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Krishna (Hindu deity)

Krishna (krĬsh´nə) [Sanskrit,=black], one of the most popular deities in Hinduism, the eighth avatar, or incarnation of Vishnu. Krishna appears in the Mahabharata epic as a prince of the Yadava tribe and the friend and counselor of the Pandava princes. His divinity is proclaimed in several places in the epic, particularly in the Bhagavad-Gita. Krishna's childhood and youth are described in the Harivamsa (a supplement to the Mahabharata), the Vishnu Purana, and the Bhagavata Purana, the last being one of the most important texts of the Bhakti, or devotional, movement. As a young boy Krishna is the foster child of cowherds and shows his divine nature by conquering demons. As a youth he is the lover of the gopis (milkmaids), playing his flute and dancing with them by moonlight. The play of Krishna and the gopis is regarded in Hinduism as an image of the soul's relationship with God. The love of Krishna and Radha, his favorite gopi, is celebrated in a great genre of Sanskrit and Bengali love poetry.

See W. G. Archer, The Loves of Krishna in Indian Painting and Poetry (1953, repr. 1960); M. Singer, ed., Krishna: Myths, Rites and Attitudes (1965); J. P. Losty, Krishna: A Hindu Vision of God (1980).

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Krishna

Krishna

Krishna, one of the most popular Hindu gods, is revered as a supreme deity and the eighth incarnation of the god Vishnu. Worshiped as a restorer of order to the world, he appears in a number of myths and legends. The most important source of stories about Krishna is the Mahabharata, the great Hindu epic written between 400 b.c. and a.d. 200, and the Bhagavatam, written later.

deity god or goddess

Birth and Childhood. According to myth, Krishna was the son of Vasudeva and Devaki. His uncle, the wicked King Kamsa of Mathura, heard a prophecy that he would be killed by the eighth child of his sister Devaki. As a result, Kamsa vowed to kill the child. However, when Devaki gave birth to Krishna, her eighth child, the god Vishnu helped switch him with the newborn child of a cowherd and his wife. This couple raised Krishna as their own son.

From birth, Krishna exhibited great powers. Once when his father was carrying him, the baby Krishna dipped his foot in the waters of a raging river. The waves parted, allowing Vasudeva to cross.

After the evil Kamsa discovered that Krishna was alive, he sent demons to destroy the child. Krishna managed to overcome them all. He put an end to the ogress Putana by sucking the life out of her and caused a cart to crush the monstrous flying demon named Saktasura. He also destroyed Trinavarta, a whirlwind demon, by smashing it against a rock.

As Krishna grew up, he often amused himself by playing pranks on people. He also enjoyed teasing the daughters of the cowherds and had many romantic adventures.


incarnation appearance of a god, spirit, or soul in earthly form

epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style

prophecy foretelling of what is to come; also something that is predicted

Struggles Against Evil. When Krishna reached manhood, Kamsa lured him and his brother Balarama to Mathura to a wrestling contest. As the brothers entered the city, Kamsa released a wild elephant to trample them. Krishna killed the beast. Next Kamsa sent his champion wrestlers to fight the brothers, but Krishna and Balarama defeated them all. Finally, Kamsa ordered his demons to kill Krishna's real parents, Vasudeva and Devaki. Before this could take place, however, Krishna killed Kamsa, thus fulfilling the prophecy made years before.

After killing Kamsa, Krishna led his clan, the Yadavas, to the fortress city of Dvaraka. He settled there and married a beautiful princess named Rukmini. He later took other wives as well.

The climax of Krishna's long struggle against the forces of evil came with the great war between two families: the noble Pandavas and their evil cousins the Kauravas. Krishna served as the charioteer of Arjuna, one of the Pandava leaders. Although he took no part in the fighting, Krishna gave advice to Arjuna, and the Pandavas eventually defeated the Kauravas and rid the world of much evil. The conversations between Krishna and Arjuna are found in a section of the Mahabharata called the Bhagavad Gita.

clan group of people descended from a common ancestor or united by a common interest

After the war, Krishna returned to Dvaraka. One day while he sat in the forest, a hunter mistook him for a deer and shot an arrow at him. The arrow pierced Krishna's heel, his only vulnerable spot. After Krishna died, his spirit ascended to Goloka, a heavenly paradise, and his sacred city of Dvaraka sank beneath the ocean.

