In Chapter 11 of the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna reveals himself to the warrior hero Arjuna in his full nature as the transcendent and immanent Lord of the Universe. This watercolour painting is inspired by the portion of this cosmic vision in which Arjuna describes the God’s terrifying appearance in the role of destroyer (being all things, Krishna is also the destruction of all things):
“O Vishnu [Krishna is the avatar or embodiment of Vishnu], I can see your eyes shining; with open mouth, you glitter in an array of colours, and your body touches the sky. I look at you and my heart trembles; I have lost all courage and all peace of mind.
When I see your mouths with their fearful teeth, mouths burning like the fires at the end of time, I forget where I am and I have no place to go. O Lord, you are the support of the universe; have mercy on me!
I see all the sons of Dritarashtra; I see Bhishma, Drona, and Karna; I see our warriors and all the kings who are here to fight. All are rushing into your awful jaws; I see some of them crushed by your teeth. As rivers flow into the ocean, all the warriors of this world are passing into your fiery jaws; all creatures rush to their destruction like moths into a flame.
You lap the worlds into your burning mouths and swallow them. Filled with your terrible radiance, O Vishnu, the whole of creation bursts into flames.
Tell me who you are, O Lord of terrible form. I bow before you; have mercy! I want to know who you are, you who existed before all creation. Your nature and workings confound me.”
To this Krishna gives the hair-raising reply:
“I am time, the destroyer of all; I have come to consume the world.”
It was this declaration of Krishna’s, in a slightly different translation, that J. Robert Oppenheimer recalled having come to his mind as he and his colleagues on the Manhattan project watched the first successful detonation of a nuclear bomb: “‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”
Immediately subsequent to this cosmic manifestation of his all-encompassing power, Krishna returns to the gentle, human form in which Arjuna had always known him -although one imagines it must have taken a moment for normal conversation to resume naturally between them.
(The cited passages are from the translation of the Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran (Nilgiri Press, 1985))