hindus against caste discrimination: a lesson by lord krishna
Some years ago when I lived in Vrindavan India, I heard a story that spoke against caste discrimination. In the story it was Lord Krishna himself, creator of varnas or social divisions (see Gita 4.13) that was teaching a stern lesson to the Pandavas, a royal family, about the nonsense of discrimination based on difference. The Pandavas were obviously part of a society that was beginning to suffer from such discrimination, because they had naturally discriminated and therefore had to learn a lesson. As with all the stories of the Pandavas, being great devotees of Krishna, Krishna chose to teach many lessons to us through them.
Hindus are against caste discrimination. God himself intervened when Hindus began to degrade a social system of his making, meant to empower people in doing what to do best, according to to interest, capacity and personal choice. After searching high and low I found a version of the story written on a kind persons blog and so you may now read it below. The accuracy may not be cent per cent, but the gist is more than clear. So as I enjoyed the story many years past, you may enjoy it today, and be a true Hindu--a Hindu against caste discrimination.
(picture: Saint Chaitanya carrying the body of his disciple Haridas, who was considered and out caste by medieval society)
When the Great War of ancient India, known as Mahabharat, had come to an end, Lord Krishna advised the Pandavas, the five brothers who had started the war, to hold a great sacrificial feast, known as Ashvamedh Yag, with a view to offering penance for the killing. Lord Krishna also told them that their Yag should be considered successful only if they heard the divine bell sound from the sky at the end of it.
The Pandavas invited all the holy men – rishis, munis and Brahmins – from every part of the country. But at the end of the feast, the bell sound was not heard. They became very dejected when, even after Lord Krishna’s partaking of the food, the bell was not heard.
Then they asked Lord Krishna to find out, through his inner vision, which had been left out.
“Pandavas, there is a low caste holy man named Supach, who lives in yonder forest and remains there year after year in meditation, eating only leaves as his food when he is hungry,” Lord Krishna told them.
“Supach should be invited to our Yag, because it will be only after he has eaten here that the Yag will be successful.”
As the Pandavas were still full of kingly pride, they thought that perhaps the poor holy man did not know that free food was being offered by them. Too proud to go themselves to invite him, they sent for him through an officer, thinking that when told about the sacrificial feast, he would come running, just as flies swarm round a lump of sugar. But the Sage did not come.
Then all the Pandavas themselves went to invite him. Still he refused, saying- “I will not partake of your food unless I am given the merit of performing one hundred and one Ashvamedh Yagyas.”
The Pandavas returned in utter despair because, when they had not been successful in performing one single Ashvamedh Yagya, how could they give Supach the merits of one hundred and one such Yagyas?
On seeing the Pandavas so downcast, Queen Draupadi prepared a number of delicious dishes with her own hands. She then went barefooted to the hermitage of Supach and appealed to him with great humility and meekness to visit her home. He laid the same conditions before her as he had given to the Pandavas.
“I have learned from Sages like you that when a person who has love and faith goes t see a Sage, such a one obtains the merit of an Ashvamedh Yagya at every step that one takes towards the Sage.
“So, she continued, “out of the merit that I have earned by walking to this place, you may keep the merits of one hundred and one Ashvamedh Yagyas for yourself, leaving the rest to me.”
When he heard this, the Sage had no alternative but to accompany Draupadi.
When the food was served to Supach, he mixed it all together and began to eat. When Draupadi Saw him doing this, she thought to herself- “Well, after all, Supach is a low caste person and cannot appreciate the delicacy of the delicious food I took such pains to prepare for him.”
But even when Supach had finished eating, the bell did not ring; and everybody was again perplexed and dejected with disappointment. The Pandavas begged Lord Krishna- : Please, what is the trouble now? What is standing in the way?”
“Ask Queen Draupadi,” said Lord Krishna. “It is her mind and its egotistical thoughts that are responsible for the failure of the bell to ring.”
Continuing, Lord Krishna told them – “The primary reason for Supach mixing together the different dishes was not either lack of appreciation or an attempt to improve on what Draupadi had prepared. Saints either mix up the different kinds of dishes or, before eating, they draw their attention upwards. The result is that no matter whether the food is good or bad, whether it is sweet or sour, or whether it has salt or not, they do not have to relish the taste of it.”
The moment that Draupadi realized her mistake, she humbled her mind and prayed for forgiveness for her pride and egotism. At that moment the bell sound was heard.
Crying aloud in her joy, Draupadi exclaimed- “O, Lord Krishna, I thank thee for this lesson! Always hereafter will I be humble, for as you have just taught us, humility is the pathway to the Lord.”