Once upon a time, the cowherd men of Vrndavana, headed by Nanda Maharaja, desired to go to Ambikavana to perform the Sivaratri performance. The rasa-lila was performed during the autumn, and after that the next big ceremony is Holi or the Dolayatra ceremony. Between the Dolayatra ceremony and the rasa-lila ceremony there is one important ceremony which is called Sivaratri, which is especially observed by the Saivites, or devotees of Lord Siva. But sometimes the Vaisnavas also observe this ceremony because they accept Lord Siva as the foremost Vaisnava. But the function of Sivaratri is not observed very regularly by the bhaktas, or devotees of Krsna. Under the circumstances, it is stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam that the cowherd men headed by Nanda Maharaja "once upon a time desired." That means that they were not regularly observing the Sivaratri function but that once upon a time they wanted to go to Ambikavana out of curiosity. Ambikavana is situated somewhere in the Gujarat province. Ambikavana is said to be situated on the river Sarasvati, yet we do not find any Sarasvati River in the Gujarat province; the only river there is Savarmati. In India, all the big places of pilgrimage are situated on nice rivers like the Ganges, Yamuna, Sarasvati, Narmada, Godavari, Kaveri, etc. Ambikavana was situated on the bank of Sarasvati, and all the cowherd men and Nanda Maharaja went there.
They very devotedly began to worship the deity of Lord Siva and Ambika. It is the general practice that wherever there is a temple of Lord Siva, there must be another temple of Ambika (or Durga) because Ambika is the wife of Lord Siva and is the most exalted of chaste women. She doesn't live outside the association of her husband. After reaching Ambikavana, the cowherd men of Vrndavana first bathed themselves in the river Sarasvati. If one goes to any place of pilgrimage, his first duty is to take a bath and sometimes to shave his head. That is the first business. After taking bath, they worshiped the deities and then distributed charity in the holy places.
According to the Vedic system, charity is given to the brahmanas. It is stated in the Vedic sastras that only the brahmanas and the sannyasis can accept charity. The cowherd men from Vrndavana gave cows decorated with golden ornaments and beautiful garlands. The brahmanas are given charity because they are not engaged in any business profession. They are supposed to be engaged in brahminical occupations, as described in the Bhagavad-gita--namely, they must be very learned and must perform austerity and penances. They must not only themselves be learned, but they must also teach others. Brahmanas are not meant to be brahmanas alone; they should create other brahmanas also. If a man is found who agrees to become a brahmana's disciple, he is also given the chance to become a brahmana. The brahmana is always engaged in the worship of Lord Visnu. Therefore the brahmanas are eligible to accept all kinds of charity. But if the brahmanas receive excess charity, they are to distribute it for the service of Visnu. In the Vedic scripture, therefore, one is recommended to give in charity to the brahmanas, and by so doing one pleases Lord Visnu and all the demigods.
The pilgrims take bath, worship the Deity, and give charity; they are also recommended to fast one day. They should go to a place of pilgrimage and stay there at least for three days. The first day is spent fasting, and at night they can drink a little water because water does not break the fast.
The cowherd men, headed by Nanda Maharaja, spent that night on the bank of the Sarasvati. They fasted all day and drank a little water at night. But while they were taking their rest, a great serpent from the nearby forest appeared before them and hungrily began to swallow up Nanda Maharaja. Nanda began to cry helplessly, "My dear son, Krsna, please come and save me from this danger! This serpent is swallowing me!" When Nanda Maharaja cried for help, all the cowherd men got up and saw what was happening. They immediately took up burning logs and began to beat the snake to kill it. But in spite of being beaten with burning logs, the serpent was not about to give up swallowing Nanda Maharaja.
