is an important realization in the life of a Hindu that atman is Brahma. It takes a long time to come to this understanding. One must reach this awareness on
He may be told by others, but unless he makes the connection himself, he will not truly comprehend this reality. Atman is Brahma
means that everything, especially one’s true self, is divine. Since the world, according to Hinduism, is maya, or illusion, it can
be difficult to truly see this divinity. This divine power is referred to as Brahma, who is ultimate reality and the divine
source of all things. Hinduism has a henotheistic view of divinity meaning that they hold the belief that there is one divine
power that is manifested in a variety of aspects. This one divine power is believed to be Brahma, who manifests Himself in various other
It is through these manifestations that Brahma is most worshipped. Vishnu and Shiva are two such manifestations. Together, Brahma,
Vishnu, and Shiva, the three most important Hindu gods, comprise the Trimurti. Shiva is the destroyer and gives rise to the Shaivism
sect of Hinduism.
Vishnu, on the other hand, is the preserver and gives rise to the Vaishnavism sect. These two are very different manifestations
of the one divine Brahma. Upon focusing on Vishnu, the most popular god of Hinduism, one will find a variety of avatars. These avatars
are manifestations of Vishnu, who is a manifestation of Brahma. Two of the most popular avatars of Vishnu are Rama and Krishna.
legends of both Rama and Krishna can be found in the Puranas, which are found in the Smriti
texts of Hinduism.
The story of Rama can be found more specifically in the Ramayana. That of Krishna can be found in the
poem called the Bhagavad-Gita, which is contained in the Mahabharata. There are other sources as well that reveal the legends of Rama and Krishna. These legends sometimes differ from one another. Like many stories of history, those of Rama and Krishna
were passed down orally before they were written down; because of this, there are multiple variations to these stories. There are also
different legendary people who go by the names of Rama and Krishna about whom different stories
The Rama and Krishna who are referred to as avatars of Vishnu are the most well-known
and followed in the Hindu faith. Therefore, this will be my focus. There are legends that these gods were made manifest in human form. The legends of the historical persons
of Rama and Krishna are what I believe to be the main reasons for the widespread Hindu following of the gods of Rama and Krishna. These two Hindu gods are avatars, or manifestations, of one of the main gods of Hinduism, Vishnu. They are both believed to have been brought into this world by Vishnu himself in order
to fulfill different purposes at different times (Kirk 187). Today, they are two of the most popularly worshipped gods in Hinduism. The worship
of Rama and Krishna became widespread by the year 300; “it is quite possible that by
then most of the people would have classed themselves as followers of one or the other” (The Hindu 118).
first I will mention is Krishna. Krishna is the name of many historical
beings in Hindu history. For example, Krishna, the son of Devaki (referred to in the Chhandogya
Upanishad) was a scholar and a composer. Krishna, the son of Visvaka, was a sage. There was an
asura from the Jamna region named Krishna, who was defeated by the god Indra. There was another
god named Krishna who was a Dravidian god of youth. (Walker Vol. 1 559)
there are many Krishnas in Hindu history, the Krishna revealed in the Bhagavata Purana is
the most commonly known. He appears in the Mahabharata as the charioteer of Arjuna, but is not a main character here (Hindu Primary
228, Parrinder 71, The Hindu 120). The Bhagavad-Gita allegedly contains the very words of Krishna as he gave
advice to the warrior Arjuna (Hindu Primary 228, Walker Vol. 1 560). The most well-known story of Krishna,
however, can be found in the Bhagavata Purana.
to Hindu tradition, Krishna was born into the world as the eighth avatar of Vishnu in order
to defeat his evil uncle, Kamsa (Walker Vol. 1 560). This was revealed to Kamsa himself, who would then take action in attempt to ensure
that Krishna would not be born (Kirk 217, Parrinder 73, Walker Vol. 1 560). Krishna
was to be born as the eighth child of Devaki, a cousin of Kamsa (Kirk 217, Parrinder 73). Kamsa spares Devaki’s life as her
husband Vasudeva had requested; however, Kamsa requires that each of their sons be brought to him upon birth (Kirk 217).
