Ancient India heralded the beginning of a spiritually glorious and historically eventful era with the birth of a divine being named Krishna. He is considered as the eighth avatar of Vishnu and the ‘Preserver of the World’ who redefined spirituality and enlightened mankind about duty, devotion and the ephemeral nature of worldly life. One of the most popular Hindu deities in the Indian subcontinent, his life and his undefeatable spirit is deeply embedded in the psyche of millions of his devotees around the world.
Various facets of the eventful life of Lord Krishna is an eternal source of inspiration for people searching for the true meaning of existence. In popular representations, infant Krishna is depicted as a cherubic child joyfully dipping his hand into a pot of butter. Krishna as the divine lover shows a graceful youth immersed in playing the flute, amidst the adoring gazes of his female companions. Most awe-inspiring of his representations is the one of Krishna offering the profound wisdom of Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna at the battlefield of Kurukshetra. In all these depictions, Krishna is shown as a blue-dark skinned youth draped in yellow silk, wearing a peacock feather on his crown and with a face lit up with an all-knowing gaze and a radiant smile.
Birth and Ancestral Lineage
Krishna was born as the eighth son of Vasudeva and Devaki in Mathura in the year 3228 BCE. While Vasudeva was the King of the Yadava sect in the Surasena kingdom, Devaki was the sister of Kamsa – the evil king of Mathura. On the occasion of Vasudeva and Devaki’s wedding, Kamsa receives a warning that the eighth son of the couple will be the cause of Kamsa’s death. To prevent this fate, Kamsa imprisoned the couple. In due time, Devaki began to give birth and seven of her childrens were mercilessly killed by Kamsa.
When Krishna was born as the eighth son, Vasudeva managed to safely transport his son to Vrindavan and exchanged him with the newborn daughter of his cousin brother Nanda and Devi Yashoda. When Kamsa attempted to kill the child, it transformed into Goddess Yogmaya and reiterated the prophecy about Kamsa’s death before disappearing. The auspicious birth of Krishna is celebrated to this day as Krishna Janmashtami.
Childhood and Early Life
Krishna grew up in Vrindavan amidst the love of his foster parents Nanda and Yashoda and his siblings Balarama and Subhadra. He was mischievous as a child and yet he won everybody’s hearts with his good looks and charm. The soulful music that flowed from his flute made him the center of adoration of all young women, especially Radha.
There were numerous childhood incidents in Krishna’s life that indicated his divinity. One astounding incident took place when Yashoda demanded Krishna to open his mouth after she witnessed him eating mud. The infant Krishna obeyed and Yashoda was stunned to perceive the entire Universe within his mouth. Krishna also defeated a number of ferocious demons sent by Kamsa to vanquish him.
Balarama and Krishna received their education from Sage Sandipini. Krishna’s enduring friendship with Sudama commenced at this ashram. Krishna continued to enthrall all with his valour, courage and mastery in combat fighting. His fame and popularity soon reached Kamsa’s ears. Kamsa invited Krishna and Balarama to Mathura, concealing his vile intentions. A wrestling bout in Mathura ended in Kamsa’s death at the hands of Krishna. After releasing his parents from captivity, Krishna restored Ugrasena as the king of Mathura. Enraged by Kamsa’s death, Jarasandha – his father-in-law – tried to conquer Mathura multiple times in the ensuing years. However, he failed to overcome the prowess of Krishna and Balarama.
There is an interesting legend behind Krishna’s 16,008 wives. Krishna had 8 wives, with Rukmini, Satyabhama and Jambavati prominently featured in the epics. In the meanwhile, Krishna learnt of Narakasura , a demon who confined all young women in his kingdom to prevent a prophecy that he would be killed by a woman. Krishna declared a war on Narakasura and at the end of a ferocious duel, Satyabhama slayed Narakasura. As per the wish of the women released from prison, Krishna accepted all of them as his wives to uphold their honour. Later Krishna established the new city of Dwaraka as the land of Yadavas, and befriended the righteous Pandavas to uphold the dharma.
Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita
According to the Mahabharatha epic, Krishna was completely against the idea of war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Therefore, he proclaimed that he would not raise arms in the war. To be fair to both sides, he offered the options of his presence or his army to each side. While the Kauravas believed they chose well by opting for Krishna’s army, they had no idea that the presence of Krishna as a charioteer on the side of Pandavas would spell disaster for the entire Kaurava clan in the ensuing war.
On the first day of battle, realization dawned on Arjuna that he would have to fight and kill his cousins and close kin to ensure victory for the Pandavas. Arjuna was overcome by conflicting emotions and declared to his charioteer Krishna that he could not take the life of his own family members and friends, and would rather withdraw from the war and abandon the kingdom.
Lord Krishna raised to the occasion, enlightening Arjuna with wisdom about life, duty, principles and integrity when one had to choose between right and wrong. Krishna elaborated about the transient nature of life, eternal feature of the soul and the true path to attain salvation and spiritual bliss. Krishna also blessed Arjuna with a glimpse of his cosmic form, a glorious sight that motivated Arjuna to raise his weapons and fight alongside his brothers. Krishna’s brilliant war tactics and strategies proved advantageous for the Pandavas, helping them emerge victorious in the war.
This discourse between Lord Krishna and Arjuna in the middle of the Kurukshetra battlefield is undoubtedly the most inspiring element in the entire Mahabharatha. It is also one of the most famous scenes that continue to be the inspiration for paintings, sculptures, dance recitals and dramas. The beauty of the profound wisdom embedded in the Bhagavad Gita is that it offers mankind guidance to deal with difficult situations in life. It teaches humans to think beyond themselves, to perceive the bigger picture and to believe in the supreme cosmic power. No wonder, it is regarded as an excellent reference for both management studies and spiritual growth.
Excerpt from Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2, Verse 47
कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन |
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि
karmaṇy-evādhikāraste mā phaleṣhu kadāchana
mā karma-phala-hetur-bhūr-mā te saṅgo-stvakarmani
Meaning: You have the right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never let the fruits of action be the motive for your activities, and nor be attached to inaction, just preform your karma.
Krishna visited the parents of the Kauravas – Dhritarashtra and Gandhari – who were grieving over the death of their oldest son, Duryodhan. Distraught at the loss of her sons and mistakenly believing that Krishna did nothing to avert the terrible war, Gandhari cursed Krishna that his own kinsmen would kill each other and the dynasty would collapse in Krishna’s lifetime. Gandhari’s curse came true after 36 years when a brawl among the Yadavas escalated into a war in which the Yadavas killed one another.
Pained by the sight, Krishna travelled to present-day Somnath where a hunter killed Krishna with a poisoned arrow, mistaking Krishna’s feet for a deer. Krishna left his physical form and ascended to the heavens in 3102 BCE at the age of 125. Following Krishna’s demise, Arjuna rescued the women of Dwaraka and on his way back, he witnessed the glorious Dwaraka being swallowed by giant tidal waves.
Inspirations from Life of Lord Krishna
Krishna’s striking image defined by the blue skin, the flute and the crown of peacock feathers symbolize profound aspects of his divine avatar. The blue skin that represents the sky means that it is impossible to comprehend the Lord in all his glory just as it is difficult to measure the infinity of the sky. The flute with which Krishna transformed air into soul-stirring music is representative of how he boldly faced numerous challenges in life and emerged stronger and more courageous than before. Peacock feathers denote that the Lord is all-pervading and that His love is ever-lasting.
Epics and ancient literature related to Krishna relate an interesting aspect of the Lord. Everyone who came into contact with Krishna felt that they had a special place in the Lord’s heart. It is fascinating to observe how this feeling has flowed across generations and centuries and reigns in the hearts of all His followers to this day.
Throughout all his roles in an eventful life, Krishna maintained a certain detachment, aware that He was but another manifestation of the cosmic consciousness. He was therefore able to perform his duties without emotions or partiality getting in the way. His beatific smile and enduring wisdom adds to his glory, filling his followers with peace and bliss.