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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.

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.

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!!

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.

Gomai – Saint of Pandharpur

This is a story from Bhaktavijayam written by Shri Mahipati in the 18th century. Mahipati lived between 1715 and 1790 AD in Ahmednagar district. It is said that in a dream, he was commanded by Sant Tukaram to write the biographies of the saints of the Deccan region and as a result, this book by name Bhaktavijayam was written. The title translates to ‘Victory of Devotion’, very aptly, for in almost all stories we see that pure devotion and love are only needed to reach God.

This story is about an old lady by name Gomai on whom Krishna showered His blessings in reciprocation of her pure Bhakti (devotion).

Gomai was an old widow who was an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna. She lived in a village which was at a distance from Pandharpur. She was a very poor lady who was too old to do work and had to beg for her food from door to door. She had no one to call her own. Though she was very poor, she was extremely fond of Lord Vittala and had a life-long desire to visit Pandharpur and see Lord Vittala and Goddess Rukmayi (Mother Rukmini).The temple of Vittala (also called Vithoba) was very well known and is visited by lakhs of devotees even to this day.

Her desire to visit Pandharpur was like a fire raging within her heart and she wanted to see Vittala at least once in her life time.

Finally, one day she left for Pandharpur. She carried a small bag in which there was a fistful of grains she had got as alms. Trudging slowly, she reached the village which was on the banks of Bhima River (also known as Chandrabhaga). Pandharpur was on the opposite bank and one had to cross the river by ferry to reach Pandharpur and visit the temple of Vittala.

To the dismay of Gomai, the river was in spate and there was heavy demand for the ferry boat service. Taking advantage of the situation, the men operating the ferry boats were making huge money, overcharging the passengers who were anxious to reach Pandharpur before nightfall.  

Gomai was not having any money and when she tried to board a ferry, the boatman pushed her rudely that she almost fell into the water. With great difficulty she balanced herself and told the ferry man that she could give some grain as the charge to use the ferry.

“Get away” shooed the ferry man, laughing scornfully at her. “I don’t take grain. Give money if you have or else don’t waste my time”

One after another all the men operating the ferry boats refused to take Gomai as she did not have money to pay them.

Gomai’s hope was shattered. Here she was, with not a paisa in her hand and this river in spate was between her and her Vittala. She waited and waited, with her hope ebbing away. As she had feared, the last passenger also boarded the ferry and it looked like the ferry service was over for the day. The sun was almost setting and Gomai had lost all hope.

“Krishna, Vittala” she said bringing the image of Krishna in her mind’s eye, closing her eyes. “I am so unlucky that I cannot see you even after coming this far” she said to him. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She was lost in thought, all alone on the banks of the Bhima.

Her thought was interrupted by a sweet voice.

 “Ma, O Ma!” said the voice. “You want to cross the river, do you?”

Gomai opened her eyes and to her surprise, a young fisherman was standing in front of her. He was dark and had very handsome features and an adorable smile.

Before she could collect herself, he asked again, “Do you want to cross the river Ma?”

“Yes, Yes” said Gomai eagerly nodding her head. “I want to reach Pandharpur to see my beloved Vittala.” Then, she suddenly realized that there was no ferry and was puzzled.

The young fisherman, as if understanding her doubt said, “Don’t you worry Ma.  I will carry you on my back and swim across. Come on!”

Gomai was hesitant. “I do not have any money my boy” she said. “How will I pay you?  Also if you swim with me on your back my clothes will get wet. I don’t have another set of clothes” she said pitifully.

“Never mind Ma!” said the young fisherman. “I don’t take money. I just help the poor and needy. And don’t you worry about getting wet. I will skillfully take you across the river without your clothes getting wet”.

Without waiting for her response, he lifted Gomai on his shoulders and entered the swirling waters of the Bhima and before she knew it both of them were standing on the other bank and she could see the view of the temple tower of her beloved Vittala. It was as if she had been magically transported to the other bank. When she asked him how he transported her so quickly that too without wetting her clothes, the young fisherman, with a mischievous smile said, “That is my trick. I often do this for pilgrims who don’t have money for the ferry boat”.  

