Prologue: Lord Krishna was the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. There was a time, when the burden of sins committed by the kings became unbearable for Mother Earth. She approached Lord Brahma, The Creator of the Universe, for help. Brahma in turn prayed to Lord Vishnu, The Supreme One, and requested his intervention. Lord Vishnu accepted Brahma’s prayers assuring that in his next birth as a mortal, he would take a human form and rid Earth of her tyrants.
Around 5000 years ago in modern day India, was the kingdom of Mathura (The city of Mathura still exists in the state of Uttar Pradesh and is one of the most famous destinations for pilgrims and tourists). Mathura was ruled by a benevolent king, Ugrasen (Hindi : उग्रसेन). Ugrasen had two children, Kamsa (Hindi : कंस) and Devaki (Hindi : देवकी).
Kamsa was an unjust and tyrannical ruler. He usurped the throne from his father, Ugrasen, captured him and put him in the dungeons. No one was happy under his rule. He would frequently wage wars on the neighboring kingdom ruled by Yadu clan (or Yadavas | यादव). His subjects wanted to lead a peaceful and simple life, similar to how they lived under King Ugrasen.
At the behest of his ministers, Kamsa agreed to marry his sister, Devaki, to the prince of Yadava clan – Vasudeva (Hindi : वसुदेव). He also thought that once the Yadava prince marries his sister, he would be the de-facto ruler of the Yadava kingdom as well. The wedding day arrived. The entire city of Mathura was decorated for the opulent wedding. The wedding ceremony was a grand affair.
After the wedding, Kamsa drove the newly-weds to their palace in the royal chariot. But before Kamsa could reach the palace, a divine voice was heard saying, “Kamsa, with the marriage of your sister to a Yadava prince, your days on earth are numbered. The eighth son of Devaki and Vasudeva shall end your tyrannical rule in Mathura and kill you”.
Kamsa was deeply shaken by this prophecy. In a fit of rage, he drew out his sword, and moved towards Devaki with an intention to kill her. He thought that with Devaki dead, a son could never be born to her. Hearing this, Vasudeva fell to his knees and begged mercy. He promised that he would personally hand over each child born to him and Devaki, to Kamsa. Kamsa could kill the baby and thus ensure that the prophecy never came true.
Kamsa’s rage began to wane away. But to ensure that Vasudeva kept his word, he imprisoned both Vasudeva and Devaki in the dungeons and ordered his men to keep a strict watch on them. Every time Devaki gave birth to a child, Kamsa’s men would inform him. He would then visit the dungeons and kill the child by smashing their heads against the prison walls.
By the end of eight years, Kamsa had already destroyed seven children born to Devaki and Vasudeva. In the ninth year, Devaki was expecting her eighth child. She knew the fate of the child and was extremely worried. She had seen her brother murder seven of her children. Sleep overtook her misery as she lay in her dungeon. Kamsa, too, felt uneasy as he feared that the prophecy might come true.
That night was like none other. Heavy rain and story winds threatened to destroy everything they touched. The holy river of Yamuna (Hindi : यमुना), which was always in a state of tranquility, assumed a monstrous form. It broke its embankments and swelled like an ocean.
Exactly at midnight, Devaki gave birth to her eighth son. As soon as the child was born, the prison cell was filled with a bright light. It was as if a thousand suns had descended, at once, into that dark and dingy cell. Vasudeva was awakened by this bright light. He saw that Devaki was in deep slumber and a little baby was lying besides her. Just then he hear a divine voice, “Vasudeva, get up. This is your new born son. Take him to your Gokul where your friend Nand, the head of the Gopa tribe lives, and leave him in his house. He will be safe in their house”.
The divine voice continued, “Yashoda has also given birth to a daughter tonight. Nand and Yashoda are unaware of the birth of their daughter. Leave your son in their house and bring their daughter back to this cell. They, along with the entire world, will think that this child is their own son. They will take care of your child as their own son”.
Saying this the bright light went out. The prison cell was dark once again. Vasudev cuddled the little boy. He kept the child in a basket and started thinking of ways to leave the prison without being noticed by anyone. As soon as the child was put in the basket, the iron door of his cell opened by itself. Vasudeva stepped out and was surprised to find that all the guards were sleeping, as if under a magic spell.
