- Stories of Krishna
- Krishna is born
- Krishna’s father Vasudeva transports him to safety, from the wicked King Kamsa
- Sakatasura is conquered
- The release of Nalakubera and Manigreeva
- Krishna defeats Kaaliya the serpent
- Krishna lifts the Govardhana mountain
- Krishna slays Bakasura
- Killing the wild elephant Kuvalayapeeda
- Krishna destroying Kamsa
Krishna Janmashtami or Gokulashtami celebrates the birth of Lord Krishna. Today, we celebrated it at home with prayers and a pleasant Sunday together. I made a sweet dish with coconut and condensed milk from scratch. The main offerings for this festival are milk, curds, poha or flattened rice and butter – because these are Krishna’s favorites.
During my childhood, my Grandmother used to make at least 15 items – we were a large joint family and everyone enthusiastically enjoyed the eats. Since the puja and the festival were celebrated in the evening, everyone was home and eager! Ah, how lovely our house would smell!
Legend has it that Krishna visits our home at midnight to eat all the stuff we offer him. To guide him, little footsteps are drawn from our door to the altar. I remember we would try so hard to stay awake and manage to drop off just before midnight.
The next morning, we’d find a bit of butter around the mouth of the Krishna (thoughtfully applied by my Grandma) and feel so excited that he had indeed visited. We’d argue about not being woken up when he came, because obviously she had seen him…and she would say that she didn’t want to make a noise and scare him away. Ah, what fond memories!
These days, I restrict myself to just a couple of items and simply get a festival pack from the famous sweet shop near our place. Enough variety, eh? We used to make all this and more!
At our native place Varagur in Tanjavur district, Krishna Janmashtami is a major festival and marked by “Uriyadi” – a fun event celebrated for for ten days until the day after Janmashtami. A pot or Uri is tied at the top of a pole and those who participate in this festival must climb this pole blindfolded with a stick to help them figure out where the goodies are and strike it, so they can win it. Another event is the slippery post – where a post is covered in butter and the participant is expected to climb the pole successfully to win the goodies at the top, as water is flung on them to make it harder. Everyone in the area takes part in the festivities.
We have a few Krishna temples around our place where the festival is celebrated in a big way. Let me show you some photos of one of our favorite temples – the Venugopalaswamy temple. These pictures depict some of Krishna’s pastimes. When Vidur was around 11 years old, he wrote a series of 15 posts describing these.
Here are the pictures of the temple’s wall. I had posted photos of this temple here.
For perspective, this is the wall:
And here’s a close-up of each “tableau” on the wall.
Stories of Krishna
Krishna is born
About five thousand years ago, there lived a king named Ugrasena. He was the king of Mathura. His son, Kamsa, who was evil, usurped his kingdom and imprisoned his own father and declared himself the King of Mathura. On his orders, his soldiers killed innocent people. Mother Earth, who could no longer bear this, went to Lord Brahma in the form of a cow and complained, “I cannot bear the burden of a tyrant like Kamsa. He is a great enemy of justice, morality, and nobility.”
Brahma went to Vishnu and Vishnu assured them that he would reincarnate on earth and kill Kamsa.
Ugrasena’s brother Devaka had a daughter named Devaki. She was Kamsa’s cousin. He was fond of her. She was married to Vasudeva, the son of Yadava Surasena. Kamsa himself made all arrangements for the pompous wedding.
When Kamsa was sending them off, he heard a voice from the sky, “O, proud king, Kamsa, the eighth child of your cousin Devaki shall kill you.”
The words of the oracle angered Kamsa, who drew his sword and caught Devaki by her hair. Vasudeva begged him to spare Devaki, promising to give Kamsa all his children.
Kamsa imprisoned Vasudeva and Devaki in the palace dungeons. Here, Devaki gave birth to six sons. As soon as they were born, Kamsa killed them.
The seventh child, Balarama, was magically transferred to Vasudeva’s second wife Rohini’s womb in Gokul village.
The eighth child was yet to be born. He was to be the destroyer of Kansa. This time Kamsa made the patrolling very tight and often he himself inspected Devaki’s jail-like residence.
Kamsa was afraid of Devaki’s eighth son because the divine oracle had declared that he would kill him. At midnight, on a stormy night, on the eighth day of the lunar month of Shravana, Devaki gave birth to a child. Unlike other newborn babies, this child did not cry at the time of his birth.
The child had a dark complexion like a monsoon cloud but was handsome beyond compare. He looked like the God of love and beauty. That night, the prison guards fell into a deep sleep and the doors unlocked themselves.
Taking advantage of this opportunity, Vasudeva took the baby in a wicker basket and left the dungeon. He crossed the stormy Yamuna River and went to Gokul village. He exchanged his son with Nanda and Yashoda for their baby girl, and brought her back to the dungeon.
