Today is the disappearance day of Shri Shri 108 Radharaman Charan Das Babaji Mahashay.
Born in 1853 in Jessore, in what is now Bangladesh, Babaji Mahashay was famous for the many miracles that surrounded him: trees danced and the dead came back to life when he sang the Holy Name in kirtan. But most important was the miracle of love that he brought to thousands of thirsting souls.
Rather than attempt to encapsulate his entire life in a single post today, I would like to share one of the most famous stories from his life – the Festival of Dogs or Kukkurer Mahotsav. Here it is, as told by Dr. OBL Kapoor in his book The Life of Love.
This lila demonstrates the power of faith in Krishna and in the words of the guru. It also shows how all living beings should be respected as the dwelling place of the Lord.
from The Life of Love by Dr. OBL Kapoor
One day when Babaji Mahashay was returning from Mahaprabhu’s Temple performing kirtan with his party, a female dog came and joined the procession on the way. The sankirtan party stopped at various places and sang, and then proceeded with redoubled vigor, singing the sankirtan with maddening peals.
Every time the party stopped, the dog would pause till the party passed by and then she would roll and toss on the ground, just as a devotee would do to bless his soul. She went on doing this, and followed the party to their destination, and then she found it in her heart to stay with them at their place.
They called her Bhakti Ma (Mother Devotion), for she was no ordinary dog - she was never found consorting with the rest of her species, as other dogs would, but always keeping company with the devotees and regularly attending sankirtan at home and abroad, wherever it was held.
Days went on, and Bhakti Ma was taken ill. She was wasting away day by day till one day it was felt she was going to shuffle off her mortal coil, and so the sankirtan was held in her hearing to pour down the Lord’s blessings on her departing soul. And so she passed away with the Lord’s Name in her ears, and her body was thrown into the sacred stream of the Ganges - a departure to be envied by saints with hopes of salvation in the afterlife.
The Chira Mahotsava was duly performed, as usual after the departure of a devotee, on the fourth day after her demise, and Babaji Mahashay thought of giving an entertainment-service to the Vaishnavas for blessing her soul in the Land of Bliss.
This entertainment was accordingly scheduled for the fourteenth day after her departure. Babaji Mahashay said that some of her kin must be fed to complete the ceremony in the proper way. His attendants were struck dumb with surprise to hear this strange proposal from the lips of our Barha Babaji. For, whoever heard that dogs could be formally invited to dinner and made to act accordingly?
But there was one - our old friend Navadwip Das Babaji who had the nerve to believe in everything that fell from Babaji’s lips. He started up and said, “Well then, please let me know what I must do to see it done?”
Babaji Mahashay said, “Why, it is so simple. You should only prostrate yourself whenever you meet any of the dogs in the street and tell them with folded hands, ‘we humbly solicit the favour of your company along with your friends and relatives at the dinner service, to be held tomorrow in memory of our late lamented Bhakti Ma, at the premises of our gurudeva in the Barhal Ghat quarter of the city,’ and so it shall be done.”
Now, this is the usual form of invitation letters addressed to our human guests on such occasions, and we may readily guess at the incredible impropriety of this address to be delivered to dogs for similar purposes, and the heavy responsibility of the man appointed to shoulder this mighty task. Navadwip was only too keenly conscious of the charge laid to his care, and he fell at his Babaji’s feet with tears in his eyes. He felt that it was something which he could never hope to accomplish by himself unaided by the mysterious powers on high, and Babaji Mahashay slapped him on the back and let him go.
Navadwip was surcharged - he staggered - he reeled and tottered from side to side as he walked and one would have taken him for a drunkard or a madcap who met him in the way. But on close scrutiny one might have seen that he was absorbed - the figure of a saint of power to work miracles at his own sweet will. And so he went and took a round in the city, acting up to the biddings of his master, till it was night-fall, when he returned back to his lodging.
Next morning, preparations were going on for the proposed entertainment and Vaishnavas were summoned to join the festival, when news arrived that some of the leading Vaishnavas came to think that their prestige would be at stake if they would go and join a festival where dogs were some of the invited guests. Barha Babaji went personally to the Barha Akhrah to settle the affair, but to no purpose. Some of them were inexorable, but the festival was held in spite of their stout resistance, and a thousand others came to witness the strange performance.
Some of these guests had a shrewd suspicion that it would end in a farce after all, for evidently it was something impossible, which could never be brought about. Others had great confidence in the Babaji, and thought he could make the impossible possible when he had a mind to do it.
Then came Radheshyama Baba, and all stood up and prostrated themselves before this worshipful personage. He was affectionately disposed towards Babaji Mahashay, and he began to take him to task for setting his hands to a task which could not on the face of it be accomplished at all. He also urged that he would be sorely aggrieved if the proposed entertainment of dogs would prove a failure, for he could not brook to hear Babaji Mahashay belittled by anybody, although our Babaji himself might not take it to heart and laugh it away.
Babaji Mahashay argued that God - they all agree to affirm - was omnipresent, present in dogs as well as in men, and so appeals made to God in the dogs must necessarily have the same effect as those made to God inherent in men. He prayed them to remember that God came out of a pillar and manifested Himself as Narasimha, when Prahlad appealed to Him to show Himself to his demon father Hiranyakashipu. So, as it is true that God is in all beings, by the same truth shall the dogs come and take their share in the proceedings of the day. He concluded by saying that it was their want of faith in the Lord that made them suspect the practicability of the whole thing.
The day wore on, and the assembly were just hoping to see their skeptical prophecies fulfilled, when behold! The dogs actually began to appear, one by one.
