A devotee of Panduranga Vittala. Though suffering hardships from a cruel mother-in-law and a foolish husband. She bore it and reposed pure ‘Bhakti’(devotion) in Lord Vittala who, for her sake, served her people and transformed them.
A poor man and his wife lived in a town near Pandharapur. Though poor, they were leading a peaceful, contented life. They would, within their limitations, make donations to charities; they would welcome and entertain guests. They were partaking in others’ joys and helping those in difficulties. They were liked by all.
Pandharapur is a holy place. Panduranga Vittala is the presiding deity there. There were a large number of devotees in that vicinity worshipping Him. The poor couples too were among them. They had no children and it distressed them.
They ardently worshipped Vittala daily and prayed for getting children. As though in response to their devout prayers, the poor man’s wife gave birth to a female child. The baby grew up into a beautiful girl possessing many good qualities since childhood.
Sakhu had imbibed in her a deep sense of devotion to God. She assisted in the ‘Puja’ at the house by preparing flower-garlands, sandalwood paste, etc… tended the cattle, assisted her mother with cooking and was constantly engaged in useful domestic chores. The parents loved her immensely.
Neighbors looked upon this smiling, active girl with delight. She would never hurt anybody nor utter harsh words. She made friends with other children and played with them. She respected the elders and was devoted to them. Everybody loved her.
The Miser of Karaveerapura
There lived in the town of Karaveerapura a Pandit. He used to carry the Vedic texts with him and was always reciting mantras (hymns).
But all that was for no good purpose. He would not even drive away a crow with his unwashed hand after meals lest any morsel of rice should fall and the crow might eat it! He was not poor but miserly.
Bharat is a big country. There are many mountains, rivers, forests, and open plains. In the North, Ganga (read on how Bhagiratha brought Ganga to earth here), Yamuna, and the Brahmaputra are very big rivers. Likewise big rivers like Cauvery, Krishna, and Godavari flow in the South.
Karaveera town was on the banks of Krishna.
There was much greenery; good crops grew on the fertile lands, and Mother Earth was bountiful to the people. But the pandit was so miserly that people had named him ‘Krupanaraya’(‘Krupana ’means a miser). His wife Gayyalibai was a quarrelsome woman and was always insulting people and picked up quarrels with them.
She was neither a devotee of God nor was helpful in any way to others. No charities for her, and she would not entertain any guests at their house. The couple had a son whose name was Oaduraya. Neither the father nor the son dared to open their mouth, the woman ruled the household as per her wish.
Krupanaraya had taught the Vedas to his son but it was mere parrot-like learning. Matters from the sacred texts filled his brain, but his heart was barren. He had not developed any good qualities like being friendly, helpful and kind to others.
People used to keep away from this family.
While some feared the wife’s verbal onslaughts, others did not like to have any contact or dealings with these misers who only loved money.
As the son reached marriageable age, his parents began to look for a bride to him. But who would offer their daughter to such a person and the family?
‘Better throw the girl into a well than marry her into such a household,’
they would say. Realizing that none in the town were willing to offer their son a bride, his father began to search for one in neighboring places.
In his search, Krupanaraya came to living and the town where Sakhubai was living and someone directed him to her house. Her father received him in a friendly manner. Sakhubai brought water for him to wash his hands & feet, helped her mother in preparing lunch for the guest; she set the plate and tumbler for him.
Krupanaraya was impressed with the girl’s intelligence and helpful disposition. He asked for her to be given in marriage to her son.
Though Sakhu’s father had heard about the wealthy pandit, they were unaware of the bad name he had earned. The poor, good-hearted couple felt happy; they thought it was a boon from Lord Vittala that their daughter should be married into such a wealthy family.
They were poor and some times would not have enough food even for two meals a day and they had to wear old and worn clothes. They now felt that at least their daughter would enjoy a happy life and readily agreed for the proposal.
Krupanaraya fixed the muhurta (auspicious time) with his wife and son to plan the marriage without the bridegroom’s coming to light.
Gayyalibai had brought some presents for some gold Jewelry and was impressed and was lucky.
Krupanaraya then returned to Karaveerapura.
The Forlorn Deer
Sakhu’s father-in-law fixed an auspicious day for bringing their daughter-in-law. Sakhu was then only twelve. Her parents brought her and the function of welcoming her was gone through. Sakhu’s mother felt that as she was too young, they would take her back and send her when she matured. But Gayyalibai insisted that the girl would remain at their home from now on. Sakhu’s parents could not have their say and returned thinking of bringing their daughter home after some time.
