Shri Bhaktamal is a poetic work in Braj Bhasha that contains short biographies of more than two-hundred devotees. It was written by Shri Nabha Das ji, a saint belonging to the Ramananda tradition, in 1585. These descriptions of devotees are a much-loved subject of Katha speakers as hearing about the lives of devotees brings hope and inspiration to those who long for a connection to the Divine.
Shri Madhav Das was a Brahmin who renounced the world when his wife left her body. Renouncing the world, he headed to Jagannath Puri. Once he reached Puri, he sat on the beach and became absorbed in meditation. He was so absorbed that he didn’t pay attention to the need to eat and drink.
Seeing this, the most merciful Lord Jagannath ordered Laxmi Devi to take the finest food on a golden plate to him. When Shri Madhav came out of his entranced state, he saw the plate and began to weep tears of joy.
He offered the food, then ate it and kept the plate to one side. He became absorbed in meditation once more.
When the temple priests saw that the plate was missing, they flew into action to find it. Eventually, it was found next to Madhav Das. Understanding him to be a thief, they began to whip him. But that night, in a dream, the Lord appeared saying that the pundits will be ruined unless they beg forgiveness at Madhav ji’s feet.
Madhav Das became sick an. He could not walk. Someone came to serve and clean him. When he regained consciousness he realized that it was Prabhu Himself. Holding on to His feet, Madhav Das said
Why didn’t you just cure me? Why did you do so much hard work?
I cannot stand to see my devotees suffering. That is why I came to serve you. You know that it is necessary to suffer the consequences of actions, that is my rule, so how can I break it? I only serve devotees and prove this truth to the world.
People came to know about this incident and word about Madhav Das began to spread far and wide. People started to surround him. This didn’t suit him so he began to wonder around as a madman uttering the Lord’s name.
Once he knocked on a woman’s door to ask for alms. In anger, she threw a wad of cloth at him. Madhav was happy. He dried the cloth and used it as a wick in the temple. After this, the woman became a great devotee who was always joyfully absorbed in meditation on the Lord.
Once a Shastri scholar named Digvijay Pandit challenged Madhav Das to a debate. Madhav Das refused but the Pandit would not listen. Eventually, Madhav Das wrote a note saying, “Madhav has lost, Digvijay is the winner.”
Pandit ji was overjoyed and immediately returned to Varanasi to tell people about his victory. He started to show people the proof, but when the other pundits read the note, it said, “Pandit ji lost, Madhav won.”
Pandit ji was so angry that he returned to Jagannath Puri. He challenged Madhav Das to another debate and insisted that the loser must have their face painted black and ride around town on a donkey.
Madhav Das tried to talk him out of it, but Pandit ji was not ready to listen.
A debate was held in front of a crowded hall. Madhav Das did not attend, but the Lord took his form and won easily. When Madhav Das found out that Pandit ji was being taken around town with a black face, he begged the Lord to forgive the Pandit then he helped Pandit ji get off the donkey and begged his forgiveness. The Pandit’s anger faded.
Blessed are the kind-hearted devotees who forgive us and care about our salvation.