LordKrishna - Michael Sudduth

Lord Krishna:
The Descent of God (Avatara)
Krishna, of the Vrishni
family (cousin to the
Pandavas and Kauravas) had
already established himself
as a powerful warrior and
prince in Mathura, where he
had re-established
righteousness after
destroying the evil ruler King
Kamsa and establishing a
kingdom in Dwaraka.
Krishna befriended
Arjuna in Mathura. He
had been watching the
evolving conflict between
the Pandavas and
He eventually intervenes
to arbitrate the conflict
and becomes the focal
point of the war.
Krishna is revealed to be
God manifested on earth,
delivering a message of
universal salvation.
Krishna is one of the most important and
widely worshipped deities in the Indian
religious traditions.
Although the modern worship of
Krishna has been strongly shaped by the
evolution of devotional theism from the
9th century CE onwards,
• ancient texts from Greece provide
evidence of the worship of Krishna as a
divine being in the 5th/4th century BCE.
• archeological evidence for the worship
of Krishna dates at least to the end of the
2nd century BCE.
In the fabric of contemporary Indian
devotional religion (tracing back to at
least the 9th century CE), Vaishnavas
worship Krishna as an avatar of
Vishnu, “Vishnu” (meaning “all
pervasive”), one of the names that
refers to the Supreme Being.
Gaudiya Vaishnavism (early 16th
century), along with the sampradayas
associated with Vallabha and
Nimbarka, regard Krishna as svayam
bhagavan (the original form of God)
and Vishnu is merely an expansion
from the being of Krishna.
Textual Sources on the Life of Krishna
• Bhagavad Gita (Mahabharata text,
circa 400-200 BCE)
• Srimad Bhagavatam (Purana
literature, 4th-6th century CE)
• Harivamsa (lengthy appendix to
Mahabharata, 5th century CE)
• Vishnu Purana (Purana literature, 5th
century CE)
* The dates above are assigned for the composition of
the texts. The material in the text is generally believed
to originate from a significantly earlier period.
I. Krishna’s Birth
Aware that unrighteousness had spread throughout
Bharatavarsha (India) under the influence of evil
rulers, Vishnu (the Supreme Being and source of all
universes) decided to incarnate himself on earth to
destroy evil rulers and restore righteousness on earth.
I. Krishna’s Birth
So Vishnu incarnated himself in the city of Mathura,
which was under the control of the evil ruler King
Kamsa. Vishnu decided to take human form as the
8th son of Devaki, the sister of King Kamsa.
His name was Krishna – “the all-attractive one.”
After being born in
Mathura, Krishna was
quickly taken to the
nearby pastoral town
of Vrindavana to
escape the murderous
plotting of King
Kamsa. There he was
raised by foster parents
Nanda and Yashoda.
II. Young Krishna of Vrindavan (Vraj)
The Krishna of Vrindavana is a flute playing cow herder
who attracts the men (gopas) and women (gopis) of
the pastoral town by his playful activities and beauty.
Krishna would play the flute and
dance with the multitude of gopis
along the Yamuna river. They fell
madly in love with Krishna.
As a youth in Vraj, Krishna
sometimes engaged in highjinx, for example,
stealing the clothes of the gopis
while they bathed naked.
The gopis had previously asked
the goddess Durga to have
Krishna as their husband.
Since only husbands were
permitted to view a woman
naked, Krishna’s high-jinx was
a way of his proclaiming that he
loved the gopis with conjugal
love and accepted them as his
own wives.
The gopis’ love for Krishna was so great that they cursed
brahma (the creator) for creating them with eyes that
blinked. Every time they blinked, it was a second in time
that they could not look upon the beauty of Krishna.
“Their hearts had been stolen by Govinda, so they did not return
back when husbands, fathers, brothers, and relatives tried to
prevent them. They were in a state of rapture. Some gopis, not
being able to find a way to leave, remained at home and thought
of Krishna with eyes closed, completely absorbed in
meditation.” Srimad Bhagavata, 10.29.9-10
When they were prevented from seeing Krishna because of
their household duties, Krishna said: “Love for me comes from
hearing about me, seeing me, meditating on me and reciting my
glories, not in this way, by physical proximity. Therefore, return
to your homes.” Srimad Bhagavata, 10.29.27
Among the gopis, one stood supreme, the
particular object of Krishna’s most intense
love and devotion – Radha.
