The story of Gandaki contains the universal theme of the Ultimate justifying sinners by their faith in the divine and changing them into new, reborn, creations. Another central universal element is the union of opposite elements, the male and female. It is also a story about those who in spite of their worldly position want to seek divine truth. And it’s the story of the Divine preventing the believer at the last minute to perform a horrible act of faith. Themes found in other world religions too.
The Story of Gandaki
There was once a prostitute who had a daughter called Gandaki. According to strict social prescriptions the daughter must always take up the same work as her mother, which meant that she had to become a prostitute in her turn. However she felt herself drawn to fulfill the strict rules laid down for every wife and she saw in every suitor an embodiment of the heavenly husband (pati paramesvara). One day she was visited by a handsome youth who paid her munificently but left her soon, without even having looked at her. With her customary faithfulness she waited for him and finally, around midnight, the youth reappeared. She served him and lavished upon him all the arts of love. As she bathed him, however, she found that his body was eaten away all over by leprosy, but without the slightest hesitation she surrendered herself to him completely. Everyone was amazed and asked how she could endure it and continue to pamper him. She nevertheless repeated, “Before sunrise he will still become my spouse.”
But as the sun rose that morning the young man died. She wished to give the ultimate expression of her loyalty to her husband and let herself be cremated with him (Sati).** As she crouched on the funeral pyre she suddenly noticed that the young man’s body was made completely out of gold and that he had four arms. Then he spoke to her and said, “I am Bishnu Narayana and I came in order to test you. You have stood the test and now you may have three wishes.” The girl, however, had only one wish: “that you never leave me!”
Then he explained to her that the wife of a holy man had laid a curse on him so that he must become a stone; the name of the holy man was Jalandhar. “Nevertheless”, he continued, “you will turn into a river, Gandaki, and in the shape of a stone.” I will remain for ever in your lap.” As a token of this, you shall bear the name “Sãlagrãmi” (having shãlagrãma stones).