This article originally appeared in Himalayan Heritage Magazine, issues 15, 16, and 17.

This is the story, told in three parts, of Jaya and Vijaya, great devotees of Lord Viṣṇu who were blessed to be the guardians of the entrance to Vaikuṇṭha, Lord Viṣṇu’s heavenly abode. Though you may not be familiar with their names, Jaya and Vijaya are among the most significant characters in all of Hindu mythology. “How is that?”, you ask? Well, it all started with a little misunderstanding, and a momentous curse.

The Curse

The Kumāras Visit Heaven

The Kumāras demand entry into Vaikuṇṭha

Once, long ago, the four Kumāras, the eternally youthful manasa-putrāḥ (mind-born sons) of the god Brahma, traveled to Vaikuṇṭha, Lord Viṣṇu’s heavenly abode. The Kumāras, who were named Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanātana, and Sanat Kumāra, wished to enter Vaikuṇṭha and have the darśana of the Lord. When they reached the gates, they met Jaya and Vijaya, the Lord’s gatekeepers. Despite the fact that they are older than the universe itself, the Kumāras retain the appearance of small children. Thinking them to be children, Jaya and Vijaya denied them entry. When they demanded an audience, the gatekeepers informed them that the Lord was resting, and they would have to come back later. The Kumāras were infuriated, and told Jaya and Vijaya that the Lord is available to His devotees at any time. They cursed the gatekeepers that they would have to renounce their divinity and be born on Earth as normal human beings. This was most terrifying. The thought of being separated from their Lord was dreadful to Jaya and Vijaya.

They hurried to the Lord’s side and explained to Him what had happened. They requested that He lift the curse and allow them to remain in Heaven. Lord Viṣṇu informed them that the curse of the Kumāras cannot be lifted, but he gave them a choice. They could either take seven births on Earth as loyal devotees of the Lord, or they could take only three births, but live as the Lord’s enemies. Both options were horrifying. But the thought of staying away from the Lord’s presence for seven lifetimes was unbearable. They chose three lifetimes as the Lord’s enemies. The Lord then promised them that at the end of each of these lifetimes, He would personally come and kill them Himself, and after the third incarnation, they could return to Heaven permanently.

First Incarnation

Lord Nṛsiṃhadeva Slays Hiraṇyakaśipu

Varāha the boar slays Hiraṇyākṣa and saves the earth from destruction.

So, Jaya and Vijaya were born on Earth as the brothers Hiraṇyākṣa and Hiraṇyakaśipu. Both were extremely wicked, and became very powerful asuras, power-seeking deities. Hiraṇyākṣa, fueled by his limitless pride, submerged all the lands of the Earth into the ocean. To save the Earth, Lord Viṣṇu incarnated as Varāha, the boar, and lifted the Earth out of the ocean, killing Hiraṇyākṣa in the process.

Infuriated by the death of his brother, Hiraṇyakaśipu’s hatred for Lord Viṣṇu magnified tremendously. He decided that in order to take his revenge, he would do tapasya (penance) in order to gain immortality. He went to the mountains, stood on one toe, raised his arms over his head, lifted his eyes to the sky, and began to offer a severe prayer to Lord Brahma. Years passed, but he never moved an inch. Eventually, Lord Brahma, being very impressed by his dedication, appeared before Hiraṇyakaśipu. “My son,” said the Lord, “I am most pleased by your devotion. I have never seen such an intense meditation. Ask for a boon, and it shall be granted.”

Very pleased with himself, Hiraṇyakaśipu immediately said, “I want immortality!”

“I’m sorry, my son. The gift of immortality has already been granted to the devas. That which has been given cannot be given again. Please, ask for another boon.”

Hiraṇyakaśipu thought long and hard, his cunning mind crafting a suitable alternative to immortality. Finally, he came up with a satisfactory request. “My Lord, I ask that you grant that I not meet death from any living entity created by you. I ask that I not meet death indoors or outdoors. I ask that I not meet death while on the ground or in the sky. I ask that I not meet death during the day, nor at night. I ask that I not meet death by any weapon, or by any human being or animal. I ask that I not meet death by any demigod or demon. I ask that I have no rivals, and grant me sole lordship over all living beings and devas, and grant me all the glories of that distinguished position. Lastly, I ask for all the mystic powers attainable by the practice of yoga, for they cannot be lost at any time.”

