Krishna, one of the most popular and revered divinities in Hinduism, has been a source of inspiration, devotion and fascination for centuries.
According to Hindu tradition, Krishna is the eighth incarnation or avatar of the god Vishnu, one of the principal gods of the Hindu triad, along with Brahma and Shiva. Vishnu is known as the preserver of the universe, and takes human form on various occasions to restore cosmic balance. Although he is an avatar of Vishnu, he has been so influential and beloved in Indian culture that he has been worshipped as a deity in his own right.
Origin and Mythology of Lord Krishna
The place where the figure of Krishna first appears in detail is the “Mahābhārata“, particularly in the “Bhagavad Gītā“, which is a part of the Mahābhārata. In the Bhagavad Gītā, Krishna serves as charioteer and spiritual advisor to Arjuna, one of the Pandava princes, and presents fundamental teachings on duty, righteousness and spirituality.
Although there are mentions of Krishna even before the Mahābhārata in the Vedic texts, they are less detailed and his divine nature is not as clearly delineated as in the later epics or Puranas.
The “Bhāgavata Purāṇa” is another important scripture that narrates Krishna’s life in great detail, from his birth to his departure, including his childhood play, his miracles, and his role as a divine lover.
The Birth of Krishna
Krishna’s story begins in the Yadava city of Mathura, threatened by the despotic ruler Kamsa. Prophecies foretold that Kamsa would be killed by the eighth son of his sister Devaki. To forestall this fate, Kamsa imprisoned Devaki and her husband Vasudeva, systematically killing each of their newborns. However, when the eighth son was about to be born, a divine intervention occurred. The guards fell asleep, the prison doors opened and Vasudeva was instructed to take the newborn Krishna across the Yamuna River to Gokul, where he would be safe with his adoptive parents, Nanda and Yashoda.
In this narrative arc, Krishna’s birth signifies divine intervention in the moral and cosmic order of the world, a recurring theme in many mythologies.
Childhood in Gokul
The accounts of Krishna’s childhood in Gokul are replete with charming stories that serve as both entertainment and profound philosophical allegories. As a child, he was famous for stealing butter, which earned him the nickname “Makhanchor” (butter thief). These playful episodes highlight Krishna’s human traits, which make him relatable to ordinary people.
These innocent tales are interspersed with stories of Krishna’s divine power. As a child, he defeated several demons sent by Kamsa to kill him, such as Putana, Trinavarta and Aghasura. One of the most iconic stories of his childhood is that of the Govardhana hill rising. When the people of Gokul were about to worship Indra, the king of the gods, for rain, Krishna persuaded them to worship Govardhana Hill instead. Indra, furious, unleashed torrential rains on Gokul. Krishna, who was but a child, lifted the entire hill with his little finger, sheltering the villagers, signifying the triumph of devotion over ritualistic practices.
Youth in Vrindavan
The stories of Krishna’s youth in Vrindavan are some of the most celebrated and revered in Hindu mythology. Vrindavan, with its lush forests, rushing rivers and the fragrant scent of flowers, is the perfect setting for the unfolding of these enchanting stories. This stage of Krishna’s life is not marked by great battles or philosophical discourses, but by simpler and closer stories.
Vrindavan is synonymous with the Gopis (cowherd girls) and, above all, Radha. Their love and devotion to Krishna transcended physical attraction and was rooted in pure, spiritual love. Among the Gopis, Radha held a special place in Krishna’s heart. While Krishna is considered the incarnation of the supreme god Vishnu, Radha is revered as the manifestation of the goddess Lakshmi.
The Ras Leela, or dance of divine love, is the most emblematic event of Krishna’s days in Vrindavan. On a moonlit night, Krishna played his flute and its stirring notes echoed through the forests and rivers of Vrindavan. Drawn by the divine melody, the Gopis left their homes and families and were attracted to Krishna. On the banks of the Yamuna River, they formed a circle, and with Krishna multiplying to dance with each Gopi, the Ras Leela began.
This dance is not just a playful activity; it symbolizes the eternal dance of the soul with the divine. The Gopis represent individual souls, and Krishna, the divine cosmos. The Ras Leela underscores the idea that, through true devotion and surrender, one can experience divine ecstasy and union with the supreme.
Krishna, the Philosopher and Warrior
When Krishna grew up, he returned to Mathura, overthrew Kamsa and re-established the rightful rulers. But his story did not end there. The Mahabharata, one of the greatest epics in world literature, depicts Krishna as a warrior and philosopher. He played a pivotal role in the war of Kurukshetra, as charioteer of the Pandava prince Arjuna.
It was on this battlefield that Krishna delivered the Bhagavad Gita, a 700-verse scripture that forms the philosophical basis of Hinduism. In it he addressed profound themes such as duty (dharma), righteousness, detachment and the paths to spiritual realization.
