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- This article is about Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. For other meanings, see Krishna (disambiguation).
Krishna (Sanskrit for "black", though sometimes said to mean "all attractive" or "dark blue"), is, according to Hindu tradition, the eighth avatar of Vishnu, and in yet others, namely, Gaudiya Vaishnavism, 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, 3102 BC. 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 contradict each other, though there is a well-known and predominantly common core story that is central to most Indians' knowledge of Krishna.
Among his aspects are:
- Krishna the cowherd, known as Govind/Govinda (leader of cows). He is the Supreme Lord of Hinduism (internally known as Sanatana-dharma, or eternal dharma), and all incarnations of God are said to emanate from him. He is contrasted in this to his brother Balarama of the cultivators, who is sometimes called Halayudha, the Lord of the plough. Balarama is his primary svamsa emination, or expansion.
- Childhood of Krishna is easily identified with Indian country life; concentrating mainly on cattle rearing and cultivation.
- Krishna the focus of devotion (the lover, the all-attractive, the flute player). He is frequently shown playing the flute (or otherwise called murali), attracting and bewildering 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 several topics, such as jnana, dharma, yoga, kala (time), prakriti (nature), karma (action), moksa (release), tattva (haecceity), bhakti (devotion), and guna (qualities) in the Bhagavad Gita, and is known as the greatest Yogin, or Yogesvara. The Bhagavad Gita is the first true Yoga text in the Yoga tradition. It is also one of the oldest primary texts for Devotional Krishna-bhakti traditions, and is the most widely read Vedic/Hindu text in print.
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 children 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 avatar 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. Recent studies claim that Krishna lived for 125 years.
The birth of Krishna
Krishna was born in Mathura, and the place of his birth is now known as Krishnajanmabhoomi, where a temple is raised in his memory. Krishna was born in a tense historical period preceding a devastating war. The warring factions built up so many weapons that the burden on the earth became unbearable. Finally the goddess of Earth took the form of a cow and prayed to Lord Brahma for relief. Lord Brahma called all the demigods to the shore of the Milk Ocean to hear Mother Earth and to worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Vishnu. Lord Brahma fell into trance reciting the Vedic hymns known as the Purusa-sukta and heard the voice of Lord Vishnu. Then he announced, "O demigods, hear from me the words of God. He is aware of the distress on Earth and wants you demigods to incarnate as sons and daughters in the Yadu dynasty. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, will personally appear as the son of Vasudeva. Therefore you will all have the benediction of joining the eternal pastimes of Lord Krishna."
Lord Brahma consoled the cow and sent her home, then returned to his planet, Brahmaloka. The demigods then began to take birth in the Yadu dynasty, awaiting the appearance of Lord Krishna. The members of the Yadu dynasty, headed by Vasudeva and Devaki, along with their friends, relatives and well- wishers were all demigods. The residents of Vrindavana, headed by King Nanda, Queen Yasoda and Queen Rohini, were also demigods.
King Kansa was another relative in the family, however he was not a demigod. He usurped the throne of his father, Ugrasena, and put him in prison. When Devaki, a member of Ugrasena's family, married Vasudeva, she received a large dowry of elephants, horses, chariots and servants. After the wedding, Kansa took the reins of the wedding chariot and started to escort the couple home. Along the way, a voice from the sky addressed him: "You foolish king, the eighth son of Devaki will kill you!"
Kansa pulled Devaki down by her hair, drew his sword and prepared to kill her on the spot, but Vausdeva begged for his bride's life and promised to let him kill the eighth child, so that the oracle would not be fulfilled. Kansa agreed to spare her life, but locked Vasudeva and Devaki in a stone prison. Thereafter, he mercilessly killed the first six sons of Devaki. Devaki's seventh son miscarried but mystically transferred to the womb of Queen Rohini in Vrindavana. This became Krishna's older brother, Balarama. Soon thereafter, Devaki became pregnant with her eighth child.
The Appearance of Krishna
Krishna was born at the stroke of midnight in His four-armed Vishnu form, dressed in silk and jewels, carrying the four weapons: the conch, disc, club and lotus. His parents prayed for Him to turn Himself into an ordinary baby so they could hide Him from Kansa. The Lord advised Vasudeva to take him to Vrindavana and exchange him with a girl that had just been born there. Then He turned Himself into a baby.
Magically, the guards in Kansa's prison fell asleep, and all the iron shackles, chains and locks automatically opened. Without questioning this, Vasudeva took the child and departed for Vrindavana. Like the story of Moses, the story of Krishna also includes a parting of the waters, allowing Vasudeva to carry Krishna across the Jamuna River to Vrindavana. When Vasudeva reached the house of Nanda, all the cowherds were asleep. Thus he placed his own son on the bed of Yasoda, picked up her newborn girl and returned to the prison of Kansa.
