Normally, a Varta contains the anecdotes from the life of a single Vaishnav. In this instance, the lives of Padmanabhji, Tulasa, Parvatiji and RaghuNathdasji have been grouped together as "one varta" because it reflects on the great devotion to the Lord from members of the same family - the family of Shri Padmanabhdasji.
Story No. 1 Padmanabhdasji was a renowned orator of Purans in the medieval city of Kanoj. So many people came to hear him at his own home, that he never had to leave his home to earn any money. When Acharya Shri Mahaprabhuji visited Kanoj, Padmanabhji visited him to pay his respects to him. Hearing Shri Vallabh recite the Bhagvat Puran, he was convinced that Shri Acharya was the Lord incarnate. He requested the Lord to make him his disciple. Graceful as he was, Shri Mahaprabhuji accepted him as his disciple and gave him the sacred brahmasambandha.
Later, during a personal audience with Shri Mahaprabhuji, Acharya Shri recited a shloka to him, which, in essence means, "One should not make money by selling the Lord's name. Lord's name should only be taken to gain His love." Reciting Shri Bhagvat Puran to make money comes in to this category. Being intelligent, Padmanabhdasji realised that this was Acharyaji's way of pointing out his mistakes and so took a vow never to recite any Purans to make money ! Shri Vallabh was taken aback by the suddenness of his new disciple's vow. "Padmanabh, if you do this, how will you make any money ? This is your livelihood ! True, you should not recite the Bhagvatam to make money, but you are allowed, by laws of the scriptures, to make money by reciting Itihaas (ancient histories) such as MahaBharata." But, Padmanabhji was unswerving in his resolve. He decided not to make any more money by telling kathas.
As a householder, he had no choice but to earn something to feed his family, so he decided to follow the traditional occupation of his caste and went to his Yajman (his chief host and financial supporter in the community) for some money. His Yajman was very honoured to receive such a distinguished brahmin in his house. With the greatest of respect, he gave Padmanabhdasji all the wealth he desired. But, Padmanabhji was perturbed that he was making money by the virtue of his caste, and no other merit of his own. This sort of high class begging was far too hurtful for his high morals.
When he decided to give up this sort of living, once again, Shri Mahaprabhuji, ever concerned about the spiritual and material well being of his disciples, asked him, how would he support his family now ? Once again, thinking of how to carry out his duties as a householder, without breaking the laws of the scriptures, he decided to start a business to support his family. He would sell cowry shells, wood etc to make enough money to provide the basic needs of the family. So great was his devotion to the Lord and the scriptures, that he left the life of luxury and etched out a meagre living rather than disobey the Lord.
Once, he asked Shri Mahaprabhuji to show him the greatness of the Lord Shri Krshna. Ever compassionate, Shri Vallabh asked him to visit him in Vraj to satisfy his ultimate desire. Ever obedient, Padmanabhji visited his Guruji in Vraj to witness and experience the greatness of the Lord. In Vraj, on the banks of the river Yamunaji, there is a small clearing in the forest near Mahavan, called Ramanrati. It is here that the gopies recited their famous Gopigeet and played raas with the Lord. When visiting this area with his Guruji, Padmanabhji saw a cliff face slide into the river and an enormous form of the Lord was revealed !! This form was as tall as 7 tala trees ! and it encompassed the entire Vraj and all the favourite sakhies of the Lord. Seeing the Lord in all his magnificence, Shri Vallabh said, "My Lord, in this age of Kali, this form of you is too great for anyone to worship ! Please reduce this form to a size more suitable for seva in this Yuga." Ever merciful, the Lord reduced his form to make it easy for Padmanabhji to worship Him. As this form encompassed the entire Vraj and the Lord's beloved companions, Shri Vallabh called Him "MathuraNathji" and gave Padmanabhji instructions on how to worship him. Padmanabhji returned to Kanoj with this great image of the Lord.
