Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered

Krishna all questions answered - Featured Image - Picture of Krishna and Radha together

Krishna is considered by many to be 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, during which he is parented by Yashoda and Nanda. With his half-brother Balarama, he overthrows Kamsa and takes control of Mathura.

This enrages Jarasandha, the king of Magadha, who invades Mathura and forces Krishna and Balarama to migrate westward in search of a new kingdom. The brothers unite several warring Yadava factions and bring them under common rule on the shores of the western sea.

Here, Balarama founds the city of Dwaraka. Krishna becomes his regent.

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 all the questions you’ve ever had about Krishna.

Did Krishna cry when Karna died?

Krishna does not cry when Karna dies. But he tempers Arjuna’s celebration by reminding him that Karna was a great warrior, and that he was only vanquished because of several circumstantial forces pulling together. Though he knows that Karna is Arjuna’s brother, he does not reveal the secret because he believes it is Kunti’s prerogative to do so.

Krishna is never seen crying over anyone’s death in the Mahabharata. Karna is no exception. As someone who knows the cycle of birth and death like the back of his hand, Krishna knows that mourning over someone’s death is meaningless.

However, after doing everything in his power to ensure that Karna dies at the hands of Arjuna, once the moment passes, he cautions Arjuna to temper his emotions. ‘Karna is a great warrior, a man who deserves our respect,’ he says.

When Arjuna asks how someone of Karna’s talents had been defeated in the war, Krishna lists a number of circumstantial events that have contributed to Arjuna’s eventual victory. They are:

  • Kunti’s asking of a boon from Karna that he will not harm any Pandava other than Arjuna.
  • The deceitful manner in which Indra stripped Karna of his divine armour and earrings.
  • Shalya’s constant goading of and refusal to cooperate with Karna on the seventeenth day.
  • The curse of Parashurama which ensured that Karna would always struggle to remember the chants to summon his weapons in the thick of battle.
  • Krishna himself, who plotted the death of Ghatotkacha precisely so that Karna would waste his Vasava dart.

Having gone thus far, Krishna refrains from telling Arjuna that Karna was actually his brother. He appreciates that the secret is Kunti’s to reveal, and that she should have the freedom to do so at a moment of her choosing.

Did Krishna attack Bhishma?

Krishna does not actually attack Bhishma in the Mahabharata war. He merely comes close to doing so on a couple of occasions. Frustrated at Arjuna’s unwillingness to fight Bhishma at full throttle, Krishna leaps off his chariot and advances toward the grandsire with his discus raised. Both times, Arjuna pacifies him before he can attack.

During the first ten days of the Kurukshetra war, Krishna is caught in a dilemma. On the one hand, Arjuna is the only warrior on the Pandava side who is capable of matching Bhishma’s skill on the battlefield.

But on the other, Arjuna repeatedly fights well within himself whenever he comes face to face with Bhishma. Bhishma, by contrast, adopts a strategy designed to obliterate the army of the Pandavas in order to deprive them of all resources with which to fight.

So unless Arjuna can be coaxed into fighting ruthlessly, Bhishma cannot be stopped. And unless Bhishma is stopped in time, the Pandavas may actually have no army with which to fight.

Krishna tries various methods to revive Arjuna’s spirit, but when nothing fails, he decides to take matters into his own hands and jumps off the chariot with his Sudarshana Chakra drawn around his forefinger, pointed at Bhishma.

Whether he truly wishes to attack Bhishma or if this is merely a ploy to bring Arjuna out of his rut, we do not know. But Bhishma surrenders to Krishna’s attack, almost daring him to let the discus fly.

(Here we must remember that if Krishna actually attacks Bhishma, the Pandavas lose all moral high ground in the war. Bhishma, therefore, wants Krishna to forswear his oath.)

On both occasions, Arjuna drags Krishna back to the chariot and promises to fight properly. The second of these incidents happen on the ninth day, soon after which Arjuna agrees to fight Bhishma from behind Shikhandi.

Did Krishna cheat in the Mahabharata?

Krishna cheats on multiple occasions in the Mahabharata – chiefly during the war to oversee the killing of Bhishma, Drona, Bhurishrava, Jayadratha, Karna and Duryodhana. Before the war, he gains entrance into the palace of Jarasandha, and then uses Bhima as a tool to kill him – thus removing Yudhishthir’s main rival for the Rajasuya.

In the Mahabharata, Krishna builds for himself a reputation as someone who relies primarily on non-traditional methods to contrive favourable outcomes from any given situation.

In no particular order, here is a list of events where Krishna thinks ‘outside of the box’:

  • When Yudhishthir announces his intention to perform the Rajasuya, Krishna tells him that as long as Jayadratha is alive, another emperor cannot be instated. He then offers to kill Jarasandha using subterfuge instead of all-out war.
  • On the tenth day of the war, Krishna masterminds a solution whereby Arjuna fights Bhishma from behind Shikhandi so that the grandsire can be sidelined for the rest of the battle.
  • On Day 14, with Arjuna close on the heels of Jayadratha, Krishna uses his magic to cover the setting sun with a thick layer of clouds, tricking everyone into believing that the day has ended. In the resulting confusion, Arjuna beheads Jayadratha.
  • On Day 15, Krishna initiates a suggestion to tell Drona that Ashwatthama has been killed, because that is the only way the Pandavas can compel the preceptor to set aside his arms. Yudhishthir then tells his infamous lie, and Drona is killed.
  • On Day 17, with Karna’s wheel buried in the mud, Krishna tells Arjuna to forget about all aspects of virtue and to shoot his most dangerous arrow at the foe even though he has been brought to his knees.
  • On Day 18, with the mace fight between Bhima and Duryodhana in full flow, Krishna tells Arjuna that Bhima has to resort to underhanded methods. Arjuna then taps meaningfully at his thigh, and Bhima takes the hint to hit Duryodhana below the waist.

Just before his own death, Duryodhana accuses Krishna of having secured victory by deceitful means. Krishna does not seek to defend himself. He merely says, ‘When faced against a foe that is far superior, one must do whatever one can in order to win.’

Detailed Answer: Did Krishna cheat in the Mahabharata?

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.

All the primary characters of the Mahabharata seem to know at an intuitive level that Krishna is man with godly powers. He is constantly referred to as an incarnation of Vishnu, and 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.

The Pandavas – chiefly Arjuna and Yudhishthir – also seem to note Krishna’s divine qualities. At Draupadi’s disrobing, Krishna uses his magic to help the unfortunate woman’s honour despite not being physically present.

On two separate occasions, Krishna also refers to himself as the most powerful of all gods: once in Dhritarashtra’s hall during his peacemaking visit to Hastinapur, and a second time on the battlefield to convince Arjuna that it is all right to fight.

Both these times, Krishna displays his ‘eternal form’ or Vishwaroopa, which is both wonderful and fearful to behold.

Detailed Answer: Did Krishna claim to be god?

Did Krishna die in the Mahabharata?

Krishna dies at the end of the Mausala Parva of the Mahabharata, when a hunter called Jara shoots him after having mistaken his foot for an animal’s. After his death, Dwaraka – the city he built on the western shore – sinks into the sea. The kingdom of Anarta disbands, and a number of his citizens migrate to Indraprastha.

