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Krishna chastises the serpent, Kaliya.
Within the River Kalindi (Yamuna) was a lake, inhabited by the serpent, Kaliya, whose fiery poison constantly heated the water to a boil. (The acharyas explain that this lake was a little apart from the main current of the river.) Even the vapors created by the poison were so toxic that birds flying overhead would fall down dead. The wind blowing over this deadly lake carried droplets of poisoned water to the shore, and thus all of the vegetation and creatures there had died.
The Hari-vamsha further describes the Kaliya Lake as follows. The lake was quite wide, eight miles at some points, and even the demigods could not cross over it. The water was very deep, and like the depths of the ocean, it could not be agitated. The lake was difficult to approach, for the shores were full of holes in which serpents lived. All around the lake was a fog created from the fire of the serpent’s poison, and this fire would burn anything that fell into the water. For a distance of eight miles from the lake, the atmosphere was very unpleasant.
Sanatana Gosvami states that by utilizing the mystic power of jala-stambha (making solid objects out of water) Kaliya had built his own city within the lake.
Krishna knew that Kaliya had polluted the Yamuna by his powerful poison. Because He had descended from the spiritual world specifically to subdue the envious demons, Krishna climbed to the top of a tall kadamba tree, which was the only tree that had remained alive, because previously Garuda had placed nectar on it. Preparing Himself for battle, Krishna tightened His belt, tied back His hair, and slapped His arms like a wrestler.
When Krishna jumped into the lake, the serpents became extremely agitated and began breathing heavily, causing the water to become even more polluted. The force of the Lord’s jump caused the banks of the lake to overflow up to a distance of one hundred bows’ length.
Krishna then sported in Kaliya’s lake like a king of elephants, and while swimming about He created loud splashing sounds. Upon hearing these sounds, Kaliya understood that someone had trespassed in his lake. Being unable to tolerate this, he immediately appeared in a challenging mood.
Kaliya saw Krishna wearing yellow silk garments, and He appeared very delicate. He was beautifully smiling and His lotus feet resembled the whorl of a lotus flower. The Lord was playing fearlessly in the water.
Despite Krishna’s wonderful appearance, the envious Kaliya furiously bit Him on the chest, and then completely wrapped Him within His coils. When the cowherd boys saw Krishna entangled in this way, they became highly alarmed. They had dedicated everything to Krishna, and so when they saw Krishna in Kaliya’s clutches, their intelligence became deranged by grief, lamentation and fear, and thus they fell to the ground.
The cows, bulls and calves cried out piteously. Fixing their eyes upon Krishna, they stood completely motionless due to fear. Although ready to cry, they were too shocked to shed tears. In the Vrindavana area, three types of omens announcing immanent danger were manifest- those on the earth, those in the sky, and those in the bodies of the living beings. (Shridhara Svami says that the earth had tremors, meteors were falling in the sky, and in the bodies of creatures there was shivering, as well as quivering in the left eye and other parts.)
Seeing the inauspicious omens, Nanda Maharaja and the other cowherd men became anxious, for they knew that Krishna had gone to tend the cows that day without His elder brother, Balarama. Due to their unalloyed affection for Krishna, the cowherd men were unaware of His unparalleled prowess, and so they feared that the omens indicated that Krishna had been killed. Overwhelmed with grief, lamentation and fear, all the residents of Vrindavana, including the children, women and elderly persons, rushed out of the village with the intention of finding Krishna.
At this time, Balarama smiled and remained silent, because He understood the true position of His younger brother.
By following Krishna’s footprints, which were marked with a lotus flower, barleycorn, elephant goad, thunderbolt and flag, the residents of Vrindavana hurried to the banks of the Yamuna. It may be wondered how the footprints of Krishna could still be visible, since He had gone along with innumerable boys and cows. Sanatana Gosvami explains that the inhabitants of Vrindavana would carefully preserve His footprints as great treasures, and thus no creature in Vrindavana would ever walk on them.
As they approached the Kaliya Lake, the residents of Vrindavana could see Krishna in the distance, motionless within the coils of the black serpent. Then they saw that the cowherd boys had fallen unconscious upon the ground, while the animals stood on all sides, crying out. Seeing this, the Vrajavasis became anguished and confused.
When the young gopis, whose minds were always absorbed in Krishna, saw that He was within the grips of the serpent, they remembered His loving friendship, His smiling glances, and His talks with them. Burning with a terrible sorrow, they saw the entire universe as vacant.
Mother Yashoda wanted to enter the water, but she was forcibly restrained by the other elderly gopis. While crying profusely, these gopis stood still like corpses, taking turns in recounting Krishna’s pastimes to her.
Lord Balarama then saw that Nanda Maharaja and the other cowherd men were preparing to enter the Kaliya Lake. Knowing Krishna’s actual prowess, Balarama restrained them- some physically, some by His words, and some by the potency of His smiling glance.
Krishna remained in the coils of the serpent for about two hours, imitating the behavior of an ordinary human being. However, when He understood the acute distress of the inhabitants of Vrindavana, He broke free from the serpent’s bondage. Being tormented by Krishna’s expanding body, Kaliya was forced to let Him go.
In great anger, Kaliya raised his hoods, while remaining stationary. The serpent breathed heavily, poisonous fumes streamed from his nostrils, and his eyes blazed like fire. While staring at Krishna with a glance full of terrible, poisonous fire, Kaliya again and again licked his lips with his bifurcated tongues. But, Krishna playfully circled around Kaliya, as Garuda would play with a snake. In response, Kaliya also moved around, looking for an opportunity to bite the Lord.
