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When He understood that the water of the Yamunā was being polluted by the black serpent Kāliya, Lord Kṛṣṇa took action against him and made him leave the Yamunā and go elsewhere, and thus the water became purified.
When this story was being narrated by Śukadeva Gosvāmī, Mahārāja Parīkṣit became eager to hear more about Kṛṣṇa’s childhood pastimes. He inquired from Śukadeva Gosvāmī how Kṛṣṇa chastised Kāliya, who had been living in the water for many years. Actually, Mahārāja Parīkṣit was becoming more and more enthusiastic to hear the transcendental pastimes of Kṛṣṇa, and his inquiry was made with great interest.
Śukadeva Gosvāmī narrated the story as follows. Within the river Yamunā there was a great lake, and in that lake the black serpent Kāliya used to live. Because of his poison, the whole area was so contaminated that it emanated a poisonous vapor twenty-four hours a day. If a bird happened to even pass over the spot, it would immediately die and fall down into the water. Due to the poisonous effect of the Yamunā’s vapors, the trees and grass near the bank of the Yamunā had all dried up. Lord Kṛṣṇa saw the effect of the great serpent’s poison: the whole river that ran before Vṛndāvana was now deadly.
Kṛṣṇa, who advented Himself just to kill all undesirable elements in the world, immediately climbed up into a big kadamba tree on the bank of the Yamunā. The kadamba is a tree bearing round yellow flowers that is generally seen only in the Vṛndāvana area. After climbing to the top of the tree, He tightened His belt cloth and, slapping His arms just like a wrestler, jumped into the midst of the poisonous lake. The kadamba tree from which Kṛṣṇa jumped was the only tree there which was not dead. Some commentators say that due to being touched by the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, the tree immediately became alive. In some other Purāṇas it is stated that Garuḍa, the eternal carrier of Viṣṇu, knew that Kṛṣṇa would take this action in the future, and so he put some nectar on this tree to preserve it. When Lord Kṛṣṇa jumped into the water, the river overflooded its banks to a distance of one hundred yards, as if something very large had fallen into it. This exhibition of Kṛṣṇa’s strength is not at all uncommon, because He is the reservoir of all strength.
When Kṛṣṇa was swimming about just like a great strong elephant, He made a tumultuous sound, which the great black serpent Kāliya could hear. The tumult was intolerable for him, and he could understand that this was an attempt to attack his home. Therefore he immediately came before Kṛṣṇa. Kāliya saw that Kṛṣṇa was indeed worth seeing because His body was so beautiful and delicate; its color resembled that of a cloud, and His feet resembled lotus flowers. He was decorated with Śrīvatsa, jewels and yellow garments. He was smiling with a beautiful face and playing in the river Yamunā with great strength. But in spite of Kṛṣṇa’s beautiful features, Kāliya felt great anger within his heart, and thus he grabbed Kṛṣṇa with his mighty coils. Seeing the incredible way in which Kṛṣṇa was enveloped in the coils of the serpent, the affectionate cowherd boys and other inhabitants of Vṛndāvana immediately became stunned out of fear. They had dedicated everything to Kṛṣṇa: their lives, property, affection, activities—everything was for Kṛṣṇa—and when they saw Him in that condition, they became overwhelmed with fear and fell down on the ground. All the cows, bulls and small calves became overwhelmed with grief, and they began to look at Him with great anxiety. Out of fear they could only cry in agony and stand erect on the bank, unable to help their beloved Kṛṣṇa.
While this scene was taking place on the bank of the Yamunā, there were ill omens manifest. The earth trembled, meteors fell from the sky, and the left side of men’s bodies shivered. All these are indications of great immediate danger. Observing the inauspicious signs, the cowherd men, including Mahārāja Nanda, became very anxious out of fear. At the same time they were informed that Kṛṣṇa had gone to the pasturing ground without His elder brother, Balarāma. As soon as Nanda and Yaśodā and the cowherd men heard this news, they became even more anxious. Out of their great affection for Kṛṣṇa, and being unaware of the extent of His potencies, they became overwhelmed with grief and anxiety because they had nothing dearer than Kṛṣṇa and because they had dedicated their everything—life, property, affection, mind and activities—to Kṛṣṇa. Because of their great attachment for Kṛṣṇa, they thought, “Today Kṛṣṇa is surely going to be vanquished!”
