Krishnaism is a group of Hindu religious traditions within Vaishnavism, based on devotion to the Supreme God Krishna.
The religion of worshipping Krishna is one of the world’s oldest. Sacred texts of Vedic literature have, for many millennia, revealed the knowledge to people that Krishna is God himself and that He is the source of all things, the beginning of spirit and matter, and in essence the beginning of the beginning.
Krishnaism preaches the achievement of salvation through personal devotion to Krishna, who is considered a true god in its purest form. He can take infinitely different forms (avatars), depending upon how he wants to be seen. However, in images, Krishna usually looks like a shepherd boy with dark blue skin playing the flute—this is a familiar concept for believers.
Krishna is considered the Original Creator and the beginning of all beginnings and the embodiment of absolute truth. Every living being is an eternal soul whose raison d’etre is to serve Krishna. It is only through the service to the great Creator that a state of happiness can be found. Krishna is considered to be an inexhaustible source, and bliss is the essence of His being.
Krishnaism is sometimes referred to in a generalized term—Vaishnavism (or Vishnuism, based on the name of the main God—Vishnu). But in fact, there is a significant difference between these names. Vaishnavism recognizes the God Vishnu as the original God, and all other deities are considered his hypostases. In Krishnaism, the main God is Krishna, and Vishnu is one of his forms. Gaudia Vaishnavism, one of the forms of Krishnaism, appeared in Bengal in the early 16th century, thanks to the reformer Chaitanya.
To understand Krishna and one’s eternal relationship with Him is the meaning of life and the essence of the religion. Some scholars (A. Weber, A. Bart) believe that the history of Jesus in the New Testament is directly related to Krishna and that Krishnaism and Christianity have much in common. They say, the principle of Christianity, “God is Love”, appeared based on the principles of Bhakti. But in Krishnaism, love for God exists at the level of lust. This is evidenced by many obscene scenes in puranic legends.
The Bhagavad Gita and Bhagavata Purana are the main sacred texts of Krishnaism, but each tradition of Krishnaism follows its specific scriptures.
Krishnaism is one of the oldest religions on Earth. Through the written tradition, knowledge about Krishna began to be transmitted from the 1st millennium BC, derived from the beginning of the famous System of Krishna theology The Bhagavad Gita.
Ancient historical sources describe the image and origin of Krishna in different ways. In the literary Hindu monument Rigveda, he was presented as a mighty leader of the tribe. In the Chandogya Upanishad he is portrayed as “the son of Devaki”.
Krishna was mentioned in literature even before the Bhagavad Gita:
The first coins depicting Krishna appeared between 180 and 165 BC. The inscription on the Heliodorus pillar of Besnagar is the first archaeological evidence of Krishna’s greatness. It indicates that Krishnaism was accepted by the Ambassador of the Indo-Greek Kingdom. Followers of Krishnaism left historical inscriptions on other columns, too, which helped our contemporaries to restore the chronology of events and form an idea of the history of the ancient religion.
By 1966, Krishnaism had spread to the United States thanks to A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, an Indian guru. He was instructed by his own guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, to spread Krishnaism to the West. The Prabhupada teachings gathered many followers in the West and eventually became an organization known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) or the Hare Krishna movement.
Krishnaism developed mainly in Northern India and spawned various late-medieval movements such as Nimbarka and Ramananda in the 14th century, Kabir and Shankaradeva in the 15th century and Vallabha and Chaitanya in the 16th.
Evidence of the existence of Krishnaism in South India was found by Friedhelm Hardy in written sources and South Indian traditions, where there is a sense of ecstatic separation from the deity. In the puranic episode, Krishna Bhakti leaves his earthly beloved gopi shepherd girls. They are forced to stay for a long time in separation from the object of their love, forlornly waiting for his return. This episode became the basis for “emotional Krishnaism” and was reflected in the literature and culture of Bhakti.
Vrindavan is the largest centre of Krishna worship. Other important places of pilgrimage for Krishnaites are the Guruvayur Temple, Srirangam, Vrindavan, Mathura, Ayodhya, Tirupati, Pandharpur (Vitthal), Puri (Jagannath), Nira Narsingpour (Narasimha), Mayapur, Nathdwara and Dwarkara.
Krishnaism is a monotheistic religion, but it began to be perceived by people as a sect after the propaganda work of pharmacist Abhay Charan (Prabhupada), who combined the techniques of sects and NLP (neurolinguistic psychology). In the eyes of philistines, Prabhupada looked not like a guru but as a charismatic leader and businessman, that’s why he brought “the stigma of the sect” to Krishnaism.