She was overcome with joy and profusely thanked the young fisherman and could not resist herself from giving him some grain she was carrying.  

“Take this my boy!” she said. “You have brought me across the river so swiftly and with so much care”.

The young fisherman flashing his enchanting smile again said, “Ma, tomorrow is Dwadashi. Give this grain to someone in need tomorrow in the name of Vittala. I take your leave now.” (People fast on Ekadashi day – 11th day of the fortnight of the waxing and waning moons and break the fast on Dwadashi -12th day)

So saying he walked away fast and disappeared in the crowd. Gomai was so happy that she could make it to Pandharpur at last and she went to the temple for the evening Aarti and worshipped Vittala fully satisfied.

She stayed over in a Chavadi (public guest house) and the next day morning also had Darshan of Vittala and Rukmayi and then, remembering the words of the fisherman, went out to give the grain she had to someone who was hungry. To her dismay, one after another all the persons to whom she offered the grain mocked at the humble offering and turned away.

She was feeling extremely sad that she had neither paid the young fisherman anything, nor was able to give the grain to anyone. While she was pondering thus, an old man came near her and said “Today is Dwadashi. I am poor and have nothing to eat. If you can spare me something to eat, I shall be extremely grateful”

 An overjoyed Gomai immediately put her hand into the bag and took out the grain. She noticed some cow dung cakes nearby and swiftly took them and lit a fire and roasted the grain on it and offered to the man. He took them with a grateful look in his eyes. “You also eat with me”, he told Gomai and she gladly ate some roasted grain with him. When the grain got almost over, an old lady approached them. The man acknowledged her arrival and said to Gomai “She is my wife. She must also be hungry. Give her some grains too”

Gomai was worried since she knew that there was not much grain left in the bag. She put her hand into her bag and lo and behold! There was enough and more grain. An elated Gomai took the grain and roasted some for the old lady which the lady ate with great relish. After they had finished eating, the man and the lady just disappeared into thin air in front of Gomai.

 It was then that she realized that they were indeed Lord Vittala and Goddess Rakumayi.

This is the story of Gomai as narrated by Shri Mahipati and this story once again reinforces the truth that to see God what is needed is pure love and devotion and nothing else.

You can read another story of Saint Narahari Sonar, also from the Bhaktavijayam here.

Laaye Sanjeevan Lakhan Jiyaye

Pleasure to narrate the tale of Hanuman who brought the ‘Sanjeevani’ herb also called ‘Mritasanjeevi’ along with the ‘Oushadi Parvata’ (mountain) to bring Lakshmana back to life in the battle with Ravana.

In the words of Goswami Tulsidas in his Hanuman Chaleesa, “Laaye Sanjeevan Lakhan Jiyaye”

The way in which this pandemic is putting people down, we surely need Hanumanji’s grace to revive us as he revived the scores of the Vanaras who had succumbed in the war and Lakshmana, without whom Rama could not have ever completed his life’s mission.

It is very interesting to observe here that in Ramayana, the ‘Vayu Putra Hanuman’ has been the ‘Prana’ of the epic, as he saved the lives of Sita Mata, Lakshmana and Bharata!

When Hanuman found Sita Mata in the Ashok Vatika, contemplating suicide as she was steeped in agony having lost hope of finding Rama, Hanuman was there just in time and saved her life. Similarly when Rama and Lakshmana fainted in the battlefield and once again when Lakshmana was wounded and lost consciousness, Hanuman brought the ‘Sanjeevani’ and saved them. Again, when there was delay in Rama reaching Nandigram and Bharata had already prepared to give up his life, there came Hanuman and saved his life.

Did you know that the ‘Oushadi Parvata’ with ‘Sanjeevani’ herb was brought by Hanuman not once but twice from the Himalayas? We shall see how that happened.

