Krishna (Sanskrit: कृष्ण Kṛṣṇa in IAST, pronounced [ˈkr̩ʂɳə] ( listen)), literally "black") is the eighth incarnation of the supreme God Vishnu in Hinduism. The name Krishna appears as the 57th and 550th name of Lord Vishnu in Vishnu Sahasranama of the Mahabharata, and is also listed in the 24 Keshava Namas of Lord Vishnu which are recited and praised at the beginning of all Vedic pujas. A puja is the ritualistic worship offered in Hinduism.
According to the Bhagavata Purana, which is a sattvic purana, Krishna is termed as Svayam Bhagavan since he was the purna-avatara or full incarnation of the supreme god Vishnu. Krishna is often described and portrayed as an infant or young boy playing a flute as in the Bhagavata Purana, or as a youthful prince giving direction and guidance as in the Bhagavad Gita. The stories of Krishna appear across a broad spectrum of Hindu philosophical and theological traditions. They portray him in various perspectives: a God-child, a prankster, a model lover, a divine hero and the supreme being. The principal scriptures discussing Krishna's story are the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa, the Bhagavata Purana, and the Vishnu Purana.
Worship of the deity Krishna, either in the form of Vasudeva, Bala Krishna or Gopala, can be traced to as early as 4th century BC. Worship of Krishna as svayam bhagavan, or the supreme being, known as Krishnaism, arose in the Middle Ages in the context of the bhakti movement. From the 10th century AD, Krishna became a favourite subject in performing arts and regional traditions of devotion developed for forms of Krishna such as Jagannatha in Odisha, Vithoba in Maharashtra and Shrinathji in Rajasthan. Since the 1960s the worship of Krishna has also spread in the West, largely due to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
According to Bhagava ta Purana, Krishna was born without a sexual union, but by divine "mental transmission" from the mind of Vasudeva into the womb of Devaki. In the story of Krishna the deity is the agent of conception and also the offspring. Because of his sympathy for the earth, the divine Vishnu himself descended into the womb of Devaki and was born as her son, Vaasudeva (i.e., Krishna). The Hindu Vishnu Purana relates: "Devaki bore in her womb the lotus-eyed deity...before the birth of Krishna, no one “could bear to gaze upon Devaki, from the light that invested her, and those who contemplated her radiance felt their minds disturbed.” This reference to light is reminiscent of the Vedic hymn "To an Unknown God," which refers to a Golden Child. According to F. M. Müller this term means "the golden germ of child" and is an attempt at naming the sun.
This is occasionally brought up as evidence for the hypothesis that "virgin birth" tales are fairly common in non-Christian religions around the world. However, there is nothing in Hindu scriptures to suggest that it was a "virgin" birth. By the time of conception and birth of Krishna, Devaki was married to Vasudeva and had already borne 7 children. Based on scriptural details and astrological calculations the date of Krishna's birth, known as Janmashtami, is 19 July 3228 BCE and departed on 3102 BCE. Krishna belonged to the Vrishni clan of Yadavas from Mathura, and was the eighth son born to the princess Devaki, and her husband Vasudeva.
Mathura (in present day Mathura district, Uttar Pradesh) was the capital of the Yadavas, to which Krishna's parents Vasudeva and Devaki belonged. King Kansa, Devaki's brother, had ascended the throne by imprisoning his father, King Ugrasena. Afraid of a prophecy from a divine voice from the heavens that predicted his death at the hands of Devaki's eighth "garbha", Kansa had the couple locked into a prison cell. After Kansa killed the first six children, Devaki apparently had a miscarriage of the seventh. However in reality, the womb was actually transferred to Rohini secretly.
This was how Balarama, Krishna's elder brother was born. Once again Devaki became pregnant. Now due to the miscarriage, Kansa was in a puzzle regarding 'The Eighth One' but his ministers advised that the divine voice from the heavens emphasised "the eight garbha" and so this is the one. That night Krishna was born in the Rohini nakshatra and simultaneously Goddess Durga was born as Yogamaya in Gokulam to Nanda and Yashoda.
Since Vasudeva knew Krishna's life was in danger, Krishna was secretly taken out of the prison cell to be raised by his foster parents, Yasoda and Nanda, in Gokula (in present day Mathura district). Two of his other siblings also survived, Balarama (Devaki's seventh child, transferred to the womb of Rohini, Vasudeva's first wife) and Subhadra (daughter of Vasudeva and Rohini, born much later than Balarama and Krishna).
Childhood and youth
Nanda was the head of a community of cow-herders, and he settled in Vrindavana. The stories of Krishna's childhood and youth tell how he became a cow herder, his mischievous pranks as Makhan Chor (butter thief), his foiling of attempts to take his life, and his role as a protector of the people of Vrindavana.
