Beginning Bhakti Early: The Inspiring Life of Dhruva

Article of the Month - Sep 2014

This article by Nitin Kumar

(Viewed 15297 times since Sep 2014)

Long long ago there ruled a king named Uttanapada who had two wives - one was Suniti and the other was Suruchi. The wife who is ethical is called Suniti. A king should walk the ethical path. The wife, who pleases the king by agreeing to his every whim is called Suruchi. Unfortunately, it was but natural for the king to be inclined towards the latter. From each wife he had a son. Suniti’s son was Dhruva, and Suruchi’s son was named Uttam.

Bhakta Dhruva (Bengali)

One day, the king was indulging his favorite queen’s son on his lap when the five-year old Dhruva came there. Desiring his father’s affection, he too tried to climb on to the king's lap. Seeing this, Dhruva's envious stepmother said in a voice loaded with pride: "Child! You do not deserve to sit on the throne or on the lap of the king. So what if you are also the son of the king? You have not taken birth from my womb and hence are not qualified to sit on your father’s lap. You are young and innocent and do not know that you were born from another woman. Therefore, you should understand that your desire is impossible to fulfil. If you wish to rise to the king’s throne, then first perform austerities to please Bhagawan Vishnu and then with His grace, you will be able to take birth from my womb."

Just like a snake, when struck by a stick, breathes very heavily, so did Dhruva, being struck by the strong words of his stepmother, began to draw deep breaths of anger. When he saw that his father was silent and did not protest, he immediately stormed out of the palace and went to his mother. When Dhruva reached his mother, he was trembling with anger and crying because of humiliation. Queen Suniti lifted her son and placed him on her lap. Meanwhile, the servants nearby related everything to her in detail. On hearing them, her lotus like eyes filled with tears and she shrivelled up in grief like a burnt leaf. Taking a deep breath she said to Dhruva: "Dear son, whatever your stepmother may have said, do not wish anything inauspicious towards her. Anyone who wishes others to suffer has to himself undergo suffering. Whatever has been said by Suruchi, though harsh, is true. The king, your father, feels ashamed to accept me as his wife. Therefore, it is a fact that you have taken birth from an unfortunate woman, on whose milk you have grown up. If you desire at all to sit on the throne like your brother, then give up your anger and immediately try to execute your stepmother’s instructions. Without further delay, engage yourself in worshipping the lotus feet of Bhagawan Vishnu. All your wishes will be fulfilled when you take shelter under the refuge of God. Just situate Him in your heart, and forgetting everything else, indulge only in His service. I do not see anybody other than Bhagawan Vishnu who can remove your suffering."

Bhagawan Vishnu, The Supreme Lord

As soon he heard his mother’s words, Dhruva resolved to worship Bhagawan Vishnu and set out from his father’s palace. He had gone only a little way when he saw the great sage Narada. The latter touched Dhruva’s head with affection and said (to test his determination): "How wonderful are the powerful kshatriya kings. They cannot tolerate even a slight infringement on their self-esteem. This boy is only a small child, yet harsh words of his stepmother have made way into his heart. My dear child! respect and insult should not affect little children. This world is such that respect and disrespect are routinely experienced by everyone. One should disregard them and carry on."

Dhruva replied: "No, Sir. My mother and stepmother have both said that I should worship Bhagawan Vishnu. This is why I have left home. See my good fortune - the moment I step out of the house, God has send you to me. This is an indication of His approval of the task I have set out to do. I am the son of a kshatriya. I will not turn back until I have attained my goal, even if it takes me several births."

Narada was impressed with Dhruva’s resolution and set out to guide him: "The instruction given by your mother to follow the path of bhakti is eminently suited to you. Therefore, you should completely absorb yourself in the worship of Bhagawan Vishnu. You should go to the forest named Madhuvana, which is near the Yamuna river in Mathura. There you should bathe in Yamuna three times daily and then spread out an asana and sit on the bank. First perform pranayama three times and then concentrate your mind on the beautiful form of Bhagawan Vishnu. [The form of Bhagawan is described now] He has a perpetually smiling face. His eyes and lips are the color of the rising sun. His body is deep blue and He wears a long garland reaching his knees. He wears a golden belt around His waist and anklets with tinkling bells. All His bodily features are very attractive and pleasing. Dhruva! Place such a Bhagawan in the lotus of your heart and you will find your inner self illuminated with the glitter of his toe-nails.

