Krishna’s Corner

Before the Smurfs, the Blue Man Group, or the cat-people from Avatar, there was Krishna.

Discussion of this deity is a little difficult due to the fact that different varieties of Hinduism see him in different ways. His original portrayal was as the eighth avatar of the god Vishnu, but later Krishnaism made him into the supreme being. I don’t think there’s any official word on why Krishna is usually depicted as having blue skin, but one possible derivation for his name is “the dark one,” and the skin color and name might show a connection to the Dravidian people of southern India.

As with many divine heroes, Krishna’s birth was prophesied, and someone tried to prevent it. In this case, the nasty Kamsa, son of a demon and King of Mathura, was told that he would be killed by his nephew. Therefore, when his sister Devaki began giving birth, he would kill her children. She managed to save her eighth born, Krishna, by exchanging him with the daughter of the cowherd Nanda and his wife Yashoda.

The daughter turned out to be the incarnation of the goddess Maya, and she flew away and taunted Kamsa when he tried to kill her. So Krishna ended up being raised by Nanda and Yashoda. In his youth, he was a notorious prankster and thief, and seduced milkmaids by playing his flute.

There was supposedly some moral lesson in this, but I also think Krishna wanted to be the fun avatar. I mean, how many milkmaids did Jesus seduce?

While still pretty young, he killed Kamsa and all the assassins the half-demon king sent after him, and became a prince under Kamsa’s father. Later in life, he fought with the Pandavas against the Kauravas, and dictated what would become known as the Bhagavad Gita to the Pandavas’ heroic leader Arjuna.

Basically, the point Krishna made to Arjuna was that he had to do his duty, and that death on the battlefield was merely temporary, as the soul was immortal. I have to say I’ve heard better morals. How did the same guy go from orgies with milkmaids to promoting warfare? That’s part of the oddity of Hinduism, at least as I see it. It’s very liberal in terms of what you can believe and how you can worship, yet incredibly rigid in social conventions and structure. Anyway, Krishna’s traditional lifetime is said to have been from 3228 through 3102 BC, after which he ascended into heaven. Or, depending on whom you ask, he might have died from an arrow in his foot. Regardless, his disappearance from the earthly realm marked the beginning of the Kali Yuga, the last and most corrupt of the four ages.

Worship of Krishna is generally part of bhakti yoga, in which devotion to God (i.e., Krishna himself) is the most important part. Devotees shouldn’t neglect the material world, but it’s really Krishna who’s important. Krishnaism has spread by means of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, better known as the Hare Krishna movement after its mantra.

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15 Responses to Krishna’s Corner

  1. vilajunkie says:

    Krishna’s speech in the Bhagavad Gita is basically the brahmins’ excuse for forcing people into the caste system, which includes the belief that you belong to the caste that you were born into and you shouldn’t shirk your duties to try for another caste. It works great for the brahmins, because they get to do basically anything they want and their word is law, and it’s great for the warrior-aristocrats because besides military duty for the young men they get to do anything they want, but it completely screws over the merchants and the farmers. And if you’re an Untouchable, forget it; your life will be dedicated to cleaning cow dung out of the streets and picking up garbage. Of course, there’s all sorts of odd laws about who can serve who, so that if you’re “tarnished” by a lower caste or treated improperly by a lower caste, you have to do a ritual purification. There are some good qualities about the caste system though–it instills honor and respect among the followers of the system.

    Also, have you noticed that pretty much every religious founder out there grew up as an aristocrat and gave up that life after seeing their subjects suffering? Jesus is really the only exception, and even he’s not totally exempt because he’s rumored to be the descendant of King David. And that whole 100% human/100% divine thing, too, however that works. Reminds me of South Park’s Manbearpig: “half man, half bear, and half pig!”

    • Nathan says:

      I think I would be much more comfortable in my life if I felt I had a real part to play in society. That said, I’d want to have some say in what it was. The idea of never leaving the class you were born into could be terrible if you were, say, a Shudra who had good leadership skills.

      As for the aristocratic beginnings, I suppose Lao-Tzu, as archivist to the imperial court, would count. And Moses was raised as a Prince of Egypt.

      • vilajunkie says:

        Well, I guess a Shudra with good leadership skills could hope to be a master craftsman overseeing multiple apprentices or even be the head of a guild (if such things exist in Indian bureaucracy).

        Yeah! I didn’t even think of those two. I don’t remember where Confucius started off, but he quickly moved up in the ranks as a royal sage.

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