Story by Vijay Kumar Sharma. Published in Banke Bihariji ke chamatkar (“Miraculous stories about Banke Bihariji), Vol II, ed. Acharya Vilas Chandra Goswami.
This is a story from about 100 years ago. In those days, Vrindavan was still a pretty small town. Running through the middle of it was a dirt road, joining Banke Bihari to the Mathura Road, cutting across the rail line, now known as Gandhi Road.
The area surrounding the rail-crossing, covering present-day Davanala Kund, Kaimar Van and Motijheel, was undeveloped scrub and forest land. There were many ber (Indian jujube), neem, kaith (wood apple) and kareel (caper) trees spread throughout the area.
Jaipur Mandir, Exterior (P.C. radha.name)
The king of Jaipur had a part of this jungle cleared away in order to build the famous Jaipur mandir. It is said that the railway line itself was built in order to transport the sandstone slabs for the temple from Rajasthan.
Because the forest was thick and there was no people living there, not too many people venture in this direction except to go to and from Mathura. Still, there were a few hermits who had built huts near Davanala Kund. Other than going into the village to beg for a few pieces of bread to stave off their hunger, these hermits would stay in their huts and do their bhajan. And of course, in they would go to Vrindavan for darshan of Bihariji.
One day a group of nomads from Rajasthan set up camp by the side of the railway crossing, in the place where the long wall of Shrauta Muni Nivas ashram is now standing. Among the 25 or so men, women and children of the group was a woman named Mani, “jewel.”
She was short in stature, dark and somewhat weathered, with ordinary features, with hair unkempt and tangled. Who knows when she had last combed them. She had big silver rings in her nose and ears, and wore a heavy silver chain around her neck. She wore a dirty, torn bodice that barely covered her drooping breasts. She was probably about 50 years old. That’s what Mani looked like.
One day Mani went to take darshan of Bihariji. Just on seeing him, something overcame her. She became perfectly still and seemed to lose all connection with the world around her. Bihariji’s large eyes shone like a beam of light at her and she became completely mesmerized by them.
When she returned to the encampment, she came physically, but her mind and soul had been left behind with Bihariji. From then on, waking or sleeping, sitting or moving or doing her daily chores, on her lips was only one prayer, “Hear my plea, Banke Bihariji, hear my plea. (merī suna lo araja śrī bihārījī)” These few words reverberated throughout the nomads’ camp. This song was her bhajan, this was her worship.
Days went by and Mani’s bhajan became stronger. Her thoughts of Bihariji became more intense and her interest in the daily life of the group and conversations with the other women correspondingly decreased.
Mani’s husband was not in good health. She had to take care of him day and night. But throughout it all she never stopped chanting her refrain, “Hear my plea, Banke Bihariji, hear my plea.” (meri sun lo araj shri-banke bihari!)
It was winter. The day had broken, but the morning fog was still so thick that Surya Narayan had not made an appearance. Some of the people in the nomad tribe had gotten up and quietly started their daily routine.
Then out of the fog came voices singing, breaking the fog-bound stillness. “Banke Bihari ! jai ho tihari!”
Slowly piercing the misty curtain came the shadowy forms of several men moving slowly closer to the camp. The kirtan they were singing also got louder and louder. Mani followed along and began singing with them, “Banke Bihari ! jai ho tihari!”
It was the sadhus from those cottages by the Davanala Kund. They had completed their morning ablutions and gone for the darshan of their life and soul, Bihariji. Mani had watched them go and come for many days now. It had been some time since she herself could go for darshan because of her husband’s illness.
As the kirtan approached, she could not keep her feet still and she ran towards the doorway of her hut to watch the singers come closer. As soon as they came into sight it seemed they were already disappearing back into the fog, leaving behind only the sounds of the kirtan ringing in her ears. Who knows how long Mani stood in the doorway, motionless?
Mani had seen them coming and going before, but on this day, just as the group of sadhus was about to disappear into the mist, she suddenly stopped them. “Baba!” she called out.
“What is it, Maiya?” asked the leader of the sadhus.
“Where are you coming from, Baba?” she asked him.
“Why, we’ve just come back from seeing Bihariji’s shringar arati.”
“Oh wonderful! Can you describe him for me? Can you tell me what color dress he was wearing today?” She asked eagerly, “What was his shringar like?”
“What was he wearing?” The babaji was a bit taken aback. “What color?” The sadhus thought a bit, but no one was able to say anything.
Finally one of them said, “Well, we did go for darshan, but we don’t remember what he was wearing.” They looked at each other, frowning, hoping someone would be able to answer her question, but no one came forward. They had no answer.
“We went for darshan, but we don’t remember anything about the color of the dress, or the way he was dressed,” they admitted again.
Mani laughed and said, “So did you go for darshan or just for a stroll to the temple and back? Today Bihariji wore yellow. It was bordered with red and had silver sequins on it. He was wearing a yellow turban! Around his neck he had a Chandrasaini necklace. Go back again and take darshan a second time. Then come back and tell me if I am right or not.”
The men were astonished. She seemed so sure of herself. They talked to each other and decided to test her by going back and seeing for themselves what Bihariji was wearing.
As they turned around, she called to them again, “And yes, ask the Gosai why he did not offer my Ladli laddus when he woke him up this morning. He really loves those motichur laddus made with besan and ghee.”
The group returned silently to Bihariji’s temple and were astonished to see that Mani had been right. Bihariji was dressed exactly as she had described him. The sadhus were amazed at the mercy Bihariji had shown her.
They went up the stairs to the jagamohan where they could get a closer look. The curtain was closed and the Gosai was handing out tulasi garlands to the devotees. One of the babas called out, “Jai Bihari ki!” to attract the Gosai’s attention. “Tell me, Maharaj, did you forget to put motichur laddus in the early morning wake-up bhog offering?”
“Of course I didn’t forget,” said the indignant priest. “I do it every day. Why are you asking?”
In fact, after seeing that Mani was right about the shringar, they expected her to be right about this too.
“Maharaj,” the baba said, “Please just go inside one time and check to see if you made the offering properly. I just need to have my doubt cleared about whether Bihariji got the bhog or not.”
“Well, if you insist, I will go and have a look.” With that, the Gosai went into the inner chamber. He had no reason to think that he had not done his duty that morning. But when he uncovered the offering plate, he saw that there were no laddus on it.
Beads of perspiration came onto his forehead. He came out and said to the sadhu, “Baba, I have committed a great offense today. It is true that I forgot to offer the laddus.”
The sadhus returned to the nomad encampment and praised Mani’s devotion and good fortune. Then they went back to their own kutirs.
For the rest of her days, Mani continued to meditate on Bihariji and when her time came the dust of her body mixed with the dust of Vrindavan. She was not only a jewel in name, Mani, but by the grace of Bihariji, she had also become the crown jewel of his devotees.