Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Reading Guide: Kincaid. Krishna. Chapter 8

[Notes by LKG]. The eighth chapter of Kincaid's book describes the fantastic adventure of the Syamantaka Jewel.

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

CHAPTER 8. The Syamantaka Jewel.

Now about the time that Krishna carried off Rukmani to Dwarka from the city of King Bhishmak, one Satrajit, the son of Nighna, one of the Yadava nobles, passed his whole life in the worship of Surya the Sun God. One day as Satrajit was walking along the shore of the western sea singing hymns of praise to Surya, the great Sun God descended suddenly from the sky and stood in front of his worshipper. But Satrajit's dazzled eyes could not clearly distinguish the features of the god whom he adored, but only saw in front of him a shining, golden form.

Fearing that he should lose this chance of seeing Surya face to face, he said, "Great Sun God, you have blessed me far above other men by descending on earth to honour me. But I cannot see your features clearly. Honor me, therefore, still more, I pray you, by revealing yourself to your worshipper so that he can gaze on you without blinded eyes."

The Sun God in answer took from round his neck the great Syamantaka jewel and put it aside. Satrajit then saw face to face the Sun God, his form gleaming like burnished copper and his red, fierce, unblinking eyes. Satrajit fell at the Sun God's feet until the latter, pleased with Satrajit's devotion, bade him rise. "Ask me for a boon," he added, "Satrajit, and I shall grant it to you."

Satrajit thought for a moment. Then his eyes fell on the Syamantaka jewel that lay on the ground beside Surya. Its clear, bright light was illumining the whole countryside, and desire for it filled the heart of Satrajit. He asked for it, little guessing that thereby he would bring about his own ruin.  "As you offer me a boon, great god," he said, "the boon I would ask of you is the Syamantaka jewel."

"Take it," answered Surya and, leaving his worshipper gazing with greedy eyes at the matchless gem, the god returned in his chariot to the heavens. Satrajit put the Syamantaka necklace round his neck, and there issued from it such a radiance that, when he returned wearing it to Dwarka, the townsmen all fled, dazzled, from before him and ran crying to Krishna that the Sun God had come to visit the prince.

But Krishna, who by his divine wisdom knew what had happened, laughed and said, "Nay, fear nothing; it is but Satrajit, on whom the Sun God has bestowed the Syamantaka jewel." So the townsmen's fear departed, and they went back and feasted their eyes upon it until Satrajit took it to his palace and stored it safely away. Such was the marvellous property of the great gem that, each day, Satrajit drew from it eight wagonloads of gold, and its magic power kept away from Dwarka all fear of fire or famine, foes or robbers, pestilence or wild beasts.

Now Krishna thought that it ill became a mere noble like Satrajit to possess so splendid a jewel. Ugrasena alone, the great King of Mathura, was worthy to have it in his keeping. He said this to Satrajit, although he did not take the jewel from him. Satrajit, fearing that Krishna would pass from words to deeds, no longer dared keep the jewel but gave it to his brother Prasena. Now it was one of the qualities of this strange gem that if owned by a good and brave man, it brought him treasure and happiness, but if owned by an evil man or a coward, it only brought him death. Prasena was no coward, but he led an evil life.

One day Prasena rode out to hunt a deer. As he went, a lion that lay in wait rushed out from its lair and tore him to pieces. Seeing the jewel, the lion took it in its mouth and went off to hide it in its den. But the jewel brought death to the lion, just as it had brought death to Prasena.

Jambavat, King of the Bears, looking down from his mountain throne above the forest, saw the great jewel glittering between the lion's teeth. With all speed he ran into the forest and, killing the lion with one blow of his terrible paw, took the Syamantaka jewel back to the cave that behind his throne pierced deep into the mountains. There he gave the gem as a toy to his little son Sukumara.

The days passed, but Prasena never came back, and the men of Dwarka began to whisper the one to the other, "Krishna has killed Prasena. Krishna coveted the jewel and, as Prasena was keeping it for Satrajit, Krishna killed him."

