A Tale of Friendship – Between the Divine and Man

28 May 2024
10 mins read
Friendship stories

Krishna and Sudama were best friends, the legendary version of the modern-day BFFs. They studied together in Sage Sandipani’s ashram. They were not just classmates. Their story of friendship is not just a story but is rich in Hindu symbolism. Here’s how it goes.

In Guru Sandipani’s ashram, as in all the ashrams of those days, there was no concept of rich and poor. All students were treated equally and everyone had to study and work together. The students did household chores including, chopping and gathering firewood from the forest, cooking meals, cleaning dishes, washing clothes, keeping the ashram clean, and anything else their Guru or his wife, whom everyone addressed as Guruma, asked them to do.  The students were part of their Guru’s family during their stay in the ashram. 

A deep friendship formed between Krishna and Sudama. Sudama was also known as Kuchela. They learned, laughed, and enjoyed their student days immensely. Often they were given the job of gathering firewood which almost always involved going deep into the forest and would usually take an entire day, sometimes even more. Both knew the forest well. 

“Thick, dark clouds are gathering on the horizon, Sudama. Looks like a storm is brewing. Let’s hurry back to the ashram as fast as we can,” said Krishna one evening when the two went to gather firewood. 

It was a beautiful morning when they left. They enjoyed the day in the forest, playing, laughing, and talking non-stop even as they collected three big bundles of firewood. The two friends didn’t realise until late evening that they had come deep into the forest. It was getting dark faster than normal, thanks to the impending storm.

Hearing Krishna’s words, Sudama gave one bundle of firewood to Krishna, put two more on his own shoulders, and said, “C’mon, let’s leave!” They started walking hurriedly. Soon, thunder boomed and lightning struck relentlessly, and they realised it was not safe at all to walk through the dense, and now pitch-dark, forest. 

They climbed an old, huge neem tree with a comforting, thick canopy, the bundles of firewood stuck in a hollow at the base of the tree, hopefully to remain as dry as possible. The two children got comfortable on two crooks between sturdy branches and the main trunk.

“Another month of school, and we’ll go our separate ways, Krishna,” said Sudama.

“Yes, but we’ll always remain friends, right?” Krishna said. Sudama smiled happily even as he felt the smile in his best friend’s voice. 

“Of course, nothing will take that away from us. Still Krishna, you belong to a rich clan, and I am a poor Brahmin. Will that impact our friendship, especially when we return to our respective homes?”

“Rubbish, Sudama. The best friendships are always between seemingly unequals. Also, how are we unequal? Don’t these wonderful years of living and learning together make us equals? Remember, I will always be your friend. You must come to me if you have any problems. I promise I will solve them for you,” replied Krishna.

The two boys tied themselves to the branch so they wouldn’t fall off when asleep. They were so tired that they dozed off in a few minutes. Just before dawn, Sudama woke up first and felt his stomach rumbling with hunger. 

He touched his waist and found the snack their Guruma had packed for them. He gobbled up all the food, then suddenly realised he hadn’t left anything for Krishna who was still asleep. In a few minutes, Krishna woke up, rubbed his eyes, and said, “I’m so hungry. Where’s the snack that Guruma packed for us?”

Embarrassed to accept his mistake, Sudama lied to his friend, “Oh, when I tried to open the packet, it slipped from my hands and fell on the ground.”

Krishna’s eyes twinkled because he saw no signs of fallen food. He knew that Sudama had eaten the entire packet of food by himself. Still, not wanting to embarrass his friend further, he said, “No problem, Sudama. Now that the storm has passed, we can quickly reach the ashram, and eat there.”

Sudama forgot about this incident. Soon, their education was completed, and Sudama returned to his village to make a livelihood as a Brahmin conducting rituals. Krishna returned to Mathura from where he went on to become the Lord of Dwarka (located in the present-day Indian state of Gujarat), coincidentally not very far from Sudama’s village, just a two-day walk. 

Sudama married Sushila, a simple homely girl. They had two children. The family was happy even if material resources were tight, in fact, too tight even for basic comforts. But Sushila never complained and went about making the best of the difficult situation. 

What Sudama lacked in finances, he made up with his good heart and amazing storytelling skills. He regaled his family about his student days and his friendship with Krishna. He spoke so much about his friend that it never occurred to anyone that Krishna was not part of their family even if none of them had met or even seen him. 

But their financial situation became increasingly dire. Often, they lived off the goodness of their neighbours who loved Kucela’s family. But how long could Sushila hide her embarrassment and keep asking the neighbours for help?

While she just about managed to have enough gruel for all for most days, there came a time in their lives when even this became lesser and lesser. One day, there was so little food that Sushila laid only three plates for her two children and husband. She poured the gruel equally among the three of them.

