The name Krishna appears as the 57th and 550th name of Lord Vishnu in Vishnu Sahasranama of the Mahabharata, and is also listed in the 24 Keshava Namas of Lord Vishnu which are recited and praised at the beginning of all Vedic pujas.

According to the Bhagavata Purana, asserts that Krishna is "Bhagavan Himself," and subordinates to itself all other forms: Vishnu, Narayana, Purusha, Ishvara, Hari, Vasudeva, Janardana, etc. Krishna is often described and portrayed as an infant or young boy playing a flute as in the Bhagavata Purana, or as a youthful prince giving direction and guidance as in the Bhagavad Gita.

The stories of Krishna appear across a broad spectrum of Hindu philosophical and theological traditions. They portray him in various perspectives: a God-child, a prankster, a model lover, a divine hero, and the supreme being. The principal scriptures discussing Krishna's story are the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa, the Bhagavata Purana, and the Vishnu Purana. He is also called as Govinda & Gopala.

Puranic sources mention Krishna's disappearance marks the end of Dvapara Yuga and the start of Kali Yuga. Worship of the deity Krishna, either in the form of Vasudeva, Bala Krishna or Gopala can be traced to as early as 4th century BC. Worship of Krishna as svayam bhagavan, or the supreme being, known as Krishnaism, arose in the Middle Ages in the context of the bhakti movement. From the 10th century AD, Krishna became a favorite subject in performing arts and regional traditions of devotion developed for forms of Krishna such as Jagannatha in Odisha, Vithoba in Maharashtra and Shrinathji in Rajasthan.

Names and epithets

The Sanskrit word in its origin language Kṛṣṇa is primarily an adjective meaning "black" or "dark sometimes it is also translated as "all attractive", according to members of the Hare Krishna movement.
As a name of Vishnu, Krishna listed as the 57th Name in the Vishnu Sahasranama. Based on His Name, Krishna is often depicted in murtis as black or blue-skinned. Krishna is also known by various other names, epithets and titles, which reflect His many associations and attributes. Among the most common names are Mohan "enchanter", Govinda, "Finder of the cows", or Gopala, "Protector of the cows",


Krishna is easily recognized by his representations. Though his skin colour may be depicted as black or dark in some representations, particularly in murtis, in other images such as modern pictorial representations, Krishna is usually shown with blue skin. He is often shown wearing a yellow silk dhoti and a peacock feather crown. Common depictions show him as a little boy, or as a young man in a characteristically relaxed pose, playing the flute. In this form, he usually stands with one leg bent in front of the other with a flute raised to his lips, in the Tribhanga posture, accompanied by cows, emphasizing his position as the divine herdsman, Govinda, or with the gopis i.e. Gopikrishna, stealing butter from neighbouring houses i.e. Navneet Chora or Gokulakrishna, defeating the vicious serpent i.e. Kaliya Damana Krishna, lifting the hill i.e. Giridhara Krishna on and so forth from his childhood / youth events.

The scene on the battlefield of the epic Mahabharata, notably where he addresses Pandava prince Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, is another common subject for representation. In these depictions, he is shown as a man, often with supreme God characteristics of Hindu religious art, such as multiple arms or heads, denoting power, and with attributes of Vishnu, such as the chakra or in his two-armed form as a charioteer.
Representations in temples often show Krishna as a man standing in an upright, formal pose. He may be alone, or with associated figures: his brother Balarama and sister Subhadra, or his main queens Rukmini and Satyabhama.

Often, Krishna is pictured with his gopi-consort Radha. Manipuri Vaishnavas do not worship Krishna alone, but as Radha Krishna, a combined image of Krishna and Radha. This is also a characteristic of the schools Rudra and Nimbarka sampradaya, as well as that of Swaminarayan sect. The traditions celebrate Radha Ramana murti, who is viewed by Gaudiyas as a form of Radha Krishna.

Krishna is also depicted and worshipped as a small child (Bala Krishna), crawling on his hands and knees or dancing, often with butter or Laddu in his hand being Laddu Gopal. Regional variations in the iconography of Krishna are seen in his different forms, such as Jaganatha of Odisha, Vithoba of Maharashtra, Venkateswara (also Srinivasa or Balaji) in Andhra Pradesh, and Shrinathji in Rajasthan.

