On the bank of river Tungabhadra, in a beautiful town lived Atmadev, a brilliant, scholarly and dharmic (धार्मिक) brahmin. His wife Dhundhuli, although an expert in household works, was obstinate and quarrelsome. He had enough wealth yet he was unhappy as he was childless. He practiced many rites and ritnals but could not have one. He was utterly distressed. He left home and proceeded towards forest. It was day time. He felt thirsty. He drank water from a pond and sat aside in a sorrowful state, just then an ascetic came and asked for the cause of his distress.
Srimad Bhagavatam for Moksha
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Atmadev said—‘O noble soul ! how do I explain the cause of my distress ? Since I have no child even my ancestors receive my offerings of water with sorrow. Even gods and brahmins are not pleased to receive my offerings. When I keep a cow, even she does not breed a calf. I plant tree but it also does not produce fruits and when someone brings fruits to my house, they get rotten soon. I am now fed up with this life of mine and have came here to die since life without an off spring is useless.’
Having said so he started crying bitterly.
The ascetic in the meanwhile could read the fate of the brahmin and said—O brahmin ! you may not have a child in your seven births. You feel that life is complete only with an off spring. It is not true. Life proceeds according to Karma, the deeds. Give up the wordly attachments.
Do you not know, earlier king Sagar and Emperor Anga had to face a lot of distress due to their children. You better renounce the world and be happy.
‘From you I had not asked for advice’, said the brahmin. ‘Give me a child if you can, rather than an advice. If you do not grant me a child with the power of your supreme spirit, I would end my life here in front of you. You know ascetism is dry whereas domestic life is charming where one has children and grand children’, he said.
(Translation by O.P. Dhanuka, publisher: Gita Press; pages 20 to 34 of Shrimad Bhagwat Mahapuran. Condensed by HariBhakt.com)
Atmadev ridiculed the renunciation of worldly pleasures, wrongly thinking materialistic discourses are things to enjoy life. Little did he knew, such type of flawed thoughts would soon backfire in years to come.
Bhagavata Purana: Not Blessings But Only (कर्म) Karm and Penance Can Change Destiny
The ascetic could understand that the brahmin would not listen and that he was destined to undergo distress. He gave a blessed fruit to the brahmin and asked him to feed it to his wife. He also asked him to advise his wife to always speak the truth, to observe sanctity, to be compassionate and to have only one meal a day. If she observes it for a year, she would have an excellent child.
Having said so the ascetic went his way and Atmadev happily returned home. He gave the fruit to his wife with an advice to eat it and observe the restraints as asked by the ascetic.
Dhudhuli wondered how this idea of having a child came to her husband and she made up her mind not to eat that fruit for if she ate it she would conceive and her belly would swell. When her belly would swell, she would consume less food and would be able to do lesser household chores. She further thought that in case the robbers attacked the village, being a pregnant woman she may not be able to run and what if the embryo turned out to be one like Shukdev, who remained in his mother’s womb for twelve long years ? As the pregnancy is painful, how would she be able to bear the labour pain if the embryo turns upside down ? She also thought that observance of required
restraints would make her weak and under such weakness what would she do if her sister-in-law came and took away all her possessions.
Besides, she thought, it was very painful to beget a child and to bring it up. The widows and barren women were more happy, she thought and so she made up her mind not to eat the fruit and when asked by her husband she told a lie that she had eaten it.
Bhagavata Purana: Destiny Grips Atmadev, Dhundhuli Lying Her Husband
One day when her sister came to visit her she told her everything and asked her—‘Tell me, what should I do now ?’ Her sister replied —‘you are right. You are quite weak as it is and the pregnant and after delivery I may give you my child. Till then you will have to pose as a pregnant woman. In exchange you will have to pay some money to my husband and in the meanwhile I would make it public that I have had a miscarriage and that I was going to nurse and take care of my pregnant sister. This way without being pregnant you will have a child and I will have some money. Further, I would come and help you in bringing up the child.’
‘But what to do of the fruit ?’—They both thought over and fed it to cow to test whether it had some power in it or not.
In due course Dhundhuli’s sister gave birth to a son and handed him over to Dhundhuli. Atmadev was extremely happy to have a son and to celebrate the event liberally made charity. Dhundhuli said that the milk was not coming to her breasts whereas her sister, who had a miscarriage had milk in her breasts. So it would be better if she called her sister to breast-feed the child. Her husband agreed to the arrangement.