The Mausala Parva details the fall of the Yadava chieftains, led by Krishna and Balarama. In deference to Gandhari’s curse, drunken with pride and decadence, the Yadavas fight amongst themselves and kill one another.

Krishna and Balarama participate in this carnage, killing their own fellow men and bringing about the fall of the kingdom they had themselves built as young men.

After this, Balarama renounces his life in the forest. Krishna goes to Dwaraka, tells his father Vasudeva to wait for Arjuna’s arrival, sends Daruka his charioteer to Indraprastha with a message, and then retreats into the forest himself.

Here, as he leans back against a tree trunk lost in thought, recollecting Gandhari’s words from thirty six years ago, an arrow flies out of the bushes and pierces him on the foot.

He winces in pain, but also realizes that his time has come. When a hunter leaps out and laments over his mistake, Krishna consoles him. He observes his breath slowing down, and his blood flowing onto the earth. Eventually, he stops breathing.

Daruka brings Arjuna to Dwaraka, where the Pandava witnesses the death of Vasudeva and the sinking of Dwaraka. He gathers the surviving citizens of the city and takes them back to Indraprastha.

Did Krishna defeat Jarasandha?

Krishna’s first clash with Jarasandha happens early on in his life, soon after the killing of Kamsa. Jarasandha repeatedly invades Mathura and cripples it. At this time, Krishna fails to defeat the king of Magadha. But later, during Yudhishthir’s Rajasuya, Krishna uses Bhima’s strength as a tool to defeat and kill Jarasandha.

During the entire first part of Krishna’s life, Jarasandha is his arch-nemesis. Right from the time of the killing of Kamsa and the liberation of Mathura, Jarasandha becomes a constant thorn in Krishna’s flesh.

To begin with, he launches a series of attacks on Mathura with the intention of taking it back and annexing it to Magadha. Krishna and Balarama engage with him at first, but realizing that Magadha’s resources far outweigh their own, they make the decision to migrate westward, thus allowing Mathura to fall into Jarasandha’s hands.

After this migration, Krishna and Jarasandha’s paths do not cross. Jarasandha consolidates his power among the middle kingdoms. Krishna unifies the Vrishnis of the west to found the kingdom of Anarta.

Much later, when it occurs to Yudhishthir to perform the Rajasuya, Krishna sees his chance to topple Jarasandha.

He first convinces Yudhishthir that until Jarasandha is killed, no king can be called an emperor. Then he takes Bhima and Arjuna into Magadha disguised as Brahmins. He uses Bhima’s strength and wrestling skills as tools to kill Jarasandha.

Thus, what he failed to do with open warfare, he succeeds with less traditional – some may say deceitful – methods.

Did Krishna fight in the Mahabharata?

Krishna vows not to fight in the Mahabharata war. But on two occasions, once on Day 5 and once on Day 9, he leaps off Arjuna’s chariot and advances menacingly toward Bhishma with his Sudarshana Chakra raised. On both occasions, he is stopped by Arjuna.

Elsewhere in the Mahabharata as well, Krishna is never seen fighting in person. The two acts of violence that he performs on his own are:

  • The killing of Shishupala at Yudhishthir’s Rajasuya, and
  • The killing of many animals, Nagas and celestial soldiers during the burning of Khandava.

Neither of these incidents qualifies as a battle or a war. At the beginning of the Pandavas’ exile, Krishna describes to Yudhishthir a battle that he fought against a king named Subala to avenge a previous invasion of Dwaraka.

In this battle, Krishna claims, he has killed Subala and taken back all the wealth that the invader had stolen.

Krishna explains that this incident happened at the same time as Yudhishthir’s dice game, therefore he had not been around to stop the Pandavas from losing their kingdom.

In the Kurukshetra war, Krishna vows not to fight, but on two occasions – frustrated with Arjuna’s lack of will against Bhishma – he leaps off the chariot and advances dangerously toward the grandsire with his discus raised.

On both occasions, Arjuna drags him back to the chariot. Also on both occasions, Bhishma surrenders to Krishna and welcomes the oncoming attack.

All in all, therefore, Krishna fights very rarely in the Mahabharata. Instead, he relies on tactics and strategy to secure favourable outcomes.

Did Krishna forgive Ashwatthama?

Krishna curses Ashwatthama with eternal life and suffering on Earth for the latter’s crime of killing Uttara’s foetus in the womb with the Brahmastra. Krishna decrees that Ashwatthama forehead injury – sustained when the Pandavas remove the gem from inside it – will never heal. Ashwatthama thus becomes a chiranjeevi. Krishna never forgives him.

Ashwatthama writes the final chapter of the Kurukshetra war when – strengthened by the blessings of Shiva – he unleashes a torrent of violence upon the sleeping men in the Pandava camp on the night of the eighteenth day.

Krishna does not punish Ashwatthama for this crime, heinous as it is. He says that since Lord Shiva has seen it fit to give Ashwatthama the powers to commit the act, it must have been necessary.

However, while the Pandavas chase Ashwatthama down to avenge the death of the Upapandavas, and when Arjuna and Ashwatthama challenge each other to a duel, the latter uses the Brahmastra on the Pandava.

At the time of the weapon being released, Vyasa appears on the scene and implores Ashwatthama to call back his weapon. Ashwatthama says that he is not powerful enough to do so, and that he will redirect the missile instead toward the wombs of the Pandava women – thus rendering them all immediately barren.

Uttara, the widow of Abhimanyu, is at this time pregnant. Ashwatthama’s act kills the foetus growing in her womb.

This sends Krishna flying into a rage. He curses Ashwatthama that he will roam the Earth like a cripple with his forehead injury always oozing blood and pus.

Ashwatthama thus becomes an immortal. Krishna later revives Uttara’s son and brings him back to life. But he does not ever forgive Ashwatthama. The son of Drona is believed by some to be alive even today.

Did Krishna flirt with gopis?

During his time at Vrindavan, Krishna grows up loved by one and all at Vrindavan. As he grows into a teenager, Krishna woos the milkmaids of his village with the flute, and they’re said to ‘lose their hearts’ to him. This said, there is no evidence that Krishna and the gopis flirted with one another in a way that the word is used in modern times.

The precise nature of Krishna’s relationship with the milkmaids of Vrindavan is debatable. While we know that the gopis loved Krishna with all their hearts, whether this love is romantic, filial, erotic, maternal, sexual – or a mixture of all these – is unknown.

What we know of Krishna’s ‘raasaleela’ is the following:

  • Krishna plays the flute, and draws the milkmaids out of their homes in the dead of the night toward the forest.
  • They dance together for several nights in a row in the moonlight. Krishna is said to replicate himself many times over with his magic such that each maiden believes that he is dancing with just her.
  • The milkmaids are mesmerised with Krishna’s physical beauty, and the melody of his flute.

While all of the above is highly suggestive of the notion that Krishna had sexual relationships with many of the women of the village, it is also highly unlikely. Because:

  • In those times, a maiden’s sexuality had to be fiercely guarded until she got married because almost all sexual activity was procreative.
  • Krishna is the son of the village chief. If it were common knowledge that Krishna was being sexually active with women, the fathers and husbands of those women would have complained to Nanda, and the practice would have stopped.
  • The women themselves would have had much more wisdom in saying no to Krishna, despite his attractiveness.

