The Birth of Krishna
Once upon a time, Vasudeva, the son of King Surasena, just after marrying Devaki, was going home on his chariot with his newly wedded wife. The father of Devaki, known as Devaka, had contributed a sizeable dowry out of affection toward his daughter. He had given hundreds of chariots decorated with gold. Kamsa, the son of Ugrasena, in order to please his sister Devaki, had voluntarily taken the reins of the horses of Vasudeva’s chariot and was driving them to Vasudeva’s house. While the bride and bridegroom were passing along on the chariot, there were different kinds of musical instruments playing to acknowledge the auspicious moment. There were conch shells, bugles, drums and kettledrums, all harmoniously blended in concert. The procession was passing joyously, and Kamsa was driving the chariot, when suddenly a booming voice thundered from the sky “Kamsa, you are such a fool! You are driving the chariot of your sister and your brother-in-law, but you do not know that the eighth child of this sister will kill you.”
Kamsa was considered the most wicked of all the kings of the Bhoja dynasty. Immediately after hearing the prophecy, he caught hold of his sister’s hair and unsheathed his sword to kill her. Vasudeva was astonished at Kamsa’s behaviour, and tried to persuade him from this rash and foolish action. Kamsa was impervious to sound advice. However, Vasudeva managed to pacify his new brother-in-law, by promising to deliver to Kamsa all their children, as soon as they were born. He realised that this wasn’t the best solution, but felt compelled in order to save the life of Devaki.
Kamsa knew the value of Vasudeva’s word of honour, and was pleased by the arrangement. For the time being, he desisted from killing his sister. Vasudeva was relieved and returned home with his bride.
Each year thereafter, in due course of time, Devaki gave birth to a child. Thus, she gave birth to eight male children, as well as one daughter. When the first son was born, Vasudeva kept his word of honour and immediately brought the child to Kamsa. Vasudeva was noble, and famous for his word of honour. Although it was very painful for Vasudeva to hand over the newly born child, Kamsa was very glad to receive him. But he was surprised to see Vasudeva keeping his promise, and being compassionate upon him let the infant return home unharmed.
At that time, the great sage Narada came to Kamsa. Narada was very anxious to accelerate the descent of Lord Krishna. He therefore informed Kamsa that the demigods were all taking birth in Vrindavana, and awaiting the descent of the Supreme Lord. Narada warned Kamsa to be careful of them, as Kamsa and his ministers were all demons, sworn enemies of the devas, (the gods). Kamsa became alarmed, and at once arrested both his brother-in-law Vasudeva and Devaki, putting them behind prison bars.
Within the prison, shackled in iron chains, Vasudeva and Devaki gave birth to a male child year after year, and Kamsa, thinking each of the babies to be the incarnation of Vishnu, killed them one after another. He was particularly afraid of the eighth child, but after the visit of Narada, he came to the conclusion that any child might be Krishna. Therefore, he thought it better to kill all the babies who took birth from Devaki. He also imprisoned his father, Ugrasena, and declared himself king of the entire region.
When Devaki became pregnant for the eighth time, she appeared extremely radiant. Kamsa saw the transcendental beauty of his sister and at once concluded that Vishnu had taken shelter of her womb. She had never before looked so wonderfully beautiful. He could distinctly understand that there was something wonderful happening within her womb.. In this way, Kamsa became perturbed because he was sure that the Supreme Lord had now come. He began to think, “What is to be done with Devaki? Surely she has Vishnu or Krishna within her womb, so it is certain that Krishna has come to execute the mission of the demigods. If I kill Devaki at the present moment, it would be considered a most abominable act. No one desires to spoil his reputation, even in an awkward situation; if I kill Devaki now, my reputation will be tainted. Kamsa finally decided not to kill Devaki right away but to wait for the inevitable future. But his mind became absorbed in animosity against the God. He patiently waited for the deliverance of the child, expecting to kill Him, as he had done previously with the other babies. Thus he merged into the ocean of animosity against the Lord. He began to think of Vishnu while sitting, sleeping, walking, eating, and working – in all the situations of his life. At this time Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva, accompanied by great sages like Narada and followed by many other demigods, invisibly appeared in the prison of Kamsa and offered prayers to the Lord. They were pleased that soon he would appear to fulfil his divine mission.
