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Banke Bihari and the Tonga-wallah

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Story by K.C. Gupta from Gajiyabad. Published in Banke Bihariji ke chamatkar (“Miraculous stories about Banke Bihariji), ed. Acharya Vilas Chandra Goswami.

We had decided that we would make our annual trip to Vrindavan to take darshan of Bihariji. We took buses from Gaziyabad to Delhi and from there to Mathura. This was in 1956 and in those days there were no direct buses to Vrindavan. Travellers would have to find some other means of getting there — bus, tonga or rickshaw.

When we got down from the bus, I went to the lineup of tonga-wallahs to agree on a fare. I asked one young fellow, “How much to the Bihariji temple?”

“Are you going to hire the tonga by yourself or are you going to share?” He asked back.

“I will take the whole tonga. Tell me how much,” I said.

The young man laughed and said, “Whatever you think is right, give that. You won’t overstrain me, I am sure. Go on, put your luggage on board.”

“Come on now. First tell me what you expect to get,” I said forcefully. “Otherwise we will end up having a quarrel at the end.”

“No no, Babuji,” he said. “Whatever you think is the right amount, you will give it. I won’t argue with you, I promise.”

He helped load our suitcases onto the tonga. I was rather pleased by his good manners and said to him, “Well if you are on the level, then we will hire you for the return journey as well. But that time, you will have to set your price.”

“As you like,” he answered.

And with that the whole family climbed on board.

It took quite a while for the tonga to clear the city and get out onto the road leading to Vrindavan, even though in those days there was no crowded road filled with cars and tuktuks. The tonga driver was very talkative and drove at a leisurely pace. He regaled us with stories of the different temples and other interesting facts about the Dham. We also found ourselves listening to him and getting absorbed. We became so familiar it would have been hard for someone watching to think that we had just met. Our three children were also fascinated by all the new information he was giving and asked him all kinds of questions, like children do. And he would laugh and answer them.

When we got to Vrindavan, the sun was high overhead. It was November and the sun was pale in the sky. As we passed Bihariji’s Bagicha, the tonga-wallah asked a passing sadhu how long it would be before Bihariji’s midday arati. The sadhu answered, “Bhoga has already been offered. You’d better hurry if you still want darshan. I just came back from the temple myself.”

The tonga wallah sped up and in a few minutes we arrived at the narrow entrance of the alleyway leading to the temple. He stopped in front of the police post. Nowadays, the police chowki is named after Banke Bihari, but in those days it was called the Govardhan Gate chowki.

The tonga-wallah said, “Babuji, if you take the children, you won’t get darshan. They are small and will slow you down. It’s late and you will miss darshan if you don’t hurry. Why don’t you leave them with me and I will watch them until you get back. And you can leave your shoes with me also, that way no one at the temple will steal them.”

I thought for a moment and then told my wife to hurry up and get moving. We left the children with the tonga driver.

When we got to the temple, the curtains had been pulled back and the Gosai was letting the devotees look at Bihariji. Then he began raja-bhoga arati. Thousands of voices sang in unison reverberating through the temple compound,

ārati kīje śrī nava nāgara kī
khaɱjana naiɱna rasamāte
rūpa sudhā sāgara kī
Do arati to the fresh young hero,
his hummingbird eyes intoxicated
his beauty an ocean of nectar.

After arati we took prasad and then returned to the police chowki. But there was no tonga and the children were nowhere to be seen. The ground seemed to collapse beneath our feet. Even though it was the cold season, sweat poured from both my wife’s and my foreheads in our confused state. We ran up and down the road, into Gautam Para and other alleyways. We quickly reached the limits of our ability to deal with the horrid realization that the children were gone.

We went to the police post and made a report. Obviously thinking we were fools to have left our children with a complete stranger, the policeman on duty nevertheless gave us some assurances, “Come back in a bit. We will look for them and will give you whatever news we have. We will catch the culprit don’t worry.”

Completely unnerved and exhausted, we returned to Banke Bihari’s temple. The main door was closed. I silently prayed to Bihariji, “Oh Prabhu! What have you done? Is this just? What have you done to us when we came here to take shelter of you. O savior of the miserable, Dinabandhu! Please help us.”

The flow of tears from my wife’s eyes did not stop for a second. We sat by the main door of Bihariji, completely devastated by the situation.

Other visitors to the temple saw us and asked us what had happened. They offered to help. Some people wanted to give money or to help us buy tickets. After all, our suitcases were gone too. But our children had disappeared! What good was money now? We had no option but to depend on Bihariji completely. We had come for him, it was now his responsibility to see us through.

Three hours went by very slowly. Suddenly I saw the tonga-wallah running up the stairs leading to the verandah in front of the main entrance. He ran up to us and threw himself on the ground, putting his head down at our feet, his eyes filled with tears. “Kill me, Babuji. I am a great sinner. Turn me over to the police. Or do with me as you like.”

I immediately roared, “Where are the children?”

“They are with the tonga.”

“Where’s the tonga?”

“It’s standing in front of the Munger temple.”

We practically ran all the way to the Munger temple. The children were unharmed and cheerful. We felt as though our lives had been returned to us.

So now I turned back to the tonga-wallah and asked him what on earth was going on? Why had he taken the children so far away? He began to speak:

“Babuji, I will tell you the whole truth. I won’t hide anything from you. The fact is that I am from Agra. I am a thief and kidnapper. That is my profession. The tonga is just a cover. When you went for darshan then my habit took over and I decided to take the chance and run off with the children and your suitcases. I told the children that I was going to give them a ride around Vrindavan and show them things and started to drive off. But this is as far as I got. I could not go any further and my plan fell apart.”

“Why? What happened?” I asked.

“When I got here and was going to turn west on the Mathura Road I suddenly saw a boy about eight or ten years old. He was dressed like a goala. He stood right in front of the tonga and smiled mysteriously at me. My entire body started to shake and the reins fell out my hand. My head started to spin. I fainted and fell to the ground.

“When I came back to consciousness I immediately came running back here like crazy. I found you and asked for forgiveness. The boy I saw said to me — his words are still ringing in my ears — ‘You fool! You are running off with my devotee’s children. If you don’t give them back right away I will take away your eyesight. I will completely destroy you.'”

The tonga-wallah’s eyes were filled with tears. “I tried over and over again to drive the tonga towards Mathura, but the cowherd boy did not let me move an inch. Now I am at your mercy. Turn me over to the police. I have committed a grievous crime.”

My wife and I took the whole affair as Bihariji’s inconceivable mercy. We forgave him and indeed returned to Mathura that evening in his tonga.

To this day when I remember this event, my body trembles and the hairs stand on end.


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