Demons in Krishna lila 5 – Aghasura – Cruelty and violence
[Bhagavatam class at ISKCON, Washington DC, USA]
Transcribed by: Sadananda Prabhu
Demons in Krishna lila 5 – Aghasura – Cruelty and violence
This is the section in which Krishna has gone out with his friends out into the forest. In fact, this is the first demon named Aghasura whom Krishna kills outdoor. When children are very small, they are taken care of by their parents, and they can’t go out alone. It is too risky and they are not mature enough. So, Putana, Trinavarta and Saktasur are the three demons whom Krishna has killed till now. They had come to the house of Krishna or to the courtyard at least. Putana came right into the house, Saktasur was a cart outside his house, and when Trinavarta came, Yasoda Mayi was sitting in the courtyard outside her house. But now Krishna has started growing up, and he has been entrusted the care of cows. So, he has started going outside now. Before this, in the eleventh chapter, the Damodar lila has happened, and Krishna has delivered Nalakuvera and Manigriva – the twin Devatas who had become the giant trees. So, when Krishna ventures out with his friends – this pastime comes just before the well-known pastime called Brahma Vimohan lila where Lord Brahma tries to test Krishna completely. In this particular narrative Krishna goes out into the forest with his friends to herd the calves. The bigger cows are herded by the cowherd men, and we can say that Krishna is more precisely a calf-herd boy because he is taking care of the baby calves. While he is going out, he also has a jolly good time playing around in the forest. The Vrindavan forest is elaborately described in the book such as Ananda Vrindavan Campu by Kavi Karanapur and Gopala Campu by Jiva Goswami. There they describe that the forest is free from all dangers, and that actually there is absolutely no predatory animals over there, that everything in Vrindavana is meant for enhancing the pleasure of Krishna and the reciprocation of love between Krishna and his devotees. And with that purpose in the mind, the forest of Vrindavan provides Krishna all comforts and facilities for enjoyment, excitement and exploration. But even in the best of places bad things do happen, and especially when Krishna is here in the material world, then there are demons who come in and disrupt things. Srila Prabhupada explained that in the spiritual world there are no demons but there are rumors of demons. This is because rumors enhance the flavor. There is fear, suspense, and sometimes horror, and all that intensifies devotion. The demons themselves don’t have any entry into the spiritual world, but when Krishna manifests in the material world, there is a curious and mysterious interplay between the material and the spiritual; and then the supreme spiritual reality descends to the world. At that time, from the spiritual world, when the supreme Lord descends, he himself is spiritual, and many of his intimate spiritual associates are spiritual. And he spiritualizes the people around him. But not all people are spiritual-izable. Some people have materialistic consciousness, and because of their consciousness, they stay materialistic. Just like in the Mahabharat, Krishna came personally to Duryodhana, and he even demonstrated his Viswarupa or his universal form, and yet, the demon that Duryodhana was, he was unfazed, and not transformed at all. So, such demoniac people are there throughout history, and in fact a significant number of souls in the material world tend to be demoniac. Some demoniac souls come to Vrindavan also, and Kamsa is the source who is sending all these demons. And when Kamsa sends these demons, he wants Krishna to be killed by these demons. But at the same time, he had three of his most powerful demons killed by Krishna. Now, for Kamsa it was shocking. If there is some kind of a mafia don, and he has got some powerful hitman who can go and eliminate people, but if the don sends that hitman for an ordinary hitjob like finishing off a child, and if mysteriously that hitman ends dead – of course Putana was not a hitman, but was a hitwoman we could say. But either way, they all ended up dead. So, Kamsa became shocked that how this could happen. Now, Kamsa doesn’t know for sure that Krishna is the son of Devaki, or that Krishna is going to be his nemesis, but still he recognizes that Krishna must be someone very powerful, otherwise how was it possible that he could have caused the death of three of his most powerful demons. Therefore, when the other demons go in, they think that they will try to catch Krishna on neutral territory. Say for example, if a sports match is there between two countries, sometimes there is the home ground advantage for the team that is playing. So, the demons thought that as Vrindavan is Krishna’s home, it is a good idea to catch Krishna in the forest which could be the neutral ground. And many of the demons who come in the Krishna lila, they try to conceal their demoniac nature by coming in particular forms.
