A collection of Indian tales of wit, wisdom, humour, bravery, devotion and lots more...

Author: krvidhyaa Page 1 of 14

I am a mother of two children who love stories. I used to work in the Insurance industry. I have heard and read lots of Indian stories from my childhood and still read. Our stories have lot of values and also reflect the way society was, in ancient days. As a hobby, I am rewriting the stories I have heard and read, in an attempt to preserve them for the benefit of present and future parents and grandparents and kids of course!!

Mama Prayag Das Ji Maharaj – Part II

In the story Part I of Mama Prayag Das Ji Maharaj, we saw how Prayag Dutt came back to his home to his mother after having the divine vision of Sree Raja Ram and Ma Janki and how lucky he was to be touched by these divine beings. Those who have not read part I may click here to read and then proceed to Part II.

Prayag’s mother was waiting for his return anxiously. When she saw him coming back, with such a brilliant glow on his face, his mother knew that he had indeed seen Ma Janki in person. Prayag told his mother excitedly how he had met his sister Janki and brother-in-law Rama. He gave to his mother the remaining sweets which his sister told him to take home after having partaken it. The mother couldn’t believe her son’s luck and the grace of Ma Janki and was extremely happy. When she ate the ‘Prasad’ of the sweets, she felt so much divine bliss herself.

Mother and son could not stop talking about Janki and Raja Ram and about the vision Prayag Dutt had had and the compassion of his ‘Janki Didi’. Their days passed happily. After a year or so, Prayag Dutt’s mother passed away. Prayag was very sad. He now thought that he would go and stay with his sister all the time at Awadhpuri.

There was an old man in Janakpur who wanted to marry his daughter to Prayag Dutt but Prayag could not even imagine a life away from his sister and brother-in-law. Therefore, he left Janakpur to go to Ayodhya without telling anyone.

Reaching Ayodhya he was roaming around searching for his sister and brother-in-law. One day by chance he happened to meet Sant Trilochan Das who had taken care of him on his previous visit and given him the title “Mama”. The Sant took him to his house.

Prayag was always talking about Janki and Rama and was wanting to see them once again. He was wondering why his brother-in-law and sister did not come and see him even now. Trilochan Das told him to be patient. He assured him that he would once again see his ‘Didi’ and ‘Jijaji’. By now the local people had started calling him “Mama”. Prayag Dutt had by now stopped caring for praise or mockery. His mind was full of only his ‘Didi’ and ‘Jijaji’

Months passed and Prayag had not met his sister still. One day as he was going past a temple, there was a discourse on Ramayana going on. The narrator was describing the boon of Kaikeyi and how Rama, Janki and Lakshmana had gone to Chitrakoot. He further went on to describe how Bharata took the Paduka of Sri Rama back to Ayodhya.

“Oh! This is why I am not able to see my sister!” thought Prayag. “She has gone with her husband and Lakshmanji to the jungle at Chitrakoot”. He could listen to the discourse no further and left the place and came home.

He was very troubled at the thought of his delicate sister being in the jungle. He poured out his heart’s feelings to Trilochan Das. He talked about the ‘insensitivity’ of his brother-in-law in taking his wife to the jungle. “Why could he not tell his father that he would not go to the jungle? Why could he not have sent my sister to my house in Janakpur while he roamed in the jungle? What is this foolishness of him not wearing sandals and also letting my sister walk on such a rough jungle path barefoot? What will my sister do if she encounters a wild animal when he and his brother go to pick fruits and berries? How can my brother-in-law be so ‘irresponsible’? So many questions troubled him for which no one including Sant Trilochan Das had any answer.

At one point, he decided he had to do something concrete. Nobody would help. So he went about to people begging them for money. People were considerate and everyone gave him a coin or two. He waited for a month or so and using all the money so collected, he got three wooden planks made. He also got blankets and pillows and pairs of sandals made – all three in number.

When everything was ready, he placed the planks on his head, put the blankets and pillows and shoes on top of that and started walking to Chitrakoot. He walked the whole distance of about three hundred kilometres carrying that load, over a period of few days and reached the jungles. He went into the jungles, shouting aloud, ‘Didi’ and ‘Jijaji’ and ‘Lakshmanji. But there was no response nor could he see any human presence.

Prayag Dutt thought “My Jijaji must be scared that I will scold him for taking my sister to the jungle and that is why they are not showing themselves”. He chuckled to himself. He chose a clearing and spread out the planks, put the bedsheets on them and the pillows and placed on it the pairs of sandals which he had got made with so much concern. They were all not of the same size. The biggest pair was for his ‘Jijaji’ Sri Rama, the next smaller one for Lakshmana and the smallest decorated with sequins and laces for his ‘Janki Didi’. “I will wait atop a tree so that they don’t see me”, he thought to himself and climbed on the huge tree nearby.

As he had expected, after a while he saw Rama, Janki and Lakshmana dressed in wooden bark coming his way. As they reached the tree on which Prayag was sitting on top, he jumped down from the tree. He clasped the feet of his ‘Didi’ who was very ‘surprised’ to see him in the jungle. Prayag told them how bad he felt for their roaming in the jungle like nomads. He started to argue with Sri Rama putting forth all his questions which nobody had answered. Rama gave such answers that Prayag had no chance to speak further. Janki told Prayag of Rama’s vow and also how she was so happy to go with Rama and would not find peace at home without Rama.

Prayag was not the one to give up so easily. But finally had to give up, but not before making them use what he had brought for them. Prayag cajoled them and made them sit on the plank on the blanket using the pillow as a cushion. He pressed the feet of Rama, his sister and Lakshmana and wiped off all the dust with his upper cloth and slipped the sandals onto their feet and they fitted perfectly as if made to order. He tried to talk to Lakshmana to dissuade his brother from going into the jungle again, but a smiling Lakshmana told Prayag that he should go back to Ayodhya taking all that was brought by him and wait for them to come back after fourteen years. Rama and Janki echoed the same thought and Prayag had no other option.

With a heavy heart and a heavy load on his head he started walking back to Ayodhya. Just a short while after, he thought he would have a bath in the Mandakini river at Chitrakoot and freshen himself and then continue his journey. So he kept the planks, pillows, blankets and sandals on the banks of the river and went and took a bath immersing himself fully with his head under water three times (what is generally referred as ‘dubki lagaana’ in Hindi and ‘muzhukku’ in Tamil). The third time when he got up from the water, he was surprised to see that he was bathing in the Sarayu in Ayodhya. His sister, the ever compassionate Ma Janki had not wanted him to walk back with that burden on his head. Prayag was confused but he knew that it was a divine play of his sweet sister.

And so he chose a nice neem tree at Ayodhya, piled the planks one on top of the other under its shade, put the blankets on the top most plank along with the pillows and the sandals. He kept his clay bowl in which he collected food underneath the planks and he himself sat atop the planks happily engrossed in the thought of his ‘Didi’ and ‘Jijaji’ and waiting for them to come back after fourteen years.

People used to make fun of Prayag. Some used to say “Arre Mama, Bhajan to kiya karo” meaning, ‘O Uncle at least sing some Bhajans so that Rama and Seetha will come to you’. Mama Prayag Das as he was called now used to give a reply with a smile,

“Neem ke neeche khaat khadi hai, Khaat ke neeche karvaa

Prayag Das almastaa sove Ram Lala ki sarva”

Meaning- Under the neem tree are the wooden planks and under the wooden planks is my vessel. Prayag Das is blissfully sleeping on top. What is there to worry with Sree Rama as a brother-in-law?

Sree Rama and Ma Janki kept their word and it is said they met him after fourteen years and he shed his mortal coil to be with them forever.

Pranams to this saint!!

Mama Prayag Das Ji Maharaj – Part I

On the occasion of Sree Rama Navami, I am bringing to you the story of a lesser known saint of India. There is not much literature available on his life and I have gathered the story listening to various discourses by narrators mainly from North India about this saint, Sant Prayag Das Maharaj.

 Sant Prayag Das Maharaj is fondly known as Mama Prayag Das Maharaj. He was given the title “Mama” since he considered Goddess Seetha as his elder sister and Lord Sri Rama as his brother-in-law. Since people considered Goddess Seetha as their mother, her brother Prayag Das naturally became “Mama”!

Strange is it not?

This saint was born in Janakpur (in present day Nepal) which is considered the birthplace of Ma Seetha. His parents did a lot of penance to beget a child. Since he was born after their visit to Prayag, they named him Prayag Dutt. He was their only child. When Prayag Dutt was a toddler, his father passed away.

