Krishna – The Philosopher King

Krishna is as well-loved today as he was in the time of the Cholas. However, it is Murugan, Shiva and Uma’s second son, who fulfills the role of eternally youthful hero, protector, philosopher, teacher and friend in south India. Krishna as Supreme Being is a sect popular in the north, entirely separate from the Vaishnavite belief that Vishnu is supreme, and has spread worldwide with the Hare Krishna movement. 

Krishna is Vishnu’s eighth incarnation, unique in that he chose to be born as a mortal as a newborn. Krishna was exchanged at birth with a cowherd’s daughter to escape the clutches of an evil demon king, Kamsa (note 1). Childhood stories tell of his mischievous nature, but also illustrate the close bond between Krishna and his foster mother, Yashoda. Young Krishna spent a happy life with his foster parents playing boyish pranks (often including butter theft) (note 2), and later as a youth when he used his flute to seduce village girls (gopis) (notes 3 and 4). His favourite was Radha, his foster sister and childhood lover, although they did not marry. Theirs was a pure love and came to symbolize the unconditional love between devotee and deity; a relationship related closely to Bhakti, an intimate, personal devotion to one’s chosen deity.  

According to mythology, Krishna was not only divine but heroic as well. As a boy, he defeated the snake king, Kaliya when the serpent poisoned the Yamuna River. In the epic poem ‘Mahabharata’ he helps the Pandavas against the Kauravas, two families in a war of succession. In the poem, Krishna is depicted as divine charioteer to the troubled hero, Arjuna, as Krishna delivers his celebrated treatise ‘Bhagavad-Gita’ on life and dharma. This speech persuaded Arjuna that it was his duty, his Dharma, to fight against his kinsmen.

Krishna is depicted as the beautiful smiling youth with skin the colour of the sky, plays the flute, wearing a peacock feather in his curly black hair and a flower garland around his neck. 

Note 1 – Many respected scholars accept that Krishna was an actual person, living in the period between 3200 and 3100 BCE.

Note 2 – As a playful tot, he is known as Balakrishna.

Note 3 – In his cow herding, flute playing aspect he is known as Venugopala B-VNST21 and B-VNS28.

Note 4 – Divine playfulness (Lila) is an important concept in Hindu mythology which not only as it applies to Krishna but other gods as well. Depending on which deity is believed to be Supreme Being, the world is created simply because it is that deity’s will. It is God at play.