Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Reading Guide: Kincaid. Krishna. Chapter 2.

[Notes by LKG]. The second chapter of Kincaid's book is about Krishna the butter-thief and his other childhood exploits in Gokula.

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(Krishna, circa 1750)

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


When Yashoda awoke from her sleep and saw Krishna by her side, she thought he was her own son and lavished on him all a mother’s care. But Kansa, on hearing the words of the baby girl, fell into deep despair. He freed Prince Vasudeva and Devaki from their chains saying, “It is idle now to keep them in chains when the eighth child has been born and is no longer with them.”

At the same time he called together the other demons Dhenuka, Keshi and Pralambasura and took counsel with them. Then he bade his guards go forth into the city of Mathura and the surrounding country and put to the sword all the male children in his kingdom. In this way he hoped to baffle the aims of the gods.

The guards did as they were bidden and throughout the whole of Kansa’s dominions a terrible massacre ensued, and the streets flowed with blood and the air was filled with the wailings of mothers, who mourned for their children. When Prince Vasudeva learnt that Kansa was slaughtering the male children in his kingdom, he went with all haste to Nanda’s wagon and bade him flee away lest his newly born son might perish also. At the same time he begged him take into his house Rohini’s son Balarama. Nanda agreed and, yoking his bullocks, drove with all speed to Gokula which was beyond King Kansa’s borders, although the villagers paid the king of Mathura a yearly tribute. Then he went to Rohini’s house and, giving her Prince Vasudeva’s message, took from her Balarama and from that day onward he and Yashoda brought up Krishna and Balarama together as their own children.

When King Kansa had killed by means of his guards all the male children within his borders, he resolved to kill the male children outside his borders also. To this end he called to his aid a female demon called Putana. She took the form of a beautiful sweet-faced woman and, crossing the river Yamuna, went from farmstead to farmstead and village to village. Whenever she learnt that in a house there was a baby boy, she entered it and asked for leave to rest herself. Such was the charm of her voice and the sweetness of her face that neither man nor woman could refuse her. The parents begged her to enter. A little later when the sorcery of her voice had put to sleep their fears, she asked leave to nurse their baby. The parents at once consented. When the child was on her lap, she suckled it. Then she gave the baby boy back to his mother and, excusing herself and blessing her hosts, went her way. But in her breasts was poisoned milk, and any child who drank of it was sure to die. Thus a few hours after she had passed through a village, not a baby boy remained in it alive.

In course of time this cruel murderess came to Gokula and by her sweet voice and kindly looks won the hearts of Nanda and Yashoda. She entered their hut, sat by Krishna’s cradle, and asked for and obtained leave to nurse him. But no sooner had Krishna begun to pull at her breast than she began to scream for help. The divine child sucked out of her all her poisoned milk and, although Nanda and Yashoda tried to take him away, he would not let go Putana’s breast until he had sucked out her life blood as well, and she had fallen dying on the floor of Nanda’s hut.

Directly life left the cruel witch, she resumed her true shape and, instead of a beautiful sweet-faced woman, she became a hideous giantess whose horrible limbs stretched far and wide outside Nanda’s cottage. From her dead body rose such a stench that many of the villagers of Gokula, to escape it, rushed into the surrounding woods. Nanda, however, collected some of his neighbours. Taking axes in their hands, they hewed off one by one the giantess’s mighty limbs and lighting a fire burnt them.

Then a strange thing happened. As they burnt, a sweet perfume rose from the fire, overcoming the stench that had driven the villagers into the woods. When Putana’s whole body had been burnt none of the stench remained and the villagers returned to their huts. For Putana, cruel murderess though she was, had yet suckled the Lord Krishna, and by that act, evilly although she had meant it, she had yet attained salvation.

Not long after the death of Putana, Yashoda put the infant Krishna in his cradle under Nanda’s wagon, while she busied herself with household matters. For some time Krishna slept; then he woke and, feeling hungry, began to cry for Yashoda. His mother, not hearing his cries, did not return. So the little boy became impatient and, putting his baby feet out of the cradle, began to press them with all his force against one of the wheels of the wagon. Such was his divine strength that the wood of the wheel first cracked and then broke; when the wheel broke, the wagon, filled with pots and pans, toppled over and crashed to the ground. Yashoda and Nanda came running to the spot but found Krishna laughing and unhurt among the ruins.

When Putana did not return, Kansa sent spies to Gokula to learn what had happened to her. On hearing that she had fallen dead when nursing one of the male children of that place, Kansa felt sure that the babe whom she had suckled was Krishna. He therefore, sent a demon named Trinavarta to destroy him. Trinavarta turned himself into a whirlwind and, sweeping before him a great column of dust, flew with terrific force into Gokula. The roofs rose from the walls of the houses, the wagons were overturned, the cattle were hurled to the ground. The whirlwind circled on until it came to where Krishna lay in his cradle. The column of dust closed over the sleeping infant and then passed on.

