There are many stories surrounding the sacred tree "Parijatam" that has delicate flowers and a divine fragrance.
A story about the parijatam tree’s origin is found in our ancient scriptures called the Puranas. The devas, at the behest of Vishnu -the Preserver of the Universe, churned the cosmic ocean to obtain certain boons to help protect the good - the parijata tree appeared as one of the divine treasures. Its perfume was said to permeate the entire universe.
Because the tree holds such an elevated place in India’s sacred lore, devout Hindus revere the tree. The story, on one level, clearly illustrates that trees, flowers and fragrance are the finest boons for humankind.
After the parijatam tree emerged from the cosmic ocean it was taken to the heaven and planted in the pleasure garden of Indra- the King of the Devas.
One day, sage Narad Muni visited this garden and saw this tree emitting its divine perfume. Using his yogic powers he gathered up some of these ethereal blossoms and brought them back to the physical plane and gave them to Rukmini, the favorite wife of Lord Krishna, who was at that time dwelling in Dwaraka in north India. The flowers were so lovely and the fragrance so delicate that Satyabhama another wife of Lord Krishna became desirous of possessing that celestial tree and having it planted in her own garden. She was jealous of the attention Krishna was showing to Rukmini and wanted him to give more time to her. She implored him to obtain the tree for her.
To satisfy her desire he entered into a state of deep meditation and in that state plucked up the tree from the garden. This incurred the wrath of Indra as the tree belonged to his wife Sachi. But Satyabhama would not be put off by any obstacle and said that the tree was the common property of all and had as much place on earth as it had in the heavens. As a result, Krishna waged a war with Indra. Krishna’s strength prevailed and Indra was forced to retreat. Satyabhama taunted Indra for being a coward but decided to give back his celestial tree. Krishna also consented to return the tree to its celestial abode. But Indra said that there was no shame in being defeated by the avatar of Vishnu and that the tree should be taken to earth and planted it in Dwarka where its fragrance could be enjoined by all the people of the earth.
Tree of Sorrow
There is another story about the flowers of this tree that bloom at night and fall to the ground at daybreak. Once a royal princess fell in love with the sun god-Surya Dev. She was enamored by his brilliance and beauty as he daily passed through the sky from east to west in his fiery chariot. Her devotion attracted his attention for some time but after awhile he was distracted with other interests and she was deserted. In despair she killed herself and from her cremated ashes the parijatam tree arose. Since Surya Dev rejected her, the flowers of the tree only bloom at night. Before the sun rises the flowers fall so its rays will not strike her. Based on this story the tree was given the species name arbor tristis, which means tree of sorrow. Buddhists also cherish this flower and use it for worship. It is said that the Buddhist monks use the saffron stalk of the flowers to make a vegetable color to dye their robes.
The Nose Ring: The Story of Saint Purandaradasa
Srinivasa Nayak was a jeweler who lived in the village Purandaragada during the Vijayanagar dynasty. Everyone called him Seenappa and knew what a miser he was, though he was popular as Navakoti Narayana. He cared for nothing except money.
One day a poor Brahmin approached Seenappa for money to perform the thread ceremony of his son. Seenappa refused to give the Brahmin any money. Days, weeks and months passed in this manner. The Brahmin kept asking and the jeweler kept refusing.
Six months passed. Finally, Seenappa decided that he had to do something to get rid of the brahmin. He had some worn-out coins that were quite worthless. He poured these in front of the Brahmin and asked him to take one and never come back. The Brahmin was dejected.
Seenappa’s wife was a kind-hearted soul who in her own way, tried to make amends for her husband's miserliness. The Brahmin knew this and told her his story. Saraswathi was appalled by her husband's behavior. She wanted to help the poor Brahmin, but felt helpless since she could not give anything without her husband's permission. When she explained her helplessness, the Brahmin asked if she had something given by her parents (which, presumably, she could give without asking for her husband's permission). She agreed and gave him the nose-stud that her parents had given her.
The Brahmin took the ornament straight to Seenappa shop. Seenappa became angry with the Brahmin for coming back. The Brahmin clarified that he had come to pledge an ornament and take a loan. When Seenappa saw the ornament, he was perplexed because he knew it belonged to his wife.
