Kaliya was a venomous serpent living in the waters of Kalindi (Yamuna). The fiery poison was such that the waters of the river was almost boiling. Its fumes were reaching up to the skies and the birds flying over it dropped down dead. The wind which blew over the waters was contaminated by its poisonous spray and the cows, calves and cowherd boys on the bank of the river who came in contact with it met with their death.
When Sri Krishna heard about this, he climbed a tree nearby and plunged into the waters. The disturbed waters angered the serpent who realized that someone had entered the waters to counter him. Kaliya raised his multi-hoods and tried to bite Krishna. Krishna fought with Kaliya. On one side was the huge monstrous multi-hooded ferocious Kaliya spewing deadly poison on all sides and on the other side was little Sri Balakrishna, delicate and most charming, beautiful like the rain-bearing clouds, clad in silken yellow sporting a lovely smile on his face.
When Nanda, Yashoda and others heard about this, they rushed to the banks of Kalindi and were terrified to see Krishna entrapped in the deadly coils of Kaliya. When Krishna saw that everyone was terrified and distressed, he expanded his body and escaped from the bondage of Kaliya. Seeing the angry Kaliya with uplifted hoods and hissing and breathing out poison through its nostrils, Krishna, the “Guru of all the forms of Kala or Art-forms”, leapt on to the bejewelled-hood of Kaliya and started dancing! Seeing the Lord dancing, all the devatas, gandharvas, siddhas, charanas and apsaras assembled there in the sky. The devatas chanted sublime hymns. The celestial musicians played their divine instruments. The apsaras like Rambha and Urvashi performed bharatanatya. Narada and Tumburu sang beautiful songs keeping rhythm with the cymbals. Nandi played the percussion instrument.
As Krishna danced on the hoods of Kaliya, the dark curly locks of hair around his beautiful moon-like face flew in all directions. The sweet and divine tinkling naada (sound) from his anklets and from the bells strung on his waist-band was mesmerising. The gods showered flowers on the Lord from the skies. Whichever hood Kaliya raised, Krishna trampled and crushed it under His tiny crimson lotus feet. The Lord continued dancing on the multi-hooded Kaliya with his grip firmly on Kaliya’s tail. Under the pressure of the Lord’s feet, Kaliya emitted all the poison through his mouth. Finally in sheer exhaustion he swooned. Coming back to his senses, Kaliya realized the Lord’s glory and he along with his wives prayed to the Lord for protection.
Kaliya realized that he had been indeed doubly blessed by the touch of the Lord’s feet. Kaliya’s wives invoked the Lord through a beautiful stotra: “namasthubyam bhagavathe purushaya mahatmane….namah krishnaya ramaya vasudevasutaya cha pradyumnaya aniruddhaya satvatam pathaye namaha…” Sri Krishna thereupon told Kaliya, his wives, children and relatives to leave the river and proceed to the ocean for their stay. And the Lord promised that Garuda fearing whom Kaliya had taken shelter in Yamuna will in future not trouble him because the Lord’s footprints had been etched out on his hoods. Yamuna regained her pristine glory and her waters again became nectarine like for one and all to partake.
Significance: Yamuna represents the “mind-lake” and the water represent our “thoughts”. Kaliya is the multi-hooded serpent called the “ego” which pours forth its desire, anger, greed, jealousy, envy and innumerable emotions into the mind-lake to poison and pollute it. The powerful and corrosive emotions poison and ruin our noble and satvik thoughts represented by the cowherds, cows and calves. Krishna represents the “spiritual-knowledge-in-the-intellect” (the knowledge of the scriptures) which alone can render the ego incapable of destroying the individual-personality. The footprints of the Lord on Kaliya indicate the absence of I-ness and My-ness and the consequent sense of absolute surrender of the individual unto the Lord. Once the ego is “contained”, the mind-lake becomes clean, pure and satvik and can be used for higher contemplation to realize the Supreme Brahman.
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