A story from Mahabharata and its contemporary relevance
If one speaks of dharma, it is nothing but a life of truth and righteousness, which encompasses life in its entirety. When one goes back to find such elements, there are plenty of pearls of wisdom scattered around and only a true man is required to pick up those little nice things, which make life happy and it is precisely dharma. Now, here one is reminded of a man of Dharma, Yudhishtra. It is an ancient tale of a yajna organized by the king of dharma, Yudhishtra. When the colossal yajna was successful, everyone was enormously contented and delighted. The king with the supreme benevolent disposition satisfied all the learned brahmins, close relations and friends. He also treated well with immense sense of generosity the poor, the deprived and others, who had witnessed the grandeur of the great yajna. This brought laurels to the king. Its glory and splendor spread everywhere as wonderful rain of flowers added heavenly beauty to the great yajna.
If earnings of a man are honest, his giving, donation or charity has meaning and purity. Strangely enough, now a day, most of us earn by dishonest means, as we do not have much to learn from those who guide and govern us.
At that time, a mongoose entered the hall of the religious ceremony. Its eyes were blue, and amazingly enough, one side of his body was of gold. Everyone was surprised and looked at one another with many questions. The moment it entered, the entire ceremonial place was filled with fear, and the provoking sounds of thunderbolt frightened all stags and birds. It appeared a curious happening. Then, he spoke the language of a human being and said “O kings, this yajna is just nothing as compared to the little acts of charity of a brahmin.”
The words of the mongoose surprised all the brahmins and they surrounded him from all sides and asked, “Nakul, here saintly people have assembled. From where have you come? What is the secret of your supremacy and how much is your knowledge of religious books? On whose support you depend upon. How do we know about you? On what basis you speak ill of this yajna? After collecting various kinds of sacrificial fuel and other material, and without violating any religious dictums in the performance of yajna, we have completed this massive yajna. According to the principles of religion and justice, all duties and functions have been taken care of, which were expected of us. Reverent people have been worshipped. After chanting of holy mantras, oblations were made and whatever was to be given in charity or in the shape of gifts, was given without a feeling of jealousy.”
One of the holy brahmins, continued to elucidate the details of the performance of yajna. He further said, “By offering gifts to the brahmins and honoring the warriors, and by performance of shradhas we have propitiated the great grandfather and those souls who are no more. We have served the business community by protecting them from various dangers. By fulfilling all the desires of women, we have adhered to the principles of morality and virtues. By displaying mercy to the low castes and those who do menial jobs for us, we have enhanced the image of humanity. Whatever was left out was given to others and thus, a sense of humanitarianism was upheld in right solemnity. The king was extra kind and generous. In a similar practice, we have propitiated gods and various divine spirits by pure sacrificial fuel. Those who took shelter were properly guarded and fed. So much has been accomplished with the intention to serve all. Now, tell us what have you seen or heard, which provokes you to say unkind words. Please speak out the truth before the brahmins because we feel there is some truth in what you talk about. You appear quite wise and it seems you are a divinity personified. At this moment, you have met a huge gathering of learned brahmins, therefore, you must answer these questions.” The words of the mongoose had truly disturbed and cautioned those learned people. Still, in humility those holy men wanted to know from the new and strange visitor as to where they had failed.
On persistent enquiries, the mongoose smilingly said, “O holy gathering of learned brahmins, I have not spoken any untruth, and I have said nothing out of ego or arrogance. Your yajna is not equal to the charity of a poor brahmin who gives a small amount of flour of barley or gram or a ball made out of it called satu by mixing some sugar or gur. I must tell you the reason of this phenomenon to all of you. Now, whatever I narrate, you please listen to with a peaceful mind. I do not mean an affront to any wise and holy man. The brahmin who lives in Kurukshetra makes his livelihood by collecting grains of wheat, gram, barley or other things and by doing this menial job, he feeds his family. His poverty, it seems does not haunt him. He is calm and contended but he is a brahmin of serenity and utmost discipline. Whatever I heard and witnessed about this man, I shall relate to you. It is the best and the most amazing scene I have ever witnessed. He secured a few grains by genuine efforts and whatever little he offered as charity proved valuable in achieving the purpose. I shall narrate to you this astonishing incident.”
He stopped for a while and began the tale of fantastic features, virtues and judgment. He looked around, observed each face reverentially, and then said, “Long ago, there lived many learned brahmins in Kurukshetra. A brahmin also lived here, who earned his livelihood by honest means. Even if he found a grain of something, he brought home and cooked. Like a pigeon, he used to pick up grains and fed the family. He used to be immersed in meditation and act of penance along with his woman, son and daughter in law.