Literary sources

The earliest text to explicitly provide detailed descriptions of Krishna as a personality is the epic Mahabharata which depicts Krishna as an incarnation of Vishnu. Krishna is central to many of the main stories of the epic. The eighteen chapters of the sixth book (Bhishma Parva) of the epic that constitute the Bhagavad Gita contain the advice of Krishna to the warrior-hero Arjuna, on the battlefield. Krishna is already an adult in the epic, although there are allusions to his earlier exploits.

The Harivamsa, a later appendix to this epic, contains the earliest detailed version of Krishna's childhood and youth.

The Rig Veda 1.22.164 sukta 31 mentions a herdsman "who never stumbles". Some Vaishnavite scholars, such as Bhaktivinoda Thakura, claim that this herdsman refers to Krishna. Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar also attempted to show that "the very same Krishna" made an appearance, e.g. as the drapsa ... krishna "black drop" of RV 8.96.13.[38] Some authors have also likened prehistoric depictions of deities to Krishna.

Chandogya Upanishad (3.17.6) composed around 900 BCE mentions Vasudeva Krishnaas the son of Devaki and the disciple of Ghora Angirasa , the seer who preached his disciple the philosophy of ‘Chhandogya.’ Having been influenced by the philosophy of ‘Chhandogya’ Krishna in the Bhagavadgita while delivering the discourse to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra discussed about sacrifice, which can be compared to purusha or the individual.

The Ghata-Jâtaka (No. 454) gives an account of Krishna's childhood and subsequent exploits which in many points corresponds with the Brahmanic legends of his life and contains several familiar incidents and names, such as Vâsudeva, Baladeva, Kaṃsa. Yet it presents many peculiarities and is either an independent version or a misrepresentation of a popular story that had wandered far from its home.

Jain tradition also shows that these tales were popular and were worked up into different forms, for the Jains have an elaborate system of ancient patriarchs which includes Vâsudevas and Baladevas. Krishna is the ninth of the Black Vâsudevas and is connected with Dvâravatî or Dvârakâ. He will become the twelfth tîrthankara of the next world-period and a similar position will be attained by Devakî, Rohinî, Baladeva and Javakumâra, all members of his family. This is a striking proof of the popularity of the Krishna legend outside the Brahmanic religion.

Many Puranas tell Krishna's life-story or some highlights from it. Two Puranas, the Bhagavata Purana and the Vishnu Purana, that contain the most elaborate telling of Krishna’s story and teachings are the most theologically venerated by the Vaishnava schools. Roughly one quarter of the Bhagavata Purana is spent extolling his life and philosophy.

Bhagavad gita and many other Puranas considers that Krishna is source of all the vedas. In Bhagvad Gita 15.15,Lord Krishna tells follows

I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas, I am to be known. Indeed, I am the compiler of Vedānta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.

Also in Srimad bhagvatam 11.21.43,Lord Krishna tells
“I am the ritualistic sacrifice enjoined by the Vedas, and I am the worshipable Deity. It is I who am presented as various philosophical hypotheses, and it is I alone who am then refuted by philosophical analysis. The transcendental sound vibration thus establishes Me as the essential meaning of all Vedic knowledge. The Vedas, elaborately analyzing all material duality as nothing but My illusory potency, ultimately completely negate this duality and achieve their own satisfaction. “


According to Bhagavata Purana, Krishna was born to Devaki and her husband, Vasudeva. When Mother Earth became upset about all the sin been going on Earth, she thought of seeking help from Lord Vishnu. She went in the form of a cow to visit Lord Vishnu and ask for help. Lord Vishnu agreed to help her and promised her that he would be born on Earth. On Earth in the Yadava clan, a prince named Kansa sent his father Ugrasena (King of Mathura) to prison and became the King himself. One day a loud voice from the sky (Akash Vani in Hindi) prophesied that the 8th son of Kansa's sister (Devaki) would kill Kansa . Thus, Kansa sent his sister and her husband (Vasudeva) to prison. Lord Vishnu himself later appeared to Devaki and Vasudeva and told them that he himself would be their eight son and kill Kansa and destroy sin in the world. Because of his sympathy for the earth, the divine Vishnu himself descended into the womb of Devaki and was born as her son, Vaasudeva (i.e., Krishna).

