Krishna was born in a tense historical period preceeding a devastating war. The warring factions built up so many weapons that the burden on the earth became unbearable. Finally the goddess of Earth took the form of a cow and prayed to Lord Brahma for relief. Lord Brahma called all the demigods to the shore of the Milk Ocean to hear Mother Earth and to worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Vishnu. Lord Brahma fell into trance reciting the Vedic hymns known as the Purusa-sukta and heard the voice of Lord Vishnu. Then he announced, "O demigods, hear from me the words of God. He is aware of the distress on Earth and wants you demigods to incarnate as sons and daughters in the Yadu dynasty. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, will personally appear as the son of Vasudeva. Therefore you will all have the benediction of joining the eternal pastimes of Lord Krishna."
Lord Brahma consoled the cow and sent her home, then returned to his planet, Brahmaloka. The demigods then began to take birth in the Yadu dynasty, awaiting the appearance of Lord Krishna. The members of the Yadu dynasty, headed by Vasudeva and Devaki, along with their friends, relatives and well- wishers were all demigods. The residents of Vrindavana, headed by King Nanda, Queen Yasoda and Queen Rohini, were also demigods.
King Kamsa was another relative in the family, however he was not a demigod. He usurped the throne of his father, Ugrasena, and put him in prison. When Devaki, a member of Ugrasena's family, married Vasudeva, she received a large dowry of elephants, horses, chariots and servants. After the wedding, Kamsa took the reins of the wedding chariot and started to escort the couple home. Along the way, a voice from the sky addressed him: "You foolish king, the eighth son of Devaki will kill you!"
Kamsa pulled Devaki down by her hair, drew his sword and prepared to kill her on the spot, but Vausdeva begged for his bride's life and promised to let him kill the eighth child, so that the oracle would not be fulfilled. Kamsa agreed to spare her life, but locked Vasudeva and Devaki in a stone prison. Thereafter, he mercilessly killed the first six sons of Devaki. Devaki's seventh son miscarried but mystically transferred to the womb of Queen Rohini in Vrindavana. This became Krishna's older brother, Balarama. Soon thereafter, Devaki became pregnant with her eighth child.
The Appearance of Krishna
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, 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." (p. 47)
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. Srila Prabhupada explains that "Krishna appreciated the hard labor of His mother, and being compassionate upon her, He agreed to be bound up by the ropes." (Krishna Book, p. 66)
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 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." (Krishna Book, p. 170)
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." (Krishna Book, p. 174) 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." (p. 180)
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.
In the time of Krishna, the blind King Dhritarastra headed the lunar dynasty in Hastinapur. His wife, Queen Gandhari, had one hundred sons called the Kauravas, the oldest of whom was Duryodhana. Also in the royal palace were Grandfather Bhisma, the king's uncle, and Queen Kunti and her five sons. Kunti's late husband, Pandu, was King Dhritarastra's brother, so the Kauravas were her nephews.
Krishna was also Kunti's nephew, because her brother, Vasudeva, was Krishna's father. She grew up away from her family, in the palace of Kuntibhoja, her cousin. When she was a child, Kunti had pleased the powerful sage Durvasa Muni, who gave her a mantra that would allow her to conceive five sons from the demigods. She tested the mantra and the Sun God gave her Karna, whom she secretly set afloat in a river. Karna grew up to become a great warrior for the Kauravas, and Kunti later revealed that she was his real mother.
When Kunti married Pandu she used the mantra to have three more sons: Yudhistira, Bhima and Arjuna. Pandu was cursed to die if he ever tried to have sex with his wives, so he was glad Kunti could obtain sons from the demigods. He asked her to give the last chance to his other wife Madri, who subsequently had twins, Nakula and Sahadev. These five children were the Pandava brothers.
Eventually, Pandu attempted to have sex with Madri and immediately died from the curse. Madri killed herself in the funeral pyre but Kunti lived on to care for the children. She and her sons moved into the palace of Dhritarastra, provoking scorn and jealousy among the hundred Kauravas. Her son Bhima caused problems with the other children, because he was a bully. In retaliation, the Kaurava brothers once tied him up and threw him in the ocean, but Bhima returned with added siddhis (yogic powers), annoying them all the more.
