Viṣṇu Purāṇa | Book 5 - Chapter 7

Chapter VII

Kṛṣṇa combats the serpent Kāliya: alarm of his parents and companions: he overcomes the serpent, and is propitiated by him: commands him to depart from the Yamunā river to the ocean.

ONE day Kṛṣṇa, unaccompanied by Rāma, went to Vrindāvana: he was attended by a troop of cowherds, and gaily decorated with wild flowers.

On his way he came to the Yamunā, which was flowing in sportive undulations, and sparkling with foam, as if with smiles, as the waves dashed against the borders:

Within its bed, however, was the fearful pool of the serpent Kāliya, boiling with the fires of poison; from the fumes of which, large trees upon the bank were blighted, and by whose waters, when raised by a gale into the air, birds were scorched.

Beholding this dreadful lake, which was like another mouth of death, Madhusūdana reflected that the wicked and poisonous Kāliya, who had been vanquished by himself (in the person of Garuḍa), and had been obliged to fly from the ocean (where he had inhabited the island Ramāṇaka), must be lurking at its bottom, and defiling the Yamunā, the consort of the sea, so that neither men nor cattle could slake their thirst by her waters.

Such being the case, he determined to dislodge the Nāga, and enable the dwellers of Vraja to frequent the vicinage without fear; for it was the especial purpose he considered of his descent upon earth to reduce to subjection all such violators of law.

"Here," thought he, "is a Kadamba tree, which is sufficiently near; I can climb up it, and thence leap into the serpent's pool." Having thus resolved, he bound his clothes tightly around him, and jumped boldly into the lake of the serpent-king.

The waters, agitated by his plunge amidst them, were scattered to a considerable distance from the bank, and the spray falling upon the trees, they were immediately set on fire by the heat of the poisonous vapour combined with the water; and the whole horizon was in a blaze.

Kṛṣṇa, having dived into the pool, struck his arms in defiance, and the snake-king, hearing the sound, quickly came forth: his eyes were coppery red, and his hoods were flaming with deadly venom:

he was attended by many other powerful and poisonous snakes, feeders upon air, and by hundreds of serpent-nymphs, decorated with rich jewels, whose earrings glittered with trembling radiance as the wearers moved along:

Coiling themselves around Kṛṣṇa, they all bit him with teeth from which fiery poison was emitted.

Kṛṣṇa's companions, beholding him in the lake, encompassed by the snakes, twining around him, ran off to Vraja, lamenting and bewailing aloud his fate:

"Kṛṣṇa," they called out, "has foolishly plunged into the serpent's pool, and is there bitten to death by the snake-king! Come and see."

The cowherds and their wives and Yaśodā, hearing this news, which was like a thunderbolt, ran immediately to the pool, frightened out of their senses, and crying: "Alas! alas! where is he?"

The Gopīs were slowed by Yaśodā, who in her agitation stumbled and slipped at every step; but Nanda and the cowherds and the invincible Rāma hastened to the banks of the Yamunā, eager to assist Kṛṣṇa.

There they beheld him apparently in the power of the serpent-king, encompassed by twining snakes, and making no effort to escape.

Nanda, as soon as he set his eyes upon his son, became senseless; and Yaśodā also, when she beheld him, lost all consciousness.

The Gopīs, overcome with sorrow, wept, and called affectionately, and with convulsive sobs, upon Keśava:

"Let us all," said they, "plunge with Yaśodā into the fearful pool of the serpent-king. We cannot return to Vraja; for what is day, without the sun? What night, without the moon? What is a herd of heifers, without its lord? What is Vraja, without Kṛṣṇa?

Deprived of him, we will go no more to Gokula. The forest will lose its delights; it will be like a lake without water. When this dark lotus leaf complexioned Hari is not present, there is no joy in the material dwelling. How strange is this!

And as for you, ye cowherds, how, poor beings, will you live amidst the pastures, when you no longer behold the brilliant lotus eyes of Hari?

Our hearts have been wiled away by the music of his voice. We will not go without Puṇḍarīkākṣa to the folds of Nanda. Even now, though held in the coils of the serpent-king, see, friends, how his face brightens with smiles as we gaze upon him."

When the mighty son of Rohiṇī, Balarāma, heard these exclamations of the Gopīs, and with disdainful glance beheld the cowherds overcome with terror, Nanda gazing fixedly upon the countenance of his son, and Yaśodā unconscious, he spoke to Kṛṣṇa in his own character:

"What is this, O god of gods? The quality of mortal is sufficiently assumed; dost thou not know thyself eternal? Thou art the centre of creation, as the nave is of the spokes of a wheel. A portion of thee have I also been born, as thy senior.

The gods, to partake of thy pastimes as man, have all descended under a like disguise; and the goddesses have come down to Gokula to join in thy sports. Thou, eternal, hast last of all appeared below.

