” Both the saris that I have are torn at several places and are beyond mending. I am shy of going out,” lamented Alamelu in a voice that was almost inaudible.
“I am fully aware of your plight, Alamelu but I am presently in a quandary. I have in hand only 300 rupees and the annual festival of the presiding deity is approaching within a week. The sari of goddess is in tatters like yours and however much I try to conceal, they are still visible. When devotees observe the torn condition though without commenting, I cringe in shame. I have pleaded with some devotees who seem well to do to help but to no avail,” bewailed Seshu, the priest at the local Kodandapani temple.
“My god, I did not know. Do not worry about me. I can manage for a month more. It does not matter much as I hardly go out. Why don’t you ask the trustee to do the needful explaining the sad situation and the ensuing annual festival? After all he has a responsibility too,” said Alamelu.
“Do you have to tell me? I had already done that many times and he gets upset whenever I linger before him. According to him, there is practically no income for the temple from the lands and that he is already spending his money for the daily pujas and rituals. He has told me many times that I have to request the regular devotees to contribute for the expenses and charged me that I am not doing my duty properly. I am really at my wit’s end how I can get a new sari for the goddess before the festival,” he bemoaned wiping his eyes with his upper cloth.
After some silence, Alamelu said,” I have a suggestion. You should not object to that. I have this pair of gold bangle though it has become very thin over the years. Please dispose it off with the pawn broker in the bazaar and buy a good sari and blouse piece and good dhotis for the god with the money and use the rest for expenses. It matters little to me whether I have gold bangle or not. I will buy glass bangles for me.”
Shocked at the suggestion, Seshu was quick to respond saying, “No, no, I have never bought you even a gram of gold after our marriage and I cannot agree to take away the only semblance of an ornament on you. Let the god and goddess find a way to buy their needs. They are aware of our extreme poverty and cannot thrust this responsibility on me.”
“Such a wise man as you are, how do you think the bangles belong to us? Everything we own is given by Him and we are only returning Him in the hour of need. I think He is deliberately testing you to the extreme. Listen to me, sell these bangles to Seth and after getting the money buy the needed things. There are hardly three or four days,” Alamelu said with a finality.
“Welcome, Sami. It is very unusual for you to visit my shop. I am blessed. What can I do for you,”? the pawnbroker greeted Seshu warmly.
“I need some money urgently. Here is a pair of bangles that I wish to sell. Kindly give me whatever it is worth.”
Seth examined the bangles carefully and said,” Sami, please do not take me amiss. There is more copper in it than gold. It will not fetch you much money.”
When he saw Seshu’s face fall, he asked with concern, “What for you do you need the money urgently, Sami? Is anyone sick at home? Tell me how much you need? I will pay you.”
“Not like that. By god’s grace we are well. In four days the annual festival of the temple is to take place. I am ashamed to confide that the sari of goddess is torn all over and it is not possible anymore to conceal them from the eyes of devotees. It has to be replaced immediately. That is why the urgency,” explained Seshu.
“Why do you have to sell the jewel of your wife? Why is trustee not coming forward to help?”
“The trustee tells that he is already spending his money for daily puja and rituals and that I should ask the devotees to help. It is not forthcoming. If the god and goddess who shower their blessings on all of us suffer and wear torn vastrams, I feel anguished. It was at my wife’s suggestion that I wished to sell the bangles and make use of the money. It is unfortunate that is also not feasible,” said Seshu
“When is the festival starting?”
“It falls on coming Friday. We have just four days.”
“Please do not worry. God will find some way to help you celebrate the festival in a fitting manner. Today is Monday. If no one comes forward to contribute by Wednesday evening, please come to me. Take these bangles with you,” Seth said in a comforting tone.
It was 8.30 Wednesday evening and the temple usually closed at 9 pm. Seshu was crest fallen as there had been no positive sign of help reaching. There was no word from trustee too. As Seshu was in Janakavalli thayar’s sanctum praying with tears in his eyes, he heard some commotion at the gate of temple. The regular flower seller along with his wife were seen entering with heavy cane baskets on their heads. Seshu rushed out to see the baskets placed outside the sanctum.
“What are these? Who gave them?” he asked them.
“We don’t know. Someone came in a car and requested us to take the baskets inside the temple and give it to the priest. He saw us placing the baskets here from outside and left,” one of them said.
When he removed the coloured clothes that covered the baskets, he found four bundles on one of the baskets and in the other big packets containing raisins, sugar candy(kalkandu), almonds, cashew nuts, packets of kumkum and turmeric, incense sticks, a tin each of ghee and gingelly oil besides a few other things.
When he turned his eyes on the other basket that contained bundles, he found the names Kodandapani and Janakavalli thayar written on them. One of them contained two pairs of dhotis with big zari border in red and green and the other with a pair of Kanchipuram silk saris, one in maroon and another in dark green with large zari borders in gold with two matching blouse pieces.
When he opened the other two bundles specified for ‘priest couple’, he found inside one, a pair of dhotis and upper clothes and in the other a pair of cotton saris of high quality with matching blouse pieces.
There was five thousand rupees in the bundle for god and a two thousand rupee note for the priest. There was a slip of paper with the note, “Let Friday festival be my humble offering every year. I will be there by 5 am on Friday with flower garlands, flowers, basil garlands, fruits of different kinds and sandal paste. Let us make it a great celebration…a devotee.”
A thought ran across Seshu’s mind whether it could be from Seth but the large size of bounty made him confused.
Seshu jumped with joy at the pleasant turn of events and turned to look at the Goddess only to sense a fleeting grin in Her face. He prostrated before Her gratefully for the miracle and got ready to attend happily to the huge load of work before him.
On Friday the temple wore a festive look with festoons of mango leaves and plantain trees at the entrance. Sharp at 5 am, a car stopped at the entrance of the temple and Seth along with his family members alighted followed by his servants with several baskets. Seshu welcomed them with a broad smile and folded hands.
“Sami, are you happy now that the God had answered your prayers? This function will be henceforth mine every year. You must however remind me a week before,” said the Seth. “I have also brought a big brass Hundi to be kept in the hall for devotees to contribute. Suddenly the temple bell started tolling loudly signifying the start of celebration.
It is a tiny bit of news that Seth visited Seshu’s house on the following day and handed him a small packet saying, “Kindly accept this small token of affection and both of you bless me and my family.”
After blessing them, Seshu opened the packet to see a pair of shining bangles in gold. Flabbergasted he opened his mouth to protest when Seth implored, “Kindly accept this token of gratitude for turning my attention from the material world of making money towards god. Ever since Friday I am suffused with joy and peace of mind that I have never experienced.”
Alamelu beaming with happiness cast a furtive glance at the glittering bangles.