Category Archives: Visnu’s Avataras

The Ten Avataras of Visnu

Visnu, one of the most prominent gods within the Hindu tradition, and is said to have descended to earth in the form of various avatars to intervene with worldly matters. Scholars researching the incarnations of Visnu proposed that like worldly matter, thinngs that are not attended to will slowly decay over time. The same can be said for dharma. Like physical objects, time withers dharma and leads to adharma without maitenance (Swamigal, 10). Each of Visnu’s incarnations can be linked to decay within the cosmic order; furthermore, all beings are put at risk when there is decay in dharma. Although there are ten main incarnations that Visnu is said to have taken which are outlined in the Garuda Purana, in other texts such as the Bhagavata Purana and elsewhere, there is mention of upwards of twenty different avatars that Visnu took. Though this may be the case, the ten avatars mentioned in the Garuda Purana, also known as the dasavatara, are considered to be the most important due to their profound impact on Hinduism. Common to most of the stories surrounding Visnu’s avatars is that he does not destroy his foes but either punishes them for a short time or defeats them in such a way that they are liberated in the process (Klostermaier, 89). Scholars have noted the progression of the dasavatara follows a sort of plausible model for evolution beginning with a simple water-dwelling organism and advancing to a human form.

1. Matsya

This is the fish avatara that is said to be the first incarnation that Visnu assumed. Matsya is considered to be the first avatara both chronologically and evolutionarily in that this is the least advanced of all the animal forms he embodied. In the Matsya Purana, it is said that the Vedas were stolen from the god Brahma by a demonic form born from a conch shell called Somaka. The Vedas housed the creative energy of the universe and were now going to be used by Somaka for evil purposes. Visnu then descended in the form of a gigantic fish and slew Somaka while subsequently returning the Vedas to their rightful owner. Matsya was also said to have saved creation from a disastrous flood by instructing Satyavrata, a pious king, to bring all manner of seeds with him in a boat when the floods came (Swamigal, 3). In this way, Manu saves not only himself but all material life on earth. This story has many parallels in other cultures, the Western equivalent being the biblical account of Noah (O’Flaherty, 181).

Fresco with Visnu's matsya (fish) avatara in a palace in Orchha, India
Fresco with Visnu’s matsya (fish) avatara in a palace in Orchha, India

2. Kurma

This is the tortoise incarnation of Visnu. In the account of Kurma, Indra was said to have met with a sage who gave him a divine garland. The garland was trampled by Indra’s elephant and Indra found it humorous. The sage was insulted and cursed Indra saying that he would lose all of his riches to the sea along with his divine position. Once this happened, giants invaded Indra’s domain and he was defeated. At this point, he approached Visnu for help and Visnu in turn told him to go with the giants and churn the ocean with a hill using a snake as a rope. This action of churning the waters can be equated to the Tantric practice of trying to taste Ambrosia (Reddy, Moorthy, & Reddy, 96). As they did this, the hill began to sink into the ocean and they prayed to Visnu for help who then appeared in the form of a tortoise to support the hill. Although crisis seemed to be averted, at that moment a poison appeared because Indra had not worshipped Siva or Vinayaka. Visnu ate the poison and they were saved (Swamigal, 7).

The Kurma (Tortoise) avatara of Visnu depicted on this pillar bas-relief at Srirangam Temple in Tamil Nadu
The Kurma (Tortoise) avatara of Visnu depicted on this pillar bas-relief at Srirangam Temple in Tamil Nadu

3. Varaha

Varaha is the boar incarnation that Visnu is said to have taken. In the account of Varaha, Vishnu’s two attendants, Jaya and Vijaya denied two sages seeking Visnu access to him. The sages cursed the two and the two became giants within the earthly realm. The two attendants in giant form, now named Hiranyaksha and Hiranya are considered to be cruelty personified, who then declared Visnu to be their enemy and attacked and conquered the minor gods. Included in the gods conquered by the two was Varuna, the lord of the waters. Hiranyaksha began to push earth down to hell [Rasatala]. As all this chaos ensued, Mother Earth prayed to Visnu for help. Visnu assumed the shape of a boar and bore the earth on his shoulders as he lifted it out of hell. Hiranyaksha challenged Visnu to mortal combat where Visnu killed him (Swamigal, 10). Though the Garuda Purana mentions the boar as one of Visnu’s incarnations, this particular avatar may have been originally attributed to the goddess Prajapati (Radice, 185).

Large bas-relief depicting Visnu in his descent as a boar (Varaha Avatara), in order to rescue the earth goddess, Bhu Devi; Mahabalipuram, India
Large bas-relief depicting Visnu in his descent as a boar (Varaha Avatara), in order to rescue the earth goddess, Bhu Devi; Mahabalipuram, India

4.Narasimha

This is the man-lion incarnation of Visnu. Narasimha is the most fearsome of Visnu’s avataras In this myth, Hiranyaka, the giant brother of Hiranyaksha who Visnu had killed, proclaimed himself king of the universe and decided to have revenge against Visnu for the his brother’s death. Meanwhile, Hiranyaka’s wife gave birth to a giant son, Prahlada, who was a devotee to Visnu. This angered Hiranyaka and he tried through many means to convert his son and turn him against Visnu. The giant tried through non-violent means such as persuasion to do so, but after these failed, he resorted to more violent methods such as having the boy bitten by snakes, stung by scorpions, and trampled by elephants among other things (Swamigal, 14). Then Hiranyaka pointed to a pillar and asked if Visnu could be found there and struck the pillar (Bharadvaja, 332). After the giant struck the pillar, Visnu burst out as a half-man, half-lion and cut out his stomach, drank his blood, and wore his intestines as a garland. Soon after, Visnu appointed Prahlada king of the giants (Swamigal, 15).

5. Vamana

In the account of Vamana, it is said that Visnu took the incarnation of a dwarf. This incarnation is important when studying the dasavatara as a form of evolutionary structure because Vamana could perhaps be equated to an early form of human such as Australopithecus or the early homo. Some scholars say that this is why Vamana appears before any of the other human incarnations (Reddy et al., 96). In the account of Vamana, Visnu disguises himself as a dwarf who was supposedly of such great beauty and strong spiritual aura that no one could refuse him anything (Swamigal, 20). The king Bali, who had claimed the earth was so charmed that he offered Vamana anything he wanted. Vamana asked only for a piece of land the size of himself. Bali agreed to this. The Vamana lay down and began to rapidly grow until he covered the entire surface of the earth thereby reclaiming the earth for the gods (Hopkins, 89).

Visnu's Vamana (Dwarf) avatara sends the demon Bali to the underworld
Visnu’s Vamana (Dwarf) avatara sends the demon Bali to the underworld

6. Parashurama

This incarnation is actually of Rama, but an axe-wielding version of Rama. In this tale, Parasurama and Rama coexist in the same time period and even interact toward the end. The story goes that at one point, petty princes and czarinas were entrusted with the care of the world but were conducting themselves in an adharmic fashion. Parashurama defeated these knightly communities twenty-one times (Reddy et al, 93; Bhardvaja, 333). He later learned that Rama had broken Siva’s bow at Janaka’s house and was enraged. In his rage he confronted Rama and challenged him to wield his bow. Rama did so with ease and Parasurama detected the presence of Visnu within Rama. Realizing his purpose as avatara was over and went away (Swamigal, 29).

7. Rama

The account of Rama, although mentioned in the Garuda Purana, can be found in full detail within the Ramayana. As the hero and central figure of the Ramayana, Rama is an important figure within Hinduism. Even as a young child Rama was involved in heroic exploits. As a boy he accompanied a sage to protect him while he made a sacrifice and in the process slew a demon (Wilson, 548). According to Klostermaier (87), Rama was conscious of his divinity in his every move. Though he knew this and was troubled by the prospect, he behaved as any other ordinary man. At different points throughout his life, Rama engaged in epic adventures. He became involved in the politics of a monkey kingdom and befriended Hanuman. His wife Sita was captured by a demon named Ravana and through a series of events, Rama and his companions rescued Sita, killed Ravana, and destroyed Lanka, an island where a demonic kingdom was located (Radice, 198).

8. Krsna

The avatara of Krsna is mentioned briefly in the Garuda Purana, but he is more widely known for his role in the Mahabharata. Krsna is widely held to be the most important incarnation of Visnu, but Krsna is not an avatar in the regular sense. Some claim that Krsna was the true form of Visnu manifested on earth rather than a disguise or alternate form. Though he could be considered Visnu in human form, he still possessed human qualities such as love, disobedience, and youthfulness, which makes Krsna a seemingly approachable figure. In the Mahabharata he serves as a companion and advisor to the Pandava brothers and aids in their victory over the adharmic Kauravas. He is the only avatara to have an entire cult devoted exclusively to his worship (Klostermaier, 95).

9. Buddha

The Buddha incarnation is a politically charged avatara. The Buddha that is Visnu’s incarnation is in fact Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. In the Visnu Purana, there is a war between gods and demons in which the gods lose. Their destruction is imminent until Visnu appears as the Buddha and distracts the asuras from their agendas by converting them to Buddhism. The Buddha, also called the magic deluder, makes fun of traditional Hindu practice such as fire sacrifices. The demons are distracted from their original intentions and the gods wage war on them and defeat them. It was simply an unfortunate byproduct of Visnu’s necessary action that people were converted to Buddhism (Radice, 231). Though negative anecdotes exist about the Buddha avatara, the Buddha is not viewed in an entirely negative light.

10. Kalki

This final incarnation of Visnu is seen as the future avatara that will not come until the end of the Kali yuga, which is the current yuga. Right before Kalki’s appearance, the world is supposedly going to degenerate into an adharmic place. Men will engage in unnatural relations with their mothers and daughters, people will become fond of nudity and unrighteous conduct, all manner of natural disaster and plague will occur, and only pockets of pious devotees will remain and will incessantly chant the name of Visnu in hiding. The world will be completely overtaken by vice and the like. At this point, Visnu will assume the form of Kalki, a black colored avatar wielding a fiery sword, riding a horse, and accompanied by a parrot. Upon his arrival, Kalki is predicted to destroy the wicked inhabitants of the earth and usher in a new age (Swamigal, 65).

Bibliography

Bhäradväja, K (1981) A Philosophical Study of the Concept of Visnu in the Puränas. New Delhi: Pitambar Publishing Company.

Coogan, Michael D (ed.) (2005) Eastern Religions Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hopkins, Thomas J (1971) The Hindi Religious Tradition. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Klostermaier, Klaus K (2000) A Short History of Hinduism. Oxford: Oneworld Publications.

O’Flaherty, Wendy D (ed. and trans.) (1975) Hindu Myths. London: Penguin Books.

Pulla Reddy, A (1981) “Evolution and Incarnations of Lord Vishnu: An Analysis of Dasavatara” Folklore 22, no.5.

Swamigal, Pandrimalai (1982) The Ten Incarnations of Dasvatara. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

Wilson, H.H (trans.) (1989) The Visnu Purana: A System of Hindu Mythology and Tradition. Delhi: Nag Publishers.

Related Terms

Dasavatara

Garuda Purana

Visnu Purana

Ramayana

Mahabharata

Related Websites

http://www.slagram.net/Dasavatara-page.htm

http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/Religions/Avatars/Vishnu.html

Written by Joel Butler (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Ram(a) Navami and the Ramlila

Rama/Ram Navami/Ramlila

The Ram Navami is a yearly festival celebrating the birth of Lord Rama. He is the seventh incarnation of Lord Visnu, who was born to kill the demon Ravana. Rama was born in Ayodhya and is the eldest son of king Dasaratha and Queen Kausalya. He has three brothers named Bharata, Laksmana, and Satrughna. Rama was married to Sita on the occasion on Vivaha panchami (festival of marriage), which, was held on Margashirsha shukla panchami according to Valmiki. This day is also known as Sri Rama Navami, which marks the ninth day of the Shukla Paksha in the Chaitra month (March). Ram Navami also marks the end of the auspicious Navaratra period. The observance of this Vrata (vowed ascetic observances) is said to pardon one from all sins. Men of all grades and ranks including kings observe this Vrata for obtaining prosperity, long life, happiness and wisdom (Sharma 109). It is a popular festival and one that is adorned by Hindus across the world.

