The Unfolding in India
They reckon ill who leave me
When Me they fly, I am the
I am the doubter and the doubt
I am the hymn the Brahmin sings.
THE PARALLEL between the Tale of Kai Khusrau and the final plot of the vast Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, has received attention for over a century. It was noticed by the great Orientalist James Darmesteter. The translators of Firdausi are not unaware of it, and they analyze the last phase of events as follows:
The legend of Kai Khusrau's melancholy, his expedition into the mountains, and his attainment to heaven without having tasted death has its parallel in the Mahabharata, where Yudhishthira, the eldest of the five Pandavas, becoming weary of the world, resolves to retire from the sovereignty and acquire merit by pilgrimage. On hearing of his intentions his four brothers--Bhima, Arjuna, and the twins Nakula and Sahadeva--resolve to follow his example and accompany him. Yudhishthira appoints successors to his various kingdoms. The citizens and the inhabitants of the provinces, hearing. the king's words, became filled with anxiety and disapproved of them. "This should never be done"--said they unto the king. The monarch, well versed with the changes brought about by time, did not listen to their counsel. Possessed of righteous soul, he persuaded the people to sanction his views. . . Then Dharma's son, Yudhishthira, the King of Pandavas, casting off his ornaments, wore barks of trees. . . The fire brothers, with Draupadi forming the sixth [she was the joint wife of the brothers], and a dog forming the seventh, set out on their journey. The citizens and the ladies of the royal household followed
them for some distance. . . The denizens of the city then returned [exactly as Kai Khusrau's subjects had done]. The seven pilgrims meanwhile had set out upon their journey. They first wandered eastward, then southward, and then westward. Lastly they faced northward and crossed the Himalaya. Then they beheld before them a vast desert of sand and beyond it Mount Meru. One by one the pilgrims sank exhausted and expired, first Draupadi, then the twins, then Arjuna, then Bhima; but Yudhishthira, who never even looked back at his fallen comrades, still pressed on and, followed by the faithful dog who turns out to be Dharma (the Law), in disguise, entered Heaven in his mortal body, not having tasted death.
Among minor common traits, Warner stresses particularly these:
Both journey into the mountains with a devoted band, the number of them is the same in both cases, and both are accompanied by a divine being, for the part of the dog in the Indian legend is indicated in the Iranian as being taken by Surush, the angel of Urmuzd. In both, the leaders pass deathless into Heaven, and in both their mortal comrades perish. One legend therefore must be derived from the other, or else, and this seems to be the better opinion, they must be referred to a common origin of great antiquity.
[n1 Firdausi, Shahna11la (Warner trans.), vol. 4, pp. 136ff.]
Of great antiquity these legends must be, indeed; otherwise there would not be a very similar end ascribed to Enoch and to Quetzalcouatl. In fact, just as Kai Khusrau's paladins did not listen to the Shah's advice not to remain with him until his ascension--the crowd had been left behind, anyhow--so Enoch
urged his retinue to turn back: "Go ye home, lest death overtake you, if you follow me farther." Most of them--800,000 there were--heeded his words and went back, but a number remained with him for six days. . . On the sixth day of the journey, he said to those still accompanying him, "Go ye home, for on the morrow I shall ascend to heaven, and whoever will then be near me, he will die." Nevertheless, some of his companions remained with him, saying: "Whithersoever thou goest, we will go. By the living God, death alone shall part us." On the seventh day Enoch was carried into the heavens in a fiery chariot drawn by fiery chargers. The day thereafter, the kings who had turned back in good time sent messengers to inquire into the fate of the men who had refused to separate themselves from Enoch, for they had noted the number of them. They found snow and great hailstones upon the spot whence Enoch had risen, and, when they searched beneath, they discovered the bodies of all who had remained behind with Enoch. He alone was not among them; he was on high in heaven.
[n2. Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews (1954), vol. I, pp. 129ff.]
