One of the most popular of all Hindu gods, worshipped in a variety of ways. Believers consider Krishna to be the eighth avatar, or aspect, of Vishnu, one of the three central Hindu gods, but also worship him as a representation of the divine in his own right. Krishna figures largely in such central Hindu texts as the Mahabharatha and Puranas. In the Puranas, Krishna is described as the scion of one of India’s early warrior clans who was saved from a rival’s murder and raised by a cowherd. As a child, a form in which some believers continue to worship him, Krishna is depicted as mischievous but generous and goodhearted, sometimes dancing with joy. The most well known representation of him in the Mahabharatha, where he is described as a king and warrior, is as Arjuna’s chari- In Hindu mythology, the death of Krishna parallels that of Greek warrior Achilles: Both fell by an arrow to the heel. © LINDSAY HEBBERD/CORBIS oteer in the chapter known separately as the Bhagavad Gita.
There, Krishna reminds Arjuna, the human warrior, of the need to fulfill his duties and to understand the respective places of gods and humans. The Mahabharatha also contains the story of Krishna’s death. While he was mourning lost compatriots, a hunter mistakenly shot him with an arrow that struck him in the one place where it could do mortal damage: his heel (reminiscent of the story of Achilles in ancient Greek mythology). Among the most popular of all of Krishna’s aspects is as a youth and a lover. In stories that portray him this way, Krishna is often depicted as a cowherd with a flute. His flute-playing was so se- ductive and powerful that he was able to tempt away from their homes or flocks groups of gopis, or female cowherds, and then sport away his time with them in dancing and other acts. Some versions of this story emphasize Krishna’s generosity by describing how he was able to multiply himself into enough Krishnas so that each girl would have her own dancing partner.
The common interpretation of these stories focuses on these tales of love and play as allegories of the love of god. One of the gopis, Radha, went on to be associated with Krishna as his chief consort, and love stories of Krishna and Radha remain among the most popular of Hindu tales. Krishna also appears frequently in Hindu art, both high and popular, a reflection of his status as one of the most familiar of all deities. Images usually depict him as having blue or blue-black skin and wearing a yellow loincloth. He is often a dancer or standing in a carefree posture, playing his flute. Portrayals of him as a king or warrior are less common. A number of bhakti, or devotional, cults are dedicated to the worship of Krishna, especially those which emphasize the love and devotion shared by gods and followers.