1. Kṛṣṇa | Krishna
Kṛṣṇa (Sanskrit: कृष्ण) is a major deity in Hinduism:
He is worshipped as the 8th avatar of the God Viṣṇu and also as the Supreme God in his own right. He is the god of compassion, tenderness, and love in Hinduism, and is one of the most popular and widely revered among Indian divinities.
Kṛṣṇa's birthday is celebrated every year by Hindus on Kṛṣṇa Janmāṣṭamī according to the lunisolar Hindu calendar, which falls in late August or early September of the Gregorian calendar.
According to Kṛṣṇa Caritas, Kṛṣṇa is born to Devakī and her husband, Vāsudeva Ānakadundubhi of the Yādava clan in Mathura.
Kṛṣṇa is usually depicted with a flute in his hand.
The histories and narratives of Kṛṣṇa's life are generally titled as Kṛṣṇa Līla:
He is a central character in the Mahābhārata, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa and the Bhagavad Gītā, and is mentioned in many Hindu philosophical, theological, and mythological texts.
They portray him in various perspectives: a god-child, a prankster, a model lover, a divine hero, and as the universal Supreme Being.
His iconography reflects these histories, and shows him in different stages of his life, such as:
- an infant eating butter,
- a young boy playing a flute,
- a young boy with Rādhā or surrounded by women devotees, or
- a friendly charioteer giving counsel to Arjuna.
The synonyms of Kṛṣṇa have been traced to 1st millennium BCE literature. In some sub-traditions, Kṛṣṇa is worshipped as Svayam Bhagavān, and this is sometimes referred to as Kṛṣṇaism. These sub-traditions arose in the context of the medieval era Bhakti movement.
Kṛṣṇa-related literature has inspired numerous performance arts such as Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Odissi, and Manipuri dance.
He is a pan-Hindu god, but is particularly revered in some locations such as Vrindāvan in Uttar Pradesh, the Jagannātha aspect in Odisha, Māyāpur in West Bengal,
Dwarka and Junagadh in Gujarat, in the form of Viṭhoba in Pandharpur, Maharashtra, Nathdwara in Rajasthan, Udupi Kṛṣṇa in Karnataka and Guruvayur in Kerala.
Since the 1960s, the worship of Kṛṣṇa has also spread to the Western world and to Africa, largely due to the work of the International Society for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness (ISKCON).
2. Names and epithets
The name "Kṛṣṇa" originates from the Sanskrit word Kṛṣṇa, which is primarily an adjective meaning "black", "dark", or "dark blue".
The waning moon is called Kṛṣṇa Pakṣa, relating to the adjective meaning "darkening".
The name is also interpreted sometimes as "all-attractive".
As a name of Viṣṇu, Kṛṣṇa is listed as the 57th name in the Viṣṇu Sahasranāma.
Based on his name, Kṛṣṇa is often depicted in icons as black- or blue-skinned. Kṛṣṇa is also known by various other names, epithets, and titles that reflect his many associations and attributes:
Among the most common names are Mohan "enchanter"; Govinda "chief herdsman", Kīv "prankster", and Gopāla "Protector of the 'Go'", which means "Soul" or "the cows".
Some names for Kṛṣṇa hold regional importance; Jagannātha, found in Purī Hindu temple, is a popular incarnation in Odisha state and nearby regions of eastern India.
3. Historical and literary sources
The tradition of Kṛṣṇa appears to be an amalgamation of several independent deities of ancient India, the earliest to be attested being Vāsudeva:
Vāsudeva was a hero-god of the tribe of the Vṛṣṇis, belonging to the Vṛṣṇi heroes, whose worship is attested from the 5th-6th century in the writings of Pāṇini, and from the 2nd century BCE in epigraphy with the Heliodorus pillar.
At one point in time, it is thought that the tribe of Vṛṣṇis fused with the tribe of the Yādavas, whose own hero-god was named Kṛṣṇa.
Vāsudeva and Kṛṣṇa fused to become a single deity, which appears in the Mahābhārata, and they start to be identified with Viṣṇu in the Mahābhārata and the Bhagavad Gītā.
Around the 4th century CE, another tradition, the cult of Gopāla-Kṛṣṇa, the protector of cattle, was also absorbed into the Kṛṣṇa tradition.
4. Depiction in coinage (2nd century BCE)
Around 180 BCE the Indo-Greek king Agathocles issued some coinage bearing images of deities that are now interpreted as being related to Vaiṣṇava imagery in India:
The deities displayed on the coins appear to be:
- Saṅkarṣaṇa-Balarāma with attributes consisting of the Gada mace and the plough, and
- Vāsudeva-Kṛṣṇa with attributes of the Śaṅkha (conch) and the Sudarśana Chakra wheel.
