DEPICTION: Balarama is represented as sixteen year old youth of fair complexion and crystal colored. As Nilavastra, he is ‘clad in a dark-blue vest.' His especial weapons are a club-khetaka or saunanda; the ploughshare-hala and the pestle-musala. These form some of his attribute based names; from the plough, he is called Phala and Hala, also Halayudha, plough-armed; Halabhrit, 'plough-bearer;' Langali and Sankarshana, 'ploughman;' and Musali, `pestle-holder.' As he has a palm for a banner, he is called Taladhwaja. Other of his appellations are Guptachara, who goes secretly; 'Kampala and Samvartaka. Lord Balarama is always seen with his plough and club and is known for his great strength. He is usually adorned with forest flowers
TALADHVAJA: Balarama’s chariot is known as Taladhvaja. ‘Tala’ means rhythm and ‘dhvaja’ means ensignia or distinguishing symbol. All cosmic rhythms are said to have originated from Lord Shiva's cosmic dance. The rhythm created by Balarama's huge moving chariot is said to produce an equally powerful and blissful sound. The four horses that pull Balarama's chariot are Tivra representing strength; Ghora representing constancy; Dirgha representing timelessness, and Srama symbolic of work. Balarama's charioteer, Daruka, is assigned to take care and maintain the chariot.
INCARNATION: There are various versions of Balarama’s origins. He is worshiped as the Avatara of Adishesha according to the Bhagavata Purana. Then again the Bhagavata Purana also states that Sri Krishna, the original Supreme Personality emanates all other births. There is a version that, apparently Lord Vishnu took two hairs, a white and a black one, and that these became the children of Devaki - Balarama and Krishna.
BIRTH AND FAMILY: Balarama is born of Vasudeva and Rohini Devi under Shravana nakshatra on Shraavana Purnima. This is also celebrated as Raksha bandhan day. It is said that Yogamaya transferred Balarama from the womb of Devaki to Rohini. So he is called Samkarshan to describe this womb-transfer. At birth astrologers predicted that Balarama would kill Pralambasura with his long arms and together with his younger brother kill many demons.
Balarama was of fair complexion and Krishna the dark one. Balarama and Krishna were named by the sage Gargamuni in a secret function. As soon as Krishna and Balarama were born, they were carried away to Gokula to preserve their life from the tyrant Kansa. He was looking for Devaki’s children. Balarama was nurtured by Nanda Maharaja as a child of Rohini. His first name is Rama and Balarama describes his great strength.
Gokula saw Balarama and Krishna growing up together. They took part in several of Sri Krishna youthful mischief and dalliances. They were full of boyish freaks and adventures. During the formative years, Balarama and Krishna passed as normal cowherd boys. They traversed the Vrindavana pasture, purifying the land with their footprints. They were accompanied by other cowherd boys while Krishna played on His flute to attract young girls. Even at that young age, Balarama went to the Talavan forest to kill the ass demon Dhenuka. Together with Krishna, they shook the Tala forest trees with the power of a maddened elephant. Lord Balarama seized Dhenuka by his hooves, whirled him about with one hand, and threw him into the top of a palm tree. The violent wheeling motion killed the demon.
Kansa pursues his hunt and kills the asura Dhenukasura. Other asuras meet their end as they are killed by Balarama and Krishna. Kansa’s time is up and he is also killed. Thereafter Balarama and Krishna proceed to the sage Sandipani’s ahsrama at Ujjayini for spiritual studies and yoga.
Balarama is born with two other siblings, Krishna and Subhadra. He is said to me married to one wife, Revati, daughter of King Raivata or Kakudmi and was faithful to her. Apparently Revati was born in a yuga previous yuga and found taller than human size. It is said that Lord Balarama took his plow and pushed Ravati down with the flat of it, thus making her short and appropriate. Hopefully no one tries this stunt for getting pulled in for assault!
By Revati, he had two sons, Nisatha and Ulmuka. But there are writings to say that he also took Varuna Devi or Varuni as wife. Varuna sends his daughter Varuni in the form of liquid honey oozing from the Vrindavan trees. The whole forest becomes aromatic and thus Varuni captivates Balarama. The gopis and Balarama become intoxicated when they tested Varuni in the form of beverage.
YAMUNABHID: While Balarama was in this Varuni intoxication mood, he summoned the Yamuna river to come to him so that he might take a dip. Yamuna does not heed this summons. He therefore plunged his ploughshare to drag the waters as per his wishes. The waters took a human form to beg forgiveness and earned him the name Yamunabhid, dragger of the Yamuna river. Apparently the Yamuna has a lot of streams due to the scratch-marks of Balarama’s plough.
SYAMANTAKA: As Madhupriya or Priyamadhu, Balarama was as much addicted to wine as his brother Krishna was devoted to passion. Balarama was also irascible in temper, and sometimes quarreled with Krishna. One of this was over the Syamantaka jewel given to Satrajita by the sun god Surya. This jewel was said to be an inexhaustible source of good to the virtuous but deadly to the wicked. To avoid Krishna getting hold of the jewel, Satrajita handed it over to Prasena, his brother. He was killed by Jambavat, a lion but Krishna killed it to recover the jewel. It was restored to Satrajita. Satadhanwan kills Satrajita in his sleep and carried the jewel away. Balarama pursues Sata but he hands it to Akura and now Krishna’s pursues him.
Now Balarama is suspicious that Krishna had secreted it, and consequently he argued with him and parted ways, declaring that he would not be imposed upon by perjuries. The truth is revealed when Akuras subsequently produced the gem. Then the jewel is claimed by Krishna, Balarama and even Satyabama. Things get messier when wives are involved sometimes in such disputes. To find peace, Balarama declares that Akura should keep the jewel so ‘he moved about like the sun wearing a garland of light’ at Balarama’s generosity.
