8. The Virgin Devaki

When Devaki, dressed in clothing made of strips of bark which hid her beauty, entered the vast solitudes of the giant forest she staggered, exhausted from fatigue and hunger. But as soon as she felt the shade of the awesome forest, tasted the fruit of the mango tree and inhaled the freshness of a stream, she took on new life, like a blossoming flower. First she passed beneath tremendous arches formed by massive tree trunks, whose branches planted themselves in the soil again, multiplying their arcades infinitely. For a long time she walked, sheltered from the sun, as in a dark pagoda without an exit. The buzzing of the bees, the cry of the amorous peacocks, the song of the kokels and of a thousand birds, drew her still further on. And still larger became the trees, the forest denser and more entangled. Tree trunks crowded close beside tree trunks, foliage descended over foliage to form cupolas and growing pylons. Sometimes Devaki walked through corridors of greenery which the sun flooded with light, and where tree trunks lay overturned by the storm. Sometimes she paused beneath arbors of mango trees and asokas, from which cascaded garlands of lianas and a profusion of flowers. Deer and panthers leaped in the thickets; frequently buffalo made the branches snap, or a band of monkeys would pass shrieking through the foliage. She walked through scenes like this for the whole day. Toward evening, above a grove of bamboos she saw the motionless head of a wise elephant. He looked at the virgin with an intelligent, protective air, raising his trunk as if to greet her. Then the forest became light, and Devaki saw a landscape of deep peace and celestial, paradisical charm.

A pond strewn with lotus and water lilies spread out before her; its heart of blue opened into the great forest, like another sky. Bashful storks dreamed motionless upon its banks, and two gazelles were drinking from its waters. On the other side, in the shelter of the palms stood the hermitage of the anchorites. A soft pink light bathed the lake, the forest and the dwelling of the holy Rishis. Against the horizon the white summits of Mount Meru rose above the ocean of forests. The breath of an invisible river gave life to the plants while the softened thunder of a distant waterfall was wafted on the breeze like a caress or a melody.

At the edge of the pond Devaki saw a boat. Standing near it, a man of mature age, an anchorite, seemed to be waiting. Silently he gestured to the virgin to get into the boat, and he took up the oars. As the little boat moved forward, stroking the water lilies, Devaki saw a female swan swimming over the pond. In a bold flight a male swan came through the air and began to describe large circles around her. Then he descended upon the water near his companion, shaking his snow white plumage. At this spectacle, Devaki trembled greatly without knowing why. But the boat had touched the opposite shore, and the lotus-eyed virgin found herself before Vasichta, leader of the anchorites.

Sitting on a gazelle's skin, clothed in the hide of a black antelope, Vasichta had the venerable appearance of a god rather than a man. For sixty years he had eaten only wild fruit. His hair and beard were as white as the summit of the Himavat, his skin was transparent, and the gaze of his dim eyes was turned inward in meditation. Upon seeing Devaki, he arose and greeted her.

"Devaki, sister of the famous Kansa, you are welcome in our midst. Guided by Mahadeva, the supreme master, you have left the world of sorrows for that of happiness. For here you are near the holy Rishis, masters of their senses, content with their destiny and seeking the path to heaven. We have waited long for you, as the night waits for the dawn. For we are the eyes of the Devas fixed on the world. We live in the densest of forests. Men do not see us, but we see men and we observe their actions. The dark age of desire, blood and crime is raging over the world. We have chosen you for the task of deliverance, and the Devas have chosen you through us. For it is in the womb of woman that the ray of divine splendor must take on human form."

At that moment the Rishis were leaving the retreat for evening prayer. The aged Vasichta ordered them to bow down to the ground before Devaki. They bowed low as Vasichta continued, "This one will be the mother of all of us, for from her will be born the spirit which is to regenerate us." Then, turning to her, he said, "Go, my child. The Rishis will lead you to a neighboring lake where the penitent sisters live. You will dwell among them, and the mysteries will be fulfilled."

