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The Play of God: Visions of the Life of Krishna

The Play of God: Visions of the Life of Krishna

by Devi Vanamali, Eknath Easwaran, Swami Krishnanana
THE PLAY OF GOD communicates the life of Krishna Vishnu, considered by Indians to be an Avatar, in a supple retelling true to the ancient sagas. It presents God, not just as a stern judge or father, but as the Divine Beloved child, friend, playmate and teacher.


THE PLAY OF GOD communicates the life of Krishna Vishnu, considered by Indians to be an Avatar, in a supple retelling true to the ancient sagas. It presents God, not just as a stern judge or father, but as the Divine Beloved child, friend, playmate and teacher.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Krishna is considered an incarnation of the god Vishnu by many Hindus. The main stories about Krishna's life can be found in the first half of the Srimad Bhagavad Purana and the lengthy Indian epic Mahabharata. Because these two documents are filled with complex detail, Vanamali has provided a useful book that gives in summary form the events of Krishna's life and their spiritual message. Western readers would characterize these stories as legends or myth; Vanamali's presentation of the spiritual message behind each story makes the book interesting reading. He uses a chronological approach to Krishna's birth and childhood, followed by stories of his youth, his adulthood, and the "death" of the one who is deathless. The book also contains a helpful list of characters in alphabetical order and a glossary of religious terms. Highly recommended as a fresh and readable presentation, in English, of the life and meaning of Krishna.-David Bourquin, California State Univ., San Bernardino

Product Details

Blue Dove Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
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5.99(w) x 8.98(h) x 1.21(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Vishnave namaha

Homage to Vishnu, the all-pervading One

Whenever virtue declines and unrighteousness prevails, I manifest Myself as an embodied being in order to protect the good, to destroy evil, and to establish dharma (righteousness). For this I am born in every age.

This was the solemn promise made by the Lord and for this He incarnated Himself in the city of Mathura as the son of Devaki and Vasudeva.

    Five thousand years ago the city of Mathura was ruled by the tyrant King Kamsa. He was the chief of the tribe of the Yadavas, who were made up of many different clans such as the Bhojas, Vrishnis, Dasharhas, and Andhakas. He was reputed to be the incarnation of the wicked demon Kalanemi, and his actions proved the truth of it. None of the Yadava chiefs dared to say a word against him, since Kamsa was known for his atrocities.

    In other parts of Bharatavarsha (the ancient name of India) also there seemed to be an upsurge of wicked rulers and a consequent upsurge of unrighteous behavior, for as the king is, so are the subjects. The earth was groaning under the weight of their iniquities, and unable to bear the load of wickedness any longer, she is said to have taken on the form of a cow and approached the Lord Vishnu in His divine abode of Vaikuntha. She reminded Him of His promise that He would incarnate Himself whenever righteousness declined.

    "So be it," Hesaid."I shall incarnate Myself in the city of Mathura in the clan of the Yadavas as the son of Devaki and Vasudeva, to whom I made a promise in another age that I would be born as their son."

    Pleased by this assurance, the earth goddess began to prepare herself for the advent of the Lord. The stage was being set for the mighty drama. All the lesser gods and celestial beings took birth in the Yadava clan to be ready to welcome the Lord and to participate in His lila, or play. For what reason would that unmanifest Being want to manifest Himself except to delight in His own playful exploits? The celestials knew that this was to be the supreme culmination of all His incarnations—a tremendous play of the divine clothed in human form, inexplicable and mysterious as nature herself, yet simple and easy to love as a flower, which can be appreciated even by a child, but still is full of a deep and inner meaning to the scientist, the seer, and the sage. So also the Lord's life, when looked at with the eyes of wisdom, will reveal to us not only the nature of the universe but our own nature, for He is none other than the Self within us.

    Kamsa had a sister called Devaki, who was as pure as he was depraved. Her beauty rivaled that of the celestials and could be outshone only by the radiance of her mind, which was as perfect as any mortal woman's could be. She was a fitting recipient of the signal honor of being the mother of God. In her previous births she had practiced many austerities in order to get the Lord as her son. This was her last birth, and for the third time she would carry the Lord in her womb. Vasudeva, too, was a noble soul and belonged to the Yadava clan.

