Bandhu Mohanty (16th century) lived with his wife and children in the town of Jajpur in Orissa. He was extremely poor and lived on alms. His honesty and simplicity endeared him to the people in the neighbourhood and they helped him. Bandhu was extremely devoted to Lord Jagannatha of Puri. He considered the Lord as his beloved friend (sakha-bhakti) and also told his wife that his best and dearest, wealthy and generous friend stayed in Puri! Silently, Bandhu would spend his time conversing with the Lord in the depth of his own heart. Once, there was a severe famine because of which all the people greatly suffered. There was no food and survival became very difficult. Bandhu’s wife suggested to him, “everyone in the town is relocating to different places. Why don’t we also move to some other place? You said that your best friend stays in Puri. Why not go to Puri and seek his help to settle down there?” Bandhu smiled at her innocence. She did not know that his best friend was Lord Jagannatha!
Bandhu thought about the matter and agreed to her request. He could not resist the thought of having the darshan of his great friend, Lord Jagannatha in Sri Mandir! May be it was the Lord’s divine call to him! In a few days, Bandhu and family reached Puri. It was an exhausting journey for all of them. They made their way to the temple. It was late in the evening. Bandhu saw the magnificent and majestic towering gopura with the sudarshana chakra and the fluttering dwaja (flag). He was overwhelmed. He longed to reach the sanctum of the Sri Mandir and have the darshan of Lord Jagannatha reigning supreme on his Ratna Simhasana. He looked at the gate and saw an ocean of devotees waiting to enter the temple. The guards were monitoring their entry. Bandhu looked at himself and his family. They were almost in tattered clothes. Would the guards allow them inside? He was embarrassed at the thought of not being allowed into the temple. From far, all of them offered their salutations to the deity installed at the Eastern gate.
Bandhu looked around for some food. His hungry children were crying. Not knowing what to do, they went around and saw the canal through which the starch of the cooked rice flows out from the temple kitchen. It is known as Peja Nala. The cows come there to drink the rice-gruel. Bandhu and his family drank a little of the gruel to fill their belly and quench their thirst. Bandhu’s wife insisted that they visit his rich friend dwelling in Puri and seek his help. But Bandhu convinced her that they would go and meet him next day morning. There, near the Southern Gate of the temple, they settled down to rest. Lord Jagannatha saw his friend-devotee Bandhu and his family sleeping almost on an empty stomach. The Mahaprasad from the Lord’s Abode relieves the hunger of lakhs of devotees every day, but here was his devotee and family almost starved. How could anyone in Puri Dham ever go hungry?
Bandhu was woken up by a sweet voice that called out to him, “Bandhu! O, Bandhu!” He woke up. Right in front of him was a brahmana of dark-complexion, wearing a dhoti of molten gold hue. His eyes were bright and sparkling, and there was a bewitching smile on his lips! He had a big gold plate full of delicacies in his hand. The stranger said, “your dear friend residing in Puri has sent the Mahaprasad for you and your family. Rest assured, tomorrow morning he will make all the arrangements for your stay over here!” Bandhu was surprised, but nevertheless he accepted the plate of food. Thanking the Lord for taking care of them, he came to where his family was sleeping and woke them up. All of them had the Mahaprasad – the best meal of their lifetime! After they finished their meal, Bandhu washed the plate and came back to return it to the stranger but he was not there. He looked for him everywhere, but was not to be seen. He kept the gold plate carefully with him. He was sure that the stranger would come back for the plate. The stranger was none other than Lord Jagannatha himself!
Next day morning, when the purohits opened the Ratna Bhandar (where all the precious ornaments, gold utensils, etc., which are used for the deities and the puja are kept), they found the gold plate which was used for Lord Jagannatha’s naivedya missing. They searched for it, but in vain. The king, Gajapati Prataparudra was informed and his soldiers were despatched in search of it. No sooner, they came to the Peja Nala, near the South gate of the temple they found Bandhu and his family there. Finding them unfamiliar and strangers to the city, the soldiers on enquiring and investigating, found the gold plate with Bandhu. This was a serious crime – entering the Sri Mandir and stealing the sacred gold plate of the Lord. However much Bandhu tried to explain the sequence of events that had happened the previous night, nobody believed him. He was dragged to the court and asked for an explanation. Again, nobody believed what he said and he was put in prison. Bandhu’s family was left alone to fend for themselves. Inspite of all that had happened, Bandhu’s faith and devotion to Sri Jagannatha, the Lord-of-his-heart did not waver even a bit. He was confident that the Lord would see him through…..
That night, Lord Jagannatha appeared in the dream of the king and narrated everything that had happened. The king was asked to immediately release Bandhu and make arrangements for him and his family to stay in Puri. The king realised his mistake and Bandhu was released from the prison. The king sought forgiveness from the Lord’s devotee and personally took care of the needs of the family. All of them were taken to the temple. In the sanctum, at the Altar was his Beloved Friend, Lord Jagannatha along with Balabhadra and Subhadra. Bandhu’s joy knew no bounds. All these years he had been waiting for this most auspicious darshan of Lord Jagannatha. Eyes filled with joyous tears and a voice choked with devout emotion, Bandhu turned to his wife next to him and told her, “you had always been asking about my dear friend at Puri. HERE HE IS! Right in front of you!!” Bandhu’s wife was surprised. All these years she had thought that her husband’s friend at Puri was a wealthy and generous mortal being just like them. She did not have any idea that it was Lord Jagannatha that he was talking about all the time! With heart full of devotion and gratitude, Bandhu along with his wife and children prostrated to Lord Jagannatha. Arrangements were made for their stay very close to the temple. And as appointed by the king, Bandhu and his family remained in Puri serving Lord Jagannatha at the temple.
“Those who are ever steadfast and worship Me with total devotion, and contemplate on Me with undivided attention, I shall look after their YOGA – KSHEMA” ~ Bhagavad Geeta
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