Vasudeva, father to Balarama and Krishna, was a Yadava king. He had two sisters: Kunti, mother to the Pandavas, and Srutashrava, married to the Chedi king.

Krishna was a youth when he visited King Damaghosha and Queen Srutashrava of the Chedi kingdom. The queen, his aunt, greeted him with a vapid smile. Ill-talk surrounded her newborn son, Sisupala. The boy was born with three eyes and four arms.

“He’s a god,” said Krishna, as he cradled the baby in his arms. He was in the garden with the royal couple.

“Only you see him with benign eyes, Krishna, but the people say the gods have cursed him,” said Srutashrava. Grief had rendered her eyes dead and red-streaked.

There was no joy in the palace. Even the palace grounds shared the royal couple’s sorrow. The song birds had long abandoned the place. Cravens and black birds gobbled up caterpillars. Butterflies disappeared and took with them their colourful, fluttering dances. And flowers did not bloom. The shrubs wilted and filled the air with the smell of rotting mulch.

“The people are blind, dear aunt. Let their words not cause distress.”

“What about the rishis?” said the Chedi king, Damaghosha. “They foretell that the physical aberrations will disappear when the person destined to kill my son touches him.”

The royal couple of Chedi had invited hundreds of warrior-brahmanas, sages and vidhuans—men who might kill or curse their baby—to hold the child. Their son, Sisupala, did not transform to their touch. Damaghosha also approached dozens of kings and kshatriyan heroes, but again to no avail. The child’s third eye remained ugly on his forehead, and his extra gangly arms protruded from his shoulder blades.

“The people view my baby as nature’s freak. Even my maid-servants pass snide remarks.”

“O my dear aunt, know that gods who appear in full flourish reveal their third eye and second pair of arms,” said Krishna. “When Sisupala crossed the realms to take birth on earth, it was a freak of nature that manifested the physical attributes which would normally be hidden from mortal eyes. He must be a god from the higher realms.”

“What are you saying, Krishna? Is Sisupala destined for greatness?” Srutashrava held her hands to her chest and her eyes pleaded. Damaghosha swallowed and waited.

“Gods take an avatar in the lower realms such as earth as penalty for some transgression or to redeem a curse.”

“The rishis were right; my son is cursed.” The queen slumped on a stone bench and her husband went down on his knees beside her.

Baby Sisupala pinched Krishna. The Blue One yelped and laughed. The child pinched him again. Krishna lifted Sisupala and kissed its forehead. The child rained playful blows on his older cousin; and the latter laughed.

“He fights me. Please pass his shawl so I might restrain his arms before he hits my ornaments and hurts himself.” Krishna wrapped Sisupala and returned him to his aunt. Srutashrava took her child and shot a look at her nephew. She cried in shock.

“Krishna! His third eye has disappeared.” Srutashrava unwrapped the shawl; went silent. The two extra arms had vanished too. With tears flowing down her cheeks, she said,

“Oh god, it’s you. O Krishna, you will kill my son.”

“Kill? What for resort to words from the dark side? I’m blessed to be the one to free your son from whatever burden had brought him down from the heavens.”

“Krishna, your words give no solace. Why remain here and have me suffer your presence? Go! Be gone before I take my blade to you.” Damaghosha placed a hand on the dagger tucked in his waist.

“Promise me, Krishna, promise me that no matter how many times Sisupala offends you, you will forgive him,” said the queen.

“My dear aunt, you seek eternity for your son on a mortal world. I cannot make a promise that is beyond me.”

“You must promise me. I’m sister to your father. Sisupala is your cousin and is only a baby.”

“Even a baby cobra is born with venom. Notice how he rained blows on me when I picked him up.” He reached, but the queen refused to hand over her child. Krishna smiled and invited with a gesture of his eyes. His aunt relented and let him carry her baby. Sisupala again gurgled and kicked. Krishna said,

“He will be a fearless warrior.”

“You must give me your promise,” said the queen.

“I promise to forgive Sisupala’s transgressions a hundred times. For the rest, he must do his part.”

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