Sakshi Gopal: The Deity Who Was Called as a Witness
An excerpt from Sri-Caitanya-caritamrta, translation and commentary
by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
At Vidyanagara in South India there were once two brahmanas who decided to make a long tour to see different places of pilgrimage. First they visited Gaya, then Kasi, then Prayaga. Finally, with great pleasure, they came to Mathura. There they visited all twelve forests of Vrndavana, saw Govardhana Hill and at last came to the town of Vrndavana itself.
In Vrndavana, at the site where the Govinda temple is now situated, there was at that time another great temple where gorgeous worship of Lord Gopala was performed. When the pilgrims visited this temple, the beauty of the Gopala Deity stole away their minds, and feeling great happiness, they remained there for a few days.
One of the two brahmanas was an old man, and the other was young. Because the young brahmana always rendered service to the older one, the old man was very pleased with him.
After their stay in the Gopala temple, the older man told the younger, “You have rendered various types of service to me. You have assisted me in traveling to all these places of pilgrimage. Even my own son does not render me such service. By your mercy, I did not become fatigued while on this tour. If I do not show you any respect, I would be ungrateful. Therefore, I promise to give you my daughter in charity.”
The younger brahmana replied, “My dear sir, please hear me. You are saying something very unusual; such a thing never happens. While you are a most aristocratic family man, well educated and very rich, I am not at all aristocratic. Indeed, I am without a decent education and have no wealth. Sir, I am not a suitable bridegroom for your daughter. I render service to you only for the satisfaction of Krishna. Lord Krishna is very pleased by service rendered to brahmanas, and when the Lord is pleased, the opulence of one’s devotional service increases.”
The older brahmana replied, “My dear boy, do not doubt me. I shall give you my daughter in charity, for I have already decided this.”
The young brahmana said, “You have a wife and sons, and you have a large circle of relatives and friends. Without their consent, you cannot possibly give me your daughter in charity.”
“My daughter is my own property,” said the elderly brahmana. “If I choose to give my property to someone, who has the power to stop me? My dear boy, I shall give my daughter to you in charity, and I shall ignore the position of all others. Don’t doubt me in this regard; just accept my proposal.”
The younger brahmana replied, “If you have actually decided to give your young daughter to me, then say so before the Gopala Deity.”
Coming before Gopala, the elderly brahmana said, “My dear Lord, please witness that I have given my daughter to this boy.”
In India the custom is to honor any promise made before the Deity. Such a promise cannot be canceled. In Indian villages, whenever there is a quarrel between two parties, they go to a temple to settle it. Whatever is spoken in front of the Deity is taken to be true, for no one would dare lie before the Deity.
Then the younger brahmana addressed the Deity, saying, “My dear Lord, You are my witness. If necessary, I shall call for You to testify later on.”
After these talks, the two brahmanas started for home. As usual, the young brahmana accompanied the elderly brahmana as if the older man were his guru (spiritual master) and rendered service to him in various ways.
Upon arriving in Vidyanagara, each brahmana went to his respective home. After some time, the elderly brahmana became very anxious. He began to think, “I have given my word to a brahmana in a holy place, and what I promised will certainly come to pass. I must now disclose this to my wife, sons, other relatives and friends.”
Thus the elderly brahmana called for a meeting of all his relatives and friends, and before them he narrated what had taken place in front of Gopala. When those who belonged to the family circle heard the narration of the old brahmana, they made exclamations showing their disappointment, and requested that he not make such a proposal again. They unanimously agreed: “If you offer your daughter to a degraded family, your aristocracy will be lost. When people hear of this, they will make jokes and laugh at you.”
The elderly brahmana said, “How can I undo the promise I made in a holy place while on pilgrimage? Whatever may happen, I must give my daughter to the young brahmana.”
Once again, the relatives were unanimous. “If you give your daughter to that boy, we shall give up all connection with you.” Indeed, his wife and sons declared, “If such a thing happens, we shall take poison and die.”
The elderly brahmana said, “If I do not give my daughter to the young brahmana, he will call Sri Gopalaji as a witness. Thus he will take my daughter by force, and in that case my religious principles will become meaningless.”
The old man’s son replied, “The Deity may be a witness, but He is in a distant country. How can He come to bear witness against you? Why are you so anxious over this? Besides, you do not have to flatly deny you spoke such a thing. There is no need to make a false statement. Simply say that you do not remember what you said, and I shall take care of the rest. By argument, I shall defeat the young brahmana.”
The son of the elderly brahmana was an atheist. Consequently, he did not believe in the spiritual position of the Deity, nor did he have any faith in the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As a typical idol worshiper, he considered the form of the Lord to be made of stone or wood. Thus he assured his father that the witness was only a stone Deity and was not capable of speaking. Besides that, he assured his father that the Deity was situated far away and consequently could not come to bear witness.
When he heard his son’s statement, the mind of the elderly brahmana became very agitated. Feeling helpless, he simply turned his attention to the lotus feet of Gopala and prayed, “My dear Lord Gopala, I have taken shelter of Your lotus feet, and therefore I request You to please protect my religious principles from disturbance and at the same time save my kinsmen from dying.”
