Published on October 25th, 2022 | by HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada


Subduing Kaliya

When He understood that the water of the Yamuna was being polluted by the black serpent Kaliya, Lord Krsna took action against him and made him leave the Yamuna and go elsewhere, and thus the water became purified.

When this story was being narrated by Sukadeva Gosvami, Maharaja Pariksit became eager to hear more about Krsna’s childhood pastimes. He inquired from Sukadeva Gosvami how Krsna chastised Kaliya, who was living in the water for many years. Actually, Maharaja Pariksit was becoming more and more enthusiastic to hear the transcendental pastimes of Krsna, and his inquiry was made with great interest.

Sukadeva Gosvami narrated the story as follows. Within the river Yamuna there was a great lake, and in that lake the black serpent Kaliya 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, he would immediately fall down in the water and die.

Due to the poisonous effect of the Yamuna’s vapors, the trees and grass near the bank of the Yamuna had all dried up. Lord Krsna saw the effect of the great serpent’s poison: the whole river that ran before Vrndavana was now deadly.

Krsna, who advented Himself just to kill all undesirable elements in the world, immediately climbed up in a big kadamba tree on the bank of the Yamuna. The kadamba is a round yellow flower, generally seen only in the Vrndavana area. After climbing to the top of the tree, He tightened His belt cloth and, flapping His arms just like a wrestler, jumped in the midst of the poisonous lake. The kadamba tree from which Krsna had jumped was the only tree there which was not dead. Some commentators say that due to touching the lotus feet of Krsna, the tree became immediately alive. In some other Puranas it is stated that Garuda, the eternal carrier of Visnu, knew that Krsna would take this action in the future, so he put some nectar on this tree to preserve it. When Lord Krsna jumped into the water, the river overflooded its banks, as if something very large had fallen into it. This exhibition of Krsna’s strength is not at all uncommon because He is the reservoir of all strength.

When Krsna was swimming about, just like a great strong elephant, He made a tumultuous sound which the great black serpent Kaliya 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 Krsna. Kaliya saw that Krsna was indeed worth seeing because His body was so beautiful and delicate; its color resembled that of a cloud, and His legs resembled a lotus flower. He was decorated with Srivatsa, jewels and yellow garments. He was smiling with a beautiful face and was playing in the river Yamuna with great strength. But in spite of Krsna’s beautiful features, Kaliya felt great anger within his heart, and thus he grabbed Krsna with his mighty coils. Seeing the incredible way in which Krsna was enveloped in the coils of the serpent, the affectionate cowherd boys and inhabitants of Vrndavana immediately became stunned out of fear. They had dedicated everything to Krsna, their lives, property, affection, activities–everything was for Krsna–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 Krsna.

While this scene was taking place on the bank of the Yamuna, there were ill omens manifest. The earth trembled, meteors fell from the sky, and the bodies of men shivered. All these are indications of great immediate danger. Observing the inauspicious signs, the cowherd men, including Maharaja Nanda, became very anxious out of fear. At the same time they were informed that Krsna had gone to the pasturing ground without His elder brother, Balarama. As soon as Nanda and Yasoda and the cowherd men heard this news, they became even more anxious. Out of their great affection for Krsna, unaware of the extent of Krsna’s potencies, they became overwhelmed with grief and anxiety because they had nothing dearer than Krsna and because they dedicated their everything–life, property, affection, mind and activities–to Krsna. Because of their great attachment for Krsna, they thought, “Today Krsna is surely going to be vanquished!”

All the inhabitants of Vrndavana came out of the village to see Krsna. The assembly consisted of children, young and old men, women, animals and all living entities; they knew that Krsna was their only means of sustenance. While this was happening, Balarama, who is the master of all knowledge, stood there simply smiling. He knew how powerful His younger brother Krsna was and that there was no cause for anxiety when Krsna was fighting with an ordinary serpent of the material world. He did not, therefore, personally take any part in their concern. On the other hand, all the inhabitants of Vrndavana, being disturbed, began to search out Krsna by following the impression of His footprints on the ground, and thus they moved towards the bank of the Yamuna. Finally, by following the footprints marked with flag, bow and conchshell, the inhabitants of Vrndavana arrived at the river bank and saw that all the cows and boys were weeping to behold Krsna enwrapped in the coils of the black serpent. Then they became still more overwhelmed with grief. While Balarama was smiling to see their lamentation, all the inhabitants of Vrajabhumi merged into the ocean of grief because they thought that Krsna was finished.

Although the residents of Vrndavana did not know much about Krsna, their love for Him was beyond comparison. As soon as they saw that Krsna was in the river Yamuna enveloped by the serpent Kaliya and that all the boys and cows were lamenting, they simply began to think of Krsna’s friendship, His smiling face, His sweet words and His dealings with them. Thinking of all these and believing that their Krsna was now within the clutches of Kaliya, 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 Krsna. This is the highest stage of Krsna consciousness. Almost all of the inhabitants of Vrndavana had the highest ecstasy, love for Krsna.

When mother Yasoda arrived, she wanted to enter the river Yamuna, and being checked, she fainted. Other friends who were equally aggrieved were shedding tears like torrents of rain or waves of the river, but in order to bring mother Yasoda to consciousness, they began to speak loudly about the transcendental pastimes of Krsna. Mother Yasoda remained still, as if dead, because her consciousness was concentrated on the face of Krsna. Nanda and all others who dedicated everything, including their lives, to Krsna, were ready to enter the waters of the Yamuna, but Lord Balarama checked them because He was in perfect knowledge that there was no danger.

