King, Deer and Brahmin: Tracing a Yogi’s Journey

Article of the Month - Jun 2012

This article by Nitin Kumar

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Long, long ago, in ancient India there lived a great king named Bharata, who was as famous for his righteousness as he was for his valor. Having performed his Dharma as a king for many years, and observing the graying of his hair, he realized that his share of kingship was now nearing completion; he therefore divided his ancestral kingdom proportionally between his sons. Then he abandoned his home, an abode of immense wealth and prosperity, and set out for the jungles to spend his last days in the worship of the Supreme Lord. In doing so, he was only following the glorious precedent set by his ancestors since time immemorial.

There, living in a saint’s hermitage, he performed in seclusion, worship to the Lord using fresh flowers, tender leaves like that of Tulsi, various roots found in the forest and also waters from the streams flowing nearby. Performing this Puja everyday, all desires for sensory objects ceased within him, and he attained a tranquil state of mind, leading to an experience of immense bliss.

Of Mystics and Mistakes (The Journey from Confusion to Clarity, from Error to Enlightenment, from Self-Deception to Self-Discovery)

When he continued to perform this worship daily without fail, his heart melted with a surging, ever increasing love for God. His hair stood on its end because of ecstatic joy, and his eyes brimmed over with tears of joy. He had taken the sacred vow of propitiating the Lord. He performed it in the proper manner as per the scriptures, donning only a deer-skin, and taking three ritual baths in the morning, noon and evening respectively, because of which his hair became curly and matted, granting him a charming beauty.

Once he was sitting on the bank of a river, chanting the scared syllable OM, when he caught sight of a pregnant deer who had come to quench her thirst. Suddenly a lion roared, and the poor creature, frightened out of her wits, panicked and tried to jump across the breadth of the river to the other shore. As she leapt over the waters, the foetus dislodged and fell into the river. Exhaustion due to the untimely dislodging of the foetus, the long jump, and also extreme fear of the lion, all proved too much for her and she fell dead.

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Out of compassion for the newly born floating helplessly in the water, king Bharata jumped into the river, saved the young one and took him to his hermitage; intending to take care of him. Soon he developed an intense attachment to the fawn, and began to spend more and more of his time feeding, tending, loving and sporting with the young deer. He said to himself: “What a pity! This poor unfortunate deer, due to the vagaries of time, has separated from his kith and kin. He has no father, mother, brother or companion other than me. Hence it is up to me to look after this young one which depends solely on me.”

In this way his heart was bound so much in affection to the deer that whatever he be doing, sitting, sleeping, wandering, standing, eating or performing any task, king Bharata would always be thinking about the young one. When he went to collect flowers etc from the jungle for his worship he would take along the fawn with him. On the way he would carry it on his shoulder, place it on his lap, hug him to his bosom or derive the highest pleasure just by fondling it. Even during the course of performing his religious duties, which required single minded devotion, he would rise up again and again to check on the young one. On occasions when he did not see the fawn nearby he felt wretched like a man who had lost all his wealth. In such situations he felt extreme anxiety, tenderness and compassion, and his heart suffered from the pangs of separation.

It was nothing but the fruits of the Karma performed by king Bharata in his previous births which had now materialized as the fawn. Otherwise, how was it possible for that great Bharata, who had considered his very own sons as impediments to Moksha and hence left them and all his riches behind when setting out for the jungles? Thus Bharata, the great yogi, now swerved from his yogic practices and his acts of devotion were interrupted.

As time passed, the aging king came close to death, and when the inevitable end came, the last moments of Bharata were centered on the fawn. Thus Bharata left this world with his mind fixed on the baby deer.

Srimad Bhagavad-Gita

According to the Bhagavad Gita:

‘Whatever one remembers while leaving the body, that is what he gets in the next birth; because one has constantly thought of that being during one’s life.’ (8.6)

Thus it was inevitable that in his next birth king Bharata was born as a deer. However, due to his previous intense spiritual practices, and the correct following of the Varnashrama Dharma (leaving the house when he was old etc), king Bharata retained his devotion to the Supreme Lord even when he was in the body of the deer. Lord Krishna clarifies in the Gita:

“Know for certain that my devotee is never destroyed.” (9.31)

Endowed with the memory of his previous birth, Bharata recalled why he had become a deer, and greatly tormented by repentance, cried out:

“Alas, how painful it is! I strayed away from the path treaded by luminaries. With great patience I had divested myself from attachment to my family and kingdom, and taken recourse in a secluded sacred forest. I was self-controlled and had devoted my mind completely to the Supreme Lord. However, the same mind suddenly started following a baby deer and strayed from its aim.”