We know about Aghasura primarily in the form of the snake that he had come. That is why we also call him as the snake demon. But Aghasura was a demon in his own right, and demons also have their forms, but they take particular forms for particular purposes. The body as we know from the Bhagavad-gita is like a dress. In Gita (2.22) Krishna says that when the body gets worn out, then the soul gets a new body. So, the body is like a dress which the soul gets by one’s own karma. Some souls can have a special karma by which they can change their body temporarily even within a particular life span. That means that even while they are going through one life – normally we change our body in a dramatic sense; the body is constantly changing at every moment, but the body changes in a dramatic sense at the time of death and rebirth. But some souls can assume some other body temporarily. For example, we have fancy dress competitions. Recently there was a competition where people dressed in all kinds of peculiar ways. So, here an external addon is done where they acquire a costume by putting on some make up or dresses, and they try to change their appearance. But when the demons want to change themselves, it is not that they put on something. It is not that Aghasura is a demon and he has put on a snake dress on top of him. Sometimes when we have dramas of Krishna lila in our temples, then some people may put on the snake skin or something like that to look like a snake demon. But in the case of demons like this, they actually by their mystic power manifest a form like this, and by manifesting such a form, they attract and captivate people. And once they captivate people, then they try to fulfill whatever ulterior motives they want to fulfill.
When do we normally conceal ourselves? That is usually when we don’t want to be detected. So, the demons in a sense have no reasons to conceal themselves because they are very powerful, and Krishna is just a small child. If there is some remote forsaken part of the world, there is not much rule of the law, and then some people want to go and attack over there. Then they may not even conceal themselves. They might just sneak in or charge in, and destroy everything and go away. But say, if some terrorist wants to come into a high-security building, then they will try to disguise themselves. They don’t want to be detected till the point when they actually do their work. When they have to do their work, at that time, they have to bring out their cover. Similarly, the demons are very powerful, but because there is a track record where Krishna in the past had killed several demons; three of them at least – I say “at least” because the Bhagavatam doesn’t necessarily give a complete record of all the pastimes that Krishna has performed. Krishna may have killed some other demons also that we do not know about in the Bhagavatam that we have. The Acharyas describe that the Bhagavatam in the heavenly planets is much bigger than the Bhagavatam that we have over here. But Krishna has killed several demons till now, and that is why when Aghasura comes along, he does not charge into Vrindavana, but he sneaks in and tries to mix with the surroundings. One way of mixing with the surroundings in the forest is to be like an animal. So, Aghasura takes the form of a snake. The world snake also sounds like the word sneak; like if somebody sneaks into a place or quietly come in without being noticed. The snakes can sneak in somewhere if you are not looking into the ground.
When Aghasura comes he has two purposes. Firstly, he doesn’t want to be detected, and that is why he comes in as a snake. But he knows that he can’t hide, and eventually he has to catch Krishna. So, he also assumes a form that is huge so that whoever sees him will become paralyzed, stunned, shocked and intrigued; and the very reaction that he expects is the reaction that he gets from the cowherd boys. The cowherd boys see him, and they have never seen anything like this in the wilderness. The previous verses over here describe his giant form. He has huge teeth protruding from his mouth, and it seems like his open jaws are going almost up to the sky; they are huge. And his body seems to be so long. So, he is a python. Now, snakes normally bite, and that is how they attack and kill. But pythons are different kind of snakes. They are a part of the broad reptile family. They are of a similar nature, but the pythons don’t just bite, they also swallow. Normally when a person is bitten by a snake, they die because of the poison, but at least the body remains. But when the python eats, basically the body itself disappears because it is swallowed. So, it is scary. When people go out into the jungle or wherever they go for trekking, adventure sports or exploring, at that time, to be killed by an animal is fearful. To be killed by a snake is fearful, but even in death we are actually attached to our body. So, the thought that our body itself will not exist – that means that nobody is going to perform our last rights. There is burial in the Abrahamic tradition or there is cremation in the Vedic tradition. The idea is that the body should be at least given a cultured send off so that the soul is sent off respectfully. Traditionally, even when people would be killed in war, though in the war there is no time to do the last rights, but after the war gets over, then the bodies are given some kind of last rights. But if somebody is swallowed, then there is no chance of any last rights at all, and it is considered to be a very gruesome death; both from the physical point of view that the body will be destroyed, and also from the point of view that the body doesn’t get any last rights. That’s why when Lord Ram goes to the forest, and then he comes in the middle of India to a place called Ramtek, there he sees a huge mound of bones lying there, and these are the bones that all the man-eating cannibals have eaten, and after eating all those, they can’t eat the bones. So, in order to create terror in the people around nearby, and to make a parade of how many sages they have killed, they have piled