The Sanskrit word kṛṣṇa is primarily an adjective meaning “black”, “dark” or “dark-blue”., sometimes it is also translated as “all attractive”. It is cognate with Slavic čьrnъ “black”. As a feminine noun, kṛṣṇā is used in the meaning “night, blackness, darkness” in the Rigveda, and as a demon or spirit of darkness in RV 4.16.13. As a proper noun, Kṛṣṇa occurs in RV 8.85.3 as the name of a poet. In the Lalitavistara Sutra, Krishna is the chief of the black demons, the enemies of the Buddha. As a name of Vishnu, Krishna listed as the 57th name in the Vishnu Sahasranama. Based on his name, Krishna is often depicted in murtis as black or blue-skinned.
Krishna is also known by various other names, epithets and titles, which reflect his many associations and attributes. Among the most common names are Govinda, “finder of cows”, or Gopala, “protector of cows”, which refer to Krishna’s childhood in Vraja. Some of the distinct names may be regionally important; for instance, Jagannatha (literally “Lord of the Universe”), a popular deity of Puri in eastern India.
Krishna is easily recognized by his representations. Though his skin colour may be depicted as black or dark in some representations, particularly in murtis, in other images such as modern pictorial representations, Krishna is usually shown with blue skin. He is often shown wearing a yellow silk dhoti and peacock feather crown. Common depictions show him as a little boy, or as a young man in a characteristic relaxed pose, playing the flute. In this form, he usually stands with one leg bent in front of the other and raises a flute to his lips, known as Tribhangi Mudra, accompanied by cows, emphasizing his position as the divine herdsman, Govinda, or with the gopis (milkmaids).
The scene on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, notably where he addresses Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, is another common subject for representation. In these depictions, he is shown as a man, often with typical god-like characteristics of Hindu religious art, such as multiple arms or heads, denoting power, and with attributes of Vishnu, such as the chakra or in his two-armed form as a charioteer.
Representations in temples often show Krishna as a man standing in an upright, formal pose. He may be alone, or with associated figures:his brother Balarama and sister Subhadra, or his main queens Rukmini and Satyabhama.
Often, Krishna is pictured with his gopi-consort Radha. Manipuri Vaishnavas do not worship Krishna alone, but as Radha Krishna, a combined image of Krishna and Radha. This is also a characteristic of the schools Rudra and Nimbarka sampradaya, as well as that of Swaminarayan faith. The traditions celebrate Radha Ramana murti, who is viewed by Gaudiyas as a form of Radha Krishna.
Krishna is also depicted and worshipped as a small child (Bala Krishna, bāla kṛṣṇa the child Krishna), crawling on his hands and knees or dancing, often with butter or Laddu in his hand being Laddu Gopal. Regional variations in the iconography of Krishna are seen in his different forms, such as Jaganatha of Orissa, Vithoba of Maharashtra and Shrinathji in Rajasthan.
The earliest text to explicitly provide detailed descriptions of Krishna as a personality is the epic Mahābhārata which depicts Krishna as an incarnation of Vishnu. Krishna is central to many of the main stories of the epic. The eighteen chapters of the sixth book (Bhishma Parva) of the epic that constitute the Bhagavad Gita contain the advice of Krishna to the warrior-hero Arjuna, on the battlefield. Krishna is already an adult in the epic, although there are allusions to his earlier exploits. The Harivamsa, a later appendix to this epic, contains the earliest detailed version of Krishna’s childhood and youth.
In early texts, such as Rig Veda, there are no references to Krishna, however some, like Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar attempted to show that “the very same Krishna” made an appearance, e.g. as the drapsa … krishna “black drop” of RV 8.96.13. Some authors have also likened prehistoric depictions of deities to Krishna.
as the son of Devaki and the disciple of Ghora Angirasa , the seer who preached his disciple the philosophy of ‘Chhandogya.’ Having been influenced by the philosophy of ‘Chhandogya’ Krishna in the Bhagavadgita while delivering the discourse to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra discussed about sacrifice, which can be compared to purusha or the individual.
