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Chapter 60: Rukmini

BHISHMAKA, the king of Vidarbha, had five sons and an only daughter, Rukmini, a princess of matchless beauty, charm and strength of character.

Having heard of Krishna and his renown, she wished to be united to him in wedlock and the desire daily grew in intensity. Her relatives approved the idea, all except her eldest brother Rukma, the heir apparent, between whom and Krishna there was no love lost.

Rukma pressed his father not to give Rukmini in marriage to the ruler of Dwaraka but to marry her instead to Sisupala, the king of Chedi. The king being old, Rukma's became the dominant voice and it looked as though Rukmini would be compelled to marry Sisupala.

Rukmini, whose heart was wholly Krishna's because she was Lakshmi incarnate, was disconsolate. She feared that her father would be helpless against her domineering brother and would not be able to prevent the unhappy marriage.

Mustering all her strength of mind, Rukmini resolved somehow to find a way out of her predicament. She took counsel with a brahmana whom, abandoning all maidenly reserve, she sent as her emissary to Krishna, charging him to explain matters to her beloved and sue for help.

The brahmana accordingly went toDwaraka and conveyed to Krishna Rukmini's sad plight and her entreaty, and handed to him the letter Rukmini had sent through him. The letter ran as follows:

"My heart has already accepted you as lord and master. I charge you therefore to come and succour me before Sisupala carries me off by force. The matter cannot brook any delay; so you must be here tomorrow. Sisupala's forces, as well as Jarasandha's, will oppose you and will have to be overcome before you can have me. May you be the triumphant hero and capture me! My brother has decided to marry me to Sisupala and, as part of the wedding ceremonies, I am going to the temple along with my retinue to offer worship to Parvati. That would be the best time for you to come and rescue me. If you do not turn up, I will put an end to my life so that I may at least join you in my next birth."

Krishna read this and immediately mounted his chariot. At the king's behest, Kundinapura, the capital of Vidarbha, was most gorgeously decorated and preparations for the wedding of the princess with Sisupala were in full swing.

The bridegroom elect and his associates, all sworn enemies of Krishna, had already assembled in the capital. Balarama came to know of Krishna's sudden and secret departure, all by himself.

Guessing that it must be about the daughter of the king of Vidarbha and anxious lest Krishna should be hemmed in alone by mortal enemies thirsting for his blood, he hurriedly assembled a great force and marched on to Kundinapura.

Leaving her apartments, Rukmini, accompanied by her retinue, went in procession to the temple, where divine service was held.

"Oh Devi," implored Rukmini, praying for her intercession. "I prostrate myself before thee who knowest my devotion. Grant that Krishna may espouse me."

Stepping out of the temple, Rukmini sighted Krishna's chariot and ran straight as a needle to the attracting magnet. She fled to him and got into his chariot. And Krishna drove off with her, to the bewilderment of all around.

The servants ran to Rukma, the heir apparent, and related what had happened.

"I will not return without killing Janardana," swore Rukma, and went in pursuit of Krishna with a large force.

But, meanwhile, Balarama had arrived with his army, and a great battle ensued between the two opposing forces in which the enemy was utterly routed. Balarama and Krishna returned home in triumph, where Rukmini's wedding with Krishna was celebrated with customary rites.

The defeated Rukma was ashamed to return to Kundinapura and built at the very site of the battle between Krishna and himself a new city, Bhojakata, over which he ruled.

Hearing of the Kurukshetra battle, Rukma arrived there with a huge force. Thinking that he could thereby win the friendship of Vasudeva, he offered help to the Pandavas.

"Oh Pandavas," said he addressing Dhananjaya, "the enemy forces are very large. I have come to help you. Give me the word and I shall attack whichever sector of the enemy formation you would like me to. I have the strength to attack Drona, Kripa or even Bhishma. I shall bring you victory. Only let me know your wish."

Turning to Vasudeva, Dhananjaya laughed.

"Oh, ruler of Bhojakata," said Arjuna, "we are not afraid of the size of the enemy forces. We have no need of your help and do not particularly desire it. You may either go away or stay on, just as you like."

At this, Rukma was filled with anger and shame and went to Duryodhana's camp with his army. "The Pandavas have refused my proffered assistance." Said he to Duryodhana. "My forces are at your disposal."

"Is it not after the Pandavas rejected your assistance that you have come here?"

exclaimed Duryodhana, and added: "I am not in such dire need yet as to welcome their leavings."

Rukma, thus put to disgrace by both sides, returned to his kingdom without taking part in battle. Neutrality in war may be of several kinds.

It may arise from conscientious objection to war or it may be due to mere conceit and self-interest. Yet others may keep aloof through cowardice or sheer inertia.

Balarama was neutral in the Mahabharata war because of his love of peace. Rukma, on the other hand, abstained as a result of his conceit.

Instead of acting according to dharma, he thought of personal glory, and neither side would have him.