Balarama, strength of Rama, is an incarnation of Vishnu. Mentioned in Hindu Epic and Puranic literature, the deity may have originated in Vedic times as an agricultural fertility god. He is the son of Vasudeva and Devaki, though from the womb of Rohini. Jointly with Krishna, his brother, he is identified as the eighth avatar of Vishnu, or, with Rama, the seventh. According to legend, Vishnu impregnated the belly of the goddess Devaki with two hairs, one black, one white. To ensure their safety against a demon king, they were transferred before birth into Rohini. Krishna grew to be dark skinned, and Balarame light. Although Balarama shared the same characteristics as his brother, he was not as popular as Krishna. He is usually depicted as standing to the right of Krishna, and rarely standing alone. His consort is Revati, and his sons are Nisatha and Ulmuka. Among his epithets is Ananda (Joy).
Overview of Balarama
- Incarnation of Vishnu: Balarama is considered an incarnation (avatar) of Vishnu, one of the principal deities in Hinduism known for preserving the universe.
- Mention in Hindu Epic and Puranic Literature: His stories and character are elaborated in various Hindu epics and Puranic texts, indicating his importance in the Hindu mythological pantheon.
Origins and Family
- Son of Vasudeva and Devaki: Balarama is born to Vasudeva and Devaki. However, his birth involves a divine intervention where he is transferred from Devaki’s womb to Rohini to ensure his safety.
- Brother of Krishna: Jointly with Krishna, his brother, Balarama is often identified as the eighth avatar of Vishnu. He shares a deep bond with Krishna, playing a crucial role in many of Krishna’s adventures and exploits.
- Consort and Children: Balarama’s consort is Revati, and his sons are Nisatha and Ulmuka. His family life is less emphasized compared to his divine exploits and teachings.
Characteristics and Iconography
- Depiction: He is typically depicted standing to the right of Krishna and is less frequently portrayed alone. His iconography often includes attributes like the plough and the club, symbolizing agricultural fertility and strength.
- Epithet «Ananda» (Joy): One of his epithets is Ananda, reflecting joy or bliss, a characteristic that aligns with his divine nature.
- Attributes: In various representations, Balarama is associated with several attributes, including the arrow, club, drinking cup, fan palm, honey pot, lotus, pestle, pitcher, plough, prayer wheel, shield, and sword.
Balarama in Jainism
- Known as Baladeva: In Jainism, Balarama is referred to as Baladeva. Jain texts often depict him differently, focusing on his virtuous qualities and spiritual teachings.
- Agricultural Fertility God: In some interpretations, especially those that trace back to Vedic times, Balarama is seen as an agricultural fertility god, highlighting his connection to the earth and its sustenance.
- Lesser Popularity Compared to Krishna: Although Balarama shares many characteristics with Krishna, he has not attained the same level of popular devotion as Krishna, who is widely revered in various Hindu traditions.
- Role in Hindu Mythology: Balarama’s presence in Hindu mythology adds to the richness and diversity of the narratives, offering insights into ancient Hindu beliefs, cosmology, and the complex relationships among deities.
Jordan, Michael, Encyclopedia of Gods, New York, Facts On File, Inc. 1993, p. 39