Sudama’s visit to Dwarika and his meeting with Krishna, one of the many events that take place in the life of Krishna, is so unlike them all. Not eventful or abounding in dramatic intensity that characterises Krishna’s entire ‘lila’ – cosmic sport, the Sudama episode is a piece of rhetoric, a dialogue which re-asserts allegorically the Vaishnava cardinal of the unity of the apparent duality of the manifest world. Further, it gives new dimensions to the concept of ‘Bhakti’ and re-defines the ties that rope the seeker and the Sought. Not casually, it is with such deeper meanings in mind that the seers of the Shrimad Bhagavata have devoted to the Krishna-Sudama episode two full chapters of the tenth Canto.
Not strangely, Sudama is one of the three names that the Vaishnava tradition inseparably clubs with the name of Krishna, two other being Radha and Balarama, so much so that only rarely Krishna’s name appears without their. In most cases it is Radha-Krishna, Krishna-Sudama or Krishna-Balarama. The names of his parents, Vasudeo and Devaki, or Nand and Yashoda, are also clubbed with his name but for entirely different reason. The name of Radha, the love-longing self, who drags Krishna to her by her love – the supreme principle of Vaishnavism by which the seeker and the Sought merge, precedes Krishna. Not incidentally, Bhagavata’s Radha – the Gopi now unanimously identified as Radha, has been conceived as preceding Krishna also age-wise, that is, in order of their emergence, for unless the love-longing seeker self was born, wherein would manifest the Sought. Thus, in Radha-Krishna, Radha precedes Krishna. Balarama also precedes him in order of birth but not otherwise. Krishna leads the course of action and Balarama just co-operates, more so, as Krishna’s part, accomplishing what Krishna seeks to accomplish, neither more nor less. Sudama defines oneness of mind that the seeker has with the Sought. Once that stage of oneness is attained the dividing line is destroyed and the seeker merges with the Sought and shares with him the same glory and magnificence as the Sought does. Thus, Radha-Krishna symbolise love’s cosmic magnification, Krishna-Balarama, Krishna’s expansion in Balarama, and Krishna-Sudama, destruction of what divides, and oneness of the last and the first.
SUDAMA IN THE BHAGAVATA AND IN SUBSEQUENT LITERATURE
The Bhagavata Purana, the earliest and perhaps the lone source of the Krishna-Sudama episode, narrates it in two of the chapters, 80 and 81, of its tenth Canto. In the Bhagavata Purana Sudama is a humble poor rags-wearing Brahmin without a name, perhaps, because the Bhagavata’s objective was not accomplished in individualizing but rather in generalizing him; it best revealed in the Brahmin’s non-individuality. In Krishna’s palace at Dwarika Krishna’s numerous consorts, maids, attendants … all identify the poor Brahmin by his wears which they find as ‘kuchailam malinam…’, that is, dirty worn out. The term ‘kuchail’ as ‘Kuchailasya’ occurs also in the early part of the chapter 80. From ‘kuchailam’ and ‘kuchailasya’ scholars sometimes separate ‘kuchail’, the main component of these terms, and contend that ‘kuchail’ is the term by which the poor Brahmin has been identified in the Bhagavata, and hence Kuchail, his name.
The later literature not only identifies him as Sudama but also adds to the meeting of the two Gurukula friends a lot of emotionalism and dramatic intensity, though even there the basic structure of the episode remains the same as in the Bhagavata Purana. In the Bhagavata too, the heart of the compassionate Krishna melts when he sees his old friend in rags, but not as it does in the poem of Narottama Das : ‘Pani paratko hatha chhuyo nahin, Nainan ke jalase paga dhoye’ – (Krishna) did not even touch the water of the tray (brought for washing the Brahmin’s feet, but), washed his feet with the water (tears) of his eyes. Actually, in most of the later literature the Bhagavata’s spiritual, or rather mystic connotation is missing, or is replaced by tale-tell narration. In the Bhagavata, this episode is just the thread to tag far deeper meaning while in the subsequent literature narrative becomes the episode’s primary concern. Unlike in the Bhagavata Purana where it is more or less a discourse, within oneself or between the two, in subsequent literature, it is a tale that grows, reaches its climax and then the denouement. Not that the seers of the Bhagavata could not coin a name for the Brahmin, or even for the Gopi, but they did not, because they knew that such names would reduce them to mere characters in a tale, and their Krishna-contexts, into a fiction of individuals, which would amuse but would not convey that deeper spiritual meaning which is the primary concern of the Bhagavata Purana.
