Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic, by W.J. Wilkins, , at sacred-texts.com
Professor Goldstücker says * that this "is the most interesting incarnation of Vishnu, both on account of the opportunity which it affords to trace in Hindu antiquity the gradual transformation of mortal heroes into representatives of a god; and on account of the numerous legends connected with it, as well as the influence which it exercised on the Vaishnava cult. In the Mahābhārata, Krishna—which literally means 'the black or dark one'
—is sometimes represented as rendering homage to Siva, and therefore acknowledging his own inferiority to that deity, or as recommending the worship of lima, the consort of Siva, and as receiving boons from both these deities. In some passages, again, he bears merely the
Click to enlarge
THE KRISHNA AVATĀRA.
character of a hero endowed with extraordinary powers, and in others his divine nature is even disputed or denied by adversaries, though they are eventually punished for this unbelief. As the intimate ally of Arjuna, he claims the rank of the supreme deity; but
there are other passages, again, in the Mahābhārata in which the same claim of Siva is admitted, and an attempt is made at compromising their rival claims, by declaring both deities one and the same. Sometimes, moreover, Krishna is in this Epos declared to represent merely a very small portion—'a portion of a portion,' as it is called—of the divine essence of Vishnu. In the Mahābhārata, therefore, which is silent also; regarding many adventures in Krishna's life fully detailed in the Purānas, the worship of Vishnu in this incarnation was by no means so generally admitted or settled as it is in many Purānas of the Vaishnait sect; nor was there at that period that consistency in the conception of a Krishna Avatāra, which is traceable in the later works."
In the "Prem Sāgar," the Hindi version of the "Bhāgavata Purāna," is the following account of the object of this incarnation. A king of Mathura, named Ugrasena, had a beautiful wife, who was barren. One day, when walking in a wood, she lost her companions; and when alone, a demon becoming enamoured of her assumed her husband's form, and as a result a son was born, who was named Kansa. When a mere child Kansa manifested a most cruel disposition—his great delight being to catch and kill children—and he grew up to be a source of sorrow to his father, family, and country. He advised his father to give up the worship of Rāma, the god of his race; and to call in secret only on Mahādeva (Siva). His father replied with sorrow: "Rāma is my lord, and the dispeller of my grief; if I do not worship him, how shall I as a sinful man cross over the sea of the world?" Kanza hearing this, dethroned his father, and having usurped his place issued a proclamation throughout his dominions forbidding men to worship Rāma, and commanding them to reverence Siva;
and his tyranny at length became so unbearable, that the Earth, assuming the form of a cow, went to Indra and, complaining of all this, said: "Evil spirits have begun to commit great crimes in the world; in dread of whom Religion and Justice have departed; and if you will permit me, I, too, will abandon the world, and descend into the lower regions." Indra hearing this went in company with the other gods to Brahmā to see what redress could be afforded. Brahmā conducted them to Siva, who, in his turn, conducted them to Vishnu; and reminding him of the deliverance he had afforded to gods and men in his previous manifestations, they induce him again to become a man for the destruction of Kansa. The gods and goddesses, delighted at this assurance of help, promise also to forsake their heavenly homes that they may be his companions during his earthly sojourn; and Vishnu himself arranges that Lakshman, who in the Rāma incarnation had been his brother and constant and faithful companion, and Bharata also and Sutraghna, should accompany him; and that Sitā, under the name of Rukmini, should be his wife.
The "Vishnu Purāna," * from which most of the following legends are taken, gives a somewhat different account of Vishnu's reply. Krishna was the incarnation of "a part of a part of the supreme being." When entreated to become incarnate, "the supreme lord plucked off two hairs, one white and one black, and said to the gods, 'These my hairs shall descend upon the earth, and shall relieve her of the burden of her distress!'" The white hair was impersonated as Balarāma, and the black as Krishna. "The asuras shall all be destroyed. This my black hair shall be impersonated in the eighth
conception of Devaki, the wife of Vasudeva, who is like a goddess, and shall slay Kansa, who is the demon Kālanemi." *
When Vasudeva and his wife Devaki were being driven by King Kansa in a chariot, "a voice in the sky, sounding loud and deep like thunder, addressing Kansa, said, 'Fool that you are, the eighth child of the damsel you are now driving shall take away your life!'" Kansa hearing this drew his sword, and was about to slay Devaki; but Vasudeva interposed, saying, "Kill not Devaki, great warrior! Spare her life, and I will deliver to you every child she may bring forth." Kansa, appeased with this promise, spared the lady, but, to prevent any mistake, placed a guard by day and night over their apartments; and as child after child was born, it was given up to him and slain.
