Vittalapura was a village. Range Gowda was the Patel of the village. God had been quite merciful to him; for, he had a number of servants to help him. He had been remitting a land revenue of three hundred rupees every year. Irrespective of the distinctions between the poor and the rich, everyone in the village had been loving him intensely. People from far and near who had availed themselves of his hospitality would talk about it in glowing terms. For the benefit of travellers alone, he had built a house resembling a choultry and had equipped it with utensils and grains like rice and dhal. Not a day had passed without there being a group of visitors in his house.
One day, Range Gowda was sitting on the pavement in front of his house with his paraphernalia of pan and supari, engaged in conversation with a few ryots. A Mahatma with a veena in his hands came down to that place singing bhajans. As soon as Range Gowda saw him, he put that pan and supari bag aside and offered the traditional wooden plank for him to sit and relax. As the guest sat on it, he went in to bring a vessel of water and a plate. He washed the Mahatma’s feet and worshipped him besides offering him fruits and milk.
The Mahatma was pleased with his service and devotion. He addressed Gowda and said, “Gentleman! I am pleased with your hospitality. Tell me what you need. I travel in all the three worlds. I am capable of going even to the places presided over the Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara. I am Devarshi Narada”.
“Swamin!” replied Gowda with folded hands. “I do not need anything. By your grace, God has blessed me with everything. I have ten pairs of cattle for ploughing the lands. Now I have fifteen cows and four-five buffaloes besides a flock of thousands of sheep. I have sufficient extent of wet, dry and garden lands. More than anything, I have a wife who is a veritable Lakshmi to me. Mahatmas like you frequently sanctify my house by stepping in and giving darshan. What else do I need Swamin?”
“Have you been blessed with children?” asked Narada. “In a way”, admitted Gowda. “That is really something which is wanting here. I have showed my horoscope to several astrologers. I have known through them that the possibility of issues in this life is definitely ruled out. When I am not carved out for that fortune, where is the need to worry about it Swamin?”
“A noble, married man like you being bereft of children is indeed a big lacuna. It may well be remarked that the great Brahma has kept his eyes shut! Nevertheless, I shall go over to Brahma-loka and find out the truth”.
“Deva! Should you not bless Range Gowda of Vittalapura with children?”
“Narada! What can i do? I can only act according to the limitations of my power. I am like a pot-maker. Whatever pots of different varieties and qualities I have been enjoined to make, my duty is to make them accordingly. I cannot do anything more than that”.
“When you have been creating, as the Lord of Creation, hundreds, thousands, lakhs or a countless number of lives from your mould of creation, what is the good of being entrusted with a function without the freedom to bless some poor ryot with a son?”
“Narada, do not pester me. It is not possible as it is not within my powers. Why don’t you ask Kamalapathi? He possesses more powers than I do”.
“Deva! Lord of Vaikunta! Vanipathi said that it was beyond the powers to bless Range Gowda of Vittalapura with a son”.
“Narada! That Gowda is not destined to get issues for another seven lives. What can I do? He can enjoy only as much as he reaps. I don’t think there is any use in asking for more”.
“Deva! You are also indulging in the same kind of talk and pleading your inability. If all of you hold account books in your hands and apply the yard-stick accordingly, it would appear that it is better to be without such power than wield such power. There is only one who remains to be consulted now. If I complete the formality of asking him, it will be equivalent to ascending a hill in vain.”
“Narada! Why do you get so easily fed up? What in reality is the use of asking Iswara? None of us can confer on the jeevas any benefit by violating the law of karma. When Range Gowda is not carved out for realizing a debt in the form of children, why should you feel fed up to such an extent? The whole world is subservient to the laws of karma. Cows, wife, children and house accrue to one only by way of fulfilment of previous bondages ; “Rinanubandha rupena pashu patni suthaalayaha“. Rina means a debt. Anubandha implies things like interest, simple and compound. When there is no debt, how can we think about interest?”
Narada returned absolutely dejected. He told Gowda all the transpired.