Thus Bharata, filled with deep remorse, left the herd of deer he belonged to. He then wandered off, returning back to the same hermitage where he had given up his human form. Even there he did nothing but wait for his last moment. He had become so terrified of any attachment to anybody that he stayed all alone, subsisting on dry leaves, grass and creepers, counting his days, waiting for the exhaustion of his Karma which had caused his birth as a deer. When he realized that the end was near, he gave up the deer’s body by standing half-immersed in the Gandaki River flowing nearby.

Which Body Did Bharata Get Next?

Then, after Bharata quit his body as a deer, the story proceeds as follows:

The Story of A King, A Sage, A Deer (King Bharat 's Tale)

There lived a certain holy Brahmin, who possessed both, self control and tranquility of the mind. He was known for his austere lifestyle, study of the Vedas, liberal hospitality, contentment, endurance, modesty etc. In other words, he was a true embodiment of Brahminhood. It was to this illustrious father that Bharata took his next birth. This illustrates the following verse of the Bhagavad Gita:

‘One who has fallen from his Yoga, is born in a family of wise Yogis. Such a birth is rare and difficult to obtain’. (6.41-42)

Bharata was one of the many children born to the householder Brahmin. This was to be Bharata’s last birth. In this body also, because of his previous experience, Bharata was extremely detached from his family. His mind was always fixed on the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord who is the only one capable of cutting away our bondage of Karma. By the grace of God, Bharata remembered the series of his previous births and apprehensive of falling down again, he presented himself to the world as a mad, foolish, blind and deaf person. Since he was not receptive at all to what went around him he was given the name ‘Jada’, or dull-witted.

The pious Brahmin was much worried about his son Jada-Bharata. He performed all the sacred Samskaras dictated by the scriptures for a Brahmin child, like wearing the sacred thread (Upanayana) etc. After this the doting father tried to teach him the Vedas. However, Jada-Bharata failed to learn even the chanting of the Gayatri Mantra. The father continued to try his best to teach his son; but he was not successful and passed away before long.

The Yoga of The Yogi (The Legacy of T. Krishnamacharya)

With the father gone, his brothers had little patience with Jada-Bharata, thinking him to be dull-witted and thus desisted from teaching him anything. Bharata had no notion of duality, and honor or humiliation were equal to him. When he was addressed as a madman, a stupid or deaf fellow, he behaved in accordance to the epithet given to him, thus reinforcing the people’s opinion of him. Whenever somebody wanted him to do something, Bharata would ungrudgingly do whatever was asked of him. In lieu of this work, whatever little food he got, or by begging or even without begging, he would eat that without regard to its taste. Indeed he had attained to that knowledge of the Supreme Self, which is of the nature of pure bliss. He never identified himself with his body, and thus was unaffected by the pair of opposites tormenting it (pleasure or pain, heat or cold, respect or disrespect etc.)

Whether it be cold, heat, rain, thunderstorms, Jada-Bharata would lie around bare bodied like a bull. His body was strong with rippling muscles. But he never beautified himself, and never took a bath. Under this physical dirt, his spiritual glory remained hidden, like a brilliant gem under a pile of dust. The most he did was cover his middle portion with a dirty cloth.

His brothers seeing him working for others free of cost set out to exploit him on their own. They employed him on their farm, in return of which he was given broken rice, worm eaten grain and charred food sticking to the bottom of the cooking utensils. All this, Jada-Bharata would eat as if he was partaking nectar itself.

Jada-Bharata’s Conversation with a King

One day a king named Rahugana was traveling through a forest in his palanquin. One of the palanquin-carriers became sick, and so a search was made to replace him. Soon the king’s soldiers found Jada-Bharata, wandering about without a care in this world. Observing his excellent physique, they chose him to share the load.

However Jada-Bharata, fearing a creature may be crushed under his feet, walked looking down very carefully. In fact, he kept his eyes fixed looking ahead only about the length of the arrow on the ground. The movement of Jada-Bharata was thus zigzag and he couldn’t keep in step with the other bearers. Consequently the king was subjected to a bouncy and uncomfortable ride. Angered by this he sarcastically taunted Jada-Bharata: “Dear fellow, it seems you are exhausted by carrying this palanquin for such a long distance alone. These other carriers don’t seem to help you at all. You are not well-built and also old age has over come you.” Though severely reproached in this insulting manner, Bharata silently carried the burden as before.

