Bhagavata Purana relates the life of Krishna, the enunciator of the Bhagavad Gita in the Mahabharata.
The tale of Krishna is enshrined in the hearts of all, remembering Krishna, the cowherd, as a beloved God and remembrance of his exploits a source of joy to all.
Yadava dynasty had their capital in Mathura on the banks of the Yamuna. The Yadavas were a pastoral group. Ugrasena was a king of this dynasty. Kamsa, who was Ugrasena’s son deposed and imprisoned his own father. Ugrasena’s brother was Devaka. Devaka had a daughter named Devaki who was married to Vasudeva, son of Surasena. Surasena was also a Yadava like Ugrasena.
After the marriage of Devaki and Vasudeva, Kamsa was driving the couple to the bridegroom’s house. As the chariot roared past Mathura, a voice was heard from heaven, addressed to the charioteer, Kamsa: "O fool of a king! You are conducting a lady whose eighth son will grow up to kill you."
Kamsa’s impulsive reaction was to stop the chariot, seize Devaki and kill her on the spot. Vasudeva intervened and promised to put into the hands of Kamsa all the children of Devaki as soon as they were born. Vasudeva implored Kamsa to spare the life of Devaki. Kamsa was satisfied with the arrangement proposed by Vasudeva for dealing with Devaki’s children and drove the chariot on without injuring Devaki. As a measure of abundant caution, Kamsa put both Devaki and Vasudeva in a prison under close guard.
Kamsa started killing every child as soon as the child was born. He had killed six children in succession. Devaki became pregnant for the seventh time. A miracle occurred. The child in her womb got transferred miraculously to the womb of Rohini, another wife of Vasudeva. Rohini, fearing Kamsa, was living at Gokulam on the opposite bank of the Yamuna river. This child conceived in Rohini’s womb was Balarama.
Devaki became pregnant for the eighth time. This eighth child was born at midnight in prison. The Lord appeard in divine form at first and then, the lying-in-chamber in the prison was filled with a dazzling light. Vasudeva and Devaki realized that the born child was no human, but a divine incarnation. They jointly praised the glory of the Lord and counted it a blessing that the Lord had grown in her womb before manifesting Himself. The divine form was shown to the parents and the Supreme Being had assumed the form of a human child.
At the very moment that the Lord was born in the prison cell, the divine Maya or the Power incarnate of the Lord was born, in the Gokulam, as the female child of Yasoda, the wife of Nanda.
A divine prompting came to Vasudeva: "Take your male child across the Yamuna to Gokulam and exchange him for Yasoda’s daughter. Then you can return to prison before anyone learns of the birth of the eighth child of Devaki." Vasudeva took the child in his arms and the prison doors opened automatically, as the guards had been put to sleep by divine intervention. Vasudeva reached the bank of the Yamuna river which was in a spate. The river parted and made way for Vasudeva carrying the divine child. Vasudeva reached the opposite bank of the river safely and found all the inmates of Gokulam fast asleep. Entering the house of Nanda, Vasudeva placed the child on the bed of Yasoda, picked up Yasoda’s female child and returned to Mathura.
Vasudeva laid the female child by Devaki’s side and the prison doors shut automatically. The guards were now awake and were startled by the cries of the female child. The guards ran to Kamsa and announced the birth of the eighth child to Devaki. Knowing that the eighth child would be the cause of his death, Kamsa rushed to prison to execute the child. Devaki pleaded: "O Kamsa, it is only a female child. How can this child do you any harm?" Kamsa ignored Devaki’s pleading, snatched the child from her lap and dashed the child down on a stone slah. The child did not fall down; instead, the child flew up and appeared on the sky as a goddess with eight arms and each arm carrying a weapon, "O fool of a king! You will gain nothing by killing me. The one who will destroy you is elsewhere. Do not kill innocent children, from now on." With these words, the goddess disappeared. Kamsa felt penitent and apologized to Vasudeva and Devaki for the pain he had caused them. He set free Vasudeva and Devaki from the prison.
