Monday, July 16, 2007

Hinduism: Balarama

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I've been just swamped trying to get my Bible Latin sayings book ready before school starts (I'm up to 2500 sayings now, which is good - but a long way still from 4000, which is the target!), but I did want to post at least something here this week, so I thought I would say something about Balarama, who is the Hinduism widget topic for the week.

Balarama (also called Baladeva) is the brother of Krishna, the avatar of the god Vishnu who is perhaps best known to Americans. Just as Lakshmana, the brother of Rama, another avatar of the god Vishnu, was himself considered to be an avatar of the great serpent and naga lord, Sesha, the same is true of Balarama. You can read more about Sesha (Shesha) at wikipedia.

The mother of Krishna and Balarama, Devaki, was being persecuted by her brother, Kamsa, who had vowed to kill all of Devaki's children because of a prophecy that her eighth child would bring about his own death. Kamsa put Devaki and her husband Vasudeva into prison and killed their children, one after another. He killed six children in this manner; Balarama was then the seventh child. Miraculously, Balarama was transferred before birth from the womb of his mother Devaki into the womb of Rohini, another wife of Vasudeva (or, in a less miraculous variation on the story, he was smuggled out of the prison and then raised by Rohini as her son). Other miracles, of course, attended the birth of Krishna, who also escaped Kamsa's wrath and went on to kill Kamsa, just as the prophecy foretold.

Although Balarama was Krishna's elder brother, he was Krishna's devoted follower. Like Krishna, Balarama participated in the events of the epic Mahabharata, training the Pandu and Kaurava princes in the martial arts that would culminated in the calamitous war between the cousins. Balarama's specialty was the use of the mace, and he trained both Duryodhana and Bhima in the use of that weapon - and in the final battle between the two of them, Bhima used his mace to kill Duryodhana.

Probably the most famous story about Balarama is the story of the river Yamuna and Balarama's plough. Balarama was notoriously fond of drinking and one night he became thoroughly drunk and then summoned the Yamuna river to approach him so that he could take a bath and romp with his lady friends in the water. The river did not move, of course. So Balarama took a plough and dragged it through the river, pulling the river this way and that until the river took on human form and begged Balarama to leave her alone! This story is told to explain why it is that the Yamuna river has so very many small branches: they are the scratches of Balarama's plough in days gone by.

When Balarama and Krishna are shown together, Balarama is traditionally depicted in a light color, while Krishan is a dark color, as you can see in this image, with the light Balarama and the dark Krishna, side by side:



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