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: 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.
Read on to discover more about whether or not Krishna was celibate.
(For answers to all Krishna-related questions, see Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
When people use the word ‘celibate’, they usually mean it in a physical or bodily context. So when they ask, ‘Is Krishna celibate?’ what they wish to know is whether Krishna is sexually active with other women.
This is a fairly simple answer, and it is no. Krishna is known to have eight queens, through whom he has eighty sons through the course of his life. Even if we assume that this number is an exaggeration, we know for certain that he has several sons, of whom Pradyumna and Samba are often mentioned.
Remember that this does not take into account the number of casual sexual partners Krishna might have taken. We do not know for certain that he did, but it is not an unreasonable assumption to make.
On the other end of scale from Krishna stands Bhishma, another important Mahabharata character, who takes the vow of celibacy and holds it throughout his adult life.
For the rest of this article, let us examine the spirit of the word ‘celibate’ in different contexts.
Celibacy of the Mind
Celibacy is considered by the Mahabharata as one of the highest, most difficult practices for a man. That is why Prince Devavrata receives the title of ‘Bhishma’ when he makes the vow.
To the ‘brahmachari’ who practices celibacy, we are told, accrue many earthly and divine gifts.
One wonders, though, if the gifts are contingent or not on the practitioner’s mental state.
For instance, along with swearing off sexual practice with a woman, did Bhishma also banish all kinds of sexual thought from his mind? Did he engage in sexual practice with himself while thinking of other women?
If we take the hypothetical case of two practitioners of celibacy, say A and B, who are both equally pious regarding the matter of touching another person, but when it comes to their minds:
- A is completely pure, and has succeeded in mastering sexual thoughts, whereas:
- B constantly surrenders to them by stimulating himself, and even enjoys these thoughts.
In the above scenario, will A be considered a better Brahmachari than B? Will the gods shower him with more gifts?
Healthy versus Compulsive Behaviours
Having established that celibacy can be thought of in physical and mental terms, in this section we will see how it can manifest itself behaviourally as well.
Consider two different men, X and Y. X is someone who has practiced sexual celibacy for many years, but this constant use of his will power has left him unhappy, ill-tempered and irritable. His celibacy takes such a big toll on him that he is unable to summon the necessary fortitude for engaging in healthy behaviour – socially and emotionally.
Y, on the other hand, is not celibate, but engages in his sexual behaviour in such a way that he does not allow it to master him. He uses his sexual experiences to build himself into a better person.
Of these two, who is more deserving of reward?
Heroism and Villainy
In the Mahabharata, villainous characters are often described as those who do not have their sexual urges under control. For instance:
- At the dice game, Duryodhana slaps his thigh and beckons Draupadi to come over and sit on it. He also commands her to be disrobed. His display of power, therefore, has an overtly sexual component to it.
- During the Pandavas’ exile, Jayadratha abducts Draupadi and attempts to persuade her into marrying him.
Contrastingly, heroic characters are described as those who have mastered their sexual desires to a point where it does not interfere with their rational decision-making.
- Though Arjuna is depicted as a man who is irresistible to women, he also displays restraint in the face of temptation – like in the case of Urvasi and with Ulupi.
- The Pandavas – despite being powerful men – never engage in acts that are driven purely by their sexual impulses.
The implication is that villains are enslaved by their sexual passions whereas heroes master them and engage with them mindfully. Some readers will note that this hero-villain motif persists in storytelling to this day.
Krishna is the epitome of this quality of mastering one’s senses. In his Bhagavad Gita, he repeatedly encourages Arjuna to step outside of his own ego and to view matters as a detached observer.
To commit to action. To be detached from the results of action.
As the character most attuned to this ability, Krishna displays, throughout the story, almost a disinterest in sex and sexual matters. He is rarely described as being under the influence of desire for a woman.
This does not mean, of course, that he does not engage in sex, or that he does not do so with enthusiasm – but just that he is able to bridle this desire enough to prevent it from affecting his rationality.
Celibacy as Mindfulness
We can therefore view the word ‘celibacy’ to measure the amount of ‘sexual mindfulness’ a person has.
What does not matter in this context are the following:
- How much regular sex is the person having – by himself or with someone else
- How much sex he has had or how many sexual partners he has taken during his life
- How many sexual thoughts accost him on a daily basis, and the nature of these thoughts
All of the above are irrelevant. What is relevant are the following:
- How much control the person is able to achieve on his sexuality, and
- How mindfully he is able to engage with his sexual side so that it enhances the overall quality and value of his life – instead of diminishing it.
If we examine the question of Krishna’s celibacy in this context, he is a celibate man.
If we restrict the word ‘celibacy’ to mean ‘no sexual partners whatsoever’, then Krishna is not a celibate man. He has eight wives and eighty sons.
However, if we expand the word to mean ‘sexual mindfulness’, Krishna is an extremely celibate man – perhaps even more so than the technically celibate Bhishma – because he displays utter mastery over his passions.
He is always in control of himself and his sexuality. He does not allow it to dictate his decision-making. When he engages in sexual behaviour, he does so with detachment and respect.
In that sense, Krishna is celibate.
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