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Other names: Kistna, Kristna, Krsna


The eighth incarnation of the god Vishnu, Krishna is the god of vegetation, love and erotic delight. He was born from a black hair of Vishnu who assumed the form of Krishna to defeat Kansa, king of Mathura (and uncle of Krishna). Kansa tried to kill him many times using many methods, and eventually, Krishna slew him in battle. Krishna himself died from accidentally being shot in his vulnerable spot, his heel, with an arrow from a hunter. He had 16,100 wives and 180,000 sons, according to the Purana. In art, he is usually depicted with blue-black skin. He is identified with the Greek Hercules and Achilles.

Krishna is the most popular object of worship throughout northern India. In origin, Krishna, like Rama, was undoubtedly a deified hero of the Kshatriya caste. In the older framework of the Mahābhārata he appears as a great chieftain and ally of the Pandava brothers; and it is only in the interpolated episode of the Bhagavad-gita that he is identified with Vishnu and becomes the revealer of the doctrine of bhakti or religious devotion. Of still later date are the popular developments of the modern cult of Krishna associated with Radha, as found in the Vishnu Purana. Here he is represented as the son of a king saved from a slaughter of the innocents, brought up by a cowherd, sporting with the milkmaids, and performing miraculous feats in his childhood. The scene is laid in the neighbourhood of Muttra, on the right bank of the Yamuna, where the whole country has been considered holy ground. Another place associated with incidents of his later life is Dwarka, the westernmost point in the peninsula of Kathiawar. The two most famous preachers of Krishna-worship and founders of sects in his honour were Vallabha and Chaitanya, both born towards the close of the 15th century. The followers of the former were found chiefly in Rajputana and Gujarat. They were known as Vallabhacharyas, and their gosains or high priests as maharajas, to whom semi-divine honours were paid. The licentious practices of this sect were exposed in a lawsuit before the high court at Bombay in 1862. Chaitanya was the Vaishnav reformer of Bengal, with his home at Nadiya. A third influential Krishna-preacher of the 19th century was Swami Narayan, who was encountered by Bishop Heber in Gujarat, where his followers were numerous and wealthy. Among the names of Krishna are Gopal, the cowherd; Gopinath, the lord of the milkmaids; and Mathuranath, the lord of Muttra. His legitimate consort was Rukmini, daughter of the king of Berar; but Radha is always associated with him in his temples.

Place of birth: Vrindavana




1. C.R. Coulter and P. Turner. Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2000.
Co., Ltd, 1928.
2. Encyclopaedia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information, 11th edn, vol. 15. New York: Encyclopaedia Britannica Co., 1911.

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