“My dear brother, please do not kill this female child. I promise that this child will be the wife of your son; therefore don't kill her. You are not to be killed by any female child. That was the omen. You are to be killed by a male child, so please do not kill her. My dear brother, you have killed so many of my children who were just born, shining as the sun. That is not your fault. You have been advised by demoniac friends to kill my children. But now I beg you to excuse this girl. Let her live as my daughter.” (Devaki speaking to Kamsa, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 4)Download this episode (right click and save)
Sura and asura. These are complementary terms in Sanskrit. One is a negation of the other. There is a specific quality which is the determining factor. When it is present, the individual is a sura. When it is lacking, an asura has been found. That quality is belief in God, to at least some extent.
“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.8)
The asura is compared to a demon. They don’t necessarily have to be a ghoulish creature with a terrifying visage. They can be a beautiful looking person too; good on the outside, really bad on the inside. The asura usually does not sit still. They are not content in their atheism. While the sura generally leaves people alone, the asura causes disturbance. They do so in different ways, and when the situation becomes dire for mankind as a whole, the Supreme Lord intervenes to offer protection.
1. Imprisoning the innocent
King Kamsa should have been happy. His sister Devaki just got married. It was arranged to a pious person named Vasudeva. On the way towards dropping his sister off to her new home, Kamsa heard a voice from the sky. It prophesied that her sister’s eighth child would kill him. Kamsa was so attached to his temporary body that he decided he couldn’t let the unchangeable future unfold. He imprisoned both his sister and her new husband.
Kamsa went further. With every child that was born to Devaki, Kamsa took it and threw it against a stone slab. This is really no different than the modern practice of abortion; just a difference in time and method. Yet the visual made his true nature crystal clear to everyone. Kamsa was indeed an asura on the inside.
Kamsa looked to be in the clear when he attempted to kill what he thought was the eighth child. It was actually Yogamaya, Durga Devi herself, who slipped out of the king’s hands. The real eighth child was named Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who had snuck away to the neighboring town of Gokula. The Divine will can never be denied, and so Devaki’s eighth child would indeed come to kill the horrible king.
2. Stopping religious activities
The brahmanas, the priest-like members of society, took refuge in the forest. The areas were known as tapo-vanas; places conducive to austerity and penance. The brahmanas had nothing. They lived away from civilization, not bothering anyone.
Then you had the Rakshasas. These are something like human beings, but with a conspicuous trait. They eat human beings. Their favorite flesh is that belonging to the priestly class. Their killings weren’t accidental, either. The Rakshasas would target the time of sacrifice, when the priests were engaged in worship of God. Since they attacked at night, the Rakshasas were known as nishacharas.
“Being under the influence of illusion, I underestimated Rama and took Him to be a mere child. Thus I ran towards Vishvamitra’s sacrificial altar. With that, Rama released an acute arrow capable of destroying His enemies. Upon hitting me, that arrow forcefully threw me away to an ocean one hundred yojanas [eight hundred miles] away.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.19)
These horrible creatures met their match in a young man named Rama. He protected the sacrifice of Vishvamitra. Maricha witnessed that protection firsthand, when Rama shot an arrow at him that hurled the Rakshasa eight hundred miles away into an ocean. Rama is the same Krishna, appearing on earth in the role of defender many thousands of years ago.
We knew of what happened to Maricha based on his own testimony delivered one time to the king of Rakshasas, Ravana. Maricha told the story as a way to dissuade Ravana from a bad idea he had. The king of Lanka heard about Rama’s wife Sita residing in the forest. Though he had so many beautiful queens already, Ravana could not live without this woman, who he heard had beauty never before seen on earth.
“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)
Ravana went through with his plan anyway, using Maricha as a distraction. This time Maricha didn’t escape alive, and though Ravana made it back to Lanka with Sita, time was not on his side. Just because a person gets away with a sinful act for the time being, it doesn’t mean that they will forever remain safe. The sinner’s fruit arrives at the appropriate time, and it is ghastly. Rama would come and rescue Sita, destroying Ravana and his kingdom in the process.
4. Preventing even mental contemplation of God
Prahlada Maharaja was an innocent five year old. He was the son of the king named Hiranyakashipu. Prahlada had one interest. This interest didn’t cause anyone trouble. Prahlada did not require anyone else’s help, either. If my child is interested in playing a particular sport, I may have to make sacrifices in order to encourage the development of that desire. Not the case with Prahlada; he only wanted to worship Vishnu, who is God the person. Vishnu is just another form of the singular Divine, non-different from Krishna and Rama.
As a Daitya demon in both heredity and personal quality, Hiranyakashipu couldn’t tolerate this. He was so against Vishnu that he tried to have Prahlada killed. Maricha and his friends tried to stop formal worship by the brahmanas, and Hiranyakashipu went further by trying to stop mental worship, known as Krishna consciousness. Once again the Supreme Lord arrived on the scene to offer protection. Vishnu came as a half-man/half-lion named Narasimha and removed the obstacle known as Hiranyakashipu by tearing him in half at the stomach.
5. Taking land
After Shri Krishna rid the world of the evil Kamsa, He lived peacefully in the city of Mathura. There shouldn’t have been problems, but not everyone in the world is nice. There was one king from Magadha named Jarasandha. He attacked Mathura once and was soundly defeated. Krishna and His brother Balarama defended against the aggressor, and the rival went away embarrassed in defeat.
“Jarasandha, the King of Magadha, not only besieged the city of Mathura once, but he attacked it seventeen times in the same way, equipped with the same number of military phalanxes. Each and every time, he was defeated, and all his soldiers were killed by Krishna, and each time he had to return disappointed in the same way. Each time, the princely order of the Yadu dynasty arrested Jarasandha in the same way and again released him in an insulting manner, and each time Jarasandha shamelessly returned home.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 49)
The asura is relentless in their enmity with the Supreme Lord. So Jarasandha continued to attack, seventeen times in total. One benefit from the attacks was that the underwater city of Dvaraka was erected. This offered more protection until the time was right for Jarasandha’s demise. This occurred through Krishna’s grace, but the mighty warrior Bhima was the actual instrument of death. Again the Supreme Lord offered protection. The pious know that He delivers them in this way, and so they stay with Him. One way they do this is by always chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Towards atheism bent,
Supreme Lord always against.
Asura though not alone to stay,
Intentionally to get in devotee’s way.
Like Maricha attacking sacrificial fire,
Jarasandha on Mathura never to tire.
Kamsa innocent babies dashed against stone,
All solved by Krishna, as greatest protector He’s known.