The Hindu Vishnu Purana relates: "Devaki bore in her womb the lotus-eyed deity...before the birth of Krishna, no one could bear to gaze upon Devaki, from the light that invested her, and those who contemplated her radiance felt their minds disturbed.” This reference to light is reminiscent of the Vedic hymn "To an Unknown Divine," which refers to a Golden Child. According to F. M. Müller, this term means "the golden gem of child" and is an attempt at naming the sun. According, to the Vishnu Purana Krishna is the total incarnation of Lord Vishnu. It clearly describes in the Vishnu Purana that Krishna was born on earth to destroy sin, especially Kansa.

Mathura (in present day Mathura district, Uttar Pradesh) was the capital of the Yadavas, to which Krishna's parents Vasudeva and Devaki belonged. King Kansa, Devaki's brother,had ascended the throne by imprisoning his father, King Ugrasena. Afraid of a prophecy from a divine voice from the heavens that predicted his death at the hands of Devaki's eighth "garbha", Kamsa had the couple locked in a prison cell. After Kansa killed the first six children, Devaki apparently had a miscarriage of the seventh. However, in reality, the womb was actually transferred to Rohini secretly. This was how Balarama, Krishna's elder brother, was born. Once again Devaki became pregnant. Now due to the miscarriage, Kansa was in a puzzle regarding 'The Eighth One', but his ministers advised that the divine voice from the heavens emphasised "the eight garbha" and so this is the one. That night Krishna was born in the Rohini nakshatra and simultaneously the goddess Durga was born as Yogamaya in Gokulam to Nanda and Yashoda.

Since Vasudeva knew Krishna's life was in danger, Krishna was secretly taken out of the prison cell to be raised by his foster parents, Yasoda and Nanda, in Gokula (in present day Mathura district). Two of his other siblings also survived, Balarama (Devaki's seventh child, transferred to the womb of Rohini, Vasudeva's first wife) and Subhadra (daughter of Vasudeva and Rohini, born much later than Balarama and Krishna).

Childhood and youth

Nanda was the head of a community of cow-herders, and he settled in Vrindavana. The stories of Krishna's childhood and youth tell how he became a cow herder, his mischievous pranks as Makhan Chor (butter thief), his foiling of attempts to take his life, and his role as a protector of the people of Vrindavana.
Krishna killed the demoness Putana, disguised as a wet nurse, and the tornado demon Trinavarta both sent by Kansa for Krishna's life. He tamed the serpent Kāliyā, who previously poisoned the waters of Yamuna river, thus leading to the death of the cowherds. In Hindu art, Krishna is often depicted dancing on the multi-hooded Kāliyā.

Krishna lifted the Govardhana hill and taught Indra, the king of the devas, a lesson to protect native people of Brindavana from persecution by Indra and prevent the devastation of the pasture land of Govardhan. Indra had too much pride and was angry when Krishna advised the people of Brindavana to take care of their animals and their environment that provide them with all their necessities, instead of worshipping Indra annually by spending their resources. In the view of some, the spiritual movement started by Krishna had something in it which went against the orthodox forms of worship of the Vedic gods such as Indra. In Bhagavat Purana, Krishna says that the rain came from the nearby hill Govardhana, and advised that the people worshiped the hill instead of Indra. This made Indra furious, so he punished them by sending out a great storm. Krishna then lifted Govardhan and held it over the people like an umbrella.

The stories of his play with the gopis (milkmaids) of Brindavana, especially Radha (daughter of Vrishbhanu, one of the original residents of Brindavan) became known as the Rasa lila and were romanticised in the poetry of Jayadeva, author of the Gita Govinda. These became important as part of the development of the Krishna bhakti traditions worshiping Radha Krishna.

