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Chapter XXXVIII - Funeral ceremonies of Yadavas and coronation of Parikshit

Arjuna comes to Dvārakā, and burns the dead, and takes away the surviving inhabitants. Commencement of the Kali age. Shepherds and thieves attack Arjuna, and carry off the women and wealth. Arjuna regrets the loss of his prowess to Vyāsa; who consoles him, and tells him the story of Aṣṭāvakra's cursing the Apsarasas. Arjuna and his brothers place Parīkṣit on the throne, and go to the forests. End of the fifth book.

ARJUNA having found the bodies of Kṛṣṇa and of Rāma, performed for them, and the rest of the slain, the obsequial rites. The eight queens of Kṛṣṇa, who have been named, with Rukminī at their head, embraced the body of Hari, and entered the funeral fire[1]. Revatī also, embracing the corpse of Rāma, entered the blazing pile, which was cool to her, happy in contact with her lord. Hearing these events, Ugrasena and Anakadundubhi, with Devakī and Rohinī, committed themselves to the flames[2]. The last ceremonies were performed for all these by Arjuna, who then made all the people leave the city, and took Vajra with him. The son of Kunti conducted the thousands of the wives of Kṛṣṇa, with Vajra, and all the people, from Dvārakā, with tenderness and care, and travelled slowly away. The Sudharman palace and the Pārijāta tree, which had been brought to earth by Kṛṣṇa, both proceeded to heaven; and on the same day that Hari departed from the earth the powerful dark-bodied Kali age descended[3]. The ocean rose, and submerged the whole of Dvārakā, except alone the dwelling of the deity of the race of Yadu. The sea has not yet been able to wash that temple away, and there Keśava constantly abides, even in the present day. Whoever visits that holy shrine, the place where Kṛṣṇa pursued his sports, is liberated from all his sins[4].

The son of Prithā, Arjuna, halted the people he had brought from Dvārakā in the Pañcanada country[5], in a rich and fertile spot; but the desires of the robbers (of the neighbourhood) were excited, when they observed so many widowed females, also such great riches, in the possession of Arjuna alone. Inflamed by their cupidity, they assembled the villainous Ābhiras[6], and said to them, “Here is this Arjuna, immensely rich, and having numerous women, whose husbands have been slain, passing confidently amongst us; a disgrace to all brave men. His pride is raised by the death of Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Jayadratha, Karṇa, and others, whom he has slain: he does not know the prowess of simple villagers. Up, up; take your long thick staves: this stupid fellow despises us. Why should we not lift up our arms?” So saying, they rushed, armed with cudgels and clods of earth, upon the people, who were without their lord. Arjuna encountered them, and said to them in derision, “Retire, wretches, ignorant of what is right, unless ye are desirous of dying.” But they disregarded his menaces, and seized his treasures and his women, the wives of Viswaksena. Thereupon Arjuna began to brace his heavenly bow Gāndīva, irresistible in battle; but it was in vain; for, in spite of all his efforts to tighten it, it continued flaccid: neither could he call to recollection the incantations of the superhuman weapons. Losing all patience, he launched, as best he might, his shafts upon the enemy; but those shot from Gāndīva merely scratched the skin. The arrows given him by Agni to carry certain destruction now were themselves destroyed, and were fatal to Arjuna in his contest with herdsmen. He endeavoured to recall the might of Kṛṣṇa; animated by which, his numerous arrows had overthrown mighty kings; but he tried in vain, for now they were put aside by the peasants, or they flew at random, wide of their aim. His arrows being expended, he beat the banditti with the horn of his bow; but they only laughed at his blows: and the barbarians, in the sight of Arjuna, carried off all the women of the Vṛṣṇi and Andhaka tribes, and went their way[7].

Then Jiṣṇu was sorely distressed, and lamented bitterly, exclaiming, Alas! alas! I am deserted by my lord!" and he wept: and in that instant the bow and heavenly arms, his car and steeds, peṛṣed entirely, like a donation to an unlearned Brahman. “Resistless,” said he, “are the decrees of fate, by whom feebleness has been inflicted upon me, deprived of my illustrious friend, and victory given to the base. These two arms are mine; mine, is this fist; this is my place; I am Arjuna: but without that righteous aid all these are pithless. The valour of Arjuna, the strength of Bhīma, was all his work; and without him I am overcome by peasants: it cannot be from any other cause.” So saying, Arjuna went to the city of Mathurā, and there installed the Yādava prince, Vajra, as its king. There he beheld Vyāsa, who was living in a wood, and he approached the sage, and saluted him respectfully. The Muni surveyed him for some time, as he lay prostrate at his feet, and said to him, “How is it that I see you thus shorn of your lustre? Have you been guilty of illicit intercourse with women, or of the death of a Brahman? or have you suffered some grievous disappointment? that you are so dejected. Have your prayers for progeny, or other good gifts, proved fruitless? or have you indulged improper passions? that your lustre is so dim. Or are you one that devours the meal he has given to the Brahmans? Say, Arjuna, have you seized upon the substance of the poor? Has the wind of a winnowing basket lighted upon you? or has an evil eye gazed upon you, Arjuna? that you look thus miserable. Have you been touched by the water of a finger-nail? or has the water of a water-jar sprinkled you? or, what is most probably the case, have you been beaten by your inferiors in battle?”

