The Eighth Son – Part – II

Yashoda had delivered a baby girl the same night and, exhausted after the effort, and relaxed by the herbs that Nanda had administered to her, she had quickly fallen asleep, without even once looking at her child. Nanda had wrapped up the child in a ‘pitambar’ or yellow cloth, for it was an auspicious color, and had dismissed the maid for the night. Even the maid did not know whether it was a boy or a girl, but she had been happy to scurry away from Nanda’s house, as she had to look after her own family. The storm that had broken that evening had only worsened, and she worried for her family and her home.

After the maid left, and Yashoda had gone off to sleep, Nanda had wrapped the baby girl in several layers of clothing to protect her and to hide her, and had put her in a basket; but not before putting her baby feet on his forehead, to ask for her forgiveness for what he was about to do to her. All baby girls were considered to be an earthly expression of the heavenly mother, the ‘Shakti’, the mother of all Gods. And hence, girls were sacred and were worshipped. To send a baby girl to definite death was an evil ‘Karma’, Nanada had only consented because of the circumstances and also because his relatives, Vasudev and Devaki, had lost so many of their children. He did not care for the prophecy about the eighth son, but he could feel the pain of the parents who had been forced to witness the murder of six of their newborns. And thus while he muttered a prayer under his breath, seeking forgiveness from the divine mother, he prepared the baby and kept her in a wooden basket and covered it with a lid made of reed to allow the child to breathe. And then he stepped outside his house and started pacing the verandah, waiting for Vasudev.

It was going to be dawn in a couple of hours, the rain had slowed down to a light drizzle, and the waning moon sometimes popped out from the clouds to shower some moonlight on Gokul. While the whole village slept peacefully, Nanda peered in the dark, and listened for any sounds that may herald the coming of his friend and his relative, Vasudev.

Then he heard it! The crack of a twig, the soft rustle of feet, someone was coming!

 

As Vasudev approached Gokul, he noticed that the storm had nearly blown away. The night was quiet and peaceful, and the moon came out occasionally from behind the clouds, its light showing the way to the sleeping village in the distance. The devils of the night that had tormented him were gone, as was the serpent that had accompanied him throughout. He hurried through the mud lanes to the largest house in the center of the village where, he could see from a distance, Nanda was waiting in the courtyard outside the house. The two men embraced when Vasudev finally reached the house, and quickly exchanged their boxes without a word. ‘You have to hurry’, Nanada said to Vasudev, ‘it is going to be light in a couple of hours. I have sent one of my trusted boatmen to the river to wait for you. He will help you cross the river. Don’t talk to him and don’t look at him, that way he will not be able to recognize you. Just board the boat and get off quietly on the other side.’ Vasudev nodded in understanding and, picking up his basket to leave, looked long at Nanda with eyes that were filled with anxiety as well as gratitude.

‘May God be with you brother’, Nanda said as Vasudev turned and hurried back the way he had come. He walked quickly, guided by the faint light of the waning moon.

As he reached the banks of Yamuna, he noticed the small boat tethered to the bank, with a huddled figure standing near it. Without a word he got into the boat and the ferryman followed him. They did not look at each other; they did not talk. The only sound was the faint patter of the gentle drizzle that fell on the water and the sound of the oars ploughing the river. The Yamuna herself was calm, its waters dark and peaceful, glistening with the occasional moonlight that shone. Vasudev sat clutching the box, his heart pounding with anticipation and anxiety. The baby inside the box was very quiet; his heart went out to the baby girl lying inside the box, going to her certain death. He muttered a prayer to the Mother Goddess, asking for forgiveness as well as strength to bear what was to come.

 

He jumped off the boat as soon as it hit the other bank, not even waiting for the ferryman to anchor the boat and, without looking back to thank him, rushed off into the night. From a distance, he looked back; the boat was already well on its way back to Gokul, hardly visible now.

Vasudev hurried through the streets of Mathura once more that night, realizing it was the last ‘prahar’ or quarter of the night, and people would soon start to stir.

The woman, who had led Vasudev out, was waiting outside the prison gates when Vasudev reached with the box on his head. They tiptoed inside the prison and quickly found the cell where Devaki waited anxiously. Vasudev took the baby girl out of the box and handed the box and the extra clothes to the woman outside the cell. She locked all the doors and disappeared quickly. With the doors locked and the child safely inside the cell, Vasudev let out a sigh of relief.  As if on a cue, the child started to cry.

