Harivamsa, (in Sanskrit «the dynastic history of Hari [= Vishnu]»), is a Hindu mythological text written in Sanskrit. It is a work of considerable text-historical complexities, with early layers reaching back as far as the first and second centuries AD.

The material that constitutes the bulk of the work is derived from two main traditions: (i) Purana-pancalaksana (the archetype of the literary genre of the puranas reconstructed by W. Kirfel; it could be equally classified as a purana); and (ii) stories about the life of Krishna among the herdsmen of Vraja.

This adaptation of an original «herdsmen epic» is in fact one of the earliest extant versions of Krishna’s early life, and it includes (still very briefly, but in quite an earthly manner) his love affairs with the «gopis.» Krishna is here primarily a tribal deity or hero.

Critical to the subsequent textual history was the fact that it was adapted to serve as an appendix to the Mahabharata. Being carried by that tradition, it took in a vast amount of later interpolations, including passages that developed the avatar concept. This extension of the text appears to have continued until the 11th century and was partly influenced also by Sanskrit court poetry.

The Jains also produced, in various languages, Harivamsa (Puranas) that deal with their version of the Krishna story. A.G.H.


Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 410