Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Reading Guide: Kincaid. Krishna. Chapter 12

[Notes by LKG]. The twelfth chapter of Kincaid's book takes place at the time of the events of the Mahabharata.

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

CHAPTER 12. Deaths of Jarasandha and Sisupal.

Now among the kinsmen of Prince Krishna were the Bharata heroes who dwelt in the city of Hastinapura or the Elephant City. Their king was Dhritarashtra. He had five nephews whose names were Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva, and a hundred sons of whom the eldest was the wicked prince Duryodhana. Between the cousins was a great enmity for Dhritarashtra had appointed not his eldest son but his eldest nephew as his heir. Thereafter the wicked prince Duryodhana had so plotted against the lives of Yudhishthira and his brothers that King Dhritarashtra had bidden his nephews leave Hastinapura and dwell at Indraprastha.

There the valor of Yudhishthira and his brothers had so raised them above all the kings of India that, urged thereto by the sage Narada, Yudhishthira desired to hold a Rajasuya sacrifice. But first he called to him Prince Krishna of Dwarka. The Prince went to Indraprastha and gave this counsel to his kinsman, "He who would hold a Rajasuya sacrifice, my kinsman," said Prince Krishna, "must be the greatest king in all India. But so long as the cruel and wicked Jarasandha rules at Magadha, thou canst not say that thou art the greatest king in all India. Through fear of his armies, even I have fled with the Yadavas to Dwarka. Kill him first and then hold the Rajasuya sacrifice."

Yudhishthira questioned Krishna how Jarasandha could be slain and which of his brothers he should send with an army against him. "Nay, my kinsman," said Prince Krishna, "where I failed neither thou nor thy brothers could succeed. But what force fails to do, wisdom often accomplishes. Let Bhima and Arjuna and myself go disguised as brahmins to Magadha. As brahmins, Jarasandha will not deny us an audience. Having obtained an audience, Bhima will challenge Jarasandha to wrestle with him. Then he will slay the wicked King even as I slew the wicked Kansa."

Yudhishthira consented, and Krishna led the princes Arjuna and Bhima disguised as brahmins to Magadha and asked for an audience with Jarasandha. As holy men, King Jarasandha called them to the foot of his throne and offered them alms. But Krishna refused them scornfully and looking fiercely at the king said, "Jarasandha, know me to be your foe, Prince Krishna. I am he who killed King Kansa. I am he whom you drove from Mathura. The two with me are the Bharata heroes, Bhima and Arjuna. You have in your dungeons eighty-six kings whom you have taken captive to sacrifice cruelly to the great God Shiva. Free them or wrestle with Prince Bhima the Bharata to the death."

King Jarasandha, taken thus unawares, could not but accept the challenge for his pride forbade him to free the captive kings or call to his guards for help. So he girt up his loins and made ready to wrestle with Prince Bhima. The king and the prince rushed at each other and for several hours swayed and struggled together each striving to throw the other. At last Prince Bhima, who had no equal as a wrestler in all the lands of the Aryans, lifted King Jarasandha high above his head and, dashing him to the ground, broke his back. Krishna and the Bharata heroes returned swiftly to Indraprastha.

Thence Prince Bhima with an army went back to Magadha. Outside the walls of the city, he defeated easily the Magadha armies who, without Jarasandha, were like sheep without a shepherd. He stormed Magadha, freed the captive kings and, with the plunder of the great city, returned in triumph to Indraprastha. Then Yudhishthira, with Krishna's assent, held a Rajasuya sactifice. The kings of India summoned to the Rajasuya sacrifice offered in turn tribute and homage.

Thereafter it behoved Yudhishthira to offer them, as his guests, homage and presents in return, beginning with the greatest and most renowned. Yudhishthira asked his uncle, the wise old Prince Bhishma, to declare to him the greatest king in India that he might do him homage first.  "My nephew," said the wise old Prince Bhishma, "there is but one answer to thy question. Prince Krishna surpasses all other rulers, even as the sun outshines the moon and the planets."

To this saying the other kings would have assented. But Shishupala, Prince of the Chedis, still sore at the loss of Rukmani, shouted angrily at Bhishma, "How can homage be offered to Krishna first, when his father Vasudeva is still alive and among us? What has he done that he should be honored above all others? Is it because he slew Jarasandha? But that he did by treachery."

The wise old Prince Bhishma tried to soothe Prince Shishupala, saying, "Prince Krishna has rid the earth of many fearful demons and monsters. In valor he has no equal among the Aryan Kings. His generosity, his learning, his beauty, and the splendour of his rule make him easily the first of Yudhishthira's guests."

But Prince Shishupala would not heed the soothing words of the wise old Bhishma. "If thou art the guide of the Bharata princes," he sneered, "it is no wonder that they often stray from the path of righteousness. The monsters that Krishna slew were wretched creatures unskilled in warfare. Govardhan mountain, which, so men say, he bore aloft, is no bigger than an ant-heap. He is but a mere cowherd, ignorant of the manners or courts of the ways of kings; why should he be honored above all of us?"

At these false and bitter words, Prince Bhima sprang from his seat and would have rushed on Shishupala and torn him to pieces where he stood. But the wise old Prince Bhishma laid his hand on his shoulder and bade him sit down again in his seat. "Nay, Bharata herol" he said; "pay no heed to the fool's wild words. For words lead nowhere and should be met with words and not with acts."

When Shishupala saw that he could not rouse Bhishma to anger, he turned fiercely on Krishna and challenged him to single combat. "If thou art truly the first of Indian kings," sneered Shishupala, "prove it by beating me. Men forsooth worship thee as a god. But I shall soon shew them that thou art but a weakly mortal."

But Prince Krishna was loth to hinder the ceremonies by slaying Shishupala, so he spoke softly. "The prince is angry with me because Rukmani loved me rather than him. I pardon him his insults, as I have no wish to stay Prince Yudhishthira's Rajasuya sacrifice."

But Shishupala, mistaking Krishna's soft words for fear, roared back at him, "He robbed me of my wife and now would pardon me for the wrong he did me. What care I for his pardon? For whether he pardons me or not he is afraid to fight with me!"

Then Krishna took his discus in his hand and called to the assembled kings, "O Heroes!" he said; "I call you all to witness that the quarrel is none of my making. It was not I but Bhishma who declared me to be first among the assembled guests. When this wretch insulted me, I would gladly have pardoned him. But if I spare him now, it will be a stain on my honour." As he finished his speech, the discus left Krishna's hand and, with a flaming trail, shot towards Shishupala, striking him on the neck. Such was the force of the blow that a moment later its sharp edge had shorn through the prince's bull-like neck, and his head, severed from his body, had dropped, grinning hideously on the floor.

Yudhishthira stayed the sacrifices and performed, with all honour, the funeral rites of Prince Shishupala, the son of King Damaghosha, and named as Shishupala's successor his infant son. Then Yudhisthira resumed once more the Rajasuya sacrifice and, after doing homage to all the kings who were his guests, beginning with Krishna, loaded them with presents and dismissed them to their homes.

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