Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Reading Guide: Kincaid. Krishna. Chapter 9

[Notes by LKG]. The ninth chapter of Kincaid's book is about Krishna's son Pradyumna and a game of dice that ends in disaster (does that sound familiar...?).

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

CHAPTER 9. Adventures of Balarama and Pradyumna.

One day Balarama went on a journey northward to see his old home Vrindavan and to meet again the cow-boys and the milking maids with whom he had played as a boy. After greeting them and telling them all that had happened to him and Krishna at Dwarka, he wandered through the woods wherein he and his brother had of old time fought and killed the demons sent by King Kansa. As they went, Balarama noticed a fragrant scent which issued from a kadamba tree. Going close to it, he saw, in a hollow of the tree, a bowl of liquid from which the scent came. Now this was a store of wine which the Wine Goddess Sura had put there. Balarama tasted the liquid and, liking its taste, drank it off. The rich wine went to his head, and he began to dance and sing wildly with the cow-boys. At last, hot with the dancing and the wine, he thought that he would bathe in the Yamuna river. He called to her, "Come hither, Yamuna, so that I may bathe."

The river paid no heed but rolled on as she had done through countless ages to meet her sister the Ganges. Balarama again called to her, but the great stream answered not a word. Balarama, maddened with the liquor of the Wine Goddess, seized a ploughshare and, cutting deep into the Yamuna's bank, made a new channel for her. In this way he made the Yamuna follow him where he would. At last the great river, feeling her strength failing and seeing her waters spread far and wide over the dry earth which sucked them up, took the form of a beautiful woman and, with folded arms, prayed to Balarama to forgive her. But Balarama would not forgive her until he had made a deep pool at the very spot to which he had called her. Therein he bathed. After bathing he blocked the cuttings that he had made in her banks, and once more the stately river flowed on to meet the Ganges.

Now Krishna's and Rukmani's eldest son was Pradyumna. Unhappily for the tiny boy, it had been foretold to a mighty demon named Sambara that Rukmani's and Krishna's first child would kill him. Thus, when Pradyumna was only six days old, Sambara took the form of one of Rukmani's waiting maids and, in this guise entering her palace, took Pradyumna out of his cot and carried him away to the seashore. There Sambara flung the baby boy into the water and went back to his own dwelling.

It so chanced that a great fish swallowed Pradyumna at a single gulp. The boy, unhurt by the fish's teeth, lay uninjured in the monster's stomach. A little later, the great fish, its appetite still unsatisfied, swallowed the hook of a coast fisherman and was dragged ashore. The fisherman took the fish to Sambara's house for sale, and the demon, buying the fish, gave it to his wife Mayadevi to cook for his dinner. She had the fish cut open by the cook and inside she found still alive a beautiful baby boy. She took charge of the boy, unknown to her husband, and kept him safe in hiding until he grew to manhood.

Then she told him that he was not her son, but that he must be the same boy whom the wicked Sambara had stolen from Rukmani and had thrown into the sea. "Kill Sambara," she said, "kill Sambara and take me away with you to Dwarka. For I hate the cruel monster, and I would go with you to Krishna's city."

Then she taught Pradyumna all the wiles and magic of Sambara, and she showed him how to fight Sambara when he took in turn the forms of a wild beast, a serpent, a rakshasa, and a gandharva. So instructed, Pradyumna sought out the demon Sambara and, telling him who he was, reviled him for a murderer of children and a coward who was afraid to fight with grown men. Sambara seized his mace and rushed at Pradyumna, but the latter wrested the mace from him and with it began to batter Sambara to pieces. As Mayadevi had foretold, Sambara changed himself in turn into a raging lion, a serpent, a gandharva, and a rakshasa, but Pradyumna, by the aid of Mayadevi's teaching, gripped him so fast that he could not escape.

