There are times, when you come upon a thing of the past, which you had misplaced or lost, and suddenly out of the blue you find it and you jump with joy. It was with similar joy that I greedily grabbed the book proffered by my dad when he visited me recently. The book in question is a well-thumbed copy of Maha Bhakta Vijayam, a collection of stories from the life of great poets like Thyagaraja and Purandaradasar and other religious masters. The book was first published in 1952 by The Little Flower Company
I have fond memories of this book as it belonged to my beloved Patti, and who left it with my mom to feed her ‘hungry for story’ children. The story I have given today is my Patti’s favorite. I remember her telling this story each time we asked for one and she finished, we would say, “you have already told us this story tell another one” and she would oblige with a smile. This Gokulashtami as I welcomed Krishna into our home, I thought I would retell this favorite of Radha patti, to whom I dedicate this story.
In the small village called Vemannapuri, near Pandharpur, there lived a man by name Madhav Rao and his wife Rathnabai. They were blessed with a son after a long time, who they named Raghunath and they lavished their love on him. Just like his father, Raghunath was well versed in the arts and did well in his studies. When he grew up, his parents set him up with a pawn shop and also got him married to a girl Lakshmi bai.
After marriage, the couple lived happily. Raghunath’s business prospered and so did his greed. He charged exorbitant rates of interest to those he loaned money. He stopped charity work and if anyone reminded him of how his father was such a charitable person, they had to face his wrath.
His wife shed tears silently and was unable to talk any sense into him. They were soon blessed with a daughter who they named Rukmanibai. But even the birth of his daughter did not bring about any change in his activities.
One day, an old man who was passing by Vemannapuri enquired about Raghunath’s pawn shop. To those who asked him why he was looking for Raghunath, the old man answered that he needed financial help.
Some people even told the old man that if he needed money he should go to someone else and not Raghunath as he was not a good lender. The old man did not bother but finally reached the shop.
Seeing the old man in his tattered clothes, Raghunath brusquely told him “I am very busy, tell me what you want.”
The old man in reply took a lemon from his bag and after saying some prayers gave the lemon to Raghunath., who took it thinking that it is not for loan but for charity this man had visited him.
The old man then in a very polite voice told him that he needed thousand gold coins in donation to conduct his son’s wedding.
Raghunath was livid, he said “You don’t know about this business where there is no money for me. I don’t even get food to eat.” But the old man began giving a lecture about the country which had such great men and it was not wise on his part not do some charity at least.
Raghunath in his anger pushed the old man by the scruff of his neck. But the old man retaliated and both of them rolled in the dusty road. Raghunath finally pushed him away and ran into his shop.
Meanwhile, the old man dusted himself and walked over to Raghunath’s house thinking how his wife would welcome him.
Lakshmibai saw the old man and respectfully bade him to sit. The old man sat down and told her about what happened between him and her husband. He told her that he needed thousand gold coins urgently.
Lakshmibai was filled with sorrow that her husband had behaved in this way with such an old man and wondered how she could help him. She took her diamond nose-ring and told the old man that if he could sell it, he would get about three thousand gold coins and that he should leave quickly to the next village, lest her husband returned. The old man thanked her and left.
Meanwhile, a rich man entered the shop and showed Raghunath, a diamond nose ring. Raghunath valued it and said he could give the trader about thousand gold coins and not a penny more. The trader got angry, haggled a bit and then agreed for thousand. But Raghunath had a nagging doubt that the nose ring belonged to his wife. On the pretext of getting the money from home, he made the trader sit in the shop and went home.
Lakshmibai was scared that her husband would ask about the nose ring. Likewise, Raghunath asked her to bring the nose ring. She went inside and put on the act of searching for the nose ring in her box. She prayed to Krishna to help her in her time of need. Suddenly she noticed that in a corner of the box a tiny nose ring shined on her. She was surprised, but took it to her husband thanking Krishna for his timely help.
As soon as he took the nose ring, Raghunath knew that it was not his wife’s nose ring. Promising that he would not yell at her he asked her to tell how she got this superior nose ring.
Lakshmibai related how she had donated it to the old man. Raghunath knew it was Krishna who had come and he had not realized it. He went with Lakshmibai to his shop but the trader had left. There were a few flower petals in his place.
He realized how he had brought misfortune on several families by charging higher interests. He began focusing on turning over a new leaf. He gave away all his hoarded wealth to the needy and became a devotee of Krishna. Later, he became known as Purandaradasar, which is for another day.
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