The baby Krishna
Materials: Painted glazed ceramic
Dimensions: 11 centimeters high
Place acquired: Hindu temple shop, Neasden, London
Original sale/use: as above
Place of manufacture: unknown
There are strong similarities with the Baby Jesus figure in this little ceramic statuette of the Hindu god Krishna as a child. He’s more of a chubby toddler than a baby, but with his golden headdress and his knowing gaze he has that same mixture of loveable infant and divine being.
But the similarities don’t end there. The myths and stories that surround the supposed lives of Krishna and Christ have other parallels: both were the sons (avatars) of a supreme God; both were the product of a virgin birth; both were born in poor and unusual circumstances; both births were foretold; in both cases their parents had travelled for taxation purposes; both infants were targeted by the reigning king for death; both in adulthood taught similar messages of love and peace; both met violent deaths; both were seen to rise from the dead.
Krishna’s life is recorded as a good 3,000 years before that of Christ, so the issue of who influenced who is clear. Of itself this is not so interesting, except perhaps that it highlights a certain urge or need, especially within monotheistic religions, to believe in an ‘incarnation’ – a real human life, with divine paternity, that has a conventional story arc: birth, childhood, adult mission and death. This serves to bring what would otherwise be a remote abstract God to an understandable human level.
Hinduism is not monotheistic of course, but it is a huge rather fuzzy-edged body of beliefs that does include a distinctly monotheistic strand. Known as Vaisnavism, this centres attention on Vishnu as the Supreme Being, and Krishna as his most important earthly incarnation. So Krishna is the focus of a type of Hindu monotheism. He is certainly the most Christ-like figure within the Hindu pantheon, and perhaps that explains his growth of popularity in the west through influences like the Hare Krishna movement.
The son-of-God story allows for a childhood back-story of course, and in this little figurine we can see that Krishna’s childhood is better documented than Christ’s. In his right hand he holds what every Hindu would know to be a lump of butter. The story goes that Krishna loved butter, and as a mischievous little child he would go to great lengths to steal it, much to his mother Yasoda’s annoyance and indulgence. Hindu stories of Krishna make much of this. Perhaps it has even encouraged a cultural template for ‘cute, rascally boychild - doting parent’.