Ravines at Etawah, Uttar Pradesh, by William Hodges, 1787.
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Krishna as a Young Man
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Krishna had a brother named Balarama, and the two of them worked together so well that some people came to believe they were probably manifestations of the same soul. When they were young men, they did a lot of things to make their mother’s life easy. One of the things they decided was that their mother might like to have a lake of her own.
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“A lake?” Justus exclaimed.
“You are being told the story of the dam,” Dora scolded. “What else would a person build a dam for?”
“Sorry, I should not have been surprised. Please go on.”
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Krishna and Balarama had spent part of their childhood exploring a gully about a mile and a half from where they lived. It was not a place many people would go to. In fact, Nanda Baba had told them to stay out of it, because its sides were unstable and it was unsafe. It was narrow for the first three hundred yards, or so, and then it broadened into a little valley, which also had steep sides and was not big enough to be of much interest for grazing. The result was that the little open area at the end of the gully was rarely visited by anyone.
Near the top of the bluffs, above the gully and the little valley, were areas where animals grazed. The cowherds did not allow the animals to get very close to the bluffs, however, because they also knew that those areas were unstable. A cow’s footfall might be enough to set loose a landslide, and this could put any living thing above or near the cliff sides into mortal danger.
The brothers’ plan was simple. They would lay poles for a short distance along the top of the cliff where the gully was narrowest. At that point, the bluffs were so steep that they were nearly sheer cliffs. The poles were tied in place with ropes going to anchors set back from the cliff. They were fitted with a trip system Krishna devised so that all would be loosened at the same time.
Behind the poles, rocks of any size the young men could move were piled up. The idea was that when the rains came in earnest, they would trip the holding ropes to cause the rocks to tumble down the sides of the cliff, causing a landslide. There would be enough material moved, they reasoned, to block the stream that ran through the gully. This would dam the stream, and the dam would back up the water to form a lake.
The cowherds who saw them working did not understand exactly why they were piling rocks against the top of the cliffs, but they were quite aware of them. Since they were the only people who ventured into the area, no one else really knew anything about it.
It happened that about this time, the king and members of the nobility had come to be sufficiently alarmed about the idea that Krishna was somehow connected to the gods that they had ordered that he be stopped and brought to them. It was not that they wanted to harm him, or even to constrain him. They just wanted at least to find out what he was trying to accomplish; at best they hoped he would be willing to cooperate with them.
Word got out, however, that Krishna was a wanted man. And so he was warned not to go back home for a while, and to stay away from anyone in any official capacity.
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“This is getting more and more absurd, Gus. If anything like that had happened, we would see it in the literature.”
“It was really just a minor misunderstanding that only lasted for a short time. Remember, they were not plotting against him. They just wanted to have him on their side. But also, what happened was embarrassing to them, and they did not want it known, so it went unrecorded.”
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One day, while he was walking not far from the gully, he spotted some horsemen about a half mile off. He could see that they had turned toward him at a trot. He ran away from them, up the gully.
They gave chase, but when they got to the gully, they could not find him. In the excitement of the pursuit, they decided to send for more soldiers, not saying why they needed support. In short order, a whole company of chariots was on its way.
Meanwhile, Krishna had climbed up the cliff face on a knotted rope he and Balarama had put there so they would not have to walk the long way around. He was unseen by the soldiers, because he was fifty or sixty feet above them, sitting behind the logs he and Balarama had readied. He watched the soldiers below him for what seemed to be a couple of hours.
The rain started to come down. The stream started to flow. Chariots arrived, picking their ways slowly along the stream, which had a bed made up of a mix of fair-sized rocks and mud. Just after the last chariot passed the point where he was waiting, Krishna pulled the trip, the poles broke free, the rocks he and Balarama had piled up crashed down the cliff face, and the landslide began.
The effect of this was the creation of an instant dam, just as a heavy rain began. All the water falling in that narrow valley rushed down the stream, and the lake was formed in minutes.
There was no way for the chariots to go home.
The soldiers had no choice. The chariots could not return. The horses would have to negotiate very rough ground covered by water, so they could not carry heavy loads. They would have to be led. And so the chariots were abandoned, along with any heavy equipment on them, including shields, swords, bows, and javelins. And the men sadly returned home, without any clue to tell them what had caused the mess they were in.
Almost as though it had been arranged, the rains ended for the night, just as the soldiers exited the gully.
The next day, when they came back to find a way to retrieve their chariots, they found that the dam had been breached by the stream and had washed completely away. When they got to the chariots, however, they found there was nothing left of them but ash and coals. The gopis had piled them up and made a bonfire of them.
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“It sounds like the dam scheme failed,” Justus said.
“What would you expect from a couple of hydro engineers with no education?” August asked, sounding a bit amused.