Krishna killed the demoness Putana, disguised as a wet nurse, sent by Kansa for Krishna's life. He tamed the serpent Kāliyā, who previously poisoned the waters of Yamuna river, thus leading to the death of the cowherds. In Hindu art, Krishna is often depicted dancing on the multi-hooded Kāliyā.
Krishna lifted the Govardhana hill and taught Indra, the king of the devas and rain, a lesson to protect native people of Brindavana from persecution by Indra and prevent the devastation of the pasture land of Govardhan. Indra had too much pride and was angry when Krishna advised the people of Brindavana to take care of their animals and their environment that provide them with all their necessities, instead of worshipping Indra annually by spending their resources. In the view of some, the spiritual movement started by Krishna had something in it which went against the orthodox forms of worship of the Vedic gods such as Indra. In Bhagavat Purana, Krishna says that the rain came from the nearby hill Govardhana, and advised that the people worshiped the hill instead of Indra. This made Indra furious, so he punished them by sending out a great storm. Krishna then lifted Govardhan and held it over the people like an umbrella.
The stories of his play with the gopis (milkmaids) of Brindavana, especially Radha (daughter of Vrishbhanu, one of the original residents of Brindavan) became known as the Rasa lila and were romanticised in the poetry of Jayadeva, author of the Gita Govinda. These became important as part of the development of the Krishna bhakti traditions worshiping Radha Krishna.
On his return to Mathura as a young man, Krishna overthrew and killed his maternal uncle, Kansa, after avoiding several assassination attempts from Kansa's followers. He reinstated Kansa's father, Ugrasena, as the king of the Yadavas and became a leading prince at the court. During this period, he became a friend of Arjuna and the other Pandava princes of the Kuru kingdom, who were his cousins. Later, he took his Yadava subjects to the city of Dwaraka (in modern Gujarat) and established his own kingdom there.
Krishna married Rukmini, the Vidarbha princess, by abducting her, at her request, from her proposed wedding with Shishupala. He married eight queens—collectively called the Ashtabharya—including Rukmini, Satyabhama, Jambavati, Kalindi, Mitravinda, Nagnajiti, Bhadra and Lakshmana. Krishna subsequently married 16,000 or 16,100 maidens who were held captive by the demon Narakasura, to save their honour. Krishna killed the demon and released them all. According to social custom of the time, all of the captive women were degraded, and would be unable to marry, as they had been under the Narakasura's control. However Krishna married them to reinstate their status in the society. This symbolic wedding with 16,100 abandoned daughters was more of a mass women rehabilitation. In Vaishnava traditions, Krishna's wives are forms of the goddess Lakshmi— consort of Vishnu, or special souls who attained this qualification after many lifetimes of austerity, while his two queens, Rukmani and Satyabhama, are expansions of Lakshmi.
When Yudhisthira was assuming the title of emperor, he had invited all the great kings to the ceremony and while paying his respects to them, he started with Krishna because he considered Krishna to be the greatest of them all. While it was a unanimous feeling amongst most present at the ceremony that Krishna should get the first honours, his cousin Shishupala felt otherwise and started berating Krishna. Due to a vow given to Shishupal's mother, Krishna forgave a hundred verbal abuses by Shishupal, and upon the one hundred and first, he assumed his Virat (universal) form and killed Shishupal with his Chakra. The blind king Dhritarashtra also obtained divine vision during this time to be able to see this form of Krishna. Essentially, Shishupala and Dantavakra were both re-incarnations of Vishnu's gate-keepers Jaya and Vijaya, who were cursed to be born on Earth, to be delivered by the Vishnu back to Vaikuntha.
Kurukshetra War and Bhagavad Gita
Once battle seemed inevitable, Krishna offered both sides the opportunity to choose between having either his army called narayani sena or himself alone, but on the condition that he personally would not raise any weapon. Arjuna, on behalf of the Pandavas, chose to have Krishna on their side, and Duryodhana, Kaurava prince, chose Krishna's army. At the time of the great battle, Krishna acted as Arjuna's charioteer, since this position did not require the wielding of weapons.
Upon arrival at the battlefield, and seeing that the enemies are his family, his grandfather, his cousins and loved ones, Arjuna is moved and says his heart does not allow him to fight and he would rather prefer to renounce the kingdom. and put down his Gandiv (Arjuna's bow). Krishna then advises him about the battle, with the conversation soon extending into a discourse which was later compiled as the Bhagavad Gita.
