At "Trickster Makes the World" last night, I told the story of Krishna the Butter Thief. Krishna is a Hindu Trickster and one of the avatars of Vishnu, the ordering and sustaining principle of the universe. His parents had powerful enemies, so he was given to a humble family of cowherds to raise as soon as he was born. There was deep love between Krishna and his foster mother Yasoda, who was perpetually amazed, awed, and perplexed by the precocious child god.
The family always had a lot of milk and butter around. Krishna was very fond of both. One day Yasoda had to leave the house to run some errands. She told the child Krishna to stay out of the pots of butter while she was away. But as soon as he was alone he went into the cool larder, opened the crocks one by one, and ate his fill.
When Yasoda came home she was dismayed and reprimanded him. “Krishna,” she said, “I thought I told you to stay out of the butter.” “But Mother,” he replied, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn't steal any butter.” Of course his face and hands and clothes were smeared with butter —which she pointed out to him. "Explain this," she said.
“Well,” said Krishna, "Maybe I did get into the butter, but if I did so it was all your fault—the little bracelets that you gave me to wear chafed my wrists. I needed to sooth them.” At this Yasoda threw up her hands and threatened to punish him. “The next time that I leave the house I’ll simply have to tie you up,” she said, although she wondered how one does tie up a god.
Tying up Krishna could be a very good idea. If she does, the neighbors will be safe too, and Krishna has quite a reputation for going around to the nearby houses to steal butter and spill the milk and let the cows loose just before milking time. A number of people would be grateful.
The next day, Yasoda again had to leave the house. "Come Krishna" she said, and got a long rope. Yasoda wrapped the rope around Krishna but every time she tried to tie a knot, she discovered that the rope was too short. Krishna smiled and made the knot himself. Then he said, “Mother tell me this, if this is our house and we own everything in it, then how can I be stealing the butter?”
( upcoming myth and story lectures at Copper Mt College in Joshua Tree)