When the mighty Kumbhakarna was killed by the Vanara army who did not know to even wield a sword, Ravana was devastated. He could not, but believe that these mortals were not mere mortals. He fainted with shock and pain as his valiant sons and mighty brother had been wiped out so easily.

When he woke up from his faint, with teary eyes, Indrajit, Mandodari’s son, not able to see his father broken, consoled him with soothing words.

“Do not be distressed beloved King, my father!” he said. “There is no need to be despondent while I am alive. I will go immediately and fight with the enemy and put those mortals to eternal sleep.”

Saying thus, he immediately went and performed fire oblations as was his practice each time he went out for battle. He then invoked the ‘Brahmastra’ to his possession, kept it in his chariot and worshipped the chariot along with the bows and arrows. He then got on to his chariot and flew in the sky with the chariot, inciting the Vanaras to fight him. The Vanaras fought valiantly but Indrajit rained deadly arrows on them injuring almost everyone including Sugriva and Angada. He then proceeded to where Rama and Lakshmana were and hid himself in the sky and started pouring arrows on them both.

Rama realized that it was the might of the ‘Brahmastra’ and advised Lakshmana to bear the onslaught so that Indrajit would leave the place and soon both the brothers submitted themselves to the weapon and fell down in a death-like faint which made Indrajit think that they had been felled and he returned to the city shouting in glee.

The only persons who were not affected at all were Hanuman and Vibhishana. They were so depressed at the turn of events and went around the field searching for the warriors who had survived the ‘Brahmastra’. That was when they found Jambavan injured and lying on the ground. Jambavan was relieved to hear that Hanuman was unharmed and told Hanuman of the ‘Oushadiparvata’ which was situated between the Kailasa peak and Rishaba hill in the Himalayas.

“You are the only one” said he, “who can go and get the herbs ‘Mritasanjeevi’ (to bring back to life), ‘Vishalyakarani’ (to heal the wounds), ‘Santanakarani’ (to heal fractures) and ‘Savarnyakarani’ (to restore the skin). These grow on the ‘Oushadiparvata’. Please go immediately”

Hanuman immediately assumed a gigantic form as he had done while coming to Lanka for the first time. Off he took to the skies, flying with great speed towards the northern direction. It was as if a massive mountain was flying. Soon he found the ‘Oushadiparvata’ but as the herbs seemed to be concealing themselves, in a fit of anger, Hanuman uprooted the ‘parvata’ in its entirety and carrying it in one hand, flew back to the battlefield in Lanka.

The moment he placed the mountain on the battlefield, the medicinal smell of all the herbs wafted across and all who had fallen in a death-like faint including Rama and Lakshmana woke up as if, from a trance. All the Vanaras awoke and all the traces of wounds of all had disappeared.

Interestingly, since Ravana had ordered all the dead Rakshasas to be thrown into the ocean (to save his reputation), no Rakshasa came back to life. Hanuman lifted the mountain once again like a child’s play and went back and kept it in its place in the Himalayas and came back to Lanka.

This was the Mission I Sanjeevani.

Now for the Mission II Sanjeevani.  

After this, it was the turn of Kumbhakarna’s valiant sons Kumbha and Nikhumba to fight to death and meet Yama in the hands of Sugriva and Hanuman respectively. 

 Now, Indrajit, who this time again decided to fool the army by deceit brought in his chariot the ‘Maya Sita’ (Sita like person created by Maya). He was accosted by Hanuman who believed that it was indeed Sita Mata and was shocked. After raining arrows and hurting the Vanara army, Indrajit, proclaiming the lady in his chariot to be Sita slashed her chest and killed her. Hanuman was devastated and walked away from the battle, despondent that the very reason for whom the battle was on, was killed.