Quetzalcouatl's paladins, "the slaves, the dwarves, the hunchbacked . . . they died there from the cold. . . , upon all of them fell the snow," in the mountain pass between Popocatepetl and Iztactepetl [n3 E. Seler, Einige Kapitel aus dem Geschichtswerk des Fray B. de Sahagun (I927), p. 290.]. Quetzalcouatl, lamenting, and utterly lonely, had some more stations to pass, before he took off on his serpent raft, announcing he would come back, someday, "to judge the living and the dead" (appendix #3).
Were it only the dry fact of Yudhishthira's ascension, and the end of his companions high up in the mountains, we might have avoided the maze of the Mahabharata altogether. But, labyrinthine as this epic of twelve volumes truly is--and the same goes for the Puranas--Indian myth offers keys to secret chambers to be had nowhere else. The Mahabharata tells of the war of the Pandavas and the Kauravas, that is the Pandu brothers and the Kuru brothers, who correspond to the Iranians and Turanians, to the sons of Kaleva and the people of Untamo, etc. Thus far the general situation is not foreign to us. But the epic states unmistakably that this tremendous war was fought during the interval between the Dvapara and the Kali Yuga. 4
[n4 Mbh. 1.2 (Roy trans., vol. 1, p. 18). See H. Jacobi's Mahabharata (1903), p. 2.]
This "dawn" between two world-ages can be specified further. The real soul and force on the side of the Pandavas is Krishna--in the words of Arjuna: "He, who was our strength, our might, our heroism, our prowess, our prosperity, our brightness, has left us, and departed." [n5 Vishnu Purana 5.38 (trans. H. H. Wilson [1840; 3d ed. l961, p. 484).]. Now Krishna ("the Black") is. the most outstanding avatar of Vishnu. And it is only when Krishna has been shot in the heel (or the sole of his foot), the only vulnerable spot of his body, by the hunter Jara (= old age) that the Pandavas, too, resolve to depart--just as Kai Khusrau did after the death of Kai Ka'us. There was Kai Khusrau's statement: "And now I deem it better to
depart. . . Because this Kaian crown and throne will pass." And this happens at the following crucial point:
When that portion of Vishnu (that had been born by Vasudeva and Devaki) returned to heaven, then the Kali age commenced. As long as the earth was touched by his sacred feet, the Kali age could not affect it. As soon as the incarnation of the eternal Vishnu had departed, the son of Dharma, Yudhishthira, with his brethren, abdicated the sovereignty. . . The day that Krishna shall have departed from the earth will be the first of the Kali age. . . it will continue for 360,000 years of mortals. 6
[n6 Vishnu Purana 4.24 (Wilson trans., p. 390). Cf. 5.38, pp. 48If.: "and on the same day that Krishna departed from the earth the powerful dark-bodied Kali age descended. The ocean rose, and submerged the whole of Dvaraka," i.e., the town which Krishna himself had built, as told in Vishnu Purana 5.23, p. 449.]
And as Krishna is reunited with Vishnu, as Arjuna returns into Indra, [n7 See Visbnu Purana 5.12 (Wilson trans., p. 422), where Indra tells Krishna, "A portion of me has been born as Arjuna."] and Balarama into the Shesha-Serpent, so it will happen to the other heroes. Thus, when Yudhishthira is finally rejoined with his whole Pandu-Family in heaven, the poet Sauti explains,
"That the various heroes, after exhausting their Karma, become reunited with that deity of which they were avatars."8
[n8 Mbh. 18.5 (Swargarohanika Parva) (Roy trans., vol. 12, pp. 287-90). See also Jacobi, p. 191.]
