Several thousand years ago, the ancient Indians recognized a single Supreme Being, but also gods and goddesses as manifestations of God. However, over time, their spiritual tradition has changed, in several different ways, and it still continues to do so in the 21st century. As such, in the modern world, there is now a triumvirate to worship in Hinduism. This consists of Brahma the Creator, Shiva the Destroyer, and Vishnu the Preserver. It is the latter of these that is said to keep the balance between good and evil, in this world, and every other. So, as part of his divine duty, Vishnu often has to reincarnate here on Earth, to help restore harmony. The eighth time that this happened, Vishnu became a man named Krishna. He then went on to become a major deity in the Indian pantheon, in the generations that followed.
Presently, among many devotees of Hinduism, Krishna is not only worshiped as the eighth avatar of Vishnu, and consort of the goddess Radha, but also as the Supreme Being. Thus, Krishna is way more of a historical and theological figure than a mythological one. He was a real person born sometime very early in the 31st century BCE, on the eighth day of the dark fortnight, in the month of Bhadrapada in the Hindu calendar. This corresponds with a period of time between August and September in the Gregorian calendar, but unfortunately, it’s hard to determine exactly what year it was. What I do know is that he was born into the Yadava clan, as the nephew of the evil king of Mathura, his uncle Kamsa. However, when the king heard a prophecy that his sister’s son would destroy him, Krishna was smuggled across the Yamuna River to Gokalu. There, he was raised by the leader of the cowherds.
More than 5,000 years ago, during his first miracle, Krishna raised up Govardhan Hill to protect the villagers from the flood caused by Lord Indra, the god of rain. Then, once he was old enough, Krishna and his brother Balarama returned home to kill king Kamsa. Later, Krishna led the Yadavas to the western coast to build the great city of Dwarka, in order to get married to his princess bride. As part of that, their home was ideally located on the beach, that is, right up until it became inundated by the Arabian Sea, and had to be relocated. Regardless, he was as handsome as she was beautiful. More to the point, based on his physical appearance, the name Krishna originates from a Sanskrit word meaning “dark”. This was because Krishna the man had very dark brown skin, while Krishna the god has even darker blue skin, just like Vishnu.
Krishna was the original “tall, dark, and handsome” man. So, based on some of the different connotations and denotations of his name, Krishna is sometimes depicted in idols as black-skinned. In addition to this, Krishna is known by various other names, such as Mohan which means “enchanter”, or Gopala which translates to “protector of the cows”. Krishna is also worshiped as Svayam Bhagavan, or “God Himself”. In line with all of this, the Hindu god of compassion, tenderness, and love is occasionally depicted wearing a yellow loincloth, adorned in a peacock-feather crown and playing the flute. Furthermore, they say that the sound of his music prompted the wives and daughters of the cowherds to leave their homes, to come and dance ecstatically with him in the moonlit night. Also, because he used to steal lots of butter as a child, Krishna is said to play a lot of pranks on people, making him a trickster god, as well.
As part of his overall legacy, the narratives of Krishna’s life and death are generally titled as Krishna Leela. Of these, his most heroic exploits are chronicled in a specific Sanskrit poem, entitled the Mahabharata. It is the “Great Epic of the Bharata Dynasty”. As the story goes, the Kurukshetra War arose from a succession struggle between two groups of cousins, the Kauravas, and Pandavas. They were fighting for the throne of a city named Hastinaprain, in the ancient Indian kingdom of Kuru. The epic battle was so important that it involved a number of other ancient kingdoms, as well. They were all participating as allies of the rival relatives, on one side or the other. Interestingly enough, Krishna refused to bear arms in the conflict between the Kauravas, who were the sons of Dhritarashtra, and the Pandavas, who were the sons of Pandu. He did, however, offer a choice of his personal attendance on one side, and the use of his army on the other.
During the legendary combat that ensued, the Pandavas were led by none other than Krishna the charioteer, and his first disciple Arjuna the archer. However, at first, Arjuna was terrified by the prospect of killing his family and friends in a civil war. So, Krishna taught him about the dharma of duty and detachment. In this way, the first sermon in history was given as knowledge conveyed on the battlefield in the year 3067 BCE. This was then described much later in the Bhagavad Gita. We know this must be the case because the Mahabharat details a number of astronomical events, such as lunar and solar eclipses, as well as the conjunctions of planets, which all occurred around that time. More importantly, there were two comets seen on the eve of the clash of the cousins. It’s also important to note that the Kurukshetra War took place at a time when Mars performed a retrograde motion near Antares. Many astrologers also point out that there was a transit of Saturn at Aldebaran, which was a standard omen of war, in its own right.
It’s strange to think about the way in which Indian mysticism emerged from such brutal violence, but can lead people to such blissful inner peace, at the same time. In line with this, the basis of Eastern mysticism is self-realization and liberation, and it was originally handed down through the oral tradition. This was important because Krishna and his lover Radha were very influential Indian prophets who taught their devout disciples about divinity, ethics, reincarnation, and yoga. Then, they achieved godhood, being revered in life and death. After all, Krishna had successfully supplanted Indra. Thus, throughout the years, a number of traditions surrounding Krishna have made their way across Asia, and around the world. As part of this, the Krishna Cave Temple is a perfect example of some of the architecture that he inspired. In the 7th century, it was carved out as an open-air bas-relief dedicated to Lord Krishna, nearly 4,000 years after he died.
Much more recently, in the 20th century, the sacred cave-cut Hindu temple was declared a World Heritage Site. Also, every year people from all over the world make a pilgrimage to Govardhan Hill, to pay their respects to Krishna and Radha. In addition to this, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, known colloquially as the Hare Krishnas, was founded in New York City by guru A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, during the New Age movement in the year 1966. The point is that Krishna has become the focus of numerous different devotional cults throughout the ages and this has changed the world in countless different ways. Ultimately, the natural and supernatural powers of Krishna are beyond compare. As part of this, billions of souls have been blessed by a man who first became a god, and then finally the God. More importantly 3,000 years before Christ became God in the West, Krishna became God in the East. With that being said, let us all give praise to the god of pure love and may he keep the oldest living religion alive forever.