SUDAMA’S STORY IN THE BHAGAVATA PURANA
As the Bhagavata Purana has it, one among the close friends of Krishna was a poor Brahmin. Adept in Vedas and possessed of great spiritual wisdom the Brahmin had conquered all his desires, and whatever came his way, hunger, poverty… his mind never strayed. Though a household, he never inclined to accumulate wealth or anything and was satisfied with what the destiny afforded him. Not merely that rags comprised his clothes, even those of his wife were in as bad shape. Often they did not have even a grain of food in their hut which made them pass many of their days without a morsel. With hunger their bodies had emaciated and they were turned into mere skeletons. His devoted and faithful wife would bear any affliction but not that her husband went to bed hungry. One day, in utter distress, the Brahmin’s wife, who weakened by starvation wasn’t able to stand on her legs, came to her husband and asked him to go to the benevolent and compassionate Krishna, his friend and the Lord of all three worlds and pray for his favour.
She believed that once he knew that poverty so miserably afflicted his friend who was a household, he would surely redeem him of his plight. When repeatedly entreated, the Brahmin gave in. He reconciled his mind that he did not desire to gain wealth nor he would pray for any but nonetheless, he thought, he would have the occasion to see his friend. As the custom prevailed, he could not go to him empty handed. However insignificant, he had to carry something to offer to him. The poor Brahmin’s wife borrowed from neighbours four handfuls of beaten rice, packed it in a rag and gave it to her husband, and with this humble offering he made his way to Dwarika. His legs spanned the path but his mind was occupied with the thoughts of Krishna and with the question how he would be able to see him.
At Dwarika, with a group of Brahmins he proceeded towards the palaces of Krishna. First lay three camps of armies and then there were three entrances. He passed across them all, the cantonments and the entrances, then across the castles of Vrashnis and Andhakas, two major branches of Yadavas. In the midst of these castles were situated the palaces of the sixteen thousand queens of Krishna, all magnificently decorated and lit though one of them, with far greater magnificence than the rest. The poor Brahmin entered this one which abounded in greater splendour. He felt as if around him lay stretched the ocean of unending bliss and he submerged into it.
Krishna was seated on Rukmani’s bed, her principal queen, in her palace, when his eye fell on Sudama entering there. He jumped upon his feet, rushed out and hugged him delightfully. Himself the absolute bliss, the joy that Krishna felt when he held his friend in his arms, touching each of his limbs, was exceptional. Emotionally moved, tears of love rolled from his lotus like gentle eyes. After the gust of emotions was over, Krishna took him to the same bed he was sitting on, made him seat on it and with flowers and other ritual material worshipped him. With his own hands he washed his feet and accorded to the water used in washing his feet divine sanctity by applying it to his head. He anointed his friend’s body with pastes of sandal, saffron, rose-water, musk, camphor and other celestial perfumes and, as the custom prevailed, welcomed him with ‘arti’ – the rite performed with lamps. No other than Rukmani was herself blowing fan. The dismayed inmates of the palace wondered why the Lord of the three worlds embraced, like his brother Balarama, this poor, base, despicable Brahmin with no clothes on his body except a few rags and no grace or glow on his face except wrinkles and marks of poverty.