Finally, Krishna’s endless circling exhausted Kaliya. Seizing the opportunity, Krishna quickly pushed down the serpent’s hoods with His hand and jumped up on them. As Lord Shri Krishna, the original master of all fine arts, began to dance on Kaliya’s hoods, His lotus feet became reddened by the numerous jewels that were on the serpent’s heads. When the residents of heaven- the Gandharvas, Siddhas, rishis, Charanas, and the wives of the demigods- saw the Lord’s wonderful demonstration of the art of dancing, they quickly came there. With great pleasure, they began to accompany the Lord’s dancing by playing drums and offering prayers and songs.
Kaliya had one hundred and one prominent heads, and as soon as one of them would not bow down, Krishna struck it forcefully with His lotus feet. As death approached, Kaliya began wheeling around in extreme pain, while vomiting poison from his mouths and nostrils, thus reducing his sinful situation. While exuding poisonous waste from his eyes, Kaliya would occasionally dare to raise one of his heads in anger. Krishna would then dance on that head to subdue it, and each time this happened, the demigods worshiped Him with showers of flowers.
Krishna’s powerful dancing broke all of Kaliya’s one thousand hoods. While profusely vomiting blood, the serpent finally recognized Krishna to be the eternal Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Narayana. Thus, within his mind, Kaliya began to take shelter of the Lord.
Kaliya’s wives were great devotees, and previously they had often advised Kaliya to surrender to Krishna. Now, finding himself to be on the verge of death, Kaliya remembered their good advice. Kaliya’s old archenemy was Garuda, the carrier of Vishnu. But now he realized that his opponent was thousands of times more powerful than Garuda, and thus could only be the Supreme Lord Himself.
When Kaliya’s wives saw how the serpent had become fatigued due to Krishna’s weight, and his umbrella-like hoods had been shattered by the Lord’s dancing, they felt very distressed. With their clothing, ornaments and hair scattered, they approached Krishna.
According to Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura, the wives of Kaliya had become disgusted with him because of his demoniac nature. Thus, they had been thinking, “If this atheist is killed, let it be. We will become widows and engage ourselves in worshiping the Supreme Lord.” But then, when they saw Kaliya’s facial expressions, they could understand that he had become remorseful. They then thought, “How fortunate we are! Our husband has become a Vaishnava, so now we must try to protect him.”
Placing their children in front, Kaliya’s wives bowed down before the Lord, falling down flat upon the bank of the Yamuna. They offered their prayers: “O Lord, Your punishment of this envious serpent is undoubtedly just, and indeed, it is Your mercy, because it is meant for his purification. Is it that Kaliya performed some great religious activity in his past life so that now You are pleased with him? Otherwise, how is it possible that someone in the body of a serpent, which is the reward of sinful life, could be touched by the dust of Your lotus feet? For this purpose, the goddess of fortune had performed austerities for hundreds of years, giving up all other desires.”
“We offer our obeisances unto You, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. You exist prior to this material creation, for You are its original cause. We offer our obeisances again and again. By going beyond the screen of material nature, one can approach You. By methodically studying the functioning of this material world, one must conclude that there is a Supreme Lord, and that He exhibits His illusory potency to bewilder those who do not surrender unto Him.”
“My Lord, all of the material bodies
throughout the universe- those that are peaceful in goodness- those that are
agitated in passion- and those that are foolish in ignorance- are all Your
creations. At least once a master should tolerate an offense committed by his
child or subject. O Supreme
Soul, You should therefore forgive our foolish husband, for He did not understand You as You are.”
“O Lord, please be merciful. It is proper for the saintly to feel compassion for women like us. This serpent is about to give up his life. Please give us back our husband, for he is our life and soul. Please tell us, Your maidservants, what we should do. Certainly there should be no fear for those who are ready to faithfully execute Your order.”
Being thus petitioned by the Naga-patnis, Krishna released Kaliya, who had fallen unconscious.
Kaliya soon regained his senses, and while breathing loudly and painfully, he very submissively addressed the Lord: “Our very birth as a snake has made us envious, ignorant and constantly angry. O my Lord, it is very difficult for persons to give up their conditioned nature, by which they identify with that which is unreal. O Lord, please arrange for us whatever You consider proper, whether it be mercy of punishment.”
Lord Krishna replied, “Serpent, you cannot remain here any longer. Go back to the ocean at once, accompanied by your wives, children, relatives and friends. Let this river be once again enjoyed by the human beings and cows.”
“If someone remembers My command to you, and narrates this pastime, both morning and evening, he will become freed from fear of you. If one bathes at this place, he will become free from all sinful reactions. Out of fear of Garuda, you left Ramanaka Island and came here to take shelter in this lake. But now that you are marked with My footprints, Garuda will no longer try to eat you.”
Kaliya joined his wives in worshiping Lord Krishna by offering him fine cloth, valuable ornaments, a large garland of lotus flowers, and various scents. After doing this, Kaliya felt satisfied at heart. Then, taking the Lord’s permission, Kaliya circumambulated Him and offered obeisances, and then departed for his island within the sea. As soon as Kaliya left, the Yamuna was restored to its original condition, free of all poison, by the mercy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Actually, Kaliya and Garuda are originally related as brothers. According to Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura, Kaliya had indicated to Krishna, “If You ever have to go to a distant place, You should also think of me as Your carrier. In the wink of an eye, I can travel hundreds of yojanas.” Thus the Puranas mention that sometimes, in the course of Krishna’s eternal cycle of pastimes, when Kansa orders Him to come to Mathura, the Lord goes there mounted upon Kaliya.