Brahma granted this boon, and Hiraṇyakaśipu began terrorizing the Earth, the Heavens, and all living beings, demanding to be honored as supreme in the entire universe.

While Hiraṇyakaśipu was performing his penance, the great sage Nārada paid a visit to his home, and met with his pious wife, Kayādhu, whom he called “sinless.” She was pregnant with Hiraṇyakaśipu’s son, and feared bringing a child into the household of her terrible, demonic husband. Sage Nārada counseled her, reminding her that if she kept faith in Lord Viṣṇu, and prayed to Him continually, all would be well. The unborn child was greatly affected by the presence and counsel of the great sage. Nārada’s constant chanting of the Lord’s names penetrated Kayādhu’s womb and filled the consciousness of the child with unending devotion for the Lord. The child was born, and named Prahlāda.

When Hiraṇyakaśipu returned home after attaining his powerful boon, he was very distressed to find that his son was a great devotee of Viṣṇu. Prahlāda spent all day chanting the names of Viṣṇu. His father made several severe threats, but still Prahlāda chanted the Lord’s names with great devotion. Finally, Hiraṇyakaśipu was fed up and ordered his son killed. Prahlāda was given poison, but through his devotion it was turned into nectar in his mouth. Hiraṇyakaśipu ordered that he be trampled by elephants, yet the child was miraculously unharmed. He was beaten repeatedly, day after day, but never stopped chanting harināma (the names of God). He was cast into a room filled with hungry, poisonous snakes, and still he was unharmed. Finally, Hiraṇyakaśipu called for his wicked sister, Holikā, who could not be burned by virtue of a magical shawl. Hiraṇyakaśipu ordered that Prahlāda sit on a pyre on Holikā’s lap. Prahlāda accepted the command of his father, never fearing for himself. He knew he was protected by the sweet nectar of harināma. After the fire was lit, the shawl suddenly flew from Holikā and wrapped itself around Prahlāda. Holikā was immediately killed, while Prahlāda emerged unscathed.

Note:The burning of Holikā is celebrated today as the festival of colors known as Holi.

Enraged, Hiraṇyakaśipu demanded that Prahlāda stop worshiping Viṣṇu, and worship only him. He exclaimed that there was no one higher than him in all the universe; he was supreme. Prahlāda dissented, and extolled the glory of the Supreme Lord. Hiraṇyakaśipu said, “If your precious Lord is so great, where is he? I cannot see him. How can he be greater than me if he is invisible?”

“Father, Hari is everywhere, in everything. Jaya Śrī Hari!

“Everywhere!? Impossible! How can he be everywhere? I am supreme in the universe, more powerful than all the devas, ruler of Heaven and Earth, and I don’t see your precious Hari!”

“He is indeed everywhere, Father. He is in every living being. He is even in you, Father. Jaya Śrī Hari!

“Oh poor Prahlāda, you have been thoroughly duped. You believe that Hari is in everything? Even in ME? Well, if he is in everything, is he in this pillar?”

“Oh yes, Father. The Lord is present in every atom of creation, even in that pillar. Jaya Sri Hari!

With that, Hiraṇyakaśipu picked up his mace, and smashed the pillar. The pillar exploded, and the most ferocious, terrifying vision Hiraṇyakaśipu had ever beheld rose up before him. Lord Viṣṇu was indeed present within that pillar, and He manifested as the Purṇāvatara Śrī Śrī Nṛsiṃhadeva. He was half-man and half-lion. He had many arms, the hand of each tipped with razor-sharp claws. Over His ferocious crowned head rose the many heads of Śrī Ananta Śeṣanāga, the Divine Serpent King. The Lord’s terrible roar shook the whole of creation. A fierce battle ensued. Hiraṇyakaśipu fought with every weapon in his arsenal, to no effect. As the battle raged on, Hiraṇyakaśipu became exhausted and badly beaten. They fought into the evening, until Hiraṇyakaśipu could fight no more. Then, at dusk, Lord Nṛsiṃhadeva lifted Hiraṇyakaśipu’s body onto His lap. He tore into the demon king’s abdomen with His fierce claws and disemboweled him. He pulled the intestines out of the body of Hiraṇyakaśipu, and garlanded Himself with them. Then, meeting all of the conditions guaranteed by Lord Brahma, Hiraṇyakaśipu was slain. He was not slain by any living being created by Brahma; he was not slain indoors or outdoors, but rather on the threshold of a courtyard; he was not slain on earth or in the sky, but rather on the lap of Śrī Nṛsiṃhadeva; he was not slain during day or night, but at dusk; he was not slain by any weapon, but by the claws of the Lord Himself; and he was not slain by any human or animal, deva or demon. With all these conditions fulfilled, Hiraṇyakaśipu was dispatched, and Brahma’s boon was kept intact.