The fact that none of the men of the village stopped their women from dancing with Krishna indicates that nothing happened during these nights that could be termed scandalous. The relationships between the women and Krishna are by all indications platonic.

Of course, platonic does not necessarily mean devoid of all romance or eroticism. But it is fair to say that neither Krishna nor the gopis ever crossed the line of propriety with their actions.

Detailed answer: Did Krishna flirt with gopis?

Why did Krishna not save Abhimanyu?

Two possibilities exist for why Krishna does not save Abhimanyu: (1) He does not know that Abhimanyu is dying, because at the time he is busy helping Arjuna fight the Samshaptakas, or (2) He knows about Abhimanyu being trapped, but decides that his death is necessary to bring out Arjuna’s ruthlessness.

On the thirteenth day, when Drona constructs the Chakra Vyuha with the intention of trapping a Pandava atiratha inside it, Arjuna and Krishna are lured away by the Samshaptakas to a remote edge of the battlefield.

As such, Arjuna is unaware of what is happening inside the Chakra Vyuha. He only discovers the truth about Abhimanyu’s death at the end of the day, after he returns to camp and sees everyone desolate.

How much Krishna knows about Abhimanyu’s death – as it occurs – is debatable. On one side you have the argument that Krishna, like Arjuna, is oblivious to Abhimanyu’s torment. Like Arjuna, Krishna also learns of his nephew’s death at the end of the day when he returns to camp.

If we accept this premise, we must answer that Krishna does not save Abhimanyu for the same reason Arjuna does not save Abhimanyu: because he does not know that Abhimanyu is in trouble.

On the other side of the argument is the all-knowing Krishna, who – while he is helping Arjuna fight the Samshaptakas – is also aware that Abhimanyu is caught inside the Chakra Vyuha. He makes the deliberate choice not to go to his aid, and to let him die.

Why? Because he believes that Abhimanyu’s death is necessary for the war to bring out Arjuna’s ruthlessness as a warrior, and to ensure that the war enters its final phase.

Without some catalyst, Krishna may have reasoned, Arjuna will continue to fight well within himself, thus risking victory itself. And he chooses to let Abhimanyu die knowing full well that the real Arjuna will then awaken.

Detailed Answer: Why did Krishna not save Abhimanyu?

Why did Krishna not fight in the Mahabharata?

Krishna does not fight in the Mahabharata war because: (1) He wishes to emphasize the extent of his powers, (2) He thinks that his support is more valuable in a strategic sense to Arjuna rather than in a chariot of his own, and (3) He wants to show the world that when the time comes, good will win over evil even when the latter is more powerful.

If Krishna had decided to fight in the Kurukshetra war, he would have had been in a chariot of his own with the reins held by his long-trusted aide, Daruka.

This would have necessarily meant that Arjuna would have had to fight with a charioteer of his own. The advantages of Krishna fighting on a chariot of his own must be weighed, therefore, against the disadvantages of him not being Arjuna’s constant guide throughout the battle.

Krishna might have made that assessment, and decided that boosting Arjuna to near-invincibility by becoming his charioteer was a better option than leaving him vulnerable to the likes of Bhishma, Drona and Karna.

In other words, Krishna reasons that Arjuna needs his strategic and tactical help much more than his fighting help. Indeed, as the most powerful warrior of the age, Arjuna does not need any fighting help whatsoever. An invincible Arjuna will win the war for the Pandavas on his own.

Another possibility is that Krishna wants to prove to the world two things:

  • That he is powerful enough to support a side without taking up arms and still guide it to victory, thus embellishing his own image as a supreme strategist.
  • That the Kurukshetra war is a Dharma Yuddha, in which good will win against evil even when the odds are stacked against it.

Detailed Answer: Why did Krishna not fight in the Mahabharata?

Why did Krishna never return to Vrindavan?

No official explanation exists as to why Krishna never returns to Vrindavan after having left it as a teenager. Possible reasons include: (1) He appreciates that he no longer belongs just to Vrindavan, (2) He believes in letting go of relationships that have outlived their significance, and (3) He does visit Vrindavan occasionally but off the record.

After leaving Vrindavan at the age of fourteen or thereabouts, Krishna sets out on his destiny as first the liberator of Mathura, and then as the founder of Dwaraka. He goes on to perform many miraculous deeds, and earns much fame for himself and his race.

However, there is no official record of his ever returning to Vrindavan – to meet his old family members and friends.

Why did Krishna never return to the place of his childhood that loved him so dearly, and that made him the man he became? The various texts that describe his life are silent on this point, but we can speculate.


  • Krishna realizes that he is too big to be held by Vrindavan anymore. He makes a number of enemies who may use Vrindavan as an emotional lever to influence him. Krishna may have therefore thought that it is best if he severs ties from the people of Vrindavan – for their own safety.
  • Krishna is not the nostalgic type. He is the kind of man who believes in moving on from the dead past and living in the present. In this sense, there is a ruthless edge to Krishna’s character, which comes out at the end when he deliberately participates in killing the Yadavas to awaken Gandhari’s curse.
  • Krishna does visit Vrindavan every now and then, throughout his life. But he does so in secret, disguised as a common cowherd, away from prying eyes. He makes sure that these visits are not recorded in any official story told about his life.

Of these, the last is the most comforting for modern readers who love the bond that Krishna builds with Vrindavan as a child.

The notion that Krishna was there by Yashoda’s bed when she breathed her last, that he had an ongoing relationship with Nanda and Radha down to their dying days, that he never forsook the little village – is a romantic one.

Detailed Answer: Why did Krishna never return to Vrindavan?

Why did Krishna accept Gandhari’s curse?

Krishna accepts Gandhari’s curse because of three possible reasons: (1) He is not powerful enough to stop her words from coming true, because Gandhari is a woman of high merit; (2) He thinks that Gandhari’s curse is a fair one; and (3) As someone with foreknowledge of the timeline, he knows that Gandhari’s curse is preordained.

After the end of the Kurukshetra war, while mourning over the death of her sons, Gandhari turns on Krishna in a moment of anger.

‘You oversaw this destruction while being capable of preventing it, Madhava,’ she says. ‘And you have caused us all great heartbreak. Your own Yadava clan will meet its end in similar fashion, with kinsmen killing one another.’

Krishna responds to these ominous words with a humble bow and says, ‘So be it.’

Whether or not Krishna is powerful enough to reverse Gandhari’s words is not clear. We do know that Gandhari is a woman of high merit in her own right, so when she places a curse, the universe rearranges itself to make it happen.

On the other hand, Krishna may have objectively assessed the curse and thought it a fair price. As a man of great wisdom and philosophical insight, Krishna would have known that an event as significant as the Kurukshetra war cannot occur without causing reverberations far into the future.

Also, if we accept Krishna’s ability to see and know the entire timeline of events, he would have known beforehand that Gandhari would curse him, and that he would accept, and that the Yadavas would die in a certain way many years later.

An all-knowing Krishna who has seen everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen, is also devoid of choice on what to do. At every moment in time, he knows what should happen because he knows what has happened.

Detailed Answer: Why did Krishna accept Gandhari’s curse?

Why did Krishna build Dwaraka?