Arjuna, having sighed deeply, related to Vyāsa all the circumstances of his discomfiture, and continued; “Hari, who was our strength, our might, our heroism, our prowess, our prosperity, our brightness, has left us, and departed. Deprived of him, our friend, illustrious, and ever kindly speaking, we have become as feeble as if made of straw. Puruṣottama, who was the living vigour of my weapons, my arrows and my bow, is gone. As long as we looked upon him, fortune, fame, wealth, dignity never abandoned us: but Govinda is gone from amongst us. That Kṛṣṇa has quitted earth, through whose power Bhīṣma, Droṇa, the king of Anga, Duryodhana, and the rest, were consumed. Not I alone, but Earth, has grown old, miserable, and lustreless, in the absence of the holder of the discus. Kṛṣṇa, through devotion to whom Bhīṣma and other mighty men peṛṣed like moths in the flame of my valour, is gone; and I am now overcome by cowherds. The bow Gāndīva, that was famed throughout the three worlds, has been foiled, since he has departed, by the sticks of peasants: the myriads of women over whom I was lord have been carried off from me by thieves, armed but with cudgels: the whole household of Kṛṣṇa, O Kṛṣṇa[8], has been forcibly carried away by peasants, who with their staves have put my strength to shame. That I am shorn of my lustre I do not marvel: it is wonderful that I live. Surely, grandsire, I alone am so shameless as to survive the stain of indignity inflicted by the vile.”

Vyāsa replied to Arjuna, and said, “Think no more, my son, of your disgrace: it does not become you to grieve. Know that time subjects all beings to similar vicissitude. Time effects the production and dissolution of all creatures. All that exists is founded on time. Know this, Arjuna, and retain your fortitude. Rivers, seas, mountains, the whole earth, gods, men, animals, trees, insects, are all created, and all will be destroyed, by time. Knowing that all that is, is the effect of time, be tranquillized. These mighty works of Kṛṣṇa, whatever they have been, have been performed to relieve earth of its burdens: for this he has come down. Earth, oppressed by her load, has had recourse to the assembly of the immortals; and Janārddana, who is one with time, has descended on that account. This object has been now accomplished: all the kings of the earth are slain; the race of Vṛṣṇi and Andhaka is destroyed: no more remained for him to accomplish. Therefore has the lord departed whither he pleased, his ends being all fulfilled. At the period of creation the god of gods creates; in that of duration he preserves; and at the end of all he is mighty to annihilate. Now all is done. Therefore, Arjuna, be not afflicted by thy defeat: the prowess of mortals is the gift of time. Bhīṣma, Karṇa, and other kings, have been slain by thee alone; this was the work of time: and why, therefore, should not thy discomfiture, by those less than thou art, occur? In like manner as through thy devotion to Viṣṇu these were overthrown by thee, so at last has thy defeat by miserable thieves been wrought by time. That divinity, assuming various bodies, preserves the world; and in the end the lord of creatures destroys it. In the birth of thy fortunes Janārddana was thy friend; in their decline, thy enemies have been favoured by Keśava. Who would have believed that thou shouldst slay all the descendants of Kuru, and kindred of Gaṅgā? Who would have believed that peasants should triumph over thee? Be assured, son of Pritha, that it is but the sport of the universal Hari that the Kauravas have been destroyed by thee, and that thou hast been defeated by herdsmen. With respect to the women whom thou lamentest, and who have been carried off by the thieves, hear from me an ancient story, which will explain why this has happened.

