Lord Krishna’s death is often a topic of debate among his devotees. Some ardent followers believe that he is still alive and puts up a divine performance at night in Nidhivan, Vrindavan. While others believe that he left the world in a divine manner centuries ago.
There have been multiple narratives around Lord Krishna’s death in Hinduism. But the most widely accepted is found in the Mahabharata and the Puranas. According to these texts, he had left his body and died a mortal death.
Understandably, what happened to Krishna’s body after death still remains a mystery among devotees around the world.
This blog will delve into how Krishna died and what happened to his body after death.
The Divine Child, Friend, and Lover
Krishna comes to his devotees as their friend, their child, or perhaps as a lover or a soulmate. There are stories about him in Hindu culture, depicting his many relationships with his followers. These relationships are what devotees resonate with the most.
As a child, Krishna was a playful and mischievous character, playing pranks on those he loved. He used to steal butter from his butter-churning community, for which he has been given a name "Makhan Chor." Devotees worship this form of Krishna as Gopala and treat him as their own child, showering him with food, gifts, and affection. Krishna is also worshipped as a friend. The story of Krishna and Sudama is used as an example of the selfless bond of friendship. He is celebrated as the perfect friend with unconditional love and understanding and his devotees look to him for support.
The love between Krishna and Radha is considered the highest form of love. Although their relationship could not end in matrimony, their love has been made immortal through sheer devotion. Krishna's relation with the Gopis is seen as the soul's relation with God. Devotees often relate to these emotions and lose themselves in their love for Krishna.
Events Leading to Krishna’s Death
The Great War, depicted in the Hindu epic Mahabharata, took place over the course of 18 days. The death and damage during that period were of unprecedented scale. Millions died, leaving thousands of families to suffer. One of the most significant losses was the Kauravas, sons of Emperor Dhritarashtra and his wife Gandhari.
Gandhari, being a Krishna devotee, was heartbroken and disappointed that her lord, Krishna, did not come to protect her sons who died in the war.
In a moment of unchecked grief and anger, she cursed Krishna that he would meet a similar fate as the Kauravas. A grieving mother's curse was a powerful one, which the omniscient Krishna accepted with a smile.
When the time came, the men in the Yadav clan lost themselves to alcohol and addiction, leading to infighting and subsequently their deaths. Knowing there was nothing he could do to stop it, Lord Krishna retreated into the forests. There, a poacher mistook him for a deer and shot him in the foot. With a divine smile on his face, Krishna embraced mortal death and started his journey towards Mahaparinirvana.
What Happened to Krishna's Body After Death?
Knowing how his end would also mark the end of Dwaraka, Krishna had entrusted Arjuna, the third Pandava,to protect the people of the Yadava clan still left standing. Arjuna is said to be the first to discover Krishna's mortal remains.
The Pandavas cremated Krishna's body, alongside his older brother, Balarama. Several texts interpret and retell this incident differently. It is said that although Lord Krishna's body turned to ashes, his heart continued burning.
Arjuna immersed the ashes of the two brothers, along with the burning heart, in the Yamuna River. As soon as he left Dwarka with the remaining Yadavas, the sea engulfed the city. Krishna's death marked the end of Dwapara Yuga and the start of Kali Yuga.
Some texts believe Krishna’s ashes were not immersed in Yamuna but spread across holy sites. There is not much backing for this claim.
A much-recognized local legend is that of the Puri Jagannath temple. It is believed that devotees of Krishna carried his 'pinda' or heart towards the east as Dwarka sank into the ocean. Once they reached Puri, Odisha, they carved idols of Jagannath (Krishna), Balabhadra (Balaram), and Subhadra and placed them in a temple, that we would come to know as the famous Puri Jagannath temple.
In the great Jagannath's idol resides the heart of the pinda of Krishna. It is believed that the wood damages the heart. To minimise this damage, the idols are freshly carved and replaced every twelve years in a ritual known as Navakalevara.
What happened to Krishna’s body after death is a matter of great intrigue among devotees. - But that shouldn’t be the takeaway from Krishna’s story.
Krishna teaches us that we all are mortal and will leave the world one day. He teaches that even the Supreme Gods are answerable for their Karma and that preserving Dharma is paramount, even if you have to stand against the odds.
But most of all, Krishna teaches us love and understanding through His love for both his birth and adoptive parents, his love for his friends Sudama and Arjuna, and his love for Radha, the gopis, and his many consorts. He shows that love isn’t limiting, it does not get divided but only multiplies. He preached love for all living beings. If there is one takeaway from the life of Krishna, it is not in Krishna’s death, but in the miracles he performed as he lived.