According to Bopearachchi, the headdress on top of the deity is actually a misrepresentation of a shaft with a half-moon parasol on top (chattra).
The Heliodorus Pillar, a stone pillar with a Brāhmī script inscription was discovered by colonial era archaeologists in Besnagar (Vidisha, central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh).
Based on the internal evidence of the inscription, it has been dated to between 125-100 BCE, and now known after Heliodorus – an Indo-Greek who served as an ambassador of the Greek king Antialcidas to a regional Indian king Kasiputra Bhagabhadra.
The Heliodorus pillar inscription is a private religious dedication of Heliodorus to "Vāsudeva", an early deity and another name for Kṛṣṇa in the Indian tradition:
It states that the column was constructed by "the Bhāgavata Heliodorus" and that it is a "Garuda pillar" (both are Viṣṇu-Kṛṣṇa-related terms).
Additionally, the inscription includes a Kṛṣṇa-related verse from chapter 11.7 of the Mahābhārata stating that the path to immortality and heaven is to correctly live a life of 3 virtues:
1. self-temperance (damaḥ),
2. generosity (tyāga), and
3. vigilance (apramāda).
The Heliodorus pillar site was fully excavated by archaeologists in the 1960s:
The effort revealed the brick foundations of a much larger ancient elliptical temple complex with a sanctum, mandapas, and 7 additional pillars.
The Heliodorus pillar inscriptions and the temple are among the earliest known evidence of Kṛṣṇa-Vāsudeva devotion and Vaiṣṇavism in ancient India.
The Heliodorus inscription is not isolated evidence:
The Hathibada Ghosundi Inscriptions, all located in the state of Rajasthan and dated by modern methodology to the 1st century BCE, mention Saṅkarṣaṇa and Vāsudeva, also mention that the structure was built for their worship in association with the Supreme Deity Nārāyaṇa.
These inscriptions are notable for being some of the oldest-known Sanskrit inscriptions.
A Mora stone slab found at the Mathura-Vrindāvan archaeological site in Uttar Pradesh, held now in the Mathura Museum, has a Brāhmī inscription:
It is dated to the 1st century CE and mentions the 5 Vṛṣṇi heroes, otherwise known as Saṅkarṣaṇa, Vāsudeva, Pradyumna, Aniruddha, and Samba.
The inscriptional record for Vāsudeva starts in the 2nd century BCE with the coinage of Agathocles of Bactria and the Heliodorus pillar, but the name of Kṛṣṇa appears rather later in epigraphy.
At Chilas II archaeological site dated to the first half of 1st-century CE in northwest Pakistan, near the Afghanistan border, are engraved 2 males along with many Buddhist images nearby:
The larger of the 2 males holds a plough and club in his 2 hands.
The artwork also has an inscription with it in Kharoṣṭhī script, which has been deciphered by scholars as Rāma-Kṛṣṇa, and interpreted as an ancient depiction of the 2 brothers Balarāma and Kṛṣṇa.
The first known depiction of the life of Kṛṣṇa himself comes relatively late with a relief found in Mathura, and dated to the 1st-2nd century CE. This fragment seems to be showing Vāsudeva Ānakadundubhi, Kṛṣṇa' father, carrying baby Kṛṣṇa in a basket across the Yamuna.
The relief shows at one end a 7-hooded Nāga crossing a river, where a Makara crocodile is thrashing around, and at the other end a person seemingly holding a basket over his head.
The earliest text containing detailed descriptions of Kṛṣṇa as a personality is the epic Mahābhārata, which depicts Kṛṣṇa as an incarnation of Viṣṇu. Kṛṣṇa is central to many of the main stories of the epic.
The 18 chapters of the 6th book (Bhīṣma Parva) of the epic that constitute the Bhagavad Gītā contain the advice of Kṛṣṇa to Arjuna on the battlefield.
The Harivaṁśa, a later appendix to the Mahābhārata contains a detailed version of Kṛṣṇa's childhood and youth.
The Chāndogya Upaniṣad, estimated to have been composed sometime between the 8th-6th centuries BCE, has been another source of speculation regarding Kṛṣṇa in ancient India:
The verse (III.xvii.6) mentions Kṛṣṇa in "Kṛṣṇāya Devakīputrāya" (Sanskrit: कृष्णाय देवकीपुत्राय) as a student of the sage Ghora of the Āṅgīrasa family:
This phrase, which means "To Kṛṣṇa the son of Devakī", has been mentioned by scholars such as Max Müller as a potential source of fables and Vedic lore about Kṛṣṇa in the Mahābhārata and other ancient literature – only potential, because this verse could have been interpolated into the text, or the Kṛṣṇa Devakīputra, could be different from the deity Kṛṣṇa.