Story No.2 At one time, Shri Mahaprabhuji was in Prayag and Shri Gosaiji was at Adel, a few miles down the river from him. At night, Shri Mahaprabhuji decided that he needed to speak to Shri Gosaiji on an urgent matter. He asked Padmanabhji to go to Adel and return with Shri Gosaiji. Without a single question, he obeyed this command and came to the river to find a boat to ferry him across the river. Despite the fact that it was a dark night and all the boatmen had gone home, Padmanabhji found that a young boy was waiting for him at the ghat. He willingly ferried Padmanabhji across the river and even waited for him while he fetched Shri Gosaiji and rowed them back to Prayag. Before they could pay him, the young boy and his boat disappeared into the night mist.
When the other devotees heard about the incidence, they remonstrated that Padmanabhji had caused the Lord Shri Nathji much trouble by his behaviour !! By making the Lord thus come and ferry him across the river and back, he had made the Lord work for him !! But, Padmanabhji did not retaliate. He retained his composure and kept quite on the subject. On hearing that the other Vaishnavs were taunting Padmanabhji, Shri Mahaprabhuji himself came to his defence and told them that Padmanabhji had acted in perfect accordance with His orders. He had carried out his duty to the perfect satisfaction of his Guruji. The Lord Shri Nathji had requested this meeting, and so He organised the ferrying of Shri Gosaiji and his devotee. There was nothing wrong with what Padmanabhji did and to remonstrate him was unfair and against the spirit of being an obedient shishya (student/ devotee).
Story No.3 A merchant once joined the group that was travelling with Shri Mahaprabhuji and accompanied him to Kanoj. But, instead of joining him in Kanoj, he decided to strike a camp outside of the town. However, that day, at midday, he ran to Padmanabhdasji's house seeking aid and assistance in an urgent voice. Whilst outside of town, some highwaymen robbed him of all his goods and he now wanted Shri AcharyaCharan to help him regain his wealth. Padmanabhdasji had just cooked the afternoon meal for the Acharyaji and was concerned that if the merchant told his tale to the Acharyaji or made too much noise with his whining, Mahaprabhuji will get upset and not eat his meal.
Taking the man aside, he asked him if he would leave in peace if he got enough money to compensate him for the goods he lost to the robbers. The man was a merchant ! He did not care how he got his money, if Padmanabhdasji was able to help him, he would not care to approach Shri Acharya for help !! Padmanabhdasji took the man to a moneylender and compensated him with money for the value of the goods he lost. Padmanabhdasji asked the moneylender to formalise the arrangement by writing down the amount of money he had borrowed on behalf of the merchant and also the details of interest he would have to pay. The moneylender was happy to take Padmanabhdasji's word on the transaction, but Padmanabhdasji insisted on having everything written down on paper so that it was all above board and legally confirmed.
When Shri Mahaprabhuji heard of this, he was upset on behalf of Padmanabhdasji and asked him why he took on such a large debt for a merchant who was a total stranger for them all. " Padmanabhdas, had you taken out an insurance against the loss of this merchant's goods ? Why have you taken on this debt when you have no real means of paying off this debt ?"
Padmanabhdasji, with due humility replied, "My Lord, if that man had disturbed your lunch, I would not have forgiven myself. Even if I have to sell myself to serve you, I would do so gladly, again and again ! This merchant, is a traveller. He goes around the country, trading from one town to another. If he spreads a tale that he was robbed whilst travelling with you, this would do you great injustice, but would damage your good name none-the-less. Now, having regained his wealth with relative ease, he will happily tell all and sundry about the great good fortune he had of travelling with you, and how, having lost all his wealth, he regained it by the virtue of having had you as his travel companion. This sort of publicity of your good name can not be bought for love or money ! I have done this to preserve the good of my Guru, and it is as should be, for I am your most dutiful servant. Money is easy to earn and easy to loose. My Guruji's honour is above all the wealth of this world."
