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The Jivamala
Rukmini Das
The life of a Warrior-Priest of Hanuman

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The Life of Rukmini Das



Rukmini Das was once my name. I was a priest, a devotee, a warrior, and a householder. I served my lord and my people. Now I am a resident and a prisoner in the vira-loka, the hero world of karma. I am here until I am freed. At my death, I saw a vision of my god who said that when my karma of killing would be over, I would be freed by myself. This is a mystery to me.

My world [or afterlife] would be a good one for people who were warriors at heart. I am here by accident, having defended many innocent people, and died in battle, as an enemy was defeated. My soul was caught up in the sorrow and celebration. Our people won.

You wish to hear of my life, and say that somehow you are part of me. I do not understand how you are part of me, but I will tell you of my life.


My village was Karnasthan, near a lake called Sita's Earring. I grew up in a family of twelve with ten children, six of them boys. All lived past childhood, which was fortunate as food was scarce.

I came from a caste of priests and teachers, and I loved learning as a child. I would go to the visiting sadhus (religious renunciants), and question them about nature. Sometimes they would tell me things, but usually they chased me away, saying that I was too young, and to go back to my parents.

One sadhu in the town had been a priest before he renounced life in this world. When I was about ten, he came to my father and offered to teach me about being a priest. He said that I was the only child in the town that was suitable for teaching, and a priest in the family meant special [good] fortune after death [for the family members], for his prayers were more powerful than ordinary ones. My father was persuaded by this argument. My mother objected saying I was still a child. But nobody listens much to women. So I was given to a sadhu for three years, and after that I would come back to my household. My father gave him a gift of food and money for my education.

I did not know if this was good or bad, but it was my fate. The sadhu said to call him "Bhai" or brother, so I did. He was stern at first, but later he became friendly. I missed my family but I figured I would soon return.

Bhai was my guru, and we traveled together back to his akhara (school or monastery). There many sadhus lived, and there were students of my age. I mostly spent time with Bhai but I learned from other teachers as well. Here they worshiped the great god-king Rama, and his general Hanuman, the god of bravery and devotion. Rama always acted correctly, but Hanuman acted out of love. So I preferred him. One of the sadhus had been trained in warfare, and he was a devotee of Lord Hanuman. We all took classes with him but I liked wrestling and shooting arrows, and practiced in my spare time.

Bhai taught me mantras, and healing, and initiated me. He bound me to many gods in devotion and service, but I took Lord Hanuman as my special god. When I did things right, I could feel his power within me. Priests are taught to worship many gods in many ways, but he was my favorite. I memorized the stories about his courage and compassion and I could chant long poems from famous writers. I did well there.

Section II - The Fortune-teller

One of the sadhus told me our village had been too long without a priest of its own, and a woman who had lived in our village but married outside the village gave money to the sadhus to train a priest. She had married into a wealthy family, for the eldest son had seen her at a fair and desired her, and would have no other bride. The family grew wealthier, and she wanted to do something for her own family in the village. She sent them money for this life, and wanted to train a priest for the next life [so she would gain a good rebirth]. Her husband indulged her wishes for she liked to lie with him, and gave the family two healthy sons.

So I was to be a priest, and the akhara had money from both my father and her for the same work. This was dishonest. But I could not condemn them too much, for they were poor and it was hard to get enough food and cloth for a whole group of sadhus.

I was initiated as a student and took the sun mantra, but though I respected him, he was never my god. I yearned for my lord of power and honor.

Time flowed on and I spent my days memorizing chants and stories, gathering plants for healing, and cooking and cleaning. Priests may be proud, but sadhus are not, and we learned women's work. We were taught not to fight and disobey. There were about half a dozen boys there, orphans who wanted to be sadhus, and some boys from the village nearby who would visit. There were no women.

I thought that being a priest would be a good job, better than farming and ordering animals around. We did not hear news from the outside world.

Once Bhai took me to a fortune-teller, who could read the lines of my face. He would fall into trance possessed by Lord Shiva, and whip himself. But when he saw me, he fell into a sleepy trance, and his voice blurred. He said,

You are cursed you know. Your life should have been a different life but something interfered with the curse. Learn all you can of manhood - learn to be a warrior. You think you can escape it but you can't - you will have to fight. Learn to be prepared - learn weapons and arms.
Bhai and I both wondered at this for I was to be a priest. The man awoke from his trance, and remembered nothing. Bhai brooded, and said,
We train you to help your village, but what if it is attacked? A priest can do little to defend it. You already like Hanuman's arts [of war] - let's see how good you can be. From now on, it will be fully half of your training.
There were sadhus there who wore only rope and chains, and they were strong men with long hair. They fought with spears and swords, and metal balls on chains. They knew fight postures like dance positions. One of them was named Hanuman Das, and I liked him for his name. He would hide food, and give it to me later.

He said,

Boy, they are training you to save your village, one way or the other. But there is only so much one person can do. When you go back, you must set up two schools, one for learning and chants, and one for war. Both must be taught.

Section III - The Vision of Hanuman

He sounded reasonable - perhaps that is what I was meant to do. I would learn as much as I could from them. They were willing to teach me, but they were not my friends. They were very independent, and did not believe in friendship, especially if you were younger than they were.