See also Bhagavad Gita; Devils and Demons; Hinduism and Mythology; Indra; Mahabharata, The; Shiva; Vishnu.

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Krishna

Krishna in Hindu belief, one of the most popular gods, the eighth and most important avatar or incarnation of Vishnu.

He is worshipped in several forms: as the child god whose miracles and pranks are extolled in the Puranas; as the divine cowherd whose erotic exploits, especially with his favourite, Radha, have produced both romantic and religious literature; and as the divine charioteer who preaches to Arjuna on the battlefield in the Bhagavadgita.

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Krishna

Krishna Most celebrated hero of Hindu mythology. He was the eighth avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu and primarily a god of joyfulness and fertility. Many devotional cults grew up around him, as well as legends and poems. See also Hinduism

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Krishna

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Krishna

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Krishna

Krishna

Nationality/Culture

Hindu

Pronunciation

KRISH-nuh

Alternate Names

Hari, Juggernaut, Ishvara

Appears In

The Vedas, the Mahabharata

Lineage

Son of Vasudeva and Devaki

Character Overview

Krishna, one of the most popular Hindu gods, is revered as a supreme deity (god) and the eighth embodiment of the god Vishnu (pronounced VISH-noo). In Hindu mythology, Krishna came to be when Vishnu plucked two of his hairs—one black and one light. Krishna became the black hair; in fact, his name means “Dark One,” and artistic works usually show him with dark skin.

Major Myths

According to myth, Vishnu desired to punish the wicked King Kamsa (pronounced KUHM-suh) of Mathura (pronounced MUHT-oo-ruh), and so sent Krishna to do so as the son of Vasudeva (pronounced VAH-soo-dev) and Kamsa's sister Devaki (pronounced DEE-vuh-kee). Kamsa heard through a prophecy—or prediction—that he would be killed by the eighth child of Devaki. As a result, Kamsa vowed to kill the child. However, when Devaki gave birth to Krishna, her eighth child, the god Vishnu helped switch him with the newborn child of a cowherd and his wife. This couple raised Krishna as their own son.

After the evil Kamsa discovered that Krishna was alive, he sent demons to destroy the child. Krishna managed to overcome them all. He put an end to the ogress Putana (pronounced poo-TAH-nah) by sucking the life out of her and caused a cart to crush the monstrous flying demon named Saktasura (pronounced sahk-tuh-SOO-ruh). He also destroyed Trinavarta (pronounced tree-nuh-VAR-tuh), a whirlwind demon, by smashing it against a rock.

Krishna grew up as a cowherd, and often amused himself by playing pranks on people. He also enjoyed teasing the daughters of the other cowherds and had many romantic adventures. A popular myth describes how he stole the clothes of cowgirls who were bathing in a river, and he refused to return them until each girl came out of the river with their hands clasped in prayer. The cowgirls liked Krishna just as much; Krishna multiplied his hands when he danced with them so each girl would be able to hold his hand. A girl named Radha was his particular favorite, although he had many lovers.

Several myths reveal the supernatural strength of Krishna. In one popular story, Krishna persuades a group of cowherds from worshipping the god Indra by explaining that they should instead worship the mountain that provides them and their herds with food and drink. He then declared himself to be the mountain, which angered Indra. Indra sent a week-long rainstorm as punishment, but Krishna held the mountain over his head to prevent the storm from doing any damage to the people.

Krishna became a hero renowned for ridding the area of monsters and demons, including the evil snake Kaliya. King Kamsa continued his attempts to kill Krishna by luring him and his brother Balarama (pronounced bah-luh-RAH-mah) to Mathura to a wrestling contest. As the brothers entered the city, Kamsa released a wild elephant to trample them. Krishna killed the beast. Next Kamsa sent his champion wrestlers to fight the brothers, but Krishna and Balarama defeated them all. Finally, Kamsa ordered his demons to kill Krishna's real parents, Vasudeva and Devaki. Before this could take place, however, Krishna killed Kamsa, thus fulfilling the prophecy made years before.

