Greetings to my readers! With Janmashtami round the corner, this time I am posting a story of Krishna.
Long ago, in the present state of Odisha, there lived a poor widow Subala, with her young son. Her husband had died when the son was about a year old and she had no relatives to support her. The villagers however were very considerate and had jointly given her a small plot of land where she could cultivate some vegetables and earn a living out of selling them. They were also kind enough to look after the child when she went to the market to sell her vegetables.
This lady Subala was an ardent devotee of Krishna and believed that Krishna was taking care of her in the form of her neighbours, the villagers. Due to her deep devotion to Lord Krishna, she had named her son Gopal.
Gopal was a very loving child and very intelligent too. He endeared himself to the villagers and was their pet.
In due course Gopal grew up to be five years old, when the villagers started telling Subala that Gopal should be sent to a school for education. Subala also wished to educate young Gopal, but was reluctant as she was earning too less to send him to school.
Knowing the reason for her hesitation, the village headman said to her, “Subala, education is the only asset you can give your son and knowledge has been named as the greatest wealth in our shastras. We know you do not have enough money to send him to the city, but there is school a little farther from our village where the fee is less and the teacher teaches well. Why don’t you admit Gopal there?”
Subala was in a dilemma. Even if she put Gopal in that school which was not a gurukula, which meant he had to commute every day, she was doubtful whether she could go two times every day to leave him and bring him back from school owing to her vegetable business.
The headman read her mind and said, “Subala, in this age, the boy should start knowing what life is. One or two days it will be difficult, but Gopal, I think he will be able to go and come back himself. And if you think the distance is too much, there is a short cut through the woods by which he can reach home in a short time. Do not hesitate Subala, for the auspicious day of Vijaya Dashami is round the corner and the Guru in the school admits children only on Vijaya Dashami”
Subala had no other go but to agree. Gopal was extremely excited to know that he will be going to a school where he would get lot of friends to play with. He played with the elders here but yearned for someone of his age as a playmate but all the other boys in the village were grown up and he had not got a proper playmate yet.
At last the great day came. Subala took little Gopal by his hand and led him to the school and enrolled him there. She went back again in the evening and brought him by the short cut through the dense woods and could reach home fast. Gopal took to the new atmosphere as a fish takes to water and he eagerly looked forward every day to go to the school. He made quite a few friends and was very excited about it. Subala felt happy to see the little one happy. She thanked Lord Krishna for guiding her to take this decision.
After a few days, Gopal had gained confidence to go on his own to school. “Amma,” he said, “You don’t worry. I know the way and I will come back safe in the evening”. In those days there was no motorised transport and the fear of road accidents was not there. Nor was the fear of kidnapping. Still since he was a young boy, the mother feared he might lose his way. “No Amma, I will not lose my way. I shall go myself” said little Gopal.
Gopal went to school and when it was time to come back, he started walking through the short cut. After Vijaya Dashami, the winter sets in and the days are shorter and darkness starts setting in early in the evening. The birds were returning to their nests and were making lot of noise. The noise of the crickets and occasional hooting sound of owls was heard. Since the woods were dense some monkeys were jumping from branch to branch. Even though these were there every day, Gopal had failed to notice them in the comfort of his mother’s presence and now when he was all alone, the sounds seemed magnified. He heard the grunt of a bull and thought it was the roar of a lion, even though there were no wild animals and started running fast. He ran and ran till he reached the clearing from where his hut could be seen.
Slowing down, puffing and panting for breath, he came home to Subala who was waiting for him at the doorstep.
“Why are you panting for breath my dear?” she asked as she put her hand lovingly around him. “Did you run? And, how was school today?”
For a while, there was no reply from little Gopal.
“Amma, I will not go to school from tomorrow” said he to a shocked Subala.
“Why, my dear, what happened? Did you have any quarrel with your friends or did anyone say any harsh words to you?” she asked.
