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: How did Krishna die?
Krishna dies during the Mausala Parva of the Mahabharata, after the Yadava race has been wiped out by infighting. Krishna retreats into a forest for some solitude and sits under a tree. A hunter named Jara mistakes Krishna’s foot for the foot of a deer, and shoots an arrow through it.
Read on to discover more about how Krishna died in the Mahabharata.
(For answers to all Krishna-related questions, see Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
The Curse of Gandhari
During the Stree Parva of the Mahabharata, after mourning over the death of her sons and the destruction left in the wake of the Kurukshetra war, Gandhari – the mother of the Kauravas – turns her anger onto Krishna.
‘You had the power to prevent all of this, Krishna,’ she says, ‘but you willingly chose not to do so. For this, I place this curse on you. Your own clan – the Yadavas – will perish like the Kurus, by fighting amongst themselves.’
Gandhari’s reasoning here is questionable. First, we do not know if Krishna really is what he claimed to be, and whether he really saw everything that has happened through the whole fabric of time.
Second, even if we accept that Krishna is aware of what has happened and what will happen, it actually follows that he cannot change anything. He does not have the power to change the timeline.
Free will, for Krishna, is an illusion. Everything that is about to happen has been preordained.
Krishna does not react to Gandhari’s words with surprise. Nor does he attempt to defend his own actions – as he does when blamed by Duryodhana for being cunning.
He merely smiles and bows to Gandhari. He accepts Gandhari’s curse with equanimity. His demeanour is that of a man who has seen it all and knows exactly what is going to happen – including his own part in the process.
This does not necessarily mean that Krishna believes that he was deserving of Gandhari’s curse. He simply knows that Gandhari will curse him, and that her words will come true. He also knows when the curse will awaken, and what form it will take.
For a man who knows everything that has happened throughout Time, nothing comes as a surprise.
(Suggested: 12 Mahabharata Stories from the Stree Parva.)
Thirty Six Years Later
It takes thirty six years for Gandhari’s curse to come true. Krishna’s son, Samba, plays a cruel trick on a few visiting sages, and the holy men curse Dwaraka with destruction.
Krishna accepts all of this with good grace. When the time arrives, Dwaraka sees many ill omens. Krishna gathers all of his male citizens and takes them to the seashore.
Here, Satyaki and Kritavarma – inebriated with wine – insult each other about their respective actions in the Kurukshetra war. This quarrel erupts into a full scale fight, where the men draw weapons on one another.
Krishna and Balarama do not bother to stop this violence. They join in, and participate eagerly in the massacre. Thus, they tear down the very kingdom they worked so hard to build.
After this incident by the sea, Balarama renounces the world and sits down to meditate. Shortly afterward, his soul leaves his mortal body.
Krishna then goes into a forest and sits under a tree, recollecting the words of Gandhari. He knows that his own time has come to an end. So he restrains his senses, and enters a state of yoga.
About this time, a hunter named Jara enters that part of the woods. He mistakes Krishna’s foot for the foot of a deer and shoots at it, drawing a stream of blood. When he leaps out of the bushes, he is surprised to see Krishna there.
He throws away his weapon and falls at Krishna’s feet. ‘I am a sinner!’ he says. ‘I had no idea that you were here, O lord.’
But Krishna comforts the hunter, telling him that it is all part of the writ. In a few seconds, he takes his last breath.
(Suggested: 11 Soulful Mahabharata Stories From the Mausala Parva.)
Arjuna Cleans Up
Before he sits down by the tree in the forest, Krishna takes care to visit Dwaraka, to meet Vasudeva his father, and to send Daruka with a message to Indraprastha bearing news about what has happened.
Arjuna arrives after Krishna has died, and finds Dwaraka in disarray. The ocean’s level is rising, and the city is beginning to crumble. Arjuna has just enough time to evacuate the place with Krishna’s wives and some other citizens.
He also has a final conversation with Vasudeva, who dies after telling the Pandava what has happened.
Arjuna undertakes to take the women of Dwaraka back to Indraprastha safely. But on the way, they’re accosted by robbers. Arjuna tries to drive them away with his Gandiva, but he realizes that none of his powers are what they used to be.
The robbers carry away some of the women. Arjuna only manages to save a small number of them.
Arjuna Visits Vyasa
Soon after this incident, Arjuna visits Vyasa and asks the sage about his waning powers. Vyasa smiles and says, ‘The powers were given to you for a reason, Prince. You have completed all the tasks that needed to be completed. Now the powers are no longer yours.’
Even though Arjuna still possesses the Gandiva and the inexhaustible quivers of Agni, his own skill has deteriorated to a point where he is no longer an archer worthy of note.
Vyasa advises Arjuna that the time has come for the Pandavas, too, to relinquish the throne at Indraprastha, and to set out on their final journeys.
Thus, the death of Krishna and the sinking of Dwaraka serve as a catalyst for the Pandavas to begin the process of letting go.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 60: The Pandavas Die.)
The Mausala and the Ashwamedha Parvas describe the deaths of Balarama, Krishna, Draupadi and the Pandavas. The manner in which these mighty characters end their lives is a lesson in renunciation.
Krishna goes one step further and destroys all of his life work before he passes. Arjuna struggles with the idea of giving away the Gandiva, until he is admonished by Yudhishthir that he is still clinging to symbols of life.
The Pandavas pass on their kingdom to Parikshit, and scale the mountain of Meru in the hope of reaching heaven in their mortal bodies. Of them all, only Yudhishthir succeeds in doing so.
The underlying message is that no matter how high you rise in life, at the end, everything you have amassed – wealth, fame, status, identity – will be taken from you. You pass alone, naked, stripped to the bone.
With his death – and the manner in which he welcomes it – Krishna reminds of this fact.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
- 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story