Today, being the sacred occasion of Sri Balarama Purnima, coincides with my next installment of the Markandeya Purana series, which, fortuitously enough, is also about Sri Balarama!
The third of Jaimini Rishi’s four questions about the Mahabharata is — why did Sri Balarama, Sri Krishna’s elder brother, choose to go on tirtha (pilgrimage) at the onset of the great war?
To start, let us delve into the story of Sri Balarama, the eighth avatara in the Dashavatara (ten avatara) system according to certain recensions, and the incarnation of Adi Ananta Sheshanaga, the divine thousand-headed serpent upon whom Narayana reclines in Ksheera Sagara, the milky ocean. All the planets are supported on the hood of Sheshanaga.
Because Sheshanaga is inseparable from Narayana, when Vishnu incarnated as Sri Rama and then as Sri Krishna, Sheshanaga also incarnated, first as Lakshmana, the younger brother of Sri Rama, and then as the elder brother of Sri Krishna — each time born of a different mother than Vishnu’s avatara. It is said that Lakshmana complained that because he was the younger brother, Sri Rama always looked after him and told him what to do. He vowed to come back as the older brother the next time so he could take care of Vishnu as his younger brother.
While Sri Krishna is dark in form and wears pitambara (golden-hued) clothing, Sri Balarama is fair in form and wears dark navy blue clothing.
One of my favorite memories from visiting Vraj Mandala years ago was visiting Baldeo, sweetly referred to locally as Dauji, where Sri Balarama used to rule. There is a famous mandir there that has a large vigraha of Sri Balarama with his wife, Revati Devi. It is a uniquely powerful place and a temple every devotee should plan to visit when traveling to Mathura / Vrndavana.
Revati Devi was the only daughter of Kakudmi. The doting father felt that no human male could equal the merits of his daughter, so he took her to Brahmaloka to enlist Brahma’s help in finding a suitable husband for her. At the time of their arrival, Brahma was listening to a musical recital by the Gandharvas. They waited to approach Him until after the concert had ended.
Finally, Kakudmi prostrated before Brahma and presented his request. Brahma laughed and explained that during the…