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Krishna was born at the stroke of midnight in His four-armed Vishnu form, dressed in silk and jewels, carrying the four weapons: the conch, disc, club and lotus. His parents prayed for Him to turn Himself into an ordinary baby so they could hide Him from Kamsa. The Lord advised Vasudeva to take him to Vrindavana and exchange him with a girl that had just been born there. Then He turned Himself into a baby. Magically, the guards in Kamsa's prison fell asleep, and all the iron shackles, chains and locks automatically opened. Without questioning this, Vasudeva took the child and departed for Vrindavana. Like the story of Moses, the story of Krishna also includes a parting of the waters, allowing Vasudeva to carry Krishna across the Jamuna River to Vrindavana. When Vasudeva reached the house of Nanda, all the cowherds were asleep. Thus he placed his own son on the bed of Yasoda, picked up her newborn girl and returned to the prison of Kamsa.
There was a chance Kamsa would spare the child because the omen said it would be the eighth son that would kill him. Devaki pleaded with him, but Kamsa pulled the baby girl from her arms and dashed her against a stone. The girl slipped from his hands and rose above his head as the eight-armed form of Goddess Durga (Mahamaya), dressed in fine garments and jewels. She said, "The enemy you contemplate is living somewhere else. You are a fool to hurt innocent children. Krishna will kill you." Kamsa became remorseful and begged Devaki and Vasudeva to forgive him for his sins. He released them from their shackles and fell down on their feet, crying tears of regret. The next day, however, Kamsa's ministers advised him to give up his sentimental attitude and take action to kill all newborn children in the region. They also advised him to disturb the demigods and saintly people.
There is a parallel to this story in the New Testament. When Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Herod killed all newborn children in the area, in what is known as the Massacre of the Innocents. Based on a dream, Joseph took the baby Jesus to Egypt, and returned only after Herod was dead. When Yasoda and Nanda found Krishna as their son, they performed all the religious ceremonies in secret, to avoid Kamsa's wrath. The family astrologer, Gargamuni, told the family, "Your son Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He will protect you from Kamsa's persecutions, and by His grace only, you will surpass all difficulties. Therefore raise Him carefully, because many demons will try to attack him." This warning proved true because throughout His childhood, Krishna fought Kamsa's demons, along with all the other demons and jealous and misguided demigods who approached Him. Kamsa enlisted a demon named Putana to kill newborn babies. The demon dressed as a beautiful woman and flew on her broom to Krishna's nursery, hoping to kill Him with the poison she had smeared on her nipples. Krishna's mother innocently let Putana pick the baby up and put it to her breast. Krishna closed His eyes and sucked out her life air, killing her, without taking her poison. When Putana's soul departed, her body returned to its real form: a gigantic witch that smashed trees as it fell, stretching twelve miles across the landscape. Putana's soul attained liberation due to the benevolent act of offering her breast milk to Krishna and the inhabitants of Vrindavana cremated the body.
After Krishna killed Putana, the elder gopis (women of the village) picked Him up and performed auspicious rites for His protection and purification. They bathed Him and chanted religious mantras to prevent further attacks. Srila Prabhuapda explains in Krishna Book: "The elderly gopis of Vrindavana were so absorbed in affection for Krishna that they wanted to save Him, although there was no need to, for He had already protected Himself. They could not understand that Krishna was the Supreme Personality of Godhead playing as a child." Krishna's parents treated children lovingly, celebrating their birthdays and other rites of passage. They acted in a kindly way to correct their children when they got into mischief, for example sometimes Krishna and Balarama would get into the cow shed, catch the tail of a calf and stand up. The calves would drag them around and they would be covered with mud. Rather than become angry, the mothers would call their friends to watch the fun. Mother Yasoda never hit Krishna, but once tied Him to a grinding mortar when He stole butter and fed it to the monkeys. The scriptures explain that as she tried to tie him, the rope was too short. She kept using a longer rope, but it always came up too short. Krishna tried to crawl and the mortar stuck between two Arjuna trees in the courtyard. The trees fell and two splendorous demigods emerged and offered prayers to Krishna. Narada Muni cursed had the souls to stand as trees for one hundred years and Krishna freed them. When the boys got a little older, they spent their days playing with the calves in a nearby field. Their mothers cooked the noon meal and called them from the fields, or they would pack lunches for them. Children were considered the wealth of the family and were protected from abuse. However, rather than the parents protecting Krishna, it is the child who protects the village and all the people in it.
One day the cowherd boys were playing their games, such as imitating peacocks and running after birds' shadows on the ground, when they came upon a mountain cave. This was actually a demon-brother of Putana's, who had expanded himself into an eight-mile long snake to kill the boys. The opening to the cave was his mouth. The boys felt a hot wind blowing that smelled like fish, or the serpent's intestines. The scriptures say that when the boys walked into the cave Krishna became momentarily aggrieved because He knew it was one of Kamsa's tricks. He considered for a moment, then decided to enter the cave Himself. Demons all over the world became joyful when Krishna went inside. The demigods, who had been hiding among the clouds to see what would happen, became distressed. For a time it seemed as if the snake-demon had killed Krishna, but when Krishna heard the demigods' pleas He grew larger and choked the demon to death. Aghasura's life air burst through a hole in his skull and waited there for Krishna to come out, then it merged into His body. Krishna showed His benevolent nature by rescuing His friends and giving liberation to Aghasura.