Even after Hiraṇyakaśipu was killed, Lord Nṛsiṃha was so fierce that even the gods could not approach him. So they sent for Śrī Lakṣmī Devī, thinking that perhaps His beloved could mollify Him. But even Lakṣmī could not pacify the terrible anger of the Lord. Finally, at Lord Brahma’s suggestion, Prahlāda was brought before the Lord. Only the sweet devotion of a true devotee like Prahlāda was able to cool the seething rage of the Lord.

उग्रं वीरं महाविष्णुं ज्वलन्तं सर्वतोमुखम् ।
नृसिंहं भीषणं भद्रं मृत्योर्मृत्युं नमाम्यहम् ॥

ugraṃ vīraṃ mahāviṣṇuṃ
jvalantaṃ sarvatomukham |
nṛsiṃhaṃ bhīṣaṇaṃ bhadraṃ
mṛtyormṛtyuṃ namāmyaham ||

I bow to the ferocious and valorous Mahāviṣṇu, whose face appears everywhere, blazing like fire. Nṛsiṃha the man-lion, who is both horrifying and beautiful, and is the death of death itself.

Second Incarnation

Lord Rāma Slays Rāvaṇa

The second incarnation of Jaya and Vijaya is one you might be more familiar with. They were born as two supremely wicked brothers, Rāvaṇa and Kumbhakarṇa, and the story of their battle with Lord Rāma is told in the famous epic Rāmāyaṇa. It will be difficult to squeeze the whole of the Rāmāyaṇa into just a couple of pages, but I will try because the story of Rāvaṇa and Kumbhakarṇa requires some background information. So I’ll begin in Ayodhya, the realm of king Daśaratha.

Daśaratha was a just, righteous, and very pious king. As was customary for a king of his time, he had multiple wives. Their names were Kauśalya, Kaikeyī and Sumitra. Daśaratha had fought on the side of the devas in their great war against the asuras, and his wife Kaikeyī had served as his charioteer. During the fighting, Kaikeyī had risked her life to save his. He was so touched by this that he promised Kaikeyī two boons to be granted at any time she wished. He had no way of knowing the misery that this simple promise would ultimately bring upon him.

Many years later, Daśaratha was blessed with four sons. By Kauśalya he had Rāma, who was Lord Viṣṇu in physical form; by Kaikeyī he had Bharata; and by Sumitra he had the twins Lakṣmaṇa and Śatrughna. The boys spent much of their childhood in the gurukula (school of the guru) of the great sage Vasiṣṭha, where they were educated in dharma (right-living and adherence to duty according to spiritual principles), virtue and yoga (spiritual philosophy and practice). Vasiṣṭha’s tutelage of Lord Rāma is known today as the great scripture Yoga Vasiṣṭha. After the boys left the āśrama of their guru and returned to Ayodhya, there was much celebration throughout the entire kingdom. All the citizens were elated at the return of their beloved yuvarāja (crown-prince) Rāma and his brothers.

Kaikeyī, the mother of Bharata, being the youngest of Daśaratha’s wives, had always felt insecure, fearing that the king might not love her as much as his other wives. Her maid, Mantharā, was aware of this fear, and used it to manipulate Kaikeyī to her own advantage. Mantharā wished to advance her own status in the royal court, so she persuaded Kaikeyī to use her two boons from the king. She convinced the queen that her son, Bharata, should be the yuvarāja instead of Rāma. This would make Kaikeyī the Queen Mother, thus giving Mantharā a great deal of influence in the court. So Kaikeyī asked Daśaratha for her two boons: Firstly, that Rāma should be banished from the kingdom for fourteen years to live in the forest as a mendicant, and secondly that her son Bharata be named yuvarāja. When the king heard this, he absolutely refused to grant the boons. But Rāma, being a shining example of dharma, voluntarily accepted his own exile, because if his father refused to honor his word, it would damage the king’s integrity, dishonor their dynasty and therefore shame all of Ayodhya. Daśaratha, being thus forced to banish his own beloved son, was so despondent that he actually died from a broken heart. Bharata, refusing to take Rāma’s kingdom away from him, resolved that he would rule only during the period that Rāma was absent, and would forfeit the throne immediately upon Rāma’s return. He placed a pair of Rāma’s sandals on the throne as a reminder that he would one day return to claim that seat. Bharata also resolved to sleep on the floor of his bed chamber during the entire period of Rāma’s absence, because he felt that if the true king of Ayodhya was being forced to sleep on the forest floor, he did not deserve to enjoy any royal comforts either. Rāma’s wife, Sītā, and his brother Lakṣmaṇa joined him in exile. During the fourteen-year period, they had many adventures, but for the purposes of this story I must be brief. So we will skip ahead to Sītā’s abduction by Rāvaṇa, the emperor of the asuras (power-seeking deities, often referred to as demons).