Dora broke in, saying, “Look who’s here!”
The men who had left to get Herman Bauer’s wagon were just then returning with it. They were rolling it on three wheels. The fourth wheel was not attached, and a couple of men carried the corner it would have supported. They all turned the wagon over on top of the pile of wood that had already been thrown together. With the wagon upside down, the wheels reached eerily toward the sky. The men laid the fourth wheel, which they brought along, against the wagon.
“They must have had quite a party,” Justus said.
“The gopis? Yes, I suppose they did. And the only thing left was the mess of char and ash they made of the chariots and the other gear.
Lightning flashed not very far away, and they heard thunder about three seconds later. “That was only a bit more than half a mile away,” Warren Anderson told everyone.
“Yes,” August said. “Hey! Everyone! Come on over to the porch. That lightning is getting close. I wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt.”
As they started to get up on the porch, Justus said, “It hasn’t even started to rain. Why would you worry about lightning?”
Suddenly, there was flash and a loud crash with it.
“Good Lord!” someone said quietly. The lightning had hit a wagon wheel. Fred Williams had evidently forgotten that he had not removed the iron wheel rims, and they had served as a lightning rod. Small flames were rising from the old, dried wood.
“Gus, did you do that?” an astonished Justus asked.
“Not I, certainly. Weather is not my department. I don’t know much about it, so I guess you could say that was just magic to me.” He chuckled and said, “If you want to know, maybe you should ask Indra. He’s the storm god.”
“Hey, Warren,” Annie called, “what is going on with the weather?”
“I think that was just an isolated lightning bolt. Still no rain. In a few minutes, if there is nothing more going on, it might be safe to gather around the fire. Certainly, it is already lit.”
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As the soldiers tried to pass back down the gully, they were stopped by a powerful voice. It called, “Swear kindness to the gopis if you want to pass alive!”
“Who is that?” someone called from deep in the gully.
“Look at the pot before you!”
A large clay pot had been placed in the middle of the stream bed. They could not see any person, just the pot. After a few seconds, a stone fell from above, followed by fifty or sixty more. Together, they utterly demolished the pot.
“Swear kindness! Each of you may pass, one by one, but you must say your name and swear kindness!”
After a few seconds, a voice came up. It said, “I am Abhiraj, and I swear kindness to the gopis.” It was followed, one by one, by the names and oaths of each of those present.
The king and nobles never guessed how the gully wall collapsed. They suspected that the gopis had thrown the stones that broke the pot, but after talking the matter over, they decided that Indra had caused the storm that trapped them. And they guessed that another god, possibly Vishnu, might have been behind the landslide. They consulted the priests, who told them this was, indeed the case.
They saw that one lesson in this was that whoever was behind their problems was protecting Krishna. That being so, he had to have some mission. They decided never to talk of the issue, but to send an ambassador to him to learn what he could. They let it be known that they only wanted to hear his wisdom, and after a short time, they were able to find him and ask what he wanted.
“I want you to stop these foolish wars!” he said. “They have been going on forever, and they will continue to go on forever, unless you stop them. The young men, who should be tending herds, are put into armies that just kill each other to no avail. And so whole nations depend on the work of the women, who should be raising their children.
“Only the nobility should be allowed to fight in the wars, because they only are the ones who start them. The merchants must be protected, as must the priests, and all their families must be protected too. And the lives of those who work the Earth, those who tend herds, those who till the soil, the woodcutters, the potters, those who make bricks, and all other workers must be regarded as sacred as the Earth they tend.”
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Suddenly, Justus was almost stunned by a thought. “Was that how the caste system began?”
“Yes, or at least how it came to be strictly enforced.”
“It is all so simple.” He paused, and then he said with some level of awe, “It is all so sane.”
“I am glad you can appreciate it.”
“But one kingdom can’t do that by itself. It would be at such a disadvantage, surrounded by other kingdoms that could draw on the peasants for their armies.”
“Gopis talk to gopis, across borders. They know what is going on. They banded together in other lands to put pressure on their rulers. And since the pressure came from the strongest human force on Earth, those who worked the Earth, it was irresistible.”
“It was the women,” Annie added thoughtfully.
“Truth be told, the kings and nobles of all countries saw a simple, fundamental fact. They were not getting rich by killing each other. In reality, they were just barely getting by. And so they talked among themselves in ways they had not for many years.”
By this time, the bonfire was blazing, and those who had gathered the wood were celebrating around it. A fiddle played a jig. A flute arrived and joined it. Music and the light of a fire lit by Indra woke those who slept and brought them from their beds to see what was going on. They gathered around the bonfire and had a party, a joyous echo of a night when the gopis had danced, so many years before.
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