Tales : Narada and the lesson of the vina

Many stories are told about the great devotee and sage, Narada or Narada-muni. (One of them was posted here.) In addition to being a devoted adept and a profound mediator, he was also supremely gifted as a musician. It was said that he knew more about the science of music than any person, and when he played the vina, even the stars in the heavens listened.

Therefore it is not surprising that once Lord Krishna himself asked Narada to come and play at his wedding. And perhaps, in spite of all his austerities, Narada still retained a grain of pride somewhere inside, for he was pleased to be honoured in this way. With great dignity, he put on spotless garments, and carrying his precious vina, he set out for the wedding.

When he arrived, though, he was surprised to find that the wedding was being held, not in a glittering palace such as would befit a deity, but in a very humble village of cow-herds, far out in the country. Krishna welcomed Narada in just a simple hut, with a dirt floor, clay walls and a roof of straw.

When Krishna asked him to play, Narada felt uncomfortable. He thought that his music did not fit the surroundings, and that his inspiration would be far too elevated for the villagers. Therefore, he made some excuse, saying that he must first prepare himself after the journey, but Krishna was not fooled, and said with a small smile, “Perhaps you would lend your vina to another, then.” And he pointed to one of the villagers, an old man who had spent his life looking after the cows.

When the peasant stepped forward, Narada was filled with anxiety for his delicate instrument, but the old man lifted the vina as gently as if it were a sleeping baby, and respectfully touched it to his forehead. Then, with deep reverence, he sat upon a rock under a tree, and began very tenderly to strum the strings. After a time, in a soft voice, he started chanting divine names with the utmost devotion.

A profound silence fell upon those who were listening, and all of nature stood still. The birds fell silent, and the breeze forgot to move. Every heart was opened, and even the rock on which the old man sat was softened by the depth of his song.

At last, the old man ceased playing. With reverence and respect, he placed the vina on the stone where he had been sitting, and withdrew.

At a sign from his divine host, Narada stepped forward to take up his vina and also play, for he now felt sublimely inspired – but to his astonishment, he was unable to lift the vina. The stone, which had been softened by the old man’s devotion, was once again hard, and the vina was held fast in its embrace.

“Narada muni,” said Krishna, “can your music free the vina from its prison?”

Challenged in this way, Narada sang, but to his shame, the rock remained as hard as ever, in spite of all his skill. He tried different ragas, each more elevated than the last, but all to no avail. It was only when the old man was asked to once again strum the vina, and melt the world with his devotion, that Narada was able to recover his instrument.

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