The celebration usually goes for nine days and concludes on Ram Navami- the ninth day. On this sacred day one would begin with a prayer to the sun at the temple of Rama in the early morning after bathing. Many people fast during this time some fast only on the first and last day of Chaitra, eating only fruit (phalahar). Some Hindus also make a small shrine at home and put a picture of Sri Rama Panchayatan in it and offer prayers of puja. Temples are decorated in the image of Lord Rama and the idol of Rama is also decorated and worshipped. Some devotees put a statue or photograph into a cradle and rock it to celebrate the birth of Rama. The holy book, Ramayana, is read in temples and pujas are conducted at mid-day in temples. They also have special havans (fire ritual) along with chanting of mantras and offerings of fruit and flowers (Kartar 37). An event that is popular in India is the Ram Navami procession the main attraction is a decorated chariot carrying four persons dressed as Rama, his brother Laksmana, wife Sita, and disciple Hanuman. Several other people dressed in ancient costumes, as Ramas soldiers accompany the chariot. It is the only festival that cultural programs are given such importance. Musical presentations discourse on the Ramcharitmanas (epic poem) and recitations of the Ramanyana composed by Valmiki go on for nine days Harikathas (stories of the lord) are arranged and conducted in some places for a month. (S.P. Sharma 98). Ayodhya being the birthplace of Rama is the center and focus of the festival and celebrations and a huge fair is there two of the nine days. The Kirtanists chant the holy name of Rama and celebrate the marriage between Sita and Rama. The ceremony is quite colorful and highly inspiring and enlightening. In Andhra Pradesh the festival is celebrated with great religious enthusiasm (Khartar 37)

The Ramanavami festival offers us an opportunity to understand some of the ideals and spirit preserved in Rama. On this grand day Lord Rama is worshipped, prayers are offered to him in order to absorb his ideals. One who approaches his lotus feet with love, devotion, and humility becomes noble, large hearted, pious, peaceful, master of senses and the beloved of the wise. (Manish 56) On this occasion people take a vow to devote themselves more to their spiritual and moral evolution. Rama nam is a great magic mantra and is like a wish-fulfilling tree (kalpa vriksha) and must be repeated, recited and meditated upon every now and then (Manish 56).

It is believed that Rama was sent to this world to destroy evil and uphold righteousness. He is said to hold the highest ideals of man and is called Maryada Pushottam, which means the perfect man. Rama is the ideal son, an ideal ruler, an ideal husband, and an ideal brother (Kartar 39). Ramraja (the reign of Rama) has become synonymous with a period of peace and prosperity and those who wish to achieve something worthwhile in life are to worship and absorb Rama (Kartar 39).  These characteristics of Rama and the devotion that Hindus pay to him is the reason that Ram Navami festival is so significant and so widely celebrated.

The Ramayana epic, which means the “ways of Rama”, is a story about Rama (Manish 56). The Ramayana receives great admiration as a great epic because it embodies human ideals and sums up the character pertaining to Indian reality. As a popular religious epic and great literary work the Ramayana is inspiring (Manish 56). It reveals why Hindus admire him and why there is a festival dedicated to him, the epic teaches moral lessons. Rama is the compliant and obedient son and the ideal king that is told in the epic Ramayana.

The Ramanyana shows the dedication and dharma that Rama showed in keeping his word and moral duties. Ramanyana is one of two great Indian epics and shows why his birth is celebrated with such high regard amongst Hindus. The Ramayana is about a King Dashratha who was from Ayodhya. He had three wives. King Dasharatha and his queen Kaushalya had a son named Rama. His brothers were Bharata, Laksmana and Satrughna (Gupta 98). Laksmana accompanied Rama on his in journey into manhood with Visvamitra in which he successfully killed the demoness Tataka. Rama then was requested to attend svayamvara, a ceremony where princess Sita in Mithila would choose a husband. King Janaka had challenged suitors to string a bow and Rama was the only one that was able to string the bow, and therefore won Sita’s Hand and brought her to Ayodhya. After Rama was crowned, Queen Kaikeyi had Rama banished to the forest for 14 years because she wanted her son Bharata to rule the kingdom.  After they reached the forest demoness Surpanaka made advances on Rama, Laksmana cut off her nose and ears. She then sought revenge from her brother Ravana, a ten-headed raksasa the greatest of all demons. Surpanaka told her brother how beautiful Sita was and Ravana then wanted her for him, so he went into the forest disguised as a deer and tricked Rama and stole Sita. Ravana tried to make Sita his wife but she refused and stayed loyal to Rama. Rama set out to find and save Sita with the help of brother Laksmana and disciple Hanuman. After they defeated Ravana and saved Sita they returned to Ayodhya. This epic is acted out in the drama Ramlila

Ramlila literally meaning “Ramas sport”(Hein 279) is an act of the Ramayana epic in a sequence of scenes that include, dialogue, recital, narration, and song. This traditional festival is usually performed in the Northern part of India during the festival Dussehra, which is a celebration of Rama killing Ravana. The ritual takes place during the month of October and November. This Drama is produced by several different kinds of troupes, but the performances, which go by this name, are always based upon the Ramayana. (Hein 279). They cover the main incidents narrated in his Ramcaritmanas in a series of performances lasting many days. They employ an unusual stage technique, which combines recitation of the sacred text with simultaneous acting and dialogue. (Hein 279) The sacred texts refer to the story of Rama, who was the hero of the Epic Ramayana.

The Rama Navami is a very important festival in the Hindu religion. It signifies the birth of Rama and him as a great epic hero. The Ramlila act of the Ramanyana epic is admired and enjoyed as devotees watch the story of Rama unfold. The festival is not only celebrated in India, but around the world. The Rama Navami has grown in admiration and is adorned by many Hindus.

Bibliography

Cath, Senker (2007) My Hindu Year: New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group.

Freek L. Bakker (1951) The Birth of Jesus and Rama in Christian and Hindu Sacred Texts: An Exercise in New Comparative Theology:Exchange 39 (2010) 121-146 brill.nl/exch

Kartar, Singh Bhalla (2005) Let’s Kknow Festivals of India: New Star Dehli.

Maithily Jagannathan (2006) South Indian Hindu Festivals and Traditions: Abhinav Publications.

Manish Verna (2000) Fasts And Festivals of India: Delhi: Diamond Pocket books (P) Ltd.

Shobhna, Gupta (2002) Festivals of India: Postak Mahol Delhi: Har-Anand Publications.

S.P. Bansal (2004) Lord Rama: Dehli: Diamond Pocket books (P) Lyd.

S.P. Sharma, Seema Gupta (2006) Fairs and festivals of India: Unfolding the colourful heritage of India: Pustak, Mahal,Delhi.

Sterling Press Pvt. Ltd.(2002) Ramayana. Reprint 2008.

Usha, Sharma (2008) Festivals In Indian Society (2 vols. Set): Mittal Publications.

Vālmīki, Manmatha Nath Dutt (1891) The Ramanyana. Volumes 1-2: Calcutta: Printed by Girish, Chandra Chackravarti.

Hein,Norvin (1958) The Ram Lila: New Haven Conneticut: The Journal of American Folklore.

Related Topics

Visnu

Laksmi

Brahma

Krsna

Avatar

Havan

Temple

Ayodhya

Valmiki

Hanuman

Siva

Rsi

Mahabharata

Ravana

Sita

Related Websites

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rama_Navami

http://festivals.iloveindia.com/ram-navami/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramayana

http://www.unesco.org/culture/intangible-heritage/16apa_uk.htm

http://www.yavanika.org/classes/reader/hein.pdf

Article written by Natasha Duke (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.

Krsna and Radha


Krsna and Radha are known to be the two legendary lovers; their story is believed to be the epitome of true love for devotees. Krsna is depicted as the charismatic and irresistible deity who enchants the gopis (cowherd girls) with his flute playing. Radha is the gopi whom he finds himself most fascinated by (Seth 59). This mutual fascination of each other turns in to a mythic love story which is infamous in Hinduism. Many influential texts have been written to explain this complex relationship. The content differs depending on the author and their interpretation of the Bhagavata Purana [Hindu Puranic text focusing on Krsna]. The most influential text is the poem, Gitagovinda by Jayadeva which focuses on Radha’s jealousy of the other gopis (Majumdar 193). Candidasa is another poet who has written many poems on Krsna and Radha, but his focus is on the obstacles faced by the two lovers (Majumdar 197). Krsna Kirtana, by Ananta Badu Candidasa, is known for its malign and atypical accounts of Krsna (Majumdar 201). It depicts a very distinctive story in which Krsna is depicted as being malevolent. Rupa Gosvamin’s Vidagdhamadhava is a powerful play which enacts the tale of how these two lovers secretly meet while overcoming hurdles (Wulff 45). Krsna and Radha’s relationship also has devotional components generally those between God and devotee.  Radha’s affiliation with Krsna gives her more prominence from worshippers (Hawley & Wulff 70).

Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda

Gitagovinda deals with the bond between the two beloveds over a period of approximately twenty four hours (Majumdar 195).The poem starts with Radha being distressed by her separation from Krsna. She goes on an anxious search for him during a spring night. When she finally finds him, she sees him mingling with the other gopis. Krsna acknowledges Radha and her beauty by giving her recognition over the others. Although he pays her attention, she still feels neglected and insignificant. Radha leaves the setting discontented but not angry. Radha’s love for Krsna is portrayed as being so strong that although his actions were unjust, she cannot be angry at him. In a state full of sorrow, she confides in a friend and asks to find a plan that would allow her to unite with her beau. On the other end of the line, Krsna finds himself feeling remorseful over what he has done. He starts to imagine Radha moving in front of him and begs her for forgiveness, promising never to neglect her again (Majumdar 193-194).

Radha’s friend notifies Krsna of her condition and Krsna tells her to console Radha and to tell her that he is also feeling the pain of separation. This message is delivered to Radha and she waits impatiently for him to come meet her. As time passes, and Krsna does not show up, Radha begins to suspect that he might have forgotten about her and gone to another mate (Majumdar 194). “She, therefore, prays that her life may be taken away by the five arrows of Cupid”; the night passes with these thoughts running through Radha’s mind (Majumdar 194). At the crack of dawn, Krsna finally appears and falls at her feet but she does not accept his apology, thinking he has been unfaithful. She tells him to go back to the lady whom he spent the night with. When Krsna leaves, Radha regrets her actions. Krsna and Radha’s mutual friend plays matchmaker again and advise her to accept Krsna (Majumdar 194). Krsna comes to meet Radha again and he assures her that “she is his ornament, and she is his very life” (Majumdar 194). “He assures her that no other woman has got any place in his heart. He goes so far as to suggest that Radha should place her feet on his head and thus alleviate the pain he is suffering from” (Majumdar 194). A reunion of the pair ends the renowned poem.