As the time approached for the appearance of the Lord, the stars and planets were positioned in auspicious houses, and the astrological influence of the star known as Rohini became predominant. In all four directions, there was an atmosphere of peace and prosperity. There were auspicious stars visible in the sky, and in all towns, villages and pasturing grounds, and within the minds of everyone, there were signs of good fortune. The rivers were flowing full of clear water, and lakes were beautifully decorated with lotus flowers. The forests were decorated with beautiful birds, such as parrots and peacocks. All the birds began to sing with sweet voices, and the peacocks began to dance along with their consorts. The wind blew very pleasantly, carrying the aroma of rose and jasmine, and the sensation of bodily touch was very pleasing.
Vasudeva saw his wonderful child born with four arms, holding conchshell, club, disc and lotus flower. He was dressed in yellow silk, appeared dazzling like a bright blackish cloud, and wore helmet bedecked with gems, valuable bracelets, earrings and similar ornaments all over his body. There was an abundance of hair on His head. Due to the extraordinary features of the child, Vasudeva was struck with wonder. How could a newly born child be so decorated? He could therefore understand that Lord Krishna had now appeared, and he became overpowered by the occasion. He was so happy that he wanted to give many thousands of cows in charity to the brahmins, but shackled within prison, could only do so in his mind. He then offered prayers to the Lord, who had appeared as his very own son.
The Lord then replied, saying, “I know you are very concerned about me and afraid of Kamsa. Therefore I order you to take me immediately to Gokula and exchange me with the daughter who has just been born to Yashoda.” Having spoken thus to his father and mother, the Lord turned Himself into an ordinary child and remained silent.
So ordered by the Supreme Lord, Vasudeva prepared to take his son from the delivery room, and exactly at that time, a daughter was born to Nanda and Yashoda. By divine arrangement, all of the residents of Kamsa’s palace, especially the doorkeepers, were overwhelmed with deep sleep, and all the palace doors flew open, although barred and shackled with iron chains. The night was pitch black, but as soon as Vasudeva took Krishna on to his lap and went out, he could see everything just as in broad daylight.
When Vasudeva was carrying Krishna, the darkness of the night disappeared. All the prison doors automatically opened. At the same time, there was thunder in the sky and severe rainfall. While Vasudeva was carrying his son Krishna in the falling rain, Lord Sesha in the shape of a serpent appeared and spread His hood over the head of Vasudeva, like an umbrella, so that the rainfall would not hamper him. Vasudeva came onto the bank of the Yamuna and saw that the water of the Yamuna was roaring with waves and that the river was in full flood. Still, the river gave passage to Vasudeva to cross, just as the great Indian Ocean gave a path to Lord Rama when He was crossing to Lanka. In this way, Vasudeva crossed the river Yamuna. Once on the other side, he went to the house of Nanda Maharaja, situated in Gokula, He took the opportunity of silently entering into the house and without difficulty, he exchanged his son with the baby girl newly born in the house of Yashoda. Then, after switching the babies, he returned to the prison and silently put the girl into the lap of Devaki. He again clamped the shackles on himself so that Kamsa could not detect that anything had happened.
Yashoda understood that a child was born to her, but because she was very tired from the labour of childbirth, she was fast asleep. When she awoke, she could not remember whether she had given birth to a male or a female child.
Kamsa was surprised that Devaki’s new baby was female but tried to kill her by dashing her against the stone floor of the prison-house. She slipped from his hands and rose in the sky, revealing her true form as the Goddess (Durga). She informed Kamas that it was too late, and that his enemy was already born. Thereafter, Nanda performed a gorgeous name-giving ceremony for his new son, whom he thought to be his own. This ceremony is remembered and celebrated the day after Janmashtami, the festival marking Krishna’s birthday.
Kamsa sent many demons to kill Krishna, but even as a child the Lord easily despatched them to the abode of Yama, the lord of death. Later, as a young adolescent, Krishna left Vrindavan for Mathura, where he finally killed his wicked uncle, as prophesised well before his birth.
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