The Butter bandit: Inner meanings

Earlier part: Makhan-chori Leela

The gopis of Sri Gokulam are united in their complaint to Sri Yasodha that ever since Sri Krishna was born, their milk and butter were not their own, and kept disappearing mysteriously. To add insult to the injury, he broke the pots even.

Vishnuchitta Azhwar says (2.9.6):

thiruvudaip piLLaithaan theeyavaaRu thEkkamonRumilan thEsudaiyan
uruga vaiththa kudaththOdu veNNai uRinji udaiththittup pOnthu ninRaan

Means: The pot containing the ghee, clarified butter, kept in the uRi,
krishna drank that by sucking and making that `ur ur’ sound, whirring sound while eating and also broke the pot.


poththavuralaik kavizhththu adhan mElEri thiththiththa paalum
veNNaiyum meththa thiru vayiru aara vizhungiya aththan –

Meaning: The mortar, which has a hole in the centre, is turned upside
down, and used as a stool to reach the rope hanger. Then milk, butter
are swallowed nicely contained in these pots. Being quite aware of the contents of a pot, They pick holes in it. While the elderly gopis go about their
household affairs, Krsna and Balarama sometimes go into a dark room,
brightening the place with the valuable jewels and ornaments on Their
bodies and taking advantage of this light by stealing.

[ramanuja] command begging


krishna butter stealingKrishna ate butter and broke the pot. Butter signifies us (jevatmas) and pot represents our body. Krishna takes us by his own efforts and leave our body here. Krishna is fond of butter and he is fond of jeevatmas, which are indeed his own property.

 The act highlights the saulabhya guna of Narayana. Just like while irrigating water from a lower level to a higher plain – one would put in lot of efforts to bring the water up. Thus Narayana minimizes his glories and presents himself in an acceptable nature to the jeevatmas and mixes with them.

His theft of butter, etc., and His getting punished for the same, highlight the glorious attribute of Souseelyam, while His stealing our bodies and souls is indicative of His insatiable hunger for Chetana lAbham (profit of getting jeevatmas).

What does the theft means? Jeevatma, the property of bhagwan is entangled in samsara and longing of temporary inferior sukham. He established Vedas, preached Bhagwat Gita, sent many nitya aatmas as acharyas but the Jeevatmas are least desirous of getting knowledge. How to deal with this? He had to steal his own property. For the purpose of stealing, he is staying inside the aatma as it’s antaryaami aatma. Taking an unintentional good work as good karma, he gives them sattvika bodies in sattvika family in next birth. Thus, out of his nirhetuka kripa, the jeevatma becomes desirous for moksha (mumukshu).

Example given is of a king, whom the mantris won’t respect. He made an effigy of of a pandit, made it bow toward him and placed it in his court. He immediately declared that the pandit is prostrating me. In the similar fashion, Bhagwan makes us sharanagatas, declare that the Jeevatma has surrendered and delievers moksha. It’s not to our credit that one becomes a bhakta or sharanagata, it’s his efforts through countless years that wore fruits.

Like butter don’t take any efforts to reach Krishna, similarly jeevatma should not perform any karma-yoga or bhakti-yoga to reach him. Krishna himself steals the butters and consumes it. Even sharanagati is not an act to be performed. It is a state of knowledge, state of acknowledging that only Bhagwaan is the means (upaaya) to reach him. Jeevatma shouldn’t make any efforts on his own to reach God or Jeevatma shouldn’t make any efforts on his own to earn the grace of God. All we need to do is performing kainkarya (service) to him, for his pleasure (mukhollasa), and remaining away from virodhi-swarupa which hinders the grace of God to reach us.

Nammazhwar (Sathakopa Suri) is the Chief among Azhwars and is described as the very personification of ‘thirst for Krishna’ “krishNa thrishNaa tattvam iva uditam”. He calls Krishna ‘Kalva’ or thief. Tirumangai Azhwar too calls him ‘Kalla Kuzhavi, KaLvA” etc. Sanskrit poets too called him ‘Navaneeta chora’.

Theft of milk and butter is hardly a matter for serious concern. Sri Satakopa Muni accuses Him of a much graver offence-that of stealing his soul- and
warns others to beware of this Divine Thief.

thiruvAimozhi – 10.7

senjoRkavigAL! uyirkAtthAtcheymmin thirumAlirunjOlai
vanjak kaLvan mAmAyan mAyak kaviyAy vandhu en
nenjum uyirum uL kalandhu ninRAr aRiyA vaNNam en
nenjum uyirum avai uNdu thAnEyAgi niRaindhAnE

emperumAn, being in thirumalai, who steals without the knowledge of those from whom he steals, who has very amazing form, qualities etc, who remains with mischievous acts to make me sing poems, is arriving in my heart and mixing in my heart and self even without the knowledge of lakshmi et al who remain with him; he consumed my heart and self, became the exclusive enjoyer and became avAptha samastha kAma. Oh all of you who can sing poems with honest words! Protect yourselves and your belongings from being stolen and try to serve him with your speech. Implies that for those who immerse in bhagavAn as ananyaprayOjana (without any expectation other than kainkaryam), it is unavoidable to have the self and belongings to be stolen by him.

