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.