After a few months of his father’s death, their house caught fire and all their belongings got gutted. Prayag Dutt’s mother, with great difficulty saved him and both of them survived. But they had lost all their wealth and belongings and now the mother was left to fend for herself and her little son by doing odd jobs.

Due to this series of misfortunes after Prayag was born, people considered Prayag Dutt an unlucky child and often taunted his mother about this. However, his mother could never even accept such a thought and loved him dearer than her life. Despite her poverty and difficulties, she brought him up with good values, striving to provide the best she could for him.

Once when Prayag Dutt was about seven or eight years old, the village was celebrating Raksha Bandhan. He noticed that all the boys of his age with whom he played, had sisters. Most of them who were married, visited their brothers and tied the ‘Rakhi’ thread on the wrists of their brothers on that day. The brothers gave sweets to their sisters and there was great joy everywhere. Prayag Dutt felt very sad that he did not have a sister to tie a ‘Rakhi’ thread on his wrist.

He asked his mother, “Ma, where is my sister? Do I have one?”

His mother did not want to disappoint Prayag Dutt and replied, “Yes son, but she lives elsewhere, very far from us.”

“Where is she? Is she so far that she can’t come on Raksha Bandhan to tie a Rakhi thread on my wrist?” he asked. “All my friends’ sisters come home for Raksha Bandhan and I am the odd one out with my sister not visiting me” he said.

The mother knew that she had uttered a false statement to her son. But she consoled herself that it was a true statement after all, since all the residents of Janakpur considered Ma Seetha (Janki) as their daughter. So she maintained it and said to him, “Well Prayag, your sister is very busy as the queen assisting your brother in law who is a king in his duties.”

“My sister is a queen? Where? Where does she live? Tell me, tell me!” asked Prayag Dutt, his eyes rolling wide in wonder.

“Yes, son” said the mother. “She lives at Awadhpuri”. (Ayodhya of today). “Her name is Janki and your brother-in-law Shri Rajaram is the king there. You can imagine how busy she would be assisting your brother-in-law in the administration! That’s why she never comes here. Now you go and play with your friends”.

The mother’s notion that the boy would stop asking about his sister was completely wrong since from that moment, Prayag Dutt kept talking about going to Awadhpuri to meet his ‘Didi’ and ‘Jijaji’. His mother told him that he could go when he grew up. But the spark of the thought of meeting his sister who was a queen grew into a fire consuming his mind all the time. He was totally fixated with going and meeting his sister at Awadhpuri.  Every four days he would tell his mother, “Ma, look I have grown up. Let me go now”. It was becoming an obsession. There was no way the mother could stop him chattering about this all the time and so she thought that if he went once to Awadhpuri and came back, he would be alright.

After a year or two, she found a group of pilgrims from Janakpur on the way to Awadhpuri. She asked them if they would take Prayag with them and bring him back. The pilgrims agreed.

Prayag was extremely excited and told his mother to give him some sweets for his sister. The poor lady borrowed some rice flour and jaggery and made ‘Kasar’ the traditional sweet of Janakpur and packed them in a leaf and rolled it up in a piece of tattered cloth and gave it to Prayag. He was very excited to go with the group.

All was going well, but after a few days, Prayag got annoyed that the group was stopping at every other place and doing Keertan and Bhajan. This was a natural thing to do, for a group of pilgrims but Prayag was so anxious to meet his sister that he thought he was wasting so much time with them. So he broke away from the group at the next place of their halt. He decided to ask the people around for directions and he managed to reach Ayodhya somehow.

On reaching Ayodhya, he was elated. He thought he was going to meet his sister Janki and her beloved husband, the king Rajaram in a short while. He presumed that since his brother in law was the king, everyone would know him. So he walked up to the first person he saw and asked him directions to the palace of his ‘Didi’. The man asked him who his ‘Didi’ was and as Prayag mentioned it was ‘Janki and Rajaram’ and told him his background and the man was confused.

So Prayag went and asked another person, and another and another. Some laughed at him, some sneered at him, some pitied him and at last one person showed him the way to Kanak Bhavan, the temple of Sri Rama at Ayodhya. Prayag rushed into the temple only to be disappointed. He saw only ‘Murtis’ made of marble while he had expected his sister and brother-in-law to be sitting there in flesh and blood. He asked the Pujari who laughed and said that the statues were his sister and brother-in law.

Prayag said “I want to see them for real. My mother told me that as soon as my Janki Didi sees me she will rush to me and hug me. I want to hug my sister. I want to share these sweets with her. My Ma told me Janki Didi will tie a Rakhi on my wrist. Why doesn’t anyone tell me where my Janki Didi lives?”

The Pujari thought that Prayag was a lunatic and did not bother to answer him.

Prayag then came out and roamed about in all the streets asking almost everyone where the palace of his ‘Didi and Jijaji’ was and found no one knowing where they lived. And his mother had extolled their praise so much!  Such a “Great king and busy queen” seemed to be living incognito! “Strange” he thought to himself.

In his anxiety and eagerness to meet his sister, he had not had a morsel of food or a drop of water from the time he had stepped into Ayodhya. He was now irritated with himself, his mother, his sister and brother-in-law. He was irritated with the people of Ayodhya for being so ignorant. Overcome by hunger, tiredness, mental fatigue he sat down near a tree near the Mani Parvat with the packet of ‘Kasar’ given by his mother and was crying hard at not being able to see his sister. It was almost sunset. He felt helpless and desolate. “Where are you Janki Didi? Where are you Jijaji?” he sobbed. “Neither have you sent anybody to meet me nor anybody knows your house here and mother was praising you like anything. What sort of a sister are you? I have been running around like a mad boy asking everyone about you but nobody knows you and it is a puzzle why our mother thinks you are so great” he scolded Ma Janki. He was so exhausted that he involuntarily dozed off under that tree.

A while later at midnight, he was awakened by the melodious sound of beautiful Shehnai music and Bhajans accompanied by the Dholak and as he opened his eyes, he heard a loud voice announcing “Rajadi Raja Chakravarthi Maharaj Parabrahma Paramatma Swaroopa Akhilanda Koti Brahmanda Nayaka Bhagawan Sree Raja Ramachandra Ji Padhar rahe hain…….” 

Now wide awake, rubbing his eyes in disbelief, as he looked up, he saw a majestic white elephant with a broad back on which was placed a bejeweled golden ‘Howdah’ that was glittering. In that, sat the most beautiful divine couple he had ever seen with the radiance of a thousand suns. The mahout controlling the elephant was Hanuman. There were sevaks on either side fanning the couple. The group playing music was walking ahead of the elephant with all sorts of musical intruments.

Prayag Dutt’s eyes then met the lotus eyes of the embodiment of compassion and grace, Ma Janki and in that instant he recognized that she was his sister who his mother had described to him.

As he looked dazed by the compassionate glance of Ma Janki and Sree Raja Ram, the elephant stopped and sat on its knees and somebody brought a golden ladder which was placed on the side of the elephant and Ma Janki and Sree Raja Ram alighted from the elephant. Janki advanced towards Prayag with open arms as he rushed into her arms.

“Bhaiyya at last I saw you!” exclaimed Ma Janki hugging the little boy. Typical of a child, Prayag Dutt’s anger came back and he tried to get out of her clutches and asked her, “Why did you come so late to see me? Why does nobody know where you live? Is this how you treat your younger brother?” Questions rained like arrows, with Prayag Dutt sobbing all the while.

Ma Janki comforted him. She wiped his tears away and affectionately ran her palm over his head. “Not everyone knows where we live Prayag” she said. “Very few want to actually see us and only they know where we live. Anyway I have come here to see you and you should not worry anymore. Tell me, has Ma sent something for me?”

“Oh yes! How will I come empty handed to my Didi?” said Prayag as he took out the packet wrapped in the tattered cloth. “Ma gave this for you and Jijaji”

And he opened the packet carefully and took out a ‘Kasar’ and gave it to her. But Ma Janki gave that to Raja Ram who was smiling so beautifully. Raja Ram put the sweet into his mouth and savoured it. Janki then took one sweet and fed Prayag Dutt with her own hands. She then took one for herself and ate it, relishing the taste. She then wrapped the packet and gave it back to Prayag. “Give this to Ma when you go home” she said. “Now, show me your wrist”.

And as Prayag held out his hand, Ma Janki had manifested a golden thread and tied Rakhi on his wrist.

Prayag Dutt was exhilarated. And was in a world of bliss. He had experienced so easily, the touch of that Supreme being , that touch, for which millions of yogis and yoginis do penance for years together.