thiruvAimozhi – 10.7.1 – senjoRkavigAL


nIrmaiyAl nenjam vanjiththup pugundhu ennai
Irmai seydhu en uyir Ay en uyir uNdAn
sIr malgu sOlaith then kAtkarai en appan
kAr mugil vaNNan than kaLvam aRigilEn

emperumAn owned me and entered my heart by revealing the quality of svasvAmi sambandham; he melts me, he is the one who sustains me and consumes me; he is my benefactor due to being present in thirukkAtkarai which is having beautiful garden with abundance of honey and flowers; I don’t understand the monsoon-cloud like greatly generous emperumAn’s mischievous act where the means and end are different, to be in a particular manner.

thiruvAimozhi – 9.6.3 – nIrmaiyAl nenjam

Sathakopa Suri azhwar goes into the reasons behind Krishna stealing butter. Earlier, he consumed the whole world, entire jeevatmas including Indra, Brahma, Shiva etc. Now that he had sprung them out again, he descended to taste them. Thus azhwar calls him Maayaavi.

uNdAy ulagu Ezh munnamE umizhndhu mAyaiyAl pukku
uNdAy veNNey siRu manisar uvalai Akkai nilai eydhi
maN thAn sOrndhu athu uNdElum manisarkku Agum bIr siRidhum
aNdA vaNNam maN karaiya ney UN marundhO mAyOnE!

Oh amazing person (who does not get impacted negatively even while mixing with everyone in all aspects)! Once upon a time, you consumed all the worlds and spat them out. Subsequently, you descended as an insignificant human being bound in a body (that is generally considered to be avoided). You ate butter to keep away the indigestion that occurs to humans. Is eating ghee a medicine to dissolve the residual soil? (No).

thiruvAimozhi – 1.5.8 – uNdAy ulagu

AzhwAr replies “Because you sustain yourself with the things which are touched by your devotees [butter churned by the cowherd girls], you consumed the butter”. emperumAn (Narayana) says “Just like that butter, you too are very dear to me. In that case, if you don’t present yourself to me, you will reach the same hell as those who hid the butter away from me”.

  • maNdhAn … – Here consuming ghee is explained in two ways.

    • bIr is explained as vaivarNyam (becoming pale) – If there is any residual soil remaining in the stomach, for common men, it leads to becoming pale (due to indigestion etc). So, to avoid that, he is eating butter to dissolve the soil.
    • bIr is explained as “a little” here – emperumAn is consuming butter without leaving behind even a little portion for others.
  • marundhO? – Is that a medicine? No. You are not consuming it as medicine, but you are consuming it since it was touched by cowherd girls who are very dear to you – and you are so mad for your devotees that you cannot sustain yourself without things which are touched by them.

Azhwar had doubt if perumal (emperumAn/ NArAyana) would accept him. Afterall, perumal is fond of something as pure as butter and he is nothing but a poision, embodiment of paap karmas. Perumal reminds Azhwar that he had drunk the poision of Putana too. The poision was too tasty to him as it was offered by Putana exclusively to him alone. He drunk his poison, finished his karmas and when her body was burnt, it smelled like sandalwood.

mAyOm thIya alavalai perumA vanjap pEy vIyath
thUya kuzhaviyAy vidappAl amudhA amudhu seydhitta
mAyan vAnOr thanith thalaivan malarAL maindhan evvuyirkkum
thAyOn thammAn ennammAn ammA mUrththiyaich chArndhE

emperumAn has an amazing nature where he being a pure hearted child, accepted  the poisonous milk of the devil pUthanA (who was having ill-intentions, who was constantly chattering, who was having immeasurable deceitfulness) as nectar to kill her. He is the singular controller of nithyasUris (eternally liberated), who has the enjoyable youth for SrI mahAlakshmi’s pleasure, who has motherly affection towards all beings and who is my master (for not failing me). I approached such emperumAn who has distinct and great form, so both he and I can sustain ourselves.

thiruvAimozhi – 1.5.9 – mAyOm thIya

Just like a cow is fond of the dirt of the calf and cleans her with her tongue, emperuman too cleans our karma. He cleaned Jatayu with his own hairs. Krishna came out with his mouth, hands and in fact his whole body fully smeared with butter. “In the same breath he truthfully mingled with me with my impure, contemptible physical body.”

vaigalum veNNey kai kalandhu uNdAn
poy kalavAdhu en mey kalandhAnE

One who stretched his hands fully (to fetch the butter) and ate the butter, without any deceit, immersed in my body (that is to be rejected). kai kalandhu – also explained as eating butter with both hands.

veNNey kai kalandhu uNdAn – 3 explanations given:

