CHAPTER – 16
Namadharaka said, “Sir, the more I listen your account of Sree Guru’s divine acts, the more I long to hear further”. The zeal of Siddha was whetted by the former’s noble yearning and he went on: “Son, at Mahurapura, there lived a wealthy Brahmin named Gopinath. However much he could live in luxury and comfort, he was as depressed as though he had no cause for happiness; for he was not blessed with children at all. In fact, several children were born to him, but some of died soon after their birth, while the rest expired after living for a few days. With a keen desire for offspring, they took to the worship of Lord Dattatreya. After sometime, he was blessed with a son who survived. In gratitude to the Lord, they named him Datta. Under the lavish affection of the parents, the child grew up to be a handsome boy, endowed with all noble qualities. He was distinguished for his cultured mind and his peaceful demeanour. In the joy of bringing up the sweet boy, the parents forgot all the former grief. The boy soon grew up, like the moon in the brighter half of the month.
When Datta attained the age of eight, his parents performed his sacred-thread ceremony at an auspicious hour and put him on the course of Vedic studies. After he attained the age of 16, he was married to a girl name Savitri who was well-matched to him in beauty and noble qualities. Like the mythical divine pair Rathi and Manmatha they were bound to each other with the strongest ties of mutual love and devotion. They were a passionate pair like the pair of mythical Chakravaaka birds, and were unable to bear the briefest separation from each other. They trod the path of righteousness, being prompted by the utmost care for each other’s welfare. Such was her zeal in the service of her beloved that any number of hours of the hardest work did not tire Savitri in the least. She could not bear to be separated from him even for a short while. In his absence, such comforts, luxuries and things of beauty like the flowers, the silvery light of the full moon, ornaments and even delicious food, proved unbearable to her as she could not share them with him. Flower garlands were like thorns to her and delicious food was like poison.
As though the wicked goddess Fortune could not bear the sight of their perfect pair love and harmony for so long, young Datta was afflicted with tuberculosis. His parents were very anxious about his deteriorating health and tried all kinds of medical treatment they could provide. But, to their utter disappointment, nothing seemed to help. Finally, all medical men declared that his ailment was incurable. As days and months passed, young Datta was getting pale and emaciated, even like the moon waning towards the approach of the new-moon day. All the time, he was very much troubled by incessant shortness of breath, cough and phlegm. In addition to the disease, the young man was very much worried (about the happiness and health of his young wife and her bleak future if he were to die). This worry further beclouded his vitality. Soon he was reduced to a bundle of bones with hardly any flesh. Young Savitri too was very much worried about his condition and lost all her appetite and sleep. She could not bear to eat or sleep more than her beloved did and soon she too was reduced physically and mentally into a mere shadow of her husband. The fetid smell that emanated from poor Datta was unbearable and even the physicians who treated him. No one except him wife could bear to be by his bedside, or to attend upon him in any other manner. All the time, she was immersed heart and soul in keeping him as clean and comfortable as possible, by applying the finest scents to his foul-smelling body, massaging his aching limbs and administering medicine at the appointed hours. Besides, she arranged for special prayers and worship for his recovery, with the help of learned priests. She even gave away valuable gifts to pious and the poor for the love of God. But in spite of all this, the terrible disease did not abate even by a hair’s breadth. Only the zeal of Savitri in the observance of the vow of Paativratya was growing more and more intense, as days passed. Everyone who came to see and console the unfortunate couple and the aged parents of Datta said the jealous Fortune was working havoc with their life of happiness and love. Unable to bear the sight of happy countenance of young Savitri in the prime of her youth, wicked Fortune, they said, has chosen to eclipse her radiant moon-like face.
Gopinath and his wife, in the forenoon of their life, could not bear the sight of their sinking son and, what was worse, the plight of the young daughter-in-law. Having despaired of his recovery and even of his survival, they felt it cruel to permit the young house wife to subject herself to such a terrible ordeal as serving her sick husband. They warned her to keep away from him and protect herself from the pestilent and pernicious infection, but she would not relent. Her young husband’s health being so helplessly consumed by the raging disease, she felt she had nothing else to safeguard and protect, not even her health, beauty or life.
At last, one day, young Datta said to his parents, choking with sorrow, “This fell disease that consumes me must be the result of my wicked deeds in a former life. As such, I shall bear it stoically with fortitude and patience, and accept the proper culmination. Henceforth, you need not worry on my account in the least”. Turning to his young wife, he said, “In a previous life, I must have been your sworn enemy, wreaking my vengeance in this fashion. It is time you accept truth and forsake me. Go home to your parents and try to live as happily as you can and forget all about me”. The tender heart of the young housewife broke out in unrestrained sorrow and she said, amidst tears, in a choking voice: “You are the Lord of my life, master of my destiny and the only joy of my life. I have none beside you to live for. For a true wife, her husband is everything, but not her parents. I can no longer live as a separate individual; the moment I leave your company, the spark of life will no longer hold my soul and body together. My deserting you will thus amount to my committing suicide, which is said to be the most unpardonable of sins from which I shall never be saved.
