FAQs about The Little Krishna animated series
1) Are you aware that Srila Prabhupada did not want Krishna to be represented as a cartoon character?
Ans: Yes we are aware of the letter Srila Prabhupada wrote in 1971.
Srila Prabhupada wrote to Madhusudana, “The point is that these drawings should be realistic. Not that you make Krishna a cartoon character and therefore laughing stock. And hippy ideas shouldn’t be used either. Whatever technique is there, make it realistic. That will be nice.” Srila Prabhupada letter (Aug 18, 1971)
When we initiated the Little Krishna animation project, we spent several weeks and months pondering about this quote and the following thoughts crossed our minds.
1. Animation in the 1970’s when Srila Prabhupada wrote this letter was mostly cartoony with lighthearted, silly, frivolous and merely entertaining characters like Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry. Comical and cartoony representations are caricatures of the characters. The style of drawings are not in keeping with realistic physical proportions. But in the last 20 years there has been a sea change in the animation style. With advanced computer graphics and 3D modeling, a great deal of realistic characters and backgrounds and high quality animation has become possible to convey more serious messages, and still be appealing to children’s minds.
2. Prabhupada’s warnings here are:
(a) Krishna should not be made “a cartoon character and therefore laughing stock.”
(b) No hippie ideas should be used.
(c) Krishna should be depicted in a realistic manner
3. In modern times, animation has been a convergence of art and technology and this too can be used to depict and celebrate Krishna and His pastimes in a powerful presentation.
4. Animation is a visual language primarily suited for smaller children of our present times. They are very familiar with this format and quickly relate when anything is presented in animation format. So children at an impressionable age can be taught through this medium, how Krishna is supremely powerful and a great friend who will always come to help us if we call out for Him when we are in danger.
5. In a child’s world animated characters are real and not mere representations. They are very real, lovable and adorable persons that children love to relate with, distinctly different from the cold, harsh world of reality. This is the happy world they love to go to. From this point of view, animation of Krishna and His world fits the bill perfectly for children.
6. One senior devotee in our movement when asked about the Little Krishna project said, “One additional conviction I have is that these are more like 3D video illustrations (and not like cartoons of the type SP wrote about). I compare them to the paintings and dioramas that SP personally directed and approved, except now we have another format for the same as well as animation. So I am not thinking of these as cartoons at all…these are video animated illustrations.”
7. We knew of an Indian family in New Jersey who tried telling their young American-born son, pastimes of Lord Rama from the Ramayana. They had a hard time getting him interested in listening to the Ramayana stories. Around that time, the animated film of the Ramayana by the Japanese film-maker Yugo Sako appeared in the market. After watching this, the child could not take his eyes off the screen and wanted to watch the film again and again. This confirmed our assessment of how powerful an influence an animated film can be on the minds of young children.
8. ISKCON devotees the world over have published several children’s books with illustrations. These illustrations have been made appealing to children’s minds and we have seen that these books have indisputably benefitted the development of Krishna consciousness of children.
9. There are several instances which demonstrate that Srila Prabhupada too realized the immense power of the film media, to propagate Krishna consciousness. The following quotes particularly reveal this:
“Regarding the motion picture, it is a great opportunity, and if they actually want to do something wonderful I can come there personally and see to its direction. If it is an important film I think my personal direction is necessary. If not, then I think you can send me a synopsis of the script so that there may be nothing objectionable from the start. If this film is properly done it will be very profitable, even from the commercial point of view; and if they are interested, we can give them hundreds of stories from Bhagavat which will make wonderful films, and simultaneously the people will be educated to the proper religious and moral standard. So please try very seriously for this and I think Krishna will give you all intelligence and facility.” Srila Prabhupada’s letter to Shyamsundar (Sept 22, 1970)
Vishkha: We plan to make a motion picture of the Bhagavad-gita dance that they do. My husband and I…
Prabhupada: Do it. Apply your American brain how to serve Krishna. That is success.
idam hi pumsas tapasah srutasya va
svistasya suktasya ca buddhi-dattayoh
avicyuto ‘rthah kavibhir nirupito
Whatever talent one has got… These talents are also acquired after austerity. It is not ordinary thing. So everything should be employed to describe Uttamasloka, Krishna. Krishna is Uttamasloka. So we have got so many Krishna’s pastimes, Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s pastime. We can overflood. Just like you can overflood with this literature, we can overflood… This is art. Art, music, everything we can utilize. In any way one is addicted—let him eat only, let him sing only, let him paint only, let him dance only—we have got everything. That is Krishna consciousness. Let him do business also. Yes. Engineering-construct temple. It is so all-perfect movement, Krishna… That is Krishna, all-attractive. Everyone can be attracted and give up everything. He will be attracted by Krishna in such a way that he’ll give up all nonsense. That is Krishna consciousness. No more other enga… anyabhilasita-sunyam [Brs. 1.1.11]. All other attraction finished. Simply Krishna. (morning walk conversation, Feb 10, 1975, Los Angeles)
7. We discussed this project with a few of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples in Los Angeles like Bharadvaja Das, Parikshit Das and a few others (we forget all their names now) and all of them encouraged us in this project.