Krishna’s childhood reinforces the Hindu concept of lila, playing for fun and enjoyment and not for sport or gain. His interaction with the gopis at the rasa dance or Rasa-lila is a great example of this. Krishna played his flute and the gopis came immediately from whatever they were doing, to the banks of the Yamuna River, and joined him in singing and dancing. Even those who could not physically be there joined him through meditation. The story of Krishna’s battle with Kāliyā also supports this idea in the sense of him dancing on Kāliyā’s many hoods. Even though he is doing battle with the serpent, he is in no real danger and treats it like a game. He is a protector, but he only appears to be a young boy having fun. This idea of having a playful god is very important in Hinduism. The playfulness of Krishna has inspired many celebrations like the Rasa-lila and the Janmashtami : where they make human pyramids to break open handis (clay pots) hung high in the air that spill buttermilk all over the group after being broken by the person at the top. This is meant to be a fun celebration and it gives the participants a sense of unity. Many believe that lila being connected with Krishna gives Hindus a deeper connection to him and thus a deeper connection to Vishnu also; seeing as Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu. Theologists, like Kristin Johnston Largen, believe that Krishna’s childhood can even inspire other religions to look for lila in deities so that they have a chance to experience a part of their faith that they may not have previously seen.

The Prince

On his return to Mathura as a young man, Krishna overthrew and killed his maternal uncle, Kansa, after quelling several assassination attempts from Kansa's followers. He reinstated Kansa's father, Ugrasena, as the king of the Yadavas and became a leading prince at the court. During this period, he became a friend of Arjuna and the other Pandava princes of the Kuru kingdom, who were his cousins. Later, he took his Yadava subjects to the city of Dwaraka (in modern Gujarat) and established his own kingdom there.

Krishna married Rukmini, the Vidarbha princess, by abducting her, at her request, from her proposed wedding with Shishupala. He married eight queens—collectively called the Ashtabharya—including Rukmini, Satyabhama, Jambavati, Kalindi, Mitravinda, Nagnajiti, Bhadra and Lakshmana. Krishna subsequently married 16,000 or 16,100 maidens who were held captive by the demon Narakasura, to save their honour.Krishna killed the demon and released them all. According to social custom of the time, all of the captive women were degraded, and would be unable to marry, as they had been under the Narakasura's control. However Krishna married them to reinstate their status in the society. i.

When Yudhisthira was assuming the title of emperor, he had invited all the great kings to the ceremony and while paying his respects to them, he started with Krishna because he considered Krishna to be the greatest of them all. While it was a unanimous feeling amongst most present at the ceremony that Krishna should get the first honours, his cousin Shishupala felt otherwise and started berating Krishna. Due to a vow given to Shishupal's mother, Krishna forgave a hundred verbal abuses by Shishupal, and upon the one hundred and first, he assumed his Virat (universal) form and killed Shishupal with his Chakra. The blind king Dhritarashtra also obtained divine vision during this time to be able to see this form of Krishna. Essentially, Shishupala and Dantavakra were both re-incarnations of Vishnu's gate-keepers Jaya and Vijaya, who were cursed to be born on Earth, to be delivered by the Vishnu back to Vaikuntha.

Kurukshetra War and Bhagavad Gita

Once battle seemed inevitable, Krishna offered both sides the opportunity to choose between having either his army called narayani sena or himself alone, but on the condition that he personally would not raise any weapon. Arjuna, on behalf of the Pandavas, chose to have Krishna on their side, and Duryodhana, Kaurava prince, chose Krishna's army. At the time of the great battle, Krishna acted as Arjuna's charioteer, since this position did not require the wielding of weapons.
Upon arrival at the battlefield, and seeing that the enemies are his family, his grandfather, his cousins and loved ones, Arjuna is moved and says his heart does not allow him to fight and he would rather prefer to renounce the kingdom and put down his Gandiv (Arjuna's bow). Krishna then advises him about the battle, with the conversation soon extending into a discourse which was later compiled as the Bhagavad Gita.

