Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Reading Guide: Kincaid. Krishna. Chapter 5.

[Notes by LKG]. The fifth chapter of Kincaid's book describes the Krishna's return to Mathura and his defeat of King Kansa.

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


Now the demons who served King Kansa were not the only demons with whom Krishna had to fight before the earth was purged of them. We have seen how he fought and vanquished the serpent Kaliya. A few months after Krishna had freed Sudarshan from the curse of the Rishi Angira, there came into the woods near Gokula the demon Arishta. He was fiercer than any of the fiends whom Krishna had destroyed. He took the form of a giant bull that stood as high as a mountain peak. The tramp of its mighty hoofs shook the earth. Its sharp horns tore through the jungle and at night its bellowings filled all Gokula with fear.

When Krishna heard of this monster’s coming, he at once sought it out, but it was some days before he came upon it for the giant brute loved to hide and to rush out upon the cowherds when alone and kill them. One day, however, when Krishna was by himself he met Arishta in the forest. When the great bull saw the youth without any friends to help him, it rejoiced greatly for it thought him an easy prey. Up went its tail, until to Krishna’s wondering eyes it seemed to reach the clouds; so baleful was the glare of its red eyes that it seemed as if they would set fire to the very earth. Lowering its enormous head, it rushed headlong at Krishna. But for all its terrible power it was no match for the divine strength of Krishna. He caught the beast by its huge horns and gave it so fierce a push that it staggered back 18 or 20 paces.

For a moment it stood stock still, too astonished to move and panting with the effort it had made trying to push against Krishna. Then, mad with fury, it lowered its head and once more charged. Krishna, knowing that the beast had not come from King Kansa deliberately to kill him, would have spared it. But when it would not leave him but came again seeking to destroy him, he resolved to slay it. As it charged, Krishna caught its horns in both hands and with a deft twist rolled the monster over on its back. Putting one foot on its chest and seizing one horn in his hand, he broke it off near the socket. Then using it as a flail, he beat Arishta from head to foot all over its body. In vain the monster bellowed with the pain and strove to free itself. Gradually its bellowings grew feebler and feebler and at last ceased altogether. Leaving its unsightly carcass to be the food of kites and jackals, Krishna went back to Gokula.

In the meantime King Kansa had tried to forget Krishna and the fate that hung over him, hoping foolishly that by not thinking about Krishna, he might escape death from his hands. One day the sage Narada seeing King Kansa’s apathy, went to his court at Mathura and upbraided him. “King Kansa,” he said “why do you thus tamely await the coming of death? Do you not know that Krishna is not the son of Yashoda at all, but the eighth son of Devaki? Surely you know that he and Rohini’s son Balarama have between them killed all, the demons that you sent against them, and yet you are resting idly here at Mathura, as if no danger hung over you.”

King Kansa was so nettled at Narada’s words and at the same time so angry at his own failures to kill Krishna that he drew his sword to cut down Vasudeva, who stood not far from him. But Narada, soothing King Kansa, said, “Nay, O king, do not hurt Vasudeva. If you do, you will never catch his two sons. They will run away and hide until they have reached their full strength. Then they will come here and kill you. No; entice them to Mathura now, while they are still lads and kill them.”

King Kansa sheathed his sword and began to reflect deeply upon Narada’s words. After some little time King Kansa bade his guards seize Devaki and Vasudeva and once more fling them into prison. Sending for Keshi, the last of his great demon allies, Kansa bade him go to Gokula and try if he could somehow or other destroy Krishna.

Then he called together his councillors and all the wrestlers and boxers and mahouts of his Court. He told them that a heavenly voice had foretold his death at Krishna’s hands. He, therefore, intended to entice him and Balarama to Mathura, while still striplings. Once in Mathura his wrestlers and boxers should wrestle or box with them and treacherously kill them in the course of the bout. At the some time the mahout of Kuvalyapad, a man-slaying elephant, should keep his elephant at the door of the arena and, when a chance offered, set it on the youths and trample them under foot.

