Makhan Chor is a name fondly used by the devotees to address Lord Krishna. This Hindi term means the one who steals butter (Makhan – butter; Chor – thief). Many names associated with Krishna or with any god for that matter in Hinduism are deeply symbolic. Here we discuss why Krishna is called as Makhan Chor.
Going back to the Dwapara Yuga
To listen to the story of sweet little Krishna during the eighth incarnation of Vishnu, we must go back in time to the age of Dwapara to the little hamlet Gokul located on the banks of Yamuna River. Krishna was growing in Gokul as the younger son of Nanda, the village head. Yashoda, the foster mother of Krishna and the wife of Nanda was deeply attached to Krishna and gave a royal life to Krishna. Krishna was so cute and effulgent and looked far different from any regular child. His mesmerizing personality and the miraculous powers revealed that he could be none other than an incarnation of God.
The main occupation of the people of Gokul was dairy farm. Every household in the village had several cows. The region was fertile that the cows gave a lot of milk and the households overflowed with milk, curds, butter and ghee. Krishna was fond of butter. Krishna was not the son of Nanda’s family alone. He was the darling of every household in the village and also beyond. In order to bring Krishna to their homes, the people of Gokul and Vrindavan stored a lot of butter in their homes. Krishna mischievously stole butter from their homes but was never to be caught. However, the incident of stealing butter carried a deep spiritual symbolism.
The ladies of the households in Gokul were called as Gopikas. They were deeply in reverential adoration of Krishna and spent all their days in Krishna’s thought. In fact, some mythological and Puranic references say the gods who wanted to enjoy the divine plays of Vishnu descended to the earth during Krishnavatar and became Gopikas. The story of the divine love between Krishna and Gopikas is enamoring and uplifting. Krishna moved about the village playfully performing his several divine plays to delight and enlighten the folk in Gokul and sowed the seeds of divine love in their hearts. Krishna’s divine feet never left any household in the village unvisited. The butter pots were broken and Krishna stole butter from every house.
Gopikas always wanted some excuse to visit Krishna. Therefore in the pretext of complaining that Krishna had stolen butter from their houses, they frequented Nanda’s house time and again. This became a nuisance for Yashoda. Once Yashoda caught hold of Krishna and asked him, “Ye mischievous little thief! Don’t we have enough butter in our home? Why do you steal butter from other homes and bring a bad name to the family?”. Krishna said, “Oh Mother! I do know we have a lot of butter in our home. It is not butter that I steal from their homes, but the soft butter like devotion they have in their hearts for me”.
The concept of Krishna stealing butter is rather highly symbolic. Butter signifies the product of spiritual sadhana. Butter does not come on its own. To obtain butter, we must churn the curds. Similarly, the heart needs to be churned with devotion to bring out the essence of divine love emanating out of it like the butter brimming out of the pot of curds. It is this product of spiritual sadhana that Krishna is very fond of. Therefore as Makhan Chor he steals the butter of pure, selfless and sublime devotion from the heart of his devotees.