For two hours Krsna remained like an ordinary child gripped in the coils of Kaliya, but when He saw that all the inhabitants of Gokula–including His mother and father, the gopis, the boys and the cows–were just on the point of death and that they had no shelter for salvation from imminent death, Krsna 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 other alternative but to let loose the Personality of Godhead, Krsna, from his grasp. Kaliya 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 Krsna. Licking his lips with bifurcated tongues, the serpent looked at Krsna with double hoods, and his eyesight was full of poison. Krsna immediately pounced upon him, just as Garuda swoops upon a snake. Thus attacked, Kaliya looked for an opportunity to bite Him, but Krsna moved around him. As Krsna and Kaliya moved in a circle, the serpent gradually became fatigued, and his strength seemed to diminish considerably. Krsna 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, denizens from the upper planets began to shower flowers, beat drums, play different types of flutes and sing various prayers and songs. In this way, all the denizens of heaven, such as the Gandharvas, Siddhas and demigods, became very pleased.

While Krsna was dancing on his hoods, Kaliya tried to push Him down with some of his other hoods. Kaliya had about a hundred hoods, but Krsna took control of them. He began to dash Kaliya with His lotus feet, and this was more than the serpent could bear. Gradually, Kaliya was reduced to struggling for his very life. He vomited all kinds of refuse and exhaled fire. While throwing up poisonous material from within, Kaliya 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 Visnu was being worshiped; the poisons emanating from the mouth of the serpent appeared to be like flower offerings. Kaliya 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 Krsna was the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and he began to surrender unto Him. He realized that Krsna was the Supreme Lord, the master of everything.

The wives of the serpent, known as the Nagapatnis, saw that their husband was being subdued by the kicking of the Lord, within whose womb the whole universe remains. Kaliya’s wives prepared to worship the Lord, although, in their haste, their dress, 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 Yamuna. The Nagapatnis knew that Krsna 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 Nagapatnis 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 Kaliya 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 punishment. We think, therefore, that this apparent punishment to Kaliya 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 reduces 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 astonished to see how You have become so pleased with this serpent who evidently performed various religious activities in his past lives. Everyone must have been pleased by his undergoing all kinds of penances and austerities, and he must have executed universal welfare activities for all living creatures.

The Nagapatnis confirm that one cannot come in contact with Krsna without having executed pious activities in devotional service in his previous lives. As Lord Caitanya advised in His Siksastaka, one has to execute devotional service by humbly chanting the Hare Krsna 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 Nagapatnis were astonished that, although Kaliya 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 Kaliya 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 Brahma, or the kingship of 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 modes 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 and getting different species of life can very easily achieve the greatest benediction only by Your mercy.”

It is also confirmed in the Caitanya-caritamrta that the living entities are wandering within the universe in various species of life, but by the mercy of Krsna and the spiritual master, they can get the seed of devotional service, and thus their path of liberation can be cleared.

“We therefore offer our respectful obeisances unto You,” the Nagapatnis continued, “our dear Lord, because You are the Supreme Person, You 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 year, past, present and future. You are Yourself the universal form, and yet You are different from this universe. You are simultaneously one 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, Brahma, Visnu, and Mahesvara, 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 knower of everything. Different varieties of philosophical speculators try to reach You. You are the ultimate goal of all philosophical efforts, and You are actually 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, Krsna, and You are also the supreme enjoyer now appeared as the son of Vasudeva, who is a manifestation of the pure state of goodness. You are the predominating Deity of mind and intelligence, Pradyumna and Aniruddha, and You are the Lord of all Vaisnavas. By Your expansion as catur-vyuha–namely Vasudeva, Sankarsana, 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 also confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita (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 expending Your different kinds of energy–namely the mode of goodness, the mode of passion and the mode of ignorance–You can create, maintain and annihilate this cosmic manifestation. As the controller of the entire time force, You can simply glance over the material energy, create this universe and energize the different forces of material nature which are acting 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 Brahma, Lord Visnu and Lord Siva–for creation, maintenance and destruction, Your appearance as Lord Visnu 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 Visnu 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 lives and everything are our husband’s; therefore, we are praying unto You that You kindly excuse Kaliya, 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 although he has offended You, undoubtedly without knowing Your potency. 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 and ask 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 Nagapatnis submitted their prayers, Lord Krsna released Kaliya from his punishment. Kaliya was already unconscious from being struck by the Lord. Upon regaining consciousness and being released from the punishment, Kaliya got back his life force and the working power of his senses. With folded hands, he humbly began to pray to the Supreme Lord Krsna: “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-gita that it is very difficult to get out of the clutches of material nature, but if anyone surrenders unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, the modes of material nature can no longer act on him. “My dear Lord,” Kaliya continued, “You are therefore the original creator of all kinds of 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 maya. By Your maya we remain enslaved. My dear Lord, kindly excuse me for my inevitable material tendencies.

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 Yamuna. Let it be drunk by My cows and cowherd boys without hindrance.” The Lord then declared that the order given to the Kaliya snake be recited and heard by everyone so that no one need fear Kaliya any longer.

Anyone who hears the narration of the Kaliya 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 Kaliya lake, where My cowherd boy friends and I have bathed, or if one, fasting for a day, offers oblations to the forefathers from the water of this lake, he will be relieved from all kinds of sinful reaction.” The Lord also assured Kaliya: “You came here out of fear of Garuda, 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, Garuda will not disturb you.”

The Lord was pleased with Kaliya and his wives. Immediately after hearing His order, the 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 Garuda, of whom they were very much afraid. Then, obeying the orders of Lord Krsna, all of them left the lake within the Yamuna.

Thus ends the Bhaktivedanta purport of the Sixteenth Chapter of Krsna, “Subduing Kaliya.”

HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

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About the Author

Founded the Hare Krishna Movement in 1966 in New York. In only 11 years he spread the movement all over the world. He wrote more than 80 books including Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Sri Isopanisad. Prabhupada's books constitute a complete library of Vedic philosophy, religion, literature and culture.

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