This blog is on the divine friendship between Krishna and Kuchela. Kuchela’s actual name is Sudama. Sudama, meaning bountiful, was born to Matupa and Rochanadevi somewhere in modern-day Gujarat. An impoverished Brahmin, he was Krishna’s childhood friend at Sandipani Maharshi’s ashram. Over the years Krishna and Sudama lost touch with each other. Krishna went on to become the King of Dwaraka and Sudama remained in poverty with his wife Susheela and children.
He was so stricken by poverty that he could not even feed his family properly. His wife and children would go to sleep hungry. He wore torn clothes and even earned the derogatory nickname of Kuchela, meaning the one with tattered clothes.
Despite being in acute poverty, Kuchela would spend his time in contemplation of the Brahman- the self. Lord Krishan was Brahman personified and Kuchela was a jnani. Thus, the friendship between Krishna and Kuchela is divine. Kuchela’s wife was also supportive of her husband’s austerities and would never complain of their poverty. Thus, she lived up to the meaning of her name Susheela, the one with ideal behaviour. But it was a householder’s dharma to take care of one’s spouse and children. Susheela, not able to see her children starving, would ask Sudama to approach his childhood comrade Krishna, who was then the King of Dwaraka and seek some financial aid to run the family. Sudama would feel reluctant and put it off.
Kuchela meets Krishna
One fine day, Sudama decided to go and meet Krishna. As was the custom, he was not supposed to meet someone empty-handed. So he took some beaten rice (hammered rice/ avil/ aval/ atukula/ poha) with him to offer Krishna.
When Sudama entered Krishna’s palace, Krishna extended a warm welcome to his friend.
He took Kuchela inside, gave him his own seat and washed his feet with his own hands. Sudama was so moved by Krishna’s gesture. He didn’t even expect him to remember him; but to his surprise he clearly remembered their good old days at Maharshi Sandeepani’s ashram and they shared their memories for hours together.
Krishna then mischievously asked Sudama what he had brought for him. Embarrassed, Kuchela pulled out the small parcel of beaten rice. It was Krishna’s favourite. He took a handful and puffed it in his mouth, relishing on it.
Sudama stayed in the palace for the night and took his leave for him the following day. In his utmost happiness of having met his childhood friend, he forgot to ask what he came for.
When Sudama reached home, he was taken aback in surprise- his dilapidated hut had been transformed into a palatial mansion bedecked with the most expensive of gems and his wife who was standing outside to greet him was clad in the finest of silks! He then realised that all was Krishna’s handicraft!
The day when Sudama went to meet Lord Krishna is celebrated as Kuchela-Dinam. It falls on the first Wednesday of the month of Dhanu. The divine love of Sudama and Krishna for each other is an epitome of Bhakti. Despite being in utmost poverty, Sudama never desired/asked for any favour from Krishna. It is a huge sacrifice from Sudama to offer a handful of parched rice to Krishna, given the situation that he could not even feed his children a meal. Such was his love for Krishna, who is Brahman personified. Sudama was someone who had unwavering Brahma-jnana. Krishna’s love for him should also be understood because, the Bhagawan always rewards selfless love! It was a perfect example for nishkamya-bhakti. Thus, their friendship is celebrated as an ideal one, where one loves the other not at a transactional level but at a more deeper level- where one expects nothing in turn from the other! At a subtler level, it exemplifies true bhakti, and how one can stay immersed in austerities and jnana-stithi, even though the physical environment is not conducive to practising bhakti.
Kuchela dinam or ‘Kuchela’s day’ is a yearly festival celebrated by Hindus in on the first Wednesday of the month of Dhanu in Malayalam calendar. Several temples in Southern India, including the famous Guruvayur Temple observes kuchela dinam in remembrance of Kuchela’s willingness to part his food despite extreme poverty. Devotee’s offer specially prepared beaten rice in Krishna temples on Kuchela dinam. The offering is known as aval nivedyam and contains grated coconut, jaggery, ghee, dried ginger and cumin in addition to beaten rice. Special counters will be opened at the temples from the eve of Kuchela day to facilitate aval nivedyam. In Guruvayur temple, devotees line up outside the temple and offer packets of beaten rice at the namaskara mandapam situated in front of the sanctum sanctorum and the steps leading to the shrine called thripadi. Devotees believe that poverty will be eradicated and prosperity will follow after aval nivedyam.