Meanwhile, there was a great rejoicing in the Gokulam, hailing the birth of a son in Nanda’s household. On the eleventh day of the happy event, priests performed the rites to bless the child and named the child, Krishna. The entire Gokulam wore a festive appearance. The streets were swept clean and all the frontals of all houses were decorated with flags and flowers. Cows were smeared with turmeric and adorned with peacock feathers and garlands. Gopas and Gopis of the Gokulam danced in joy and flocked to Nanda’s house to see the child and offer presents to the Nandas. Rohini was ecstatic and received them all and treated the guests with sweets. The entire Gokulam was rejuvenated and everyone was filled with a sense of oncoming prosperity and joy.
One day, Nanda went to Mathura to pay his tribute to Kamsa. When Nanda met Vasudeva In Mathura, Vasudeva enquired: "How are your two sons, Balarama and Krishna? I hope your newborn child, Krishna and Rohini are in good health." Nanda assured Vasudeva, "Krishna is a source of joy to Rohini and to me and indeed to the entire Gokulam." As Nanda parted company, Vasudeva uttered a warning, the import of which Nanda could not comprehend: "Brother Nanda! Now that you have paid your tribute to Kamsa, get back home promptly. My mind is filled with foreboding that some ominous events are about to occur in Gokulam."
As Nanda returned home, an ominous event had indeed occurred. A she-demon called Putana had been instructed by Kamsa to kill all new-born children in cities, villages and hamlets. Finding that there was a new-born child in Nanda’s household, Putana promptly set about to kill the child. She had the power of assuming any desired form and could fly through air. Putana reached the Gokulam and assumed the form of a beautiful woman. She saw Krishna lying on his bed and smiling at all those who tried to carry him in their arms. Putana went to Krishna, lifted him up onto her lap and began to breast-feed him. She had smeared her breasts with a deadly poison and hoped that the child would consume the poison and die at once. The divine child knew Putana’s tricks; the divine child started sucking the life of the demon along with her poisoned breast-milk. Putana’s vital organs withered, she started rolling convulsively and cried, "Enough! Let me go!" She had suffered so intensely that Putana could no longer conceal her true form. The form of a beautiful faded away and Putana now appeared in her true form as a hideous demon. She died gasping for breath as the divine child lay on her bosom. Gopis who had gathered around were stunned and snatched the child away from the demon’s body. Rohini prayed all the gods for their mercy and grasped the child in her breast. Nanda now understood the meaning of what Vasudeva had told him at Mathura.
On the first anniversary of Krishna’s birth another miracle happened. Nanda and Yasoda were celebrating the birthday with festivities and feast. A cart was loaded with vessels of milk, cheese and butter. The child Krishna was put to sleep below the cart. Gopis suddenly heard some noises emanating from the cart. Krishna had woken up and shattered the wheels and axle of the cart and the cart was overturned spilling milk, cheese and butter on the ground. Gopis saw in utter disbelief that the little child had so much power as to break and overturn the cart. Yasoda tried to explain away the event as the work of some other demon like Putana trying to injure her dear darling child, Krishna.
Another emissary demon called Trinavrita, sent by Kamsa, came to Gokulam. The demon assumed the form a whirlwind and tried to carry away the child Krishna who was playing in the house. The inmates of the Gokulam ran hither and tither as the whirlwind caused havoc in the area. They frantically started searching for Krishna. The demon had carried Krishna up in the sky but he found the child to be too heavy. Krishna clung to the throat of the demon and crushed the demon to death, while still hanging at the neck of the demon. The body of the demon fell crashing to the ground but the child Krishna was unhurt. The Gopis picked up the child and handed over Krishna to Yasoda.