As a teenager, Krishna kills Kamsa and liberates Mathura. This enrages Jarasandha, the king of Magadha, who launches a series of strikes on Mathura with the intention of taking it back. After initially resisting, Krishna decides it is better to leave Mathura and migrate westward toward the ocean. On the seashore he builds the city of Dwaraka.

Krishna’s first assignment as a young man growing up in Vrindavan is to bring down Kamsa’s rule and to liberate the city of Mathura from his tyranny.

(While that is the language used by pro-Krishna writers, we must also note that Kamsa rules Mathura for several years and creates a formidable relationship with Magadha, the most powerful of the middle kingdoms.)

Krishna and Balarama accomplish this, and they install King Ugrasena back on the throne. King Ugrasena is friendly toward Shurasena and antagonistic toward Jarasandha.

Another point to note here is that Kamsa is also husband to two of Jarasandha’s daughters. So this act by Krishna is seen – with good reason – as an act of war by the Magadhan king.

He proceeds to launch strike after strike on Mathura from then on, harassing them to the point where Krishna decides that it is better to leave the kingdom and migrate westward to found a new city.

This failure teaches Krishna a few lessons. From here on, he eschews violence, pursues diplomatic and friendly policies with other kingdoms, and builds Dwaraka into an impregnable fortress. He refrains from fighting Jarasandha again until he is able to apply the wrestling talents of Bhima to the matter.

At Dwaraka, Krishna and Balarama unify heretofore warring factions of the Vrishni race, and founds the kingdom of Anarta.

Detailed Answer: Why did Krishna build Dwaraka?

Why did Krishna become Arjuna’s charioteer?

After Arjuna chooses an unarmed Krishna and allows the Narayana Sena to be given to Duryodhana, Krishna asks Arjuna: ‘You have chosen me. You have me. What shall I do for you?’ And Arjuna replies: ‘I wish you to become my charioteer.’ Krishna says, ‘So be it!’

Since Krishna has already vowed not to pick up weapons during the war, in order to make full use of his non-fighting skills, the Pandavas are best served by employing him as a charioteer to one of the main warriors.

A good charioteer is of immeasurable value in the midst of battle: not only does he offer manoeuvrability and speed, he also acts as a sounding board to the warrior’s thoughts, often offering advice and suggestions in key moments.

There is, of course, a distinct class-hierarchy in the warrior-charioteer relationship: the charioteer is considered to be inferior, and as a servant to the hero who is fighting the actual war.

This is the reason Shalya, when asked to take up Karna’s reins on the seventeenth day of the war, reacts with scorn.

In the case of Krishna, though, this relationship is likely to be upended. No matter which warrior’s chariot he drives, he will play an active role in dictating matters of the battlefield.

Once it is decided that the best place for Krishna is in the charioteer’s seat, then it is not a stretch to suggest Arjuna’s vehicle, because of three reasons:

  • Arjuna is the most powerful warrior of all. He is the lynchpin of the entire Panchala army. Krishna’s support will make him near invincible.
  • Arjuna and Krishna have a long history of friendship, and of fighting together.
  • Arjuna’s vehicle is the safest chariot on the battlefield. If there is a place on Kurukshetra that can be considered secure, it is atop this chariot.

Detailed Answer: Why did Krishna become Arjuna’s charioteer?

Why did Krishna give his army to the Kauravas?

Krishna gives his army to the Kauravas to prove to Duryodhana that this is not an ordinary war. This is a Dharma Yuddha, in which the forces of good will win against evil no matter how steep the odds are. Krishna wishes to show the world that the side on which he fights will win regardless of the numbers that make up the respective armies.

Krishna also wants to make sure that the official stance of neutrality adopted by Anarta remains untarnished right to the end. Anarta’s foreign policy throughout Balarama’s reign is one of conciliation and friendship toward all. Krishna does not wish to change that.

Therefore, among the forces that do fight in the war, an akshauhini led by Satyaki (Yuyudhana) fights for the Pandavas, whereas an akshauhini led by Kritavarma takes up Duryodhana’s cause.

Krishna divides his own support more or less equally: his Narayana Sena goes to one side whereas his own self – without his weapons – helps the other. When this offer is presented to Arjuna and Duryodhana, the former thinks that Krishna by himself is more valuable than his army, and the latter thinks the opposite.

This is all an attempt on Krishna’s part to divide Anarta’s resources equally between the Pandavas and Kauravas.

It is also a tacit admission by Krishna that the details of the war do not matter: even if Arjuna were to pick Krishna’s army instead of Krishna, even if Duryodhana gets Indra to fight for him, the Pandavas are going to win.

The Pandavas are going to win because they represent Virtue. The Kauravas are going to lose because they represent Evil. And the time has come for Virtue to triumph.

It is also possible that there is element of hedging one’s bets in Krishna’s behaviour here. By supporting both sides equally, no matter who wins in the end, Anarta will still retain all its political advantages.

Detailed Answer: Why did Krishna give his army to the Kauravas?

Why did Krishna go to Hastinapur?

Krishna goes to Hastinapur before the Kurukshetra war with the ostensible purpose of persuading Dhritarashtra and Duryodhana that cultivating peace with the Pandavas is a better strategy than fighting them. While there, he also tries to bribe Karna into betraying Duryodhana’s loyalty. But Karna refuses.

By the time Krishna leaves for Hastinapur, both sides have already prepared themselves mentally for war. All the previous peace talks have failed. Krishna’s is the last-ditch attempt to negotiate a peaceful solution.

However, his strategy is a two-pronged one. One the one hand, he tells Dhritarashtra that the Pandavas are willing to be his slaves and are content to rule under him. But on the other, he sings the praises of the Pandavas’ valour and virtue, delivering a veiled threat that if battle were to commence, the bow of Jishnu and the mace of Bhima will show no mercy.

Duryodhana responds to this thus: ‘You have come here to extol the virtues of the Pandavas, O Krishna. If I were to agree to your proposal now, will the world think that I am doing it out of fear or of compassion?’

On this trip, Krishna also spends some time with Kunti privately at Vidura’s house. Here he learns the truth about Karna.

He reveals to Karna the secret and tries to poach him from Duryodhana’s side over to the ‘virtuous’ side. He promises that Karna will become king, and that Draupadi will become his queen and mother to his children.

But Karna refuses. Krishna returns from Hastinapur thus with all his intentions foiled. This is not to be seen as a failure, though, because he tells Yudhishthir beforehand that he does not hope to succeed.

Detailed Answer: Why did Krishna go to Hastinapur?

Why did Krishna curse Ashwatthama?

After the Kurukshetra war has ended, Ashwatthama and Arjuna get into a duel. During this fight, Ashwatthama uses the Brahmastra. When Vyasa appears and asks him to withdraw it, Ashwatthama says he is unable to, and points it at Uttara’s womb instead, killing the foetus inside it. This act angers Krishna. He curses Ashwatthama.

Ashwatthama administers the final cleansing ritual of the Kurukshetra war: armed with Lord Shiva’s blessings, he attacks the Panchala camp on the night of the eighteenth day and kills all the sleeping soldiers.

This is a heinous act; of all the practices frowned upon for a Kshatriya, killing one’s enemy when the enemy is sleeping is the ugliest. There is no baser form of violence.