Sudama asked, “What about you, Sushila?”

“I’ll eat later, my dear,” she replied, avoiding eye contact knowing her husband would catch her lie.

The youngest child quickly finished what was on his plate, and said, “Can I have some more?”

Sushila teared up and said, “I’ll make more tomorrow.”

That’s when Sudama realised that his state of penury was so pathetic that there was not enough food even for his children. He was aghast. He quickly gave his share also to the children and called his wife for a talk.

“My dear Sushila, is it so bad?”

“Yes, my dear husband. We need to do something about it.”

“What can we do? Should I work in the fields as a labourer?”

“No, why should you do that? Your profession is to conduct rituals and what you are trained to do. What will you know about working in the fields?”

As tears welled up in his eyes at his helplessness, his wife said, “Can’t you go and see your friend, Krishna? I’ve heard he has established a rich and powerful kingdom in Dwarka.”

“No! No! I can’t go to my friend for help. You think our friendship is based on something as materialistic as money,” shouted Sudama at his wife, in a rare moment of frustrated anger.

Sushila knew her husband would react like this. But she was wise too. She believed their current state of poverty had a karmic connection to the stormy night that her husband and Krishna spent in the forest. Sudama had eaten all the food meant to be shared and lied to Krishna about it. 

Karma doesn’t go away. It has to be endured, and when the time comes, it will end. Meeting Krishna would be the way to end it. 

She calmly responded, “Did I say seek help? I just said go and meet him. It’ll do you good to get away from all this, and a journey might give you ideas too.”

Sudama smiled happily at the thought of seeing his old friend. On this condition, he readily agreed to go on the journey to Dwarka.

“But what will I take for Krishna? I can’t go empty-handed.”

“You’ve always said Krishna loves poha. I will make some a snack for him. You can take that as a gift.” She borrowed some from her neighbour.

 She prepared a simple but delicious snack with the poha and made a bundle of it using an old, torn but clean piece of garment. Sudama carried the bundle like a bag across his shoulder. 

He reached Dwarka and was in awe of the luxurious splendour of the city. It reeked of opulence. Sudama’s heart leapt with joy when he thought of how well his friend had done for himself. 

He easily found Krishna’s palace. Everyone knew it. It was the best and the grandest in the entire city. He reached the entrance gate and was stopped by the guards, their faces writ large with disdain and disgust at the smelly, sweaty man attired in dirty, shabby clothes. 

“What do you want?” The guards asked rudely. 

“I’ve come to meet Krishna. He’s my old friend,” Sudama said, his eyes lighting up with joy at the mere mention of his name

The guards laughed derisively and mocked the poor man. 

“You! And a friend of Lord Krishna! Not even in your dreams! Go away from here before we beat you to a pulp for lying,” they shouted as they raised their staff to hit Kucela. 

What they didn’t know was Krishna already felt the presence of his best friend! He came rushing out to the gate and hugged Kucela shouting with a child-like enthusiasm, “You’ve finally come to meet me, my friend!”

The guards looked on, their jaws dropping in great amazement. This man is Krishna’s friend! They had the grace to look ashamed at their rude behaviour even as the two long-lost friends hugged and shed tears of joy at seeing each other. 

Ignoring the guards, Krishna took Sudama inside his palace and made him sit on a throne-like seat. Rukmini, Krishna’s wife, walked in with a tray containing a jug of water. Krishna washed Sudama’s tired legs as Rukmini poured the water, her eyes twinkling in happiness. Like Sushila, she too knew Sudama through the stories her husband shared with her. When Krishna touched Kucela’s feet, the fatigue vanished into nothing. New vigour filled the poor friend’s heart. 

The two pals talked for a long time before Rukmini said, “Can you let your friend have a bath, and change his clothes so that he can eat something? You can continue your chatter after that.”

“Yes! Yes, my dear friend. You must be tired after the long, arduous journey. Come, have a bath and change into fresh clothes. Then, we shall eat together as we did in our Guru’s ashram,” said Krishna as he beckoned the servants standing by to help Sudama.

But at that point, suddenly, his eyes fell on the bundle of cloth across Sudama’s shoulders. He said, “You’ve brought me a gift!”

After seeing Krishna’s rich and opulent lifestyle, Sudama was now embarrassed to give his overly simple gift. So, he hesitated. But Krishna quickly took the bundle, opened it, and exclaimed, “My favourite poha! You remembered, my dear friend!” 

So saying, he grabbed a fistful of the snack and gobbled it up. He took another mouthful and ate that too, with utter relish. Sudama’s eyes lit up with tears at seeing the joy on his friend’s face. As Krishna put his hand to take the third fistful of poha, Rukmini stopped him, and said mysteriously, “That’s enough. That should last many generations!”