Krishna asked Arjuna, "Have you within no time, forgotten the Kauravas' evil deeds such as not accepting the eldest brother Yudhishtira as King, usurping the entire Kingdom without yielding any portion to the Pandavas, meting out insults and difficulties to Pandavas, attempt to murder the Pandavas in the Barnava lac guest house, publicly disrobing and disgracing Draupadi. Krishna further exhorted in his famous Bhagavad Gita, "Arjuna, do not engage in philosophical analyses at this point of time like a Pundit. You are aware that Duryodhana and Karna particularly have long harboured jealousy and hatred for you Pandavas and badly want to prove their hegemony. You are aware that Bhishmacharya and your Teachers are tied down to their dharma of protecting the unitarian power of the Kuru throne. Moreover, you Arjuna, are only a mortal appointee to carry out my divine will, since the Kauravas are destined to die either way, due to their heap of sins. Open your eyes O Bhaarata and know that I encompass the Karta, Karma and Kriya, all in myself. There is no scope for contemplation now or remorse later, it is indeed time for war and the world will remember your might and immense powers for time to come. So rise O Arjuna!, tighten up your Gandiva and let all directions shiver till their farthest horizons, by the reverberation of its string."

Krishna had a profound effect on the Mahabharata war and its consequences. He had considered the Kurukshetra war to be a last resort after voluntarily acting as a messenger in order to establish peace between the Pandavas and Kauravas. But, once these peace negotiations failed and was embarked into the war, then he became a clever strategist. During the war, upon becoming angry with Arjuna for not fighting in true spirit against his ancestors, Krishna once picked up a carriage wheel in order to use it as a weapon to challenge Bhishma. Upon seeing this, Bhishma dropped his weapons and asked Krishna to kill him. However, Arjuna apologized to Krishna, promising that he would fight with full dedication here/after, and the battle continued. Krishna had directed Yudhisthira and Arjuna to return to Bhishma the boon of "victory" which he had given to Yudhisthira before the war commenced, since he himself was standing in their way to victory. Bhishma understood the message and told them the means through which he would drop his weapons—which was if a woman entered the battlefield. Next day, upon Krishna's directions, Shikhandi (Amba reborn) accompanied Arjuna to the battlefield and thus, Bhishma laid down his arms. This was a decisive moment in the war because Bhishma was the chief commander of the Kaurava army and the most formidable warrior on the battlefield. Krishna aided Arjuna in killing Jayadratha, who had held the other four Pandava brothers at bay while Arjuna's son Abhimanyu entered Drona's Chakravyuha formation—an effort in which he was killed by the simultaneous attack of eight Kaurava warriors. Krishna also caused the downfall of Drona, when he signalled Bhima to kill an elephant called Ashwatthama, the namesake of Drona's son. Pandavas started shouting that Ashwatthama was dead but Drona refused to believe them saying he would believe it only if he heard it from Yudhisthira. Krishna knew that Yudhisthira would never tell a lie, so he devised a clever ploy so that Yudhisthira wouldn't lie and at the same time Drona would be convinced of his son's death. On asked by Drona, Yudhisthira proclaimed

Ashwathama Hatahath, naro va Kunjaro va

i.e. Ashwathama had died but he was nor sure whether it was a Drona's son or an elephant. But as soon as Yudhisthira had uttered the first line, Pandava army on Krishna's direction broke into celebration with drums and conchs, in the din of which Drona could not hear the second part of the Yudhisthira's declaration and assumed that his son indeed was dead. Overcome with grief he laid down his arms, and on Krishna's instruction Dhrishtadyumna beheaded Drona.

When Arjuna was fighting Karna, the latter's chariot's wheels sank into the ground. While Karna was trying to take out the chariot from the grip of the Earth, Krishna reminded Arjuna how Karna and the other Kauravas had broken all rules of battle while simultaneously attacking and killing Abhimanyu, and he convinced Arjuna to do the same in revenge in order to kill Karna. During the final stage of the war, when Duryodhana was going to meet his mother Gandhari for taking her blessings which would convert all parts of his body on which her sight falls to diamond, Krishna tricks him to wearing banana leaves to hide his groin. When Duryodhana meets Gandhari, her vision and blessings fall on his entire body except his groin and thighs, and she becomes unhappy about it because she was not able to convert his entire body to diamond. When Duryodhana was in a mace-fight with Bhima, Bhima's blows had no effect on Duryodhana. Upon this, Krishna reminded Bhima of his vow to kill Duryodhana by hitting him on the thigh, and Bhima did the same to win the war despite it being against the rules of mace-fight (since Duryodhana had himself broken Dharma in all his past acts). Thus, Krishna's unparalleled strategy helped the Pandavas win the Mahabharata war by bringing the downfall of all the chief Kaurava warriors, without lifting any weapon. He also brought back to life Arjuna's grandson Parikshit, who had been attacked by a Brahmastra weapon from Ashwatthama while he was in his mother's womb. Parikshit became the Pandavas' successor.


