Krishna is the 8 th and the best known of the avatars of Vishnu, he himself is venerated as a god in his own right. He personifies the absolute but above all he is the embodiment of Love, he is the god of Bhakti par excellence.
Krishna : incarnation of Love
Through Krishna, the notion of devotion (Bakhti comes from Bhaj, to share) takes an essential place in Hinduism (a concept that appeared essentially in the Bhagavad-Gitâ, a text written between the 5th and 2nd centuries B.C., or even in the 1st century B.C.) as a path in its own right in the search for the absolute.
It does not overshadow other traditional paths, such as Jnana Yoga (the path of knowledge), Karma Yoga (the path of "right" action), Rajâ Yoga... but complements them and allows for a totally heart-based approach. The disciple or Bhagavant, the one who worships, who merges with the divine, will walk with the love he has for his Ishta Devata (chosen deity that each Hindu worships, in this case mainly Vishnu or Krishna): this deep and total love (communion, being one with) will allow him to go beyond the identification with the ego, that is to say the sense of separation. This way is accessible to everyone, it does not require long studies, intellectual or physical predispositions (no ascetic practices...) the daily practice can be very simple: songs, chanting of mantras, of names of deities....
Krishna: childhood and adolescence
Kamsa, cruel king of Mathura, murdered all of his sister Devakî's children because it was predicted that one of them would kill him. But, in due course, Vishnu allowed Krishna to be born, far from the palace and he spent a happy childhood among the herdsmen. To escape Kamsa, Krishna and his parents took refuge in the Vrindavan forest. Child Krishna is famous for his strength, his malice and his charm. He defeated many demons and Gods. As a teenager, Krishna is known for his talents as a flute player and as a seducer of pretty shepherdesses, the famous Gopî who fell madly in love with him.
Ultimately Krishna killed Kamsa and became king of Dvârkâ.
He is then named Bala Krishna, chubby, happy child, and can be represented holding in his right hand a ball of butter stolen from his mother. Bala Krishna represents youth, vitality, joy and of course passion, love.
The story of Krishna is a teaching transmitted in the form of a story accessible to the majority of people, but it includes many eminently esoteric symbols: Krishna must be incarnated in a profane family, he lives among cowherds, the sacred animal par excellence in India, the demons represent the obstacles, ignorance, fears, laziness, vanity... to be crossed on the way, the gopis embody the multiple forms of the feminine energy, of all the devotees but also those of the knowledge (Gopal-Purva-Tapini Upanishad) and their union with Krishna symbolize the Union between the feminine and masculine pole, that is to say the realization of the absolute.
The gopis must present themselves naked before Krishna, symbolically it is a question of abandoning their beliefs, their old ways of life (habits, opinions....), trusting him and giving themselves entirely to him, like the faithful who devote himself to the adoration of their Ishta Devata. Krishna's call is symbolized by the flute, his enchanting song is irresistible to all those called! Only total stripping allows union with the divine.
Krishna: Dvâkarâ King
The Mahâbhârata is a long epic story of which one of the books is the Bhagavad-Gitâ, the divine song: it tells the story of the war between two families, the cousins of Krishna: the Pandava and the Kaurava. After many adventures, tricks, jealousies... the Kaurava and their king Durydhana seized the kingdom of the Pandava. A war ensued where each clan asked for Krishna's help; Krishna, not being able to choose between the two enemies, offered his help to each of them: his presence, alone and unarmed, or his army. The Kaurava chose the army, while Arjuna of the Pandava preferred Krishna.
Krishna takes on the role of driver of Arjuna's chariot: on this occasion, he will be Arjuna's Guru, transmitting to him the spiritual teaching while revealing to him his true divine nature.
Arjuna is filled with deep doubts at the idea of waging war, of spilling blood, especially that of his own family. Krishna's answer brings a vertical dimension: the importance of right action (of svadharma, the dharma of each person, of order), of playing the score that life proposes to us, namely for Arjuna that of the warrior (the caste to which he belongs), but above all the relativity of the manifested form in relation to the Atman, the absolute.
"That which is immutable, no one can bring about its destruction" (Song II, 17),
and to support his reasoning Krishna reveals his true, divine nature to Arjuna.
On this occasion, Krishna exposes the path of Bhakti which, while being part of the Hindu tradition, proposes a new way based on adoration, love and total self-denial as well as the handing over of one's destiny into the divine hands, incarnated by Krishna.
The worship of Krishna
Just like the primordial deities of Hinduism (such as Shiva, Vishnu and their Shakti, Ganesh ...), Krishna is worshiped in different forms by the faithful according to their own affinities: Balakrishna, the little child, Gopala, the herdsman, the flute player, Râdharâmana, the lover of Râdhâ or else Sârathi, the guru of Arjuna.
Krishnna, in painting is represented with dark skin, his sacred city is Mathura. The rites vary from region to region, depending on the incarnation worshiped, but on the whole the pujas have the same forms: readings of sacred texts, songs, offerings.
One of the characteristics of Krishna's devotees is the importance given to intimacy and the tenderness that unites them: likewise, their devotion can take very extroverted forms: strength of expression in songs, adornments, dances ... which leads to ecstasy. These "madmen of God" can leave everything, go on the roads and devote their lives to Krishna.
Sarah Combe: Un et Multiple
Catherine Clément: Promenade avec les dieux de l’Inde
Alain Daniélou: Mythes et Dieux de l’Inde
Eva Rudy Janssen: Iconographie de l’Hindouisme