Mookam karoti vachalam, pangum langhayate girim
Yatkripa tamaham vande, paramananda madhavam.
I salute thee, O Madhava, by whose grace even a mute
becomes loquacious and a lame conquers the mountains.
Sri Krishna is different from other gods in the Hindu pantheon in that he is not confined to the pedestal but is regarded as family. Mothers see His image in their children while comely maidens seek Him in their lovers. A major part of India’s religion, literature, music, dance, art, culture revolves around the theme of Krishna.
Maybe that is one reason why books have been written trying to explain his supernatural powers and treating him rather as an extraordinarily talented, multifaceted but adorable human being—someone whom we can readily identify with. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay did it in his Krishna Charitra and has been followed by innumerable other authors. I have merely attempted to follow their footprints.
I, however, hasten to clarify at the outset that Krishna is as much a part of my existence as anyone else’s and I worship Him as everyone else. The book is only a mythological fiction, intended to be read as a mere story and there is no intent whatsoever to cause any disrespect to anybody’s religious belief.
The theme of the book is that when God takes avatar on Earth, He follows all the laws of nature. Otherwise there would be no necessity for Him to take birth as He could have killed the enemies with a flash of lightning from the sky, so to say. In my humble opinion, God takes avatar to set an example of what we humans can achieve through hard work, intelligence, focus and dedication. We, the lesser beings, being unable to emulate such feats either due to laziness or lack of dedication, take the easy way out and ascribe the feats to supernatural powers.
Applying this theme to the popular story of Krishna’s life, which we have heard since childhood, I tried to build a fiction that gives a realistic and rational explanation of his birth, his leelas and how he achieved his goals. It is a journey of a cowherd boy Kanha to that of Vishnu’s avatar Krishna in which he is forced to toil, encounter caste and colour prejudices, cross obstacles and face betrayals from those he trusted. The transition to avtarhood was aided in no small measure by the politics of the time and the inter se rivalry amongst Kansa’s own advisers. The novel explores what Krishna gained and what he lost in the process of his transition.
In writing this book, I must acknowledge the contribution of my family comprising of my mother Mrs Dolly Mullick, my wife Soma, my daughter Ananya and my son Arnab who not only encouraged my writing but also patiently suffered my absence through the hours I wrote. They are all integral to my very existence and of this book.
The book would not have been the same but for the suggestions given by my great friend Mr C. Mohan Rao, Advocate.
I must thank Google and Wikipedia for facilitating instant research. What would we do without them?
I thank my publisher Readomania and Mr Dipankar Mukherjee for putting their faith in my book and publishing it. My editor Ms Indrani Ganguly did a yeoman’s job in editing it. My special thanks also go to my Literary Agent M/s Book Bakers and Mr Suhail Mathur.
And finally, the question that may dog all readers: Did it actually happen this way as described in this book?
Your birth proclaims the victory of life
May the mysteries of the infinite unravel themselves through you
It was midnight on the eighth day of the dark phase of moon in the post-monsoon month of Bhadra. Nandrai, the headman of the Gops, paced nervously in front of the delivery room in his cottage. Outside, the wind howled across like a raging wolf, threatening to blow away the roof itself. Trees swayed in the storm and smashed against one another. It seemed as if a war had broken out between the gods and demons. Uprooted trees and branches were hurled like spears across the horizon. Lord Indra lit up the firmament in succession as he hurled thunderbolts towards an invisible foe. Torrential rains in swirling motion, lashed at the doors. From afar, the river Yamuna roared as a caged lion pounding against its barriers, the sound carrying through the howling wind and lashing rain. All over the colony, herds of cows mooed in fright, tugging at their tethers. It was as if the Earth was preparing for another Great Deluge.
Inside the delivery room, the midwife and two other ladies attended to Nandrai’s wife, Yashoda, who was in labour. Nandrai could only helplessly look on as now and again the door opened a bit and one of the ladies hurried out to the kitchen to heat water or get dressings.
