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Krishna

Category: Mystic

Krishna is one of the most widely revered and most popular of all Indian divinities, worshipped as the eighth incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu and also as a Svayam Bhagavan (supreme god) in his own right.  Krishna is also called by several other names such as Govinda, Mukunda, Madhusudhana, and Vasudeva.

He is the Indians’ equivalent of Jesus - a mystic ‘Saviour, a Redeemer’. 

Birth and death

There is no agreement as to when Krishna lived or died, although the approximate era seems to have found some agreement:

  • According to drikpanchang.com, the date of Krishna's birth, was 21 February 3228 BCE.
  • Dr. Narhari Achar states that Krishna lived sometime between 3200 BCE and 3112 BCE. Achar's findings were based on the interpretation of the constellations, star positions and theses mentioned in the Mahabharata.
  •  K. Bansal calculated 21 July 3228 BCE as the birth date
  • V. Raman states that Krishna was born on 19 July 3228 BCE.
  • Dr. Manish Pandit's 2009 study places Krishna's life in the 31st century BCE
  • Jain tradition consider Krishna to be born in the 85th millennium BCE

The Vedanta prophesied that Krishna would be born in the early part of the Kali Yuga.  If we now turn to the section on the Ancestors to obtain these ages of man.  The Kali yuga is estimated to have started about 3,606 BC, the age of conflict.  As such the dating would tie in.

Pulastya (Sanskrit: पुलत्स्य, Sinhala: පුලස්ති, Thai: ท้าวจตุรพักตร์) was one of the ten Prajapati or mind-born ‘sons of Brahma’ and one of the Seven Great Sages Rishi in the first Manvantara [the interval of Swayambhu Manu, started in 419,964 BC].  His prophecy stated:

There shall be strange and terrible sounds in the heavens, in the air and on the earth; mysterious voices shall warn holy hermits in the forests; the celestial musicians shall chant their choruses; the waters of the seas shall bound in their deep gulfs with joy; the winds shall load themselves with the perfume of flowers; at the first cry of the divine child all Nature shall recognise its Master.

As for Krishna’s death:

Wikipedia

A paper presented in a conference in 2004 by a group of archaeologists, religious scholars and astronomers from Somnath Trust of Gujarat, ….. fixes the death of Sri Krishna on 18 February 3102 BCE at the age of 125 years and 7 months. The death date was deduced from Puranic hints such as the Matsya Purana mention which says Krishna was 89 years old when the Kurukshetran War was fought and the verses from Mahabharata which states that Sri Krishna lived 36 years after the Kurukshetra war. Despite skepticism from some parts of the scientific fraternity these findings found immense popular support in India

 

Texts, puranas and epics

There is no one text or book that describes Krishna’s life and piecing together the story is confounded further by the complexities of difficulty in dating texts.  Most of the texts were written much much later than Krishna lived, and survived as oral histories for thousands of years before they were committed to a Sanskrit scrolls.  The principal scriptures describing Krishna's story are :

