(In Gujarati Script)
વૈષ્ણવ જન તો તેને કિહયે, જે પીડ પરાયી જાણે રે
પર દુખ્ખે ઉપકાર કરે તોયે, મન અિભમાન ના આણે રે
(In Devanagari Script)
वैष्णव जन तो तेने किहये, जे पीड परायी जाणे रे
पर दुख्खे उपकार करे तोये, मन अिभमान ना आणे रे
(meaning in English)
He is a vaishnava, who feels and senses the pain of another.
Who is ready to serve the unfortunate, without vanity.
Every Indian has heard this Gujarati song, that was largely popularized by Mahatma Gandhi. Some of us even think Mahatma Gandhi composed it. This famous song was actually composed by a great Krishna Bhakth called Narsinh Mehta, 600 years ago. Narsinh Mehta is called the Adi Kavi (first among poets) of Gujarat. He lived in the early 15th century India.
When Dharma was waning and foreign invaders were slaughtering our people and slandering our places of worship, the only way our people held their faith was by developing intense love and devotion to their Gods, despite the blasphemy that was brought on their religious beliefs. Developing love and devotion was the basis of the Bhakthi movement. Narsinh Mehta was an integral wave in this movement that soon spread throughout India.
Narsinh Mehta and his wife lived with his brother’s family. The sister-in-law was an evil lady who insulted Narsinh very much one day, and he left for the forest to meditate and fast. Lord Siva came to him after seven days of worship and offered him a boon. Narsinh wanted to see Krishna Leela, and he was taken to Vrindavan to participate in the raas leela. He was so deeply engrossed in his love for Krishna, that he burned his hand with the torch he was holding. Lord Krishna blessed him and sent him back to Earth to sing songs and spread the love. Narsinh followed the Lord’s orders and began writing hymns in praise of Krishna.
He continued to live in poverty with his wife and children. In one incident, when his daughter was having a baby, it is a custom for the father of the girl to present the new born with money. Narsinh was very poor to afford any presents, so it is believed that Lord Krishna himself came down to earth, disguised as Narsinh Mehta to present gifts to his daughter.
(A similar story is believed to have happened in a village near Trichy in Tamil Nadu. Lord Siva disguises as a girl’s mother to attend to her child birth, when her mother, a staunch devotee of Siva, is stuck at another village due to inclement weather conditions and floods. Even today, Lord Siva is worshipped in the name of Thayumaanavar – the one who also became a mother, by the people of this village.)
On another occassion when Narsinh Mehta and his wife were performing the yearly rites for his father’s death, his wife gave him some money and told him to buy some Ghee to help the priests continue their prayer offerings. It is a great sin to neglect the yearly rites for one’s parents. Narsinh left the house, but before he finished his chore, he got distracted by some singers on the street and began singing songs in praise of Krishna. He was completely engrossed in his love for Krishna that he was forgetting the ghee, and the priests were getting restless as the auspicous time was running out. Lord Krishna decided to take charge of the situation. Once again, he went to Narsinh’s house with the ghee, and left after handing it over to the priests. After several hours, the original Narsinh returned, and his wife thanked him for doing the chore well, and that is when he realized what had happened. The Lord himself had come down to prevent his devotee from being cursed for neglect of Dharma.
There is yet another episode where Narsinh Mehta and his brother are fed a sumptuous meal by an unknown stranger when they were passing through a forest, singing hymns. After having a hearty meal and thanking their benevolent host, they started to continue on their pilgrimage. After a few minutes, when they turned back to see the house, it was gone. Lord Krishna himself helped his devotees again.
(There is a similar story in the Sai Sat Charita, where Akkalkot Swami Samartha’s devotees meet a lady called Annapoorni who feeds the tired devotees in the middle of the forest. After a few minutes, the house and Annapoorni have vanished into thin air)
These incidents strengthen the faith and love for God in the minds of the simple devotees and help them to continue believing in God, when adharmic forces like tyrannic foreign rulers are trying the best they can to break our faith.
Until the time of his death, Narsinh Mehta had composed nearly 22000 hymns in praise of Krishna. All these hymns had the central theme of devotion, faith, brotherhood and unity – indeed, these were the need of the day to withstand the foreign invaders.