Then he dismissed his audience and sent for one of his courtiers Akrura and bade him go to Gokula. He was to announce that King Kansa was about to hold a great passage of arms on the I4th of the bright half of the month in honour of the great god Shiva and that he would give a cordial welcome to all the youths of Gokula. Krishna and Balarama, so King Kansa hoped, would accept the invitation and go to Mathura. There he, King Kansa, would destroy them and afterwards behead Vasudeva and Devaki, Devaki’s father Devaka and his own father Ugrasena whom he had dethroned.

Akrura, as Kansa told him to do, went to Gokula. In the meantime the demon Keshi had met his fate. He had taken the form of a horse and had haunted the woods round Gokula. Through them he roamed roaring like a lion and devouring such cowherds as he chanced to meet with. When Krishna learnt that yet another demon had began to infest the country side, he at once set out to kill him.

He had not searched long when he heard Keshi roaring in a deep grove some distance away Thither Krishna went with all speed. When Keshi saw the lad coming, he rushed at him open-mouthed. But Krishna thrust his hand into the brute’s mouth, tore out its teeth, and then, doubling his fist, drove it into Keshi’s throat. There he made it grow until it blocked Keshi’s breath and Keshi suffocated fell dead to the ground.

Now Akrura, although a servant of the wicked Kansa, yet loved and believed in the Lord Krishna. So when he reached Gokula, he prostrated himself before Krishna and told him all that Kansa plotted. Krishna smiled kindly at Akrura and said, “I know it all, Akrura; but fear nothing. King Kansa has called us and we shall go to him. Stay with us a while and when the day of Shiva’s festival comes we shall go with you to Mathura.”

On the day fixed for the passage of arms, the sun rose bright and clear, and the two lads mounted Akrura’s chariot and drove with him to the outskirts of Mathura. There Akrura bade Krishna and Balarama alight, for he feared that if he drove with them to the arena, Kansa would suspect that he had betrayed his trust. Krishna and Balarama sprang lightly to the ground and walked along, admiring the broad streets and mighty ramparts of the great city.

Just inside the town gates they saw one Rajak, King Kansa’s washerman. Conscious that they were ill clad compared with the other burghers, they asked the washerman to lend them each a dress from the bundle of washed clothes beside him. Rajak with the insolence of a king’s varlet, stared at them scornfully for a moment or two and then said with a sneer, “Well, you are a fine pair of rustics! You can never till this moment have seen anything but rags, or else you would know that in these bundles are the royal robes and that I am the king’s washerman. You had better be off this moment. For if I were tell King Kansa what you have said, he would cut your heads off.”

Krishna grew wroth at the man’s words and manner and struck him a blow in the face with his open hand. Rajak reeled for a moment and then fell over unconscious, striking his head against a stone as he fell and died. When the other washermen saw what had befallen Rajak. they dropped their bundles and ran for their lives. Krishna and Balarama opened the bundles and looked through the clothes. Choosing the one a yellow dress, the other a blue dress, they put them on, and, now richly clad, they walked on towards the arena, which King Kansa had made ready for the passage of arms.

On the way they stopped in front of the garden of a flower seller, Sudama, to look at his flowers. He looked up and saw the two youths, the one dark the other fair, as beautiful as his own red and yellow roses. He fell at their feet and worshipped them and bade them take what flowers they would. Krishna smiled kindly on the friendly gardener, took a few of his flowers, and, after blessing Sudama again, made his way with Balarama towards the arena.

A quarter of a mile or so further on, they met a hump-backed girl called Kubja who carried a pot of unguent. Her face was fair and sweet and she looked with a wan smile at the two handsome lads as they passed her, thinking to herself how fortunate would be the women whom they wedded. At the same time she thought that deformed as she was, they would never think of her. Krishna, as he passed her, knew her thoughts. Turning to her he said, his face lit up with laughter, “Fair maid, who are you? To whom are you taking the unguent?”

Kubja replied, “My name is Kubja, good sir, I am a serving maid of Kansa the king. Deformed though I be, I can make simples and ointments more skillfully than any maid in Mathura. So the king has taken me into his service.”

Krishna said to her, “Fair maid, fortunate is the king whom you serve! But will you not spare a little of your fragrant ointment for us?”

“Yes, surely,” answered Kubja. “Take what you want.” So saying, she gave them as much ointment as they would to rub over their necks and chests.

