He is one of the most revered and popular of all Indian deities, worshiped as the eighth incarnation (avatar or avatara) of the Hindu god Vishnu and also as a supreme god in his own right. Krishna became the center of numerous bhakti (devotional) cults, which over the centuries produced a great deal of religious poetry, music, and painting. The basic sources of Krishna mythology are the epic Mahabharata and its 5th century appendix, the Harivamsa, and the Puranas, particularly Books X and XI of the Bhagavata-purana. They relate how Krishna was born into the Yadava clan, the son of Vasudeva and Devaki, who was the sister of Kamsa, the evil king of Mathura (in modern Uttar Pradesh). Kamsa, hearing a prophecy that he would be destroyed by Devaki’s son, tried to kill his sons, but Krishna was smuggled across the Yamuna River to Gokula (or Vraja, modern Gokul), where he was raised by the leader of the herdsmen. , Nanda , and his wife Yashoda.

The child Krishna was worshiped for his pranks; He also performed many miracles and killed demons. In his youth, the cowherd Krishna became famous as a lover, the sound of his flute inciting the gopis (cowhers’ wives and daughters) to come out of their houses to dance ecstatically with him in the light of the Moon. His favorite among them was the beautiful Radha. Finally, Krishna and his brother Balarama returned to Mathura to kill the wicked Kamsa. Later, finding the kingdom insecure, Krishna led the Yadavas to the west coast of Kathiawar and established his court at Dwarka (modern Dwarka, Gujarat). He married Princess Rukmini and took other wives as well.

Krishna refused to bear arms in the great war between the Kauravas (sons of Dhritarashtra, the descendant of Kuru) and the Pandavas (sons of Pandu), but offered a choice of his personal assistance aside and the loan of his army to the other. The Pandavas chose the former, and Krishna served as a charioteer for Arjuna, one of the Pandava brothers. On his return to Dwarka, a fight broke out one day between the Yadava chiefs in which Krishna’s brother and son were killed. As the god sat in the woods lamenting, a hunter, mistaking him for a deer, shot him in his only vulnerable spot, his heel, killing him.