There was a chance Kansa would spare the child because the omen said it would be the eighth son that would kill him. Devaki pleaded with him, but Kansa pulled the baby girl from her arms and dashed her against a stone. The girl slipped from his hands and rose above his head as the eight-armed form of Goddess Durga, dressed in fine garments and jewels. She said, "The enemy you contemplate is living somewhere else. You are a fool to hurt innocent children. Krishna will kill you."
Kansa became remorseful and begged Devaki and Vasudeva to forgive him for his sins. He released them from their shackles and fell down on their feet, crying tears of regret. The next day, however, Kansa's ministers advised him to give up his sentimental attitude and take action to kill all newborn children in the region. They also advised him to disturb the demigods and saintly people.
Krishna the prince
Krishna as a young man returned to Mathura, overthrew his uncle Kansa, 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 Bhagavad Gita is the advice given to Arjuna by Krishna before the commencement of the 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. His death marked the end of Dvapar yuga. According to studies his death year was 3102 BC.
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 1st millennium AD, and spread to the rest of India by the middle of the 2nd 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 avatar 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 in Sanskrit means "black" according to most standard dictionaries. It is sometimes said to mean "dark blue" (the colour of the night sky). It is related to similar words in other Indo-European languages meaning black. The name is often translated as 'the black one'.
According to Vishnu sahasranama, Krishna, the 57th name, also means the Existence of Knowledge and Bliss. As the Lord is always the Existence of Knowledge and Bliss, or alternatively, the union of Existence and Bliss, He is Krishna.
In depictions, Krishna often appears as a black or dark-skinned figure. For instance the modern murtis (statues) and 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 19th 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 an 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 avatar 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 avatar, 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. the 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;
- Hari - the yellow one (the colour of the sun); Hare Krishna is the vocative, viz. "o golden one! o dark-blue one"; see other meanings.
- Gopala - protector of cows
- Govinda - finder of cows; see also other meanings.
- Madhava - bringer of springtime; see other meanings
- Hrshikesha - Master of the senses
- Keshava - long, beautiful haired; see also other meanings.
- Padmanabha-Having Padmam at Naabhi.
- Partha sarathy - 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).
- Giridhari - He who lifted a hill or giri (Govardhana hill)
- Madhusudanah - killer of demon Madhu
- Chakradhari - the bearer of a discus (chakra)
- Yogeshwara - the Lord of the Yogis
- Yadunandan - Son of the Yadu dynasty
- Dwarakadish - Lord of Dwaraka
- Nanda lal - Beloved of Nanda
- Yasoda Thanaya - Bodily expansion (child) of Yasoda
- Gopinath - Lord of the Cowherd Maidens
Other uses of the name
Certain other religious figures are also sometimes called Krishna. These include (with added phonetic spellings);
- Vyasa - Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana (the dark one born on an island)
- Draupadi - Kṛṣṇā Pānchali (the dark one the princess of Panchala, feminine form)
- Arjuna - he is called Kṛṣṇa in one instance toward the end of his life
- Durga - she is called Kṛṣṇā in the Virataparva (feminine form).
A paper presented recently at a convention in Prabhas Patan near Somnath, concludes that Krishna died at the ripe old age of 125 on February 18, 3102 BC at 14:27:30 hours on the banks of river Hiran in Prabhas Patan. As the report goes, he was 125 years, 7 months and 6 days old when he died.
The finding was based on clues in the Vedic literatures. Certain dates were fed into a special software which was used to prepare a kundli (astrological horoscope charts). The Vishnu Puran and Bhagavad Gita mentions that Krishna "left" Dwarka 36 years after the Battle of the Mahabharat. The Matsya Purana mentions that Krishna was 89 years old when the battle was fought. It further mentions that the Kali Yuga began on the day Krishna "left". The year 2004 is the year 5105 of the Kali Yuga (which began with a year 0).
- http://www.iskcon.com/ (International Society for Krishna Consciousness)
- http://www.vedabase.net/kb/en/ (Krishna's Life Story)
- http://www.dvaita.org/shaastra/gita/gita_sara/gs-007.html (only one God in Hinduism, #56 and see Shri Krishna is the supreme God; #57.)
- http://www.harekrishna.com/~ara/col/books/BG/tsem1.html (Gita and strong monotheism.)
- Krishna.com All about Krishna. Info, books, MP3s, images, radio. . .
- Stephen Knapp's site about Krishna.
- http://www.veda.harekrsna.cz/encyclopedia/index.htm#8 (VEDA: Info on Krishna)
- http://www.dvaita.org/shaastra/gita/gita_sara/gs-007.html (only one God in Hinduism, #56 and see Shri Krishna is the supreme God; #57.)
- Question about Jesus and Krishna
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