Dedicated to the feet of Lord Krishna
“Wow Dad, it’s huge! Do I get to ride on it?” my son’s eyes lit up on seeing the chariot standing in front of Krishna Matt.
It was the day of Shankranthi festival, the chariot stood tall resembling the lofty peaks of the Himalaya’s. The top of the chariot was a half hemisphere, bright red and yellow coloured paper cut in long stripes were used to decorate the upper half of the chariot, two flags were attached at diametrically opposite ends. Various pictures of Lord Krishna adorned the middle part of the chariot. Lower portion of the chariot was garlanded with yellow and red marigold which shined beautifully in the bright sunlight.
Rathbeedi in Udupi is a circular road surrounded by temples. At the centre stands the Chandramauleshwar temple and the Ananteshwara temple, the road runs around these temple and forms an oval – circular track. The Udupi Krishna Mutt, the Raghavendra Swami Mutt, various other mutts, shops and hotels are situated along the outer circumference of the road.
It was still hours before the procession would start. Sighting Neerav as a pretext I had left the house early. I told the family, I wanted Neerav to enjoy the temple surroundings and see the chariot before the devtoees gathered.
“It’s god’s chariot, only the lord and the temple priest are allowed to ride the chariot” I said with a smile
Neerav seemed a little disappointed. “I will grow up, become a priest and ride the chariot” said my 5-year-old boy.
I smiled and took him in my arm. We could not enter the temple for another 2 days, so I took him to ‘Kanakana Kindi’ – Kanaka’s window to have a darshan of the lord.
The small grilled window at the western wall of the temple offered a sight of Lord Krishna’s idol inside the temple. The window stood as commemoration to the venerable Kannaka Dasa. Kannaka Dasa a great devotee of the Lord had been admonished from entering the temple since he belonged to the lower caste. Subsequently he was accused of stealing the Lord’s Jewel which in fact, the lord had himself presented to Kanaka Dasa. As a punishment for his crime he was flogged in front of the western wall of the temple. The great devotee while being flogged sang hymn’s asking ‘Krishna to open the door and give darshan’. At that moment the temple idol had turned around, cracking open the western wall of the temple giving darshan to Kannaka Dasa.
“Remember sincere devotion and purity is all that matters for Lord Krishna” I concluded the story with this remark.
My son smiled back at me. In the age where kids adored comic heroes and played with action figures, my son’s favourite was the dark-skinned, yellow silk dhoti wearing Krishna. He had heard a lot many stories of Krishna from his grandmother. He was mesmerised by Krishna’s magical powers and adventures. He wouldn’t eat his dinner until grandma had told him a story about Krishna, which he heard with rapt attention. I held him up to the window so that he could have a glimpse of the lord.
“Why can’t we enter the temple?” he asked quizzing. He must have heard Lalita aunt reminding us not to enter the temple while leaving the house in the morning.
The question made me take a trip down memory lane. Years before on the day of Shankranthi, I stood with my mother at the very same place. Those days were tough for a young lady, especially one who had lost her husband. My mother though had never questioned god’s wisdom and mercy. She had kept steady in her devotion to Lord Krishna even when he seemed to have put her under a severe trial, by snatching away her husband. With the only earning member of the family passing away and unhelpful uncle’s, mother and me were left to fend for ourselves. We had sold all our belongings and paid for father’s final rites. With the remaining money we had rented a rickety old house which seemed like it could cave in at any moment.
When I asked her how we would manage the next month’s rent leave alone feeding our self. “Krishna will take care of it all” she had declared with a resolute face. Seeing her speak with such tremendous determination in spite of overwhelming odds had amazed me. My heart though wasn’t able to see the silver lining in the dark cloud engulfing our life at that moment.
On the day of the Shankranthi, I stood with my mother looking up at the same towering chariot which had been readied with all the floral decoration ready for a procession. My mother had come with an expectation of catching at least one of the one anna coin which would be thrown down from the chariot. It wasn’t money she was after, getting a coin in the procession meant a symbol of the lord’s blessing to her. During the procession in midst of the shoving and pushing she had jumped on the one anna coin which had fallen near the chariot wheel. It was a narrow escape, had the chariot come any closer she might have had lost a finger or two. Luckily the chariot only went over a small part of the circumference of the coin, chipping the edge. I had ended up crying seeing her jump towards the chariot, people around us had scolded my mother and had pushed us outside the procession party.
Mother had been immensely grateful and happy for the lord blessing her with a coin. Coming back from the procession, I saw my school teacher waiting in front of my house. I had decided to drop out of school and start working to make ends meet. Worried after not finding his favourite student at school for the past few weeks he had come looking. After talking to my mother and seeing our helpless situation my teacher promised to find a way out.
Two days later my teacher came to fulfil his promise. Luckily his son-in-law who worked as a manager in the bank had been posted in Udupi. After talking with him my teacher had arranged for mother to work as a domestic help in their house, while I continued my studies. He had also arranged for our stay in the garage of his son in law’s house. My mother felt all this was due to blessing in the form of the coin she had received in the procession.
