A Soul Retrieved

In the city of Kampilya, there lived a famous Vedic scholar called Dikshit. Late in life, he had a son, and he named him Yajna-Dutt. The aged parents were very fond of the boy and pampered- ed him a great deal. Dikshit spent most of his day at court because he could not pay much attention to the boy. As for the mother, she spoiled him completely.

At the proper age, Yajna-Dutt was put to school. But he was more fond of dice than books. Whenever he lost in gambling, he would come home and tell his mother, and she would give him one of her ornaments by selling, which the boy could pay his gambling debts. Occasionally Dikshit would ask her about the boy, and she would tell him, “oh, yes, he is making good progress with his studies.”

One day Dikshit was coming home from the court. In the street, he saw a man wearing a diamond ring which looked like his own ring. “How did you get this ring?” he asked the man. “It is mine.?”

“Your son lost it to me in gambling,” the man replied.

“Does my son indulge in gambling?” Dikshit asked in surprise.

“Day and night,” the man replied. He does little else.”

Dikshit was greatly ashamed and enraged by this news. He rushed home, looked into the jewel box, and found missing several ornaments, including his diamond ring. He called his wife and said, “It is better to be childless than to have such a baneful son. Get me some jinjili seed; I shall perform his death-cere- money!”

The fond mother could not tolerate such cruel talk about her only son. She defended Yajna-Dutt and tried to justify him. Dikshit, who knew that his wife was the sole cause of the evil ways of his son, got so angry with his wife that he began to curse her loudly.

Yajna-Dutt reached home just at that moment. He stopped outside and listened to the altercation between his parents. It was evident that his father had come to know all about him. He could not go in and face his father. So he turned back and went away into the wide world.

As he passed through a forest, some robbers there observed his fine clothes, thought he was a rich man and attacked him. When he fell unconscious, the robbers found that their efforts were not only wasted but were doubled. If they let Yajna-dutt remain where he fell, others were bound to come searching for him, and their haunts might be discovered. So they carried him to the nearest village and left him there.

A peasant belonging to this village came out the following day and saw Yajna-Dutt. The peasant carried him to his own house, fed him and had his wounds dressed. Yajna-dutt recovered from the scars soon enough.

Now, this peasant had a grownup daughter who was to be married. Yajna-dutt secretly made friendship with her, and he persuaded her to run away with him with sweet words. One night they left the village and, travel- ling for several days, they reached a camp of tribal people. Yajna-Dutt thought that they would be safe in this camp if the peasant searched for them.

But life in this camp did not suit Yajna-Dutt. After lying low in this camp long enough, he started again with his woman and reached a city. Then he came across some wild fellows who lived by thieving. He took part in the theft but lacked the art and was nearly caught. He left that city too.

Thus Yajna-Dutt wandered from one place to another. He was never happy anywhere. At last, he reached the city of Banaras and began to live by stealing.

Shiva-rathri is a day very sacred to the Hindus. On that day, pilgrims go to Banaras from all over the land. Most of them carry money and even ornaments with them. Yajna-Dutt hoped to make a good haul on the day of Shiva-rathri. Early in the morning, he went to the Ganges and bathed. Thousands of pilgrims similarly bathed in the river, and their bundles were kept on the bank. Yajna-dutt wanted to snatch one of them, but there were far too many guards on watch, so he had to give up the idea.

He left the river’s well-guarded bank for Visweswara’s temple’s surroundings. Hundreds of pilgrims were going around the temple, and Yajna-Dutt joined them. Instead of the prescribed three rounds, he made several hundred rounds, but no chance for theft presented itself.

The entire day was gone in this wise, and it was now night. Yajna-Dutt had not touched a drop of water the whole day and was starving. He entered the temple and found a Saivite sitting in a corner with food offerings in a pot. This food was to be dedicated to the god at dawn and later consumed by the devotee. Yajna-Dutt managed to take his seat close to this Saivite. The night was almost gone, and there were faint streaks of the coming dawn in the east. The Saivite could keep awake no longer, and despite his best efforts, his eyes closed themselves, and he began to nod. Yajna-Dutt seized this chance to snatch the pot of food and run off with it. Unfortunately, he kicked the Saivite in his haste, and the latter woke up shouting, “Thief! Thief!”

Soon several persons were chasing Yajna-Dutt, who ran so desperately that no one could catch up with him. As he ran, one of the guards saw him, put an arrow to his bow and hit him in his heart. Yajna-Dutt fell dead almost at once.

Messengers came from Hell and Heaven to claim the soul of Yajna-Dutt.

“How is it that you’ve come for the soul of this sinner?” the messengers from Hell asked those from Heaven. “He never once did a good deed.”

“That’s true,” the messengers of Heaven replied. “But you must realise that on the sacred day of Shiva-rather, this man had a bath in the sacred Ganges; he went round Shiva’s temple all day, kept awake all night, starved the entire day, saw Shiva worshipped. Thus he was cleansed of all sin.”

This indeed proved to be the case. When the messengers from Hell tried to grab the soul of Yajna-Dutt, an unseen force seemed to stand in their way. On the other hand, the messengers from Heaven seized the soul and rode away in a divine chariot.

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