All the inhabitants of Vṛndāvana came out of the village to see Kṛṣṇa. The assembly consisted of children, old men, women, animals and all living entities; they knew that Kṛṣṇa was their only means of sustenance. While this was happening, Balarāma, who is the master of all knowledge, stood there simply smiling. He knew how powerful His younger brother was and that there was no cause for anxiety when Kṛṣṇa was fighting with an ordinary serpent of the material world. He did not, therefore, personally take any part in their sorrow. On the other hand, all the inhabitants of Vṛndāvana, being disturbed, began to search out Kṛṣṇa by following the impression of His footprints on the ground, and thus they moved hastily toward the bank of the Yamunā. Finally, by following the footprints marked with flag, bow and conchshell, the inhabitants of Vṛndāvana arrived at the riverbank and saw that all the cows and boys were weeping to behold Kṛṣṇa enwrapped in the coils of the black serpent. Then they became still more overwhelmed with grief. While Balarāma was smiling to see their lamentation, all the inhabitants of Vrajabhūmi merged into the ocean of grief because they thought that Kṛṣṇa was finished. Although the residents of Vṛndāvana did not know much about Kṛṣṇa, their love for Him was beyond comparison. As soon as they saw that Kṛṣṇa was in the river Yamunā enveloped by the serpent Kāliya and that all the boys and cows were lamenting, they simply began to think of Kṛṣṇa’s friendship, His smiling face, His sweet words and His dealings with them. Thinking of all these and seeing that their Kṛṣṇa was now within the clutches of Kāliya, they at once felt that the three worlds had become vacant. Lord Caitanya also said that He was seeing the three worlds as vacant for want of Kṛṣṇa. This is the highest stage of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Almost all of the inhabitants of Vṛndāvana had the highest ecstatic love for Kṛṣṇa.
When mother Yaśodā arrived, she wanted to enter the river Yamunā, and being checked, she fainted. Her friends, who were equally aggrieved, were shedding tears like torrents of rain or waves of the river, but in order to bring mother Yaśodā to consciousness, they began to speak loudly about the transcendental pastimes of Kṛṣṇa. Mother Yaśodā remained still, as if dead, because her consciousness was concentrated on the face of Kṛṣṇa. Nanda and all the other cowherd men, who had dedicated everything, including their lives, to Kṛṣṇa, were ready to enter the waters of the Yamunā, but Lord Balarāma checked them because He was in perfect knowledge that there was no danger.
For two hours Kṛṣṇa remained like an ordinary child gripped in the coils of Kāliya, but when He saw that all the inhabitants of Gokula—including His mother and father, the gopīs, the boys and the cows—were just on the point of death and that they had no shelter for salvation from imminent death, Kṛṣṇa immediately freed Himself. He began to expand His body, and when the serpent tried to hold Him, he felt a great strain. On account of the strain, his coils slackened, and he had no alternative but to let loose the Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, from his grasp. Kāliya then became very angry, and his great hoods expanded. He exhaled poisonous fumes from his nostrils, his eyes blazed like fire, and flames issued from his mouth. The great serpent remained still for some time, looking at Kṛṣṇa. Licking his lips with bifurcated tongues, the serpent looked at Kṛṣṇa with double hoods, and his eyesight was full of poison. Kṛṣṇa immediately pounced upon him, just as Garuḍa swoops upon a snake. Thus attacked, Kāliya looked for an opportunity to bite Him, but Kṛṣṇa moved around him. As Kṛṣṇa and Kāliya moved in a circle, the serpent gradually became fatigued, and his strength seemed to diminish considerably. Kṛṣṇa immediately pressed down the serpent’s hoods and jumped up on them. The Lord’s lotus feet became tinged with red from the rays of the jewels on the snake’s hoods. Then He who is the original artist of all fine arts, such as dancing, began to dance upon the hoods of the serpent, although they were moving to and fro. Upon seeing this, the denizens of the upper planets showered flowers, beat drums, played different types of flutes and sang various prayers and songs. In this way, all the denizens of heaven, such as the Gandharvas, Siddhas and demigods, became very much pleased.