first six sons were killed by Kamsa (Kirk 217). Devaki discovers later, through the revelation of her eighth son, Krishna,
that this was all according to plan (Kirk 234). Because the god referred to as Bhagavan knew what Kamsa would do, he made sure that
Devaki’s first six children would be rebirths of ancient asuras (Kirk 234). This way, Kamsa would end up killing his own help,
and the asuras would be set free from their wickedness (Kirk 234). After the birth of their sixth child, Vasudeva and Devaki were imprisoned
by Kamsa (Kirk 217). According to legend, Vasudeva’s seventh and eighth sons were created, respectively, from a white
hair and a black hair of Vishnu (Parrinder 73, Walker Vol. 1 560). The seventh son, Balarama, was removed from Devaki’s womb upon
conception and moved to the womb of Vasuveda’s youngest wife Rohini so that he would not be killed (Kirk 218, Walker
Vol. 1 560).
The black hair of Vishnu was born as Krishna, the eighth son of Devaki (Parrinder
73, Walker Vol. 1 560). Krishna’s midnight birth is still celebrated today in the Indian
festival known as Janmashtami (Walker Vol. 1 560).
Krishna was born to Devaki, He was also born as a daughter named Maya to Yashoda, the wife
of Nanda (Kirk 291). Also upon his birth, Vasudeva was miraculously set free from his imprisonment and the guards fell asleep
(Kirk 219, Walker Vol. 1 560). He escaped with the new baby boy, crossed the river, and arrived where Yashoda and Nanda lived (Kirk 219,
Parrinder 73, Walker Vol. 1 560). While the new parents were asleep, Vasudeva exchanged Krishna for Maya
Yashoda and Nanda raised Krishna as their own son (Walker Vol. 1 560). Vasudeva returned
to the prison and placed the baby girl on Devaki’s lap; the guards heard Maya’s cries and alerted Kamsa (Kirk
tried to kill Maya, thinking she was their eighth child, but he was not successful (Kirk 219, Parrinder 73). Maya turned into her true form and
told Kamsa that he would surely die (Kirk 219, Parrinder 73). Kamsa then set out in order to ensure that all male babies would be executed
(Kirk 219, Parrinder 73, Walker Vol. 1 560). Somehow Krishna survived this mass execution, and
was raised by Yashoda and Nanda in safety among the cowherds (Parrinder 74, Walker Vol. 1 560).
are legends of Krishna’s childhood that make him quite famous today in the Hindu religion. One legend occurs
when he was still an infant. A demoness by the name of Putana took on the form of a beautiful woman and came to the place where Krishna lived (Kirk 220). Putana nursed Krishna, giving him poisonous milk
(Kirk 220, Walker Vol. 1 561). Krishna, however, sucked the life out of her (Kirk 220, Parrinder 74,
Walker Vol. 1 561). Shortly after this event, in order to ensure his spiritual well-being, a special ceremony was conducted
for Krishna (Kirk 220). Although he had ingested all her poison, he remained unharmed (Kirk 220). More than this,
upon the cremation of Putana’s body, there was a sweet smell, signifying her purity (Kirk 220). Many followers of Krishna
believe in the hope that “If even Putana could reach this goal by His grace, can we not be certain of success, if we
trust Him?” (Kirk 220).
second legend tells of something Krishna did in his youth. He witnessed some of the gopis,
or cowgirls, bathing in a river and decided to run away with their clothes (Kirk 225, Parrinder 76). When they noticed, he made them
approach him with their hands above their head and bow to him (Kirk 225, Parrinder 76-7). Each shamelessly did as he had asked (Kirk
to Parrinder, this story displays the more spiritual message that each soul must appear unclothed in front of God (78).
such legend is remembered in the carrying on of the tradition of a dance known as the rasa (Kirk 226). This story is initiated by Krishna playing his flute (Kirk 225, Parrinder 77). Each of the gopis hears it and follows the sound
(Kirk 225, Parrinder 77). When they arrive, Krishna tries to convince them to go back to their homes;
however, they do not do so (Kirk 225-6, Parrinder 77). Krishna begins to dance with them in
a dance referred to as the rasa (Kirk 226, Parrinder 77). As they are dancing and praising Krishna,
each woman thinks that he is dancing with her alone (Kirk 226, Parrinder 74). Parrinder states that the religious message of this
story is that God loves each individual soul as if it were the only (78).