Rāvaṇa depicted with ten heads and twenty arms.

Rāvaṇa was born to the sage Vishrava and the daitya princess Kaikesī. (NOTE: A daitya is a decendent of Diti, an earth goddess, and the sage Kaśyapa. The demon Hiraṇyakaśipu was a daitya, which means that Rāvaṇa was actually a descendant of his own previous incarnation!) It is said that Rāvaṇa had ten heads and twenty arms, but there are different schools of thought on what that actually means. Some choose to take this literally (see image), while others — myself included — take it symbolically. His ten heads are representative of his immense knowledge, having mastered the vedas, scriptures and all sacred rites under his father’s tutelage, which gave him immense spiritual power. His twenty arms are symbolic of his enormous greed and lust for power and possessions. Lord Brahma granted him the boon that he could not be killed by any demi-god, demon or wild beast (Rāvaṇa was so disdainful of humans that he didn’t think it necessary to ask protection from them).

Rāvaṇa’s brother Kumbhakarṇa was very spiritually advanced, yet also very selfish and power-hungry. He once did intense austerities and was granted a boon from Lord Brahma. He had intended to ask for nirdevatva, the destruction of the gods, but at the last moment his tongue was tied by Saraswatī Devī, and he mistakenly asked for nidrāvattva, eternal sleep (some versions of the story say he meant to ask for indrāsana, the seat of Lord Indra, king of the devas, but asked instead for nidrāsana, a place to sleep). Rāvaṇa asked Brahma to reverse this boon because it was not a boon at all, but a curse. Brahma could not fully reverse the boon, but decided that Kumbhakarṇa would alternately sleep for six months, and then remain awake for six months.

Rāvaṇa had three wives, and a vast harem which was made up mostly of women he had captured during his conquests. He kidnapped every woman he found beautiful and, if they refused his advances, forced himself upon them. This behavior led to him being cursed by his own nephew after molesting the nephew’s betrothed. Rāvaṇa was cursed that if he had his way with any other woman against her will, his ten heads would fall off (symbolically, that he would lose his vast knowledge). This curse, however, was not enough to prevent Rāvaṇa from abducting Sītā, but it did protect her chastity during her year-long captivity.

Jaṭāyu falls as Rāvaṇa abducts Sītā.

One day, while Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa were out hunting, Rāvaṇa happened to pass by the area of the forest where they were staying. He saw Sītā, alone and unprotected, and her renowned beauty captivated his senses. He decided that he must have her, and seized her immediately. All this was witnessed by Jaṭāyu, the vulture demi-god and nephew of Lord Viṣṇu’s vāhana (vehicle), Garuda the eagle. Jaṭāyu tried to fight Rāvaṇa and prevent Sītā’s abduction, but was no match for Rāvaṇa’s might. Jaṭāyu was mortally wounded, and Rāvaṇa made off with his ill-gotten bounty. Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa, while searching for Sītā (not knowing she had been kidnapped), chanced upon the dying Jaṭāyu. He told them about the fight with Rāvaṇa, that Sītā had been abducted, and that they had headed southward. Before Jaṭāyu died, Rāma blessed him for his great sacrifice and selfless service.

One condition of Rāma’s exile stated that he was not allowed to ask for aid from any kingdom in the land, so he was not able to muster the vast armies of his nation’s allies to confront the tyrant Rāvaṇa. So he looked elsewhere for assistance. He befriended Jāmbavān, the king of the bears, and Sugrīva, the king of the vānaras, an ape-like tribe of forest dwellers (vānara is a contraction of vāna — “forest” — and nara — “human”). They both agreed to help Rāma rescue Sītā. The most famous vānara is Hanumān, who is Lord Rāma’s greatest devotee and also the eleventh incarnation of Lord Śiva.

