The Lord himself became incarnate in the eighth conception of Devaki. Yoganidra simultaneously entered the womb of Yasoda, the wife of Nanda, the gentle leader of the cowherd settlement at Gokula. A day after Devaki-now luminous from the lustre of the embryo she carried-gave birth to Krishna, Yasoda delivered a girl, who was none other than the goddess Yoganidra. Vasudeva picked up his infant son and carried him out of the prison, whose guards, under the mysterious influence of Yoganidra, had fallen into a deep sleep. It was raining, but Sesha spread his hoods over father and son to accord protection. The deep and turbulent Yamuna rose momentarily to be blessed by the feet of the child in Vasudeva’s hands, and then fell low, rising not above the knees of Vasudeva. Across the Yamuna Vasudeva reached Gokula, placed the infant Krishna next to Yasoda and carried her daughter safely back to Kamsa’s prison. Under the powerful influence of Yoganidra, neither Gokula, nor Yasoda, nor Nanda, nor Kamsa’s guards, knew of what had occurred.
On being informed that Devaki had given birth to her eighth child, Karnsa immediately went to the prison, and ignoring the piteous entreaties of Devaki, dashed the child against a stone. But no sooner had the child touched the stone than it rose into the sky and expanded into a gigantic figure, having eight arms, each wielding a formidable weapon. This terrific being laughed aloud, and said to Karnsa, ‘What avails it thee, Karnsa, to have buried me to the ground? He is born who shall kill thee, the mighty one amongst the gods, who was formerly thy destroyer. Now quickly secure him, and provide for thine own welfare.’ Thus having spoken, the goddess vanished before the eyes of Karnsa.
Karnsa, in much perturbation, went into conference with his advisers. As a protective measure, he ordered that a full search be made for all children less than a year old) and that they all be killed. Meanwhile, Gokula woke up, as if from a trance, to the joyous news that Yasoda had given birth to a son. Krishna, Lord of Lords, began his incarnate life in the humble abode of the cowherd chief Nanda, in the sylvan surroundings of Gokula.
The early years of Krishna’s life were spent in the pastoral setting of Gokula and nearby Vrindavan. The cattle herders’ commune provides the backdrop to Krishna’s childhood adventures, described in the early texts-the Harivarnsa, the Vishnu Purana and the Bhagavata Purana-which deal with his life. (The extracts from the Harivarnsa in this work have been taken from the lyrical translation by Francis G. Hutchinson, Young Krishna, those from the Vishnu Purana from the scholarly and pioneering translation by H.H. Wilson and those from the Bhagavata Purana unless otherwise indicated from the summarized but comprehensive rendering of its text by Kamala Subramanian, Srimad Bhagavatam.) The story of the child Krishna’s victory over theserpent Kaliya is a particularly popular one. No play or ballet on the life of Krishna is complete without the enactment of this dramatic feat. In the waters of the Yamuna, as it flowed along the shores of Vrindavan, there was, so the lore goes, one viciously noxious pool.
The Harivarnsa, in typical poetic hyperbole, describes the pool thus:
Even a God could scarcely have crossed it. This pool was as deep and blank as a motionless .sea. Its surface burned with the brilliance of a bushfire. Its stagnant depths were impenetrable) like the sky when thick with clouds. It was difficult to walk along its shore, which was pitted by large snake holes. The air above was empty of birds. Fumes rose from the water like smoke from a putrid fire.