gopis then become filled with pride; because of this, Krishna disappears with one of the
women (Kirk 226, Parrinder 78). Parrinder sees this part of the story as a portrayal of spiritual discipline; even when one cannot sense
God, she should still remain faithful to Him (78). The cowgirls searched for him and rejoiced at his return (Kirk 226, Parrinder 77). He comforts
them by saying that they can never be far away from Him because He is “all things” (Kirk 229). They each returned to their homes
to be with their families but were surprised to find that they were not missed (Kirk 226). While they were away, Krishna replaced them with an illusion so their husbands and fathers would not notice their absence
Krishna is said to have married each of these gopis, who are among his sixteen thousand wives (Kirk
232, Parrinder 77). One of the cowgirls he married, Radha, is the woman he disappeared from the dance with (Parrinder 78). She is believed
to be an avatar of Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu (Parrinder 78). Radha leaves her husband to be with Krishna,
which Parrinder believes to be a demonstration of proper loyalty to God over humanity (78). Legend has it that the sage Narada
had visited Krishna because of the disbelief that Krishna could keep so many wives (Kirk
when the sage visited each wife, he found them to be safe and happy in their own home (Kirk 232). Each believed herself to be Krishna’s only wife because he had multiplied himself (Kirk 232).
day Krishna was sitting under a tree by the river and was accidentally shot with an arrow;
a hunter, Jaras, had mistaken him for a deer (Kirk 236-7, Parrinder 74, Walker Vol. 1 566). Jaras, realizing what he had done,
begged for and was granted Krishna’s forgiveness (Kirk 237). Krishna
was then taken to the realm of Vishnu where he is said to be with the gopis forever (Parrinder 74, Walker Vol. 1 566).
mischievous life events of Krishna, according to Parrinder, portray deeper religious messages
addition to the aforementioned spiritual purposes of the stories, Krishna’s life portrays
the desire of God for humanity (Parrinder 78). Vishnu makes himself manifest as an avatar in order to defeat the demon Kamsa, but
this was not his only purpose in this world (Parrinder 77). The story of Krishna shows the desired
deep love between God and humanity; here it is portrayed symbolically through “romantic love” (Parrinder 78). This love is
also displayed in his followers’ belief that Krishna created this world for the unique
purpose of saving everyone (Parrinder 81).
famous Hindu god is Rama. There are, like Krishnas, other Ramas in Hindu history. One such Rama is mentioned in the
Rig-Veda and refers to an asura (Walker Vol. 2 278). Another Rama is mentioned in the story of the avatar Krishna;
however, he is more commonly referred to as Balarama (Kirk 218). The most well-known Rama in Hinduism is the seventh avatar of Vishnu,
also known as Ramachandra, whose story is told in the Ramayana (Parrinder 63, Walker Vol. 2 278).
Ramayana tells the partially historical and partially legendary story of King Rama (Kirk 187). The epic is allegedly written by
a sage by the name of Valmika (Parrinder 63, The Hindu 137). Valmika, who is known as a “saintly man”, appears in both
the initial and final books of the Ramayana (Hindu Primary 342). There is a legend that Valmika asked the Sage-Deity Narada about “virtue
and wisdom” and received his response in the form of a story about Rama (Kirk 187). The Ramayana contains seven books in the
form of a poem of about twenty-four thousand verses (Hindu Primary 341, The Ramayana 9). Books one and seven (the books in which
Valmika appears) are generally understood to be later additions to the original (Hindu Primary 341). The Ramayana shows, despite the
differences in variations, “what India
admired in a man, a king, a wife, a brother, a friend, a warrior” (Kirk 187). It reveals the most important values of Indian culture
including loyalty and obedience (Kirk 187).
story of the hero King Rama begins with his birth. Vishnu is born as the four sons of Dasaratha, the king of Ayodhya, in order to beat
the evil Ravana (Kirk 189). Ravana is the King Rakshasa, or demon, who was “protected… from every kind of enemy except
man” (Kirk 188). After drinking of a “divine beverage”, Dasaratha’s three wives, Kausalya, Kaikeyi and
Sumitra, gave birth to his four sons, Rama, Bharat, and the twins Lakshmana and Satrughna, respectively (Kirk 189, Walker
Vol. 2 278).