While Kṛṣṇa was dancing on his hoods, Kāliya tried to push Him down with some of his other hoods. Kāliya had about a hundred hoods, but Kṛṣṇa took control of them. He began to dash Kāliya with His lotus feet, and this was more than the serpent could bear. Gradually, Kāliya was reduced to struggling for his very life. He vomited all kinds of refuse and exhaled fire. While throwing up poisonous material from within, Kāliya became reduced in his sinful situation. Out of great anger, he began to struggle for existence and tried to raise one of his hoods to kill the Lord. The Lord immediately captured that hood and subdued it by kicking it and dancing on it. It actually appeared as if the Supreme Personality of Godhead Viṣṇu was being worshiped; the poisons emanating from the mouth of the serpent appeared to be like flower offerings. Kāliya then began to vomit blood instead of poison; he was completely fatigued. His whole body appeared to be broken by the kicks of the Lord. Within his mind, however, he finally began to understand that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and he surrendered unto Him. He realized that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Lord, the master of everything.
The wives of the serpent, known as the Nāgapatnīs, saw that their husband had been subdued by the Lord’s kicking and that he was almost at the point of death due to bearing the heavy burden of the Lord, within whose abdomen the whole universe remains. Kāliya’s wives prepared to worship the Lord, and in their haste their clothes, hair and ornaments became disarrayed. They also surrendered unto the Supreme Lord and began to pray. They appeared before Him, put forward their offspring and anxiously offered respectful obeisances, falling down on the bank of the Yamunā. The Nāgapatnīs knew that Kṛṣṇa is the shelter of all surrendered souls, and they desired to release their husband from the impending danger by pleasing the Lord with their prayers.
The Nāgapatnīs began to offer their prayers as follows: “O dear Lord, You are equal to everyone. For You there is no distinction between Your sons, friends or enemies. Therefore the punishment which You have so kindly offered to Kāliya is exactly befitting. O Lord, You have descended especially for the purpose of annihilating all kinds of disturbing elements within the world, and because You are the Absolute Truth, there is no difference between Your mercy and Your punishment. We think, therefore, that this apparent punishment of Kāliya is actually some benediction. We consider that Your punishment is Your great mercy upon us because when You punish someone it is to be understood that the reactions of his sinful activities are eradicated. It is already clear that this creature appearing in the body of a serpent must have been overburdened with all kinds of sin; otherwise, how could he have the body of a serpent? Your dancing on his hoods has reduced all the sinful results of actions caused by his having this body of a serpent. It is therefore very auspicious that You have become angry and have punished him in this way. We are very much astonished to see how You have become so much pleased with this serpent, who evidently performed various religious activities in his past lives that pleased everyone. He must have undergone all kinds of penances and austerities, humbly honored others and executed universal welfare activities for all living creatures.”
The Nāgapatnīs confirm that one cannot come in contact with Kṛṣṇa without having executed pious activities in devotional service in his previous lives. As Lord Caitanya advised in His Śikṣāṣṭaka, one has to execute devotional service by humbly chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street and not expecting honor for himself but offering all kinds of honor to others. The Nāgapatnīs were astonished that, although Kāliya had the body of a serpent as the result of grievous sinful activities, at the same time he was in contact with the Lord to the extent that the Lord’s lotus feet were touching his hoods. Certainly this was not the ordinary result of pious activities. These two contradictory facts astonished them. Thus they continued to pray: “O dear Lord, we are simply astonished to see that he is so fortunate as to have the dust of Your lotus feet on his head. This is a fortune sought after by great saintly persons. Even the goddess of fortune underwent severe austerities just to have the blessing of the dust of Your lotus feet, so how is it that Kāliya is so easily getting this dust on his head? We have heard from authoritative sources that those who are blessed with the dust of Your lotus feet do not care even for the highest post within the universe, namely the post of Lord Brahmā, or the kingship of the heavenly planets, or the sovereignty of this planet. Nor do such persons desire to rule the planets above this earth, such as Siddhaloka; nor do they aspire for the mystic powers achieved by the yoga process. Nor do the pure devotees aspire for liberation by becoming one with You. My Lord, although he is born in a species of life which is fostered by the most abominable mode of material nature, accompanied with the quality of anger, this king of the serpents has achieved something very, very rare. Living entities who are wandering within this universe in different species of life can very easily achieve the greatest benediction only by Your mercy.”
