Myth & Legends of India: The Birth & Childhood of Krishna

Myth & Legends of India 

Sri-Krishna-Janmashtami-Story-and-Singificance

The night Krishna was born ^

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Krishna as a child ^

“Along the epic stories of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, the life of Krishna – the most popular and celebrated incarnation of the god Vishnu – is one of the great sagas of India, and deserves a book in itself. Krishna is revered and remembered as the mischievous child who performs miracles, as the lover who attracts all the milkmaids of Vrindavan and especially the enchanting Radha, and as the mature and compassionate adviser to the Pandavas in their war with the Kauravas. 

Krishna was incarnated on earth because of the cruel and oppressive behavior of the demon Kamsa, who had been born as the son of the king of Mathura, and had overthrown his father. Such was the scale of the suffering under his tyrannical rule, that the earth-goddess herself had appealed to the gods. Brahma was moved by her plight, and had gone with all the other gods to Vishnu – to the ocean of milk where he and his wife Lakshmi floated on their lotus-throne. Vishnu responded by plucking two hairs from his body and said, ‘See these two hairs, a white hair and a black hair. They will be born as the seventh and eighth sons of Devaki, wife of Kamsa’s cousin Vasudeva. The eighth son will destroy Kamsa, and free Earth and the people of Mathura from fear and suffering.’ 

Accounts vary as to how Kamsa got wind of the threat that he now faced. Some say he was told by Narada, the sage of heaven who often acts as an intermediary between heaven and earth. Other’s say that Kamsa heard a voice from heaven soon after Vasudeva and Devaki were married, warning him that Devaki’s eighth child would be the cause of his death. Either way, Vasudeval only managed to prevent Kamsa from killing him by promising to deliver up every one of Devaki’s babies.  

Kamsa imprisoned Vasudeval and Devaki to ensure that this would happen, and all of their first six children were indeed handed over to Kamsa by Vasudeva, and were ruthlessly slain by him. (It is said that they were actually demons transferred to Devaki’s womb at Vishnu’s command, so it was just as well that they died.) 

With the next two pregnancies, however, Vishnu had to ensure their survival. 

To preserve the seventh, he employed the goddess of sleep to transfer the seventh embryo to Rohini, another of Vasudeva’s wives. Vasudeval and Devaki then told Kamsa tha the child had miscarried, and the demon-king believed them. The baby was, however, safely born to Rohini as Balarama, Krishna’s elder brother. 

The eighth child was born to Devaki as normal, but Vishnu made it possible for Vasudeva to evade the guards and carry the infant on the night it was born to a cow-herd’s wife called Yasoda, to exchange it with her newly born baby girl. 

The guards in the gal – who had been kept fast asleep by the goddess of sleep – woke up to hear the baby girl crying. Assuming to was Devaki’s own eighth baby, they rushed to Kamsa, who immediately came and dashed the child’s head on a stone. But no sooner had he done so that there was a voice from heaven saying, ‘The child you have killed is not the eight child of Devaki, whom you dread, but the child of another. The eighth child lives, the incarnation of the greatest of the gods, and he will destroy you!’ 

Kamsa now unleashed a reign of terror, not only sending his demons all over the kingdom to try to find the child, but also slaying Brahmins and yogis and all devotees of god Vishnu. Vasudeva and Devaki, however, he allowed to go free (though why he should have been so merciful to them is not explained), and they rushed to Yasoda, to urge her and her husband Nanda to flee to pastures a long way from the city, taking the baby Krishna with them. They also gave them they infant Balarama to look after, and thus it was that Krishna and his brother where brought up among cow-herds. 

Many charming stories are told of the young Krishna and Balarama, and of the miraculous feats that Krishna performed while only a child. 

When he was still being suckled by Yasoda, a Rakshasi called Putana came in the shape of a beautiful woman, made herself friendly to Yosoda, took Krishna on to her lap and offered him her own breast – which was full of poison. He sucked on it so hard, that he drew all the life out of her, and she collapsed on to the ground, in her true, hideous form. 

When Krishna was five months old, a demon came in the form of a whirlwind, to sweep him out of Yasoda’s lap. But Krishna made himself so heavy, that the whirlwind could not move him, even when it became a cyclone. Eventually he did allow himself to be lifted into the sky, by only so that he could plummet down and smash the demon to death. 

