Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Reading Guide: Kincaid. Krishna. Chapter 7

[Notes by LKG]. The seventh chapter of Kincaid's book is about Krishna's chief wife, Rukmani — also known as Rukmini.

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

CHAPTER 7. Rukmani.

The two divine lads had grown to manhood, and it was time that they should marry wives so that their race should live after them. Balarama married Revati, the daughter of King Raivata, who ruled over a small kingdom not far from Dwarka. But it was no easy task to find a maiden in India who should be a bride worthy of the peerless Krishna.

Now there ruled over Vidarbha or Berar a great king called Bhishmak who had five sons and one lovely daughter. The five sons were called Rukmi, Rukmaratha, Rukmabahu, Rukmakesha, and Rukmashali; the daughter's name was Rukmani and the true cause of her beauty was that she was an incarnation of the Lord Vishnu's queen Lakshmi, just as Krishna was the Lord Vishnu himself made man. As was fitting in a young girl on the threshold of womanhood, the princess Rukmani often thought of her future husband. She would enquire of travellers who came from foreign lands of the young princes who dwelt there. She would note down what the various travellers said and from their words try to picture to herself what the princes looked like and would weigh the merits and beauty of one against the other.

But one day there came to Vidarbha some travellers from Dwarka. So glowing was their tale of the beauty and bearing, wisdom, and generosity, strength and courage of Prince Krishna that Rukmani vowed that she would wed him and no other.

At the same time Krishna heard such reports of the beauty and sweetness of the princess Rukmani that he vowed that he would wed her, come what might. Four of Rukmani's brothers would gladly have given their fair sister to Krishna, whose fame was swiftly spreading over all India. But the eldest, Rukmi, envied the dazzling prince and, disregarding their counsel, led his father King Bhishmak to promise her hand to Prince Shishupala, son of Damaghosha, King of the Chedis.

When Rukmani heard that she was to wed Shishupala and not Krishna, she fell into a deep melancholy. Then, rousing herself, she wrote a letter to Krishna and gave it to an ancient brahmin to take to Dwarka and hand it to the prince. The old brahmin made his way to Dwarka and there asked for an audience. The doorkeepers answered him courteously and led him into Krishna's presence. Krishna, who was seated on a golden throne, at once stepped down to greet the holy man and, taking him by the hand, seated him by his side. After the brahmin had rested, Krishna had a meal made ready for him. Then only the prince asked him the cause of his visit to Dwarka. The brahmin told Krishna how Rukmi had betrothed Rukmani to Shishupala. Then he gave the prince her letter to read. Krishna opened it. It ran as follows:

My lord prince, I have heard so much of your beauty and prowess that I can think of nothing but of you. Indeed, I feel no longer shame nor fear of other's tongues. But do not you blame me for, if my conduct is bold and unmaidenly, you and you only are the cause of it. I have so often thought of you that your spirit pervades me wholly and l am yours and yours only. Come, therefore, I pray of you, to Dwarka and take me as your bride. Otherwise I shall become the wife of prince Shishupala, whom I hate. My marriage day has been fixed, so you cannot ask my father for my hand. Therefore, come to Dwarka the day before that appointed for my wedding. Bring with you a band of picked knights and, driving away Shishupala and the men with him, bear me away and make me your queen. You should not, however, storm the palace, for in the storm my father and brothers would die fighting. I have a better plan. On the day before my wedding, I shall go on a pilgrimage to the shrine of the goddess Ambika. As I am going to or returning from the shrine, seize me and carry me off. Beloved lord, if you will not grant this my prayer, I shall die of sorrow, hoping that in some future life, perchance, I may win as a husband him whom I have failed to win in this.

Krishna twice read the letter through. Then he said to the old brahmin, "Reverend Sir, I am as much in love with the princess Rukmani as she is with me. I indeed sought her hand, but Rukmi hated me, so he promised her to Shishupala. But now that she has bidden me save her from this marriage, I shall go to Vidarbha and, just as the wind bears away a burning spark, so I shall bear her away from her father's city to Dwarka."