Tender girl Sakhu revered her father-in-law and mother-in-law as her parents and considered her husband as God. But she was shocked to see how they behaved. The mother-in-law would scold her all the time. She had to pound paddy, churn the grains, cleanse the vessels, store the water, wash the clothes.
There was no end to the tasks she had to perform. Still, Gayyalibai was not satisfied with anything she did. She would angrily shout about the dishes not property washed and go on to denounce that her mother had not taught her any work well.
Sakhu had to constantly weep, suffering the scolding. Her mother-in-law, after serving meals to the male members, would throw a little rice and a few other dishes into her plate. It was like the careless feeding of dogs.
By the time Sakhu went to the river for washing clothes and returned, even that little food would have become stone-cold. But she silently sat in a corner and ate it silently shedding tears.
Sometimes, it would be infested with ants, flies, etc… Many days she would not eat at all. After coming to her husband’s house, Sakhu was now like a lost and forlorn deer.
How can you live in a house where there is no Dharma?
Though she had grown up in her poor parents’ house, Sakhu had never aspired for rich, sumptuous food or anything of the sort. One may starve if no food is available but the atmosphere in this house was shocking.
Sakhu had heard that her father-in-law was a great Vedic scholar and she had thought that such learned men had greater faith in God. She had felt that Krupanaraya, rich and learned, was helpful to others in a liberal manner, donate for charities, etc… Now all her illusions were shattered.
One day when she was pondering rice, a beggar came to the house for alms. She got a handful of rice and came out to give it to him.
Seeing it, Gayyalibai poured insults on her and accused her that she was trying to destroy their house. Krupanaraya supported his wife. Sakhu felt extremely sad.
Should one not have some sympathy, dharma and be charitable? Though her parents were poor, there was always provision for a little charity; a handful of rice was always available to those coming for alms. Here there was so much abundance. Krupanaraya was also engaged in financial dealings involving large sums. Still, the charity was absent in this house. No guests came.
There was no formal worshipping of God even once a day nor were there any prayers. What was the difference between human beings and other species without these, lamented Sakhubai.
She could not even have her meals in the company, because of this dejection. Yet, she never openly complained against her mother-in-law or father-in-law. With tears in her eyes, she would only pray to Lord Vittala to bless these people with good thoughts and deeds.”
Mother worries about Sakhu
After leaving her daughter at her husband’s place. Sakhu’s mother was constantly worried about her. “
She is a very young girl. It would have been better if we had brought her,”
she used to lament. Worried for her daughter, she would even forget her daily domestic chores. The calf in their shed would shout ‘Ambaa’ before she rushed to feed her grass.’ If our Shaku was here, you would have your food on time, she would mutter caressing the calf.
There were no modern postal facilities at that time, you see. So they had to seek information about their daughter from travelers and the sadhus who went from town to town and came after visiting Sakhu’s place.
When guests came from Karaveerapura, they would inquire about their daughter. But, at the outset, they were disheartened.
After leaving Sakhu at her father-in-law’s house, they never had any information about that household. On the verge of a breakdown, Sakhu’s mother entreated her husband that they go to Karaveerapura and he equally worried, readily agreed. The couple started on their journey in happy anticipation of seeing their daughter living a good, comfortable life.
Parent’s Bemoan Sakhu’s Fate
When the parents came to Karaveerapura and saw their daughter’s condition, they were shocked. She looked pale and weak; her clothes were worn out; her hair had become ruffled without any application of hair-oil. The moment she saw her daughter, Sakhu’s mother cried, “0, my dear child!” and embraced her. Sakhu had not heard such loving words for years. Both broke down with grief and wept.
Gayyalibai suddenly appeared on the scene.
Shouting with fury, she demanded of her daughter-in-law:” Aren’t you ashamed to tag on like this to your mother? Go get inside. There is a lot of work to do.” Sakhu faithfully went inside.
What had happened to Sakhu? She was active as a deer. Now, this girl walks with wobbling steps and mortally afraid of her mother-in-law.
Where is that glow on her face? She looks like a forlorn orphan. Unable to bear her grief, Sakhu’s mother mildly inquired:
That was enough of a cue to Gayyalibai to explode into a harangue.
“She eats well thrice a day and has grown lazy. Now, those who cannot afford a meal a day come to enquire about the welfare of their daughter,”
she shouted in an insulting tone and continued her condemnation of them for quite some time.
The poor couple stood dumbfounded. The lady of the house did not invite them to wash, did not offer them a glass of water to quench their thirst after travel, and did not inquire about their welfare, did not even spread a mat and ask them to sit down. What sort of a ‘Master of the house’ was Krupanaraya? He would not utter a word against his wife’s objectionable outbursts.