The Final Destination of Jada Bharata

The palanquin however continued to move irregularly. This infuriated the king further who was used to people following his orders: “Oh! What is this? You are as good as dead even though alive. By disobeying me you are transgressing the command of the king who is your Lord. Like Yama, the god of death, who metes out punishment to people according to their Karma, I too will bear the rod of chastisement and administer a befitting and corrective remedy unto you, which will bring you to your senses.”

Rahugana prided himself on being a king who ruled over people. Inebriated with arrogance born out of Rajoguna and Tamoguna, the king, by insulting Jada-Bharata, had in fact insulted all selfless devotees of the Supreme Lord who are but His favorites. However, the venerable Brahmin Jada-Bharata, ever-absorbed in supreme bliss, was the well-wisher of all (even those who offended him). He smiled charmingly and spoke out without even a trace of resentment in his voice:

“You see, King, this body is but a clod of earth created from the five elements. A wise person never mistakes it for oneself. In fact, there is not the slightest ground for the notion of the difference of a king and his servant, other than conventional verbal usage. As for the burden being carried on my shoulders, “I” am not the body, so who is carrying whom, and who are you going to punish?”

King Rahugana jumped down from the palanquin as soon as he heard these words. He fell at Jada Bharata’s feet and asked him: “Sir who are you? You speak like one who knows the essence of all the Vedas and scriptures. Your words ring true in my ears. Who are you who speak such profound words? Noble Sage! I fear neither the thunderbolt of Indra nor the trident of Lord Shiva as much as I fear disrespecting a true Brahmin like yourself.”

Yoga for Life: A Journey to Inner Peace and Freedom

Whatever his shortcomings king Rahugana was a true seeker, which is why he had been blessed with the company of the great Jada-Bharata. Now with all humility the king asked:

“Sir, how do you say that there is no burden placed on your shoulders? I concede that we are not the body, but if a vessel is placed on fire it gets heated, and after it is hot the water inside the vessel gets heated and then consequently the rice inside the water gets cooked. So, when the soul is seated inside your body, how can it not be affected by the weight which falls on the body? It is natural to experience that weight. Then how is that “You” do not ‘feel’ the weight of the palanquin?”

Jada-Bharata replied, “You see, King, this is the earth. It seems as though a man is walking on it, but the foot of the man who walks on the earth is also made of the same earth. The knees are above the feet, the waist is above the knees, and the shoulders are above the waist. A palanquin is placed on the shoulder and a man is seated in the palanquin. All of these are but modifications of the earth only. Consider a hammer and anvil. Both are in essence made of iron, even then, to our eyes, the hammer is not anvil and the anvil is not the hammer, both are different. Therefore, because of being different modifications, there is scope for interaction between the two. One beats and the other gets beaten up. Even then, essentially, the iron neither beats nor gets beaten. It is only two modifications of iron interacting with each other, leaving the iron itself essentially untouched.”

Tibet's Great Yogi Milarepa

The words of the saint were minimum, conveying the maximum of profoundity. The king rolled in raptures at Jada-Bharata’s feet exclaiming:

“Salutations to you again and again. You are but God himself assumed human form. I bow to you, Oh Master of Yoga. Your speech has been like a nectarine medicine to me, curing my ailment of identifying myself with this temporal body. Your words soothed me like the waters of Ganga soothing a person scorched by the heat.”

Thus having cured the king of his Avidya, Jada-Bharata continued with his wanderings till it was time to leave this body too, never to be born again. It is said that the one who faithfully listens to, recites or praises this virtuous tale of the illustrious sage Bharata, will never need anything from others, but secure everything on his own right, up to the heavens and eventually Moksha.

The story of Jada-Bharata occurs in detail in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Canto 5, chapters 7 to 14.


References & Further Reading:

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  • سلام خسته نباشین بابا تورو بهخدا ایقدر اذیت نکنین بذارین عکسارو نگاه کنیمtank you
    جلیل همتی July 11, 2012
  • I enjoyed your story of King, Deer and Brahmin: Tracing a Yogi's Story very much. It is something as an aging man I am learning slowly, even thought I find myself as the anvil rather than the iron much of the time. I have much past Karma to live through in this life and the next.
    Peter S. Fricano June 16, 2012