Impressed by this answer, Shri Vallabh still pressed him for more clarification. " Padmanabhdas, how can you take on a debt on your head when there is no guarantee of living long enough to pay it off ! How do you intend to achieve liberation with a debt on your head ?"
Padmanabhdasji bowed low and said, "The Lord is sure to find a way to do all that is necessary for me to merge with him. What is impossible for the Lord ? This debt is but a minor detail in the big plan of things. Please do not worry about these minor money matters. Your peace and happiness are far more precious to me than anything else in this world."
After Shri Vallabh had resumed his journey, Padmanabhji went to a king and offered to recite Mahabharta to him and his court. So excellent was the recitation, and so graphic was his portrayal of the great battle, that all the participants in the katha had to leave their weapons outside katha pavilion, just in case they started to kill each other in the heat of things ! Indeed, the king and his court were so roused by the rendition about the battle that many started to fight with their bare hands ! The king was highly impressed by the oratory and skill of Padmanabhdasji. He offered him a huge amount of money as a donation for having recited the Mahabharata so wonderfully to him and his court. But, Padmanabhdasji refused to take the money personally. He showed the king the contract letter from the moneylender and asked him to pay off the debt, with interest as stated in the original contract. The king was more than happy to pay off the debt and pay much more on top, but, Padmanabhdasji refused to take any extra money. He was satisfied enough to have his debt paid off, extra money was of no interest to him. He believed 100% in the Lord's ability to look after his devotees. What need had he to store wealth, when his Lord was the Lord of all the wealth in the universe !!!!! So strong was his belief in the words of the Lord, as stated in the works of Shri Mahaprabhuji (VivekDhairyAshraya, Siddhant Rashasya etc), Vedas, Purans and the Upnishadas (Shrimad BhagvadGeeta etc), that he was willing to live by them rather than just preach them to the world at large.
Story No.4 Padmanabhji had two daughters and a son. His eldest daughter, Tulasa, was widowed at a very young age. Padmanabhji decided to marry his second daughter to a devotee of the Lord Vallabh. Some vaishnavas recommended a young brahmin from the Sanadhya community. Hearing that he was a Vaishnav, Padmanabhji decided to marry his daughter to him, despite the fact that his caste members may not approve of him marrying outside their community. Everyone in the family, including his elder daughter, voiced their concern about this out of community marriage, but, Padmanabhji was steadfast in his resolve.
When Tulsa pressed the point a bit too far, Padmanabhji asked her to first cut off his thumb and than announce the breakage of the engagement ! Seeing the astonishment on Tulsa's face, he said "It is with his thumb that I have applied the auspicious vermilion mark on the boy's forehead, and thus formally agreed on this engagement. If you cut off this relationship, you might as well cut off the thumb that sealed the agreement ! Shri Mahaprabhuji has taught us to be one - i.e., be Vaishnavs. These divisions of caste and community are alien to the creed of Pushti. I will wed my daughter to a Vaishnav of good conduct, because, he is of the Pushti Marg community. That to me is more important than any other worldly caste or community." So staunch a Vaishnav was he that he braved the disapproval of his community in order to live by the teachings of the Acharyaji.
Story No.5 A lady from the warrior caste started to visit their home on a regular basis for the darshan of the Lord. However, Tulasa felt that the lady was not coming to the darshan for darshan sake only. So, one day, she inquired as to why the lady was coming so regularly to their house. Honest enough, the lady said, "Shri Padmanabhji is a great man. Being a truly compassionate Vaishnav, I am sure he will bless me with a child. Please ask him to plead on my behalf and I am sure the Lord will than grant me a child."
Tulsa felt sorry for the lady. She was in the presence of the Universal Lord (MathuraNathji) and all she could ask for was a child ! A child that would tie her ever more to this world of maya and emotional entanglements. Being a true Vaishnav, she could see, and indeed feel, the social and emotional pain of the skhatriya woman. In those days, a childless woman was shunned in the community. At a time when the women from such high castes lived in very closed communities, living a life that did not conform to the social norm was very hard and cruel. Having a (male) child was essential at a time when there was no other way to ensure support and protection in old age. This was particularly true for women at that time. Tulasa, being a child widow, knew all this too well.
