Many a times we hear the word Bhakti and start wondering what is its real meaning.

Different people define Bhakti differently. Some say it is worshipping the Lord; some say it is chanting his name; some say it is doing service to him, while some others say it is praising the Almighty.

All of these may somewhat appear confusing. In reality, all these are like different branches of the tree of Bhakti. But the root of this Bhakti tree is unconditional and selfless love.

There is simple story to illustrate this, which happened during the Dvapara Yuga, after Sri Krishna was crowned the king and he was living in Dwaraka.

Narada’s Doubt

One day, the great sage Narada was debating a question in his mind; how come the gopis of Vrindavan reside in the Lord’s heart as the supreme Krishna bhakthas. They are not educated, or learned in scriptures, nor do they do any penance. They are simple village women who live their lives at their homes and perform daily chores as daughter and wife, etc. They had lived with Lord Krishna and just remember his memories.

In that sense, there are countless devotees who remember the Lord and also chant his name, worship him, do pujas and penance. What is the unique quality of gopis that made them so special to the Lord?

Unable to find an answer and remaining confused, sage Narada went to Lord Krishna and asked this question.

Lord Krishna, who wished to make the sage understand the greatness of the gopis, said “ O great muni! Go to every devotee of mine whom you know of and say that Lord Krishna has a severe headache, and its only cure is to drink the water which the devotee has used to wash his feet.”

The sage remained perplexed as to how this could be the answer to his question. Yet, without reasoning further, he set out to do what the Lord had asked him.

The First Reaction

Ignored the gopis, he first went to the most learned man in the town who was a bhaktha of the Lord and narrated to him that the Lord had thought of him and asked for the water used to wash his own feet to cure his headache. Awestruck, the bhaktha immediately stood up and strongly declined to do what the sage had suggested.

When Narada asked the reason, he said, “ If I do such an act, I will go to hell. Sorry Rishi, I just cannot help, please look for someone else.”

Sage Narada got the same reply wherever he went. Everyone refused to hand over the water used to wash his or her own feet, as they all felt that it would be like insulting the divine resulting in severe consequences.

Final Solution

Finally giving up all hope, he went to the gopis to give last try.

When he told the gopis that Lord Krishna had a headache, all of them got sad and began to offer a variety of cures. The sage calmed them down and hesitantly told them about the particular cure.

Immediately, neither thinking nor wasting any time, all gopis washed their feet, collected the water and handed over to the rishi asking him whether that would be enough.

Wonder struck, sage Narada said, “O gopis! Don’t you know that if the Lord drinks this water, you will all go to hell!” There came a chorus of reply with a big smile, “If Lord Krishna’s headache is cured, we will be more than happy to go to hell.” Narada was astonished to see their unconditional and selfless love towards the Lord.

The sage collected the water and reached Dvaraka. He kept the water in front of Lord Krishna and said, “Now I know why the gopis, reside in your heart,” to which Lord Krishna just smiled.

The message is thus clear. A tree’s existence depends on its roots. Only where there is a strong root, the tree can sprout. Likewise, no matter whichever branch of the tree of Bhakti one tends to follow, its root should be a strong, unconditional and selfless love towards the Lord. This would enable the tree of Bhakti to grown and flourish and ultimately help to reach the lotus feet of the Lord.

– B Gayathri (Article reproduced with permission: Tattvaloka, The Splendor of Truth, May 2019)