Two days ago millions of Indians all across the country and the world celebrated Krishna Janmashtami the birthday of Lord Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu the most popular Hindu diety, honored by not only Hindus but spiritually minded people of all (and no) faiths.
The Story of Krishna
Krishna is often described and portrayed as an infant or young boy playing a flute as in the Bhagavata Purana, or as a youthful prince giving direction and guidance as in the Bhagavad Gita. The stories of Krishna appear across a broad spectrum of Hindu philosophical and theological traditions. They portray him in various perspectives: a God-child, a prankster, a model lover, a divine hero and the supreme being. The principal scriptures discussing Krishna’s story are the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa, the Bhagavata Purana, and the Vishnu Purana.
According to Bhagavata Purana, Krishna was born without a sexual union, but by divine “mental transmission” from the mind of Vasudeva into the womb of Devaki. In the story of Krishna the deity is the agent of conception and also the offspring. Because of his sympathy for the earth, the divine Vishnu himself descended into the womb of Devaki and was born as her son, Vasudeva (i.e., Krishna). The Hindu Vishnu Purana relates: “Devaki bore in her womb the lotus-eyed deity…before the birth of Krishna, no one “could bear to gaze upon Devaki, from the light that invested her, and those who contemplated her radiance felt their minds disturbed.” This reference to light is reminiscent of the Vedic hymn “To an Unknown God,” which refers to a Golden Child. According to F. M. Müller this term means “the golden gem of child” and is an attempt at naming the sun.
This is occasionally brought up as evidence for the hypothesis that “virgin birth” tales are fairly common in non-Christian religions around the world. However, there is nothing in Hindu scriptures to suggest that it was a “virgin” birth. By the time of conception and birth of Krishna, Devaki was married to Vasudeva and had already borne 7 children. Based on scriptural details and astrological calculations the date of Krishna’s birth, known as Janmashtami, is 19 July 3228 BCE and he departed the world on 3102 BCE. Krishna belonged to the Vrishni clan of Yadavas from Mathura, and was the eighth son born to the princess Devaki, and her husband Vasudeva.
Mathura (in present day Mathura district, Uttar Pradesh) was the capital of the Yadavas, to which Krishna’s parents Vasudeva and Devaki belonged. King Kansa, Devaki’s brother, had ascended the throne by imprisoning his father, King Ugrasena. Afraid of a prophecy from a divine voice from the heavens that predicted his death at the hands of Devaki’s eighth “garbha”, Kansa had the couple locked into a prison cell. After Kansa killed the first six children, Devaki apparently had a miscarriage of the seventh. However in reality, the womb was actually transferred to Rohini secretly. This was how Balarama, Krishna’s elder brother was born. Once again Devaki became pregnant. Now due to the miscarriage, Kansa was in a puzzle regarding ‘The Eighth One’ but his ministers advised that the divine voice from the heavens emphasised “the eight garbha” and so this is the one. That night Krishna was born in the Rohini nakshatra and simultaneously Goddess Durga was born as Yogamaya in Gokulam to Nanda and Yashoda.
Since Vasudeva knew Krishna’s life was in danger, Krishna was secretly taken out of the prison cell to be raised by his foster parents, Yasoda and Nanda, in Gokula (in present day Mathura district). Two of his other siblings also survived, Balarama (Devaki’s seventh child, transferred to the womb of Rohini, Vasudeva’s first wife) and Subhadra (daughter of Vasudeva and Rohini, born much later than Balarama and Krishna).
Nanda was the head of a community of cow-herders, and he settled in Vrindavana. The stories of Krishna’s childhood and youth tell how he became a cow herder, his mischievous pranks as Makhan Chor (butter thief), his foiling of attempts to take his life, and his role as a protector of the people of Vrindavana.
Krishna killed the demoness Putana, disguised as a wet nurse, sent by Kansa for Krishna’s life. He tamed the serpent Kāliyā, who previously poisoned the waters of Yamuna river, thus leading to the death of the cowherds. In Hindu art, Krishna is often depicted dancing on the multi-hooded Kāliyā.