Sakhu’s parents remained silent and Gayyalibai could not quarrel with them. After some time, tired by her outburst, she went inside. Sakhu went to wash the clothes. Silently, her mother followed her to the riverside. Many women of the town were there engaged in washing and conversing.
When the women learned that Sakhu’s mother had come, they asked her: “Don’t you have any wells or tanks in your town?” Sakhu’s mother could not understand their question and gave an obvious reply: “Why do you ask that? Which place could be there on earth without well or tanks?”
The woman replied:
“Instead of giving Sakhu to the family of a devil like that, you could as well have thrown her into a well.”
“My friends, we are ruined… we did not know the kind of people they are,” she lamented. Everybody sympathized with Sakhu and their mother, but what can they do? None to advise Gayyalibai to be reasonable. Sakhu’s mother had already a taste of her tongue-lashing.
Sakhu consoled her mother.”Do not worry. Go home. It is time for meals.” Worried that there could be trouble if it was found – she had gone to the river with Sakhu, she rushed back. Gayyalibai served lunch. Krupanaraya and Oaduraya ate heartily and belched with content. Sakhu’s parents could hardly eat.
Hesitatingly, Sakhu’s parents requested that she be sent with them for a few days. They begged with folded hands. But Gayyalibai scorned them saying:
“You yourselves have no means for a square meal. Here she can eat as much as she wishes. We won’t send her.”
Sakhu’s father pleaded: “It is only just and proper that the girl remains with her parents at least till she attains maturity. We may be poor. But one fruit will not be a burden to the plant,” said Sakhu’s mother feelingly.
But Gayyalibai was not one to bother about justice or ‘dharma’. No argument could move her.
She shouted still louder and would not budge.
Grief-stricken, Sakhu’s parents took leave of their daughter, with tears in their eyes.
“God’s will be done,” said her father who told her as they were leaving: “My dear daughter after we married you off, you are now in their possession. Vittala will never let his devotees down. Here, keep this statuette of Him. He will protect you.”
Sakhubai’s Husband Oaduraya
When Sakhu saw her parents; she was a bit optimistic that she could go to her house with them at least for a few days.
But that was not to be. Sakhu steeled herself thinking it was her duty to stay with her husband. And how was her husband Oaduraya?
Sakhu, a girl of tender age, had come from her parents’ home with the belief that her husband would maintain the household well. Parting with one’s parents is sad and it would be difficult for one to adjust to a new home.
The newly married husband should genuinely love his wife, and treat her with affection. But Oaduraya had no such feelings. He was not even inquiring whether she had her meals nor was he bringing her any flowers, clothes, etc…He was very much afraid of his mother.
Sakhu’s husband treated her as his slave and not as a life-partner. Even though her mother-in-law ill-treated her, she could have had some solace if only she enjoyed her husband’s love.
Even Krupanaraya, the eldest member of the family, did not have a sympathetic word for her. In these circumstances, she would wonder why she should live at all.
“You Are My Only Refuge”
With her parents away, Sakhu had to spend her days without any affection and love either from her husband or from his parents. She now began to love only Lord Vittala. Being a devotee of God since childhood, she considered her husband and his parents as good. She implicitly believed in her father’s words: “Vittala will never let you down.” She recited his name throughout the day.
Gayyalibai became crueler towards her. But Sakhu bore all the suffering silently. The mother-in-law saw everything wrong with her.
If she sits down for a while, “You are lazy and want to escape from work.” If she sat down when elders were present, “How dare you sit before the elders?” Sakhu toiled from the daybreak till late in the night. She would eat only when her mother-in-law threw a few morsels of food at her; if she becomes angry, food would be much less.
At times Sakhu would be very hungry; pained both physically and mentally, she would take out Vittala’s statuette and narrate her woes to Him:
“For how long should I undergo this punishment, Vittala? How much more should you test me?
You are my savior, mother, father, everything.”
She found solace in her prayers. She used to hide the statuette in the folds of her saree at her waist and proceed with her household chores.
If her mother-in-law noticed the statuette, she would be annoyed. Even worshipping God was a sin in that house.
Mother-in-law Finds Out
Gayyalibai had noticed that her daughter-in-law talked to herself at times. Not bold enough to talk back to her, she murmurs to herself, thought Sakhu’s mother-in-law and decided to ‘teach her a lesson’.
She stealthily listened to Sakhu’s murmuring but only heard the chanting of Vittala’s name. But she did not see the idol, which was hidden, in her waist. Another day when Sakhu was talking to herself and narrating her troubles to the idol the mother-in-law suddenly appeared and seeing the idol seized it and threw it away.