The child was named Dhundhukari. After about two-three months the cow also delivered a beautiful child with golden complexion and human body, having seen whom everybody wondered and said that Atmadev had a great fortune. Even his cow had given him a child. It was the divine blessings of fruit that Atmadev got from the Rishi.
Since the lovely child had ears like cow, he was named as Gokarna. Both the children grew up together. Gokarna was dharmic (धार्मिक), learned and wise while Dhundhukari was wicked. He was always enraged, ate meat, fish, never prayed at sunrise, noon or sunset. He was least ashamed of snatching ornaments even from a dead body. He was fond of stealing others’ belongings, thrashing others’ children, burning others’ houses, being hostile and oppressive to the weak and the poor. He was very cruel and roamed about like a wretched person in the company of dogs. He even started frequenting prostitutes and wasted all the wealth of his parents and thereafter having thrashed them took all the utensils of the household to sell in the market. Atmadev was extremely grieved to have such an unworthy son. He felt like ending his own life. Atmadev had no fortune to have child still he emphasized Rishi to gift him child, sorrow was destined to hurt Atmadev so not as childless person but as father of a wicked son. Sorrow peeks in from different dimension unless the person does not surrender to Bhagwan Krishna completely renouncing materialistic pleasures.
Bhagavata Purana: Son Gokarn Teaching Father Atmadev About Real Happiness
Realising the pains of his father Gokarna consoled him and said—Do not feel sorry. Better try to free yourself from the worldly desires. This world is as good as an ocean of distress that has no distinction between father and son. As oil is the cause of lamp’s burning, the world burns in the fire of attachment. The fire would not extinguish so long the oil of attachment is there in our hearts. Happy is the person who is free from worldly desires. So, stop worrying about son and reside in forest. This body is perishable so better devote it to self enquiry.
Atmadev understood what Gokarna has said and asked—What would I do in the forest ? I reclining have fallen in the blind-well of worldly attachments. O noble soul Gokarna ! Please save me.
Gokarna advised Atmadev to get rid of the wrong notion that ‘I am a body’. He also advised him to relieve himself from the attachment towards wife and children; to free himself from the worldly desires since the world was ephemeral; to serve the ascetics while being in their company; to get rid of longings; to serve one and all irrespective of their virtues or vices and to enjoy the essence of devotional narratives always.
Gokarns’s advice stabilised the mind of Atmadev. He was sixty years of age. He abandoned his house and proceeded towards forest to devote himself to the worship of the almighty. He regularly recited the tenth canto of the Bhagavatan, that has a vivid description of the various ‘leelas’ or the acts of Bhagwan Shri Krishna. Reciting the tenth canto he finally attained Bhagwan Krishna.
After Atmadev’s departure for forest Dhundhukari asked his mother where she has kept money or else he would kick her. Dhundhuli was so distressed by the words of her son that she committed suicide by jumping into a well.
Bhagavata Purana: Dhundhukari Becoming Pret (Ghost)
Gokarna was mostly in meditation and so unaffected by either pleasure or distress. He proceeded for pilgrimage. Dhundhukari then brought five prostitutes to his house and indulged in various misdeeds to satisfy their desires. When they asked for apparels and gold ornaments, he had to do many unfair and unethical works to raise the money.
The prostitutes thought that since Dhundhukari had collected money through unfair means, he would surely be arrested and punished to death by the king. If the king is going to kill him, why not we do it. So they planned to kill him having taken all his money and one night while he was asleep they tied a noose around his throat and tried to kill him but since he was not dying they stuffed burning coal in his mouth and buried him in a ditch. After killing Dhundhukari the prostitutes went away from his house. Dhundhukari became a disembodied spirit or ghost.
Dhundhukari’s form was more like an air now and all the while he kept running here and there. Charged by hunger and thirst, heat and cold he kept crying—‘O Bhagwan ! where have you dashed me down !’
When Gokarna came to know about the death of his brother, he went to Gaya to perform his funerary rites. He used to perform funerary rites at every place of pilgrimage. In this way wandering about at various places finally he returned to his house. At night while he was resting, the ghost of Dhundhukari saw his brother Gokarna. Dhundhukari’s appearance was quite frightening. He changed his forms from one to another, from peacock to elephant to buffalo to Indra to fire and to a man. Even having seen such frightening scenes Gokarna did not lose patience. He thought that it must be some distressed soul from the world of disembodied spirits. He asked aloud who are you, a demon, a ghost or an evil spirit ?
