The Indigent Brahmin

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Long, long ago there lived a poor and pious Brahmin in a small village. A great devotee of Goddess Durga, this simple man took neither a sip of water, nor a morsel of food before writing the name of the Goddess 108 times every morning. His only source of income was when a marriage or a funeral ceremony was performed in the homes of the rich. These did not happen in the village everyday. Life was tough with his meagre earnings for he had his wife and four children to take care of. He often lamented to the Goddess, “Oh, Durga! Have mercy on me!”

Once, when some days had passed with them having barely a meal a day, the Brahmin went deep into the dense forest near his village and wept in agony. “Oh, Durga! When will you end my misery? I cannot bear to see my family in so much pain because of starvation! Help me feed and clothe them, oh, Durga!”

Now, just as the Brahmin was praying, Goddess Durga and her consort, Lord Shiva, were taking a stroll to see what their countless devotees were up to. The Goddess saw the Brahmin weeping and recounted his woeful prayers to Lord Shiva. “Oh, Lord of Kailash! Please give this Brahmin, a handi (a vessel for cooking rice) the supply of mudki (puffed rice) in which would never get exhausted.”

Lord Shiva agreed and placed a handi in front of her. The Goddess then called the Brahmin and gave it to him with a blessing, “Oh, Brahmin. Your prayers have moved me. Take this handi. Whenever you are in need of food, turn it upside down and shake it. You will have the best quality mudki, till you restore it to its proper position. You can feed your family and also sell it for a livelihood.”

The ecstatic Brahmin bowed to the Goddess and hurried back home to show his family the boon he had received. Just after running a short distance, he wondered whether the handi would actually work. So he turned it upside down and, to his great delight, he saw the finest quality mudki pouring forth. He tied the mudki in his gamcha (a towel made of thin cloth) and continued his journey back.

The Brahmin was very hungry and it was already noon. He had not yet had his bath or said his daily prayers. Besides, the thought of all that mudki hanging by his side made him hungrier. He entered a nearby inn, requested the innkeeper to take care of his handi and rushed for a bath.

The innkeeper wondered why the Brahmin was being fussy about an ordinary handi. He had entertained many odd customers; no one had ever pleaded to him to keep a handi safely. The curious innkeeper examined the vessel, and was dismayed to find it empty. Puzzled, he shook the handi around and just as he turned it upside down, he was surprised to find a lot of mudki coming out. He called his wife and three children and within a few minutes all dishes and jars of their inn were full of mudki. The greedy innkeeper wanted to keep the magic handi for himself. So he replaced the divine handi with a similar, ordinary one.

In the meantime, the Brahmin had finished with his ablutions and prayers. He broke his fast with the soft, flaky mudki tied in his gamcha. He then joyously started on his way home, after unsuspectingly taking the wrong handi from the innkeeper. On reaching home, he summoned his wife and children and told them of the boon of Goddess Durga. The wife and children did not believe him and they thought that poverty had driven the Brahmin mad. When no mudki came out of the fake handi, they were sure he had indeed gone mad.

The heartbroken Brahmin realized that the innkeeper had fooled him. He rushed back to the inn. But the clever innkeeper pretended ignorance of the whole thing and drove him away. The Brahmin went back to the forest and again prayed to Goddess Durga. “Oh, Durga, I have been robbed of your blessings. Your devotee has been looted. Help me please!”

Both Goddess Durga and Lord Shiva blessed him again and on hearing his tale of woes, gave him another handi saying, “Make good use of it and be careful.”

The Brahmin started on his way back home. In between, he stopped to turn the handi upside down, to see what this handi was about. But to his horror, instead of any kind of food, a lot of terrible looking demons jumped out of it and started raining blows on him. The bewildered Brahmin realized the gods’ purpose behind giving him the vessel and quickly turned it back and headed for the inn.

The innkeeper was very happy to see the Brahmin. The Brahmin gave the overjoyed innkeeper the handi and told him to keep it carefully till he returned from his bath and prayers. No sooner had the Brahmin left, the innkeeper and his family turned the handi upside down hoping for some sweets this time. Their joy turned into misery as scores of hideous demons took hold of them and started beating them up.

In the meantime, the Brahmin returned and the innkeeper begged him for mercy. The Brahmin asked for the earlier handi and soon dismissed the demons by turning the handi to its original position. Elated, he rushed home with the two vessels and proudly showed them to his wife and children. All of them ate the delicious mudki.

The next day they opened a mudki shop. Within just a few days, the Brahmin’s mudki shop became famous. He became the proud owner of a brick house as well. The days of poverty and starvation seemed to be over at last.

Good fortune, it is said, does not last forever. The Brahmin too ran out of luck. The first time he could ward off the bad luck because he returned home in the nick of time. His children had accidentally turned the wrong handi upside down, allowing the demons a merry time beating them. When the Brahmin saw the demons, he rushed to the handi and turned it back to its normal position. He then kept it away in a safe place.

The second time, however, there was little he could do. The children, who were arguing as to who would shake the handi first, dropped it. The handi was shattered to pieces.

The morose Brahmin once again turned to the gods for help. Both Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga appeared before him and, hearing his tale of woes, gave him yet another handi. “There will be no more handis for you,” they cautioned him.

The Brahmin bowed low in reverence and ran back home. He summoned his wife and children and turned the handi upside down in the hope of mudki. They let out a chorus of joy when, instead of mudki, sandesh (a sweet) poured forth in a continuous stream. There were mouth-watering square-shaped and moon-shaped sandesh.

The Brahmin opened a sweet shop and his delicious sandesh fetched him great name and prosperity. No social function in his village as well as the neighbouring villages was complete without sweets from his shop.

The zamindar of the village, however, grew jealous of the Brahmin’s rising fortunes. He had heard about the magic handi. So, he plotted a scheme to steal it. The zamindar had a son who was to get married shortly. During his son’s wedding he invited hundreds of people and urged the Brahmin to bring his handi so that the sandesh could be served to his guests. The Brahmin did not like the menacing gleam in the zamindar ‘s eye but he dare not refuse his request. Once the Brahmin had shaken out more than a thousand sweets for the guests, the greedy zamindar snatched the handi from him. He abused the Brahmin and shooed him away.

The helpless Brahmin could not say anything and quietly went back home. He did not know what to do. Just as he thought of Goddess Durga, he remembered the second handi. With rising excitement, he took it out and returned to the wedding. There he shook out hundreds of demons. The hideous creatures went on a rampage with glee. They beat up the zamindar and his men. The zamindar, in fact, was chased by the demons from one room to another. He finally had to beg for mercy and return the handi to the Brahmin.

The Brahmin, thereafter, lived happily with his family for many, many years.

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