Prayag said to Ma Janki, “Didi I will stay with you only from now on! I don’t want to go back to Janakpur”.  She replied in the most musical voice, “Prayag, you should not do that. Ma will be waiting for you and you should not disappoint her. So go back now. You can come back after some days”

The vision of Ma Janki and Sree Raja Ram disappeared but the Rakhi was there for real and so were the left over ‘Kasars’. Prayag Dutt lay there in a state of trance with tears of bliss overflowing from his eyes as a result of the divine touch of Ma Janki. He lay there for almost a full day and the next day a Sant by name Trilochan Das saw him in this state of exalted bliss under the tree. He, being a Sant himself, realized that the boy was not suffering from any ailment but had been impacted by something divine. He sat near Prayag and when Prayag opened his eyes, enquired about him. Prayag explained how he had seen Janki and Raja Ram and how Janki, his sister had lovingly comforted him and tied a Rakhi and also fed him with the sweet he had brought.

The Sant took him to his place of stay. Prayag had not eaten anything for the whole day. Just then two ladies came over to the Sant and said that they were from a house nearby and came to deliver ‘Prasad’ for them to eat. The big plates they were carrying were covered with banana leaves and the Sant and Prayag did not see what was in the plates. The ladies also mentioned that they could keep the plates themselves after they ate their food. They then went away. Sant Trilochan Das had never seen these ladies in the vicinity earlier.

As the Sant and Prayag removed the banana leaves covering the food, there was a wonderful spread of food on a banana leaf on the plate. They both ate the food which tasted so divine and extraordinary. It was then that they discovered that the plates were made of solid gold. Sant Trilochan Das realized that the food and the gold plates would have been sent by none other than Ma Janki. He told Prayag “Son, we all think of Ma Janki as Mother but she has accepted you as her brother and so you are Mama for us!  I think these plates have also been sent by Ma Janki to help you and your mother come out from poverty. Take these plates and go home and live a happy life”

Prayag was shocked as if Sant Trilochan Das had uttered something blasphemous. “Take the gold plates to my home? No way!” he said. “You say that my Didi has sent these plates. Don’t you know that we do not take anything from a sister or daughter? We only give things to them. My mother will not let me enter my house if I took this home. You can keep it if you want.” But Sant Trilochan Das also said that he had no use for gold as he was a sanyasi and so Prayag took the plates and threw them in Ganesh Kund, a lake and proceeded home, eager to meet his mother.

What happened after that? Did Prayag come back to Ayodhya? Did he see Ma Janki and Raja Ram again?

You will know that in Part II of the story which will be published shortly.

Kacha and Devayani

This is one story which is etched in my childhood memory and has been in my ‘to narrate’ list for a very long time and so here it is:

The Devas led by Indra, had Brihaspati, who was the son of Sage Angirasa as their Guru. The Asuras, on the other hand had Sage Shukracharya who was the son of Sage Bhrigu as their Guru. Both Brihaspati and Shukracharya were extremely knowledgeable and had a healthy rivalry between them though they had immense respect for each other’s knowledge. This was the time when there were frequent wars between the Devas and Asuras.

 The Asuras had an advantage, that their Guru Shukracharya had the complete knowledge of “Mritsanjeevani Mantra” the key to the science of bringing back the dead to life. He had, due to his great ‘Tapasya’ gained this knowledge from Lord Shiva and he used this to resurrect all the Asuras who died in the wars with Devas. Naturally, the Asuras did not lose manpower and had the same strength every time while the army of the Devas was depleting. This was very disturbing to the Devas.

The King of the Devas, Indra expressed this concern of theirs to their Guru Brihaspati. “We feel they have an unfair advantage” he said bowing to his Guru. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to fight them with our depleting army and we will have to do something about this. How do we gain the knowledge of the Mritsanjeevani Mantra O Guru?” asked he.

Sage Brihaspati thought for a while. Meanwhile the son of Sage Brihaspati, a young lad by name Kacha, was present there overhearing this conversation.

“I will go and learn the Mantra from Guru Shukracharya, father!”  said Kacha.

Kacha was a young, handsome and extremely charming and intelligent boy who was very capable of going and learning the Mantra. Both Indra and Brihaspati were sure of Kacha’s success, if he went.

Sage Brihaspati agreed. Though he was worried to send his son to the dreaded Asura kingdom to learn this knowledge, for Brihaspati, it was commitment to his king which came first before everything else. Therefore, much to the joy of Indra, it was decided to send Kacha to Guru Shukracharya to learn this Mantra.

Kacha travelled to the kingdom of the Asuras as instructed by his father and met Guru Shukracharya.

“O Gurudev, I am the grandson of Sage Angirasa and son of Sage Brihaspati” said Kacha to Shukracharya introducing himself. “I have come here to be your pupil and serve you and learn all that is to be learnt. I promise to serve you with utmost sincerity and will never indulge in anything which will bring a bad name to you. Kindly accept me as your student” he said, with all humility.

Shukracharya was pleased with the humility and sincerity of the lad and the way in which he had openly stated his background and intention. So, he accepted him as his student. “Your father Brihaspati is my friend and I see you as Brihaspati and so I grant you permission to stay in my hermitage and be my pupil” said he.

Kacha was happy that he had been accepted by Guru Shukracharya and started staying in the hermitage. He learnt with great sincerity whatever was taught to him. He was otherwise also very dutiful, looking after his Guru and preparing the things needed for his meditation, fire sacrifice, collecting flowers for worship etc. He also tended to the cattle belonging to the Ashram leaving no worries for his Guru.

Shukracharya had a very beautiful daughter Devayani. She was very dear to her father and she did not have her mother. Her mother Jayanti had left Shukracharya and gone away years before. So Shukracharya had always wanted to bring up his daughter without she realizing her mother’s absence. This resulted in Devayani being a spoilt child, pampered to the greatest extent and getting whatever she wanted, with no questions asked.

Devayani was almost the same age as Kacha when he came and joined as her father’s pupil and therefore she developed a special liking for him. Kacha was also devoted to her and took good care of her as his Guru’s daughter while being fully focused on his studies and the purpose for which he had come there. He never got distracted from his mission and was waiting to learn the Mritsanjeevani Mantra from the Guru which seemed to be eluding him. Even after long years of study with the Guru, the Guru was open to teach him anything but the Mantra for which he had come. He would see Shukracharya resurrecting dead Asuras with the Mantra being silently chanted by Shukra, but Kacha had to be initiated and learn it properly for it to be used by him.

Slowly the Asuras somehow guessed the purpose of Kacha’s studying under their Guru. They had their doubts even as Kacha had joined Shukracharya years back, but could not bring themselves to tell their Guru what he should do. They were afraid of his wrath and had kept quiet. But now, they were discussing their fears amongst themselves and decided to do away with Kacha before he learnt the Mantra. They knew his daily routine and so planned to kill him.

Accordingly, once when Kacha had taken the cattle out for grazing into the woods, they stealthily followed him, pounced on him and killed him. They then cut him up and fed the pieces of the body to wolves. In the evening, the cattle returned on their own to the hermitage without Kacha. Devayani was worried.  She waited patiently for some more time, often peering at the entrance to the hermitage, but there was no sign of Kacha. It was time for the evening prayers of the Guru. Fresh water had not been brought for his rituals. The mat was not spread and the lamps not lit. Guru Shukracharya came for his prayers and was puzzled. Kacha, had not for once, been negligent in his duty in all these years.

Just then Devayani came up to him with teary eyes. “Kacha has not come back with the cattle” she said, almost sobbing. “I fear that the Asuras would have harmed him father. Please do something and save him” she went on. “I cannot live without Kacha, dear father. Please save him. My instinct says something has happened to him”.

Shukracharya could not bear to see his darling daughter in tears. He sat down and started to meditate. With his divine power, could see what had happened to Kacha. He immediately visualized Kacha and chanted the Mritsanjeevani Mantra. All the pieces of Kacha’s body came tearing out of the wolves’ bodies and rejoined themselves and lo and behold! Kacha appeared in his charming form at the hermitage. He narrated to the Guru how he had been attacked by the Asuras. Shukracharya called the offenders and sternly warned them against acting in this manner. But Asuras were Asuras, and so after some months, they planned the second attack on Kacha.

This time they wanted to make sure that he was completely decimated and so they killed him, burnt the corpse and mixed the ash in the sea waters. This time again, with the intervention of Devayani, Guru Shukracharya, by chanting the Mritsanjeevani Mantra, collected him from the sea and he came back whole and bowed to his Guru and told him what had been done to him by the Asuras. The Guru reprimanded the Asuras with strong words once again and warned them. However, they would never change their habits.

