Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Reading Guide: Kincaid. Krishna. Chapter 11

[Notes by LKG]. The eleventh chapter of Kincaid's book is about a supernatural chameleon and also about a pretender to Krishna's throne.

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

CHAPTER 11. Nriga and Paundrika.

One day as Samba, Krishna's son by Jambavati, was strolling with Pradyumna and other Yadava nobles in the woods outside Dwarka, they came to a well. As they were thirsty, they went close to it and looked to see if there was any water in it. It was quite dry, but at the bottom lay an enormous chameleon. As none of the princes had ever seen so big a chameleon before, they thought that they would tie it up and take it home and tame it. They let themselves down into the well, tied a cord round the chameleon, and then climbed out again and began to pull at the cord. The chameleon had offered no resistance while the princes were tying it up, but the instant they began to pull at the cord, it pulled the other way and, heave as they might, they could not drag it out of the well.

Weary at last of straining at the cord, they went back to Dwarka and told Prince Krishna. He went back with them to the well and, without any seeming effort, pulled out the chameleon. Then he took it in his left hand. Instantly the chameleon changed from a lizard to a tall, handsome man. The princes were amazed and pressed Krishna to tell them what had happened. Krishna knew, but he wished them to hear the tale from the stranger's own lips. So he bade the latter tell his story.

"Once upon a time," said the tall handsome man,
my name was Nriga, and I was one of the Kings of the house of Ikshvaku. I gave as many gifts of cows to brahmins as there are grains of sand on the seashore, or stars in the heaven, or drops of rain in a shower. Nor were they common, worthless cows. They were all beautifully shaped and dun in colour and all gave quantities of rich milk. Before l gave them away, I had their horns tipped with gold, their hooves shod with silver, and their necks decked with garlands of flowers. Nor did I only make gifts of cows. I sometimes gave away lands, money, horses, elephants and costly clothes, and I held mighty sacrifices and spent vast sums in building shrines and temples to honour the gods. 
Unhappily, one day a great misfortune befell me. I had given a cow and a calf to a brahmin and he had taken them away. The same night the cow broke loose from the brahmin's cow-shed and returned to mine. I knew nothing of this, and next day I gave the same cow in gift to another brahmin. The second brahmin led her away, but as he did so, the first brahmin, who was searching for her, saw her and claimed her as his. The second brahmin, however, resisted the claim and told the first brahmin that I had given her to him. They argued together for some time; then, to end the dispute, they came with the cow to me. 
When I learnt what I had done and that l had unjustly robbed a brahmin of his cow, I felt very sad, for I had been guilty of a great sin. I offered each of the two brahmins in turn a hundred thousand other cows if he would give up his claim to the cow before me. But neither would. The first brahmin said, "The cow is mine, and if I were to give her in exchange for a hundred thousand other cows, I should be selling her and would thus commit what in a brahmin is a great sin." With these words he led the cow away. The second brahmin also spurned my offer. "The cow that you gave me," he said, "is the only cow in the world that I want. No matter how many other cows you gave me, I should not be happy. I want that cow and no other." With these words he also left me.  
In this way, Prince Krishna, I all unwittingly committed a great sin. In course of time I died, and the messengers of Yama, the God of Death, took me to his palace. Yama said to me, "King Nriga, you won great merit in your life, but also you did great evil. Which would you sooner do first: pay the penalty of your sins or enjoy the fruits of your good deeds?"
"King Yama," I answered, "let me first pay the penalty of my sins."
"Be then born again as a beast," said Yama, and at once I became a chameleon. 
But today you by your touch remitted my sentence."

The king bowed to Krishna's feet, walked round him to do him honour, and finally stood in front of him with folded hands. As he did so, a divine chariot descended from heaven. King Nriga entered it and was borne away into the heavens.

About this time one Paundraka, King of the Kurushas, who had conquered many countries, became so proud of his conquests that he proclaimed that he was the Lord Vishnu incarnate. Hearing men say that Prince Krishna and not he was the Lord Vishnu incarnate, he sent a herald to Dwarka. The herald demanded audience of Krishna and said in his audience room and in front of all the Yadava nobles, "Hear, Prince Krishna, the words of Paundrika, King of the Kurushas, which at his bidding I have brought you. Renounce publicly all claim to be the Lord Vishnu made man; yield up all your possessions to King Paundrika; do homage to him in the garb of a suppliant. In return he will give you a mendicant's portion daily."

