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Krishna’s Avatar: A Source of Joyous Symbolism

Article of the Month - May 2014
Viewed 10920 times since 15th May, 2014
The whole scenario of Krishna’s avatar on this earth is filled with a rich symbolism which not only fills one with ecstatic joy, but also presents in a simple and vivid language the most profound aspects of Indian philosophy.

Gods and Rishis Praying Vishnu for Eliminating Kansa

For example, consider the moment when the gods, tormented as they were by the demons, went to the refuge of Lord Brahma, their creator. What did Brahma do after listening to their woes? He took them to Lord Shiva and together they all went to Lord Vishnu to request him for help. Now the question is: Why did Brahma Ji take Lord Shiva also with them to Lord Vishnu?

The answer is that Lord Vishnu saves dharma in two ways. One is by protecting his bhaktas, which requires sattva-guna and the other is by destroying villains which requires tamo-guna. Now, Vishnu is the presiding deity of sattva-guna and hence he can indulge in the former action alone. However, the second act, that of killing the enemies of dharma, requires a presence of the destructive power of tamo-guna, whose presiding deity is none other than Lord Shiva.

Another more abstract explanation is that in Indian philosophy it is an established principle that every individual has within himself all the three gunas. However, he can reach to the Supreme Lord only when the tamo-guna and rajo-guna inside him follow the sattva-guna.

Chaturbhuja Vishnu


Next comes the birth of Lord Krishna. Prior to Krishna, His mother had in her womb Balarama, who thus became Krishna’s elder brother. Balarama was the avatar of Shesha, the serpent who canopies over Lord Vishnu’s head.



Krishna Balarama

In Vishnu’s earlier avatar as Rama, the same Shesha had incarnated as his younger brother Lakshmana. Now the question is, why did Shesha took birth as the elder brother, even though he had taken the role of the younger brother in the previous avatar? The answer to this lies in the extreme love Shesha had for his Lord. When he was Lakshmana, being the younger he couldn’t stop Rama from going to the forest and thought that in this incarnation, by becoming the elder brother, he would be better able to serve his Lord.

According to the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the timing of Krishna’s manifestation on this earth was extremely auspicious. All the directions became clear and pleasant, even though it was the rainy season. Why did the directions become so happy at the imminent arrival of the Supreme Lord? In the Indian tradition, the directions are all thought as different devis and the guardians of these directions as their husbands (digpati). Under the tyranny of the demon king Kamsa, their husbands had either been imprisoned or had vacated their posts and run away. Now with impending arrival of Lord Krishna they were sure to be soon reunited with their loving husbands.

Not only the directions, even the five elements making up the physical world were extremely happy at the imminent arrival of Lord Krishna. These elements are the earth, water, fire, wind and sky.

The Earth:

Lord Vishnu with Shridevi and Bhudevi


As the time of Krishna’s arrival approached, the Earth adorned herself by revealing forth the rich jewels situated in her mines. Why was the Earth delighted? Because at last she was going to be united with her husband Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu has two wives Shridevi (Lakshmi) and Bhudevi (Earth).


The former is the presiding deity of movable wealth and the latter of the immovable (like land). Actually, these two wealths belong to Lord Vishnu only. When the Earth heard that her husband was coming from Vaikuntha (where he lived with Lakshmi) to be with her, she adorned herself for welcoming him, much like the wife whose husband comes home after a long stint abroad. The Earth blossomed, thinking that very soon the Lord would be placing His lotus feet on her bosom.

Vishnu's Vaman Incarnation



Actually, even though many avatars before had graced the Earth, none had given her the level of happiness that Krishna was going to give. As Vamana, the Lord was a brahmachari.



Parashurama, Incarnation of Vishnu and Annihilator of the Kshatriyas



As the great Parashurama He had given the Earth away to the brahmins.



Whole world is Rama Sita I know,
With folded hands to them I bow.


Actually, even though many avatars before had graced the Earth, none had given her the level of happiness that Krishna was going to give. As Vamana, the Lord was a brahmachari.