At this time Grandfather Bhisma enrolled the Pandava and Kaurava brothers in archery training under the renowned archer, Drona. At the end of their lessons, Arjuna ranked first place in Drona's tests, and this was another factor to incite jealousy in the Kauravas. As a final request to his students (guru-dakshine), Drona asked them to arrest a neighboring king, Drupada, and bring him there for justice. The Kauravas failed, but Arjuna succeeded, increasing the Pandava's status.
When their training as princes ended, Dhritarastra acknowledged Yudhistira, Kunti's oldest son, as the heir-apparent to the throne. Dhritarastra's move was an indirect insult to his oldest son, Duryodhana, whom he considered a buffoon. This angered the Kauravas and moved the family deeper into conflict that would eventually erupt in the devastating war, which was the basis of the most fundamental books of the Hindu religion: Mahabharata and Bhagavad-gita.
Feeling angry and jealous of the Pandavas, Duryodhana made a plan to kill them. On a family pilgrimage, he built a house of lac for them, and then his servants set it on fire. The Kauravas thought the Pandavas were dead, but they had escaped through an underground tunnel and lived anonymously in the forest for a time. Finally, they heard about and engagement contest (svayamvara) for the hand of the Princess of Panchali, Droupadi, and went there in disguise. The object of the svayamvara was that the contestants had to string a heavy bow and shoot five arrows into the eye of a fish that was dangling on a target in a courtyard. Many princes had gathered, including the Kauravas, but Arjuna won the competition and brought Droupadi back to the forest retreat with him. The other princes were unhappy at losing Droupadi, but Krishna reasoned with them in Arjuna's favor. When they arrived home with Droupadi, Arjuna told his mother that he had won a great prize that day. Without knowing what it was, Kunti instructed her sons to divide it equally among themselves, and thus they all shared Droupadi as their bride.
Everyone was joyful to find the Pandavas still alive, and married into a prominent ruling family, and so King Dhritarastra invited them to come back to Hastinapura and told his sons to give Yudhistira half the kingdom. Yudhistira built his palace and lived peacefully with his brothers, Droupadi and their other wives.
On the occasion of a solar eclipse, all the royal families traveled to Kurukshetra to observe religious rites. Kurukshetra would later become the battlefield for the Great War, but for now it was known only as a holy place of pilgrimage. In a previous millennium, Parasurama, an ancient incarnation of God, had killed thousands of evil military kings there, and their blood formed a river at that spot.
When the royal families met their relations in Kurukshetra, there were great exchanges of love. The Krishna Book describes, "Meeting after long separation, they were all jubilant; their hearts were throbbing, and their faces appeared like freshly bloomed lotus flowers. There were drops of tears falling from their eyes, the hair on their bodies stood on end, and because of their extreme ecstasy, they were temporarily speechless." (p. 86)
At this meeting, Vasudeva and Kunti, who were brother and sister, lamented their long separation. Kunti complained about all she had been through due to Duryodhana. Vasudeva reminded her that he loved her and would have been there to help, except that his life was also miserable due to Kamsa's persecutions.
Krishna and Balarama met the residents of Vrindavana and renewed their relationships with their foster parents, Nanda, Yasoda and Rohini, and the gopis, cowherd girls. The gopis were especially pleased to see Krishna again, since He had never fulfilled His promise to return to Vrindavana. While Krishna and Balarama met their childhood friends, Krishna's parents from Vrindavana met with Vasudeva and Devaki. Vasudeva finally disclosed to Nanda the events surrounding Krishna's birth, and they both felt grateful for their fate, having Krishna as their son. While Nanda and Yasoda sometimes thought of Krishna as their ordinary child, Vasudeva and Devaki had always remained conscious of Krishna's divinity.
Duryodhana remained angry at the Pandavas and wanted to drive them from the kingdom. He challenged Yudhistira to a game of dice, in which Yudhistira lost everything including his brothers, Droupadi and himself. The Kauravas brought Droupadi to the arena to strip off her sari and humiliate her, but she prayed to Krishna and He mystically supplied an unending length of cloth.
King Dhritarastra came on the scene and gave everything back to the Pandavas and sent them home. Soon after that, despite warnings and protests from all sides, Duryodhana convinced Yudhistira to play dice again, and Yudhistira lost again. Thus to satisfy the terms of the wager, Kunti, the Pandavas and Droupadi went to the forest for twelve years, and spent a additional year incognito.