A loud clap of thunder shook the whole cottage, followed by the sound of something crashing outside. Was it the cowshed? Nandrai cautiously unbolted the door and immediately the gale prised open the door and forced him back. For a moment, Nandrai was left dazed and by the time he regained his wits, a shower of rain had waltzed inside the room, drenching the floor.
‘What are you doing, Mukhiyaji? Have you lost your senses? For heaven’s sake, a delivery is going on.’ The dai had come out of the delivery room and her professional fury was directed at Nandrai. He might be the mukhiya of the Gops, but here and now she was the one in charge.
Nandrai pushed the door with all his force and barely managed to lock it back. ‘Sorry, Daiji,’ he mumbled. From inside the delivery room, Yashoda shrieked and the dai rushed back into the room.
Each moment seemed like an eternity. The clapping of the sky alternated with Yashoda’s shrieks and the terrified mooing of cattle. It was not a night, but a nightmare.
‘O Lord Indra, please control your fury, please spare us,’ Nandrai prayed fervently in his mind. He could visualise the condition of the village. God knows how many cottages and cowsheds would collapse, how many trees would be uprooted. The cottages and cowsheds could be rebuilt, but God, please protect the people and the animals. A storm of this magnitude would not depart without claiming its sacrifices.
As if in answer to Nandrai’s prayers, little by little, the storm started subsiding. An hour later, as the torrent of rain receded considerably, there was an urgent knock at the door. ‘Mukhiyaji, Mukhiyaji, please open.’
Nandrai hesitantly looked at the delivery room before opening the door. Two villagers stood there.
‘Mukhiyaji, please come. A tree fell on Budhiya’s cottage and he and his wife are injured. We have pulled them out. Please come and see.’ The same instant another villager came rushing in. ‘Mukhiyaji, Bantu and Nandan’s cottages have collapsed. In seven other cottages the roofs have blown off. All their belongings are in a mess.’
So, the ordeal had begun. Nandrai shook off his stupor. ‘I’m coming in a moment. You go and call Vaidji immediately.’ Just then Yashoda shrieked and immediately thereafter one of the attendants came out of the delivery room and proceeded to the kitchen. Nandrai stopped her. ‘Is everything alright?’
‘As of now it is alright, Mukhiyaji. But it is taking time and Yashodaji is getting exhausted.’
For a moment, Nandrai wavered. He was needed as much at home as outside. But he steeled his mind. There was nothing he could presently do at home but to wait. The dai and her attendants were there to take care of Yashoda. But out there in the village, he was the headman and nobody would be able to organise a rescue or give directions in his absence.
‘Alright. Tell Daiji that I am in the immediate neighbourhood. I will keep making rounds of the house from time to time. In case there is any emergency, just send someone to call me.’ Nandrai took a diya, covered it with a plate and went out in the rain.
* * * * *
It was a scene from the Apocalypse. Uprooted trees and branches blocked the road every few yards. Nandrai carefully made his way in the dim light of the diya through the sputtering rain and the sprawling mess. A huge peepul tree had uprooted and smashed Budhiya’s cottage. It was a miracle that Budhiya and his wife had survived, albeit with injuries. The Vaid had arrived and was attending to them. A large group of villagers had gathered, discussing the storm with the same intensity with which it had occurred.
Nandrai immediately took charge of the situation. He called the villagers and made several teams. The first task was to help those whose cottages had collapsed. Two teams were deputed to shift the belongings from the collapsed huts to their neighbours’. With Nandrai at the helm, the village stood as one family. What if a cottage had collapsed—the village community would rebuild it. The persons whose huts had collapsed, would live as family in their neighbours’ huts.
Another team was deputed to pacify the terrified animals. It was only a few hours to the morning and the cows would have to be milked. It was necessary that they be calmed as soon as possible and rested before the milking time.