These doubts are supported by the fact that the much later age Śāṇḍilya Bhakti Sūtras, a treatise on Kṛṣṇa, cites later age compilations such as the Nārāyaṇa Upaniṣad but never cites this verse of the Chāndogya Upaniṣad.
Yāska’s Nirukta, an etymological dictionary published around the 6th century BCE, contains a reference to the Śyāmantaka jewel in the possession of Akrūra, a motif from the well-known Purāṇic story about Kṛṣṇa.
Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa and Aitareya-Āraṇyaka associate Kṛṣṇa with his Vṛṣṇi origins.
In Aṣṭādhyāyī, authored by the ancient grammarian Pāṇini (probably belonged to the 5th - 6th century BCE), Vāsudeva and Arjuna, as recipients of worship, are referred to together in the same sūtra.
7. Other sources
Megasthenes, a Greek ethnographer and an ambassador of Seleucus I to the court of Chandragupta Maurya towards the end of 4th century BCE, made reference to Herakles in his famous work Indica:
This text is now lost to history, but was quoted in secondary literature by later Greeks such as Arrian, Diodorus, and Strabo:
According to these texts, Megasthenes mentioned that the Śūrasena tribe of India, who worshipped Herakles, had 2 major cities named Methora and Kleisobora, and a navigable river named the Jobares:
According to some researchers of Indian religions, "there is little doubt that the Śūrasena refers to the Śūrasenas, a branch of the Yadu dynasty to which Kṛṣṇa belonged".
The word Herakles is likely a Greek phonetic equivalent of Hari-Kṛṣṇa, as is Methora of Mathura, Kleisobora of Kṛṣṇapūra, and the Jobares of Yamuna.
Later, when Alexander the Great launched his campaign in the northwest Indian subcontinent, his associates recalled that the soldiers of Porus were carrying an image of Herakles.
The Buddhist Pāli Canon and the Ghaṭā-Jātaka (No. 454) polemically mention the devotees of Vāsudeva and Balādeva. These texts have many peculiarities and may be a garbled and confused version of the Kṛṣṇa legends.
The texts of Jainism mention these tales as well, also with many peculiarities and different versions, in their legends about Tīrthaṅkaras.
This inclusion of Kṛṣṇa-related legends in ancient Buddhist and Jaina literature suggests that Kṛṣṇa theology was existent and important in the religious landscape observed by non-Hindu traditions of ancient India.
The ancient Sanskrit grammarian Patañjali in his Mahābhāṣya makes several references to Kṛṣṇa and his associates found in later Indian texts:
In his commentary on Pāṇini's verse 3.1.26, he also uses the word Kaṁsavadha or the "killing of Kaṁsa", an important part of the legends surrounding Kṛṣṇa.
Many Purāṇas, mostly compiled during the Gupta period (4-5th century CE), tell Kṛṣṇa's life story or some highlights from it:
Two Purāṇas, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa and the Viṣṇu Purāṇa, contain the most elaborate telling of Kṛṣṇa's story, but the life stories of Kṛṣṇa in these and other texts vary, and contain significant inconsistencies.
The Bhāgavata Purāṇa consists of 12 books subdivided into 332 chapters, with a cumulative total of between 16,000 and 18,000 verses depending on the version:
The 10th book of the text, which contains about 4,000 verses (~25%) and is dedicated to stories about Kṛṣṇa, has been the most popular and widely studied part of this text.
Kṛṣṇa is represented in the Indian traditions in many ways, but with some common features:
His iconography typically depicts him with black, dark, or blue skin, like Viṣṇu.
However, ancient and medieval reliefs and stone-based arts depict him in the natural colour of the material out of which he is formed, both in India and in southeast Asia.
In some texts, his skin is poetically described as the colour of Jambul (Jamun, a purple-coloured fruit).
Kṛṣṇa is often depicted wearing a peacock-feather wreath or crown, and playing the bansuri (Indian flute). In this form, he is usually shown standing with one leg bent in front of the other in the Tribhaṅga posture.
He is sometimes accompanied by cows or a calf, which symbolise the divine herdsman Govinda.
Alternatively, he is shown as a romantic young boy with the Gopis (milkmaids), often making music or playing pranks.
In other icons, he is a part of battlefield scenes of the epic Mahābhārata:
He is shown as a charioteer, notably when he is addressing the Pāṇḍava prince Arjuna character, symbolically reflecting the events that led to the Bhagavad Gītā – a scripture of Hinduism:
In these popular depictions, Kṛṣṇa appears in the front as the charioteer, either as a counsel listening to Arjuna, or as the driver of the chariot while Arjuna aims his arrows in the battlefield of Kurukṣettra.