The Pandavas migrated as far north as Badrikashram in the Himalayas for some years, then back to neighboring regions. Toward the end of their exile, the fighting between the Pandavas and Kauravas heated up again. Duryodhana and his men occasionally visited the Pandavas in the forest to pick fights. Another mortal enemy, Jayadrath, kidnapped Droupadi, but the Pandavas rescued her. After satisfying the conditions of the dice game by living in exile, the Pandavas returned to Hastinapura to reclaim their kingdom, but Duryodhana refused to give them even a pinpoint of land. The situation between the Kauravas and Pandavas grew extremely tense. Krishna tried to make peace between the parties, but a war was destined to take place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Krishna became Arjuna's chariot driver and spoke the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna when the armies drew up to begin fighting. After eighteen days, the war was over.
All the great heroes of the Kaurava dynasty, along with millions of soldiers, lay dead on the battlefield. Only the Pandavas and a small handful of others remained. Asvatthama, one of the remaining warriors, killed Draupadi's children in their sleep, hoping to end the royal lineage. Even though Prince Duryodhana wanted to find some last revenge, he was appalled by this atrocity and died of grief. The Pandavas arrested Asvatthama and brought him before Droupadi, but out of compassion she pleaded for his life. The shameless Asvatthama made one more attempt to kill the remaining heir, an unborn grandson in the womb of Uttara, Arjuna's wife. He hurled a brahmastra (nuclear) weapon at Uttara, and when she saw the missile coming toward her, she ran to Krishna for protection. Krishna, who was preparing to leave for His own kingdom, defeated the missile with his Sudarshan-chakra. The child Pariksit grew up to inherit the kingdom.
When Gandhari came to Kurukshetra and saw the corpses of her sons scattered on the battlefield, she blamed Krishna for everything. She cursed Him that in thirty-six years He would also lose everything and die, so that the women in His family would cry, just as she was crying. Then King Dhritarastra, Gandhari, Kunti and their gurus Vidura and Sanjaya left for the forest.
The Pandavas lived in grief due to separation from their relatives. After six years, Yudhistira saw his mother in a dream and they all went to the forest to see her. They took Vyasa, a sage and grandfather in the family, with them. Gandhari and Kunti told Vyasa they wanted to see their dead relatives. Vyasa advised them to dip into the Ganges, which they did, and when they came out they saw Karna, Duryodhana and all the others standing on the bank of the river. Even the blind king Dhritarastra saw the vision. After the Pandavas returned to Hastinapura, two days later a forest fire killed Dhritarastra, Kunti and Gandhari.
Yudhistira had become king after the Great War, but reigned for only a few years before the family crowned Pariksit, Arjuna's son, as king. The Pandavas and Droupadi left their material engagements to prepare for the end of life (maha-prasthana). They departed for the Himalayas mountains where heaven is, walking in a line with Yudhistira first, then the other brothers, Droupadi, and finally Yudhistira's dog. As they climbed the mountains, first Droupadi died, then each of the brothers died, until finally Yudhistira reached the gates of heaven, followed only by the dog. Lord Indra was there to meet him. When Yudhistira realized that his brothers and wife were dead, he didn't want to go into heaven alone, but Indra said the others were already there waiting for him, thus Yudhistira and the dog entered heaven with Lord Indra.
Along with the curse of Gandhari, another curse befell Krishna's dynasty that contributed to its annihilation. Once some of Krishna's sons were playing around and they dressed Samba as a pregnant woman, and brought him before some visiting sages Visvamitra, Kanva and Narada Muni. In jest they asked the sages to predict what kind of child Samba would give birth to. Insulted, the sages said he would give birth to an iron rod that would become the instrument to fulfill the prophecy of their dynasty's demise. Fearful and repentant, the boys asked Krishna what to do, but Krishna acknowledged the curse and said it was meant to be. When Samba delivered an iron rod the next day, the Yadavas (Krishna's sons) filed it into powder and threw it into the sea. Krishna enforced a prohibition on liquor in Dvaraka, hoping to avoid what was destined to come. Still evil omens began: rats multiplied and attacked humans in their sleep, sheep howled like jackals, asses were born from cows, and cats from mules. Krishna's Sudarshan-chakra weapon disappeared into the sky.