Kansa was under the impression that he had destroyed Devaki's children, but this was not the case. The children that were handed over to him were children of Hiranyakasipu, whom Vishnu slew as the Man-Lion, who were brought from the nether regions by Yoganindra, "the great illusory energy of Vishnu," and lodged in Devaki's womb in order that the cruel Kansa might be overreached. Vishnu said to this goddess: "Go, Nidra (Sleep), to the nether regions, and by my command conduct successively six of their princes to be conceived by Devaki. When these shall have been put to death by Kansa, the seventh conception shall be formed of a portion of Sesha (the serpent-deity), who is part of me; and this
you shall transfer before the time of birth to Rohini, another wife of Vasudeva, who resides at Gokula." This child was Balarāma. "The report shall run that Devaki miscarries. I will myself become incarnate in her eighth conception; and you shall take a similar character as the embryo offspring of Yasoda, the wife of a herdsman named Nanda. In the night of the eighth of the dark half of the month Nabhas I shall be born; and you will be born on the ninth. Impelled and aided by my power, Vasudeva shall bear me to the bed of Yasodā, and you to the bed of Devaki. Kansa shall take you and hold you up to dash you against a stone; but you shall escape into the sky, where Indra shall meet and do homage to you through reverence of me."
When Devaki gives birth to her eighth son, Vasudeva takes the child, and, eluding the vigilance of the guards, hurries through the city, with the serpent Sesha following. On reaching the river Yamuna, which he has to cross, though ordinarily both wide and deep, it assists him in his flight, the water only rising to his knees. Just as he reaches Nanda's house, Yasodā had given birth to her child, which Vasudeva seizes, and, leaving Devaki's child in its place, returns to his prison home, and manages to re-enter unobserved. Soon after this the cry of the new-born child being heard by the guard, Kansa is quickly informed of its birth, and, rushing into the room, seized and dashed it against a stone. But fate was too strong for him. Immediately the child touched the ground, "it rose into the sky, and, expanding into a gigantic figure, having eight arms, each wielding some formidable weapon, laughed and said to Kansa, 'What avails it thee to have hurled me to the ground? He is born that shall kill thee, the mighty one amongst the
gods, who was formerly thy destroyer.'" The reference of the last sentence as taught by other Purānas is to the fact that Kansa was no other than Kālanemi, whom Vishnu had slain when incarnate as Rāma.
Greatly alarmed by the unexpected frustration of his plans, Kansa collects his friends, and, addressing them, said: "The vile and contemptible denizens of heaven are assiduously plotting against my life; they dreading my prowess, I hold them of no account. Have I not seen the king of the gods, when he had ventured into the conflict, receiving my shafts upon his back, and not bravely upon his breast? Now, it is my determination to inflict still deeper degradation upon these evil-minded and unprincipled gods. Let therefore every man who is notorious for liberality (in gifts to gods and Brāhmans), every man who is remarkable for his celebration of sacrifices, be put to death; that thus the gods shall be deprived of the means by which they subsist. The goddess who has been born as the infant child of Devaki has announced to me that he is again alive who in a former being was .my death. Let therefore active search be made for whatever young children there may be upon earth, and let every boy in whom there are signs of unusual vigour be slain without remorse." Soon after this, as he feared nothing more from them, he released Vasudeva and Devaki from their confinement, and, in dread of meeting his great enemy, withdrew into the inner apartments of his house.
On regaining his liberty, Vasudeva speedily sought out Nanda, who of course was unaware of the change of children effected by Vasudeva, and, after congratulating him on the birth of a son, suggested the advisability of his returning home; as, having paid his taxes, there was nothing to detain him in the city. He feared
lest the spies of Kansa should notice the peculiar excellences of the child, and destroy him according to Kansa's order. At the same time he took his other child by Rohini (Balarāma), and placed him under the care of Nanda to be brought up as his own child. By this means, as Rāma and Lakshman were inseparable companions in the previous incarnation, Krishna and Balarāma were as intimately connected in this.