Yudhishthira is reunited with Dharma, disguised as a faithful dog. [n9 Arrived at the last stage of deterioration, we find Dharma, the Dog, in a fairy tale from Albania: The youngest daughter of a king--her two sisters resemble Regan and Goneril--offers to go to war in her father's place, asking for three suits only, and for the paternal blessing. "Then the king procured three male suits, and gave her his blessing, and this blessing changed into a little dog and went with the princess." J. G. von Hahn: Griechische und Albaniscbe Marchen , vol. 2, p. 146.).]. Seen from this vantage point, the Finnish epic appears as a last dim and apparently meaningless reflection. Kullervo goes with the black dog Musti, the only living soul left from his home, into the forest where he throws himself upon his sword.
Now what about Krishna, most beloved deity of the Hinduistic Pantheon? Some of his innumerable deeds and victorious adventures before his "departure" will look familiar.
Young Krishna is the persecuted nephew of a cruel uncle, Kansa (or Kamsa), both being, as Keith [n10 B. Keith, Indian Mythology (1917), p. 126. For the deeds of Krishna, see pp. 14ff.] styles it, "protagonists in a ritual contest." "This is not modestly understating it, but grossly misleading. Kansa is an Asura (appendix #4), and Krishna is a Deva, and that means, again, that the affair concerns the great divine "Parties" (Iranians-Turanians, and the like). The uncle, warned beforehand through prophecies about the danger coming from the eighth son of Devaki and Vasudeva, kills six children of this couple, but the seventh (Balarama) and eighth (Krishna) are saved and live with herdsmen. There young Krishna performs some of the deeds of the "Strong Boy."
If Kullervo, three days old, destroyed his cradle, we might expect something spectacular from Krishna, and we are not disappointed:
On one occasion, whilst Madhusudana was asleep underneath the wagon, he cried for the breast, and kicking up his feet he overturned the vehicle, and all the pots and pans were upset and broken. The cowherds and their wives, hearing the noise, came exclaiming: "Ah! ah!" and they found the child sleeping on his back. "Who could have upset the wagon?" said the cowherds. "This child," replied some boys, who witnessed the circumstance; "we saw him,'" said they, "crying, and kicking the wagon with his feet, and so it was overturned: no one else had any thing to do with it." The cowherds were exceedingly astonished at this account. [n11 Vishnu Purana 5.6 (Wilson trans., p. 406f.).]
One day the child repeatedly disobeyed his mother and she became angry.
Fastening a cord round his waist, she tied him to the wooden mortar Ulukhala, and being in a great passion, she said to him, "Now, you naughty boy, get away from hence if you can." She then went to her domestic affairs. As soon as she had departed, the lotus-eyed Krishna, endeavouring to extricate himself, pulled the mortar after him to the space between the two ariuna trees that grew near together. Having dragged the mortar between these trees, it became wedged awry there, and as Krishna pulled it through, it pulled down the trunks of the trees. Hearing the crackling noise, the people of Vraja came to see what was the matter, and there they beheld the two large trees,
with shattered stems and broken branches, prostrate on the ground, with the child fixed between them, with a rope round his belly, laughing, and showing his little white teeth, just budded. . . The elders of the cowherds. . . looked upon these circumstances with alarm, considering them of evil omen. "We cannot remain in this place," said they, "let us go to some other part of the forest."
Thus, they go to Vrindavana, exactly where the child had wished. The Harivamsha explains the move to Vrindavana in this way:
Krishna converts the hairs of his body into hundreds of wolves, who so harass and alarm the inhabitants of Vraja--the said cowherds--, that they determine to abandon their homes.
[n12 Vishnu Purana 5.6 (Wilson trans., pp. 406f.).]
In the Indian myth, for once, the episode of Krishna's hairs turning into hundreds of wolves seems a mere trifle, compared with Kullervo's wolves which "he sang to cattle, and he changed the bears to oxen," the more so, as Krishna's only "harass and alarm" the cowherds. These wild beasts, however, indispensable to the "Urkind," whether Kullervo or Dionysos--see above, p. 30--are present in Krishna's story, and this is remarkable enough.