“Amma… Amma… I …am afraid to come through the woods… I think I heard a lion roar. I don’t want to go Amma, please. I am afraid to come alone in the evening. Please amma… please…”
Subala was almost in tears thinking of her helplessness. Here was this child who was so intelligent and liked school but did not want to go as he could not come back alone.
“Hey Gopala” she prayed to Lord Krishna, “please show me a way out”
Then after a few moments, composing herself, she told Gopal, “Gopal dear, I forgot to tell you about your elder brother who lives in the woods”
Gopal looked up in surprise, his eyes rolling in astonishment. “Amma, I have an elder brother? Why did you not tell me before Amma? I want to see him Amma. What is his name? How does he look like Amma?” There seemed to be no end to his questions.
Subala calmly said, “Your Bhaiya’s (elder brother) name is also Gopal my dear. He is a cowherd and and lives in the woods. He is dark complexioned and extremely beautiful, wears yellow silk, sports a peacock feather on his hair and a beautiful tilak on his forehead and always plays lovely tunes on the flute he carries. He likes grazing cattle and always is surrounded by cows and calves. But Gopal” she continued, “you can call him only in the evening when you are frightened while coming back and he will come and be with you. Now, will you be a good boy and go to school tomorrow?”
Fascinated by the mental picture he had conjured with the description his mother had given of the lovely Gopal
Bhaiya, the little Gopal shook his head affirmatively. “Yes Amma, from tomorrow, I will call Gopal Bhaiya in the evenings. I am hungry now. What have you made for me??”
Subala was at peace now as she firmly believed that her beloved Giridhari (Krishna) would take care of her little Gopal.
The next morning Gopal went to school as joyfully as he did usually as he was sure his Bhaiya would come with him in the evening. The whole night he was dreaming of Gopal Bhaiya and was eagerly looking forward to meeting him.
After school, Gopal took his bag and slate (in those days that was all one carried to school and most education was oral!!) and left in the usual route.
After a while, the woods became dark and the sounds of the owls, monkeys and birds started to become louder. Gopal was confused as he expected his Bhaiya to appear. The sounds became louder frightening little Gopal.
“Bhaiya….” Gopal called out. “Gopal Bhaiya… Gopal Bhaiya… please come Bhaiya…”
There was no response.
There was a momentary silence by the birds and monkeys on hearing Gopal’s voice but the loud chatter started again.
Gopal called out again. “Bhaiyaa…. I am frightened Bhaiyaa… Amma told me you will come. Bhaiya…” The voice was shaky and panicky.
Suddenly from somewhere behind, a soft note on the flute was heard. That was followed by the jingle of the bells. The note continued and it was so enchanting that all the other noise stopped.
Gopal looked around thrilled at the sound. He could find no one. Again as he was about to call, a young handsome boy matching the exact description his mother had given jumped down from a tree branch a few feet away.
“Why are you afraid Gopal” asked the handsome Bhaiya. “I am here with you and I will come every day and leave you at the edge of the forest”.
Gopal also saw few beautiful cows and calves that appeared from somewhere near the bushes. Gopal and the cows and calves looked all so divine and enchanting that Gopal was so happy and at peace.
“Shall we play a game of hide and seek?” asked Gopal Bhaiya.
Gopal was more than happy. They both played around the bushes gleefully with the cows and calves happily grazing the grass and after a while Gopal Bhaiya took little Gopal by his hand and left him near the edge of the forest.
Subala was not surprised when Gopal told of his Bhaiya. She knew Krishna would not let her down and everyday Gopal Bhaiya was teaching new games, telling new stories and teaching little songs to Gopal.
Gopal studied well and was a very happy child.
Every year the students of the school honoured their teacher on Guru Poornima day by bringing him expensive gifts and the Guru on his part entertained all of them to a feast in his house.
Soon Gopal’s class was abuzz with the discussion of what gift each one would be giving the guru.
“My father will give the costliest silk to our Guru and Guru Ma (wife of Guru)” said one boy.
“My father has bought pearls and rubies from the merchants coming from overseas. I will give him a box full of them” said another with pride.