    When the curtain rose for the first act, the scene was one of revelry and joy, for Devaki, the only sister of Kamsa, was being given in marriage to Vasudeva. The bridal couple came out of the palace preceded by Kamsa and followed by a throng of relatives and royal guests. The fanfare of bugles and the sound of melodious songs filled the air, which was drenched with the perfumes rising from hundreds of incense burners and the jasmine flowers scattered in profusion. Devaki herself was just sixteen years of age, shining with happiness and beauty and laden with jewels, and her head was bent with modesty as well as the weight of the flowers decorating it. She clung to her brother's arms as he lifted her into the flower-bedecked bridal chariot. Vasudeva jumped in beside her and prepared to start the journey to their palace. Then, to everyone's surprise, Kamsa ordered the charioteer to step down and he himself took the reins, as if to show the extent of his love for his cherished sister. This act did not pass unremarked. That the King of the Bhojas would stoop to be a mere charioteer for the sake of his sister was news indeed! The populace cheered wildly; though they hated him, they could not but appreciate this particular deed, for Devaki was a great favorite. Moreover, it was always expedient to cheer the king, for who knew what spies were around and whose head would roll on the morrow?

    Devaki, however, was supremely content. Her cup of happiness was full to the brim and she cast a tremulous look of gratitude at this stern brother who had so far shown her nothing but kindness. It was her wedding day and she was marrying the man of her choice. What more could she want? But her happiness was to be short-lived, as all human happiness is. The minds of the wicked are unpredictable. They know not the meaning of true love, and they can love only so long as it benefits them. They are incapable of a love that transcends the self. This was soon to be proved.

    As the procession set out, the auspicious sounds of the conch and kettledrums were heard. The four mettlesome horses sprang forward and were whipped by Kamsa so they went forward at a spanking pace. But hardly had they gone a few yards when the sky became overcast, thunder rumbled, and lightning flashed and a mighty voice split the clouds and froze the entire wedding party to immobility.

    "O Kamsa, beware! The hour of your death draws nigh! The eighth son of Devaki will kill you and deliver this land from your wickedness," thundered the voice in the sky.

    For one startled second none spoke and Kamsa stared at the heavens, while from his nerveless fingers the reins fell unheeded and there rose in his heart a fear so great that he trembled from the very force of the emotion, so awe-inspiring had the voice been. Devaki clung to her husband's arm and hid her face in terror. In a trice the sky cleared, the sun appeared, the rumbling died away, and the excited people started to babble. But Kamsa wasted not a moment. Jumping out of the chariot, he caught hold of Devaki's jasmine-laden hair and pulled her down to the ground beside him. Drawing his sword from its scabbard, he hoisted it aloft to bring it down upon her defenseless and jewel-laden neck. At that moment, Vasudeva sprang down between them and catching hold of Kamsa's hand said, "0 Kamsa! Where has your honor gone? Where has your code of kshatriya (warrior) chivalry fled that you can think of killing your own sister and that, too, at the time of her wedding, before her desires have been fulfilled? 0 hero! You have enhanced the fame of the Bhojas (Yadava clan) by your heroic deeds and do you now stoop to such a heinous act? Death is certain for everyone. It may come today or a hundred years hence, but it is certain. Those who do such things will suffer both here and in the hereafter. This girl is your own sister and helpless as a doll. It is most unbecoming of you to think of killing this innocent creature!"

    Kamsa shook off his restraining hand as if to say, "Woman or girl or sister, what do I care? From today she is my enemy. For me, my own life is much more important than that of a sister!" Again he lifted his arm and again Vasudeva restrained him and tried another argument to restrain him from his evil resolve.

    "O dear Brother-in-law! Why do you have to kill Devaki? What has she done? According to the ethereal voice it is only her child, and her eighth child at that, who is fated to kill you. Spare her therefore and I give you my word as a man of honor to bring to you every child of ours, be it boy or gift, for you to do with as you wish."

    This logic seemed to work. At last the threatening arm was lowered and the cruel hold on Devaki's hair was loosened. Kamsa turned and looked piercingly at Vasudeva. "What you say is true. I know you for a man of honor and I shall believe your word. Moreover, I have ways and means of seeing that you do not forget your promise. Go! And take her with you. I can no longer bear to look at her face."

