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Did Krishna claim to be god?

Did Krishna claim to be god - Featured Image - Picture of Krishna's face.

Krishna is considered by many as the hero of the Mahabharata. He is the eighth son of Devaki, the princess of Mathura, and Vasudeva, the prince of Shurasena.

Krishna is raised in a cowherd settlement in Vrindavan for the first fifteen years of his life. Later, along with Balarama, he founds the seashore city of Dwaraka and builds a kingdom for the Yadavas – named Anarta.

He enters the Mahabharata story at Draupadi’s swayamvara, and quickly establishes friendly relations with the Pandavas – in particular with Arjuna. This friendship lasts all the way to the Kurukshetra war and beyond.

In this post, we will answer the question: Did Krishna claim to be god?

Krishna is described as god by characters at various times in the Mahabharata – Bhishma, Vidura, Arjuna, Yudhishthir and Vyasa being the main ones. In addition, Krishna refers to himself as Brahman, and as the Prime Mover and Observer of the universe. He twice displays his true form – or the Vishwaroopa – to back up his claim.

Read on to discover more about whether or not Krishna claimed to be god.

(For answers to all Krishna-related questions, see Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)

At Hastinapur

The first time that Krishna shows his divine form publicly is in Dhritarashtra’s hall at Hastinapur, when he comes to know that Duryodhana is planning to imprison him.

Krishna has come to Hastinapur on a peacemaking mission. He has spoken to the Kuru elders on behalf of the Pandavas. But Dhritarashtra refuses to take a stand against Duryodhana.

In this context, it comes to Krishna’s knowledge – through Satyaki and Kritavarma, who accompany their master on the trip – that Duryodhana intends to capture him and keep him prisoner until the war is finished.

Krishna smiles at this revelation. Instead of thwarting Duryodhana directly, he assumes his divine form and tells the prince: ‘Are you certain that you will be able to imprison all of this?’

His divine form, of course – all called the Vishwaroopa – encapsulates the entire universe.

In this case, we’re told that only Bhishma, Drona and Vidura are able to see Krishna’s Vishwaroopa directly. All the others just see a blinding flash of light, and a deep realization afterward that something profound had taken place.

(Suggested: Why did Krishna go to Hastinapur?)

At Kurukshetra

The second time that Krishna makes an explicit claim about being a god is during his conversation with Arjuna at the beginning of the Kurukshetra war.

Arjuna finds himself hesitant and listless when faced with the prospect of fighting his own grandfather (Bhishma) and preceptor (Drona). Krishna gives Arjuna the benefit of his wisdom in a long monologue – that has come to be known as the Bhagavad Gita.

During this conversation, Krishna repeatedly refers to himself as Brahman, as someone who exists outside of time, and the Prime Mover and the Prime Cause.

When Arjuna requests Krishna to show him the Vishwaroopa, Krishna agrees.

In this case, Arjuna is the only one in the battlefield who sees the vision in its full glory. All the rest of the warriors – as before – only see an intense flash of white light.

(Suggested: Why did Arjuna have to fight the war?)

Other Divine Acts

While the above two sections give examples of Krishna explicitly showing himself as the divine form, at other points in the story, he performs some superhuman deeds that hint at his godliness. For instance:

  • At Draupadi’s disrobing, despite being hundreds of miles away in an unknown kingdom fighting a war, Krishna magically hears Draupadi’s plea for help and arranges for her honour to be protected despite Duhsasana’s best efforts.
  • During the Pandavas’ exile, Krishna eats a grain of rice clinging to the bottom of Draupadi’s vessel – and causes the hunger of several Brahmins to magically vanish.
  • During the war, on the evening of the fourteenth day, he causes a premature sunset by bringing a few dark clouds together, in order to cause a moment of relief in Jayadratha. Arjuna pounces on this and cuts off the Saindhava’s head.

In addition to the above, Krishna’s childhood in Vrindavan is – by the time of the Mahabharata’s events – known to his contemporaries. Some of them believe the stories and think of him as god; others think it is all propaganda cooked up by a clever charlatan.

Other Characters

Several primary characters of the Mahabharata – whose judgement is considered sound – seem to know at an intuitive level that Krishna is a man with divine powers. Among these are the following:

  • Vyasa the sage, who has written the story and is also a character in it, repeatedly refers to Krishna as the human form of Narayana.
  • At Yudhishthir’s Rajasuya, Bhishma argues against Shishupala in Krishna’s favour, praising him as the greatest of all gods and as the Prime Cause, the Prime Destination, and the Prime Path.
  • In the events leading up to the war, Vidura repeatedly sings Krishna’s praises to Duryodhana in the hope that the Kaurava will see the errors of his ways.
  • Arjuna chooses Krishna over his army before the Kurukshetra war, citing him as the protector of Dharma. ‘Whichever side you’re on, my lord,’ he says, ‘will win without doubt.’

Counter Evidence

On the other hand, Krishna’s enemies do not believe that he is god or that he has any divine powers. They acknowledge Krishna’s intellect and cleverness, his ability to think of unconventional solutions to common problems, and his craftiness.

But they characterize him as a coward who is no good at traditional battle – like a true Kshatriya – and therefore resorts to underhanded tactics to secure victories.

For instance:

  • Krishna fails to protect Mathura against the military might of Jarasandha, and goes to the western sea to build Dwaraka. Later, he uses the strength of Bhimasena to kill the Magadha king in a wrestling match, while disguised as a Brahmin.

(Suggested: Why did Krishna not kill Jarasandha?)

  • Despite his obvious love for the Pandavas, Krishna makes sure that Anarta officially remains friendly with the Kauravas as well so that there are no undesirable consequences either way.
  • During the Kurukshetra war, Krishna uses one shady tactic after another to bring about the falls of Bhishma, Drona, Jayadratha and Karna – thus giving victory to the Pandavas.

All his enemies claim that if Krishna were truly god-like, he would not have had to resort to cunning and subterfuge to win his battles.

These people also scoff at the fantastic nature of stories told about Krishna’s childhood and early youth in Vrindavan. Dancing on a snake’s hood, killing a woman whose breasts contained poison, lifting the Govardhana on his little finger – these are merely highly embellished fairy tales crafted with the intention of elevating the man to celestial status.

Conclusion

Krishna’s image of divinity in the Mahabharata, therefore, comes from three sources:

  • A number of characters – that the reader recognizes as ‘good’ – repeatedly sing his praises and claim that he is the incarnation of Vishnu. The reader is therefore encouraged to do the same.
  • Krishna himself – on two separate occasions – describes himself as the human manifestation of Brahman.
  • A number of characters – that the reader recognizes as ‘bad’ – repeatedly cast doubt on Krishna’s divinity. The reader is therefore discouraged from doing the same.

Krishna’s godliness, therefore, is hardly ever disputed in the entire story.

Further Reading

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Enjoy!