When Prince Krishna and the Yadava nobles heard this silly message, they began to laugh aloud. Then Krishna said, "Go back, good herald, to your master King Paundrika and tell him that I shall shortly come to his city, but whether as a suppliant or not he will learn to his cost."

The herald returned to King Paundrika and gave him Prince Krishna's message. Feeling sure that Krishna would bring an army against him, King Paundrika called to his aid Kashiraja, King of Kashi (Benares), and mustered his forces against the Yadavas' coming. In no long time Prince Krishna, gathering his army, marched against Benares. King Paundrika came out to meet him, his chariot, his banner, and his dress all made to ape those of Krishna. He bore a lotus, a mace, a discus, and a sword in his hands.

When Prince Krishna saw this wretched copy of himself, he laughed aloud and shot in turn the lotus, the mace, the discus, and the sword out of Paundrika's hands with his arrows. Then with his own discus he sheared the head of the impostor off his sorry body. Another arrow from Krishna's bow not only pierced Kashiraja's brain, but such was its force that it took the King's head off his trunk and nailed it to the outer gate of his city. Krishna's army then moved forward, but Paundrika's and Kashiraja's troops, having lost their leaders, scattered in all directions. Krishna, having thus chastised Paundrika, returned to Dwarka.

But Paundrika's son Sudakshin's heart burnt with rage at his father's defeat and death. Indeed, he could not bring himself to perform his father's funeral ceremonies. He said to himself, "How can my father's spirit have rest unless I avenge him?" He went into the fields some miles from Benares and there for many days prayed unceasingly to the great God Shiva. Shiva, pleased at Sudakshin's devotion, appeared before him and bade him ask for a boon.

Sudakshin put his head on the ground at Shiva's feet. "Grant me, Great God," he said, "a portion of your mystic strength so that I may battle with my enemies."

"Your boon is granted," replied the Great God; "light four fires, and from one of them a flaming shape will rise and do your bidding. If you bid it consume some wild beast or wicked demon, all will be well. But heed my warning; if you send it against any virtuous god-fearing king, you, and not he, will suffer evil."

With these words the Great God departed, and Sudakshin, heedless of the warning and thinking only of his vengeance, lit four great fires to the North, South, East and West. Sitting in the centre he began to pray to the great God Shiva. Suddenly from the southern fire rose a flaming shape. From its mouth and eyes shot sheets of flame, and when it stretched out its long arms, the whole heavens seemed ablaze. It asked of Sudakshin what it should do.

"Go forth," said Sudakshin, "and destroy Dwarka and every living thing in it." The flaming shape began to move at first slowly, and then with increasing speed towards Dwarka. At this time Krishna was sitting in his palace playing dice. As he played, the terrified townsmen thronged outside his doors, calling out that a column of fire was rushing on Dwarka. Krishna took his discus in his hand and bade it drive back the column of fire whence it came. Then he flung it right at the centre of the blazing mass. Struck by Krishna's discus, the flaming shape did as Shiva had warned Sudakshin it would do. Learning that the foe against whom it had been sent was no other than Prince Krishna, it rushed back the way it had come.

Sudakshin, who had watched it vanish in the western sky, still sat gloating over the destruction that, as he thought, must surely have fallen upon Dwarka. Suddenly he became aware that the flaming shape was returning. Reviling it for not doing his bidding, he bade it go back to Dwarka. But it heeded him not and swept on towards him with terrific speed. In terror, Sudakshin tried to flee, but the column of fire soon overtook him and, passing over him, burnt him to ashes. Then leaving him, it swept on towards Benares. As it drew near, the frightened burghers tried to escape out of the eastern gate. But the flaming shape stretched out its great arms and forced them to run back into Benares. Then, settling down over the great city, it set fire to it and consumed it, until at last all that remained of the town and its countless inhabitants, of its elephants and horses, of its granaries, courts and treasure houses was a vast heap of smouldering rubbish. Having fulfilled its task, it returned to Kailash and was reunited to the great God Shiva.

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