Then Krishna took her chin in his thumb and finger and put one foot on Kubja’s feet. He lifted her slowly and gently until the hump on her back straightened out, and she stood before them tall and straight and radiant with youth and health and beauty. Kubja fell at Krishna’s feet filled with gratitude and begged him go with her to her home. But Krishna replied that he had other work to do and once more turned to walk towards the arena.

The arena was already thronged with people who had come from many miles to see the great passage of arms to be held in honor of the god Shiva. In the midst of his people sat King Kansa on a raised throne, hoping that Krishna and Balarama would come on Akrura’s invitation and thus fall into his cruel snare. Round the king were his kinsmen, his wives, and his dancing girls. At a little distance stood his great boxers and wrestlers, chief among whom were Chanura and Mushtika, conspicuous by their giant size and huge thews and sinews.

Close to the door of the arena, lurked the manslaying elephant Kuvalyapad. Directly its mahout saw the two lads approach, he guessed they must be Krishna and Balarama. “Who are you”? he called out insolently.

“We are two lads from Gokula,” said Krishna, “and we have come to try a fall with the king’s wrestlers in the great sports that the king is holding.”

Instantly the mahout drove his goad into Kuvalyapad’s head, and it rushed with lowered tusks at Krishna. But Krishna slipped dexterously through its legs and hid beneath its stomach. The elephant groped for him with its trunk, but Krishna crawled between its hind legs and seizing it by the tail, pulled it backwards several paces. The elephant swung round to the right to catch its foe. But Krishna, pulling its tail the other way, forced the raging monster to swing round to the left. Then, letting go its tail, he ran lightly in front of it and slapped its face. The elephant rushed at the lad, but so nimble was he that rush about as the elephant might, it never could catch Krishna.

At last the brute was so weary that it stood panting in the middle of the arena. To tease it, Krishna lay down as if exhausted a few paces away. Kuvalyapad, thinking that the boy was tired out, made a last rush at him and tried to drive its tusks through him. But Krishna slipped between the tusks, so that they went deep into the ground. Unable to pull them out, the elephant was helpless. Krishna seized it by the trunk and twisted it until the brute rolled over, snapping its tusks in two. Krishna picked up one of the broken tusks and with it battered out, in turn, the brains of Kuvalyapad and its mahout.

Covered with sweat and dust, Krishna turned to the royal throne and said, “My lord king, we are two country lads who have come from Gokula. Of your favour, let us spar with your boxers and try a fall with your wrestlers.”

King Kansa had watched with sinking heart the fight between Krishna and Kuvalyapad, and he knew that the enemy, by whose hand he was to die, stood before him. He bade Chanura and Mushtika, his two wrestlers, go into the arena and, as they went, he whispered to them to be sure and kill the lads when they had overcome them in wrestling.

Chanura faced Krishna; Mushtika faced Balarama. A moment later they were all four in a death struggle. But for all their strength, the king’s wrestlers were as helpless as babes in the grip of the two divine boys. After Krishna had played for some minutes with Chanura, he lifted him high in the air and then dashed him on the ground with such force that his neck was broken and his skull smashed to fragments. A moment later the same fate befell Mushtika at Balarama’s hands. The king’s chief boxer Tomalaka stepped down at Kansa’s command to take Chanura’s place. But a single blow from Krishna’s fist stretched him senseless on the spot.

King Kansa, mad with terror, called on his other wrestlers and his soldiers to seize the two cowboys and put them in chains. But a wild panic spread through the ranks of the king’s men, so that they fled, leaving Kansa alone in the arena. Krishna then sprang on the raised tier where Kansa sat. With a blow he knocked the crown off his head. Then, seizing him by the hair, he flung him into the arena and jumped down after him. There a blow on the face ended Kansa’s life. At the same time Balarama killed Sumalin, Kansa’s brother.

The two youths then left the empty arena and, going to the prison where Kansa had imprisoned Vasudeva and Devaki, overpowered the guards and opened the gates. Entering the dungeon where their parents were, they fell at Vasudeva’s and Devaki’s feet and told them their story. When Vasudeva heard of Kansa’s death and the valour of the two lads, he lifted them up, embraced them tenderly, and then stood in front of them reverently with folded hands.

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