At last Pradyumna, dropping his mace, drew his sword and, with a single stroke of its keen blade, sheared the monster's head from off his body. He went back to Mayadevi and told her how he had won the fight. Mayadevi took him by the hand and, by her sorcery, lifted him up with her high above Sambara's palace and bore him safely through the air until they were flying over Dwarka. There they alighted and, going to Krishna's palace, asked for an audience with Rukmani. When Rukmani saw Pradyumna, her heart ached nigh to breaking, her eyes filled with tears, and she said with choking voice. "Fair youth, I had a son who, had he lived, would have been just as old and as tall as you. Indeed, his face would have been like yours also. For by some strange chance you are the living image of Prince Krishna."

Just then Krishna with Devaki, Vasudeva, and the sage Narada, entered Rukmani's chamber. All of them gazed, astonished, at the beautiful youth. Then Narada said, "Rejoice, Rukmani! The son whom you lost is found. He whom you mourned as dead is living." Then he told her how Sambara had carried off Pradyumna, how the fish had swallowed him, how Mayadevi had saved him, and how in the end he had killed Sambara. When Narada had ended the tale, all present embraced Pradyumna and rejoiced at his homecoming.

Prince Rukmi, after founding Bhojakataya, lived there with his princess and his children. Just after Pradyumna came back to Dwarka, Rukmi's daughter Rukmavati reached womanhood, and Rukmi held a swayamvara at which the princess should choose as her husband the one of all the princes assembled whose looks or speech or bearing took her fancy most. Pradyumna, with Krishna's consent, went to Bhojakataya as a suitor for his cousin's hand. Their eyes met, and Rukmavati declared that she had chosen Pradyumna as her husband.

Prince Rukmi, angry though he was that his daughter should choose Krishna's son, yet consented, and Pradyumna wedded Rukmavati. She bore him a son whom she called Aniruddha. When Aniruddha reached manhood, Rukmi gave him the hand of his own granddaughter Rochna and invited to the wedding Krishna and the Yadava nobles and all the kings near Bhojakataya, of whom the chief was the King of Kalinga.

Great were the feasting and the merrymaking, not only because of the wedding, but also because Rukmi was treacherously plotting the ruin of the Yadavas. The King of Kalinga had counseled him to challenge Balarama to a game of dice. "He is an ignorant lout of a cowherd," said the King of Kalinga. "He is fond of dicing, but he knows nothing of the game. Challenge him to a dicing match, and he will lose not only all his own wealth, but all Krishna's too."

Rukmi approved the counsel and, to fool Balarama, spent a large treasure in feasting him and the other Yadavas. Then he challenged him to a dicing match. Balarama, made reckless by the feasting, agreed. They first staked a hundred gold pieces a throw, but Balarama lost repeatedly. Then Rukmi raised the stake to a thousand gold pieces, and still Balarama lost. Rukmi again raised the stake to ten thousand gold pieces, and again he kept on winning. The King of Kalinga, seeing how Balarama was caught in the snare laid for him, laughed aloud and said in mocking tones, "Balarama thinks he can play at dice, and yet he loses every throw!"

Balarama, furious at the Kalinga king's taunt, raised the stake to ten million gold pieces and, by a lucky chance and in no way by his skill, won the throw. Rukmi, who could not believe that Balarama could win even by chance, cried out that he had never made the bet and that Balarama had not won. While he and Balarama were quarrelling, a heavenly voice said, "Balarama has won the stake. Rukmi is lying. Even though he did not say so in so many words, yet by throwing the dice he accepted the bet."

But Rukmi would not heed the warning. Furious at the failure of his plot, be turned on Balarama. "How could you have won, you rustic lout?" he screamed. "Before a man can win at dice or excel at the bow, he must have some wit. An oaf like you is only fit to herd cows!"

Balarama, stung by the insult, lifted the dice box high with both hands and brought it down edgeways and with all his force on Rukmi's head. Rukmi, with shattered skull, fell, dying, to the ground. Then Balarama, turning on the King of Kalinga, dashed out his teeth with a second blow of the dice board. The other guests fled in terror from the palace.

Krishna, hearing of the fight, ran to the spot. He soothed Balarama and called to his side Aniruddha, Pradyumna, Rochna and the Yadava nobles. Then, grieving for Rukmani's sake at Rukmi's death, he returned sadly to his own city Dwarka on the shores of the western sea.

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