And the third time, they decided that they would do something so severe that it would be impossible for Kacha to be retrieved. They lay low for some time and when they got an opportunity, they killed Kacha, burnt the corpse, mixed the ash in wine and served it to the Guru. Shukracharya unwittingly drank the wine and now Kacha was inside the Guru’s stomach.

In the evening, once again Devayani noticed that Kacha had not returned and when she told her father, he in his deep meditation, realized that Kacha was in his stomach. He told Devayani. Devayani who was pleading with her father to bring Kacha back, was in a total dilemma. She knew that if Kacha came out of her father’s stomach, her father would die. She loved both the men dearly and wanted both of them to live.

Now there was only one way, that was, to impart the Mritsanjeevani Mantra to Kacha so that Kacha could resurrect Guru Shukracharya, once he came out of Guru Shukracharya’s stomach. Guru Shukracharya also had developed a soft corner for this boy who had been so loyal, sincere and dutiful. So, with no other option left, he taught him the Mantra and explained the method in which it had to be chanted to resurrect the dead. Kacha heard and learnt the Mantra staying inside the stomach of Sage Shukracharya. The Guru then chanted the Mantra in the prescribed manner praying for Kacha to come back alive. Kacha came out tearing the stomach of Shukracharya. Shukracharya now lay dead, much to the shock of Devayani.

Kacha could have walked away back to his kingdom, but a gem of a person, that he was, he knew that there was no repentance for betrayal of the trust of anyone, especially of the teacher who had given him everything. He immediately meditated and chanted the Mantra the way it was taught to him, so that Guru Shukracharya would come back to life and slowly the Guru rose up, having been resurrected by the Mantra chanted by Kacha.

The plan of the Asuras had badly backfired.

Shukracharya felt so ashamed that he vowed not to touch any intoxicant from then on. Further he also forbade Brahmins from touching liquor, due to his own nasty experience.

Devayani was ecstatic as both the people she loved dearly were alive now. Kacha wanted to take leave of his Guru and go back to Indra’s kingdom as his mission was over now and the Guru gladly gave leave to him.

Devayani now took the opportunity to express her love for Kacha and requested him to marry her. Kacha however, refused her proposal. “I have come out of your father’s stomach” he said. “Just as a part of your father is in you, he is in me also and hence I can only look upon you as my sister and it is not proper for me to marry you”. The firmness and decisiveness in Kacha’s voice made Devayani extremely furious. She had never been refused anything before in her life and here was a man who was telling her “No”.

“I curse you!” she said, her face red with anger. “I curse you that this knowledge you have acquired will be of no use to you!”

Kacha remained calm. “I cannot swerve from the code of conduct Devayani” said he. “I had always considered my Guru as my father and more so now, since I have come out of him. Therefore, I cannot even think of you as my wife. Well, if this knowledge I have learnt will not be of use to me, I will teach it to others so that they can benefit. I am leaving!”

So saying he bowed to his Guru Shukracharya, who did not say a word against what Kacha had said, for he knew the worth of Kacha whose esteem had gone up multifold in his eyes.

Devayani eventually went on to marry King Yayati which is another interesting story I will narrate sometime later.

True Friends – A tale from Hitopadesha

Hitopadesha is said to have been written by a certain Pandit Narayana whose time period seems to be much later than Pandit Vishnu Sharma who gave us the Panchatantra. Pandit Narayana’s inspiration was from the Panchatantra and his stories are also somewhat similar to the Panchatantra stories. The story I am narrating comes under the section titled “Choice of Friends”.

Long ago, in the forests of Dandakaranya, there lived a deer named Hiran and a crow named Kakah who were thick friends. They used to meet every day and spend happy times together.

Once, a wily jackal by name, Shrugala, chanced to see the deer when he was grazing around.

“What a healthy deer he is!” thought Shrugala. “He would make a superb meal for me!” The very thought of relishing the deer’s flesh made him drool. But he was very greedy and so thought that he would make the deer fatter before he made him his prey. So he went and tried to befriend the deer.

“Hello Deer!” he called out. Hiran was surprised to see a jackal calling out to him with a smile on his face and so raised his head. Shrugala came nearer. “I want to be your friend. My name is Shrugala”.  

Hiran was confused and could not reply immediately and Shrugala went on. “You are wondering why I want to be your friend? Well I have heard elders say that the company you keep determines your character. And I know that all my friends are cunning and you are a simple straight forward deer and I admire your traits and want to become like you. So please accept me as your friend. We shall meet every day and spend the day together happily. By the way, what is your name?”

Hiran got flattered by the sweet words of Shrugala and nodded his head. “Okay! Shrugala, I will be your friend. Call me Hiran” said he. “Wait till my friend Kakah comes and I will introduce you to him. He will also be extremely happy to meet you”.

Kakah, however, was not at all pleased about Hiran’s new-found friendship. He chided Hiran. “How can you just accept somebody as your friend without knowing anything about them? You should always consider being friends with anybody only after knowing their nature” he said. He then told him the story of the Vulture and the cunning Cat which you can read by clicking here.

Shrugala became anxious that his grand plan would fail and so said to Kakah, “Well, even on the day you met Hiran, both of you were strangers to each other, but how is it that your friendship only grows stronger every day? Hiran has already accepted me as his friend and should not go back on his word.” With no other way, they accepted Shrugala in their group and they spent the days together. They used to find their own food and Shrugala always kept an eye on Hiran waiting for him to become fatter.

One day, after Kakah went in search of his food, Shrugala called Hiran. “Hiran, I have found a nice place for you to have tasty corn which you can eat to your heart’s content” said he, and took him to the field of a farmer at the edge of the forest. The field was full of lush corn crop ready to be harvested. Hiran was delighted. He thanked Shrugala for his good gesture and went to eat the corn. Day by day, eating the fresh corn, Hiran was becoming fatter and Shrugala was very happy to see this and waited for the right opportunity to strike.

As days passed, the farmer began to notice that the quantity of corn was reducing in one corner of his field and eventually found the culprit. He laid a net trap for him the next day in the field.

Hiran, unaware of the trap went merrily and got caught in the trap and suddenly found that he could not get out of there. He cried out aloud. “Shrugala!  Kakah!  please come and help me. I have been caught in a net” he shouted. The farmer’s house was a bit far off, from the field and he had not yet seen Hiran caught in the net.

Shrugala was lurking nearby behind some bushes and was waiting for the farmer to kill Hiran and thought that he could then pounce on the farmer and frighten him and take away Hiran’s body. But as time went by, the farmer also did not come out and see. So Shrugala went near Hiran, with a fake look of shock on his face, and started talking pitifully to Hiran.

Hiran on the other hand, was panicking and told Shrugala to somehow tear the net with his teeth and claws and set him free. “You are my good friend and a friend should always help another who is in need. Please help! Please!” he pleaded. Shrugala just did not bother and quietly slunk away much to Hiran’s anguish. He went and hid behind the bushes again waiting to see what would happen.

In a short while, thankfully Kakah arrived on the scene and he was really shocked to see his dear friend caught in a net.

“What happened Hiran? How did you get into this trap?” he asked with concern. Hiran told him how Shrugala had shown him this field and how Shrugala had refused to help now. Kakah was furious but he knew that saving Hiran was the priority and just at that time, he saw the farmer walking out of his house with a huge club in hand. He was coming towards the field.

Kakah thought fast and told Hiran, “Look, there is no time now. You lie down still and pretend to be dead. I will sit on you and pretend to peck your eyes. The farmer will think you are dead and when he removes the net, I will caw thrice and you get up and run for your life. We will catch up in the evening”.

Hiran agreed to Kakah’s idea and lay still. The farmer was coming nearer and he saw the crow sitting and pecking at the deer.

“Hmmm. He looks dead. Is he? Poor fellow! He must have died out of sheer fright” he mumbled to himself. “My effort is saved. I don’t need to unnecessarily kill this fellow. And I will get to eat fresh deer meat today Hahaha….”

He then shooed away Kakah. “Shoo, shoo” he shouted and Kakah went and perched on a nearby tree. The farmer carefully removed the net and turned to the other side to fold it since he thought the deer was dead anyway.

“Caw caw caw!” cried Kakah and the next moment Hiran was up on his fours and ran so fast even before the farmer realized what had happened. The farmer turned around and was furious that he had been outwitted. He saw Hiran run behind the bushes and raised his club and threw it with all force hoping that it would hit Hiran. It came and landed with a thud on Shrugala’s back instead, as Shrugala was hiding there.

With a shrieking howl, Shrugala ran out of the bushes limping with great difficulty as his back had almost been broken.

And he was never to be seen again near Hiran and Kakah!