It is confirmed in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta that the living entities are wandering within the universe in various species of life but by the mercy of Kṛṣṇa and the spiritual master they can get the seed of devotional service, and thus their path of liberation can be cleared.
The Nāgapatnīs continued: “We therefore offer our respectful obeisances unto You, our dear Lord, because You are the Supreme Person, who are living as the Supersoul within every living entity; although You are transcendental to the cosmic manifestation, everything is resting in You. You are the personified indefatigable eternal time. The entire time force is existing in You, and You are therefore the seer and the embodiment of total time in the shape of past, present and future, month, day, hour, moment—everything. In other words, O Lord, You can see perfectly all the activities happening in every moment, in every hour, in every day, in every month, in every year, past, present and future. You are Yourself the universal form, and yet You are different from this universe. You are simultaneously one with and different from the universe. We therefore offer our respectful obeisances unto You. You are Yourself the whole universe, and yet You are the creator of the whole universe. You are the superintendent and maintainer of this whole universe, and You are its original cause. Although You are present within this universe by Your three qualitative incarnations, Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheśvara, You are transcendental to the material creation. Although You are the cause of the appearance of all kinds of living entities—their senses, their lives, their minds, their intelligence—You are to be realized by Your internal energy. Let us therefore offer our respectful obeisances unto You, who are unlimited, finer than the finest, the center of all creation, and the knower of everything. Different varieties of philosophical speculators try to reach You. You are the ultimate goal of all philosophical efforts, and it is actually only You who are described by all philosophies and by different kinds of doctrines. Let us offer our respectful obeisances unto You, because You are the origin of all scripture and the source of knowledge. You are the root of all evidences, and You are the Supreme Person who can bestow upon us the supreme knowledge. You are the cause of all kinds of desires, and You are the cause of all kinds of satisfaction. You are the Vedas personified. Therefore we offer You our respectful obeisances.
“Our dear Lord, You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, and You are also the supreme enjoyer. You have now appeared as the son of Vasudeva, a manifestation of the state of pure goodness. You are the predominating Deities of mind and intelligence, Aniruddha and Pradyumna, and You are the Lord of all Vaiṣṇavas. By Your expansion as the catur-vyūha—namely Vāsudeva, Saṅkarṣaṇa, Aniruddha and Pradyumna—You are the cause of the development of mind and intelligence. By Your activities only, the living entities become covered by forgetfulness or discover their real identity. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gītā (Fifteenth Chapter): the Lord is sitting as the Supersoul in everyone’s heart, and due to His presence the living entity either forgets himself or revives his original identity. We can partially understand that You are within our hearts as the witness of all our activities, but it is very difficult to appreciate Your presence, although every one of us can do so to some extent. You are the supreme controller of both the material and spiritual energies; therefore You are the supreme leader, although You are different from this cosmic manifestation. You are the witness and creator and the very ingredient of this cosmic manifestation. We therefore offer our respectful obeisances unto You.