These happenings made Nanda realize that Vasudeva did convey something by talking about his foreboding. Yasoda had also experienced some extraordinary phenomena. One day, Krishna was playing with other children. The children ran up to Yasoda to report that Krishna had put a handful of earth into his mouth. Yasoda ran up to Krishna, "You mischievous! Open your mouth, let me see what you have in your mouth." Krishna refused and tried to run away from Yasoda. After repeated coaxing, Yasoda made Krishna open his mouth. Behold, Yasoda saw in his mouth the miraculous vision of the entire universe: the earth with its mountains, oceans and continents, the sun, the moon, the stars and all the planets, Yasoda saw her own village there surrounded by the children and Krishna opening his mouth to her. "Am I dreaming?" exclaimed Yasoda and realized that all changing things are rooted in a changeless spirit.
Balarama was fair in complexion and Krishna was dark in complexion. Balarama was strong and Krishna was sprightly and bubbling with energy. The two playful brothers were the darling of the Gopis of the Vraja. The Gopis adored the mischievous pranks of Krishna such as stealing the butter and the cheese from the pots in the kitchen, drinking themilk out of their millkpots and letting the calves loose from their fetters. While they enjoyed such pranks, they also came to Yasoda one day to report against Krishna and his mischievous behavior, "O Mother Yasoda! Your child Krishna is very naughty indeed! He untethers our calves just before milking-time and when we try to beat him up, he just laughs and runs away. He steals the milk from our kitchen and shared the curds with his friends. When he finds the pots empty, he breaks them and runs away. We tried to keep the pots away from his reach by hanging them from the roof. He gets to these pots standing upon a bench or by piercing a hole with a stone thrown at the hanging-pot. As as the milk leaks down from the hole in the pot, he holds the milk in the hollow of his palms and feeds himself and his friends. Look at him, Yasoda; he stands before you as though he is the most innocent child. What a mischievous kid you have brought into Gokulam, Yasoda. We do not how to cope with this mischievous, Krishna."
Making these complaints in a tone of mock-seriousness, the Gopis were adoring at the same time the charm and the lovely lips of Krishna. Krishna started running away, "Now I am going, you can tell everything to mom, without fear of my presence!" Gopis sang in unison, "What a darling you have brought into Gokulam, O Yasoda!"
One day, Yasoda had to tie him up to the mortar with a strong rope to stop his childish pranks of breaking and stealing butter from the pot in her kitchen. Krishna started crawling on all fours and dragged the wooden mortar into the garden. The mortar was caught between two trees and as Krishna tried to pull it through, the two trees fell. Two Siddhas emerged from the fallen trees prostrated at the feet of Krishna, "O Krishna! We are the sons of Kubera, the god of wealth, in our previous birth. We were transformed as trees when we were cursed by Narada to reproach us for our pride in our wealth and power. Now, you have freed us. We will adore the mercy of God."
Incidents like these created a sense of terror in the minds of the inmates of the Gokulam, including Nanda and Yasoda. Extraordinary events had been occurring in the Gokulam which seemed to indicate that demons and evil spirits had settled in the colony threatening the very survival of the Gokulam. Upananda, an old cowherd addressed the inmates:"Let us get out of this place before further calamities strike us. Brindavan forest is nearby. Let us go there." The Gopas and Gopis agreed and moved into Brindavan, located between the Govardhana hill and the banks of the Yamuna river. Krishna and Balarama enjoyed the sylvan tracts of Brindavan. Krishna would play on his flute and both he and his brother would tend the cows and the calves.