Candidasa’s Poems

The various works of Candidasa depict Radha having blind love for Krsna, to the extent that his affiliation with the other gopis do not affect her to the degree that they did to Jayadeva’s Radha.  Although she is married, she does not care if her acts are ethical or unethical :

“Dearest! Thou art my life. To Thee have I surrendered my body and mind, my life and my honour. Immersing my limbs and my thoughts in thy love have I consecrated at thy feet. Thou are my lord. Thour are my destiny. Nothing else appeals to me. People call me fallen, I do not grieve at it. To put on for thee the necklace of bad name is my greatest happiness. Loyal or disloyal, thou knowest all. I know not good or evil. At thy feet, says Candidasa, sin and virtue are both the same think” (Majumdar 197)

In one of his poems, Candidaser Padavali, Radha’s unconditional love for her mate is illustrated through the morning union of the two. Krsna arrives to meet Radha “with marks of teeth and nails of the lady with whom he spent the night” (Majumdar 197).Radha does not scold him in any way; rather, she shows him compassion and offers to look after him. This selfless act puts Krsna to humiliation and he is mesmerized by her (Majumdar 197).

Multiple poems by Candidasa are dedicated to the various disguises taken by Krsna while trying to meet Radha in secrecy. Krsna takes on the disguise of “a magician, a peddler woman, a female barber, a nun, a garlandmaker and a physician to a hoodwink the inmates of the family of Radha’s husband” (Majumdar 197).The latter disguise is so successful that even Radha fails to unfold it.

In Candidasa’s work, the pain Krsna feels from the distance between Radha and himself is also exemplified. At one point, he is so upset that he declares to Radha’s grandmother that he would welcome death if it would end his torment. He goes as far as to asking her to cremate his dead body near the route which Radha takes while drawing water in the morning and afternoon (Majumdar 198).

Ananta Badu Candidasa’s Krsna-Kirtana

This text is regarded as being one of the most controversial poems recounting the chronicles of the duo. “Nowhere else in the whole range on Indian literature has Krsna been vilified so much as in this poem” (Majumdar 201). Radha is revealed to be around the age of eleven in this poem while Krsna who is her senior by two or three years is portrayed as a young boy around the age of fourteen (Majumdar 202).

Krsna hears about Radha’s beauty from her aunt and orders her “to play the part of a procuress” (Majumdar 202). When Radha is approached with the fiendish proposal, she slaps her aunt. This news is brought back to Krsna and they both devise a plan to take vengeance. The poem describes this plan in detail, which involves Krsna enacting a role of a toll officer under a tree. He intends to seize Radha’s milk products, jewellery, and all her other belongings. He plans to charm her so she falls in love with him and then snub her off as if he has nothing do with her. This scheme is carried out and Krsna succeeds in his exploits (Majumdar 203).

After this incident, Radha refuses to go out to sell milk again but her aunt convinces her to do so by taking another path. While on her way, she sees Krsna on a boat and is forced to accept Krsna’s offer to float to her destination. Halfway, the boat starts to leak and Krsna advises “her to throw off all her milk and even her apparels so that the burden on the boat might become light” (Majumdar 203). Taking full advantage of the situation, he also demands that Radha kiss him so he gets the strength to carry on. Considering the circumstances, Radha obeys his wicked commands, causing further distress upon Radha. Krsna drowns the boat and starts to take advantage of her in the water. Not allowing him to take further advantage from her, Radha orders him to return her ornaments and he agrees. Realizing that she has a bit of control over him, she asks him to “carry her goods on his shoulders” (Majumdar 203). This is seen as being a demeaning work for Krsna and Radha’s purpose to put Krsna to shame is accomplished. However, Krsna agrees to all her commands “on condition of getting physical enjoyment” (Majumdar 204).

Ananta Badu Candidasa’s interpretation of Krsna and his intimate relationship is very different from those of other poets. Krsna “has been depicted throughout the book as a gross sensualist, spiteful in nature and boastful of his prowess” (Majumdar 205). The events in Krsna Kirtana are more based on the vision of the author rather than being in compliance with the events from the Bhagavata Purana (Majumdar 201).

Rupa Gosvamin’s Vidagdhamadhava

In this play, Gosvamin brings to life the “love of Radha and Krsna from its first awakening to the first meeting of the couple” (Majumdar 212). Radha is married to Abhimanyu who spends most of his time out of town. Radha is left at home with his blind mother, Jatila. This allows the two lovers, Krsna and Radha, to meet. Abhimanyu’s mother is suspicious of Radha’s relationship with Krsna who she refers to as the “snake toward young women” (Wulff 45).

At one point of the play, Abhimanyu starts to suspect Radha to the point that he decides to take his wife and mother with him. Finding this unbearable, “Krsna dressed himself as the goddess Gauri and placed himself in her temple, where Radha came to meet him” (Majumdar 212). During the couple’s union in the temple, Abhimanyu and his mother, Jatila suddenly appear. Abhimanyu and Jatila are told by the other individuals present at the temple that Gauri was so impressed by Radha’s devotion that she appeared in human form while she was asking for a “boon” (Majumdar 212). This makes Abhimanyu curious as to what exactly Radha was asking for. Krsna then appears as Durga and says that “Radha was praying for the aversion of a terrible calamity which was going to overtake her husband” (Majumdar 212). Krsna elaborates stating that Abhimanyu’s boss has plans to kill him. This leaves the mother and son awfully concerned; Krsna then offers them a solution which involves Radha staying at their hometown and worshipping Durga. Fearing Abhimanyu’s life, Jatila and her son agree to the condition (Majumdar 212). This incident is one of the many cunning ways Krsna keeps Radha close to himself.

Devotional Aspects of Krsna and Radha

Krsna is depicted as the god figure while Radha is portrayed as being the soul (Seth 59). Through Radha’s devotion to Krsna, “she becomes the mediator of his grace (prasada) and compassion (krpa)” (Hawley & Wulff 69). Krsna sends his love to his devotees through Radha and thus she is also worshipped alongside Krsna. In the Brahmavaivarta [One of the eighteen major Puranas], Krsna states that he will not grant moksa ( liberation) to anyone who does not honor Radha because her worship is more satisfying to him than his own (Hawley & Wulff 69).  Radha is also depicted as being an ideal devotee. The intensity of her undying love is seen as a model for followers. In many poems by various poets, including those mentioned above, Radha declares that she would choose death over separation from Krsna (Hawley & Wulff 29). Radha (devotee) is completely dedicated and attached to Krsna (God)


References and Further Recommended Reading

Hawley, John Stratton & Gosvami, Shrivatsa (1992) At Play with Krishna. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass.

Hawley, John Stratton & Wulff, Donna Marie (1982) The Divine Consort:Radha and Goddesses of India. California: Graduate Theological Union.

Keyt, George (1940) Sri Jayadeva’s Gita-Govinda: The Loves of Krsna & Radha.Bombay: Kutub-Popular Pvt. Ltd.

Kinsley, David R. (1979) The Divine Player (A Study of Krsna Lila).Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass.

Klaiman, M.H. (1984)Baru Candidasa Singing the Glory of Lord Krishna. California: Scholars Press and the American Academy of Religion.

Majumdar, Bimanbehari (1969) Krsna in History and Legend. Calcutta, India: Calcutta University Press.

Mukhopadhyay, Durgadas (1990) In Praise of Krishna: Translation of Gitagovinda of Jayadeva. Delhi, India: B.R. Publishing Corporation.

Redington, James D. (1983) Vallabhacarya on The Love Games of Krsna. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass.

Sanford, A. Whitney (1961) Singing Krishna: Sound Becomes Sight in Paramanand’s Poetry. New York: State University of New York Press.

Seth, Kailash Nath (2002) Gods and Goddesses of India. New Delhi, India: Diamond Pocket Books Pvt. Ltd.

Wilkins, W.J. (1975) Hindu Mythology: Vedic and Puranic. New Delhi, India: Rupa & Co.

Wulff, Donna M. (1984) Drama as a Mode of Religious Realization: The Vidagdhamadhava of Rupa Gosvami. Chico, California: Scholars Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Bhagavata Purana

Gaudiya Vaisnavism

Gopis

Hare Krsna

Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda

Krsna Janmashtami

Krsnaism

Mathura

Radhastami

Ras Lila

Rupa Gosvamin

Vidagdhamadhava

Vishnu

Vrindavan

Yamuna

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://hinduism.about.com/od/scripturesepics/a/lovelegends.htm

http://www.holifestival.org/legend-radha-krishna.html

http://www.iloveindia.com/spirituality/goddesses/radha/legends.html

Article written by: Maria Rana (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Jayadeva and the Gitagovinda


Among the myriad of Indian epic poets, Jayadeva, the twelfth century composer of the unparalleled Gitagovinda (Song of the Cowherd), stands alone as a poet of paramount prominence. As a fervent devotee of Krsna, there is a strong undercurrent of Vaisnava faith (the worship of Visnu or his associated avatars, principally as Rama and Krsna, as the original and supreme God) and bhakti (loving devotion) in his articulation as he sings of the mystical amours between Krsna and Radha. As Jayadeva elaborates the love of this cosmic duo, he creates an aesthetic atmosphere of sringararasa or erotic-mystical mood that is bliss for the devotees of Krsna. Indeed, the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva, divinely adorned and devotionally oriented, is a source of religious inspiration in both medieval and contemporary Vaisnavism [for a detailed analysis of Vaisnavism, see Dimock (1966)].

The widely renowned lyrical composition and religious eroticism of the Gitagovinda earned sainthood for Jayadeva, and has been a powerful influence on several genres of creative and performing arts in various parts of India. It is the incredibly vivid imagery of this devotional text finds itself as an ideal subject for India’s visual and performing arts (Kaminsky 2). It is Jayadeva’s intent, not only to rouse the devotional depths of the bhakta (those engaged in devotional worship or bhakti), but to transport one literally into the heart of the love scene. The sensory imagery of Jayadeva’s poetry allows the reader or devotee to be a honey bee on a lotus blossom: seeing, touching, smelling the flora and fauna of the enchanting Indian forest. One gets close enough to “taste the sweat glistening on the upper lip of the young maiden [Radha]”(Kaminsky 2), experiencing the beatific delights of sporting with her lover. The jingling of the bells draping Radha’s waist titillates and tantalizes the soul’s inner ear as the reader sways with the melodious motion of their lovemaking. For the bhakta, it is in the union of this woman and the deity in the form of a man that the soul can find a path to oneness with the cosmic essence of the divine [on the depiction of tangible and intangible elements in Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda, see Mahapatra (2008)].

The birth and life of Jayadeva are masked in the various legends and regional paeans of the provinces of West Bengal and Orissa, each province claiming him to be their own (Kaminsky 24). Indeed, after completing the Gitagovinda, such was Jayadeva’s fame and eminence, that numerous local versions of this legend grew into disagreeing traditions about Jayadeva’s origin and poetic activity. Contemporary scholars of Bengal, Orissa, and Mithila have published claims locating the hamlet of his birthplace in their respective regions. Indeed, two strong traditions say that “Kindubilva” mentioned in the Gitagovinda is either a village near Puri in Orissa or a village in the modern Birbhum district of Bengal. A third tradition recognizes the village of Kenduli near Jenjharpur in Mithila as Jayadeva’s place of birth (Miller 3-5). Sources are ambiguous on whether or not he wrote the Gitagovinda while he was the court poet of Laksmanasena Kam, the last Hindu king of Bengal (1179-1209) (Siegel 209-210), but it is generally accepted that after the completion of the Gitagovinda, Jayadeva and his wife went on a pilgrimage to Vrndavana.  For now, it is relatively safe to say that Jayadeva resided and wrote in eastern India during the latter half of the twelfth century (Miller 4).

Despite the difference in opinion of Jayadeva’s origin, all accounts that sanctify Jayadeva’s life reveal that he was born into a Brahman family and that he became a gifted student of Sanskrit and a skilled poet. In spite of this, he abandoned scholarship at a young age and assumed an ascetic life, devoting himself entirely to God. As a wandering poet and mendicant, he would not rest underneath the same tree for more than a night for fear that attachment to the place would breach his vow of asceticism (Miller 3).

