“While Vasudeva was carrying his son Krishna in the falling rain, Lord Shesha in the shape of a serpent spread His hood over the head of Vasudeva so that he would not be hampered by the rainfall. Vasudeva came onto the bank of the Yamuna and saw that the water of the Yamuna was roaring with waves and that the whole span was full of foam. Still, in that furious feature, the river gave passage to Vasudeva to cross, just as the great Indian Ocean gave a path to Lord Rama when He was bridging over the gulf.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 3)
“When I think of Janmashtami, the mind immediately travels to the prison cell in Mathura. The image of baby Krishna showing the vision of the four-handed Narayana to the loving parents, Vasudeva and Devaki. It was a long-awaited arrival. It was the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy told many years before.
“The evil King Kamsa tried to deny destiny. He killed every child born to that couple, so all that was left was the anticipation for the eighth, the supposed chosen one, as declared by the akasha-vani. I remember the timing. At midnight, while everyone was asleep. So many great things to remember, actually.
“I’m wondering, is there any symbolic significance to the events. Such as the timing, the setting, the mindset of the characters? Are there lessons we can take from the original Janmashtami and apply to our daily lives?”
Though the incident is factual, recorded for history’s sake in sacred texts like Shrimad Bhagavatam and other Puranas, there is certainly great symbolic meaning in Krishna-lila. The Divine play of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is for our pleasure. The saints pass it forward for our benefit and theirs. Janmashtami is no different.
We can focus on the stark difference in condition between the two main actors. There were the parents to be, Vasudeva and Devaki. Husband and wife, who should have been in wedded bliss from the day of their marriage, but instead suffered needlessly at the hands of Devaki’s cousin-brother, Kamsa.
Then there was the leader of Mathura. He had total control over an important area of the world. He was very powerful and respected. He should have known death was on the horizon, since that is the fate for every person. You arrive, make a name for yourself, accumulate possessions, and then leave everything behind.
Since he was of the asura mentality, Kamsa refused to acknowledge the end. He did not want to believe in a higher power, although Narada Muni already advised him of the events from a previous life, where Lord Vishnu had been the agent of death.
Based on external vision, Kamsa was free and Vasudeva and Devaki were in prison. The reality was the opposite. Kamsa was in constant torture, someone staring at a clock that counted down to doom. The birth-parents were okay because they had a feeling someone special was arriving. The demigods accompany the avatara’s arrival, and when they knew Vishnu was in Devaki’s womb, they offered prayers.
“Our dear Lord, You are appearing as the best of the Yadu dynasty, and we are offering our respectful humble obeisances unto Your lotus feet. Before this appearance, You also appeared as the fish incarnation, the horse incarnation, the tortoise incarnation, the swan incarnation, as King Ramachandra, as Parashurama, and as many other incarnations.” (Demigods praying to Krishna in the womb of Devaki, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 2)
Though Kamsa was free, he was fast asleep when Krishna arrived. Though the parents were in prison, they were under no danger. Vasudeva was able to escape the prison, in fact. Though it was dark at that time of night, the effulgence of the transcendental body of His son provided the necessary vision.
Though it was pouring rain, there was protection from Ananta Shesha Naga, who used his hoods to create an umbrella. Though there was the raging Yamuna River to cross, Vasudeva received safe passage, to reach Gokula, as per the instructions of Krishna.
Kamsa had everything, but he really had nothing. This was because of his rivalry with God. The parents had nothing, but they actually had everything. This is a truth we remember on a daily basis, but especially on occasions like Janmashtami, where the chanting of the holy names has added significance: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Parents prison walls to see,
And Kamsa supposedly free.
Since on throne sitting,
But a contradiction befitting.
Vasudeva light in dark to unfold,
Because Krishna in arms to hold.
Even safely across river raging,
But asura losing battle waging.