  • The Bhāgavata Purāṇa (Devanagari: भागवतपुराण; also Śrīmad Bhāgavata Mahā Purāṇa, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam or Bhāgavata)  - is one of Hinduism's eighteen great Puranas (Mahapuranas, great histories).  It is a revered text in Vaishnavism, a Hindu tradition that reveres Vishnu.  Composed in Sanskrit and available in almost all Indian languages, it promotes bhakti (devotion) to Krishna and incorporates ideas from the philosophy of Adi Shankara.  The Bhagavata Purana, like other puranas, discusses a wide range of topics including cosmology, genealogy, geography, mythology, legend, music, dance, yoga and culture. As it begins, the forces of evil have won a war between the benevolent devas (deities) and evil asuras (demons) and now rule the universe. Truth re-emerges as Krishna, (called "Hari" and "Vasudeva" in the text) – first makes peace with the demons, understands them and then creatively defeats them, bringing back hope, justice, freedom and good – a cyclic theme that appears in many legends.  The date of composition is probably between the eighth and the tenth century CE, but may be as early as the 6th century CE
  • The Mahabharata  - one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Rāmāyaṇa.  The Mahābhārata is an epic narrative of the Kurukṣetra War and the fates of the Kaurava and the Pāṇḍava princes. It also contains philosophical and devotional material, such as a discussion of the four "goals of life" or puruṣārtha (12.161). Among the principal works and stories in the Mahābhārata are the Bhagavad gītā, the story of Damayantī, an abbreviated version of the Rāmāyaṇa, and the story of Ṛṣyasringa, often considered as works in their own right.
    The oldest preserved parts of the text are thought to be not much older than around 400 BCE, though the origins of the epic probably fall between the 8th and 9th centuries BCE.  According to the Mahābhārata itself, the tale is extended from a shorter version of 24,000 verses called simply Bhārata.
    The Mahābhārata is the longest known epic poem. Its longest version consists of over 100,000 śloka or over 200,000 individual verse lines (each shloka is a couplet), and long prose passages. About 1.8 million words in total, the Mahābhārata is roughly ten times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined, “W. J. Johnson has compared the importance of the Mahābhārata in the context of world civilization to that of the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, the works of Homer, Greek drama, or the Qur'an
  • The Harivamsa - The first two of three books of Harivamsa are largely dedicated to Krishna. The stories about Krishna's birth to youth, told in these two books, are widely followed by Vaishnavism sect of Hinduism.  The Harivamsha (also Harivamsa; Sanskrit: Harivaṃśa हरिवंश, the lineage of Hari (Vishnu)) is an important work of Sanskrit literature, containing 16, 374 shloka, mostly in Anustubh metre. The text is also known as the Harivamsha Purana. This text is sometimes found as a khila (appendix or supplement) to the Mahabharata and is traditionally ascribed to Veda Vyasa.  The text is complex, containing layers that goes back to the 1st or 2nd centuries BCE.  It was a part of the Mahabharata by the 1st century CE. 
  • Vishnu Purana - The Vishnu Purana (IAST: Viṣṇu Purāṇa) is one of the eighteen Mahapuranas, a genre of ancient and medieval texts of Hinduism. It is an important Pancharatra text in the Vaishnavism literature corpus.  Estimates range of its composition range from 1st millennium BCE to early 2nd-millennium CE.

In effect, many of the Sanskrit texts which describe Krishna and his life and works are all contemporary with Jesus, even though according to historians he lived much much earlier.

Krishna and Shaivism

One of the key events in Krishna’s life is the Kurukshetra War, but the dating of the war is not at all clear.  Many historians estimate the date of the Kurukshetra war to Iron Age India of the 10th century BCE, but from what we have been able to ascertain by looking at the mystic movements, the war described in the Mahabharata may be more correctly assigned to Shaivism and describe the truly dramatic and catastrophic struggle that took place in the Indus valley between the invaders from the North – the Scythians - and the people that lived there at the time. 

The Scythians are thus the enemy whilst Krishna and the Shaivites are the forces of good against the evil marauders.  Except that to all intents and purposes evil did win, up to a point.

Historians have given the name Kuru (Sanskrit: कुरु) to a Vedic Indo-Aryan ‘tribal union’ in northern Iron Age India, encompassing the modern-day states of Delhi, Haryana, Uttarakhand and western part of Uttar Pradesh, (c. 1200 – c. 850 BCE).  Union is hardly a fair assessment however, as this was subjugation.  But it decisively changed the Vedic heritage.  The Vedas were once Shaivite as were the Upanishads, but under the invaders they were written down.  Thus all these historical texts have much earlier origins, but it is to the, admittedly extremely brutal, Scythians that we now have written records and a written corpus of Hindu texts.

Krishna, Jesus and Apollo

The word Jezeus is a Sanskrit expression which means ‘pure divine essence’.  It is a word used to describe Christna or Krishna and signifies a divine emanation.  In other words Krishna was the ‘son of God’, or more correctly in Hindu thought, an incarnation of Vishnu.  Another term used is Paramatma or spirit of the universe.

Westerners have termed Krishna the Indian Apollo, although it may historically be more correct to say that Apollo was the Greek Krishna.  The cult centers of Apollo in Greece, Delphi and Delos, for example, date from the 8th century BCE.

As we can see above, the name of Krishna and the general outline of his life were theoretically long anterior to the birth of Jesus Christ.  But, one of the more intriguing aspects concerning Krishna’s life is how similar it was to Jesus’s.  This will be apparent from reading the very short version that Louis Jacolliot provided in his book The Bible in India [see below in observations].  At this, some writers have jumped up and down and said well this simply means that the Christian Gospels were just a combination of the story of Krishna added on to the life of a very important mystic living in the Middle East, whose name was not actually Jesus at all, but who just got called Jesus because of the Sanskrit term, and was named Christ because of the term Christna.  But this ignores the process of mysticism altogether. 