The herdsman Nanda and his family had not been long settled at Gokula before efforts were made to destroy the infant Krishna. A female fiend named Putanā, the sucking of whose breast was instant death to an infant, came by night, and, taking the child in her arms, offered him her breast. Krishna seized it with both hands, and sucked with such violence that the hideous being roared with pain, and giving way in every joint fell down dead. The villagers hearing the shrieks rushed into the house to see what was the matter. Yasodā waved a cow's tail brush over him, whilst Nanda put dried cow-dung upon his head, and, placing an amulet on his arm, besought Vishnu to protect the child.
There are many legends connected with his boyhood, which teach his extraordinary power. On one occasion, when a mere infant, lying under Nanda's wagon, he cried for the breast, and, being impatient because his mother did not come quickly, kicked the wagon over, to the great astonishment of the bystanders. He and Balarāma played with and tormented the calves to such an extent, that Yasodā became angry; and to prevent its repetition, tied Krishna to a heavy wooden mortar in which corn is threshed, and went on with her work. Krishna, trying to free himself from this, dragged it until it became wedged fast between two
Arjuna trees, and with a strong pull the trees were uprooted. The people, astonished because the trees fell when no storm was blowing, thought the place must be unlucky, and moved away to Vrindāvana. The Bhāgavata
Click to enlarge
KRISHNA SLAYING BAKĀSURA.
says that these trees were two sons of Kuvera, the god of riches, who, owing to a curse of the sage Nārada, were thus metamorphosed, and that it was for the purpose of liberating them that Krishna accomplished this feat.
[paragraph continues] Krishna and Balarāma, the guardians of the world, were keepers of cattle in the cowpens of Vrindāvana," until they were seven years of age, during which years, according to the "Bhāgavata Purāna," the boys were full of childish tricks: stealing butter from the neighbouring cowherds appears to have been their favourite pastime.
In the "Bhāgavata Purāna" there are legends also of attempts being made by Kansa to rid himself of his dreaded foe. One day a demon was sent who hoped to surprise him when wandering with the cattle in the woods; but the boy, seeing through his disguise, seized him by the foot, swung him round his head and dashed him so violently on the ground that he immediately died. The next day, another demon, assuming the form of an immense crane, seized Krishna with its bill; but he became so hot that the crane immediately released him: Krishna then crushed its beak under his foot. Yet another came as a great serpent, and swallowed Krishna and his companions, the cowherds, with their cows; but he was no sooner in the reptile's stomach than he expanded himself, and burst open his prison. Krishna was not always defending himself; often he benefited his companions. When Brahmā stole some calves, and carried off the boys who tended them, Krishna made other calves and other boys, so that the theft was never known by the cowherds.
We now return to the narrative of the "Vishnu Purāna." The river Yamuna was the home of the serpent Kaliya, who made its waters boil with the fires of passion, so that the trees on its banks were blighted by its fumes, and birds were killed by its heat. Krishna, seeing how his friends at Vrindāvana were inconvenienced by this, plunged into the stream, to the dismay of the cowherds, and, after challenging the serpent to fight, was
about to slay him. Moved, however, by the intercession of the lady serpents, he allowed him to live on condition that he and his family forsook the Yamuna, and took up their abode in, the sea.
On one occasion Krishna wished to annoy Indra. Seeing the Gopas (cowherds) preparing to worship the giver of rain, he dissuaded them from it, and urged them rather to worship the mountain that supplied their cattle with food, and their cattle that yielded them milk. Acting upon this advice, they presented to the mountain Govarddhana "curds, milk, and flesh." This was merely a device by which Krishna diverted the worship of Indra to himself; for "upon the summit of the mountain Krishna appeared, saying, 'I am the mountain,' and partook of much food presented by the Gopas; whilst in his own form as Krishna he ascended the hill along with the cowherds, and worshipped his other self." Having promised them many blessings, the mountain-person of Krishna vanished. Indra, greatly incensed at the disregard shown him by Nanda and others, sent floods to destroy them and their cattle; but Krishna, raising the mountain Govarddhana aloft on one hand, held it as an umbrella and thus sheltered his friends from the storm for seven days and nights. Indra then visited Krishna and praised him for what he had done; and his wife Indrāni entreated Krishna to be a friend of their son Arjuna.