“My father is going to gift our guru a pair of hefty bullocks” said one.
“And mine is going to give him a beautiful cow and calf”
“My father has reaped a good crop of paddy and I will be giving our Guru one hundred bags of paddy”
The list went on and on and on Gopal was aghast on hearing all these gifts. First of all he did not have a father and of course did not have any money to even get anything small.
The kids noticed him and one asked, “Hey Gopal, what are you going to gift to the Guru?”
“Where does your father work?” asked another.
Overcome with shame and helplessness, Gopal, with his eyes full of tears looked down and swiftly left the place.
That evening, as usual Gopal Bhaiya met him in the woods.
“What is troubling you brother?” he asked little Gopal. “Why are you so sad and seemed to have cried? Did anyone say anything harsh to you? Did anyone beat you? Come on tell me” he said in a loving tone.
Gopal broke down. Sobbing loudly, he told Bhaiya of how everyone was going to gift the Guru something special on Guru Poornima day and how he neither had his father nor money to buy something special. “Please help me Bhaiyaa……” said he with tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Do not cry Gopal” said Bhaiya wiping Gopal’s tears with his lotus hands. “On the day of Guru Poornima, when you go to school, I shall come here and give you the gift you shall take. Now, be a cheerful boy, and let us play a word game, sit down”
Saying thus, he took out sweet berries from a knot in his upper garment. “Here, eat this. They are as sweet as you are. Come let’s play” he said.
Little Gopal totally forgot his worries and happily played and went home.
So happy was he with the assurance given by his Bhaiya that he forgot to even mention about the Guru Poornima event to his mother.
The great day came and Gopal did not realise it was Guru Poornima day. He started off to school and midway in the woods, there was his handsome brother with an enchanting smile, holding a small pot in his hands.
“Aah! Bhaiya, what gift have you brought?” Gopal asked eagerly. When he saw what was in the pot, his face fell. It was a pot of sweet smelling curds, looking fresh and creamy.
Gopal Bhaiya handed over the pot to little Gopal and looking at him said firmly, “Gopal, go and give this gift to your teacher for the feast today. Do not feel bad that this is a small gift. This is the tastiest curd your teacher would have ever tasted in his life”. Not giving any time for Gopal to respond, Bhaiya walked away and disappeared behind a huge bush.
Not knowing what to do, but bound by the stern but loving instruction of his Gopal Bhaiya, little Gopal walked fast carrying the small pot carefully.
As he reached the school, he could see many parents with their wards, dressed in their best and offering various gifts to the Guru and his wife who were seated on a decorated bench near the entrance. The gifts were being given and the children were touching the feet of the Guru and Guru Ma as a mark of respect. They were all in a line. Little Gopal who did not have any new dress was dressed as usual in clean but old clothes and he also joined the line. Some of the parents and children looked at him scornfully for he was alone and added to that carrying a small pot while they were carrying expensive gifts, fruits and sweets in large quantities in big cane baskets.
Little Gopal felt miserable to be in that line and felt as if it was ages by the time the people in the line moved forward.
At last it was little Gopal’s turn. As he faced the Guru, the expression on the Guru’s face also showed that he was disappointed with the small gift and when Gopal tried to give him the pot, he rudely said, “Hm… leave it in the kitchen. It is too big a gift to be displayed here” and when Gopal tried to touch the Guru’s feet he brushed him away much to the child’s agony.
Feeling too much ashamed, Gopal stood in a corner unnoticed by all. Finally the gifting ceremony was over and some parents gave speeches on the Guru’s greatness and then the Guru gave a thanks giving speech and invited all to be seated for lunch in the open ground which had been decorated with a shamiana or a Pandal as some call it. Banana leaves had been placed in rows and there were small mats to sit on.
All including Gopal went and sat down to eat.
Much of the sweetmeats and fruits that were gifted was served to all and the Guru Ma started serving varieties of vegetables and rice. Somehow, the vegetable dishes were spicy and some wanted curd along with it.