After the initial formalities were over, the two friends sat down together holding each other’s hands and began recalling their Gurukula days. As the Bhagavata Purana has it, this part of the Krishna-Sudama episode seems to have been planned as something ‘parasparam’ – mutually accomplishing, a dialogue between the two, comprising questions and answers, though typically the questions are Krishna’s, and answers, too, Krishna’s. Krishna is eager to know if his friend married or not after they left the Gurukula, though he simultaneously adds that the essence of the ‘dharma’ – righteousness, being his friend’s very life-breath his mind never inclined to sensuous pursuits and to accumulate wealth and worldly possessions and hence it was immaterial whether his friend chose to marry and have a family life or not. He adds further that God has created by His ‘Maya’ – His mystic power to delude, this entire manifest world and all its pleasurable avenues – material possessions, sensuous delight, riches … but still there are some persons who like him renounce this world and all its pleasures; however, to present to others the life’s right model and course they take to family life, as He Himself sometimes does, though as ever they have a mind detached from all worldly desires. He lauds Guru who is only His other manifestation. It is from the Guru that the ‘yajnopavit’ – sacred thread wearing castes obtain knowledge of all that they should know. Krishna talks of three classes of Gurus, first being the father who gives this body; the second, one who accomplishes ‘yajnopavit’ rites and imparts knowledge of good deeds. He deserves to be worshipped like Him; and, third, the Guru who by his words shows the path which leads to God. Krishna says that this Guru is only His other manifest form and that adherence to the path that he shows redeems the self from the cycle of transmigrations. He tells Sudama that He is the Supreme Self present in all beings and enshrining each being’s intrinsic mind. A household’s righteous living performing five ‘yajnas’ – sacrificial rites, a day, as the ‘Dharma’ ordains, an acolyte’s complete submission to Vedas and observance of all rules prescribed for him, and an ascetic’s penance and absolute renunciation do not please Him so much as does the service rendered to the Guru. Maybe, people’s growing disinterest in or disregard to the institution of the Guru and the Ashram-cult in contemporary society might have inspired the Bhagavata seers to expand the episode and re-assert the Guru’s glory and divine status. Significantly, here in this part of the episode, the Bhagavata elevates Sudama to the same status as Vasudeva-Devaki, Yashoda, Akrura and Arjuna to whom Krishna reveals His cosmic form.
The chapter that gives account of Krishna’s days at the Sandipini-ashram – his Gurukula, does not allude to Sudama or for that matter any of his Gurukula mates. It is in chapters related to Krishna-Sudama episode that by retrospection Krishna recounts his days with Sudama at the Ashram. He asks Sudama if he remembers how one day when the wife of their Guru asked them to bring fuel they strayed whole night in the forest. He recalls how, when in deep forest, a dreadful storm and rain coupled with lightning shook the forest, though it wasn’t the season of either. The sun had already set. The dreadful storm was as devastating as a deluge. All around was darkness and water rendering it difficult to determine where was the pit, and where, its edges. Unable to find their way back they roamed the whole night in the forest holding each other’s hands. In the morning, after their Guru Sandipini learnt that they had not come back, he along with some other disciples came to the forest searching them. It grieved him to see that they were nervous. Admiring them the delighted Guru said that while everyone was sensitive about one’s body and loved it above all things, they not only subjected themselves to torment but also endangered their lives. He blessed them that their all objectives would accomplish and knowledge of Vedas would be indestructible. Krishna recounts just one event though adds that during their Gurukula days many similar ones had taken place. At this juncture Sudama joins the discourse. Addressing Krishna as the teacher of the world and as one whom all gods adored Sudama said that after he had lived with him at the Gurukula, all that he ever cherished in mind was accomplished and nothing remained unfulfilled. He said that the Vedas, man’s four achievables and the source of ‘dharma’ – righteousness, ‘artha’ – wealth, ‘kama’ – sensuous delight, and ‘moksha’ – extinction of the cycle of transmigration, were Krishna’s body but despite that he was at Gurukula for knowing the Vedas. What else it was, if not his ‘lila’.
