India, like every other land under the sun, has had its fair share of fearful bandits and dacoits who have affected the lives of innocent people. There were, however, a few courageous souls who fearlessly chose the path of love and peace, transforming into beings that encourage others to do the same. Detailed below are two tales of such drastic transformations - the first is of a less-known thief and the second, of a very famous dacoit.
On one of his expeditions to the Himalayas, Swami Vivekananda reached a holy spot where he was welcomed by the locals. All of them insisted on him visiting a saint who lived there, which Vivekananda gladly obliged. When he met the saint, Vivekananda was amazed by his lustrous face, which exuded serenity and peace. After engaging in formal dialogue, he asked the saint who his Guru was.
The saint in turn asked, “Are you aware of Pavhari Baba, Swamiji?”
Vivekananda replied, “Yes, yes. I have even been blessed to stay with him.”
The saint continued, “He is a great man, Swamiji. Once upon a time, a thief broke into his cave and began collecting all of the little ceramics and crockery within. With a loud smash, a vessel slipped from his grasp. Pavhari Baba awakened from his meditation and he rushed towards the robber.
The thief was scared out of his wits, dropped everything, and fled. Baba collected all the vessels in the cave and began chasing the thief shouting ‘Narayana (O God), stop. Why do you run away?’ He swiftly caught up to the terrified robber and handed him all of the utensils, saying, "All of these are yours. Why do you fear?” then returned to the cave
Swami Vivekananda, who listened to the entire narration carefully remarked, “Yes, I too have heard this anecdote before.”, whereupon the saint responded with a laugh, “I am that thief!”. The two saints were astonished by how even a moment’s association with a noble one was enough to purify one’s life!
Let us go back in time alongside Ratnakar, an excellent hunter. Unfortunately, his family was impoverished, and his need to provide for them turned him into a ruthless thief, pillaging everyone who ventured into the forest. Even the bravest hearts trembled with terror when they heard the name Ratnakar.
One day, the celestial sage Narada happened to pass through that particular forest. As usual, Ratnakar leaped in front of the sage and bellowed, “Hand over all that you possess or else-”. Narada calmly replied that he had only his rags to spare and would happily give them away.
The tranquillity of the celestial sage even in the face of danger left Ratnakar dumbfounded; the guilt of all his crimes dawned upon him suddenly, leaving him miserable. Then, the inconceivable happened - a sincere urge to reform was born in Ratnakar; he gave up his dacoit-hood and took to a life of asceticism.
This Ratnakar later came to be known as the great poet, Valmiki, who went on to write the epic saga of the crown prince of Ayodhya – Ramayana.
These two stories show that no matter how far one has strayed if they are inspired by the proper individuals, they may turn their lives around. "Tell me who your friends are, and I'll tell you who you are," they say astutely. So, surround yourself with individuals that encourage you to be the greatest version of yourself by bringing out the best in you!