Wherefore, Kṛṣṇa, dost thou disregard these divinities, who, as cowherds, are thy friends and kin? These sorrowing females, who also are thy relations?

Thou hast put on the character of man; thou hast exhibited the tricks of childhood: now let this fierce snake, though armed with poisonous fangs, be subdued (by thy celestial vigour)."

Thus reminded of his real character by Rāma, Kṛṣṇa smiled gently, and speedily extricated himself from the coils of the snakes.

Laying hold of the middle hood of their chief with both his hands, he bent it down, and set his foot upon the hitherto unbended head, and danced upon it in triumph.

Wherever the snake attempted to raise his head, it was again trodden down, and many bruises were inflicted on the hood by the pressure of the toes of Kṛṣṇa.

Trampled upon by the feet of Kṛṣṇa, as they changed position in the dance, the snake fainted, and vomited forth much blood.

Beholding the head and neck of their lord thus injured, and the blood flowing from his mouth, the females of the snake-king implored the clemency of Madhusūdana:

"Thou art recognised, O god of gods!" they exclaimed; "thou art the sovereign of all; thou art light supreme, inscrutable; thou art the mighty lord, the portion of that supreme light.

The gods themselves are unable worthily to praise thee, the lord self-existent: how then shall females proclaim thy nature? How shall we fully declare him of whom the egg of Brahmā, made up of earth, sky, water, fire, and air, is but a small portion of a part?

Holy sages have in vain sought to know thy eternal essence.

We bow to that form which is the most subtile of atoms, the largest of the large; to him whose birth is without a creator, whose end knows no destroyer, and who alone is the cause of duration.

There is no wrath in thee; for thine is the protection of the world; and hence this chastisement of Kāliya.

Yet hear us: Women are to be regarded with pity by the virtuous: animals are humanely treated even by fools. Let therefore the author of wisdom have compassion upon this poor creature.

Thyself, as an oviparous, hooded snake, art the upholder of the world. Oppressed by thee, he will speedily perish.

What is this feeble serpent, compared to thee in whom the universe reposes? Friendship and enmity are felt towards equals and superiors, not for those infinitely beneath us.

Then, sovereign of the world, have mercy upon us. This unfortunate snake is about to expire: give us, as a gift of charity, our husband."

When they had thus spoken, the Nāga himself, almost exanimate, repeated feebly their solicitations for mercy:

"Forgive me," the murmured, "O god of gods! How shall I address thee, who art possessed, through thine own strength and essence, of the eight great faculties, in energy unequalled?

Thou art the supreme, the progenitor of the supreme (Brahmā): thou art the supreme spirit, and from thee the supreme proceeds: thou art beyond all finite objects; how can I speak thy praise?

How can I declare his greatness, from whom come Brahmā, Rudra, Chandra, Indra, the Maruts, the Aśvīns, the Vāsus, and Ādityas;

of whom the whole world is an infinitely small portion, a portion destined to represent his essence; and whose nature, primitive or derived, Brahmā and the immortals do not comprehend?

How can I approach him, to whom the gods offer incense and flowers culled from the groves of Nandana; whose incarnate forms the king of the deities ever adores, unconscious of his real person;

whom the sages, that have withdrawn their senses from all external objects, worship in thought, and enshrining his image in the purposes of their hearts, present to it the flowers of sanctity?

I am quite unable, O god of gods, to worship or to hymn thee. Thy own clemency must alone influence thy mind to show me compassion: It is the nature of snakes to be savage, and I am born of their kind: hence this is my nature, not mine offence.

 The world is created, as it is destroyed, by thee; and the species, form, and nature of all things in the world are thy work:

Even such as thou hast created me in kind, in form, and in nature, such I am, and such are my actions: should I act differently, then indeed should I deserve thy punishment, for so thou hast declared. Yet that I have been punished by thee is indeed a blessing; for punishment from thee alone is a favour.

Behold I am now without strength, without poison; deprived of both by thee. Spare me my life; I ask no more. Command me what I shall do."

Being thus addressed by Kāliya, Kṛṣṇa replied:

"You must not tarry here, nor anywhere in the stream of the Yamunā; depart immediately, with your family and followers, to the sea; where Garuḍa, the foe of the serpent race, will not harm you, when he sees the impressions of my feet upon your brow."

So saying, Hari set the snake-king at liberty, who, bowing reverentially to his victor, departed to the ocean; abandoning, in the sight of all, the lake he had haunted, accompanied by all his females, children, and dependants.

When the snake was gone, the Gopas hailed Govinda, as one risen from the dead, and embraced him, and bathed his forehead with tears of joy:

others, contemplating the water of the river, now freed from peril, were filled with wonder, and sang the praise of Kṛṣṇa, who is unaffected by works.

Thus eminent by his glorious exploits, and eulogized by the Gopis and Gopas, Kṛṣṇa returned to Vraja.