This is a story about Krishna and Radha. It was a moonlit night and Lord Krishna was playing on his flute most hauntingly. Radha and the other gopis were all listening. They were admiring the music of Krishna’s flute and drinking in his celestial beauty. They were in the seventh Heaven of delight.
After some time, Krishna stopped playing and said, “I have transported you all to a world of purest delight. Now that you are all filled with happiness, I am going to take a walk in the forest.” Krishna saw that Radha wanted to accompany him and he said to her, “You may come.” The other gopis did not dare to join them. They had the utmost respect for Radha.
So Krishna and Radha walked and walked until they came to a particular place in the forest. Krishna turned to Radha and said, “Radha, I am in the mood to tell some stories. Would you care to listen to my stories?”
“Of course, my Lord!” exclaimed Radha. “Please tell me some stories. I am eager to hear them.”
Krishna said, “Anything that comes into my mind, I will tell.” Krishna was all ready to tell Radha some stories when, all of a sudden, a strange looking man appeared. His body was bent in eight different places. His legs were crooked, his arms were crooked; everything was unnatural. This man was known as Astabakra — asta means “eight”, and Astabakra means “crooked in eight places”.
As soon as Radha saw this unfortunate human being, for some reason she began laughing and laughing.
“How can you laugh at this poor man?” asked Krishna.
“His body is bent in eight different places! I cannot refrain from laughing at such an odd spectacle,” answered Radha.
Krishna scolded her: “It is not kind to laugh at others. You should not behave in this way.” But Radha kept laughing and laughing.
Astabakra had thought that Radha would be full of compassion for him because she was Krishna’s dearest disciple. He simply could not understand why she was laughing at him so heartlessly. He was standing before her with tremendous devotion and love, but her laughter was hurting him deeply.
Krishna said to Radha, “If I tell you about Astabakra, will you stop laughing at him?”
“Of course, my Lord,” came Radha’s reply.
“Then stop laughing and listen to his unhappy story.” As Krishna began to relate the story, Astabakra bowed to Krishna and Radha and silently left their presence.
This is the story that Krishna told. Astabakra was formerly a high-class Brahmin. He was married and he spent quite a few years with his wife. Then, for God knows what reason, he became disgusted with his wife. He took a vow, saying, “From now on I shall never, never mix with any woman! All women are so bad. Here is the absolute proof. My wife has proved that women are unbearable. I will have no connection, no association, with any woman whatsoever in God’s entire creation. I shall not even look at a woman.”
This was the strict vow that the Brahmin took after his sad experience with his wife. At that time his body was not crooked at all. In appearance he was very strong and handsome.
O God! A nymph in the palace of Lord Indra noticed this Brahmin and fell in love with him. The name of this nymph, or apsara, was Rambha. She was extremely beautiful. She came to the Brahmin and said to him, “I am in love with you. I want to marry you.”
The Brahmin became furious. He said, “I have taken a vow that I shall never marry again. My first wife was enough for me. She was the first and the last!”
Rambha began pleading with him. She said, “You have to marry me, since I have declared my love for you.”
“Never!” insisted the Brahmin. “I will not mix with any woman in this life.”
When Rambha saw that the Brahmin would not change his mind, she became very angry and upset. “You have such a foul tongue! How dare you talk to me like this! I am a dancer in the palace of Lord Indra himself. I curse you for refusing my love. Your body will become crooked in eight different places. You will be so ugly that no woman will ever want to look at you again.”
After cursing the Brahmin, Rambha vanished. The poor Brahmin! His body immediately became twisted and bent. Each of his limbs went in a different direction. He could move only with the greatest difficulty.
In despair, the Brahmin said, “What is the use of keeping this life? Rambha has cursed me and this is what has happened. Why should I remain on earth any longer? I will immolate this body of mine.”
Suddenly, Lord Vishnu appeared before him and said, “It is not good to kill yourself. Pray and pray and pray. After some time, I will come to you again and you will be cured. Then you will be happy on earth with your physical body as before. You say that you do not want to look at women. No harm! You will be able to keep your vow. Now start praying and I will soon appear before you.”
The Brahmin listened to Lord Vishnu and began praying most sincerely.
“When will Lord Vishnu come and cure the Brahmin?” asked Radha when Krishna had reached this point in his story.
Krishna smiled sweetly. “Vishnu has already come,” he said, and began walking home. Krishna was an emanation of Lord Vishnu. They were and they are one and the same. So this was how Krishna cured Astabakra.