One day, she informed her father of the lady's desire to be blessed with a child. Padmanabhdasji, being the servant of Shri Vallabh that he was, thought it impertinent to disturb his God or Guruji with such minor requests. Instead, he gave Tulasa some water with which he had washed his feet and instructed her to tell the lady to drink it. "Tell the lady to name her son Mathuradas, for he is a boon of the Lord." Sure enough, in due course, the lady delivered a health young son, who was named Mathuradas to honour the Lord of Padmanabhji.
At no point in this incidence did Padmanabhji think that he was granting the son by the virtue of his blessing. He was convinced that the Lord was the doer and mover of the universe and that he (Padmanabhji) was but a member of the Lord's lila (divine play). He gave water from his feet rather than the Lord's as he thought a boon for a child was too material for him to approach the Lord with. Had the lady asked for bhakti, or even mukti, he would have invariably asked the Lord or Shri Vallabh to bless the woman. But a child ! That was too "samsaric" a desire to ask the Lord to give His blessing ! As in the earlier incidence with the merchant, Padmanabhji thought that disturbing his Guruji, or indeed God, for something as non-spiritual as progeny was unnecessary.
Story No.6 Ramdasji, eldest son of Padmanabhji, decided to leave his seva (Lord) with his father and left for a pilgrimage to the Vraj. At Shri Acharyaji's behest, he stayed on as the Lord's "bhitaria" - a class of temple priests / servants who work in the inner most sanctum of the haveli. During this time, the Mughal armies attacked Kanoj and looted much of the town. In the loot, the chief general decided to take the Lord Ramdasji used to worship. As Padmanabhji was now in direct charge of this seva, he followed his Lord in captivity and pleaded the Mughal general to release the Lord. When the general refused, he went on a hunger strike and refused to eat or drink anything until the Lord was released back into his keeping. After seven days, the wife of the Mughal general intercepted on behalf of Padmanabhji and asked her husband to do the right thing and give the Lord back. Being a Muslim, he had no real desire to worship the Lord and if this brahmin died at their door, they would incur great sin. Emperor Amber was an enlightened ruler who had great respect for Shri Vallabh and if this servant of his died at their door, the Emperor would not be very forgiving to the general. So, considering all these points, she helped release Ramdas's Lord back to Padmanabhji.
Just as a merchant celebrates the regaining of lost treasure, Padmanabhji rejoiced the fact his Lord was now back with him. He bathed him in Panchamrit (five types of libations considered to be pure and pre-requisite for all ritual baths) and offered him Mahaprasaad. In Vraj, Ramdasji also heard about the sacking of Kanoj and capture of his Lord. Like his father, he too went on a hunger strike. But he never wavered or slacked off in his duties for Shri Nathji. When the Lord was released, he too, like his father, resumed taking food and water.
When Padmanabhji heard of this, he decided to visit Vraj and comfort his son and assure him that his (Ramdas's Lord) was being properly taken care of. The father and son met at mount Govardhan and Padmanabhji asked his son, "When the Lord was taken by the general, I fasted because I failed in taking care of him. It was my responsibility to have Him released, no matter what. But, son, why did you fast for seven days ?" Ramdasji replied, "Father, I too worshipped that Lord. I therefore share in his joys and woes. In relationships between two humans, we share our joys and sorrows openly and freely. If that is true in the mundane relationship between humans, how much greater should it be in the spiritual relationship between the Lord and me ! As our relationship goes back many years, if the Lord is upset, I too get upset." It is this attachment to the Lord that eventually wins us His grace (Pushti).
