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The killing of Dhenuka, the ass demon.
When Krishna and Balarama reached the pauganda age (six to ten years), the cowherd men allowed Them to begin tending the cows. Accompanied by Lord Baladeva and surrounded by the cowherd boys, while keeping the cows in front, Krishna would enter the Vrindavana forest, playing upon His flute. Krishna enjoyed seeing the beauty of the forest, which was filled with flowers, and which resounded with the sounds of birds, bees and animals. The breeze carried the fragrance of hundred-petal lotuses from a lake whose clear water resembled the minds of great souls. In this way Krishna’s five senses received pleasure from the Vrindavana forest.
Krishna saw the tall trees, with their reddish buds and heavy burdens of fruit and flowers, bending down to touch His lotus feet with the tips of their branches. Thus He smiled gently and addressed His elder brother, in a light-hearted, joking mood: “Just see how the trees are bowing their heads at Your lotus feet. The trees are offering You their fruit and flowers in the hopes of eradicating the dark ignorance that has caused their low birth.”
The trees felt that due to their past offenses, they could not accompany Krishna in His wanderings. But in fact, they were great souls who could personally associate with Krishna. Krishna understood their mentality, and so while glancing at the trees, He praised them before Balarama.
Krishna continued, “These bees must be great sages, for they are following You and chanting Your glories. The peacocks dance before You out of joy, the doe are pleasing You with affectionate glances, and the cuckoos are honoring You with Vedic prayers. Indeed, the behavior of all the forest residents toward You just befits great souls that are receiving another great soul at home.”
“The earth has become most fortunate because You have traversed her surface with Your lotus feet; You have touched her trees with Your fingers; and You have graced her rivers, mountains, birds and animals with Your merciful glances. Above all, You have embraced the young cowherd women with Your two arms- a favor that is hankered after by Lakshmi herself.”
Sometimes, the honeybees in Vrindavana became so mad with ecstasy, due to drinking the nectar of flowers and associating with Krishna, that they would close their eyes and begin to sing. Lord Krishna, while walking along the forest path with His friends, would sometimes imitate this singing. Sometimes, Krishna would imitate the chattering of the parrots, sometimes He would call the cuckoo in a sweet voice, and sometimes He would imitate the cooing of the swans.
Sometimes, Krishna would joke with His friends by saying, “Just look. This peacock does not know how to dance properly,” and then He would vigorously imitate the peacock’s dancing, making His friends laugh. Sometimes, with a deep voice, Krishna would affectionately call the names of the animals that had wandered off from the herd, thus enchanting all of the cows and boys.
Sometimes, Krishna would imitate the songs of various birds, such as the chakoras, kraunchas, bharadvajas and peacocks, and sometimes he would run away with the smaller animals in mock fear of the roaring of lions and tigers.
When His elder brother, being tired from playing, would lie down with His head on the lap of a cowherd boy, Krishna would help Him relax by massaging His feet and offering other services, such as fanning Him and bringing Him water to drink.
Sometimes, as the cowherd boys danced, sang and moved about, playfully fighting with each other, Krishna and Balarama would glorify Their friends’ activities and laugh, while standing nearby, hand in hand. Sometimes, Krishna became tired from fighting and would lie down at the base of a tree, resting upon a bed made of soft twigs and buds, and using the lap of a cowherd friend as His pillow. At this time, some of the boys, who were all great souls, would massage His lotus feet, while others would expertly fan Him. Other boys would sing enchanting songs that were appropriate for the occasion, and their hearts would melt out of love for the Lord.
In this way, Krishna concealed His transcendental opulence and acted like the son of a cowherd. Yet, even while enjoying life as a village boy, Krishna would often exhibit feats that only God could perform.
One day, some of the cowherd boys (Shridama, who is Krishna and Balarama’s very close friend- along with Subala, Stokakrishna and others) lovingly said, “O mighty-armed Rama. O Krishna, destroyer of the miscreants. Not far from here, half way to Govardhana Hill, is a great forest named Talavana, where there are many palm trees. Much fruit has fallen from the trees, and is thus lying upon the ground, but it is being guarded by Dhenukasura. He is a most powerful demon and has assumed the form of an ass. He is surrounded by many friends of similar form.”
“Dhenukasura has eaten men alive, and so people and even animals are afraid to go there. Even the birds are afraid to fly there. The fruit smells very sweet, but no one has ever tasted one. Even now, the breeze is carrying the fragrance of the fruit and we can smell it.”
