Krishna with cows, herdsmen, and Gopis

Krishna – Myth or Reality?

In a previous article, we have seen the existence of the legend of Krishna in the Indian subcontinent. His story to-day exists as a legend and mentioned in enough sources to convince a large amount of the populace of his actual life on Earth.

Now, let us explore this question: Was Krishna real or just a myth?

While trying to answer these questions, I’m certain we’ll also explore the answers to questions such as:

  • When did Krishna live?
  • Are the stories surrounding Krishna and his valour true?
  • What was life like during the time of Krishna’s supposed existence?

As we have already seen, Krishna is regarding as an avatar of Vishnu, one of the three major gods of the Hindu pantheon, and highly reversed amongst Hindus for a long time – even to this day. The most obvious sources of his stories are The Mahabharata, the Harivamsa, and the Puranas (particularly The Bhagavata-Purana).

Coming to actual historical sources, the legend of Krishna seems to be a combination of several other deities worshipped in ancient India, the earliest version being that of Vasudeva. Vasudeva was supposed to have been a hero-god belonging to the Vrishni tribe, one of their heroes – an attestation of this had been done by Panini in the 5th and the 6th centuries BCE and by an epigraphy in the 2nd century BCE Heliodorus pillar. He was said to be one of the Vrishni heroes.

The Vrishni heroes – also known as the Pancha-viras (literally meaning “five heroes”) – are a group of five heroes who were deified and worshipped with proves verfiable by archaeological and literary sources. According to these sources, the Vrishnis worshipped them near Mathura in 4th century BCE. Even coins and inscriptions in ancient India attest to their importance. The coins were discovered in the ruins of Ai-Khanoum or modern-day Afghanistan. Historians believe that perhaps at some point in time, the Vrishnis fused with the Yadava tribe, who had their own hero-god named Krishna. Eventually, Krishna and Vasudeva may have been fused together to form the deity Krishna we know to-day. Somewhere around the 4th century CE, the cult of Gopala-Krishna of the Abhiras was absorbed into this legend, making the newly formed Krishna as the protector of cattle.

Vāsudeva-Krishna, on a coin of Agathocles of Bactria, c. 180 BCE. This is "the earliest unambiguous image" of the deity.

Vāsudeva-Krishna, on a coin of Agathocles of Bactria, c. 180 BCE. This is “the earliest unambiguous image” of the deity.

More on the coins discovered in Afghanistan: It seems that in c. 180 BCE, Agathocles, an Indo-Greek king issued coins bearing deities that we interpret to-day as being that of Vaishnva imagery. (In case you were wondering, there was a time in the history of the Indian subcontinent when Greeks ruled parts of it. That’s a story for another day.) Some of these coins seemed to have represented Balarama with his pace and plow – two of the objects we associate with him to-day. Some also appeared with the images of Krishna with his typical Shankha (conch shell) and Sudarshana chakra (wheel).

Regarding the Heliodorus pillar: It was during the colonial era in India that a pillar was discovered by archaeologists in Besnagar (or Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh), perhaps dated between 125 and 100 BCE.

Heliodorus Pillar in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, erected about 120 BCE. The inscription states that Heliodorus is a Bhagvatena, and a couplet in the inscription closely paraphrases a Sanskrit verse from the Mahabharata.

Heliodorus Pillar in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, erected about 120 BCE.

It was named after Heliodorus, an Indo-Greek ambassador of the Greek king, Antialcidas, to the Indian king, Kasiputra Bhagabhadra. The pillar was more fully excavated in the 1960s. It was identified to have been the foundations of a much larger ancient elliptical temple complex consisting of a sanctum, mandapas, and seven more pillars. The inscription on the Heliodorus pillar suggests that it is a private religious dedication by Heliodorus to the hero-god, Vasudeva. It refers to the king as “the Bhagavata Heliodorus” and that to the pillar itself as a Garuda pillar. What was the significance? The Bhagavata Purana is a text about Vaishnavism and Garuda is the eagle vehicle of Vishnu. Hence, both are associated with Krishna.

Dated in the 1st century BCE, the Hathibada Ghosundi inscriptions found near the state of Rajasthan in India also mention Balarama and Krishna. A stone slab that was found at a Mathura-Vrindavan archaeological site in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has a Brahmi inscription, dated to the 1st century BCE. It mentions and even names the Pancha-viras of the Vrishni tribe. However, the first known depiction of the life of Krishna comes to us as late as the 1st and the 2nd centuries CE, on a relief found in Mathura. It seems that this relief shows Vasudeva carrying infant Krishna across the Yamuna River in a basket.

Hence, it is safe to assume at the moment that there is no concrete proof of Krishna’s real-life existence beyond the mythological legends and stories merged and passed on in stories and fairy tales.

