Lord Balarama: Who is He
Compiled by Sri Nandanandana Das
Sometimes people ask who is Lord Balarama? And the answer is that He is the brother of Lord Krishna. However, He does many things besides that.
How we understand this is to first recognize that, according to Vedic scripture such as the Srimad Bhagavata Purana, it is described that Lord Krishna is the primeval Lord, the original Personality of Godhead, so He can expand Himself into unlimited forms with all potencies. They are no different from Him, but may exhibit differences in form and function.
He first expands Himself into Baladeva, or Balarama, who is considered Krishna’s second body and brother. Balarama assists in Lord Krishna’s innumerable spiritual pastimes in both the spiritual and materials realms.
Lord Balarama is also Lord Sankarshana, the predominator of the creative energy. He creates and is also the shelter of the material and spiritual worlds. By the will of Krishna and the power of the spiritual energy, Lord Balarama creates the spiritual world, which consists of the planet Goloka Vrindavana [the supermost spiritual planet] and the Vaikuntha planets [in the spiritual sky]. (Chaitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila, 20.255-6)
Lord Balarama especially assists Lord Krishna in the creation of the material world. After Balarama has expanded Himself into Lord Maha-Sankarshana, He expands Himself into four different forms, including: 1) Karanadakashayi Vishnu [Maha-Vishnu], 2) Garbhodakashayi Vishnu [the Vishnu expansion in each universe], 3) Ksirodakashayi Vishnu [the Supersoul in each living being], and 4) Sesha, also called Seshanaga, who lies down and is the support and resting place for Lord Vishnu. These four plenary portions assist in the material cosmic manifestation. Sesha is Balarama’s form who assists in the Lord’s personal service. He is also called Ananta, meaning unlimited, because He assists the Lord in His unlimited variety of pastimes. (Chaitanya-caritamrita, Adi-lila, 5.4-6, 8-11).
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To explain more clearly, all expansions of the Lord begin with Sri Krishna. For His pastimes in one of the highest levels of the spiritual realm, called Dvaraka, Sri Krishna expands Himself into Balarama, who then expands Himself into Pradyumna and Aniruddha. These four expand into a second quadruple which is present in the unlimited Vaikuntha planets of the spiritual sky. The second quadruple is known as Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha. They are changeless, transcendental expansions of the Supreme Lord, Krishna. In the second quadruple, Vasudeva is an expansion of Krishna, and Sankarshana is a representative of Balarama.
In the Vaikuntha spiritual sky there is the pure, spiritual creative energy called Shuddha-satva that sustains all of the spiritual planets with the full opulences of knowledge, wealth, power, beauty, etc., all of which pervade the entire spiritual kingdom and are fully enjoyed by the residents there. This energy is but a display of the creative potencies of Balarama, Maha-Sankarshana. It is also this Sankarshana who is the original cause of the Causal Ocean (which takes shape as a cloud in a corner of the spiritual sky) where Karanodakashayi Vishnu (Maha-Vishnu) sleeps, while breathing out the seeds of the innumerable universes. [This is the start of the material creation. It is the Karana Ocean, also called the Causal Ocean, in which the material universes are manifest.] When the cosmic creation is annihilated, all of the materially conditioned, although indestructible, living entities merge back into the body of Maha-Vishnu where they rest until the time of the next creation. So Balarama as Sankarshana is the origin of Maha-Vishnu, from whom originates all of the potencies of the material manifestation. (Chaitanya-caritamrita, Adi-lila, 5.41 & purport).
So, to summarize, for His spiritual pastimes in the Vaikuntha realm, Lord Krishna has four original expansions, namely Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha. Maha-Vishnu is an expansion of Sankarshana; Garbhodakashayi Vishnu is an expansion of Pradyumna; and Ksirodakashayi Vishnu is an expansion of Aniruddha. (Chaitanya-caritamrita, Adi-lila, 2.56, purport.
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To begin explaining the purpose and function of these expansions, the Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.6.42) describes that, “Maha-Vishnu (Karanadakashayi Vishnu) is the first incarnation of the Supreme Lord in the process of creating the material worlds. He is the master of eternal time, space, cause and effects, mind, elements, material ego, the modes of nature, senses, the universal form of the Lord (Garbhodakashayi Vishnu) and the sum total of all living beings, both moving and nonmoving.”
