Dingdong, dingdong, dingdingdong…dingdong, dingdong, dingdingdong…. rang sonorously the temple bell situated at the top of gopuram (tower) as Aadhi repeatedly pulled the rope in a manner perfected by years of practice. With no discordant note, there was certain pleasing rhythm and blissful music in the ringing. To the trained ear however the bell seemed to produce the long strains of Aum.The loud peals that echoed around the four main streets surrounding the temple and beyond alerted the residents of the puja time in the temple. The bell rang several times in a day.
Neither a village nor a town, it was something in between in size boasting of its temple as the only one in the vicinity and its main attraction. The beauty of the Presiding Deity and His consort, and the famed power ascribed to the god in alleviating chronic ailments drew many devotees from outside the place too. The temple was not rich and had bequests just enough to carry out the daily rituals.
Aadhi, a frail middle aged man inherited this job from his father upon his premature death. The remuneration was low but carried the perk of free accommodation adjacent to the temple as he also did the duty of security when he was not ringing the bell. On most days he got at midday the food from the temple kitchen. But this was not adequate for his family of wife and two kids. With his school going children growing up, he found the income hardly adequate even for the basic needs. His salary remained stagnant with the temple itself in bad straits.
But Aadhi did not consider this a job but as a family privilege to serve the lord through the bell. Like the Chakra and Conch that adorned the Lord, the temple bell to him had also the same divinity. He often spoke to the bell when alone confiding his travails and felt his burden had lightened.
“What are you going to do about the school fees for the children? The last date is already over. If we do not pay in a week they will be sent away” lamented his wife Kumudha, when he went home one day late for dinner.
“I don’t know who to ask but know for sure no one in this town will advance me money. It is temple festival starting from tomorrow for three days. I will try to find some help thereafter. Do not worry. I will seek the help of my master, the bell, whom I have served diligently for years to take my case with the Lord. He will never let me down” he said with trusting faith. With nothing better to suggest, his wife kept quiet with a wry smile at the credulity of her husband.
That night as he lay on the bench near the entrance to the temple, he could not sleep. He looked up at the big bell and uttered in plaintive tone” Have I not served you well all these years? Have I taken holiday even once? Even in fever or pain I have always served you to my best. Yet when I am in difficulties to whom I can go for help? I cannot directly access God except through a master. You have been my master and still you remain a silent witness to my suffering. Please plead for me to God” He was praying continuously till sleep embraced him.
Next day morning the temple wore a festive look. Aadhi was near the gate where the rope hung tolling the bell with gusto. The brass plated dwajasthamba (flagstaff) close to the entrance shone in golden colour.Devotees started coming to the temple. The children stood near him watching him ringing the bell with zest, Devotees too at the dwajasthamba lingered to hear the joyful sound of the bell in great rhythm.
It was then a short man, strange looking with a conical head and broad hips, stopped near Aadhi and watched him keenly at his work. The crowd around now started looking alternately at the strange man and Aadhi working at the bell. Aadhi was oblivious to the former’s presence till the short man placed a brass vessel on Aadhi’s bench that was adjacent to him and put a ten rupee coin to the surprise of the gathered devotees. The sound of falling coin drew the attention of also those depositing coins in the temple hundi adjacent to the flagstaff. They too dropped coins and notes in the brass vessel.
By evening the vessel had a sizable collection. Aadhi did not know to whom this money belonged. He went to the senior priest who knew his pitiable condition for advice.
“Aadhi, the devotees drop their offerings at the temple hundi and also on the plates after we show the aarti.The latter is shared by the priests. Likewise whatever is given to you is yours. Thank God for his blessings”
The strange conical headed man came all the three days and dropped a coin first to be followed by the visiting devotees. Each day Aadhi collected a tidy amount to the glee of his wife and children.
On the third day, when he saw the short man, Aadhi approached him with folded hands and said “Sir, I do not know who you are. I have been here for years. No one has ever paid me. It was only after your gesture that people have started dropping money in the vessel you placed on my bench. Can you please tell me what made you to be so kind to me?”
The short man just smiled and said “I did it to shore up your faith.”
“Did you mean shore up my faith? I do not understand. I have never seen you earlier. Do you live in this town?” said Aadhi
He just smiled and said “Yes. I live here only like you for years” before he abruptly left leaving Aadhi confused.
Aadhi affirmed to Kumudha his strong belief that his benefactor was none else than the divine bell in disguise while she still wore her wry smile.