What is the age of Krishna during Mahabharata War?

What is the age of Krishna during Mahabharata war - Featured Image - Picture of Krishna with a flute and a conch

The Mahabharata war, also called the Kurukshetra war, is the climactic event of the Hindu epic, Mahabharata. It is fought between two sets of cousins in the Kuru dynasty, the Pandavas (sons of Pandu) and the Kauravas (sons of Dhritarashtra).

Kingdoms like Panchala and Matsya side with the Pandavas. Krishna, the regent of Dwaraka, drives the chariot of Arjuna, the third Pandava, and signals his support for their cause.

The war is fought over eighteen days on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. It is won by the Pandavas at the end, but only after unfathomable destruction to lives and wealth on both sides.

(For the full summary of the war, see: 18 Days of the Mahabharata War: A Day-wise Summary.)

In this post, we will answer the question: What is the age of Krishna during Mahabharata war?

Krishna is fifty years old at the time of the Mahabharata war, assuming he left Vrindavan as a fifteen-year-old boy. He is thirty four at the time of Subhadra’s wedding, thirty six at the beginning of the Pandavas’ exile, and forty nine when they return. He dies at the age of eighty six.

Read on further to learn more about Krishna’s age during the Mahabharata war.

No Specific Information

Before we attempt to answer this question, we must acknowledge that there is no specific information about ages of characters in the Mahabharata at any point.

In addition, some events are described with precision as to how long they take from start to finish – whereas other events are only placed sketchily into the timeline.

This makes the process of determining a character’s age a guessing game at best. But we can do a reasonable job of it if we state our assumptions correctly.

I must state right at the outset that people have given varying answers to how old Krishna was during the Mahabharata war. Some have said that he is an old man in his eighties, whereas others have said he is in his thirties.

So this post does not claim to be the definitive answer. I will try my best to make it as realistic as possible.

Leaving Vrindavan

The first significant event in Krishna’s life is when he leaves Vrindavan after living with Yashoda and Nanda in their cowherd village until he ‘comes of age’.

There is often debate on just how old Krishna is when he leaves Vrindavan and kills Kamsa. Some paintings depict him and Balarama as mere boys – under the age of ten – whereas other storytellers have claimed that Krishna is already a teenager.

If we take the events of the Gita Govinda as being part of the ‘Krishna canon’, we must conclude that Krishna is still in Vrindavan after having attained puberty.

So the earliest we can say that Krishna leaves Vrindavan is fourteen.

More realistically, let’s give Krishna one more year to mature in Vrindavan, and make him fifteen years old when he kills Kamsa.

Life as Mathura’s Regent

After Kamsa is killed, Krishna and Balarama install Ugrasena as king of Mathura, and help him rule the city. During this phase, Mathura is harassed by a series of attacks by Jarasandha, king of Magadha.

Mathura first fights back against Magadha, but eventually Krishna realizes that the most prudent way out of this maze is to migrate westward and leave Mathura to Magadha.

How long did this phase last? Assuming that there were at least three or four sieges of Mathura before Krishna makes the decision to leave, we may estimate that these events took place over two years.

At the time of their migration westward, therefore, Krishna is seventeen years old.

Unifying the Vrishnis

After they reach the western shore, Krishna and Balarama take the help of Shurasena’s treasury to unite the many warring Vrishni factions that have long histories of bloodlust between them.

This process of unification serves as a prelude for the construction of Dwaraka, the city which Krishna designs to be impregnable to outside attacks.

Balarama then founds the kingdom of Anarta, which becomes part of the Yadava empire.

How long does this period of unification take? Even if we assume that Balarama and Krishna everything quickly and correctly, it would have taken a minimum of two years to bring the Vrishni tribes together.

Add in a further two years to build Dwaraka and to found the kingdom of Anarta.

By the time Anarta is fully functional, Krishna’s age would have been twenty one.

Subhadra’s Wedding

At the time of Krishna’s arrival at Draupadi’s swayamvara, we will assume he is twenty one.

From here, the Pandavas and Draupadi get married. The Kuru establishment gives Yudhishthir Khandavaprastha to rule. Arjuna leaves on his twelve-year exile, and reaches Dwaraka in the final year.

If we assume that one year passes between Draupadi’s swayamvara and Arjuna’s departure from Khandavaprastha, by the time he arrives in Dwaraka, a total of twelve years have elapsed.

Krishna keeps Arjuna as his honoured guest for a year, and at the end of it he encourages his friend to marry Subhadra.

At the time of Subhadra’s marriage to Arjuna, therefore, Krishna is thirty four years old.

The Dice Game

After Subhadra’s wedding to Arjuna, Krishna helps Yudhishthir perform the Rajasuya, immediately after which Duryodhana tricks the Pandavas out of their kingdom with the help of a dice game.

Now, plenty of important events occur in the interim. For instance:

  • Krishna and Arjuna help Agni destroy the forest of Khandava.
  • A great hall is built for Yudhishthir with the help of Maya the Asura.
  • King Jarasandha of Magadha is killed by Bhima, with Krishna pulling the strings with deceit and trickery.
  • A great expedition of conquest is undertaken by the Pandavas, after which Yudhishthir is crowned emperor.
  • Shishupala is killed by Krishna at Yudhishthir’s Rajasuya ceremony.

If we assume that the above events take two years to happen, we might say that Krishna is thirty six years old at the time of the Pandavas leaving on their exile.

The Pandavas Return

The Pandavas return from their exile exactly thirteen years after their departure. They spend twelve years in the forest, and one year in the court of Virata under disguise.

During these years, Krishna maintains friendly relations with the Kuru empire, and Anarta becomes a powerful kingdom in the absence of Jarasandha and Shishupala.

Kuru becomes the superpower among the Gangetic cities, whereas Anarta becomes the overlord of the middle kingdoms like Chedi, Mathura, Magadha, Shurasena and Kunti.

At the time of the return of the Pandavas, Krishna is therefore forty nine years old.

At the start of the war

A bunch of important events occur between the return of the Pandavas and the start of the war. Here are a few:

  • A number of peace negotiations are attempted in vain by both parties. Drupada sends his messenger over and Dhritarashtra sends Sanjaya.
  • Both the Pandavas and the Kauravas begin to recruit allies for their respective causes.
  • Balarama takes the decision to stay neutral during the war. Krishna gives himself to the Pandavas while giving his army to Duryodhana.
  • Krishna himself visits Hastinapur to try and make a last-ditch attempt to prevent war. He fails.
  • The armies of various kingdoms are mobilized, and camps are set up on the opposite ends of Kurukshetra.

If we assume that the above events take a year or so materialize fully, we can conclude that Krishna is fifty years old at the time the Mahabharata war begins.

And beyond…

Krishna’s death occurs thirty six years after the end of the Kurukshetra war. In response to Gandhari’s curse, Anarta perishes in a shockingly violent civil war – in which Krishna and Balarama participate.

Dwaraka succumbs to the sea. Krishna sends a message to Arjuna to come rescue the women of Anarta. He then goes to a secluded spot in a forest and sits under a tree.

Here, an unwitting hunter’s stray arrow pierces Krishna in the foot. He bleeds to death.

Krishna is eighty six years old at the time of his death.

Further Reading

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