Indrajit was happy to have diverted the attention of the enemy camp as he had planned a secret ritual at a place called Nikhumbila, on the completion of which, he would become invincible. He proceeded with his followers to Nikhumbila to start and finish the ritual as early as possible.

When Hanuman came and told Rama of ‘Sita’s’ demise Rama could not take it and fainted. The army tried to revive him while Lakshmana was comforting him and telling him that he would avenge this act. It was then, that Vibhishana arrived and on hearing the account from Hanuman, told them that it would have been a ‘Maya Sita’. He then told them about Indrajit’s ritual which had to be stopped before its completion and urged them to go to Nikhumbila. Lakshmana and Hanuman along with the army went with Vibhishana to Nikhumbila and interrupted the ritual much to the ire of Indrajit and a fierce battle ensued between Lakshmana who fought riding on the shoulders of Hanuman, and Indrajit. Using the Aindra Astra, Lakshmana killed Indrajit.

Benumbed with great shock at the death of his invincible son, Ravana fell into a death-like faint. Slowly recovering from the shock, he then sent his personal army to surround Rama’s army and attack them. They were also extinguished in no time and then Ravana came with the last three warriors Mahaparshva, Mahodhara and Virupaksha and started battle with Rama. The three warriors were killed and Ravana was greatly enraged to see his brother Vibhishana being protected by Lakshmana and hurled a weapon by name Shakthi at Lakshmana. This weapon never missed its victim.

Fortunately before it hit Lakshmana, Rama uttered “May the Shakti lose its potency and leave my brother unharmed”. The weapon, though lost its potency entered the chest of Lakshmana and he fell senseless on the ground bleeding profusely.

Rama, though deeply hurt, was wild with anger at Ravana. Entrusting Lakshmana to Hanuman and Sugriva fought with so much fury that Ravana decided leave the field for the day.

Rama’s grief poured out, now that Ravana had left. He was sobbing openly. “Without Lakshmana I neither desire to rescue Sita nor live myself” said he.

Sushena, the physician, then examined Lakshmana and diagnosed that he was not dead. This was when Hanuman was again requested for the ‘Vishalyakarani’ leaves from the ‘Oushadiparvata’.

“Hanuman” said Sushena. “You have to bring the Oushadi…”

The ever-ready Hanuman, was air borne even before Sushena had completed his sentence. Within moments he reached the Himalayas and impatient as he was, lifted the whole mountain once again in one hand, and was back in Lanka within minutes. Hanuman had assumed such a huge form that the big mountain in his hand looked like a small block of soil. The moment Hanuman landed and kept the ‘parvata’, Sushena climbed the mountain and took the ‘Vishalyakarani’ leaves and crushed them and held them under the nostrils of Lakshmana and he woke up as if from a trance. He was completely cured and was his normal self. All the other injured Vanaras also were rejuvenated.

Rama was overjoyed at Lakshmana’s revival. The rest is history. Ravana was killed subsequently and Rama’s mission accomplished.

This is how Hanuman saved the warriors by bringing the ‘Sanjeevani’ not once but twice!

Jai Hanuman!!

Vikram and Vetaal – 2

This is another story from Vikram and Vetaal. For people who are new to Vikram and Vetaal stories, it is recommended to read the introductory story here.

The Vetaal (who had possessed the corpse) flew back to the banyan tree and hung upside down. “Hooo hooo hooo”, it laughed eerily.

Now, out of experience, Vikram knew he had to deal firmly with the Vetaal since it would easily escape from him. So in the very first instance, he climbed the tree and gripped the corpse tightly and shoved it on to his back, clutching its legs firmly.

He began to walk back to the sorcerer with the Vetaal clinging to his back. The Vetaal started talking again.

“You have managed to capture me again to take me to the sorcerer” said the Vetaal. “But the path is quite long and so I have decided to tell you another story. The story will have a question at the end. I know that you are extremely intelligent and so, if you know the correct answer and yet keep quiet, your head will break into a thousand pieces. On the other hand, if you tell me the correct answer, I will fly back to the tree.”

