The One With the Nagapatnis

[Nagapatnis worshiping Krishna]“Our dear Lord, we are offering our loving service unto You because we are all eternal servitors of Your Lordship. You can order us and ask us to do whatever You please. Every living being can be relieved from all kinds of despair if he agrees to abide by Your orders.” (Nagapatnis offering prayers to Krishna, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 16)

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Uma was new to Krishna consciousness. Previously, she had never really paid much thought to religion. Her career path was set early on, and she remained devoted to it. She worked diligently and passionately, and at night she more or less kept to herself. After a while, she started to notice a pattern repeating, with the years being seemingly identical. Then, as if by chance, she happened to stumble upon a Bhagavad-gita, the ancient Sanskrit work spoken by Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One of her friends recommended the book to her, and after a while she finally got around to reading it.

Bhagavad-gita As It IsSubsequently, her interest in all topics relating to bhakti-yoga increased to the point that she started attending a weekly gathering of like-minded folks. Together they would meet in someone’s home, chant the holy names of the Lord, have some discussion on verses from the Bhagavad-gita, and then eat holy food known as prasadam. Though she didn’t consider herself much of an expert on the philosophy, Uma felt very much at home in this setting. She particularly liked the congregational chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

Every week there would be some announcements made, and at this one meeting some news caught Uma’s attention.

“Fellow devotees, we are pleased to inform you that a highly respected and elevated personality will be visiting us next week. We hope that you can attend and that you bring any friends and family that you can. Thank you.”

[Lord Chaitanya as sannyasi]Up until this point, Uma had not met any devotional leaders who were in the renounced order. The people who organized the program were householders, or those in the grihastha-ashrama. She was intrigued by the chance to attend a program led by this personality, whom everyone referred to as Maharaja or Gurudeva.

Uma attended the program the following week and she enjoyed very much the kirtans led by Maharaja. She also enjoyed his class. At the end of the program the organizer announced that Maharaja would be in the area for the next few weeks and would be holding similar programs at the homes of other devotees. Everyone there was invited to attend. “I must go to these,” Uma thought. “Hopefully some of his wisdom will rub off on me and I can start taking bhakti-yoga more seriously.”

Then another announcement was made. “Dear devotees, Maharaja has been practicing bhakti-yoga for a very long time, and is very dear to the Supreme Lord Krishna. Therefore if anyone has any questions, doubts, issues or concerns, please feel free to approach him. He is more than happy to talk to you.”

Uma was too shy to approach such an elevated and respected personality, so she sat back and watched others go up. As it was a small room, she could hear their conversations. The questions were all along the same lines. “What can I do to increase my devotion? How can I be a better yogi following bhakti? I want to do more, but I’m not sure what I can do.”

[Ananta Shesha Naga]Maharaja’s answers were not always the same. To one person he said:

“I hear that you are a writer by trade. If that is the case, why don’t you write about Krishna? He is the Supreme Lord, which means that He is limitless. It is said that the thousand hoods of Ananta Shesha Naga are always engaged in glorifying the Lord, but that there is still never an end reached. You can write articles and books explaining the science of self-realization, as you understand it. Certainly you should keep attention to make sure your conclusions don’t deviate from the chain of disciplic succession, but you should try to elaborate in terms that you can understand. This will help both you and those who read your works. And don’t feel overwhelmed by the task. If all you can write is one sentence a day, then at least do that. Say something as simple as ‘Krishna, you are great’ and your work will be effective.”

The devotee was so pleased to hear this advice, as were the others who were gathered around Maharaja.

Uma followed through on her plan to try to attend all of Maharaja’s classes in the few weeks that he was in the area. At the next program, the same invitation was extended for asking questions, but again Uma was too shy. She listened attentively, though, as Maharaja gave notable advice to another seeker:

“So you made these cookies tonight? They are carob chip cookies? These taste amazing. Thank you so much for these. It appears that you have a talent for cooking. Even if all you can make is cookies, I advise that you cook and cook for the Supreme Lord. Offer them with love and devotion, and then distribute the remnants. As I’m sure you know, the food is sanctified. We call it prasadam because it is the Lord’s mercy. You have skill in this area, so I advise that you use it to the best of your ability. In that way you will please Krishna and you will always feel connected to Him, which is the aim of life.”