Krishna’s father Vasudeva transports him to safety, from the wicked King Kamsa
As soon as Vasudeva returned, the doors of the prison were locked again and the watchmen came awake. They realized that a baby girl was born.
Soon Kamsa rushed over, and snatched the girl from Devaki and dashed her against the prison wall with all his might, intending to put an end to her existence once and for all.
Instantly the girl flew away in the sky saying, “You evil one! I’m Mahamaya Yoga maya. Your destroyer is already born and is safe and sound!” Kamsa was now terrified to learn that his killer was still alive.
He ordered all his soldiers to kill each and every newborn baby. They did so, but when they went to the house of Nanda and Yashoda, they did not find the young boy.
Frightened, Kamsa sent for Putana, his demoness friend, and told her to kill all the babies born on the day when Devaki had given birth to her eighth child. Putana disguised herself as a beautiful woman, smeared poison on her breast and went around the town of Gokul to breastfeed babies born during that month.
The good people of Gokul did not suspect anything at first. But as time passed, they worried that babies whom Putana had been with were dead. They looked for her. In the meantime, Putana reached Nanda’s house and lovingly asked Krishna’s mother Yashoda permission to hold Krishna.Yashoda gave her the baby and went about her daily chores.
Suddenly there was a loud shriek. Everyone came running to the courtyard and found to their surprise the hideous dead body of Putana lying on the floor while Krishna was smiling and kicking. Krishna had scratched her breast to bleed and Putana died with her own poison. People now knew that Krishna was not an ordinary boy. Yashoda happily picked up Krishna, glad that he was safe.
Undeterred, Kamsa continued to send a stream of demons to nix Krishna, who turned the tables on them and each one attained “moksha”. The following depicts Krishna’s victories over various demons.
Sakatasura is conquered
Kamsa was shocked when he heard of Putana’s death. So he sent another demon named Sakatsura. Sakatasura assumed the form of a cart and went to Gokul. Meanwhile, in Gokul, Krishna’s first birthday was being celebrated. When the rituals were being performed, baby Krishna fell asleep. Yashoda lifted him and placed him under a cart, which was actually Sakatasura. After some time Krishna woke up and he was hungry. He kicked his legs up and down and suddenly, with one blow, he overturned Sakatasura! Hearing the noise, people rushed to the spot. They were mesmerized at the sight they saw. Once again, Krishna proved himself to be a divine child. Yashoda picked Krishna up quickly and placed him on her lap, fondly kissing him.
The release of Nalakubera and Manigreeva
Krishna was a leader among his age group of children in the neighborhood. He was extremely fond of curds and butter.
When the “Gopi” (wife of a cowherd), went to the river to fetch water, Krishna and his friends would go inside the house, find the earthen pot where the Gopi had put her milk and butter and with the help of his friends, bring the pot down.
They would eat the curds and butter and leave the pots. The Gopi complained to Yashoda about Krishna and his friends’ deeds. Krishna always used Yashoda’s lap to hide when the Gopi came to complain.
Yashoda wanted to teach Krishna a lesson. Wanting to keep Him under check, she tied a rope around His waist and anchored it to a heavy stone mortar. Feeling secure, Yashoda then went about her work. Krishna passed time watching the birds and the monkeys in the courtyard but got bored, He began to crawl on all fours, dragging the huge mortar effortlessly behind Him . In the courtyard, there were two tall trees growing close to each other. Krishna went right between them but the mortar got stuck.
When Krishna pulled forward, the trees snapped and fell to the ground. Instantly, they were both transformed into two beings. Falling at Krishna’s feet they said: “O Lord, we are Nalakubera and Manigreeva, the sons of Kubera, the deity of wealth. We became trees because of a curse. Thank you for redeeming us!” Thus saying, they vanished. The people of Gokul came running after hearing the commotion. They were totally relieved when they came to know that Krishna was safe and sound.
Krishna defeats Kaaliya the serpent
Krishna and his shepherd friends played on the banks of the river Yamuna. While they were playing with a ball, Krishna hit the ball and it fell into the deep waters of the Yamuna. He volunteered to retrieve the ball. However, Kaaliya, the cobra lived in the river rendering it poisonous.
Krishna’s friends tried to stop him but in vain. He climbed the Kadamba tree and jumped into the river. Kaaliya the cobra was resting at the bottom of the river with his queens fanning him. They were shocked to see Krishna there.
When they asked him what he was doing there, he told them that he had lost a bet and had come to take the cobra’s head and demanded that they wake him up.
Alarmed, the cobra king’s queens urged him to go away. If the cobra woke up, surely he would not let Krishna go alive.
Turning a deaf ear to them, Krishna refused to leave. The cobra king woke up and rushed towards Krishna. Krishna jumped on his hood and strangled him. Then he rose above the river’s waters, dancing on the cobra’s head. He agreed to release Kaaliya on the condition that he leave the river. The cobra agreed. The people of Gokul had gathered at the banks, worried about Krishna and were relieved to see him emerge victorious.