Alternate icons of Kṛṣṇa show him as a baby (Balā Kṛṣṇa, the child Kṛṣṇa), a toddler crawling on his hands and knees, a dancing child,
or an innocent-looking child playfully stealing or consuming butter (Makkan Chor), holding Laddu in his hand (Laddu Gopāl)
or as a cosmic infant sucking his toe while floating on a banyan leaf during the Pralaya (the cosmic dissolution) observed by sage Mārkaṇḍeya.
Regional variations in the iconography of Kṛṣṇa are seen in his different forms, such as Jagannātha in Odisha, Viṭhoba in Maharashtra, Śrīnāthajī in Rajasthan and Guruvāyūrappan in Kerala.
Guidelines for the preparation of Kṛṣṇa icons in design and architecture are described in medieval-era Sanskrit texts on Hindu temple arts such as:
- Vaikhānasa Āgama,
- Viṣṇu Dharmottara,
- Bṛhat Saṁhitā, and
- Agṇi Purāṇa.
Similarly, early medieval-era Tamil texts also contain guidelines for sculpting Kṛṣṇa and Rukmiṇī. Several statues made according to these guidelines are in the collections of the Government Museum, Chennai.
10. Life and Legends
This summary is a mythological account, based on literary details from the Mahābhārata, the Harivaṁśa, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, and the Viṣṇu Purāṇa.
The scenes from the narrative are set in ancient India, mostly in the present states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, and Gujarat.
- The legends about Kṛṣṇa's life are called Kṛṣṇa caritas.
In the Kṛṣṇa Caritas, Kṛṣṇa is born to Devakī and her husband, Vāsudeva of the Yādava clan in Mathura.
Devakī's brother is a tyrant named Kaṁsa:
When Mother Earth was burdened by heinous activities of Kaṁsa and other demon Kings she went to Lord Brahmā in form of a cow who along with other gods took her to the shore of the milky ocean.
There they chanted the Puruṣa Sūkta to summon Lord Viṣṇu. Lord Viṣṇu assured her and other gods that he would himself take birth along with his part Śeṣa in Yadu’s clan to end the tyranny.
At Devakī's wedding, according to Purāṇic legends, Kaṁsa is told by fortune tellers that a child of Devakī would kill him. Kaṁsa arranges to kill all of Devakī's children:
When Kṛṣṇa is born, Vāsudeva secretly carries the infant Kṛṣṇa away across the Yamuna and exchanges him.
When Kaṁsa tries to kill the new-born, the exchanged baby appears as the Hindu goddess Durgā, warning him that his death has arrived in his kingdom, and then disappears, according to the legends in the Purāṇas.
Kṛṣṇa grows up with Nanda Baba and his wife Yaśodā near modern-day Mathura. Two of Kṛṣṇa's siblings also survive, namely Balarāma and Subhadra, according to these legends.
The day of birth of Kṛṣṇa is celebrated as Kṛṣṇa Janmāṣṭamī.
12. Childhood and youth
The legends of Kṛṣṇa's childhood and youth describe him as a cow herder, a mischievous boy whose pranks earns him the nickname Makhan Chor (butter thief) and a protector who steals the hearts of the people in both Gokul and Vrindāvana.
The texts state, for example, that Kṛṣṇa lifts the Govardhana hill to protect the inhabitants of Vrindāvana from devastating rains and floods.
Other legends describe him as an enchanter and playful lover of the Gopis (milkmaids) of Vrindāvana, especially Rādhā:
These metaphor-filled love stories are known as the Rasa Līla and were romanticised in the poetry of Jayadeva, author of the Gītā Govinda. They are also central to the development of the Kṛṣṇa bhakti traditions worshiping Rādhā Kṛṣṇa.
Kṛṣṇa's childhood illustrates the Hindu concept of Līla, playing for fun and enjoyment and not for sport or gain. His interaction with the Gopis at the rasa dance or Rasa Līla is an example.
Kṛṣṇa plays his flute and the Gopis come immediately, from whatever they were doing, to the banks of the Yamuna River and join him in singing and dancing. Even those who could not physically be there join him through meditation.
He is the spiritual essence and the love-eternal in existence, the Gopis metaphorically represent the prakṛti matter and the impermanent body.
This Līla is a constant theme in the legends of Kṛṣṇa's childhood and youth. Even when he is battling with a serpent to protect others, he is described in Hindu texts as if he were playing a game.
This quality of playfulness in Kṛṣṇa is celebrated during festivals as Rasa-Līla and Janmāṣṭamī, where Hindus in some regions such as Maharashtra playfully mimic his legends, such as by making human gymnastic pyramids to break open Hānḍis (clay pots) hung high in the air to "steal" butter or buttermilk, spilling it all over the group.