That means, we did not get to answer our questions, either. I don’t know about you, but it is not very disappointing to me, since I have been expecting it. I would’ve known of a breakthrough on the Krishna legend if there ever really was a major one.

I hope this article has been satisfactory and that you shall keep coming to this blog for more updates on the events in History all across the world!


  1. Krishna – Wikipedia
  2. Krishna | Story, Meaning, Description, & Legends | Britannica
  3. About: Vrishni heroes (

Krishna and the Avatars of Vishnu

We went to a Krishna temple this Saturday, just for some peace and quiet. (Well, we were supposed to go to a park, but I fell asleep and woke up too late.) Here’s a view of the sunset from the hill where the temple is.

This post began because a friend of mine online asked me about it.

In the Hindu mythology, there are three major gods, much like the three major gods of the Greek Civilisation. These are: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Brahma is known as the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. They are the main trinity people following Hinduism worship.

Perhaps due to the nature of his job, Vishnu tended to be born on Earth as some form of living creature; it often happened when the humanity was on the verge of grave danger or destruction. These are called avatars of Vishnu. In Sanskrit, he is said to have “Dasavatar” – that is ten avatars or forms. That means, he was to be reborn on Earth ten times to preserve and cherish humanity. Interestingly, the tenth form is yet to be revealed – nobody knows what it is or the story behind it, because it hasn’t happened yet. It is said the Vishnu will come in his tenth form when the world is about to end. So, it figures, I guess.

Krishna was supposed to have been the eighth form of Vishnu, born to a royal couple – Queen Devaki and King Vasudeva – of the Yadava clan in a place called Mathura (to-day, located in northern India, in the state of Uttar Pradesh). Unlike most of his other forms, Krishna is well aware of his divine status from his birth and manages to astonish a lot of people around him with his supernatural powers. He was born at a time when Devaki’s brother, Kamsa, overthrew her husband and took a tyrannical hold over the kingdom. There was, however, a prophecy that stated a child of Vasudeva would one day be Kamsa’s undoing. Hence, Kamsa starts keeping tabs on this royal couple, whom he had thrown in his dungeon; the moment he finds out that Devaki is pregnant, he ensures to kill the baby as soon as it is born.

Devaki, the mother that she is, prays very hard to the gods that her next child shouldn’t be killed by Kamsa. At the end of this segment of the legend, three children are kept alive – the seventh Balrama, the eighth Krishna, and the nineth Subhadra. (That means, Devaki was supposed to have given birth nine times.) Balrama features a lot in the stories about the life of Krishna, but Subhadra is mentioned the most only in the Indian epic, The Mahabharata, written by Veda Vyasa, a sage in Ancient India.

The eighth child, Krishna, grows up in secret, in a village called Gokulam, adopted by Nanda and his wife, Yashoda. When he comes of age, he realises the prophecy he was born with; he goes to the royal palace to challenge Kamsa, who is still the same tyrannic ruler with Krishna’s parents in lockup. Kamsa gladly accepts the challenge. After a good long struggle, Krishna kills Kamsa and frees his parents.

Krishna eventually becomes the ruler of Mathura and becomes a major character in The Maharabharata, helping the sons of Pandu gain their kingdom back from their cousins, the sons of Dasaratha.

To-day, Krishna is worshipped as a deity and many temples have been constructed in his honour. There is also Krishna Janmasthami – the birth of Krishna, or his birthday – that is celebrated by some faithful followers. Krishna also features in a lot of other legends and myths in Hinduism.

I’ll probably explain more on Krishna’s life and romances in later blog posts; this was just supposed to highlight his existence and some major points about his life as we know it. Honestly, I don’t even know what the truth around him is – was he really an avatar of god? – did he really have supernatural powers? – do gods really exist? – but I choose to see him only as a human being. Who knows what is truly correct and truly incorrect when something dates as long a time as a few thousand BCE? Things tend to get too filtered and watered down, exaggerated by people who tell them. It’s like the game of Chinese whisper: the sentence or word the starting person has said becomes warped into something else entirely by the person who ends it! After all, these stories may not have been written down, but passed on orally by people, possibly poets and tradesmen, who are by nature known to exxagerate everything they see and hear, just for aesthetic purposes. Don’t creative people do that to-day, too? They make very good stories, right?

The difference is, with to-day’s stories, we are able to tell what is completely fictional – the price tag tells us that – but with ancient legends, nobody really knows. No real evidence has been found so far, for all I know. There has been some archaeological evidence that suggests Krishna was based on the legend of another man or deity named Vasudeva. Or possibly a combination of several gods.

No matter, it is always nice to listen to and read stories about legendary characters like Krishna. They are usually filled with moral values that we can learn from and teach from. Also, they tend to contain some amount of truth about the history of that region to which we have concrete evidences.

That’s all for to-day. See you all in my next post!