The brahmin, like a god, was a man of dharma and possessed magnificent behavior with full restraint on senses. He took food with the members of the family during the sixth part of the day. If he did not get food on that day, he along with the family took food the next day at the same hour. Once, there was a terrible famine. This brahmin had no stock of grains while the crops in the fields dried up therefore, he had no money at home.”
He looked around throwing curious glances. All the wise men, pundits and brahmins were listening to him attentively. After a small pause, he resumed, “The sixth part of the day passed as usual but the family did not get anything to eat. They would remain hungry if the poor brahmin did not get anything they knew. One day, in the month of June, during a very hot noon, this man of penance and utmost discipline went out in search of food enduring pains of insufferable heat and starvation. He was extremely upset, and had been on the verge of collapsing but he did not get anything to eat. Like any other day, along with the family, he spent the day by observing fast. With the passing of each day, weakness increased and lives were endangered.” The tale began to assume poignancy.
After a few moments, he resumed, “In the meantime, one day, at the time of taking food, he got one ser (nearly a kilogram) grain. All the members of brahmin’s family were men of austerity and tapa. After kneading the flour, they made satu and after usual prayers, japa -chanting of mantras in the mind, oblations and worshipping Agni dev (the lord of Fire), distributed fresh satu among themselves and settled down to eat. For, there was no time to wait.”
The mongoose, further told, “Exactly at that time, an unknown brahmin reached. All were very happy and cheerful on arrival of a guest. They paid respect to him and asked about the welfare. As I told you earlier, the members of the family were pure-hearted, self-disciplined, devotees sans faults, while restraining and subduing anger. They were gentle fellows without jealousy and had been dharma-inclined who had renounced ego, arrogance and anger. He gave details of family, its history of gotra -genealogy etc., and other information, and then he requested him to come inside and relax. When he was seated properly, the poor brahmin said, “O god-like brahmin, please be seated. This is all for you. This has been earned honestly. These sacred satus are for you. I offer these to you with pleasure and devotion. Kingly accept.”
On the request from the host, the guest brahmin took a chunk of satu and ate with apparent delight and satisfaction but the hunger still persisted. The host brahmin found the godlike brahmin guest was still hungry. He was worried about the unquenched hunger of the guest, and thought deeply as to how best he could gratify his appetite. This made all the members of the family deeply concerned. At that time, the wife of brahmin said, “O lord, you offer my share to the guest. After eating and getting satisfied, he will go elsewhere.” The poor brahmin apparently felt relieved but worries still occupied his heart.
After listening to the words of devoted wife, the brahmin thought over the entire situation. As he was suffering from intensity of hunger, it did not take much time for him to imagine her unspoken pain of hunger. In addition to this, this woman of tapa and extremely ascetic life was old, exhausted and quite frail. She was merely a skeleton, a structure of bones with a covering of thin layer of flesh he thought. She appeared always trembling. Envisaging a situation of suffering because of hunger, he pondered over that it would not be proper to part with her share of satu. He was not inclined to accept offer of his wife.
Therefore, after a thought, he told his wife, “Kalyani, to look after and protect one’s wife is the duty of even insects or humming and flying tiny bugs, birds or animals. In the yoni of a male, if a man fails to look after, feed or protect his wife, he is an object of pity. His respect, honor and reputation are battered and he never attains a happy life after death. All good deeds, functions of dharma, virtues, economic management, and service to everyone go waste if a man does not look after his wife well. Further, safeguarding traditions and lineage, functions relating to dead souls and yajna of self-dharma are under the control of a woman of devotion. On the other hand, these may be called her obligatory functions. He was deeply thinking over. A man, who is unable to shield his woman, gets ignominy and discredit and ultimately, he is driven to hell as retribution.” The mongoose was narrating the incident vividly.
After sometime, he resumed what the woman had told.
“The old lady had said, ‘O dear husband, you think that it the duty of a man to defend and look after his wife is correct and you also enumerated various moral and other duties of a wife but I understand these are duties enjoined upon us and it is not only the woman who should discharge. Social obligations and duties are meant for both. Therefore, you should be happy and give satu to the guest and he should not go hungry. All truths, acts of truth, dharma, physical delight, attaining of heaven through virtues of the self and all aspirations are under the control of a husband. In the union of a mother and father, there is inherent continuance of lineage and traditions.”
She continued, “For a woman, her husband is like a god. Whatever pleasures and the boon of a son, a woman gets through physical union with her man, are like deity’s blessings. You look after me so you are my husband. You fulfill my desires whether physical or otherwise and thereby, make me live life honorably so this, I say makes you my man. You blessed me with the happiness of a son, so you are like a godsend, a divine gift. Therefore, you should offer satu of my share to the holy god-like guest. You are also frail, old, suffering from hunger, extremely weak, tired because of hunger with a weak body and then you also suffer from the pains of hunger similar to me.” She had tried to fortify the argument.
