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Lord Krishna: Was he real?

Updated on August 17, 2014

Can one imagine the famous epic "Mahabharata" without Krishna? In fact he is the central character of the great epic. He has played the vital role from beginning to end in the great war. He had been chief counsel of Pandava's. Without his strategic advices Pandava's would have been doomed!

However Krishna is an intriguing personality, having many dimensions to His character. In the Indian mythology he is depicted as incarnation of Lord Vishnu, a cunning statesman, a fierce fighter, an eternal lover of Radha and Gopi's, destroyer of the demons and most importantly the author of Hindu sacred text “Bhagvad Geeta”.

Actually in Mahabharata his childhood deeds are scarcely mentioned. Those are Harivansha, Bhagavata Purana and some other Puranic texts, that describes at greater length the childhood of Krishna. Bhagvata Purana wove various miraculous mythical stories surrounding him thus elevating the character of Krishna not only divine, but that could endear lovers, mothers, fathers and elders at the same breath!

What was real Krishna?

But what was real Krishna? Was he a historical figure or a mythical imaginative character created and developed by contributors of Mahabharata in the course of the time? Opinion of scholars is divided on this issue. Some tend to believe that he was the historical person as some references to his Yadu clan are found in older texts. In Rig Veda his Yadu clan is referred as "Dasyu". Also they opine that overall character of Krishna is depicted in Mahabharata mostly on humanly ground excepting very few divine deeds attributed to him.

Counter argument is, Mahabharata story itself is a fiction and thus Krishna too is a fictional character. Recently found remains of the City Dwarka in the sea gave rise to the various speculations as it matched the mythological story of sunken Dwarka city after dissension of Yadava clan. But it is not clear as yet whether the remains found on the sea bed of an ancient settlement really belong to Krishna's Dwarka.

Romantic Krishna with Gopi's.
Romantic Krishna with Gopi's.

How many Krishna’s?

Also, even if Krishna is considered to be a historical person, a debate has been fiercely fought over whether Krishna was a one person or three different persons of same name unified to make one in the later times? This is because Krishna’s personality is filled up with many contradicting aspects if looked carefully at Krishna as a whole through the ancient literature.

At one hand he is always praised for his valiance and his being incarnation of Lord Vishnu and yet he had to flee with his clan to survive from the attacks of king Jarasangha. None of the war with Jarasangha he ever could win. The most of the persons he has got killed not with his valor but cunning and deceitful tactics. At instances he has averted himself from direct fights those could engage him personally.

He got killed his sworn enemy Jarasangha at the hands of Bhima in wrestling and that too treacherously, signalling Bhima to break rules of the dual.

Krishna killed Shishupala in sacrificial pavilion without even warning him for dual! Death came to Shishupala as a surprise! This was not at all an ethical manner to kill someone without forewarning and challenging for dual, at the least not a suitable act for the incarnation of the supreme divine!

Krishna and Arjuna together, by setting Khandav forest on fire, thus forcing Naga inhabitants of the forest to flee from their ancient habitat to get mass massacred at their hands.

Krishna got killed Karna, a most valiant warrior of his times and blood brother of Pandava’s, when he was unarmed and in trouble during war, at the hands of Arjuna.

And lastly, highly condemned act of Krishna by even his elder brother Balrama is, he got Duryodhana killed at the hands of Bhima in a final dual hinting him break thighs of Duryodhana. It was against rules of mace dual that any participant of dual should not hit bellow the belly.

Krishna seems recklessly breaking all the ethical norms of his time wherever he finds no other way to defeat enemy!

From any point of view these cannot be called Godly acts, no matter whether committed to resurrect the weakened religion or otherwise.

In fact these actions, if weighed considering Krishna as a human being, having extra-ordinary intellect and statesmanship, can be justified. A man weak himself in fights resorting to the cunning practices to win over enemies by hook or crook can be understandable. These actions of Krishna indeed suggests that he could not be a product of mere poetic imagination. Had it been a case poet would have created his character differently!

Who was author of the Geeta?

Was author of Geeta another Krishna? Geeta is treated as a sacred scripture of Hindu religion. The Philosophical issues that Geeta handles are amazing! Inspiring at one hand and same time giving new insight into human life at the other! Geeta has been a main source of inspiration to millions of Hindu people from centuries. Every philosopher of later times, as if a rule, wrote commentary on Geeta to reveal real meaning to support his cult or philosophical belief. Even Mahatma Gandhi too have written a commentary on Geeta to find support to his non-violence theory! In a way Geeta gives all what one desires!

Can a cunning statesman like Krishna be a philosopher of such a greater deapth?

