Kamsa, the tyrant
The 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu was Krishna. Five thousand years ago, in a city called Mathura (in current-day Uttar Pradesh), there was a king called Ugrasen. He had two children, a boy named Kamsa and a girl called Devaki. Ugrasen was a benevolent king and his subjects were happy under him. Kamsa however was not like his father at all. He was a cruel tyrant and one day he decided to become the king by staging a coup and imprisoning his father in a dungeon. As he wanted to conquer the neighboring kingdom, ruled by the Yadava clan, he waged war against them. This caused great hardships to his people who longed to live in peace. His ministers advised him to get his sister married to Vasudeva, the Yadava prince. Thinking that this would help him to get control of the Yadava kingdom, he agreed readily.
It was a grand wedding and after the ceremony, Kamsa took the newly-weds to the palace in the royal chariot. But en route to the palace, a divine voice was heard saying, “Your days are numbered, Kamsa. The 8th son of Devaki and Vasudeva will put an end to your life and rescue Mathura from your tyranny.” This divine prophecy enraged Kamsa. He decided to kill Devaki immediately and took out his sword. But Vasudeva fell at his feet and implored him to spare Devaki. He also promised to hand over to Kamsa every child that would be born to him and Devaki, so that they would not survive to pose a threat to Kamsa’s life.
Kamsa was mollified by Vasudeva’s promise but he didn’t trust him to keep his word. Not wanting to take any chances, he threw Vasudeva and Devaki into a dungeon and instructed his guards to watch them closely. Each time they informed him about the birth of a child to the couple, he would visit the dungeon and snatch the baby and kill it by smashing its head against the dungeon walls. In this manner he killed seven of the children born to Devaki and Vasudeva. Finally, Devaki became pregnant with her eighth child. Thinking of its imminent fate, she felt very sad and fearful. Back in his palace, Kamsa felt nervous, wondering about the prophecy.
Krishna is born
The night Devaki gave birth to her 8th child was like no other. Strong winds, thunder, lightning and heavy rain lashed the city. The river Yamuna became flooded and overflowed its banks. Devaki’s son was born exactly at midnight. A bright light illuminated the dungeon and it woke up Vasudeva. Devaki was fast asleep and a newborn infant lay beside her. Suddenly, he heard a divine voice which told him to take the baby immediately to Gokul and leave him with his friend, Nand, of the Gopa tribe. It further told him that a daughter had been born to Nand and his wife, Yashodha. But they were not yet aware of it. Vasudeva was told to take their daughter and leave his son in her place. The voice assured him that Nand and Yashodha would think that a son had been born to them and would take good care of Vasudeva’s and Devaki’s son. After this, the bright light went out and the cell became dark again.
Vasudeva put his infant son in a basket. He was wondering how to escape from the dungeon when to his surprise, the iron door of the dungeon opened by itself. When he came out, he saw that all the guards were fast asleep, as if a spell had been cast upon them. Leaving the prison, he reached the Yamuna river only to find that it was in spate. Having no other choice, he began to cross the river on foot. It was still raining heavily and he worried that the baby would get drenched as only a small piece of cloth covered it. Suddenly he saw a snake with many heads moving towards them. He felt frightened but the snake meant no harm. It covered Vasudeva and his son with its hood, thereby protecting them from the sheets of rain. The snake was none other than Sesh Nag or Adi Anant Nag on which Lord Vishnu rests. In fact, the snake also incarnated as Balarama, Lord Krishna’s elder brother. The day at which Lord Krishna was born is celebrated with great devotion in the August/September months as Krishna Jayanthi, Krishna Janmashtami or else Gokulashtami.
Vasudeva in Gokul
Vasudeva had a safe crossing and reached Gokul. When he went to his friend Nandraj’s house, he found the doors open and went inside. Nandraj and Yashoda were fast asleep and their newborn baby daughter lay near them. Vasudeva placed his son near Yashoda and put her daughter into his basket. Then he left quickly, without looking back even once as he felt torn about leaving his son behind. Once again, he crossed the Yamuna, with Shesh Nag protecting him from the storm.
When he returned to the dungeon he saw that the guards were still asleep. He placed the baby near Devaki and she began to cry loudly. Devaki woke up and thought that it was her own child though she was surprised to find that it was not a son as had been prophesied. Thinking of the fate that awaited her child, she became very sad. Meanwhile, the guards woke up and informed Kamsa about the baby’s birth. They also told him that it was a girl and not a boy.
Kamsa gets a shock
Kamsa rushed to the dungeon. He was also surprised that the baby was a girl but decided not to take any chances. Boy or girl, he was determined to kill it, especially as it was the 8th child of Devaki and Vasudeva. Devaki begged her brother not to kill the baby as it was not a son. But Kamsa paid her no heed and snatched the child from her arms. He dashed the baby against the walls but she slipped from his hands and turned into a goddess with eight hands. It was actually Goddess Yogmaya. Kamsa was filled with fear on seeing the Goddess. Once again, a bright light filled the prison. Then the goddess said in a fearsome voice, “Kamsa, the one who will slay you has already been born. One day he will return to punish you for your evil deeds. From now on, peace will elude you, as you will live each day thinking about your end that is inevitable.” Kamsa however felt that he had escaped the dire fate that had been prophesied and relented enough to release Devaki and Vasudeva from prison. He gave them a separate palace to live and continued his tyrannical reign. Meanwhile, Vasudeva told Devaki what had actually happened on the night of their son’s birth. Though Devaki felt sad about being separated from her son, she also felt relieved that he was alive and well in Gokul.
In Gokul, Nand and Yashodha celebrated the birth of their son, whom they named Krishna. He was an adorable child and everyone who met him could not help falling in love with him. Though Kamsa tried to trace his whereabouts and sent many demons to kill him, none of them could harm him. Krishna would go on to fulfill the prophecy and kill his uncle, the evil king, Kamsa, when he became a young man.