This is the story of how a god met his end...
The popular version of the story of Krishna’s death starts with Gandhari’s curse. But if you really go back, the death of Krishna was foretold much, much before that one event. An to know its roots, one must go back in time long before the events of Mahabharata even began to unfold. To be precise, at a time when Rama was wandering the forests of the land looking for Ravana who had kidnapped his wife, Sita. As we know, Rama and Krishna are both incarnations of Vishnu.
In any case, during his travels, Rama comes across Sugreeva, an exiled monkey king who claims to be wronged by his brother, Vali. Rama agrees to help Sugreeva and fires a fatal shot from behind a thicket. When Vali learns of his true slayer, he seeks from Rama the permission to kill him in his next life, a boon that Rama grants.
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Cut to the end of the Kurukshetra battle when Gandhari is mourning the loss of her 100 sons. The Pandavas, accompanied by Krishna, arrive in her chambers to offer condolences but Gandhari is so distraught she curses that Krishna’s clan would meet a similar gruesome end as that of her sons. Krishna smiles and says tathastu, or so be it, setting into motion the final round of events that would bring an end of the Yadava clan, to which he belonged.
In the years following the Kurukshetra war, the Yadavas had grown to be quite unruly. The clan itself was divided in part due to the fact that different factions had fought on opposing sides of the war. The growing mistrust and disdain for each other only grew over the years, as did their arrogance.
So much so that once when they were visited by the great sages, Durvasa, Vashishta, Narada and Vishwamitra, they didn’t see anything wrong in a prank that their young ones played on the sages. Samba, Krishna’s son from Jambavati dressed up as a pregnant woman and with his friends went up to the sages. The friends challenged the sages to predict if the ‘lady’ would deliver a boy or a girl. Since they were no ordinary sages, they saw through the trick and cursed that Samba would deliver a lump of iron that would cause the death of the entire race.
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The next morning, Samba developed labour pains and delivered an iron mace. The onlookers were shocked and went up to Akrura, Krishna’s uncle for advice. In his wisdom, Akrura suggested that the mace be crushed into a powder and that the powder be thrown into the sea. The Yadavas followed Akrura’s instructions, except, for a small piece that proved impossible to break. So they threw it into the sea without crushing it and went on with their lives.
However, as with everything thrown into the sea, the mace powder was washed up on the shoreline and from the soil, blades of a mysterious grass began to grow.
Several years later, the Yadavas had gathered on the shore for a celebration that got out of hand. Words were exchanged and soon everyone was at each other’s throats. No one was carrying any weapons so they began pulling out the blades of grass that, by now, had grown tall. Using the blades as weapons, the Yadavas killed each other, bringing an end to an entire race.
Gandhari’s curse was finally coming true. Krishna, who had foreseen all of this, had gone away to a nearby forest to meditate and await his turn.
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You see, even as the mace powder had been washed on to the shore, the part of the mace that wasn’t crushed was swallowed by a fish. That fish was caught by a hunter who fashioned an arrow out of it and several years later, unbeknownst to him, was in the same forest that Krishna was lying in. He mistook Krishna’s feet that were sticking out of a bush for a deer and shot the arrow that dealt the fatal blow to the incarnation of Vishnu.
When he discovered what he’d done, the hunter was distraught and begged Krishna for forgiveness. Krishna consoled him and assured him that he was, in fact, waiting for his death. Confused, the hunter asks why, if the lord knew of him, was he waiting at that exact spot. Krishna explains that in his previous life the hunter was Vali and had sought permission from Rama to kill him in his next life.
And so it was that Vali avenged his own death and Krishna’s time on earth came to an end.