“Our dear Lord, in the matter of creating this cosmic manifestation, personally You have nothing to exert; by expanding Your different kinds of energy—namely the mode of passion, the mode of goodness and the mode of ignorance—You create, maintain and annihilate this cosmic manifestation. As the controller of the entire time force, You simply glance over the material energy, thereby creating this universe and energizing the different modes of material nature, which act differently in different creatures. No one can estimate, therefore, how Your activities are going on within this world. Our dear Lord, although You have expanded into the three principal deities of this universe—namely Lord Brahmā, Lord Viṣṇu and Lord Śiva—for creation, maintenance and destruction, Your appearance as Lord Viṣṇu is actually for the benediction of living creatures. Therefore, for those who are actually peaceful and who are aspiring after the supreme peace, worship of Your peaceful appearance as Lord Viṣṇu is recommended.
“O Lord, we are submitting our prayers unto You. You can appreciate that this poor serpent is going to give up his life. You know that for us women our husband is our life and everything; therefore, we are praying unto You that You kindly excuse Kāliya, our husband, because if this serpent dies, then we shall be in great difficulty. Looking upon us only, please excuse this great offender. Our dear Lord, every living creature is Your offspring, and You maintain everyone. This serpent is also Your offspring, and You can excuse him once although he has offended You, undoubtedly without knowing Your supremacy. We are praying that he may be excused this time. Our dear Lord, we are offering our loving service unto You because we are all eternal servitors of Your Lordship. You can order us to do whatever You please. Every living being can be relieved from all kinds of despair if he agrees to abide by Your orders.”
After the Nāgapatnīs submitted their prayers, Lord Kṛṣṇa released Kāliya from his punishment. Kāliya was already unconscious from being struck by the Lord. Upon regaining consciousness and being released from the punishment, Kāliya got back his life force and the working power of his senses. With folded hands, he humbly began to pray to the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa: “My dear Lord, I have been born in such a species that by nature I am angry and envious, being in the darkest region of the mode of ignorance. Your Lordship knows well that it is very difficult to give up one’s natural instincts, although by such instincts the living creature transmigrates from one body to another.” It is also confirmed in the Bhagavad-gītā that it is very difficult to get out of the clutches of material nature, but if anyone surrenders unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, the modes of material nature can no longer act on him. “My dear Lord,” Kāliya continued, “You are the original creator of the modes of material nature, by which the universe is created. You are the cause of the different kinds of mentality possessed by living creatures, by which they have obtained different varieties of bodies. My dear Lord, I am born as a serpent; therefore, by natural instinct I am very angry. How is it then possible to give up my acquired nature without Your mercy? It is very difficult to get out of the clutches of Your māyā. By Your māyā we remain enslaved. My dear Lord, kindly excuse me for my inevitable material tendencies. I surrender unto You. Now You can punish me or save me, as You desire.”
After hearing this, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who was acting as a small human child, ordered the serpent thus: “You must immediately leave this place and go to the ocean. Leave without delay. You can take with you all your offspring, wives and everything that you possess. Don’t pollute the waters of the Yamunā. Let it be drunk by My cows and cowherd boys without hindrance.” The Lord then declared that the order given to the Kāliya snake be recited and heard by everyone so that no one need fear Kāliya any longer.
Anyone who hears the narration of the Kāliya serpent and his punishment will need fear no more the envious activities of snakes. The Lord also declared, “If one takes a bath in the Kāliya lake, where My cowherd boyfriends and I have bathed, or if one fasts for a day and offers oblations to the forefathers from the water of this lake, he will be relieved from all kinds of sinful reactions.” The Lord also assured Kāliya: “You came here out of fear of Garuḍa, who wanted to eat you in the beautiful land by the ocean. Now, after seeing the marks where I have touched your head with My lotus feet, Garuḍa will not disturb you.”
The Lord was pleased with Kāliya and his wives. Immediately after hearing His order, the snake and his wives began to worship Him with great offerings of nice garments, flowers, garlands, jewels, ornaments, sandal pulp, lotus flowers and nice eatable fruits. In this way they pleased the master of Garuḍa, of whom they were very much afraid. Then, obeying the orders of Lord Kṛṣṇa, all of them left the lake within the Yamunā.
Thus ends the Bhaktivedanta purport of the Sixteenth Chapter of Kṛṣṇa, "Subduing Kāliya."