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Krishna in Classical Sanskrit Sources and Archaeology

Western Krishna experts find only few mentions in the oldest Upanishads of a person that fits. The Upanishads are religio-philosophical works mainly. Three of them containsome lines on Krishna, and all the others do not mention him. The three mentions in Sixty Upanishads of the Veda [Deussen 1980] are:

  • Ghora Angirasa has explained it to Krishna, the son of Devaki" . . . he was free from thirst [commonly understood as desire] - Chandogya Upanishad 3.17 [Deussen 1980, 115]
  • So pious was Devaki's son . . . [he perceived] him who dwell in all beings . . . - Narayana Upanishad 5. [Deussen 1980, 805] - it is a minor upanishad. - (The Narayana Upanishad's fifth verse makes use of the older Atmabodha Upanishad passage.) [Ib., 803, 807-8]

The authors of Classical Hindu Mythology (1978), professors J. A. B. van Buitenen and Cornelia Dimmitt, think he could have existed a long time before the current era, since the medieval Harivamsa tales speak about him so well - but those tales are not exactly history works. Anyhow, the two translators give Krishna the benefit of doubt. The same does dr. Poul Tuxen, a Danish professor who translated the Bhagavad Gita into Danish (1962); he too considers that we cannot rule out that there was a historical Krishna.

Also consider Dr Poul Tuxen's points:

  1. The epic Mahabharata grew much over centuries.
  2. Words in the Bhagavad Gita that appear in it, were added in the course of time over the centuries. Dr. Phulgenda Sinha (1987) observes the Gita has grown too.

Remains of a well-fortified township claimed to be Krishna's capital Dwarka (also called Kathiawad and Dwaraka) were found in 1981 under water on the coast of Gujarat in western India. The findings conform with Mahabharata descriptions. The findings are significant. The dating of findings is said to fit in too. Some think the findings along with the epic descriptions are proofs that a Krishna existed and that lore around him has a historical basis as well.


Books that contain stories of Krishna:

  1. Dr Klaus Klostermaier's A Survey of Hinduism [2007] offers a palatable "skeleton of conceptual pegs" for understanding things and connections.

  2. Professors Cornelia Dimmitt and J. A. B. van Buitenen have edited, translated and brought together significant myths from old sources in their Classical Hindu Mythology [1978]. Stories of Krishna are among them. However, many stories of the Hindu tradition may be difficult to understand for the non-specialist, Dimmit and van Buitenen also assess. [1978, xi, 3-11 ff, passim].

Krishna is thought to be a full incarnation of Lord Vishnu of the Hindu pantheon, God Vishnu is known by a variety of names, and has four distinctive weapons, one in each of his four hands: Mace, conch, lotus and a discus.

His body figure has certain marks of identity, including a whorl of hair on the chest. He sails on the giant bird Garuda - the vessel represents his animal passion; such power or prowess in general. The vast bird is a metaphor for rising high, also the cosmos, which is called Garuda. Most often it is symbolised by a vulture, but Dimmitt and van Buitenen let it be an eagle. The giant bird rides through space. The giant cosmos does that also.

Vishnu is also "endless" and "remainder". These are difficult concepts in the ocean of milk (Milky Way) . . . [Dimmit and van Buitenen 1978, 61]

There are different shaktis (forms of prowess, or powers) in the world, and differences among girls too. Each has distinctive marks, or hallmarks. Vishnu's shakti or female side, is Lakshmi, also called Sri. She represents wealth and prosperity. This female shakti is pretty, loves to rest on Vishnu's chest, and stands for a certain variant or form of bliss.

We know God if we are God, it is held in Upanishads. "He who knows Brahman become Brahman" (Mundaka Upanishad. 3.2.9). Others hold slightly different views in the matter as well. And to find out which is true, or works best for us, there seems to be a need to eat figurative mangoes. That is what Ramakrishna says:

You have come to the orchard to eat mangoes. Enjoy them to your heart's content.
Do that and be happy.
Eat the mangoes.
You have come to the garden to eat mangoes. Go and eat them. . . . it is not good to forget that. You have come to eat mangoes. Eat the mangoes and be happy.
Some eat mangoes secretly and remove all trace of them by wiping their mouths with a towel. But some share the fruit with others.
Hypocrisy will not do.

- from Gupta 1969, 506, 463, 496, 672, 500-1, 673 [in that order])

The Bhagavad Gita

The Uddhava Gita


Sri Krishna, Krsna, Bhagavan Krishna, Hare Krishna, Sri Krisna, Literature  

Deussen, Paul, tr. 1980. Sixty Upanishads of the Veda. Vols 1-2. Varanasi: Banarsidass.

Dimmitt, Cornelia, ed., and J. A. B. van Buitenen, tr. 1978. Classical Hindu Mythology. Philadelphia: Temple University.

Gupta, Mahendranath. 1969. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Tr. Swami Nikhilananda. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center.

Klostermaier, Klaus K. 2007. A Survey of Hinduism. 3rd ed. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press.

Sinha, Phulgenda. 1987. The Gita as It Was: Rediscovering the Original Bhagavadgita. Paperback ed. La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company.

Tuxen, Poul, tr. 1962. Bhagavadgita. Herrens Ord. Copenhagen, DK: Gyldendal.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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