The value of Bhakti
(As narrated in the Srimad Bhagawad Purana)
This interesting narrative offers us a glimpse of how we can discover good even in the darkest of times. It is narrated in the Shrimad Bhagawad Purana. This Purana begins by telling us the story of a woman named Bhakti and her sons, Gyaan and Vairagya.
It was Kali Yuga. All was not well with the world. Narada, son of Brahmma, came down to the Earth hoping to find the Supreme Consciousness here. He visited all the holy places including Pushkar, Prayag, Kashi, Haridwar, etc. But he did not feel at peace.
This was because it was Kali Yuga, he realised, a time when everything is not as it should be. All that was good and pure in Man was missing. He found people pretending to be what they were not: pious outwardly, yet involved in the worst kinds of crimes ever.
After many bad experiences on Earth, he wandered around unhappy and dispirited until he reached the banks of the Yamuna, the place where Lord Krishna had grown up. There, he saw a strange sight. A very young and beautiful woman sat there, and next to her lay two men, sickly and old. They seemed to be almost on the verge of death. The lady sat there weeping, in deep sorrow.
Narada of course, had to find out more about the lady and the two men. In reply to his queries, the weeping woman told him that her name was Bhakti and that the two men lying beside her were her sons, Gyaan and Vairagya.
Narada was astounded. She looked so young and beautiful! Her sons looked old and withered!
Then she related her story and how she being a mother, was still so young while her two sons were so weak and old.
Bhakti had been born in the land below the Vindhyas and after the birth of her sons, had travelled northwards, where the effects of Kali Yuga took its toll. As the boys grew into youth, they lost their good health and vigour, to become weak and helpless.
“So I took them to Vrindavan,” Bhakti told Narada, “hoping that they would recover. I became young and beautiful again, but my sons became old and weak, as you see them here today. I don’t understand what happened… I should be old and weak… But the opposite has happened.”
Then she said, “O Narada, can you help me understand this?”
Narada pondered upon her plight. He understood now, the effect of Kali Yuga. He said, “You are Bhakti and you are pure. In Vrindavan, Bhakti is important during Kali Yuga, therefore your devotion has been rewarded. However, it is not so for your sons, because of the values they represent are not as pure as Bhakti.”
Bhakti mulled over what Narada said. Then she asked, “O Narada, if Kali Yuga was so destructive, why then did Raja Parikshit not destroy it when he had the chance? He allowed it to remain, knowing just how it is. How did Krishna too bear the evils of Kali Yuga?”
Narada smiled at this. “There is one thing so overwhelmingly good about Kali Yuga, which was why Raja Parikshit did not destroy this era. This thing, this one thing, is so powerful that no austerities or Tapas, Yoga or even Samadhi can be achieved as easily as it can through this – and this is Bhakti or pure devotion to the Supreme.”
He smiled again and said, “So how could Parikshit destroy Kali Yuga, for Bhakti exists only in Kali Yuga, doesn’t it?”
The story of Kali Purusha
The story of how Kali lived to perpetrate the yuga of evil is also the story of Raja’s Parikshit’s journey to death. Raja Parikshit was the son of Arjuna who ruled after the Pandava kings retired from the world.
Kali Yuga had already begun on the ninth day of the Mahabharatha war. But as long as Krishna was on earth, Kali’s powers were restrained. With the death of Krishna, Kali took over the world, spreading evil thoughts and deeds. But there was one thing he could not do – that is, enter Raja Parikshit’s kingdom. Parikshit was a just and good king and his people loved him.
So one day, Kali Purusha told Parikshit, “It is my duty during Kali Yuga, to spread evil. So you have to allow me to enter your kingdom.”
“How can I do that?” asked Parikshit, “You are evil and it is my duty as king to protect my people against you.”
Kali just smiled and said, “Can you prevent the course of nature? The other three yugas have come and gone. Now Kali Yuga must play out its part…”
Now Parikshit realized that Kali could not be prevented, but he could be controlled. While he could not stop him from spreading evil, he could contain it so that his people could be safe. So he said, “So be it. But you shall be present only where gambling, prostitution,consumption of alcohol and the killing of animals take place.”