Devaki went to the retreat surrounded by lions. There she was to live with the devout women who feed tame gazelles and devote themselves to ablutions and prayers. Devaki took part in their sacrifices. An aged woman gave her secret instructions. These penitents had been commanded to dress her in exquisite scented fabrics like a queen and to let her wander alone in the open forest. And the forest, filled with perfumes, voices and mysteries attracted the young woman. Sometimes she met processions of old anchorites returning from the river. Upon seeing her they knelt before her and then continued on their way. One day near a stream covered with pink lotus, she noticed a young anchorite in prayer. He stood up at her approach, cast a long, sad look at her and walked away in silence. And the serious faces of the old men, the image of the two swans and the look of the young anchorite haunted the virgin in her dreams.

Near the stream was a tree of unknown age, with wide branches, which the holy Rishis called "the tree of life." Devaki liked to sit in its shade. Often when she fell asleep there, she was visited by strange visions. Voices sang behind the foliage, "Glory to thee Devaki! He will come, crowned with light, that pure fluid emanating from the great soul, and the stars will become dim before his splendor. He will come, and life will defy death, and he will rejuvenate the blood of all beings. He will come, sweeter than honey and amrita, purer than the spotless lamb and a virgin's mouth, and all hearts will be overwhelmed in love. Glory, glory, glory be to you Devaki!"

Were these the anchorites? Were these the Devas, who sang like this? Sometimes it seemed to her that a distant power or a mysterious presence, like an invisible hand suspended over her, forced her to sleep. Then she fell into a deep, sweet, inexplicable slumber, out of which she awakened bewildered and disturbed. She turned around as if to look for someone, but she never saw anyone. But several times she found roses strewn on her bed of leaves, and a crown of lotus in her hands.

One day Devaki fell into a deeper ecstasy. She heard heavenly music like an ocean of harps and divine voices. Suddenly the sky opened into depths of light. Thousands of magnificent beings were looking at her and in the brightness of a flashing ray of light, the sun of suns, Mahadeva, appeared to her in human form. Then having been overshadowed by the Spirit of the worlds, she lost consciousness, and oblivious of earth, in a boundless felicity, she conceived the holy child.12

When seven moons had described their magic circles around the sacred forest, the chief of the anchorites summoned Devaki. "The will of the Devas has been fulfilled," he said. "You have conceived in purity of heart and in divine love. Virgin and mother, we greet you. A son will be born of you, who will be the savior of the world. But your brother Kansa is looking for you to kill you, along with the tender fruit you carry in your womb. You must escape him. The brothers will lead you to the shepherds who live at the foot of Mount Meru, beneath scented cedars, in the pure air of the Himavat. There you will bring into the world your divine child, and you shall call him Krishna, the holy one. But see that he knows nothing of his origin and yours; never speak to him about it. Go without fear, for we are watching over you."

And Devaki went away to the shepherds of Mount Meru.


Notes for this chapter:

12. An observation is indispensable here concerning the symbolic meaning of the legend as well as the real origin of those in history who have borne the name, "Sons of God." According to the secret doctrine of India, which was also that of the initiates of Egypt and Greece, the human soul is the child of heaven. Before it was born on earth the soul had a series of corporeal and spiritual existences. The father and mother therefore only engender the body of the child, since his soul comes from somewhere else. This universal law governs everything. The greatest prophets, even those in whom the divine Word has spoken, cannot escape it. And, in fact, from the moment one accepts the pre-existence of the soul, the question of knowing the name of the father becomes secondary. One must believe that this prophet comes from a divine world, and the real Sons of God prove this by their life and death. But the ancient initiates did not believe it necessary to make these things known to the common people. Some of those who appeared in the world as divine envoys were sons of initiates, and their mothers had frequented the temples in order to conceive chosen ones.


9. Krishna's Youth

The Great Initiates