When Aghasura died, the demigods offered prayers, threw flowers, and beat drums. Hearing the commotion, Lord Brahma arrived on the scene. At that time Brahma kidnapped the children, an offense unbecoming of a demigod. Krishna was unhappy because due to Brahma's misdeed, because He would have to go back to the village alone. Instead, He decided to expand himself into substitute boys and calves that looked exactly like the originals, and he returned to the village with them. No one could tell the difference, but families showed increased spontaneous affection to their sons (who were actually expansions of God). Balarama, Krishna's brother, noticed the parents' behavior and asked Krishna what was going on. Krishna explained how Lord Brahma had kidnapped the real boys and calves. Brahma made a mistake in trying to test Krishna's power. Life went on like this for a year before Brahma returned. Brahma's time passes much more quickly, so it seemed to him only a moment. However, when he returned he was shocked to see the boys and calves playing with Krishna, as though nothing had happened. Krishna knew Brahma was perplexed so He transformed all the boys and calves into four-armed Vishnu forms. Brahma heard music and saw many Brahmas, Shivas, demigods and jivas (souls) singing God's names and dancing. Brahma's mind opened at first to the vision, but then he became bewildered, so Krishna ended the dazzling scene. When Brahma woke up, he realized that he was face to face with Krishna the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who was enacting His eternal pastimes as a cowherd boy in the spiritual land of Vrindavana. Brahma immediately got down from his swan-carrier and fell prostate at Krishna's feet to beg forgiveness. After offering glorious prayers and penance for his behavior, Brahma circumambulated Krishna three times and returned to his planet. Exactly one year before, Krishna had left his friends eating lunch on the bank of the Jamuna River. When he returned, they had just begun the meal, and thought Krishna had only been gone for a second. None of the boys realized that a whole year had gone by and that they had been kidnapped, asleep in a cave. When the children returned to their homes and told their parents about the aghasura demon, the demon's corpse had decomposed so the parents thought it was just a wild tale from the children's imagination.
Vishnu in his many forms is an icon of protection and Krishna was (among other things) an avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu. It is said that the residents of Vrindavana were sometimes aware of this and at times depended on Krishna to protect them. A good example was when Krishna lifted Govardhana Hill. Every year the residents of Vrindavana worshiped Lord Indra for supplying rain. One year when Krishna was a youth, He asked Nanda to worship Govardhana Hill instead of Indra. Krishna argued, "We do not derive any special benefit from Indra. Our specific relationship is with Govardhana Hill and Vrindavana forest. Let us have nothing to do with Indra." King Nanda finally agreed with Krishna and prepared to offer the sacrifice to Govardhana Hill. This made Lord Indra angry and jealous. Forgetting the divine position of Krishna, Indra reasoned, "These cowherd men in Vrindavana have neglected my authority on the advice of this talkative boy who is known as Krishna. He is nothing but a child, and by believing this child, they have enraged me." Indra then sent a storm to devastate Vrindavana. All the people and animals came to Krishna for shelter, and in a miraculous show of strength, Krishna lifted Govardhana Hill with one finger to make the mountain into a huge umbrella. Everyone crowded underneath it and remained safe until the rains stopped. Later, Lord Indra realized his mistake in attacking Krishna and apologized. This is an example of one of the demigods behaving like a demon. Krishna Book explains, "Indra became angry because he thought that he was all in all within this universe and that no one was as powerful as he."
Kamsa's demons harassed children throughout
the region for fifteen years. Magically, Krishna and Balarama killed them all
as part of their divine play, or lila. Thus, the inhabitants of Vrindavana were
thankful, remembering their guru's prediction about Krishna. After Krishna killed
the arista (bull) demon, the great sage Narada Muni went to Kamsa's palace and
told him that Krishna and Balarama were the seventh and eighth sons of Vasudeva.
Narada described the events that took place on the night of Krishna's birth
and confirmed that Kamsa would meet his death at Krishna's hands. On hearing
this news, Kamsa imprisoned Devaki and Vasudeva again and renewed his vow to
kill Krishna and Balarama. He called for the Keshi demon, and other great demons,
and just in case that didn't work, he planned to draw the boys into a wrestling
match with two of his strongest wrestlers. He sent his servant Akrura to bring
the boys back to Mathura. This would be Krishna and Balarama's transition into
adulthood, because they never again return to the lighthearted pastimes of their
youth, playing in the pastures or dancing with the young gopis. Kamsa was delirious
with fear waiting for Krishna to arrive, and unable to sleep through the night
because of bad dreams. He saw his headless body in a mirror, everything appeared
double, and he saw the covering of the sky as pierced. He saw holes in his shadow
and left no footprints when he walked. Krishna and Balarama entered the splendorous
city with their friends. By and by they came to the wrestling ring and accepted
the challenge to fight Kamsa's demons. After fighting for a few moments, Krishna
and Balarama easily killed their opponents. Everyone except Kamsa rejoiced at
the wonderful defeat. The evil king stopped the celebration and shouted: "Drive
the two wicked sons of Vasudeva out of the city! Confiscate the cowherds' property
and arrest that evil man Nanda! Kill that ill-motivated Vasudeva! Also kill
my father, Ugrasena, along with his followers, who have sided with our enemies."
Krishna jumped into the stands, seized Kamsa, knocked off his crown and dragged
him to the wrestling mat by his hair. There He easily killed Kamsa, striking
him with His fist. Kamsa's eight younger brothers attacked Krishna and Balarama,
but Balarama easily killed them with his club. Krishna and Balarama met their
parents, but Devaki and Vasudeva were struck with awe seeing the prophecy fulfilled,
and because of a feeling of reverence they were afraid to embrace their sons.
After that incident, Krishna and Balarama entered the gurukula and became princes
in the court of Yadu.
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