Kalindi was one of the lakes receiving water from the river Yamuna. It was a beautiful lake once upon a time with lush green pastures and groves on its banks.
But when the Gopas shifted to Brindavan, all they could notice near the lake Kalindi was an eerie silence. Grand old trees stood lusterless on the banks of the river with their branches spread out over the water. No chirping of birds had been heard in that grove for a very long time. In fact, the empty nests of the birds had been blown away by a gust of wind some years ago. Once a covey of migrating birds, who espied the lake and hopefully circled over it in their bid to settle down in the trees, suddenly plunged into the waters, dead. Sometimes a straying deer or cow would drink water from the lake, and fall down dead. Consequently, the lake and the region around it were avoided by the people.
Kalindi and its surroundings never used to be so dreadful earlier. There was a time when it was considered to be a sacred place. Many years ago, a Rishi called Shauvari lived in a hut near the lake. He passed most of his time, meditating on the banks and also enjoying nature. The animals near the lake had become quite friendly with him; they came near him fearlessly and played with him. One day, while flying over the lake, Garuda, Lord Vishnu’s vahana or vehicle, spied a big fish swimming in the clear water and swooped down upon it.
“Stop! Stop! All the creatures in this lake are under my protection!” shouted the Rishi. But the hungry Garuda paid no heed to his warning. The indignant Rishi would have thrown a bitter curse on Garuda, but he remembered that the bird was Vishnu’s servant. So, he controlled his wrath and cast a milder curse: “Should your shadow fall on the lake or should you touch its water again, you shall be reduced to ashes!”
Garuda flew away and never visited Kalindi again. The Rishi died some time later. Several years passed and one day a mighty serpent named Kaliya defied Garuda in his own province. Kaliya was pursued by the great bird who wanted to devour him, but the serpent managed to escape and reach the lake Kalindi. Kaliya was a huge creature with several hoods. Only Garuda had the power to subdue Kaliya. The wily serpent knew that a curse kept Garuda away from the lake and hence it grew very proud and arrogant. Soon its family also came into the lake and the venom they emitted poisoned the water so much that any creature that drank even a drop of it, dropped dead. The air the serpents breathed out charged the atmosphere with poison. Hence the trees looked singed and the birds fell dead by inhaling the poisonous gases.
The Gopas never dared to go near Kalindi because of such dreadful happeneings. One afternoon, Krishna and some village boys had been creating a hullaboo in the courtyard of Nanda’s palace. Suddenly the place became silent. Mother Yashoda, while busy with her household chores, felt uneasy with the sudden silence. She peeped into the courtyard and saw that the boys were not there. Balarama stood alone, fondling a brown bonny calf.
“Where’s Krishna?” she asked. “I don’t know! I have just come back from the pastures”, replied Balarama. His eyes searched in different directions; he knew what his mother would ask him next. He ran to the gate. Mother Yashoda could still see him.
“Is Krishna there?” she asked, raising her voice. Balarama waved his hand to denote ‘No’. “Where has he gone?” she asked, trying to curb her uneasiness. By then, her servants had heard her. They ran in different directions looking for Krishna. A couple of them went to the garden; one ran into the orchard and two of them searched for Krishna in different parts of the palace. But Krishna was nowhere.
Then a neighbour said that he had seen Krishna running across the meadow with his friends. At once, several servants scattered into the meadow. They searched all the familiar haunts of Krishna on the river-bank, in vain. Finally a young man climbed to the top of a tall tree to survey the valley. Suddenly, he gave a shriek. “What’s the matter?” those under the tree asked him anxiously. The climber pointed his hand at the dreaded area – the lake Kalindi. “I can see two of our boys lying on the banks of the lake!” he cried out while descending rapidly. “Let’s hope they’ve only fainted!” said the others. They knew that the two boys must be rescued immediately from the poison-filled atmosphere around the lake if they were to survive. But they could not muster enough courage to go close to the lake to rescue the boys. They ran breathless to the palace and reported to Nanda, Yashoda and the others.
There was instant panic. All of them hurried towards Kalindi.Even Yashoda suppressed her sobs and joined them. But the moment she saw Krishna, she swooned; the others stood speechless. Krishna’s companions lay unconscious, their legs in the water. But Krishna himself was in the lake. And horror of horrors, the serpent Kaliya held him in its terrible clasp, coiling its tail round his chest, while he held on to a leaning tree. Nobody knew what to do.
All of a sudden, Balarama jumped forward and shouted: “What’s this, Krishna? Are you scared of a mere serpent? I surely expect you to do better than just holding on to a tree!” Krishna looked and smiled at Balarama. The next moment, he gave up the support of the tree and wriggled out of the serpent’s grasp and pressed his tender hands on Kaliya’s multi-hooded head and jumped onto it. He began to dance as if the serpent’s head was a broad stage built for the purpose of dancing. As the serpent lashed at him with its tail, he caught hold of it and kept it in his firm grip. The serpent writhed and wriggled, creating turmoil in the lake. Its hissing was like a cyclone. Soon it began to vomit blood. This was the cosmic dance of Kaliyamardana performed by Krishna- the dance of the overpowering of the serpent Kaliya.
Out of the waters, emerged its wives. With folded hands, they appealed to Krishna to spare their husband. Their prayers moved Krishna. At once he stopped dancing and said, “Leave this lake at once. If you do so, I’ll assure you that Garuda will do you no harm”.
Having completed his task, Krishna jumped onto the bank of the lake. His two playmates who had fainted had recovered. Quietly, the serpent-family glided out of Kalindi, never to return. A strong wind drove away the poison from the atmosphere. The heavy monsoon that followed gradually cleansed the waters of the lake of its deadly stuff. Once again, it became a beautiful haven filled with lush greenery and the chirping of birds much to the delight of the gentle folk of Brindavan..