Symbology and Spiritual Meaning of the God Krishna
Krishna as the Divine Child
In his early life, Krishna is known as the mischievous child, the butter thief. He is often depicted as a small boy with a flute, surrounded by other children or gopis (shepherdesses) in Vrindavan. At first glance, he represents the innocence, joy and purity of childhood. But on a deeper level, Krishna’s childhood symbolizes divine consciousness manifested in its purest and most uncorrupted form. His innocent stealing of butter can be seen as a metaphor for the divine taking away our egos and worldly attachments, melting them into the purity of the soul.
Krishna the lover
The Raas Leela, Krishna’s dance with the gopis, is a prominent episode in which he multiplies himself to dance with each gopi simultaneously. It is a profound representation of the individual soul’s longing for union with the divine. The dance is a symbolic representation of the interplay of cosmic energies, the eternal romance between the soul(Jivatma) and the supreme consciousness (Paramatma). It reflects the idea that, although we perceive ourselves as separate entities, we are eternally connected and intertwined with the divine.
The shade of blue
Krishna is often depicted with blue skin, a color that carries symbolic meaning. Blue can be seen as a representation of infinity, such as the vast sky or the deep ocean, a reminder of the limitless nature of divinity and our own unlimited potential to merge with it. The blue hue also conveys calm and serenity, symbolic of Krishna’s ability to remain undisturbed amidst the chaos of life.
The flute player
Krishna’s flute is not just a musical instrument, but a symbol of the divine call. When it plays, everyone is enraptured. This signifies the attraction of the divine call that resonates deep within every heart. The emptiness of the flute denotes emptiness, suggesting that to be a channel of the divine or to attain spiritual wisdom, one must first empty oneself of ego and worldly desires.
The Bhagavad Gita, a 700-verse Hindu scripture, is a dialogue between Krishna and the warrior prince Arjuna. Here, Krishna becomes charioteer and guide, revealing profound spiritual teachings. This relationship represents the journey of the soul in search of divine guidance. Krishna’s teachings in the Gita on Dharma (duty), detachment and devotion have universal relevance, providing guidance for moral dilemmas, spiritual growth and the search for life purpose.
The charioteer on the battlefield
Krishna’s role as charioteer in the Mahabharata’s war is laden with symbolism. The battlefield of Kurukshetra can be seen as the human mind, where the tendencies of good and evil fight. Arjuna, the warrior, symbolizes the individual soul, confused and in search of direction. Krishna, as the guide, represents the higher self or divine consciousness, which directs the soul through the challenges of life.
The Cosmic Dancer
In some narratives, Krishna is depicted performing the cosmic dance. This dance represents the cycle of creation, preservation and destruction. Just as the cosmos works in cycles, so do our lives. Krishna’s dance represents the rhythm of existence, the transitory nature of life and the constant play between creation and dissolution.
Krishna and the serpent
The episode in which the young Krishna subdues the serpent Kaliya embodies the triumph of divine consciousness over the poisonous influences of ego, pride and ignorance. The serpent represents the dangers lurking in the depths of human consciousness, while Krishna’s act of dancing on its head suggests mastery over these negative tendencies.
The Universal Form
Krishna reveals his universal form (Vishvarupa) to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. This form, which encompasses all existence, signifies the all-pervasive nature of divinity. Everything exists within the divine, and the divine exists within everything. It is a potent symbol of unity and interconnectedness.
Sudarshan Chakra is a weapon in the form of a spinning disk. This chakra symbolizes the power of the mind and the cycles of time. It also embodies the concept of righteous justice and the ability of the divine to restore cosmic balance.
The Hare Krishna movement, officially known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), is an offshoot of modern Hinduism founded in 1966 in New York by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. that focuses on devotion to Lord Krishna.
The movement’s philosophy is based on ancient texts, particularly the Bhagavad-gītā and the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, which describe the relationship of human beings to God, the nature of the universe and how to lead a life of meaning and purpose. The central practice of the movement is the chanting of the maha-mantra:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare Hare
This mantra is meant as a supplication to Lord Krishna and his inner energy, Hare, to manifest in the heart of the devotee and free him from the cycle of birth and death.
Since its founding, the movement has grown exponentially, establishing centers and temples around the world. Followers, known as devotees, live by a set of principles that emphasize personal purity, daily meditation and devotion to Krishna. These principles include abstaining from intoxicants, meat, gambling and illicit sexual activities.
Festivals in honor of Lord Krishna
Being a widely worshipped deity in Hinduism, it is to be expected that there are a large number of festivals in honor of Krishna. Here we will describe some of the most important festivals around the figure of Lord Krishna.