Krishna asked Arjuna, "Have you within no time, forgotten the Kauravas' evil deeds such as not accepting the eldest brother Yudhishtira as King, usurping the entire Kingdom without yielding any portion to the Pandavas, meting out insults and difficulties to Pandavas, attempt to murder the Pandavas in the Barnava lac guest house, publicly disrobing and disgracing Draupadi. Krishna further exhorted in his famous Bhagavad Gita, "Arjuna, do not engage in philosophical analyses at this point of time like a Pundit. You are aware that Duryodhana and Karna particularly have long harboured jealousy and hatred for you Pandavas and badly want to prove their hegemony. You are aware that Bhishmacharya and your Teachers are tied down to their dharma of protecting the unitarian power of the Kuru throne. Moreover, you Arjuna, are only a mortal appointee to carry out my divine will, since the Kauravas are destined to die either way, due to their heap of sins. Open your eyes O Bhaarata and know that I encompass the Karta, Karma and Kriya, all in myself. There is no scope for contemplation now or remorse later, it is indeed time for war and the world will remember your might and immense powers for time to come. So rise O Arjuna!, tighten up your Gandiva and let all directions shiver till their farthest horizons, by the reverbration of its string."
Krishna had a profound effect on the Mahabharata war and its consequences. He had considered the Kurukshetra war to be a last resort after voluntarily acting as a messenger in order to establish peace between the Pandavas and Kauravas. But, once these peace negotiations failed and was embarked into the war, then he became a clever strategist. During the war, upon becoming angry with Arjun for not fighting in true spirit against his ancestors, Krishna once picked up a carriage wheel in order to use it as a weapon to challenge Bhishma when the latter injured him. Upon seeing this, Bhishma dropped his weapons and asked Krishna to kill him. However, Arjuna apologized to Krishna, promising that he would fight with full dedication here/after, and the battle continued. Krishna had directed Yudhisthira and Arjuna to return to Bhishma the boon of "victory" which he had given to Yudhisthira before the war commenced, since he himself was standing in their way to victory. Bhishma understood the message and told them the means through which he would drop his weapons—which was if a woman entered the battlefield. Next day, upon Krishna's directions, Shikhandi (Amba reborn) accompanied Arjuna to the battlefield and thus, Bhishma laid down his arms. This was a decisive moment in the war because Bhishma was the chief commander of the Kaurava army and the most formidable warrior on the battlefield. Krishna aided Arjuna in killing Jayadratha, who had held the other four Pandava brothers at bay while Arjuna's son Abhimanyu entered Drona's Chakravyuha formation—an effort in which he was killed by the simultaneous attack of eight Kaurava warriors. Krishna also caused the downfall of Drona, when he signalled Bhima to kill an elephant called Ashwatthama, the namesake of Drona's son. Pandavas started shouting that Ashwatthama was dead but Drona refused to believe them saying he would believe it only if he heard it from Yudhisthira. Krishna knew that Yudhisthira would never tell a lie, so he devised a clever ploy so that Yudhisthira wouldn't lie and at the same time Drona would be convinced of his son's death. On asked by Drona, Yudhisthira proclaimed
Ashwathama Hatahath, naro va Kunjaro va
i.e. Ashwathama had died but he was nor sure whether it was a Drona's son or an elephant. But as soon as Yudhisthira had uttered the first line, Pandava army on Krishna's direction broke into celebration with drums and conchs, in the din of which Drona could not hear the second part of the Yudhisthira's declaration and assumed that his son indeed was dead. Overcome with grief he laid down his arms, and on Krishna's instruction Dhrishtadyumna beheaded Drona.
When Arjuna was fighting Karna, the latter's chariot's wheels sank into the ground. While Karna was trying to take out the chariot from the grip of the Earth, Krishna reminded Arjuna how Karna and the other Kauravas had broken all rules of battle while simultaneously attacking and killing Abhimanyu, and he convinced Arjuna to do the same in revenge in order to kill Karna. During the final stage of the war, when Duryodhana was going to meet his mother Gandhari for taking her blessings which would convert all parts of his body on which her sight falls to steel, Krishna tricks him to wearing banana leaves to hide his groin. When Duryodhana meets Gandhari, her vision and blessings fall on his entire body except his groin and thighs, and she becomes unhappy about it because she was not able to convert his entire body to steel. When Duryodhana was in a mace-fight with Bhima, Bhima's blows had no effect on Duryodhana. Upon this, Krishna reminded Bhima of his vow to kill Duryodhana by hitting him on the thigh, and Bhima did the same to win the war despite it being against the rules of mace-fight (since Duryodhana had himself broken Dharma in all his past acts). Thus, Krishna's unparalleled strategy helped the Pandavas win the Mahabharata war by bringing the downfall of all the chief Kaurava warriors, without lifting any weapon. He also brought back to life Arjuna's grandson Parikshit, who had been attacked by a Brahmastra weapon from Ashwatthama while he was in his mother's womb. Parikshit became the Pandavas' successor.