The baby girl’s shrill cry rang out through the empty corridors of the prison like an alarm bell. The guards woke up with a start and looked around in surprise. A couple of them came running to the royal couple’s cell and peered inside. Finding Devaki and Vasudev cradling the newborn, they hurried to their master’s abode to inform him. ‘He will be here in no time’, Vasudev said to Devaki, ‘I feel so bad about bringing this girl to her certain death. May the Mother Goddess forgive both of us for what we are going to allow to happen.’ Devaki looked at Vasudev, and then at the child, distraught, and in tears. The child had such a beautiful face, and such large eyes, and she was looking directly at them. They did not notice, but ever since the guards had run off to inform Kansa, the baby had stopped crying and was looking at them intently with her large, dark eyes; her face glowing like the morning sun! And she was smiling! Vasudev and Devaki found it hard to believe, but the harder they looked at her, the more they grew certain that she was looking at them and trying to tell them something! The serene face, the large eyes had a calming face on Vasudev-Devaki; they were suddenly fearless!

 

As expected Kansa arrived soon after hearing of the child’s birth. He had been looking forward to this day for the last so many years. After he killed this child, he would be invincible and would be able to breathe easy. His clothes disheveled, his hair undone, his eyes still droopy from the liquor and the lack of sleep, Kansa entered the cell of Devaki-Vasudev. He was a large man, tall and well built; his muscles bulged from years of wrestling practice, his face twisted with the cruel intentions he harbored in his evil heart. He was not wearing his crown or even the ‘angavastram’ or the cloth worn around the torso. He looked like a dark God, descended upon the earth to torment the mortals. His long hair fell in locks around his powerful shoulder, he still smelled of the women who had slept with him the night before.

‘Where is the child’, he demanded of Devaki, and then, seeing the bundle of clothes in her hand, pulled it out of her grip effortlessly. ‘Please Kansa, it is a girl’, Devaki pleaded futilely, tears running down her cheek. ‘She cannot be a threat to you. Please look at her; she is such a pretty little girl. Please spare her life. The prophecy was for the eighth son, but she is s girl. The prophecy was obviously wrong. You have already killed six of my children, please spare one and save yourself from the great evil of killing a girl,’ Devaki was getting hysterical with grief. Vasudev held her close, trying to comfort her, knowing that Kansa would not heed her plea. ‘The prophecy cannot be wrong,’ thundered Kansa, ‘I will have to kill this child, whether it’s a girl or a boy, only then can I rest in peace.’

Saying so Kansa raised the bundle of clothes high in the air, above his head, holding the girl by her feet and dashed her to the ground.

Nothing! Nothing came out of the bundle. Kansa was left holding the clothes in his hands, the clothes in which the baby had been wrapped. A collective sigh escaped the lips of those present in the room, the guards took a step back, surprised and a little frightened at what they had witnessed. ‘Where is the baby’, yelled Kansa, shaking the bunch of clothes in his hand, his temper rising, his face turning crimson with anger. He shook the cloth at Devaki, ‘You tricked me, you witch’, he said as he advanced menacingly towards Devaki. Vasudev stepped in between Devaki and Kansa and said, ‘Please stop Kansa, do not threaten your sister. She gave the child to you, we all saw it happen.’ Kansa hesitated, not so sure now. The prison guards surrounding him who were witness to the great miracle were nodding,’ Yes sir, we saw. The girl was right here. It is a great miracle! Maybe it is a sign from the heavens’, they muttered.

‘Heavens, my foot’, Kansa spat back, ‘ even if it is the great Vishnu who is conspiring against me, I will not be defeated easily. I will find that boy, wherever he is hidden’, Kansa was almost screaming now, the sound of his own voice driving him to anger.

He glowered at Vasudev and Devaki, pausing to think what to do next. In that moment’s pause, a hiatus occurred, the world paused, and time stopped. The oil lamps suddenly started glowing brighter, lighting up the small prison cell like day. Outside there was a prolonged thunder that went on and on and on like the worlds were falling apart. And the lightening! The lightening was a continuous bolt, not stopping, not dying, turning the night into day. And then it was gone, that moment of light, leaving everyone in the darkness that descends just before dawn. In the dark cell, it was difficult to see what emotions played on Kansa’s face. Vasudev and Devaki stood in one corner of the cell, wondering what will happen to them. The guards stood frozen, not knowing what they saw, awaiting further orders from their master.

Kansa spoke, his voice shaking with anger and uncertainty, as he pronounced the verdict, ‘These two will stay in this cell till I am able to find and kill that child.’  Then he turned and stormed out of the prison cell. As he left, he glanced back at the couple huddled in the dark and empty cell, clutching to each other; what had he just witnessed? The question lingered at the back of his mind, tormenting him. ‘Where was the Eighth Son?’

 

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