The name Janmashtami is derived from two words: “Janma“, which means “birth“, and “Ashtami“, which refers to the eighth day of the waning moon in the month of Bhadrapada according to the Hindu calendar, the day on which Lord Krishna is believed to have been born at midnight.
The fervor with which Janmashtami is celebrated is a sight to behold. The day begins with fasting and prayers. In many temples and homes, elaborate altars are set up with images or idols of Krishna in his infant form. These idols are bathed, dressed in new clothes and decorated with jewelry. The “Bhagavad Gita” and other devotional hymns are sung, while devotees dance and rejoice in remembrance of Krishna’s deeds.
Janmashtami, also known as Gokulashtami, marks the birth of Lord Krishna. It is one of the most important and widely celebrated festivals in India and in many parts of the world where the Hindu community resides.
One of the most exciting rituals of Janmashtami is the “Dahi Handi“. A pitcher filled with yogurt, butter and other foods is hung at a considerable height, and groups of young men, called “Govindas“, form human towers to try to break it, emulating the antics of the young Krishna, who used to steal butter in this way. The spectacle attracts large crowds and is a testament to the dedication and team spirit of the participants.
In addition to religious rituals, Janmashtami is also a time for spiritual reflection. Krishna’s teaching and philosophy, as presented in the Bhagavad Gita, is a guide on how to live a virtuous and meaningful life. On Janmashtami, many devotees spend time reading and reflecting on these timeless messages.
Radhastami is one of the holiest festivals in the Vedic calendar, commemorating the birth of Śrīmatī Rādhārānī or Radha, the eternal consort of Lord Krishna. It is celebrated exactly fifteen days after Janmashtami, the birth of Krishna. For devotees of Lord Krishna, especially those of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, Radhastami has deep significance and is celebrated with profound love and devotion.
Śrīmatī Rādhārānī is considered the personification of the purest and supreme love for Krishna. While Krishna is the supreme object of love, Rādhā is the supreme standard-bearer of that love. Together, their relationship symbolizes the pinnacle of divine love. Therefore, understanding Radharani and her love for Krishna is critical for those seeking to deepen their relationship and devotion to the divine.
Radhastami day is observed with fasting until noon, followed by a grand feast in honor of Rādhārānī. Temples dedicated to Krishna and Rādhā are beautifully decorated with fresh flowers and lights. Images and deities of Rādhārānī are adorned with special robes and jewelry for the occasion.
One of the central practices of the day is kirtan, or congregational singing, in which devotees chant mantras and bhajans (devotional songs) in praise of Rādhā and Krishna. Through these melodies, devotees express their deepest feelings of love and longing for divinity.
Stories and pastimes related to the life of Rādhārānī are also narrated in devotional assemblies. These stories, replete with spiritual lessons and nuances of divine love, serve as a source of inspiration for devotees. For example, Rādhā’s deep love and devotion for Krishna, despite adversities and obstacles, inspires many to persevere on their own spiritual path.
Gopashtami is celebrates an important milestone in Lord Krishna’s life: the day He was entrusted with the care of cows instead of calves. This transition is seen not only as a passage from Krishna’s childhood to adolescence, but also as a manifestation of His divine roles in the lives of the inhabitants of Vrindavan.
Krishna, also known as Gopala, or the caretaker of cows, has a special bond with these sacred creatures in Hindu scriptures. The cow, in the Vedic tradition, is a symbol of generosity and abundance. By taking care of cows, Krishna shows his protective and loving role towards all living beings.
The festival of Gopashtami is celebrated on the eighth day (ashtami) of the bright month of Kartika. Tradition has it that until this day, Krishna and his brother Balarama only cared for calves. However, upon reaching a certain age, they were entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of cows, thus marking their passage into adolescence and greater responsibility.
In Vrindavan and other regions associated with Krishna’s life and pastimes, Gopashtami is an event of great joy and festivity. Cows and calves are worshipped on this day, and are often decorated with garlands and vibrant colors. They are offered a variety of delicious foods, and are allowed to roam freely, symbolizing the love and care Krishna bestowed upon them.
This day is also an opportunity for devotees to reflect on the countless leelas (divine pastimes) associated with Krishna and his gopas (shepherds) friends. These stories, replete with innocence, joy and devotion, are an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the faithful. They narrate how Krishna, despite being the Supreme Personality of Godhead, immersed himself completely in his role as a simple cowherd boy, playing with his friends, stealing butter and protecting the cows from various dangers.
Gopashtami also highlights the importance of the cow in Hindu culture and spirituality. Through the veneration of cows on this day, people are reminded of the sanctity and respect these animals deserve. The care and protection of cows is seen not only as a religious duty, but also as an act of compassion and gratitude.