The following is an excerpt from a class given by Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja in Houston, Texas, on June 12, 1996
There is another history regarding the recital of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. During ancient times, there lived a poor Brāhmaṇa named Ātmadeva in South India. He did not have a son. He prayed to Śaṅkarajī and being pleased, Śaṅkarajī appeared and told the Brāhmaṇa, “I will give you something. Take it and have your wife eat it. You will soon be blessed with a very beautiful, intelligent son. He will respect his parents and he will also do Bhāgavan’s bhakti.”
Ātmadeva took the blessed food and told his wife, “You should eat this prasādam and then, you will give birth to a very beautiful son. We are more than fifty years of age and in some time, we will become old. We will be so fortunate if we obtain a son. He will offer oblations to us after we die and he will continue our lineage. A house in which a baby doesn’t cry is compared to a cemetery.”
The wife thought, “If I eat this food, then I will have to bear a child. My body will become very heavy and I will not be able to walk. I will have to undergo so much trouble. Also, I will not be able to eat what I want. I don’t want to carry a baby in my body for nine or ten months. This is not possible for me.”
The wife of Ātmadeva then fed the prasādam to a cow. Her younger sister was already pregnant. She gave her some money and asked for the child. She told her sister, “When you beget a son, give him to me.”
The younger sister agreed and she was given a substantial amount of money. Ātmadeva’s wife kept her sister in her house. Shortly, the cow gave birth to a baby and so did the sister of Ātmadeva’s wife. The cow ate the food given by Śaṅkara, so the cow gave birth to a very beautiful baby. He was very attractive but his ears resembled the ears of a cow. So, his name was, “Gokarņa,” which means he who has the ears of a cow. And, the son born to the sister of Ātmadeva’s wife was very notorious. He would always fight and do bad things. From his childhood, he was of bad character. He would kill people; he would drink alcohol. He would lie and steal from others. He was a dacoit.
He told his father, “Give me money; I want to gamble and drink alcohol.”
Out of fear of his son, Ātmadeva left home and went to the forest. Soon after, he fell into a well and died. Gokarņajī left home and went on a pilgrimage. Dhundhukārī, the other son, now started beating his mother. Unable to tolerate being beaten by her son, she left home and also died somewhere. Dhundhukārī was such a bad person. Dhundhukārī means a person who causes trouble. He would fight with people without any prior reason. After some days, he spent all the money he had. He would call prostitutes to his house. He would drink alcohol and continue to kill people for money. But when he called the prostitutes, there was no money in his house. One day, he stole a lot of money and golden ornaments from someone. He kept his loot in the house when the prostitutes were also with him.
The prostitutes thought, “He will give us money and gold, but he will take it back tomorrow.”
So, all the prostitutes caught Dhundhukārī and beat him with a burning log of wood. Beating him severely, they killed him. They dug a hole and put his body there. The prostitutes then took all the money and gold. After dying, Dhundhukārī became a very fearsome ghost.
He would always cry out, “Someone is killing me! My body is burning!”
He would threaten the passersby and throw stones at them. He would not let anyone come near. It is true that ghosts exist; it is not a lie. But they don’t come near devotees and pure people.
jātasya hi dhruvo mṛtyur
dhruvaṁ janma mṛtasya ca
[One who has taken his birth is sure to die, and after death one is sure to take birth again.]
A person will have to repeatedly take birth and die. He will also have to become old. This is the theory of the Gītā; this is the theory of all the śāstras. So, Dhundhukārī died and became a ghost. He caused much nuisance. Meanwhile, Gokarņa returned home after visiting all the tīrthas.
The villagers told him, “Don’t go to your house. There is a ghost there, which will kill you.”
Gokarņa replied, “I don’t fear anyone.”
Chanting Bhāgavan’s names, he went inside the house. Now, Dhundhukārī appeared in many terrible forms and tried scaring Gokarņa. He repeatedly threatened Gokarņa and tried throwing stones at him. But, Gokarņa was absorbed in chanting Bhāgavan’s names. At the end, Gokarņa sprinkled some water, uttered some mantras and asked, “Who are you?”
The ghost replied, “I am your brother. My name is Dhundhukārī. Some prostitutes killed me and threw my body in this pit. Now I have become a ghost. You should rescue me as soon as possible. I feel very hungry and thirsty. I am in so much distress. There is no one to rescue me.”
Gokarņa said, “I offered oblations on your behalf at Gayā. Didn’t you receive it?”
“I also offered oblations at Haridvāra. Didn’t you receive this as well?”
“I did everything.”*
“Please rescue me by any means brother.”
“Okay. Stay where you are. I will think of a means to deliver you.”
Gokarņa then became absorbed in deep contemplation. He worshipped the sun-god and the sun-god appeared. He told Gokarņa, “Recite the Bhāgavatam. Invite the ghost to listen to the Bhāgavatam.”
Gokarņa returned and organized a seven-day recital of the Bhāgavatam. He had seven pieces of dry bamboo arranged.** As he began to speak on the Bhāgavatam, thousands of people gathered to listen to him. Thus, Gokarņa started speaking on the Bhāgavatam to deliver his brother who had become a ghost. He spoke the Bhāgavata that Śukadeva Gosvāmī spoke to Parīkṣit Mahārāja. We will now discuss this self-same Bhāgavata. The Bhāgavata is very powerful. As each day of the Bhāgavata recital ended, one piece of bamboo opened with a sound. Hence, after seven days, the Bhāgavatam ended and all the seven pieces of bamboos opened. The people saw that a golden throne was brought from Vaikuṇṭha by Lord Viṣṇu’s messengers and they seated Dhundhukārī on it and took him to Vaikuṇṭha.
Gokarņajī asked the divine messengers, “Brothers, I spoke the Bhāgavata and these thousands of people listened along with Dhundhukārī. But, only Dhundhukārī’s sins were dispelled and he is now going to Vaikuṇṭha while we are just sitting here.”
The messengers replied, “The Bhāgavatam should be spoken with faith and must be listened to with faith as well. You did not speak with faith and neither did the members of the audience listen with faith. You should explain the Bhāgavatam clearly and the audience must also understand with faith. Then, all of you will surely go to Vaikuṇṭha as well.”
Gokarņa then spoke the Bhāgavatam again and all the members of the audience listened with faith. This time, everyone left their bodies and having four-handed forms, they ascended to Vaikuṇṭha-dhāma. So, the Bhāgavata should not be heard superficially. You should not say, “This is mythology.” The Bhāgavata is not mythology.
* No matter how much śrāddha (oblations) one performs, if one has done bad deeds one will not be released
** A dry bamboo pole has empty spaces between the nodes
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