The story of Lord Kṛṣṇa’s birth is a story of divine grace intervening in the midst of intense suffering and darkness.
In a city called Mathurā, King Kaṃsa was escorting his sister Devakī and her new husband Vasudeva back to the palace after their wedding ceremony. As a king, he was a cruel and selfish tyrant, but genuinely loved his sister. There ceremony had gone beautifully, and both Devakī and Vasudeva were glowing and resplendent in their opulent wedding clothes.
As they passed through the city, there was a rumble in the sky, and a voice from the heavens spoke, “O Kaṃsa, the eighth child of Devakī will be the cause of your destruction”. Stunned and furious to hear this prophecy, he drew his sword and was about to kill his sister right there in her bridal dress when Vasudeva pleaded with him to spare her.
He reminded him that the threat was not her, but their eighth child, and that if only he would spare her life, they would hand over their children to Kaṃsa as soon as they were born.
Still fuming, he called his guards and ordered them to be chained and thrown into the darkest dungeon. They tried to beg him for mercy, but he simply looked the other way.
Poor Devakī and Vasudeva both entered the dungeon in shock and horror, and tried to adjust to their new life in captivity. Despite the struggles, they tried to take care of each other as best as they could. Eventually, she got pregnant, and as soon as the child was born, Kaṃsa showed up at their jail cell.
She pleaded with him for mercy and asked him not to hurt the baby, as it was still only the first one, but he was so paranoid that he grabbed the newborn and slammed its head against the stones, ending its short existence.
Sobbing and devastated, Devakī continued to endure her life in the dungeon. Each time she got pregnant and delivered a child – by herself, with no support or comfort besides her husband – the guards would inform Kaṃsa, would would snatch it and murder it in front of her eyes.
Years went on like this, and six children had been killed in this fashion. She was half-mad with grief and agony. And out in the city, Kaṃsa continued to torture and terrorize his subjects as well.
Before the 7th child was about to be born, Vasudeva’s first wife Rohiṇī was able to procure a visit to the jail. Using a special boon she had, she took the spirit of the baby from Devakī’s womb and put it in hers. Devaki then gave birth to a stillborn child, whereas the 7th child was born to Rohinī safely out in the world, and named Balarāma.
Once again, despite everything, Devakī managed to get pregnant once again. As soon as Kaṃsa heard the news, he ordered extra guards around the clock and was so fearful and obsessed that he himself use to storm down there to find out how things were unfolding.
Finally, the ninth month arrived. On the eighth day of the waxing fortnight in the month of Śrāvaṇa, a monsoon storms was raging outside. Thunder, lightning, wind, and rain creating a truly ominous atmosphere.
Inside the dungeon, Devakī’s labor pains had begun. She struggled to keep her voice down lest the guards inform Kamṣa, and kept praying to God with all her might.
With Vasudeva’s help, at the stroke of midnight, an absolutely beautiful, luminous dark blue-black infant was born, radiating light. He did not cry; in fact, a small smile played on his sweet lips. They named him Kṛṣṇa, the dark one.
After all these years of horror and agony, Devakī experienced a moment of peace, and a rising hope. And then, something even more miraculous happened – all the guards fell asleep. The doors to the cells opened, and their chains came off.
Vasudeva was struck with inspiration, and decided he would try to sneak the baby out to his friend Nanda in the nearby village of Gokul. He found a small straw basket and carefully put the baby inside and lifted him on his head.
He walked as fast as he could, despite the rain and the mud. When he reached the banks of the Yamunā river, it was flooding uncontrollably. Still, something kept him going.
He entered the water, lifting the baby high above his head. However, the waters kept rising, and rising, covering his face and going above his head. He thought he would drown. But the river merely wanted to touch Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s holy feet. After she had darśan, she immediately became calm and subsided.
And unbeknownst to Vasudeva, behind him the great serpent Śeṣanāga fanned his hood above the baby, sheltering him from the wind and rain.
Finally, they reached the village. He walked into his friend’s house, and explained the situation to Nanda. As another miracle, it had just so happened that Nanda’s wife Yaśodā had had a baby girl that night. Nanda suggested that they swap babies, as Kaṃsa surely would not kill a girl – no one could be that evil, could they?
Unsure but desperate, Vasudeva agreed. Yaśodā, exhausted and resting, had no idea of the swapped babies, and raised Kṛṣṇa believing him to be her own.
Vasudeva made his way back, and again, was protected the entire way. As soon as he entered his jail cell, the chains slipped back on, the doors slammed shut, and the guards woke up. Kaṃsa was sent for immediately.
In the early hours of the morning, the tyrant burst into the cell, demanding they hand over the infant. Again, Devakī and Vasudeva tried to shield her, crying out that the 8th child was a girl – and surely Kaṃsa could understand that he needn’t be afraid of a baby girl.
Blinded by his fear and pride, Kamṣa shoved them aside and grabbed the little baby. He was about to smash her head into the wall as he had all of the other infants. However, as soon as he touched her, she leapt up into the sky and revealed herself as a divine goddess, who had taken human birth solely for this moment.
Luminous and scintillating, she cried out in a triumphant voice, “O Kaṃsa, your destroyer has already been born. He lives!”
This ends the story of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s birth. Devakī and Vasudeva had to endure many more years in jail while baby Kṛṣṇa grew up in the village. Kaṃsa kept unsucessfully sending spies and demons to figure out who the eighth child was and kill him first. Eventually, Śrī Kṛṣṇa did return to Mathurā, vanquish his uncle, and liberate his parents.
Teacher: Shivani Hawkins