Kṛṣṇa legends then describe his return to Mathura:
He overthrows and kills the tyrant king, his uncle Kaṁsa after quelling several assassination attempts by Kaṁsa. He reinstates Kaṁsa's father, Ugrasena as the king of the Yādavas and becomes a leading prince at the court.
In one version of the Kṛṣṇa story Kṛṣṇa after Kaṁsa’s death leads the Yādavas to the newly built city of Dvārakā. Thereafter Pāṇḍavas rise. Kṛṣṇa befriends Arjuna and the other Pāṇḍava princes of the Kuru kingdom. Kṛṣṇa plays a key role in the Mahābhārata.
The Bhāgavata Purāṇa describes 8 wives of Kṛṣṇa that appear in sequence as (Rukmiṇī, Satyabhāmā, Jāmbavatī, Kālindī, Mitravinda, Nāgnajitī (also called Satyā), Bhadrā and Lakṣmaṇa (also called Madrā).
According to some, this is a metaphor where each of the 8 wives signifies a different aspect of him:
Vaiṣṇava texts mention all Gopis as wives of Kṛṣṇa, but this is spiritual symbolism of devotional relationship and Kṛṣṇa's complete loving devotion to each and every one devoted to him.
His wife is sometimes called Rohiṇī, Rādhā, Rukmiṇī, Svaminiji or others. In Kṛṣṇa-related Hindu traditions, he is most commonly seen with Rādhā.
All of his wives and his lover Rādhā are considered in the Hindu tradition to be the avatars of the goddess Lakṣmī, the consort of Viṣṇu. Gopis are considered as Rādhā's many forms and manifestations.
14. Kurukṣettra War and Bhagavad Gītā
According to the epic poem Mahābhārata, Kṛṣṇa becomes Arjuna's charioteer for the Kurukṣettra War, but on the condition that he personally will not raise any weapon.
Upon arrival at the battlefield and seeing that the enemies are his family, his grandfather and his cousins and loved ones, Arjuna is moved and says his heart will not allow him to fight and kill others. He would rather renounce the kingdom and put down his Gāndīva (Arjuna's bow).
Kṛṣṇa then advises him about the nature of life, ethics and morality when one is faced with a war between good and evil, the impermanence of matter, the permanence of the soul and the good, duties and responsibilities, the nature of true peace and bliss and the different types of yoga to reach this state of bliss and inner liberation.
This conversation between Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna is presented as a discourse called the Bhagavad Gītā.
15. Death and ascension
It is stated in the Indian texts that the legendary Kurukṣettra War leads to the death of all the hundred sons of Gāndhārī.
After Duryodhana's death, Kṛṣṇa visits Gāndhārī to offer his condolences when Gāndhārī and Dhṛtarāṣṭra visited Kurukṣettra, as stated in Strī Parva.
Feeling that Kṛṣṇa deliberately did not put an end to the war, in a fit of rage and sorrow Gāndhārī said:
'Thou were indifferent to the Kurus and the Pāṇḍavas whilst they slew each other, therefore, O Govinda, thou shalt be the slayer of thy own kinsmen!'
According to the Mahābhārata, a fight breaks out at a festival among the Yādavas, who end up killing each other.
Mistaking the sleeping Kṛṣṇa for a deer, a hunter named Jara shoots an arrow that fatally injures him. Kṛṣṇa forgives Jara and dies.
The pilgrimage (Tīrtha) site of Bhalka in Gujarat marks the location where Kṛṣṇa is believed to have died. It is also known as Dehotsarga a term that literally means the place where Kṛṣṇa "gave up his body".
The Bhāgavata Purāṇa in Book 11, chapter 31 states that after his death, Kṛṣṇa returned to his transcendent abode directly because of his yogic concentration.
Waiting gods such as Brahmā and Indra were unable to trace the path Kṛṣṇa took to leave his human incarnation and return to his abode.
16. Versions and interpretations
There are numerous versions of Kṛṣṇa's life story, of which 3 are most studied:
1) the Harivaṁśa,
2) the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, and
3) the Viṣṇu Purāṇa.
They share the basic storyline but vary significantly in their specifics, details, and styles.
The most original composition, the Harivaṁśa is told in a realistic style that describes Kṛṣṇa's life as a poor herder but weaves in poetic and allusive fantasy. It ends on a triumphal note, not with the death of Kṛṣṇa.
Differing in some details, the 5th book of the Viṣṇu Purāṇa moves away from Harivaṁśa realism and embeds Kṛṣṇa in mystical terms and eulogies. The Viṣṇu Purāṇa manuscripts exist in many versions.
The 10-11th books of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa are widely considered to be a poetic masterpiece, full of imagination and metaphors, with no relation to the realism of pastoral life found in the Harivaṁśa:
Kṛṣṇa's life is presented as a cosmic play (Līla), where his youth is set as a princely life with his foster father Nanda portrayed as a king.