They conversed for long. Suddenly humour grabbed Krishna’s mood. In lighter vein he asked Sudama to give him what he had brought for him from his home. Sudama was reluctant to disclose for his humble four handfuls of beaten rice could not be a gift to him who was the master of all three worlds. Krishna knew Sudama’s hesitation. As if to set his mind at peace, he said that even an insignificant thing offered to him with a truly devoted mind was far more precious to him than all the riches of the world offered by a non-devotee; however, Sudama’s hesitation was yet the same. With his head hung in humility he kept quiet. Krishna knew his friend’s agitating mind. He knew that he did not ever cherish a desire for anything worldly nor ever worshipped him for wealth, but pressurized by his wife, who was completely devoted to him, he had come for wealth, though this also he did not disclose. Determined to give him what even the gods did not have Krishna snatched from him the bundle of rice concealed under his arm and ate a handful from it. He picked up another handful; however, before he ate it Rukmani caught his hand praying him that what he had done was enough for this birth and for the next.
That night Sudama stayed with Krishna in his palace. The whole night he felt as if he was in Heaven. The next morning he left Krishna’s palace and Dwarika. Krishna gave him apparently nothing but Sudama also did not ask for any. Somewhat ashamed for his mind’s inclination, Sudama treaded homewards. All along the way his mind overwhelmed with the delight of having seen Krishna. In his mind reeled each moment that he had passed with him – how he held him to his bosom where Lakshmi resided, washed his feet, applied sandal, saffron and other pastes on his body, worshipped him, made him seat on the same bed where he himself sat with his dearest consort Rukmani, to relieve him of his fatigue Rukmaniji herself blew fan and served him, and so on. It moved him to recall that the entire world worshipped him but he himself worshipped Brahmins. There could be nothing more satisfying for Sudama than being a Brahmin. He felt that Krishna did him great good by not giving him anything, perhaps because the all-knowing One feared that whatever little he gave, a poor like him could go stray and forget Him. So lost in the Krishna’s thoughts Sudama did not know when he reached his hut, though to his utter amazement the hut was not seen anywhere. Instead of, there stood magnificent palaces constructed with sun, moon and fire like brilliant jewels. Surrounding spaces were covered with beautiful gardens and meadows where groups of multi-hued birds frisked and produced sweet sounds, with ponds in which grew lotuses of various colours, and by splendidly adorned beautiful maidens and handsome youth doing one thing or the other. The bewildered poor Brahmin asked within him if it was his house, and if not, whose house it was. Before he found an answer there emerged from inside the palace bands of gods-like beautiful richly adorned men and women singing auspicious hymns and playing on instruments to welcome him. Hearing of his arrival Sudama’s wife also rushed to the gate. The completely transformed wife of Sudama looked like Lakshmi emerging from the lotus-forest. Tears of delight and love rolled from her eyes. She closed them and with closed eyes she saluted him and welcomed. With his wife Sudama entered his palace, which was as splendid and beautiful as Indra’s.
BHAGAVATA’S MYSTICISM: ALLEGORICAL STRETCH
What ordinarily appears to be a flat narration as if included just to highlight the Brahmanical status in religious hierarchy, the Krishna-Sudama episode reveals strong mysticism, and not just on one level but on different. Spiritual or mystic connotations that it reveals are sometimes just random but sometimes have allegorical stretch which endows or seems to endow the entire episode with an underlying meaning parallel to what it expressly contemplates, and sometimes the meaning so revealed is completely outside its realm and hence difficult to visualise. As for example, besides a Brahmin’s tale in person, it might also be seen as the journey of the self to the Supreme Self accomplished in the Tantrika way. Sudama represents the well-meaning Self but the one that lies Kundalini-like inactive – the dormant energy of the Tantra. Whatever her direction, Sudama’s wife – worldly desire, activates him – Self and thereupon Sudama – the seeker self, sets out on his errand, which is two-fold, one seeking to unite with the Supreme Self, and other, fulfillment of worldly desires.