Shridara Venkatesa Ayyaval – The saint who invoked River Ganga in the well in his house

This is the month of Kartika. The Amavasya (No moon day) of this month holds special significance for the quiet village of Tiruvisanallur in Tanjore district the story of which I narrate below.

Four hundred years ago there lived a Dewan in the Mysore Samsthan by name Lingarya who was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. Lingarya had an illustrious son in 1635 who was named Shridara Venkatesa. Shridara Venkatesa studied all that was to be learnt and became an erudite scholar in his youth. He was deeply devoted to Lord Shiva as well. He was married to a pious lady by name Lakshmi and the family was very well off.

On the passing away of Shri Lingarya, the post of Dewan was offered by the King to Shridara Venkatesa. But Shridara was so spiritually evolved that he just wanted to leave everything and go on a pilgrimage doing good to humanity and in search of the Absolute Truth. He expressed his desire to his mother and wife and they readily agreed to accompany him. He then conveyed his mind to the King. The King tried convincing him repeatedly to stay back, but failed.

Shridara and his family just left behind their palatial house with all the riches as it was, telling the public to take whatever they wanted, and set off along the path of the river Kaveri.

They reached the city of Tiruchirapalli (Trichy) in Tamil Nadu and found the place pleasing to the mind and started staying there leading a simple life. Shridara used to visit the temple of Mathrubhuteswara regularly and propounded the teachings of Sanatana Dharma by way of discourses. He did not seek worldly pleasures but was full of compassion for all and saw the Lord in all living beings. He was now called Sridhara Ayyaval. (Ayya is a term of respect in Tamil)

Once, while at Trichy, as he was on his way back after a bath in the river Kaveri, he saw a couple crying inconsolably, as their only son, who they had begot after long years of prayer, had died suddenly due to some mysterious disease. On hearing their story, Ayyaval was overwhelmed with compassion for the family and he entered their house and looked at the child who lay on the floor motionless. He then meditated upon Lord Shiva. He sang 28 verses called Tharaavali Stotram on Lord Shiva, applying the sacred ash on the forehead of the child after every verse. After a few minutes, the child got up smiling as if nothing had happened. All the people were pleasantly surprised.

Ayyaval, not impacted a bit by the miracle he had brought about went away unperturbed. To him all that had happened was due to the abundant grace of Lord Shiva. But the people now thought that he was a magician and people started thronging to his place seeking solutions to mundane problems. He had, out of sheer kind-heartedness tried to save the child and it was Lord Shiva’s absolute mercy that  brought the child back to life but the people did not understand that and continued to come to him for their daily problems.

Not wanting to stay there anymore, Ayyaval left the place with his family one night and walked his way to Tanjore where the Marathi King Shahaji was ruling. This King also had heard of the greatness of Shridara Ayyaval and welcoming him to his kingdom, granted him a house in the village of Tiruvisanallur, a village which was specifically created by the king for learned Brahmins. The king also consulted him for all state matters as Ayyaval was very knowledgeable.

Soon the King offered him the post of Dewan in the Tanjore kingdom. Ayyaval, with his rich knowledge guided the King and wrote many books including a Sanskrit dictionary by the name ‘Padamani Manjari’.

However, after some years Ayyaval wanted to withdraw from the busy life as a Dewan and devote his time in doing prayers, studying scriptures and singing the name of God by way of Namasankeertana. The King Shahaji respected his wishes and relieved him from the post of Dewan. Ayyaval now had all his time for his spiritual pursuit.

 The then pontiff of the Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt, Shri Bodhendra Saraswathy, who resided in the nearby Tiruvidaimarudhur and Ayyaval had great respect for each other and used to meet often to discuss spiritual matters. Ayyaval composed many Stotrams on Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva and the famous Gangashtakam on River Ganga.

Once it so happened that it was the day of the Shraadh ceremony at Ayyaval’s house and Ayyaval was just returning from the river Kaveri to perform the ceremony. On the way he saw a poor man who was lying on the road almost unconscious, famished by hunger. Ayyaval’s heart melted and as benevolent as he was, brought the food cooked at home for the ceremony, and fed it to the poor man.

Since on the day of the Shraadh, food should be offered to the representatives of the ancestors before it is partaken by anyone else, Ayyaval arranged for fresh food to be cooked once again for the ceremony and offered it to the priests who had come to participate in the ceremony.  The priests however refused to come citing that Ayyaval had committed blasphemy by offering food to the dying man first.

Ayyaval did not want to antagonize them and asked them what remedial measures he should take for atonement of the “sin”. The priests replied that bathing in the Ganges was the only remedy and that he should have a bath in the Ganges after which they would take part in the ceremonies of his house.

Ayyaval was not in a physically fit condition to undertake such a long journey to Varanasi to bathe in the Ganges and therefore, decided to invoke the river Ganga at his place and therefore recited the Gangashtakam- eight verses on River Ganga in front of the well in the courtyard of his house. He implored Her to appear in the well and wonder of wonders, River Ganga appeared gushing in the well and within minutes, the water rose up the walls of the well and started overflowing into the village. Ayyaval took bath in the water and invited all to come and bathe in the water of River Ganga.

The priests who had behaved so arrogantly realized their folly and the greatness of Ayyaval and they were all now terrified that the flow of Ganga would submerge the village. They asked for forgiveness from Ayyaval and pleaded with him to either send Ganga back or retain her in the well of his house. Ayyaval prayed to Mother Ganga and sang thus:

Bhageeratha ManObheeshta SiddhayE BhuvanAshrithE

BrAhmanAm Manah poorthyai mama koopE SthirA Bhava

Meaning ‘O Mother Ganga, as per the wishes of the priests, please stay put in my well’

This incident is said to have happened on the Amavasya day of the Kartika month.

This day is celebrated as Ganga Akarshana Mahotsavam every year at his Mutt in Tiruvisanallur where the well is still present and all devotees go to get blessed by the water of Ganga from this well on Kartika Amavasya.

This great saint lived till 1720 and one day, merged with Lord Shiva into the Shivalinga at the Madhyarjuna Kshetram Tiruvidaimarudur.

Knowledge beyond books

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the Guru of Swami Vivekananda often used little tales and stories to impart his teachings to his devotees. Earlier I have narrated another tale, ‘Gopal and the cow-herd’ narrated by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa which you can read here.

Another tale of his that I am going to narrate illustrates that mere bookish knowledge is not enough to survive in this world.

Once there was a very learned man (Pandit) in a village. He had learnt a lot of things like grammar, Upanishads, six philosophies of Sanskrit (Shad-Darshana), Astronomy etc. and was very proud of his knowledge. Whenever he got a chance, he never failed to show off his knowledge.

One day he had to cross the river to go to another village. It was monsoon time and the river was huge and very deep. Therefore it was necessary for the Pandit to travel by a boat. He got into a boat with five others and when the boat started to move, he struck a conversation with his neighbour.

“Where are you from, young man?” asked the Pandit.

“From the village across the river, sir” said the man.

“What do you do for a living?” the Pandit asked.

“I am a carpenter, sir. I make things from wood” said the man.

“Up to what level have you studied?”

“To a certain extent, sir” replied the man.

“Have you studied the Upanishads?” asked the Pandit.

“No. I have not even heard of that” said the man.

With a scornful smile the Pandit said “Well, if you have not, a quarter of your life has been wasted. Have you at least heard of Vyakarana (grammar)?”

The man shook his head. “No Panditji. I have never heard of that either”

“What? You do not know Vyakarana? Hmm. Then half of your life is gone” said the Pandit in a sarcastic tone. “Okay, tell me if you at least know that there is something called Shad-Darshana, the six philosophies”.

The man blinked and after few moments shook his head to indicate that he did not know what the Pandit was speaking about.

“Heh heh! You don’t know about this also? Then three fourths of your life is gone. Ha!” said the Pandit laughing mockingly.

Just then, a storm started to blow and the boat was twisting left and right, jumping up and down. All the passengers lost their balance and were struggling to sit on the seats. The boat-man tried to veer the boat to safety but the storm was much stronger and his efforts were in vain.

“All of you please be ready to swim to safety if the boat capsizes” announced the boat-man and all the passengers tied up their dhotis ready to jump into the river as the Pandit was watching in panic.

The carpenter, who the Pandit was mocking at earlier, looked at the Pandit and asked, “Panditji, do you know swimming?”

“N..No…No” said the Pandit in a voice filled with panic.

The carpenter said “Oh! So sad! If you don’t know swimming your whole life is gone!”

It was then that the Pandit realised that bookish knowledge is not everything in life.

Alas! It was too late by then.

The Legend of Deepavali

Today we celebrate Deepavali – the joyous festival of lights.