“0, He is my Lord! 0 God! Vittala!” bemoaned Sakhu. Gayyalibai condemned Vittala with mean words and Sakhu could not tolerate it. She said:
“Mother-in-law, condemn and drub me as you like. But what did that idol do to you?
Please don’t denounce God.”
Gayyalibai raised a terrible rumpus saying her daughter-in-law was opposing her and complained to Krupanaraya. “I seem to be less than a broomstick to her!” she told her son and heaped complaints on Sakhu.
Oaduraya did not bother to inquire into what had happened. Nor did he bother to note how extremely patient his wife was and sweating away in household work. He took up a cane and thrashed his wife as he would some animal. At her father’s place, Sakhu could not even mildly wield a stick against their cattle.
Sakhu silently received her husband’s beating.
Swelled marks dotted her body and in the night she wept in agony. ‘Even then, she was only chanting “Vittala, Vittala! You are my only savior.”
Loses Interest in Domestic Life
Sakhu’s devotion to ‘God continued to grow and she was constantly reciting his name. Gradually, she was losing interest in domestic life though she was fulfilling all her duties at home perfectly. Her health had broken down and she was now nothing but skin and bones. Neighbors; felt sad at her plight and thought that they should tender some good advice to Gayyalibai.
But who is to go and talk? Each wanted others to undertake that task. ‘Who is to bell the cat?’
At last, some men made bold to talk to Krupanaraya. They told him: “Your daughter-in-law appears to be ill. As the elder, you should think of her health and welfare.”
For which he retorted:
“What has happened to her? She eats so well thrice a day!”
“You should not let a girl from another family suffer and cry. After she came here, you have not sent her to her parent’s home even once. Send her for a few days,”
they advised him.
Gayyalibai had ordered Sakhu not to move about in the house in the presence of elders.
Even her father-in-law had not seen her closely recently. When he saw her and noticed how weak and bony she had become, he told his wife about the talk among the town’s menfolk.
Gayyalibai denounced the men with all sorts of harsh words. She accused Sakhu of having complained to the men and told her son that the girl was spoiling the good name of their family. Again, Sakhu received a cruel thrashing.
People of the town felt sorry when they heard this episode.
The next day, when Sakhu went to the river to wash the clothes, the women there said in sympathy: “Sakhu, why do you suffer here like this?
You are killing yourself unnecessarily. Go to your parents. Don’t you have any relations?” Sakhubai replied in a stern voice:
“Dear ladies, I appreciate your affection and sympathy for me.
Everything happens as per Lord Vittala’s wish. He is my father, mother and everything. He has to protect me. Do not worry.”
Though she was suffering such cruelty and harassment, she did not utter a word about her husband, father-in-law or mother-in-law. The women of the town were surprised at how Sakhu bore the suffering silently and her complete faith in God impressed them. They were all praise for her devotion to God and peaceful disposition.
One evening, Sakhu, accompanied by Shantabai, a neighbor, went to the Krishna River to fetch water. A group of pilgrims was on way to Pandharapur. The Devotees had to walk for miles, as there were no transport facilities in those days. They had to stay at riverbeds, cook their food, rest for a while and proceed further.
When Sakhu sighted these devotees, she forgot her chores and joined the people who were chanting Vittala, Panduranga Vittala. She was feeling enthralled. Overcome by this devotional emotion, she said:
“Shantabai, I will also go to Pandharapur to see Lord Vittala.”
Shantabai said: “If your mother-in-law comes to know of this, she will give you a good thrashing. Let us go home without any fuss.” But Sakhu joined the pilgrim’s party and went on.
No sooner did Sakhubai’s mother-in-law come to know of this than she began to rant.
She and her son came and saw the daughter-in-law dancing in ecstasy reciting the name of Lord Vittala. Her eyes were closed. She was lost to this earthly world. Only when her mother-in-law rudely pulled her by the hair did she open her eyes. Her husband and mother-in-law beat and dragged her home. They told the people she wanted to run away from home and tied to a pole. She was also refused meals.
The Lord Answers
Her Prayers Devotees narrate how God blessed Sakhubai.
It is a very interesting story.
More than the physical beatings she received, Sakhu suffered a lot of mental agonies. She did not worry about her food, sleep, clothes, etc…
Though physically weak, she was unflinching in her devotion to God. She was always chanting
“Vittala! Vittala! Please fulfill my desire.”
Vittala must have heard His devotee’s prayers.
Around midnight. He disguised himself as a woman, came and untied Sakhu. He told her:
“Dear Sakhu, you are keen on having a ‘darshan’ of Vittala, aren’t you? Go ahead. Till you come back, I will look after your work.”
