11. Krishna’s Palace

File:Krishna with flute.jpg
Krishna plaing a flute, artist unknown, ca 1750 to 1800

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Chapter 11

Krishna’s Palace

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Of course, the kings and nobles of the countries around did not trust Krishna. They had promised to stop using peasants for their wars, but they believed neither in Krishna’s good will nor in their own promise. They thought it would be necessary to align him with them materially. They did not think they could bribe him, but they did think they could subvert him.

Because of the connection between Nanda Baba and King Vasudeva, Krishna had visited the palace a number of times as a boy. Queen Devaki, knew him well, as did a number of others. In fact, the queen claimed him as her own child.

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“Was he?” Justus asked.

August ignored him. In a moment, Annie put her hand on his.

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There were powerful people at court who understood that Krishna was very attracted to women, as they were to him. Based on this, they made a plan. And they decided to make a proposal to him. They thought they could use a marriage to secure an alliance with him.

They were a bit confused about how to go about doing this. At court, a negotiation of the sort they planned normally went through ambassadors. They considered using his parents as go-betweens, but they decided against it. In the end, they went to him directly, though it put them on rather uncertain ground.

“We would like you to meet Princess Madhavi,” they told him.

“Why?”

“You are not an ordinary mortal,” they said. “You should be living in a palace, married to a princess.”

“What palace?”

The emissaries were taken aback by the question. It was not what they expected. “You could live in the king’s palace, as part of the king’s family.”

“If I marry a princess, we will live in my own palace.”

They asked, “What do you mean?” They wondered whether he was demanding a palace for himself.

“My palace. The palace I live in now. That is where I will live.”

Their wonderment increasing, they asked “Where is that palace?”

He told them a precise location, a meadow on the bank of a river.

“That area is just pastures and hedges,” one of them said. “There is no palace there. Are you saying you want a palace built there?”

“No. It is there already. If you come in three days at twilight, I will show you my palace. Its magnificence is like nothing you have ever seen before. It is a place where Heaven and Earth meet. Bring your princess, so she may see the palace in all its glory. Then she can decide for herself whether it is what she wants.”

This short speech caused a great deal of speculation among the members of the nobility and the priests. It had been pretty much accepted that he had a magic flute, but here he was clearly saying that he had a magic palace. Perhaps he was implying that it was a palace for the gods.

Three days later, as the stars were filling the sky, the princess arrived at the place Krishna had designated. She had with her an entourage that included priests, her parents, other members of her family, guards, attendants, musicians, and more. She was carried in a palanquin. Curtains in its windows concealed her.

“Where is the palace?” a male voice demanded.

“You are in it. Just look about you, and you will see it,” Krishna told them. And then he went on.

What palace has a foundation stronger than the Earth beneath you?
What ceiling is more brilliantly jeweled than this vaulted, starry dome?
What tapestry is more intricate than the leaves and thorns of these hedges?
Whose sentries are more diligent than the trumpeting cranes?
Whose soldiers are more powerful than these cattle in this field?
What court has musicians finer than the larks?
What perfume is more exquisite than the flowers of this meadow?
What bed is softer than the moss?
Welcome to a palace for a king to envy!

Some people of the entourage were angry. But while Krishna was speaking, an animal had ambled up and quietly sat down about fifteen feet from him. In the growing darkness, all anger was forgotten when the animal stood erect and they saw it was a bear.

The princess thanked him graciously and asked to be taken home.

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“But how old was Krishna here? I thought he had a number of wives when he was still very young. And what about Radha? Wasn’t she a lover who was married to someone else?”

August said, “In time, Krishna had a lot of wives.”

“Over sixteen thousand of them,” Gloria Evans added helpfully.

“Yes, Krishna married a lot of women, nearly all to take them out of harms way in one way or another. He also had more than one real wife, as was the case with most important men of his time. And he had a lover called Radha, who had been married to someone else. These are stories you can debate at your leisure, as people have for centuries. You might derive something from them worth having. But here, the story is about Krishna and two princesses, one who did not want him, and one other who was – well – what was she, Annie?”

“You might say she was her own person.”

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The kings and the nobles felt they had to try again. They decided that maybe they could tempt Krishna by showing him a number of the most beautiful princesses around. They would do this by holding a number what were called Swayamvara ceremonies. At each of these, a number of young men would be presented to a young woman, so each might be tested in ways devised to establish his worthiness, and the woman would be allowed to choose her husband. Typically, the marriage happened immediately.

The question of whether Krishna would be chosen by a princess was irrelevant at the beginning of this exercise. The issue was to get Krishna to understand that he would benefit from being married into a royal family. And so, Krishna was invited to a Swayamvara ceremony, as one of the young men offered to a princess, whose name was Bhadra.