Radha is depicted as the model
devotee, one whose love for
Krishna was unrivaled.
She thought of Krishna
constantly, even in her dreams.
Her love was so powerful that it
controlled and subjugated
Krishna himself. He lost
himself so completely in her
love that he even forgot that he
was God.
To signify the depth of their
union, they are often spoken of
as one God: Radha-Krishna.
As an adolescent, Krishna had
to leave Vraj for Mathura to
destroy the evil King Kamsa.
Radha and Krishna part with
deep sadness.
After Krishna’s departure from
Vraj, the gopis search for him
with intensity, inquiring of the
plants and trees if they have
seen Krishna.
Their love, like Radha’s, was
intensified through separation.
The Moods of Vrindavan Krishna
• Vrindavan Krishna cultivates diverse moods (rasa) of
closeness and intimacy through his many attractive
features and activities (rasa lilas), for example:
– Friendship: a person relates to Krishna as to a
close friend.
– Romantic Love: a person relates to Krishna as to a
• Krishna’s madhurya qualities form the basis of
such moods of intimacy. “Madhurya” means
“sweet.” Krishna’s madhurya qualities are his
human qualities that attract devotees to a close
relationship with him. These qualities are
III. Lord Krishna of
Mathura and Dwaraka
While Vraj Krishna is the
playful youth who cultivates
moods of intimacy with his
devotees, the Krishna of
Mathura and Dwaraka
cultivates the mood of awe
and reverence through the
overt display of divine
qualities (e.g., omnipotence,
Krishna’s Godhead was only implicit in Vraj. The Vraj
devotees were so attracted to Krishna’s human qualities
that they suppressed their knowledge of his Godhead.
They regarded his supernatural powers displayed in
Vraj as bestowed on him by Narayana (God Vishnu).
The Godhead of Krishna is
emphasized at the battle
at Kurukshetra in the
Bhagavad Gita text
(Mahabharata War)
The Krishna of the Gita is
overtly God manifested
in human form on earth
to reinstate moral order
and provide spiritual
guidance to humanity.
As avatara (“the descent” of
God in human form) Krishna
manifests madhurya and
aishvarya qualities.
• Madhurya (sweetness):
human qualities that attract and
cultivate modes of intimacy
• Aishvarya (opulence): divine
qualities that instill awe and
Love of Krishna may take
various forms: love of
intimacy, love of reverence,
and love that unites both.
Krishna’s Role in the
Mahabharata War
• Krishna intervenes in the Pandava-Kaurava
• Krishna refused to fight in the war, but he
offered himself as charioteer (for one side) and
his invincible army (for the other side).
• The Kauravas chose to accept Krishna’s army.
• The Pandavas chose Krishna himself, even
though his role would be confined to guiding
the chariot of his cousin and friend Arjuna.
Arjuna and Krishna: the Battle at Kurukshretra
• Bryant, Edwin (trans). Krishna: the Beautiful Legend of God, Srimad
Bhagavata Purana, Book X. Penguin Books, 2003.
• Menon, Ramesh (trans). The Mahabharata : a modern rendering. New
York: iUniverse, Inc., 2006.
• Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. Krishna: The Supreme
Personality of the Godhead. Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1970.
• Rosen, Steven (ed). Holy War: Violence and the Bhagavad Gita. Deepak
Heritage Books, 2002.
• Rosen, Steven. The Hidden Glory of India. Bhaktivendanta Book Trust,
• Singer, Milton (ed). Krishna: Myths, Rites, and Attitudes. University of
Chicago Press, 1966.
• Tripurari, Swami B.V.. Aesthetic Vedanta. Mandala, 1998.
• Vanamali, Devi. The Play of God: Visions of the Life of Krishna. Blue
Dove Press, 1998.