When Kṛṣṇa left Vṛndāvana and came to Mathurā, His father Vasudeva Mahārāja sent Him to gurukula. Kṛṣṇa and Baladeva thus studied with Sāndīpani Muni, a very exalted teacher.
There, Kṛṣṇa had a friend named Sudāmā Vipra. Although Sudāmā was a poor brāhmaṇa and Kṛṣṇa was the Supreme Lord, they had a very intimate friendship. Kṛṣṇa later came to Dvārakā, became king, and married Rukmiṇī, Satyabhāmā, and His other queens, and Sudāmā was also living somewhere in Dvārakā.
Sudāmā maintained himself and his wife Gargī by begging, and therefore they sometimes had food to eat and sometimes they fasted. Thus, due to poverty, although Sudāmā and Gargī were both in the prime of youth, they looked aged. Gargī was young, but she looked like an old lady with dried-up breasts.
One day Gargī told her husband, “Oh, sometimes you beg and sometimes you don’t. You are always engaged in meditating on Kṛṣṇa. Whatever you bring from begging, I cook and give it to you, but you eat only half and give me the other half. I cannot tolerate your fasting.
“I remember that you had a friend in Dvārakā who has become king there. He likes brāhmaṇas, and in fact one of His names is Brahmaṇya-deva, Lord of the brāhmaṇas. You must go and ask for His help.”
Sudāmā replied, “I can go, but I cannot ask Him for wealth or anything else.”
His wife said, “If you go, He will automatically give you whatever you need. Please go.”
Sudāmā thought, “I do not want to go to the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa for wealth, but if I go I will have the opportunity to receive His darśana. We had a very bosom friendship, so I should go.” He told his wife, “Please bring me something to give to my friend Kṛṣṇa as a present.”
Sudāmā’s wife Gargī had nothing at home, so she went to a nearby house and asked for whatever the neighbour would give. She was given some flat rice and, as she had no new clean cloth, she wrapped the rice in an old cloth.
Sudāmā took the bundle and then set off for Dvārakā. During the journey he was remembering Kṛṣṇa, thinking, “Will He recognize me, or not? A long time has passed. How will I meet Him? His palaces are enormous; He has a palace for each of his 16,108 queens, so how will I find Him?”
Kṛṣṇa had instructed the palace guards, “If a brāhmaṇa comes to see Me, he should have no problem in getting direct access to Me.” The guard now told Sudāmā that Kṛṣṇa was in the palace of Rukmiṇī, and when Sudāmā enquired from passers-by, someone showed him the way.
When Kṛṣṇa saw Sudāmā reaching the gate of His palace, He thought, “Oh, My friend Sudāmā is coming!” He had been sitting on the bed of Rukmiṇī, but although Rukmiṇī and so many others were there serving Him, He gave up what he was doing and ran to the door to embrace Sudāmā. He took Sudāmā into the palace and gave him a seat – His own seat – and He then sat down next to Sudāmā.
He told His queens, “Please bring water in a golden pot to wash the feet of this brāhmaṇa.” They brought the water and Kṛṣṇa began to personally wash Sudāmā’s feet, after which He personally massaged his feet.
The queens wondered, “Who is this brāhmaṇa? What is so special about him that Kṛṣṇa is giving him His own seat and washing his feet?”
Kṛṣṇa then drank Sudāmā’s caraṇāmṛta (foot-bathing water), and also gave it to His queens.
Śrīpāda Mādhava Mahārāja: The queens were surprised.
Śrīla Gurudeva: The queens cooked very delicious and opulent food for Sudāmā, who took the prasādam and afterwards rested on a bed while Kṛṣṇa massaged his feet.
Sudāmā was thinking, “Does He recognize me or not? I am a very poor person. There are cracks on my feet and I am wearing old, worn and torn clothing. So, perhaps He does not recognize me.”
Kṛṣṇa then said, “How is your wife? Has she given you any gift for Me?” Out of fear and shame Sudāmā hesitated. He hid the cloth full of broken rice chips under his armpit thinking, “How can I give this thing to the Supreme Lord?”
Kṛṣṇa knew his thoughts. He forcibly took the cloth bag, opened it, and ate one handful of the rice. Just as He was about to take the second handful, Rukmiṇī caught His hand and said, “By taking this one handful, You have reciprocated by giving the wealth of the entire universe. Now only we queens remain Yours. Do You want to give us to this brāhmaṇa as well? That’s enough. Don’t, don’t.”
Kṛṣṇa told Sudāmā, “Do you remember when we were in gurukula? Guru-mātā (the wife of our guru) told us to bring some dry wood from the forest for cooking and for performing a fire sacrifice. It was evening time, and the sky was covered with clouds. On our way back from collecting the dry wood, rains began to pour heavily and everywhere was flooded. We could not discern where the water was deep or shallow.
“This went on for the whole night as we kept the bundle of wood on our heads, standing in one place to keep the wood dry. In the morning our Gurudeva came searching for us, calling out, ‘Where is
Kṛṣṇa? Sudāmā, where are you?’
“We called back, ‘We are here.’
“ ‘What are you doing?’ Gurudeva asked.
“ ‘Our guru-mātā sent us to get dry wood yesterday evening, but due to the heavy rains throughout the night, we could not find the way home. So we stayed here.’
“Gurudeva then blessed us by saying, ‘May what I have taught you, and what I have not taught you – all veda-śastra, all the arts, and everything else for which you have come here – come in your heart.’
“Do you remember this?”
Sudāmā now realized, “Oh, He does recognize me.”
In this way Kṛṣṇa and Sudāmā talked for the entire night, and in the morning Sudāmā said, “Prabhu, my friend, now I want to return to my house.”
Kṛṣṇa replied, “Very good, very good.” He walked with Sudāmā for some distance, not giving him anything, and then He returned to His palace as Sudāmā proceeded to his house.
On his way home Sudāmā thought, “Kṛṣṇa is very merciful. I came to Him for wealth, but He did not give me any. Perhaps He thought, ‘If I give him wealth he will forget Me. He will be always engaged in sense gratification.’ How merciful Kṛṣṇa is!” He began to weep, meditating on the mercy of Kṛṣṇa as he gradually reached his village.
He wondered, “Where is my house? In place of my house there are so many palaces. Oh, where is my very lean cow? Instead of my one cow, I now see 16,108 kāmadhenu (wish-fulfilling) cows, horses, and elephants.”
Then he saw a very beautiful lady surrounded by her beautiful singing girlfriends. Holding an ārati tray she was coming towards him, as he moved away thinking, “Who is she? Why is she coming towards me?” She laughed, and then forcibly grabbed him and performed his ārati. Then, when she touched him, he saw that he was also very beautiful and opulent.
She told him, “I am your wife. See how Kṛṣṇa has given us so much wealth and opulence.”
If a devotee becomes like Sudāmā, Kṛṣṇa will give him everything; whereas He may not give wealth to ordinary, aspiring devotees. Rather, He may take all of their wealth and make them street beggars.
―Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja
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