His life of renunciation and denial came to an end when a Brahman in Puri (in Orissa along the eastern coast of India) claimed that the god Jagannatha, “Lord of the World” [Jagannatha is considered to be a form of Visnu, although some scholars maintain that Jagannatha was Buddha (also considered by Hindus to be the 9th avatara or incarnation of Visnu). Others assert that he is really Krsna, the 8th of Visnu’s avataras. For a more detailed analysis of Jagannatha see, Raya (1998)] himself had ordained the marriage of Jayadeva to the Brahman’s daughter. The Brahman’s daughter was Padmavati, a young girl who was dedicated as a devadasi (religious dancing girl who gave praise to the gods and shared the tales of their greatness through dance for devotees) in the temple. Jayadeva agreed to the marriage. Padmavati served her husband and he shared her devotion to Jagannatha. As Jayadeva composed, Padmavati would dance — whence came the inspiration for the Gitagovinda (Kaminsky 25).

While composing the Gitagovinda, Jayadeva envisioned the climax of Krsna’s supplication to Radha as a command for Radha to place her foot on Krsna’s head in a symbolic gesture of victory. But the poet was reluctant to complete the couplet, in respect to Krsna, which would place Radha in a position superior to that of Krsna, as well as commit an ancient taboo of touching anyone with the foot –a symbol of spiritual pollution (juta). Leaving the poem incomplete, Jayadeva went to bathe in a river and, as the story goes, in his absence Krsna appeared in his guise to complete the couplet; Krsna then ate the food Padmavati had prepared for Jayadeva and left. When Jayadeva returned, he realized that he had received divine affirmation in exalting Krsna’s loving relation to Radha.

The Gitagovinda, deceptively simple in its exterior beauty, that is, in its exotic and sensual crust, has an abundance of meaning embedded in structurally complex forms. It is expressed as a sequence of songs interspersed with recitative portions in cadenced forms of classical kavya verses (classi­cal Sanskrit verse) (Miller 7). There are twelve main parts which can be referred to as cantos, divisions of a long poem. The Sanskrit term for this is sargah and will be used from this point on. Within each sargah are short narratives and songs, and each song has a particular tala and raga associated with it. Talas are rhythmic cycles which lie beneath the structure of an Indian musical piece and a raga is a melodic form that evokes a particular mood, most of which are selected for specific times of day, year, weather conditions, emotional states. These states of emotion are known as rasa (Kaminsky 46-47).

Several types of Indian dance and vocal music tell the legends of Radha and Krsna through these musical modes and rhythmic cycles. As it has been generally acknowledged that Jayadeva was inspired by the religious dancing of his wife, this is a likely explanation for the melodic structure of the Gitagovinda (Kaminsky 47).

While dramatizing the amours of Krsna and Radha on the surface, the Gitagovinda simultaneously conveys the deep ethos of devotion of the individual soul, its yearning for God realization and finally achieving the consummation in service of God. Or again: outwardly it describes the love, separation, longing and union of Radha and Krsna, the cosmic duo, in the mystical forest, Vrindavan, along the bank of river Yamuna. But metaphysically it expresses the pining of the individual soul (jivatma) for the mystical union with the divine soul (paramatma). Indeed, in the words of one scholar: “through the thrilling love episode of Radha and Krsna, the poet Jayadeva takes us stage by stage to the highest pitch of God consciousness and God realization” (Tripathy 5).

Indeed, while the poem’s subject is the estrangement of Radha and Krsna caused by Krsna’s dalliances with the other gopies (cowherd girl), Radha’s anguish at Krsna’s abandonment, and the rapture which attends their final reunion, the poem reverts repeatedly to devotion of Krsna as God:

If in recalling Krsna to mind there is flavour

Or if there is interest in loves art

Then to this necklace of words–sweetness, tenderness,

Brightness–

The words of Jayadeva, listen ( Miller 69).

In fact, Jayadeva’s objective is inducing “recollection of Krsna in the minds of the good” (Archer 65) and inserts a vivid description of the Indian forest in springtime exclusively, he says, in order once again to stir up remembrance Krsna. When, at last, the poem has come elatedly to a close, Jayadeva again insists the reader to adore and venerate Krsna and “place him forever in their hearts, Krsna the source of all merit” (Archer 65).

The story of the Gitagovinda may be briefly told. The poem opens with a description of the occasion when Radha and Krsna first join in love together:

“Clouds thicken the sky.

Tamala trees darken the forest.

The night frightens him.

Radha, you take him home!”

They leave at Nanda’s order,

Passing trees in thickets on the way,

Until secret passions of Radha and Madhava [the epithet of Krsna which also means “honey like” and “vernal”]

Triumph on the Jumna riverbank (Miller 69).

In this way the love of Radha and Krsna arises — the love which is to govern their hearts with ever growing fervour. Next, the reader, or the devotee, is captivated by Krsna and Radha’s surroundings: the trees are lush and thick with leaves, and flowering creepers are intertwined within their branches–symbolic of the lovers’ embrace. Spring is fully aroused, the birds are lively, love is ripe in the air. The couple are dressed in splendid colours of gold, red, and yellow and they are draped in gold and pearls.

Krsna is the eighth avatara (incarnation) of Visnu, and the first sargah continues with the heart touching, vivid and melodious account of the ten incarnations based on the evolutionary process of the creation and development of the animal world, each of which “came to the rescue” in various ways. According to the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, when virtue subsides and vice prevails, God manifests himself to establish righteousness [It is on this that the theory of incarnations of God is based, see Tripathy 5-9].

The poem then leaps a period of time and when the drama opens, a crises has occurred. Radha, after long enjoying Krsna’s passionate embraces, finds herself abruptly abandoned. Radha‘s friend, sakhi, tells her of Krsna’s amorous play with the other gopies, his feet stroked by one of them, his head cushioned on the bosom of another whose “heaving breasts are tenderly outspread to pillow it” (Miller 76). One beautiful damsel murmurs sweet words of praise into his ear, others care for him tenderly. He himself embraces one of them, kisses another and fondles a third (Archer 93).

As Radha broods on his behaviour, she is filled with bitter sadness; Radha’s yearning and lamenting in a faltering voice choked by heavy tears made even the water birds weep sorrowfully (Miller 1975: 659-665). Yet her love for Krsna is so strong she cannot bring herself to blame him. Radha’s pain of separation (viraha) from Krsna draws her interest away from worldly concerns and leads to meditation on Krsna which is the essence of bhakti that leads to the attainment of spiritual union with Krsna who is the quintessence of divinity (Siegel 66). It is Radha’s intuitive, unfaltering, all-inclusive dedication to union with Krsna which serves as a paradigm for many followers of bhakti. In this sense, one scholar has commented: “the pain of separation from the divine is in itself a source for joy as it encourages, or forces, one to meditate on the qualities with which one longs to unite” (Kaminsky 27).

As Radha sits longing for him in misery, Krsna suddenly repents, is filled with remorse and abruptly goes in quest of her. He does not know, however, where to find her and as he wanders he expresses his grief. The third Sargah reveals Krsna as he searches for Radha and laments:

She saw me surrounded in the crowd of women

And went away

I was too ashamed,

Too afraid to stop her.

Damn me! My wanton ways

Made her leave in anger (Miller 82).

Seated alone in his arbor of love, Krsna dwells on the thought of his devotee, Radha, and presently Sakhi comes to him to assure him of her passionate love for him. Without him she cannot bear to live, for every moment is filled with suffering and misery. Surely he, the source of love, will respond to her need.

It is well into the evening, the crescent moon in the sky. It looks as if Krsna will spend the night alone in misery. It is said that because of her ego, the Lord, Krsna was kept away. Due to Radha’s jealousy, or impure thoughts, Krsna, as the divine, is unable to reach her (Greenlees xvi). The idea here is that without ego, one is released to accept god’s grace.

Then, well into the darkness of the night, Sakhi finally convinces Radha to overcome her jealousy and pride which have been keeping her apart from her beloved. The scene is exceedingly dark, but the rushing Yamuna river coming from between the feminine curves of the undulating hills can be seen. Sakhi coaxes Radha to enter the bower of Krsna who sits in anticipation. In this way, Sakhi is like the guru who is responsible for uniting the human soul with the Divine (Kuppuswamy 41):

Loosen your clothes, until your belt, open your loins!

Radha, your gift of delight is like treasure in a bed of vines.

In woods on the wind-swept Jumna bank,

Krsna waits in wildflower garlands (Miller 93).

Krsna is splendid in his brilliance. His gold and pearl jewellery, white floral garland, and the white of his eyes brighten the darkness and provoke Radha to come to him. Now, Radha becoming less timid raises her eyes to meet those of Krsna. One can get a sense of an impending passionate unite.

The subsequent stanzas of the poem then reveal a reversal of devotion. Krsna asks Radha to place her feet on his head and declares his devotion to her. God is expressing his dedication to the human soul. Or as later Vaisnava texts have revealed, Radha is actually a goddess sprung from Krsna’s divineness (Kaminsky 49).

To the delight of the reader, or devotee, the lonely night ends with the ecstatic reunion (samyoga) of the lovers. The entire twelfth sargah offers the reader the full flavour of the ecstatic reunion of Radha and Krsna:

When her friend had gone

Smiles spread on Radha’s lips

While love’s deep fantasies

Struggled with her modesty

Seeing the mood in Radha’s heart,

Hari spoke to his love;

Her eyes were fixed

On his bed of buds and tender shoots (Miller 122).

Jayadeva continues:

[Radha’s] beautiful loins are a deep cavern to take the thrusts of love–

Cover them with jewelled girdles, clothes, and ornaments, Krsna! (Miller 124).

Finally Radha, the individual soul (jivatma), has achieved union with Krsna, the divine soul (paramatma).  Then with a final remembrance of Krsna as God and celebration of the song itself — its words “sweeter than sugar, like loves own glorious flavour” — the poem ends.

The dramaturgy and the poetics in the Gitagovinda have been skilfully crafted to touch the innermost core of the disciple and inspire the noblest of emotions. For this reason it is a literary legacy of India. Its spiritual essence, mystical imports, erotic undertones, sensory imagery and lyrical fluidity have perplexed critics, bewildered scholars, mystified saints, enthralled lovers, enlightened devotees and engaged people at large emotionally and sentimentally. Jayadeva, through his mystical love songs, has brought to light the strong desire of individuals for communion with divinity, and this mysticism has created extensive philosophical and metaphysical connotations that have had a profound influence on the religious outlook and spiritual psyche of devotees.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Archer, W.G (1957) The Loves of Krsna in Indian Painting and Poetry. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

Dimock. E. C (1966) The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism in the Vaisnava- sahajiya Cult of Bengal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Greenlees, Duncan (1979) The song of divine love: Gita-Govinda of Sri Jayadeva. Madras: Kalakshetra Publications.

Kaminsky, Alison M (1988) Radha: The Blossoming of Indias Flower in art and Literature. PhD diss., Long Beach: California State University.

Kuppuswamy, Gowri and Muthuswamy Hariharan (1980) Jayadeva and Gītagōvinda: a study. Michigan: College Book House.

Mahapatra, Gadadhar (2008) “Depiction of Tangible and Intangible Elements of Nature in Gita Govinda Kavyam.” Orissa Review 14.10, pp. 22-27.

Miller, Barbara Stoler (1975) “Radha: Consort of Krsna’s Vernal Passion.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 95.4.

