional. He is calm and composed like a priest, passing on the news with accuracy, not understanding why the women wail like children.

Uddhava advises the gopikas to read the scriptures that speak how the world is full of change and suffering and how the wise detach themselves from worldly things. The milkmaids, led by Radha lash back. This forms the basis of the famous Bhramar geet, song of the bee, where the milkmaids equate themselves with the flower that is left behind by the bee after being drained of nectar and fragrance.Krishna, the bee, has moved on to another land, to other women, to other flowers. They do not resent him or wish him to change the course of his life but they want the right to pine for him. This is viraha bhakti, devotion born of separation. Uddhava offers them knowledge to console them, but the women say, “We do not want to be consoled. Where do we put your knowledge? Every being of ours is occupied by memories of Krishna!” Uddhava the intellectual returns humbled by the unconditional love of the milkmaids. The gyan yogi understands the bhakti yogi for the first time.

Life moves on. Uddhava watches Krishna take the Yadavas out of Mathura to Dwaraka. He watches him help the Pandavas win the war against the Kauravas. In the final chapter of Krishna’s life, a great civil war breaks out amongst the Yadavas. And Krishna does nothing to stop his kinsmen from killing each other. Then, a hunter’s poisoned arrow strikes Krishna on the sole of his left foot. Uddhava is aghast, while Krishna calmly requests him to convey the message of his demise to the women, children and aged people, his old father included, the news of the great tragic end of the clan. “How can you be so calm?” asks Uddhava. In response,Krishna says with a smile, “Why? Are you not detached?” He then reveals to his friend the Uddhava Gita also known as the Hamsa Gita, the song of the goose.

Uddhava realizes that he is very knowledgeable but not quite wise. He knows every verse of every scripture, every argument and counter agrument, but when it comes to coping with reality he is no different from the milkmaids whose wailing he frowned upon. And unlike Radha, he does not know how to accept and let go. “If you truly have wisdom, Uddhava,” saysKrishna, “you will have faith and patience.”

Faith means truly accepting, material things are bound to go but not spiritual. Krishna will leave Vrindavan eventually, Krishna will leave Mathura and Dwaraka inevitably, but Vishnu’s Vaikuntha will always be there. Radha knew this and so even when Krishna left and she wept, she never expected him to return physically; he was always with her emotionally. Uddhava had to still learn the lesson. Turn into a true goose, enjoy the waters but not let the water stick to his feathers. Getting Uddhava to realize this truth, not merely understand it, is the best gift anyone could offer a friend.

  • Aman

    The Moral Of The Story Is Excellent….
    Sir Please Can You Tell That Why There Was A Civil War Among Yadavas
    And Sir Last Question:
    That Krishna Was A God, Then How Could A God Gets Eliminated By The Hit Of An Arrow…

    • Deep

      A drunken brawl erupted between Satyaki(who fought along with pandavas) and Kritvarma(who fought along with Kauravas).which inturn led to a big civil war…..resulting into anhiliation of whole clan

      Remember krishna is an avatar of vishnu on earth,so even god is bound by rules of karma and mortality.Hence flesh dies but not the soul

      • aarthi raghavan

        Hi Aman & Deep,
        There is also another story for the civil war between the Yadavas which says that Gandhari had cursed Krishna, after the death of her 100 sons, that His clan will also die.

        And what you said about Krishna’s death is absolutely correct. Not only for Krishna, but for every being it is the body which dies, not the soul.

        • Deep

          aarthi ,
          i think we are saying same thing in different words :)

          completely agree with second point !!

        • Aman

          @Deep & @Aarthi

          Thank you very much for clearing the doubts……

    • Gujjarputtar

      This was not a civil war based on any ideology. It was a fight amongst drunk yadavas who loss their senses and hence misbehaviour. According to Bhagavad, Harivansh and Mahabharat, Gandhari had cursed Krishna after the Mahabharat war that his clan would be destroyed. Second thing is Yadavas had made a fun of rushi and rushi had cursed them that would be destroyed by a mushal.

  • whatisinaname

    this is a super article. thanks.

  • Gujjarputtar

    Radha never met Uddhavaji and she was not a leader of any gopies. Radha has been mentioned only in “Vaivartan Puran” which is not an authentic puran. Three authentic sources of Krishnas life are bhagavad puran, Mahabharat and Harivansh.

    • Devdutt

      Every sampradaya has its own list of ‘authentic’ sampradaya…go with the thought

  • Mukta Naik

    Really liked the post….thank you

  • Jiger Patel


    I am little confused. I thought Hamsa is a Swan, not a goose? And I thought that Radhaji is not mentioned anywhere in Bhagavatam, so where does this story come from?

    Thanks for your wonderful article!


    • Devdutt

      I have merged the Uddhava and gopika dialogue with the Brahmar geet of Radha that is post-Jayadeva for the sake of understanding

      • Jiger Patel

        Thank you! Just wanted to know your reference. Like always I love the spirit of your articles!

  • You know there is no Radha in either SM Bhagvatam or Mahabhart – right ?


    • Devdutt

      Yes, I do. It all started with Jaya deva

  • Mohan Ramchandani

    Brilliant. You made my day.

  • Meeta Khanna

    Dear SIr,

    Thank you so much for the article.I am recently passing thru’ troubled waters.Your sentence on faith & paitence has uplifte my spirits.Jai Maa,regards,meeta

  • Rajashree

    You have conveyed the underlying metaphorical references of bhakti yoga and jnana yoga elegantly and with such simplicity. I loved this article!

  • Srinivas

    Devdutt Ji,

    you used to come in Business Sutra’s in 2010. Are there any TV programs now in which we can watch your discourses??

  • Maza aa gaya aapka aarticle padkar par ek baat samagh nahin aaya ki Kritvarma mara nahin tha kya mahabharat mai…!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Please replace the “goose” with “gander” since goose is intended forr the female of the species and in this context refers to Uddhava.

  • And if possible the extra “r” in the “for” in my earlier comment!