At that time Krsna appeared on the scene and touched the serpent with His lotus feet. Immediately upon being touched by the lotus feet of Krsna, the serpent shed its reptilian body and appeared as a very beautiful demigod named Vidyadhara. His bodily features were so beautiful that he appeared to be worshipable. There was a luster and effulgence emanating from his body, and he was garlanded with a gold necklace. He offered obeisances to Lord Krsna and stood before Him with great humility. Krsna then asked the demigod, "You appear to be a very nice demigod and to be favored by the goddess of fortune. How is it that you performed such abominable activities, and how did you get the body of a serpent?" The demigod then began to narrate the story of his previous life.
"My dear Lord," he said, "in my previous life I was named Vidyadhara and was known all over the world for my beauty. Because I was a celebrated personality, I used to travel all over in my airplane. While traveling, I saw a great sage named Angira. He was very ugly, and because I was very proud of my beauty, I laughed at him. Due to this sinful action, I was condemned by the great sage to assume the form of a serpent."
One should note here that before being favored by Krsna, a person is always under the modes of material nature, however elevated he may be materially. Vidyadhara was a materially elevated demigod, and he was very beautiful. He also held a great material position and was able to travel all over by airplane. Yet he was condemned to become a serpent in his next life. Any materially elevated person can be condemned to an abominable species of life if he is not careful. It is a misconception that after reaching the human body one is never degraded. Vidyadhara himself states that even though he was a demigod, he was condemned to become a serpent. But because he was touched by the lotus feet of Krsna, he immediately came to Krsna consciousness. He admitted, however, that in his previous life he was actually sinful. A Krsna conscious person knows that he is always the servant of the servant of Krsna; he is most insignificant, and whatever good he does is by the grace of Krsna and the spiritual master.
The demigod Vidyadhara continued to speak to Sri Krsna. "Because I was very proud of the exquisite beauty of my body," he said, "I derided the ugly features of the great sage Angira. He cursed me for my sin, and I became a snake. Now I consider that this curse by the sage was not at all a curse; it was a great benediction for me. Had he not cursed me, I would not have assumed the body of a serpent and would not have been kicked by Your lotus feet and thus freed from all material contamination."
In material existence, four things are very valuable: to be born in a decent family, to be very rich, to be very learned, and to be very beautiful. These are considered to be material assets. Unfortunately, without Krsna consciousness, these material assets sometimes become sources of sin and degradation. Despite Vidyadhara's being a demigod and having a beautiful body, he was condemned to the body of a snake due to pride. A snake is considered to be the most cruel and envious living entity, but those who are human beings and are envious of others are considered to be even more vicious than snakes. The snake can be subdued or controlled by charming mantras and herbs, but a person who is envious cannot be controlled by anyone.
"My dear Lord," Vidyadhara continued, "Now since I think I have become freed from all kinds of sinful activities, I am asking Your permission to return to my abode, the heavenly planet." This request indicates that persons who are attached to fruitive activities, desiring promotion to the comforts of higher planetary systems, cannot achieve their ultimate goal of life without the sanction of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is also stated in the Bhagavad-gita that the less intelligent want to achieve material benefits and therefore worship different kinds of demigods, but they actually get the benediction from the demigods through the permission of Lord Visnu, or Krsna. Demigods have no power to bestow material profit. Even if one is attached to material benediction, he can worship Krsna the Supreme Personality of Godhead and ask Him. Krsna is completely able to give even material benediction. There is a difference, however, in asking material benediction from the demigods and from Krsna. Dhruva Maharaja worshiped the Supreme Personality of Godhead for material benediction, but when he actually achieved the favor of the Supreme Lord and saw Him, he was so satisfied that he refused to accept any material benediction. The intelligent person does not ask favors from or worship the demigods; he directly becomes Krsna conscious, and if he has any desire for material benefit, he asks Krsna, not the demigods.
Vidyadhara, awaiting permission of Krsna to return to the heavenly planets, said, "Now because I am touched by Your lotus feet, I am relieved from all kinds of material pangs. You are the most powerful of all mystics. You are the original Supreme Personality of Godhead. You are the master of all the devotees. You are the provider of the planetary systems, and therefore I am asking Your permission. You may accept me as fully surrendered unto You. I know very well that persons who are constantly engaged in chanting Your holy name attain release from all sinful reactions, and certainly persons who are fortunate enough to be personally touched by Your lotus feet are freed. Therefore I am sure that I am now relieved from the curse of the brahmana simply by being touched by Your lotus feet."
