NEW DELHI, India, August 7, 2012 - The world celebrated Friendship Day on 5 August. As millions of people filled up both virtual and physical space wishing their buddies a happy friendship day, I was reminded of how the spirit of friendship has always been thought of as the core value of human relationships.
Friends are forever. Friends are our DNA, despite the fact that this is one DNA that we choose ourselves and is not thrust upon us by family or ancestry. Therefore, for some people, bonding with friends carries more love and attachment than even blood relationships.
Way back in the period of Lord Krishna (estimates suggest that he was born on July 27, 3112 BCE), the sentiment of friendship was as strong as it is today. An episode in the life of Lord Krishna depicts this beautifully.
In ancient Indian tradition, boys used to do their schooling outside of the home environment in Gurukuls (traditional boarding schools). Gurukul environment was a beautiful mix of family warmth combined with strict discipline. Normally, a Gurukul would be headed by, of course, a Guru, the strict yet loving father-like figure for the pupils. The Guru’s wife would fondly be called Guru-ma (guru-mother) and made up for the distance the pupils had with their real mothers. Students not only studied various subjects at Gurukuls such as the scriptures, astronomy, and science of the times but also helped the institution with daily chores such as gathering wood from the forests for fire.
Krishna studied at one such Gurukul with many of his friends, and his closest friend, Sudama.
One day, upon instruction from the Guru-ma, Krishna and Sudama went to the forest to get wood for fire. As a routine, Guru-ma packed some chick-peas for both boys so that they could eat if there was any delay in their return.
That day turned out to be unusual. As both boys gathered wood and planned to head back to the Gurukul, it started raining heavily and both had to take shelter under two different branches of a tree.
While both were at audible distance, they were unable to see each other. It was pouring so heavily that it was impossible for them to change positions or make any attempt to sit closer.
As it became dark and the night progressed, Sudama felt extremely hungry. He then remembered that he had the food packs for himself and Krishna in his pocket. After initial hesitation because he could not offer the chick-peas to Krishna due to the distance, Sudama quietly ate up his packet.
But he still felt hungry. With some guilt in his heart, he ate Krishna’s share too.
After a while, Krishna too felt hungry and asked Sudama for his share. Sudama couldn’t have helpedKrishna even if he wanted to!
The rain stopped, both boys quietly returned to the Gurukul and went their own ways after completing their education.
Krishna was the son of a king and he eventually became the ruler of the ancient city of Dwarka.
Sudama remained poverty stricken for several years. He spent each day with the huge guilt that he was paying for the sin he committed that fateful night when he ate the Lord’s share.
He decided to make up for his sin and went to see Krishna in his kingdom with a wrist full of chick-peas.
When he approached Krishna’s palace, the royal guards stopped him from entering. Seeing his pitiable condition, they all mocked at his claim that he was Krishna’s childhood friend.
The news of this strange person’s arrival spread all over and people were amused that someone was adamantly waiting outside the palace to see Krishna.
Finally, it reached Krishna’s ears too.
The moment Krishna heard that Sudama was waiting for him outside his palace, he ran out to see his dearest friend bare foot.
Everyone in the palace was stunned to see their Lord, their King running out with teary eyes to meet his long-lost friend.
When they finally stood in front of each other, both cried, completely letting their emotions take charge and remove the large barrier of poverty and richness that stood between them.
Krishna took Sudama inside his palace with much respect and offered him to be seated at his throne as he cleaned Sudama’s dirty, injured feet with his own clothes.
It was a mesmerizing sight for all those around to see this aspect of Krishna, the reincarnation of the creator of this universe!
But this made Sudama feel even worse. He was anyway deeply guilt-ridden for his childhood mistake. And then, instead of Krishna getting angry with him and throwing him out of his palace, he offered his own seat to his friend.
Sudama then sheepishly took out the small pack of food from his pocket and offered to Krishna.
‘Please eat this my Lord, and rid me of my guilt that has been killing me every day for all these years,’ Sudama said.
‘You didn’t have to feel that way, my friend,’ said Krishna, as he ate the offering made by Sudama.
As both wept through their conversation, their strong bond of friendship came to the fore and became an example for others to follow.
Krishna gifted a large palace and loads of wealth to his poor friend following this episode. They both became the epitome of friendship.
The friendship between Krishna and Sudama is still referred to as the purest form of bonding and of love between friends.
It also represents an ideal form of relationship between God and his worshipper. It gives the wonderful message of befriending the lord, along with genuflecting before his piety.
Krishna and Sudama are not about revenge. The message is not that because Sudama ate Krishna’s share, he was poverty stricken for several years.
The message here reflects the overall lessons of life. It speaks of the sort of discipline we all need, the respect that we must give to our friends, and that no matter what a friend does in innocence, we must be forgiving and willing to share without expecting anything in return.
Let us be determined to be friends forever like Krishna and Sudama this friendship day. That is the true spirit of friendship!
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