Krishna lifted the Govardhana hill and taught Indra, the king of the devas and rain, a lesson to protect native people of Brindavana from persecution by Indra and prevent the devastation of the pasture land of Govardhan. Indra had too much pride and was angry when Krishna advised the people of Brindavana to take care of their animals and their environment that provide them with all their necessities, instead of worshipping Indra annually by spending their resources. In the view of some, the spiritual movement started by Krishna had something in it which went against the orthodox forms of worship of the Vedic gods such as Indra. In Bhagavat Purana, Krishna says that the rain came from the nearby hill Govardhana, and advised that the people worshiped the hill instead of Indra. This made Indra furious, so he punished them by sending out a great storm. Krishna then lifted Govardhan and held it over the people like an umbrella.
The stories of his play with the gopis (milkmaids) of Brindavana, especially Radha (daughter of Vrishbhanu, one of the original residents of Brindavan) became known as the Rasa lila and were romanticised in the poetry of Jayadeva, author of the Gita Govinda. These became important as part of the development of the Krishna bhakti traditions worshiping Radha Krishna.
On his return to Mathura as a young man, Krishna overthrew and killed his maternal uncle, Kansa, after avoiding several assassination attempts from Kansa’s followers. He reinstated Kansa’s father, Ugrasena, as the king of the Yadavas and became a leading prince at the court. During this period, he became a friend of Arjuna and the other Pandava princes of the Kuru kingdom, who were his cousins. Later, he took his Yadava subjects to the city of Dwaraka (in modern Gujarat) and established his own kingdom there.
Krishna married Rukmini, the Vidarbha princess, by abducting her, at her request, from her proposed wedding with Shishupala. He married eight queens—collectively called the Ashtabharya—including Rukmini, Satyabhama, Jambavati, Kalindi, Mitravinda, Nagnajiti, Bhadra and Lakshmana. Krishna subsequently married 16,000 or 16,100 maidens who were held captive by the demon Narakasura, to save their honour. Krishna killed the demon and released them all. According to social custom of the time, all of the captive women were degraded, and would be unable to marry, as they had been under the Narakasura’s control. However Krishna married them to reinstate their status in the society. This symbolic wedding with 16,100 abandoned daughters was more of a mass women rehabilitation. In Vaishnava traditions, Krishna’s wives are forms of the goddess Lakshmi— consort of Vishnu, or special souls who attained this qualification after many lifetimes of austerity, while his two queens, Rukmani and Satyabhama, are expansions of Lakshmi.
When Yudhisthira was assuming the title of emperor, he had invited all the great kings to the ceremony and while paying his respects to them, he started with Krishna because he considered Krishna to be the greatest of them all. While it was a unanimous feeling amongst most present at the ceremony that Krishna should get the first honours, his cousin Shishupala felt otherwise and started berating Krishna. Due to a vow given to Shishupal’s mother, Krishna forgave a hundred verbal abuses by Shishupal, and upon the one hundred and first, he assumed his Virat (universal) form and killed Shishupal with his Chakra. The blind king Dhritarashtra also obtained divine vision during this time to be able to see this form of Krishna. Essentially, Shishupala and Dantavakra were both re-incarnations of Vishnu’s gate-keepers Jaya and Vijaya, who were cursed to be born on Earth, to be delivered by the Vishnu back to Vaikuntha. (Read more on Krishna)
Today we share a lovely collection of praise songs for Lord Krishna sung by hereditary Hindu and Muslim musicians from northern India.
01 Basiya Baaj Rahi [Manoj Tiwari]
02 Bajela Bajela [Urmila Srivastava]
03 Radha Kanha Se [Ram Kailash Yadav]
04 Khele Hamse Hori [Mohan Lal Kanskar]
05 Meera Naache Re [Mohammad Ayub]
06 Janme Gokul Mein [Urmila Srivastava]
07 Kanhaiya Tohri Bansuri [Jawahar Lal Yadav]
08 Aa Jaiyo Shyam [Rajbir]
09 Raas Rachaye [Ram Kailash Yadav]