This riveting legend once again stresses on the importance of loyalty. Though Bandhu is subjected to untold miseries he never loses faith in his friend, Lord Jagannath. His steadfast faithfulness is rewarded when the Lord himself comes to his rescue. It is an ageless tale about a timeless value.
In early 16th century, in the town of Jajpur in Odisha, lived a man called Bandhu Mohanty. Though Bandhu was very poor he was an honest and spiritual person. No one knew what his real name was. He had been given the nickname of Bandhu, which means friend, because of his deep attachment to Lord Jagannath. Bandhu considered the Lord as his best friend.
Bandhu lived with his wife, two daughters and a son. He had no property and no means of earning his livelihood. He and his family survived on the alms given by the villagers. However, Bandhu was a contented man, he had no worries. He knew his closest friend, his Lord, was there to take care of him.
Once Jajpur was affected by a severe famine. There was no rain for days. Crops started withering, people had nothing to eat. There was hunger and starvation all around. Many died, others fled in search of food and water. In such a situation Bandhu and his family found it difficult to survive.
Finally, unable to bear the agony of her children, Bandhu’s wife told him, “You keep chanting about the rich, prosperous, kind and generous friend of yours who lives in Puri. Why don’t we go to him instead of starving here?”
Now Bandhu’s wife had no idea that her husband’s friend was none other than the Lord of the Universe, ‘Chaka Aakhi’ himself. She only knew he was someone who was wealthy and powerful and would hopefully not say no to her husband’s appeal for help. After all they were bosom friends.
Bandhu, on the other hand, did not want to trouble his Lord with problems of his own. He felt it would be too selfish a thing to do. So for many days he ignored his wife’s pleas. Finally, when the situation started getting really bad and he could no longer bear to see the pain on the faces of his beloved children, he relented.
The family of five set off for its destination: Puri. After a four day trek they reached the holy land of Lord Jagannath. It was dark. The temple looked magnificent with its glorious structure lit by bright lights. The aura of faith and spirituality made them spell bound. For quite some time all of them held hands and just kept looking at the grandeur of the temple. Hundreds of devotees were thronging the main entrance. The guards or Pratiharis were monitoring the visitors. Bandhu wanted to take his family inside the sanctum sanctorum to have a glimpse of his dearest friend. But he knew they would not be allowed inside by the Pratiharis since they were in rags. Hence, he instructed his family to join him in offering prayers from outside. After paying their obeisance to the Lord, Bandhu, along with his wife and children, left the temple premises.
While looking for a suitable shelter to spend the night, the visitors reached a place called Pejanala. As per custom a huge quantity of rice is cooked in the temple complex for the Mahaprasad or offering for the devotees. The gruel which remains is drained out and deposited at the Pejanala.
Bandhu decided to spend the night there with his family. He brought some rice gruel from the Pejanala which the family ate.
Seeing the condition of the place, which was bare and bereft of even the minimum of comforts, his wife asked, “You keep telling that your friend is wealthy and influential and that he will take care of you whenever you are in need. Yet, instead of taking us to his place why did you get us here? Is it because your friend befriends only the rich like him?”
Bandhu ignored his wife’s barb and replied quietly, “My friend had too many visitors this evening. We’ll meet him tomorrow when he is free.”
They all went to sleep. Suddenly Bandhu heard someone call his name and woke up with a start. It was pitch dark all around. His family was sleeping peacefully. ‘I must have been dreaming. Or else who would know me here,’ Bandhu muttered to himself and lay down once again.
“Bandhu,” the voice was distinct this time. There was no doubt someone was actually addressing him.
Bandhu got up and looked all around.
He saw a dark skinned Brahman standing with a big plate in his hand.
“Bandhu, your friend has sent Mahaprasad for you and your family. Please take it. He has also assured you that in the morning he will make all arrangements for you,” with these words the dark Brahman handed over the plate.
Bandhu woke up his family and they had the most delicious meal of their lives. As he saw his children eating to their hearts content, savouring every morsel, tears of gratitude welled up in Bandhu’s eyes.