    A moment ago there was none so dear to him as his sister and now there was none so hated. Without a backward glance, Kamsa left the couple stranded on the streets and drove off as the people, trembling with fear, made way for him. Outwardly they stilled their joy, but inwardly their hearts rejoiced when they thought of his approaching end, and they blessed Devaki to have a child every year so that the time would pass quickly and the eighth child, their deliverer, would be born in eight years. Sadly Vasudeva escorted his bride to his own house unaccompanied by music and dancing. An hour ago they were the most envied couple in the whole kingdom; now no one dared to look at them.

    The people's prayers were answered and within a year Devaki gave birth to a lovely baby boy. The umbilical cord had hardly been cut when Vasudeva hurried with the child to Kamsa's palace, disregarding Devaki's pleas that she should be allowed to nurse the child at least once. For a man of wisdom there is no object that cannot be given up and no sorrow that cannot be borne.

    Impressed by Vasudeva's adherence to truth and his extreme equanimity Kamsa said, "Let this child be taken back. He poses no threat to me. It is only from your eighth child that I am destined to die. Take the infant back to my sister and tell her that her brother is not as cruel as she thinks."

    Far from being happy at this show of leniency, Vasudeva was perturbed at this unexpected turn of events, for he well knew how vacillating are the minds of the wicked. One day he would speak thus and the next he would change his mind; by then they would have become attached to the infant. It would have been easier to have parted with it now, when it lay quiescent and unresisting in his arms, than later, when it would start to smile and talk and wind its little arms round his neck and his heart, thus making the parting more heartbreaking.

    So Vasudeva left the palace with bent head, clutching the child and trying not to look at him, trying not to love him too much, for as a wise man he knew it was better not to become too attached to something from which he would soon have to be parted.

    Thus, six years flew by on wings and every year saw the birth of another baby boy to the couple. Vasudeva would faithfully take each child to Kamsa, who would return it as a gift. By all rights, the couple should have been blissfully happy. They had each other, they had six lovely boys, each more beautiful than the last, and they kept to themselves without mixing in court life and intrigue. They said their prayers and purified themselves by vows and fasts in order to prepare themselves for the advent of their eighth child, who would be the Lord Himself. But all the time they felt as if they were balanced on the edge of a precipice. No one could tell when the delicate balance would be upset and they would be plunged into the swirling waters below.

    It was at this time that the celestial sage Narada went to the court of Kamsa in order to play his small part in hastening the advent. If Kamsa started showing signs of leniency, the Lord would take longer to incarnate Himself, for it is only when wickedness reaches its zenith than an incarnation is called for. So armed with his vina (stringed instrument) he entered the audience chamber of the king. Kamsa hardly glanced at him, for he did not consider a mendicant like him, who went about singing the Lord's praises, to be worthy of respect. Narada, however, was unperturbed.

    Strumming his vina he said softly, "I hear, O King, that you are not keeping too well these days, not so much at the peak of your powers of observation as you were before."

    "What!" Kamsa said, rising up in anger. "What makes you speak such arrant nonsense! I never felt better in my life!"

    Now that the king had taken notice, Narada quietly took his seat, uninvited, and continued amicably, "I hear that you had your sworn enemy within your grasp and yet you let him slip away like a wily fish from the hook of an inexpert angler."

    "You heard wrong," shouted the enraged king. "There's no enemy either big or small who has ever come within my grasp and lived to tell the tale. But what can you, a mere singer of ballads, know of deeds of valor?"

    "I think your memory is getting poor, O Kamsa!" Narada taunted. "Have you forgotten the prophecy at the time of Devaki's marriage that you have allowed six of her children to slip from your grasp? Is this the action of a shrewd man?"

    "And why not?" shouted the irate king. "Since you seem to know so much about it, you should also know that it was the eighth child who was denounced in the prophecy and not the first or sixth or any other?