So persuaded by a dutiful wife, the brahmin went to the host with her share of satu and said, “O holy brahmin, kindly accept this.” This had not taken much time.
The guest took that piece of satu and consumed but his hunger remained unsatisfied. The poor host was again not very happy and contented and so he was worried. Observing the worries of his father, the son said, “Dear father, please give him my share of satu. I consider it an act of righteousness and virtue, a holy deed - a punya, so I am doing it. I must follow you religiously because noble people always aspire to serve an old father. It is the duty of a son to serve and protect his father in old age. If one recalls what one heard from ancient times, it is an eternal wish of the three worlds. Therefore, you should not think of anything else and without a doubt, offer satu to the still starving guest.”
The brahmin said, “O son, even if, I attain an age of a thousand years, you shall still remain a child. A father thinks himself fulfilled and indebted when he gets a son. I know hunger of children is acute. I am an old man and if I stay hungry for a little longer, it will keep alive. Even an extremely fragile and tired body will not give me trouble. Over and above, I have undergone tapa and self-punishment for a long time so I am not afraid of death. You are still a child, so dear son you eat satu and guard your life.”
“O father, I am your son. It is a sacred duty of a son to save a father from sufferings. A son is considered a soul of his father. So, you should save yourself through your son.” The son told the brahmin in mild words.
“O dear son, you are equal to me in beauty, good conduct and self-discipline. I have tested you many a time. Now, I give your share of satu to the guest.”
Saying these words, the brahmin happily took the satu and presented it to the guest. After eating the son’s share, the guest was yet feeling hungry. Observing the difficult moments, the brahmin was again perturbed. His daughter-in-law was also a woman of grace and noble nature. She understood the trying situation of the poor father-in-law and so to perform well her duty, she got up with the satu and said cheerfully, “Please give this to the god-like guest.”
“O dear daughter, the entire body is dry and weak because of many reasons. The glow is also faded. Because of sacred fast and strict following of the principle of lofty conduct, you have grown extremely weak. You are disturbed in mind because of hunger. I cannot take away your share of satu at this moment. To do so will create obstacles in the performance of duties of your dharma. You perform your daily routine and stick to the rules of dignified conduct and meditation, and take food at the appropriate time with us. In the absence of food, I cannot see you observing fast. You are upset because of hunger. You are a girl, you are helpless, and so you are worn out. You always serve us and other relations and give happiness to all. So, I should always protect you.”
“O god-like father, you are supreme, a guru of my guru. You are like a God. You must accept this satu. My body, life and dharma are meant to serve the elders. By making you happy, I will attain the supreme yoni in the next world. O dear father, therefore, you should consider me your bhakt –a devotee, a person worth protecting and a person who should get your blessings, and offer this satu to the honorable guest.” She persisted and said these words with all the modesty and good reasons.
“O daughter, you are devoted to the performance of dharma of a pious wife. You are venerable in the performance of graceful and elevated conduct. While engaged in the acts of dharma and observance of tapa, you keep a watchful eye on the service of elderly people and gurus. Therefore, I will not allow you to be deprived of the punya –holy and virtuous results of noble deeds. I shall always, count you among the noblest religious souls and so I accept this satu.” The brahmin was convinced and happily he took the ball of satu. He offered the satu to the guest. The guest was immensely happy and delighted to observe the sacrifice of the poor brahmin.
The mongoose had been still relating the miracle to the learned men of a great yajna. After sometime, he had resumed the wonderful narration.
“In fact, dharma in the garb of a guest had appeared before the poor brahmin. He was very happy, and so he said to the host brahmin, “O brahmin, by keeping an eye on the correct adherence to the principles of dharma, and earning grains in an honest and just way is a virtue. Later on, your offering it with a pure heart to a hungry guest according to your capacity is a great act and I am very happy. Gods living in heaven often talk and speak eloquently about the character of your giving. Look, there is a shower of flowers from the sky. All gods, sages, gandharavas and messengers of gods stand in the sky to sing songs of your glorious deeds, and are amazed at the sense of charity and pious act of giving. The great sages often wandering in the Brahmloka –heaven, an abode of Lord Brahma, are all waiting for your darshana while sitting in the air-cars. Now, you go to the divine world. By the performance of dharma of brahmacharya – complete abstinence, charity, and tapa – penance and pure religious dictates, you have salvaged every ancestor in the pitriloka – (a land where the souls of the dead live it is believed), and you have also protected all generations, who in future, will also attain deliverance by your absolute observance of yajna and tapa. You have done tapa with total devotion and so all the gods have been deeply influenced and are quite happy.”