There still haunts in the innermost recesses of my being, the hope that divine mercy is all-powerful and can work the seemingly impossible miracle of saving your life for my sake. I firmly believe that the more I heartily exert myself in your service, and consume the brightness of my countenance in loving watchfulness in your attendance, the brighter the vital spark in you will grow. I believe that of God blesses a soul which is drowning in the ocean of misery, it shall, in a trice, be transported to the very pinnacle of joy and health. Such a Merciful Lord is indeed only refuge and he is all powerful.”
With a stern resolve, she then humbly bowed and touched the feet of Datta’s parents in reverence and said: “I learn that at Gandharvapura lives a saint, a very holy and powerful sannyasi named Sree Nrisimha Saraswathi. Something tells me from within that with his blessing and grace, my beloved will once again be restored to his former health and strength. If you accord your kind permission, I shall take my husband there. Gopinath and his wife too discovered a new strength and hope in her words and said: ‘If you have such unflinching faith, do take him there at the earliest possible. May the Lord bless you’. The young couple once more bowed to them, received their blessing and at once started on their final enterprise.
The noble lady Savitri took all possible care to conduct her husband comfortably to Gandharvapura. She arranged a soft-cushioned palanquin for him and instructed the bearers to walk slowly and steadily so as not to jolt her ailing lord. She lovingly held him against soft pillows and walked beside the palanquin. After trekking like this for several days, across hills and forests, the party reached the neighbourhood of their holy destination. But to her utter disappointment, she found that her husband was dead! Her only hope being thus thwarted and the only basis of her existence knocked out, she found nothing to live for. With the flames of suppressed grief raging in her heart like a volcano, she took the final resolve to end her own life too. The natives of that place who were helpless witnesses of her dire misfortune, had some how managed to dissuade her from such a precipitate act of despair. She was shocked to the very core of her being and did not know what else she should do next. Such a forlorn existence seemed utterly meaningless and unbearable for her. Soon the imprisoned grief burst out thus in loud wailing:
‘My dear, why have you deserted me like this? Wither have you left? If you do not return to this body and give us cheer and comfort, neither your father, mother nor I, your dear wife, can survive and you will incur the sin of killing us all. Is it not said in the Sastras that if you have no sons, your sacred debt to your ancestors would go un discharged? Besides, you have not even instructed me as to where I should spend the remaining days of my widowed life. What is more, how can I see your parents with my widowed countenance? Now that I am a widow, people henceforth consider the very sight of my face as ill omen. Alas! My plight is like that of a creature which has come to a river to slake it thirst but which is, instead, devoured by a cruel crocodile on its very banks! Or like a weary traveler who was crushed to death by the sudden fall of a tree underneath which he sought to repose; or like a cow that, having come to gaze, was killed by a tiger; or like a devotee who was crushed to death by the fall of the shrine to which he came to seek divine protection. I have come for the darshan of Sree Guru and to seek his protection for my ailing husband, but I lost my husband even as I approached the place!
O! Sree Guru, fearing that you will be constrained to grant health for my ailing husband, have you chosen to rob him of his life’s spark even sooner? If you mean that it is not in your power to ward off my husband’s fell disease, to whom else shall we turn for protection? Have you achieved any greatness or glory by such a deed as this? Now I shall carry the news of this great achievement of yours to the other worlds. O Mother, goddess Gouri, have you chosen to forget all my vows which I assiduously observed all through my life in your honour? What has happened to your power and mercy that can annihilate the misfortune of widowhood? Alas, all the suspicious signs of a house-wife have been heartlessly robbed from me by death. As the ship of my life danced blissfully on the bosom of the ocean of life, the terrible whale called death has gulped the very bark of my holiness as a housewife’. Wailing thus, she again and again recalled every word and gesture of her late dear husband and sank ever deeper in grief and fell on his cold, dead body in boundless fondness.
As Savitri thus was lost in the depths of grief, an ascetic wearing rudrakshas and vibhuti, and holding a trident in his hand, with long matted hair, approached her from among the crowd and addressed her thus: ‘My daughter, why do you wail so sorely? Quiet yourself! Don’t you know that the dead will never return despite all our grief and wailing? After all, death is natural to all creatures and our worldly relations are only tentative and transcient. It is like two birds coming together on a tree for a night’s rest and the next morning, each of them goes its own way. So too, souls come together in this life just by an accidental coincidence of circumstances. Such indeed is the relationship of a wife and her husband too. Else, if there be any abiding relationship between the two, you should be able to say whose wife you were in your previous life. If you reflect deeply, you will realize that no one in this world is essentially related to any other in any manner whatsoever. For, the spirit within us which is our essential Self, is all pervading, beyond birth and death. When it is associated with the physical structure made of the five material elements, it loses sight of its true nature and wrongly identifies itself as an individual and claims someone as it husband and some other as its father and so on. When, you consider deeply, you will at once realize that all such feelings and emotions are merely our mental creations, projected by our basic ignorance.
