The senior-most among the Pandavas, Yudhishtra, has just completed the Rajasooya yagna ( a sacrificial undertaking where a king conquers all the other kings and unifies the whole world into a single kingdom). At the end of the ceremony, the ruler is to offer worship to all the other kings and sages in the kingdom, an act which symbolises that he is a ruler merely as an instrument. So he seeks everyone’s blessings. The Pandava brothers unanimously decide to offer the first libations to their Lord Krishna.

Even as they do so, the Chedi king, Shishupala (the son of Krishna’s aunt and thus His cousin), rises. He has been jealous of Krishna all the while. And this jealousy is seen as he speaks out in anger,
“Oh Pandavas! This is a wilful affront of the honor of kings. And I cannot be party to this violation of Dharma (righteousness). If you have chosen to revere Krishna first because he is an elder, then why do you ignore Vasudeva, Krishna’s father? If you choose him as a well-wisher, then what about Drupada, your father-in-law? If you consider him as your teacher, then why do you neglect the great Drona who has taught all of you all your skills? If you think of him as a godly man, then how can you insult the great Ved Vyasa (son of Brahma and the composer of the Mahabharata itself)? “

How can the Pandavas tell Shishupala that for them, Krishna is God and hence, beyond all these worldly ties and honors?

And then, Shishupala proceeds to condemn Lord Krishna in the most vile and virulent manner. And this too is common experience of every devotee of the Lord who has faced the wrath of people who criticize and condemn without the least sensitivity!

Shishupala was ruthless in his condemnation and criticism of Lord Krishna

The reactions of the various personages in the assembly varied.
Yudhisthira, the eldest and humblest among the Pandava brothers, goes to Shishupala and speaks with great respect,
“Lord among men! Do not speak thus in anger. Behold the many kings here who are much older than you. They approve the worship of Krishna. So, it is not right to hurt so many people’s feelings thus with your outburst.”

The grandsire, the great and mighty Bheeshma, rises and thunders,
“I do not see in this assembly any person who is not subdued by the glory of Krishna. Therefore, I shall bow to Krishna alone and none other! Krishna is supreme in might and wisdom and I care nothing about what others feel in this regard.”

The youngest among the Pandavas, Sahadeva has quite another reaction. He shouts,
“I shall trample upon the heads of those that cannot tolerate my worship of Krishna! I shall fight such people unto death if necessary!”
The other reactions all lie somewhere in between these in the spectrum. But none of these convinces Shishupala who refuses to accede. One can take a horse to the water, but it is the horse that must drink. One can offer scientific, emotional and spiritual explanations but the critic must have the willingness to accept! Now, Shishupala speaks in a vein that nobody ever imagines. He presents all the glorious feats of Krishna - feats for which he is worshipped - in a light that only the crooked in the mind can think about. He says,

“People worship you for killing demons. They were nothing but horses, bulls and birds. What is so great in that. The love of the people made a mountain of a molehill. You raised an anthill and people say you lifted the Govardhana mountain! You killed Kamsa, the king of the place where you grew. Is that not disloyalty to the king? Shame on you. You do not have the might to be a man nor the modesty to be a woman. You are a eunuch.”

Hearing this, another reaction arose, this time in Bheema - the second Pandava brother. He rushed forward without speech to tear open Shishupala. He was restrained.
Even as I read these reactions, I was reminded of my own reactions to criticism of God at various points in my life. I was also reminded of the reactions of different people.

But wait! What was the reaction of Lord Krishna to all this?? Krishna just sat on the throne, smiling. He seemed the least perturbed or affected. For Him, it was all part of the Divine play.

What was the reason for such a reaction from Lord Krishna? It was because he knew the past - the story of Shishupala’s birth.

Shishupala was born with three eyes, four arms and the wail which sounded like the braying of a donkey. When the parents decided to abandon the child beholding the terrible appearance, an incorporeal voice was heard which said,
“The child will not die. It is meant to be killed only by its destroyer who has already taken birth.”

The terrified mother prayed to know the slayer of her son when the voice again boomed,
“He will be slain by him on whose lap his extra appendages fall off and third eye disappears.”

That happened when Lord Krishna had picked up the child. Fearing for her son, the mother, Krishna’s aunt prayed,
“Krishna! Promise me you will not get angry on Shishupala and forgive him even when he angers you to the level of killing him.”

Krishna promises,
“Even when Shishupala angers me to the point of slaying him, I shall forgive him a hundred times.”

Thus, the Lord only has a smile on his face. Feeling protected by the promise, Shishupala goes on and on, unhindered. The whole court is angry and want to kill Shishupala but since Krishna does nothing, they do nothing.

But Shishupala is cunning. He stops exactly at a hundred abuses. Krishna smiles and says,
“I have borne all these insults out of concern for my father’s sister. Let us ignore Shishupala and go about the proceedings.”

Bheeshma adds,
“In forgiving the vile-tongued one as Shishupala, Krishna shows his greatness and love. Even Shishupala’s criticism is Krishna’s will. The king of Chedi, Shishupala, has no will of his own.”

Shishupala is unable to bear this anymore. His ego is hurt and his lashing tongue continues. But alas! The hundred insults are up and Lord Krishna instantly beheads him with the discus.

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What happens next is beautiful.

The powerful, brave and great king Shishupala meets his death at the Lord's hands.

The Lord walks up to the corpse and pay His respects. The soul of Shishupala rises like a ball of light and merges into Krishna! Krishna repays the foul words the Shishupala showered with the greatest gift a devotee seeks - merger in Him!