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.┬áSee you all in my next post!