Categories: Hindu Godforms | Hindu Gods | The Gnostic Saints
One of the Gnostic Saints listed in Liber XV, The Gnostic Mass
Krishna (Sanskrit: black or all-attractive one) is an important deity in the Hindu religion. In some Hindu traditions he is the eighth avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu, in the others the ninth, and in yet others he is considered to be the source of all incarnations. The story of Krishna's life on Earth is an important part of the Indian epic Mahabharata, which contains astronomical references used by some devout Hindus to date the events before the end of last Dwapara yuga (also known as copper age) approximately 5100 years ago, 3100 BCE. However, while Krishna plays a key role in the Mahabharata, it is in the Shrimad Bhagavata Purana that thousands of lines are dedicated solely to extolling His life and philosophy.
His place in Hinduism is complex. He appears under many names, in a multiplicity of stories, among different cultures, and in different traditions. Sometimes these seem to contradict each other. (Narayan maharaj)
Among his aspects are:
- Krishna the cowherd, known as Govind/Govinda (leader of cows). He is the god of the pastoralists. He is contrasted in this to his brother Balarama of the cultivators, who is sometimes called Halayudha, the Lord of the plough.
- Krishna the focus of devotion (Hari) (the lover, the all-attractive, the flute player). He is frequently shown playing the flute (or otherwise called murali, bewitching the gopis (the cowgirls) of Vrindavana.
- Krishna the child, called (in various Indian languages) Gopaal or Gopala. Stories of his upbringing in the forest of Vrindavan are a staple of children's tales in India.
- The incarnation of Vishnu and the divine teacher, or Guru. He teaches Arjuna dharma and yoga in the Bhagavad Gita, and as such is known as the greatest Yogin. The Bhagavad Gita is the first true Yoga text in the Yoga tradition.
A number of local traditions and regional deities may have been subsumed into the stories and person of Krishna.
Philosophical texts and literature
Accounts of or ballads about Krishna occur in a large number of philosophical, religious and poetic works. These works include the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita, the Bhagavata Purana, and the Gita Govinda.
Among the most important areas of stories of Krishna, are those below;
- Krishna the child. These stories lead on to those of him as a boy and teenage youth, playing with the girls of Vrindavan.
- Govinda Krishna, the cowherd, the focus of the majority of the bhakti traditions of devotional worship in Hinduism. Included in these traditions is the story of his beloved Radha. The original stories of Krishna as a boy included his adolescent play with the Gopis or cowgirls of the village. These were developed to form the basis of the Gita Govinda in the Bhakti traditions, and numerous other later works. Devotees of Krishna subscribe to the concept of lila, or divine play as the central principle of the universe. This is counterpoint to another avatara of Vishnu: Rama, "He of the straight and narrow path of maryada, or rules and regulations."
- Krishna the prince, in the Mahabharata. He is ruler of the Yadavas at Mathura and later at Dwaraka, becames husband of Rukmini, and a friend and ally of the Pandavas.
- Krishna the Supreme personality of Godhead. He is the charioteer and advisor of Arjuna, who teaches and instructs him in dharma and yoga in the Bhagavad Gita. Before the great battle of Kurukshetra (in present day Haryana) starts, Arjuna loses heart with the prospect of fighting his cousins and other relatives for the kingdom. Krishna reminds him that He has done everything he could possibly do to avoid the battle, and that his duty (dharma) is serve Him by fighting. Krishna goes on to show why the Gita is known as the first Yoga Scripture, and gives a lengthy exegesis on the means of fulfilling life's goals through the systems of yoga. In it, he describes in detail the philosophies of Bhakti (devotional), Karma (selfless action), Jnana (self-transcending knowledge), Astanga (meditational) Yoga and all in the ends connect one to Krishna whose personal form is the highest realization of Absolute Truth (as compared to Brahman and Paramatma). He shows Arjuna how to reconcile his misapprehension about the war with the eternal truths that underlie life through the Vedic doctrine of Yoga. These form the basis of the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita.
Summary of the story of Krishna
This summary is derived from the Mahabharata, and the Harivamsaparva, an addendum to it.
The birth of Krishna
Krishna was born in a prison cell at Mathura, in modern day Uttar Pradesh. His mother was Devaki and his father Vasudeva. Devaki was imprisoned because her brother Kamsa, the king, knew that a son of hers would overthrow him, and he intended to kill her children as they were born. Krishna was smuggled out to be raised in the village of Gokula, in the forests of Vrindavan.
Krishna at Vrindavana
Krishna the child, together with his brother Balarama and sister Subhadra, were raised by his foster mother Yasoda in a cow herding community of Gokula, within Vrindavana forest. A number of children's stories are derived from this source. He is known as Gopala, the cowherd, due to this upbringing. Stories of Krishna's childhood and youth depict him as mischievous and clever, stealing butter, and breaking pots for ghee, and playing transcendental pranks. As he grows, the stories come to include his play with the gopis of the village.
