Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Reading Guide: Kincaid. Krishna. Chapter 3.

[Notes by LKG]. The third chapter of Kincaid's book describes the boyhood adventures of Krishna in Vrindavan.

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


For several days the villagers of Gokula wandered along the banks of the Yamuna with their wagons. Nanda and Yashoda, and Krishna and Balarama were in the same wagon, and in it also Balarama’s mother Rohini found a place. At last the caravan came to a cool, well-wooded spot called Vrindavan. There attracted by the soft breezes and the deep meadow grass, the villagers halted and drawing up the wagons in a great half circle pitched their camp.

For some time all went well. Krishna and Balarama grew from children to boys. They used to pass their time feeding the cattle, or slinging stones at the wild birds, or wrestling and playing with the other village boys.

At first King Kansa did not know whither Krishna and the villagers of Gokula had fled. But at last he learnt that they had fled to Vrindavan. He at once resolved to try anew to destroy Krishna. Now a demon in the shape of a buffalo calf actually lived in Vrindavan, and he at Kansa’s bidding plotted to kill Krishna. Unperceived, as he thought, he entered Krishna’s herd seeking for a chance of goring him or trampling him under foot. But nothing could escape the boy’s divine vision. Stealing close to the false buffalo, he seized it by a hind hoof and by its tail; then, whirling it round his head, he dashed its brains out against a neighbouring tree.

When Kansa heard of this fresh failure, he still did not lose heart but called to his aid two other demons, brothers of the cruel murderess Putana. They readily agreed to avenge their sister.

The first, Bakasur by name, took the form of a giant crane and waited for the two little boys in the early morning as they took the cattle into the woods. When Krishna and Balarama walked past Bakasur’s hiding place, the giant crane tall as a tree rushed out and swallowed Krishna with a single gulp down its mighty throat. But Krishna did not lose courage inside the monster’s stomach. He beat with all his might against its cavern-like sides, until the great bird gladly brought Krishna back through its throat. Then mad with rage and pain, it rushed at the little boy, meaning to drive its beak through his heart. Krishna sprang lightly aside and, catching the monster’s bill in his hands, tore it apart, until at last the bird fell dying all but torn in two.

On the death of Bakasur, Putana’s second brother Aghasur lay in wait for Krishna. He turned himself into a mighty serpent and lay at full length in one of the footpaths which Krishna used. Its head was so big that the upper jaw was lost in the treetops above. Its lower jaw lay level with the ground and its tongue seemed part of the road, while the teeth on each side seemed great rocks that rose by chance out of the forest. Some of the cowboys and their cattle walked unheedingly down Aghasur’s throat and vanished. Krishna pierced the demon’s disguise and, to avenge his playmates’ death, he too walked down in the vast jaws that lay open before him. Instantly Aghasur tried to close them. But the little boy whom he sought to kill grew and grew until at last his head forced the serpent’s upper jaw back so that it broke off and Aghasur perished.

After Aghasur’s death, Kansa ceased for a time to plague Krishna, but the latter soon had an even greater task to do than any which had yet been set him. In a part in the Yamuna river some distance below Vrindavan, a huge five-headed sea-snake called Kaliya had made its home.

Formerly Kaliya had dwelt on an island in the ocean called Ramanaka. But there Garuda had seen it and after a fierce fight had driven it out of the sea. The giant snake, sorely wounded by Garuda, had crawled up the bed of the Yamuna, until it came to a pool two hundred fathoms deep. There it lay coiled up at the bottom until its wounds healed.

Recovered from its wounds, it began to haunt the banks and devour the cattle and cowherds, who came to slake their thirst in the pool. The slime of the great snake so poisoned the soil along the banks that all the trees save one, a Kadamba tree, died; while its foul breath filled the air with such poisonous vapour that the very birds that tried to fly over the Yamuna fell dead in her waters.

When the herdboys told Krishna their fear of Kaliya, he resolved to drive this pest back into the sea whence it had come. Accompanied by the trembling herdboys, he went to the wasted shores of the pool. Seeing the Kadamba tree, he thought he would plunge into the river from its boughs for they stretched out across the water. He climbed the tree, crawled along one of its branches, and then plunged headlong into the Yamuna. There he began to sing and slap his arms and splash about so as to attract the notice of the giant snake. He had not long to wait.

Kaliya, hearing the noise, thought that some foolish herdboy was bathing in the stream and with all haste rose to the spot to devour him. In a moment his mighty coils encircled Krishna, while he drove the poisonous fangs of his five heads deep into Krishna's flesh. The herdboys thought their friend and leader was lost and ran shrieking back to Gokula, where they told the dreadful news to Nanda and Yashoda. Krishna’s parents followed by all Gokula rushed to the fatal pool and then sat weeping and mourning for their son as for one lost.

But Balarama, who knew Krishna’s superhuman strength, called to him and bade him slay the snake and comfort his parents. Krishna heard his brother’s voice and cheering tones. Crushed though he was and faint with pain, he put forth all his strength and tearing apart the monster’s coils, he dragged it to the bank and then stamped with all his might upon its five heads in turn.

At last the screams of the great serpent brought to its side the female snakes who had followed it from Ramanaka island. They implored Krishna to spare their lord and to their supplications were added Kaliya’s own. Krishna agreed to spare the monster’s life, provided that it left the Yamuna’s waters and went back to its sea girt island.

“But,” said Kaliya, “there Garuda will seek me out and destroy me.”

“Nay,” answered Krishna, “when Garuda sees my footprints stamped on your head, he will know that I have pardoned and spared you. He, too, will do likewise.”

As Krishna foretold, so it fell out. Kaliya returned to Ramanaka island; instantly Garuda flew down from heaven to attack it. But when Garuda saw Krishna’s footprints on Kaliya’s five heads, he knew that Krishna had spared the monster, so he let it live in peace and returned to Vaikunth.

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