7. The King of Madura

At the beginning of the Kali-Yuga Age, around the year 3,000 B.C., according to the chronology of the Brahmans, the thirst for gold and power invaded the world. For several centuries, the ancient sages say, Agni, the celestial fire which forms the glorious body of the Devas and purifies the souls of men, had spread its ethereal effluences over the earth. But the burning breath of Kali, goddess of desire and death, who comes out of the abysses of the earth like a fiery exhalation, then passed over all hearts. Justice had reigned with the noble sons of Pandu, solar kings who obeyed the voices of the wise men. As victors they pardoned the conquered, and treated them as equals. But since the children of the sun had been exterminated or driven from their thrones, and their few descendants were hiding among the anchorites, injustice, ambition and hatred had gained the upper hand. Changeable and deceitful like the nocturnal body which they had taken as their symbol, the lunar kings engaged in a merciless war among themselves. Nevertheless, one had succeeded in overcoming all the others by means of terror and unusual powers.

In northern India, on the banks of a wide river, a powerful city flourished. It had twelve pagodas, ten palaces and one hundred gates flanked with towers. Multicolored banners floated over its high walls, resembling winged serpents. This was proud Madura, impregnable like Indra's fortress. Kansa reigned there with a crafty mind and an insatiable soul. He allowed only slaves around him; he thought he owned only what he had subjugated, but what he possessed seemed nothing to him, compared with what remained to be conquered. All the kings who recognized the lunar cult paid him homage. But Kansa dreamed of conquering all India, from Lanka to the Himavat. In order to execute this plan, he allied himself with Kalayeni, master of the Vyndhia Mountains, the powerful king of the Yavanas, men with yellow faces. As one of the goddess Kali's followers, Kalayeni had dedicated himself to the mysterious arts of black magic. He was called the friend of the Rakshasis, nocturnal demons, and the king of serpents because he used the latter to frighten his people and his enemies. At the far end of a dense forest was the goddess Kali's temple, carved in a mountain. It was a great dark cave of unknown depth; the entrance was guarded by giants with animal heads, carved in the rock. There they led those who wished to pay homage to Kalayeni, in order to obtain from him some secret power. He would appear at the entrance of the temple in the midst of a host of monstrous snakes that entwined themselves around his body and rose up at the command of his scepter. He forced his tributaries to kneel before these serpents whose heads, twisted into knots, hung over his. At the same time he muttered a mysterious formula. It was said that those who performed this rite and worshipped those serpents obtained tremendous gifts and everything they desired. But they fell irrevocably under Kalayeni's power. Far or near, they remained his slaves. If they tried to disobey him or escape him, they thought they saw the terrible magician, surrounded by his reptiles, arise before them; they saw themselves encompassed by the serpents' hissing heads, and were paralyzed by their spell-binding eyes. Kansa asked Kalayeni for his support. The king of the Yavanas promised him dominion over the earth, provided he would marry his daughter.

Proud as an antelope and supple as a serpent was the daughter of the magician king, the beautiful Nysumba, with golden pendants and ebony breasts. Her face resembled a dark cloud with nuances of bluish reflections from the moon; her eyes were like two lightning flashes, her warm lips like the pulp of a red fruit with white seeds. One might have thought she was Kali herself, the goddess of desire. Soon she reigned as mistress over Kansa's heart, and breathing upon all his passions, turned them into a glowing furnace. Kansa had a palace filled with women of every color, but he listened only to Nysumba.

"If I may have a son from you," he told her, "I shall make him my heir. Then I shall be master of the earth; I shall no longer fear anyone."

But Nysumba did not have a son, and she became angry. She was jealous of Kansa's other wives, whose love had been more fruitful. She made her father increase the number of sacrifices to Kali, but her womb remained sterile like sand beneath the torrid sun. Then the king of Madura ordered that the great sacrifice of fire be made before all the city, and that all the Devas be invoked. Kansa's wives and the people attended with great ceremony. Kneeling before the fire, the chanting priests called upon the great Varuna, Indra, the Aswini and the Maruts. Queen Nysumba approached and threw a handful of perfumes into the fire with a gesture of challenge, as she uttered a magic formula in an unknown language. The smoke thickened, the flames swirled and the frightened priests cried out, "O Queen, those are not the Devas, but the Rakshasas who passed over the fire! Your womb will remain sterile!"

Kansa approached the fire and said to the priests, "Tell me, then, of which of my wives will the master of the world be born?"

At that moment Devaki, the king's sister, came near the fire. She was a pure, unpretentious virgin, who had spent her childhood spinning and weaving, living as in a dream. Her body was on earth, but her soul seemed forever in heaven. Devaki knelt humbly, begging the Devas to give her brother and beautiful Nysumba a son. The priest looked at the fire and then at the virgin. Suddenly he cried out in complete amazement, "O king of Madura, none of your sons will be master of the world! He will be born in the womb of your sister who is kneeling here!"

Great were Kansa's dismay and Nysumba's anger at these words. When the queen was alone with the king she said, "Devaki must die at once!"

"How," asked Kansa, "could I cause my sister to die? If the Devas are protecting her, their vengeance would fall upon me!"

"Then," said Nysumba in a rage, "let her reign in my place and let your sister bring into the world the one who will cause you to die in shame! But I no longer wish to reign with a coward who is afraid of the Devas. I am returning home to my father, Kalayeni!"

Nysumba's eyes cast oblique flames, the pendants shook on her shiny dark neck. She rolled upon the ground, and her beautiful body twisted like a raging serpent. Kansa, fearful of losing her, and captivated by a terrible desire, was eaten by a new passion.

"Very well," he said, "Devaki will die, but do not leave me!"

A gleam of triumph shone in Nysumba's eyes; a rush of blood brought color back to her sepia face. She jumped up and encircled the conquered tyrant with her supple arms. Then, caressing him lightly with her ebony breasts from which emanated potent perfumes, and touching him with her burning lips, she whispered in a soft voice, "We shall offer a sacrifice to Kali, goddess of desire and death, and she will give us a son who will be master of the world!"

But that same night in a dream the purohita, the priest of sacrifice, saw king Kansa drawing his sword against his sister. Immediately he went to the virgin Devaki, told her that mortal danger threatened her, and ordered her to flee to the anchorites without delay. Devaki, directed by the priest of the fire, disguised as a penitent, left Kansa's palace and the city of Madura without anyone observing her. Early in the morning the soldiers looked for the king's sister in order to put her to death, but they found her room empty. The king questioned the guards of the city. They answered that the gates had remained closed all night long. But in their sleep they had seen the dark walls of the fortress break under a ray of light, and a woman leave the city, following that ray. Kansa realized that an invincible power was protecting Devaki. From that moment, fear entered his heart and he began to hate his sister with a mortal hatred.


8. The Virgin Devaki

The Great Initiates