As I begin to write these words, its the beginning of a brand new day in my part of the world. The morning sun rays are slowly entering our apartment, and the smoke from my freshly lit incense stick gently wafts through the room like little clouds. I can see my feisty little puppy chewing on his bone by the rug and there is the smell of freshly brewed coffee in the air. It's a beautiful day, my heart feels full and my mind is enjoying perfect tranquility. Everything feels so real, so tangible and yet deep down I know that this too shall pass. Every moment arises and sets, always changing, always transforming and never static. To want to hold on to life is to miss life. To live life to the fullest, we need to learn to kiss each of life's moments as they fly and let them go. My childhood is rich with warm memories of growing up in a typical south Indian household in India and I consider myselfhugely blessed to have grown up with grandparents at home. I'm particularly grateful to have had a spiritually inclined grandfather who indulged me with so many stories worth savoring for a lifetime. Sitting next to my grandfather, I would lap up all of his stories and reflect on them later (to this day). One such story was particularly
instrumental in shaping the course of my life forever and igniting within me the desire for truth and to know thebasis of reality.
What follows is my re-telling of a rather well-known story, but from how I remember it in my mind over the course of many years. I first heard it from my grandfather when I was a teenager. My dear readers, please forgive me if you think that some of the details are not entirely accurate or match with what has been described in the original text. I would like you to view this story more like how you would look at painting and not a photograph. By recalling the story from my memory, I hope to give it the fragrance of my grandfather who is now but a distant memory for me. My grandfather was truly an extraordinary story teller. I hope to honor his memory through this narration. I hope this story in some way elevates your life as it did for me.
Me: Thatha (South Indian word for grandfather), yesterday when you were telling me the story of the Great Kurukshetra War, you mentioned that at one point Krishna reassures Arjuna that ultimately he (Arjuna), is not really responsible for doing anything or killing anyone in the truest sense of reality, because everything that he is experiencing is in fact the supreme Maya or the great illusion created by Sri Krishna. I thought about it and I don’t understand. I mean, Arjuna was not dreaming the war, I mean it was really happening right? So what does Krishna mean by illusion??
My grandfather chuckled and said to me : Wow, of all the things you heard in that story, that’s the point that you latched on to? good! It means that your eyes are starting to open! What Krishna is referring to is something far deeper and more significant than anything else in the story of Mahabharata, in fact this one idea is almost like the crux of the story expressed in one sentence
Me: Doesn’t make any sense whatsoever! Please explain why you think it’s so important.
Thatha: What Krishna is talking about is actually the difference between a saint and a normal person. The difference is virtually non-existent externally but internally there is an ocean of difference. You see child, a normal person mistakes that which is ultimately unreal for reality and while it’s the reverse with a saint. The saint sees everything in life as we see a movie, the screen is the only thing that is actually real there, the images projected onto the screen constantly are changing. We look at the screen and then get lost in the images that are projected. We laugh, we cry and we clap our hands when the hero is successful in defeating the villain and finally when the movie is over we get up and look at the empty screen again. That is also the example of the reality of life. So here Krishna is saying that he is the only thing that is real while everything in the story is like the passing images on a movie screen.
Me : I sort of get it, but thatha this concept of reality and illusion is too dense and abstract for me..
Thatha: Haha, don’t worry, let me tell you a story that will help you understand better
Me: Pls do! I’m all ears
Thatha: One day long after the Great War was over Krishna was taking a leisurely walk in the field of Kurukshetra and by his side was the great maharishi Naradha.
Naradha turned to Krishna: My lord, this day feels so calm and tranquil and yet it’s hard for me to even believe that this very ground on which we are now walking is where thousands upon thousands of people perished a only few years ago! It almost feels like a dream, so fascinating is the movement of life lord .
Krishna who was calmly listening in replied thus : Indeed Naradha, you of all people should know Maya and all of its intricacies, all of life’s movements are but my Maya swaroopa
Naradha was quiet for a moment and reflected on what he’d just heard and then asked a question: my lord, for me it’s all very clear, I can see through the veil of Maya very clearly and its so simple! However why is it that most people, even those who are well versed in the vedas get so deeply ensnared by Maya? It is baffling to me to be honest with you.