Vikram had no choice but to agree to this condition, and the Vetaal started the story.

Once there was a king by name Chandrakant who ruled over a kingdom. He was a very intelligent and impartial king who ruled well. In his reign, all his subjects were happy.

One day, one of his gate-keepers came to him and said, ‘Your Majesty, there will be an attack on our kingdom by some enemies in a few days. It is better if our armed forces are alerted so that they will be prepared.’

The king was surprised, and asked him how he knew this information beforehand, since he was only the gate-keeper and not a spy. The gate-keeper did not give a satisfactory reply.

However, just as the gate-keeper had predicted, in a few days there was an attack on the kingdom by some enemies.

Chandrakant, being an intelligent king, had always kept his army trained and ready and therefore, this attack did not cause them much loss. The enemies were driven away easily by the army of King Chandrakant.

That night, King Chandrakant was wondering how the words of the gate-keeper had come true and mentally decided that he would reward the gate-keeper for his timely information.

So, the next day, he called for him. When the gate-keeper came, King Chandrakant handed to him a bag containing a thousand gold coins as a reward and said, ‘I appreciate your timely information on the attack by the enemies. But tell me now, how did you know this would happen?’

The gate-keeper, in his enthusiasm after having received the gold coins said, ‘Your Majesty! Whatever I see in my dreams when I am asleep comes true. That night, when I was on duty here, I got this dream of the enemies coming and attacking our kingdom. Immediately in the morning I came and informed you’

King Chandrakant thought for a moment and looked at the gatekeeper sternly. ‘Thank you for the information. You are hereby dismissed from service’ he said.

All the people present were shocked on hearing the king’s words. They wondered why the king had given a punishment to one who had done well for the kingdom. No one was bold enough to ask the king.

The gate-keeper also looked stunned for a moment but did not even question the king. He seemed to have understood the reason for his dismissal and said ‘Yes. I deserve this punishment’ and left quietly.”

The Vetaal stopped his story. He asked King Vikram, “Tell me O King, why did King Chandrakant dismiss the gate-keeper from service and why did the gate-keeper accept it? If you know the correct answer and yet keep quiet, your head will break into a thousand pieces. On the other hand, if you tell me the correct answer, I will fly back to the tree.”

King Vikram, without a moment of hesitation replied, “The gate-keeper on duty was supposed to be awake and guard the gates of the palace. If he had dreams at night, it meant he was sleeping and not doing his duty and he also understood that this was the reason for his dismissal.”

The next moment, King Vikram heard an eerie cackle and Vetaal had slipped out of his hold. “Vikram” it said. “I told you that I will go back if you told the right answer! And here I go, hohoho…….”

The Name Game

This is yet another story from the Jataka tales.

Long long ago, around 700 BC, Takshashila was a well established university in India. It was one of the biggest with about ten thousand students. It offered studies in all disciplines, ranging from science to philosophy, though its specialization was in medicine. Many greats like Chanakya, Chandragupta Maurya and Charaka are said to be products of this university. This university was located near Rawalpindi in present day Pakistan and had international students coming to study there. This university thrived for nearly ten centuries before it was damaged by some invasions in 6th century CE and thereafter abandoned.

There are mentions of this university in the Jataka tales very often. This story is one such instance.

Coming back to the story, in the University of Takshashila, there was a young scholar by name “Deena”. He was a very nice person who was very good in his studies and helpful to everyone , but he had a negative obsession about his name. ‘Deena’ means weak and miserable.

So strong was his obsession that he felt extremely bad when people called out his name. “I have got such a bad name – weak… and miserable… hmmph…” he snorted. “I wonder where my parents got this name from…” he sighed.

Just then somebody was calling him, “Deena, O Deena where are you?” Deena was so irritated hearing his name called out loud.

“I must do something about this name of mine” he said to himself.  The next day, he went to his teacher earlier than usual.