“O Krishna! Please get us some of the fruit, for we have become attracted by the aroma. Dear Balarama, we want to eat this fruit so much. It You think that it is a good idea, then let us go to the Talavana.”
The cowherd boys took it for granted that Krishna and Balarama could easily kill the demons. It’s not that the cowherd boys were greedy to eat fruit, they were engaged in joking pastimes with Krishna and Balarama.
Upon hearing the cowherd boys’ request, Krishna and Balarama laughed. Then, with a desire to please Their friends, They set off for Talavana, surrounded by the cowherd boys. Lord Balarama entered the Tala forest first, and with His arms He began to very forcibly shake the trees, causing the tala fruit to fall to the ground.
When he heard the sound of falling fruit, Dhenukasura came quickly, making the earth tremble. He rushed at Baladeva and kicked Him in the chest very forcibly with his hind legs, and then continued running about, braying loudly. Once again coming nearby, the ass-demon positioned himself in front of Baladeva with his back facing the Lord. Screaming loudly, Dhenuka attempted to kick Him once more, but Baladeva deftly caught him by the hooves. As Balarama whirled him around with one hand, Dhenukasura gave up his life. Baladeva then threw Dhenuka up into the top of a palm tree.
Lord Balarama had thrown the demon’s dead body into the tallest tree of the forest, causing it to shake. The tree broke under the demon’s weight, which then caused the next tree to shake and fall, so that, one after another, many trees fell as a chain reaction.
The other ass demons, Dhenukasura’s friends, became enraged upon witnessing the death of their leader, and so they all ran quickly to attack Krishna and Balarama. (They attacked Krishna first, perhaps because, after witnessing Balarama’s prowess, they thought it wise not to fight with Him. Or, perhaps, out of affection for His elder brother, Krishna placed Himself between Balarama and the ass-demons.)
As the demons attacked, Krishna and Balarama easily grabbed them by their hind legs and threw them into the tops of the palm trees. In this way, a beautiful scene was created as the earth became strewn with heaps of fruit, while the dead bodies of the demons stuck in the trees. Hearing about this wonderful feat, the demigods quickly assembled in the sky and showered flowers, along with their offerings of music and prayers of glorification.
Thereafter, people felt free to return to the Tala forest. Without fear, they ate the fruit, while the cows grazed freely upon the grass. (The acharyas explain that the fruit was eaten by the adi-vasis and not the cowherd boys, who considered them contaminated by the touch of the demons’ blood.)
Krishna then returned home to Vraja, along with Balarama. As they went along, the cowherd boys, who were Krishna’s faithful followers, chanted His glories. Lord Krishna’s hair, which was powdered with the dust raised by the cows, was decorated with a peacock feather and forest flowers. The Lord glanced charmingly and smiled beautifully, while His companions chanted His glories.
The gopis gathered to greet Krishna, being very eager to see Him. Superficially, the gopis were young married girls, and so would naturally be ashamed and fearful of casting loving glances at a handsome young boy like Krishna. But, because Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and all living beings are His servants, the gopis, who were the most pure-hearted of great souls, did not hesitate to come forward and satisfy their eyes by drinking the vision of beautiful Krishna. By doing so, the gopis mitigated the distress of separation that they had felt during the day.
Krishna accepted these glances; which were filled with bashfulness, laughter and submission; while entering the cowherd village. Mother Yashoda and Rohini welcomed their sons, ready to offer Them all the best things for Their satisfaction. As Their mothers bathed and massaged Them, Krishna and Balarama were relieved of the fatigue caused by walking from the fields. They were then dressed in attractive clothes and decorated with garlands and fragrances. After eating the meals that had been prepared by Their mothers, and after being pampered in various other ways, the two brothers lay down upon Their excellent beds and happily went to sleep.
One day, surrounded by His friends, Krishna went to the banks of the River Yamuna without Balarama. At that time, the cows and boys were felling very hot and thirsty, because of the summer sun. Thus, they all drank the water of the Yamuna, but it had become contaminated by poison.
As soon as the water entered their mouths, all of the cows and boys fell down unconscious, devoid of life. Upon seeing this, Krishna felt great compassion, and so He immediately brought them back to life by showering His nectar-like glance upon them. After standing up and coming out of the water, the boys stared at one another in great astonishment.