Krishna softly chuckled and replied: My dear Naradha, if you think you know all about my Maya, then I must tell you a little story that I think will hugely fascinate you, but if you wish to listen to it, would you first fetch me some water? Walking here on Kurukshetra, my throat feels a bit parched
Naradha: Anything for you my lord! I cannot believe my good fortune to hear a story on Maya right from your lips! Yes, please give me some time to go fetch you some water. I will be back shortly
Having said this Naradha left to find some water for Krishna. As he kept walking along the land, Naradha had underestimated just how barren Kurukshetra was and water was virtually non-existent! However, Naradha did not want to disappoint Krishna and was determined to find water at any cost for his beloved lord. Finally after what felt like almost an hour of walking, Naradha reached what looked like a tiny secluded village. He approached the first house he could find and knocked on the front door to ask the occupant for some water, which he could take back with him to Krishna. Slowly, he could hear the soft footsteps of someone approaching the door from within, he heard the familiar clicking sounds of the door-locks turning and then saw the door slowly open. Naradha was taken aback when he saw the person who opened the door. Standing before him was a young maiden, a woman of an otherworldly beauty, almost like a personification of the Devi herself. Naradha became instantly smitten by her that when she asked him who he was or how she could be of help to him, all he could say was:
I . . .I …well…er….I think I have somehow lost my way here my gracious lady, can you give me some water to drink ? ..
The woman replied: Oh great one, you look like a maharishi to me and to serve a noble soul like you is certainly my good fortune, please come inside, so I can wash your feet and serve you water.
Once Naradha stepped into that home, he could experience a beautiful fragrance emenating from that maiden. Her hair was adorned with champaka and punnaga flowers and her body radiated the scent of sandalwood paste. The maiden brought out a little footstool for Naradha to sit on and she started washing his feet and offering flowers to him. Soon from an adjoining room walked out an elderly man who introduced himself as the young woman’s father. The elderly father too was very much taken in by the aura of Naradha and with folded arms and with a voice choked in devotion addressed him as follows :
Oh great one, it is indeed our good fortune to have received a guest as noble as you in our little hamlet here. For years, I have patiently and lovingly brought up my daughter. I was once a pandit and I have imparted the knowledge of the vedas to my daughter and she is everything to me. I am old and frail now and before I can depart to the heavenly abode of my forefathers, my heart yearns to see the day my daughter is married off to a noble man. I want to make sure that she is settled in life before I go and so far I haven’t been able to meet a suitable man who will be worthy of her. However, sir seeing you here my heart is overcome with joy. You look like Indra himself and have the radiance of the sun and moon together! Please oh great one, I humbly prostrate before you to accept this frail dying fathers wish and marry my daughter.
Naradha was never in better spirits! He was already smitten and was also deeply impressed with her graciousness and her sense of bhakti towards him. It was as though he was having a chance to marry Sri Devi herself! He didn’t need a moment to think…he immediately accepted the offer!
The little house in the village was now overcome with joy! There was not a single pair of eyes there that weren’t moist with tears of joy. Naradha and the young maiden were married on the next auspicious full-moon day and the little village erupted in joy. Every single person in the village instantly took to Naradha and adored him as if he was their own son! Naradha had never tasted suh love or outpouring of joy from humans before. A day or two after the wedding all of the village elders together with Naradha’s now father in-law approached Naradha and said to him:
Oh great one, we haven’t had a single rain in these parts for a long time and once you entered our village, it’s been raining every other day and our lands have become lush with new life and even all of our livestock are happy and fresh milk runs through our community now like the river Jamuna herself. Please O great one, accept our humble request to remain in these lands permanently. We will see to that all your needs including your spiritual needs are met to your satisfaction.