Out of his enthusiasm, Gopal cried out, “Guru Ma, I have brought curd for you” The Guru’s wife looked at him sarcastically and said, “Yes, you have brought enough for all of these people. I will show you how much” and with a cynical look took the small pot.
She served the first person in the row. The curd did not seem to diminish. She did not notice it and served the second and the third and so on and all were asking for more and more and more.
The curd was so tasty and everyone wanted more and more and suddenly, the lady realised that she had been serving so many people from that little pot and the level of curd was same. She was horrified. She placed the pot on the floor immediately and her face full of fear, she looked at Gopal and asked, “The curd is not reducing in spite of so many having eaten it? Have you done any black magic? Who gave you this pot huh?
The Guru was also looking angrily at Gopal and said, “You brat… you bought such a small pot of curd and now you have done black magic have you??”
Saying so, he came to screw Gopal’s ears when Gopal said pleadingly, “Guruji… please believe me. I do not know of any black magic. My elder brother Gopal Bhaiya gave me this pot in the morning as a gift to you. I really don’t know what you are saying…” and he started crying.
“Elder brother? What elder brother? Do you have one at all? Your mother told me you are her only son, when she came to admit you. Are you lying you….” He came near with his hand raised in anger and Gopal fell at his feet. He told him the whole story of Gopal Bhaiya and his appearance and how he came every day to lead him from the woods.
The Guru could not believe Gopal’s words but the curds seemed to be the evidence of what he was saying and the curd pot was still full as it was in the beginning.
“Come on”, said the Guru, “take me to the woods and show him to me”
“But Guruji” said little Gopal innocently, “Bhaiya will come in the evening only”
“No way will I believe” said the Guru. “Then how did he come in the morning and give you this pot huh? If what you say is a lie, then you had it, understand? Come on, Hmm”
As the Guru started walking little Gopal followed helplessly praying secretly to his Bhaiya to make his appearance.
After a while the Guru asked, “Mm. Where is he? Where does he appear every day?”
“There, under that Peepul tree Guruji” replied Gopal meekly.
“Call him now!” thundered the Guruji.
“Bhaiya…. Bhaiyaa…. Gopal Bhaiyaa…” called out little Gopal in a loud voice. But there was no sign of the usual sound of flute and jingling of the bells and the sweet sandal smell that Gopal experienced every day.
The Guru was getting angrier. His eyes rolling in fury as if they may pop out at any time, he shouted, “Gopal, I know you are lying… I will…..”, so saying he came fast to hit Gopal when suddenly, the melodious sound of flute wafted in the air accompanied by the sweet scent of sandal. Both Gopal and the Guru were surprised and Gopal looked up the tree. He could see his Bhaiya on the top most branch playing the flute.
“Guruji, look on the top branch, Bhaiya is sitting and playing the flute” he said excitedly. The Guru peered through the branches but could see nothing.
“See he is climbing down” said Little Gopal and the sound of the flute came nearer. Nothing was visible to the Guru though. Little Gopal ran near the tree and seemed to be hugging his brother, but to the Guru it appeared he was hugging the thin air!
The music stopped. A sweet but firm voice spoke “I am visible to all who believe in my presence with unflinching devotion. Little Gopal believed in my presence as an infant places faith in its mother. You do not possess that faith and so I will not be visible to you but I stand by what Little Gopal has said. “
The voice continued, “Gopal from today you will be blessed with lot of courage and intelligence and a healthy and prosperous life. Take care of your mother. I will always be there when you look upon me for guidance”
The voice stopped and the sandal scent vanished. The Guru was awestruck and suddenly he realised that the little boy in front of him was physically so small but was a great soul indeed.
He mentally thanked the boy for making him realise what utter surrender and faith in God is and felt sorry that he was not mature at such an old age while Little Gopal still did not bear any hatred or ill feeling towards him. Gopal became a learned man in due course and lived a fruitful life.
This story was told by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Guru of Sri Vivekananda, to his disciples.