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The Madhusudana Mystery

(Dandavats.com) – By Satyaraja Dasa

Since we don’t hear of a demon named Madhu in Krishna’s pastimes, why does Arjuna address Krishna as “the killer of Madhu”?

Madhusudana. The name always seemed curious to me. Where did it come from? In the Bhagavad-gita, one of our most sacred texts, Krishna is referred to as Madhusudana, or “the killer of the Madhu demon,” no less than five times (1.35, 2.1, 2.4, 6.33, and 8.2). And yet, Krishna didn’t kill a demon named Madhu. I looked through the vast storehouse of Krishna’s pastimes over and over again. No Madhu, at least not in the form of a demon.

Most commentators, including Srila Prabhupada, tell us that by referring to Krishna in this way, Arjuna, the hero of the Gita, is poetically indicating that Krishna should now slay Arjuna’s doubts, just as He had slain the three-dimensional foe of His past. But, again, where did that slaying take place? When did Krishna kill a demon named Madhu?

My research leads me to Baladeva Vidyabhushana, an eighteenth-century Vaishnava commentator. He writes that the Gita’s use of the name Madhusudana implies that Krishna can kill the grief (shokam) of Arjuna just as He had killed Madhu in the past (madhusudana iti tasya shokam api madhuvan nihanishyatiti bhavah). But I’m still wondering just where this Madhu demon is described, and why Arjuna would refer to him at all. By the time of the Kurukshetra war, Krishna had killed many demons, and Arjuna could have referred to any one of them—”O slayer of Putana,” “O conqueror of Kamsa,” and so on. So, to me, it was obvious that Arjuna had a specific reason for using the name Madhusudana.

With a little digging I found that, sure enough, Madhu was not killed by Krishna at all, at least not by Krishna in His original form. Rather, it was Vishnu—Krishna’s expansion—who did away with the Madhu-Kaitabha threat (a story I will discuss in detail below). More specifically, Vishnu killed Madhu through His Hayagriva incarnation, who has a horselike body and is celebrated in the sacred texts known as the Puranas. In identifying Krishna as Madhusudana, then, the Gita is making a somewhat covert connection between Krishna and Vishnu, thus offering readers a glimpse of Krishna’s divinity.

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