One day the earth took the form of a cow and, with tears of sorrow, told Brahma her tale of woe: ‘I am terribly oppressed by hundreds of tyrannical kings and their retinues of demon soldiers. I cannot bear it any more. Please do something.’
Brahma, hearing the sorrowful plea of the earth, went along with Parameshwara to the shore of the Milk Ocean where he repeated the Purushasukta with great attention in order to invoke Mahavishnu. Brahma then became immersed in deep meditation. At last he heard the voice of the Lord in his heart saying to him: ‘I am already aware of the misery of the earth. I shall soon descend on the earth and will be born in the house of Vasudeva. In the meantime, the devas and their wives will be born on earth with a part of their being. Anantadeva, with his thousand heads, will descend first. Even my power of maya will also descend to fulfil a certain purpose.’
Vasudeva was born in the royal family of the Yadus in Mathura. In time he married King Kamsa’s cousin Devaki. After the wedding, Kamsa himself drove the chariot of Devaki and Vasudeva, and was taking them back to Vasudeva’s home. Suddenly Kamsa heard a voice coming from the sky: ‘O Kamsa, you fool! You are taking Devaki in this chariot. But the eighth child of this very Devaki will kill you!’
At once the evil Kamsa grabbed Devaki by her hair and drew his sword, ready to put an end to her life. In order to save his young bride’s life, Vasudeva intervened, saying: ‘How can you think of killing your own cousin, and that too at the time of her marriage celebration? It is not Devaki who is going to kill you. If the words uttered by that heavenly voice are true, then your killer will be her eighth child. Why then commit the sin of killing an innocent woman? I give you my word that I myself will hand over to you all the children born to Devaki, and you do whatever you please with them.’
Kamsa was appeased by these words and let Devaki go. But the fear of death did not leave Kamsa. It is said that one must not let an enemy live. With that in mind, Kamsa threw Vasudeva and Devaki in prison. As each child was born to them, Kamsa killed it. Meanwhile Kamsa was becoming a brutal despot, terrorizing the people of Mathura. He even imprisoned his own father so he could take over the throne.
The time was approaching for the birth of Balarama, the seventh child of Devaki. Shri Bhagavan told Yogamaya: ‘O Devi, go to Devaki, take the unborn child from her womb, and place it in the womb of Rohini, who is staying in Braj, in Nanda’s camp. After that, I shall be born as Devaki’s son, and you shall be born as the daughter of Yashoda.’ Yogamaya did as the Lord wished, and soon Balarama was born to Rohini in Braj.
At long last the time came for Devaki’s eighth child to be born. It was night. Devaki and Vasudeva were in Kamsa’s prison. At a supremely auspicious moment, Bhagavan Shri Krishna was born. But what did the anxious parents see? Shri Vishnu himself was standing before them, illuminating the dark prison with his radiance, and holding in his four hands a conch, mace, chakra, and lotus. The parents dropped to their knees, overwhelmed, and hymns of praise rose to their lips. Shri Bhagavan was pleased and said: ‘I have been born to you twice before—first, as Prishnigarbha, when you were Prishni and the Prajapati Sutapa, and again as Vamana, when you were Aditi and the Prajapati Kashyapa. Think of me as the supreme Brahman, and also as your son, and you will rise to higher and higher stages of divine love and attain to my state.’ Then Vishnu took the form of a normal human baby.
Birth of Shri Krishna in jail
‘God has descended to earth as a human being, but he is a mere newborn babe. And when the terrible Kamsa learns that a child has been born, he will come to kill him!’—thinking thus, Vasudeva took the baby in his arms and decided to set out for Braj, where his friend Nanda lived. He knew that Nanda would give him protection and keep the baby safe from Kamsa’s wrath. Vasudeva was able to leave the prison without being detected because Yogamaya had put the guards to sleep and unlocked the doors.
As Vasudeva walked through the dark night with the baby in his arms, he came to the Yamuna River. The river was in full flood, and Vasudeva was afraid that he would not be able to cross it with the baby. But as soon as he reached the water’s edge, a miracle happened: the river parted, and Vasudeva was able to cross to the other side. He reached Nanda’s house and found that the door was open. He went in and saw that Yashoda had also given birth to a baby. Vasudeva placed his own baby beside Yashoda’s sleeping form and took the girl child in his arms.
Vasudeva returned to Kamsa’s prison, where he placed the girl child beside Devaki and took up his own child. The baby girl cried, waking up the guards who informed Kamsa that a child had been born. Kamsa rushed to the prison and snatched the girl away from Devaki, but he was told by the goddess that his killer was elsewhere, and then she disappeared.
Shri Krishna grew up in Braj, where Nanda and Yashoda raised him as their own son. He performed many miracles and showed his divine nature to those who had eyes to see. Finally, when he was grown, he returned to Mathura to confront Kamsa and put an end to his tyranny. Shri Krishna killed Kamsa and freed the people of Mathura from his oppression.