Miller, Barbara Stoler (1977) The Gitagovinda of Jayadeva: Love Song of the Dark Lord. New York: Columbia University Press.

Raya, Bidyutlata (1998) Jagannātha cult: origin, rituals, festivals, religion, and philosophy. Michigan: Kant Publications.

Siegel, Lee (1978) Sacred and Profane Dimensions of Love in Indian Traditions as Exemplified in the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Avatara

Bhakti

Brahman

Devadasis

Gopi

Guru

Jagannatha

Jagannatha temple

Jivatma

Juta

Kavya

Krsna

Laksmanasena Kam

Orissa

Parematma

Radha

Raga

Rasa

Srimad Bhagavad Gita

Tala

Vasnavism

Visnu

Yamuna river

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.geetagovinda.org/Jayadev.html

http://www.goloka.com/docs/gita_govinda/index.html

http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/J/Jayadeva/index.htm

http://vodpod.com/watch/84037-kelucharan-mohapatra-orissi-dance-gita-govinda

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BNcIjWTwBo&feature=PlayList&p=2CEA33B0D977D011&index=2

Article written by: Stephenie Madany (April 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Rama

The Hindu epics are a source of entertainment and religious guidance. Today, Rama, the titular character of the Hindu epic, The Ramayana, is seen as the ideal man, who follows dharma to rigid perfection. The Ramayana, one of the two great Hindu epics, continues to have great significance today, despite being originally composed approximately two thousand years ago. While there are thousands of variations of the epic across southern Asia, its original authorship is attributed to the sage Valmiki, who lived sometime between 200 BC and 200 AD. Rama, who is married to the ideal woman, Sita, is portrayed and celebrated today as enacting true dharma in his role as son, brother, husband and member of the ksatriya class. He is also recognized as the “incarnation of Visnu in his role as Supreme God” (Gonzalez-Reimann 203).

The Ramayana is an epic that contains over 20,000 verses. Within these verses are the adventures surrounding Rama, son of King Dasaratha of Ayodhya, and heir to its throne. Laksmana, Rama’s half-brother and inseparable companion accompanies the hero throughout his many adventures. Both Laksmana and Sita, Rama’s wife, accompany him into a fourteen-year exile to the forests, during which the trio meet with various sages, encounter and defeat demons, and learn the ways of a forest-dweller. Much of Rama’s tale centers on his rescue of Sita from Ravana, a ten headed raksasas. While Rama’s adventures within The Ramayana provide entertainment, it is his action and philosophical reasoning that provide Hindus with direction in regard to dharma.

Rama is portrayed as one who is the “embodiment of…infinite virtues” (Bhattacharji 32). He is the obedient son, ready to “give up the throne and go into exile to redeem his father’s pledge” (Bhattacharji 43). Rama displays great love and faith in his brothers, trusting that Bharata would adhere to duty, caring for his throne during his banishment, and eventually restoring him. Rama’s love for even his wife Sita “became subsidiary and insignificant in comparison with love for the brother” (Bhattacharji 36). Living as a forest-dweller, he killed demons to protect sages, for “as a prince he was obligated to exercise the protective function of the warrior class” (Goldman 34). Ruler of Ayodhya for 11,000 years after his banishment, Rama “was a true warrior hero with a strict code of heroism” (Bhattacharji 43).

Large Rama Statue, Bali

Rama’s fame for his goodness has led to an expectation among readers and followers that he is pure, and acts righteously in all circumstances. Supported and “reinforced by scholars who have…their own expectations” (Stewart et al. 244) of Rama, it is often the case that Rama is seen as a flat divinity, one that is non-complex: he is good, therefore he is dharmic. This however is not the case; Rama is complex, whether portrayed as man or as god incarnate, and strays from the righteous path from time to time. Rama’s slaying of the monkey king Vali from behind a tree “violated the fundamental law of combat by striking at the enemy from behind” (Bhattacharji 36). In killing from behind, undercover, and an individual whom Rama had had no personal conflict with, he sacrificed the ksatriya codes of honor to increase his chances of finding Sita.

Although Sita, as the ideal woman, follows her dharma and willingly stays at her husband’s side and places her complete faith, love and allegiance with him. Rama does not do his wife justice, frequently disregarding Sita’s love for him. He fails to protect her from physical harm and dishonor. Upon his rescue of her, his main goal, he reveals, was not to rescue his beloved wife, “but to ensure the piety of his… lineage” (Bhattacharji 40). Despite unshakeable proof of Sita’s chastity, Rama abandons and humiliates her three times, doubting her devotion to him.

During the rare times that Rama strays from the path of dharma, it is often for his own personal gain and image. Rama kills Vali to gain the help of the monkey king to find Sita, and avenge his tarnished image. He belittles Sita, viewing her as tainted, something that he can no longer enjoy. For his personal and family honor, he doubts her purity thrice, despite receiving ample proof and being reproached by the gods that she has stayed true to Rama alone. While scholars have discussed and critiqued Rama for his cowardly killing of Vali, and his frequent betrayal and abandonment of Sita, no explanation has truly been given that adequately explains these few transgressions from the dharmic path (Goldman 35-36). Despite these few flaws in his righteousness, Rama is still considered today as the example of the ideal man, the incarnate of the god Visnu.

Visnu is one of the most prominent gods in the Hindu tradition. Within Hinduism, Visnu has a tradition of returning to earth in varying incarnations or avatars to carry out or ameliorate dharmic situations. Rama, who, throughout the epic continuously acts dharmically, kills the demon Ravana near the end of the story. This, according to Gonzalez-Reimann, is the main reason for Rama’s assumed divinity within Valmiki’s Ramayana. Rama’s incarnation as “the great god Narayana…Visnu, Krsna and Prajapati” (Gonzalez-Reimann 208) creates an identity that is a “combination of man and god” (Gonzalez-Reimann 210). As an avatara of Visnu, Rama embodies the “protector of society and brahmanical dharma”(Gonzalez-Reimann 207). Because Rama is the representation of dharmic action, and because he is associated with the god Visnu in this way, like Visnu himself (who has a group of followers dedicated primarily to him), Rama today has an important role in some forms of Hindu worship.

Built into the very social structure of society, the Hindu practice of renunciation lays the path to knowing and awareness of the Self and moksa. The practice of devotionalism, or bhakti, can and does take many forms within Hinduism, varying from elaborate to simple offerings, or prayers. Devotionalism can be given to a single or multiple deities. Ram bhakti, which is a movement that was founded by Swami Ramananda in the 16th century, attempts to gain liberation from bondage by transferring “emotional attachments…to the spiritual realm”(Lamb 582). Of the numerous religious texts that have been written on the topic, none have been quite so influential as Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas. A revision of Valmiki’s The Ramayana, the text is immensely popular, and “has ultimately set the tenor for Ram bhakti…providing ideal examples for family and society relationships, for righteous action, and for selfless devotion” (Lamb 580). Followers of Ram bhakti show devotionalism through the chanting of prayers or repetition of Rama’s name. Ultimately, the relationship aspired to between devotees and the Divine is paralleled to the relationship of Rama and Hanuman; the relationship “is one of Ram[a] as lord and master” (Lamb 582).

The main character and hero of Valmiki’s The Ramayana, Rama is the righteous prince of Ayodhya, whom, accompanied by his brother and wife, has many adventures in both fictitious and actual places. Acting always in the right, Rama gives an example to modern followers of the correct way to follow dharma. Despite some of his actions being critiqued as unrighteous and morally wrong in today’s world, such actions were more or less seen as socially acceptable at the time of the epic’s composition, and Rama is still seen as the ideal man, in part due to his role as an incarnation of Visnu. Based on this fact, religious orders such as Ram bhakti have been fashioned after Rama’s example. Despite being created thousands of years ago, Rama still has relevance today, providing entertainment, rules of social etiquette, and religious prescriptions for people around the globe.

Bibliography and Related Readings

Bhattacharji, Sukumari. “A Revaluation of Valmiki’s ‘Rama.’” Social Scientist. 30.½ (2002), pp. 31-49.

Goldman, Robert P. The Ramayana Revisited. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Gonzalez-Reimann, Luis. “The Divinity of Rama in the Ramayana of Valmiki.”Journal of Indian Philosophy. 34.1 (2006), pp. 203-220.

Lamb, Ramdas. “Devotion, Renunciation, and Rebirth in the Ramananda Sampraday.” Crosscurrents. Winter (2007), pp. 578-590.

Stewart, Tony K. and Dimock, Edward C. (2001) “Krttibasa’s Apophatic Critique of Rama’s Kingship.” Questioning Ramayanas. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Related Topics

Visnu

Avatara

Sita

Bhakti

Valmiki

Dharma

Ayodhya

Tulsidas

Swami

Ramananda

Sadhana

Ravana

Raksasas

Hanuman

Vali

Laksmana

Ksatriya

Vanaprastha

Lanka

Samnyasin

Related Websites

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rama

http://www.valmikiramayan.net/

http://www.cs.ucdavis.edu/~vemuri/classes/freshman/RamayanaSynopsis.htm

Written by Lara Ulrich (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Krsna


As a manifestation of Visnu, Krsna is the creator of his creatures, while also the loving god to his devotees (Sheth 77). Krsna has been called Brahman, the most supreme, the highest self, and the highest bliss, among others (Sheth 80). He has been referred to as a manifestation, or avatara also of Narayana, “Lord of the Universe”. Narayana is another name for Visnu or the original man, purusa. Krsna is one of the two more famous avatars of Visnu, Rama being the other. Krsna is probably more popular than Rama, however, as he fulfills almost every human need. As the divine child, he satisfies the maternal instincts of womanhood. As the divine lover, he gives romantic fulfillment and freedom of sexual expression. He can even save the sinner from evil rebirths (Schweig 16). Although considered by some to be an incarnation of Visnu, Krsna stands alone due to his unusual adoration (Bhandarkar 59).

Krsna’s life spanned from around 3228 BCE to 3102 BCE, according to scriptural documentation (Rosen 124). The earliest mention of Krsna is found in the Chandogya-upanisad (Majumdar 2). He appeared in Mathura, India and spent his youth as a cowherd or gopa in the nearby Northern village of Gokula. He lived with his ‘father’, Nanda, the ruler of the village, along with his ‘mother’ Yasoda and his brother Balarama (Hudson 5). This is where Krsna’s first mischievous yet endearing thieveries took place (Rosen 130). Krsna is also portrayed in texts such as the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa, the Visnu-purana and the Bhagavata-purana. The Harivamsa portrays Krsna as a hero while the Visnu-purana and the Bhagavata-purana portray him as divine (Sheth 43). Some view Krsna as a deity while others view him as a prince who was deified. Some believe he is a real historical person (Majumdar 279) and others as an Indian form of Christ (Couture 38).

Vaisnavism is said to be the most strictly theistic among traditions within the Hindu complex as it claims devotion, or bhakti as both a means and an end. Vaisnavism is the term used for all the devotional traditions dedicated to the worship of Visnu and his avatars (Schweig 15). Vaisnavism was first called Ekantika Dharma, the religion of a single-minded love and devotion to one. It appeared as a religious reform based on theistic principles (Bhandarkar 142). More and more elements have been added to Vaisnavism over time such as the worship of the cowherd boy, Krsna, because of his marvelous deeds and amorous frolicking with the cowherdesses, or gopis. He then came to be regarded as a god and another element was added: the worship of Krsna along with his mistress Radha (Bhandarkar 143). Some Vaisnava groups view Krsna as the source of Visnu and not as a manifestation (Rosen 124).