He asked the Brahmin the day fixed for the marriage. When he learnt that the wedding was but no long time off and that he had barely time to reach Vidarbha, he bade his charioteer Daruka harness the four swiftest horses in his stable. Daruka did so and, in a few minutes, harnessed to Krishna's chariot his four horses Saivya, Sugriva, Meghpushpa and Balahaka. Galloping all day and all night, they brought Krishna to Vidarbha the morning before the wedding. With them, as Rukmani had asked, went a body of picked Yadava knights from Dwarka.

When the chariot reached king Bhishmak's capital, Kundinapuri, it was holding high festival because of the princess's coming marriage. The old king had thrown himself heart and soul into decking the town in his daughter's honour. Flags and banners flapped gaily from the burghers' windows or flew in the wind from flagstaffs on their roofs. The streets were bright with arches and with wreaths of flowers. Water carriers with skins of scented water sprinkled it to lay the dust on the roads. Men and women had put on all their finery and vied with each other who should do most honour to the wedding of their beloved princess.

Inside the palace, King Bhishmak had worshipped his forefathers, the gods, and the brahmins and had feasted the latter with great splendor. The brahmins in turn had poured blessings on Bhishmak's daughter. They had tied on her wrists the thread to denote her betrothal and had repeated over her mystic "mantras" or spells from the Samveda, the Rigveda and the Yajurveda. Lastly they had repeated from their holy books strange, soothing charms to lull the enmity of all unfavorable stars. As their fee, they had received from King Bhishmak a great treasure of gold and silver and rich clothes and herds of cows.

In the meantime Prince Shishupala, accompanied by his father, King Damaghosha, and a vast train of elephants and horsemen and chariots, had come near the walls of Kundinapuri. With Shishupala had come King Jarasandha of Magadha with many of his vassals, for Damaghosha, King of the Chedis, was one of his allies. When King Bhishmak learnt the news, he went out with a great escort to do his son-in-law honour.

When the eve of Rukmani's wedding day had dawned, Rukmani had begun to despair. She did not know that the old brahmin whom she had sent with a letter to Krishna had taken, because of his age, so long a time in going to Dwarka that he had had no time to return with Krishna's answer. She sat in her room in the palace, wondering whether her letter had reached Krishna and what he had thought of it. Her heart was torn with fear that he might despise her for writing and with hope that he might still come in time to stop her hateful marriage.

Suddenly her left eye and her left arm began to throb. These the princess knew to be happy omens, and she hardly felt surprise when a few minutes later one of her maids told her that the aged brahmin, whom she had sent from Kundinapuri some weeks before, asked to see her. She bade the serving girl admit the brahmin. As he entered she looked anxiously at his face and seeing it calm and pleased, her heart filled with joy and hope.

"Pray, reverend sir, tell me," she said, "tell me that all is well and that Krishna is coming." The brahmin nodded with a reassuring smile and told the princess all that had happened at Dwarka.

Krishna and Balarama did not hide their arrival. They sent riders ahead into Kundinapuri to announce their coming to King Bhishmak. He went out to meet them and, when he learnt that they had come to be present at the princess Rukmani's wedding, the old king, although he had not expected them, greeted them courteously, and the two princes at the head of their picked body of Yadava knights entered the joyful capital.

The same evening Rukmani went out, as she had written to Krishna, to visit the shrine of the goddess Ambika. A large escort of well armed serving men accompanied her palanquin, and many of the well-born women and girls of Kundinapuri went with her also. In front of her went a body of musicians who played flutes, sounded horns, and beat drums, so that the whole air was filled with their music. In due time she reached the temple of Ambika.

Going to the door of the inner shrine, she performed with the aid of the brahmin women all the worship due by a betrothed girl. Then she prayed under her breath, "O goddess Ambika, if I have done aught to win your favour, grant that Krishna, and not Shishupala, be my husband." She put on the goddess's lap a coconut and a handful of flowers. Then she waved a lamp round the goddess's head and received in return the goddess's gift and the blessings of the brahmin women. Lastly, hand in hand with two of her girlfriends, she went out of the temple.

