Mother Earth’s Lamentation
Just over 5,200 years ago, before the pharaohs ruled Egypt, the world was overrun by evil kings. Driven by greed, they plundered the earth of her riches and caused her great pain. Desperate for relief, Mother Earth took on the form of a helpless cow and went to Brahma, the chief engineer of the universe, to request his help.
“O Great Brahma!” she pleaded, “Save us! The human race has gotten out of hand. The kings have abandoned the path of dharma, and they no longer perform any sacrifices for spiritual elevation. Thus they are quickly traversing the path to hell. Please, you must do something!”
After hearing Mother Bhumi’s request, Brahma called the assembly of demigods. Accompanied by Shiva, Indra, and all the others, Brahma and Mother Bhumi approached the shore of the Milk Ocean. The demigods gazed in awe at the stunning beauty of that ocean. Frothy waves danced from the shoreline to the edge of the horizon. Then, with folded hands, they collectively prayed to the Supreme Being, Lord Vishnu, who watches over the entire universe.
From His dazzling white island, Lord Vishnu then spoke to Brahma within the core of his heart.
“I am aware of the distress on earth,” He said. “Instruct the demigods to descend to that planet and await my coming. I will appear in my original spiritual form in the family of the Yadus. Playing like an ordinary human being, I will deliver mankind and firmly re-establish the true purpose of religion.”
Thus pacified, the demigods returned to their own abodes to prepare themselves to execute the order of the Lord.
A short time after this, on the earth planet a grand festival was held to celebrate the marriage of Vasudeva and Devaki. Vasudeva was the illustrious son of the Yadu Emperor, Surasena, and Devaki the beautiful daughter of Ugrasena, who presided as King of the City of Mathura. After the ceremony, the bride and bridegroom left Mathura for their home in a regal procession. There were hundreds of elephants, horses, and decorated chariots, as well as two hundred beautifully ornamented bridesmaids. As they joined the parade, the pair of newlyweds were accompanied by resounding conches, bugles, drums, and other musical instruments. With great pride, Kamsa, the elder brother of Devaki, personally drove the newlyweds’ chariot. Tightly gripping the reins, he controlled the movement of the prancing horses with ease.
Suddenly a celestial voice pierced the sky. “Kamsa! You imbecile! Do you not know that you will die at the hands of this woman’s eighth child?” Stunned, Kamsa dropped the reins, his face pale with rage. He leaped onto the chariot and grabbed Devaki by the hair. In a single movement, he unsheathed his sword and raised it high into the air to behead his sister.
“Wait!” Vasudeva shouted. “My dear brother-in-law, you are the beloved son of your father, Ugrasena, and heir to the renowned Bhoja dynasty. How could you kill your sister on her wedding day?
“One who takes birth is sure to die. At the time of death, the eternal soul is transferred into another body made up of material elements. Whatever sinful actions you perform now will only cause you to suffer in your next life. Devaki deserves your love and protection. You are her brother. Please don’t kill her.”
Kamsa’s heart was very hard. In spite of Vasudeva’s good instruction, he was determined to kill his sister. Desperate to protect his wife at all costs, Vasudeva came up with a plan.
“Kamsa, do not be irrational. You have nothing to fear from Devaki. According to this prophecy, the cause of your death will be one of her sons. You have my word that I will deliver each of our children to you at the moment of birth. Then you can do what you wish with them.”
Finally pacified, Kamsa released his sister and descended from the chariot. Fearing for their future children, Vasudeva and Devaki embarked for their home.
One year later, Vasudeva and Devaki gave birth to a son. They named him Kirtiman. Vasudeva was a pure devotee of God and had complete faith in His divine plan. Still, it was very difficult for him to bring the newborn to Kamsa.
“My dear brother-in-law,” Kamsa said when he saw Vasudeva, “you kept your word! Please take this infant back home. I have nothing to fear from him. It is your eighth son who is destined to kill me.”
In his heart, Vasudeva could not rejoice. He knew that Kamsa had no self-control and could not be trusted. As he left Mathura, Vasudeva still feared for his son’s fate.
Meanwhile, the sage Narada arrived in Mathura to visit Kamsa. Narada knew that the eighth son of Vasudeva and Devaki would be Lord Krishna Himself. Wishing to hasten the Lord’s appearance, Narada told Kamsa not to be lenient with the Yadu family.