Someone in full Krsna consciousness uses everything for Krsna’s service and is always liberated from false egoism (Prabhupada 93). The devotee desires nothing for himself but can seek prosperity for others as this is what the Lord wants. (Hudson 25). Schweig calls the devotion to Krsna “theistic intimacy” as Krsna is a god that presents his closest or innermost relationships of love (14). It is significant that what Krsna devotees desire is not moksa (liberation), not freedom from entanglement in samsara, the cycle of repeated births, but continuous “entanglement” in Krsna. They want nothing more than to serve him intimately forever, even if such intimate service may depend upon their own continuous rebirth with him rather than upon release (Hudson 9). Even when the gopis do not purify themselves through ritual bathing or proper actions before rushing to offer themselves to him, Krsna still receives them because it is their intense longing for him that causes their behavior. Receiving the gopis turns all their past and future faults to cotton that will burn up and leave no trace behind (Hudson 26). All devotees seek to emulate the gopis’ pure and consummate devotion to Krsna (Rosen 122).

Krsna is frequently depicted with his female counterpart, Goddess Radha (Schweig 15). Radha has been called the supreme goddess. She embodies all the gopis and all other goddesses. Although Krsna has intimate relationships with all the gopis, Radha is a special gopi; she is Krsna’s supreme gopi (Schweig 19). Many devotees of Krsna worship Radha with him. Their relationship is said to be light, playful, and amusing, leaving out work, worry and anger (Kinsley 84).

If there is one god that is more playful than the others, it is Krsna. Krsna is often called a ‘playful lover’ and he is often engaged in playful actions. Krsna’s actions are called play, or lila, because he is completely fulfilled. His actions are not purposeful; they come from an overflowing abundance (Kinsley 1). Sheth attempts to give evidence to Krsna’s divinity by stating that because his actions are pure, purposeless play, Krsna is unlike a finite being (82). He is commonly worshipped in the form of a baby or child, whose very nature is to play (Kinsley 61). As a child, he is known for his mischief, but his misbehavior is unique in that it purifies and heals all who take part in them rather than evoking concern (Rosen 132). Even when wrestling with enemies, Krsna appears as if he is playing (Sheth 84).

Krsna’s maya, which can be defined as the power to change form or an illusion, is used as a veil when in human form so that during encounters with people, they will not treat him like a god but as another human. For example, when Krsna’s parents realized his divinity, he spread maya on them so that they would continue their parental affection for him (Sheth 89). Another power of Krsna’s is that he can destroy, or heal simply with his touch. He can kill enemies or turn someone beautiful just by touching them (Sheth 91). In his Visnu form, Krsna carries four weapons. In two hands, he carries a lotus flower and a conch shell. These are to assure his devotees that they cannot be vanquished. In the other two hands, he carries a club and a disc. These weapons are meant for the non-devotees to bring them to their senses and remind them that there is the Supreme Lord above them (Prabhupada 21). More distinguishing of Krsna, is a bamboo flute held up to his mouth with both arms. He also carries a herding stick and a buffalo horn. Schweig shows the importance of Krsna’s flute by quoting from a Sanskrit poetic verse, the Krishna Karnamrita, that people would wait to hear Krsna play his flute so that om might sound (24).

Krsna is noted to be strikingly beautiful and youthful, and that he is beauty himself. His speech and his odor are equally as beautiful and it is said that one may find Krsna by his irresistible smell (Kinsley 75). In almost every Vaisnave-Krsna work, Krsna’s physical appearance is revered (Kinsley 77). He usually wears a silk, yellow garment, an ornament with a peacock feather on his head, and a garland made of fresh flowers and leaves. He is a deep blue color, frequently compared to a dark raincloud (Schweig 23). Krsna is so beautiful that even though he wears ornaments, it is his body that enhances the ornaments he wears (Rosen 122). Krsna’s charm and beauty are not purposeless however; they are to allure humanity back to the transcendental realm (Rosen 157).

No other figure in the history of Indian culture has given rise to as much controversy as Krsna (Majumdar 1). He is an extremely powerful, playful, and loving god. Krsna is the true friend of all souls because, when he kills, he not only protects his devotees but, he liberates those that he kills (Schweig 23). Krsna gives salvation not only to his devotees, but also to those who hate him (Sheth 77). Krsna is also multi-faceted as seen in texts such as the Mahabharata, where he exhibits qualities of a philosopher, warrior, friend, lord, husband, charioteer, and guru (Rosen 122). In essence, loving Krsna is synonymous with loving God. In Hinduism, even though there is a hierarchy of sorts, the absolute nature of a god and his name are one (Rosen 220). Krsna eventually returned to the spiritual realm after ridding the world of its worst demons and establishing dharma, or righteousness (Rosen 136). His appearance in this world is claimed to be for the benefit of humankind, to remind us of our real life in the spiritual realm (Rosen 125).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Bhandarkar, Ramkrishna Gopal (1995) Vaisnavism, Saivism and Minor Religious Systems. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services.

Couture, Andre (2002) Krsna’s initiation at Sāndīpani’s hermitage. Numen, 49(1), 37-60. Retrieved March 3, 2009, from ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials database.

Hudson, Dennis (1980) Bathing in Krishna : a study in Vaisnava Hindu theology. Harvard Theological Review, 73(3-4), 539-566. Retrieved February 28, 2009, from ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials database.

Kinsley, David R. (1979) The Divine Player: A Study of Krsna Lila. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Majumdar, Bimanbehari (1969) Krsna in History and Legend. Calcutta: Calcutta University Press.

Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (1970) Krsna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead. New York: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism – The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online

Books, Ltd.

Rosen, Steven J. (2006) Essential Hinduism. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Schweig, Graham M. (2004) “Krishna, the Intimate Deity.” The Hare Krishna Movement: The Postcharismatic Fate of a Religious Transplant. Ed. Edwin F. Bryant & Maria L. Ekstrand. New York: Columbia University Press, 13-30.

Sheth, Noel S.J. (1984) The Divinity of Krishna. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

RELATED TOPICS FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Avatara

Bhagavata Purana

Chandogya Upanisad

Gopa

Gopis

Govinda

Hare Krnsa Movement

Harivamsa

Lila

Mahabharata

Maya

Narayana

Purusa

Radha

Rama

Vaisnavism

Visnu

Visnu Purana

NOTEWORTHY WEBSITED RELATED TO THE TOPIC

www.krishna.com

http://www.pantheon.org/articles/k/krishna.html

http://www.sanatansociety.org/hindu_gods_and_goddesses/krishna.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krishna

http://krishna.org/

Article written by: Annie Siegrist (March 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Vamana Avatar

The Hindu deity Visnu is said to have had nine avatars with a tenth still to come (McLeish 1). The fifth of these is the Vamana avatar, the dwarf avatar. The dwarf avatar is said to have been of Brahmin nature. Although the avatars are interpreted differently throughout devotional literature; however, all writings address the avatar as being Brahminic in nature (Soifer 114). The reason for the need of avatars is not certain. However, a rationale is provided in the Bhagavad Gita in the words of Krsna “Whenever the dharma withers away and adharma arises, then do I send myself forth. For the protection of good, for the destruction of evil-doers, for the establishment of the dharma do I come into being age after age” (Bhagavad Gita 4.7-8). This statement makes clear that avatars descend to earth to correct the wrong doings and protect the innocent from evil. Visnu’s fifth avatar was no exception from this rule. The dwarf was sent to destroy the forces of Bali. In the thirty different versions of the myth, there at least two which are identical to the other texts (Soifer 113). While there are many versions of the myth, certain elements remain consistent.

The Vamana (Dwarf) Avatara of Visnu (Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi)

All twenty-eight different versions of the myth have small variations, but do not alter the overall meaning. “[I]t would be safe to suggest that nearly any version could be picked and exhibited as ‘typical’” (Soifer 114).The Vedas, the Brahmanas and the Puranas are major texts containing myths of the Vamana avatar. These differences can be put into context by three varying patterns [Deborah Soifer illustrates these three patterns in great detail in her book (114-115); I provide only a brief overview]. The first variance is that Bali is a typical demon, whose desire is to cause havoc and is ignorant of Visnu’s greater power. The second presents a topsy turvey point; Bali is presented as a demon that does good, which is dangerous because he is in violation of Svadharma (one’s own obligatory duty, based on one’s caste, gender, or social position). In the myths containing this skewed view, Bali was able to win heaven by using a boon given to him by Brahma for his sternness. The third variance is that Bali willingly gives his kingdom to the dwarf. This gives a view of the demon’s dependence on the gods of Hinduism. We can correlate these three patterns to time periods using motifs that are present in the myth. The first variance can be linked to the Vedic period, the second to the post-Vedic period, and the third is characteristic of the bhakti period. Having looked at the varying patterns of the myth, we can obtain a greater understanding pertaining to the development of the myth over time.

The purpose of the dwarf avatar is that Visnu had been asked to descend to earth by Indra in order to end king Bali’s reign, and to make the earth less like heaven so that the gods can once again gain control (Soifer 119). The purpose of the dwarf avatar, being Brahminic in nature, appears to be for keeping a logical flow to the myth, because only the Brahmins receive gifts before a sacrifice (Soifer 123). The dwarf’s arrival is at the moment when Bali about to perform a sacrifice, which is when Brahmins are given gifts. The sacrifice differs from myth to myth. In many myths it is said to be an Asvamedha ceremony; others say it was a twelve-year sacrifice. If it were to be an Asvamedha ceremony it would have furthered the significance of Indra asking Visnu to descend to earth. Had Bali been commencing the last of one hundred horse sacrifices he would have become Indra. The dwarf hinders this by going to receive his present from Bali before the sacrifice begins. For his gift he requests three paces of land. In one myth Sukra asks that Bali give nothing to the dwarf, and Bali chooses to ignore his forewarning. In the rest of the myths Sukra conveyed his opinion more strongly. He attempts to prevent the water from being poured onto the dwarf’s hands, which would seal the deal. Going against Sukra’s wishes, Bali makes the deal with the dwarf. In some myths Sukra is so enraged that he curses Bali to lose his kingdom. Once the deal between Bali and the Vamana avatar had been sealed, it is said that the dwarf returns to his gigantic size and steps around the universe in three steps, therefore allowing Bali to keep reign over the underworld. In other myths the dwarf steps around the universe in only two strides and with the last, steps on Bali. An interesting aspect of this myth is that Visnu’s trickery, in playing the role of a dwarf, is never dealt with. Technically this is an Adharmic act on his part, because he has won on a foul. Interestingly, Bali never complains of the loss due to the trickery. Depending on the version of the myth, only Bana, Sukra and Prahlada call foul. Bali readily accepts defeat. (see Soifer 116-119)

The Vamana avatar remains a popular Indian myth; it is a common choice for dance-dramas in many cultures (Bloomsbury Dictionary of Myth). This popularity can be linked to the many versions of this myth. There are varying parts to the myth although the meaning remains the same. While we may not fully understand the significance of certain parts of the myth, it has remained popular and brought further understanding to those who have read it.

References and Further Recommended Readings

Soifer, Deborah (1950) The Myths of Narasimha and Vāmana: 2 Avatars in Cosmological Perspective. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Flick, Hugh M, Jr. (1993) “The Myths of Narasimha and Vāmana: 2 Avatars in Cosmological Perspective.” Asian Folklore Studies 52.1 237-238.

Related topics

Visnu Purana

Avatar

Visnu

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vamana

http://0-www.credoreference.com.darius.uleth.ca/entry.do?id=2121350&hh=1&secid=.

