During one of his pilgrimages to Vrindavana, Radhanath Swami gave a graphic description of the poisoning of the Kaliya Lake and the defeat of Kaliya at the hands of Krishna. Kaliya alongwith his wives was living inside a big lake within Yamuna. Radhanath Swami juxtaposed Kaliya with a burning ball of the fire in the belly of Yamuna. This lake within Yamuna was bubbling, boiling and foaming with poisonous fumes, due to the poison of Kaliya. Any bird that flew overhead this lake or any vegetation that grew anywhere nearby would die immediately because of the deadly poisonous fumes, except a Kadamba tree, which survived because of the nectar drops showered upon it by Garuda. In fact, within 8 miles of Kaliya Daha nothing lived except this Kadamba tree. To this date pilgrims visit the Kaliya Ghat and worship this holy tree which stands as a testimony of Krishna’s wonderful pastimes. Radhanath Swami has compared the heart to a lake and due to the Kaliya of envy within our hearts, the lake of our heart has become a very very terrible place.
Once, while herding the cows, Krishna along with the Gopas (Cowherd boys) were feeling very thirsty. They stopped by this lake to quench their thirst. As soon as the cows and the Gopas drank this poisonous water, they fell down unconscious as if dead. There was no movement or sign of life in their bodies. So when Krishna saw His friends dead, He just cast His merciful glance upon them and immediately they sprung back to life. It is explained in the Srimad Bhagvatam that just by the glance of Lord Vishnu all the living entities are impregnated into the material manifestation and so Krishna bringing back all His cows and cowherd friends back to life just by His glance is not an exaggeration. Radhanath Swami explains that all of us in this age of Kali Yuga are spiritually dead because of the poison of lust, anger, envy, greed, false pride and illusion that we have accumulated in our heart. We can come alive only when Krishna showers His merciful glance upon us in the form of the mercy, the inspiration and the instructions of His devotees.
Krishna then decided to relieve the inhabitants of Vrindavana and river Yamuna from the burden of Kaliya. In a very very playful mood, Krishna climbed to the top of this Kadamba tree on the banks of Kaliya Daha. First he pulled back His hair with both of His hands, then He retied His turban, then readjusted His belt and began to flap His arms like a wrestler in order to reassure the Gopas. He jumped from this holy Kadamba tree in to the lake, thus causing the black hot burning waves foaming with poison to overflood the banks of the lake as if a tsunami has come. Krishna was very sportingly diving and swimming in those poisonous burning waves making loud sounds. Infuriated by the commotion created by Krishna in his lake, Kaliya immediately emerged out to face the intruder. Seeing the beauty of Krishna, he became even more envious and pounced upon Krishna, beat Krishna right in the chest and then coiled his body around the delicate form of Shyamsundar.
When Lord Krishna was in the coils of Kaliya, Kaliya began to expand his body to a monstrous size and began to squeeze with all of his strength, trying to crush little Gopal. He squeezed more and more but Gopal just continued to smile and remained motionless. When the cowherd boys and the cows saw Krishna in this condition, they began to weep and cry hideously. The cowherd boys fell to the ground rolling in the dust of Vrindavan suffering miserably. At that time inauspicious omens pervaded the whole Vrajabhumi.
Krishna remained in that condition for 2-3 hours. But then finally seeing the distress of the Vrajvasis, Krishna finally expanded His body and slipped out of the coils of Kaliya. Infuriated more than ever before, Kaliya started breathing horrible fires out of all of his mouths. There were sparks flying out of his red eyes. He raised all of his hoods and stared at Krishna with cruel angry eyes. Then Kaliya with his thousands hoods started attacking Krishna, but Krishna was going round in circles to dodge all of his attacks. Finally Kaliya became so dizzy that he was depleted of all of his strength. Then Krishna pushed down one of Kaliya’s hoods and jumped over it. Radhanath Swami with his dazzling spiritual wit explains in this regard that eventually everyone has to bow down their head in front of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna. A devotee bows his head to Krishna out of love and devotion whereas atheists and envious men like Kaliya have to bow down to Krishna who comes to them in the form of cruel death.
Krishna jumped upon the raised hood of Kaliya and began to dance. As Krishna was dancing, the demigods were struck with wonder. The demigods began to play kettle drums, Mridangas, Tablas, flutes, Veenas and all other sorts of instruments. They were singing beautiful songs to accompany Krishna’s dancing. Krishna was moving His whole body, so gracefully with such exquisite artistry that the demigods with all of their instrumentation could not even keep up to Krishna’s beautiful dancing. He simply captivated all the fourteen worlds with His beautiful dance. It is here at Kaliya Ghat where Krishna is eternally performing the Leela of dancing on the hoods of Kaliya.
Krishna danced on and on until Kaliya’s one thousand hoods collapsed, and were broken into pieces. If one hood fell aside then Krishna would jump to the next hood and thus danced on all the one thousand hoods of Kaliya bringing Kaliya on the verge of death. For the Vraja Gopis, Krishna’s feet are more tender than the petals of lotus flower but for Kaliya they were like thunderbolts crashing upon his head. Deadly black and red poison started oozing out of Kaliya’s mouths. After all of his poison was vomited out, blood started pouring from his mouth and then Kaliya understood that he was finished. At this time he remembered how his wives, the Nagapatnis being great devotees had always pleaded him to surrender to Krishna and almost at the verge of death, Kaliya took shelter of the lotus feet of Krishna. Seeing that their husband had now become remorseful and humble the Nagapatnis came around Krishna with folded palms and prayed to Krishna to forgive him and release him. Being pleased by the prayers of the Nagapatnis, Krishna forgave Kaliya and told him that he should no longer disturb the Vrajavasis and immediately leave for his home, the Ramanaka Dweep in the ocean. Thus the celebrated pastime of Kaliya Daman was performed at this place.
– Radhanath Swami