Krishna smiled at Rukmini and said, “Yes, you are right! I must stop. You know this better than me.”

Sudama didn’t understand this exchange but chose to ignore it. Also, he was too happy to wonder about the mystery. The two friends spent a few days together in great bliss, reminiscing about their old days and talking about their family and loved ones.

Soon, it was time for Sudama to leave. Krishna and Rukmini came to the palace gate to bid Sudama goodbye.  The palace guards this time fell at Sudama’s feet seeking forgiveness. Sudama smiled and said, “Get up, my dear men. You’re not at fault. You were just doing your duty. And I would’ve likely done the same if I was in your place.”

Krishna added, “Stopping him to question his intentions is your duty, undoubtedly. But the rudeness and derision were uncalled for. Please know that every living creature in this world deserves respect. And your behaviour only adds to your karmic pot. Learn this lesson, and you are bound to lead better lives.” The guards nodded their heads in understanding.

Sudama took leave of his friend promising to return soon, and taking a promise from Krishna to visit his humble home too.

He got into the chariot that Krishna arranged for his journey home. Sudama’s heart was filled with pure joy. Why didn’t I think of meeting him earlier? I wonder what stopped me from meeting him before itself. The right time? The completion of a particular karma?

But a tiny thought nagged him. How would he tell Sushila that he couldn’t bring himself to seek help from Krishna? And yet, he was happy that he didn’t. Krishna’s love and friendship were far more important than money.

But unknown to Sudama, Krishna’s magic had already done its work! His humble one-room hut was replaced by a resplendent palace. When he reached home, his wife and children came running out to greet him, dressed in the finest of silks, their faces full of happy smiles. Servants and helpers rushed forward to help him get off the chariot. 

As he looked in wonder and awe at the riches he was blessed with, he realised the importance of Rukmini stopping Krishna from eating the third handful of poha. The wealth given in return for two fistfuls of the humble poha would be more than enough to last many generations of his family!

Picture credit: Designed using Co-pilot

Glossary:

Poha – Flattened rice with which many different kinds of sweet and savoury dishes are made. It is one of the most common forms of prasad (or offerings) offered to Lord Krishna

Author’s Note:

Krishna was the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu. Rukmini was Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, and Lord Vishnu’s consort. His stories including the one above are collected in a book of Puranas called Bhagavata Purana. 

The friendship between Krishna and Sudama is a form of Bhakti, or devotion, a way to achieve mukti or liberation from the limitless cycle of birth and death. According to Hindu philosophy, devotion to God can happen in many ways including as lovers (as between Krishna and Radha), as friends (as in this story), as mentor-mentee (as with Arjuna), and many more. The important thing is to keep alive the desire to merge with Him. You can choose the path that fits you best. 

Another important Hindu symbolism present in this story is related to karma. Loosely put, it is “you reap as you sow.” But at a deeper level, intentionally or otherwise, all your actions have consequences. 

When the time for a particular karma is over, events will unfold wherein the consequences also end. And this goes until all your karma is wiped out and you become one with the One. Devotion to God or Bhakti wherein you surrender yourself and your life to Him is a way to become detached from karma and its consequences and hasten the process of achieving mukti. 

This blog post is part of the blog challenge ‘Blogaberry Dazzle’ hosted by Cindy D’Silva and Noor Anand Chawla in collaboration with Growing with Nemit.

 

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Ratna Prabha

Thank you for visiting my website. I welcome you heartily to read my stories, poems, and reviews. I would be extremely grateful if you could leave comments and feedback so that I may learn and improve my craft.

40 Comments

  1. I must thank you Ratna Prabha ji for telling the Story of the great friendship between Shri Krishna and Sudama. Most of us Hindus know the story so to me the way you described it and the way you interpreted it made it more impactful and beautiful.I will be visiting your blog more often.

    • Thank you, Preeti. Stories from our puranas and itihasas are so rich and beautiful. I am so happy that you enjoyed this story.

  2. I believe in the power of karma. However, I feel mythological texts do give us an exaggerated version of everything, raising expectations too high. Actions and humbleness coupled with practicality are the divine graces we ought to cherish.

    • I totally agree with the power of practicality and humility. But often exaggeration, or hyperbole, an excellent literary tool helps us deal with our suffering too. Of course, only my humble opinion. Thank you so much, Ambica, for your sensible comment. Truly appreciate it.

  3. As a person from a different faith, I am less aware of the stories behind the god and goddess, your post posed as a way of education and enlightenment. Enjoyed reading it.