Article written by: Meaghan Lightheart (March 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Lord Krsna

Krsna is possibly one of the most recognizable gods of the Hindu pantheon. He is the playful child, divine lover, and the wise friend, the ever-present beauty in the world. In most common images of him he is depicted with blue skin as a reference to his divine nature and his association with Visnu. Poets and devotees have sung praises of Krsna’s otherworldly grace and beauty. There is nothing that is unworthy of praise as his beauty is all encompassing; it is even said that he was accompanied with a scent so fragrant it was to be irresistible, and that his companions could locate him by it (Kinsley 1975: 24-25). Such is the beauty of Krsna that the goal of devotees is to see him in a vision, or gain a place in his heavenly realm of Vrndavana in their afterlife (Kinsley 1975: 25).

Vrndavana, became the highest heavenly realm of Krsna, but was first his childhood home where the Bhagavata-purana tells how he spent his days in blissful mischief, such as his notorious butter thievery (Kinsley 1975: 14). The shenanigans of Krsna’s childhood reveal the concept of lila. As a child Krsna is compelled to pursue pleasure for pleasure’s sake; it is the innocent pursuit of play for the sake of amusement in itself. He is unrestrained by the perceptions and social boundaries that permeate adulthood, and is therefore able to revel in every desire and impulse to which he feels inclined (Kinsley 1975: 15). Krsna is accepted as a prince, although he was forced into exile for his own security, for fear of his uncle Kamsa (Majumdar 1969: 2). Kamsa was the king of the city of Mathura, and his sister’s name was Devaki. When Devaki was married to a man named Vasudeva, it brought to Kamsa’s mind an old prophecy which spoke of the destruction of his lineage by the eighth child of Devaki. Kamsa became resolved to kill any children born of Devaki, and he had her and her husband locked away. It was then that the fetus of Devaki’s seventh son, was transferred by Visnu into the womb of Vasudeva’s other wife, and it was this son who grew to be Krsna’s brother Balarama. Devaki’s eighth son was smuggled to safety and switched with the daughter of Yasoda and Nanda, two humble cowherds. When Kamsa came to see Devaki’s child, the daughter of Yasoda and Nanda revealed herself as the Goddess, or Devi, and told Kamsa that the eighth child, Krsna, was indeed beyond his reach and would eventually be his undoing (Rodrigues, 313).

Large bas-relief depicting the god Krsna holding aloft Mount Govardhana to protect his fellow cowherds from Indra's thunderstorm; Mahabalipuram, India
Large bas-relief depicting the god Krsna holding aloft Mount Govardhana to protect his fellow cowherds from Indra’s thunderstorm; Mahabalipuram, India

Kamsa sent many demons to destroy Krsna, however many of them became nothing more than new sources of amusement for the young god. In the Bhagavata-purana there is the story of the demoness Putana who comes to Krsna in the guise of a beautiful young woman. She begs the favor of Krsna’s mother Yasoda, in allowing her to suckle the young baby Krsna, which Yasoda grants her. Krsna, however, sees through the façade, and when the demoness takes him to her poison covered breasts, he is untouched by the poison and instead drains out her life (Kinsley 1975, 20). The Bhagavata-purana was written circa 10th century C.E., and discusses the first eleven years of Krsna’s life at Vraja, which he spent living amongst the cowherds (Krsna in History and Legend, 56).

An extremely popular myth cycle concerns the compelling relationships between Krsna and the cowherd woman, the gopis. As an overwhelmingly attractive young man, Krsna seems to enjoy a large part of his youth as a rampant womanizer; however, his fondness for these women and the dynamics of his relations with the gopis, are of a greater substance than that. The gopis exist as representations of those who would aspire to intimacy with the divine; they are that which all devotees of Krsna should aspire to be (Kinsley 1979: 77). The gopis mentioned in the earlier Vaisnava Puranas are not the more polished entertainers they become in such later texts, such as the Brahma-vaivarta-purana and the Govinda-lilamrta. First depicted as more pastoral, they eventually become the inspiring adornments of his heavenly realm of Vrndavana. It is the relationship between Krsna and one particular gopi, Radha, that has gained more modern notority. David Kinsley states that Krsna’s lovemaking should be examined in its relations to the gopis as a group, or to a particular gopi such as Radha (Kinsley 1979: 78). This is because these relations with the gopis are symbolic to the personal relationships between the divine and its devotees.

The Bhagavadgita reveals Krsna as the teacher and as the divine. In it Krsna is a charioteer for his friend Arjuna, and counsels him before a coming battle. He reveals himself as the 8th avatar of Visnu and teaches Arjuna the path of bhakti-yoga (Kinsley 1975: 57). Bhakti means devotion, and is offered by Krsna as the ultimate means of salvation. It becomes a central concept to those who follow Krsna, as calling on his divinity will bring that individual salvation (Kinsley 1975: 57). Krsna could be viewed as the embodiment of Hindu devotionalism, and the history of his worship displays many periods in which the concept of bhakti has been expressed in differing ways. In the 7th to 10th centuries in southern India, bhakti was seen as ardent love, which gave way to bhakti cults (Kinsley 1975: 59-60). Krsna is capable of inspiring such passion because of his relatable nature, and his differing aspects; he can be approached as a son, a teacher, a friend, a lover, a confidant, and a god. As Krsna changed, so too did the concept of bhakti. The gopis become the true symbol of what it means to be a devotee of Krsna, for even in the strict social confines of Hindu society they ignore these social boundaries in order to bring themselves closer to the pure state of being that is Krsna (Kinsley 1975: 65). Ever enigmatic, Krsna allows one to explore his nature and through the sheer delight of discovering him, uncover one’s own true self.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Kinsley, David R. The Sword and the Flute: Kali and Krsna, Dark visions of the

Terrible and Sublime in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975.

Kinsley, David R. The Divine Player (A study of Krsna Līlā). Delhi: Motilal

Banarsidass, 1979.

Majumdar, Bimanbehari. Krsna in History and Legend. Centre of Advanced Study in

Ancient Indian History and Culture: University of Calcutta, Lectures and Seminars No. III-A. India: University of Calcutta Press, 1969.

Rodrigues, Hillary. Hinduism – The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online

Books, Ltd, 2006.

Related Topics

Visnu

Ananda

Kali

Lila

Radha diacritic

Devi

Bhagavadgita

Rama

Sita

Mahabharata

Ramayana

Noteworthy Websites about Krsna

www.krishna.com

www.vedabase.net/sb/

www.dlshq.org/religions/esoteric_avatara.htm

www.exoticindiaart.com/article/krishnaimage

Article written by: Stephanie McNiven (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Krsna (Birth and Childhood)


According to his mythology, Krsna first appeared on this earth 5000 years ago (Bhaktivedanta xii) and was considered to be an incarnation (avatara) of the Vedic god Visnu (Preciado-Solis 1). There are a number of ancient Hindu texts which are important sources for the mythology of Krsna, including the Harivamsa and the Puranas. In the Harivamsa, Krsna is portrayed to the greatest extent in heroic human colors as opposed to the Visnu and Bhagavata Puranas which places emphasis on his divinity (Sheth 43). At the request of Brahma, as described in the Harivamsa, the great god Visnu attends an assembly of the gods where he is informed that the demon Kalanemin was born again into the human form of the wicked King Kamsa, who is harassing people on earth. According to this myth, Kalanemin could only be destroyed by Visnu as the demon fears only him (Sheth 7). Deciding to kill Kamsa, Visnu disguises himself with his yogic power and descends into the house of Vasudeva (a former sage born again as a cowherd) and his two wives Devaki and Rohini (Sheth 8). There are slight variations between the Harivamsa and the Visnu and Bhagavata Puranas regarding the knowledge Kamsa receives from the sage Narada, but both agree that the evil king knows he will be killed by the eighth child of Devaki, his father’s sister. In some versions Kamsa is informed the eighth child will be an incarnation of Visnu. In others, Kamsa already considers every child born of Devaki to be Visnu (Sheth 43). Since Kamsa plots to kill every child Devaki bears, Visnu made Devaki’s first six born be the reborn demon sons of Kalanemin. The Harivamsa tells how Devaki’s seventh child was extracted from her womb by the goddess Nidra, and transposed into the womb of Rohini. The seventh child born was called Sankarsana (Balarama), the brother and companion of Krsna in his future heroic exploits (Sheth 8).

Born as the eighth child of Devaki, Visnu is immediately interchanged at birth by Vasudeva with Nanda and Yasoda’s (husband and wife who herded Kamsa’s cattle [Sheth 8]) daughter who had been born at the same moment (Preciado-Solis 103). According to Vaisnava devotees, at that instant, there was in all directions an atmosphere of prosperity and peace as the planetary systems automatically adjusted for the auspicious birth of Krsna (Bhaktivedanta 23). The Puranas also describe the arduous journey of Vasudeva across the river (Jumna/Yamuna) to save his new baby from being destroyed by Kamsa, who had killed several of his other children. Leaving the prison where he and Devaki had been confined by the wicked king, Vasudeva placed the baby Krsna into a winnowing basket (supa), which he then carried on his head, and descended into the flooding river to cross to the opposite bank. The great snake deity Sesa is said to have traveled in front, driving away the heavy water with his many hoods. The Bhagavata Purana explains that Vasudeva crossed the river safely and reached the village of Gokula (Preciado-Solis 103). Once the babies are divinely interchanged, in the Harivamsa account, Kamsa then notices the baby girl beside Devaki and smashes her head against a stone. The daughter of Yasoda was actually a goddess, who rose up into the sky and took her divine form, terrifying Kamsa, and leading him to believe she is the one who will take his life. Oblivious to the exchange of baby Krsna, Nanda and Yasoda regard him as their own son and Krsna is raised as a humble cowherd (Sheth 8-9).

Another discrepancy between the Harivamsa and the Puranas is whether or not Vasudeva and Devaki are ignorant of Krsna’s divinity. In the Harivamsa, Krsna’s parents have no vision of his divine form, whereas in the Puranas they are blessed with such a vision. Krsna is then praised as the almighty Visnu, but out of a relentless fear of Kamsa, Vasudeva and Devaki request their son to withdraw from his celestial form. With the greatest emphasis placed on his divinity, the Puranic texts make Krsna’s identity as Visnu recognized by even King Kamsa (Sheth 44-45).

Certain textual variants portray Yasoda’s daughter as the goddess Nidra (Sheth 8), Durga (Bhaktivedanta 32), or Katyayani (Preciado-Solis 55). In one account, when the goddess Katyayani rose up into the sky she announced to Kamsa that he killed Devaki’s first six sons in vain as his real killer had already been born and was safe (Preciado-Solis 55). The terrified Kamsa, now aware that his evil plot had been a failure, began to plot once again the murder of Krsna and summoned his demonic allies to destroy the child at any cost (Preciado-Solis 55-56).

The first demon to attempt to kill baby Krsna was by the bird-demoness Putana, similarly depicted in both the Puranas and the Harivamsa. According to the majority of scriptures, Putana disguised herself as a beautiful woman and entered the house of mother Yasoda in the middle of the night (Bhaktivedanta 43-44). The demoness took baby Krsna onto her lap and pushed her poisonous nipple into his mouth for him to suckle. Putana was immediately killed as Krsna sucked the milk-poison, as well the life air, from her (Bhaktivedanta 45).

Referred to as the Miraculous Child by his followers, Krsna killed many more monsters while he was a mere child (Preciado-Solis 67). The Bhagavata Purana describes an episode in which Yasoda leaves baby Krsna, just a month old, sleeping under a cart while she journeys to the river. Left feeling thirsty and hungry, the child began crying, thrashing his arms and kicking the cart with such force it tipped over and broke numerous pots and pans. The Purana accounts explain that there was a supernatural being involved. Specifically in the Balacarita (an ancient Hindu text), the supernatural being is a demon called Sakata, who had taken the form of the cart and had been crushed with a single kick (Preciado-Solis 67-68).