Still, Krishna considers himself powerless to punish Ashwatthama for this because it happens under the approving eyes of Shiva.

However, when Arjuna and Ashwatthama enter into a challenge to settle the deaths of the Upapandavas, the two heroes use the Brahmastra on each other. This brings Vyasa to the scene, and the sage asks both men to withdraw their respective weapons.

Arjuna does so, but Ashwatthama claims to be unable to control the missile. Instead, he points it to the ‘wombs of the Pandava women’, which includes the pregnant Uttara.

This act kills the growing foetus in Uttara’s womb. Krishna is enraged by this mindless act. With his magic he revives the baby, and also curses Ashwatthama with eternal life and suffering on Earth.

Detailed Answer: Why did Krishna curse Ashwatthama?

Why did Krishna not kill Jarasandha?

Krishna clashes against Jarasandha twice: once when he is regent of Mathura, and once during Yudhishthir’s Rajasuya. In the first instance, Jarasandha is too powerful for Krishna. The second time, Krishna is perhaps strong enough to defeat Jarasandha at wrestling, but it is much less personally risky to allow Bhimasena to attempt the act.

Jarasandha is a major thorn in Krishna’s flesh during the early part of their lives. Ever since Krishna kills Kamsa and helps Balarama become king of Mathura, Jarasandha makes it his mission to take back Mathura and annex it to his growing Magadhan empire.

Jarasandha controls Magadha, Chedi and Mathura at this point. When Krishna takes Mathura, Jarasandha launches a series of invasions designed to regain control of the city.

Indeed, he proves to be too strong for Krishna and Balarama. The two brothers elect to migrate westward in favour of staying in Mathura and bearing the brunt of Jarasandha’s constant harassment.

At this point in the story, therefore, it is fair to say that Krishna does not kill Jarasandha because he is not powerful enough to do so.

Later, when the time comes for Yudhishthir’s Rajasuya, Krishna takes Arjuna and Bhima along to Mathura to kill Jarasandha. Disguised as Brahmins, he challenges the king to a wrestling match with any one of the three.

It is hinted that Krishna expects Jarasandha’s vanity to allow him to choose none other than Bhima for his opponent. But it is interesting to speculate whether Krishna would have won had Jarasandha picked him instead.

The story suggests that neither Krishna nor Arjuna is actually strong enough to defeat Jarasandha at wrestling. Of the three, only Bhima has even a theoretical chance of killing the Magadhan king.

Pledging Bhima also makes practical sense for Krishna: even if Bhima is to die in the encounter, the amount of personal harm accruing to Anarta in general or to Krishna in particular from the event is minimal.

Detailed Answer: Why did Krishna not kill Jarasandha?

Why did Krishna not stop the Mahabharata?

There are two reasons why Krishna does not stop the Mahabharata: (1) he is unable to, because he is as human as any other character and cannot see the future; or (2) he is able to but chooses not to, because he wishes events to unfold in that particular manner so that evil can be wiped off the face of the earth.

If you like your Krishna human, plagued by the same insecurities and fears as other men, then you may like the notion that he does not know beforehand just how events will come to pass.

He is just like any other character – perhaps the wisest, cleverest, most ruthless of them all – trying to make the best decisions with information available to him at any given moment.

In this avatar, Krishna does not stop the Mahabharata because he is simply not powerful enough to do so. He is merely one of the many free agents functioning within this complex system that gives rise to the Mahabharata. He does not possess any prophetic knowledge of events that are yet to pass.

On the other hand, if you like your Krishna god-like and all-powerful, the conclusion we must necessarily draw is that he wishes the Mahabharata to happen just as it did.

He has complete knowledge of all events that make up the past, the present and the future. In fact, Krishna is an entity that resides outside of time, so he knows exactly what has happened.

He knows that he is an incarnation of Vishnu, who has come to Earth with the intention of freeing the world of evil. He knows that he was successful in his mission. He also knows that the Mahabharata war has to happen – exactly as it does.

In this avatar, Krishna does not stop the Mahabharata because he did not. There is only one timeline, and he has visibility of it in its entirety. The possibility of changing it does not arise.

Detailed Answer: Why did Krishna not stop the Mahabharata?

Why did Krishna not marry Radha?

A number of reasons have been suggested for why Krishna did not marry Radha. Among them: (1) Radha is already married, (2) Krishna knows that his destiny lies elsewhere, in a world unfit for a milkmaid, and (3) There was never any romantic or erotic love between Krishna and Radha; their union was emotional and spiritual rather than physical.

At the outset, it bears mentioning that no official explanation exists for why Krishna did not marry Radha. In fact, many scholars debate as to whether a person called Radha ever existed in Vrindavan.

Even if she did, there are multiple theories on who or what she was and wasn’t. A few possibilities:

  • Radha is an older milkmaid who looks after Krishna as a child and becomes a mother and mentor figure as the boy grows into his early teens. The relationship between the two is that of a mother and child.
  • Radha is younger than Krishna or around the same age. She is one of the gopis that Krishna plays with, and is someone for whom he has special affection. The two of them are friends – and perhaps lovers.
  • Radha is older than Krishna, married to someone else, and is unabashedly attracted to Krishna as the boy begins to play his flute. Here again, we can speculate on the depth of their relationship.

The most popular depiction of Radha-Krishna is as a similar-age couple who share a bond of deep romantic love. We’re not sure, however, if their romance ever blossomed into sexual or erotic territory.

Even if we assume it did, and even if we think it likely that there was an unsaid promise of love between them, it would have been impossible for Krishna to marry Radha because he was destined to leave Vrindavan and she – one assumed – would have been reluctant to do so.

Their love, therefore, is often depicted as pure, ephemeral, in-the-moment, and free of all contextual restraints. It is the kind of love that cannot exist in real life, and therefore very attractive as an idea.

Detailed Answer: Why did Krishna not marry Radha?

Why did Krishna support the Pandavas?

Krishna supports the Pandavas in the Mahabharata for three main reasons: (1) He honestly believes that the Pandavas are on the side of virtue and justice, (2) Victory to Pandavas ensures stability and continued well-being of Anarta, and (3) His close friendship with Arjuna means that his goodwill extends to the other four brothers.

In the Mahabharata, Krishna has a few different motivations that together cause him to support the Pandavas over the Kauravas. For instance:

  • Krishna is keen to have Anarta maintain friendly relations with both the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Since Balarama has a close friendship with Duryodhana, Krishna hedges his geopolitical bets by leaning toward the Pandavas.
  • He truly believes that the Pandavas are on the side of virtue and justice, and that they were cheated out of their kingdom by Duryodhana. Krishna’s support may therefore have broader ethical reasons too.
  • With Yudhishthir as emperor, the world is a much more stable place than if Duryodhana is in charge. Since Duryodhana is a more volatile character than Yudhishthir, it is in Anarta’s best interests to favour the Pandavas.
  • Krishna is more closely related to the Pandavas in three ways: (a) they are his first cousins, (b) he is a close personal friend to Arjuna, and (c) he is brother-in-law by marriage to Arjuna. With the Kauravas his relationship is more distant.

Despite the above reasons, we must note that Krishna does not go all out in supporting the Pandavas when they are in exile. He chooses to remain friendly with the Kuru house.