Kṛṣṇa's life is closer to that of a human being in Harivaṁśa, but is a symbolic universe in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, where Kṛṣṇa is within the universe and beyond it, as well as the universe itself, always.
The Bhāgavata Purāṇa manuscripts also exist in many versions, in numerous Indian languages.
17. Incarnations of Kṛṣṇa
Chaitanya Mahāprabhu is considered as the incarnation of Kṛṣṇa in Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism and by the ISKCON community
Rāmadev Pir is considered as an incarnation of Kṛṣṇa.
18. Proposed dates
The date of Kṛṣṇa's birth is celebrated every year as Janmāṣṭamī.
Most scholars of Hinduism and Indian history accept the historicity of Kṛṣṇa - that he was a real male person, whether human or divine, who lived on Indian soil by at least 1000 BCE and interacted with many other historical persons within the cycles of the epic and Purāṇic histories.
However, there are also an enormous number of contradictions and discrepancies surrounding the chronology of Kṛṣṇa's life as depicted in the Sanskrit canon.
Some believe that Kṛṣṇa can be inferred to have lived between 3227 BCE – 3102 BCE from the Purāṇas. A number of scholars place Kṛṣṇa's birth year as 3228 BCE.
A paper presented in a conference in 2004 by a group of archaeologists, religious scholars and astronomers from Somnāth Trust of Gujarat, the supposed location of the where Kṛṣṇa spent his last moments, fixes the death of Sri Kṛṣṇa on 18 February 3102 BC at the age of 125 years and 7 months.
In contrast, according to histories in the Jain tradition, Kṛṣṇa was a cousin of Neminātha, the 22nd Tīrthaṅkara of the Jains:
Neminātha is believed in the Jain tradition to have been born 84,000 years before the 9th-century BCE Pārśvanātha.
19. Philosophy and theology
A wide range of theological and philosophical ideas are presented through Kṛṣṇa in Hindu texts:
Rāmānuja, a Hindu theologian whose works were influential in Bhakti movement, presented him in terms of qualified monism (Viśiṣṭādvaita).
Madhvācārya, a Hindu philosopher whose works led to the founding of Haridāsa sect of Vaiṣṇavism, presented Kṛṣṇa in the framework of dualism (Dvaita).
Jīva Goswami, a saint from Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava School, described Kṛṣṇa theology in terms of Bhakti yoga and Acintya Bheda Abheda.
Kṛṣṇa theology is presented in a pure monism (advaita, called Śuddhādvaita) framework by Vallabha Āchārya, who was the founder of Puṣṭi school of Vaiṣṇavism.
Madhusūdana Sarasvatī, an India philosopher, presented Kṛṣṇa theology in non-dualism-monism framework (Advaita Vedanta),
while Ādi Śaṅkara, who is credited for unifying and establishing the main currents of thought in Hinduism, mentioned Kṛṣṇa in his early 8th century discussions on Pañcāyatana pūjā.
Across the various theologies and philosophies, the common theme presents Kṛṣṇa as the essence and symbol of divine love, with human life and love as a reflection of the divine.
The longing and love-filled legends of Kṛṣṇa and the Gopis, his playful pranks as a baby, as well as his later dialogues with other characters, are philosophically treated as metaphors for the human longing for the divine and for meaning, and the play between the universals and the human soul.
Other texts that include Kṛṣṇa such as the Bhagavad Gītā have attracted numerous Bhāṣya (commentaries) in the Hindu traditions. Though only a part of the Hindu epic Mahābhārata, it has functioned as an independent spiritual guide:
It allegorically raises through Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna the ethical and moral dilemmas of human life, then presents a spectrum of answers, weighing in on the ideological questions on human freedoms, choices, and responsibilities towards self and towards others.
This Kṛṣṇa dialogue in the Bhagavad Gītā has attracted numerous interpretations, from being a metaphor of inner human struggle teaching non-violence, to being a metaphor of outer human struggle teaching a rejection of Quietism to persecution.
The worship of Kṛṣṇa is part of Vaiṣṇavism, a major tradition within Hinduism. Kṛṣṇa is considered a full Avatār of Viṣṇu, or one with Viṣṇu himself.
However, the exact relationship between Kṛṣṇa and Viṣṇu is complex and diverse, with Kṛṣṇa sometimes considered an independent deity and Supreme.
Vaiṣṇavas accept many incarnations of Viṣṇu, but Kṛṣṇa is particularly important. Their theologies are generally centred either on Viṣṇu or an avatar such as Kṛṣṇa as Supreme.
The terms Kṛṣṇaism and Vaiṣṇavism have sometimes been used to distinguish the two, the former implying that Kṛṣṇa is the transcendent Supreme Being.