RADHARANI: Radha was the centre of all activities in the Vrindavan. Her name was chanted more by the gopis as she was Sri Krishna’s extension. Balarama has his fair share of the gopis pleasure and came next to Radha-Krishna. In all ways he helps in the pastimes of Krishna and in all forms Balarama also tastes the transcendental bliss of serving Radha-Krishna. When Sri Krishna left for Mathura, Balarama accompanied him and manfully supported him. It is said that in the pastime of Ratha-yatra the reason that Lord Balarama appears with dilated eyes and shrunken limbs is because he is affected by the mood of separation that Radha and Krishna are feeling for each other. Balarama was genuine about the emotional separation of the couple.
JARASANDHA: He was a great Shiva bhakta. His father, Brihadratha, was the king of Magadha. He had two wives who shared a boon fruit from Lord Shiva. They produced two half babies with horrifying faces. The demon Jara puts the two halves and nurtures the baby. He was later given to the king and named Jarasandha meaning ‘joined by Jara’. Later in life, his daughters Asti and Prapti were made widows when Krishna killed the Kansa lot. He therefore held the Yadava clan in bitter enmity. Thereafter, Balarama defeated Jarasandha several times, Bheema kills him. Krishna then decided to move His family from the city of Mathura to an unconquerable fortress in the sea, known as Dwarka.
RUKMIN: At the instance of the King of Kalinga, Balarama challenges Rukmin, brother of Rukmini with whom Krishna eloped. So they played chess for wagers and were made fun of by the smarter Rukmin. Despite all this Balarama wins the third price game. But Rukmin attempted to cheat and provoked Balarama and called another game in which he loses. There was also a divine voice from the sky declaring Balarama to be the winner. Rukmin persisted with his cheating and Balarama summoned his mace, Suananda and hammered Rukmin. It is known that Rukmin conspired with the Kalinga king who started to flee. The king got his teeth smashed and bones broken. He lived with that insult for conspiracy.
SAMBA: Shortly thereafter Lord Balarama returned home to Dwarka. There he found that his nephew, Krishna’s son, was kidnapped by Duryodhana. King Ugrasena, called for retaliation. Balarama pacified them in order to avoid conflict between the Yadu and Kuru dynasties. But Samba was not returned. Balarama demanded his release, and, being refused, he thrust his ploughshare under the ramparts of the city, and drew them towards him, thus compelling the Kauravas to surrender Samba. Balarama decided to punish them all. He took His plow, intending to rid the earth of all the Kurus, and began dragging their city of Hastinapura toward the Ganges. But they were all forgiven after Samba was retrieved.
DWIVIDA: Lastly, he killed the great gorilla Dwivida, who had stolen his weapons and derided him. Dwivida was as strong as 10,000 elephants. He sought to harm Krishna and those close to him. One day while he was insulting Krishna, he ran into Balarama. They engaged in combat and Balarama kills him with his bare hands.
SUBHADRA: Arjuna wanted to marry Krishna’s sister Subhadra. Krishna advises him to disguise as a sage. Now innocently Balarama presented Subhadra to render him service. Consequently cupids arrow strikes she falls in love and finally left with Arjuna in disguise. Taking this to be a kidnap, Balarama went in pursuit of the old sage to punish him. Sri Krishna intervenes to explain how he got the pair to meet and fall in love. But it took much flowery words to pacify Balarama.
IMPARTIALITY: Balarama enjoyed a reputation of being impartial. In the Mahabaratha his human qualities outshone many. He is said to have taught Duryodhana and Bhima the art of using the mace. Though Sri Krishna was inclined to the Pandavas, he did not take sides. He witnessed the combats between Duryodhana and Bhima. He went on pilgrimage in not wanting to witness the two arguing factions of the Kuru dynasty.
ROMAHARSANA: During his pilgrimage he comes up to one place there was a large yagna being performed. Upon seeing Lord Balarama, all rose and offered Him all due respects. He was also offered a respectable seat and thus worshiped as the Supreme. But Romaharsana remained seated and was struck down with a single blade of kusa straw and killed him. This distressed the sages as they had just bestowed the great boon of long life upon Romaharsana and that the Lord had caused their benediction to become false. They pleaded for Romaharsana’s life but the death could not be undone. Balarama replied that the benediction of the father, Romaharsana, should be passed on to the son, and the Lord also agreed that He would do whatever the sages suggested that he do in order to atone for the sin.
The sages told him of the demon Balvala, who was a great source of anguish for the sages. After slaying Balvava, his pilgrimage was to continue for twelve months. Thereafter he pursued the demon, called for his club and his plow. Although the demon was flying here and there in the air, the Lord swiftly snagged the demon with his plow and pulling him down He smashed his head with His club.
ABHIMANYU: He was the son of Arjuna, killed on the thirteenth day in the Krukshetra battle. He was tricked and finally killed by Dushasana. The funereal ceremony was performed by Balarama, as he was the maternal uncle. Abhimanyu was married to Uttara who gives birth to Parikshit who became the sole heir to Pandavas.
DEATH: Balarama witnessed the curse against the Yadu dynasty and saw its destruction, 36 years after the end of the battle. He also witnessed Krishna departing from earth. Balarama then sat down in a meditative state and departed from this world by producing a great white snake from His mouth. Thus he was carried to heaven by Sesanaga in the shape of a serpent.
Hara Hara Mahadeva
(draft Gods, Goddesses, Minor Deities and Sages)
Yogi Ananda Saraswathi