“Kamsa!” Narada said, “the demigods in heaven are descending to earth in the families of the Yadus and the Vrsnis. Lord Vishnu could come at any time. Be careful!”
By the time Narada left, beads of perspiration had soaked Kamsa’s turban. He began to contemplate how he would outwit death.
The next day, Kamsa had Vasudeva and Devaki imprisoned in Mathura, and he ruthlessly killed their infant son. Every year, when Devaki gave birth to another child, Kamsa killed it in the same way. Blinded by fear and impiety, he could only think of his impending death at the hands of Vishnu.
In His own abode far beyond the limits of the material universe, Lord Krishna felt compassion for His devotees on earth who were being tormented by Kamsa. Seeing that the scheduled time for His descent drew near, He ordered Yoga-maya, His spiritual potency, to manifest in Vraja in the womb of a cowherdess named Yashoda. “O Yoga-maya,” Lord Krishna said, “you and I shall descend to earth as brother and sister. The very moment you take birth from the womb of Yashoda, I will appear as the son of Devaki.”
On earth, Devaki felt as though she had fallen into a raging river of spiritual bliss. She knew the Lord had entered her womb. To others, Devaki had undergone a transformation. Her beauty surpassed that of the full moon. She shone with life and brilliance like that of the sun itself. When Kamsa saw his sister decorated in that spiritual aura, he thought, “surely Vishnu is now within her. I have never seen my sister so happy or pure. But how can I kill her now? If I kill a pregnant woman, my good reputation will vanish and after death I will be sent to suffer in hell.”
Kamsa chose to wait until the Lord was born before making his next move.
One day, while Vasudeva and Devaki anxiously awaited the Lord’s birth, dozens of sages and demigods, headed by Brahma and Shiva, secretly entered the prison cell to offer prayers to the Lord.
“O Krishna!” they prayed, “You are the Supreme Truth. You are the beginning, middle, and end of all existence. You inhabit the body of each individual soul as his eternal friend and guide. Although this material universe appears to contain unlimited variety, You alone are it’s sole origin and maintainer. Similarly, when this universe is destroyed, only You will remain. Persons deluded by this dream-like world can never understand You, but Your devotees see You as You are.
“Although you appear in innumerable forms in your various incarnations, you remain the same Supreme Lord, the complete embodiment of knowledge and bliss. All the great saints of the past have easily crossed over the trials and tribulations of this world by remembering you. Those who refuse to worship You remain forever impure. Whatever enlightenment they think they have attained is merely imagined. On the other hand, if Your sincere devotee should ever by accident encounter any impurity on the path of bhakti, You protect them.
“O Lord, when You manifest your different incarnations, You bring about the good fortune of the world by revealing the various paths of religious activity, such as observance of prescribed duties, yogic practice, austerity, and meditation. Those who invent their own path of religion are unable to know You, for You can only be realized through devotional service.
“Although You appear to take birth in this world like an ordinary human being, You do so only by Your own sweet will. When a living being takes shelter of You, he no longer fears the terrors of this world, culminating in death.
“O Mother Devaki, you are the most fortunate among women. The Supreme Personality of Godhead now resides in your womb. Give up your fear of Kamsa. Your transcendental son Krishna will protect us all.”
Concluding their prayers, the sages and demigods, headed by Brahma and Shiva, returned to their celestial abode.
When the time arrived for Lord Krishna to take birth, the entire earth planet, as well as the heavens above, quivered in a thrill of anticipation. In every direction there was a sense of joy and abundance. The stars and planets arranged themselves in auspicious alignment, and all species of life felt a deep and abiding peace in the cores of their hearts.
At midnight on the eighth day of the waning moon, Lord Krishna appeared from the womb in His four-armed form, dressed in yellow garments, his dark curly hair fully grown, and decorated in a shimmering helmet, belt, and other ornaments. Vasudeva and Devaki were amazed to see such a wonderful son before them. They knew Him to be the Supreme Lord Vishnu. Bowing down in awe and reverence, Vasudeva and Devaki began to pray.