Krishna's feat as a child!
Krishna's feat as a child!

It is agreed now that Geeta couldn’t have been revealed at the time when both the armies stood facing each other for the deciding war. There simply was no time for such philosophical debate on the battlefield. Arjuna’s timid question that how could he fight with his relatives and Guru for the sake of the land is questionable in itself. Even taken the question for true there was no need to elaborate on core philosophical issues unrelated to the war.

Ultimate aim of Geeta was to make Arjuna ready to fight leaving aside his doubts.

Geeta, as a whole does it most brilliantly, but still the question remains was it told by Krishna on battlefield or it is a addition of later times to Mahabharata?

Now when we study Geeta carefully, it seems the compilation of ancient thoughts in convincing order. So many issues are discussed in it in question-answer format. Brahma Sutra, Sankhya Yoga and Upanisada’s are mentioned at end of every chapter as the source material. Thus Geeta skilfully incorporates from Vedic to Non-Vedic philosophical streams in a single book.

This makes us sure that Geeta was not the creation of Krishna. Some brilliant philosopher of later times found the place suitable in Mahabharata where he could rightly place his compilation in such a manner no one would doubt interpolation, assigning sanctity to his work.

This would have done at later times when original epic was being translated from original Prakrit to Sanskrit and Krishna already was elevated to a mythical hero in the minds of the people!

Harivansha already had idolized the character of young Krishna. Divinity just needed to be mentioned but not elaborated in Mahabharata as premise of Krishna’s divinity already was established through Harivamsha.

We safely can conclude that Krishna of Mahabharata was a historical character with all humanly qualities and flaws. It makes him a real human being. During the Gupta era as he was consolidated in vaishnava cult, declaring him an incarnation of the Lord Vishnu, most of the miracles and other fictional aspects were added into his original character.

The fact now is almost forgotten that in his Satvata clan a cult was formed that worshiped Krishna, Balrama, Pradyumna etc. in five elements form, which was known as Pancharatra. The cult was popular in North India till first century AD. The cult was non-Vedic in philosophy and rituals, suiting to the original non-Vedic characteristics of Yadu clan. Panchahratra sect that was quite famous in those times, Mahabharata too mention it at some places. However in later times Krishna was assimilated in Vaishnav sect by adorning him new character. Pancharatra cult gradually vanished as their main element "Krishna" was admitted in neo-Vedic pantheon as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, a minor Vedic God.

How of humans are made God’s is a strange process of human psyche. There is no way to understand it. But if at all we want to learn something from Geeta, attributed to Lord Krishna, we can learn that keep on doing your work without expectations…

Who knows in later times you too would be made God to be worshiped by each and one!


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    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      5 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      Very interesting article. I am not a scholar, but I have read the Bhagavad-Gita (Gita). I can only judge a book as written. After all, we were not there 5,000 years ago.

      Here is my question to you.

      Given there is an all encompassing God/Krishna and given there is reincarnation and Karma, what is the meaning of 18.17?

      18.17 One who is not motivated by false ego, whose intelligence is not entangled, though he kills men in this world, does not kill. Nor is he bound by his actions.

      This seems contradictory to me. The proof of a false ego is to dominate and control another unto death (killing). It is not right to kill people and keep them from their purpose in this life. No one has the right to retard the education of another. Saying he is not bound by his actions contradicts the concept of Karma.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Add Your Commentwhen was Vishnu a minor vedic god?...

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      "And lastly, highly condemned act of Krishna by even his elder brother Balrama is he got Duryodhana killed at the hands of Bhima in a final dual hinting him break thighs of Duryodhana." Sanjay

      ..... Duryodhana was no saint. He had earlier tried to poison and drown Bhima for no reason and even ordered the public stripping of a helpless woman Drupadi when she was in extremely vulnerable situation (after being gambled away by her husband) . Even Duryodhana's mother Gandhari had serious doubts about his character (dubious dealings as a royal prince) and on a number of occasions talked about it to her husband king Dhritrashtra.

    • sanjay-sonawani profile imageAUTHOR

      Sanjay Sonawani 

      8 years ago from Pune, India.

      Thanks Mahavir, thanks DDE for appreciation.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      8 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Most interesting information I learned more here about Lord Krishna.

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 

      8 years ago from Pune, India

      I agree that if Krishna was not a God, but a human being, if he existed. However I disagree that he was an ordinary man. In my view, he was the most cunning, clever and smart politician in the history of India. Some people are proud about Chanakya for his politics, but he seems to be a child before Krishna.

      Krishna seems to be a real person as there are many references about him not only in ancient Hindu literature, but also in Jain Agamic literature. Please have a look at:


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