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.