Naradha’s heart was full. With eyes brimming with love and tenderness he addressed the gathering with a simple response: may your wish be mine as well. I will dwell here and make this village my home and together we will transform it into a place worthy of the gods. Cheers erupted from all directions and so the days rolled by one by one. Happy days turned to weeks and the weeks rolled into months and Naradha settled into a happily married life. He experienced marital bliss and was deeply in love with his wife. Everyday he would bring her fresh flowers Which adorned her hair and he affectionately called her Ambha. The sands of time however wait for no one. Before he knew it twelve long and blissful years had sped by. Naradha’s father in-law had long departed to the higher abodes and Naradha found himself to be the head of a household bustling with life and energy. He was now father to three young boys, with the third one being just a child of two years of age. Naradha by this time had established an ashram where he was seated as a guru in the community. Everyday he would expound on the vedas and instruct his growing number of disciples on the practice of worship and Vedic ceremonies. By his side was his wife and together they were the perfect pair. Never before had people seen two people so perfectly united with each other in love, nor had they seen a family so lovingly put together as theirs. Their children were model citizens of the village and their inner generosity and warmth and kindness rivaled that of their parents.
It was then on a night of ammavasya (the new moon), Naradha and his wife had just put the kids to bed and retired to rest themselves. Naradha’s wife turned to her husband and with a soft smile said: my love did you see how each of our little ones adoringly look up to you? Each one is competing with one another to become the next big vedic scholar. She said she felt very lucky to have found a husband like hers. Naradha responded : Ambha, it is truly I who is blessed to have found a companion like you. My life is indescribably enriched by you and the children, I am a blessed man indeed.
The couple then slowly dozed off into a restful slumber.
Naradha: WHAT’S THAT NOISE? .. What’s going On? … Ambha, please wake up..something is very wrong..Do you hear that sound?. Naradha frantically was trying to wake up his wife. He was awoken by a rather eerie noise coming from all around. At first a dead silence, It was the birds that woke Naradha up..from all directions Naradha could hear strange and melancholic sounds in the air, the birds were up at the dead of midnight and were frantically screeching. Soon followed the howling of wolves in the distant woods and then he felt it, a slow rumble in the earth. It felt as though an earthquake was imminent. Then more sounds erupted all over from all corners.
Villagers: PLEASE HELP US, JAMUNA IS ABOUT TO SWALLOW US ALL! THE PRALAYA IS UPON US, EVERYONE RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!.
Without warning due to the heavy rains of the preceding weeks, the river Jamuna had broken through all barriers and had flowed into the tiny village with the force and ferocity of a forest fire. It was as though lord Shiva was enacting his Mahathandava dance in all of his fury.
Naradha instantly rose up, fully alert and his wife was by his side ready to follow her husband’s lead and spring into action. Each parent grabbed one child by the hands and Naradha hoisted his third infant son into his shoulders and with nothing but each other, the parents and terrified children left home. As they were about to turn a corner barely a hundred feet away, they heard the unmistakable sound of crashing water with a bone crunching ferocity. Within seconds they were completely swamped.
Naradha said to his wife: Ambha, hold on to our son with all your power and remain steady on your feet..hold on to whatever support you can get! I’m coming right behind you. Naradha, who was struggling to catch up with one kid on his shoulders and another barely holding onto his hand. As Naradha struggled to put one foot in front of another he saw a sight, a gut wrenching sight. His second son who was holding on to his wife, within a flash of an eye somehow got released from her grip and in another flash was gone. Nowhere to be seen.
In agony Naradha screamed out : NO NO NO….This can’t be happening,
He then tried to run forward towards his wife. Alas, that act of haste would hold a cost too great for Naradha to bear. Almost instantly, he lost his footing and in trying to recover his balance, Naradha lost control over his eldest son and the child on his shoulders.
Father!! Father!! Please Help us!! .. he could barely hear his eldest son’s agonizing pleas and before he could even turn to see where they were, they too were gone, consumed by the ferocious floods.
Naradha next called out: Ambha, are you ok? I’m so sorry this has happened to us, a great misfortune has come to our doorstep, but I will not let you also slip away. Naradha yelled out into the dark night and tried to inch his way toward his wife. His once radiant face was now mangled and contorted with agony and tears flowed down his cheeks like a torrent and mingled with the flood waters below.
Naradhas wife slowly turned towards him: My love, I am stuck…my foot is completely wedged here and I cannot move and the water is rising!! Can you get here fast? That plea from his wife terrified Naradha and sickened him to the core.