“Oh,” said Kali, smiling slyly, “I need one more space.” “Where else?” asked the Raja.
“Where there is gold…” said Kali.
“So be it,” said Parikshit, not knowing that Kali had immediately jumped into the gold crown that he wore on his head.
It was therefore, under the influence of the Kali residing in his crown, that Parikshit made the fatal mistake of placing a dead snake around the neck of Sage Samika, and was cursed by the sage’s son to die of snakebite in the next seven days.
Now in the era of Kali, Bhakti implored Narada to save her sons. “O Narada,” she said, “Can you rouse my sons and bring them back to their youth and vigour?”
Narada nodded and began to recite the Vedas and the Gita. He did this several times. But Bhakti’s two sons could not be roused completely. They tried to sit up, but could not. Sleep and weakness soon had them in their thrall.
Narada was stumped. What could he do? He closed his eyes and began to meditate on the Lord.
A few days passed and finally, a voice from the heavens proclaimed, “Find the Sanakadi Munishwars. They will show you the path.”
The Sanakadi Munishwars were sons of Brahmma, just like Narada was. The Sanat Kumaras or the Sanakadi Munishwars were born when Brahmma created the world. In the act of creation, Brahmma created different beings from the different parts of his body. The four Munishwars were created from his mind.
The four decided to be celibate lifelong, wandered about the world studying the Vedas, and became gnanis very young. The Sanat Kumaras were always together and were Vishnu devotees, having given up all things materialistic, for spiritual pursuits.Narada travelled from place to place, trying to spot them. He travelled to many pilgrim centres, met several holy men, but no one could tell him where they were.
Finally, he went to Badrivan and began a Tapas. The Sanakadi Munishwars appeared before him in a few days. They shone brilliantly, like a thousand suns.
Happy to see them, Narada put his problem before them. The Munishwars closed their eyes and began to chant the Shrimad Bhagawad Purana. The purest and greatest of all the puranas, the Shrimad Bhagawad Purana is said to invoke devotion or Bhakti towards Lord Vishnu and his incarnations, particularly, Krishna. Reciting this purana is said to free the mind of materialistic thoughts, directing the individual towards spirituality through Bhakti, and finally to moksha.
This purana is based on Bhakti, as it is one of the paths of yoga that leads to the Supreme Self. Many of the teachings in this advocate this Bhakti Yoga in its myriad forms. Reciting the Bhagawad Purana over a period of seven days or Saptaham, is said to deliver the Consciousness to the Divine. Interestingly, it is over the seven days that the Bhagawad Purana unfolds, as it is recited to Raja Parikshit, who is cursed to die by snake bite in seven days.
Shuka, son of Veda Vyasa and other rishis, gathered together to prepare him for the inevitable, and that forms the start of this purana, leading to a discourse on spirituality and the avatars of Vishnu, with a focus on Krishna. The purana also tells of the death of Raja Parikshit and how reciting the Bhagawad Purana, can make the mind pure, preparing it for the union with the One. Mere recitation of this purana over the Saptaham or the seven-day period, it is believed, can induce Bhakti and God Consciousness. That is why Bhakti is something which even Kali could not erase, and is a simple path to God in a time when evil is all-pervasive.
The Sanakadi Munishwars recited the Bhagawad Purana over seven days. Some distance away, on the banks of the Yamuna, Gyaan and Vairagya slowly rose from their stupor. Their weakness and apathy fell from them as a snake sheds its skin. They became young and vigourous once again.
And that’s why, even today, we know that devoted recitation of the Shrimad Bhagawad Purana over a Saptaham, will help cleanse the evils of Kali Yuga. As we go through Bhagawad Saptaham with our minds deeply and exclusively involved we will merge, through selfless divine Love, with Sri Krishna.
To eliminate the influence of Kali from our homes and our minds, it is suggested that we refrain from the pleasures derived from all the activities where Kali resides.
As with all our myths and traditions, Kali and Bhakti are metaphors – and help us understand the concepts of materialistic pleasures and love for God better. Once these concepts are understood properly, then, making them a part of our lives and setting ourselves on the path of Bhakti are just a step away.