Barha Babaji Mahashay saw this and started to his feet at once. He prostrated himself before his canine guests, and duly received them as he showed them to their seats on the royal road at the Barhal Ghat.
There was great sensation amongst the people, and they gazed on one another in dumb surprise.
The news spread, and a thousand others came to witness the strange performance. Oh wonder! Is it possible that dogs would accept a human invitation and come as guests in response to our human appeals? Maybe they have come only in expectation of the bits and crumbs thrown away on such occasions. But no, not one, two or four of them, for the matter of that - they come in crowds. Some fifty to sixty of them have already appeared on the scene! And what was more wonderful… dogs would quarrel, we know; they would fly at each other’s faces whenever two dogs would meet - but no, these dogs came and sat down quietly side by side, as we men should do in our entertainment halls!
It was something phenomenal indeed and men stood on both sides of the public road to notice the strange proceedings of the unheard of affair.
Babaji Mahashay was transported beyond measure to find that his God sent His grace to show to the skeptical multitude what true faith could do even at the present age in the teeth of the gigantic disbelief so foolishly entertained in the Spirit and Spiritual truths. His eyes reddened with emotion as he threw the end of his clothes round his neck, and humbly beseeched his God in the dogs to issue orders for the dinner to be served.
At this, all the dogs looked up to him at once, and he knew what they said, after which he instructed his men to supply his guests with the plantain-leaves, and serve them with all the items of the entertainment rolled into a mass for their acceptance.
And so it was done, his biddings performed – the dogs were individually served with boluses on their leaf-plates on the royal road. Now, look here, wonder again! Dogs with edible matter before them, and they would not touch, they would not partake of the food supplied to them! All the leaves were served one by one, and they sat upright when Babaji Mahashay spoke in a broken voice and with tears in his eyes, requesting them to begin.
At this time, a black dog came and sniffed at the leaves after which the dogs fell to their leaves. Cries of “Hari! Hari!” and “Ulu! Ulu!” were heard on all sides around and they verily seemed to rend the skies above. It was a scene of scenes enacted before the wondering multitude, and their exclamations and roars of applause echoed and re-echoed in all quarters of the city.
The service ended, the dogs turned away from the leaves, and then an earthen pot filled with water was offered to each of them. They drank of the pots and sat still - bits were taken as mahaprasad from their leaves and water in a pot as a wash from off their feet - for they were Vaishnavas indeed, and no ordinary dogs, nay, it was God Himself invoked and incarnated in them by the power of the mighty faith in the Omnipresence of God - and then Babaji Mahashay again folded his hands and prostrated himself before them, asking them if they were satisfied, and requesting them to pardon any shortcomings on the part of his attendants and retire to their own places at their own sweet will.
The dog-Vaishnavas then left the scene, one by one as they came, and Babaji Mahashay in a paroxysm of transcendental joy rolled and tossed on the blessed leaves from one side to another again and again. The men scrambled for a morsel of the mahaprasad, and our Radhashyam Baba embraced him heartily as he blessed his darling with tearful eyes before he took leave to repair to his lodgings.
Babaji Mahashay gathered the mahaprasad all in a lump, offered it to the departed spirit of Bhakti Ma and then partook of it in high glee along with his attendants in the Ashram.
It was about ten o’clock in the night, when it was perceived that a plateful of prasad was lying unnoticed, and Babaji Mahashay coming to know this, asked his men to keep it intact, for it struck him one of his guests was yet to come and it was to be set apart for him in case he would turn up in the night.
After a while, Babaji Mahashay was coming out of his bed-chamber when he found a red dog lying at the door of his room. The dog saw him and got up at once, and cast significant glances as it looked up to him.
He called Chaitanya, his mate in charge of the prasad, and asked him to serve prasad to the guest at once. Chaitanya did the same, and Navadwip Das now coming up and looking at the newcomer exclaimed that verily it was the same dog he met first of all, and the same whom he requested to convey the message to each and every one of the kinsfolk and bring them all to the festival. So now, they all saw why this particular guest was late, for he had to go about and send his kin along before he himself could come to take his share of the entertainment.
Now, to whom is the credit due? Whose glory should we sing? Bhakti Ma or Babaji Mahashay? The dog-Vaishnavas or Navadwip Das, whose fervent appeals brought them to the scene? Or God Himself and faith in God, which is at the root of this grand performance?
Yes, of course, it is faith, and faith in God, which is to be cherished above everything else - faith, which would open fresh vistas for human understanding to comprehend the High God and His higher laws, whose operations would pass for miracles in the eyes of men - yes, faith, which is the source of all power and love and joy to which we are all entitled as children of immortal bliss - and faith, which would dispel all ignorance and bring us face to face with God, and Sweetness and Light and the Spirit of Love which is in Him and Him alone.
We would have more instances to show that this faith in our Babaji Mahashay enabled him to cure many diseases, nay to stop great epidemics like the plague in Calcutta and cholera at Puri for the matter of that, and even invested him with the power of bringing men back from the horrid jaws of death to live in this world again.
Such instances were only too frequent in the life-history of this great man. We would not enter here into these details, for the final triumph of faith lies not in these petty miracles to overpower the feeble mentality of the world-wise busybodies of the work-a-day world, but in the fact that faith alone can bring to us all that we are hankering after in life.
Faith alone can give us our Lord of Love, who is the One Eternal Fountain of Bliss Profound, and we think we have seen enough of our Babaji Mahashay by this time to get at this truth of truths to guide our destinies in the journey of life. May we all cherish this faith in the Lord in our heart of hearts, and may we all bask in the blissful sunshine at the feet of our Lord of Love.