all the bones together like a victory trophy. And when Ram sees that, he is furious, and then he takes a vow that he will rid the world of the demoniac upstarts, disrupters and cannibals. And that is what he does eventually. The point I am making here is, to be devoured when the body itself is not available for any remains, is itself a very scary and grisly prospect. And Aghasura plans to do this to Krishna and his associates, and whoever might be there. And as Krishna and his associates are coming to the forest, they think, “What is this?” Children are naturally curious. Whenever they come to a new place, they ask, “What is this, what is that?” So, as the small gopas are looking around, they suddenly see this huge python, and Aghasura is lying there motionless. He is lying there motionless because he doesn’t want to alarm or alert the cowherd boys who are coming. The vrajavasis wonder if it is real because a real snake demon is scary, but if it is not, then they wonder if it is some kind of magical play. For example, some children like to play in various ways and some time they may go to amusement parks, or even normal parks that are there. And sometimes some kind of toy items are fashioned in a way that they are suitable for children. So, the vrajavasis thought that it is some kind of a fun thing or some kind of a toy or something that we can play with. And as they were asking Krishna – they were so young, playful and impetuous that they didn’t even think whether it was really. They asked Krishna, and before he could answer, they said, “Let’s explore.” and they started walking inside. When they walked inside, at that time Krishna was observing and was thinking. When Krishna saw this, he immediately became suspicious, and then he recognized that this is a demon. But his gopa friends were so playful and restless – play and rest are opposite. So, they were playful and restless; they just couldn’t stay in one place. They just went inside, and before Krishna could stop them, they were inside. And now Krishna was thinking, “What to do?” So, he also decided to go inside, and as he entered into this demon’s mouth, the kids were thinking, “This is something to play with.” and that’s why they were entering. Otherwise they wouldn’t enter into a demon’s mouth like this. But as soon as they entered, Aghasura was waiting for this opportunity itself. He had been completely motionless till then, but then he closed his mouth, and suddenly Krishna and the Vrajagopas found themselves trapped inside this fearsome demon, not knowing what to do and how to move on now. And as they were thinking like this, the toxic substances in his stomach were so great that nobody could survive over there.
Krishna’s pastimes are often watched by the devatas, because the devatas are concerned that Krishna should be able to kill the demons. And therefore, what they do is, they often do what is required for cheering Krishna on. Now, Aghasura was such a fearsome demon; normally, if there are two demons who are fighting – in a sports match you can cheer on whichever party you want, but if it is a real fight between two gangsters, then people are afraid to cheer anyone, because if one gangster wins and we have been cheering the opposite person, then the other gangster may get on our case and accost us, “How dare you cheer my opponent?” So, the devatas in this case were not cheering Krishna. They were watching from above without speaking anything. But as soon as Krishna entered into the demon’s mouth, at that time they started feeling fearful and they started lamenting, “O what has happened. Krishna has died.” As it is said, “To enter into someone’s mouth is to enter into death.” Now, when Krishna goes inside, he is still unaffected. There are several cases in the scriptures where somebody enters into somebody’s mouth. It is like he has gone into the jaws of death. Sometimes in sports it is said, “Victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat.” That means that if you go into somebody’s jaws, it is almost that you are going to be killed, but somehow you have to come out of the jaws. But in the scriptures, it is mentioned that not only have people go into the jaws, but from the jaws they even go into the belly, and still they camee out. This happens on several occasions. For example, Vritrasur swallows Indra, but then Indra kills Vritrasur from within. Similarly, when Hanuman is flying across the ocean, at that time, a demoness named Simhika swallows him, and then he comes out of her belly. So, it is said that we should not think that we are victorious till we are actually victorious. As they say in poultry business, “They don’t count your chickens till your eggs are hatched.” So, in other words it is like saying, “Don’t count your victory too much in advance.” So, Aghasura thought that his mission was successful, but Krishna has his own plan. Krishna from inside the mouth went inside the belly of Aghasura, and from there he just ripped open Aghasura. And Aghasura, who had thought that he had won, suddenly in one moment felt a wrenching and unbearable pain in his abdomen, as Krishna started hitting from within, and before he could comprehend anything, he was just dead. If somebody attacks us from outside, we can at least fight them, but if somebody is inside us, and they attack us from inside, what can we do practically? We have no defense resources at all. So, in general, Krishna in Vrindavan doesn’t use any weapons, and Krishna in Vrindavan doesn’t even have to fight much. There is action, but there is no sustained action. Krishna just playfully does it. Uddhava while remembering Krishna’s pastimes in the third canto says that, Krishna kills the demons just as a child may plays with toys. Similarly, Krishna effortlessly kills Aghasura. And when the belly of Aghasura is opened wide, and he is teared, then the demigods start cheering from above and start showering flowers, celebrating Krishna’s extraordinary victory; that Krishna has not only come out of the jaws of death, but has also come out of the belly of death as well. So, such is the extraordinary potency of Krishna.
