The Story of Krishna-Astami

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On the occasion of Janma-ashtami – variously known as Krishna-Ashtami or Gokul-Ashtami – Nilanjana retells the of the birth of Krishna. This sampurna avataar (complete incarnation) was born with all the glory associated with Narayana. A exclusive.   

After the death of all her seven children at the hands of her brother Kamsa, Devaki was glowing with her eighth child. The glow was rather unusual. The wise men knew that divinity was growing inside her.

Kamsa got the news that his sister was pregnant for the eighth time. The news of the glow reached him too. He was now sure that Narayana is going to be born this time.  Devaki had been pregnant before too but never had she emanated such a glow. Kamsa wondered if he should kill her right away. But then he slowly got hold of himself, spared his sister and decided to kill the child when he is born. He increased the number of guards and kept waiting for the child to be born.

However, Kamsa had no peace of mind. He was obsessed with the eighth child of his sister. While sitting on his , he would wait and check if a child was already seated there, for his mind would delude him. He saw the child on his bed, on his dining plate and everywhere around. The thought of the child made sleep flee from him. It is believed that when one thinks of the divine all the time, he is surely going to attain moksha (salvation/liberation). To the divine, it does not matter whether the remembrance is owing to love or hatred.  Continuously remembering is good enough.

The time for the birth of Krishna was drawing near. Nature was at her happiest best. The planets and stars were in positions that blessed the earth with peace and joy. The lakes were filled with flowers. The gentle breeze that kept blowing brought in scents of flowers. People were happy for no reason.

Finally, the night of Krishnaashtami, [the Ashtami (eight days of the waning moon) when Krishna was born] arrived.

It was a dark and stormy night. The storm whizzed around as if it had an agenda. Dark clouds brought rain to the parched earth. The storm and the rain did not disturb anybody since people went to sleep. Right at midnight, Devaki gave birth to her eighth child.

This sampurna avataar (complete incarnation) was born with all the glory associated with Narayana. He was dressed in yellow silk, with the jewel kaustubha, with the srivatsa mark on his chest holding the sankha (conch),  (discuss), gad(club) and padma (lotus). Devaki and Vasudev worshiped him as he spoke to Devaki, “In one of your previous births, you had meditated on me very intensely. When I appeared in front of you, instead of asking for knowledge of the self or liberation, you asked for me to be born as your son. You were so deluded by maya at that point of time that you chose the ‘unreality’ of the form over the ‘reality’ of the self. You wish is fulfilled now. After this birth, you will attain moksha.”

Narayana then asked Vasudev to take him to Gokula to the house of Nanda whose wife Yashoda had already given birth to another child. Vasudev had to swap the children and bring Nanda’s child back. As Devaki and Vasudev were listening to Narayana intently, he assumed the form of a new-born human child. Vasudev placed him in a small wicker basket and covered him with his upper cloth.

However, the iron gates of the prison-like palace of Mathura were locked and Kamsa’s guards were around. Besides, Devaki and Vasudev were chained, for Kamsa chose to keep his prisoners that way.

Instead of getting swayed by logical reasoning about the impossibility of the task assigned to him, Vasudev stood up to carry out the ’s command. The shackles unfastened, the locks unlocked and the door opened – all on their own – to allow Vasudev to walk out with the new-born boy in the wicker basket.

Raja Ravi Verma’s Birth of Krishna 1890

The guards were fast asleep. Vasudev walked out in the rain soaked night, on the empty streets towards river Yamuna. The flooded river gently parted way to allow him the passage to go to the other side. Without Vasudev’s knowing, Adisesha followed him and covered the little baby with his hood.

When Vasudev reached Gokula and entered Nanda’s house, the doors were open there too. He placed his son and picked up the girl that was born to Nanda’s wife, Yashoda. Since the whole of Gokula was asleep, nobody got to know of this child-swapping as Vasudev walked his way back to Mathura. He placed this girl next to Devaki. The doors had shut, locks fastened and the shackles were back on him – again all by themselves.

The cries of the newborn girl woke up the guards who lost no time to inform Kamsa about the arrival of the eighth child of Devaki. By now, Kamsa was suffering from a syndrome that we call insomnia. Sleep had abandoned him long back since his obsession with Narayana, who was to be born as the eighth child of Devaki, took over his mind. Kamsa rushed to the prison and snatched away the girl from Devaki.

Distraught, Devaki told him emotionally that a girl can barely harm him. When Kamsa would not listen to emotions, she reasoned that killing a woman is considered sinful in the ancient scriptures. But Kamsa would not listen to that too. He grabbed the girl from Devaki and holding the child with her tender legs, tried to dash her against a piece of stone.

The child flew from Kamsa’s grasp and assumed the form of Devi (the feminine aspect of the all pervading cosmic consciousness). This form of the Devi is often referred to as Vishnumaya. She was bedecked with flowers, jewels and several weapons that could destroy Kamsa that very moment. However, she played her role in the cosmic drama and merely warned him that the “enemy” Kamsa is looking for is not her, but is growing up somewhere else. She also cautioned him about his increasing sins by random acts of killing innocent people. As she disappeared, the world was engrossed in darkness.

The words of Vishnumaya had a strange effect on Kamsa. Suddenly he realized his mistake and was very ashamed to treat his sister and brother-in-law the way he did. He pleaded guilty for all his sins and asked for forgiveness. Devaki and Vasudev, out of their and magnanimity, forgave the king of Mathura.

Back in his palace, Kamsa began to re-think and decided to seek the counsel of his ministers and advisors…

Footnote: Srimad Bhagavatam is often called the Bhagavad Purana. Authored by Ved Vyasa, the stories are about the various avatars (incarnations) of Lord Vishnu, also known as Narayana.

©Nilanjana Dey

Photos from the Internet

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Nilanjana Dey

Nilanjana Dey

A story-teller at heart, Nilanjana Dey is on a journey to experiment with fiction and poetry. Her first novel, largely aimed towards children, is titled ‘The Adventures of Puti – The Cheese Trail’. Her poems have been published at various prestigious portals. An alumni of English Literature from Jadavpur University (Kolkata), she is a marketing and communication professional based in Mumbai. She volunteers with a Mumbai based NGO working with the marginalised sections of the society.
Nilanjana Dey