As Rama he had married Sita Ji, the daughter of the Earth. At last, in the Krishna avatar, she was hoping to get the happiness denied to her in the previous avatars.


The waters of the rivers became crystal clear. Why? Because it is only in the pure heart that God is manifested.


God Agni on His Mount Ram


Due to the fear of the demons, brahmins had stopped tending to the sacred fires and were not performing yajnas any more. Thus no offerings were being poured into the fires and Agni devata was hungry. Now with the advent of Lord Krishna, his hunger was sure to be satisfied.




Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman


The wind started blowing in a cool and pleasant manner, delighting and comforting in its touch. What was the special reason for the wind’s happiness? The wind god Vayu was extremely happy at the service his son Hanuman had provided to Rama in the previous avatar of the Lord.


Now he was supremely glad that he himself was getting a chance to serve Him. When the Lord Krishna would lie down tired after playing with his friends, this is how the cool in wind would blow, lulling Krishna to restful sleep. This was how the wind practised and perfected itself for the future service of the Lord.

The Sky:

Murali Krishna with His Cow and Peacock


The sky was all the more delighted. The books of Vedanta had always compared it with God, with reference to the sky’s oneness and vastness. However, Vedanta had always negated the sky’s blueness, calling it to be false. But now that the Krishna was incarnating with a body coloured like that of the sky (blue), even this remaining characteristic of the sky would be accepted by the Lord as his attribute.


The Birth of Krishna:

God Appears in the Vision of Devaki and Vasudev….

Krishna was born in the prison where his parents were imprisoned. At the time of his birth his father Vasudeva was bound in chains. However, no sooner had he taken up the baby Krishna in his hands than all chains fell off. There is nothing miraculous about this. By merely uttering Krishna’s divine name one is freed of all the knots binding us to the material world. Then what surprise is there in the fact that when he picked up Krishna, all chains binding Vasudeva fell off and he became free.


Crossing the Yamuna

Vasudeva’s immediate action after Krishna’s birth was to shift Him to the town of Vrindavana, where He would be safe from Kamsa who had imprisoned Vasudeva and his wife in the first place. For this purpose, he placed the infant Krishna in a basket and set out towards Vrindavana. The clouds, lightly rumbling, showered Krishna with their drops. The serpent Shesha then appeared on the scene and protected Krishna from the drizzle by spreading out its hood over Him like an umbrella. Shesha knew, that even though he was the elder brother (Balarama) in the present incarnation, his primary duty was to serve the Lord.


Soon Vasudeva reached the river Yamuna. The river, even though overflowing and turbulent due to the rains, first rose up and then finally afforded passage to Krishna, much like the sea, which had given Him way when as Rama He had set out to conquer Lanka.

Why did the river Yamuna act the way it did? There are many reasons. Firstly, she realised that the great Lord Himself, whose lotus feet is difficult to attain for even the greatest of saints would play with those very feet on its banks. This realisation enraptured her to no end and she wept with joy. Her eyes shed so many tears that the river was flooded.

Additionally, Yamuna is the sister of Yama, the lord of death. Lest the Lord think that she, being the sister of death, was lifeless, she made special efforts to display that she was full of life.


Lord Krishna Vanquishes Kaliya

Why did Yamuna suddenly recede her waters? She realised that the baby Krishna, thinking that her waters were too deep and wide, might not enter her waters to play. Therefore, she immediately reduced her waters to three levels: Till His throat, navel and knees. Another reason why Yamuna opened herself like never before in front of the Lord was that she was being tormented by the hot fumes issuing from the mouth of the snake Kaliya, who was living within her waters. Displaying her vast expanse of waters was her way of opening up her painful heart to Krishna. Eventually the Lord did vanquish Kaliya and free Yamuna.


Of course, the ultimate source of joy for Yamuna was the fact that in His avatar as Krishna, the Lord would marry her, granting her the most special privilege of all, that if being His wife.


References & Further Reading:

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