Sakhu ran and joined the devotees. God had assumed Sakhu’s form and stayed in her place.
Came the morning. Sakhu’s husband and his mother noticed that despite their haranguing and beatings, she was calmly immersed in chanting Vittala’s name. Noticing the intensity of her ‘Bhakti’, they became afraid. ‘Is such terrific devotion possible for any being?’ they wondered. They then untied her. As they thought she would collapse with fatigue, she stood erect. Her mother-in-law, though ruffled, ordered her, “Go, have your bath and cook the meals.”
Sakhubai silently went in and prepared the meals. What luck to eat food prepared by God Himself! And what wonderful meals! It was like savoring nectar. The families are heartily praising the dishes prepared. But the constant chanting of Vittala’s name irritated Gayyalibai, who angrily ordered Sakhu not to mention ‘that bad word.’
God in Sakhu’s guise did not utter a word in reply and continued to chant Vittala’s name. He attended to all of Sakhu’s duties. She went to the river to fetch water, wash the vessels, and wash the clothes; she pounded the grain.
All the work was being done perfectly. Some days passed and now the people in the house began to look at this ‘Sakhu’ with a sense of fear. Gayyalibai could no longer scold ‘Sakhu’ as before. Nor could the husband Oaduraya raise his hand to beat her. In the divine presence, the whole atmosphere in the house had been transformed.
Meanwhile, Sakhubai arrived at Pandharapur and had the ‘darshan’ of Lord Vittala. Overcome with devotion, she prayed in an enthralled mood.
By now, she had lost all interest in this worldly life. Several days passed and she was in no mood to return home. She spent all the time in prayer.
One day, as she prostrated at the feet of Lord Vittala chanting His name, she breathed her last.
The news of Sakhu’s passing away in this manner soon spread in Pandharapur and people came rushing to have a last look at this great devotee who died praying. The whole town was full of praise for her. People raised a pyre of sandalwood and camphor and consigned her to flames.
As narrated by people, the story of Sakhubai becomes still more interesting hereafter.
While Sakhubai passed away, Lord Vittala was working in her guise at Karaveerapura. “I will look after your duties until you come back,” He had promised her. Lord Vittala’s consort Rukmayi now was at a loss as to how to get Him back. She decided that the only solution was to revive Sakhu back to life.
She gave ‘darshan’ to her devotees in their dreams and asked them to bring Sakhu’s mortal remains to her. Rukmayi touched them with her divine hands and revived Sakhubai and told her:
“Dear great devotee, go back to your Karaveerapura home. Lord Vittala is staying there taking your form. Send Him back.
You are blessed. Go.”
Sakhubai walked back home. Vittala in her guise was standing on the banks of river Krishna carrying a couple of pots. Sakhu ran and fell at His feet exclaiming,
“0 Lord! What a mad woman I have been to make you undertake these tasks!
I did not even ask who you were. I don’t know what tasks you were asked to attend. Please forgive me.”
Lord Vittala laughed and replied: “There is nothing I will not do for my devotees. Hereafter, your life will be happy. You are blessed. Lead a life of help and service to others.” Sakhu, blessed by her Lord, returned to her house joyfully.
Gayyalibai was surprised when she heard her daughter-in-law’s story. “0 God! How I made you toil for me!” she cried remorsefully. Now she felt immensely happy that Sakhu had received God’s blessings. “My dear, please forget the past.
You are the light of our family,” she emotionally told her.
Sakhubai’s entire life-mode had now changed.
Her husband, the mother-in-law and the father-in-law had all changed their attitude towards her and treated her with great respect. She continued to be affectionate and friendly to all of them. She explained the greatness of God and ‘Bhakti’ to all the people around her and led a life of peace and happiness.
‘Bhakti’ was Sakhubai’s Strength
Every country has its tales extolling the greatness of its saints and devotees of God.
Sakhubai’s story has been a popular one in our country. People venerate her.
Sakhu suffered much hardship right since her childhood. After coming to her husband’s house, she could not go to her parent’s home at all. Poverty at home may not appear to be a major problem. There is happiness in sharing one’s love and affection with others.
But even when the household is wealthy and there is abundance and a person is thrown a morsel or rice as to an unloved dog, how much mental agony the person suffers! She had also to suffer endless scolding and beatings.
Her parents were helpless. But Sakhubai bore all this patiently and her devotion to God Vittala gave her strength to bear the suffering. She surrendered herself completely to Him. She blamed nobody for her sufferings and her devotion to Lord Vittala was total. Thus, Sakhubai lived a life worthy and dedicated to the welfare of the people.