Radheya, the Greatest Giver

Swami Yogakanti Saraswati

In ancient times the site of the Ganga Darshan ashram in Munger was called Kama Chaura. Kama's palace once stood there. Close by is the temple of the goddess Chandi, where Kama used to perform yajna and then give gold to the poor. When I came to Rikhia in 1989, I thought, "Let this be Kama Chaura."

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Why is it that generosity is so high on the list of 18 qualities that Swami Sivananda recommended if we wish to gain immortality - to live a divine life? Swami Sivananda embodied generosity and instructed his disciples to 'Give, Give, Give'. For Swami Satyananda, wandering around India as a young man to learn the needs of the people, this instruction must have been a constant guideline. Where could he find a better place to meditate on generosity than the site of Radheya's palace on the banks of the Ganga? Radheya, better known as the emperor Kama, was known as 'the greatest giver' even by his foes. He never refused a request.

Radheya's birth and abandonment

The story of Radheya is related in the Mahabharata. The sage Durvasa gave the lovely young princess Kunti a mantra which he said would call any of the gods. She repeated it with her mind on the beautiful golden sun and Lord Surya appeared before her. He melted her innocent protests and as he was leaving prophesied that their son would be famous as the greatest of all givers - and that no one would equal in him in goodness of heart.

She bore his child, but from shame and confusion hid the child's birth and set her son's cradle on the breast of the river Ganga. The child was beautiful and wore the golden earrings, kundala, and armour kavacha, given by his father. Ganga allowed the baby to be found by a charioteer whose wife, Radha, brought up the foundling as Radheya, her own son. Radha explained to him how he came to be hers, but could not tell him who his original parents were.

As he grew up, more than anything Radheya wanted to learn archery and to become wise. The acharya Drona abused him as a sutaputra, one of low birth, and refused his request for tuition, so when Radheya went to Bhagavan Bhargava's ashram to learn archery, he pretended to be a brahmin. His ruse succeeded and for many months he pleased his master and learned all the great weapons, astras, which made him the supreme warrior of his time.

One day Bhargava fell asleep with his head resting in his disciple's lap. An insect began to eat into Radheya's leg, but he bore the pain rather than disturb his master's rest. When Bhargava awoke, he realised that only a kshatriya or warrior would have been able to bear such pain, and as he hated all kshatriyas he cursed Radheya to forget the mantras of the astras at the time they were most needed. Radheya despairingly realised two things: that he should not have deceived his master, and that in this life fate was against him.

A true friend

Drona organised a great tournament to show off the skill of his royal students, the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Duryodhana and Bheema fought a duel with the mace, Arjuna showed off his consummate skill as an archer - and then Radheya appeared, glowing like the sun, and repeated all Arjuna's feats and more with immeasurable grace. A duel between the two young men was proposed, but suddenly the insult 'sutaputra' was hurled again at Radheya and he was told he was unworthy to fight the nobly born Arjuna. Kunti recognised Radheya due to his kundala and kavacha. She fainted from the weight of her emotions, but did not acknowledge her first-born even though all the Pandavas had been born due to the same boon that sired Radheya, and Arjuna, as Kunti's younger son born to Indra, was his half brother.

Duryodhana, prince of the Kauravas, recognised that here was a hero who could beat his rivals, the Pandavas, and argued that the bravery and nobility shown by Radheya qualified him as a kshatriya. In front of the multitude, he gave the country of Anga to his new champion. Radheya was overcome with gratitude and asked what he could give in return. Duryodhana said all he wanted was Radheya as his friend - he wanted his heart. And Radheya gave just that. He pledged himself in eternal friendship to Duryodhana.

This spontaneous gift of allegiance and affection was to prove Radheya's undoing. He was not one to withdraw his word. Even when Duryodhana committed his crimes against Draupadi and the Pandavas, Radheya could not, by his very nature, withdraw that friendship. He practised generosity of spirit. In many ways he was a simple man and his generosity was not based on selfishness or expectation. Therefore, many fail to grasp his greatness - he appears as a fool.

