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Krishna and Kaliya

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By Shantha RaoAnnapurna Indian Dance Company

Shantha Rao, of the Annapurna Indian Dance Company, retells a traditional Indian story, which has relevance to the modern world and its environmental future. It explains how Krishna saved a river from a polluting snake. Shantha’s dance company tells the story using puppets and dance.

These teachers’ notes accompany the PRINT ONLY guided reading leaflet in Literacy Time PLUS Ages 7 to 9, May 2009.


Before reading

  • Identify India and the British Isles on a globe and point out how their respective positions, particularly in relation to their proximity to the Equator, influence the difference in their climates.
  • Scan the subtitles that appear in bold font. At which point is conflict likely to enter the story? Can the children name the hero and the villain, before they read the story?

During reading

  • List references to the five senses in the story, noting supporting quotations from the text – eg, food references (taste), flowers (sight and smell), birdsong (aural) and swimming (touch). How does involving our senses reinforce the contrasts before and after the arrival of Kaliya? (It heightens our awareness/helps us to empathise when the people’s senses are assaulted by pollution.)
  • Invite children to add words, with definitions, to their vocabulary books, such as toxic (poisonous) and vibrant (bright and lively).
  • List adjectives used in the final section ‘Krishna saves the river’: favourite, furious, tall, huge, ugly, great, sharp, slippery, slimy, brave, strong, weak, evil. Make a second list of dramatic, and often onomatopoeic, verbs in the same section: gasping, rushing, lunged, crushed, pouring, begged, stirred. Discuss how a writer’s choice of vocabulary helps build up atmosphere, tension and excitement.

Previous learning

Children should have knowledge of the traditional storytelling style of myths and legends – minimal characterisation, concentration on a string of events where good competes with evil, a happy ending where good triumphs. They should also be aware of differences in non-fiction writing, including non-chronological factual notes, posters and journalistic reporting.

Key learning outcomes:

  • To tell stories/prepare for performance;
  • To use language of possibility/infer feelings/empathise;
  • To present events/characters through dialogue;
  • To explore use of descriptive/figurative/expressive language to create images/atmosphere;
  • To write narratives/use imaginative descriptive vocabulary.


Working individually or with a partner, plan and make drawings of a ‘before’ and ‘after’ picture of the River Yamuna and life on its banks (before and after Kaliya arrives). Add a caption to each picture, using a direct quotation from the story. Use the activity sheet below to plan the content of the pictures.

Speaking and listening

  • Make simple puppets and retell the story in your own words.
  • In groups of five or six, present the story as a drama, improvising dialogue and perhaps using a recorder as the flute, choosing contrasting happy and sad tunes.
  • Hold a whole-class discussion on how pollution can affect our lives. How can we help protect our environment by simple measures? (Eg, recycling, not dropping litter, avoiding wasting paper, water, and other finite resources, feeding the birds, leaving corners of the garden wild for insects, hedgehogs and other wildlife.)

Ideas for writing

  • Write a paragraph describing the Serpent King Kaliya, as if from a reference book on animal species, or as a fact file, using bullet points.
  • Brainstorm useful adjectives to describe the snake and Krishna in exaggerated terms. Use these in writing a retelling of the story as a newspaper column, thinking up an attention-grabbing headline, and including journalistic dramatic style.
  • Design a Protect Our Environment poster, promoting any of the measures discussed above.
  • Imagine that a snake, or other beast, came into the classroom. Use strong verbs and adjectives to describe its progress among the desks and chairs, and your reactions to it. Write consistently in the first or third person.

About the author

Shantha Rao runs the Annapurna Indian Dance Company. For information on the company’s dance programmes, educational work and workshops, visit, call 01422 365103 or email


  • Watch the group performances. Praise the use of effective vocabulary and dramatic technique.
  • Listen to the children’s stories and descriptive writing. Compare different styles of writing and how the children’s versions compare to the original.
  • Look at the before and after pictures. Comment on elements included.

Find out how this story inspired children in a junior school in Brighton.