Krishna lifts the Govardhana mountain
During the rainy season, the people of Vraj prepared to celebrate a festival. Krishna argued with Nanda, his father, that the rain god brings monsoons, not Indra. And thus, it would be appropriate to honor Govardhana hill which brings rains.
When Lord Indra heard this, he got angry and brought down heavy rains on Vraj. Krishna led everyone to the cave in Govardhana hill. Then he lifted the entire hill with one finger and held it above his head, thus sheltering the people of Vraj under it.
Krishna slays Bakasura
Krishna and Balarama were playing on the banks of the Yamuna, when a demon of the name Vatsasura assumed the shape of a calf and came there, intending to kill the brothers. In the shape of a calf, the demon could mingle with other calves. Krishna, however, noticed this, and He immediately told Balarama. The brothers then followed him and sneaked up upon him.
Krishna caught hold of the demon-calf by the two hind legs and tail, swirled him around very forcibly, and threw him up into a tree. The demon died and fell to the ground. Krishna’s playmates congratulated Him.
The news that Vatsasura had died reached Kamsa and unnerved him. Then he asked Putana’s brother who was ten times more dangerous than his sister for his help. He had taken a vow to kill Krishna, who had killed his sister. Kamsa told him that Krishna was his enemy as he had killed Putana.
Putana’s brother promised Kamsa that he would bring back the boy’s dead body. He then transformed himself into a giant crane called Bakasura. He flew towards Vrindavana and waited on the banks of Yamuna.
Krishna was playing with his friends as usual under the trees. Some of them felt thirsty and went to the river to drink water. They saw the huge bird sitting there and told Krishna about it. Krishna at once became suspicious. He knew that an ordinary bird could not be that big.
They all then went to see the giant bird. It was a really huge bird, as tall as a tree and its long and sharp beak was a few meters long. Krishna asked his friends to hide behind the trees and then before the others could stop him, ran towards the bird. The bird suddenly it opened one eye and grabbed Krishna with its beak. But Krishna made his body so hot that the bird was forced to drop him. The bird then attacked Krishna again.
Krishna caught hold of the giant bird by its beak. The bird tried to flap its wings and break free. But Krishna held him in an iron grip. Bakasura had met his match. Krishna then forcibly opened and pulled apart Bakasura’s beak. He placed one foot on the lower beak and then tore him apart by the upper beak. Bakasura screamed in agony and fell, dead.
Killing the wild elephant Kuvalayapeeda
After many unsuccessful attempts Kamsa plans once again to kill Krishna and Balarama, this time by inviting them to a yajna at Mathura. Akroora is sent with the invitation as Kamsa planned to kill Krishna and Balrama at the entrance itself with the help of a trained killer elephant, Kuvalayapeeda. If this fails Chanura and Mushtika, two dangerous and well-trained wrestlers would take on Balarama and Krishna and finish them off. Kamsa gives the necessary instructions to the wrestlers.
Akroora who is Krishna’s devotee is thrilled to see him. However, the Gopikas are very sad to see Krishna leave, as he is off to see his uncle and foe, worrying that he is unlikely to return.
Kuvalayapeeda, the elephant is ready to attack Krishna as soon as he enters the arena of wrestlers. When the elephant rushes to him, Krishna twists the trunk. After the elephant falls down, he screws out the tusk of the elephant and crushes the elephant’s head. He also kills all the wrestlers of Kamsa.
Kamsa now orders his soldiers to kill Krishna and Balarama, but they also fail. Finally, Kamsa himself comes rushing to kill Krishna. Krishna jumps with all his might and throws Kamsa to the ground, killing him at last.
Krishna liberates the people of Mathura from the tyranny of Kamsa, and frees Ugrasena, father of Kamsa, and crown him king of Mathura once again. He also frees his parents Vasudeva and Devaki from the dungeons.
They then go to Nanda and Yashoda, Krishna’s foster parents.
Krishna destroying Kamsa
Nobody can say Krishna led a boring life! He may have been divine, but he’s reputed to have been amazingly naughty. There’s a belief that children below 5 are incarnations of Lord Krishna.
Let me share one of my favorite stanzas from the Bhagavad Gita which relates to the Karma Theory:
(Chapter 2, stanza 47)
Karmanyevaadhikaaraste maa phaleshu kadaachana;
Maa karmaphalahetur bhoor maa te sango’stwakarmani.
Thy right is to work only, but never with its fruits;
let not the fruits of actions be thy motive, nor let thy attachment be to inaction.
Which basically implies that we let go of outcomes and focus on our duty. Solid life lesson there, eh?
Happy Krishna Janmashtami to you!
I am linking up with Unknown Mami for Sundays In My City because I enjoy world travel. Click the pic below to see what the others are up to!