Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836–1886,) the eminent Hindu mystic of 19th-century India, used stories and parables to portray the core elements of his philosophy. The meaning of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s stories and parables are usually not explicitly stated. The meanings are not intended to be mysterious or confidential but are, in contrast, quite uncomplicated and obvious.
In the Hindu and other traditions of the major religions of the world, parables form the language of the wise for enlightening the simple, just as well as they form the language of the simple for enlightening the wise.
The Parable of Jatila and Madhusudhan
In a village in India, there was once a little boy whose name was Jatila.
Jatila’s mother was a widow and had no one to help her. She earned a little money by spinning yarn. She and Jatila always had just enough to eat, but they were very poor.
Every day Jatila’s mother prayed to Sri Krishna. She asked Sri Krishna to help her look after her little boy because she wanted him to grow up into a strong and good man.
When Jatila was old enough, his mother sent him to school. The school was far away in the next village and to get there, Jatila had to walk through a forest.
The tall trees in the forest made the footpath very dark, and Jatila felt afraid. Some of the trees had long low branches that looked like arms trying to catch him. Other trees had creepers growing on them, and the stems of the creepers looked like huge snakes.
“I wish I had someone with me,” Jatila thought to himself. “It wouldn’t be so bad if I had someone to talk to.” However, Jatila was alone, so he hurried on and reached the school as quickly as he could.
Jatila was happy at school. He liked the teacher and during playtime, he had some fun with the other boys. When school was over, however, and it was time to go home, Jatila suddenly remembered that he would again have to walk through the forest. It was much worse this time. The forest was darker than ever and there were strange shadows everywhere. There were those arms, always trying to catch him! In addition, there were those things, like snakes climbing up the trunks of the trees. Jatila began to run. He ran and ran all the way through the forest and did not stop until he reached home.
As soon as he saw his mother, Jatila began to cry.
“What has happened?” enquired his mother. She took him on her lap to comfort him. “Did the teacher scold you?”
“Oh, no, Mother,” replied Jatila. “I was happy at school. But it is the forest, Mother. It’s such a long way through the forest, and I’m all alone, so I feel afraid.”
“But there’s nothing to be afraid of in the forest,” said his mother. “You’ll soon get used to it.”
“No, Mother,” said Jatila. “I feel very frightened. Please send someone with me.”
“But whom can I send, Jatila?” replied his mother. “There is no one who can go with you.”
Jatila’s mother closed her eyes and seemed to be thinking very hard. Suddenly she opened them again and her face lit up with a smile.
“Of course!” she cried. “How silly of me to forget. There is your big brother in the forest. He will go with you and take care of you.”
Jatila was astonished. “Big brother?” he said. “Have I got a big brother, Mother?”
“Yes, child,” she said. “His name is Madhusudhan.”
“But where is he, Mother?” asked Jatila. “Why doesn’t he live here with us?”
“He lives in the forest,” his mother answered. “He looks after the cows there. But if you call to him tomorrow on your way to school, I am sure he will leave his cows and walk with you through the forest.”
Jatila was very happy. Now, instead of feeling afraid of the forest he was longing for the next day to come so that he could run quickly to the forest and see his big brother there.
Early the next morning Jatila said good-bye to his mother and went off to school. His mother stood at the door of her cottage watching him as he hurried eagerly towards the forest. “Oh, Madhusudhan,” she prayed, “Please take care of my little boy.”
As soon as Jatila entered the forest, he stood still. “Oh, big brother Madhusudhan,” he called. “Please come and walk with me through the forest.”
Jatila waited and listened, but no one answered, and no one came. “He must be a long way off,” thought Jatila. “I’ll call louder.” So again, he called, as loud as he could, but still no one came. “I know he is here in the forest,” Jatila said to himself, “and I know he will come because Mother said he would.”
Repeatedly Jatila called to his big brother, but still no one came.
Jatila began to cry. “Mother said you would come,” he sobbed. “Where are you?”
At that moment, Jatila heard the sound of a flute… Such sweet music he had never heard. The music came closer and closer, and then at last Jatila saw a boy coming towards him down the forest path. He was a most handsome boy. On his head, he wore a crown, bright and beautiful, with a peacock’s feather in it. He was playing the flute, and he seemed to shine with happiness.
Jatila joyfully ran to the handsome boy. “Are you Madhusudhan, my big brother?” he asked. “Mother said that if I called to you, you would leave your cows and walk with me through the forest. I have to go to school, you see.”
“Yes, I am your big brother,” replied the boy. “Come along, I’ll walk with you through the forest.”
Jatila walked with his big brother and told him about his life at home and how glad he was that he was now big enough to go to school. He quite forgot how frightened he had felt the day before.
When they came to the end of the forest path, Madhusudhan stopped. “I shall go back now,” he said. “But will you walk with me again in the evening?” Jatila asked. “I shall feel very frightened if you don’t come.” “Oh, yes,” replied Madhusudhan. “Just call to me and I will come to you.”
Every morning and every evening, as soon as he reached the forest, Jatila called to his big brother. And always his big brother came and walked with him. Jatila talked to him happily about his mother and about everything that happened at school, and Madhusudhan listened and sometimes played his flute.