When Krishna heard of this false rumor, he called to him a picked band of Yadavas and, following the tracks of Prasena's horse, came to the spot where the lion had killed him. When the Yadavas saw the scene of Prasena's death and the tracks of the lion, they knew that Krishna was guiltless. Krishna, however, would not return to Dwarka until he had won back the Syamantaka gem. So he followed the lion's tracks until he and the Yadavas came to where Jambavat the Bear King had killed it. They then followed up the Bear King's foot marks until they came to his throne, behind which the cavern ran into the mountain. Krishna entered the cavern alone, leaving the Yadavas outside its mouth.

At first the cavern was inky black. But when he turned a corner, the cave was lit up, as with a lamp, by the light of the Syamantaka jewel. It lay on the ground, and the little Bear Prince Sukumara was playing with it. As he played with it, the nurse crooned to him a little nursery rhyme which she had made up herself. "Baby Bear! Baby Bear! The jewel is yours to keep and wear. For he who would take the lovely thing must first fight Daddy, the great Bear King!"

Hearing Krishna's footsteps, the nurse looked up and, seeing a stranger, called to the Bear King for help. Instantly Jambavat came out of an inner fold of the cave and rushed at Krishna. The prince struck the Bear King with all his splendid strength in the face with his fist, but even that fearful blow did not stop Jambavat's charge. In another moment Krishna and the Bear King were locked in a death struggle. The fight lasted all that day and for twenty-one days afterwards until at last the Yadavas, weary with waiting, felt sure that Krishna was dead. Fearing to enter the cave, they returned to Dwarka and proclaimed that the prince had perished. There was great mourning through all Dwarka, and his relatives observed all the funeral rites in his honour.

They had just finished the rites and were about to return sadly to their homes when the eastern sky was lit up with such a radiance that, although the sun was sinking in the West, the mourners thought that another sun was rising in the East. They gazed in wonder until at last they could make out Krishna, who bore round his neck the Syamantaka jewel and led by the hand a tall, blooming maiden. They thronged round the prince, laughing and weeping with joy at the return of one whom they had thought lost for ever.

Then Krishna told them that on the twenty-first day of the fight, the Bear King, exhausted by Krishna's blows and faint with want of food and water, had begged for mercy. Krishna had spared him on condition that he gave up the Syamantaka jewel. Jambavat had agreed and, to keep Krishna's friendship, he had offered him in marriage his daughter, the Princess Jambavati. The prince had put the jewel round his neck and had taken the princess by the hand and had thus returned in triumph to Dwarka.

After entering the city, Krishna called together all the nobles and townspeople of Dwarka and, in their presence, he told the whole story of the death of Prasena and of his own fight with the Bear King. Then he took the Syamantaka jewel from round his neck and gave it back to Satrajit. Satrajit was so pleased to recover the Sun God's gift and, at the same time, felt so ashamed that he had thought Krishna had killed his brother that, taking his daughter Satyabhama by the hand, he stepped forward and offered her also as a wife to Krishna. Krishna accepted gladly the offer of the fair princess, and the townspeople were filled with joy that the prince should wed at last a girl of their own city.

But the beauty of Satyabhama had already won the hearts of several of the Yadava nobles, and when Satrajit, slighting their wooing, gave her hand to Krishna, their hearts flamed with wrath. One of their number, Satadhanwan, vowed to kill Satrajit. When the others heard his vow, they urged him to fulfill it and promised him that if he slew Satrajit, they would guard him from all ill consequences. Satadhanwan bided his time until Krishna had left the city on a visit to Varanavata. Then, entering Satrajit's house by night, he killed Satrajit as he slept and took the Syamantaka jewel.

When Satyabhama heard of her father's murder, she had a chariot harnessed and drove at full speed to Varanavata and told Krishna of Satadhanwan's wicked deed. Krishna promised her that he would punish the murderer. He went back with her to Dwarka and sent for Balarama. To him he repeated Satyabhama's story.

"Come with me," he said, "and kill Satadhanwan. When we have won back the Syamantaka jewel, you shall have half of it. For as Satrajit and Prasena are both dead and have left no heirs, the jewel is ours by right of escheat." Balarama agreed, and the two brothers got ready to attack Satadhanwan, who had fled to his country house outside Dwarka.