Hanumān, immersed in meditation upon Śrī Rāma.

Hanumān had been cursed in childhood not to remember that he was in actuality Lord Śiva, so he didn’t believe that he could be of any great service to Rāma. But Rāma, Jāmbavān and others were aware of Hanumān’s greatness, so they reminded him of who he really was. When the search party reached the ocean without locating the missing Sītā, they thought she might have been taken to the island kingdom of Laṅkā, but it would take too much time to build boats to cross such a long distance. So Hanumān, remembering his powers, enlarged his body and leaped across the ocean to Laṅkā. He found Sītā in a garden of Rāvaṇa’s palace, and told her that Rāma was on his way to rescue her. To prove his identity, he showed her a ring that Rāma had entrusted to him in case he located her. Hanumān returned to Rāma and told him where Sītā was. Sugrīva and Jāmbavān gathered all their vānara and bear warriors and built a bridge across the ocean by throwing stones in one at a time. The god of the ocean offered to help by holding the bridge up and not allowing the stones to sink. Despite this, Hanumān would not allow any stone to be tossed in until he had written “Rāma” on it (NOTE: The remnants of this stone bridge can still be seen today in satellite photos). Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa, Sugrīva, Hanumān, Jāmbavān, and their vast army of vānaras and bears crossed their bridge, entered Laṅkā, and declared war on Rāvaṇa and his demonic army.

The war lasted for nine nights, ending on Vijayadaśamī, “The Victorious Tenth Day.” Before the battle broke out, Rāvaṇa’s younger brother Vibhīṣaṇa, a great devotee of Lord Viṣṇu, defected and joined Rāma as an advisor. During the fighting, many soldiers on both sides were killed. After many of Rāvaṇa’s generals had been slain, he ordered that his brother Kumbhakarṇa be awakened immediately. It took a great effort, but eventually Kumbhakarṇa was roused. After hearing the details, he told Rāvaṇa that everything was entirely his own fault, but agreed to join the fight to help salvage his brother’s dire situation.

When Kumbhakarṇa joined the battle, a large portion of the vānara army was decimated. He badly injured Hanumānji, and he knocked Sugrīva unconscious and took him prisoner. As he rampaged through Rāma’s army, his immense strength made him unstoppable. Up until this point, Rāma had not joined in the fighting himself, but he felt his intervention could not be delayed any longer. He picked up his bow and his quiver of divinely powered arrows and entered the battlefield. Every arrow that Rāma fired inflicted great damage to the enemy ranks and then magically returned to his quiver. When Kumbhakarṇa saw that the demon army was being wiped out, he became enraged and charged Lord Rāma. Rāma quickly fired an arrow which severed Kumbhakarṇa’s arms. The demon was not even slowed down. So Rāma quickly fired several arrows that pierced Kumbhakarṇa’s face, but still the demon charged. Finally, Rāma took careful aim, and with a final arrow he severed the head of the mighty Kumbhakarṇa, releasing the soul of Vijaya from its second tormented incarnation.

When Rāvaṇa heard of his brother’s death and of the great losses to his army, he became all the more determined to destroy his enemy. The battle that ensued between Rāma and Rāvaṇa was fierce and furious. Rāma sought to quickly dispatch the demon, and fired arrows to sever Rāvaṇa’s head. But due to his great spiritual power, whenever Rāvaṇa’s head was cut off, a new one quickly replaced it. Rāma was unsure of how to vanquish the demon. He turned to Rāvaṇa’s brother, Vibhīṣaṇa for advice.

Vibhīṣaṇa revealed that the source of Rāvaṇa’s great power was a secret store of amṛta nectar that he kept in a small pot in his stomach. Armed with this knowledge, Rāma loosed a final volley of arrows: one arrow to sever the demon’s head, another arrow for each of the demon’s arms, and a final arrow which pierced Rāvaṇa’s belly and destroyed the pot of amṛta.

As Rāvaṇa’s body fell lifeless, the heavens erupted in joyous celebration at the victory of Lord Rāma. All the gods and the assembled vānaras and bears all chanted “Jaya Śrī Rāma! Victory to Lord Rāma!” Heavenly drums resounded in thunderous applause and the three worlds cried out in ecstasy. Rāma ordered that Rāvaṇa’s pious brother Vibhīṣaṇa be installed on the throne of Laṅkā, to rule the people justly and right the terrible wrongs of his wicked brothers.