All Vaiṣṇava traditions recognise Kṛṣṇa as the 8th Avatār of Viṣṇu; others identify Kṛṣṇa with Viṣṇu,
while traditions such as Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, Vallabha Sampradāya and the Nimbārka Sampradāya regard Kṛṣṇa as the Svayam Bhagavān, the original form of Lord or the same as the concept of Brahman in Hinduism.
Gītā-Govinda of Jayadeva considers Kṛṣṇa to be the supreme lord while the 10 incarnations are his forms. Swāmīnārāyaṇa, the founder of the Swāmīnārāyaṇa Sampradāya, also worshipped Kṛṣṇa as God himself.
Today the faith has a significant following outside of India as well.
21. Early traditions
The deity Kṛṣṇa-Vāsudeva ("Kṛṣṇa, the son of Vāsudeva Ānakadundubhi") is historically one of the earliest forms of worship in Kṛṣṇaism and Vaiṣṇavism. It is believed to be a significant tradition of the early history of Kṛṣṇa religion in antiquity.
Thereafter, there was an amalgamation of various similar traditions:
These include ancient Bhāgavatism, the cult of Gopāla, of "Kṛṣṇa Govinda" (cow-finding Kṛṣṇa), of Balā Kṛṣṇa (baby Kṛṣṇa) and of "Kṛṣṇa Gopivallabha" (Kṛṣṇa the lover).
22. Bhakti tradition
The use of the term Bhakti, meaning devotion, is not confined to any one deity.
However, Kṛṣṇa is an important and popular focus of the devotional tradition within Hinduism, particularly among the Vaiṣṇava traditions.
Devotees of Kṛṣṇa subscribe to the concept of Līla, meaning 'divine play', as the central principle of the universe. It is a form of Bhakti Yoga, one of several types of yoga discussed by Kṛṣṇa in the Bhagavad Gītā.
23. Indian subcontinent
The bhakti movements devoted to Kṛṣṇa became prominent in southern India in the 7-9th centuries CE:
The earliest works included those of the Āḻvār saints of the Tamil Nadu. A major collection of their works is the Divya Prabandham. The Āḻvār Āṇḍāḷ's popular collection of songs Tiruppāvai, in which she conceives of herself as a Gopī, is the most famous of the oldest works in this genre.
The movement originated in South India during the 7th CE, spreading northwards from Tamil Nadu through Karnataka and Maharashtra; by the 15th century, it was established in Bengal and Northern India.
Early Bhakti pioneers include Nimbārka (12th or 13th century CE), but most emerged later, including Vallabhācharya (15th century CE) and Lord Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu:
They started their own schools, namely Nimbārka Sampradāya, Vallabha Sampradāya, and Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, with Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme God.
In the Deccan, particularly in Maharashtra, saint poets of the Warkari sect such as Jñāneśvar, Nāmdev, Janābāi, Eknāth, and Tukaram promoted the worship of Viṭhoba, a local form of Kṛṣṇa, from the beginning of the 13th century until the late 18th century.
In Southern India, Purandara Dāsa and Kanaka Dāsa of Karnataka composed songs devoted to the Kṛṣṇa image of Udupi.
Rūpa Goswami of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism has compiled a comprehensive summary of bhakti called Bhakti-Rāsamrita-sindhu.
In South India, the Ācāryas of the Śrī Sampradāya have written reverentially about Kṛṣṇa in most of their works, including the Tiruppāvai by Āṇḍāḷ and Gopāla Viṁśati by Vedanta Deśika.
Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala states have many major Kṛṣṇa temples, and Janmāṣṭamī is one of the widely celebrated festivals in South India.
24. Outside Asia
By 1965 the Kṛṣṇa-bhakti movement had spread outside India after Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda (as instructed by his guru, Bhaktisiddhāṅta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura) travelled from his homeland in West Bengal to New York City.
A year later in 1966, after gaining many followers, he was able to form the International Society for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness (ISKCON), popularly known as the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement.
The purpose of this movement was to write about Kṛṣṇa in English and to share the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava philosophy with people in the Western world by spreading the teachings of the saint Chaitanya Mahāprabhu.
In the biographies of Chaitanya Mahāprabhu, the mantra he received when he was given Dīkṣā or initiation in Gaya was the 6-word verse of the Kali-Santaraṇa Upaniṣad, namely:
"Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa,
Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare;
Hare Rāma Hare Rāma,
Rāma Rāma Hare Hare".
In Gauḍīya tradition, it is the Mahā Mantra, or great mantra, about Kṛṣṇa bhakti. Its chanting was known as Hari-nāma Sankirtana.