Kansa [n13 That "uncle"-really "the great Asura Kalanemi who was killed by the powerful Vishnu . . revived in Kansa, the son of Ugrasena" (Vishnu Pm'ana 5.1 [Wilson trans., p. 396]).], hearing of the deeds of Krishna and Rama, determines to have the boys brought to his capital Mathura and there to procure their death, if he cannot slay them before. Needless to say, all is in vain: Krishna kills Kansa and all his soldiers, and places Kansa's father on the throne.
Krishna does not pretend to be a fool, the smiling one. He merely insists again and again on being a simple mortal when everybody wishes to adore him as the highest god, which he is. Nor is he known particularly as an "avenger." He was delegated from higher quarters to free the earth--"overburdened" as it was with Asura--as he had done time and again in his former avatars. Krishna belongs here, however, because Indian tradition has preserved the consciousness of the cosmic frame, and it is this alone that gives meaning to the incidence of war and the notion of crime and punishment as they appear in myth.
It is useful to keep philosophy and mythology carefully separate, and yet the many gods and heroes who avenge their fathers--beginning with "Horus-the-avenger-of-his-father" and "Ninurta who has avenged his father"--have their function destined to them, as has the long line of wicked uncles. These figures pay reparation and atonement to each other for their mutual injustice in the order of time, as Anaximander said. Anaximander was a philosopher. Despite its fantastic language the Indian epic has an affinity with his thought. Vishnu returns regularly in his capacity of "avenger," collecting the "reparations" of the bad uncle "according to the order of time." In the Mahabharata he does so under the name of Krishna, but he will come again in the shape of another avatar to clear the earth of the Asura who overburden it. The Asura, too, grow into "overbearing characters" strictly according to the order of time. If under the name of Kalki the Vishnu figure is expected to introduce a new Krita Yuga (Golden Age), when our present Kali Yuga has come to its miserable end.
It is this regular returning of avatars of Vishnu which helps clarify matters. Because it is Vishnu's function to return as avenger at fixed intervals of time, there is no need in the epic to emphasize the revenge taken by Krishna on Uncle Kansa. But in the West, where the continuity of cosmic processes as told by myth has been forgotten--along with the knowledge that gods are stars--the very same revenge is given great importance because it is an unrepeated event accomplished by one figure, whether hero or god, and this hero or god is, moreover, understood to be the creation of some imaginative poet. The introduction of Indian tradition makes it possible to rediscover the context in which such characters as Saxo's Amlethus, such typically unlucky fellows as Kullervo, have significance. Once it is fully realized that "the day Krishna shall have departed from the earth will be the first of the Kali Yuga," the proper perspective is established. Our hero stands precisely on the threshold between a closed age and a new Time Zero. In fact, he closes the old one.
The most inconspicuous details become significant when observed from this point of view. For instance Saxo, without giving it much thought, divided the biography of Amlethus in two parts (incidentally involving the hero in bigamy), in the same way as Firdausi told us nine-tenths of Kai Khusrau's adventures in the book on Kai Ka'us. This is actually the more puzzling of the two as Firdausi states: "For from today new feasts and customs date / Because tonight is born Shah Kai Khusrau." Firdausi, who was well versed in astrology, insisted on the Shah's birthday because, in the astrological sense, birth is the decisive moment. But here, and in related cases where chronology is at issue, it is the moment of death, of leaving the stage, that counts. Krishna's departure gives the scheme away. Al-Biruni, in his chapter on "The Festivals of the Months of the Persians," describing the festival NaurÃ³z ("New Day") in the first month of spring, writes:
On the 6th day of Farwardln, the day Khurdadh, is the Great NaurÃ³z, for the Persians a feast of great importance. On this day they say God finished the creation, for it is the last of the six days. . . On this day God created Saturn, therefore its most lucky hours are those of Saturn. On the same day--they say--the Sors Zarathustrae came to hold communion with God, and Kaikhusrau ascended into the air. On the same day the happy lots are distributed among the people of the earth. Therefore the Persians call it "the day of hope."