As they grew up, Krishna and Balarama played together and got up to all sorts of mischief. They used to steal pots of butter and curd from the other cow-herds; but when accused by them of thieving, they always managed to wiggle out of the charge by telling plausible stories. 

One day, Krishna ate some clay while he was playing with Balarama in the yard of Nanda and Yasoda’s hours. Yasoda came to rebuke and beat him for doing something so dirty, but he wiped his mouth and denied that he had eaten the clay. When she insisted on looking into his mouth to check, she saw the whole universe revealed there – the three worlds of heaven, earth and the underworld. 

Once Yasoda lost patience with Krishna and tied him by a rope to a large, heavy mortar, to stop him getting into mischief. Not only did Krishna prove strong enough to drag the mortar along by the rope; when it got stuck between two trees, he was able to uproot them too. 

The cow-herds were alarmed by this feat of superhuman strength, and took it to be a bad omen. They decided that the whole community should move with their herds to Vrindavan, the beautiful region on the banks of the Yamuna river that became forever associated with Krishna and his later amours 

Here Krishna performed several famous feats and miracles. On one occasion a dragon named Aghasur was sent by Kamasa, and when it lay with its mouth open the herd-boys thought the mouth was a mountain cave. They peered into it, and the dragon sucked them in by taking a deep breath. Krishna jumped in after them, and the dragon shut its jaws and swallowed them all. But by making himself bigger and bigger, Krishna made Aghasur’s stomach bursts, and the herd-boys escaped. 

He achieved a similar victory over an enormous, ten-headed water snake called Kaliya, who lived in the Yamuna and poisoned its waters for miles around. When Krishna jumped into the river to fetch a ball, the snake sieved him, and encircled him with its coils. But Krishna made himself big again, so that the snake could not hold him, and he made emerged from the water triumphantly dancing on its ten heads. Kaliya started to die, for Krishna’s feet had the weight of the whole universe; but the wives of Kaliya pleaded with Krishna, arguing that their venomous husband was only being true to his nature. Krishna pardoned Kalieya, and the snake became his devotee. 

Balarama too was once seized and almost killed by a powerful demon; but Krishna, by exhorting Balarama to remember his own divine origins, managed to encourage him to find him himself the strength to kill the demon. 

The image of Krishna’s youthful strength that has proved most inspiring and memorable of all was his lifting – on the little finger of his left hand – of the Gobardhan mountain. This happened because of a dispute with Indra. The cow-herds were accustomed to worship and make offerings to Indra, but Krishna persuaded them to desist from this practice and instead make the hills and the streams and the cattle that they tended the objects of their worship. He pointed at the Gobardhan mountain, and urged that a puja should be performed in its honor. The cow-herds agreed, but Indra was angry, and rained down such a deluged that the whole earth was flooded. After seven days and nights of continuous rain, Krishna raised the whole mountain, and held it up as an umbrella under which the cow-herds with their families, wagons and cattle could shelter. This was when the cow-herds finally recognized that Krishna was himself a god, and began to worship him. Indra too was impressed, and came down on his flying elephant Airavata to fall at the feet of Krishna and acknowledge him as ‘Indra of the cows’. He blessed him with holy water, and the cows gave form such a flow of milk that it formed a river right round the world. 

Krishna eventually defeated and overthrew Kamsa at a wrestling contest that the evil ruler had announced in the city of Mathura. Hearing that Balarama and Krishna were on their way to the city, Kamsa sent a wild elephant to try to intercept them; but Krishna caught the animal by its tail, and Balarama held it by its trunk, and they swung it round and round till its brains were dashed out. When they arrived at the wrestling match, the townspeople were alarmed to see such young men taking on Kamsa’s most powerful wrestling champions; but the two heroes killed one champion after another, till Kamsa was left defenseless. Krishna then rushed at him where he was seated on his thrown, seized him by the hair, hurled him to the ground, and stood on top of him. With the weight of the whole universe that was in Krishna when he needed it, the demon was crushed to death. 

The human father whom Kamsa had overthrown was restored to his kingdom, and the people of Mathura – and of the whole earth – were freed at last from the tyranny that had oppressed them for so long. Thus was the main purpose of Vishnu’s incarnation as Krishna fulfilled.  

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