All of these considerations led us to conclude that presenting the pastimes of Krishna in animation is an important project and we earnestly hoped that Srila Prabhupada would be pleased.
After Little Krishna was aired on Nick Channel in India, we have had several instances of parents telling us how their children have become “addicted” to watching Little Krishna. We have heard this from the most remote parts of the country. Recently, Madhu Pandit Dasa visited Dharmasthala, a holy place in Karnataka. The Chief Administrator of the temple is a highly respected person in Karnataka and he said, “My grand children are so attached to Little Krishna, can you please send me a DVD set?”
Some of our congregation devotees have told us how their children have seen the film about 100 times!
2) What about the use of the word “fable”?
Ans: We admit, it was a faux pas. When the 13 episodes of Little Krishna were reformatted into 3 DVDs, the production studio which was shifted from the ISKCON-Bangalore temple premises to Pune was under tremendous pressure to meet certain deadlines and the text that appears in the beginning of the DVD was finalized by our co-producers and did not come for our review. In future editions, the text will be corrected.
We must assert here that we, the devotees of ISKCON- Bangalore, who were involved in the making of Little Krishna do not subscribe to the idea that Lord Sri Krishna’s pastimes are fables. We are abundantly convinced that they are real, factual and historical occurrences as our beloved spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, has taught us. Not only is Krishna a real and historical person with real and historical pastimes but also His pastimes are eternally going on in some universe or the other.
We have been practicing Krishna consciousness in ISKCON for nearly three decades as full-time missionaries and how could we ever think that Krishna’s pastimes are fables or fictitious narratives? In our discourses of Krishna consciousness with internal devotees and in public forums, we strongly present our convictions, as taught by Srila Prabhupada, that Lord Sri Krishna is a real, historical person who performed wonderful pastimes during His descent five thousand years ago.
We sincerely apologize to the worldwide community of followers of Srila Prabhupada for the blunder in using the word fable to describe Krishna’s pastimes. However, we assure them that the ISKCON devotees who are involved in the making of Little Krishna do not subscribe to the idea that Krishna’s pastimes are fables. We too shudder at the thought that our beloved Lord’s pastimes can ever be described as fables.
3) What about the word “legendary heroes”?
Ans: We were careful about selecting the titles for the DVDs and used the word “legendary” to mean “well known, famous and renowned.” The Oxford and Webster’s dictionaries define this word in this way as well.
In all languages, this multiple shades of meanings are possible. For instance in Sanskrit, the word katha can mean conversation, speech, story, fable, feigned story, tale, discussion as mentioned in Sir Monier William’s Sanskrit – English Dictionary or can mean a tale, story, historical knowledge, feigned story, an account, talk, conversation, speech, a variety of prose composition as mentioned in Prof VS Apte’s Practical Sanskrit – English Dictionary. But when we say Hari-katha or Krishna-katha, we take it as conversation or discussion or historical account and not as a fable or tale.
4) Why have you used several other stories in Little Krishna that Srila Prabhupada has not mentioned in the Krishna book? What are their sources?
Ans: The main pastimes in each of the episodes are taken from the Krishna book, like subduing Kaliya and the lifting of Govardhana Hill. However in a visual medium, there is a need for short anecdotes (apart from the main story, called Story B by script writers) that help to establish the mood of the story and define the relationship between the various characters. We have been careful to select these anecdotes from authentic sources.
1) The story of the cow Bahula is taken from the Padma Purana and is also mentioned in the Mathura Mahatmya by Srila Rupa Goswami.
2) The story of Krishna growing pearls is taken from the Mukta Charita by Srila Raghunatha Dasa Goswami.
3) The story of Krishna building a bridge is referred to in the Bhagavatam (10.11.59) and more elaborately described by Srila Narayana Bhatta Goswami in Vraja Bhakti Vilasa. Srila Narayana Bhatta Goswami was a contemporary of Srila Vishwanatha Chakravarthi Thakura and lived in Radha Kunda. He is credited to have revealed the glories of various locations connected to Krishna’s pastimes in Vraja Mandala, including Barsana.
It is interesting to note the verse of Srimad Bhagavatam (10.11.59):
evam viharaih kaumaraih
kaumaram jahatur vraje
“In this way Krishna and Balaräma passed Their childhood age in Vrajabhumi by engaging in activities of childish play, such as playing hide-and-seek, constructing a make-believe bridge on the ocean, and jumping here and there like monkeys.”
This verse is the last verse in the chapter that describes the pastime of Krishna killing the demon Bakasura. The verse talks about setu-bandhiah (constructing a make-believe bridge) and markata-utplavana (jumping about like monkeys). This has been elaborated by Srila Naryana Bhatta Goswami about Krishna building the bridge like Sri Rama built to cross over to Lanka with the help of monkeys.
And based on this, we have used the story of building the bridge as Story B along with the pastime of Krishna killing Bakasura as Story A.
