Unlike us, Lord Krishna arrives in this world by His own sweet will.
As infants, we enter this world in a delivery room because we need to be delivered from the confines of our mother’s womb. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, comes here as an infant, too. But He has no need for a delivery. He arrives by His own sweet will, and His purpose is to deliver us. He plays the role of an endearing and dependent newborn, but He is complete with all of the powers of the Godhead.
Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (4.7),
yada yada hi dharmasya
glanir bhavati bharata
tadatmanam srijamy aham
“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise in irreligion—at that time I descend Myself.” Srila Prabhupada writes that the word srijami in this verse is significant. He has translated it as “manifest” and explains that it cannot be translated to say that Krishna creates His form. Neither is He a soul who acquires a temporary material body as we do. Krishna’s forms or bodies are not created or acquired. They are forever existent. Whether He appears as four-armed Vishnu or as a smiling, effulgent little baby, He has the self-same perfect body throughout all time and circumstances. As He likes, He manifests Himself in His own particular way to deliver the suffering people in the material world.
According to a mystical prophecy, the eighth child born to Krishna’s parents, Vasudeva and Devaki, would defeat Kamsa, the cruel king of Mathura. This eighth child was none other than Lord Krishna. When King Kamsa heard the prophecy, he became determined to destroy Krishna. Kamsa locked up Krishna’s parents in a prison, and there Krishna’s mother gave birth to seven children, six of whom died by Kamsa’s cruel hand.
One elder brother of Krishna’s eluded the sinful king. Known as Balarama, He is a plenary expansion of the Godhead. He transferred Himself to another location and waited for Krishna to also go there. Finally the eighth child of Devaki, Krishna, was born in the very dungeon of His family’s persecution.
Krishna entered this world through the heart of his father, Vasudeva, who had performed strong penances and austerities for thousands of years in his previous lifetimes. Vasudeva did this in order to achieve an intense meditation on the Lord by which He was able to attract Krishna to appear as his own son. Devaki, alongside her husband, had also engaged in long severe penances to attract the Lord. From Vasudeva’s heart Krishna was transferred to the womb of Devaki.
When Krishna first appeared to His parents, He showed Himself as the splendorous four-armed Lord Vishnu, upon whom they were accustomed to meditate. Mother Devaki prayed to Him:
I understand that this transcendental form is generally perceived in meditation by the great sages, but I am still afraid because as soon as Kamsa understands that You have appeared, he might harm You.… My only cause of fear from my brother Kamsa is due to Your appearance…. Therefore I request You to conceal this four-armed form of Your Lordship, which holds the four symbols of Vishnu—namely the conch shell, the disc, the club and the lotus flower. My dear Lord, at the end of the annihilation of the cosmic manifestation, You put the whole universe within Your abdomen; still by Your unalloyed mercy You have appeared in my womb. I am surprised that You imitate the activities of ordinary human beings just to please Your devotee.
It is interesting to note Devaki’s only cause of fear. It was not for herself, so harassed by her ruthless brother, but for Krishna. After many lifetimes of devoted sacrifice to get Krishna as her son, her pure motivation is to protect and care for Him.
A Charming Infant Form
The Lord accepted Devaki’s request for Him to conceal His four-armed form. He became her baby—a sweet, absolutely charming manifestation of the supreme omnipotent Godhead. Like all of the Lord’s wonderful forms, this baby form is the source of unlimited ecstatic bliss and love of God, the impetus for His parents’ devotional service.
To hide Krishna from Kamsa, Vasudeva carried Him across the Yamuna River to the simple cowherd village of Gokula Vrindavana and left Him in the care of His surrogate parents, Yashoda Devi and Nanda Maharaja. Gokula is the complete spiritual world manifested on earth to serve Krishna. It is filled with myriad devotees, including the forests, animals, six verdant seasons, sparkling rivers, and unlimited varieties of sweet fruits and flowers.
Krishna thus grew up as a cowherd boy in a farm village. His childhood pastimes in this intimate location were a continuous celebration of sweet bliss for His devotees. The cowherd men and their motherly wives were so glad to be with the Supreme Personality of Godhead that not a day would go by without their enjoying many affectionate embraces, jokes, and games with Krishna in their mood of profound parental affection.