ŚrĪ Rāma, SĪtā, Lakṣmaṇa, and Hanumān.

ॐ रामाय रामभद्राय
रामचन्द्राय वेधसे ।
रघुनाथाय नाथाय
सीतायाः पतये नमः ॥

oṃ rāmāya rāmabhadrāya
rāmacandrāya vedhase ।
raghunāthāya nāthāya
sītāyāḥ pataye namaḥ ॥

I bow to Rāma, the beautiful Rāma, Rāmacandra the knower of the Vedas, leader of the Raghu clan, the Lord of All, the beloved of Sītā.

ॐ श्रीराम राम रामेति
रमे रामे मनोरमे ।
सहस्रनाम तत्तुल्यं
रामनाम वरानने ॥

oṃ śrīrāma rāma rāmeti
rame rāme manorame |
sahasranāma tattulyaṃ
rāmanāma varānane ||

Chanting “Śrī Rāma Rāma Rāma” delights Rāma and delights the mind of the one chanting. Chanting the name of Rāma is equal to reciting the Viṣṇu Sahasranāma (the 1000 names of Viṣṇu).

Third Incarnation

Lord Kṛṣṇa Slays Kaṃsa and Śiśupāla

This story begins several years before Kṛṣṇa’s birth. Ugrasena was king of Mathurā, and his son Kaṃsa was yuvarāja, the crown-prince and commander of the king’s armies. Kaṃsa was very fond of his cousin Devakī, and treated her as a sister. He was even instrumental in arranging her marriage to the noble prince Vasudeva. In fact, Kaṃsa loved his cousin so dearly, that he insisted on driving the couple’s chariot on the day of their wedding.

As he was driving the newlyweds to their home after the wedding, he heard a divine voice from the sky declare that the eighth child of Devakī would kill him. Terrified and enraged by the ominous prophecy, he completely forgot his love for Devakī, threw her from the chariot and drew his sword to kill her. Vasudeva quickly placated his new cousin-in-law, convincing him that Devakī was not his enemy, and only her eighth child should cause him any agitation. Kaṃsa agreed and released Devakī. Over time, Devakī and Vasudeva began having children. Kaṃsa let them live in peace, since he was only worried about their eighth child.

One day, one of Kaṃsa’s advisors said to him, “Mahārāja, it is not wise to let Devakī’s children live. Counting is very arbitrary. Look at your hand. Can you say which finger is first and which is last? It depends on which direction you count in. If you count backwards from the eighth child, then the firstborn of Devakī and Vasudeva is your killer.” Kaṃsa was stricken with fear. The advisor continued, “If a flower has eight petals, any one of them could be considered as the eighth one.” Kaṃsa immediately ordered the arrest and imprisonment of Devakī and Vasudeva, and personally killed their existing children. Kaṃsa’s father, Ugrasena, was outraged at this and tried to remove Kaṃsa from the position of yuvarāja, but Kaṃsa had the loyalty of the army behind him and deposed and imprisoned his father, crowning himself king.

Devakī and Vasudeva, heartened by the divine prophecy of Kaṃsa’s inevitable death at the hands of their eighth child, continued to produce children even while in prison. Each time a baby was born, Kaṃsa came personally to dispatch it. He took each child by the feet, raised it over his head, and dashed it against the stone wall. The first six children were killed in this violent manner. When Devakī was pregnant with her seventh child, Lord Nārāyaṇa instructed Yogamāyā Devī, the goddess of illusion, to remove the child from Devakī’s womb and place it in the womb of Rohiṇī, Vasudeva’s other wife. Since her husband’s imprisonment, Rohiṇī had been living in hiding in the household of Nanda, chieftain of the nearby village of Gokula. For Rohiṇī, it seemed to be an immaculate conception, as overnight she became very pregnant. And for Devakī, it seemed that she had miscarried. Kaṃsa took this as a victory, claiming that even Devakī’s unborn children were frightened of his wrath. But the seventh child of Devakī survived, and was born to Rohiṇī in Gokula. The child was named Balarāma.