”In former times a Brahman, named Aṣṭāvakra[9], was pursuing his religious penances, standing in water, and meditating on the eternal spirit, for many years. In consequence of the overthrow of the Asuras, there was a great festival on the summit of Meru: on their way to which, Rambhā, Tilottamā, and hundreds and thousands of beautiful nymphs, saw the ascetic Aṣṭāvakra, and they praised and hymned him for his devotions. They bowed down before him, and eulogized him, as he was immersed up to his throat in water, his hair twisted in a braid. So they sang in honour of him whatever they thought would be most agreeable to that most eminent of Brahmans. Aṣṭāvakra at last said to them, ‘I am well pleased with you, illustrious damsels; whatever you wish for, ask of me, and I will give it you, however difficult it may be of attainment.’ Then all those nymphs, Rambhā, Tilottamā, and others, recorded in the Vedas, replied, ‘It is enough for us that thou art pleased; what need we aught else, venerable Brahman?’ But some amongst them said, ‘If, exalted sir, you are indeed pleased with us, then grant us a husband, the best of men, and sovereign of the Brahmans.’ ‘So be it,’ replied Aṣṭāvakra, and thereupon came up from the waters. When the nymphs beheld him coming out of the water, and saw that he was very ugly, and crooked in eight places, they could not restrain their merriment, but laughed aloud. The Muni was very angry, and cursed them, and said, ‘Since you have been so impertinent as to laugh at my deformity, I denounce upon you this imprecation: through the grace I have shewn unto you, you shall obtain the first of males for your husband; but in consequence of my curse, you shall afterwards fall into the hands of thieves.’ When the nymphs heard this uttered by the Muni, they endeavoured to appease him; and they so far succeeded, that he announced to them they should finally return to the sphere of the gods. It is in consequence, then, of the curse of the Muni Aṣṭāvakra that these females, who were at first the wives of Keśava, have now fallen into the hands of the barbarians; and there is no occasion, Arjuna, for you to regret it in the least. All this destruction has been effected by the lord of all; and your end is also nigh at hand, since he has withdrawn from you strength, splendour, valour, and preeminence. Death is the doom of every one who is born: fall is the end of exaltation: union terminates in separation: and growth tends but to decay. Knowing all this, wise men are susceptible of neither grief nor joy; and those who learn their ways are even as they are (equally free from pleasure or pain). Do you therefore, most excellent prince, understand this truth, and, along with your brothers, relinquish every thing, and repair to the holy forest. Go now, and say from me to Yudhiṣṭhira, that he to-morrow, with his brethren, tread the path of heroes."

Thus instructed by Vyāsa, Arjuna went and related to the other sons of Pritha all that be had seen, had experienced, and had heard. When he had communicated to them the message of Vyāsa, the sons of Pāṇḍu placed Parīkṣit on the throne, and went to the forest.

I have thus narrated to you, Maitreya, in detail, the actions of Vāsudeva, when he was born in the race of Yadu.

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Footnotes / commentary:

1.

The Mahābhārata takes the wives of Kṛṣṇa first to Indraprasthā, and there Rukminī and four others burn; but Satyabhāmā and others become ascetics, going to perform Tapasya in the forest.

2.

It is merely said in the Mahābhārata that Vasudeva expired; on which four of his wives burnt themselves.

3.

The Kali age commenced from the death of Kṛṣṇa, according to the usual notions; but it is commonly supposed to commence a little later, or with the reign of Parīkṣit.

4.

The Bhāgavata agrees with the text in p. 614 excepting the temple of Dvārakā, and asserting that it still remains, in direct contradiction of the Mahābhārata, which declares that the sea did not spare any part whatever. It is clear, therefore, that when the latter was compiled the temple was not standing, and that it was erected between the date of the compilation and that of the two Purāṇas. The present shrine, which is held in great repute, stands at the extremity of the peninsula of Guzerat. It is still an object of pilgrimage; it was so in the reign of Akbar (Ayin Akbari); and has been so, no doubt, from a remote period. The image formerly worshipped there was carried off 600 years ago, and this was most probably subsequent to the date of both the Purāṇas; for the idol was a form of Kṛṣṇa, called Raṇa chor, a popular divinity, unknown in the Paurāṇik pantheon. Another image was substituted in place of that which was taken away. Notwithstanding the testimony of our text, and that of the Bhāgavata, the originality of the temple is disputed, and a place thirty miles south from Purbandar is said to be the spot where Dvārakā was swallowed up by the ocean. Hamilton, from Macmurdo, &c. I. 662.

5.

'The country of the five rivers,' the Pañjab: rather an out of the way route from Dvārakā to Delhi.

6.

Ābhīras mean ‘herds,’ and they are afterwards called by Arjuna, Gopālas, ‘herdsmen’ The pastoral tribes of the west of India, and particularly those of Afghanistan, almost always combine the character of freebooter with that of shepherd.

7.

The principal wives of Kṛṣṇa, however, according to the Mahābhārata, escaped. The occurrence is described there much in the same way, but more briefly. It is not detailed in the Bhāgavata.

8.

A name of Vyāsa.

9.

The story of Aṣṭāvakra is related in the Mahābhārata. He was the son of Kahora, who neglecting his wife, was rebuked for it by his yet unborn son. The p. 610 father angrily cursed him, that he should be born bent in every part; and he was accordingly brought forth crooked (vakra) in eight limbs (aṣṭa). He became nevertheless a celebrated sage. See also Hindu Theatre, I. 293, note.

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