Then Maha-Vishnu lies down in the Viraja River, which is the border between the spiritual and material worlds. (Chaitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila, 20.268-271)
Lord Maha-Vishnu is the source of thousands of avataras in His thousands and thousands of subjective portions. He is also the creator of countless individual souls [that spread throughout the material creation]. He is also known by the name of Narayana, meaning the shelter of all the individual jiva souls. From Him springs forth the vast expanse of water known as the spiritual Causal Ocean [also known as the Karana Ocean, for which He is also called Karanadakashayi Vishnu]. Maha-Vishnu then reclines in the waters of the Causal Ocean in a state of divine sleep, called yoga-nidra. Thus, it is said that the universal creation is but the dream of Maha-Vishnu. (Brahma-samhita 5.11-12)
Since the waters of the Causal Ocean or Karana Ocean come from the body of Maha-Vishnu, it is completely spiritual. The sacred Ganges River is but a drop from that ocean, which can purify the fallen souls [when they bathe in it]. (Chaitanya-caritamrita, Adil-lila, 5.54)
Lord Balarama also expands into the great serpent known as Ananta, or Seshanaga. He reposes on the Causal Ocean and serves as the couch upon whom Lord Maha-Vishnu reclines. (Brahma-samhita, 5.47) That Ananta-Sesha is the devotee incarnation of God who knows nothing but service to Lord Krishna. With His thousands of mouths, He always sings the endless glories of Lord Krishna. He also expands Himself to serve as Lord Krishna’s paraphernalia, including such items as the umbrella, slippers, bedding, pillow, garments, resting chair, residence, sacred gayatri thread, and throne in the pastimes of Lord Krishna. (Chaitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila, 5.120-124)
At the time of creation, after the Supreme has been sleeping for some time, the first emanation from the breathing of Lord Maha-Vishnu are the personified Vedas who serve Him by waking Him from His mystic sleep. They begin to enthusiastically sing His glories, pastimes and praises, just as a King is awoken in the morning by poets who recite his heroic deeds. (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 10.87.12-13)
As one of the first expansions from Maha-Vishnu, this also shows the eternal and spiritual nature of the vibrational energy of the Vedic literature. They are not merely the writings of men, but they are spiritual vibrations that exist before, during and after the material creation, and which emanate from the Supreme Lord.
Once the Lord is awoken, He casts His glance upon the material energy of maya. Then she becomes agitated. At that time the Lord injects [through His glance] the original seeds of all living entities. This glance is how the Supreme impregnates material nature with all the living entities. Thus, the Lord does not personally touch the material energy, but by His functional expansion He places the living entities into the material nature by His glance. (Chaitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila, 20.272) This functional expansion of the Lord takes the form of Shiva. The glance of Maha-Vishnu is Shiva known as Shambhu. which we explain more fully elsewhere.
After agitating the material nature into three qualities, which are the modes of nature in the form of goodness, passion and ignorance, they become active, and material nature begins to give birth to the total material energy known as the hiranya-mahat-tattva. This is the sum total of cosmic intelligence. Thus, material nature becomes agitated by the destinations of the conditioned souls as determined by the influence of these modes of nature. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.26.19) Simply by the glance of Maha-Vishnu consciousness is created, which is known as the mahat-tattva. The predominating Deity of the mahat-tattva is Lord Vasudeva, another expansion of Lord Krishna. This explains how the material energy is like the mother of the living beings while the Lord is the Supreme Father of everyone. Just as a woman cannot give birth without the contact of a man, or at least his seed, so material nature cannot create without the contact of the Supreme Being.
So first, the total material energy is manifest, and from this arise the three types of egotism, which are the original sources of all the demigods [the minor controlling deities], the senses, and material elements. By combining the different elements, the Supreme Lord creates all of the unlimited universes. Once the material elements have been manifested, and the full potential for creating the universes has been established, the innumerable universes begin to emanate from the pores of the body of Maha-Vishnu, and from His exhalations. They appear just like atomic particles that float in sunshine and pass through a screen. Then when Maha-Vishnu finally inhales at the time of the universal annihilation, they return to His body. In this way, Maha-Vishnu is the Superself of all the universes. (Chaitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila, 20.275-282)
Brahma, all the demigods, and each universe remain alive for the duration of one of His exhalations. (Brahma-samhita 5.48) However, there is no limit to the exhalations of Maha-Vishnu. (Chaitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila, 20.324)
Once all of the universe are created, which are unlimited, Maha-Vishnu expands Himself into unlimited forms and each one enters each universe as Garbhodakashayi Vishnu. Once He is in each universe, He sees that there is no place to reside. Then, after some consideration, He fills half of the universe with water from His own perspiration. He then lays down on the water, again supported by the bed of Seshanaga [an expansion of Lord Balarama]. (Chaitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila, 20.284-6)
This Garbhodakashayi Vishnu, who is also known within the universe as Hiranyagarbha and Antaryami, the Supersoul, is glorified in the Vedic hymns. He is the master of each and every universe and shelter of the external or material energy. However, being transcendental, He is completely beyond the touch of the external [material] energy.