Eventually the powder from the iron rod washed up on the shore and grew into arrow-like grass. The Yadavas became drunk and used the rods to kill each other. Even Krishna beat people out of anger. In this fratricidal war all the descendents of Krishna killed each other. Krishna sent His messenger Daruka to Hastinapura to inform Arjuna of the demise of the Yadava race, then consoled the women in the palace. He told his wives that Arjuna would take care of them and left for the forest. Krishna's brother Balarama sat down under a tree and his life air came out of his mouth like a white serpent and entered the sea. Krishna roamed the forest for some time, then sat down to meditate. When a hunter named Jara came by, he mistook Krishna for a deer and shot an arrow into His foot. Krishna died at once and his spirit rose into heaven. Arjuna cremated Krishna and several of His principle queens died in the funeral pyre after Him. Arjuna left for Hastinapura with the remaining wives, but on the way, forest dwellers attacked and the women dove into the Satasvati River and died to escape.
Philosophers and scholars of the time knew that the death of Krishna marked the beginning of Kali-yuga, the present age of degradation. Thus, to preserve this heritage and the stories of Krishna for future generations, they held a convention in the Forest of Naimasharanya. The sages discussed all these stories and Vyasa, one of the sages present, later wrote everything down in what is now the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Kamsa, the child abuser who torments Devaki and Vasudev (Krishna's parents), was known as Devaki's brother, but that was just a simple way of describing the relationship. Actually, her grandfather, King Devaka, was the brother of Ugrasena. Ugrasena's wife had Kamsa because she was raped. Kamsa grew up in the court of Ugrasena, Devaki's great uncle, which makes Kamsa her second cousin once removed. Therefore, it was not exactly a case of a brother killing his sister's children, but more of an uncle from the extended family persecuting a young woman in the family. (This also happened in ISKCON, where Kamsas persecuted women throughout their extended family.)
Ultimately, Devaki's only surviving son, Krishna, killed Kamsa. Then Balarama killed all of Kamsa's brothers. There is a metaphor here for ISKCON - a strong clue about the fate of child abusers.
Another profound tale for abuse victims is the story of Aghasura, the snake demon*. Although the story is meant to be taken literally, like a dream, it also offers metaphors and is thus true on many levels. On one level the snake could represent sodomy. Krishna protected the boys by killing Aghasura, but like many victims, the boys were unable to tell their story to anyone. That was because right after Agahsura died, Lord Brahma kidnapped the cowherd boys (the boys remain unconscious in a cave for one year while Brahma turns his back for one second*). Thus the evidence of the snake's dead body decomposes while the boys were held in captivity. In ISKCON's case, certain leaders of the organization took part in the abuse and in the conspiracy of silence. People who were supposed to be in charge, instead looked the other way. Perpetrators threaten their victims to keep them from speaking out. These dynamics were seen in ISKCON as the young people began to realize what was done to them. This process began in 1990 and continued through the 90s.
The death of Putana (the demon who disguised herself as a nurse tried to poison baby Krishna*) reveals the proper way to expose child abusers. Putana's dead body changed back into an ugly witch and fell down dead across the Vrindavana landscape to the horizon. Everyone knew what had happened and they rushed to protect the child Krishna. Then they chopped up the witch's body and burned it. The ugly corpse is a metaphor for the perpetrator's crimes. When someone commits an act of violence against a child, whether emotional, physical or sexual, the way to topple that abuser is to expose them. Explain to the child that what the perpetrator did was wrong, then do everything possible to help the child heal. In the case of sexual abuse, explain to the child that sex is a confusing subject for people of all ages, especially inexperienced children. Briefly explain that adults who love each other give and receive pleasure through touching. Tell them that they will learn more about it when they're teenagers and invite them to ask any questions they may have. It's good to get professional counseling for child victims of abuse as soon as possible after the abuse incident. ISKCON could have had a favorable outcome for their children, if only ISKCON leaders had been willing to acknowledge the crimes sooner and do more to help the victims.
It could be that deep down inside, almost all loving parents see their own children as incarnations of demigods, great souls or angels. However, people in ISKCON take this as a religious fact founded in their own scriptures. The Krishna Book says that when Krishna was about to take birth, the demigods descend as relatives in the Yadu dynasty. Srila Prabhupada said that demigods would take birth in ISKCON, which became a popular thing to talk about, and the children heard it hundreds of times by the time they were teenagers. In fact, they still hear it quite often if they go around the temples.
Even to the present day, adults in ISKCON tell members of the second generation that they are demigods who have taken birth in ISKCON. Many of them met Srila Prabhupada and heard him speak and this must have had a tremendous impression on them, but if they were demigods, then how could their lives become so miserable, to the point that they were tortured and treated like prisoners of war?
