Kathalaya : Stories from the Shiva Purana The Story of Gunanidhi

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(Continued from “Narada and the Maya of Shiva”)

When Vishnu left, the great rishi Narada roamed over the Earth visiting Shiva Lingas in various holy places. The two Ganas of Shiva who were beside Narada at the swayamvara of the princess, heard of his wanderings and approached him. Narada by that time had become pure in mind. They bowed to him and touched his feet. They wished to secure release from Narada’s curse. So they said to him,”Devarishi, please hear our words. We, who had offended you at the swayamvara, are not really brahmanas. We are the Ganas of Shiva. You had cursed us when your mind was deluded by the illusory infatuation for the princess at the swayamvara. Realising that the occasion was inopportune we had kept quiet. We reaped the fruit of our own action. No one is to be blamed for it. Please bless us now.”

Hearing the Ganas’ words uttered with devotion and respect, Narada replied lovingly, repenting his previous fury,”Being the Ganas of Shiva, you are most worthy of the respect of good people. At that time, my mind had been depraved. In that state of delusion and crookedness of mind I had unfortunately cursed both of you. What I have said is bound to happen. But, I shall tell you the way of redemption from the curse. Please forgive my sin now.
You will be born as asuras from the reproductive fluid of a great rishi and due to his power you will secure the commanding position of the king of asuras. You will be endowed with prosperity and strength. You will rule over the whole of the universe as devotees of Shiva and you will gain your former position after courting death at the hands of a manifestation of Shiva.”

On hearing these words of the noble Narada, the two Ganas became delighted and went back to their abode joyfully.

Narada too was delighted. Meditating on Shiva, he continued his wanderings over the Earth and reached Kashi, the holiest of all places and a favourite resort of Shiva. Kashi is said to bestow the favour of Shiva and is identical with Shiva. The great rishi became contented in mind. He had the darshana of Shiva, the Lord of Kashi, and worshiped him with great devotion.

Narada then went to Brahmaloka, his mind being highly purified by remembering Shiva. He bowed to his father, Brahma, with devotion and eulogised him with various prayers. He then asked him many questions about the mysteries of Shiva and his sport in the universe.

Brahma began to narrate the story of Gunanidhi, and Narada listened with delight.

In the city of Kampilya*, there was a sacrificer named Yajnadatta. He was an adept in the performance of yajnas. He knew the Vedas and Vedangas. He was a great scholar of Vedanta. He was honoured by the king. He was a generous donor and as such his fame had spread far and wide.

(*Kampilya can be identified with the city of Kampila in the Furrukhabad district, Uttar Pradesh. It was the southern capital of Panchaladesha in ancient India.)

He assiduously maintained the sacrificial fire and was devoted to the study of the Vedas. His son, Gunanidhi, was of a very handsome complexion and shone like the moon. After the investiture with the sacred thread, he learned all the sciences over and over again. Yet, he had one flaw : unknown to his father, he indulged in gambling.

He took a lot of money from his mother and lost the entire sum in gambling. He completely neglected all the brahminical ways and conduct of life. He was averse to the performance of Sandhya prayers and ablutions. He began to speak ill of the Vedas, sacred texts, devas and brahmanas.

Although his mother wanted him to meet his father now and then, he never went near his father. Yajnadatta used to ask his wife,”What is our son Gunanidhi doing? He is not at home.”
And she would reply,”He has gone out just now. So long he had been taking his bath and worshiping the deities. He has finished his Vedic study and has just gone out somewhere in the company of two friends for the purpose of learning.” The poor woman deceived her husband thus because she had only one son. The simple husband did not know anything about the nefarious activities of his son or his bad conduct.

The time came for Gunanidhi’s marriage. Yajnadatta performed the marriage rite of his son in accordance with the Grihya sutras. Everyday, the woman, with her heart melting in motherly affection, used to make her son sit up and scold him,”I conceal your nefarious activities from your father every day. Due to his good conduct he is honoured by all the good people. Dear child, a good learning and association with men of saintly character is the greatest asset for a brahmana. How is it that you do not take interest in such things? Your ancestors and grandfathers had all earned the reputation of being good Vedic scholars, well learned in the shastras and performers of yajnas. Shun the company of wicked people, associate with good men, turn your attention to learning and live the brahmana way of life. Take good care of your wife and protect her.”
Although constantly advised by his mother thus, Gunanidhi did not abandon his addiction to gambling. He used to lay his hands on whatever he could see in the house – garments, gems, metals, silks, vessels, golden vases, copper pots – and take it to the gambling den, only to lose the same to his fellow gamblers.

Once, he stole a very valuable ring of his father of his father set with precious stones and gave it to one of the gamblers. It so happened that one day Gunanidhi’s father saw it in the hand of the gambler. He asked the fellow,”Where did you get this ring from?”
The gambler replied,”It was your son who gave it to me. Don’t think that I alone am the winner of this ring. He has lost many costly things to other gamblers as well. In the whole world, you would not find such a useless poor gambler as your son.”

On hearing these words, Yajnadatta’s head bent down with shame. He covered his face and head with a cloth and quietly slipped back into his house. He turned to his wife, who was a very chaste lady, and rebuked her in anger and sorrow,”You have given birth to a very wicked boy. He has been stealing many precious objects from our house and you have been protecting him and lying to me all this while. It is futile to be angry with you. I shall take food only after I marry again! I am childless now since that wicked fellow has defiled the whole family. It is our custom to abandon such a one to save the family.”