Mysticism is steeped in symbolism and archetypes.  All that appears to have happened is that this common symbolism/archetype has been used in both accounts.  For example:

Bhavishya Purana 19
23 The Son of God … was born of a virgin

And

Rig veda 10
The sacrificial victim is to be crowned with a crown made of thorny vines

Krishna as Redeemer

All Vaishnava traditions recognise Krishna as eighth avatar, that is the eighth incarnation of Vishnu.  In other words seven other ‘Sons of God’ had come before him.  And it was recognised that more ‘Sons of God’, would come after him, as such the existence of a Krishna and of a Jesus figure are compatible.

The purpose of all these incarnations is a Redeemer, a person who is capable of saving man from a fate worse than death – generally eternity in hell – by their actions.  They are all Saviours.  The universe is a balance.  It was made using the concept of contrasts.  If it is in perfect balance, nothing moves, there is no creation and no destruction, so when the religious texts speak of the Unmoving Mover, for example, they mean that the process of evolution takes place by the continual see sawing between construction and destruction – or if you prefer good and evil [though this concept is not at all straightforward as you should be able to appreciate, as destruction often has to precede construction].

The powers of destruction are often extremely strong, and if considerable destruction is needed, they are often given a very long leash, so to speak.  But, in order to reign back the evil and destructive powers before they overwhelm everything, then the sacred texts tell us that a saviour is sent who is capable of rescuing man from himself, from arresting the horrendous decline and turn the almighty juggernaut of self destruction into a more creative phase.

Ithareya Upanishad 1
After creating the sky, waters and the earth … the Lord almighty thought ‘I created the worlds.  Now to provide for and to save these worlds I have to send a saviour’

In order to appreciate this more fully we need to turn to the Shaivite description of ‘the Fall’.  There is no need to get into arguments about whether the Bible and Genesis came first in its description of the Fall, all we need to know is that Shaivism – one of the very first mystic movements – has a very clear description of the Fall, and it is a far more rational and less sexist version.  We have provided it under the heading of Shaivism, but to make this explanation easier to follow we have duplicated the description here as a general description – look for Louis Jacolliot in the observations.

And here is his commentary on the concept of the Redeemer and Christ figure.

Louis Jacolliot - The Bible In India - The Fall according to Shaivism
Ramatsariar - texts and commentaries on the Vedas

How grand, how logical, and how simple, this beautiful Hindoo legend!  The Redeemer, Christna, will be born of a woman to reward Héva for having neither despaired of God, nor had the first idea of offence, in which she was only an accomplice from love to him whom the Creator had commanded her to love.
This is beautiful and consoling.
Behold here the veritable Eve, and we understand that one of her daughters may afterwards become the mother of a redeemer.
How is it that the awkward composer of the Hebrew Genesis could not transcribe this version without mutilation?  Was it from forgetfulness or design, that the woman is charged by Moses with the whole weight of original sin ?
We hesitate not to declare it intentional, and from cowardly deference to the manners of the age, that the Hebrew legislator thus falsified the ancient tradition of the East.

A last thought

According to Brahminical beliefs, the end of the world – the grand dissolution comes at the end of the Kali Yuga.  According to Jacolliot, the commentator Ramatsariar said this about the sacred texts on this event:

Some time before the destruction of all that exists, the struggle between evil and good must recommence on earth, and the evil spirits who, at their first creation, rebelled in heaven against the authority of Brahma, will present themselves for a final struggle to dispossess God of his power and recover their liberty.
Then will Christna again come upon the earth, to overthrow the prince of the Rakchasas, who, under the form of a horse and aided by all evil spirits, will cover the globe with ruins and with carnage.

References

Louis Jacolliot in his work The Bible in India, indicates that he was helped by a Brahmin, with whom he was learning Sanskrit, and pointed to the works of a theologian called Ramatsariar.  The Brahmin went to the library he used and took out the works of this man – in Sanskrit – and Jacolliot used them to write his book.  Remembering this was in the 1850s, and texts were only just starting to appear in the west, it has its failings, but one of the things Jacolliot did was to provide a precis of Krishna’s life and it is quite interesting.  I’m sure it could be criticised and probably will be criticised, but there are very few precis’s of the works above and as such his work is of use.

Observations

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