Preparations for the festival of Janamastmi, the birthday of Lord Krishna, were being made everywhere. Streets were lit up with bright lights and decorated with colourful bunting, mouth-watering feasts cooked in every kitchen, flowers strung into garlands, and beautiful puja* plates decorated in every temple.
However, there was one pitiable house where none of this bustle was visible. It was the home of a poor woman who spent her time nursing her injured husband or tending to three hungry children. When she wasn’t doing this, she would work hard in other people’s kitchens, washing their pots or sweeping their floors. She was a strong woman with a good heart. She loved her family but she also loved Krishna more than anyone else. She had firm faith that he was her protector and that she had nothing to fear.
This week the kitchen jobs had not brought in much money and the woman had spent all her earnings on medicine for her husband. It was evening when the children began clambering about begging her to make special preparations for the festival. They too wanted to celebrate, just like everyone else. They also liked Krishna very much, because he was a little boy who played games with his friends all day.
The woman gazed at their pleading faces.
“I will do something tomorrow, now go to sleep,” she said.
With excited hoots and cheers, they all scrambled into their blankets on the floor and huddled together whispering and giggling in anticipation. Their mother watched them. She spent the night in reflection. Sometime in the twilight hours she lit a candle to write something on a scrap of paper.
Bright and early the following day, she set out to the market. The children were left dozing under the watch of her husband, who had bravely tried to take a few steps, as he did every morning. It hadn’t worked. But she had smiled at him, “Every day you are getting better. Your leg will heal and you will walk.”
The woman crossed over to the grocery store and started asking for items from the shopkeeper. He looked at her old clothes suspiciously.
“How much have you brought with you to spend?” he asked.
“Actually, we are struggling because my husband is unwell. The children cannot go to school anymore and I’m not always able to get them food. I don’t have any money and have nothing to offer but a little prayer,” replied the woman.
“Oh, that’s very generous of you,” the shopkeeper said, “all I need is more silly poverty-stricken women like you coming in during busy festival times to run me out of business.”
The woman listened without expression. She waited patiently.
“Okay,” said the businessman, who had an idea, “write your prayer on a piece of paper and you can have everything equal to its weight – free.” He raised his eyebrows in a triumphant arch. He would have this irritating woman out of his shop in a jiffy without any fuss, and then he could deal with all his paying customers.
“Agreed,” the woman said without any hesitation. “It is very kind of you to understand my situation. I’m very grateful. Here is my prayer. I already wrote it during the night when I was watching my children sleep.”
A scrap of dirty paper was presented to the man who looked in disbelief. He squinted to read the following words: Dearest Krishna, you are my only refuge! On the sacred day of your birth, I turn to you to provide the things we need for a wonderful feast tomorrow. I know you will do everything so we can celebrate at home and share with others.
The man scoffed and tossed the paper on one side of the scales.
“Let’s see how much food this is worth,” he said.
To his astonishment and dismay, he found nothing happened when he placed a packet of flour on the other side. He added sugar, a packet of milk, butter, vegetables, fruit and even some sweets. His face became red and he could hardly speak.
“I don’t know what is going on today,” he blustered. “This has never happened before. It seems your paper weighs more than all the things in my shop. But I will keep my word. Take everything you need.”
The woman completed her list with calm wonder. She asked for only the things she needed for the feast and then thanked the man with tearful eyes. Her heart soared in praise and song to her Lord who had shown his kindness and care.
That night the family enjoyed the sweetest of festivals where they shared their feast delights with everyone nearby and prayed and sang until sunrise.
The grocer later discovered that his scales were faulty. This was not usual for him and he mused over how it had happened on the morning when the woman had arrived.
“How mysterious, for she came with a prayer written on a paper – as if that would be acceptable to anyone!”
Touched by the woman’s trust in Krishna, the shopkeeper’s heart melted. He smiled and reached for some paper.
*Puja is Sanskrit for worship.