One evening on his way home from school, Jatila told his big brother about a feast they were going to have at school. The teacher had said that every child must bring something to the feast. “And tomorrow,” Jatila explained, “I shall have to say what I am going to take.”
“Well, what are you going to take?” asked Madhusudhan.
“I don’t know,” replied Jatila. “We are very poor, you see. Perhaps I won’t be able to take anything.”
“Ask Mother about it,” Madhusudhan said. “She will know what to do.”
When Jatila asked his mother what he would be able to take to the feast, she looked very sad. “I have nothing to give you, Jatila,” she said. “And I have no money, so I cannot buy anything either. Why don’t you ask your big brother about it?”
“He told me to ask you about it,” Jatila replied. “He said you would know what to do.”
His mother smiled. “Did he?” she said. “Very well. Tell him that I depend upon him.”
The next morning on his way to school, Jatila explained to his big brother that his mother was so poor to send anything to the feast. “She said she depended upon you,” Jatila added.
“All right,” Madhusudhan replied laughing, “tell your teacher that you will bring curds to the feast. And tell him that you will bring enough for everyone.”
Jatila laughed. “It will have to be a very big pot of curds then,” he said, “because there will be about twenty of us.”
The day of the feast came and Jatila ran happily to meet his big brother in the forest. He was eagerly looking forward to taking that big pot of curds to school. His big brother came walking down the forest path as usual, and he brought with him a pot of curds.
“Give this to your teacher,” said Madhusudhan as he gave it to Jatila.
Jatila took the pot but he looked at it sadly. “It was not a big pot at all. It was a very small pot. There would be curds only for about six people,” he thought.
Madhusudhan looked at Jatila’s sad face. “Give it to your teacher,” he said. “It will be enough.”
When Jatila’s teacher saw the small pot of curds, he was very angry. “You promised to bring curds for everyone,” he said, “so I did not arrange for any more. What is the use of this small pot of curds when there are so many of us? You have spoiled the feast, Jatila.”
The small pot of curds was placed on one side. The feast was nearly over when the teacher remembered it. “We should not waste the curds,” he said. “A few children may have some. Jatila, bring the pot of curds.”
Jatila took the pot and gave some curds to three or four children.
Then he noticed something very strange. As he took curds out of the pot, it filled up again. Therefore, he walked down the two rows of children and put plenty of curds on each child’s leaf-plate.
The teacher watched Jatila in amazement. “Jatila,” he cried, “you have given curds to everyone. How did you do that? I thought you brought only one small pot of curds.”
“Yes, sir,” Jatila replied. “This is the pot. But look, it is still full.”
“Impossible!” cried the teacher. “Where did you get this pot of curds form? Tell me at once.
“Sir,” said Jatila, “my big brother gave it to me.”
“Your big brother? I didn’t know you had a big brother,” the teacher said.
“I didn’t know either,” replied Jatila, “until I began to come to school. He walks with me through the forest, you see.”
“But where does he live? What is his name?” asked the teacher, feeling greatly puzzled.
Jatila then told his teacher all about Madhusudhan—what he did, what he looked like, and how sweetly he could play the flute.
“Jatila,” said the teacher, “I would like to see this big brother of yours. Can I go with you to meet him?”
“Oh, yes, of course,” replied Jatila eagerly. “Come with me to the forest this evening. I have only to call him and he comes to me.
When it was time for Jatila to go home, his teacher went with him to the forest. Jatila called as usual to Madhusudhan, but he did not come. Repeatedly Jatila called, but still he did not come.
“I think, Jatila,” said the teacher, “that you have not been speaking the truth. You have no big brother who lives in the forest.”
Jatila began to cry. “It is true. It is true,” he wept. “I have a big brother, I tell you. His name is Madhusudhan. He gave me the curds.”
“Where is he, then?” said the teacher.
“Oh, big brother Madhusudhan,” called Jatila loudly. “You must come to me now. You must. If you don’t, my teacher will never believe that I have spoken the truth.”
At that moment, Jatila heard the sound of a flute. “There!” he cried, “He is coming! See how beautifully he plays the flute.”
The teacher listened to the flute and eagerly looked around for the player. Still Madhusudhan did not come. Instead, a beautiful voice spoke from somewhere among the trees of the forest. “Jatila,” said the voice, “it will be a long time yet before your teacher is able to see me. You have seen me, Jatila, because of your mother. She is pure, good, and full of faith. She begged me to take care of you in the forest and that is why I came to walk with you every day. You have seen me because your mother had faith in me and because you had faith in your mother.”
Then, at last, Jatila understood. His big brother who lived in the forest really was Madhusudhan.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa once said, “You see many stars in the sky at night, but not when the sun rises. Can you therefore say that there are no stars in the heavens during the day? Because you cannot find God in the days of your ignorance, say not that there is no God.”
- ‘Vivekananda: A Biography’ by Swami Nikhilananda
- ‘Ramakrishna: His Life and Sayings’ by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa
- ‘Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna’ by Lex Hixon
- ‘Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: The Sadhaka of Dakshineswar’ by Amiya P. Sen
- ‘Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna’ by Swami Nikhilananda
- ‘Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda’ by Swami Vivekananda and Sister Nivedita