Yāska‘s Nirukta, an etymological dictionary around 6th century BC, contains a reference to the Shyamantaka jewel in the possession of Akrura, a motif from well known Puranic story about Krishna. Shatapatha Brahmana and Aitareya-Aranyaka, associate Krishna with his Vrishni origins.
Pāṇini, the ancient grammarian and author of Asthadhyayi (probably belonged to 5th century or 6th century BC) mentions a character called Vāsudeva, son of Vasudeva, and also mentions Kaurava and Arjuna which testifies to Vasudeva Krishna, Arjuna and Kauravas being contemporaries.
Megasthenes (350 – 290 BC) a Greek ethnographer and an ambassador of Seleucus I to the court of Chandragupta Maurya mentioned about Herakles in his famous work Indica. Many scholars have suggested that the deity identified as Herakles was Krishna. According to Arrian, Diodorus, and Strabo, Megasthenes described an Indian tribe called Sourasenoi, who especially worshipped Herakles in their land, and this land had two cities, Methora and Kleisobora, and a navigable river, the Jobares. As was common in the ancient period, the Greeks sometimes described foreign gods in terms of their own divinities, and there is a little doubt that the Sourasenoi refers to the Shurasenas, a branch of the Yadu dynasty to which Krishna belonged; Herakles to Krishna, or Hari-Krishna: Mehtora to Mathura, where Krishna was born; Kleisobora to Krishnapura, meaning “the city of Krishna”; and the Jobares to the Yamuna, the famous river in the Krishna story. Quintus Curtius also mentions that when Alexander the Great confronted Porus, Porus’s soldiers were carrying an image of Herakles in their vanguard.
The name Kṛishṇa occurs in Buddhist writings in the form Kaṇha, phonetically equivalent to Kṛishṇa.
The Ghata-Jâtaka (No. 454) gives an account of Kṛishṇa’s childhood and subsequent exploits which in many points corresponds with the Brahmanic legends of his life and contains several familiar incidents and names, such as Vâsudeva, Baladeva, Kaṃsa. Yet it presents many peculiarities and is either an independent version or a misrepresentation of a popular story that had wandered far from its home. Jain tradition also shows that these tales were popular and were worked up into different forms, for the Jains have an elaborate system of ancient patriarchs which includes Vâsudevas and Baladevas. Kṛishṇa is the ninth of the Black Vâsudevas and is connected with Dvâravatî or Dvârakâ. He will become the twelfth tîrthankara of the next world-period and a similar position will be attained by Devakî, Rohinî, Baladeva and Javakumâra, all members of his family. This is a striking proof of the popularity of the Kṛishṇa legend outside the Brahmanic religion.
Around 150 BC, Patanjali in his Mahabhashya quotes a verse: “May the might of Krishna accompanied by Samkarshana increase!” Other verses are mentioned. One verse speaks of “Janardana with himself as fourth” (Krishna with three companions, the three possibly being Samkarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha). Another verse mentions musical instruments being played at meetings in the temples of Rama (Balarama) and Kesava (Krishna). Patanjali also describes dramatic and mimetic performances (Krishna-Kamsopacharam) representing the killing of Kamsa by Vasudeva.
In the 1st century BC, there seems to be evidence for a worship of five Vrishni heroes (Balarama, Krishna, Pradyumna, Aniruddha and Samba) for an inscription has been found at Mora near Mathura, which apparently mentions a son of the great satrap Rajuvula, probably the satrap Sodasa, and an image of Vrishni, “probably Vasudeva, and of the “Five Warriors”. Brahmi inscription on the Mora stone slab, now in the Mathura Museum.
Many Puranas tell Krishna’s life-story or some highlights from it. Two Puranas, the Bhagavata Purana and the Vishnu Purana, that contain the most elaborate telling of Krishna’s story and teachings are the most theologically venerated by the Vaishnava schools. Roughly one quarter of the Bhagavata Purana is spent extolling his life and philosophy.