Most of the remaining teams were given charge of clearing the roads of debris. In a few hours, it would be time to go to Mathura to supply milk to the palace and the city. And, having regard to the tyrant King of Mathura, it was a task that could not be avoided, even if the sky itself came crashing down or Yamaraj himself knocked at the door. It was not only the road to Mathura that had to be cleared, the roads to the other Gop villages too needed clearance.
The main work done, Nandrai sent errands to the other Gop villages to ascertain their condition and convey his instructions regarding the organising of relief and rescue. He was explaining the errands when someone tugged at his gamchha. He turned around to find a ten-year-old village kid. ‘They are calling you at your house immediately.’
Nandrai’s heart leapt to his mouth. While organising the relief operations in the village, he had totally forgotten about Yashoda’s delivery.
‘Did they tell you anything? Why are they calling me?’ Nandrai in his anxiety almost held the child by the neck.
The child’s blank face made him realise the futility of the query. He left the child and made a sudden dash towards home.
‘What happened, Mukhiyaji…O Mukhiyaji…?’ The villagers’ shouts fell on deaf ears. Nandrai leapt over fallen trees and sprinted through thorny hedges. The rain had reduced the road to slush and mud. Twice he stumbled, the thorns bruised his skin, the mud spattered his clothes, but he ran as if his life depended on it. Finally, as he turned the corner, his cottage stood in front of him. And suddenly, he stopped. He felt as if his feet had turned to lead. Butterflies sputtered in his stomach. He felt his lungs would burst. For an instant, his brain was clouded with doubt. What if….
One step at a time, Nandrai fumbled towards his cottage door. His hands shaking, he pushed the door and stepped inside. It was dark, one small diya waging a losing battle against the agents of darkness. His throat choked. With a supreme effort he blurted out one word: ‘Daijiiii…’
After what seemed an eternity, the sharp cry of a newborn answered his call. Immediately thereafter, the midwife emerged. Holding out her dupatta, she said with a smile, ‘Mukhiyaji, congratulations, it’s a boy!’
‘And, Yashoda? How is she?’ Nandrai’s voice quivered in anxiety.
‘Both the mother and child are fine, my lord.’
A smile finally spread across Nandrai’s face. He took out the heavy gold ring from his finger and threw it in the outstretched dupatta of the midwife.
‘God bless you, Mukhiyaji. May your son live a thousand years and bring fame and fortune to your family.’ The midwife withdrew into the room.
A little while later, Nandrai washed and changed and thereafter was allowed inside the delivery room. Yashoda lay on the bed still recovering from her exertions and suckling a tiny bundle of joy who clung to her with his tiny arms. For several moments Nandrai stood transfixed by the sight. It was his first child and he took time to come to terms with it. Then he took off his heavy gold chain, touched it to the newborn and proceeded to see its face. ‘O my God!’ he laughed aloud, ‘this can’t be a human being, it’s a doll!’
Yashoda smiled weakly at his astonishment. The baby, which had fallen asleep, awoke with a cry and immediately resumed suckling.
A bolt of lightning lit up the night sky followed moments later by a deafening roar of thunder. Nandrai sat beside Yashoda and held her hand. ‘Thank you, my love.’ Yashoda merely pressed his hand in reply. Nandrai continued, ‘We will now have to think about a name for our son.’
‘I have already thought of that,’ Yashoda said softly, ‘We will name our son “Kanha”.’
There was a rustle at the main door of the cottage. Some of the villagers had come over to enquire.
‘What’s the news, Mukhiyaji?’
‘What, a son? Congratulations! So, we will wait for the treat.’
‘See Mukhiyaji, even the skies lit up and the gods clapped their hands to herald your son’s arrival. Take my word, one day he will make you proud.’
‘Mukhiyaji, there must be a big celebration on the chhathi. You must send a word to the singing and dancing tolis immediately.’
‘Yes, yes, and arrange for adequate laddoos and pedhas also. Satyaa himself will finish one mound of sweets.’
