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Paintings > Large > "It is My Duty to Look After those Who Are The Dependents of Those Who Depend Upon Me"
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"It is My Duty to Look After those Who Are The Dependents of Those Who Depend Upon Me"

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The Shrimad Bhagavat describes Sudama as a Brahmagnani, virakta, shantachitta and jitendriya Brahmin. The Tamil Bhagavat of South India, however, calls him 'Kuchail'. A person whose clothes are dirty is called kuchail. Poverty results in dirty clothes, so the name Kuchail is appropriate. But what is the basis of the name Sudama? The basis is that this episode is given in two chapters in the Shrimad Bhagavat and 'Shreedaamaachairt' is written at the end of the first chapter. This establishes that his name was Shreedaamaa, which later became Sudama. That apart, Shri Krishna had a friend of the same name, at Vraja, who was the brother of Radharani. This Shridama-or Sudama-however, lived near Dwarka and was a friend of Shri Krishna's school days.

So, Sudama had the qualities of a Brahmin and a Sage. The Lord had established these qualities in him. He was filled with learning and wisdom, and was the embodiment of the emotional and ritual worship of the Lord. He was also completely free of all worldly desires. It was his custom to never ask for anything from anybody. He would eat whatever anyone gave him, and go hungry if nobody brought him anything. Due to a constant state of hunger, he had become so thin that his veins showed prominently. He never had anything decent to wear - he was always in rags. His wife's condition was the same. Whenever anyone gave a little rice, she would cook it and serve it to him, at times going hungry herself. This was how they lived.

A time came when they go no food for several days. Driven by helplessness, Sudama's wife appealed to him, "Lord, I have heard that your friend is Shripati-the husband of Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth-the Lord Narayana Himself and that He lives close by at Dwarka. So, if you were to go and meet Him, His Grace will surely bring us our daily food, at least."

Sudama, however, was disinclined to go to the Lord for the sake of any material gain. He was convinced that the Lord is omniscient, all-powerful and supremely compassionate. "My condition is not hidden from Him," thought Sudama. "He must be feeling that this is the proper condition for me, so we should be pleased with what pleases Him. We have no need to make any effort."

Along with these thoughts, it occurred to Sudama, "I don't have to ask for or take anything, but if I go to Dwarka, I will have the good fortune of seeing the Lord. What bigger gain can there be?"

Sudama told his wife, "All right. Since you wish me to do so, I will go. However, get something for me to present to Shri Krishna. It is not proper to go empty handed."

Sudama's wife was happy to hear this, but from where was she to get something for Sudama to take as a present? She went to four houses, and brought back, from each, a fistful of pounded rice flakes. They were an assortment of reddish and white, small and big flakes. Four fistfuls of four kinds of pounded rice! However, there was no option. She tied them in a tattered piece of cloth and gave the bundle to Sudama.

Sudama went to Dwarka. He was amazed to see the grandeur and luxury of the city. Shri Krishna's home never had any restrictions for Saints and Brahmins, so Sudama walked up to a spot where Shri Krishna could see him. Shri Krishna caught sight of him. At once, He put his wife Rukmini aside, jumped off the bed and came running towards Sudama. He caught Sudama warmly, hugged him and said, "Friend! I'm meeting you after ages! Where were you all these days?"

You see, the Shrimad Bhagavat says that Sudama went straight to Shri Krishna. But the 'Sudama Charit' written by Shri Narottamdasji says that Sudama first met the doorman, who went to Shri Krishna, saying- "Sir, a man has come at the door. He has no headwear, no proper coat, his clothes are old and tattered. He is so emaciated that people wonder at him. He asks where You live and calls himself Sudama."

As soon as the Lord heard Sudama's name, He ran and embraced His friend. He washed Sudama's hands and feet with His tears. Such a devotee of Brahmins is Shri Krishna! Luxury and wealth are appreciable only when used to serve the poor and the learned. Actually, both the poor and the learned are forms of the Lord, but poverty is contained within the person who is poor, while the learned person can expand his learning by creating thousands of scholars. So, service to the 'daridra naraayana' must certainly be undertaken. The service to the learned, however is of special importance. That is why our scriptures say that a donation given to a learned Brahmin protects and expands our Dharma and culture.