A second episode of Krsna’s childhood is described as the Yamalarjuna incident. There are numerous depictions of the episode; however all variations agree that it was due to a number of pranks by Krsna which lead Yasoda to tie him to a mortar (Preciado-Solis 69). This was an attempt to keep him from wandering, but with his power, the young Krsna uprooted two trees known as yamala arjuna (Bhaktivedanta 177) by hauling the mortar in between them (Sheth 11). The texts either depict this incident as an account of a young boy’s extraordinary strength or as a marvel achieved by a young god. Krsna’s most devoted followers perceive the two trees as supernatural beings, specifically the demons Yamala and Arjuna (Preciado-Solis 69).

In another myth told in the Harivamsa, one day while playing with Sankarsana, Krsna came across the river Yamuna. The waters and the surrounding area were polluted by venom from the powerful serpent-king Kaliya. In order to render the water pure for the use of cowherds, Krsna decided to subdue the five-hooded monster. When he jumped into the lake, Krsna was immediately engulfed by the serpent’s hoods, which strove to render him immobile. An angry Sankarsana shouted advice to his brother Krsna to restrain Kaliya. The young god snatched a hold of the serpent’s middle hood, danced upon it and thus subdued the evil monster. Kaliya was then expelled to the ocean and the waters of Yamuna were purified (Sheth 11-13).

Before his childhood comes to an end, Krsna is depicted as vanquishing many other demons. Krsna ripped apart the beaks of the demon Bakasura and threw the evil Vatsasura into a tree (Bhaktivedanta 177-178). The demon Arista, taking the form of a bull, was killed by Krsna with the beast’s own left horn. Also, the carnivorous horse-demon Kesin could not escape being slain (Sheth 14-15).

During the latter part of Krsna’s childhood, the Harivamsa tells how King Kamsa was informed by the sage Narada that Vasudeva had interchanged Yasoda’s and Devaki’s babies at birth. Learning of Krsna’s valiant deeds, Kamsa suspects his divinity and fears that Krsna is the one who will destroy him. Fabricating another plot to murder Krsna, Kamsa ordered Nanda and his family to Mathura to participate in a bow-festival. Upon entering the arena, Krsna slew a charging elephant and, unable to resist a challenge, slew two formidable wrestlers, Canura and Tosala. Furious from seeing these victories and the cheering audience, Kamsa ordered Krsna and Sankarsana to be banished. He also ordered Nanda to be chained, Vasudeva to be murdered, and the entirety of the cowherd’s wealth to be seized (Sheth 17). Hearing Kamsa speak in such a way, Krsna leaped over the high guards and seized the evil king with great force. The crown was knocked off Kamsa’s head and he was dragged from his throne into the wrestling arena. Straddling his chest, Krsna began to strike Kamsa repeatedly and the evil king was finally slain (Bhaktivedanta 277-278).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Bhaktivedanta, A.C. (1970) Krsna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead. Massachusetts:

Iskcon Press.

Bimanbehari, Majumdar (1969) Krsna in History and Legend. Calcutta: University of Calcutta.

Hardy, Friedhelm (1983) Viraha-bhakti: The Early History of Krsna Devotion. Delhi: Oxford.

Kinsley, David (1979) The Divine Player: A Study of Krsna. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Preciado-Solis, Benjamin (1984) The Krsna Cycle in the Puranas. New Delhi: Narendra Prakash

Jain.

Redington, James (1983) Vallabhacarya on the Love Games of Krsna. Delhi: Motilal

Banarsidass.

Sheth, Noel (1984) The Divinity of Krishna. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt.

Ltd.

Sullivan, Bruce (1999) Seer of the Fifth Veda: Krsna Dvaipayana Vyasa in the Mahabharata.

Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Balarama

Kamsa

Devaki

Visnu

Narayana

Hare Krsna

Bhagavad Gita

Hindu deities

Mahabharata

Harivamsa

Visnu Purana

Bhagavata Purana

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krishna

http://www.harekrsna.com/

http://vedabase.net/k/krsna

http://www.geocities.com/jayakesava2001/

http://www.krsna.org/

http://www.sanatan.org/en/campaigns/KJ/birth.htm

http://www.avatara.org/krishna/lila.html

http://krsnabook.com/ch3.html

Article written by: Shelley Baker (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Ramlilas

The city of Banaras is considered to be the holiest city in the Hindu tradition. Millions of people make pilgrimages to the holy city every year in hopes of fulfilling their spiritual desires. The religious importance of the city is not only recognized by the people of India but also by scholars, anthropologists, sociologists and the likes from all over the world. Many come to study the city while others come to bask in its spiritual and cultural offerings (Kapur 209). The city itself is actually considered by believers to be the dwelling place of all Hindu deities (Hertel and Humes 1). For pious Hindus this grants enormous importance to many of the city’s major festivals. It can be said that Banaras is most proclaimed for its festivals and traditions, one of the most notable of which is the Ramnagar Ramlila. The Ramlila at Ramnagar is an event that takes place every year and is the celebrated victory of Ram over Ravana, from the epic Ramayana.

There are many Ramlilas in Banaras. Ramlilas (play) are a way in which a Hindu tales are recreated for audiences in the city. The during the Ramila season there can be up to sixty neighbourhoods that participate by hosting the play on their block (Parkhill 104). The importance of these plays is immense because it sets out to recreate the “epic story of Lord Rama” (Eck 269). Rama is a highly regarded figure in Hinduism. He is considered to be the reincarnation of the deity Visnu. Visnu is one of the highly regarded deities and is widely worshipped across Hindi speaking northern India. This makes the Ramlilas an important and integral element of the city. Many of the roles in the Ramlilas are played by children (specifically boys). This also has an underlying spiritual connection because when the children are playing the role of Rama, or his wife Sita or Hanuman his devotee [For more information on Hindu deities, see Hertel (1998)], they are said to become temporary residence for the deities, during the presentation of the Ramlila (Parkhill 104). During this time there are many pilgrims who also come to the city hoping for a chance to view a Ramlila. Their visits add to the reputation of Banaras as a site of pilgrimage, which already attracts many because of its large number of deities and their temples.

The grandest Ramlila is the one that takes place at Ramnagar. It is a thirty one day theatrical event that attracts hundreds of people from all across the country (Schechner 20). The immensity of this Ramlila is greater than any other in terms of the crowds is attracts and its longevity. Despite its popularity the Ramlila is not strictly meant for entertainment purposes, as we in the west might go and see a theatrical event. It has significant spiritual importance that is not compromised, because all Ramlilas especially those of Ramnagar are “celebratory performances tracing the footsteps of Vishnu” (Schechner 20). The Ramlilas typically enact how Rama suffered when Ravana the demon kidnapped his wife Sita and took her away in hopes of wooing her into marriage. The Ramlilas use ritual and drama to demonstrate how Rama rid the world of Ravana and finally returned to Ayodhya [The city or kingdom to which Ram returns after his victory. See Schechner (1998) for more information] in triumphant victory (Schechner 41). The significance of the story and victory is displayed not only by its performers but also by the spectators who take part in their own rituals that they deem an important part of the Ramlilas. For example, some spectators will not walk on the ground where the Ramlilas are being held in their shoes, because they consider those sites to be like temples, and one would not walk into a temple with shoes on (Schechner 32). The Ramlilas therefore are not merely plays put on by the town people simply for entertainment. They have a strong religious significance for most Hindus. Particularly because Rama, who is regarded as an incarnation of Visnu, is held in high regard. As one scholar remarked, the Ramlilas are “carefully crafted enactments of a narrative transmitting information and values concerning sacred history and geography, social hierarchy, ethics and the personalities of god, heroes, and demons” (Schechner 22).

The epic story and the Ramlilas are significant because of their importance in the Hindu tradition. However they have also been significant in the shaping of Indian life and culture. The Ramnagar Ramlila has been shaped by many years of influence from the Maharajas [Maharajas were the ruling royalty in India until its Independence in 1947; they still exist but have no ruling power. See Schechner (1998)] of Banaras who gathered scholars, poets and theatre practitioners and guided the Ramlila (Schechner 24). The first of these was Maharaja Balwant Singh who ruled in the seventeenth century. Later on Maharaja Ishavari Prasad Narain Singh who ruled in the eighteenth century also played a significant role (Schechner 24). The present Maharaja of Banaras has had no political power in India since its independence in 1947. However he is highly active in his role and participation in the Ramnagar Ramlila because it has been such a tradition for previous kings that his royal identity is now dependent on his involvement in the festival drama (Schechner 37).

Since the kings’ roles in the Ramlila have evolved, it raises the question of how the Ramlila itself has evolved through the ages? Of course the text from which the Ramlilas’ performance is derived has been mostly unchanged for centuries. However, there are some significant changes that have occurred in India culturally and structurally. For one, the power and grandeur of the Maharaja has declined which has led to far less glamorous shows, with only half the materials once used in previous Ramlilas (Schechner 51). There are also some more obvious changes that have occurred as well. The most significant of these is the growth in population of India. This has limited the theatre space available for the Ramnagar Ramlila; in an area where there were once trees and grass, there are now vast amounts of housing and people. Another shift has been in some of the innovative advances that have been introduced in staging the drama. Circumstances now allow production officials to use electrical lighting and other technical innovations (Parkhill 108). However, this creates a spilt between those who want to keep the Ramlila traditional and those interested in using modern innovations. The issue is emotionally charged; many consider the innovations improvements while others see them as tools for corruption (Parkhill 111). Still some feel that the message and value is in the rituals and practice themselves and not the aesthetics of the presentation.

Even with such changes over the centuries in the Ramnagar Ramlila, the sheer magnitude and importance it enjoys today has still not diminished. The story of Rama and Sita is one that has been told for centuries by Brahmins [Brahmins are the priestly caste in Hindu society. See Parkhill (1998)], scholars, and parents to children and will certainly continue. The Ramnagar Ramlila is an event that can only grow in stature. No matter what elements are introduced to enhance its performance the ritual enactments will continue as they have for centuries. As one scholar notes the “Ramlila is not reducible to single meanings or experiences” (Schechner 48). Rather it is an event that can offer something to everybody, from the performers to spectators and even the poor of the city who benefit from offerings by the Maharaja.

REFERENCES

Eck, D. L (1982) Banaras the City of Lights. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hertel, R. Bradley., and Humes, Ann Cynthia (eds.) (1998) Introduction. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Kapur, Anuranha (1990) Actors, Pilgrims, Kins and Gods: The Ramlila at Ramnagar. Calcutta: Seagull Books.

Parkhill, Thomas (1998) Whats Taking Place: Neighborhood Ramlilas in Banaras. Eds. Bradley R. Hertel and Cynthia Ann Humes. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Schechner, Richard (1998) Crossing the Water: Pilgrimage, Movement, and Environmental Scenography of the Ramlila of Ramnagar. Eds. Bradley R. Hertel and Cynthia Ann Humes. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Related Topics

Gods and Goddess:

Sita

Rama

Vishnu

Ravana

Hanuman

Devi

Krsna

Ganesa

Surya

Texts:

Ramayana

The Vedas

The Bhagavad-Gita

Upanishads

Mahabharata

Rg Vedas

Dharma Sastras

Dharma Sutras

Manu

The Aranyakas

Related Websites

http://www.gkindia.com/worldreligions/hindusm.htm

http://www.stthomasu.ca/~parkhill/lila.htm

http://www.unesco.org/culture/intangible-heritage/16apa_uk.htm

http://www.up-tourism.com/fair/ramlila.htm

http://www.sacredsites.com/asia/india/banaras.html

http://www.4to40.com/discoverindia/places/index.asp?article=discoverindia_places_banaras

Written by Osman Shah (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.