One day, the cowherd boys and Krishna were playing on the banks of the Yamuna. It was a hot day. The cowherd boys drank water from the river and at once fell down unconscious. Krishna revived them and learnt that the poisonous snake called Kaliya had released its poison into the river. Even the birds flying over the river fell down dead because of the poison that had entered into the atmosphere. As the cowherd boys and Krishna started in search of Kaliya, they saw a kadamba tree on the banks of the river. Krishna climbed up this tree and dived into the waters of the Yamuna. A huge serpent emerged from the waters with its hundred black hoods and hanging purple tongues. Kaliya, the serpent, coiled himself around the body of the boy, Krishna. The clouds darkened and ominous portents were seen on the sky. The inmates of Brindavan came rushing to the banks of the Yamuna river and saw Krishna struggling with the serpent. An extraordinary phenomenon occurred: Krishna had grown in size and the coils wound round his body became tighter. Krishna’s body had now started crushing the body of the serpent. The serpent could not withstand the force of the growing body of Krishna and had to release him from the coils. Krishna now jumped on to one of the hoods of the serpent and started dancing, holding the serpent Kaliya by his tail. Now the snake was dying and the red blood drops from the snake fell on the feet of Krishna and shone like rubies. The entire brood of snakes of the Kaliya vintage came to the surface and prostrated at the feet of Krishna. Krishna stopped his dance. Kaliya and his brood of snakes were now chastened. Krishna asked them to leave the river and move to the ocean. The serpent colony departed, the river Yamuna was rid of the poison in her waters.
It was the day of worship of Indra, the god of clouds and rain. Krishna suggested to Nanda and other elders of Brindavan that on this day learned men and women should be honored, poor people should be fed, the inmates should take their cattle in a procession round the Govardhana hill which was the main sustenance for the entire colony of Brindavan. These suggestions were accepted and the festivities began. Then, there was thunder and lightning in the sky and a heavy downpour of rain descended on Brindavan. The cowherd felt that this was symbolic of Indra’s anger. The rain became severe and evolved into a tempetuous hail-storm hurling stones at the people of Brindavan. "We have done something wrong by deviating from the traditional forms of worship of Indra," cried the cowherds.
Krishna shouted his command: "All of you go towards the valley where the waters were not too deep." Krishna plunged into the ravine where the waters were very deep and disappeared. After a while, the people of Brindavan were witness to a miracle. The Govardhana hill was rising like an umbrella revealing dry ground. Krishna was seen at the centre of the dry ground, supporting the weight of the hill on an uplifted finger of his hand. The people rushed into the dry ground. Krishna held up the hill on his finger for seven days until the rains stopped and the floods subsided. Krishna asked the people to move into Brindavan and lowered the Govardhana back into its place.
The Vraja country soon realized that Krishna was God in human form. The call of Krishna’s flute was a call to a life divine. Vraja people knew that the highest aim of their lives was to be devoted to Lord Krishna.
Krishnaleela (exploits of Krishna) were now household stories, everyone in Mathura knew of Krishna’s divine deeds in Brindavanam. The people of Mathura also came to know that Krishna was indeed the eighth child of Devaki and as prophesied will be Kamsa’s nemesis in due time. People were suffering under the oppressive regime of Kamsa and knew that Kamsa’s time was up since Krishna was growing in beauty and strength across the Yamuna in the forests of Brindavanam. People were enjoying hearing the stories of Krishna’s mischiefs and exploits and counting the days for their deliverance day when Krishna would take on Kamsa. Kamsa had tried to handle Krishna by sending Putana when Krishna was a mere child. Kamsa also sent other demons in the form of a mighty bull, in the form of a wild horse and all these demon-forms perished at Krishna’s hands and gained their deliverance.
Kamsa sent his messenger Akrura to Brindavan announcing a tournament in the capital. Kamsa had confided in Akrura that the plan was to station a mighty elephant at the entrance to the tournament grounds and to drive the animal towards Balarama and Krishna as soon as they entered and crush them to death under the feet of the elephant. If this strategy fails, two wrestlers, Chanura and Mushtika would challenge the two brothers Krishna and Balarama to a wrestling match and kill the latter in the contest. Akrura was no fool; he hated Kamsa like all other subjects of the kingdom and realized that Krishna was god in human form. Anyway, Akrura went to Nanda and extended the invitation of the king Kamsa; at the same time, Akrura also warned Krishna, secretly, of the evil designs of Kamsa. Krishna and Balarama laughed on learning about the plans and actively encouraged Nanda and other cowherds to accept the invitation to the tourney and prepare for the festivities.