Krishna had eight princely wives,also known as Ashtabharya,or patrani (Rukmini, Satyabhama, Jambavati, Nagnajiti, Kalindi, Mitravinda, Bhadra, Lakshmana) and the other 16,100 were rescued from Narakasura. They had been forcibly kept in his palace and after Krishna had killed Narakasura he rescued these 16,100 women and freed them. However, all of them returned to Krishna saying that because they had been kept by Narakasura none of their families would accept them and also nobody would marry any of them. So to stop them from being unprotected Krishna married them all on a single day, by taking 16,100 forms. The chief amongst them is sometimes called Rohini. He gave them shelter in his new palace and a respectful place in society. However he never had any relations with those 16,100 women, and many Hindu scriptures describe them as dancing around Krishna, singing songs of praise.

The first son of Queen Rukmini was Pradyumna, and also born of her were Charudeshna, Sudeshna and the powerful Charudeha, along with Sucharu, Chharugupta, Bhadracaru, Charuchandra, Vicaru and Caru, the tenth. Pradyumna fathered the greatly powerful Aniruddha in the womb of Rukmavati, the daughter of Rukmi. This took place while they were living in the city of Bhojakata.

The ten sons of Satyabhama were Bhanu, Subhanu, Svarbhanu, Prabhanu, Bhanuman, Chandrabhanu, Brihadbhanu, Atibhanu (the eighth), Sribhanu and Pratibhanu.

Samba, Sumitra, Purujit, Satajit, Sahasrajit, Vijaya, Citraketu, Vasuman, Dravida and Kratu were the sons of Jambavati. These ten, headed by Samba, were their father's favorites.

The sons of Nagnajiti were Vira, Candra, Asvasena, Citragu, Vegavan, Vrisha, Ama, Sanku, Vasu and the opulent Kunti.

Sruta, Kavi, Vrisha, Vira, Subahu, Bhadra, Santi, Darsa and Purnamasa were sons of Kalindi. Her youngest son was Somaka.

Mitravinda's sons were Vrika, Harsha, Anila, Gridhra, Vardhana, Unnada, Mahamsa, Pavana, Vahni and Kshudhi.

Sangramajit, Brihatsena, Sura, Praharana, Arijith, Jaya and Subhadra were the sons of Bhadra, together with Vama, Ayur and Satyaka.

Lakshmana's sons were Praghosha, Gatravan, Simha, Bala, Prabala, Urdhaga, Mahasakti, Saha, Oja and Aparajita.

Diptiman, Tamratapta and others were the sons of Krishna and Rohini.

Later life

According to Mahabharata, the Kurukshetra war resulted in the death of all 100 sons of Gandhari. On the night before Duryodhana's death, Lord Krishna visited Gandhari to offer his condolences. Gandhari felt that Krishna knowingly did not put an end to the war, and in a fit of rage and sorrow, Gandhari cursed that Krishna, along with everyone else from Yadu dynasty, would perish after 36 years. Krishna himself knew and wanted this to happen as he felt that the Yadavas had become very haughty and arrogant (adharmi), so he ended Gandhari's speech by saying "tathastu" (so be it).

After 36 years passed, a fight broke out between the Yadavas, at a festival, who killed each other. His elder brother, Balarama, then gave up his body using Yoga. Krishna retired into the forest and started meditating under a tree. The Mahabharata also narrates the story of a hunter who kills Krishna. The hunter Jara, mistook Krishna's partly visible left foot for that of a deer, and shot an arrow, wounding and killing him mortally. After he realised the mistake, Krishna told Jara, "O Jara, you were Vali in your previous birth, killed by myself as Rama in Tretayuga. Here you had a chance to even it and since all acts in this world are done as desired by me, you need not worry for this". Then Krishna ascended back to his eternal abode, Goloka vrindavan.
According to Puranic sources, Krishna's disappearance marks the end of Dvapara Yuga and the start of Kali Yuga. Vaishnava teachers such as Ramanujacharya and Gaudiya Vaishnavas held the view that the body of Krishna is completely spiritual and never decays (Achyuta) as this appears to be the perspective of the Bhagavata Purana.