Asking the Brahmin to wait, Seenappa put the ornament in his pocket and went home. He saw his wife without her ornament he questioned her about it. Saraswathi felt the ground giving way under her feet. She knew that her husband would punish her if she told him the truth. Unable to think of an alternative, she decided to commit suicide. She went into the kitchen and mixed a cup of poison for herself. Just as she was about to drink the poison, she heard a metallic sound.
Lo and behold! The nose ring was at the bottom of the cup, sparkling. Her heart filled with gratitude, she prostrated before the idol of Krishna and took the ornament to her husband. Seenappa was astounded, as it was the very ornament he had kept in his pocket. He quickly excused himself and ran back to the shop to check for the Brahmin. He was also missing! Seenappa was now totally dumbfounded.
He went back to his wife who confessed to him that she had indeed given the nose ring to the Brahmin and unable to face his wrath had decided to end her life. Instead she found the nose ring in the cup of poison. This was nothing but the Lord’s miracle!
Seenappa was disgusted with himself. The Lord had come in the guise of a Brahmin and he had not recognized him. His greed and miserliness had blinded him. He felt that his wife had conducted herself far more decently than himself. He gave away his wealth to the poor.
From that day onwards Navakoti Narayana became Narayana bhakta with the tamboora in his hands and tulasi mala round his neck. The man who had turned away countless people away, now himself went around collecting alms and living the life of a mendicant.
Saint Vyasaraj initiated Seenappa into the Haridas cult and re-christened him as Purandaradasa who went on to become the Father of Carnatic music in India.
Saint Purandardasa composed more than four lakh songs in the praise of the Lord. Every student of Carnatic music begins the lessons with Purandaradasa’s famous kriti Lambodara Lakumika ra. His songs serve as a beacon to attain spiritual serenity and high morals.
Vishnu’s Favorite Devotee
This story is based on a poem by Nirala.
One day Devarishi Narada, the wandering sage went up to Vishnu and asked him who his favorite devotee was. Now as we all know, Narada is a great Vishnu bhakt. So strong is his devotion that he punctuates every sentence with the famous words, “Narayana, Narayana”. Narayana is one of the many names of Vishnu, as we all know.
Narada was sure that there was no one comparable with him when it came to devotion to Vishnu. So when Narada questioned Him, Vishnu replied thus,” There is a good farmer on earth to whom I am dearer than his very life, I choose him.”
Narada was shocked to hear this. His pride was broken and the words stung him. But he quickly regained his composure and said, “If that is so, I would like to test him.”
“By all means”, said Vishnu smiling kindly.
Narada arrived at the doorstep of the farmer’s hut. It was afternoon and the farmer had just come home. He stopped at the door, took the Lord’s name and went in. After eating and refreshing himself the farmer went back to the fields. He returned at dusk and again remembered the Lord before entering the house. Next morning the farmer prayed to the Lord before leaving for work.
Narada was keenly counting. He observed that the farmer took the Lord’s name only three times during the day – before going to the fields in the morning, before eating food in the afternoon and after returning from his field at dusk. So why did Vishnu call him his favorite devotee?
He was puzzled. On returning to the Heavens Narada asked Vishnu. Vishnu was expecting this.
He said, “Narada, before I answer you, I have some work that only you can do.” He handed him a bowl filled to the brim with oil and asked him to walk around the earth once without dropping any oil. “Not a single drop must fall, Narada”, Vishnu reminded him.
Narada went away to do as he was bid. Understandably he took a long time to finish the task.
“So how many times did you remember me while walking around the earth, “asked Vishnu, when Narada got back him “Not once,” replied Narada, with some hesitation. “I was so engrossed in doing the work you assigned to me, that I completely forgot to take your name.”
“Narada, the farmer’s work is also given by me to him. He has many responsibilities, and he fulfills them all but still remembers me.” Vishnu said.
Narada was ashamed, “That is true,” he said, with his head down.
Vishnu explained, “Those who remember me while doing their duties are dearer to me than those who set aside all work and chant my name day and night.”