The ghost started crying but could not speak as he had no body. Gokarna then took some water in his hand, chanted some Mantras and sprinkled the water at the place of the ghost. The ghost then said—I am brother Dhundhukari. I have done numerous misdeeds. I have thrashed people and caused them distress. After suffering grief and distress at the hands of women I have become an evil spirit and so only air is my food. It seems the fruit of some goods deeds of mine have now surfaced. So O brother ! relieve me from this world of disembodied spirits of which I am fed up.
Having listened to him Gokarna said—How come you are not emancipated ? I had performed Shraddha, the funerary rites for you. Since you have not been emancipated even after Shraddha and offering of Pind in Gaya, it seems your salvation now is impossible. What do I do ?
The evil spirit then said—Shraddha in Gaya may bring salvation to deliver an ordinary soul, but my sins are so terrible that performance of hundreds of Shraddhas in Gaya may not emancipate me. Now, what could be done is upto you to think over.
Gokarna replied—you may go now and let me think over.
In the morning people from the village, who included the learned and wise people having sacred knowledge of the Vedas came to him. Gokarna told them about the incident of the night and asked how to liberate the suffering soul. They all searched in various Hindu texts and books but to no avail. Finally, they all thought that only Bhagwan Surya, the Sun may be able to solve the tangle.
The यज्ञ (Yagna) of Bhagwat Is The Solution to all Distress of Birth and Death
Gokarna therefore, with the help of his yogic powers halted Bhagwan Surya and asked him—you are the witness to everything. Kindly tell how the liberation of the evil soul could be possible ?
Bhagwan Surya then spoke aloud—‘The salvation of the evil spirit could be possible by holding a week long यज्ञ (yajna) of the Bhagavat ? (Week Long यज्ञ of Srimad Bhagwatam is dharmic discourse of Srimad Bhagwat Katha for continous 7 days)
Everybody then decided that Gokarna should perform this yajna and that he should recite the Bhagavat. People from far and near, from various villages including physically handicapped and lunatics, assembled to listen to the Bhagavat discourse from Gokarna and to thereby wash their respective sins. Everybody wondered how could there be such a big crowd just to listen to the Bhagavat discourse. According to rule Gokarna placed an idol of a parrot and planted a bamboo in the earth. Dhundhukari was in the form of an evil spirit and could flow like air. He placed himself in the hollow space of the bamboo.
Gokarna consecrated a Vaishnav brahmin as the yajaman or host and started the discourse of the Bhagavat. At the end of the first day a strange thing happened. The first knot of the bamboo cracked with a loud sound audible to all. On the second day the second knot of the bamboo cracked after the discourse and in this way on the seventh day all the seven knots of the bamboo cracked after the Bhagavat discourse. So, in this way when the ghost of Dhundhukari listened to the twelve cantos he attained salvation and became a Parshad, God’s attendant. Dressed in yellow clothes, wearing basil garland and various ornaments, divine was his appearance. He bowed before his brother and said—O Gokarna ! it is by your grace that I have attained salvation. The Bhagavat discourse may even end the ghostly sufferings and one may achieve the abode of Bhagwan Shri Krishna. It can destroy severest of the sins. As Samidha or all the offerings dissolve in the fire similarly the Bhagavat dissolves all the sins, small or big. Meaningless is the life of the one who having been born in Bharat has not listened to the Bhagavat discourse. The only objective of being born is attainment of salvation and the Bhagavat is its means.
While all this discussion was going on an aerial vehicle from the heaven descended, seated over which were the attendants of God. They welcomed Dhundhukari in that divine vehicle. Gokarna then asked—O devotees of Bhagwan Hari ! not only Dhundhukari but all present here have listened to the same discourse. So all should be equally rewarded. Why then this distinction ? You are taking only Dhundhukari to heaven with you.
The attendants then replied that by listening to the discourse of the Bhagavat, salvation is achieved only by one who is the best deserving and such best deserving person here was only Dhundhukari as he had no desire other than salvation. He listened to the discourse all the seven days with utmost concentration and kept on reflecting on it. Others did listen but did not reflect. It is reflection that solves the queries and consolidates learning. So O Gokarna ! now everybody has been able to know the way the Bhagavat discourse should be listened to. So make them listen this discourse once more. Bhagwan Govind will take you all to the heaven.
In the Shravan month Gokarna held the discourse once again and on its completion Bhagwan himself appeared and embraced Gokarna, who had also became a form of Bhagwan himself. God rewarded others also by inducting them as His attendants. This way by the grace of Gokarna and God’s blessings every one got a place in Vaikunth. If one regularly listens to the Bhagvat, devotion comes spontaneously and worldly miseries do not affect any more.