Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Reading Guide: Kincaid. Krishna. Chapter 1.

[Notes by LKG]. The first chapter of Kincaid's book describes the birth of Krishna and his escape from Mathura.

Kincaid tells a version of the story in which Yashoda's baby girl is an incarnation of Vishnu's own power, but in other versions, the baby girl is an incarnation of Yogmaya, a goddess in her own right.

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Shri Krishna of Dwarka and Other Stories by C. A. Kincaid (1920), online at Hathi Trust.


Now it happened many many hundred years ago that the demon Kalanemi, the grandson of Hiranyakashipu, whom the Lord Vishnu killed, was born again as Kansa, the son of Ugrasena, king of Mathura. At the same, time Dhenuka, Keshi, Pralamba, Arishta, and many other such demons came into the world to harass mankind. 

At last the Earth, taking the form of a cow, went to Mount Meru and implored the help of Brahma Deva to rid her of her tormentors. Brahma Deva listened to her story; then going with the god Shiva to the Lord Vishnu, Brahma Deva repeated it to him and urged him to be born again in human form and once more to rid the world of the demons.

The Lord Vishnu, after hearing the Earth’s complaint, pulled out two of his hairs, one white and one black and said, “These two hairs shall take human form. The white hair shall be born as Balarama and shall be the incarnation of my serpent Shesha. The black hair shall be my incarnation. He shall be born as Krishna and shall slay Kansa and the demons who aid him.” 

Now Kansa the demon who especially oppressed the Earth and the human race was, as I have said, the son of Ugrasena, king of the Bhojas and of their chief city Mathura. Kansa’s first cousin Devaki was given in marriage to Vasudeva, the son of the Yadava king, Shurasena. The dowry of Devaki was 400 caparisoned elephants, 15,000 horses, and 200 gaily decked slaves. King Kansa himself, to do his cousin honour, drove the chariot which bore Vasudeva and Devaki in the marriage procession. But suddenly above the blare of the horns and the booming of the drums a voice was heard in the heavens which said, “Today Kansa in his folly honours her whose eighth child will slay him.” 

The demon prince heard the voice and, forgetting the blood tie, turned to cut down his cousin. Vasudeva interceded, saying that it was not Devaki but her eighth child who would kill Kansa. He swore, too, by the word of a Kshatriya that he would himself bring his children to be killed by King Kansa. 

In due time six children were born to Devaki and Vasudeva, and one after the other Vasudeva brought them to Prince Kansa. Kansa, demon though he was, was touched and said that he would not kill them as he had nothing to fear from them. It was the eighth child only who was doomed to kill him. He spared their lives and gave them back to their mother Devaki. 

Thereafter they all would have fared happily, had not the sage Narada come to Mathura and visited Prince Kansa. After receiving the prince’s salutation, Narada told him that in a former life Vasudeva and Devaki had obtained from the Lord Vishnu the boon that he would be born to them as a son, and that as their son he would, as foretold by the heavenly voice, slay Prince Kansa. 

On hearing the words of the sage Narada, Prince Kansa became mad with terror. That he might give full rein to his wickedness, he seized the throne of Mathura, flinging his father Ugrasena into prison. Then he slew the six children of Vasudeva and Devaki and themselves he threw into a dungeon. 

Now in the dungeon there came to Devaki hopes of a seventh child. This was the white hair which at the Lord Vishnu’s bidding entered the womb of Devaki and then became the incarnation of Vishnu’s serpent Shesha so as to be Vishnu’s friend and helper when born upon the earth. But before Devaki’s seventh child was born, the Lord Vishnu caused it to be drawn from her womb and placed in the womb of Rohini, Vasudeva’s other wife who was in hiding in Gokula for fear of King Kansa. Rohini gave birth to a son and called him Balarama. But the dungeon guards told King Kansa that Devaki had miscarried. 

In due time there came to Devaki the hopes of an eighth child. This was the black hair which at the Lord Vishnu’s bidding entered her womb and became his incarnation. Hearing that Devaki was about to be confined for the eighth time, Kansa doubled the guards and the sentries round the prison. At midnight on the eighth day of the dark half of Shravan when the constellation Rohini was visible in the heavens, a son was born to Devaki. His father saw that he had four bejewelled arms and on his brow a diadem; thus Vasudeva learnt that the Lord Vishnu had kept the promise made to him in a former life, and he fell down and worshipped the newborn babe. 

Then he felt a great fear for he knew that the guards would, when day dawned inform, King Kansa. But the heavenly child spoke and comforted Vasudeva. He bade him take him to the wagon of one Nanda of Gokula, who had come to Mathura to pay his taxes and had halted at the further bank of the Yamuna. Vasudeva obeyed the child, and at his command the fetters fell from Vasudeva’s feet and the bolts of the doors yielded. A deep sleep, too, oppressed the guards of the prison and the men of Mathura. 

So Vasudeva bore the babe through the town gates. As they went, low thunder resounded in the sky and above their heads the great serpent Shesha waved his sixfold hood. Before them the Yamuna river raced in flood, but at the babe’s bidding the waters parted and they passed through in safety and thus reached the further bank. 

Now in Nanda’s wagon lay his wife Yashoda. She had just given birth to a daughter. But the baby girl was no mortal child. The Lord Vishnu had caused part of his own vigour to enter the womb of Yashoda. This was her newly-born infant.

Vasudeva, at his son’s bidding, placed him by Yashoda’s side as she slept and took in his place Yashoda’s baby girl and carried her back with him to Mathura. Once again the Yamuna’s waters parted asunder and the locks and the doors of the dungeon opened. At last he placed her by Devaki’s side. 

When the guards awoke and learnt that an eighth child had been born to Devaki, they ran to King Kansa. He hastened to Devaki’s cell. Not heeding her tears, he snatched away from her the baby girl and, holding her by the feet, he sought to dash her in pieces against the marble slab of the bathing place. But the baby girl, being Vishnu’s divine vigour, slipped deftly from his hands and rose back through the air to Vishnu’s heaven. As she passed out of Kansa’s sight, she called, mocking him, “Fool, did you hope to slay me? Your real enemy Krishna is born and is now in safety.”

Devaki and Vasudeva worship the baby Krishna,
while the guards are sleeping. (image source)

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