Next is the third expansion of Vishnu, called Ksirodakashayi Vishnu, who is the incarnation of the quality of goodness. He is the universal form of the Lord and expands Himself as the Supersoul within every living entity. He is known as Ksirodakashayi Vishnu because He lies on the ocean of milk [ksira] on the island of Svetadvipa. These are the three expansions of Lord Vishnu who oversee and make the creation of the material world possible. (Chaitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila, 20.292, 294-5)
This also explains the part that is played by Lord Balarama in this process of material creation. However, after the material creation has been accomplished, then the nectar of the pastimes of Lord Krishna takes place at particular times in the material realm wherein Lord Balarama plays the part of His brother to exhibit so many escapades together in the area of Vrindavana, India. These may be pastimes of killing the demons that attack the residents of Vrindavana, or the fun of playing with the cowherd boys in the forests or in tending the cows. It is all recreation and spiritual enjoyment. These are described in the tenth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Various prayers, such as the Thousand Names of Lord Balarama, and others, such as the one below, further describe many of the characteristics of Lord Balarama, which can be found at http://www.stephen-knapp.com/thousand_names_of_lord_balarama.htm.
The King of Prayers to Lord Balaräma
vada mäm kripayä säkshät
Duryodhana said: O Prädvipäka, O great sage, please kindly tell me the prayer of Lord Balaräma, which grants all perfection.
stava-räjam tu rämasya
chrinu kaivalyadam nrinäm
Shri Prädvipäka Muni said: O king, please hear the regal and beautiful prayer of Lord Balaräma, a prayer that brings liberation and all perfection.
käma-päla namo ‘stu te
namo ‘nantäya sheshäya
säkshäd-rämäya te namah
O master of the demigods, O Supreme Personality of Godhead, O fulfiller of desires, obeisances to You! O Lord Ananta Shesha, obeisances to You! O Lord Balaräma, obeisances to You!
namah sankarshanäya te
O Lord who maintains the earth, O glorious Lord, O perfect and complete Lord, O Lord who holds a plow in Your hand, O Lord who has a thousand heads, O Lord Sankarshana, eternal obeisances to You!
revati-ramana tvam vai
pähi mäm purushottama
O husband of Revati, O Lord Balaräma, O elder brother of Lord Krishna, O Lord who holds a plow-weapon, O killer of Pralambäsura, O Supreme Personality of Godhead, please protect me!
tälänkäya namo namah
rauhineyäya te namah
O Lord Balaräma, who carries a palm-tree flag, obeisances to You! O son of Rohini, O fair-complexioned Lord dressed in blue garments, obeisances to You!
kumbhandäris tvam eva hi
You are the enemy of Dhenuka, the enemy of Mushtika, the enemy of Kuta, the killer of Balvala, the enemy of Rukmi, the enemy of Kupakarna, and the enemy of Kumbhanda.
kälindi-bhedano ‘si tvam
You are the Lord who broke the Yamuna’ and dragged Hastinäpura. You are the enemy of Dvivida. You are the king of the Yädavas. You are the ornament of Vraja’s circle.
pähi pähi prabho tö atah
You are the killer of Kamsa’s brothers. You are the supreme master, the Lord who went on pilgrimage, and Duryodhana’s guru. O master, please protect me! Please protect me!
jaya jayäcyuta-deva parät para
musaline baline haline namah
O infallible Lord, greater than the greatest, O Lord whose glories are heard in all directions without limit, glory to You! Glory to You! O Lord served by the demigods, the kings of the sages, and the kings of the serpents, O powerful Lord who holds a plow and a club, obeisances to You!
yah pathet satatam stavanam narah
sa tu hareh paramam padam ävrajet
jagati sarva-balam to ari-mardanam
bhavati tasya dhanam sva-janam dhanam
A person who regularly recites this prayer attains Lord Hari’s transcendental abode. All the strength in the universe is his. He crushes his enemies. He attains great wealth and a great dynasty.
