The Dance of Natabara
When Krishna subdued Kaaliya
The worst thing in the world is to see someone you love suffering when there is nothing you can do to stop it. One can tolerate his own pain, always ready to go to any extent, even give up his own life to protect his loved ones but feels so helpless when he is forced to sit quietly and watch his loved ones in pain. This is the state of people in love. When one is intensely remembered, he also becomes the centre of the beloved’s thoughts. Though away from each other, sometimes they also pass through the same emotions together and their body shows the same signs.
The cowherd boys, cows and calves watching Krishna fight with Kaaliya started crying. When they saw Krishna motionless in the coils of Kaaliya, their anxiety took over, they couldn’t move and thus became unconscious and fell on the ground. At the same time, bad omens were noticed in Brij Mandal. Everyone felt ill at ease. They felt as if their bodies were burning and couldn’t speak or think about anything. They were all disturbed and their thoughts ran to Krishna. Krishna was their life and love. They became apprehensive thinking that their Krishna must be in some grave trouble. When they came to know that Balaram had not accompanied Krishna to the forest that day, their fear grew stronger. Certain that their Krishna was in danger, they started lamenting and running towards him. Just like the cows roam around looking for their calves, the gopas and gopis left their homes, left Gokul, left Brij and ran searching for Krishna, eager to have a look at his lotus face.
Balaram watched everyone unperturbed. He knew his younger brother. He knew that he was no mere mortal and nothing could scare him. What to say about living beings, even death is scared of him. All fears put together are afraid of him. A smile appeared on his face noticing the depth of the love of the people for Krishna for he knew that the more severe the pain of separation, the intense will be the desire to see Krishna and the purer will their hearts become. Balaram joined the others as they searched for Krishna following his footprint on the ground that had distinct signs of the flag and the thunderbolt. Following the footprints they arrived at the banks of the river Yamuna. They shuddered when they saw the cowherd boys unconscious, some animals dead and some gasping for breath, those alive frantically crying and looking on. They followed their gaze and the ghastly scene caught their attention. Nanda Maharaj, seeing his darling Krishna caught in the clutches of Kaaliya, ran like a madman towards the river, ready to jump in and save his son. Without a care, the other folks joined Nanda Maharaj, crying, screaming, wanting to get closer to Krishna. Balaram stopped them from entering the lake and tried to bring them to their senses. He cried out loud, “O Father! What are you doing? If you don’t control yourself, who will take care of the people of Vrij? This wicked serpent can’t harm my brother Krishna. You stay calm and he will come out of the water soon.” Then he turned towards Krishna and shouted, “Enough Krishna. Don’t you see the plight of these people here on the banks. Finish this play soon and come out.” Krishna heard his elder brother and with a twinkle in his eyes, started expanding himself. Kaaliya’s knot began to stretch wider making him feel suffocated. He could no longer hold Krishna in his tight grasp and out came Krishna with that bewitching smile on his lips. Kaaliya tried to get closer again to bite Krishna and entangle him in his coils, but Krishna adeptly avoided him and swam around, taunting Kaaliya. Though the battle continued, the people who gathered around were relieved as Krishna was no longer in the grip of Kaaliya.
Krishna is the playful one. How can he let this encounter go? He creates situations and is always on the lookout to play his games, his music and dance to it. That day, too, he felt like dancing. He wanted to bring the smile back on the faces of his loved ones. So, he clapped his hands and got ready to dance on the crown of Kaaliya.
एवं परिभ्रमहतौजसमुन्नतांस-मानम्य तत्पृथुशिर:स्वधिरूढ आद्य: । तन्मूर्धरत्ननिकरस्पर्शातिताम्र-पादाम्बुजोऽखिलकलादिगुरुर्ननर्त ॥
evaṁ paribhrama-hataujasam unnatāṁsam ānamya tat-pṛthu-śiraḥsv adhirūḍha ādyaḥ tan-mūrdha-ratna-nikara-sparśāti-tāmra-pādāmbujo ’khila-kalādi-gurur nanarta
-Srimad Bhagavatam 10.16.26
(Thus, turning around him, Krishna exhausted Kaaliya and forced him to bend down his highly raised hood. He then climbed upon the serpent’s head and then the paramount master of all arts started to dance. His lotus feet in touch with the snake turned red from the light emanating from the many jewels on the serpent’s heads.)
Kaaliya’s one hundred and one hoods became Krishna’s stage. The Gandharvas, Siddhas and Chanaras watching from the sky, provided the orchestra, pepping up Krishna’s mood by playing their drums and instruments, thus accompanying his dance. What a majestic sight! Krishna on top of Kaaliya in the centre of the lake, Balaram in the middle of all the people of Vrij. The anxious audience on the bank of the lake watching the primordial performer, not knowing what to expect. The sky filled with the celestial beings, the Gandharvas and the Apsaras, showering flowers and providing the perfect accompaniment to the dance of Natabara Krishna. As Krishna danced, sometimes playing his flute and sometimes jingling his ankle bells, hitting his foot right on top of the hood of the angry serpent that tries bite, flaring up poisonous flames. While Krishna jumped from one hood to the other, prancing, gliding, enjoying, Kaaliya kept vomiting blood with his lifeforce fading away. Kaaliya understood that the one dancing on him was no mere mortal and surrendered to him.
Seeing how Kaaliya’s hoods had been shattered by the feet of Krishna, his wives came out and lay at the feet of Krishna. They placed their children before them and prayed for the liberation of their husband and sought shelter at the lotus feet of the Lord. Addressing Krishna, who stood on the heads of their husband, they said, “O Lord! You have done the right thing by punishing our husband. This is the very reason why you have taken birth – to curb down the wicked. Your punishment is actually a boon as it dispels all their sins. In fact, this is your benediction on us and our husband. He must have performed great austerities to blessed by the touch of the dust of your lotus feet on his head. This is the only desire of the devotees. He has learnt his lesson now and his ego has been crushed. We beg you to please let him go as a changed being.”
After hearing the pleas of the wives of Kaaliya, the all merciful Krishna released the serpent who lay down unconscious with his head shattered. Kaaliya slowly regained his senses and breathing painfully, he surrendered before Krishna and prayed, “O Lord! My birth as a snake has made me angry and envious. But you are the Lord of this universe and only you can grant me freedom from my wicked nature. So, please have mercy on me or punish me – whatever you deem proper.” Krishna was touched by Kaaliya’s prayers and ordered him to leave the river and head towards the ocean taking his wives, children and relatives. Krishna assured Kaaliya that Garuda, on seeing his footprints on Kaaliya’s head, would not attack him. So, there was no reason for Kaaliya to be afraid of the great eagle. Having been pardoned by Krishna, Kaaliya joined his wives in worshipping the Lord of Dance – Natabara Krishna.
Kalidah (Kaaliya Ghat) on the banks od river Yamuna in Vrindavan.