Even in the war, Anarta remains officially neutral. Among the forces that fight, Kritavarma goes to Duryodhana’s side while Yuyudhana supports the Pandavas. Krishna’s army goes to Duryodhana while Krishna himself comes to Arjuna.

In a purely objective sense, then, though Krishna’s personal support is with the Pandavas, he is still careful to ensure that Anarta will remain unharmed regardless of the war’s outcome.

Detailed Answer: Why did Krishna support the Pandavas?

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.

The fall of the Yadavas comes about because of the curse of Gandhari. At the end of the Kurukshetra war, the mother of the Kauravas tells Krishna: ‘For the destruction you have allowed to happen in this house, the race of the Yadavas will also collapse by dissension from within.’

It takes thirty six years for Gandhari’s words to come alive. Dwaraka sinks under the sea. The Yadava people fight one another and die. Krishna and Balarama participate in the carnage, killing with their own weapons people they have once called their friends.

After this massacre, 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.

Detailed Answer: How did Krishna die?

How did Krishna help Draupadi?

Krishna helps Draupadi several times: (1) He soothes the tempers of her rejected suitors at the swayamvara, (2) He magically restores her clothing during the disrobing incident, (3) He raises the Upapandavas in Dwaraka during the Pandavas’ exile, and (4) He helps the Pandavas win the war and thus avenge Draupadi’s humiliations.

It is a credit to Krishna that despite the fact that Draupadi is Subhadra’s rival for Arjuna’s affections, he still goes out of his way to comfort and console Draupadi at various key moments of the story.

At the beginning of the Pandavas’ exile, when Draupadi is raging emotionally at all the wrongs that have been heaped upon her, Krishna promises her solemnly that all these sins will be avenged.

Among the times that Krishna helps Draupadi are the following:

  • At her swayamvara, after Arjuna and Bhima have defeated Karna and Shalya respectively, Krishna speaks to the dejected suitors and soothes their tempers. He reminds them that the Brahmin has won Draupadi fairly, and that it is proper for the kings to accept the decision.
  • During her disrobing, when Duhsasana comes up to remove the garments on her body, Draupadi prays to Krishna. Krishna magically causes reams upon reams of clothing to cover Draupadi’s body, shielding her honour.
  • When the Pandavas leave for their exile, Subhadra and Abhimanyu go back to Dwaraka to live there. Krishna also takes the responsibility of raising the Upapandavas, the sons of Draupadi.
  • During the exile, when Duryodhana sends Sage Durvasa to the Pandavas with the express intention of rousing the sage’s anger, Krishna appears and uses his magic to give Durvasa and his disciples a hearty feast.
  • Most important of all, Krishna uses the full force of his strategic nous to help the Pandavas win the war of Kurukshetra – thus ensuring that all of Draupadi’s humiliations are properly avenged.

However, Krishna is unable to (or he chooses not to) prevent the Upapandavas from dying at the hands of Ashwatthama during the Sauptika Parva.

Detailed Answer: How did Krishna help Draupadi?

How did Krishna and Arjuna become friends?

Though Arjuna and Krishna meet for the first time at Draupadi’s swayamvara, they do not become friends until Arjuna pays Dwaraka a visit toward the end of his twelve-year exile. During this meeting, the two heroes spend enough time together for friendship to bloom. Krishna solidifies this bond by giving his sister Subhadra in marriage to Arjuna.

It would be naïve to imagine that the relationship between Arjuna and Krishna is a purely personal one. Each would have been aware of the geopolitical advantages that the other brought to the table.

At the time of Arjuna’s visit to Dwaraka, Yudhishthir is still a small king, ruling over Khandavaprastha but still under the shadow of Dhritarashtra at Hastinapur. The Pandavas are still, on the whole, a largely powerless entity.

However, Krishna sees the potential of the five brothers. Arjuna has already spent his twelve years forging two alliances – one with the Naga king Kauravya by marrying Ulupi, and the second with the Manipura ruler Chitravahana, by marrying Chitrangada.

During their time together, Krishna would have had several opportunities to test Arjuna’s ambitions for the future, and only after ascertaining that Yudhishthir wishes to become the emperor of the world, he decides that it would be advantageous to build a formal alliance with them.

On the other hand, Anarta is already a powerful kingdom, so the proposal would have been accepted gratefully by Arjuna.

Krishna also wants to defeat Jarasandha, and perhaps by this time he already has vague notions of how he might use the Pandavas’ might to achieve that goal.

The friendship between Krishna and Arjuna, therefore, begins at a mutually beneficial time for both men, and over time it evolves into a lifelong bond that extends all the way to the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

Detailed Answer: How did Krishna and Arjuna become friends?

How did Krishna look?

Krishna is dark-complexioned, pink-palmed and pink-footed. Eyes the shape of lotus leaves. Playful and mischievous by demeanour, yet calm and in complete control of his senses. His face communicates both his rootlessness and his tranquillity. Usually seen with a flute in his hand. Strong-armed, battle-hardened, wise and well-read.

The name ‘Krishna’ is commonly given to children who are dark-complexioned. Draupadi and Arjuna are also called by that name. Krishna is also described variously as lotus-eyed (eyes shaped like a lotus petal), lotus-footed (feet the colour of a lotus petal), and dark-as-the-rainclouds. He is depicted in most stories as lithe, handsome and mischievous.

Of the many names given to Krishna, some of them describe his looks. Here are a few of them:

  • The word ‘Krishna’ means ‘dark-complexioned’.
  • The word ‘Pankaja-Nayana’ means ‘he who has eyes shaped like a lotus leaf or flower’.
  • The word ‘Vamsheedhara’ means ‘he who carries the flute’.
  • The word ‘Vihari’ means ‘wanderer’ and ‘he who is playful’.
  • The word ‘Hrishikesha’ means ‘he who controls his senses’.
  • The words ‘Paada-padmam’, used to describe Krishna often, mean ‘lotus-feet’.

Also, we know that Krishna – at least the adult Krishna that we see in the Mahabharata – is an accomplished wrestler. He fights and kills Kamsa’s court-wrestler right after his departure from Vrindavan. Later, he offers himself confidently as a challenge to King Jarasandha.

Krishna is also an archer, and an expert discus-thrower. This means that he must have the necessary strength in the arms wield these weapons.

From all this, we can build a composite image of the man, as follows:

  • Dark-complexioned: the colour of rainclouds.
  • Pink-palmed and pink-footed: the colour of lotus petals.
  • Eyes the shape of lotus leaves (or petals).
  • Always seen bearing a flute, so he is musically inclined.
  • He has read and understood the Vedas, so that wisdom pervades his demeanour.
  • His face and eyes communicate his wandering nature – but also his tranquillity.
  • He has the physique of an archer and discus-thrower: strong arms, narrow waist, lithe and wiry muscles.

How did Krishna and Draupadi become friends?

Krishna and Draupadi meet for the first time in the Pandavas’ hut in Panchala, after Arjuna has won Draupadi and brought her back to meet Kunti. After that, Krishna and Draupadi’s relationship deepens when Krishna visits Indraprastha after Subhadra’s wedding, and when he helps her during the disrobing incident.

