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.
Krishna – The Philosopher KingTerry Curell2019-11-07T17:41:38-08:00
The sacred literature of Hinduism is a vast, many-layered, aggregation of ancient thought, belief and tradition with The Vedas as its core. The texts are divided into two classifications; Sruti – that which was heard, and Smrti – that which is remembered. The difference between them is Sruti is accepted by most Hindus as something akin to revelation and therefore inviolate, whereas Smrti consists of several books containing the divinely inspired thoughts and opinions of scholars who have expounded and elaborate upon foundational Sruti. The expansion and revision of the Smrti texts continue to this day as Hinduism embraces and reflects modern values and priorities.
We live in a world where knowledge is at our fingertips, and it’s important to remember the origins of the oldest Hindu scripture are from a pre-literate oral tradition. The Vedas literally translates as The Knowledge andlearned by rote and passed from generation to generation. It takes a great deal of time to memorize such a vast corpus of information and an effective technique is to repeat it over and over in a sing-song fashion rather than straight memorization, which would explain why so much of Hinduism’s sacred literature takes the form of poetry and hymns.
When such a vast and complicated body of work is held in memory it requires members of the community exempt from time-consuming secular tasks to spend their days teaching or learning or in temple service, and the Brahmin caste developed out of this requirement. As custodians of the mysteries governing the spiritual health of the community, they enjoyed a special status and were generally exempt from secular demands on their time. Information in written form can be shared, therefore it took many centuries for the Brahmins to relinquish their exclusive access to Hindu sacred literature. Their role in a community’s spiritual life continues much as it always has however as custodians of temples and temple rituals.