“My Lord,” Vasudeva said, “now that You have appeared before me, by Your causeless mercy, I completely understand your transcendental position. You are the creator and maintainer of this universe. As the Supreme Controller, You are beyond the laws of nature that bind ordinary souls who falsely identify with the material body and mind. Now, just to protect and enlighten Your pure devotees, You have descended to this world in Your eternal spiritual form.”
Seeing that she had given birth to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Devaki was astonished.
“My dear Lord Krishna,” she said, “scriptures of the world describe You as the Greatest, shining like a white light beyond this manifest world. Others say that You are the indwelling Soul that accompanies every living being. In truth, You are all of these, and more, for You are the Supreme Person. O my Lord, please protect us from my terrible brother, Kamsa. Please conceal your four-armed form, or he will know for certain that You have come to kill him.”
Smiling, the Lord pacified Vasudeva and Devaki and praised them for their saintly qualities.
“I have manifested this four-armed form,” He said, “so you would recognize Me as your Lord. If I had appeared in My human-like form, you would not have believed that I, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, had actually taken birth as your son.”
Lord Krishna then transformed into a small infant, and the door to the prison cell opened. Inspired by the Lord from within his heart, Vasudeva picked up the transcendental child and walked out of the prison. The entire city of Mathura, including the prison guards, slept soundly under the influence of the Lord’s mystic potency.
Vasudeva briskly walked past the city walls. Brief flashes of lightning lit the night sky. The intermittent showers of rain did not touch either Vasudeva or the baby Krishna, for the Lord’s personal expansion, Ananta-sesha, had manifested His serpent hoods to keep them dry.
In the nearby village of Vrindavan, exactly at the same moment when Lord Krishna had appeared before Vasudeva and Devaki in His four-armed form, the Lord’s Yoga-maya potency took birth as the daughter of King Nanda and his wife, Yashoda.
As Vasudeva approached Vrindavan, he could see the black waters of the river Yamuna glisten in the moonlight. Fearing he might slip and loose the baby in the fast current, Vasudeva hesitated at the bank. Suddenly, the torrential waters parted to make a narrow path for Vasudeva and the infant Krishna to cross.
When Vasudeva arrived at the house of Nanda and Yashoda, everyone was fast asleep. Harly making a sound, Vasudeva exchanged his newborn boy for the swaddled baby sleeping at Yashoda’s bedside. As quickly as he had entered, Vasudeva again disappeared into the night.
Back in Mathura, Vasudeva quietly slipped into his prison cell and closed the door behind him. Devaki slept soundly, her face still flush and smiling slightly. Holding his friend Nanda’s infant daughter close to his chest, Vasudeva clasped his ankles in the thick iron shackles that he had worn before, and went to sleep.
The Bhagavad-gita is clear, and the Puranas affirm the Gita’s message — Krishna is the original form of the Godhead. For example, in the Gita, Krishna says:
ahaṁ sarvasya prabhavo mattaḥ sarvaṁ pravartate
iti matvā bhajante māṁ budhā bhāva-samanvitāḥ
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.”
In the Bhagavata Purana, Krishna is referred to as svayam bhagavan, or as God Himself. And in the Brahma-samhita, Krishna is addressed as the Supreme Controller and as the original cause of all things.
Often when we think of God, we think of who He is in relation to us and our world. However, the Vedas reveal that God has a life of His own in His spiritual abode known as Goloka Vrindavan. Krishna’s form as a dancing, flute-playing, cowherd boy is the true form of God because it reveals to the fullest extent the breadth and depth of God’s personal qualities, namely His beauty, charm, and loving playfulness.
Other forms of Krishna, such as Vishnu, Rama, Varaha, Kurma, etc. manifest certain qualities of Krishna for the purpose of performing a particular līlā or pastime.
Most well-known among these forms are the ten primary incarnations, or dashavataras:
- Krishna / Baladeva
Although Krishna Himself appears in this list, the Bhagavata Purana is clear that He alone is the source of all other manifestations of the Godhead:
ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam
indrāri-vyākulaṁ lokaṁ mṛḍayanti yuge yuge
“All of the above-mentioned incarnations are either plenary portions or portions of the plenary portions of the Lord, but Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the original Personality of Godhead. All of them appear on planets whenever there is a disturbance created by the atheists. The Lord incarnates to protect the theists.”