Om Namo Bhagawate Vasudevaya: Devotional Renderings of Selected Stotras (Audio CD)

"O Son of the King!, I shall now give you the mantra which is to be chanted with this process of meditation. This mantra is ‘Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya’ This is the twelve syllabled mantra for worshipping Shri Krishna. While thus worshipping God, be satisfied with eating whatever fruits and vegetables are available in the forest. Remember, this mantra is the very body of Bhagawan Vishnu."

Dhruva undertook this worship of great hardship. At first he ate only fruits and flowers. Then he sustained himself on water, and then only on air. Finally, he stopped even breathing and stood in tapasya on one feet. His individual air (prana) became one with the universal prana and because of this, along with him all living beings stopped breathing. This distressed the gods responsible for the world and they rushed to Bhagawan Vishnu for help.

Large Size Lord Vishnu with Floral Prabhavali

Vishnu Ji reassured them, saying that He would make sure that Dhruva’s tapasya would end soon. Then Bhagawan mounted His eagle Garuda and manifested Himself in front of Dhruva. In His four hands were the conch, chakra, mace and lotus. Dhruva however was in deep meditation and his eyes were closed. He was engaged in contemplating the image of Bhagawan Vishnu in his heart. So Vishnu Ji withdrew His image from Dhruva’s heart, which made him open his eyes. Dhruva saw Bhagawan Vishnu before him in his four-armed form. Dhruva was stunned by the beauty of God. Overcome with emotion, his eyes filled with tears, body tingled with sensation, his throat choked and his heart overflowed with affection. He fell at Bhagwan Vishnu’s feet and as a blessing, Vishnu Ji touched Dhruva’s cheek with his conch.

Why Did Bhagawan Vishnu Touch Dhruva’s Cheek with His Conch?

Bhagwan Vishnu’s conch has a two-fold symbolism. As the personification of sound, it represents the wisdom of the Vedas. By its touch, Dhruva acquired knowledge about God, the only way to this knowledge being the Vedas.

Also, the conch is known as shankha in Sanskrit. This word is grammatically derived as follows: ‘sham khe chhidre yasya asau shankha’ - ‘that, which contains peace within its surface openings is called shankha'. At the touch of Bhagwan’s shankha, Dhruva experienced that transcendental bliss which is nothing but supreme peace.

Bhakta Dhruva

Thus having gained the favor of Bhagwan Vishnu, Dhruva folded his hands and began his stuti (eulogy):

"Bhagawan, you are seated in my heart. You awaken my dormant power of speech and enable me to speak. Not only this, you uphold all my powers and abilities. My hand and feet move with Your strength. My skin is able to feel thanks to You and my eyes see because of Your power. You are never far from me. The only truth is the God who abides in the heart of all. The rest all is avidya. Immersing oneself into Your lila as narrated by saints and scriptures is the sure way to experience the joy of the divine. The resulting tears of joy, joyful tingling of the body, heart brimming with love and a mental absorption in paramananda, all are immediate cash rewards." Pleased with Dhruva’s eulogy, which continues to inspire bhaktas around the world, Bhagawan Vishnu granted him the boon that he would be able to enjoy unlimited material wealth and power, the like of which had not been enjoyed by anyone before."

Here we see what results worship can bring. Dhruva was given everything he had hoped for and every need of his was fulfilled. Yet, his heart was filled with regret as he returned home. He had obtained everything he desired, but blessed with Bhagawan’s bhakti, he now rued the fact that where he could have asked for liberation (moksha), he settled for worldly boons instead.

Dhruva Returns Home

Meanwhile, because God wished it so, Dhruva's stepmother and father had already undergone a transformation of heart. Accordingly, when Dhruva reached his city, he was welcomed with great warmth. He first met his stepmother Suruchi saying that she was his first guru, "It was upon your advice that I worshipped God", he said. Soon the king Uttanapada, Dhruva’s father, handed over the crown to him and entered the vanaprastha ashram, retiring to the forests to worship Bhagawan Vishnu. Dhruva began to rule and was given the title ‘Rajrishi’, meaning a ‘king-saint’.