“Queen Kausalya, blessed with virtue, true and righteous Rama bore” (Kirk 189, Misc).
the same time that Vishnu was born in the form of Dasaratha’s four sons, Vishnu’s consort, Lakshmi, was born as
Sita (Parrinder 63-4). Sita’s adoptive father, Janak, an old friend of Dasaratha, had discovered her lying in the soil where
he was preparing for a sacrifice in order to obtain a child; Janak, therefore, took the baby girl and raised her as his own
daughter (Kirk 190, Parrinder 64).
in their youth, Rama and Lakshmana set out on their first voyage (Kirk 189). On the way back from their victory, Rama and Lakshmana
were brought to Mithila, where Janak, the king, and his daughter Sita, lived (Kirk 189). There took place a contest for Sita’s
hand in marriage; the winner would be he who could string the bow of Siva, which had never before been strung by man (Kirk
189, Walker Vol. 2 278). Rama not only strung the bow, but pulled the string back with such force that the bow broke in two (Kirk
189, Walker Vol. 2 278). Rama, therefore, married Sita; Lakshmana married her sister; and the other two brothers, Bharat and Satrughna,
married her cousins (Hindu Primary 342, Walker Vol. 2 278). Many Hindu weddings today still contain the vows that were said at the
wedding of Rama and Sita (Kirk 190).
the wedding, they returned home to Ayodhya (Kirk 192). Dasaratha chose Rama, his oldest son, and son of his chief queen, Kausalya,
as the heir to the throne (Walker Vol. 2 279). Dasaratha’s second wife, Kaikeyi, and her servant, Manthara, hear of the king’s
decision; therefore, they plan to change his mind through the use of the two boons, or blessings, Dasaratha owes to Kaikeyi
for a previous deed she did for him (Hindu Primary 343). Kaikeyi reminds Dasaratha of the time she healed his battle wounds, and
that in return he had promised her two boons, which she has yet to ask for (Kirk 194). She therefore requests that her son, Bharat,
be crowned king, and that Rama be banished for fourteen years to the Dandaka forest (Kirk 194, Walker Vol. 2 279).
Dasaratha’s objections, Rama decides to fulfill this promise in order to keep true his father’s word to Kaikeyi
(Kirk 194-5, Parrinder 64). Therefore, Rama leaves Ayodhya for the Dandaka forest, but not alone; both Sita and Lakshmana join Rama
in his banishment (Kirk 196, Parrinder 64, Walker Vol. 2 279). Rama’s wife and brother show their loyalty to Rama in this moment
through their insistence on joining him and continue to display their loyalty throughout the rest of the epic (Hindu Primary
response to Rama, which told him that she would be joining him, is now a Hindu love song; it too displays her devotion to
her husband (Kirk 195). It begins like this: “For the faithful woman follows where her wedded lord may lead,/ In the banishment
of Rama, Sita’s exile is decreed,/ Sire nor son nor loving brother rules the wedded woman’s state,/ With her lord
she falls or rises, with her consort courts her fate” (Kirk 196).
after Rama’s departure, his father dies; before he passes away, however, he tells his wife Kausalya the reason for his
upcoming death (Hindu Primary 343, Kirk 197, Walker Vol. 2 279). His death was to be the fulfillment of a curse placed on him by the parents
of an ascetic he had accidentally killed when he was younger; Dasaratha was to die when he became separated from Rama (Hindu
Bharat hears of his mother Kaikeyi’s actions and refuses to take his brother Rama’s rightful throne through
her selfish actions (Walker Vol. 2 279). He sets out to find Rama in the forest in order to convince him to return home as
Ayodhya’s king (Kirk 197, Walker Vol. 2 279). Rama refuses Bharat’s request to return at that moment, so that he may continue
to fulfill his father’s promise (Kirk 197, Walker Vol. 2 279). Instead, Bharat returns to Ayodhya with Rama’s sandals and places
them on the throne, signifying that Rama is king (Kirk 197-8, Walker Vol. 2 279). While Rama is fulfilling his father’s promise,
Bharat rules as the secondary king with the understanding that when he returns Rama will be given his rightful position as
the king of Ayodhya (Kirk 198, Walker Vol. 2 279).