From the moment Krishna arrived, almost everyone there felt that he was slighting them. Where all the other young men were dressed in fine clothes with jewelry, he was dressed just as he always was, ready to go out with the cattle. His clothes had been cleaned for the occasion, but they were not the clothes of the royal suitor.

The princess had devised tests for the young men. Each was asked to sing, dance, or play an instrument. Each was asked to act out a scene of a play or tell a story of special importance. And each was asked to show how he was more powerful than all other people. There were many suitors present, and all participated in each test. What follows here are just samples of the things that happened.

One man played a veena with unmatched skill.

And another danced in perfect time to music played by his own ensemble of musicians.

Another sang so sweetly that some thought the gods themselves would weep.

Krishna stood up in the center of the room. He put his hands up, the way a musician would hold a flute, and he began to whistle. And he danced to his own music. It was a simple dance of simple people, performed to the music of a magic flute.

One young man recited a poem about the history of his family.

Another man told a story of the lives of Shiva.

Yet another young man recited a poem about the history of the princess’ family.

Krishna stood and made a sound, cooing like a dove. A moment later, just such a bird flew in the window and landed on his shoulder, cooing in response.

One of the suitors said he was more powerful than all others. He lifted a bench above his head, while two men sat upon it. Then he put it down gently.

Another took his sword, asked those sitting on the bench to rise, and cut the bench in two with a single stroke.

Another man took a cushion from the bench, tossed it up in the air, and sliced it in two as it fell. Those who understood swords were amazed at this. None of them had ever seen anything so soft as a cushion sliced through by a sword before.

Krishna got up, broom in hand, and walked over to where the two halves of the cushion sat on the floor, in the middle of a pile of feathers. He swept the mess up, and then he disposed of both it and the ruined bench, leaving the area as clean as though nothing had happened.

Many people, even those who were aware of why he was invited, were outraged by the antics of the cowherd and surprised that the host allowed him to stay.

In time, Princess Bhadra clapped her hands for silence. “I have made my decision,” she said. She picked up the garland she would use to indicate her groom. She walked across the room, and put it on Krishna.

“Why?” Krishna asked, almost inaudibly, looking into her eyes.

“I want to live with you in that palace.” She whispered.

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“Did that get Krishna into good graces of the Royal families?”

“Yes and no.”

“I don’t understand this,” Justus said. “Why would Princess Bhadra choose to marry a cowherd? What appeal was there in his presentation.”

“For everyone else it was a presentation carefully designed to tempt a princess,” Annie told him. “Krishna gave an honest presentation of who he was. And as I said, she was her own person.”

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The members of the royal families did not trust Krishna immediately, nor did he trust them.

Krishna always stood up for the gopis and those who worked. But now, he was no longer alone in this. Bhadra was not merely a good wife, but a good ally as well. He insisted that the deal he had made for the protection of the casts be honored. And she worked with him to make sure that happened.

Naturally, the nobility was not happy with this because they believed it reduced their power. They could see that Krishna was willing to go along with them to some extent. But they found it hard to deal with a person of his character, who would put the needs of ordinary folk above the desires of those in power. They did not understand why he would do that, and so they feared him.

Interestingly, they eventually saw that Krishna had shown up precisely at the beginning of a time of plenty. They saw that the peasants were more prosperous. And when the peasants were more prosperous, they could trade for things they wanted, making the merchants more prosperous. Both of these groups gave to the priests. With everyone else in a state of prosperity, there was more income from taxation. With no need for wars, there were fewer expenses of government. And with fewer expenses and more income, the kings and nobles could live in a time of wealth beyond what anyone could remember.

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“So did the wars just end?” Justus asked.

“You know they didn’t,” Grace MacDougal told him.

“Yes, and I am a bit surprised you asked.” August smiled. “We have not even got to the Bhagavad Gita yet.”

“I had forgotten completely!” Justus exclaimed.

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The fact that there is relative peace does not mean that everyone is free of such problems as jealousy, greed, and the insane need for revenge. There are always people who want more than other people have, or who what the possessions of other people. And when greed is established in places of power, evil can thrive. And so, the nobles began to war among themselves.

It happened that since Krishna was married to a princess, he was a member of a royal family. And as such, he had a duty to fight in wars. He became a chariot driver. And for this, he was paired with Arjuna, who also was a friend.

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The dancers around the bonfire carried on with their revelry. Justus expressed the opinion that they would not clean up their mess in the morning. August remarked on how much fun they clearly were all having.

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