Bhaktivinod Thakura describes that different demons represent different things. He talks about this in both Caitanya Siksamrita as well as in Krishna Samhita. Caitanya Sikshamrita is like one of his classic books. There he describes that Aghasura represents cruelty and violence. Violence is just a fact of life. Sometimes when we live in cities and there are so many noises, and there is so much pollution, we may feel that we would like to live in a scenic forest area where there is greenery all around. But actually, forest life is not all that pleasant. Anyone who is not fit will be killed there. Prabhupada said, “The talk about the survival of the fittest, but the fact is that, even the fittest don’t survive.” Nobody survives ultimately. The point is that jungle life is very cruel. The law of the jungle is, “Might is right.” And everybody sooner or later dies. So, Dharma is what differentiates humans from animals. Without dharma humans are like animals. Dharma doesn’t necessarily refer to some religious practices like doing some puja of some deities, or doing some prayers to God. Dharma essentially refers to that philosophical quest which inspires humans to curve their animal nature. There is animal nature within everyone, but that nature is curved by social regulation and by spiritual revelation. Social regulations refer to the government rule that is there. Like say, if sometimes they are disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes, sometimes such abnormal situations can bring out the best within people, or they can bring out the beast within people. Sometimes there are extraordinary acts of humanitarian compassion and courage that are seen in disaster prone areas, but sometimes there are acts of barbaric violence and despotism that are also seen. When people are already afflicted, they are homeless and their homes are ruined, and when they are going with some possessions, some thugs may come and just plunder and strip people of everything. That is horrendous. The point which I am making here is that cruelty and violence are just facts of material existence, but in some people or in some situations the cruelty and violence becomes far more than others. And when this happens, this can actually cause greater suffering to the people. Everybody has anger, but an angry person is not necessarily considered to be cruel or violent. All of us have anger within us based on our upbringing or our culture, and even if we are angry, we will not cross some boundaries. Like, when we get angry, some of us may yell at someone, or some of us may decide just not to talk with anyone or decide give the other person the silent treatment. Some of us may go away to some place to process that anger, and some people may like to beat a boxing bag. But some people when they get angry, they might become physically abusive. They might take things and throw at the other person, or they might take a gun and shoot at other people. Anger is a normal human emotion, but when the expression of anger goes beyond civilized boundaries, then that person becomes dangerous. So, demons are not just some beings with some peculiar forms. The demon doesn’t have to have a horn on their head or teeth coming out of their mouth. Demons are basically souls like us, but they are souls whose lower nature has no civilized boundaries. So, Aghasura represents the aspect of cruelty and violence within us. Normally who would want to kill a child? To kill anyone is brutal or ghastly, but to kill a child is unspeakably ghastly. To kill a number of children or a series of children together is outrageously brutal. When Aghasura came, he wanted to just kill so many people. Now, we may say that we don’t have that kind of cruelty or violence. That is true. Those who are practicing bhakti, the expression of anger may not be to that extent, but we can also be cruel and violent in our own ways. How can that be? Usually if we consider cruelty and violence, it is in our relationship with others. There can be verbal violence or cruelty. When we are practicing and sharing bhakti, it is very important that we represent Krishna properly. I was talking with a prominent preacher in our movement, and he was telling me his realization. He said, “We often think of giving ourselves the credit for having made many people into devotees. But how often do we count how many people did not become devotees because of, either the way we spoke, or the way we conducted myself, or because of the way we may have become too argumentative or too egoistic?” Sometimes if some people have different opinions, then we may come down too heavily on them, and we may become insensitive, and then we may alienate so many people from Krishna. So, it is a great responsibility for us to represent the glorious Gauria Vaisnava and the bhakti tradition, which Srila Prabhupada has given to us. If we don’t present Krishna conscious properly, many people may go away. Krishna says in Gita (17.15) that austerity of the speech means to speak in a way that is non-agitating, that is truthful, that is pleasing, that is beneficial, and that