The brahmana took his bath, performed his daily rites and married the daughter of a Vedic scholar the same day.

Gunanidhi came to know of this. Regretfully he cursed himself and set off from that place. After wandering aimlessly for a long time, he lost all hope and halted at a place. He thought to himself,”Where am I to go? What shall I do? I have not studied much, nor am I rich enough. I cannot even beg as I have no acquaintance. Where shall I seek refuge? Everyday, even before sunrise, my mother used to feed me sweet pudding. Today whom shall I beg? My mother too is away from me.” Even as he was musing thus woefully, sitting at the foot of a tree, the sun set.

It so happened that this same night was Shivaratri. A certain devotee of Shiva came out of the city taking with him different sort of delightful offerings to worship Lord Shiva. He had observed fast on Shivaratri day and along with his kinsmen, entered into the temple to worship the Lord. Gunanidhi was very hungry by this time. He inhaled the sweet fragrance of the sweet puddings and followed the devotee. He thought to himself,”If these devotees of Shiva go to sleep after offering the eatables to Shiva, I shall eat these vast varieties of puddings and sweets in the night.” With this hope he sat at the threshold of the temple of Shiva watching the great worship by the devotee.

When the worship was over and the songs and dances of prayer were concluded, the devotees lay down and began to sleep. Immediately, the young man entered the sanctum sanctorum of Shiva in order to steal the eatables left there.
The lamp was burning very dimly. Hence, in order to see the puddings clearly, he tore a piece of cloth from his lower garment and put that piece in the lamp as a wick, thus making the lamp burn bright and give a good light. Gunanidhi gleefully took the sweet offerings in his hands and came out hurriedly. In his hurry he stamped on some person lying there, who woke up immediately – “Who is that? Who is running away so fast? Catch him.”
Gunanidhi ran for his life but he could not see in the darkness. He was caught and killed by the watchman on duty. By the grace of Shiva and by the power of his own accumulated punya, Gunanidhi could not eat the sweet offerings made to Shiva.

The terrible attendants of Yama who desired to take Gunanidhi to Yamaloka approached him with nooses and clubs in their hands and bound him. In the meantime, the attendants of Shiva, with tridents in their hands and tinkling anklets on their arms, reached the spot in a vimana in order to take him to Shivaloka.
The Shiva Ganas said,”Attendants of Yama, leave this righteous brahmana alone. He cannot be punished since his sins have been burnt off.”
The attendants of Yama did not understand. They said,” Ganas, this is a wicked brahmana who has broken the tradition and conventions of his family. He has disobeyed his father’s directions and has forsaken truthfulness and purity. He does not offer Sandhya prayers. Leave aside even those activities. He has now transgressed and outraged the offerings made to Shiva, the Lord of the universe. He is not worthy of even being touched by people like you.”
The Ganas remembered the lotus-like feet of Shiva and said,”Shiva’s ideas of Dharma are very subtle. They can be observed only by persons of subtle and keen vision, not by people like you whose vision only encompasses the gross exterior. Attendants of Yama, hear attentively what this son of Yajnadatta has done which has freed him from sins.
The shadow of the lamp was falling on the top of the Linga and Gunanidhi prevented it by adding a wick to the lamp, cutting a piece from his lower cloth. Another great punya he derived from listening to the names of Shiva, though casually. He witnessed the worship that was being performed duly by a devotee. He was observing a fast and his mind was concentrated too.
He will come to Shivaloka along with us and enjoy great pleasures there for sometime. Then, he will shake off his sins and become the king of Kalinga, since he has indeed become a great favourite of Shiva. Now, all of you attendants of Yama, can return to your own loka.”

Thus freed from the attendants of Yama, Gunanidhi became pure-minded and went to Shivaloka along with the Ganas. There he served Shiva and Parvati and enjoyed all sorts of pleasures. Afterwards he was born as Arindama, the king of Kalinga*.

(* Kalinga desha in ancient India, occupied the narrower eastern coastal plain from the delta of the Godavari river to that of the Mahanadi river. It was one of the well-known regions of South India.)

Known as Dama, he was devoted to the service of Shiva. Even as a boy he displayed his bhakti towards Shiva in the company of other children. When his father passed away, he became the king in the prime of his youth. King Dama was unconquerable. The act of greatest importance to him was the furnishing of Shiva temples with plenty of lamps. He called the heads of villages in his kingdom and asked them to furnish all temples of Shiva with lamps. “You shall see that the temples of Shiva in your jurisdiction are properly illuminated with lamps. If anybody defaults, I will have him beheaded.” Thus, for fear of him, every temple was duly illuminated. With this act of piety alone, as long as he lived, King Dama acquired ample prosperity. Finally he passed away.

After narrating the story, Brahma said to Narada,”Thus, even the smallest service rendered to Shiva bears rich fruit in time. Let everyone who seeks happiness realise this and continue the worship of Shiva. Gunanidhi never cared for any act of piety. It was to steal that he had entered the temple of Shiva. To see the sweets better he had brightened the lamp there, thereby dispelling the shadow of darkness on the top of the Linga. Then he became the virtuous king of Kalinga.
This is the story of Gunanidhi, the son of Yajnadatta. This story is pleasing to Shiva. It grants all desires of the listening devotees.”