The next day, while the elderly brahmana was thinking deeply about this matter, the young brahmana came to his house. After coming before the old man and offering respectful obeisances, he very humbly folded his hands and spoke as follows: “You have promised to give your daughter to me, but now you do not say anything. What is your conclusion?”
The elderly brahmana remained silent. Taking this opportunity, his son immediately came out of the house with a stick to strike the younger man. The son said, “Oh, you are most degraded! You want to marry my sister, just like a dwarf who wants to catch the moon!”
Seeing the stick in the hand of the son, the younger brahmana fled. The next day, however, he gathered together all the people of the village. They called for the elderly brahmana and brought him to their meeting place. The young brahmana then began to speak before them as follows: “This gentleman has promised to give his daughter to me, yet now he does not keep his promise. Please ask him about his behavior.”
All the people gathered there addressed the elderly brahmana: “Why are you not fulfilling your promise? You have given your word of honor.”
The elderly brahmana said, “My dear friends, I do not exactly remember making a promise like that.”
When the old man’s son heard this, he took the opportunity to juggle some words. Becoming very impudent, he stood before the assembly and said, “While touring various holy places of pilgrimage, my father carried much money. Seeing the money, this rogue decided to steal it. There was no one besides this man with my father. Giving him an intoxicant known as dhutura to eat, this rogue made my father mad. Then he took all my father’s money and claimed that it had been taken by some thief. Now he is claiming that my father has promised to give him my sister in charity. All of you assembled here are gentlemen. Please judge whether it is befitting to offer this poor brahmana my father’s daughter.”
Hearing these statements, all the people gathered there became a little doubtful. They thought it was quite possible that because of attraction for riches, one might give up his religious principles.
At that time, the young brahmana said, “My dear gentlemen, please hear. Just to gain victory in an argument, this man is lying. Being very satisfied with my service, this brahmana said to me of his own accord, ‘I promise to give my daughter to you.’ At that time, I forbade him to do this, telling him, ‘O best of the brahmanas, I am not a fit husband for your daughter. Whereas you are a learned scholar, a rich man belonging to an aristocratic family, I am a poor man, uneducated and with no claim to aristocracy.’
“Still, this brahmana insisted. Again and again he asked me to accept his proposal, saying, ‘I have given you my daughter. Please accept her.’ I then said, ‘Please hear me. You are a learned brahmana. Your wife, friends and relatives will never agree to this proposal. My dear sir, you will not be able to fulfill your promise. Your promise will be broken.’
“Yet, again and again the brahmana emphasized his promise. ‘I have offered you my daughter,’ he said. ‘Do not hesitate. She is my daughter, and I shall give her to you. Who can forbid me?’
“At that time I concentrated my mind and requested the brahmana to make the promise before the Gopala Deity. When we came before the Deity, this gentleman said, ‘My dear Lord, please witness that I have offered my daughter to this brahmana in charity.’
“Accepting the Gopala Deity as my witness, I then submitted the following at His lotus feet: ‘My dear Lord, if this brahmana later hesitates to give me his daughter, I shall call on You as a witness. Please note this with care and attention.’ Thus I have called upon a great personality in this transaction. I have asked the Supreme Godhead to be my witness. The entire world accepts the words of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”
Although the young brahmana described himself as having no claims to aristocracy and as being an uneducated common man, still he had some good qualifications: he believed that the Supreme Personality of Godhead was the topmost authority, he accepted the words of Lord Krishna without hesitation, and he had firm faith in the Lord’s consistency. When the young brahmana was finished speaking, the elderly brahmana immediately agreed to his statement. He said, “If Gopala personally comes here to serve as a witness, I shall surely give my daughter to the young brahmana.” The elderly brahmana’s son also immediately agreed, saying, “Yes, this is a very nice settlement.”
The same Gopala Deity who testified in the dispute between two brahmanas was moved to this temple in Cuttak, India, from Vidyanagara by King Purusottama.
As the Supersoul within the heart of all living entities, Krishna knows everyone’s desire, everyone’s request and everyone’s prayer. The father and son were thinking in a contradictory way, yet Krishna created a situation wherein they both agreed.
The elderly brahmana thought, “Since Lord Krishna is very merciful, He will certainly come to prove my statement.”
The atheistic son thought, “It is not possible for Gopala to come and bear witness.” Thinking like this, both father and son agreed.
The young brahmana took this opportunity to speak: “Please write this down so that you may not again change your word of honor.” All the assembled people got this statement down in black and white and, taking the signatures of agreement from both of them, served as the mediators.
The young brahmana then said, “Will all you gentlemen present please hear me? This elderly brahmana iscertainly truthful and is following religious principles. He has no desire to break his promise, but fearing that his kinsmen will commit suicide, he is deviating from the truth. By the piety of the elderly brahmana, Ishall call the Supreme Personality of Godhead as a witness. Thus I shall keep his truthful promise intact.”
