Krishna is one of the most celebrated and loved gods in the Hindu pantheon and is generally recognized as an avatar of lord Vishnu, one of the trimurti. Krishna is a god of love, sometimes depicted as a god-child playing a flute, a prankster, a model lover, a divine hero, or as the supreme being as described in the Bhagavad Gita.
Krishna is described in the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa, the Bhagavata Purana, and the Vishnu Purana. He is also named Vasudeva, Bala Krishna, Gopala, Govinda, so you may hear these names mentioned where they are referring the Krishna.
Krishna’s skin color is usually black or dark blue which is due to the word’s use as an adjective to mean black or dark blue. The waning moon is called Krishna Paksha meaning darkening. It is sometimes referred to as “all-attractive”. Most of the variances and differences occur regionally, but is easily recognized in depictions.
Krishna is often shown with cows, which is significant as representing him as a divine herdsmen, as is often shown as a baby stealing butter from the neighbors houses. It is generally accepted as possible that Krishna dates as far back in time as Shiva, to the Indus Valley Civilization, but neither can be proven to date before that time period.
In depictions for the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna is often shown with multiple arms and multiple heads which denote power with attributes of Vishnu such as the chakra or as a charioteer.
Sometimes you will hear Krishna referred to as Bala Krishna and this is the child-god form of the deity and is often worshipped. He is seen as having conceived himself as a being that is one with Vishnu. This is a divine conception, rather than a virgin conception as in the bible. While his mother was pregnant, it was said that she was hard to look at because of the light that accompanied her radiance. They say that this light is in reference to a Vedic hymn that expresses an unknown divine, or golden child.
If you study Krishna, you will start to see a lot of parallels with Jesus, if you are familiar with Christianity. Both are sun-gods, or represent the ‘light of the world’. Both also seem to have been grounded in the god Osiris which is an account of a demigod of the sun, and the potential first influence of this story is from the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia. Some believe there to be multiple Christs, some believe that Christ was completely fabricated in about 400AD to unify the Roman Civilization under a single symbol. Most of Christianity’s roots are pagan, which largely influences the Christian Calendar to circulate with the seasons. There is a good amount of evidence that say Jesus did exist, though the bible’s accuracy is another question entirely. Almost all scholars agree that the writers were successors to the original tradition and wrote the 4 new testaments over 50 years after Christ’s death and crucifixion, so it is generally agreed that the bible is not a historically accurate document, by any means.
Moving back to Krishna, he is best known as Arjuna’s charioteer and advises Arjuna when he comes to the battle distraught and unwilling to use his bow to fight. The Gita talks about righteous war, the nature of the divine, and the eternal nature of the cosmos, which is depicted in a conversation between Arjuna and Krishna.
The relationship between Vishnu and Krishna is often debated and is viewed as complex and diverse, though many consider Krishna to be a full incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
In about the 6th century AD a movement started in India called the Bhakti movement, which then spread into the United States in 1965, when Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada visited New York from West Bengal. Krishna’s name was chanted in many public places in the US and was spread by the ISKCON (institute for Krishna consciousness). There are also stories of Krishna in Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, and other Indian and southeast asian religions.
Krishna’s flute is often used as symbolism to represent revelation of the divine and Krishna is depicted with it quite often. It represents a divine dance that is the nature of the divine and that the revelations of divine come about through this mystical dance with the divine. It is said that whenever he plays, you cannot help but dance.
Here’s a little mental picture of what it might be like to experience Krishna:
You are walking through a softly floored canopy of oak trees, hiding the sun with their small leaves. Soon, you hear a soft sound in the distance, a sweet melody that you can help but want to hear more of. So you move closer, but find that you do not know the direction that the sound is coming from. So you sit, to determine where this beautiful sound could possibly be coming from.
As you sit, the sound becomes a bit louder and you begin to realize that the sound was coming from inside of you all along. And as you sit quieter, more still, more peacefully, the music gets louder and louder, until you can’t hear anything else at all. It begins to overwhelm you until you open your eyes, and there, standing before you, is a small dark blue boy, maybe 10 years old, smiling at you in a way that makes you feel the dampness of your skin.
His eyes are whiter than stars and his gaze darker than the night. The boy pulls out his flute and begins to play. Soft at first, melting your thoughts and giving you nothing to do but feel, this boy becomes more and more enraptured by the song, bringing you with him. But you soon realize that this is no boy, nor a girl; in fact, the little child has qualities of both, but perfected. As you begin to rise and then dance with the flute, you lose all track of time, where you are, even who you are. The dance is all there is and it is you, unbroken, relentless, fearless in the dark of night.
Soon you begin to tire, and though the music grows sweeter, you can no longer listen because of your fatigue. Suddenly, a light opens, splitting through you like a knife.
You open your eyes to a purely white room, 4 walls, and a single bench, cushioned, for you to sit on. The child walks into the room, but now you can tell that something in the child has changed. With a quick grin and a wink, the boy disappears and in his place is a man with hundreds of heads and many arms, though all perfectly aligned with his body in a way that you could never explain. You can hardly see the figure clearly, he is betrothed in light. Each time you try to get a better look, the figure gets blurry once again.
An overwhelming power takes ahold of you and you can no longer see the light. You close your eyes one last time and breath, aware of your full exhale for the first time. And you find yourself seated, comfortable, with the soft grass beneath you and the strong trees above. But still, you hear a gentle flute music in the background, waiting for you to begin dancing once again.