STUDENTS' PROJECTS > OUR BAPU >Early Influences
"Two stories deeply influenced the life of Mohandas. One of them was the story of Raja Harishchandra which he had seen on the stage several times."
Hari- "What is the story, mother ?"
Mother- "This is how that story runs.
Many thousand years ago, there lived in our country a king who, was very truthful and very generous. A great famine once befell his land, and the kind-hearted king sold all that he possessed in order to help his people, till he became very poor. As fate would have it, the gods decided to test his truthfulness and honesty at that time of crisis. One of the gods disguised himself as a holy beggar and came to the king to ask for alms. The king brought whatever there was in the house and laid it at the feet of the holy man. But the holy man asked for more and so the king sold his personal slaves and offered the money to him. But the beggar asked for still more. 'What you have given me,' he said, 'is not enough to meet my needs! It seems that I shall have to go to the low caste man living next door and ask him for a little charity. It is a great pity that I should have to turn from the house of a great king like you and beg of a mere untouchable. But I suppose it can't be helped.' At these words the king went with the holy man to the house of his neighbour, and offered himself as a servant to the untouchable in order to meet the demands of the holy man. The holy man then went his way, and the untouchable dom assigned to the king the task of collecting fees from those who came to burn their dead at the burning ghat.
He was still working for the dom when his only son, Rohithakshan, died. His queen carried the little corpse to the burning ghat, and set about arranging the funeral pyre. Just then Harishchandra came forward and demanded the prescribed fees. The poor queen had no money, and with tears choking her voice, she said to her husband, ", she said to her husband, 'All that I possess on earth, my lord, is this sari that I am wearing.' The king's heart sank within him, but he would not fail to do his duty. He said. 'I am helpless, my dear queen. My master's orders are that I should collect the fee before I allow the pyre to be lighted. This is my duty and I must stick to it.' The queen offered to part with her sari in payment of the fee. But she had hardly set her hand on the sari when the heavens trembled and the gods admired the courage, the devotion to truth and the sense of duty of the king and the queen. Down they came to the earth and brought back the young Rohithakshan to life, and took the king, the queen and the dom with them to heaven.
Hari, my son. this story made a very deep impression on the mind of Mohandas. He wished with all his might that he, too, like Harishchandra, could have the strength to face every danger and difficulty in the pursuit of truth. And when he grew up, he staked his life itself for the cause of truth, and the whole world wondered at the honesty and courage which enabled him to come out victorious from the severest of trials.''
The mother's heart was full of emotion now, and she paused for a moment to calm herself, and and then went on with the other story.
On Service - Shrawankumar
"The other story which taught him to serve his fellowmen was the story of Shrawankumar. Mohandas had read how both the parents of Shrawankumar were blind and how the son would look after them and carry them where ever he went in a sling thrown across his shoulder. He would labour all day to earn a living for them and would try in every way to make them comfortable. One day, while Shravan had gone to the stream to fetch water for his parents, King Dashrath was out hunting in those woods. Mistook Shravan for a deer, and let fly an arrow. Poor Shravan was mortally wounded and he cried in great pain. But even then his thoughts were with his parents. Before dying he asked King Dashrath to carry water to his parents, and to break the news of his death to them only after they had drunk the water and quenched their thirst. King Dashrath did as he had been told. But the parents were old and infirm. The news of the death of their beloved son was too much for them, and they cried and wailed till their hearts broke with sorrow, and they died. And what happened to King Dashrath, mother?" Hari asked.
"As the law of divine justice would have it, King Dashrath also died sorrowing for his son." "But, mother, please explain to me how these stories influenced the life of Bapu."
"The child Mohan read these stories, and he made up his mind to be truthful like Harishchandra and to serve the poor and the needy like Shravankumar. Harishchandra and Shrawankumar became his heroes. Shravan had only served his parents, but when Mohandas grew up, he gave up all his, comfort and his wealth in order to serve the four hundred millions of Indians- men, women and children, Muslims and Hindus, Brahmins as well as untouchables, princes as well as beggars. For him they were all one and he loved them all equally."
Hari was listening with rapt attention and his mother was happy to see that he was so deeply interested. She could see that Hari was already beginning to feel the influence of Bapu's noble example. She then continued.
11. This version of the 'Story of Harishchandra' is different from the familiar South Indian version.