[Cookies]At the next program, it was the same story. Uma wanted to talk to Maharaja, but she just couldn’t muster up the courage. Again, she was satisfied in listening from afar. Maharaja surprised her with another unique set of advice:

“So, that opening kirtan you led sounded very nice. You must play all the time, no? I ask that you continue to play and play, as much as possible. Always be immersed in the nectar of the holy name. As you know, the chanting of the holy names is the prescribed method for spiritual salvation in this age of Kali. Men are generally unfortunate, less intelligent, and short-lived in this age. I talked for an hour today, but who actually listened? It’s difficult to accept philosophy when we’re so preoccupied with our daily affairs. Therefore the holy name is the gift from God to save us. Please try and present these holy names with enthusiasm to the general public. Even if this is all you do in your life, if you do it with faith and determination, you will please Krishna.”

[Harmonium]The next program Uma attended was Maharaja’s final one in his visit. He would be departing for another region the next morning. There were others who attended all of the programs as well, and since they kept seeing Uma, they convinced her to finally approach Maharaja with her questions. Uma felt very shy and small in front of someone she had grown to respect very much, but she was finally able to speak:

“Maharaja, thank you so much for visiting us. I feel so small in front of you and these other devotees. I’ve listened attentively to the advice you’ve given. You told one person to keep writing about Krishna. You told another to prepare wonderful food dishes. To another you advised that they continue to lead congregational chanting in a variety of settings. To that other person the other day you encouraged them to continue distributing transcendental literature like the Bhagavad-gita, a book which sparked my interest in bhakti-yoga. But Maharaja, I am so fallen that I don’t have any abilities to offer to Krishna. I pray that you will forgive me for this transgression. I wish that I could give something back to you, the Supreme Lord, and all these other wonderful souls who are filled with devotion, but sadly I am full of bad qualities. I am indeed less intelligent, and I humbly seek your pardon.”

Maharaja listened to her attentively. His face changed to a smile when he responded:

“Actually, your attitude is wonderful. The pure devotee always thinks that they are never good enough, that they have nothing to offer. I am not sure if you are aware of the story of the Nagapatnis. One time there was a poisonous snake living in the Yamuna river in Vrindavana, the land of Krishna. Krishna’s young cowherd friends accidentally drank some of the poison-infected water and thus were on the verge of death. Shri Krishna, though just a young boy at the time, jumped into the water and battled the serpent Kaliya, whose presence had caused this problem. Krishna danced on his head and thus subdued him.”

[Krishna dancing on Kaliya]As others listened with rapt attention, Maharaja continued:

“Feeling so much pressure from the feet of Krishna, Kaliya relinquished the fight and took to praising Krishna. Then the Nagapatnis, the wives of Kaliya, who were snakes themselves, offered their own prayers to the Lord. They lamented their pitiable position of being born snakes, who are known to bite people without cause. They felt they were incapable of properly worshiping God, but in fact their prayers are now very famous. This means that even in the body of a snake one has the chance to meet the objective in life. You should fear not, for if you have no abilities at all, which I doubt by the way, you can at least chant the holy names. If you can’t chant, you can listen. And if you remain sincere, then Krishna Himself will show you the proper way to please Him. He will reveal to you the amazing abilities that you never thought you had.”

Uma was very pleased with this answer, as were the others who were listening. They all felt very fortunate to have had the association of this saintly person, and his advice further motivated them in their devotional efforts, which brought them so much pleasure.

In Closing:

One with the ability to write,

Urged to publish volumes beyond sight.


One who best cookies can make,

Urged for prasadam to others to take.


Another tunes of holy names can sing,

Asked for audible nectar to others to bring.


The person not skilled in these what about?

How to act when many abilities without?


Nagapatnis show that even in body of a snake,

Wonderful prayers to Supreme Lord can make.


At worst case hearing of Krishna just go,

He’ll reveal abilities of which you didn’t know.

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