of the demons Rama, Sita and Lakshmana encounter while in the Dandaka forest is a female by the name of Surpanakha, the sister
of Ravana, the rakshasa king (Kirk 199, Walker Vol. 2 279). Surpanakha falls in love with Rama, but Rama wants nothing to do with
her; Lakshmana cuts off the nose and ears of the rakshasa female (Kirk 199, Walker Vol. 2 279). Backup comes in the form of more
rakshasas, but Rama and Lakshmana kill them all (Kirk 199, Vol. 2 279). Ravana hears of this tragedy and devises a plan of revenge; his plan
is to kidnap Sita (Kirk 199, Walker Vol. 2 279). In order to carry out his plan, Ravana’s servant, Maricha, takes on the form
of a deer so that he may lure Rama and Lakshmana away from Sita (Kirk 199, Walker Vol. 2 279). Rama leaves to hunt the deer for
Sita; when it dies, Maricha lets out a cry of pain, which makes it sound like Rama is in trouble (Kirk 199, Walker Vol. 2
and Lakshmana hear this cry; thus, Lakshmana ventures into the woods to rescue Rama (Kirk 199, Walker Vol. 2 279).
Ravana sees that Sita is alone, he kidnaps her and brings her back to his home in Ceylon (Parrinder 65, Walker Vol. 2 279). Jatayu, a bird that was injured in an
attempt to save Sita from Ravana, informs Rama and Lakshmana that Sita has been kidnapped (Kirk 200-1, Walker Vol. 2 279). Discovering
this, the two brothers gather troops and set off in search for Sita (Parrinder 65, Walker Vol. 2 279). One of the troops, Hanuman, finds
Sita in Ravana’s castle in Ceylon
He returns to Rama in order to pass on the message of Sita’s whereabouts so that he can go and rescue his wife
himself (Walker Vol. 2 280). In the mean time, Ravana tries to get Sita to marry him by offering her many gifts and even by trying to
convince her that Rama had been killed (Hindu Primary 345, Kirk 203). Sita, however, remaining faithful to Rama, refuses Ravana’s offer
(Hindu Primary 345, Kirk 203). This is the point of the story in which I believe Sita displays most the Hindu ideal of a “virtuous
wife (pativrata)” (Hindu Primary 343).
and Ravana, among many others, engage in a battle (Kirk 207, Walker Vol. 2 208). Eventually, Ravana is defeated, and Rama comes to
Sita’s rescue (Parrinder 65). This battle, and Rama’s defeat of Ravana, is celebrated in Hindu tradition in the form of a yearly
festival referred to as Dasara (Parrinder 66). The reunion between Rama and Sita is bittersweet though because Sita has been living
in the house of a man who is not her husband (Parrinder 65, Walker Vol. 2 281). In order to prove her innocence, she walks through
the flames of a “funeral pyre” and is untouched by the fire (Hindu Primary 346, Kirk 211, Parrinder 65, Walker
Vol. 2 281).
Rama, therefore, receives her back (Hindu Primary 346, Parrinder 65).
to legend, Rama’s doubt of Sita’s innocence initiates a conversation between him and the gods, at which point
it is revealed to him that he is Vishnu (Parrinder 65-6). Rama and Sita, accompanied by Lakshmana and other allies from the battle,
later return to Ayodhya because it is the end of Rama’s fourteen years of banishment (Hindu Primary 346, Parrinder 65,
Walker Vol. 2 281). Upon their return, Bharat prepares a celebration, and Rama is crowned as king (Hindu Primary 346, Kirk
212, Parrinder 65).
the final book of the epic, which is understood to be an addition to the original text, Sita’s innocence is called into
question again, this time by the public (Hindu Primary 346, Walker Vol. 2 281). Sita, now pregnant with twins, is banished to the
sage Valmika’s hermitage (Hindu Primary 346, Walker Vol. 2 281). It is Rama himself who banishes his wife, but only by popular demand
(Hindu Primary 346). His ultimate decision to do so, however, demonstrates his willingness to give up everything for the sake
of righteousness (Hindu Primary 346).
she gives birth to two sons, and names them Kusa and Lava (Hindu Primary 346, Walker Vol. 2 281). Rama sees the twins and recognizes
them as his own; he then invites Sita to come back to Ayodhya where she is put on trial again (Hindu Primary 346, Walker Vol.