[14 Al-Biruni, The Chronology of Ancient Nations (trans. C. E. Sachau , p. 201).]
The so-called Kaianian Dynasty--the "Heroes" according to Al-Biruni's Chronology [n15 p.112.]--succeeding the first Pishdadian Dynasty ("the Just"), is supposed to have started with Kai Kubad, his son Kai Ka'us, and the latter's grandson Kai Khusrau, and to have ended with Sikander, Alexander the Great, with whose death a new era actually began. But it is obvious that something new begins with Kai Khusrau's assumption into heaven. Thus, the Warners state that with our Shah "the old epic cycle of the poem comes to an end, and up to this point the Kaianian may be regarded as the complement of the Pishdadian dynasty." [n16 Firdausi, Shahnama (Warner trans.), vol. 2, pp. 8f.].
In his introduction to the Firdausi translation, however, the Warners claim that the poem is divided into two periods, one mythic, the other historic: [n17 The time structure is a very complicated one, and we cannot manage with a subdivision of two "periods" at all, the less so, as the reigns of the Shahs overlap with the rather miraculous lifetimes of the "heroes" or Paladins (Rustam, Zal, etc.). The same goes for the "primordial" emperors of China and their "vassals." But God protect us from meddling with lists of alleged "kings" from whichever area, but particularly from the Iranian tables!]
This distinction is based not so much on the nature of the subject matter as on the names of the chief characters. At a certain point in the poem the names cease to be mythic and become historic. The mythic period extends from the beginning of the narrative down to the reigns of the last two Shahs of the Kaianian dynasty. . . The Shahs in question are Dara, son of Darab, better known as Darius Codomanus, and Sikander (Alexander).
[n18 Firdausi, vol. 1, pp. 49f.]
Firdausi makes it clear that the mythic period ends only with the death of Alexander, the two last Shahs being Darius Codomanus and Alexander who overcame him. After him begins the "historic" period of the poem. In other words, "history" begins only when the Iranian empire vanishes from the scene, to be replaced by the successors of Alexander. To remove from history the great and solidly historical feats of Darius I, Xerxes, Cambyses, etc., is paradoxical for a poem which is meant to celebrate the Iranian empire. Presumably Firdausi meant that so long as the Zoroastrian religion reigned, time was holy and thus belonged to myth rather than ordinary history. This is confirmed by a strange statement of the Warners: "Rightly or wrongly, Zoroastrian tradition couples Alexander with Zahhak and Afrasiyab as one of the three arch-enemies of the faith." [n19 Firdausi, vol. 1, p. 59f.]
The great myths of the Avestan religion have overcome chronology and reshaped it to their purpose. The true kings of Persia have disappeared notwithstanding their glory, and are replaced by mythical rulers and mythical struggles. Kai Khusrau rehearses a "Jamshyd" role in his beginnings, and with his ascent to heaven--the date of which marks New Year from now on--the Holy Empire really comes to a close. The struggle has been between gods and demons throughout.
We have been following the story of powers coming to an end, embodied first in the Iranian then in the Indian "kings," a story which is differently emphasized by two different legends. Each legend has a disturbing similarity to the other, and each removes the narration from any known classic pattern, forcing the events to a catastrophic conclusion which is clearly commanded by Time itself, and by a very different chain of causes than that indicated by the actual sequence of events in the texts.
To avoid misunderstanding it should be emphasized that it is not possible yet to know precisely who is who, or to make positive identifications such as saying that Brjam is Yudhishthira or Krishna. But the hints provided by Iranians and Indians may lead to a better understanding of Kullervo ("Kaleva is reborn in him"), and may indicate that the feat of the doggish fool Brutus in driving out the Kings was significant on a higher level than the political. This is not to deny that the Kings were expelled, but rather to point to a special set of firmly coined "figures of speech" derived from "large" changes or shifts (such as the onset of Kali Yuga) that could be, and were, applied to minor historical events.