The demigods of Greece and Rome, and even some Hindu demigods, are overly involved in fighting, victimizing each other or the human race. The story of Krishna's birth is a frightening tale of child abuse. Just imagine seeing Kamsa smash a baby against a rock and kill it. Imagine seeing a seven year old being slapped until his ears bleed. Stories serve up the logical consequences of human nature and their message is lovingly subtle. Perhaps that's why people love stories. Why would people love a story about a man who kills babies? The answer is that it's part of a mosaic that reaches from the top of the human experience to the bottom. There are light and dark tiles, all forming a cohesive picture. If we deny the black tiles, such as the abusers that walked among the eleven gurus, we deny the black tiles.
An empowering metaphor for the demigod children of ISKCON may be found in the story of the Pandavas, who were half human and half god. When the Pandavas came back from exile the last time, Duryodhana refused to give them even a pin prick of land. That enmity set off the Great War. ISKCON risks everything by treating the children as enemies or outsiders. According to the organization, they have done a lot to ease the situation. Hopefully someday they will truly respect their children and make amends.
It Was Their Karma: The Sad-gandarbas (the six unborn children)
Another telling detail to consider is that the first six sons of Devaki (killed by Kamsa), known as the Sad-gandarba, were also the first six sons of Hiranyakashipu (the older brothers of Prahlada in the gurukula). Here's how it happened: In the beginning of the universe Marici, one of the great sages, had several wives. One of his wives, Urna, had six sons. Due to an insult, their grandfather Lord Braham cursed them to take birth as the sons of Hiranyakashipu, then as the fated sons of Vasudev and Devaki. In that sense, one could argue that due to the curse of Lord Brahma, it was their karma to be demons, or to be killed by Kamsa. This could be the origin of the heartless statement often heard in ISKCON: "It was the kids' karma to be abused."
The purport of the story is that a mother's love is more powerful than the curse, or "karma." After Krishna and Balaram returned to Mathura, Devaki asked Krishna to find her dead sons so she could see them. Krishna and Balarama journeyed to the underworld and soon returned with six babies. Devaki held them on her lap and joyfully fed them and cared for them. By the strength of Devaki's love the babies became self-realized and spontaneously offered prayers and obeisances to Krishna, Balarama, Vasudeva and Devaki. Devaki's maternal love nullified the Brahma's curse and her six sons returned to their respective positions in the heavenly planets. Love can change abused children's karma, as Devaki proved. Instead of examining the entire story, ISKCON apologists simply took one concept, "it was their karma." This represents a twisting of the scriptures in order to deny and minimize the harm that ISKCON did.
The sad-gandarba are examples of victims who suffered because they had "bad karma." Outside of what is described in scripture, we cannot see people's karmic histories. There could have possibly been children who were cursed with bad karma, like the sad-gandarba. However, in most cases the kids were simply innocent victims. Only God can accurately sort out people's karma, so in Bhagavad-gita Krishna recommends that an advanced yogi try to regard everyone equally: "the honest well-wisher, friends and enemies, the envious, the pious, the sinner and those who are indifferent and impartial." When someone says, "It was their karma," they make a sweeping judgment. It shows a total disregard for the message of the scriptures.
Perpetrators could justify their behavior saying that Krishna was abused by Kamsa's demons, and He turned out fine; Prahlada was abused but yet he became a king. Rather than justify abuse, the stories explain that Krishna and Prahlada survived to become heroes despite their perpetrators' evil activities. Another demonic twisting of the scriptures would be to say that Mother Yasoda tied Krishna to the grinding mortar, so it was okay to tie kids up or put them in trash bins, bathrooms, closets or attics. Yet, that is basically what happened. Tying Krishna to the stone was the worst punishment Krishna ever received. Getting lost while collecting firewood was His worst experience in gurukula. Still, somehow men got away with much worse and everyone else looked the other way.
In Krishna's world, Nanda Maharaja, Krishna's father, listened to Krishna and took His ideas seriously. The story of Govardhan Hill is one example. A close look at the scriptures reveals that Krishna received constant tender loving care from His parents and extended family. The residents of Vrindavana in Krishna Book set the example for compassionate child rearing. The images of Krishna stealing butter, playing with the calves and lifting Govardhan Hill are powerful symbols of respect for innocent childhood and youth. These are universal symbols, so even someone who was never a member of ISKCON, a Hindu or a child of gurukula could experience these symbols in dreams, or become fascinated with reading the stories.