Krishna (krĭshˈnə) [key] [Sanskrit, = black], one of the most popular deities in Hinduism, the eighth avatar, or incarnation of Vishnu. Krishna appears in the Mahabharata epic as a prince of the Yadava tribe and the friend and counselor of the Pandava princes. His divinity is proclaimed in several places in the epic, particularly in the Bhagavad-Gita. Krishna's childhood and youth are described in the Harivamsa (a supplement to the Mahabharata ), the Vishnu Purana, and the Bhagavata Purana, the last being one of the most important texts of the Bhakti, or devotional, movement. As a young boy Krishna is the foster child of cowherds and shows his divine nature by conquering demons. As a youth he is the lover of the gopis (milkmaids), playing his flute and dancing with them by moonlight. The play of Krishna and the gopis is regarded in Hinduism as an image of the soul's relationship with God. The love of Krishna and Radha, his favorite gopi, is celebrated in a great genre of Sanskrit and Bengali love poetry.
See W. G. Archer, The Loves of Krishna in Indian Painting and Poetry (1953, repr. 1960); M. Singer, ed., Krishna: Myths, Rites and Attitudes (1965); J. P. Losty, Krishna: A Hindu Vision of God (1980).