A Review of Some of Lord Balarama’s Pastimes
Descent of Lord Balarama
Whenever Krishna appears in the material world, He is accompanied by His associates and paraphernalia. Five thousand years ago when Krishna descended into the material world, He was first preceded by Baladeva. Only after Baladeva give His mercy did Krishna descend, such is the intimate relationship between Krishna and Baladeva.
When Baladeva appeared as the seventh child in the womb of Devaki, she could understand that this was a divine child and this made her all the more concerned about His safety. Even Kamsa could sense His potency and he became fearful, thinking he may have been tricked by the prophecy that he will be slain only by the eight child of Devaki. At this time Krishna instructed Yogamaya, His internal potency, to transfer the unborn child from the womb of Devaki to that of Rohini, one of the other wives of Vasudeva, who was hiding from Kamsa in the house of Nanda Maharaja in Gokul.
In this way Balarama was born in Gokul under the protection of Nanda Maharaja. Garga Muni the venerable kulguru (family priest) of the Yadu dynasty revealed to Rohini that the child she was carrying was indeed that son of her husband Vasudeva. At the time of the name-giving ceremony he named the child Rama, one who gives all pleasures. Referring to the immense strength of the child, Garga Muni predicted that He will also be known as Balarama (bala meaning strength). Since He was forcibly attracted from the womb of Devaki to that of Rohini, He was also be called Sankarshana. As the son of Rohini He was known as Rohini-nandan and as the elder brother of Krishna He was also called Douji.
The form of Lord Balarama
Powerful Lord Balarama is sixteen years old, full of the luster of youth and has a fair complexion the color of crystal. He wears blue garments and a garland of forest flowers. His handsome hair is tied in a graceful topknot. Splendid earrings adorn His ears and His neck is splendidly decorated with garlands of flowers and strings of jewels. Splendid armlets and bracelets ornament Douji’s graceful and very strong arms and His feet are decorated with splendid jeweled anklets.
Lord Balarama’s beauty is enhanced by the earrings touching His cheeks. His face is decorated with tilaka made from musk, and His broad chest is ornamented with a garland of gunja. Balarama’s voice is very grave and His arms are very long, touching His thighs
The splendor of Lord Balarama’s transcendental form eclipses many millions of glistening rising moons, and the slightest scent of His boundless strength is sufficient to destroy many armies of demons. Although He knows the supernatural power of His younger brother, Krishna, still, out of love for Him, He never leaves Krishna alone in the forest even for a moment. Balarama is Sri Krishna’s dearest friend and is a great reservoir of the nectar mellows of many kinds of transcendental pastimes.
Balarama slays Dhenukasura
Dhenukasura was a powerful demon who had assumed the form of an ass. With his demon friends he was occupying Talavana, one of the twelve forests of Vrindavana. Out of fear of these demons no one could approach Talavana and enjoy the numerous flowers and fruits in the forest. Balarama, induced by His cowherd friends, entered the forest desiring to kill the demons. He began shaking the fruit trees, making a big noise. Dhenuka, furious at the intrusion, attacked Balarama with his rear legs, but Balarama easily picked him up by his legs and whirled him around until he died. As the other demon friends of Dhenuka rushed to attack, Krishna and Balarama picked them up and threw them on trees, killing them. Soon the forest was free of all demons, and it appeared that the bent trees were being directed by Balarama to pay obeisances to Krishna.
Balarama kills Pralambasura
Once when Krishna and Balarama were playing with the cowherd boys, a demon named Pralamba entered their midst, disguised as a cowherd boy. Understanding the invincible potency of Krishna, he instead decided to abduct Balarama. At the end of the game, as the losing party he was supposed to carry Balarama on his shoulders. Carrying the Lord on his shoulders he ran swiftly, but Balarama realizing the true identity of the demon began to make himself heavier and heavier. Unable to bear the weight, the demon assumed his original form which was like a huge dark effulgent cloud, decorated with golden ornaments. Balarama then brought His fist down on the head of the demon splitting it into two and causing him to give up his life.