Krishna did not by any means confine his attention to the wants of the cowherds amongst whom he spent his early days. On one occasion Satrajit, a worshipper of the Sun, who had received from his lord a magnificent jewel named Syamantaka, came to visit Krishna at Dwaraka, adorned with his jewel, which shone so brightly that the inhabitants thought the Sun himself
was present. It was a most marvellous gem, for its possessor received through it "eight loads of gold daily, and was free from all fear of portents, wild beasts, fire,
Click to enlarge
KRISHNA HOLDING UP MOUNT GOVARDDHANA.
robbers, and famine;" but there was this strange condition attached to its possession: "although it was an inexhaustible source of good to a virtuous person, when
worn by a man of bad character it was the cause of his death." Thinking it possible that Krishna, on learning the excellence of the gem, might wish to keep it, Satrajit gave it to his brother Prasena. When this brother was hunting, having taken the gem with him, he was killed by a lion. Jambavat, the king of the bears, seeing the gem in the lion's mouth, killed him and took possession of the jewel. When Prasena did not return as he was expected, the Yadavas (Krishna's tribesmen) began to think that Krishna had slain him. To convince them of his innocency, taking a number of his brethren, he traced the horse upon which Prasena rode to the place where the lion slew its rider, and was acquitted of all blame in the matter. He then followed Jambavat to his cave, and finding the bear-prince Sukumāra playing with the gem, he entered and fought with his father the king for twenty-one days. As no tidings of him reached his home at Dwaraka, his friends concluded that he must be dead; but the food and water offered in the performance of his funeral ceremonies supporting him during his lengthened conflict, enabled him to overcome Jambavat, who gave him his daughter Jambavati to wife. He returned home in triumph, carrying the gem with him, which he restored to Satrajit, and received from him his daughter Satyabhāma. This gem, after causing several other disputes, was finally given to a good king, Akrura. When it was offered to Krishna he confessed that as he had 16,000 wives it was not possible for him to retain it; and also that his wife Satyabhāma would not comply with the conditions imposed upon its possessor.
The Gopis (wives of the cowherds) are represented as being madly in love with Krishna. As he and Balarāma played the flute, they came to dance with them; but as
all could not hold Krishna's hand as they danced, he multiplied himself into as many forms as there were women, each woman believing she held the hand of the true Krishna. * On one occasion he watched the Gopis as they went to bathe in the Yamuna river, and, stealing their clothes, sat in a tree and refused to restore them until each came in the form of a suppliant with uplifted hands to fetch them. The Bhāgavata teaches that these women, impelled though they were by passion to seek Krishna, obtained through him final emancipation from sin. "In whatever way a man may worship him he will obtain deliverance. Some knew and sought him as a son, some as a friend, some as an enemy, some as a lover, but in the end all obtained the blessing of deliverance and emancipation."
Of all these women Krishna's favourite was Rādhā, the wife of Āyanagosha. Her sister-in-law told her brother of his wife's misconduct, and Rādhā was in fear lest he should murder her. When, however, she communicated her fears to her lover, he easily reassured her. He told her that when her husband came, he (Krishna) would transform himself into Kāli, and instead of finding her with a lover, he would see her engaged in worshipping a goddess. Her husband happening to pass that way soon after, noticed Rādhā bowing down, and joined in worshipping Krishna, whom he mistook for Kāli. It is Rādhā whose name is ever associated with Krishna in hymns, songs, prayers, and pictures, and whilst the wives of the deity are forgotten, Rādhā is worshipped along with her lover.
As Krishna was dancing on one occasion with these women, a demon named Arishta, in the form of a fierce
bull, savagely attacked him. Krishna quietly waited its approach, and, seizing him as an alligator would have done, held him by the horns whilst he pressed his sides with his knees; he then wrung his neck as if it had been a piece of wet cloth, and at last tearing off his horns beat him to death with them.
After some years Kansa is informed of Krishna's
Click to enlarge
RĀDHĀ WORSHIPPING KRISHNA AS KĀLI.
existence, and, as we have noticed above, sent various demons to slay him; but as these efforts failed, the king determined on a grand scheme by which he hoped to rid himself of his dreaded foe. He accordingly sent Akrura, one of the few good men in his kingdom, with a most polite invitation to Krishna and Balarāma to visit him
at his capital, to witness some athletic sports; and, in the hope that they, being off their guard, would fall an easy prey, ordered a demon named Kesin, in the form of a horse, to attack them on the road. But Krishna is more than a match for the fiend; he meets the horse and fearlessly thrusts his hand in its mouth, and, causing it to swell, bursts the animal into two parts: hence one of Krishna's many names is Kesava, the slayer of Kesin.
