Who is Krishna?
Krishna, the greatest and most popular of Vishnu’s avatars, is literally “the black (krishna) one,” who in the Bhagavata Purana is provided with a complex hero-based mythology involving a miraculous conception and birth and the slaying of monsters.
Krishna’s parents were Vasudeva and Devaki. From the beginning, Krishna was threatened by Kamsa, his evil uncle. Born with four hands holding the symbols of Vishnu, Krishna immediately revealed his past lives to his father and gave him instructions relating to his present one. He then returned to the form of a human baby and Vasudeva took the baby to another couple to protect him from Kamsa. He returned home with a substitute baby, who was an incarnation of Devi. When Kamsa arrived to kill it, the baby ascended to the sky, announcing that the future killer of Kamsa was already born. In his fury, Kamsa undertook a massacre of innocent babies, so Krishna’s foster father took the child away to Gokula, where the boy grew up among the cow herders known as Gopalas. Krishna developed many trickster characteristics, especially in his relationship with the cow-herding girls, the Gopis. One day when the girls went swimming, for instance, he stole their clothes and made them come to him to retrieve them.
In erotic episodes he divided himself into many Krishnas and had relations with the Gopis. His favorite was Radha. The Gopis’ lovemaking with him represents religious devotion and total subservience to Krishna.
In one trickster act the boy Krishna swallowed dirt, causing his foster mother to demand that he open his mouth. When he did so and she looked in, she witnessed the whole universe.
In his youth Krishna was also a monster slayer and protector of the people.
In the Mahabharata, Krishna is serving as the apparently human charioteer for the Pandava hero Arjuna during an epic battle, when suddenly he reveals himself as the supreme being, the Lord Krishna, incarnation of Vishnu.
Eventually Krishna, in his human form, was killed by a poison arrow, which pierced his foot, the only place in his body not protected by a magical potion. At his death he rose up to the heavens and once again became Vishnu.
Readers of the New Testament and of the myths of Achilles will be reminded in the Krishna story of King Herod and the massacre of the innocents, of the ascension of Jesus, and of the fatal vulnerability of Achilles’ heel.