Deepavali or Naraka Chaturdashi is celebrated on the 14th day of the waning moon of the seventh month in the Hindu calendar. This month is known by the names Aippasi / Ashvayuja / Ashwin.

This festival is one of the most ancient festivals celebrated all over Bharat (India) with no distinction whatsoever. Taking bath with hot water with oil smeared on one’s head early in the morning, yummy sweets, savouries and delicacies, new clothes, prayers to the goddess of wealth, fireworks, feasts and meeting friends and family are all the beautiful images one conjures up at the mention of the name “Deepavali”.

However, along with the slight cultural differences in the above rituals, in the South of the country, the victory of Krishna over Narakasura is celebrated as Deepavali while in the North the celebration is for Lord Rama returning from Sri Lanka after successfully vanquishing Ravana.

Whatever the legend be, the core is, celebration of victory of Dharma over Adharma, or good over evil.

While the Ramayana is very popular, the story of Narakasura’s defeat by Lord Krishna is not so popular and hence this attempt to know the story. This story is narrated in Srimad Bhagavatam.

Naraka, it is said was born to Bhoomi Devi (Mother Earth) from a drop of sweat which fell from the brow of Lord Varaha (Sri Mahavishnu in his earlier incarnation), as he retrieved the earth from the clutches of Hiranyaksha.

Naraka grew up to be a very arrogant and powerful demonic king (hence Naraka Asura) and ruled over Pragjyotishapura. He had done many penances and obtained boons to become invincible. And as the saying goes “Power corrupts”, this inexhaustible power he had obtained through boons, corrupted his mind so much that he started harassing the gods in their realm. He snatched the ear rings of the mother of the Gods, Adithi and imprisoned thousands of young women in his palace. He had also snatched the umbrella, which was a part of the insignia of Lord Varuna. He had looted and plundered so many things from Indra’s capital Amaravathi.

Indra, the king of gods was no longer able to bear this harassment and complained to Lord Krishna to put an end to this nonsense and Krishna agreed. He flew with his wife Satyabhama on his royal mount, the Garuda and reached Pragjyotishapura.

Now, this city was protected by so many layers by Naraka. Firstly, the city was surrounded by tall mountains which were practically un-scalable. The city was also covered by a thick net of Pashas (sturdy ropes), after which one had to cross barriers of water and fire. Further Naraka had appointed the demon Mura to guard his city.

Lord Krishna flying on the Garuda the invincible bird, broke the mountains with his club and entered the city. He used his discus, the Sudarsan Chakra to destroy the layers of water and fire and with his sword he cut open the net of ropes and suddenly Mura who was relaxing heard the deafening sound of the Panchajanya, Lord Krishna’s conch. He was taken by surprise as he had never imagined anyone could even attempt to attack this impregnable city.

Mura was also a terrible demon with five heads and ten arms and possessed fearsome weapons like the trident and mace. Krishna soon proved that he was more than an equal to Mura and finally when Mura ran towards Krishna with upraised arms to take him on, Krishna’s discus killed Mura and hence the name Murari for Krishna.

Now, Mura had seven sons and all of them came out, enraged at this action of Krishna, along with Pita, the commander in chief of Narakasura. But very soon, they also joined their father.

Now Naraka had to come out and he came with his impressive army of noble elephants resembling Indra’s elephant Airavata and it was a sight to behold!

Naraka fought with all his might and courage but was not able to withstand the might of Krishna and his mount, Garuda, and soon his army of elephants were either wounded or killed. The death of Narakasura followed, carried out by the Sudarsan Chakra on Lord Krishna’s command.

There was great jubilation and on the request of Naraka’s mother, Bhoomi Devi, Bhagadatta, the son of Naraka was crowned king. All the stolen things were placed at the feet of Lord Krishna which were returned by the Lord to the respective owners.

This day when the shroud of darkness over Pragjyotishapura was destroyed by the arrival and subsequent victory of Lord Krishna over Naraka or Bhoumasura as he was called, and good prevailed over evil, is celebrated as Deepavali.

This is the legend of Deepavali in the Southern part of Bharat.

Maharani Durgavathi of Gond – The fearless warrior

The festival of Navaratri has begun and Devi Shakti is being propitiated as Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi for nine days and nights. Prayers are offered to her, seeking power, wealth and knowledge. The story of the origin of Navaratri is already available here and you may click to read the same.

This time, I thought it apt to narrate the story of a powerful, valiant, wealthy and intelligent queen who ruled in Bharat in the 16th century and how she bravely fought with the Moghul invaders and chose death to defeat at the hands of the Moghuls. She is none other than Maharani Durgavathi – who is also referred to as Rana Chandi – meaning, as fierce as Durga in battlefield.  

Durgavathi was born on October 5, 1524 to the Chandela Rajput king Keerat Rai. Keerat Rai was ruling the Bundelkhand region from Kalinjar in present Madhya Pradesh. Theirs was the dynasty of Raja Vidyadhara who had repulsed Mohamed Ghazni twice in the 11th century. Durgavathi grew up listening to such tales of valour and bravery which naturally kindled the spirit of bravery in her.

Durgavathi had lost her mother at an early age and so her father took extra efforts in bringing her up without any shortcoming. She displayed a natural affinity to weaponry, riding and allied activities at a very early age and was ably trained by her father in martial arts and warfare. It is said that once a lone lion had strayed into the city and was terrorising the people and when none of the warriors could either tame or kill it, Durgavathi went alone with her weapons, found and killed the lion single-handedly leaving everyone awestruck.

At the age of 18, Durgavathi married the prince Dalpat Sah of Garha Mandla kingdom of Gondwana. Dalpat Sah’s father Sangram Sah was famous for having conquered vast territories upto the Narmada valley. Dalpat Sah who was his eldest son, was an equally famous warrior who had checked the entry of the Mughals to the southern part of Bharat. This alliance due to the wedding of Rani Durgavathi, between the Gond and Chandela rulers, helped the Chandela king in killing Sher Shah Suri (the Afghan king who had started the Suri dynasty in India). This was at Kalinjar in 1545 CE.

Durgavathi and Dalpat Sah had a son Vir Narayan in 1545 and when the child was five years old, Dalpat Sah died suddenly leaving behind a distraught Durgavathi. But being a courageous woman, she gathered herself and since Vir Narayan was only five years old, she ruled the kingdom on his behalf in a very efficient manner. She was valiant, intelligent and beautiful. Ably assisted by her ministers Adhar Kayastha and Man Thakur, she ruled very efficiently.  She was an extremely astute ruler and so she shifted her capital from Singaurgarh Fort to Chauragarh Fort which was 290 kilometres away near Panchmarhi of Madhya Pradesh. Chauragarh fort was at a strategic position in the Satpura range and from here she ruled her kingdom. Maharani Durgavathi kept expanding her territories and earning a lot of wealth.

The wealth was used by the Maharani to patronise educational institutions and scholars and encourage art and architecture (which was no surprise, as the Chandela Dynasty in which she was born had built the temples at Khajuraho).  She had many tanks and reservoirs built in her kingdom, of which Ranital near Jabalpur is well known. Efficient water management all through the year led to abundance through agriculture which led to overall prosperity. The Rani took very good care of her subjects. It is said that she also maintained a fairly big army with 20000 cavalry, 1000 elephants and numerous foot soldiers and she took good care of them all like a mother and so all of them were ready to give up their life for her sake.

The news of a kingdom flourishing with happiness and prosperity under the leadership of a Hindu queen was bound to raise eyebrows and the surrounding kingdoms with Islamic leadership were keenly waiting for an opportunity to attack the kingdom of Gondwana.  The last Sultan of Malwa, Baz Bahadur launched an attack on Rani Durgavathi first in 1556 CE.  Malwa was bordering the territory of Gondwana. His army faced a crushing defeat at the hands of Maharani Durgavathi that he never dared to attack again.

However Akbar defeated Baz Bahadur in 1562 and drove him out of Malwa and therefore now the Mughals had touched the border of Gondwana. The other neighbour of Gondwana namely Rewa had already been attacked and occupied by another Subedar of Akbar by name Khwaja Abdal Majid Asaf Khan. Asaf Khan was enamoured by the prosperity and wealth of the neighbouring Gondwana and after taking permission from Akbar attacked the kingdom of Maharani Durgavathi in June 1564.

