The Legend of Gunderao
There was once a Brahmin farmer. His name was Gunderao. He was completely illiterate. He never even moved out of his small village. He had accepted his lot and led a quiet life of contentment. There was only one member left of his family — his old mother. His wants were few and were within the easy reach of his capacity.
Once a Sannyasi visited the village and took up residence with this Brahmin farmer. The whole village breathed an air of devotion and was brimming with religious activities. After a couple of days, when the Sannyasi was about to leave the village, the farmer and his old mother went to him and bowed their farewell pranam. The Sannyasi in his parting message said to the farmer, “Don’t forget to perform Aradhana every day and never take your food without Naivedya.” The farmer could not grasp the meaning of the message as he knew nothing about religious rites. The Sannyasi smiled at his ignorance and explained that Aradhana meant worship of the Divine with love, self-giving and calling the name; and Naivedya meant food and everything else that is offered to a deity, the Divine.
Next day, when the Sannyasi had left, the farmer resumed his daily work and went to his field. At noon he walked to the nearby river, finished his bath and placed his food before the Lord in a neighboring temple. Five minutes passed, then ten minutes and even half an hour. “Oh! today God must be very busy,” reflected the farmer, “because He is the Lord of all the worlds and He has to manage things everywhere. All right! I shall wait for Him some more time.” And he waited. Another hour passed and seeing that He did not turn up he said, “If you do not come and take the food, how am I to take my meal? I am getting hungry and there is work to do …..Or is it that you are displeased with me because I neglected you all these days? But I am told you are all compassion and you forgive all our sins. So please forgive my negligence and come soon. Here on the spot I give my word. I shall never again neglect you. I will never take my food without Naivedya.”
A small voice spoke to him, “But can you wait for me? I see you are already quite restless. I do not take your word seriously.” The voice sank into the soul of the Brahmin farmer and he trembled. He could not speak. Tears came into his eyes, and he sat motionless. Another hour passed and the sun was slowly moving downward in the west. Another hour or two passed and the farmer opened his eyes. Dusk had begun to fall. His heart cried out, “Lord! I will wait, wait till the end. I will not take food until you pardon me and accept my offering of food.” With this resolution in his mind he sat silent like a stone. A golden hush, like a splendid robe of God, enveloped the fields. With the song of the homing birds and the soft rays of the sun, Mother Nature lulled to rest the day’s labour of the fields. The night approached with its myriad star-splendor. A crescent glory in heaven watched the spheres with a smile of benediction. The farmer sat, a marble figure on a “pedestal of prayer”. He was awakened by a sudden touch of inexplicable joy in his breast. “Strange,” he reflected, “I have not taken food. I was hungry like a dog. Instead of the pangs of hunger I am stirred by a nameless joy! I do not understand. Tell me, what is this your game, O Lord?”
Then spoke a voice which was heard within the depths of his soul, “Now you are vexing me. All right! I am here. Feed me.” The farmer opened his eyes and saw that the “idol” was throbbing with life. He began to feed Him. “The food has gone stale. What can I do? You are so late!” So he said, but when he touched the food he felt it was fresh and not that cold. He wondered. As with the joy of a fond mother, he began feeding the Lord. Soon he saw the idol closed its mouth and stirred no more. He understood that the Naivedya was over. So he turned to take his meal. The food was very delicious. He said to himself, “Never in my life have I tasted such delicious food. It is Amrita indeed.”
Food over, he went back home and had a happy sleep. Early next morning he told his mother to prepare a special dish for Naivedya. His mother saw him with a look of surprise and said in a low inquisitive tone, “There is no special occasion, my son.” The son replied, “I want to give Him a special dish. Prepare it. Though yesterday He kept me waiting for a long time, I still am full of joy and I want to offer Him a special dish today — occasion or no occasion.”
The days passed into weeks and weeks into months. The life of our farmer Brahmin Gunderao flowed like a sweet and simple stream. He thought always of Naivedya. He worked and waited for the Naivedya. Aradhana had now become the one inevitable centre of his life.
Once his old mother complained of indisposition. So he himself prepared the food under her directions. On that day, while offering Naivedya, he said, “Today I have prepared the meal. I don’t know how it is cooked. If you want to have delicious dishes, please don’t make my mother ill. Now you have to be satisfied with the dish I have offered, good or bad.”
The food-offering having been over, the farmer began to take his meal. When he was taking it he heard a familiar sweet voice, “I relished your preparation today. It was quite lovely. Yes, your mother will also be well. Don’t worry. But don’t forget to prepare a dish or two for me now and then with your own hands.” Tears rushed into eyes of the farmer and he fell into silent musing. “O Lord! my God! How kind and sweet of you! I have tasted the food, and I know its taste. Ah, your wonderful love!… That’s it. It is the miracle that changes all bitterness into a celestial sweetness. Now, for example see the change in me, the beast that I was. The marvelous fire fingers of your grace are moulding my dust always, at each moment, even without my knowledge. O my dearest Lord! accept my utter gratefulness. I will obey your word with the zeal and devotion of a faithful wife. Make me your slave. I would serve you always.”