Lord Surya understood and appeared in a dream to his son to warn him of a plot. He said, "I know you have taken a vow to grant the request of whoever comes to you at midday after your worship of the sun. I know you have never broken this vow. But Indra will come in disguise and ask you for your kundala and kavacha. If you remove the kundala from your ears, your life will be shortened and the kavacha is armour against fate itself. If they are severed from your body, you will be defeated and killed."

Radheya was overcome with this proof of affection, for Surya was his ishta devata, his chosen form of God, but replied, "I made this vow to gain wisdom, fame and virtue through constant effort. I cannot repay your kindness in warning me, but I cannot break my vow. I have never feared death, but I fear untruth. I must be true to myself." Surya was proud that his son would not give up dharma, the path of righteousness, but departed sadly, knowing all would happen as he had foretold. And so it did.

Personal integrity

Yudhishthira, the eldest Pandava prince, knew that Radheya was the only one who could defeat Arjuna. He feared for his brother and, not wanting the horrors of war to be experienced in the kingdom, implored Sri Krishna to intervene. When Krishna went as a final ambassador of peace to the Kaurava court, he took Radheya aside and said, "Radheya, you are a good man, always righteous. Why do you uphold Duryodhana when you know he is a sinner?"

Radheya replied, "Duryodhana is my friend. When everyone insulted me, he uplifted me and said, "All I want is your heart." I gave him my heart. He and my mother Radha are the only two who ever loved me. I cannot judge him." Then Krishna told him of Kunti and Lord Surya and the circumstances of his birth, explaining that, as the elder brother of Yudhishthira, Radheya was the rightful inheritor of the whole kingdom.

When Radheya asked, "Why are you telling me this now?" Lord Krishna smiled, saying, "Your days of darkness are over. Come and be reunited with your mother. The noble Pandavas will be your affectionate brothers, you will be the emperor and the world will be yours."

Sighing, Radheya said, "Kunti abandoned me. Duryodhana declared war on the Pandavas trusting in me as his champion. It is to Radha and Duryodhana that I owe a debt of love. You offer me a great name and fame and affection from a noble family, but I have promised Duryodhana and even though I know we are doomed because the Pandavas are under your protection, I will die for him. You know I will not abandon my friend. You also understand that now I cannot fight wholeheartedly, knowing the Pandavas are my brothers. Your aim to protect the Pandavas has been achieved. I know my fate is to die at Kurukshetra along with Duryodhana and the other mighty kings. Yudhishthira is righteous and he must rule the earth. So, please do not reveal the secret of my birth until after I am dead, or he will refuse to accept the kingdom."

Kunti finally appeared before her son the next day. When it became apparent that he was the greatest danger to her other sons, particularly to Arjuna, she decided to go to him at midday after he had worshipped the sun and ask a boon of him. When she approached him at the river, he half recognised her from his dreams and she confessed that she was his mother. He was happy she had come and asked what she wanted. She told him he was not Radheya but Kaunteya, the son of Kunti. He then asked her, "Mother, what is the boon you want me to give you?"

"Your days of darkness are over," Kunti replied. "Come with me. As my eldest child, the Pandavas will love you as their elder brother and you will inherit the world. You must leave Duryodhana and not fight with your brothers any more." She did that, claiming his affection as his true mother.

Radheya started crying. He said, "I thought I would find no other friend than Duryodhana who loves me. Now I find you, and I could go to the righteous Yudhishthira and claim him as my brother! I feel my heart is bursting but I have to stay with my friend Duryodhana. He has been more than a brother to me. I can't shatter his dreams even though they lead us to death. I must give you a boon. I promise you I will not kill Yudhishthira, Bheema, Nakula nor Sahadeva in the war. Four of your sons will be safe from me; more than that I can no longer promise."

During the war, Radheya defeated all of his brothers in single combat. He had them at his mercy, but refrained from killing them. He himself was killed by Arjuna, who was protected by Sri Krishna and aided by fate. They say a glow of light rose from Radheya's body when he died and ascended towards the heavens. So think, before you call yourself a generous person. How much are you truly willing to give?