. Nobody slept in the village that night. The men cleared the roads, while the women swept the courtyards and cowsheds of the debris. As the jet black of night turned to grey, they roused the cattle and brought out the milking pots. They also brought out the pots of butter and curd which had been left to settle the night before. The men completed their assigned tasks and returned to their homes. They finished their ablutions, brought out the hay and started milking the cows.
One by one, carts from the nearby villages congregated near Nandrai’s house. It was the headman’s duty to maintain details of the milk and milk products being supplied to the city. Today, however, was an exception. The Gops themselves made a quick compilation. Then all the pitchers were loaded on a few carts. Nandrai and several other Gops stayed back. Apart from attending to his duties at home consequent to the birth of his son, Nandrai intended to attend to the reconstruction work in his own and the neighbouring villages. The remaining Gops perched themselves on the other carts and soon, the caravan of milk carts snaked their way towards the city of Mathura, through the muddy trail of what had once been a road.
Understandably, the storm during the night dominated the conversation during the journey. An elder claimed that there had been fiercer gales in his childhood, while the others laughingly ascribed the claims to his fading memory. A fierce debate ensued on the question. After sometime the conversation veered round to how mukhiyaji’s son’s birth should be celebrated. In particular, the sweets that should be ordered and the dancing tolis that should be brought in to add spice to the occasion. The gloom of the night before was soon submerged in collective laughter and gaiety even as the darkness diffused and gave way to dawn.
‘O Haridasji, please egg on your bullocks. If we are late, King Kansa will flay us alive.’ Bhavya interjected.
The mention of King Kansa’s name brought a hush on the conversation. A while later, there were muted whispers on the carts.
‘Just think, after yesterday’s storm, we should have been attending to our homes rather than going like this. But for our King…’
‘Remember, his gardener had absented one day due to his wife’s death and the King had him flogged for not delivering flowers! So, it does not matter whether we die or our homes are devastated or the roads are blocked, but milk must be delivered at the hour!’
‘Really, such a cruel king has not been seen in the entire history of Aryavarta.’
‘Cruel? Rather, wantonly cruel. Every other month he feeds one of his convicts to his dogs and watches the spectacle. He is not a human, he is a demon…’ the voice tailed off.
‘Yes, and he is also an expert in devising new ways of torture. None of his forefathers were like that!’
‘Arre, what can you expect from a person who imprisons his own father and puts him in the dungeon, in order to become the King?’
‘This is yugdharma, my friend. In the last Treta yug, you had Prince Rama who went to exile to keep his father’s word. And, now in this Dwapara yug, you have a person who confines his parents in prison. God knows what shall follow hereafter.’
‘Arre, he has not stopped at imprisoning his parents. He has gone ahead and put our kingdom itself under a foreign army. After imprisoning his parents he disbanded the Yadava army and stationed a division of the Magadhi army to protect Mathura.’
‘Well, his father-in-law is the King of Magadha. What else do you expect?’
‘Truly said, Bhaiya. This King of ours is no more than a vassal of Jarasandha, the King of Magadha. As soon as Jarasandha finishes his military campaigns in the East, he will come and take over reins of our kingdom.’
‘In fact, this King has destroyed all our institutions. Not only has he disbanded our Parishad, which used to elect the king, but has inducted tribals as his chief advisers and ministers. Leave alone Brahmins, Yadavas are themselves excluded in their own kingdom. Strange are the ways of politics.’
‘Nothing strange about it, brother. This King does not trust anybody. He thinks the Yadavas may have a soft corner for his father, so he has inducted tribals both as ministers and soldiers.’
‘Rightly said, Bhai. But the Yadavas themselves are also to blame for their fate. Their chief landholders are divided on clan lines. They are recognised not as Yadavas but as Andhakas, Vrishnis and Bhojas. Kansa has only utilised this division to further his ends and perpetuate his reign.’
‘And on account of this division the common man has to bear the day-to-day cruelty, not to forget the burden of taxes. The King and his dastardly ministers and advisers are squeezing the residents of Mathura to the last dime. And if someone cannot or does not pay, they just flay him alive.’