    • Thank you so much for stopping by and for your kind words. I studied in a convent, and being a Hindu, was able to imbibe the life lessons of two religions into my life. Thank you again, Caroline!

  4. We were taught a smaller version of this story as school students as this was part of our coursebook then. I believe we had the chapter in English or Moral Science, I’m not quite sure now. You made me recall those days and also of course the story has such beautiful life lessons like there should be no class barriers between friends, and how karma always has a role to play when it comes to deeds and consequences. I especially liked how you elaborated on the story after the conclusion. Thank you so much for this trip down memory lane and a wonderful lesson

    • Thank you so much, Manali, for this highly motivating comment. Truly appreciate your words!

  5. The story of Krishna and Sudhama/Kuchela is recounted umpteen times in my childhood, during school days, story times, and so on. I do not take any essence of divinity from it, but a side of India’s dubious political/religious history where a leaned man, Kuchela, had to beg before a newly emerged feudal riches for survival.

  6. I have read this story in Amar Chitra katha some 5 decades ago but it is still fresh in my mind. I am a great believer in Karma and I have seen it with my own eyes in my life. I wish kids could read your blog and imbibe the values of doing a good deed.

  7. Whenever I watch this scene from Ramayan on TV, I always get emotional. Thank you for sharing this genuine bond of friendship with us. This feeling is profound and not easy for everyone to understand.

    • Thank you so much, Anjali. Yes, it’s almost childlike in its content, and yet, when sees more than merely scratch the surface, the spiritual profundity gushes forth.

  8. This is the first time I cam across this story and I loved reading it. What a beautiful tale of friendship and connection. Sudama gave Krishna what little he had, even though he himself was hungry, and that good deed came back to him in a big way. I wonder what would have happened if Lord Krishna had finished the poha!

    • Its so wonderful to think that my writing is the first time you heard of and read this story. Thank you for your kind words. That Krishna shouldnt finish the poha is the work of his consort, Lakshmi, or Rukmini! To stop excesses from happening from all sides is the key to creating balance in the world!

  9. No matter how many times we are told this story, our interest remains the same. People give examples of the friendship between Krishna and Sudama even today. I enjoyed your style of storytelling.

    • Thank you, Aditi. Reading and writing such stories warms my heart too, even if repeated often.

  10. As we progress in life we start forgetting the mythological lessons we learned as a child and start observing life in a different way. But this story of yours took me back to my childhood and I was an immense fan of the picturesque series of Amar Chitra Katha… I can still recall my elder sister narrating the this particular story to me sitting under the blanket. Now a mother I also want to narrate the same stories to my child and thank you for reminding me that such stories can be equally inspirational and moral giver besides being entertainer for the young minds. God bless you.

    • Aah! If I’ve convinced even one person to go back to our puranas, I know the purpose of my retelling them is done! Thank you, Samata

  11. Krishna and Sudama’s story is timeless. I enjoyed reading it again. All your actions have consequences and you have so beautifully explained the story in your note.

  12. Loved reading the story Ratna and loved your style of story telling, simple yet engaging. You brought out the essence of the story in such a wonderful way… I was drawn into it… Keep them coming!

  13. I have read the Krishna Sudama story so many times but it was lovely reading your rendition. It is a timeless tale with a very important message. Your author’s note was the cherry on top.

    • Thank you, Ritu! Encouraging words like yours gives me the push to keep doing this, something that is often seen as irrelevant. I’m inspired that my retelling of an old story touched you!

  14. I’ve seen, listened to and read Krishna and Sudama’s story many times since childhood and it still makes me emotional. Friendships like this are a karmic connection. Such a beautiful bond! You’ve written it beautifully.

    • Thank you, Varsh. Friendships are one of the best relationships in the world, I think. Beautiful bonds, indeed!

    • Real life lessons, I beleived, are the core of parables and myths. Thank you visiting my website.

  15. Stories of Lord Krishna is what we grew up on, and his friendship with Sudama is legendary. I enjoyed reading this again and remembering the importance of karma, our actions, and friendship and the humbleness of our existence.

    • Truly appreciate your kind words, Isheeria. My retelling efforts are vindicated

  16. I love this story. It beautifully portrays karma. I fully believe in karma, and I have definitely had some experiences with it as well.

  17. I was crying and laughing at the same time while reading this story. What an incredible story of friendship between the divine and a normal human! I wish one day I would meet my divine god Shiv and make a bond with him. Until then, I am trying to do good karma.

    • Aww! Pamela, you’re so kind! Thank you so much, and yes, you will find your divine coz your core intention of doing good karma will take you to Him.

  18. The way you weave personal anecdotes with broader themes is impressive. It’s refreshing to read tales from ages ago but with a fresher perspective.

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