In itself, the individual soul is without form. When it is associated with the three modes of nature, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, the soul is individualized. It falsely identifies itself with the material structure which it enlivens, and thus gets caught in the web of joys and sorrows. But when you consider these with discrimination, it will be clear to you that the birth of the body is not the birth of the soul, nor does the death of the body constitute the death of the soul. When an individual is endowed with a perfect intellect, he will be able to penetrate beneath the web of illusion and thereby break it as under. Such a one will no longer be subject to any kind of sorrow. One may mistake a flower garland for a snake in semi-darkness but once a light is fetched to examine it, that illusion ceases and the true nature of garland is revealed. Similarly, till one attains true wisdom, the phenomena of birth and death seem real and, in its turn, the soul seems to be subject to the pairs of life experiences like joy and sorrow. Therefore, one must pull together one’s own intellectual strength of steadfast understanding and thus cross the delusion of sorrow and suffering once and forever. Such a crisis in life as this is the most opportune occasion for it. If, by our inadvertence, we let slip the priceless opportunity, namely, this human birth, it is hardly possible to get such another again’.
Grief-stricken Savitri passively listened to his discourse and when he concluded, she put forth her own argument: ‘I have set out on the long trek to this place, leaving all my kith and kin at home, in great hope of my husband’s recovery. But even on the way, he breathed his last. Now I am utterly helpless and you are my only guide. Show me a way out of my dire calamity!’
The compassionate Sadhu replied, ‘A devoted wife needs no complex form of Sadhana or spiritual discipline to attain the true object of life i.e., wisdom of the Self. Loving service of and devotion to her husband is in itself the supreme path for her. Sage Brihaspathi has taught thus: “The whole of the phenomenal existence will come under the control of a Pativrata. The lady who every attends on her husband like a shadow and serves him with all her love and looks upon such loving service of self-dedication as her spiritual vow; she who, in loving reverence, spontaneously partakes of the washings of her husband’s feet as the holy water of Ganga and cannot relish any food other than her husband’s left over as consecrated food; she who receives his orders as the holy writ, such a one never loses her composure whenever he gets angry, but on the other hand, calms him down with all the love she can command. Such a one is Pativrata. There is nothing she cannot accomplish in this world. Such a one never fritters her precious time in light and frivolous courtesy-calls on her neighbours and acquaintances. She never communicates anything to her own kith and kin without the knowledge of her husband. Even if he happens to be weak, poor or even given to immoral ways, such a Pativrata never wavers in her faith that he is the embodiment of the divine, but serves him accordingly. The customary and auspicious accessories of a housewife like turmeric and kumkum are to her the most precious and dear ornaments. For, they are said to be the most conducive to her husband’s well being. She knows no comfort of her own beside his happiness and comfort. On the other hand, a woman who opposes and contradicts her husband will be born in her next life as a bitch. A housewife who abuses him will be born as an owl. She who cares to appease her palate with delicious food of her own liking and is unmindful of her husband’s tastes will be born as a pig. The wife who speaks angrily and harshly to her husband will be born dumb in her next birth. She who threatens and warns her husband will be reborn as a tigress. An adulterous and unfaithful wife will be reborn as a worm or insect.
My daughter, Sastras lay down that the ideal duty of a housewife on the death of her husband is Sahagamana i.e., putting and end to her own physical existence through self-immolation on the funeral pyre of her husband. Or, as an alternative, she may live on, strictly observing the vows of widowhood: it consists in shaving off her hair, sleeping on bare earth, taking food only during the day and abstaining from the use of such luxuries as the betel and nut, and the use of materials enjoined by the Sastras for a housewife. She must wear only a white garment at all times. During the holy months of Kaarthik, Maagha and Visaakha, taking the special holy bath everyday, and observing the vow of Chaandraayana, she must spend the rest of her life in listening to devotional accounts of the divine acts of the Lord. She must scrupulously protect her chastity and also her natural charms from the notice of others. I have just recounted to you only the regulations that were laid down by Sage Brihaspathi. You may choose Sahagamana if you like. For, thereby you will be able to save your husband from the kingdom of death (yamaloka) and elevate him along with you to heaven. Even the gods will honour and obey the wish of such a great Pativrata.”