“Swamin!” Said Gowda reassuring Narada. “Did I not tell you before that I would not get children as per indications in my horoscope? You tried to get me something outside my lot, luck and fortune. I am very grateful to you for your generosity. I have, however, given up the hope of getting children”.
A Bairagi came and sat on Range Gowda’s residential platform. He had a bhangi device in his hand. His face was beaming with thejas. As soon as he saw the Bairagi, he offered a seat to him, washed his lotus feet and sprinkled the washed water on his own head. He also gave him milk, fruits and other eatables.
The Bairagi was immensely pleased with his hospitality.
“Gowda! Tell me what you want? Gurunatha is pleased with your fervent hospitality”.
“Swamin! All that I want is the opportunity to serve people like you. God has given me everything. Only I have not been fortunate to have children. Last year, a Mahatma very much like you had come here. He had a veena in his hands. He said he was Narada and a traveller of three worlds. He confirmed the view that I couldn’t have children after consulting Brahma and Vishnu. Our village astrologer had already expressed the opinion that I could hardly have any children. Why do you also want to take trouble in this respect unnecessarily? Please spend the day peacefully and after a day of rest you may embark on your travel anywhere you wish”.
These words melted the soft mind of the Bairagi. He lifted the bhangi instrument and lighted it.
As he drew smoke once-twice-thrice, the device fell down. He switched over to meditation. He got up later and said, “Gowda! Do not worry! Gurunatha will bless you with three children. Your family will grow and prosper”.
Gowda was struck with wonder. He forgot even his existence on the earthly plane. He closed his eyes and questioned himself in silence: “Is the gift of a son which was beyond the powers of Narada, the traveller of three worlds, beyond the powers of even Brahma, the Creator and Vishnu, the consort of Kamala, really possible through this poor Bairagi addicted to bhangi…?”Before he opened his thoughtful eyes, the Bairagi had left.
Five years passed. In the course of his long travels, Sage Narada paid a visit to Vittalapura again. The same Range Gowda was playing with his five-year old, three-year old and six-month old children. Narada was dumbfounded by this. He thought that the children might be from the neighbourhood and resolved to ask Gowda himself to make sure.
“Swamin!” said Gowda. “Five years ago, a bhangi Bairagi had come here. As a result of his blessings, God has now given me three sons”.
Narada’s wonder knew no bounds. His anger transcended all known barriers. He left for Vaikunta immediately and prostrated before the presiding deity.
“Narada!” Said Vishnu. “You have come with some kind of apprehension apparently. What is the matter?”
“Swamin!”said Narada. You are asking me? You are the doyen of deceptive dramatists – Kapata naataka Suthradhaari! You have rejected my prayer and honoured the words of a bhangi Bairagi; is it right on your part?”
“Narada! What is the matter? Can’t you be explicit?”, queried Vishnu.
“What should I be explicit about?”, challenged Narada. “Everything is explicit and clear. When I prayed for Range Gowda so that he may have issues by your grace, you said that the item itself was not written down in the income and expenditure statement but have thought it fit to carry out the Bairagi’s words. Haven’t you blessed Gowda now with three sons?”
Vishnu hastened to explain, “Narada! I am not the one who gave the children. It is Sadhu Nischaladas. What can I do?”
“Yes! Yes!!” said Narada in further argument. “Aren’t you the one who said that he would not get children for seven lives? Without your blessing, what can that poor Bairagi do?”
“Don’t think like that”, Vishnu tried to clarify. “He is a bhakta. Can I proceed contrary to the wishes of a bhakta?”
“Deva!” said Narada in a critical tone, “Only Nischaladas is your bhakta. One who has been spending day and night in your Nama-Sankeertan and who is always wedded to your bhajans failed to evoke your kindness”.
“Narada! Do not worry. I have always looked upon you as my own identical form. Nischaladas is a bhakta. Though I go against my will, I cannot go against the wishes of a bhakta”.
Narada felt very unhappy. The Paramatman gave Narada a clue to the secret method of testing the bhakta of Nischaladas and sent him to the Sadhu’s hermitage.