Krishna had a total of 16,108 wives, of which only eight were his princely wives and the other 16,100 were rescued from Narakasura. They had been forcibly kept in his palace and after Krishna had killed Narakasura he rescued these 16,100 women and freed them. However, all of them returned to Krishna saying that because they had been kept by Narakasura none of their families would accept them and also nobody would marry any of them. So to stop them from being unprotected Krishna married them all on a single day, by taking 16,100 forms. He gave them shelter in his new palace and a respectful place in society. However keeping his princely wives as wives he never had any relations with the other women, and many Hindu scriptures describe them as dancing around Krishna, singing songs of praise.
The first son of Queen Rukmini was Pradyumna, and also born of her were Charudeshna, Sudeshna and the powerful Charudeha, along with Sucharu, Chharugupta, Bhadracaru, Charuchandra, Vicaru and Caru, the tenth. Pradyumna fathered the greatly powerful Aniruddha in the womb of Rukmavati, the daughter of Rukmi. This took place while they were living in the city of Bhojakata.
Some Vaishnava traditions maintain that Krishna's children were born out of divine mental transmission. The ten sons of Satyabhama were Bhanu, Subhanu, Svarbhanu, Prabhanu, Bhanuman, Chandrabhanu, Brihadbhanu, Atibhanu (the eighth), Sribhanu and Pratibhanu. Krishna is an important deity in Hinduism and seen as a very symbolic Lord. Samba, Sumitra, Purujit, Satajit, Sahasrajit, Vijaya, Citraketu, Vasuman, Dravida and Kratu were the sons of Jambavati. These ten, headed by Samba, were their father's favorites.
The sons of Nagnajiti were Vira, Candra, Asvasena, Citragu, Vegavan, Vrisha, Ama, Sanku, Vasu and the opulent Kunti. Sruta, Kavi, Vrisha, Vira, Subahu, Bhadra, Santi, Darsa and Purnamasa were sons of Kalindi. Her youngest son was Somaka. Madra's sons were Praghosha, Gatravan, Simha, Bala, Prabala, Urdhaga, Mahasakti, Saha, Oja and Aparajita. Mitravinda's sons were Vrika, Harsha, Anila, Gridhra, Vardhana, Unnada, Mahamsa, Pavana, Vahni and Kshudhi. Sangramajit, Brihatsena, Sura, Praharana, Arijith, Jaya and Subhadra were the sons of Bhadra, together with Vama, Ayur and Satyaka. Diptiman, Tamratapta and others were the sons of Krishna and Rohini.
According to Mahabharata, the Kurukshetra war resulted in the death of all 100 sons of Gandhari. On the night before Duryodhana's death, Lord Krishna visited Gandhari to offer his condolences. Gandhari felt that Krishna knowingly did not put an end to the war, and in a fit of rage and sorrow, Gandhari cursed that Krishna, along with everyone else from yadu dynasty, would perish after 36 years. Krishna himself knew and wanted this to happen as he felt that the Yadavas had become very haughty and arrogant(adharmi), so he ended Gandhari's speech by saying "tathastu". At a festival, a fight broke out between the Yadavas, who killed each other. His elder brother, Balarama, then gave up his body using Yoga. Krishna retired into the forest and started meditating under a tree. The Mahabharata also narrates the story of a hunter who kills Krishna. The hunter Jara, mistook Krishna's partly visible left foot for that of a deer, and shot an arrow, wounding and killing him mortally. After he realised the mistake, Krishna told Jara, "O Jara, you were Vaali in your previous birth, killed by myself as Rama in Tretayuga. Here you had a chance to even it and since all acts in this world are done as desired by me, you need not worry for this". Krishna's soul then ascended to heaven, while his mortal body was cremated by Arjuna.
According to Puranic sources, Krishna's disappearance marks the end of Dvapara Yuga and the start of Kali Yuga, which is dated to February 17/18, 3102 BCE. Vaishnava teachers such as Ramanujacharya and Gaudiya Vaishnavas held the view that the body of Krishna is completely spiritual and never decays (Achyuta) as this appears to be the perspective of the Bhagavata Purana. Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (an incarnation of Lord Sri Krishna according to the Bhavishya Purana) exhorted, "Krishna Naama Sankirtan" i.e. the constant chanting of the Krishna's name is the supreme healer in Kali Yuga. It destroys sins and purifies the hearts through Bhakti ensures universal peace.
Krishna never appears to grow old or age at all in the historical depictions of the Puranas despite passing of several decades, but there are grounds for a debate whether this indicates that he has no material body, since battles and other descriptions of the Mahabhārata epic show clear indications that he seems to be subject to the limitations of nature. While battles apparently seem to indicate limitations, Mahabharata also shows in many places where Krishna is not subject to any limitations as through episodes Duryodhana trying to arrest Krishna where his body burst into fire showing all creation within him. Krishna is also explicitly described as without deterioration elsewhere.