Story No.7 At one time, Padmanabhdasji decided to move from Kanoj and live near his beloved Guruji at Adel. It would offer him and his family an excellent opportunity to hear the precious sermons of Shri Vallabh and indeed, get his guidance on spiritual matters. However, having given up his normal livelihood, Padmanabhji had fallen on bad times. The times when he lived the life of luxury and leisure were long gone. There was considerable shortage of funds and often, he had to make do without some of the basic necessities. Consequently, he and his family lead a simple life, living in a small hut on the sacred banks of the holy Ganges. Due to shortage of money, he sometimes had no food other than some chickpeas to offer the Lord and indeed, to eat himself. But, in our Pushti Marg, the bhava (feeling/ emotion), is greater than the material item, and so, he would offer the Lord the chick peas and imagine that he was offering the Lord a sumptuous feast in form of the chick peas !! The Lord is hungry for our love, material matters little to the Lord of the Universe. What does he care if you offer him a huge banquet, if there is no love in the offering ! The Lord does not feed on the mortal food, but rather the immortal bhava that is offered with the food !!
Unfortunately, some of his fellow Vaishnavs did not appreciate this part of the Acharya's teachings. Rather than understand and appreciate this, they went to bad mouth the great devotee and informed the great Acharya that Padmanabhji was offering the Lord only chick peas in place of rich foods !! Shri Mahaprabhuji is an ocean of understanding and compassion. He immediately understood the dilemma faced by his devotee, and so decided to pay him a visit to see if his mind was still set firm on his path to gaining the Lord's grace - Pushti.
During his visit, Shri Vallabh asked Padmanabhji, "Please explain why you have made so many small piles of chick peas in the plate before the Lord." With due humbleness, Padmanabhji explained that this was his way of serving the Lord all that he desired, whilst living within his own financial limitations. "My Lord, this one pile represents sweets, this one represents khir, this one is for rice, this one is vegetables, and this one for the Lord's beloved butter-milk." Satisfied with his answer and more to the point, his bhava, Shri Mahaprabhuji left him with a blessing from the bottom of his heart.
However, on hearing about this incidence, Shri Gosaiji decided to assist the beleaguered devotee by sending him some groceries, so that he could make the bhog (food) appropriate for Shri MathuraNathji. Padmanabhji was a little perturbed on receiving the food items sent to him from the personal stores of his Guruji. He asked his daughter to keep the food aside and not to use it in the preparation for any food in the house. Shri Gosaiji sent another package of food the next evening as well. Contemplating on this matter, Padmanabhji decided that it was time he moved on. He could not accept the food sent from his Guruji's personal stores, and at the same time, he could not ask him to stop sending the food, as that would be too rude and inappropriate. As the food was being sent for the good of Shri MathuraNathji, he consulted the Lord by asking Him if he wanted this food, or was he happy to eat the chick peas he had to offer ? "My Lord, I have only these chick peas to offer you. They are all I have. If you desire fine foods, I will leave you in the care of Shri Vallabh." The Lord, ever compassionate, replied that "I would rather stay with you and eat what ever you offer me, than leave you. I do not desire a feast made of perishable food, I would rather feast on your non-perishable bhava. All I want is your love and devotion. All else is secondary."
Hearing this, he decided to return to Kanoj that very night. Gathering up his family and what little possessions they had, he asked took them to the dockside on the river asked them to wait on a boat with their Lord MathuraNathji. Early in the morning, he went to say his good bye to Shri Mahaprabhuji. He also returned all the groceries that had been sent to him by Shri Gosaiji. When Shri Gosaiji heard that Padmanabhji had left Adel, he was very surprised indeed, but Shri Mahaprabhuji explained that by sending him food, Gosaiji had embarrassed him and interfered with is seva. What the Lord wants from his devotee is not money and material goods, but love and devotion. Also, a devotee can't take money or material from his Guruji's house without hindering his spiritual progress. Padmanabhji was well aware of this and he would rather suffer separation from his beloved Guruji rather than break his vows and duties as a Vaishnav.
Having thus read the great devotion of these Vaishnavs, let us too pray for the Lord's grace, so that we may be inspired by their stories and we too may get closer to God.
© Bhagwat Shah
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