follows scriptural guidelines. So, for us, there is a Aghasura within us, and that Aghasura within us may impel us towards violence and cruelty. And that may come out where somebody is coming from some conception, and we are trying to give them some higher understanding. But if they don’t agree, we just trample over them, and the result of that is that they just get alienated. Now Prabhupada was expert in dealing with different people in different occasions, and Prabhupada said that sometimes we feel strongly tempted to put people in their place by saying, “How dare you speak like this?” It is said, “Instead of putting people in their place, put yourself in their place.” That means that we should think from their perspective and try to understand what they are thinking and feeling, and then respond. For example, in todays world people may be following some spiritual teacher of some dubious credentials, who may have some strange philosophies. And we may say that we are helping them to rise to a higher level by doubting their choice. It is true, but for them that might just be the one shred of truth that they have. Suppose, if it is very cold, and say somebody has just a torn clothe to wear, then the torn cloth doesn’t really protect them from the cold. But if we try to rip off the torn cloth with the intention to give the person a good warm dress to wear, the person may fight their life to not give it up, if that is the only dress that is protecting them from the cold. So, first we have to give them a new cloth, and when they wear it, and it comforts and protects them, then they will themselves drop the earlier cloth, because they will think that this cannot really protect them. But if we first make them give up that earlier clothe, they will be so fearful that they will not give it up. Similarly, people have some experience and logic which they have got by some understanding of things, and if we tell them to give up that understanding first, it is like telling them to give up the cloth. Although that cloth may not be protecting them properly, but still that is all that they have. What we need to do is, we need to present Krishna consciousness in a way, that they become ready to accept it. And in accepting Krishna consciousness something has to be rejected, but the rejection doesn’t have to come first; the acceptance can come first. Instead of telling people how what they believe is wrong, we can tell them how Krishna consciousness makes sense. If we follow that approach and just explain them how Krishna consciousness makes sense – and if they have certain beliefs, we can without being critical of them or their teachers try to convince them of our own philosophy. This is because when people are themselves attacked, they become defensive, and if there are some people whom they consider to be sacred and are attached to them, they become ultra-defensive and aggressive also. And ego is in such a thing that, once the ego goes to defensive, even a nuclear bomb cannot nudge it. So, once people go into the defensive, then we can never enter into their hearts, and then we cannot enter their heads also. Therefore, wherever they are at, we try to connect Krishna with them, and help present Krishna in such a way that it makes sense to them. And then they will accept it. And thus, we will be able to bring Krishna first into their heads and then into their hearts, and thus they will get the fruit of Krishna Bhakti which will blossom their hearts, and then enrich their lives in due course.
I will summarize:
I spoke today about the demon Aghasura. I started by talking about how some demons came inside of Krishna house, but Aghasura was the demon that came outside. Children are naturally curious. So, when they saw this demon, they thought that this is a play thing. To be killed is bad enough, but to be devoured so that there is no body left is especially brutal. And Aghasura came in that form wanting to finish off Krishna. He was motionless because he wanted to conceal his malevolent intentions and catch the children off-guard. When Aghasura devoured Krishna he thought that he had already won, but Krishna from inside, did an inside-out job, and finished him off. So, Aghasura represents cruelty and violence. Anger is there within all of us, but in demoniac people the anger goes beyond civilized bounds, and thus they can act in horrendous ways when they become angry. In the animal world there is a rule, “Might is right.” In the human world dharma in social regulation and spiritual revelation keeps people under control. But when Dharma is rejected as the demons do, then the social order crumbles. So, all of us also may succumb to cruelty and violence when we insensitively try to thrust our philosophy down people’s throats. So, instead of ripping whatever clothe they have from their bodies, we give them the cloth of Krishna bhakti. That means that instead of forcing them to reject what they believe, we just explain to them how what we practice makes sense, and as they accept it, gradually the misconceptions will go away.
Thank you very much.
End of transcription.