Updated: Nov 27, 2021
The Three Lives of Jada Bharata
It was a pleasant afternoon. A warm breeze passed through the forest, making the branches rustle while the birds twittered here and there. There was a sense of excitement in the air, as if all the inhabitants of the woodland knew who would be crossing their path.
King Rahugana, the ruler of Sindhsauvira, was on his way to meet Sri Kapila Muni for advice and spiritual enlightenment. He was a just and fair ruler and eager to continue on his path of spirituality. As they were passing through a forest, one of his palanquin bearers suddenly fell sick. The other men immediately started looking for help and while roaming around the dense forest, one stumbled upon a man sleeping under the cool shade of a tree. He glanced at him from head to toe and was satisfied to see someone who looked like a strong and well-built man, perfect for carrying the king’s palanquin.
Learning that his men had found an able bodied man to help out, the king was at ease again. He relaxed in his palanquin when suddenly there was a jolt. Then another bump. The king’s head kept hitting the roof of the palanquin and he was not able to sit steadily. What he thought was going to be a smooth ride ended up with him bouncing around, very uncomfortably. Getting irritated, he peered out to see what was going on and hollered, “Why can’t the palanquin move steadily?”
It didn’t take long to find out what the problem was.
The newcomer was swaying, hopping, jumping and sometimes pausing in between like a lunatic. He was the reason why the king kept bouncing around inside his palanquin! King Rahugana assessed the new recruit. He seemed like quite a healthy, physically fit person. He figured that this man must have knowingly been making this ride rough. He sarcastically rebuked the man. The man remained silent and humbly carried on with his job. The king got angry and threatened that if he didn't serve his master properly, he would be punished.
The man looked up at the king and smiled. He then replied calmly, “O King! You looked at me and said that I am not doing my work properly. You are right because I am actually not carrying the palanquin. It’s my body who is doing the job. This body might be weak or strong, but I, the soul, am neither thin nor stout. If you deduced that being so robust, I was behaving like a dead man, then tell me O king! Who can avoid death? The body that is born has to die. But the soul is pure, eternal and aware.”
The man continued, “You also said that as your servant, I did not obey your command. You consider yourself my Lord. But who is the master and who is the servant? Today you are the king and I am serving you. Our roles might get reversed in the next life. Everyone follows the laws of nature. I am not walking steadily and making it inconvenient for you because I keep looking down to avoid stepping on small insects and ants that might get trampled under my foot.”
King Rahugana was stunned. Someone who could explain such complex principles so candidly could not be a lunatic. He must be an enlightened soul. The king alighted from the palanquin and fell at the feet of the man.
“O wise one! I am ignorant. Please advise me on how to lead this life spiritually”, the king pleaded.
The man answered, “Since our minds are full of desires, the soul takes up different bodies to fulfil them and suffer the joy and pain brought on by material activities. Let me tell you about myself.”
The man continued that in one of his previous births, he was known as Bharata, the eldest and greatest son of Bhagwan Rishav Dev. Rishav Dev is hailed as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Rishav Dev crowned Bharata as the king left the kingdom to continue his spiritual journey as an avadhut.
Bharata was a kind and benign king, devoted to his kingdom and the people. He was a great devotee of Lord Krishna and surrendered himself at His lotus feet. He conducted many religious ceremonies and was bestowed with five sons. Though he took the throne obeying his father, he had no attachment to the throne or the kingdom. He was a self-realised soul and his devotion was on a rise. While meditating, he came to know that his time as a king was coming to an end. He remained detached and divided his kingdom and wealth among his five sons. He left his home and arrived at the ashram of sage Pulaha, at the foothills of the Himalayas. He lived alone in a forest on the banks of the Gandaki river. Being a great devotee, he prayed and offered tulsi, flowers, fruits and water to Lord Krishna. He followed all austerities and had no desire for the worldly pleasures and was free from the cycle of births and deaths.
But destiny had other plans. One day, while he was taking his bath in the Gandaki river, he saw a beautiful doe scared by the roar of the lion, looking at him, her eyes filled with fear. When the roar became louder, the frightened doe, cluelessly jumped into the water. The doe was pregnant. In this whole commotion, the baby deer was born and fell into the river from the doe’s womb. The doe was carried by the river current to the other side and soon passed away. Bharata was filled with compassion for the baby deer floating away in the river. So, he lifted the baby deer out and brought it to his ashram. He fed the deer and took great care of him. Slowly he became attached to the baby deer and loved being with every moment. All his time passed by thinking about making the deer’s life comfortable.
The Rajarshi Bharata, the one who had given up the worldly pleasures and decided to remain would become attached to a baby deer, can only be deduced as destiny’s play. He became so attached that he forgot about his spiritual quest. He was distracted from his prayers and meditation and became obsessed with raising the baby deer. One day, when he couldn’t see the deer around, he became anxious and started searching. Days went by but the deer didn’t return. When death arrived at Bharata’s door, he was still pining for the deer.
Consequently, in his next life, Bharata was born as a deer. Due to his spiritual advancements in the previous life, he was able to remember his actions and understood the reason behind this life of a deer. He lamented at his foolishness. Having understood the futility of the material world and taken up the path of self realisation, he became attached to a deer and tarnished his spiritual pursuit. Having learnt a valuable lesson, he gave up the company of all deer and returned to the ashram of sage Pulaha. He prayed, and meditated upon the Lord and his life came to an end there, at the ashram.
In his following life, Bharata was born in a brahmin’s home and by his earlier penances, remembered his past lives. Being aware, he avoided association with worldly people and spent his time thinking and meditating on the Lord within his heart. Though he was intelligent and wise, he pretended to be dumb and deaf, always fixing his mind on the Lord. Inspite of his father’s attempts to educate him, he continued behaving like a lunatic. After his father’s death, his step brothers, considering him to be a useless fool, made him work like a slave in their fields. Bharata never protested, accepted whatever they gave him, completely liberated from the bodily concept of life.
One day, while Bharata was sitting in the field, meditating, a gang of thieves caught him and tied him up with ropes. The leader of the gang, wished for a son and to please Maa Bhadrakali was searching for a dull, unintelligent, human being to sacrifice in the temple of the Goddess. His followers, after tying Bharata, took him to their leader. They gave him a bath, dressed him in new garments and fed him a sumptuous meat. At midnight, they put a garland around his neck and took him to the altar of Maa Bhadrakali to sacrifice. Bharata had surrendered himself at the feet of the Lord and hence didn’t protest. The priest chanted hymns and took out a sharp sword to slit Bharata’s throat and offer his blood to the Goddess. Suddenly, the fiery Maa Bhadrakali rose from the form of the deity, with a blazing radiance illuminating the dark night. Raging with fury, She seized the sword and decapitated the thieves, one by one.
Bharata came out of the temple and kept wandering, oblivious of the world around when he was caught by King Rahugana’s men to carry the palanquin.
King Rahugana prostrated at Bharata’s feet and prayed, “O most exalted personality, you are my Lord. All my doubts have been eradicated by your mercy. I now understand that association with devotees is the sword that can cut the illusion of the material world. Thus, being conscious, one can free oneself from this cycle of births and deaths.”
Inspired by Krushnapriya Mohanty's essay. 'Jada Bharata Upakhyana'
Image Credit: Eila Sahu