“Come Deena! What brings you here so early?” asked the Guru (teacher).

“I have a request Guruji” said Deena. “I do not like this name of mine. It hurts me a lot when people call me ‘weak’ or ‘miserable’ and so I want to change my name.” He looked crestfallen.

The teacher smiled and patted his shoulder comfortingly. “Deena, I think you are too obsessed about this” said he. “The name is only an identity, Deena. I don’t think you should be worried so much about this”

But Deena did not seem convinced. “No Guruji” he said. “I want you to please give me a new name. Kindly give me a good name. Please…”

The teacher thought for a while. “I will give you a new name, but you will have to do something before that. Will you?” , he asked.

“Sure, Guruji” said an overjoyed Deena.

“Then, do one thing. Go on a trip to the nearby city for a few days and observe any incident which happens there and also find out the names of the people involved. You can go and stay in a public guest house. Visit markets and other residential areas and observe. Then after you come back, you can decide on changing your name” said the teacher.

Deena agreed. In those days there were public guest houses run by the kings where people could go and stay for free. So it was not difficult for Deena.

The next day Deena left for the city by walk. Upon reaching the city, he saw a procession with a dead body being carried for cremation. The pall bearers were going in the front and the relatives of the dead person were walking behind.

Deena remembered his teacher’s words and slowly walked up to a relative of the dead person and asked him “What is the name of the person who has passed away?”

“Amar Babu” said the relative and walked ahead with the crowd.

“Amar Babu means ‘immortal person’” thought Deena, “but he is dead??”

He reached a choultry (public rest house) and stayed the night there and was thinking about this the whole night.

The next day morning he decided to visit a residential area, and while walking on a street, he saw a woman outside her house. She was speaking angrily to another woman who appeared to be her maid-servant.

“If you are not doing your job well, I will get someone else to work for me. Get lost from here” the woman yelled, and gave the maid-servant a beating with a cane.

The maid-servant was pleading with tears in her eyes, “I will do better tomorrow Mataji (mother). Please do not stop me from service. I have three mouths to feed at home and they will starve to death if you fire me.”

The lady’s neighbours looked on helplessly. They seemed visibly disgusted at this incident. As Deena passed by them, one of them commented to another, “See how our neighbour is beating her maid-servant Lakshmi. She is Karuna only by name, but her behavior is so cruel! Don’t know who named her thus!”

After all, Karuna means ‘mercy’ and Lakshmi means ‘wealth’.

Deena was shocked. Cruel ‘Karuna’ and poor ‘Lakshmi’. He thought he had understood the purpose of names now and thought of going back to Takshashila the next day.

As he walked towards the end of the city, he saw a man approaching him. The man asked “Are you going to Takshashila?”

“Yes” replied Deena.

“Well” said the man. “May I come with you? I am also going to Takshashila, but I do not know the way”.

“Of course yes!” said Deena.

They slowly started walking towards the wooded road which was leading to Takshashila.

Deena asked the man, “By the way, what is your name please?”

“Margadarshaka” said the man.

“Margadarshaka means ‘guide’? But you do not know the way to Takshashila and are asking me to guide you??” asked Deena.

The man got terribly upset.

“Are you joking my friend?” said he in an irritated tone. “Do you mean to say if my name is Margadarshaka, I should know all the roads and routes in this country? Are you mad or are you making fun of me huh?”

Deena felt bad. “I am extremely sorry, my friend” he said. He then narrated the tale of his travel to the city, and its purpose. The man looked at Deena and took pity on him.

“Look here Deena” he said. “The name is only an identity for a person to mark who he or she is and does not reflect the owner’s character, understand? Though your name means ‘weak’ or ‘miserable’ you are so strong in character, are you not? I hope you understand now.”

“Thank you” said Deena as he went back to the university with a clear mind.

The next day, even before his teacher could ask him, he said, “I am happy with my name Guruji. Thank you for showing me the right path.”

The teacher simply smiled in response.

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