This story recounts a well-known incident from the childhood of Lord Krishna.
Some years had passed since the birth of Lord Krishna and the blue-skinned god had grown up to be a mischievous but lovable boy. In Vrindavan, where the Lord resided, there was none who did not love him. Little Krishna had a gang of little friends whom he played and hanged out with.
One fine morning, Krishna and his friends were having a wonderful time beside the village lake. The boys were playing with a ball and having some good fun. After an hour of play, they grew tired and were having some rest when Krishna expressed his wish to build a big-tree house for them all. Then Kusela, one of his closest friends, said that there was a big tree, possibly the biggest in Vrindavan, in the eastern part of the Yamuna River next to the village and surrounded by dense forests. Krishna immediately declared that he was going to try and build a house on that same tree. It would give them a nice spot to hang out and have fun. Followed by his friends, the little god started walking eastwards.
Now it so happened that a many-hooded snake called Kaliya and his brood had settled in the eastern part. They were venomous beings who poisoned the very ground they slithered on. Wherever they went, the grass they moved on turned black, the trees they passed by lost their colour, the air around the area turned toxic and any bird died immediately if it happened to fly nearby.
When Krishna and his friends arrived at the eastern part, they were shocked to see how fearsome the place looked. The water of the river Yamuna which was flowing nearby was still bluish but the grass around the lake had turned black. A big tree stood at the ground adjoining the lake.
"This must be the tree my father had spoken about." remarked Kusela. "But how terrible it looks"!
The tree indeed seemed to die. It had no leaves and its branches were all blackened. It seemed as if the whole place was damned; cursed by some monstrous evil. There was an eerie silence all about the place.
Krishna was thoughtful for a moment. Then he said "Let us drop the idea of the tree house then. We shall play here instead."
So the boys began to play with the ball again. Soon the ball slipped and fell into the water.
It disappeared with a soft sound. The boys let out a cry of lamentation.
"Don't worry friends! I will go and fetch the ball in a moment." saying so, Krishna jumped into the water without paying a heed to the warnings of his playmates. Before his friends could stop him, he went under the bluish waters of Yamuna.
The water was cold beyond comfort but it hardly made a difference to Krishna. He swam lower, searching for the ball and found that all the plants below had been burnt and badly bent.
A huge snake slid out of its underwater hole and stood behind Krishna. The little god turned to see the fearsome snake slithering on the ground before him, baring its numerous hoods.
Kaliya was at first amazed to see the little boy but then he was pleased that he was having his food so readily available.
"Hey all of you..." he called his family "come and have a share of your food".
Saying so, he tried to gobble up Krishna who moved fast and skilfully escaped the huge mouth of the snake. Again and again Kaliya tried to devour the little god, but his jaws narrowly missed the divine being. Kaliya and his kin were surprised at how this mere boy was fooling him. Little did they know that the boy was indeed the almighty god, born to rid the earth of evil and protect the innocent.
Soon Krishna overpowered the snake and began to dance on its head. This incident is known as "Kaliya daman" (the subjugation of Kaliya). Every footstep of the Lord was as if a blow of a huge hammer on Kaliya's head. Fearing for their husband's life, Kaliya's wives pleaded with Krishna. Krishna assured that he would spare Kaliya's life only if he and his family promise to leave the place and settle elsewhere. When they promised to do so, Krishna ordered Kaliya to rise above the water.
He rose to find all his friends, most members of his village and his parents waiting anxiously for him. It had been a long time since he had dived into the water and his playmates, who had grown highly anxious, had rushed back to the village informing the folks of all that they had been through. At the sight of Krishna, his mother Yashoda let out a cry of joy. Tears of relief fell down her cheeks. His father Nanda heaved a sigh of relief after having prepared himself for the worst.
The snake bent his head in respect as Krishna landed on the shore. Yasodha and Nanda rushed to embrace him. All the villagers and his playpals shouted with joy.
With Kaliya and his family out of the place, the river and its surroundings regained the old glory. Soon Krishna and his friends built their tree-house over the same tree which was dying but had come back to its former majesty. Every playmate of Krishna realized that the boy they knew was no ordinary soul. Tale of his antics spread far and wide and are remembered even to this day.