She claims her innocence once more, this time by asking the Earth to take her if she is telling the truth; the Earth
then consumes her (Hindu Primary 346, Parrinder 65, Walker Vol. 2 281). One source says that Rama builds a golden statue in her honor and continues
to reign as king of Ayodhya (e.g. Hindu Primary 346). Other sources say he died shortly
after Sita’s passing (e.g. Parrinder 65, Walker Vol. 2 281). It is agreed among these sources, however, that at some point Rama steps into the
river Sarayu, like his brother Lakshmana did before him, and is received into the earth; the other two brothers join them
shortly after (Hindu Primary 346-7, Parrinder 65, Walker Vol. 2 281). “[T]he gods, headed by Brahma, hail Him as Vishnu. Rama steps into the water, to the sound of music, and enters Vishnu’s abode with his younger brothers”
According to Hindu legend, Sita, who is an avatar of the goddess Lakshmi, remains at the side of Rama in the form of
Vishnu, forever (Walker Vol. 2 281).
I had stated that the legends of the historical persons of Rama and Krishna are what I believe to be the main reasons for
the widespread Hindu following of the gods of Rama and Krishna. This is because, in my Christian
experience, God seems to be more relatable when He becomes human. There is a difference between a Hindu avatar and the incarnation of Christ,
however, I believe that they both make the divine more relatable. In the incarnation of Christ, God takes on humanity in every aspect,
while still maintaining his divinity. In his humanity, his divinity does not lack and in his divinity, his humanity does not lack. Through Christ,
God becomes more relatable to me. An avatar is a manifestation of Vishnu who is a manifestation of Brahma, the ultimate being. In an avatar,
Vishnu takes on the form of a human being. This, I believe, makes Vishnu, and therefore Brahma, more relatable to His followers.
are believed to be both divine and human. One can see Rama and Krishna’s divinity and
humanity in their stories. Krishna’s divinity can be seen when he reveals to his mother something
that happened before his birth: Bhagavan’s plan for Devaki’s first six sons (Kirk 234). His childhood mischievousness reveals
his human nature; this is something that even the gods themselves cannot comprehend, according to Parrinder (81). The divinity
of Rama can be seen when he breaks the goddess Siva’s bow, which had never even been strung before by man (Kirk 189,
Walker Vol. 2 278). His humanity can be seen both in the ignorance he had of Sita’s innocence and the lack of understanding
he had about who he truly was (Parrinder 65-6).
however, Rama and Krishna, as with other avatars, lack in their divinity and sometimes they
lack in their humanity. This is what makes them different from the incarnation of Christ. One main example is that in some legends
it is said that both Rama and Krishna, after fulfilling their purpose in this world, were
either asked whether or not they would like to remain on earth or return to the heavenly realm, or decided on their own that
they would leave this world (Kirk 236, The Hindu 258-9). In this situation, I believe, Rama and Krishna
are lacking in their human nature. Despite the deficiencies in either their humanity or their divinity, I think Vishnu would still become
more relatable to his followers through them. Instead of a vague concept of a divine being, the divine being makes Himself known
to humanity through a man himself, however perfect or imperfect this manifestation may be.
Rama and Krishna were brought into this world at a different time in order to fulfill a specific
purposes they were to fulfill depended on what was going on at the point of their birth. Hindus believe that it was Vishnu himself
who brought Rama and Krishna into being. Vishnu is a manifestation of Brahma, the ultimate
being, and Rama and Krishna are manifestations of Vishnu. Even though Brahma, according to
the Hindu faith, is the divine source of everything, He is the least worshipped of the Hindu gods. The manifestations of Brahma are
much more worshipped. Two of the most worshipped gods in Hinduism are Rama and Krishna who are
avatars of Vishnu, a manifestation of the fullness of being, Brahma. True Hindu enlightenment comes when one recognizes on their own that
they themselves are Brahma. By recognizing that they contain this divinity, they also must recognize that this world is an illusion
that must be escaped.