Akrura, having told Krishna of the ill-feeling of Kansa and of the plots he had made against his life, was greatly encouraged with the assurance that in three days Kansa and his adherents would be slain. He took leave of the guests when they approached the city of Mathura. Entering the city unattended, and dressed as poor country people, they meet a washerman of Kansa at work, whom they first annoy by throwing his clothes on the ground, and, when he expostulates with them, kill him, and robe themselves in Kansa's garments. Seeing the gaily-dressed, strong, and good-looking young men, a flower-seller presents them with some of his choicest flowers; for his generosity Krishna bestows rich blessings upon him in this life and promises heaven after death. After this they meet a deformed girl named Kubja, carrying ointments and perfumes to the palace, some of which, at his request, she gives to Krishna. For her kindness her deformity is cured, she is made beautiful, and invites the brothers to her home.
The day following was fixed for the sports. The lists were prepared, the trumpets sounded, and two fierce wrestlers were commanded by fair means or foul to slay Krishna and his brother; and in case they should fail to do this, an enormous elephant was in readiness to trample them to death. But wrestlers and elephant
were themselves slain. Seeing his grand scheme signally fail, the king lost his temper and called out loudly to his guards to slay the youths-; instead of this, however, Krishna rushed upon and slew the king in the midst of the assembly, and falling at the feet of his father and mother, Vasudeva and Devaki, placed Ugrasena, Kansa's father, upon the throne, and with his brother took up his abode at Mathura.
Krishna is of immense service to the people of Mathura, for very soon after his arrival there, Jarāsandha, Kansa's father-in-law, attacks them, and is beaten eighteen times by his prowess. When the people were almost exhausted with these protracted struggles, a new enemy appears in Kalayāvana, King of the Yāvanas, who wish to try their strength with the Yādavas under Krishna. He, thinking that by a struggle with two foes at once the people would be exhausted, provided a new city, so strong that women could protect it, to which he conducted the inhabitants of Mathura. No sooner had he made the people secure than he went forth unarmed and alone, and attracted the attention of the King of the Yāvanas, whose army still surrounded the city. Krishna, seeing the king was following him, entered a cave, and concealed himself; the king seeing a man lying at its entrance, thinking it must be Krishna, kicked it, and in an instant became a heap of ashes. The secret of his destruction was this: a man named Muchukunda had received as a boon from the gods the power to sleep for a long period, with this condition, that whoever awoke him should be instantly consumed by fire emanating from his body. Unwittingly the King of the Yāvanas kicked him and received the penalty of his ignorance; whilst Krishna escaped, and seized the army and treasures left without an owner.
Amongst many others, Krishna fell in love with Rukmini, the daughter of Bhismaka, King of Vidhabha (Berar); but her brother Rukmin hated him, and refusing to give his consent, at the advice of Jarāsandha, she was betrothed to Sisupāla. This Sisupāla was no other than Hiranyakasipu and Rāvana, whom in previous incarnations Vishnu had slain. On the eve of the wedding Krishna carries off Rukmini, leaving Balarāma and his friends to take care of themselves; and when Rukmin follows him with an immense army, Krishna easily destroys his companions, and, but for the intercession of Rukmini, would have killed his brother-in-law too. This Rukmini was none other than Lakshmi, Sitā and others, who, in her earlier incarnations, had stood in a similar relationship to him.
Soon after this occurrence, Indra pays a visit to Krishna, to enlist his sympathy and help against Naraka, King of Pragyotisha, who was inflicting all kinds of evil upon the whole creation. "Carrying off maidens belonging to gods, saints, demons and kings, he shuts them up in his own palace. He has taken away Varuna's umbrella, the celestial nectar-dropping earrings of my mother Aditi, and now demands my elephant." Krishna at once consents to help, marches off to meet the king, conquers his forces, slays Naraka and obtains the stolen property, for which on its restoration he receives the thanks of its owners. In the women's apartment he finds 16,100 damsels, and "at an auspicious moment received the hands of all, according to the ritual, in separate houses; 16,100 was the number of the maidens, and into so many forms did the foe of Madhu multiply himself; so that each of the damsels thought he had wedded her in his single person, and he abode severally in the dwelling-place of each of his wives. It
was as a present from Umā, the wife of Siva, that he received these wives."