Krishna and Draupadi seem to share an entirely platonic relationship, despite suggestions from some modern storytellers that there may have been some romantic interest between them.

Their first meeting is at Draupadi’s swayamvara, which Krishna attends but only as a spectator. They speak for the first time at the Pandavas’ hut, where Krishna introduces himself for the first time to Kunti and her sons.

During the twelve years of Arjuna’s exile, there might have been some sparse contact between Krishna and the Pandavas. But we are not told of it.

Only after Arjuna marries Subhadra does the Pandava-Anarta alliance begin in earnest. Krishna accompanies the new bride, his sister, to Khandavaprastha, and stays back for a while.

Krishna oversees the burning of Khandava, and the eventual crowning of Yudhishthir as the emperor of the world. All this while, Krishna and Draupadi will have interacted closely as hostess and guest, and also as relatives by marriage.

Draupadi considers Krishna her protective older brother, a role Krishna performs perfectly when he saves her from Duhsasana’s clutches during the disrobing incident. Krishna later proclaims Draupadi as the incarnation of Dharma herself.

He also consoles her at the beginning of the exile, and gives his word that all her humiliation will be avenged.

Detailed Answer: How did Krishna and Draupadi become friends?

How did Krishna get Sudarshana Chakra?

Krishna receives the Sudarshana Chakra from Agni during the burning of Khandava. Agni gets Brahma’s permission to devour Khandava, but is thwarted by Indra. So he takes the help of Arjuna and Krishna to guard the forest while he consumes it. He gives Arjuna the Gandiva, and to Krishna he gives the Sudarshana Chakra.

Around the time of Arjuna’s marriage to Subhadra, Agni the fire god is caught in a predicament.

On the one hand he has lost much of his lustre because of a king named Swetaki, who performed so many sacrifices and fed him with so much ghee that he has become constipated.

On the other hand, despite getting permission from Brahma to consume the forest of Khandava to regain his powers, Indra keeps thwarting his attempts to do so in order to protect his friend Takshaka – a Naga king who lives in Khandava.

Agni therefore assumes the guise of a Brahmin and approaches Arjuna and Krishna one day. He asks them for a boon that they will stand guard the forest and protect it from Indra’s intervention.

Arjuna and Krishna agree, but say that they do not have the weapons to help them perform this task. Agni responds by giving them a number of divine weapons.

Among these are the Gandiva and the Sudarshana Chakra, gifted respectively to Arjuna and Krishna. The two warriors keep these weapons for the rest of their lives.

Detailed Answer: How did Krishna get the Sudarshana Chakra?

How did Krishna know about Karna?

It is not mentioned in the Mahabharata just how Krishna knows the truth about Karna. But the most likely explanation is that Kunti tells him her secret when he comes to Hastinapur. Krishna then tries to use this information – in vain – to lure Karna away from Duryodhana onto the Pandava side.

Besides Kunti, only Surya and Vyasa know about the truth regarding Karna’s birth. Of these two, Surya never divulges the information to anyone. Vyasa is also a good secret-keeper; he tells Bhishma just before the war begins about who Karna really is.

(How Vyasa comes to know of this is also a mystery. We can only surmise that Kunti confides in him at some point. Or maybe he does have magical powers by which he can see and know everything.)

When Krishna arrives in Hastinapur before the war with the intention of brokering peace between the two sides, he stays at the house of Vidura for a few nights, where Kunti is also staying. A long conversation develops between aunt and nephew, at the end of which Kunti relays personalized messages to each of her sons through Krishna.

We’re not told this explicitly, but it is likely that Kunti tells Krishna about Karna during these meetings. Right afterward, Krishna summons Karna and tries to bribe him with this information.

He tells Karna that as the eldest Pandava, his true place is by his brothers, and that he will be worshipped as a god by the Pandavas. Krishna even promises Karna that Draupadi will become his wife, and that she will bear him sons.

There is no indication of Krishna knowing of Karna’s secret before this moment.

Detailed Answer: How did Krishna know about Karna?

How did Krishna meet the Pandavas?

Krishna sees the Pandavas for the first time at Draupadi’s swayamvara. At this time, the Pandavas are disguised as Brahmins. But Krishna recognizes them. After Draupadi has been won, Krishna and Balarama follow the Pandavas back to their hut and introduce themselves as the sons of Vasudeva.

Krishna and Balarama are the sons of Vasudeva, who is the brother of Kunti. Yudhishthir, Bhima and Arjuna are therefore first cousins to Krishna and Balarama.

Though Nakula and Sahadeva are not related to Krishna by blood, the fact that Kunti adopts them as their own makes them cousins as well.

Throughout their growing up years, Krishna and the Pandavas live separate lives. The former is engaged in the process of liberating Mathura from Kamsa, and in building the seaside city of Dwaraka. The latter are embroiled in their quarrels with the Kauravas.

The paths meet at Draupadi’s swayamvara. At this point, the Pandavas have just escaped from the fire trap set by Duryodhana, and are now living in Ekachakrapura as Brahmins. Krishna and Balarama have just finished unifying Anarta, and are just about to enter the game of geopolitics.

Here, Krishna spots Arjuna and points him out to Balarama. He watches Arjuna and Bhima fight off Draupadi’s suitors. Afterward, along with Balarama he follows the Pandavas back to their hut.

This is where Krishna and Balarama first meet the Pandavas. What they say to each other is not recorded. But we’re told that the Yadava princes pay their respects to their aunt, and that they introduce themselves to their cousins.

Detailed Answer: How did Krishna meet the Pandavas?

Was Krishna celibate?

By some counts, Krishna has eighty sons by eight queens. This feat is clearly impossible for a celibate man. However, Krishna does exhibit very little interest in sex. He seems to have gained mastery over his sexual desire, and is able to view it as a detached observer. In that sense, Krishna is celibate.

Celibacy can be seen in two different lights:

  • One is in the literal sense, whereby a practitioner of celibacy does not commit any sexual acts throughout the period of his vow. The vow taken by Bhishma is an example.
  • The other is in a more metaphorical sense, whereby a man knows of the pleasures of sexual union and yet gains control over his desires. When he participates in sex, he does so mindfully, without the grasping depravity of one who is still enslaved by his passions.

A person who is by practice celibate can, of course, be plagued by sexual thoughts every moment of every day. He may burn with lust every second while practising utter purity.

On the other hand, a person who practises the act of sex may do so while being detached from it. Such a man knows, observes, manages and controls his desires masterfully. He is not a slave to them.

Of course, it is quite possible to be constantly indulging your desires and be enslaved by them, as it is possible to abstain completely and be in control of your thoughts.

Krishna gives the appearance of one who has gained control over his baser sexual desires. That is why he is never shown to act under impulse or under duress. In this sense alone, he is celibate.

In the literal sense of the word, he is not celibate because he has eight queens through which he has given birth to eighty sons.

Detailed Answer: Was Krishna Celibate?

Was Krishna cunning?

Krishna is well known for being a cunning strategist. Most of his victories in the Mahabharata can be attributed to his wiles more than his valour. Though his enemies criticise him for this, Krishna takes the pragmatic approach and says: ‘There is nothing wrong in pursuing whatever means necessary to accomplish one’s goals.’

