Finding relief after loss of one’s only child

How can parents cope with the loss of their only beloved child? The crux of this story, which affords elbow room for a modern storyteller, is a parable told by Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886).
Image used for representation.
Image used for representation.Pexels

How can parents cope with the loss of their only beloved child? The crux of this story, which affords elbow room for a modern storyteller, is a parable told by Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886). It is the story of a father and daughter who lived near the village of Kamarpukur in West Bengal. Kamarpukur is the birthplace of Ramakrishna. There is a branch of the Ramakrishna Mission there and a lake, once called Ranjit Raya’s Lake. After he narrated this brief, supernatural parable, Ramakrishna reportedly said, “Even Naren (Swami Vivekananda) believes in these things now”.

Ranjit Raya was a rich landlord, helped in life by his sweet-natured wife. If he had one sorrow, it was that he had no children. He was a devout man and began to pray and perform charities in the name of Goddess Durga. Eventually, he was blessed with a beautiful baby daughter. Her face shone with celestial lustre, as did her eyes. Nobody had seen such large, bright eyes on a baby. Raya and his wife Mrinmoyee were convinced that the Goddess herself had manifested as their daughter. In gratitude, they called their daughter ‘Devi’.

The little one was greatly attached to her father. She would not sleep at night unless her father put her on his shoulder and walked up and down, crooning to her. Six years went by. Devi grew quite independent and often went into the garden to play by herself. But at the given hour she ran to the gate to watch for her father’s horse-carriage. It became the practice that Devi would clamber into her father’s arms to finish the drive to the house.

One day, Raya sat in his office room downstairs casting his annual accounts with his clerk. Devi suddenly ran into the room to be near him. Seeing him preoccupied, she began to explore around her. She picked up a glass paperweight, then the inkwell, and the blotter, and the desk clock, and kept interrupting Raya to ask, “Father, what is this? What is this?” Raya tried at first to tell her nicely to stop disturbing him, but Devi persisted. Finally, he said distractedly, “Just go away”.

Devi was so shocked by this that she ran straight out of the gate. She approached a peddler of shankh or conch-shell objects who was passing by and asked for a couple of conch bangles for her tiny wrists. “That will be two coppers,” said the peddler.

“See my house there? There are two coppers in the little wooden box near my bed. Ask them for it,” said Devi.

Such was her charm that the peddler just nodded and went on. However, there was uproar in the house when he went to ask for money. They found the coins exactly where Devi had said but could not find her. A band of villagers arrived just then and told Raya that Devi had fallen into the lake. A little arm with conch bangles on it had flashed above the water and gone under. It had happened so fast that nobody could save her.

Ranjit Raya and his wife were devastated. But whereas grieving Mrinmoyee could distract herself with running the big household, nothing could make Raya feel better. “Why was I not more patient? Why did I tell her to go?” he lashed himself bitterly.  Months passed and Ranjit Raya felt no better. He had been a dutiful son, husband, father and landlord. Why, then, was he punished so severely?

Finally, Mrinmoyee approached him gently. “She is the One who came to us as our child. Ask Her why this happened,” she said. Raya gave a mighty start at that. Lost in grief, he had forgotten about the One he considered the cause of things. The next morning, he began by chanting the Goddess’s name to steady his nerves. When he felt more stable, he asked the Goddess, “What did I do wrong, Mother? Why was my child suddenly taken from me?” There was no answer but Raya felt a little lighter in his mind. Surely, She would answer him?

One night, Raya dreamt that the Goddess appeared to him in full splendour and said lovingly, “Son, why are you upset with me? You know I am Mahamaya, the great illusionist. Devi finished her karma on earth and left. It is as simple and final as that. But look around you, son. You are responsible for so many little Devis. They need your help.”

“How can I help them, Mother,” said Raya in his dream.

“Son, how do you see me?”

“As Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Durga, Mother,” replied Raya.

“What does that mean in daily life?”

“Knowledge, good fortune and strength, Mother,” he said.

“Then you know what to do, son,” said the Goddess with a tender smile.

Raya woke up with a sense of excitement. He paced up and down, making plans all night. Next morning, he went from house to house on his estate, persuading each family to let their daughters study reading, writing and arithmetic, at least for a couple of years each. Taken aback and touched, the villagers agreed. Mrinmoyee herself taught the girls. In this manner, Raya tried to give the poor girls of his village some of the benefits he would have given his daughter. But even ten years later, when his carriage entered the gates, his eyes would mist thinking of the little figure that would come running to be picked up.

However, the villagers gave him a gift. “Your daughter was none other than the Goddess born to you. You have helped our daughters in her name. We will hold a fair each year by the lake to remember Devi on the day she vanished,” they declared.

And so, a tradition was born at Kamarpukur that comforted Raya and his wife somewhat that Devi had attained a long life in the hearts of their people.

Renuka Narayanan

(Views are personal)


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The New Indian Express