Full with such sweet musing and prayers the slow months glided into a year.
A new year dawned and with it the visit of the Sannyasi was renewed. This time the Brahmin farmer Gunderao was the leader of the reception. He had developed a deep reverence for his guru. And it was natural. The next day the Sannyasi performed Mandapam with golden utensils of worship. Gunderao thought, “I shall also get such wonderful Mandapam prepared for my Lord and also the other things of worship. They are so grand. My Lord would be much pleased… Yes!…” He stumbled out of his reverie when the Sannyasi said, “Let the Naivedya be brought.” Gunderao rushed in and brought all the dishes and placed them before the Lord. The Sannyasi sprinkled the sanctified water with tulsi leaf, muttering some mantra over all the dishes: and then he closed his eyes forming the name of the Lord on his lips and muttering “Svahakara”. Gunderao was very much taken up by the grand show and said to himself, “I must learn these mantras. If I learn and repeat these mantras, my Lord will certainly be pleased more. I will request Guru Maharaj to teach me some mantras.”
“Everybody there, come in for Mangalarti,” came the loud call of the Sannyasi Maharaj. The call knocked down the simple farmer from his sweet dream. He opened his eyes and saw to his surprise that no dish of the Naivedya was touched by the Lord. With great hesitation he said to the Sannyasi, “But I see the Naivedya is not over. The food is not taken by the Lord!…” The Sannyasi, with a blissful smile on his face, replied, “Yes! my boy, the Naivedya is over. God is not like men. And he won’t eat food physically.”
Gunderao: “But He eats!”
Sannyasi: “Stupid fool that you are, you know nothing about our great Shastras. How can I explain to you? This is kaliyuga.”
Gunderao: “Excuse me. I have been feeding Him since you told me last year.”
Sannyasi (raging with righteous indignation): “It is a lie, a blasphemy. That is written on your face. The Lord to eat the food from your dirty hands!”
Gunderao (with great pain visible on his face and in a broken voice): “Guru Maharaj! Don’t you believe me? I am now unable to believe my own ears. It is a fact, Guru Maharaj, a bare fact — true and simple. I have taken my food all these days only after the Lord’s Naivedya.”
Sannyasi (with bitter mockery): “You have, have you? Be pleased to perform your miracle before all of us. Would you?”
Gunderao (with extreme pain and in utter humility): “It is not a miracle, Guru Maharaj. It was my daily act. And I have to do it now before you all because I cannot take my food keeping my Lord hungry.”
With these words the simple unsophisticated Gunderao sat down with folded hands and closed his eyes streaming with tears, before the Shrine. A silent prayer like a steady flame was rising high. All was silent. “Would you not come today of all days? Would you prove me a liar and a hypocrite before my Guru, friends and relations? If you do not come, well, I will kill myself. Better to die than to live a life of utter disgrace. If you love me, come, and take my offering and prove that I was not telling them a lie.” Thus he went on, the poor soul, with his pleadings and persuasions and prayers.
Sometime later he heard the voice so familiar and yet so strange, “O stupid fool! You have betrayed me today. You are calling me not because you love me but because your honor is at stake. Nobody wants me. All these people want just to see a tamasha. Well, today is the end of our year-long relationship. I will take the food today to save your splendid honor. From now onwards live with your honor.”
Gunderao was shuddering at each word in a state of utter despondency. He could not speak a single word. The agony of his soul was unbearable and he fell senseless on the ground.
Meanwhile with utter surprise and wonder, the Sannyasi and the people gathered there saw the food being eaten by the idol of the Lord. Everyone with folded hands prostrated before the Shrine. The Sannyasi went near the Brahmin farmer and with a rush of emotion clasped him in his arms. “You are my guru, Gunderao. Forgive me. You are a Mahatma. I did not know it in my foolish pride of knowledge. Forgive me, Gunderao. Forgive this fool of a Sannyasi……… “
Gunderao lifted his tearful eyes. He was unable to see or hear anything. Everyone went to him and bowed at his feet. But the utter agony of his soul had blotted out his senses. He could not make out anything. He burst into loud weeping. “I have betrayed my Lord. Woe to me! I loved my honor more.” But then at once he found in himself a new man. “I cannot live without Him… I must find him… I must find him…” thus muttering to himself he ran away from the place like a mad man. Where he went nobody knew.
I have been told, the people of the village erected a temple of Mahatma Gunderao; and each year a special Aradhana is offered at the Shrine with great pomp and fanfare.