4) Baby Krishna looking at His own reflection in the butter store is an anecdote taken from Ananda Vrindavana Champu by Kavi Karnapura.
5) Krishna and Madhmangala disguising themselves as brahmana boys to conduct the Surya puja for the gopis is taken from Sri Govinda Lilamrta by Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Goswami.
6) Srila Vishwanatha Chakravarthi Thakura describes in Sarartha Darshini that the forest fire in Munjatavi was actually caused by a fire demon who was a friend of Pralambhasura. Accordingly we have repersented the fire demon.
7) When Krishna was swallowed by Bakasura, the various demigods like Brahma, Shiva and others attack Bakasura, and this is described in the Garga Samhita.
The pastime of Krishna disguising Himself as the son of Prabhavati is also described in the Garga Samhita.
9) Krishna asking the gopis to pay tax is taken from Danakeli Kaumidi by Srila Rupa Goswami.
10) The peacocks dancing around Krishna and then gifting Him with a peacock feather is described by Srila Vishwanatha Chakravarti Thakura in the Sarartha Darshini.
11) The anecdote of Indra visiting the orchard of Kamsa at Talavana is taken from the Padma Purana, as described in Krishna-avatara Vol 1, by a renowned Sri Vaishnava scholar, Sri Narayanachar.
12) Krishna asking Radha as to who gave her permission to pluck the flowers in Kusumavana and playing a trick on her when she gets lifted off the ground by a branch of a tree – this pastime in Kusumasarovara is described by Srila Narayana Bhatta Goswami in Vraja Bhakti Vilasa.
13) Aristasura attacking the village residents and breaking the embankment of a reservoir is described in Srimad Bhagavatam (10.36.2). Krishna clapped his hands that greatly angered Aristasura is also described in Srimad Bhagavatam(10.36.8).
14) The pastime of the appearance of Radha Kunda and Shyama Kunda is described by Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakura in Sarartha Darshini. He also mentions that this pastime is described in other puranas.
15) “Krishna grabbed Dhenukasura with both hand, whirled him around and threw him onto Govardhan Hill.” This is described in Garga Samhita. Similarly such action items and fight sequences have all been taken from different sources.
In this way we have taken the anecdotes for Story B from various Vaishnava literatures. This is only a partial list.
We have also been careful not to depict any confidential pastimes like the rasa dance and the stealing of the gopis’ garments.
5) Why did you have to use books other than what Srila Prabhupada has given?
Ans: Animation film, or any film for that matter, is a visual medium. The basic principle in this medium is that you don’t state, but show visually. For instance, you don’t merely state in the film that Krishna was adored by the residents of Vrindavan, but must provide visual evidence of how He was an adorable boy to the residents of Vrindavan. Hence we needed a lot of information that helps to reveal the qualities of Krishna and other characters, the inter-relation between Krishna and the other characters, the world of Krishna and His associates, and so on.
And we were using only the additional pastimes or such information from other acharyas’ books, and not any philosophical or theological aspects to fear that it may differ from what Srila Prabhupada has taught. We were conscious of the sensitivities and exercised caution while referring to other texts.
6) Have you ever exercised certain narrative freedom in the films?
Ans: Yes there have been certain sections where we have exercised certain creative and narrative freedom. But they are few.
a) We wanted to impress on the children that Krishna is a powerful person although He appears as a simple cowherd boy in Vrindavan. Also we have the information that when Krishna killed these demons in Vrindavan, it was not the Vrindavan Krishna who killed them but the Vishnu expansions in Krishna who killed the demons. To visually convey this, we have made a “warrior Krishna” whom the demons get to see just before the combat.
b) The Krishna book says that Krishna glanced over the boys who were lying unconscious due to the poisonous effects of Kaliya, and revived their consciousness. To make this more visually interesting, we made Krishna touch the boys when a glow appears and the boy is revived. The glance is more subtle which the children cannot appreciate, while the touch of Krishna which causes a glow is more visible and palpable.
7) What about your intentions to make money from these films?
Ans: Our primary and dominant intention has been to depict the glorious pastimes of Krishna in a powerful presentation, using modern technology of 3D animation, music and interesting scripts to engage the attention of children of our times. In his letter to Shyamsundar quoted above, we see how Srila Prabhupada was practical and pragmatic, and did not mind if such a venture was profitable commercially (“If this film is properly done it will be very profitable, even from the commercial point of view…”).
The above explanations that we have given may not satisfy all the Vaishnavas all over the world, in all respects. We are aware that there are alternate viewpoints on this. But we hope that they will see the spirit in which this project was taken up.
We hope and pray that Srila Prabhupada will bless our humble endeavor to glorify Krishna through this project and forgive us for any mistakes that we might have committed in our enthusiasm to use this wonderful animation technology which is otherwise engaging millions of children in topics of maya. On the whole, the fact that children have become fascinated by the “Person” Little Krishna and His little friends, brings a hope that they will carry Him in their hearts all their lives.