During the Kurukshetra war alone, Krishna is responsible for the following:

  • The death of Bhishma, which is achieved by Arjuna hiding behind Shikhandi’s chariot.
  • The death of Drona, which is achieved by Yudhishthir telling a lie that Ashwatthama has been killed.
  • Using Ghatotkacha as a tool to force Karna into using the Vasava Dart, so that Arjuna can be protected.
  • The death of Duryodhana, achieved by Bhima crushing the Kaurava’s thighs with a mace.
  • The death of Jayadratha, achieved on the fourteenth day by Arjuna to avenge Abhimanyu’s death.
  • The death of Bhoorishrava, whom Arjuna shoots from behind at Krishna’s urging.

At the end of the war, when Duryodhana accuses Krishna of having won the war with conniving means, Krishna replies, ‘If we had used virtuous means alone, the Pandavas would not have won.’

Even outside of the Kurukshetra war, Krishna displays plenty of strategic thinking ability. Securing the marriage of Subhadra to Arjuna, and then helping the Pandavas kill Jarasandha are two prominent examples.

Crucially, it bears noting that Krishna is unapologetic about his methods. He takes the view that a man ought to pursue any means available to him to vanquish his enemy.

Detailed Answer: Was Krishna Cunning?

Was Krishna cruel?

Krishna can be called driven, ambitious, ruthless, detached and cold. These attributes sometimes make him look cruel and uncaring. But in the capacity of a god who has taken birth on Earth with the intention of wiping away evil, he does not have the luxury of managing expectations. He simply does what needs to be done.

In the Mahabharata, Krishna can be said to have three main objectives:

  • To ensure the well-being and safety of the citizens of Anarta, the kingdom he founds with Balarama on the shore of the western sea. The people of Anarta call themselves Yadavas and Vrishnis.
  • To ensure that the forces of ‘good’ – as represented by the Pandavas – triumph over the forces of ‘bad’ – as represented by Duryodhana and his allies.
  • To ensure that his own personal legacy as a powerful strategist and a proponent of Dharma takes root and grows throughout his life.

These three goals sometimes contradict and sometimes complement one another. Krishna sees it as his duty to successfully achieve all of these objectives, regardless of what hurdles appear in his path.

In order to protect the citizens of Anarta, he cultivates friendly relations with both the Pandavas and the Kauravas. In order to help good triumph over evil, he fights on the side of the Pandavas as Arjuna’s charioteer. In order to establish his legacy, he continually forwards the narrative of himself as the incarnation of Vishnu.

Managing these three objectives together at all times turns Krishna into an incredibly driven and ruthless man who lies, cajoles, fights, connives and plots as required. His friends call him crafty, his enemies call him cruel.

Detailed Answer: Was Krishna Cruel?

Was Krishna ever defeated?

There is very little direct evidence of Krishna’s fighting prowess in the Mahabharata. His only significant defeat happens at the hands of Jarasandha when he is the regent of Mathura. As a result of this, Balarama and Krishna gather all their citizens and migrate westward to found the city of Dwaraka.

Krishna is considered by all other characters in the Mahabharata to be a great warrior. But his detractors – Shishupala and Duryodhana, for instance – always point out that all his victories have been won by deceit rather than valour.

We see very little direct evidence of Krishna fighting anyone in the Mahabharata. The only time he is shown wielding weapons is during the burning of Khandava. During this incident, Krishna and Arjuna together defeat the army of gods led by Indra.

But this is hardly a battle worth mentioning. None of the primary gods of the pantheon turn up to this fight. It is only Indra who is invested in saving Khandava (because of his friendship with Takshaka), so only he comes with an army to stop Arjuna and Krishna.

Outside of this, Krishna hardly ever picks up a weapon.

The consensus among people surrounding him is that he is impossible to defeat, but it is also mentioned that during their early years in Mathura – shortly after the overthrow of Kamsa – Balarama and Krishna suffer a series of defeats in the hands of Jarasandha.

Jarasandha is the king of Magadha, and he has an axe to grind against Krishna because Kamsa and Mathura were Magadha’s allies before Krishna’s arrival. Jarasandha torments the people of Mathura so much that they are compelled to migrate westward, thus leaving Mathura in Magadha’s control.

Krishna and Balarama thus arrive at the western seafront, and build here a city called Dwaraka.

Detailed Answer: Was Krishna ever defeated?

Can Krishna defeat Bhishma?

On two occasions during the Mahabharata war, Krishna leaps off the chariot of Arjuna and launches into an attack of Bhishma. Both times, Bhishma throws away his bow and welcomes Krishna’s blow. This suggests that Krishna is powerful enough to defeat Bhishma – and that Bhishma knows this.

Krishna, in the Mahabharata, is considered the incarnation of Vishnu. During Yudhishthir’s Rajasuya, Bhishma describes Krishna as all-powerful, all-seeing, and all-moving.

As such, Krishna is powerful enough to defeat the entire army of the Kurus in the blink of an eye – including Bhishma.

However, if we view this claim of an all-powerful Krishna with scepticism and insist on looking at evidence alone, Bhishma is no pushover. Even at hundred years old during the Kurukshetra war, he gives a tough battle to Arjuna, the greatest archer of them all.

In his prime, Bhishma is known to perform various incredible feats:

  • He goes to the swayamvara of Amba, Ambika and Ambalika in a single chariot, defeats all the assembled suitors, and brings the princesses back to Hastinapur.
  • He defeats Sage Parashurama in a duel to settle Amba’s grievances.
  • He serves as the regent of the Kuru house for more than eighty years, during which the kingdom becomes the most powerful one in the land. He does not lose a single battle in all this time.
  • He is the son of Ganga. Therefore, he has divine blood running through his veins.

Given all of this, a battle between Krishna and Bhishma is likely to be hard-fought. Krishna probably has an edge over the grandsire, but if we run the simulation a hundred times, we might expect Bhishma to secure about twenty victories.

Detailed Answer: Can Krishna defeat Bhishma?

Can Krishna defeat Karna?

Krishna is described in the Mahabharata as the incarnation of Vishnu. As such, he is powerful enough to defeat anyone – including Karna. However, Krishna is never seen fighting anyone in person throughout the story, which means there is no evidentiary proof of his prowess as a warrior.

Karna is considered one of the most skilful and powerful archers of the world, second only to Arjuna. Krishna’s chief weapon, on the other hand, is the Sudarshana Chakra. His skills with bow and arrow – though considerable – are seldom displayed in the story.

Krishna is also described as a great wrestler: he kills Kamsa’s court wrestlers when he is a young man, and later prepares to fight Jarasandha during Yudhishthir’s Rajasuya. Karna’s hand-to-hand combat skills, by contrast, are nonexistent.

The only time in the Mahabharata that Krishna speaks of battling an enemy is when he tells Yudhishthir about the invasion of Dwaraka by a king called Suvala. Krishna gives an account of avenging this slight by killing Suvala in a great war – but all of this is provided to the reader as Krishna’s narration.

We do not know how reliable a narrator Krishna is – especially when recounting tales of his own heroism.

With all of this considered, we must conclude that Krishna is still likely powerful enough to defeat Karna in most situations. The only scenario in which Karna may have an upper hand is if the two warriors are fighting with bows and arrows alone.

Detailed Answer: Can Krishna defeat Karna?

Further Reading

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