Srila Prabhupada once commented: “This is Vrindavana… They are uneducated, without any town life. Cowmen. They are Krishna’s best friends. Unsophisticated, but love intense. That is perfection.”
Prabhupada also said that only with the eyes of love of Godhead can one see the real identity of Vrindavana as the place where Lord Krishna performs His pastimes with the cowherd boys and girls.
For the cowherd boys and girls who were Krishna’s peers, Krishna was the inspiration in all of their activities. In talking they talked of Him; in singing they sang to please Him. They decorated Him, danced with Him, and joked with Him in the same way that young people love to rejoice in one another’s company. All of these exchanges were of the highest and finest spiritual quality, nothing like the relationships of this world, which are generally self-centered and selfish. They wanted only to render service to Krishna. He and His devotees in Gokula Vrindavana experience the perfect loving sentiments exchanged among servants, parents, siblings, friends, and lovers.
Gokula is the replica on earth of Goloka in the spiritual world. One special feature of Gokula is that Krishna repeatedly acted as its chivalrous protector. He defeated one adversary after another sent by Kamsa, who continued to plot His death. Krishna defeated a variety of amazing, sometimes ghastly enemies, which caused trepidation and wonder for His family and friends.
What happened to Krishna’s parents in the Mathura prison? At the end of His manifest pastimes in the cowherd village of Gokula Vrindavana, Krishna returned to the city of His birth to finish His business. He pulled the tyrant Kamsa from his throne and easily smashed his head. Then Krishna quickly went to find Vasudeva and Devaki, who were reunited with their beloved Krishna after a long and difficult separation.
Vasudeva and Devaki spent the rest of their years in Krishna’s pleasurable association. Later Krishna left Mathura to rule Dwaraka, an island off the west coast of India. During that part of His life He is called Dvarakadhisha. In that role He married 16,108 highly qualified princesses and defeated many rulers and their soldiers. He continued in His role as the deliverer, clearly establishing His dominion as the omnipotent, benevolent Godhead.
vinashaya ca dushkritam
sambhavami yuge yuge
“To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I Myself appear, millennium after millennium.” (Bhagavad-gita 4.8) True to this verse, Lord Krishna delivered the sadhunam, the devotees, from the tyranny of dictators such as Kamsa and others who persecuted the people. And he enthroned devotee kings who followed dharma.
It may be asked why God would take it upon Himself to enter the material realm just to punish a wrongdoer? He could easily destroy someone through material nature—earthquakes, tornadoes, diseases. Srila Prabhupada comments:
As far as the atheistic miscreants are concerned, it is not necessary for the Supreme Lord to appear as He is to destroy them, as He did the demons Ravana and Kamsa. The Lord has many agents who are quite competent to vanquish demons. But the Lord especially descends to appease His unalloyed devotees, who are always harassed by the demoniac. The demon harasses the devotee, even though the latter may happen to be his kin.
—Bhagavad-gita 4.8, Purport
Krishna brings His entourage and paraphernalia from the spiritual world to rekindle our feelings for Him and enjoy His uncommon sublime pastimes and loving, personal relationships. In this way He nurtures our very fine, intimate, eternal relationship of service to Him. We are all hankering to recover this, whether we know it or not.
Krishna comes here to deliver us back to where we came from. He wants us to go back home with Him, back to Godhead. Sri Krishna Janmashtami, Lord Krishna’s birthday, celebrates Krishna’s intervention in the material world to bring us back to our original home and our original consciousness, Krishna consciousness.
Sometimes people wrongly conclude that the Lord is not involved with us, that He leaves us here to suffer. They are miserable and full of doubt. But if we take some time to study how Krishna, in His eternal body of bliss and knowledge, enters this world to display His eternal pastimes as both a darling child and a chivalrous king, we will see what an elaborate delivery He has arranged for us—and what a sweet reunion celebration He must have planned for us as well.
It is a profound and practical thing to contemplate, as wondrous as the Lord Himself. Krishna declares in the Bhagavad-gita (4.9): “One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving this body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.”
Sri Krishna Janmashtami is not just another yearly holiday marked by the calendar, not just another occasion for cake and candles. The sublime meaning of Krishna’s birthday is His arrival for a reunion festival of loving exchanges with His eternal, ecstatic servants. Janmashtami is the advent of the deliverer.