Balarama ( Balabhadrarama, Balabhadra, Baladeva ) is the elder brother of Sri Krishna and the eighth incarnation of Mahavishnu. Legend has it that Bhoomi devi was vexed by the increase of evil on Prithvi and she turned to Mahavishnu for help and protection. Promising her deliverance from evil, Mahavishnu told her that he would take avatara as the sons of Vasudeva in the Yadava clan and destroy evil. In the Dwapara Yuga, Balarama and Sri Krishna are the eighth and ninth avataras of Mahavishnu who were born to Vasudeva.
Balarama was Vasudeva's son from Rohini and Sri Krishna was Vasudeva's son from Devaki. The birth of Balabhadrarama is quite interesting. When the heavenly voice proclaimed Kamsa's death at the hands of Devaki's eighth born, Vasudeva and Devaki were imprisoned by the evil King Kamsa. He cruelly killed the first six sons born to Devaki. When Devaki was pregnant the seventh time, the being in the womb was Anantha who took the incarnation under Mahavishnu's directive so that he could help Krishna. To save the child from certain slaughter by Kamsa, Mahavishnu asked Mayadevi to take the child from Devaki's womb and place it in Rohini's. The perception was that Devaki aborted but in fact the child was delivered by Rohini and was named Samgharsana. (Dasama Skandha, Bhagavata). Lord Balarama was thus born as the son of Rohini and Vasudeva. The avatara day of Lord Balarama, is known as Balarama Purnima or Balarama Jayanti. According to the Hindu calendar, Balarama Purnima is the fifteenth day of Shravana month. (Balarama Purnima is celebrated with much fanfare in the Dauji temple in Vrindavan, where Balarama and Revati ( the consort of Balarama ) reside in their nitya-lila.
Balabhadrarama had six brothers born of his mother RohinI. They were : Gada, Sarana, Durddama, Vipula, Dhruva, and Krta. (Navama Skandha, Bhagavata) .
Popular folklore cites Sri Krishna being blue hued in complexion and Balarama having a fair complexion. There is an interesting anecdote to this as well. The devas decided to be born as gopalas to help Mahavishnu in slaying the demons in his Krishna avatara. The great God, Vishnu was very pleased to hear this. He then took one white hair from his head and said that it would go to Rohini's womb and change into Balarama and taking a black hair said that it would go into Devaki's womb and change into Sri Krishna. It was thus that Balabhadra became fair and Sri Krishna dark. (Chapter 199, Adi Parva, M.B.).
Balarama and Krishna are believed to have spent their early childhood and formative years separately. It was Sage Garga who made Vasudeva aware of the story of Balarama's and Sri Krishna's birth and the need for them to be together. Both the boys then grew up together. Any mention of Balarama therefore almost always would have Sri Krishna's reference.
Itihasa chronicles Balarama's exploits alongside Sri Krishna 's when the duo travelled to Mathura on Kamsa's invitation and faced mortal perils. The boys studied together in Guru Sandipani's ashrama. The killing of Srgalavasudeva is another feat that credits both brothers likewise. This feat yielded immense wealth and brought the glory days of the Yadava clan back. They proceeded to travel westwards with the Yadava clan and settle in Dwaraka.
Revati was the wife of Balabhadararama. But Revati did not belong to the Dwapara Yuga in which the avataras of Balarama and Sri Krishna took place. There is an astonishing tale on how Revati became Balarama's bride. Revati's father was King Revata who ruled over Kusasthali, the kingdom was prosperous and advanced. It is believed that Princess Revati was extremely beautiful, accomplished and talented. Her father believed that no mortal on earth was good enough for her. So he decided to consult with the creator, the mighty Brahmadeva himself and seek his guidance and advice. Since Brahma was the creator, surely he would know the right match for Revati as a befitting husband. So accompanied by his daughter, King Revata went to Brahmaloka to call on Brahmadeva.
On reaching there, the father daughter duo were bedazzled by the sights and sounds of the celestial realm. At that time, Brahma was engrossed in a musical performance by the Gandharvas. King Revata and Princess Revati waited for a short time for the performance to end. The King then requested Brahma for his guidance. On hearing this Brahma smiled and told, " Noble Revata, all those accomplished men you thought were suitable match for your daughter have died in the course of time. Twenty seven chaturyugas have already passed while you were waiting for me. The potential grooms that you spoke to me about are gone, so are their sons, grandsons and their descendants. Their names cease to exist. You, yourself are alone as your friends, ministers, kinsmen, wives, servants, armies and treasures have been wiped away by time. You must now look to marry off your daughter to someone in the present Yuga."
The King was astonished on hearing this. Brahma explained to him that time runs differently in Brahmaloka and even though it was only for a short time they waited in his celestial abode, 108 yugas or 27 chaturyugas had elapsed on prithvi. He went on to console the king and told him that there is indeed a worthy match for his daughter. The great God Mahavishnu has taken 2 avataras in this Yuga on prithvi, Balarama and Sri Krishna. You must get her married to Balarama who is the right groom for her. Revata gladly accepted this advice of Brahmadeva and was happy to have Balarama as his son-in-law. The King then went to Balarama and proposed this match which was accepted and Revati and Balarama were wed. (Sapthama Skandha, Devi Bhagavatam).
An interesting side note for the readers. The Bhagavata Purana recounts that When King Revata and Princess Revati returned from Brahmaloka to earth, they were shocked by the changes that had transpired on prithvi. After the 27 chaturyugas, the entire landscape had changed and as compared to their time, the present race of men were much lower in their plane of development in their spiritual and cultural values. The humans were shorter in stature, reduced in vigour and enfeebled in intellect.
Balarama is believed to have undertaken a pilgrimage and visited every holy place in Bharatvarsha. He did not take part in the great war between Pandavas and Kauravas. When the war started, Balarama went into Naimisharanya ( Nimsar, 45 miles north of present day Lucknow ). In ages past this was considered a holy place and a congregation point for holy men to perform great yajnas and also get spiritual education and enlightenment.
Balarama is also considered to be the eternal guru. As Lord Krishna's elder brother, he essays the role of a guru to the Lord. In ancient India, the elder brother is thought to be the guru by his younger siblings. A guru showers love and affection on his siblings and also steers them in the right way morally and spiritually. Balabhadra, was Lord Krishna's spiritual and moral rudder and he personified the love, affection and competence of a guru. That is why he is also referred to as 'Adi Guru' the foremost guru of all. Balarama did watch over Lord Krishna as an affectionate protective elder brother with his immense strength and sense of dharma protecting Govinda from adharma as the maryada purusha in his life. If Lord Krishna would do something wrong, Balarama would express his unhappiness. One very good example was Lord Krishna advising Bhima on slaying Jarasandha. Balarama was displeased with Krishna's advice as it violated the kshatriya code.
Balarama considered himself first and foremost as Govinda's friend, his closest and dearest friend. Without Balabhadrarama there simply is no Krishna Leela. By Lord Balaram’s mercy one can receive the mercy of Lord Krishna.
Balarama's tale and Krishna's tale are often intertwined and are recounted together. Mahavishnu's eighth and ninth manifestations thwarted evil and protected the good. Anantha's avatara to support his Lord Giridhara, Gopala, Govinda is one that teaches us that even heroes, divine or otherwise need support. Lakshmana supported Lord Rama in his quest to vanquish Ravana and Balarama supported Lord Krishna from his childhood miracles to establishing the Yadava clan in Dwaraka.
We have such people in our lives, our parents, siblings, friends or our gurus who support us and for a lucky few guide us through the bouncers that life throws at us. Let's stop for a moment and think... can we reach out to someone who needs our support ?