On the temple steps she stopped for a moment, looking for Krishna's chariot which, as she knew, carried aloft a banner with an eagle on it. Suddenly she saw it close to her, for Krishna saw that his chance had come and had skillfully guided his horses near to the temple steps. Rukmani turned aside from her palanquin and gave her hand to Krishna. The prince, without effort, lifted the lovely girl into his chariot. Then, touching his team with his whip, he guided his chariot with such skill through the crowded streets that, before anyone could stay them, he and Rukmani were out of the city, and Krishna's splendid team were galloping at full speed towards Dwarka.

When Shishupala and Jarasandha and the men with them had recovered their wits, they began to gallop after the fugitives that they might overtake them. But Balarama and the picked Yadava knights with him fell on their flank as they issued out of the city gates. Although Shishupala's and Jarasandha's men were far more numerous, yet they were taken unawares and they had not the skill or the swordmanship of Krishna's picked knights. Rukmani, fleeing with Krishna, looked back and saw the small company of her lover's friends fighting with a great host. She felt sore afraid and thought bitterly to herself that she had but led them and Krishna to their deaths. But Krishna, seeing her fears, consoled her, saying, "Fear nothing, Beloved; you will see that great host slaughtered just as a flock of sheep is slaughtered by a small band of wolves."

As Krishna spoke, so it proved. The wit and courage of the Yadavas triumphed over the untrained men with Shishupala. They got blocked in the streets of Kundinapuri and could not issue from them to help their friends. Balarama detached a few of the Yadava knights who, entering Kundinapuri by another gate, fell on the rear of Shishupala's men. A wild panic ensued and the mass of fugitives, pressed together from both front and back, were slaughtered helplessly like sheep by wolves. Then King Jarasandha withdrew his men and, calling Shishupala to him, told him that it was useless to fight longer.

"Let Rukmani be," he said to console Shishupala. "Fair though she is, there are other maids as fair."

Shishupala reluctantly left the town with such of his men as survived, and he and Jarasandha went sadly back to their own countries. Rukmi, however, Rukmani's brother, would not submit thus tamely. Rallying the men of Kundinapuri, he led them out of the city by yet another gate and began to gallop so furiously after Krishna's chariot that he outdistanced his horsemen and, in the end, found himself alone among Krishna and a band of his Yadava knights. Krishna bade his knights be still while he challenged Rukmi to single combat. Rukmi joyfully accepted the challenge. Krishna, putting an arrow to his bow, shot in turn Rukmi's four horses through the heart. Then he killed Rukmi's charioteer and cut in half the string of the bow with which Rukmi was vainly trying to hit him.

Rukmi, nothing daunted, leapt to the ground and drew his sword. Krishna drew his sword also and sprang from his chariot to meet him. Rukmani, however, implored him to spare her brother.

So, parrying Rukmi's blows with cool skill, Krishna struck him a blow on the head with the flat of his sword. As he lay senseless, he tied him up with his own clothes. In the meantime, Balarama, with the main body of Yadava knights, came up with Rukmi's men and cut them to pieces.

Then Balarama rode to Krishna's chariot. Seeing Rukmi a captive bound hand and foot, he bade Krishna let him go. "No Aryan prince will kill a helpless captive. And to keep a prince a prisoner is to inflict on him worse than death. Free him, Krishna, and let him go."

Accordingly Krishna loosed Rukmi and bade him go free wherever he wished. But Rukmi was so sore with shame at his defeat and the loss of his sister that he would not return to Kundinapuri but went to a distant land and founded the city of Bhojakataya.

Thereafter Krishna, Rukmani, Balarama, and the Yadava knights went joyfully to Dwarka. There the townspeople greeted them with loud shouts of glee and triumph and poured rich gifts on the prince and princess. In this way Krishna brought back to Dwarka as his bride, the Princess Rukmani of Vidarbha.

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