    "Poor Kamsa," Narada commiserated in his gentle voice. "There's so much you don't know. But don't make the mistake of underestimating your enemy. He is Vishnu, the master magician who can delude the entire world into believing anything. He can make eight into one and one into eight. If you count from the top downward, the last is the eighth, but if you count from the bottom upward, what happens? The first becomes the eighth, and if you put them in a circle and count, what happens? Any one of them could be the eighth! You're living in a fool's paradise, my poor man, lulled into a feeling of false security, which is exactly what He wants you to feel. Moreover, you should realize that this is all a master plot on the part of the devas (gods) to kill the asuras (demons). You, O Kamsa, are the great asura of old called Kalanemi. The rest of your clan, with a few exceptions, are all devas involved in the mighty plot to annihilate you and your kind. Of this you are ignorant, poor Kamsa, and that is why, at long last, even though I know you despise me, I came to warn you, for I am a true well-wisher of the world. I want nothing but the well-being of the universe."

    So saying Narada quietly left strumming his vina, just as he had come, unannounced and unescorted. He left behind a stunned Kamsa, aghast at his stupidity in having let six children go free. There was not a moment to be lost. Six years of folly had to be retrieved in a day. He summoned all his evil counselors, Kesi, Putana, and others, and started a regular campaign of suppression of the Yadavas with the backing of his father-in-law, Jarasandha, the powerful king of Magadha. A campaign of terror followed in which he mercilessly murdered all those whom he suspected of being devas, so that there was a panic among all the good people and a general exodus out of the city into the outlying districts, where they went into hiding. Vasudeva sent his first wife, Rohini, to the house of Nanda, the cowherd chief of Gokula, who was a friend of his. Kamsa's father, Ugrasena, remonstrated with him and warned him of the consequences of his atrocious deeds. Kamsa spoke not a word, but quietly had his father removed and clapped into jail. Then he turned the full force of his fury on his sister and her husband. One by one their children were taken up and smashed to death on a rock before their horrified eyes! What is it that the wicked will not resort to in order to save their own skins? Vasudeva's worst fears were realized. Devaki saw but one child being killed, and then mercifully fell into a deep swoon. Dry-eyed and stony-hearted, Vasudeva watched until the bitter end. As his children were savaged, one thought alone sustained him: he and his wife were still alive and capable of bearing children. Whatever happened, however much they suffered, theirs would be the fortune to be the instruments by which the divine purpose would be fulfilled. Only two more years, he exulted, and then the prophecy would come true. Their work on earth would be done and the reason for their birth accomplished. So great was his faith and devotion that not even the ghastly scene before him had the power to move him. But even this hope was soon dashed, for Kamsa decided that the best place for this traitorous couple would be the dungeon, next to his father, where he would be able to keep an eye on their doings. So he clapped them in jail, with guards on duty night and day.

    Soon Devaki conceived for the seventh time. The land was groaning under the weight of Kamsa's iniquities and the prayers of the people were rising in a constant stream, so, it is said, that the Lord Vishnu decided that He could not wait for another year before incarnating Himself. Such is the force of mass prayer, as Narada had foreseen. The Lord commanded His yogamaya, or shakti (feminine force of action), as follows, "O Devi (goddess), you must go to Vraja, the cowherd settlement, to the house of Nanda, where Rohini, the wife of Vasudeva, has taken refuge. My spiritual power known as Shesha has already entered the womb of Devaki. Transplant the fetus from her womb into Rohini's. Soon after, I shall incarnate Myself in Devaki's womb, and you, O Devi, will be born as Yashoda's daughter. You will be the bestower of boons to all and will be worshipped on earth under many names."

    Being thus ordered by the Lord, the goddess transferred herself to the earth and accomplished all that she was expected to do. The news was bruited abroad that Devaki's seventh pregnancy had been aborted. Hearing the news, Kamsa suspected a trick and went himself to the dungeon to find out the truth.

    "Is it true that you conceived for the seventh time?" he thundered.

    "Yes," replied Devaki meekly.

    "Then what happened to the child?" he enquired suspiciously.

    "I don't know," she whispered, and in truth she did not, for who can know the ways of God? She had been pregnant until a few days ago and then suddenly she had felt her womb to be empty.

    Kamsa ruminated for a while. Trick or no, the next child would surely be the eighth. Since prevention was better than cure, he decided to prevent the couple from conceiving at all and gave instructions for heavy chains to be brought. With his own hands he bound Vasudeva to one pillar and Devaki to the opposite, thus ensuring that there was no possibility of any physical contact between them. Strict orders were given that they were not to be let out together. Satisfied with his handiwork, he left, banging the dungeon doors together and shutting out the last ray of hope.