There was once a severe conflict between Krishna and Siva. Aniruddha, a grandson of Krishna, was enamoured of Usha, a daughter of Bāna, a devout worshipper of Siva, whom he visited secretly. Being caught by Bāna's guard, the prince was imprisoned, and, as the king would not release him, Krishna attacked him; but Siva and his son Kartikeya fought for Bāna. After a severe encounter, as Siva sat weary in his car, and Kartikeya had fled from the field, Krishna, tired of using ordinary weapons, let fly his wonderful discus, which never failed of accomplishing his wish, and cut off the hundred arms of Bāna. When about to throw it a second time, Siva came and interceded for the life of his friend; to whom, in granting his request, Krishna said, "You are fit to apprehend that you are not distinct from me; that which I am, thou art."
As Krishna was marching towards Sonitapura, the city in which his grandson was confined, as narrated above, a strange enemy met him. "Fever, an emanation from Maheshwara (Siva), having three feet and three heads, fought desperately with Krishna in defence of Bāna. Baladeva (Balarāma), upon whom his ashes were scattered, was seized with burning heat, and his eyelids trembled; but he obtained relief by clinging to the body of Krishna. Contending thus with the divine holder of the bow, the Fever emanating from Siva was quickly expelled from the body of Krishna by Fever which he himself engendered. Brahmā, beholding the impersonated malady, bewildered by the beating inflicted by the arms of the deity, entreated the latter to desist, and the foe of Madhu refrained, and absorbed into himself the Fever he had created. The rival Fever then
departed, saying to Krishna, "Those who call to memory the combat between us shall be exempt from febrile diseases."
Krishna was not without a rival. A man named Paundraka professed that he was the true incarnation of Vishnu, and that Vāsudeva (son of Vasudeva) was a pretender. The King of Benares was induced to believe in this false Krishna, and at his request sent an order for the real Krishna to come and do him homage, and at the same time to bring with him his discus and other insignia of office. Krishna did not hesitate. Setting off next day, he destroyed the army of his rival in a moment, and addressing Paundraka himself said, "You desired me by your envoy to resign to you my insignia: I now deliver them to you. Here is my discus, here my mace, here is Garuda; let him mount upon thy standard." The discus did its work, the rival of Krishna was cut to pieces; but, as the Rāja of Benares continued to fight, his head was cut off, and fell in the city. The people in their distress cried to Siva, who, in answer, sent a fierce female form to their help. But the discus, obedient to Krishna's command, pursued her, and its radiancy, unfortunately, was such that i t consumed the whole city in which she had hid herself.
When Krishna had finished his work, and had destroyed demons and wicked men, especially Kansa, the time came for him to return to heaven; but, before his departure, owing to a curse pronounced by angry Brāhmans, it was necessary that the Yādava race from which he sprang should pass away. This curse was pronounced to avenge an insult offered by some Yādu boys to Nārada and other Rishis when engaged with their devotions. These boys, as a joke, dressed up a son of
[paragraph continues] Krishna, named Sāmba, in woman's clothes, and taking him to the Rishis asked, "What child will this female give birth to?" The Rishis, greatly annoyed, said, "She will bring forth a club which shall crush the whole Yādava race." Accordingly a club came from Sāmba's body, which King Ugrasena ordered to be ground to powder and thrown into the sea. The dust that fell on the shore became rushes, but a small part of the club, like a lance head, could not be broken: this was thrown into the sea, was swallowed by a fish, which was caught by a fisherman, and made into an arrow point by a huntsman named Jara.
A messenger from the gods now visited Krishna, telling him that, as his work was done, he should ascend to his home. This he was quite willing to do; but, wishing to save his race from the threatened destruction, advised the Yādavas to forsake their city and go to Prabhāsa. By his advice he unintentionally hastened their end; for on reaching the seashore they indulged in liquor and began to fight violently amongst themselves, and for arms seized the rushes which sprang from the dust of the fatal club that came from Sāmba. Krishna and Balarāma trying to make peace between the combatants only led to their swifter destruction, until at last the two brothers were left alone of their race. Whilst sitting and talking on the banks of a river, a serpent crawled out of Balarāma's mouth—the serpent Sesha, of which he was an incarnation, and so his end was come. Krishna, left alone, sat meditating, with his foot upon his knee, when the hunter Jara, armed with the fatal arrow, passed by, and taking Krishna for a deer, shot him, and thus his death was unwittingly caused by the last part of the cursed club. Jara, seeing his mistake, fell at Krishna's feet and asked
forgiveness, to whom Krishna said, "Fear not thou in the least. Go, hunter, through my favour to heaven, the abode of the gods." Immediately a celestial car appeared, in which the man ascended to heaven; and Krishna abandoned his mortal body.