Vasudeva came out of the prison, unnoticed, carrying the basket on his head. He came to the banks of Yamuna and noticed that the river had swelled so much due to the heavy rain, it felt like an ocean. With no other means in sight, he started crossing the river on foot. He was worried that both he and his child would be swept away by the strong currents of the river. Before leaving his cell he had covered the basket with a piece of cloth to protect the child from rain. It seemed that a mere piece was cloth was no match to the torrential rain which showed no signs of ebbing.
Just then, Vasudeva noticed that a huge, multi-headed snake was moving towards them. Though terrified, Vasudeva did not stop. The snake covered Vasudeva and the child with its hood, effectively protecting them from the rain. This snake was Adi-Anant Shesha (Hindi : आदि-अनंत-शेष) or simply Shesha Nag. (Lord Vishnu rests on Adi-Anant-Shesha. Adi means beginning, Anant means never ending and Shesha means remainder. It is believed that Shesha was present before the Universe existed and will still be present when everything else will cease to exist. Adi-Shesha also took a human form along with Krishna. He was born as Balrama, Krishna’s elder brother).
Vasudeva crossed the river comfortably and reached Gokul. He went straight to his friend, Nandraj’s house. The doors lay open and Vasudeva entered the living chambers. He found Nandraj and his wife, Yashoda, in deep slumber. An infant was lying besides Yashoda, awake, as if waiting for him.
Vasudeva placed his little boy besides Yashoda, kissed him goodbye and picked the little girl. He kept her in the basket and without even looking back, left the place. Vasudeva felt as if he was leaving behind a part of his soul. Hurriedly, he traced his steps back to the prison. On his way back, Adi-Shesha again covered him and the little infant from incessant rain and thunder.
As soon as he placed the baby besides his wife, Devaki, in the prison cell, the infant gave a loud cry. Devaki got up from her sleep and picked the baby in her arms. She thought the little girl was her own child. She began to cry thinking about what her brother would do to the baby. The prison guards, too, were awake by now. They immediately informed Kamsa about the new born. They also informed that the new born was a girl and not a boy as was prophesied.
Kamsa hurried to the dungeons. He did not want to take any chances. The prophecy had clearly mentioned that the eighth born child of Devaki would be the reason for his death. He would eliminate the baby, whether a girl or boy.
On reaching the prison cell, Devaki pleaded, “O brother! Have mercy on this little child. She is a girl and not a boy. You have nothing to fear. The prophecy has been proven wrong. Spare her life. I beg you”.
Kamsa was unmoved. He snatched the baby from Devaki’s hands and threw her against the wall. But the baby did not strike the wall. Instead, she remained suspended in the air and then suddenly took the form of an eight-handed goddess. The eight handed goddess was none other than the Goddess Durga (Hindi : दुर्गा). She was riding a lion and held different weapons in her eight hands. Kamsa was terrified. On the other hand, Devaki and Vasudeva stood in front of the goddess, filled with reverence and obeisance. There was a bright halo behind her. That night, the prison cell was filled with bright light once more.
Durga roared, “Evil Kamsa, your slayer has already taken birth. He is alive and safe. One day, he will come back and punish you for your sins. This day forth, you will find no peace. You will keep thinking about your inevitable end. I can end your life this very moment but you must wait till the right time”.
Saying this the goddess disappeared. Kamsa was dumbstruck. He thought to himself, “Maybe my slayer got scared and decided not to take birth in my prison. So, the prophecy did not come true entirely”. He was convinced that had the child taken birth in his prison, he would have surely ended his life. He released Devaki and Vasudeva and gave them a separate palace to live. A few days later, Vasudeva told Devaki about the events which took place that night. Devaki, though saddened, was relieved by the thought that her son was safe, even if away from her.
Meanwhile, there were celebrations in Gokul. Everyone came to offer their blessings to the boy. Nand and Yashoda named the boy – Krishna. The boy had an unusual sparkle in his eyes. He never cried and kept smiling. Everyone felt an inner joy whenever they were in the company of Krishna.
Thus Krishna was born. But Krishna had an unusual childhood. He faced many dangers during his childhood days. Find out all about them in these stories from Krishna’s childhood.