A strange incident occurred after this. Dhruva’s stepbrother Uttam had gone for hunting and was killed by a yaksha (an ugly, rich celestial being) in the forest. His mother Suruchi went to look for him and she too was burnt to ashes.

This is the fate of suruchi, i.e. acting according to our own desires. It is always transient. Worldly pleasures never last. What we consider to be real and excellent, turn out to be just the opposite after some time.

Dhruva had a lot of affection for his stepbrother. When he heard of his death, anger swelled up inside his heart. Dhruva’s worldly attachments had not been destroyed by his worship because he had worshipped God only for wordily benefits.


Intending to take revenge, Dhruva attacked the yakshas with his army. A fierce battle ensued and Dhruva was inclined to use the ultimate weapon called ‘Narayan-astra’, which would have burned down all the yakshas to cinders.

Just then Dhruva's grandfather Manu came there. Manu Ji alerted Dhruva that anger should not be allowed to overcome one's better sense. He reminded his grandson that anger (krodha) was a sin which blocked the spring of joy in one's heart. Anger comes with the purpose of blocking the paramananda which is one's natural state. Its nature is such that it first burns the very heart in which it flares up. Manu reminded Dhruva of the grace which had bestowed on him by Bhagawan Vishnu, "Son, you have had a vision of God. Why should you harbour such anger in your heart? One yaksha wronged your brother and you want to kill all the yakshas. Why don’t you understand that it was not the yaksha who killed your brother but fate. So, call an end to this war and see how pleased God will be."

This wise advice quietened Dhruva and he bowed before his grandfather. Here we see that the satsang of mahatmas like Manu can achieve what even a vision of God cannot achieve. The reason is that God is present but intangible and the mahatma is present, tangible and on the same plane. We find several such examples in the scriptures, where the supreme potency of the advice of mahatmas is displayed. This teaches us where to turn for advice when we are in a difficult situation.

God of Wealth Kubera with Pot of Wealth

Later Kubera, the king of Yakshas, came forward and offered his hand in friendship. A strong bond of affection grew between the two and Kubera showered Dhruva with blessings.

Afterwards, when the time was ripe, Dhruva handed over the kingdom to his son and retired to the forests, just like his father before him. Ultimately, Bhagawan Vishnu sent an aeroplane to bring Dhruva to Vishnu-Loka (the abode of Vishnu). Dhruva took a bath in the Yamuna and prepared to get on the plane. Then he saw death standing before him. Dhruva placed his leg on death’s head and climbed the plane. Such is the glory of the bhaktas of Bhagawan Vishnu, even death pays them obeisance.

Just as he was about to enter the plane he remembered his mother Suniti. The servants of Bhagawan Vishnu who had come with the plane showed him another aeroplane which was already carrying his mother. Indeed, Suniti was Dhruva’s shiksha guru (teacher) and Narada was his diksha guru (giver of mantra).

Inspiring Prayers from Bhagavata Purana (Reviesd and Enlarged Edition)

The glorious character of Dhruva, who started young and at the tender age of five, resorted to the lotus feet of Bhagawan Vishnu, achieving not only unparalleled prosperity but also Vishnu’s Loka, appears in detail in the Shrimad Bhagavata Purana, Canto 4, Chapters 8-12.


References & Further Reading:

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  • If such was the case of Dhruva, one of the greatest bhaktas of the Lord Vishnu, who has had the vision and had been blessed with the shanka, one cannot imagine the plight of us ordinary mortals​ in countering the 6 fold enemies!
    Gowri September 24, 2014
  • it is wonderful to read religious stories . When one him self goes through the turmoil of life , it does give some solace.
    Chhaya Bedi September 23, 2014
  • It is always a great source of inspiration to read the article of the month ! Thanks a lot for sharing and bringing to one's consciousness the content of the puranas and other vedic literature. Vedic knowledge offers to the sincere seeker an endless fountain of wisdom on the path to enlightment ! So uplifting and rewarding to dive in the depth of this eternel knowledge ! With my deepest appreciation Josiane from France
    Josiane September 22, 0214