Vasudeva places baby Kṛṣṇa beside Yaśodā

Soon after this, Devakī became pregnant again, with her long awaited eighth child. The eighth child was indeed Kṛṣṇa, Lord Nārāyaṇa Himself in human form. As soon as he entered the womb of Devakī, Lord Nārāyaṇa ordered Yogamāyā Devī to enter the womb of Nanda’s wife, Yaśodā, in nearby Gokula. Nine months later, both children were born on the same night. As soon as they were born, both mothers, Devakī and Yaśodā, fell into a deep sleep, as did everyone around them, with the sole exception of Vasudeva. As Vasudeva beheld his newborn son, Lord Nārāyaṇa revealed Himself in the child, and bestowed on Vasudeva the vision of His Four-Armed form. He instructed Vasudeva to take his newborn son across the river Yamunā to the village of Gokula, into the house of Nanda, and exchange it with mother Yaśodā’s newborn daughter, who was in fact Yogamāyā Devī. Immediately, Vasudeva’s shackles fell off his wrists and ankles, the doors of the prison opened, and all the guards remained in a deep slumber. Vasudeva collected baby Kṛṣṇa and carried him out of the prison and across the river to Gokula. He found the house of Nanda where everyone was sleeping. He placed baby Kṛṣṇa at Yaśodā’s side, and took her newborn daughter back across the river to the prison. As soon as he entered his cell and placed the baby next to Devakī, his shackles leapt back into place, the prison doors locked themselves, and the guards awoke to the soft cries of the newborn girl. Through the power of Yogamāyā Devī, Vasudeva forgot everything that had taken place that night, and took the little girl to be his own daughter.

Yogamāyā Devī reveals herself to Kaṃsa

Kaṃsa was informed of the child’s birth, and came to the prison immediately. As he seized the baby girl, Devakī and Vasudeva pled with him to spare her life. “How can you be frightened of a little girl? She can’t possibly harm a powerful warrior such as you. You have nothing to fear from her!” Kaṃsa could not be dissuaded. He grabbed the girl’s feet and tried to smash her against the wall, as he had done with the other children. As he swung her over his head, she slipped from his grasp and flew through the air. As they watched, the baby was transformed into Yogamāyā Devī’s fully divine form. She announced to Kaṃsa, “Fool! Killing me will do you no good. Your killer is another, and He has been born already. Cause no more harm to Devaki, and mend your wicked ways!” Rather than repent, Kaṃsa had a renewed vigor and determination to outwit his curse.

He ordered the deaths of all children who had been born recently throughout the kingdom, and sent out his demonic minions to carry out the task. As reports came back to him from around the kingdom, he learned of a child in Gokula who had survived the attack and killed the demon he sent. He thought, “At last! This is the child I must kill!” Over the next several years, Kaṃsa sent many ever more ferocious demons to Gokula, all of which were slain by young Kṛṣṇa.

Finally, when Kṛṣṇa was a teenager, Kaṃsa concocted a scheme that he felt was sure to succeed. He decided to hold a large fire-ceremony called dhanur-yajña, and he invited all the cowherd men and boys from the surrounding villages to come to Mathurā to participate. Kaṃsa had invited the strongest, fiercest wrestlers in all the land and arranged to have them fight the boys. The two most famous wrestlers challenged Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma to a match, claiming that the great deeds of their childhood were well known throughout the land, and that the king wanted to see them in action. The boys agreed, and the wrestling match began. The audience was very worried for the young cowherders, because the opponents seemed so mismatched, but Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma quickly killed the fierce champions. The people were cheering now for the boys who displayed such impossible strength. The brāhmiṇs, seeing the divine stature of the young boys, began singing their praises.

Kaṃsa’s demise

Kaṃsa was enraged at seeing his great plans come to nothing. He ordered that the boys be immediately driven from the city along with the cowherd boys who came with them. He also ordered the arrest and execution of Nanda, Vasudeva, and his own father, Ugrasena. Outraged at the audacity of this fool king, Kṛṣṇa decided that the time had finally come to fulfill the prophecy. He leapt high into the air, over the bodyguards surrounding Kaṃsa. He knocked the crown off of Kaṃsa’s head, grabbed him by the hair and pulled him down into the wrestling ring. He straddled Kaṃsa’s chest and began pummeling him with His fists. Kaṃsa soon gave up his life, and the first of Lord Nārāyaṇa’s loyal gatekeepers returned to Vaikuṇṭha at long last. Kṛṣṇa restored Ugrasena to the throne of Mathurā, and had His father, Vasudeva, named as yuvarāja. He then founded His own kingdom called Dvāraka.