    "O God! What about your promise?" groaned Vasudeva. "Are you going to desert us now in the hour of our darkness? We have none but you to aid us." So saying, he bowed his head and was plunged into grief. At that moment, the Supreme Lord, protector of the universe, entered into the mind of Vasudeva, so that he began to shine in splendor like the sun. Such bliss transformed his face and aspect that his unhappy wife felt bound to exclaim.

    "O Husband!" she cried. "What is that secret thought that is drenching you with happiness? What have we unfortunate creatures to be happy about? O unlucky parents! We have been forced to see our children murdered before our own eyes. Our only hope was to see the birth of our eighth infant and now even that hope has been dashed to the ground. What have we to rejoice about?"

    "There is a form shining within my heart, O Beloved," Vasudeva exclaimed in rapture, "that thrills me to the very core of my being, so that I no longer feel the hardness of the pillar to which I am bound nor the weight of the chains that bite my flesh."

    "0 Husband!" she cried, "pray describe this vision in detail to me so that I too can share your rapture."

    So Vasudeva transmitted to his wife through the medium of the mind that world-redeeming aspect of the Supreme Divine, who is the all-comprehensive Being present in all, including herself, and she received the mental transmission even as the eastern horizon receives the glory of the full moon. Thus did she conceive the Lord mentally through her husband Vasudeva.

    When the jailer opened the dungeon doors the next day, he saw the cell bathed in a divine radiance and Devaki transformed and shining as if within her she carried a living fire, a fire which would consume all the evil in the world and leave it pure and shining. Hurriedly closing the doors, he ran as fast as he could to the king to give the news that something strange and wondrous had happened to Devaki. Kamsa went posthaste to investigate for himself. It was just as the jailer had described. When he opened the doors, his eyes were dazzled by such a blinding flash of burning blue brilliance that he staggered back, unable to bear it.

    He thought to himself, "Surely the Lord Hari (Vishnu), who is to be the cause of my death, must be within her. Never before have I seen her with such divine lustre. What shall I do now? If I kill her outright, I shall surely be condemned by all, so I shall wait for the child to be born and then kill him."

    He gave orders that the guards were to be doubled, the chains strengthened, and every precaution taken so that none entered or left the dungeon. All his instructions were carried out faithfully, but neither Devaki nor Vasudeva cared or even noticed what was happening around them. They were bathed in a sea of bliss and as the child within her womb grew bigger, Devaki's joy knew no bounds. She did not feel the discomforts of her position, nor was she worried as to the ways and means of protecting the child when it was born and caring for it until it grew old enough to kill her brother. Such mundane considerations worried her not a whit, for she had time only to meditate continuously on that wondrous form which filled her being and suffused her with delight.

    Kamsa, too, was in a very similar state. His mind sharpened in single-pointed concentration on Lord Vishnu through intense fear, his entire world was filled with Vishnu, even though it was of Vishnu as avenger and killer. Waking, sleeping, eating, or talking, he quaked in fear, constantly wondering how his killer would appear. He had heard of His previous incarnation, who had jumped out of a pillar as Narasimba (the man-lion) to kill the asura Hiranyakashipu. Thinking thus, he would suddenly jump off the throne on which he had been sitting and inspect his bed and mattress very carefully before sleeping. He would scrutinize every ball of rice to see if Vishnu was lurking within. Thus, waking and sleeping, Kamsa's world was peopled by Vishnu alone. This was truly an enviable state, one which meditating yogis strive in vain to achieve. Thus did Kamsa pass the ten months preceding the advent of the Lord in constant contemplation.

Thus ends the first chapter of The Play of God,
named "The Advent."

Hari Aum Tat Sat

We pray to and worship the Supreme Lord Vishnu for the welfare of all. May all miseries and shortcomings leave us forever so that we may always be able to sing His glories. May medicinal herbs grow in potency so that diseases may be cured effectively. May the gods rain peace on us. May both bipeds and quadrupeds be happy. Peace, peace, peace.

Treasury of Spiritual Wisdom
A Collection of 10,000 Inspirational Quotations

By Andy Zubko

Blue Dove Press

Copyright © 1996 Andy Zubko. All rights reserved.

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