The Maharani came to know of the attack. Though her minister Adhar Kayastha was reluctant on their fighting back and pointed out that the Mughal army was much larger in size with better weapons it did not deter the Maharani in any way. “It is better to die with valour than to surrender with disgrace” said she and went to fight the battle from Narrai near Jabalpur. Since she knew the terrain of her kingdom very well she chose this place strategically. Narrai was located between a hilly range on one side and the Narmada and Gaur Rivers on another. Though her army did not possess modern weapons like that of the enemy, the Maharani and her commandant Arjun Das, along with their army fought very valiantly. Arjun Das was killed in the battle and Maharani took the lead and led her army to victory, successfully driving away Asaf Khan and his men.

Elated with the victory, Maharani was keen to continue the war through the night so that the enemy could be totally annihilated. But her counsellors advised her to the contrary and this proved to be a big mistake. That one night was enough for Asaf Khan to smuggle in heavier weapons and artillery.  The war started the next day with the Maharani riding on her elephant Sarman accompanied by her son, Prince Vir Narayan. The prince who was a teenager by now fought mercilessly and made the Moghuls retreat three times. But finally he was wounded seriously. Seeing that her son was very badly injured, the Maharani told him to ride back to Chauragarh fort and he left the battlefield.

Now it was the Maharani alone leading her army. It is understood that Asaf Khan wanted to capture the Maharani alive and despite her valiant fight, she was wounded with an arrow through her jaw near the ear and one on her neck and she lost consciousness. When she regained consciousness she realised that it was imminent that she would be defeated. Her mahout advised her to leave the battlefield but she was sure she would be captured alive. She preferred death to surrender and immediately stabbed herself with her dagger and gave up her life. She was forty years old when she died.

Asaf Khan chased Vir Narayan who put up brave and stiff resistance from inside the Chauragarh fort for a few days but Asaf Khan finally managed to kill him. However, before Asaf Khan could enter the fort and seize the ladies, all the ladies committed ‘Jauhar’ (Voluntarily giving up the life by falling into fire) inside the fort. The priceless treasures found by Asaf Khan in Chauragarh was an evidence of the prosperity of Maharani Durgavathi’s kingdom. These facts are recorded in history by Akbar’s historian Abul Fazl.

Maharani Durgavathi’s fame still lives on and her martyrdom day is celebrated as ‘Balidan Diwas’. The Jabalpur University has been named after her and let us all be proud to have had such a queen, a daughter of Bharat who was a real ‘Shakthi’.

Wishing all of you a very Happy Navarathri!!

Kuroor Amma and her little Krishna

With Janmashtami, the birthday of our beloved Krishna, round the corner, I am bringing you the story of one of the devotees who was so very dear to Krishna.

She was from Kerala and Kuroor Amma was her name.

Kuroor Amma was born as Dhathri Kutty in Kerala in Purayannur Mana to a pious Namboodiri couple in 1570 CE. Some say her name was Gauri Antarjanam. Dhathri Kutty was very attached to Lord Shri Krishna from a very young age.

Once an enlightened Yogi happened to visit her father’s house when Dhathri Kutty was still a young maiden yet to be married. As was customary, the Yogi was welcomed with due respect and was served a nice meal for lunch along with Payasam. The Yogi, tasted the Payasam and said to the Namboodiri, “This Payasam must have been offered to Lord Krishna which is why it is so tasty. Who made this Payasam? I want to see the person who made this”

Namboodiri was pleased and said “Yes Swami. This Payasam was prepared by my daughter Dhathri Kutty. But, she is a young maiden and so…” Namboodiri was hesitant, as it was not the practice, for young girls to meet men who were strangers.

“It is okay, please bring her. She is a blessed soul and I want to see her and there is nothing wrong” said the Yogi.

When he saw the shy Dhathri Kutty who looked so saintly, he asked her what she desired. Dhathri, without batting an eyelid replied that she wished to see the Lord of Brindavan and hear his flute always.

The Yogi said, “Well my girl, I will teach you a Mantra, which if you chant with sincerity and devotion, your wish shall be fulfilled.” He went on to teach her the Venugopala Mantra which she received with great devotion and chanted faithfully.

In due course of time, she was married to the Namboodiripad of the Kuroor Mana family which was near Vengilasery and she regularly worshipped with utmost devotion, the deity Venugopala, of Adat temple near her house.  Guruvayoor was slightly farther away and she visited Guruvayoor also whenever she could and prayed to Lord Guruvayoorappan who was none other than Krishna.

Shortly afterwards, when she was in the prime of her youth, she was widowed. She had no children.  Now Venugopala was her sole refuge. She, being the eldest daughter-in-law of the Kuroor Mana, came to be known as Kuroor Amma. And she considered herself Amma, to the little Venugopala and was a fiercely protective mother like any normal mother.

Years rolled by and age caught up with Kuroor Amma. All the other family members of Kuroor Mana had migrated to other places and she was left alone in that big house with no help whatsoever. Still she did not give up her routine of visiting the Venugopala temple and Guruvayoor.

Once it so happened that Kuroor Amma had gone to Guruvayoor to have darshan of her Krishna and that day it was raining heavily. In those days people had to go by walk only and Amma had to go back a long distance to reach her home. It was evening and as the rain reduced to a drizzle, Kuroor Amma set out to walk back to her home. The sun had set and there was no electricity in those days and Amma, due to old age, darkness and anxiety, missed the correct route and went into the deep dense jungle.

After going some distance, she  heard the noises of wild animals. It was then that she realized that she had lost her way.  Not knowing what to do, she started to pray to her Krishna. “Narayana, Narayana, Guruvayoorappa, Krishna” were the only words she was chanting. Suddenly she heard the sound of anklets nearby and as she turned around, a small boy who looked like a cowherd appeared.

“Amma, why are you going into the deep jungle?” he asked her.

“I lost my way Unni” she said. Unni is the word in Malayalam denoting ‘small boy’

“Come I will show you the way” said Unni and led her hand and slowly both of them walked back to Kuroor Mana.

Amma was so overwhelmed with gratitude and wanted to gift him something. But the boy refused. When Amma insisted, Unni said with a shy smile, “Amma, my loin cloth has become wet due to the rain and I need a dry cloth”

Kuroor Amma, unhesitatingly tore a piece of cloth from her red saree and gave it to Unni. The lad ran out of the house and vanished.

The next day Amma again went to Guruvayoor temple for the morning darshan which is called “Nirmalyam”. When the door of the sanctum sanctorum opened, Guruvayoorappan was dazzling in all the jewels and finery with which he had been draped, the previous evening, but what shocked everyone was that a piece of an old red saree was adorning him as his loin cloth. No one knew how it had come on the person of Lord Krishna. Why would anyone drape a piece of a used saree on the Lord?

Kuroor Amma recognized the red cloth. Indeed it was the piece of her saree she had given to the boy the previous day! She was in tears when she realized the Krishna had come as Unni and led her home.

Few more years passed and Kuroor Amma had aged even more. She was not able to walk long distances or go to the temple. She found it difficult to do even small chores and wished for some company to be with her and help her. One day a small boy came to her.

“I don’t have a place to stay Amma” said the boy. “May I stay with you?”

Kuroor Amma smiled sadly and said, “Unni, I am not able to do my own chores as I have grown very old. How will I look after you?”

The boy replied, “Amma need not look after me. I will look after Amma!” 

He stayed on in her house. He helped her in everything right from washing clothes, cleaning the house, cooking and arranging for Pooja and all the household work and was of great solace to Amma.

Now in the same period, there lived a Sanyasi by name Vilvamangalam Swamiyar who was also a devotee of Shri Krishna having been initiated by the same Yogi who gave the Mantra to Kuroor Amma. And Swamiyar was lucky for Krishna played with and teased him many a time showing his true form as a little boy, to Swamiyar’s eyes.

One day Kuroor Amma invited Vilvamangalam Swamiyar to her house for Bhiksha (Feeding). The Swamiyar was supposed to go to Kuroor Mana, perform Pooja to Lord Krishna and accept the food offered by Kuroor Amma. On the same day another family from Chemmangat Mana also had called Vilvamangalam Swamiyar to their house for Bhiksha. Kuroor Amma came to know of this and was worried, but Unni consoled her and said with great confidence that Swamiyar would certainly come to their house only. Unni also made all the arrangements for the Pooja.

Although he had promised Kuroor Amma that he would come to her house, Swamiyar changed his mind at the last moment and asked his group to move with him to Chemmangat Mana for Bhiksha. The protocol was that, before the Swamiyar left for any place, a conch would be blown by a person of the entourage and only then the Swamiyar would start. Now, when the conch was attempted to be blown, no sound emanated from it. Different persons tried to blow the conch but of no avail. Then the Swamiyar realized that it was because he was breaking his promise made to Kuroor Amma. He told his disciples to change the direction and move towards Kuroor Amma’s house and then, when the conch was blown sound emanated beautifully from the conch.