When the wind had abated, the villagers who had fled in terror returned to Gokula. At once Yashoda ran to where she had left her baby, but he was nowhere to be seen. The wind had caught him up and had carried him away. Yashoda burst into tears and sat crying bitterly while Nanda and the other cowherds looked everywhere for the missing child. At last they came to a spot about a mile away, where they saw lying on the ground a huge giant on whose chest sat Krishna, crowing and laughing just as if he had been in his cradle. Directly Trinavarta had carried Krishna out of sight, he once more assumed his proper shape and as a hideous demon tried to batter Krishna to pieces against a stone. But great as was the demon Trinavarta’s strength, it was nothing compared with Krishna’s. The babe seized the giant by the throat and, rolling him on to the ground, easily strangled him. Then he sat on the dead giant’s chest delighted with his victory. Nanda, who knew nothing of the fight, brought Krishna back to his mother and both thanked Heaven for the happy chance that had saved their child from the clutches of the giant.

When Krishna and Balarama learnt to crawl, they became very troublesome. They followed the milk maids to their dairies and stole their milk and butter. They crawled among the cowpens to pull the calves’ tails, covering themselves with filth and ashes. The milk maids and cowherds complained of them to Yashoda. But she could not believe that her own son could be so naughty.

One day, however, she herself was busy churning and could not attend to Krishna’s wants. Then seeing a pot of milk boiling over on the hearth inside her house, she left Krishna and went to take the milk off the fire. Little Krishna felt very angry at being thus left alone. He first overturned the milk which Yashoda had been churning, and then he toddled inside the house and, climbing on a pot, began to eat the butter which Yashoda had already churned and put by on a shelf.

When Yashoda returned to her churning, she missed her son and, looking for him, found him eating her butter. She took in her hand a switch to punish him, but seeing his frightened look, she had not the heart to hurt him. Still, to stop him from being naughty again, she put a cord round his waist to fasten him to a mortar. The cord seemed long enough when she took it in her hand, but when she tried to fasten it, she. found that it would not meet round Krishna’s waist. She took another piece of cord the same length and, tying it to the first piece, tried again; still the cord would not meet. She added one after the other every bit of cord in her house, but always the cord was too short. She could not make it out and called in her neighbours to help her, but in vain. At last Krishna took pity on Yashoda and tied the cord himself round his waist.

Yashoda returned to her churning, sure now that Krishna would keep quiet. But the moment his mother’s back was turned, Krishna began to toddle about, pulling the heavy mortar after him towards a little wood not for from his house. At its edge stood close together two tall arjun trees. As Krishna toddled along, the mortar to which he was tied caught between the trees, so that he could go no further. This made the little boy very cross and, exerting all his strength, he pulled at the cord. Gradually the tall trees bent towards him under the strain. Then they broke across and fell with a crash one on each side of him.

Instantly from the heart of the trees rose two shining figures. In a former life the two trees had been the sons of the god Kubera and bore the names of Nala Kubera and Manigriva. Kubera was the friend of Shiva and brought up his sons to worship the great god. But as the boys grew up, they became proud and ceased to worship as their father had taught them. One day drunk with wine and toying with a band of Apsaras, they wandered through Kailash along the banks of the heavenly river there and bathed in its waters. The great sage Narada chanced to meet them. The Apsaras, fearing the sage’s curse, fled with all haste to the shelter of the woods to don their robes. But Nala Kubera and Manigriva were too drunk to care and walked, insolent and naked, into Narada’s presence. The great sage cursed them so that they became two arjun trees. Then pitying them, he added that when Krishna touched them, they should once more resume their former shapes. Thus the two shining figures were Kubera’s two sons. They humbly saluted Krishna who had delivered them; then, turning away, they walked swiftly towards the northern mountains.

Thus Krishna and Balarama played and grew together, the joy of Yashoda and Nanda and beloved by all the villagers of Gokula. But as it was ordained that they should go to Vrindavan, a great band of fierce wolves came into the woods round Gokula and began to pull down the villagers’ cattle and carry off their sheep and goats. At last the oldest cowherd in Gokula called together the villagers and said to them “This place is accursed. Wolves carry off our cattle and sheep. Dust storms carry off our children, witches try to kill them, wagons and trees break as if to crush them. Let us put our belongings on our wagons and wander off until we find some other more favored spot.” The other cowherds agreed and, putting their goods and chattels on their wagons, they all set forth in a long line to look for some safer country.

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