Theme: Greatness

The Trustee

One morning from his castle at Setara
Shivaji found
His guru Ramdas was begging
From door to door
Like a common beggar.
He thought
What do I see?
One who has no want
Carrying a begging bowl!
He has everything
Even the king is his servant
Yet he is not content!
It is futile to try to fill up
A pot that is leaking.
He said,
'I want to see
Once for all
How much does he need
To fill up his bowl!'
Hurriedly he wrote a letter
And gave it to his minister
To deliver it to his teacher
Whenever he comes to the castle for alms.

Passing are many people and many carriers
Along the road
So is the teacher, singing,
'O Lord, O Shankar!
You have given everyone a shelter
But to me you have given only this road.
Mother Annapurna cares for the world
And all are happy –
But O Beggar!
You have snatched me away from her
And made me your follower'.

Ending his song and taking his mid-day bath
When the teacher came to the gate of the castle
The minister saluted him
And placed the letter at his feet.
Curious, the teacher took it up and read –
'With deep reverence
Shivaji hereby gives him
His entire kingdom'.

Next day the teacher came to the king
And said,
'Tell me, my son,
If you gift me away your kingdom
What work you will have,
Do you possess any other qualification?'
Shivaji politely replied,
'I'll dedicate myself to your servitude
With pleasure'.
The teacher said,
'Then take up this bag on your shoulder
And come along with me for begging.'

Accompanying his teacher
Shivaji went from door to door of his capital
With a begging bowl in his hands for alms.
Seeing the king
The children became afraid
And rushed to their homes
To call their parents.
One who possesses so much wealth
Has taken to begging,
Is it believable!
All give alms with diffidence
And their hands tremble
They think
It is a sport of the great.

The noontime bell has rung in the castle
The citizens breaking their work
Are all taking rest.
Ramdas plays his ektara
And in piety sings,
'O Lord of all creation,
This I do not understand
You have no want
Yet you go a-begging to all'.
Then at the day's end
In the outskirts of the city
They took their evening bath
And on the bank of the river
Cooked their food from the alms.
The teacher ate some
And the disciple took its remains.
Then the king said smiling,
'Breaking his pride
You have made the king
A street-beggar -
Your servant is ready
To fulfill your any other desire
Even if it causes him the greatest pain.'

The teacher said,
'Then listen,
You have taken the most difficult vow
You will have to bear a great burden –
And this is my injunction
You have to take back the kingdom as my trustee.
God has now made you
The trustee of the beggar,
A king yet a poor man.
All your kingly duties you will perform
As my work
You will have the kingdom
Without being its king'.

'My son, take my red robe
With my blessing -
Make this mendicant's scarf
Your royal flag.'
So said Ramdas
And his royal disciple
Remained seated on the river bank
With his head bowed
And crowded by myriad thoughts.
The cowherd stopped playing his flute,
The cattle returned to the fold
And beyond the other bank
The sun went down.

In a sad tune
Ramdas went on singing–
'Leaving me in this world clad like a king
Who are you who live behind!
O King,
Here are your shoes and your pedestal
And me as an offering –
It is already evening
How long will you keep me waiting
Please come to your kingdom!' 

Translation of the poem 'Pratinidhi' from the collection Katha by Rabindranath Tagore. The original is at


More By  :  Kumud Biswas

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