He further said, “During times of great sufferings, with a pure heart you gave the entire satu to a hungry brahmin. Hunger plays havoc with the intelligence and wisdom of a man and his good thoughts disappear but in such difficult times, if there is an interest and an eagerness to give in charity to a needy, his dharma is not destroyed. You considered dharma as the best friend instead of your wife and son, and you did not count hunger and thirst as threats to life. First, it is important for a man to know just ways to earn money, and then it is again the best to utilize that wealth in the service of the best and the deserving requiring it. It is the best to give at the right time. Devotion is much more pure, significant and better. You have performed these acts generously without caring for your own comforts and wellbeing.”
After a short pause, he had resumed, “Another important thing must be known. The reward in all the three eventualities is equal namely: a man, who has the capacity to give a thousand, gives a hundred and a man with a capacity of a hundred offers only ten, and he, who has nothing, offers only an ounce of water. ” Then he tells a story of a king when observes, “King Rantidev had nothing with him. He gave water with a pure heart. If the wealth has been collected by illegal and unjust means, and then, it is given in charity, it is of no use and this act of charity does not give true and happiness. The gods of dharma are happy when they are offered even a little amount of grain with a pure heart.” He was silent.
After a moment, he said, “King Nriga gave in charity thousands of cows but only one cow belonging to another brahmin was offered in charity and this single unjust act done out of ignorance, drove him to hell. Sivi, a son of Usheenar offered his flesh out of devotion and he was sent to the abode of divine souls to enjoy life in the other world. To go on emphasizing the significance of offering is great. By giving a little bit of satu you have conquered the eternal Abode of Brahma. Many ashavmegh yajnas cannot equal the reward as compared to the giving away of satu. O holy brahmin, you are devoid of rajas qualities so proceed happily to the abode of Brahma. A divine car is waiting for all of you. Look at me I am Dharma. You have granted deliverance to me. Your glory will be eternal.” The truth of dharma was thus, emphasized along with the blessings of charity, which is performed in right earnestness.
As Dharma in the guise of a brahmin, observed silence, everything was calm. At that time the mongoose said, “As directed by Dharma, the brahmin, his wife, son and daughter-in-law boarded the divine aircraft and flew to heaven. After that when everyone was gone, I came out of my hole and went to the place where the brahmin had taken food and began to roll on the ground. It was a divine experience. The very act of spinning transformed my body a lot. I was deeply affected by the smell of the satu. The very touch of wet grains on the ground influenced me as if had contact with the divine flowers and when these were trampled while I rolled on. Above all, the feel of grains dropped from the hands of the brahmin brought unique sensations. The effect of grains in the mouth and the impact of tapa of brahmin transformed my head and half of the body to gold. You can see the effect of tapa of that poor brahmin on this body.” He addressed mildly the gathering of holy brahmins.
Mongoose with divine blessings, further spoke, “O holy brahmins, when half of this body turned to gold, I was worried about the other half. I began to think about the ways. With this objective in mind, I continued to travel, visited many places of tapa and yajna, and did not stop anywhere. When I heard admiringly about the yajna organized by the lord of Dharma Yudhishtra, I turned up here with many hopes but my body has not turned to gold. That is why I said smilingly in the beginning that this yajna is nothing before the tapa of the poor brahmin. At that time, a mere touch of a few grains changed half of this body to gold. But this large-scale yajna proved of no use to me.”
All the gathered learned brahmins were astonished and speechless. After saying the above words, the mongoose disappeared all of a sudden and the brahmins also dispersed. Thus, it can be inferred that the strength of tapa that is supreme leads a man to the Divine world. If one tries to imbibe the qualities and virtues of the poor brahmin, these can surely lead him to a new world of joy and eternal delight – the divine world for which everyone aspires. One significant aspect of the tale is quite contemporary. It has unique relevance and can be connected to our mindset.
If earnings of a man are honest, his giving, donation or charity has meaning and purity. Strangely enough, now a day, most of us earn by dishonest means, as we do not have much to learn from those who guide and govern us. They do not have anything to impart virtuous or ethical and to expect acts of dharma from them is a mere dream. This remains a huge fallacy. One finds many places of worship coming up. Majestic temples and other abodes of Gods and Goddesses by men of various religions are constructed. Men of wealth donate huge amount of money, jewels, gold and precious stones so that the divine power or gods abode looks grand and lofty. It is also correct that people throng the places of worship, and nightlong prayers and singing of hymns continues as per practices of respective religions. Nevertheless, what do one gets? Nothing at all one achieves. Violence, greed, sins and corruption prevail, and thus, there is no dharma, though each one talks of dharma.