Meanwhile, the other gatekeeper was reincarnated as a son of Damaghoṣa, the king of Cedi, and Śrutadeva, the sister of Vasudeva and Kṛṣṇa’s aunt. His name was Śiśupāla. He was born with four arms and three eyes, a deformity that was taken as a very bad omen. His parents were inclined to cast him out, but they were warned by a heavenly voice not to do so. The voice said that when a certain person takes Śiśupāla into their lap, his extra limbs would disappear, but that this person would eventually kill him. So they kept the child and raised him with love. One day, Kṛṣṇa came to visit with His aunt, and to meet his baby cousin. When Kṛṣṇa took the child on his lap, the extra arms fell away and the eye disappeared. Śrutadeva was mortified. This meant that Kṛṣṇa would be the one to kill her son! She begged Kṛṣṇa to promise that if Śiśupāla ever offended Him, he would be forgiven. Kṛṣṇa swore that He would forgive Śiśupāla a hundred times, no matter how grave the offense. Śrutadeva was satisfied with this, because she could not imagine her son ever committing so many wrongs against Kṛṣṇa.

Some years later, Rukmiṇī, the beautiful princess of Vidarbha, met Kṛṣṇa and fell in love with Him, and Kṛṣṇa fell in love with her also. They both wanted to marry the other, but Rukmiṇī’s marriage to Śiśupāla had already been arranged. Rukmiṇī sent a message to Kṛṣṇa asking Him to kidnap her before she had to marry Śiśupāla, and that if He didn’t come, she would end her own life. So Kṛṣṇa set out from Dvāraka immediately, and captured Rukmiṇī, claiming her as his own. He took her to his kingdom, and wed her. Śiśupāla formed a deep hatred for Kṛṣṇa as a result of this, and challenged Him at every opportunity. But Kṛṣṇa always forgave him these assaults.

Then it was announced that Yudhiṣṭhira, the eldest of the Pāndavā brothers, was performing the rājasuya sacrifice in order to become Emperor of the known world. All the kings and princes in the land came to witness the great event, including Kṛṣṇa and Śiśupāla. During the course of the event, Yudhiṣṭhira had to worship each of the assembled people. The most exalted person is the first to be offered worship, called agra pūjā, and there was much debate about who that should be. Sahadeva, the youngest of the Pāndavā brothers, began speaking of Kṛṣṇa’s greatness, and how He should have the honor of agra pūjā. At the end of his speech, all those assembled cheered, and Yudhiṣṭhira worshiped Kṛṣṇa.

As the assembled dignitaries offered their praise to Kṛṣṇa, Śiśupāla became fed up. He stood and denounced Kṛṣṇa, saying, “This Kṛṣṇa is a simple cowherd boy, who has no place in this exalted company, and certainly should not have been offered agra pūjā. He is no better than a crow! How could you choose him as supreme amongst this exalted company?” Śiśupāla continued to insult Kṛṣṇa, questioning His morals, His integrity, His honor. Yet Kṛṣṇa remained silently unaffected. All the assembled kings and princes were becoming very angry with Śiśupāla, and began shouting and challenging him.

After the final insult

Finally, Śiśupāla flung his hundred and first insult, and Kṛṣṇa’s eyes blazed. He stood up, raised his right index finger, and manifested the sudarśana cakra, His celestial discus, and flung it at Śiśupāla, separating his head from his body.

In this way, Lord Nārāyaṇa freed poor Jaya and Vijaya from their curse and returned them to Vaikuṇṭha, where they remain as his loyal gatekeepers. They can still be found guarding the entrance to many major Viṣṇu temples around the world.

ॐ नमो नारायणाय
oṃ namo nārāyaṇāya
I bow to Lord Nārāyaṇa

वसुदेवसुतं देवं कंसचाणूरमर्दनम् ।
देवकीपरमानन्दं कृष्णं वंदे जगद्गुरुम् ॥

vasudevasutaṃ devaṃ kaṃsacāṇūramardanam
devakīparamānandaṃ kṛṣṇaṃ vaṃde jagadgurum

The divine son of Vasudeva, the slayer of Kaṃsa and the demon Cāṇūra, the source of Devakī's supreme bliss, all praise to Lord Kṛṣṇa, the teacher of the whole world.