There are three principal Gods in Hindu Mythology: Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the protector; and Mahesh, or Shiva, the Destroyer. Each of these Gods has their own incarnations and forms, but it is Vishnu who manifests himself the most. There are ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, each born in a different time with a different purpose. Born in the Treta Yug of Hindu Mythology, Lord Krishna is one of these incarnations. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna describes his purpose in his own words:
“Yada Yada hi dharmasya, glaanirbhavati bharatah, abhyuthaanam adharmasya, tadaatmaanam srijaamyaham.
Paritraanay saadhunaam, vinashaya cha dushkrataam, dharam sanstha panaarthaya,
Sambhavaami yuge yuge.”
Here, Krishna means to say that whenever Dharma (duty), justice and peace are disturbed, and injustice and discord are rife in this world; whenever the harmony and life of common people are disturbed by evil elements, I will appear to restore balance to the world, and reestablish peace and justice to all. I will come to destroy all evil.
Krishna’s purpose was predestined before he was even born. He was the son of Devaki, sister of the king of Mathura, Kans. After Devaki’s wedding to Vasudev, a saint prophesized to Kans that her eighth son would be his downfall, and would become the cause of his death. While Kans loved his sister, he loved his kingship even more. Therefore, he imprisoned Devaki and Vasudev in Mathura, and began his reign of terror over them.
His lust for the crown and kingdoms turned Kans into a shell of the man he had once been. As time passed, he grew increasingly paranoid, and started slaughtering anyone who would dare speak against him. He blasphemed and murdered, considering himself the God of all people under his reign. And when his sister gave birth to her children, he killed them all by throwing them against the wall of the very cell she and her husband were imprisoned in.
Time passed, and soon the hour came for Devaki to birth her eighth son. Having witnessed the deaths of all her children, she had turned into a woman scorned and suppressed. She knew that she would not be able to continue living if her eighth son fell prey to the hands of her evil brother. Thus, she prayed to God to save her child.
Her prayers were answered in the form of Lord Vishnu, who appeared to her, and said, “Worry not, Devaki. I have seen the pain that you have borne all this time, and I assure you, the time has come for your brother to pay for his sins. I will come to you as your eighth son. After my birth, tell your husband to take me to Gokul and hand me over Nand and his wife, Yashoda. Exchange me with their child, and you shall be blessed.”
That night, Devaki woke up to immense pain shooting from inside her, and she knew the time had come for her eighth son to come into the world. Terrified and anxious as she was, she brought the child forth, and implored her husband to follow God’s instructions. The only problem lay in the fact that both she and Vasudev were imprisoned in a cell guarded round the clock by Kans’ guards, thus making escape possible.
As if it were divine intervention, a spell cast over all of Mathura, and soon all guards, people, servants and even Kans himself found themselves in a deep slumber. The gates of the cell opened on their own, and a storm brewed in the night sky outside as Vasudev thanked God and set out with Krishna tucked in safely inside a straw basket.
He walked the distance to Gokul, all the while praying that the guards would not wake up, but he knew in his heart that fate was on his side. The sky above him roared and plundered the ground with heavy rain, but he protected his son and trudged on.
The last obstacle in his path was the river Yamuna, beyond which lay the land of Gokul. Vasudev was reluctant, but his faith in God was not. He chanted Vishnu’s name and stepped into the water, hoping to cross the river with the basket kept on his head.
Yamuna, however, had other plans. A goddess and devotee of Lord Vishnu herself, she didn’t want Krishna to leave without bestowing his blessings on her. Therefore, she rose up towards the basket in which the baby lay, hoping to touch his feet. As Vasudev struggled on, he found the water level increasing. At this rate, he knew he would soon drown. He walked faster, but the water showed no signs of receding.
Lying in his basket, Krishna knew of Yamuna’s yearning, and also of the fact that his father would drown if the water rose any more. Thus, to calm the excited river, he stuck his foot out of his make-shift bed, letting it dangle off the edge, just in reach of the water. An inch further, and the water was touching his feet, drenching it with cool and rain from above. And as if she had found her purpose in life, Yamuna calmed, and magically, her water level receded, until she parted entirely to make way for Vasudev to cross.
Then appeared the Shesh naag. In Hindu mythology, the shesh naag is a giant five headed serpent who serves as Vishnu’s seat and transport. In all of Vishnu’s depictions in Hindu scriptures, he is shown resting on the shesh naag with his wife Goddess Lakshmi by his side.
Even now, the shesh naag crawled behind Vasudev, protecting both the father and son from the rain. Krishna smiled at his devotee, and bid him goodbye as soon as Vasudev reached the shore.
In Gokul, Vasudev sought out Nand, and told him of his dilemma. He relayed the story of Krishna’s birth and purpose to his friend, and was ecstatic to find that Nand was willing to help him. Thus, in the dark of the night, Nand exchanged his daughter with Vasudev’s son to bring him up as his own.
Vasudev returned to the cell with Nand’s daughter, fearing for the child’s safety. Soon after he had entered, the spell over the city broke, and Kans arrived to kill Devaki’s last child. She implored him, yet again, to see reason. The baby was a girl, a mere female who couldn’t possibly beat someone as powerful as Kans. But he was not to listen to anyone except his greed. He picked the child up and started to throw it against the wall, but to his shock, the baby loosened itself from his grasp and transformed into Yogmata, a Hindu Goddess.
“Kans,” she said, “The time has come. All of your efforts have been futile, for the child you had meant to kill is now safely and soundly away from here. He will have a full life, and when he comes of age, he will come to end you. Start counting your days, for they are but few.”
Saying thus, she disappeared, leaving Kans more terrified than ever. He went to all lengths to ensure Krishna’s death, but fate’s path was set. Upon coming of age and learning of real lineage, Krishna returned to Mathura with his brother Balram and killed Kans, thus freeing his parents and the people of the region from his grasp.
Thus, every year, on the day of the birth of Krishna, the people of India celebrate Janmashtami, as a symbol of the victory of good over evil, which has been the essential force truth that has always been driving the world.