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Balarama (Sanskrit: बलराम, IAST: Balarāma) is a Hindu deity and the elder brother of Krishna (an avatar of the god Vishnu). He is particularly significant in the Jagannath tradition, as one of the triad deities. He is also known as Baladeva, Balabhadra, Haladhara and Halayudha. The first two epithets refer to his strength, the last two associate him with Hala (Langala, "plough") from his strong associations with farming and farmers, as the deity who used farm equipment as weapons when needed.
While most legends and texts consider Balarama as avatar of Shesha – the companion of Vishnu, Gitagovinda of Jayadeva describes him as the eighth avatar of Vishnu, raising Krishna to the Brahman, or Ultimate Reality itself, and the fountainhead of all other avatars and creation.
Balarama's significance in the Indian culture has ancient roots. His image in artwork is dated to around the start of the common era, and in coins dated to the 2nd-century BCE. In Jainism, he is known as Baladeva and has been a historically significant farmer-related deity.
Balarama is an ancient deity, a prominent one by the epics era of Indian history as evidenced by archeological and numismatic evidence. His iconography appears with Nāga (many-headed serpent), a plough and other farm artifacts such as watering pot, possibly indicating his origins in a bucolic, agricultural culture. Balarama's legend appears in many Parva (books) of the Mahabharata.
The Book Three (Vana Parva) states Krishna and him to be brothers born to separate mothers, but one father. Book One (Adi Parva) states the circumstances that lead to light skinned Balarama, and dark skinned Krishna. Book Thirteen (Anushasana Parva) presents the mythology of Sesha's incarnation into Balarama, as Vishnu incarnated as Krishna, likely reflecting the basis why most of ancient and early medieval artworks of Balarama show a snake hood on top of his head.
Balarama is a significant deity in Hinduism, but his significance varies by region and text. In many, he is an avatar of Shesha Naga while Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu. In some such as late medieval era Jayadeva's list, Balarama is an avatar of Vishnu, while Krishna is the source of all avatars and existence. In some art works of the Vijayanagara Empire, temples of Gujarat and elsewhere, for example, Baladeva is the eighth avatar of Vishnu, prior to the Buddha (Buddhism) or Jina (Jainism).
Balarama is depicted as light skinned, in contrast to his brother, Krishna, who is dark skinned, Krishna in Sanskrit means dark. His ayudha or weapons are the plough hala and the gadā. The plough is usually called Balachita. He often wears blue garments and a garland of forest flowers. His hair is tied in a topknot and he has earrings, bracelets and armlets and he is known for his strength, the reason for his name.
In the Jagannath tradition, one particularly popular in eastern and central regions of India, he is more often called Balabhadra. Balarama is one in the triad, wherein Balarama is shown together with his brother Jagannath (Krishna) and sister Shubhadra (Lakshmi). Jagannath is identifiable from his circular eyes compared to oval of Shubhadra and almond shaped eyes of the abstract icon for Balarama. Further, Balarama's face is white, Jagannath's icon is dark, and Subhadra icon is yellow. The third difference is the flat head of Jagannath icon, compared to semi-circular carved head of abstract Balarama. The shape of Balabhadra's head, also called Balarama or Baladeva in these regions, varies in some temples between somewhat flat and semi-circular.
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