Krishna the prince
Krishna as a young man returned to Mathura, overthrew his uncle Kamsa, and became ruler of the Yadavas at Mathura. With his elder brother Balarama, he ruled there. In this period he became a friend of Arjuna and the other Pandava princes of the Kuru kingdom on the other side of the Yamuna. Later, he takes his Yadava subjects to Dwaraka (in modern Gujarat). He married Rukmini, daughter of King Bhishmaka of Vidarbha (a region of central India).
The Kurukshetra War
In the Mahabharata, Krishna is cousin to both sides in the war between the Pandavas and Kauravas. But he effectively takes the Pandava side. He counsels and guides the Pandavas, in contrast to his brother Balarama who is more inclined to be neutral or to favour the Kauravas. He protects Draupadi when Dushasana tries to strip her in the court. He agrees to be the chariot driver for Arjuna in the great battle.
The last days
Krishna rules the Yadavas at Dwaraka with his wife Rukmini. In the end, the Yadavas kill themselves in infighting, and Krishna is killed by accident by a hunter.
The Bhakti traditions
Bhakti, meaning devotion, is not confined to any one deity of Hinduism. However Krishna has become the most important and popular focus of the devotional and ecstatic aspects of Hindu religion. Those bhakti movements devoted to Krishna developed in southern and eastern India from the late first millennium AD, and spread to the rest of India by the middle of the second millennium. Earlier works included those of the Alvar saints of the Tamil country.
Gita Govinda—the song of the cowherd
Certain literary works were important to later development of the bhakti traditions, including the Gita Govinda. This work was composed by Jayadeva Goswami in eastern India, in the 12th century AD. It elaborated part of the story of Krishna, and of one particular Gopi, called Radha who had been a minor character in the Mahabharata. According to one interpretation of this work, Radha represented humanity, and Krishna represented divinity. The desire of Radha for Krishna can be seen as allegory of the desire of humanity for union with the godhead. In the Vaishnava bhakti traditions, Radha has acquired aspects of divinity herself, in some instances being seen as a primary aspect of the great goddess, or Devi.
Recent Krishna bhakti movements
The bhakti traditions include those promoted by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (16th century in Bengal), who has sometimes been raised to the status of an avatara of Vishnu. A number of modern movements belong in this tradition.
ISKCON, sometimes called the Hare Krishna movement, is a modern derivation of the movements started by Chaitanya, targeted at a western audience.
Krishna the Dark One
The term Krishna means 'black' in Sanskrit; it is related to similar words in other Indo-European languages meaning black. The name is often translated as 'the black one'.
Many murtis [statues] of him are of a black or dark skinned figure. For instance, this can be seen in modern murtis/statues and other pictorial representations of Lord Jaganatha at Puri (Krishna as Lord of the World). In the same representations, his brother and sister are shown with a distinctly lighter complexion.
Early pictorial representations also generally show him as dark or black skinned. Rajasthani miniature paintings of the 16th century are often of a brown or black skinned figure. However, by the ninenteenth century, he is almost always shown as blue skinned. This is understood as having come into existence from scriptural allusions to his deep hue. Indeed, he is divine, and being dark-skinned, it deepens so much that it takes on a rich blue tone.
Krishna's body is the colour of a enchantingly beautiful dark raincloud. The philosophical backdrop for Krishna's dark blue skin is that Vishnu, who is ultimately incarnated as Krishna, is also known as Narayana. Narayana means "born of water." This is because water, seen as the base principle for life as we know it on earth, the nourisher of plants and animals alike, the very substance of cyclic existence, is essential to preservation. Vishnu, who in avatara form comes down to earth to help preserve dharma, is epitomised by the principle of water, being himself the God of Preservation. As water is commonly seen as being blue, and Vishnu is said to sleep in Yoga Nidra, floating on cosmic waters on Shesha (a snake-god), it is only natural that Vishnu's representations are all blue. By syllogism, it transferred to his great avataara, Krishna.
Sometimes the term Krishna has been explained as meaning 'attractive'. This is eminently understandable with his mythic allure to women of all kinds (i.e. gopis). Moreover, he is viewed by his devotees, from ancient times till the present day, as reflecting the intense beauty of God in his physical aspect.
Other names of Krishna
He is known by numerous other names or titles. These include;
- Gopala - protector of cows
- Govinda - finder of cows
- Madhava - bringer of springtime
- Hrshikesha, and Keshava - long haired
- Parthasarathi - charioteer, a reference to his role with regard to Arjuna in the great battle
- Vaasudeva, Krishna Vaasudeva - son of Vasudeva
- Jaganatha - lord of all places (see also Juggernaut).
- Wikipedia. (2004). Krishna (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krishna). Retrieved Sept. 20, 2004.