In this way, Vidyadhara got permission from Lord Krsna to return to his home in the higher planetary system. After receiving this honor, he began to circumambulate the Lord and after offering his respectful obeisances unto Him, he returned to his heavenly planet. Thus Nanda Maharaja also became relieved from the imminent danger of being devoured by the snake.
The cowherd men who had come to execute the ritualistic function of worshiping Lord Siva and Ambika finished their business and prepared to return to Vrndavana. While returning, they recalled the wonderful activities of Krsna. By relating the incident of Vidyadhara's deliverance, they became more attached to Krsna. They had come to worship Lord Siva and Ambika, but they became more and more attached to Krsna. Similarly, the gopis also worshiped goddess Katyayani to become more and more attached to Krsnard Brahma, Siva, Indra and Candra, for some personal benefit, are less intelligent and have forgotten the real purpose of life. But the cowherd men, inhabitants of Vrndavana, were no ordinary men. Whatever they did, they did for Krsna. If one worships demigods like Lord Siva and Lord Brahma to become more attached to Krsna, that is approved. But if one goes to the demigods for some personal benefit, that is condemned.
After this incident, on a very pleasant night, both Krsna and His elder brother Balarama, who are inconceivably powerful, went into the forest of Vrndavana. They were accompanied by the damsels of Vrajabhumi, and They began to enjoy each other's company. The young damsels of Vraja were very nicely dressed and anointed with pulp of sandalwood and decorated with flowers. The moon was shining in the sky, surrounded by glittering stars, and the breeze was blowing, bearing the aroma of mallika flowers, and the bumblebees were mad after the aroma. Taking advantage of the pleasing atmosphere, both Krsna and Balarama began to sing very melodiously. The damsels became so absorbed in Their rhythmical song that they almost forgot themselves; their hair loosened, their dresses slackened, and their garlands began to fall to the ground.
At that time, while they were so much absorbed, almost in madness, a demon associate of Kuvera (the treasurer of the heavenly planets) appeared on the scene. The demon's name was Sankhasura because on his head there was a valuable jewel resembling a conchshell. Just as the two sons of Kuvera were puffed up over their wealth and opulence and did not care for Narada Muni's presence, this Sankhasura was also puffed up over material opulence. He thought that Krsna and Balarama were two ordinary cowherd boys enjoying the company of many beautiful girls. Generally, in the material world, a person with riches thinks that all beautiful women should be enjoyed by him. Sankhasura also thought that, since he belonged to the rich community of Kuvera, he, not Krsna and Balarama, should enjoy the company of so many beautiful girls. He therefore decided to take charge of them. He appeared before Krsna and Balarama and the damsels of Vraja and began to lead the girls away to the north. He commanded them as if he were their proprietor and husband, despite the presence of Krsna and Balarama. Being forcibly taken away by Sankhasura, the damsels of Vraja began to call the names of Krsna and Balarama for protection. The two brothers immediately began to follow them, taking up big logs in Their hands. "Don't be afraid, don't be afraid," They called to the gopis. "We are coming at once to chastise this demon." Very quickly They reached Sankhasura. Thinking the brothers too powerful, Sankhasura left the company of the gopis and ran for fear of his life. But Krsna would not let him go. He entrusted the gopis to the carof Balarama and followed Sankhasura wherever he fled. Krsna wanted to take the valuable jewel resembling a conchshell from the head of the demon. After following him a very short distance, Krsna caught him, struck his head with His fist and killed him. He then took the valuable jewel and returned. In the presence of all the damsels of Vraja, He presented the valuable jewel to His elder brother Balarama.
Thus ends the Bhaktivedanta purport of the Thirty-fourth Chapter of Krsna, "Vidyadhara Liberated and the Demon Sankhasura Killed."