Balarama glorified by Krishna
As the elder brother of Krishna, Balarama was the object of His love and respect. Once when walking in the forest of Vrindavana, Krishna observed the trees bending down as if paying obeisances. He glorified the lotus feet of Balarama as being the object of devotion even for the demigods. He said that the trees, which were impersonalists in previous life times, witnessing the personal form of Balarama were now praying for His devotion. At other times when Balarama would get tired by playing, He would lie down on the lap of one of the cowherd boys and Krishna would personally massage His feet, fan Him and give Him service. Such was the sweet reciprocation of love between Krishna and Balarama.
Yamuna devi chastised
Once Lord Balarama, Who was at the time living in Dwarka, came back to stay in Vrindavana for two months. At this time He enjoyed pastimes with His gopi friends (who were different from the gopis of Krishna). Enjoying such pastimes on the bank of Yamuna at Rama-ghata, the Lord summoned Yamuna so that He could sport in the waters. When Yamuna devi did not respond. Lord Balarama took up His favorite weapon, His plow, and began to drag Yamuna in a hundred streams. Understanding the position of Balarama, Yamuna devi personally appeared and offered her obeisances to the Lord with many prayers in His glorification. Thus appeased, the Lord entered and bathed in the waters of the river.
Samba, the darling son of Jambavati and Krishna, kidnapped Laksmana the daughter of Duryodhana from the assembly where she was supposed to choose her husband. The furious Kauravas after a prolonged fight, finally arrested Samba by sending in six of their greatest warriors. When the Yadavas heard of this they prepared for battle but Lord Balarama pacified them, preferring to find a peaceful solution. However when He requested the Kauravas to return Samba and Laksmana, the Kauravas responded by insulting Him and the Yadava dynasty. Understanding them to be ignorant in their false prestige, Balarama took His plow and began to drag Hastinapura into the Ganges. The terrified Kauravas now surrendered to the lotus feet of Balarama, begging for His mercy. They immediately returned Samba and Laksmana and had them married ceremoniously with many opulent gifts.
Balarama marries Revati
In Satya yuga there was a King named Raivata whose daughter Revati was excellent in all respects. Unable to find a match suitable for her, the king took her to the court of Brahma for his advise. After waiting for some time when the king met with Brahma, he was shocked to learn that in the short time he spent in the Brahmaloka, millions of years had already passed on Earth and at the time Dvapara yuga was concluding. However Lord Brahma informed King Raivata that present at this time was Lord Balarama Who was more than qualified to be the husband of Revati.
King Raivata returned and approached Balarama to accept Revati as His wife. However Revati belonged to an earlier yuga when people were much larger physically. So Lord Balarama placed His plow on her head until she shrunk to an appropriate size and accepted her as His wife.
Balarama and the Mahabharata
In general Balarama was equally affectionate to both the Pandavas and the Kauravas. He accepted both Duryodhana and Bhima as His disciples in the art of mace-war. As a teacher He appreciated the superior technique of Duryodhana as opposed to the raw strength of Bhima. At the time of Mahabharata, He refused to take sides and instead went on an extended pilgrimage to the holy places. In the battle between Bhima and Duryodhana, He became angry at Bhima for killing Duryodhana by trickery, but was appeased by Sri Krishna.
Killing of Romaharshana
Towards the end of Dvapara yuga thousands of sages assembled on the banks of Naimyasharana to perform a thousand year yajna in an effort to reverse the onset of Kali yuga. They appointed as their leader Romaharshana, one of the main disciple of Vyasadeva, who was also present when Sukadeva Goswami narrated Srimad Bhagavatam to King Parikshit.
When Lord Balarama entered the assembly, understanding Him to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, all present rose to offer Him respect. However Romaharshana, proud at occupying the position of the leader did not get up. Lord Balarama could understand that even though Romaharshana was a an expert Vedantist, he had not yet realized these teachings. Considering him unqualified to lead the ceremony, Balarama touched him with a blade of grass causing him to die. He then instituted Suta, the son of Romaharshana as the leader of the assembly and continued with His pilgrimage.
Mercy of Lord Balarama
Lord Balarama exemplifies the service attitude to Krishna. His only mission is to please Krishna by rendering service to Him, whether it is in the creation of the material worlds, maintaining the spiritual world or as His personal paraphernalia.
Lord Balarama is the eternal companion of Sri Krishna. He came as Lakshmana with Rama and later as Nityananda Prabhu with Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He is the original spiritual master, and any one desiring to make spiritual progress must first get the mercy of Lord Balarama.