Now, Swamiyar went to Kuroor Mana to be welcomed by a small boy who washed his feet and led him and his group in. The Swamiyar went inside the Pooja room to find a beautifully decorated altar and all the requirements perfectly fulfilled. Swamiyar looked up questioningly at Kuroor Amma as he wondered how she could have done such elaborate arrangements at this age and Amma smilingly indicated that Unni had done all the arrangements. Swamiyar sat down to perform Pooja and started offering flowers at the feet of the Murthi of Krishna which was kept on a pedestal. To his shock, the flowers went and fell at the feet of Unni who was standing nearby.

One of the Swamiyar’s disciples chided Unni and told him to move further away. Still the flowers fell near Unni’s feet leaving Swamiyar puzzled. Krishna then decided not to tease Swamiyar anymore.

After the Pooja was over, Swamiyar was to be offered Bhiksha and traditionally the protocol was that rice should be served by a married man of the household where the Bhiksha was offered. When he sat down to eat, Unni came and served the rice and Swamiyar got really angry.

 “Is there no Grihasta (married man) belonging to this household? Don’t you know that Bhiksha to a Sanyasi is to be done by a Grihasta and not a small boy?” he asked.

Unni curled his lips and gave a sarcastic smile.

 “Thrilokee Grihastaya Vishno Namaste” he chanted. “Adi Sankara said that. Don’t you know?” he asked Swamiyar. This verse meant “I pay obeisance to that Vishnu, the householder of the universe”

Swamiyar was taken aback. Praying to Lord Krishna, he looked at Unni. Unni showed his true form to Swamiyar, but signaled to him to not tell Kuroor Amma. It is said that in 1640 CE Kuroor Amma blissfully reached the Lotus feet of her Krishna after relishing his divine company for many years without even realizing that it was He who was at her service, in return for her unwavering faith in Him.

P.S: I am thankful for the grace of Yogini Kuroor Amma and Shri Krishna without which I would not have stumbled upon the article of Shri Chittoor Narayanan which has been published in the Bhavan’s Journal in August 1984 and which gave me lot of inputs for this story.

Dharmabuddhi and Papabuddhi – A tale from the Panchatantra

This is a tale from the chapter Loss of friends (Mitra Bheda) of Panchatantra.

In a city in the north of India, there lived two young men, Dharmabuddhi and Papabuddhi who were friends. Both were doing business. Dharmabuddhi had good business skills. Papabuddhi decided to take advantage of that and make quick money.

One day, in a very friendly manner he spoke to Dharmabuddhi. “Dharma” he said. “You are very wise and have good business skills. Should we not go to far-off places and earn well while we are young? Once we are old, we need to have enough wealth to sustain ourselves as we may not be able to work so hard then”

Dharmabuddhi thought that it was a very sensible advice coming from his friend Papabuddhi and immediately agreed to it. “What you say is very true Papa” he said. “We will both go to far-off places and trade in the goods we deal in, earn enough money and come back in some months. Make arrangements for the travel.”

And so, off they went carrying their wares in a huge bullock cart. They visited places far and wide and made good money mainly due to Dharmabuddhi’s efforts. Papabuddhi’s contribution was lesser both in terms of stock and enterprise. But Dharmabuddhi, as his name suggests, was very magnanimous and so on the way back, thanked Papabuddhi for his excellent idea due to which they had earned a good amount of money. He further told him, “We will share whatever we have earned equally.”

Papabuddhi’s crooked mind was at work already. He pretended to agree with Dharmabuddhi. Then, he said, “Dharma, if the people in the city come to know that we have earned a lot of money, there may be people who will trouble us for loans. So, I suggest that we find a spot in the woods, before we reach our village and bury the major portion of the money there and we will come later and take it”

 Dharmabuddhi agreed with the idea and accordingly, and when they were nearing the village found a spot in the dense woods and dug a deep pit, counted and put the coins earned in two bags distributing them equally, keeping very less money with them.

Days passed and one day, Papabuddhi cunningly went to the woods and dug the place and took both the money bags to his house. In the evening, he went to Dharmabuddhi’s house on a usual friendly visit and invited him to come with him to the woods the next day as he needed some money.

 The next day when both of them went to the spot and dug the pit there was nothing to be found as Papabuddhi had already taken away all the money.

 Papabuddhi started yelling at Dharmabuddhi. “How dare you steal my bag of money huh? Do you not have any shame? Or one bit of gratitude that it was because of me that you were able to earn so much money? Where have you hidden my money? Give it to me right now!”

Dharmabuddhi was shell-shocked, not able to correlate anything that Papabuddhi was speaking. “Calm down, calm down my friend Papa. I am not able to understand how the bags disappeared” said he.

“Don’t pretend not to know anything Dharma!” said Papabuddhi. “You have gone before me and stolen my money too. Since only you and I know this matter and also the place where we buried the money, no one else could have stolen the money. Come on, tell me where the money is else we may have to call for a Panchayat” he said angrily. (Panchayat was the body consisting of the elders of the village and whenever there was a dispute it was presented before the Panchayat and their judgement and punishment was accepted by all parties concerned).

Dharmabuddhi was really in a state of utter disbelief. All the money gone? And stolen by him? What had happened? He was not able to figure out anything.

Papabuddhi would not let him think and went on ranting. “You are a thief. I believed you and spent my money and effort and this is what I get in return! Give me back my money bag or let’s go to the Panchayat”.

Dharmabuddhi did not know what to do but Papabuddhi insisted that he wanted this to be taken to the Panchayat and Dharmabuddhi was forced to agree.

Accordingly the Panchayat assembled under the huge Peepul tree in the village as was the usual custom and both Papabuddhi and Dharmabuddhi were asked to narrate their side of the dispute. Papabuddhi repeatedly accused Dharmabuddhi of stealing the money and Dharmabuddhi repeatedly pleaded ignorance.

The elders in the Panchayat were in a fix. They asked Papabuddhi, “Was there any evidence when the money was buried?” Papabuddhi immediately said, “Yes the there was a big tree with a hollow very near to the pit we dug and the Tree God would surely know the truth. So let’s go to the woods tomorrow and ask the Tree God” said he. The elders had to agree as this seemed the only way to find the truth.

The same day, Papabuddhi told his father of what had happened. He said, “If you want your son not to be punished, you will have to sit inside the hollow and reply when the elders ask questions. I shall take you early in the morning and help hide you in the hollow of the tree”.

The father, instead of condemning the wrong done by his son Papabuddhi, wilfully agreed to sit inside the hollow and pretend to be the Tree God. So, off they went early next morning before sunrise, so that no one would see them and Papabuddhi helped his father hide inside the hollow of the tree near the pit.

As the day dawned all the elders of the Panchayat and Dharmabuddhi assembled near the tree where the pit was said to have been dug and money hid and stolen. True. The tree had a very broad trunk and also had a huge hollow.

Papabuddhi explained to the elders about where they dug the pit and buried the money which had disappeared for which Dharmabuddhi was the suspect. He pointed to the tree and told the elders to ask the Tree God. The elders went nearer to the tree and the oldest member folded his hands and addressed the Tree God. “Oh Tree God!” said he. “Please tell us who came and took the money from this pit in front of you. Please O’ Tree God! Please guide us.”

There was silence for a while and then, an elderly voice sounded from the tree.

“It was Dharmabuddhi” said the voice. “He came and took all the money and I am the witness to that!”

The members of the Panchayat were shocked as every one of them had a high opinion about Dharmabuddhi and what the Tree God said was in stark contrast. They were all expressing their shock and talking vociferously to each other. They were so busy that they did not notice what Dharmabuddhi was doing.

Dharmabuddhi had collected lot of dry twigs and leaves and arranged it around the trunk of the tree and before anyone could notice, he set fire to it.

Just as the fire began to burn brightly, it caught the attention of the elders and they all looked with horror as the “Tree God” started yelling. And as they looked on, a figure jumped out of the hollow. “Ouch!” he cried as he stepped on a burning twig and went around hopping on one leg. His dhoti caught fire and then he was recognized by the people there and he collapsed.

“Hey that is Papabuddhi’s father!” exclaimed one.

“Yes, it is him. How come?” asked another.

They all guessed what could have happened and one of them rushed and caught hold of Papabuddhi and raised his hand to slap him.

“I am sorry, I am sorry! Please do not beat me!” cried Papabuddhi. “It was I who stole the money. It was I who told my father to hide in the hollow!”

All the others surrounded Papabuddhi as he confessed to his crime. The elders decided the harshest punishment for Papabuddhi and Dharmabuddhi’s money was rightfully restored to him.

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