So, Shri Krishna brought Sudama into His palace. He arranged for Sudama's bath and wrapped his own pitambar round his shoulders. He gave the Brahmin a new sacred thread, applied sandal paste on his forehead and served a delicious meal. Then the Lord made Sudama sit on His own bed, and worshipped him, along with all his Queens.

Preachers say that Shri Krishna's Queens came, one by one. They would worship Sudama and sprinkle flowers on his head, and offer him a sweet. Sudama would then give the formal blessing, 'Saubhagyavati bhava, Putravati bhava, Patipriyaa bhava'. After the first few hundred Queens had worshipped him, Sudamaji asked, "How many more are there?" Shri Krishna signaled to him, to keep quiet. However, how many sweets could Sudama possibly eat? He began to take a few crumbs from each. Then, even that became difficult. Sudama started to touch the sweets to his lips, and put them aside. Servants were needed to wipe the sandal paste from his forehead, and remove the flowers sprinkled on his head! Instead of saying the whole six-word blessing, he started to say only the last word, "Bhava-Bhava". As the numbers of sixteen thousand Queens came closer, it was shortened further, to "Bho-Bho"!

This, however, is not given in the Bhagavat. It is the preachers who say this, to make their audience laugh.

Later on at night, Shri Krishna began to talk to Sudama about their days at the Gurukul. 'We used to live as equals," recalled Shri Krishna. "We had no feeling of who was bigger or smaller. We went, just like the other students, to collect firewood for cooking. Surely, you remember how worried our Guruji was, one day, when we got stuck in the forest due to a sudden storm?"

Shri Krishna spoke about their days at Guruji's Ashram with great appreciation. They passed the night in reminiscences.

Next morning, when it was time for Sudama to leave, Shri Krishna thought to Himself, "I must protect the excellent qualities of My Brahmin friend, and respect his superior qualities of wisdom and detachment. This is an ascetic who desires nothing. He has never worshipped me with any thought of material benefit. Nonetheless, his wife hopes to get relief from their extreme poverty. It is my duty to look after those who are the dependent of those who depend upon me."

With this is mind, Shri Krishna asked Sudama, "Brahman Devta, have you brought anything for me?" Sudama felt acutely embarrassed. He tried to hide the little bundle of four fistful of rice flakes-which exposed the entire history of his poverty-under his armpit. How could he open it and offer such stuff to the Lord?

The Lord Shri Krishna, however, abides in every heart, and knows what is there. He snatched the little bundle and ate one fistful of the assorted rice flakes. He was about to eat one more, when Rukmini caught His hand. "Won't you let us have the Prasad from the Brahmin? By eating one fistful, you have granted him all the wealth of the world. If you eat a second fistful, we will all be obliged to go to his house and serve him."

So saying, Rukmini took some rice flakes, and distributed the rest to others. Everybody got the Prasad from the Brahmin's house.

Despite all this, Sri Krishna sent Sudama off empty handed. During the journey home, Sudama began to think, "Just see how much respect Shri Krishna has for Brahmins! He embraced me and allowed me to touch his heart- the same heart, which is the abode of Lakshmi! Not only that, He made me sleep on the very bed Lakshmi sleep on. He pressed my feet, with His hands, to serve me!

As for the wealth, he must have thought that I may become intoxicated by it, and forget him and lose the wealth of devotion gathered so far.

Just see- where am I, a poor, lowly person and where is the Shriniketan Shri Krishna! Still, he accepted me as a Brahmin and caught me in His arms and hugged me"-

Kvaaham daridrah paapeeyaan kva krishnah shreennike 'tanah,
Brahmabandhuriti smaaham baahubhyaam parirambhitah. 10.81.16.

Sudama walked on, blissfully engrossed in such thoughts, towards his village. He saw a fabulous city, with large palaces. He thought he must have lost his way and gone back to Dwarka. He was trying to sort out his thoughts, when his wife came to welcome him. She was beautifully dressed with all the ornaments. A musical band accompanied her.

Sudama understood that this was the Leela of his beloved Shri Krishna. "Just as the clouds shower rain while we sleep, and depart silently, so also my beloved Shri Krishna does not allow anyone to see that it is He who gives."

This, actually, is the proper method for doing dana (charity). The more secret it is kept, the stronger will be its effect in purifying the antahkaran (inner being) of the donor.

Sudama was immersed in supreme bliss. He remained detached all his life, using all his possessions as belonging to God. In the end, he attained the Lord, as a result of his Bhakti.


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