The young brahmana immediately started for Vrndavana. Upon arriving there, he first offered his respectful obeisances to the Deity and then narrated everything in full detail. “My Lord,” he said, “You are the protector of brahminical culture, and You are also very merciful. Therefore, kindly show your great mercy by protecting the religious principles of us two brahmanas. My dear Lord, I am not thinking to become happy by getting the daughter as a bride. I am simply thinking that the old brahmana has broken his promise, and that is giving me great pain.”
It was not at all the intention of the young brahmana to get the daughter of the elderly brahmana in marriage and thus enjoy material happiness and sense gratification. His only concern was that the elderly brahmana had promised something, and if Gopala did not bear witness to that transaction, then the older brahmana would incur a spiritual blemish. That is why the young man went to Vrndavana to ask the Deity for protection and help. The young brahmana was a pure Vaisnava (devotee of the Lord), and his only desire was to serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the older brahmana, who was also very devoted to the Lord.
The young brahmana continued, “My dear Sir, You are very merciful and You know everything. Therefore, kindly be a witness in this case. A person who knows things as they are and still does not bear witness becomes involved in sinful activities.”
The dealings between a devotee and the Lord are very simple. The young brahmana said to the Lord, “You know everything, but if You do not bear witness, You will be involved in sinful activities.” There is no possibility, however, of the Lord’s being involved in sinful activities. A pure devotee, even though he knows everything of the Supreme Lord, can speak with the Lord exactly as if He were a common man.
Lord Krishna replied, “My dear brahmana, go back to your home and call a meeting of all the men. In that meeting, just try to remember Me. I shall certainly appear there, and at that time I shall protect the honor of both you brahmanas by bearing witness to the promise.”
“My dear Sir,” said the young brahmana, “even if You appear there as a four-handed Visnu Deity, still, none of those people will believe in Your words. Only if You go there in this form of Gopala and speak the words from Your beautiful face will Your testimony be accepted by all the people.”
Lord Krishna said, “I’ve never heard of a Deity’s walking from one place to another.”
The brahmana replied, “That is true, but how is it that You are speaking to me, although You are a Deity? My dear Lord, You are not a statue; You are actually Krishna, the son of Maharaja Nanda. Now, for the sake of the old brahmana, Youcan do something You have never done before.”
Sri Gopalaji then smiled and said, “My dear brahmana, just listen to Me. I shall walk behind you, and in this way I shall go with you.”
Those who have understood the science of Krishna—Krishna’s name, form, quality and so forth—can also talk with the Deity. To an ordinary person, however, the Deity will appear to be made of stone, wood or some other material. In the higher sense, since all material elements ultimately emanate from the supreme spiritual entity, nothing is really material. Being omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, Krishna can deal with His devotees in any form without difficulty. By the mercy of the Lord, the devotee knows perfectly well about the Lord’s dealings. Indeed, he can talk face to face with Him.
The Lord continued, “Do not try to see Me by turning around. As soon as you see Me, I shall remain stationary in that very place. You will know that I am walking behind you by the sound of My ankle bells. Cook one kilo of rice daily and offer it to Me. I shall eat that rice and follow behind you.”
The next day, the brahmana started for home, and Gopala followed him, step by step. While he walked, the young brahmana could hear the tinkling sound of the Lord’s ankle bells. The brahmana became very pleased, and he cooked first-class rice for Gopala to eat. When he neared his own village, the young man began to think as follows:
“Having now come to my own village, I shall go home and tell all the people that the witness has arrived.” Then the brahmana turned to look back, and he saw that Gopala, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, was standing there smiling.
The Lord told the brahmana, “Now you can go home. I shall stay here. Do not fear.”
The young brahmana then went to the town and informed everyone of Gopala’s arrival. They were struck with wonder. All the townspeople went to see the witness Gopala, and when they saw Him actually standing there, they all offered their respectful obeisances. They were very pleased to see the beauty of Gopala, and when they heard He had actually walked there, they were all amazed.
Then the elderly brahmana, being very pleased, came forward and immediately fell like a stick in front of Gopala. Thus in the presence of all the townspeople, Lord Gopala bore witness that the elderly brahmana had offered his daughter in charity to the young brahmana.
After the marriage ceremony was performed, the Lord informed both brahmanas, “Youtwo brahmanas are My eternal servants birth after birth. I have become very pleased by the truthfulness of you both. Now you can ask for a benediction.”
With great pleasure, the brahmanas said, “Please remain here so that people all over the world will know how merciful You are to Your servants.” Thus Lord Gopala stayed, and the two brahmanas engaged in His service. After hearing of the incident, many people from different provinces began to come to see Gopala. Eventually the king of the province in which Vidyanagara is located heard this wonderful story, and he also came to see Gopala. Being very satisfied, the king constructed a nice temple, and regular service was executed. Thus, the Deity became very famous as Saksi-Gopala, the Gopala who bore witness to the marriage vow.