Is Shiva and Krishna same?

Shiva and Krishna are two major deities in Hinduism that share some similarities but are also distinctly different in many ways. Their origins, iconography, attributes, and philosophical significance vary quite a bit. While there is some overlap and ambiguity between the two gods, most scholars and devotees view Shiva and Krishna as separate deities with their own unique identities and roles within Hindu theology and practice.

Quick Answers

Here are quick answers to some common questions about the relationship between Shiva and Krishna:

Are Shiva and Krishna the same god?

No, Shiva and Krishna are generally viewed as distinct deities in Hinduism with separate origins, iconography, and philosophical significance.

Do Shiva and Krishna have any connections?

Yes, there are some overlaps and connections drawn between Shiva and Krishna in Hindu mythology and philosophy. For example, some traditions identify Krishna as an avatar of Shiva.

Why do people sometimes equate Shiva and Krishna?

Because of some shared attributes like being depicted with blue skin, parallels in iconography and mythology, and the integration of Vaishnavite and Shaivite worship, some Hindus conflate or blur the identities of Shiva and Krishna.

Origins and History

Shiva and Krishna have very different origins and historical development in Hinduism:

  • Shiva was an ancient Dravidian deity that became assimilated into the Hindu pantheon early on, while Krishna emerged later during the composition of the Mahabharata and other Puranic texts.
  • Shiva has roots in indigenous pre-Vedic cultures, while Krishna originated within Vedic tradition.
  • Shiva is one of the oldest and most continuously worshipped deities in India, while veneration of Krishna emerged most prominently in the first millennium CE.
  • The Shaivite cult dedicated to Shiva developed in the 2nd to 5th century CE, while the Bhakti movement focused on Krishna took off in the 9th century CE.

So while Shiva has more ancient, even pre-historic roots, the Krishna-centered theology and culture of Vaishnavism developed significantly later on.

Attributes and Iconography

Shiva and Krishna are depicted quite differently in Hindu iconography:

Shiva Krishna
– Often depicted as an ascetic yogi or meditating – Often depicted as a charming, playful child or romantic hero
– Has multiple arms and often a third eye – Usually two-armed and without extra eyes
– Matted locks of hair, crescent moon, third eye, serpents – Peacock feather in crown, flute, cowherd’s staff
– Seated on tiger skin or mountain – Standing on cow’s hoofprint or dancing with milkmaids
– Associated with lingam and yoni symbolism – Associated with Radha and the rasa lila dance

So while both are depicted with blue skin as one of their iconic attributes, their iconography is distinct and points to very different mythic narratives and symbolic meanings.

Mythology and Significance

The mythologies and theological significance of Shiva and Krishna also have more differences than similarities:

  • Shiva is associated with destruction and transformation,
    while Krishna is the preserver and protector.
  • Shiva’s wife is the goddess Parvati/Shakti, while Krishna’s lover is Radha.
  • Shiva is worshipped through asceticism and meditation, while Krishna through ecstatic devotion and surrender.
  • Shiva grants moksha or liberation, while Krishna grants bhakti or divine loving devotion.
  • Shiva is limitless and transcendent, while Krishna is intimate and immanent.

So while Krishna’s mythology often involves protecting the universe, Shiva actually dissolves it back into nothingness at the end of each cosmic cycle. They have different cosmic roles and grant different forms of salvation for devotees.

Philosophy and Hindu Traditions

Philosophically, Shiva and Krishna are aligned with different schools of Hindu thought:

  • Shiva is more aligned with non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta philosophy.
  • Krishna is central to the dualistic devotional Bhakti traditions.
  • Shaivism focuses on asceticism and meditation, while Vaishnavism focuses on emotional devotion.
  • Shiva is patron of yoga, while Krishna inspires the Bhakti movement and Hare Krishna sect.

However, within both Shaivism and Vaishnavism there is a recognition of the importance of bhakti or loving devotion to God. There have also been reconciliation efforts between these rival Hindu traditions.

Relationship and Connection Between Shiva and Krishna

While Shiva and Krishna are clearly distinct deities in most Hindu traditions, there are some myths and philosophical interpretations that connect them or treat them as manifestations of the same Ultimate Reality:

  • Some myths present Krishna as an incarnation or avatar of Shiva.
  • Some Hindu philosophies argue that Brahman manifests as both Shiva and Krishna.
  • Krishna inherits or absorbs some attributes of Shiva such as the epithet “blue-throated” originally associated with Shiva.
  • Krishna’s father Vāsudeva is believed to be an earthly incarnation of Shiva.
  • Shiva temples and Krishna/Vishnu temples are sometimes built side-by-side and worshipped simultaneously.

So while the prevailing view treats them as distinct gods, there are enough connections drawn between the two to partially conflate them in the minds of some Hindus or treat them as different perspectives on the same Divine force.

Why Do Some People Conflate Shiva and Krishna?

While most Hindus view Shiva and Krishna as separate deities, some common practices contribute to the conflation between Shiva and Krishna:

  • Both Shiva and Krishna are depicted as having blue skin, which blurs the iconography.
  • Shared epithets like “lord” or shared attributes like the yoga mat and flute are applied to both.
  • Syncretic Hinduism combines Shaivite and Vaishnavite elements and practices.
  • Vāsudeva Krishna helps link Krishna worship to Shiva.
  • Smarta traditions advocate worshipping multiple deities including Shiva and Krishna.

Additionally, the integration of local folk religions and pre-Vedic gods like Shiva into orthodox Vedic Hinduism led to some gray areas between older gods like Shiva and newer gods like Krishna.


In conclusion, Shiva and Krishna are considered distinct deities by most mainstream Hindu traditions, with very different origins, histories, iconography, myths, and philosophical significance. However, there is enough ambiguity and overlap drawn between the two that some conflation or connection is made by both scholars and lay Hindus. The two deities likely inform one another and their devotees may recognize the parallels between their attributes, while still worshipping them as separate incarnations or perspectives on the Divine Absolute.

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