TO THE HEAVEN AND BACK



There is an ancient saying, "Die but didn't get heaven." Well, this saying turned out to be true in this story. In an insignificant little village of Telangana, Gopal worked as a weaver. He made clothes on his loom and sold them from his own shop. His shop was situated in the middle of a busy market, encircled by other shops, like a sweet shop and a utensil shop. All the shopkeepers had the habit of daydreaming. Some wanted to expand their business, some wanted to earn more, some wanted a bigger house, and some, a more extensive shop. But Gopal's ambition was to go to heaven alive because he had heard all sorts of stories about swarga (heaven). It had all the exquisite foods and the finest drinks. So he would ask everyone, "how do you go to heaven?" And no one had the answer to that. So, when one pandit (priest) came to the village, who apparently knew everything, Gopal went to visit him and kept on pestering the holy man by asking the same question over and over. "How can I go to heaven alive?"





Pandit, by then, was tired and irritated of this man. So, to avoid him, he cooked up something and told him. He said, "Stand on the banks of the river on one leg for 24 hours. Keep on chanting the name of Lord Indra, day and night, then maybe, you will get to heaven." The pandit hoped that Gopal would forget it. But Gopal actually believed what the pandit said and went to the riverside, stood on one leg, and started chanting Lord Indra's name. The entire day passed, and night followed. He was exhausted but was determined to go to heaven. Then, suddenly, the sky lights up with a blinding light. Gopal saw a majestic white elephant floating down to the ground. He recognized the elephant to be none other than Airavat. The mythical white elephant with 7 trunks. The vehicle of Lord Indra. After a while, Airavat started rising towards the sky, Gopal realized that Airavat was going back to heaven. As Airavat was rising up, Gopal jumped and hung on to its feet. Airavat kept on rising upwards and took Gopal along and finally reached heaven.





Heaven was exactly as Gopal had heard. There was Lord Indra, enticing food and drinks. Alluring Apsaras like Urvasi, Menaka, and Ramba dancing around. Gopal was amazed at the spectacle in front of him and thought, "Wow, the gods have such a fun life here compared to the dull life in the village. This is way better. And those villagers used to make fun of me. If only they knew about the life in heaven, they would be so jealous." Then he realized how they could know and decided to go back, to boast about his journey to heaven.


So the next day, when Airavat got ready to go to earth, Gopal sneaked in, and holding his legs, reached down. On land, in his tiny little village, he started boasting and telling stories of all the fancy things he saw in heaven to everybody. Hearing all that, the villagers, too, now wanted to go to heaven. They also wanted to live the good life. They thought, "Why should only Gopal get to live a good life? We should also be able to live like that." And the pandit thought, 'I didn't even trust what I said, but he actually reached heaven.' Everyone started telling Gopal, "We also want to go to heaven." So Gopal said to everyone, "If you also want to come, come to the river bank." And everyone was there, on one leg chanting Lord Indra's name.





And the sky lit up again, Airavat came down, Gopal gestured to everyone to wait for the right moment. After a while, Airavat started rising up in the air. Gopal jumped and grabbed one of Airavat's legs. Pandit caught Gopal's leg, Sweetshop owner grabbed pandit's leg, and someone grabbed his leg, and thus a human chain was made. As everyone was floating, rising towards heaven, excitement grew in them. The Sweetshop owner said, "I will open a sweet shop in heaven. I used to feed humans down below, now I will feed the gods above." The owner of the utensil shop said, "I will open a shop too, the biggest one." Pandit too pitched in, "I too will open a shop and share knowledge all across."




Hearing this, Gopal got irritated, "You all just keep quiet. I am the one taking you to heaven. I went to heaven first. Your shops will be small.. the biggest one will be....." Gopal lets go of Airavat in this anger and excitement, and everyone started tumbling down back to the village. Of course, none of them made it to heaven alive, but people remembered Gopal as the man who went to heaven alive.


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