After killing Kamsa, Krishna led his tribe, the Yadavas (pronounced YAH-duh-vuhz), to the fortress city of Dvaraka (pronounced DWAR-kuh). He settled there and married a beautiful princess named Rukmini (pronounced ruk-MIN-ee). He later took other wives as well.

The climax of Krishna's long struggle against the forces of evil came with the great war called the Kurukshetra. The war was between two families: the noble Pandavas (pronounced PAHN-duh-vuhz) and their evil cousins the Kauravas (pronounced KOW-ruh-vuhz). Krishna served as the charioteer of Arjuna (pronounced AHR-juh-nuh), one of the Pandava leaders. Although he took no part in the fighting, Krishna gave advice to Arjuna, and the Pandavas eventually defeated the Kauravas and rid the world of much evil. The conversations between Krishna and Arjuna are found in a section of the Mahabharata called the Bhagavad Gita.

After the war, Krishna returned to Dvaraka. One day while he sat in the forest, a hunter mistook him for a deer and shot an arrow at him. The arrow pierced Krishna's heel, his only vulnerable spot. After Krishna died, his spirit ascended to Goloka, a heavenly paradise, and his sacred city of Dvaraka sank beneath the ocean.

Krishna in Context

Krishna was considered the greatest of the representations of the god Vishnu, and actually became more popular than Vishnu himself with Hindus. Krishna's exploits reveal his popularity over other gods. His victories over the god Indra and snake Kaliya (who represents snake gods) show that Krishna is more worthy to be worshipped than older gods. In both stories, Krishna is a figure who brings order from chaos, and creates a safe place for his worshippers. In addition to this role, he is worshipped as the figure who best represents divine love in two forms: the first as a mischievous child (family love), and the second as a lover who is both passionate and yet also unattainable. Though Krishna loved many women, he did not limit his affections to just one; even his favorite Radha was sad that she could never hold on to his love.

Some modern rituals for Krishna involve worshipping him in a series of eight daily “viewings” in which the god allows himself to be seen as an image. His worshippers may change the image's clothing, jewelry, other decorations, and food offerings during the course of the day, or sing devotional songs as they observe a ritual related to Krishna's cowherding.

Key Themes and Symbols

One of the key themes of the myths of Krishna is protection. The god serves as a protector to his people, leading them to the safety of Dvaraka and helping them overcome the Kauravas. Another theme common in tales of Krishna is playfulness; he is often shown having fun, dancing, or enjoying romance. This also reflects Krishna's associations with youth and vigor. In Hindu art, Krishna is usually depicted as a young prince or a cow-herder playing a flute. The popular image of Krishna playing his flute for the cowgirls is symbolic of the divine call for humans to leave their everyday activities in order to worship. He is nearly always shown with blue or black skin, a color traditionally associated with divinity and the universe itself.

Hare Krishna

Krishna came to widespread Western attention in the late 1960s with the founding of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)—a group that was soon referred to as the “Hare Krishnas.” The Hare Krishnas were a prominent manifestation of the countercultural movement in the United States. Many young people at the time rejected traditional Western values and sought meaning in Eastern traditions. ISKCON based its teaching on the Bhagavad Gita, and tried to spread its philosophy by singing and chanting the Hare Krishna mantra (a short poem or phrase with mystical properties) in public places, such as airports and shopping centers. The Hare Krishnas recognized Krishna as the supreme deity. By the late 1970s, the group's popularity had faded amid allegations of brainwashing and child abuse at ISKCON schools.

Krishna in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

The most important source of stories about Krishna is the Mahabhamtct, the great Hindu epic written between 400 bce and 200 ce, and the Bhagavatam, written later. Krishna is shown more frequently in Indian art, dance, and music than any other god. Drama, in particular, is very important in the modern-day worship of Krishna; in some areas of India, festival seasons to honor Krishna include dramas about his life in which child actors are said to represent and even become Krishna. These plays usually begin with a ceremonial dance that represents the dances Krishna performed with the cowgirls.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Compare the story of Krishna to the ancient Greek myth of Achilles. How are the two stories similar? In what ways are the characters different? Do you think both characters qualify as heroes? Explain your answer.

SEE ALSO Bhagavad Gita; Devils and Demons; Hinduism and Mythology; Indra; Mahabharata, The; Shiva; Vishnu

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