In this account of Krishna we have followed the "Vishnu Purāna," with which the Bhāgavata agrees; though the latter has many additional legends, similar to those given above. The writers of these Purānas have no doubt regarding his divinity; in fact a large part of these books is occupied with praises and prayers addressed to him as supreme. In the Mahābhārata, however, Krishna is little more than a hero, excepting in those passages which are believed to be of much later origin than the body of the book. By the writers of that age Krishna is described as a worshipper of Siva, from whom he received the chief blessings he enjoyed.
Amongst the references to Krishna in the Mahābhārata are the following: *—"Krishna then reverenced Siva with voice, mind, understanding, and act;" i.e. when he accompanied Arjuna to Siva's abode to beg heavenly weapons. Siva replies, "I have been duly worshipped by Krishna, wherefore no one is clearer to me than Krishna." In a hymn Krishna thus praises Siva: "I know Mahādeva, and his various works of old. For he is the beginning, middle, and end of (all) creatures." Bhisma says, "Through his devotion to Rudra, the world is pervaded by the mighty Krishna. This Mādhava performed austerities for a full thousand years, propitiating Siva, the god who bestows boons." It was through propitiating Siva that Krishna had a son by Jambavati; from him he received the discus Sudarsana,
and from him he received eight boons, to which Umā added eight others: among the eight granted by Siva were "a hundred hundreds of sons," and by Umā sixteen thousand one hundred wives. According to Krishna, Siva "is the most excellent of beings in the three worlds." "As he is the greatest of gods, he is called Mahādeva, since he constantly prospers all men in all their acts: seeking their welfare (Siva), he is called Siva."
The following legend will show that the belief in Krishna's divinity was not by any means common at the time the Mahābhārata was written. When King Yudhishthira offered a sacrifice, it was proposed that Krishna, as the greatest chief present, should receive the presents that were made. Sisupāla strongly objected to this, and supported his objection by a recital of Krishna's misdeeds. Krishna listened patiently for a time, but at last declared that the time had come when he must slay his detractor. He said, "I have promised to forgive him a hundred offences—he has now offended more than a hundred times;" and then the never-failing discus did its work. In other passages of the Mahābhārata, Siva praises Krishna in almost as extravagant language as that employed by Krishna to him; but this is so thoroughly opposed to his general position throughout the poem, there can be little doubt that these passages were introduced when the worship of Krishna had to a large extent superseded that of Siva.
Krishna, as described in the Mahābhārata, was not above employing deception, and leading others to do it too. On one occasion during the great war between the Kurus and Pāndavas, the Pāndavas were in great distress, owing to the bravery and skill of a Kuru chief named
Dronāchārjya. This chief had a son whom he deeply loved, named Ashwatthama; and it was thought that if a report could be spread to the effect that this son was slain, his father would be too distressed to fight. Dronāchārjya at last heard the rumour, but refused to believe it unless Yudhishthira confirmed it. At first the good king refused to speak an untruth; but at Krishna's suggestion he repeated the words, "Ashwatthama is dead," meaning an elephant of that name, yet wishing the father to understand he referred to his son. The trick succeeded; but the king as a punishment for his prevarication had to endure the sight of the lost in hell, whilst being conducted to heaven.
Amongst Krishna's many names the following are the most common:—
Gopal, "The Cowherd."
Gopinath, "The Lord of the Milkmaids."
Mathuranāth, "The Lord of Mathura."
197:* Chambers's Cyclopædia, s.v.
200:* Book v.
201:* It should be noticed here that a commentator says on this passage that the statement that two hairs of Vishnu became incarnate must not be taken literally, but that the work to be done by him on this occasion was so small that it could easily have been effected by two hairs. In Krishna, Vishnu himself was manifested.
210:* It is this incident in Krishna's history which is celebrated yearly at the Rāsajattra.
218:* Muir, O. S. T., iv. 184.