The Bairagi’s hermitage was situated on the banks of a river, near a huge tree. It had no doors. Villagers from the neighbourhood would visit the place often and offer something to the Sadhu before leaving. Whenever he opened his eyes, he would take it, if he wished. Otherwise, whatever was kept for him would remain there alone untouched and unconsumed. Two days ago, a shepherdess who had a buffalo which had stopped yielding milk for no accountable reason had taken a vow to make over one day’s ghee to the mutt if it started giving milk again. She had accordingly just made over a pot containing about two measures of ghee in fulfilment of her vow – for favours received.
Following the command of Maha Vishnu, Indra had brought rains to the mutt area and all the surrounding villages. Right from the afternoon to evening it had been raining torrentially with thunder and lightning.
It was total darkness. The darkness of the night was even blinding. It had not yet stopped raining. A poor Brahmin along with someone stood at the entrance of the hut and called on the Bairagi: “Great Sadhu! We are terribly sh-sh-sh-shivering with cold. Will you make some fa-fa-fire so that we can warm ourselves up?”
There was no fuel in the Sadhu’s hut barring one or two small pieces of wood lying here and there. The hermit said to himself, “The guests are drenched in rain and are trembling with cold. There is no firewood here, but what does it matter? Isn’t even this body a piece of firewood? Why should I not make use of this five-elemental and fabulous fleshy body as fuel instrument for service of the guests?”
He came to a positive conclusion at once. He collected all the rags of cloth lying in the hut and wrapped them around his head and limbs. He poured all the ghee over himself and with the help of the two stray pieces of fire-wood succeeded in bringing out fire and lighted his own body with it. Within few seconds the whole body of the Sadhu was in a blaze of fire.
“Swamin!”he said inviting the guests who were led by none other than Narada, “Please come in. I have prepared the Agni Kunda!. Please warm yourself up fully and have a nice sleep”. He then started singing bhajans loudly.
Narada was shocked by the wondrous sight. Vishnu, who was the person who had accompanied him, was warming up his body silently and remained a picture of patience. Narada looked as much crest-fallen as he appeared completely dazed. “Deva!” he addressed Vishnu with all humility, “What a world of difference there is between Nischaladas and myself in the matter of bhakti! Where is Narada with his pride and prejudice and where is Sadhu Nischaladas and his inimitable and illimitable bhakti which involves dedication of all his belongings including his body to the cause of humanitarian service, for the service of God, for the service of guests by way of total surrender and sacrifice? Oh, God! Please put an end to your strange leela. First, put an end to this blaze of fire before it consumes his body”.
Narada found that his sincere prayers were immediately answered by Vishnu. He saw the Lord’s hand travelling gently over the Sadhu’s body from the head to the limbs. The fire that had enveloped the saintly body vanished suddenly. But the bhakta had not given up the bhajans.
When Sadhu Nischaladas woke up from his bhajans, he saw to his sweetest surprise the Lord of Vaikunta standing before him, prostrating before him, he submitted, “Deva! Why do you take so much trouble for this poor Bairagi? What would have happened if this body had been consigned to flame? Swamin! Instead of this sack of skin and flesh being thrown to the vagaries of vultures and crows in the crematorium, don’t you think it would have been infinitely better if this had been reduced to ashes in your presence and in accordance with your command? Deva! I crave your blessings”.
For the benefit of the bhakta, the Paramatman can do anything. In the name of service to the Paramatman, the bhakta will ever be ready to indulge in any kind of self-sacrifice. Describing the real concept bhakta, Narada Maharshi himself has stated, “Tadarpitaakhilaachaaritaa tadvismarane paramvyaakulateti”. It means that one should dedicate all deeds to him without any kind of apprehension. If one forgets the Paramatman for a moment instead of being saturated with his thoughts, one should feel so bad as if one has lost the most precious part of wealth. Surrender and saturation are therefore the dual weapons of latent power that adorn the armoury of a bhakta.