Soon I was able to complete my education and received a scholarship for my higher education. I completed my software engineering and joined the famed IT (Information Technology) league. I roamed around the world during my on-site assignments, something unimaginable even in my wildest dream. I got married, brought a house in Bangalore and had my mother live along with us. On the day of the house-warming ceremony, my mother had pulled out the coin from her old trunk which she had guarded miserly, polished it and kept it at the feet of the lord’s picture. After Neerav was born she took care of him, kept a watch over him and feed him with food and stories of Krishna alike.
A fortnight ago the coin had gone missing from the house, mother had been dejected and heart-broken. She worried about it being a sign of bad omen and was inconsolable. To console her heart I promised to take her to feet of the lord the following weekend. On reaching Udupi her eyes feasted upon Krishna’s idol in the Krishna matt, that night she passed away peacefully in sleep. I was stunned with the sudden turn of events. I decided to stay back in Udupi and complete the 13 days ritual before I joined back work again.
Neerav tugging at my shirt brought me back from my memory trip. He wouldn’t understand if I told him that his granny had passed away. Hence, according to Hindu system we could not enter the temple before the completion of the 13th day. We had told Neerav that his granny had gone to stay with Krishna in heaven. “Well.. Krishna is getting ready for the procession so he doesn’t want us to disturb him…” I said. Something in my expression or answer didn’t seem to convince him, he looked at me quizzing.
“You know they are gone throw coins in the procession today! You can try to catch one!” I said to deviate his attention. He eyes lit up at the prospect of catching a coin.
“You mean a coin like the one grandma had got?” he asked.
“Yes a one like grandma had” I said.
In a few hours the procession started and devotees flooded all around the chariot. The sound of the drums, cymbals, bells filled the air. I pointed out the eagle’s circling the chariot high up in the air to my son. With my 5 year old along, I decided to be cautious and stood at the outer periphery of the crowded procession.
“Let’s go near the chariot, I want a coin” pleaded Neerav and tried to get free from my grip so that he could get nearer to the chariot. The seer and other priest threw 1 , 2 and 5 rs coins – a far bigger amount than the one anna during my days, currency notes, ladoos and fruit around to the cheering devotees below from atop of the chariot. Since I had Neerav and myself at the periphery the coins wouldn’t reach us. I tightened my grip around my son who was trying hard to escape from my clutches. By now the procession had circled Rathbeedi and was coming to an end and my son was in tears. I tried reasoning and giving him a coin from my pocket but he wouldn’t accept it. I bribed him with offers to buy toys and ice cream, but it only made him cry out louder and harder. The procession ended and the drums, cymbals and bells stopped ringing, but my son’s sobs refused to die.
Lalita aunt’s house was quiet a distance away, but I decided to walk the distance. I held my son in my arm and patted him on the back gently to make him stop crying. However he adamantly refused to calm down or listen to me. It was half past noon and the sun blazed down with all his fury from high in the sky. Half way through and yet Neerav’s sobs refused to die down. Turning right on the main road, I reached the last long stretch to Lalita aunt’s house. The tar road ended here and the narrow mud road started. Lalita aunt’s house was on the other end of the mud road. Fields lay on either side of the road, it was lunch hour and not a single farmer was present in the field. I was exhausted by carrying Neerav in the sun and stopped at the only tender coconut vendor occupying the empty surroundings. I put down Neerav still letting out muffled sobs on the wooden bench built by farmer’s on the opposite side of the road. I asked him if he do have tender coconut. He just shook his head to indicate a no.
I went across to the other end, and asked the vendor for a tender coconut. The coconut vendor had a friendly chat with me, he enquired about my son and family and then sympathised with me for losing my mother. The villagers were a friendly lot, they considered everybody family and always spared a few minutes for a friendly chit-chat. I was touched by the warm courtesy the coconut vendor extended. Turning back I saw my son wiping of his tears. I took a coconut for the vendor and offered it to my son. My son smiled at me and thrust his small palm forward. To my surprise he held a coin! To my greater astonishment he held out a one anna coin which had been chipped of on the edge, the same that my mother had guarded vigilantly! I asked my son for the source of the coin, confident he had left the house empty pocket and empty-handed in the morning.
“A small boy gave me the coin” he said.
“Which boy?” I asked.
My son pointed out in a direction across the field. “He went that way”. I gazed hard in that direction in search of a small boy but all I saw was the barren fields for miles together.
“Did he tell you his name?” I asked my son.
My boy looked at me and after a momentary pause replied “Vaman”.
I turned across to the coconut vendor and asked him if there lived a boy nearby with a name Vaman. He nodded his head to indicate that he wasn’t aware of any boy with that name.
“Did you see my son talking with a boy when I was drinking coconut?” I asked.
“I was talking to you, I am not sure” replied the vendor.
“Did the boy tell you anything else? What color dress did he wear?” I asked my son.
He seemed lost for a moment. “He was wearing a yellow color dhoti and wore a peacock feather in his head, ..mm… like in the picture of Krishna that grandma showed me” replied Neerav.
Writer’s Note: “This story is totally a fictional account. The ending of the story is courtesy of the idea provided by my brother. The incidents sighted in this story are purely imaginative and may not collaborate with the actual facts and events of the procession or the temple. The inspiration for the story has been drawn from my visit to the Ratha beedi procession. The sacred temple of Lord Krishna is close to my heart, the other temples and the peaceful, amicable surroundings in Udupi Ratha beedi make it one of my favorite place.”