One night I went outside, and thought about my life. I imagined myself as a hero, saving my family, and they all looked up to me for saving them. I even helped save my village, and they did not look down on me because I was small and poor. They realized that I was good and strong. This was what I really wanted in this life - to be strong and to help people in trouble.

I sensed a smile in the sky. I looked up but I could not tell where it was coming from. It seemed to be everywhere. And then I had a thought, and it was like a deep voice saying,

So, boy you want to be a hero! Do you know what a hero's life is like? It is obedience and service to others, and devotion to your god!
I looked around, but I couldn't see anybody.

Then, in the midst of the stars, two great eyes opened. The sky became full of rich brown fur, wearing a jeweled hat and earrings. It was Lord Hanuman, and he took up the whole sky!

I wasn't sure how one addressed a god. Should I bow to the ground, namaskar [putting both hands together in from of my chest], or raise my hands over my head like the mad Krishna worshipers?

He said, "Do not worry about addressing me - I did not come here because I lacked ritually proper behavior. I came to see if you would be a warrior."

I said, "I will Lord, I will! It is all that I want out of life. I want to help people, and I will be glad to be obedient towards you."

He said,

Not just me, but all the gods. However, I will be your special god, and watch over you. What will you give me?
I said,
Lord, I will give you my heart and soul. I have little money but you can have all of it. I will give you my food before I eat it, in case you are hungry.
The Lord said,
Now these are some worthy gifts. But I want something more. I want you to meditate on me as soon as you wake up in the morning, and as you go to sleep at night. I will encompass your life and you will be my servant!
I said,
I hear and obey lord. Will you also be my friend? I will love you as a master but I would also like to have you as a friend.
He smiled again and said,
Well, I must say, you don't sound like a warrior-hero quite yet. But you are young, and different from the other boys at the school. Yes, I will be your friend, until the time comes for war. Your training here will not be for nothing. There is war coming here, by hardened men who worship a different god. Your skills will be useful.
I was sad to know that war would come. I said, "Will those that I know and love die too?"

The lord said,

All men die, but some die more nobly than others. In other lives, you have had trouble with nobility. Learn a soldier's honor.
He disappeared.

Section IV - Preparing for War

I wondered at this - was he really there? Could I have been dreaming? But I was awake, and I had not stopped being awake.

I went to my weapons training with energy, and I tried to learn as much as I could. I asked about the warriorship of others, especially those who worshiped other gods. Nobody there knew much about warriors with different gods. But one old man said that he had heard of armies of men who dressed in black and covered their faces. They fought on horses.

I asked if there was any way I could learn about war using horses. Nobody was sure about this - it wasn't traditional, even for warrior sadhus. They fought with sticks and staffs and swords, but not with animals.

I thought that those must be the warriors that Lord Hanuman said we must fight. But we had no horses.

I said, "I have heard that these men are coming again, and they will kill us unless we learn to fight them."

Bhai asked, "Where did you hear this?" So I told him about my vision of Hanuman. He looked surprised, as did the others there. They said, "Perhaps it is a warning to us all. How does one fight with horseman?"

The old man said,

We must make plans. We must practice as if we fight with horsemen. We must get more men here. There are warriors in the villages. We must see if anybody knows their techniques of war.
So they went out to find other warriors and bring them back. I hoped that what I told them was true, and that I had understood Lord Hanuman correctly. Over the course of months, many men came and trained in fighting. One old man knew how to fight men on horseback. I learned how to shoot the horses in the weak part of the legs, and in the neck and eyes. It was not pleasant but we had to learn these things.

After about six months, we started to hear about distant battles. As the year came around, it was getting time for me to return to my village, and there were battles nearby, several days away. The sadhus and warriors were training, and they did not need me. Bhai and I returned to my village and we spoke with the head man of our village. He was very concerned. He said we must defend ourselves if warriors were coming. Bhai and I volunteered to show what we had learned, and men from other villages came for a council. We all needed to be ready.

We showed what the old man had told us [about fighting horsemen], and carved tree trunks to the height of horses, and practiced pulling men off them (the horses). The smith in the village usually made pots, but now we had him making knives, and spears for every man. He never had so much business. He also made spikes, and these were hidden in holes on paths around the village. We had arrows and they were dipped in the old poison that we never used, because it would ruin the meat of the animals we hunted.

We made places to hide, and holes under the houses for women and children, and for old people. We made secret places in the dense forests for them to hide if there was time, and they were able to escape.

We set up scouts, and in the council had other villages set up their own scouts, so we would have advance warning. If they saw or heard trouble, they could blow loud horns five times in a row, and if it were night, make special fires in high places. I came back an official priest, but nobody cared. I was in my teens, young and unmarried, and not yet worthy of the respect of men. I must prove myself. I hoped to be strong in battle. If not, at least I could say prayers for the souls of the dead, encouraging them to a good rebirth and to the heaven of our god of justice or of war. I would rather save them in life, but I could also help them in death.

We dug big trenches through the forest, and hid them with leaves and sticks. I worked with the men, and eventually, I was treated as one of them.


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