Most Hindus believe that Lord Krishna had 16108 wives. Can someone explain this?
I have heard that, according to Srimad Bhagavata, the number "16108" has a different philosophical meaning. What does Srimad Bhagavata say about this?
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As per Mahabharata, Krishna had a total of 16108 wives, of which eight were his principle wives and they are Rukmini, Satyabhama, Jambavati, Kalindi, Mitravrinda, Nagnajiti, Bhadra and Lakshana. The other 16100 were rescued from Narakasura, where they had been forcibly kept. These women were in disgrace because they had lived with the demon king and none of their families would accept them. So, Krishna gave these women the status of his wives. This marital status was not for sexual pleasure but to give them shelter and a respectful place in the society.
Lord Krishna's marriage with 16100 wives was synonymous to raas leela where he danced with 108 gopis at the same time while each gopi believed he was dancing only with her. Whole life Krishna manifested in 16108 forms to share same love and care to all his wives.
The Vishnu Purana and the Mahabharata differ and set the number as 16100. Generally all of them are unnamed, however many commentators of the Bhagavata Purana state Rohini to be their leader, though such an explicit mention is not found in the scripture.
As per Shrimad Bhagavatam after killing Narakasura Krishna saw sixteen thousand maidens who were kidnapped and imprisoned by Narakasura:
tatra rājanya-kanyānāṁ ṣaṭ-sahasrādhikāyutam
bhaumāhṛtānāṁ vikramya rājabhyo dadṛśe hariḥ [SB - 10.59.33]
Once Nārada out of the curiosity "How with a single body Krishna married sixteen thousand maidens simultaneously at separate places" went Dvaraka to witness the daily activities of Krishna himself:
narakaṁ nihataṁ śrutvā tathodvāhaṁ ca yoṣitām
kṛṣṇenaikena bahvīnāṁ tad-didṛkṣuḥ sma nāradaḥ [SB - 10.69.1]
citraṁ bataitad ekena vapuṣā yugapat pṛthak
gṛheṣu dvy-aṣṭa-sāhasraṁ striya eka udāvahat [SB - 10.69.2]
There Narada found that through His mystic power (yoga māyā) Krishna was simultaneously present in the palaces of each queen and busy in different household activities.
So as per Bhagavatam Krishna was indeed married to the 16,000 rescued maidens. Saints reconciling the Narakasura account as mentioned in the Vishnu Purana give the number as 16,100:
kanyāpure sa kanyānāṁ ṣoḍaśātulavikramaḥ
śatādhikāni dadṛśe sahasrāṇi mahāmune [VP - 5.29.31]
Now if you include the other eight queens of Krishna that He had married earlier the number becomes 16,008. So as per puranas Krishna indeed has 16,108 wives, there was no other philosophical meaning.
However, many times there are hidden esoteric meanings to myths and stories of the puranas. So I can't give a reference to a puranic soruce, but from Yoga point of view it has another meaning as below.
As per the yogis there are 16,108 important nadis (nerves) in the physical human body, out of which the three most important ones are the ida, pingala and sushanma. Now it is well known that Krishna is Yogeswara (lord among the Yogis). So as a yogi He was master of all the nadis, just like a husband is the master of his wife. So from yogic point of view Krishna had 16,108 wives means He was master of the 16,108 nadis.
Krishna accepted them as his wife upon their insistence to save themselves from the society who saw them as slaves of the demon king Narakasura.
The chief amongst them is sometimes called Rohini. They were all kidnapped and held captive by the demon-king Narakasura. When Krishna slew Narakasura, he accepted all the captive women upon their insistence to safeguard their dignity. After marriage, they all lived in Dwarka, in a divine happiness.
From the Puranic Encyclopedia's listing of Krishna:
Brahmā had given the boon to the 16000 daughters of Narakāsura in their previous birth that Visnu would marry them in their next birth. While even the Devas were suffering on account of Narakāsura, Sri Krsna along with Satyabhāmā mounted Garuda, went to Prāgjyotișa, the kingdom of Narakāsura, defeated him in fight and released his 16000 daughters from captivity. He returned with them to Dvārakā, assumed the guise of 16000 men and married those 16000 girls. He built a palace for each of his 16000 wives.
Krsna's 16008 wives
The eight women, i.e. Rukmini, Jämbawati, Satyabhāmā, Kālindi, Mitravindā, Satyā, Kaikeyī (Bhadrā), Lakşmaņā and the 16000 daughters of Narakāsura constituted Krsna's harem. (The 16000 daughters of Narakāsura are not mentioned by name in the Purānas).
The Harivamsa however says those 16,000 women held captive by Narakāsura are actually gandharva's and apsara's and not his daughters:
gandharvANAM cha yAH kanyA jahAra narako balI | yAshcha devamanuShyANaM sapta chApsarasAM gaNAH ||2-63-12
The powerful narakAa took away many gandharva maiden. He also took away deva maidens, women and seven groups of divine women (apsarA).
chaturdasha sahasrANi ekaviMshachChatAni cha | ekaveNIdharAH sarvAH satImArgamanuvratAH ||2-63-13
They were fourteen thousand and twentyone hundred [16,100] women in all. All were with single plait of hair and observing the vow of faithful wife (sati).
You can read how Krishna wedded each of his 8 principal wives here.
The Mausala Parva of Mahabharata says that, following Krishna's death, some of those 8 wives gave up their lives while others resorted to penance:
Rukmini, the princess of Gandhara, Saivya, Haimavati, and queen Jamvabati ascended the funeral pyre. Satyabhama and other dear wives of Krishna entered the woods, O king, resolved to set themselves to the practice of penances. They began to live on fruits and roots and pass their time in the contemplation of Hari.
The Svargarohanika Parva of Mahabharata mentions that the other 16,000 wives of Krishna also gave up their human form and transformed into apsara's:
The holy and illustrious Ananta (who had taken birth as Balarama) proceeded to the region below the Earth. Through the command of the Grandsire, he, aided by his Yoga power, supported the Earth. Vasudeva was a portion of that eternal god of gods called Narayana. Accordingly, he entered into Narayana. 16,000 women had been married to Vasudeva as his wives. When the time came, O Janamejaya, they, plunged into the Sarasvati. Casting off their (human) bodies there, they re-ascended to Heaven. Transformed into Apsaras, they approached the presence of Vasudeva.