The Sunday Section: Hindu Deities - Vishnu and his Avatars Pt. 3 - Krishna

Krishna, Vishnu's eighth incarnation, is my absolute favourite.  

I make no apologies for the length of this post; in fact I’ve omitted quite a lot of the stories.  I don’t just consider Krishna a divine being, he’s also my teacher, friend and protector, which may seem blasphemous to some, but has always felt right to me.  He’s all about music, dance and having fun, and is probably the most ‘accessible’ of Vishnu’s incarnations; his story is told from birth through to his death.  Realised a similarity between Krishna and Rama – both were born as princes, but spent time living a ‘poor’, simple life.

Krishna is seen as the embodiment of love and divine joy that destroys all pain and sin.  He is sometimes called ‘Gopala Krishna’, the protector of cows, as he grew up in the cow-village of Gokul.  

Vishnu took the form of Krishna in response to the prayers of the demigods and the earth goddess to curb the power of the demons.  Having been defeated in their war with the demigods in the heavens, the demons had turned their attention to earth, and had chosen to be born as princes of powerful royal families.  To counter this, some demigods also elected to be born on earth.

The most troublesome of the demon-kings was Kamsa, who’d usurped the throne of his father and had him thrown in prison.  His sister, Devaki, married Vasudeva, who’d been a demigod.  After the wedding of Vasudeva and Devaki, an oracle predicted the death of Kamsa at the hand of Devaki’s eighth son.  Furious, Kamsa was about to kill his sister, but Vasudeva begged for his bride’s life, promising to let Kamsa kill the eighth child.  Determined to confound the prediction, Kamsa had the couple imprisoned.  But instead of only killing Devaki’s eighth son, Kamsa personally, mercilessly killed each baby that she gave birth to.

Vasudeva had another wife, Rohini, who hadn’t been imprisoned.  When Devaki fell pregnant for the seventh time, it seemed as if she’d miscarried.  But the unborn child had been miraculously transferred to the womb of Rohini, who had long been craving a child of her own.  When he was born, she named him Balarama; he grew to be a great warrior and loyal brother to Krishna.

Pregnant for the eighth time, Devaki and Vasudeva prayed for the life of their unborn child.  At the stroke of midnight, Vishnu appeared before them, telling Vasudeva to take him as a newborn babe to Vrindavan and exchange him with a baby girl that had just been born there.  Then Vishnu turned himself into a baby. 

Gathering the baby in his arms, Vasudeva wondered how he would get out of the prison, let alone all the way to Vrindavan.  As if by magic, the iron shackles fell from his legs, the guards fell asleep and the door automatically opened.  Without hesitation, Vasudeva hurriedly made his way to Vrindavan where all were asleep.  He crept into the house of Nanda, and placed his son on the bed of the sleeping Yashoda.  Picking up her newborn girl, he returned to the prison.

Vasudeva and Devaki hoped Kamsa would spare the baby because the oracle had said it would be a son that would kill him.  But, ignoring Devaki’s pleas, Kamsa pulled the baby girl from her arms and dashed her against the wall.  To his alarm, the baby didn’t hit the wall but slipped from his hands and transformed into the goddess Durga, who told him he hadn’t defeated the prophecy, and that he would be punished for killing innocent children; then she vanished.  Terrified, Kamsa begged Devaki and Vasudeva to forgive him, and had them released.  But by the next day, Kamsa seemed to have forgotten his fright, and resumed the search for the baby of the prophecy.

In Vrindavan, Krishna’s ‘new’ parents, realising they were now involved in something miraculous, had him blessed and were told to raise him with care for many demons would try to cause him harm.  Vasudeva’s first wife, Rohini, moved to the same place so Balarama and Krishna could grow up together.  As a child, Krishna had a reputation for being mischievous; both he and Balarama would steal butter and play pranks on their friends, especially the girls.