In his desperation Naradha tried to use all of his tapas-derived power to keep the waters at bay from consuming his beloved wife, he desperately used various invocations and prayers to pacify mother nature but surprisingly was unable to do anything whatsoever! He was completely and utterly powerless. He then heard something that made him
dearly wish that he was deaf.
His wife’s voice fell on his ears like a dagger: My love, it’s ok, within a few moments the water will take me, there isn’t much time left for me, I’m so sad to think that I have to leave you, though I would much rather stay. Being your wife and having a family with you was the greatest blessing I could have ever had. Thank you! Thank you for loving me like you do and thank you for everything you have done for us my beloved. Please save yourself now, the world still needs you. I will now perform the final Kriya that you taught me and I will leave my body. Perhaps the almighty will see fit to unite us again someday in a different life …I love you…..
Naradha with a voice chocking in grief cried out: Ambha..no..no please..wait just a moment..no..no…this cant be happening
Naradha looked to the heavens and prayed: Oh lord Narayana, Lord Rudra, Lord Bhrama, ANYONE…PLEASE PLEASE SPARE MY BELOVED WIFE…SHE IS TOO DEAR TO ME..PLEASE TAKE ME INSTEAD…PLEASE HELP HER ……silence……just deathly silence….Naradha tried to move but his legs were like made of lead. He then beheld a sight that he would never forget. As the water level rose almost to the level of her nose his beloved wife locked eyes with him for a brief moment as if to bid him her final farewell and then slowly with the gracefulness of a newly opened flower she closed her eyes for the last time and she breathed in deeply a few times and then….silence….no more breath. She was gone. Even as Naradha was coming to terms with what she had just done, her untenanted body entered the raging waters and within a thrice, was no more to be seen by mortal eyes.
Naradha was beside himself with grief: No NO NOOOOOOO…..ambha…am…am…ambh… barely any sound left his vocal cords. Naradha’s grief was unbearable. He felt like his soul was torn into a million peices. Just a few hours ago he and his family had all retired to bed in perfect tranquility, looking forward to a beautiful new day and yet now those few hours seemed like a lifetime ago. In a matter of a few minutes Naradha
had lost literally everyone near and dear to him and he himself was barely holding on for dear life.
With extreme grief and rage he uttered: CURSE YOU VILE RIVER! YOU HAVE TAKEN EVERYTHING FROM ME, WHY SPARE ME? TAKE ME TOO! OH LORD BRAHMA, I HEREBY INVOKE ……Naradha?……..ALL THE FRUITS OF MY TAPAS AND I WILL PLUNGE MY…….Naradha?…….LIFE FORCE INTO YOU …I NO LONGER WISH TO BE PHYSICALLY INCARNATED, THIS WORLD IS BUT A CURSE! “…..Naradha? .
Who is that??? Whose voice am I hearing?? Naradha was confused…what’s going on here? He heard it again: sssshhhhh…..breathe……..Naradha, slowly breathe….just breathe . Naradha closed his eyes and just obeyed the instruction. The voice seemed soothing and calm. It was like a warm balm being applied to his shredded heart. Yet oddly familiar it seemed but he still couldn’t recognize it fully yet.
My dear Naradha, did it seem a little too real to you? You wished to understand how most people get so deeply ensnared by Maya and instead of me telling you I just wanted to give you an experience of it, so that you will have more compassion for the masses who are in it all the time. Now my dear Naradha, do you understand the power of my Maya ?
Everything came rushing back to him like as if a bomb went off in his mind, He turned his head up and exclaimed: Hare Krishna! Oh my lord..is this all your Maya?? Have I been simply in an illusion all this time? Where am I? Rather When am I?? It seemed so real…so absolutely real…
Krishna: You left me to fetch water a little less than an hour ago and you stopped by this rock to rest a bit and this is where I found you resting and I decided it’s time to wake you up!
My dear reader, did this story seem a little too real for you as well? If you felt a surge of emotion at Naradha’s plight, then you too have experienced the power of Maya. As they say the devil is in the details. What makes the power of Maya so supreme are all the little things that add color to our life story. It is the small things that all add up one by one to weave the great and grand illusion called Maya. If you have not been able to break the spell just yet, take heart in knowing that even the great rishi Naradha also found it difficult!
Wishing you all a blessed day ahead!