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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 [So] 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 [So 115]
  • So pious was Devaki's son . . . [he perceived] him who dwell in all beings . . . - Narayana Upanishad 5. [So 805] - it is a minor upanishad. - (The Narayana Upanishad's fifth verse makes use of the older Atmabodha Upanishad passage.) [So 803, 807-8]

The authors of Classical Hindu Mythology [Clh], 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. And Poul Tuxen, a Danish professor who translated the Bhagavad Gita into Danish [Wy], also considers that we cannot rule out that there was a historical Krishna.

We may consider the long epic poem of Mahabharata about the marring war that Krishna is involved in, as proof. Consider Dr Poul Tuxen's [Wy] points then:

  1. The Mahabharata grew considerably in time.
  2. Words in the Bhagavad Gita that appear in it, were added in the course of time over many centuries.

Also take into account that 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 of immense cultural and religious importance to India. The dating of findings is said to fit too. Some think the findings along with the epic descriptions are good and relevant proof that a Krishna existed and that lore around him thus has a historical basis too.

Many Krishna puzzles remain anyway.


Among puzzles, some tend to higher functions, as art can do, and select Zen koans too. Other puzzles have no expedient solutions, and may frustrate or even mar. It helps to know which is which, and it helps even better to be informed fair and square first. As for stories of Krishnas, there are two sum-up books I would like to draw attention to:

  1. Dr Klaus Klostermaier's sympathetic A Survey of Hinduism [Sf] offers a palatable "skeleton of conceptual pegs" for understanding things and connections. For the lack of that sort of meta-cognition (surveys from above), a jungle of more or less fragmented or idealised stories can be hard to tackle.

  2. Also, 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 [Clh]. Stories of Krishna are among them. It stands out it can be hard to decide when and where rustic tales were formed in the first place. For example, the oldest material in the Puranas is as old as the Vedas.

There are so many tales about Krishna otherwise that it could be difficult to make head and tails of the material. The professors have tried to do it for us. Also, many stories of the Hindu tradition may be difficult to understand for the non-specialist, they frankly assess. [Clh 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) . . . [Clh 61]

There are different shaktis 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. The most constructive view of Vishnu lies in this: Each one of us can have him within: if he is understood, that should not be hard for the one who knows Him in truth - that "one in a million or so", according to Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.

To know God you have to be God, it is held in the Advaita Vedanta - You just did not know it. Others hold slightly different views in the matter as well. And to find out which is true, or at least best, you have to eat mangoes, says Ramakrishna. It is quite something to take to heart.

PASUPATI: "What do you think of the solar plane, the lunar plane, the stellar plane?"

MASTER [i.e. RAMAKRISHNA]: "My dear sir, I don't know about these things. Why bother about them so much? You have come to the orchard to eat mangoes. . . . What is the use of your calculating how many mango-trees there are, how many millions of branches, how many billions of leaves? I have come to the orchard to eat mangoes. Let me enjoy them.

"Once a man's inner spirit is awakened, once he succeeds in knowing God, he doesn't feel the desire even to know about all this rubbish." [Mahendranath Gupta. The Gospel of Ramakrishna. Chap. 43, "Nature of "I"]

The Bhagavad Gita

The Uddhava Gita


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

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

EB: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica 2014 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD. London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2013.

Rap: Gupta, Mahendranath. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Tr. Swami Nikhilananda. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1942. Online.

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

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