'The butter thief'

Balarama and Krishna

Krishna is always depicted with a flute; the music he played, tinged with the divine, sent those who heard it into blissful ecstasy … especially the female cow herders known as ‘gopis’.  There are many stories relating to Krishna’s youth, which tell of his divine power, and the number of demons he killed who tried to kill him … If I told them all, this post would go on forever.  Here’s one of my favourite stories, not to do with a demon but actually about Krishna putting a demigod in his place …

Every year, the residents of Vrindavan gave thanks to Lord Indra for the rain.  One year, Krishna told his father that they should worship Govardhana Hill instead, arguing that they didn’t derive any special benefit from Indra; as cow herders, they had more of a relationship with the forest of Vrindavan, and Govardhana Hill.  Eventually, Nanda agreed and they prepared to give thanks to the Hill.  Obviously, this made Lord Indra angry and, unfortunately for him, it seemed to have slipped his mind who Krishna actually was.  Raging against the impudent child who’d turned the cow herders against him, he sent a storm to devastate Vrindavan.  Scared, the people and animals turned to Krishna who lifted Govardhana Hill, turning it into an umbrella under which all could shelter until the rain stopped.  Realising his mistake, Lord Indra apologised to Krishna.

Krishna lifts Govardhana Hill

For years, Kamsa’s demons harassed the children in that region, but Krishna and Balarama killed them all.  After yet another demon had been killed, Kamsa learned that Krishna and Balarama were, in fact, the seventh and eighth sons of Vasudeva and Devaki.  Realising the prophecy might yet be fulfilled, Kamsa, once again, imprisoned his sister and her husband, and vowed to kill the two brothers.  He sent his servants to bring the boys to Mathura, to face two of his strongest wrestlers in a wrestling match.  This would be Krishna and Balarama’s transition into adulthood; they would never return to the joyful pastimes of their youth.

Krishna and Balarama defeat the wrestlers

Krishna and Balarama accepted Kamsa’s challenge, and easily bested the wrestlers.  Ignoring the people’s jubilation at the victory, Kamsa ordered that the brothers be put to death, and also ordered the death of his father and anyone who’d sided with his enemies.  Krishna seized Kamsa and dragged him to the wrestling ring where he killed him.  When Kamsa’s brothers attacked, Balarama easily defeated them.  Afterwards, meeting their parents for the first time, Krishna and Balarama accepted their roles as princes.

Krishna kills Kamsa

Krishna is the central character in the other Indian epic, ‘ Mahabharatha’, which deals with war, love, brotherhood, politics, human weaknesses, and other more down-to-earth issues.  It is basically the story of two warring groups of cousins, the Pandavas and the Kauravas.  During the war, the Pandava prince, Arjuna, struggled to accept that his enemies were his relatives, his friends and teachers, and that he was expected to fight and kill them.  He turned to his charioteer and guide, Krishna, for advice, who explained to Arjuna his duties as a warrior and prince, and the importance of the concept of action without attachment.  This part of the ‘ Mahabharatha’ is called the ‘ Bhagavad-Gita’.  As Arjuna’s charioteer, Krishna is also known as ‘Parthasarathi’, chariot-driver of Arjuna, who was sometimes called Partha (son of Prtha)

Krishna and Arjuna

When Vishnu reincarnated as Krishna, Lakshmi, once again, chose to be born on earth, this time as Radha, the daughter of a cow herder.  Of all the ‘gopis’, Radha was the one dearest to Krishna.  Always together in childhood and as they grew up, yet they weren’t destined to remain together.  Krishna left to fulfil his purpose, to vanquish his enemies and become a king … he married, raised a family and fought in the great war of Ayodhya.  All though this, Radha waited for him.  Her love for him was so great that whenever Krishna’s name is mentioned, so is Radha’s.  Their relationship is seen as the embodiment of love and perfection, in that both partners choose not to ‘see imperfections’; instead they surrender and serve one another.


There’s so much more to Krishna’s story – what led to the war between the cousins, and the events leading to his death.  Also, there’s more to the story f Rama and Sita.  Methinks I shall write another post or two later, to complete their stories.

(pictures from