‘God knows when we would be delivered from this tyrant.’
‘What deliverance to us common folks? Haven’t you seen what he did to his cousin Devaki and brother-in-law Vasudevaji? If the royals could be treated in this manner, how do you expect the common man to fare any better?’
‘My heart really goes out to them. Even before Devaki could go to her matrimonial home, Kansa threw her and her husband in the dungeon! Just think, a prince and princess, newly married, chained like animals and passing their days in the dungeon! And, each of their offspring killed before their very eyes! All this just because a sadhu predicted that Devaki’s eighth progeny would kill him!’
‘Forget your sadhus and their predictions, it is all the politics of power,’ Bhairav said. ‘Sadhu or no sadhu, Kansa would have got rid of Vasudeva in his own interest. Vasudeva’s father and grandfather had been kings. Obviously he posed a challenge to the throne and therefore Kansa wanted him out of the way. This is how politics works.’
‘But, politics sans even basic humanity? This cruel King has killed one after another of Devaki’s newborns…flinging them to the walls! He has already decimated six of them. How can one be so ghastly in one’s acts? He is indeed a demon.’
There was a clamour amongst the audience. ‘Yes, yes, only a demon could do such a thing.’
‘And, even if we go by that sadhu’s words, it is the eighth child who would kill Kansa. Why kill the others?’
‘Arre my innocent friend, that is what I was talking about. It is again the politics. He wants to end Vasudeva’s legacy altogether. So when Kansa has a son, he will not face any threat from Vasudeva’s line.’
‘God knows how long our travails will continue. I for one have given up hope of deliverance during my lifetime.’
‘No Kaka, this demonic act just cannot continue. I really believe what that sadhu said. God will certainly intervene and send his avatar to deliver us from this evil. The entire kingdom is waiting for the eighth child of Devaki. Six children have already perished and at present Devaki is pregnant with the seventh. Just some more time till the eighth child is born. Till then just persevere, keep low and pray that we remain safe and sound.’
‘Well, the kaalchakra is already turning for Kansa. Have any of you noticed, he has not produced a son yet? He has already been married for more than nine years!’
‘But, does Kansa really need a son? After what he has done to his father, he would always be afraid that his son would do the same to him. For all you know, if he begets a son, he would put him in the dungeon too.’
‘Arre, whether it is Kansa or anyone else, the lot of us Gops will remain the same. The Yadavas, irrespective of which clan they belong to, all look down on us cowherds. If they have a demon or tyrant as their king, it is just desserts for their own actions.’
About one kos before the city gates, the caravan was forced to stop. The Yamuna was in spate owing to the heavy rainfall during the night and a sheet of water, about knee deep, spread in front. It was as if the Yamuna itself was flowing in front of the city gates. A few Gops jumped down from their carts and went to the front of the caravan, tapping the ground with their sticks. The carts followed their progress, finally reaching the city gates.
At the city gates, there appeared to be unprecedented security that day. Each and every person entering the gate was thoroughly frisked and their goods were checked. Within the city, groups of people were spotted whispering amongst each other. They dissolved as soon as any soldier came into sight. The shops were shut and a strange silence prevailed. The Gops tried to enquire the reason from some bystanders, but they hurried away with a fearful look.
The milk carts proceeded to the palace but were stopped at the palace gate. Entry to the palace was barred. The King’s troops took charge of the milk pots and other goods at the palace gate itself. The Gops were in a quandary. Should they give delivery to the troops guarding the palace? What about the accounts? And, what about supply to the shops? The shops remained closed and milk was perishable…. Today, Nandrai was also not there to handle such a situation.
Finally, Satyabal managed to spot an old acquaintance and asked him what had happened. What he heard, sent shivers down all the Gops.
‘Yesterday midnight, Devaki gave birth to her seventh child—a girl—and today morning King Kansa went and slaughtered her.’