It is at Dwarika that the seeker self takes off. First, there are three army-camps, the first step towards the apex. The Tantrika calls it ‘Muladhara’ which the Tantra conceives as an inverted triangle. Perhaps not strangely, the seers thought of three army camps, neither two nor four – a metaphoric parallel to the triangular ‘Muladhara’. Once this stage is passed, there emerge three entrances in succession through which Sudama, the seeker self, passes. These are identical to three ‘chakras’ – the dynamic elemental centres, namely, ‘Svadhisthana’, ‘Mani-pura’ and ‘Anahata’, which in Tantra-sadhana are identical stages except in proximity to the Supreme Self, as each of these entrances draws the seeker self closer to the Supreme Self. Beyond these entrances are the palaces of Vrashnis and Andhakas, the two branches of Yadavas. In his human manifestation Krishna, the Supreme Self, is the Yadavas’ ultimate head. The moment Sudama crosses the third entrance he has a glimpse of the Krishna’s magnificence in the form of the palaces of Vrashnis and Andhakas. The seers attribute to the palaces of Vrashnis and Andhakas equal status. It is in their midst that the palaces of the sixteen thousand queens of Krishna lay. The magnificence and divine glory of the palace of Rukmani, Krishna’s principal queen, where Sudama meets Krishna, is unparalleled. It is noticeable that the Bhagavata does not assign any of the palaces to Krishna. In the terminology of Tantra the palaces of Vrashnis and Andhakas are ‘Vishuddha’, and ‘Ajna’ ‘chakras’ conceived to be situated in the subtle body at throat level and in between the eye-brows. In the ‘Vishuddha chakra’ the seeker self is in direct touch with God’s glory. The seeker self sheds its colours and transcends material existence. The ‘Ajna chakra’ accomplishes the rest. The ‘Vishuddha’ and the ‘Ajna chakras’ take the seeker self to the state of complete transcendence, which the Tantrika identifies as the state of ‘Samadhi’. This is the stage when the seeker self readies itself to dissolve into the Supreme Self. Over them all is situated ‘Sahasrara-padma’ – the thousand-petalled lotus, which in the Bhagavata the palaces of the sixteen thousand queens represent. Here the seeker self dissolves into the Supreme Self – ‘Parmatman’. This Supreme Self is in the ‘Sahasrara-padma’ but also beyond it, as in the Bhagavata Krishna is in the Rukmani’s palace but is not its part, or rather not a part of any space. He is an entity beyond space and time and hence the Bhagavata does not assign him any palace.
Not strange but rather meaningful, the Bhagavata that portrays so intensely the delight of Krishna when he finds Sudama reaching him is silent in regard to Sudama’s delight, or even dismay, though in the course of his entire journey to Dwarika, or perhaps that of the life, he had no thought in mind other than seeing Krishna. However, unlike Krishna, he seems to have neither a word to utter nor a tear of joy to let roll. If not casual, which is not the Bhagavata’s character, this more emphatically denotes the Bhagavata’s Tantrika stretch. In the Tantrika way the moment Sudama is in touch with the glory of the Supreme Self he attains the state of ‘Samadhi’ where all colours are shed and the seeker self transcends material existence. Now it has neither tears nor smiles. Ready to merge with the Sought the seeker self is no more the subject of human emotions, good or bad.
The allegory works on yet another level. Sudama was at Gurukula with Krishna, and thus, Krishna’s partner. The metaphoric stretch is obvious. Krishna was the Supreme Self present in all beings, and accordingly, Sudama was the individual self, a part of the Supreme Self, now separated from it but pining ever after to re-unite. Though the chapter giving account of Krishna’s Gurukula days does not mention Sudama, Krishna recounts, when they meet at Dwarika, how they were together at the Gurukula. It was a tumultuous night with darkness all around, directions were all lost and there was nothing to denote where was the pits and where the way. The whole night they were together holding each other’s hands. In the morning the Guru came and led them out of the abyssal darkness. Krishna, the divine consciousness, reminds Sudama that he is His fragment and that he would wade across the oceanic darkness only when He held his hand. Sudama left the Gurukula but neither he could separate himself from Krishna nor could become a part of the world he was living in – a self wandering in wilderness longing to re-unite. It went on for long time. His wife, a woman with worldly desires but fully devoted to her husband and as such his well-wisher, guide and practically his Guru leading him to the path that united him with the Supreme Self, asked him one day to go and meet Krishna. As asked, he proceeded to Krishna’s abode at Dwarika. He walked all along, reached Dwarika, Krishna’s palaces which had Baikuntha-like magnificence, and met Krishna. No sooner His eye fell on him than the duality vanished and oneness emerged. Now no more a fragment, the individual self merged with the Supreme Self and shared with it, with the Supreme Self, all its glory and divinity. Now no other than Krishna himself welcomed him in the divine realms and his principal queen Rukmani attended on.