  • Out of great desire for the butter, he accepted the butter in both his hands and consumed that.
  • As explained in siRiya thirumadal “thArAr thadanthOLgaL uLLaLavum kai nItti” (put his hand fully up to his shoulder in the pot to dig out as much butter as possible), emperumAn due to being a small child, considered that his stomach will be filled by fetching as much butter in his hands as possible and ate the same.
  • When he was blamed for stealing butter, he mingled with those who were searching for the thief and at the same time consumed the butter smartly.
  • poy kalavAdhu en mey kalandhAnE – Just like he had true desire for that butter, his bonding with my body is also most truthful – says AzhwAr.
  • en mey – my body – this shows that emperumAn is showing great interest in AzhwAr but AzhwAr is shying away from him. AzhwAr is saying – that which I reject as “azhukkudambu” (dirty body – thiruviruththam 1) is desired greatly by him.

Though he is the sarvesvara, he cannot sustain himself without the items that have connection with his devotee. EmperumAn who is having the supremacy to protect innumerable jeevatmas of all [material] worlds to become subdued in his sankalpa, is having saulabhyam (simplicity) of consuming curd and butter.

thiruvAimozhi – 4.8.11 – uyirinAl kuRaivillA

The all-pervading, omnipotent, the husband of lakshmi is stealing butter, his entire black body has turned white because of being smeared in butter; is caught by Gopikas red-handed (in fact white-handed). Can there be more saulabhyam? Yes. They hand him over to Yashoda. She binds him with rope to the mortar and threatens him “if capable you can release yourself”.

Becoming bewildered after experiencing Bhagwan‘s saulabhyam, AzhwAr faints and stays unconscious for 6 months. Subsequently, he becomes conscious again and starts instructing about his saulabhyam in detail.

paththudai adiyavarkku eLiyavan piRargaLukku ariya viththagan
malar magaL virumbum nam arum peRal adigaL
maththuRu kadai veNNey kaLavinil uravidai AppuNdu
eththiRam uralinOdu iNaindhu irundhu Engiya eLivE

This swAmy (master) of ours is the most difficult to get – yet he was caught while stealing butter which was churned with great effort using the churning staff and he was bound in the chest and was crying out of fear. How is this simplicity possible for him (who is supreme)? His leaps were quivering out of fear.

Even, aacharya-nistha Madhur Kavi Azhwar, who sings the glory of his acharya Sadakopa Suri only, sung only once glorifying Krishna for his Damodara leela. Reason was the deep attachment of Sadakopa Suri for this leela.

Kanni  nuN   chiru   thambinaal   kattunna, Panniya  permaayan, yen  appanil ,

Nanni   then kurugur  Nambi   yendrakkal, Annikkum   anuthu oorum    yen Nabukke

My  Lord  who is  the great maayaavi,  allowed   his mother  to   tie him  with  a small knotted  thread and I take   refuge  in the Nammazhvar  of THirukungur which will generate , nectar  like   sweetness  in my toungue.

Kulashekhar Azhwar laments for the durbhagyam of Devaki and feels her pain of not having enjoyed the divine childhood of kutti-kannan (little Krishna) which gopikas enjoyed.

kuzhakanE yenthan kOmaLa piLLaai GOvindhaa yen kudangaiyil manni
ozhugu pErezhil iLanchiRu thaLirpOl orukaiyaaloru mulai mugam nerudaa
mazhalai mennagai yidaiyidai aruLaa vaayilE mulai irukka yen mugatthE
yezhilkoL ninthirukkaNNiNai nOkka thannaiyum izhandhEn izhandhEnE 
Meaning: Oh kind hearted one! Oh my beautiful child! Oh Govinda! when I hold you in my right hand, you skid like a flood of beauty (to my lap), with your tender hand
rubbing the tip of my breast while your mouth is in my other breast and in
between you smile looking at my face. I lost the opportunity of the benefit of
your sacred grace by sending you away immediately after birth.

muzhudhum veNNai aLaindhu thottuNNum
mukizh iLanchiRu thaamaraik kaiyum
yezhilkoL thaambukoNdu adippathaRku yeLkum
nilaiyum veNthayir thOyndha sevvaayum
azhukaiyum anji nOkkum annOkkum
aNikoL senchiRu vaai neLippadhuvum
thozhukaiyum ivai kaNda asOdhai
thollai inbaththin iRudhi kaNdaaLE

The freshly made butter is in the pot; you entered into the room and took the butter out with your small hands; You were caught red handed (white handed); You were found licking your hands after dipping it in that pot of butter; when you were beaten with a rope on your small and soft hand, you were standing with a guilty look; your beautiful red lips were quivering; you were apologizing with folded hands; Yashoda who saw all these expressions from you with her own you took the butter out with Your small hands
eyes realized the Paratvam and enjoyed eternal bliss. Oh She is so most fortunate.


Author: ramanujramprapnna

studying Ramanuj school of Vishishtadvait vedant

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: