The incident goes back to the year 1987 when I was posted at Sahibganj Branch in Bihar (now in Jharkhand). It was the day when Chhat Puja was being performed in the eastern part of the country. The story is about a small girl who drowned in the Ganga and how she was saved. Before we proceed further, let us reproduce the relevant portion of the mythology relating to Prahlad, Hiranyakashipu and how Prahlad was saved by Hari (Lord Vishnu) from the claws of death. Incidentally, the title of the story is very popular and is often quoted when a person comes back alive miraculously from any hostile circumstances.

“Hiranyakashipu went to the Himalayas and began to perform severe penance for many years. Lord Brahma was pleased by his penance and asked him for a boon. He asked for a boon that would make him as good as immortal. He asked that let death do not come to him either by man or beast, nor devil, nor God shall cause his death by day or by night with steel or stone or wood, indoors or outdoors, or earth or in sky. He also asked, “Grant me undisputed lordship over the world”. With Boon, he became very domineering and egoistic. In this state of mind, he ordered that only he should be worshipped as God in his kingdom. Now he considered himself invincible and started a reign of terror, hurting and killing everyone on earth and conquest of the three lokas (Swarga, Martya & Patal).

Whilst Hiranyakashipu had been performing the penance to be granted this boon, his home had been attacked by Indra and the other devas seizing the opportunity in his absence. Lord Indra had even abducted his wife, Queen Kayadhu who was expecting a child. At this point the divine sage, Narada intervened in order to protect Hiranyakashipu’s wife, Kayadhu and the unborn baby who was a supreme devotee of Lord Vishnu. Under the guidance of Narada, her unborn child (Hiranyakashipu’s son) Prahlad, became affected by the transcendental instructions of the sage even at such a young stage of development.

Hiranyakashipu eventually became so angry and upset at his son’s devotion to Vishnu (who he saw as his mortal enemy) that he decided to kill him. The demons tried to use their illusionary powers on Prahlad but none of their powers could stand before him. He tried to influence Prahlad against Lord Vishnu but failed and Prahlad was still as devoted as ever to Lord Vishnu. He ordered him to be trampled underfoot by an elephant. The enraged elephant was unable to crush the body. They threw him over a precipice, but, as Vishnu resided in the heart of Prahlad, he came down upon the earth as gently as a flower drops upon the grass. They tried poison, burn, starvation, throwing into a well, enchantments, and other measures on the child one after another, but to no purpose. They failed in all their attempts because Lord Vishnu was protecting his devotee.

As a last hope, the king called his demoness sister, Holika for help. Holika has a distinctive cloak that when worn prevented her from being harmed by fire. By preparing a bonfire Hiranyakashipu asked Holika to sit with his son Prahlad in her lap in the hope that he will become a victim to fire. Without any fear of death Prahlad started chanting the mantras of Lord Vishnu. As the fire grew, a strong breeze started swaying the cloak. The cloak flew from Holika and covered Prahlad. It was then that she was charred to death and Prahlad remained unharmed.”

Now let us come back to the story. As told in the beginning, it was during Chhat puja, the worship of Sun God. It is performed on two consecutive days – first time in the evening just before the Sun sets and next day morning before and up to the time the Sun rises. The puja is performed mostly by the elderly women and on the bank of water bodies like pond, lake, river, etc. As Sahibganj is situated on the bank of the Ganga, Chhat puja was being performed on its bank. It was a holiday for me. In the afternoon, the devotees along with their families, relatives, friends, etc. assembled on the bank of the Ganga. I was also present there as I used to attend the evening puja so long I was in Bihar and Jharkhand (Incidentally, I once attend the puja in Juhu beach, Mumbai). A few people known to me were also present there. We were standing on the jetty (It will be pertinent to mention here that steamer service between Sahibganj and Katihar was in operation at that time) and were watching the puja, the Sun set, the wide Ganga and a large number of small / medium size boats whereon people were enjoying boat rides. As the current of water was very strong, continuous announcements were being made to caution people not to venture into water.

Chath Puja

Everything was very smooth and orderly. After the Sun set, devotees started packing up their offering in a decent manner as the same would again be brought back to the same spot at dawn. People who were enjoying boat ride started coming back to the shore. We were also getting ready to go back to our residences. Suddenly my eyes fell on a small boat whereon I saw a young man (son of the land lady) and two small girls (granddaughters of the land lady). They waved hands to me. I also responded to them. The boat was slowly approaching towards the jetty. I was waiting for them. Within minutes the boat came in contact with the jetty. As the gap between the platform of the boat and the jetty was more, the boatman requested everyone to climb the jetty one by one cautiously. He was also assisting the passengers. On the jetty, I along with two other persons was also helping people to on board the jetty. The process was going systemically. Alas, it did not continue further. Apparently a mad fellow (!) suddenly jumped out of the boat to the jetty. Resultantly the boat got a huge jerk and capsized. At that time, there were five persons [two little girls, two young men (the young man known to me and his friend) and the boatman] on the boat. All of us present on the jetty tried to rescue them and we could have been successful but failed miserably. To our horror, we found that younger girl was missing.

We became speechless and were cursing ourselves because of our failure to save the child. Her sister and maternal uncle were crying profusely. We had neither the courage nor the words to console them. It appeared to me that everything was lost and I could not reconcile myself. You cannot believe your eyes if you yourself do not see that what I am going to narrate you now. To my utter surprise, a few minutes later I saw a person coming out of water holding the little girl in his lap. The girl was unconscious. The man who rescued the child knew the process of bringing back to any drowned (and unconscious) person back to consciousness. It took almost 15 minutes and she opened her eyes. Our joy was boundless. Everyone present thereat praised and thanked the Saviour from the core of their hearts. So what appeared to be a lost game, turned into a winning one. For all of us she was lost for ever but God had some different wish and she got back her life.

You may be interested to know who that Saviour was. What prompted him to jump into the river with such strong under current? How he could locate the child? And, many other questions must be agitating in your mind. Now I shall tell you who he was. I forgot his name. He was the All India Swimming Champion for consecutive three years and hailed from Munger in Bihar. He was an expert swimmer in his own rights and what was more amazing that he used to practise swimming almost regularly in the Ganga which passes through Munger. On further enquiry, we came to know that he had come to Sahibganj, his in-law’s house only to take part in Chhat festival. While all his family members had left the ghat (bank of the Ganga), he stayed back as he was standing on the jetty and enjoying the surroundings. On watching the mishap to happen, I immediately dived into the Ganga and luckily for all of us, I could locate the child within two minutes as she got stuck in the iron structure of the jetty. At that very moment, he played the role of Lord Vishnu, the saviour.

I am sure, you will now accept the veracity and appropriateness of the title of this story.

Lord Vishnu – the Preserver of Life (A Chath Puja story)
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