NATURE OF ‘BHAKTI’, MATERIAL TIES AND THE SEEKER AND THE SOUGHT
The Bhagavata seems to have a different perception in regard to Krishna’s expression of happiness and Sudama’s, not revealing any of its signs. The Bhagavata might conceive of a completely detached devotee but it can not contemplate a Krishna who is as completely detached from the world and his devotees. The Bhagavata discovers, and that perhaps is the primary thrust of the Bhagavata, human concerns of God which best reveal in His manifestation as Krishna. The Krishna-Sudama episode is one of its most appropriate examples. When Krishna meets Sudama, he is emotionally moved, though he does not mind if Sudama does not reciprocate. Apart, he lauds Sudama’s detachment from all worldly desires but himself takes pleasure in touching him, holding his hands into his own and recalling the days they were together at the Gurukula. He would not let Sudama go back with the gift, whatever it was, he had brought for him. Even if a part of his ‘lila’, he childlike insists for his gift. He delivers to Arjuna his thesis of detachment and delusiveness of worldly relations – the Gita, but bound to Arjuna by ties of love he himself resorts even to things which sometimes sound to be ethically wrong. The Bhagavata’s spiritual world is very different. Here, He who redeems of ties chooses to be in ties himself. Krishna-Sudama episode presents an altogether different dimension of such ties. Here a sincere seeker reaches the Sought and by virtue of his merger in Him overcomes every tie that bound him to the world but in the process the Sought ties Himself to the seeker, and quite strongly. The Bhagavata’s perception of ‘Bhakti’ – devotion, as it reveals in this episode, seems to be alike formulated. Not merely that he worships a Brahmin or equates the service rendered to the Guru as the service rendered to him, at one stage, when the devotee has completely detached himself from the world and has merged into Him, He worships the devotee whom Sudama represents. On many occasions the Bhagavata seems to connote that ‘Bhakti’ is God’s incessant nature for while devotee’s adherence to God is in phases God’s human concerns are in perpetuity and so His devotion of mankind. Godhood, God’s human concerns and His ‘bhakti’ are almost identical.
SUBMISSIONS AND OMISSIONS IN THE BHAGAVATA
Submissions and omissions are indeed the Bhagavata’s most effective vocabulary. It is never casual in submitting a part or in omitting it. The Bhagavata is very particular in including what it has to say, and in what it has to exclude. Sudama enters the palaces with other Brahmins but reaches Krishna all alone, others being withheld perhaps during cops’ check, or at the entrances, or deluded by the splendour of the castles of the subordinate Yadavas had lost their way. The underlying meaning is obvious. Many might be treading the path to Him but seekers among them are few, perhaps just one, and him alone the God’s eye sees, and then there are no barriers between the seeker and the Sought. Krishna does not give anything to Sudama, and obviously because he did not desire any. He gives it to her – his wife, who desired for it. Not that he does not bless with worldly riches or gratify senses but would not sensualise a pure mind which is beyond all desires. Sudama gets but the Bhagavata does not reveal as to who gave it; and in this deletion of the name of the giver God’s benevolence and glory better reflect.
FOR FURTHER STUDY :
Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura : Sarartha Darsini
Sudarshan Singh Chakra : Shri Dwarikadisha
Akhandananda Saraswati : Shrimad Bhagavata Purana ka Dasham Grantha
Akhandananda Saraswati : Krishna-lila Rahasya
Akhandananda Saraswati : Gita-Rasa-Ratnakara
Dr. Daljeet : Tantra
Dr. Daljeet : Krishna, the Living Spirit of Vrindavana
P. C. Jain : The Magic Makers
Dr. Daljeet and P. C. Jain : Krishna, Raga se Viraga Tak
Bhaktivedanta Narayana Goswami : Sri Vraja-mandala Parikrama
Bhakta Charitanka : 26th annual number of Kalyana