Balarama is an ancient Hindu deity who is believed to be the incarnation of Lord Visnu, a very important deity in Hindu mythology. Visnu is believed to be the protector and preserver of the universe. He plays an important role in the great triad that includes Brahma, the creator, and Siva the destroyer (Wilkins 116). During times of great disaster and chaos, Visnu takes physical forms on earth time and time again as different avatars to maintain order and protect the universe from evil and destruction. These avatars are known to be the Dasa Avatar, dasa meaning 10. According to the myth of their origin, both Balarama and Krsna are incarnations of Visnu himself, Balarama is said to be his eight avatar. (Wilkins 220).
Balarama is also believed to be the incarnation of Ananta Sesa, the serpent king. Ananta meaning endless and Sesa meaning the end. This snake deity is said to have 1000 heads that hold the bare the weight of the entire world (Wilkins 221). Ananta Sesa is considered to be the king of all snakes as well as a great force of nature that maintains the positioning of all the planets (Swami 11). Although Sesa is only considered to be a reincarnation of a part of Visnu, Balarama is still considered a Visnu avatar (Wilkins 221). There is some disagreement as to which deity rightfully belongs as the eighth avatar. Some agree on Balarama being included as one of the ten Avatars, simultaneously accepting Krsna to have been Lord Visnu himself on earth. Others may consider both Balarama and Krsna as the eighth of the ten avatars together (Wilkins 221).
Balarama and Krsna are the sons of Vasudeva; Balarama was born to Rohini first and Krsna was born to Devaki (Rao 997). It is believed that Visnu plucked two of his own hairs, one white and one black to take a physical form as an avatar. Balarama and Krsna are believed to have been birthed from these two hairs (Wilkins 220). Visnu’s white hair was magically moved from Devaki’s womb to Rohini’s, thus leading to the birth of Balarama. Balarama was supposed to have been Devaki’s seventh child, but Devaki was said to have had a miscarriage when the fetus was magically moved from her womb to another. The baby born to Rohini was first named Samkarsana as he was considered to have been “dragged” from womb to womb (Rao 997). The baby was later renamed Balarama. He was said to have been the source of great spiritual power, Bala. through which he could attain the highest sense of bliss, ramana (Swami 11). Apart from Balarama, he was also known as Rauhineya, as he was the son of Rohini (Rao 997). Other names also given to him were Balabadra and Balabadrarama (Rao 997).
Balarama is depicted as a young man dressed in blue garments who has a very fair complexion. He wears a single golden earring, only on one side called the kundala and his hair is tied back (Rao 1000). Balarama is sometimes depicted with two arms and at other times with four. He is shown holding his weapons of choice, a club and a plough in either hand. The club in the right hand symbolizes death and the ploughshare in his left hand is to signify the principle of time (Rao 1000-1001). If illustrated with four arms, Balarama holds his weaponry in two hands, a conch in the third hand and a discus in the fourth (Rao 1001). Holding a discus in the fourth hand is similar to the depiction of Visnu holding a discus or cakra in his hand as well. This similarity between the two depictions of the deities makes sense as Balarama is an incarnation of Visnu himself. The weapons belonging to Balarama may suggest why he is also regarded as the god of agriculture and farming. The Lucknow Museum in India is home to an ancient stone idol of Balarama that dates back to the second century B.C.. The ancient idol depicts Balarama standing with a great serpent acting as his hood behind him, while he is holding a plough in his hands (Rao 999-1000).
Balarama and his mother Rohini, were placed under the care and protection of Nanda Maharaja, the foster father of Krsna (Swami 40). At the age of one Balarama was brought to Nanda and Yasoda to be brought up with Krsna. The two of them grew up side by side, Krsna and Balarama partook in many adventures together. Both Krsna and Balarama hold great power, this is known from the stories of their childhood (Wilkins 222). One story in particular was when Balarama was in the woods with his peers, the cow herders. They requested Balarama to shake a fruit tree that belonged to a demon named Dhenuka. Balarama obliged and shook the tree to obtain the delicious fruit, but as he did Dhenuka emerges ready to attack him. With ease Balarama grabbed Dhenuka’s legs and swung him over his head. Dhenuka died instantly as he was thrown with such strong force.
After the defeat of Dhenuka, the boys spent much of their day playing in the orchard. A demon named Pralamba took the form of a young boy and joined the boys as they played. During their game, Pralamba requested Balarama sit on top of his shoulders, Balarama did as he asked and instantly, Pralamba ran off with him on top of his shoulders. Balarama began to panic as the demon had grown to an enormous size, Pralamba was now as big as a mountain. In fear, Balarama called to Krsna for help in hopes that his brother would come to his rescue. Instead of stepping in and defeating the demon himself, Krsna reminded Balarama of all the might and power he held. He reminded him of who he truly was and advises him not to fear the demon, as he himself is capable of much more. Balarama held what Krsna said to be true and unleashed his power on Pralamba. He squeezed the demon with just his knees and bashed his head with the might of his fists. In an instant, Pralamba was successfully defeated (Wilkins 222-223). This story shows that Balarama is an important deity who holds great strength. He too is an avatar of Visnu and holds immense wisdom and power.
References and Further Recommended Reading:
Rao, S.K. Ramachandra (2003) Encyclopedia of Indian Iconography: Hinduism – Buddhism – Jainism: Volume II. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications.
Swami, A.C. Bhaktivedanta (1970) KRSNA The Supreme Personality of Godhead. Boston: ISKON PRESS.
Wilkins, W.J (2009) Hindu Mythology. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.
Related Topics for Further Investigation:
Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic:
Article was written by: Deepika Anupindi (October 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.