The worship of Krishna is part of Vaishnavism, which regards Vishnu as the Supreme God and venerates His associated avatars, their consorts, and related saints and teachers. Krishna is especially looked upon as a full manifestation of Vishnu, and as one with Vishnu himself. However the exact relationship between Krishna and Vishnu is complex and diverse, where Krishna is sometimes considered an independent deity, supreme in his own right. Out of many deities, Krishna is particularly important, and traditions of Vaishnava lines are generally centered either on Vishnu or on Krishna, as supreme. The term Krishnaism has been used to describe the sects of Krishna, reserving the term "Vaishnavism" for sects focusing on Vishnu in which Krishna is an avatar, rather than as a transcendent Supreme Being.

All Vaishnava traditions recognise Krishna as an avatar of Vishnu; others identify Krishna with Vishnu; while traditions, such as Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Vallabha Sampradaya and the Nimbarka Sampradaya, regard Krishna as the svayam bhagavan, original form of God. Swaminarayan, the founder of the Swaminarayan Sampraday also worshipped Krishna as God himself. "Greater Krishnaism" corresponds to the second and dominant phase of Vaishnavism, revolving around the cults of the Vasudeva, Krishna, and Gopala of late Vedic period.

Bhakti tradition

Bhakti, meaning devotion, is not confined to any one deity. However Krishna is an important and popular focus of the devotional and ecstatic aspects of Hindu religion, particularly among the Vaishnava sects. Devotees of Krishna subscribe to the concept of lila, meaning 'divine play', as the central principle of the Universe. The lilas of Krishna, with their expressions of personal love that transcend the boundaries of formal reverence, serve as a counterpoint to the actions of another avatar of Vishnu: Rama, "He of the straight and narrow path of maryada, or rules and regulations."
The bhakti movements devoted to Krishna became prominent in southern India in the 7th to 9th centuries AD. The earliest works included those of the Alvar saints of the Tamil country.A major collection of their works is the Divya Prabandham. The Alvar Andal's popular collection of songs Tiruppavai, in which she conceives of herself as a gopi, is the most famous of the oldest works in this genre Kulasekaraazhvaar's Mukundamala was another notable work of this early stage.

In the performing arts

While discussing the origin of Indian theatre, Horwitz talks about the mention of the Krishna story in Patanjali's Mahabhashya (c. 150 BC), where the episodes of slaying of Kamsa (Kamsa Vadha) and "Binding of the heaven storming titan" (Bali Bandha) are described.[125] Bhasa's Balacharitam and Dutavakyam (c. 400 BC) are the only Sanskrit plays centered on Krishna written by a major classical dramatist. The former dwells only on his childhood exploits and the latter is a one-act play based on a single episode from the Mahābhārata when Krishna tries to make peace between the warring cousins.

From the 10th century AD, with the growing bhakti movement, Krishna became a favorite subject of the arts. The songs of the Gita Govinda became popular across India, and had many imitations. The songs composed by the Bhakti poets added to the repository of both folk and classical singing.

The classical Indian dances, especially Odissi and Manipuri, draw heavily on the story. The 'Rasa lila' dances performed in Vrindavan shares elements with Kathak, and the Krisnattam, with some cycles, such as Krishnattam, traditionally restricted to the Guruvayur temple, the precursor of Kathakali.

The Sattriya dance, founded by the Assamese Vaishnava saint Sankardeva, extols the virtues of Krishna.

Medieval Maharashtra gave birth to a form of storytelling known as the Hari-Katha, that told Vaishnava tales and teachings through music, dance, and narrative sequences, and the story of Krishna one of them. This tradition spread to Tamil Nadu and other southern states, and is now popular in many places throughout India.

Narayana Tirtha's (17th century AD) Krishna-Lila-Tarangini provided material for the musical plays of the Bhagavata-Mela by telling the tale of Krishna from birth until his marriage to Rukmini. Tyagaraja (18th century AD) wrote a similar piece about Krishna called Nauka-Charitam. The narratives of Krishna from the Puranas are performed in Yakshagana, a performance style native to Karnataka's coastal districts.

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