The Mahā Mantra gained the attention of George Harrison and John Lennon of The Beatles fame, and Harrison produced a 1969 recording of the mantra by devotees from the London Rādhā Kṛṣṇa Temple:
Titled "Hare Kṛṣṇa Mantra", the song reached the top 20 on the UK music charts and was also successful in West Germany and Czechoslovakia. The mantra of the Upaniṣad thus helped bring Bhaktivedanta and ISKCON ideas about Kṛṣṇa into the West.
ISCKON has built many Kṛṣṇa temples in the West, as well as other locations such as South Africa.
25. Southeast Asia
Kṛṣṇa is found in Southeast Asian history and art, but to a far less extent than Śiva, Durgā, Nandī, Agastya, and Buddha:
In temples of the archaeological sites in hilly volcanic Java, Indonesia, temple reliefs do not portray his pastoral life or his role as the erotic lover, nor do the historic Javanese Hindu texts.
Rather, either his childhood or the life as a king and Arjuna’s companion has been more favoured.
The most elaborate temple arts of Kṛṣṇa are found in a series of Kṛṣṇāyāna reliefs in the Prambanan Hindu temple complex near Yogyakarta. These are dated to the 9th century CE.
Kṛṣṇa remained a part of the Javanese cultural and theological fabric through the 14th century, as evidenced by the 14th-century Penataran reliefs along with those of the Hindu god Rāma in east Java, before Islam replaced Buddhism and Hinduism on the island.
The Medieval Era arts of Vietnam and Cambodia feature Kṛṣṇa. The earliest surviving sculptures and reliefs are from the 6th and 7th century, and these include Vaiṣṇavism iconography:
The Kṛṣṇa Govardhana art from 6th/7th-century Vietnam at Da Nang, and 7th-century Cambodia at Phnom Da cave in Angkor Borei, are some of the most sophisticated of this era.
Kṛṣṇa iconography has also been found in Thailand, along with those of Sūrya and Viṣṇu:
For example, a large number of sculptures and icons have been found in the Si Thep and Klangnai sites in the Phetchabun region of northern Thailand. These are dated to about the 7th and 8th century.
The Jainism tradition lists 63 Śalākāpuruṣa or notable figures which, amongst others, include the 24 Tīrthaṅkaras (spiritual teachers) and 9 sets of triads. One of these triads is Kṛṣṇa as the Vāsudeva, Balarāma as the Balādeva, and Jarāsandha as the Prati-Vāsudeva.
In each age of the Jain cyclic time is born a Vāsudeva with an elder brother named the Balādeva.
Between the triads, Balādeva upholds the principle of non-violence, a central idea of Jainism. The villain is the Prati-Vāsudeva, who attempts to destroy the world.
To save the world, Vāsudeva-Kṛṣṇa has to forsake the non-violence principle and kill the Prati-Vāsudeva.
The stories of these triads can be found in the Harivaṁśa Purāṇa (8th century CE) of Jīnasena (not be confused with its namesake, the addendum to Mahābhārata) and the Triṣaṣṭi-śalākāpuruṣa-carita (“The Lives of the 63 Excellent Men”) of Hemacandra.
The story of Kṛṣṇa's life in the Purāṇas of Jainism follows the same general outline as those in the Hindu texts, but in details they are very different:
they include Jain Tīrthaṅkaras as characters in the story, and generally are polemically critical of Kṛṣṇa, unlike the versions found in the Mahābhārata, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, and the Viṣṇu Purāṇa.
For example, Kṛṣṇa loses battles in the Jain versions, and his Gopis and his clan of Yādavas die in a fire created by an ascetic named Dvaipāyana.
Similarly, after dying from the hunter Jara's arrow, the Jaina texts state Kṛṣṇa goes to the 3rd Hell in Jain cosmology, while his brother is said to go to the 6th heaven.
Vimalasūri (2nd century A.D.) is attributed to be the author of the Jain version of the Harivaṁśa Purāṇa, but no manuscripts have been found that confirm this:
It is likely that later Jain scholars, probably Jīnasena of the 8th century, wrote a complete version of Kṛṣṇa legends in the Jain tradition and credited it to the ancient Vimalasūri.
Partial and older versions of the Kṛṣṇa story are available in Jain literature, such as in the Antagata Dasao of the Śvetāṁbara Āgama tradition.
In other Jain texts, Kṛṣṇa is stated to be a cousin of the 22nd Tīrthaṅkara, Neminātha:
The Jain texts state that Neminātha taught Kṛṣṇa all the wisdom that he later gave to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gītā:
Accordingly, this connection between Kṛṣṇa and Neminātha has been a historic reason for Jains to accept, read, and cite the Bhagavad Gītā as a spiritually important text, celebrate Kṛṣṇa-related festivals, and intermingle with Hindus as spiritual cousins.