After the meal Bandhu washed the plate and went to give it back to the Brahmin. He searched for him in vain but the Brahmin seemed to have disappeared.Bandhu wrapped the plate in a rag and put it beside him. He then thanked his dear friend for his kindness and happily went to sleep.
The next morning there was a furore in the temple. It was discovered that the big gold thali in which bhog is offered to the Lord was missing. The thali was kept in the Ratna Bhandar, the store house of precious stones, gold ornaments and utensils. Inquiries were made and it was found that the Ratna Bhandar had been locked securely. Then how could the thali have been stolen and who could have committed this dastardly act?
The news of the theft spread all over Puri. Gajpati Pratap Rudra, the King of Khurda, dispatched his soldiers to Puri as well as neighbouring areas to look for the sacred vessel.
One of the soldiers while scouting the Pejanala area found Bandhu and his family lying there in one corner. Since the five of them looked rather odd sitting huddled up he came close to have a look. To his great surprise he saw the gold thali kept there, covered with a piece of rag.
The soldier grabbed Bandhu and shook him. “You scoundrel. How dare you steal the sacred thaliof the Lord. Don’t you have any shame? Are you not afraid of the consequences?”
Poor Bandhu tried his best to explain to the soldier but there was no use. The soldier dragged him roughly to his superiors. There too Bandhu’s pleas fell on deaf ears. No one believed him. Everyone thought he had somehow managed to steal the thali from Ratna Bhandar and now after being caught was trying to spin a yarn in order to escape.
As he was dragged to the prison along the streets of Puri, huge crowds gathered to see the criminal who had not spared even the Lord’s Ratna Bhandar from his evil designs. People competed with each other in hurling abuses and throwing stones at the unfortunate Bandhu. He was finally thrown into prison.
His wife and children were left to suffer on their own.
In spite of he himself being subjected to immense humiliation and torture and his poor family enduring untold miseries, Bandhu’s faith in his friend Lord Jagannath did not waiver one bit. He had confidence that his bandhu would give him the courage to face every situation. He waited patiently for the Lord to save him and his family.
While Bandhu was calmly waiting for deliverance his friend Lord Jagannath, sitting on the Ratna Singhasan, was very much upset. How could his friend be made to suffer for his faith and devotion? How could he be treated so cruelly even though he was completely innocent? It was He who had taken the Mahaprasad to his friend in the gold thali. And without knowing the truth the powers that be had branded Bandhu a criminal and were subjecting him to untold torture.
That night Gajapati Pratap Rudra had a dream. Lord Jagannath had flown to his palace on his mighty Garuda. He had appeared before Gajapati and narrated the entire story about the unfortunate and innocent Bandhu Mohanty.
“A serious injustice has been done to Bandhu, my innocent friend. He and his family have suffered for no fault of theirs. He should be immediately released. All arrangements must be made so that he and his family can stay with dignity and honour.”
Gajapati got up and realising that the Lord’s instructions are to be carried out immediately, rushed to Puri. He himself went to the prison and released Bandhu. He then begged for forgiveness for all the injustice done to him.
Bandhu and family were given proper clothes to wear and taken to the Ratna Singhasan.
There in the sanctum sanctorum, standing before the Lord, Bandhu told his wife. “Meet my dearest friend, my Lord. Is he not the most powerful, wealthiest, kindest and most generous friend anyone can have? Could I have every doubted him, could I ever have questioned his love for me?”
His wife stared in amazement. ‘So Lord Jagannath himself was her husband’s friend?’ She felt ashamed that she had doubted her husband’s faith and the Lord’s benediction. She bowed her head before the Lord and sought his forgiveness.
Later Gajapati appointed Bandhu as the Kharasodha or the custodian of accounts of the temple. He arranged accommodation for Bandhu and his family at the south gate of the temple. The descendants of Bandhu continue to occupy the position of custodians of accounts to this day.
Bandhu Mohanty’s story illustrates that the Lord never deserts his true devotee. He can even leave his Ratna Singhasan to rescue his bandhu.
The opinions shared by the writer are personal.
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