Savitri listened attentively and said, ‘Revered Sir, I am in the prime of my youth and hence it is safer for me to perform Sahagamana.’ The sadhu was very much pleased and said: “Pious one, you have well said. As you have come a long way for the darshan of Sree Guru, first of all, pay your respects to him. Then take a holy dip in the river, put on a clean garment and then give away the materials that should be used by a housewife to pious couples as tokens of your heartfelt repentance for the sins of a former life which have brought you now to such a plight. Take these rudrakshas and wear them round your neck. Take this holy ash and apply it to your body. Then besprinkle your late husband’s body with the holy washings of Sree Guru’s feet. And then perform Sahagamana’. So saying, he gave her some rudrakshas and holy ash and then went away.
Then, accordingly, Savitri gave away the said gifts to pious Brahmin couples and then said to her companions: “Go home! Henceforth, Parameswara (Lord Shiva) and his consort, goddess Parvati, are my parents. I shall join them only, but don’t divulge to the aged parents, of my sad calamity. Else, they would at once die of the grief. Tell them that both of us are faring well here”.
After sending them away, she picked up the fire for her husband’s funeral and her own Sahagamana and boldly walked at the head of the bearers of the dead body. With all her beauty of youth, and steadfast religious devotion to her late husband, which informed her moral courage and zeal to commit Sahagamana, she looked like Parvati of yore, proceeding for her tapas to win the hand of Lord Shiva in eternal union of marriage. All the amazed spectators marveled at her boldness and paativratya. They felt that she who had not fully enjoined the bliss of wedded life and who is still in the bloom of her youth was surely blessed in that she is sure to uplift even her entire race in public esteem. They accordingly glorified her virtue. She arrived at the cremation ground, bowed before the sacred fire and duly worshipped the housewives who had assembled there. Then she reflected deeply on the teaching of the sadhu and wore the rudrakshas round her neck. She then besmeared her body with the holy ash given by the sadhu and took the blessing and permission of the Vedic pundits. Chanting verses in praise of Sree Guru, she then proceeded to the Sangama. All along the way, she mentally addressed Sree Guru thus:
‘O thou Supreme Spirit! You are the bestower of everything, the owner and Lord of Creation, the sole refuge of all pious souls, and the ocean of mercy. You are manifest as the holy Trinity. Hitherto, countless mortals like me have been getting all their wishes fulfilled, just by an iota of thy grace. Now I too shall fulfill my object and take your fame even to the very heaven. Till now, many dead people were raised, restored to health by the power of thy presence. Many that were caught up in terrible crises could thus win wealth and the ignorant ones gained knowledge. In such a holy place as this, today, I shall attain spiritual identity with you, along with my husband, through Sahagamana.’ Glorifying the Lord in this fashion, she quickly arrived at the Sangama and bowed to the divine feet of Sree Guru.
Sree Guru greeted her with a smile and blessed her saying, ‘May you be blessed with a long life of a housewife; may you give birth to eight children who would become as famous as the Astha Vasus!’ The assembly of devotees who were all amazed at the impossible blessing, and compassionately informed him of the young lady’s plight. Sree Guru said, in a stern voice: ‘My word shall never go in vain! Fetch the dead body here!’ in the meanwhile some Vedic pundits arrived and worshipped the Master, chanting Rudra mantras. Soon after, the dead body was fetched and kept on the ground in front of him. Sree Guru cast a searching glance at it, muttered the Rudra mantras and sprinkled holy water on it. At once it was revived and young Datta sat up like one awakened from deep sleep! Young Savitri was beside herself with joy and wonder. Her eyes filled with tears of joy, she at once prostrated to Sree Guru, ran up to her dear husband and recounted to him all that happened. Datta too was immensely happy and he, along with his wife, heartily glorified the divinity of Sree Guru. All the people who had gathered there loudly hailed the Master.
However, one among the crowd was jealous and cunning in his skepticism. He wryly remarked: ‘Why glorify this sannyasi? God’s decree that was subtly written on the brow of Datta is being realized at the proper time; he came back to life only as per that divine writ. How can this sannyasi be now credited with such a miracle?’ Sree Guru turned to the man and said: ‘In fact, the Creator had ordained only thirty years as the span of Datta’s life in the present birth. He shall live a hundred years in his next birth. Now I have exchanged the one for the other, so that Datta can live for 100 years in this life and only for 30 years in his next birth.’ So saying, by his mere look, he granted the mystical knowledge of three-fold time to this skeptic and enabled him to see for himself, that original divine writ of the Creator. When the man was convinced, all the people around, once again hailed Sree Guru. The latter turned to he happy young couple and blessed them saying, ‘May you live long together with wealth and universal fame!’ Pleased with the blessing, the young pair took their holy bath at the Sangama and duly worshipped the Master. Just then, the sun set. The Master attended to his twilight prayers and returned to his muth, with the devotees.