Satadhanwan, hearing of their plan, went to Akrura, who had on Kansa's death entered Krishna's service. Satadhanwan implored Akrura's help. Akrura refused, pleading that Krishna was his master. Satadhanwan then said, "If you will not help me, do at least this act of friendship: take the Syamantaka jewel and tell no one that you have it but keep it for me against my return."

Akrura agreed, although reluctantly, for he was loth to keep a secret from Krishna. Satadhanwan thereupon gave the great gem into Akrura's keeping and, mounting his swiftest mare, rode for life and death due east from Dwarka. Krishna and Balarama had Saivya, Sugriva, Meghapushpa and Balahaka, Krishna's swiftest team, harnessed and first drove to Satadhanwan's country house. Learning there that he had fled east, they pursued him night and day until Satadhanwan's mare fell dead of fatigue not far from Mithila.

Satadhanwan then tried to escape through some wild hilly country, over which Krishna's chariot could not follow him. But Krishna stopped his chariot and, springing to earth, followed Satadhanwan on foot. After a chase of a league or more, Krishna came near enough to fling his discus at the murderer. The sharp quoit went flashing through the air like a silver flame and, striking Satadhanwan on the neck, severed his head from his body. Krishna searched the dead man for the Syamantaka jewel but could not find it. He returned to Balarama and told him.

Balarama did not believe his brother and thought that Krishna had found the great gem but was hiding it so as to cheat Balarama of his share. He flew into a passion and, reviling his brother as a liar and a cheat, left him and went to Videha, where he stayed until Ugrasena, at Krishna's instance, removed from Balarama's mind his false suspicions of his brother and induced him to return to Dwarka.

Now shortly after Balarama's return, Akrura left Dwarka to go on a distant expedition. Instantly ills fell upon Dwarka. The earth quaked, plagues tormented the men of Dwarka, the rains failed, and great snakes came out of the sea and ravaged the villages on the coast.

Krishna gathered together the wise men and elders among the Yadavas and asked them the cause of these visitations. One Andhaka rose and said, "lt is because Akrura has left us. Wherever his father Swaphalka dwelt, plague and famine and pestilence were unknown. Akrura must have inherited this gift. Krishna thought for a moment and then felt certain that, although the cause of the visitations was the departure of Akrura, the secret of Akrura's good fortune must be other than that told by Andhaka. He guessed that the real cause was his possession of the Syamantaka jewel.

He kept his own counsel but urged that envoys should be sent to Akrura to bid him return. Akrura came back with the envoys, and at once the famine and plagues left the land, and the sea snakes fled back to their dwellings at the bottom of the ocean. Upon reaching his own house, Akrura held a great sacrifice and gave splendid gifts to brahmins. Then Krishna knew that he had the great jewel in his keeping for it furnished its owner daily with eight wagonloads of gold, and this and not the qualities inherited by him from his father was the real secret of Dwarka's prosperity, while he lived in it.

Krishna called Akrura and other Yadava nobles to his palace and said as if in jest, "Akrura, it is idle to pretend further. We all know you have the Syamantaka jewel. I do not want it, but please show it to Balarama for he still at times thinks that I have it."

Akrura was covered with confusion and, taking from his garments a small gold box, he opened it. Instantly the Yadava nobles veiled their eyes with their hands, such was the dazzling splendour of the gem inside. Akrura handed the box with the jewel to Krishna and said, "Take it; I have never had a moment's ease since Satadhanwan give it to me. I daily longed to tell you but could not, because of my promise to Satadhanwan."

At once Balarama sprang to his feet and claimed a half share in the jewel under his agreement with Krishna. At the same time Satyabhama claimed the whole jewel as hers by right of inheritance from her father Satrajit. Krishna, unwilling to offend either his brother or his wife, said, "He who would keep the jewel and not suffer ill because of it must lead a life wholly continent. Balarama, Satyabhama, and I are all married, and it is not for us to keep it. Akrura has no wife. Let him renounce the society of women and retain the jewel."

Akrura agreed and took back the Syamantaka jewel and wore it round his neck. Its radiance once more illumined all Dwarka and guarded that happy land from famine, foes, robbers, pestilence and wild beasts and all kindred visitations.

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