BALARĀMA is a Hindu god, the elder brother of the god Kṛṣṇa. He is sometimes considered as the third of the three Rāmas, and thus the eighth avatāra of Viṣṇu; at other times he appears as an incarnation of the serpent Śeṣa or Ananta. He is also known by the names Baladeva, Balabhadra, Bala, and Halāyudha. Legends of Balarāma are found in the Brahmanical and Jain literature. He is mentioned along with Kṛṣṇa in the Mahābhārata, especially in its sequel Harivamśa, in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, and other Vaiṣnava Purāṇas.
The birth of Balarāma was extraordinary. When a disembodied voice predicted that the demon Kamsa would be killed by the eighth child of his sister Devakī, Kamsa vowed to kill her male children. Balarāma was conceived as the seventh child of Devakī and was saved from Kamsa when he was transferred to Rohiṇī's womb by the yogamāyā (magical power) of Viṣṇu. Balarāma was thus born of Rohiṇī. Another story narrated in the Mahābhārata accounts for his white color. Viṣṇu, extracted one of his white hairs and sent it to Devakī's womb; the hair then was born as Balarāma.
Balarāma and Kṛṣṇa are always together and are in perfect contrast with each other: Balarāma is white, whereas Kṛṣṇa is black; Balarāma is the all-masculine figure with the powerful plowshare as his weapon, whereas Kṛṣṇa's beauty is described as graceful and feminine, dark in color, and attractive to women.
Once, while intoxicated, Balarāma called the river Yamunā (personified as a goddess) to come to him so that he could bathe. When she did not comply with his wish, he plunged his plowshare into the river, pulling the waters until Yamunā surrended.
Balarāma married the daughter of King Raivata. The king, who thought that his daughter was so beautiful that she could not be wed to a mortal, took her to the world of Brahmā to seek advice. Brahmā advised the king that Balarāma was the most suitable bridegroom for her. The visit with Brahmā took many aeons, and by the time they returned, mankind had grown smaller. Balarāma found Revati so tall that he shortened her with his plowshare before marrying her.
Balarāma was an expert of three weapons: the plow, the mace, and the club. He taught the use of the mace to Duryodhana. Balarāma disapproved of Kṛṣṇa's role in the Mahābhārata war and wanted the cousins, the Kauravas and the Paṇḍavas, to make peace. When the cousins were fighting, Balarāma refused to take sides and went on a pilgrimage. He was indignant when in the final mace battle Bhīma hit Duryodhana on his thighs, against all propriety. Balarāma vowed to kill Bhīma and could only be pacified by Kṛṣṇa.
Although addicted to liquor himself, Balarāma prohibited intoxicants in the holy city of Dvārakā. After the battle of Kurukṣetra the Yādavas of Dvārakā were involved in a drunken brawl and killed each other. Balarāma sat in deep meditation and the serpent Śeṣa, of whom Balarāma was an incarnation, came from his mouth and entered the ocean.
According to the Jain Harivamśa Purāṇa, Balarāma watched over Kṛṣṇa, and also helped his brother, who was raised by Yaśodạ, to visit his real mother, Devakī. When Devakī saw Kṛṣṇa, her breasts spontaneously flowed with milk. In order to protect her identity, Balarāma poured a jar of milk over her.
Further information on Balarāma can be found in Srimad Bhagavatam, 2 vols., translated by N. Raghunathan (Madras, l976).
Bigger, Andreas. Balarama im Mahabharata: seine Darstellung im Rahmen des Textes und seiner Entwicklung Beiträge zur Indologie Bd. 30. Wiesbaden, 1998.
Velcheru Narayana Rao (1987)