About five miles from the holy Tirupati, in South India, there is a small village called Gopuram. A tiny temple for God Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, adores the village. It is an ancient temple and part of its roof is ruined. Surrounding the temple are oleander plants, the yellow flowers which, Syam Sasri, the priest of the temple collected daily and did puja to God Ganesh.
At one time supported by kings, the temple thrived, but Syam Sasri had only an acre of land barely enough to sustain him and the temple. Early morning, even before the early bird could catch a worm, Sasri woke up, took a dip in the temple pond, donned a clean dhoti, and applied vibhuti, the sacred ash, across his forehead. He collected pond water in a copper pot, opened the doors of the temple and poured the water on granite God’s idol as a symbolic purification. He lit two oil lamps and then chanted Sanskrit prayers for an hour. By that time, his wife, Parijatham arrived with a small pot of rice, or sweet pudding and placed it near by her husband. Chanting mantras, Sasri offered them to God. If devotees were present, the priest distributed the pudding and sweets to them. He performed the same rituals in the evenings as well.
There were days when no one came to the temple. When it was calm, occasionally he saw a small mouse come out hesitantly out of a hole at one corner of the temple. Slowly it approached the plate at the altar, grabbed a piece of coconut or a bit of pudding and darted out off site among the fallen pillars.
One evening in winter, when there were no devotees and the temple was silent, and Sasri was whispering prayers with half closed eyes, the tiny mouse came out, cocked its head this way and that, cleaned its whiskers and went inside. In a few seconds, it came out carrying a small shiny object in its mouth. The mouse dropped the object on the plate, grabbed a piece of coconut and rushed to its hole.
Syam Sasri observed the comings and goings of the mouse with interest. After the puja, at nine, he picked up the plate and glanced at the shining object. It was a gold ring.
Sasri hesitated to touch it, but he was in dire need of money to pay college fees to his daughter. Maybe, God Ganesh has sent this gift to relieve his crisis, he thought. He tied the ring in a knot at one corner of his dhoti, closed the doors of the temple and went home.
Parijatham suspected something was unusual with her husband as he was not paying attention. He never entered the house without washing his feet. Today, he just came in.
“What’s wrong, my dear. What happened at the temple? Please answer.”
Sasri silently untied the knot and placed the ring on her palm. It glittered in the light of the hurricane lamp. After the excitement was over, he explained to Parijatham how he got the ring.
“Tomorrow take it to your goldsmith friend, Bangarappa and pawn it for 3,000 rupees. This will be enough for the college fees for our daughter and the rest for our grocery.”
Bangarappa carefully examined the ring. He rubbed it against a piece of rough black rock. “Yes, it’s gold.” He said. “But I don’t want to buy gold now.”
“Listen Bangarappa, you have been my friend for 20 years. You fashioned my wife’s mangal sutra. I want to pawn this ring for 3000 rupees. When I have money, I will pay you and take back the ring.”
“I can’t give you that much. Because you’re my friend, I will give you 2000 rupees. That’s all.” He locked the ring in a safe box and started counting the money.
Sasri took the cash and came home. Parijatham was happy. She lit a pure ghee lamp to God that day.
The next day, when Sasri was performing puja at the temple, Bangarappa came running to him.
“Sasri, listen. This is important. Stop your puja. Please.”
Sasri stopped chanting. “What’s happening, my friend?”
“Today, in good light I examined the ring. There are tiny letters etched on it in Sanskrit. They are, ‘Deva Raya.’ Let me explain. I majored in Indian history at the college. Briefly, when the Vijayanagara Empire collapsed, local chiefs loaded the royal jewels, diamonds and precious stones on elephants and horses and moved farther South. They settled In Madurai in current Tamil Nadu and Chandragiri near Tirupati. These chiefs built temples and donated jewels and money to them. Some jewels were buried in secret rooms. I think, this ring belongs to Royal Family and has a tremendous value. I can’t keep it.”
“What should we do?”
“We will take the ring to the Archeology Department at Tirupati.”
“Do you have the ring?”
“Place the ring on the altar in front of Ganesh and pray. Then we will return the ring. Stand close to me.” Sasri said authoritatively.
Bangarappa placed the ring on alter. They closed their eyes and prayed for about a minute. When they opened their eyes, the ring was gone.
“Where is the ring Sasri?”
“I don’t know. Did you take it?”
“No. Maybe someone is hiding behind Ganesh’s idol. Let us look.”
Sasri picked up the oil lamp and both of them went around Ganesh. No one was there.
“Sasri, this place is haunted. I don’t care for the ring. Please return the money I lent you.”
“I am in dire need for it to pay college fees for my daughter. Devotees give me dakshinafor my puja services. I will pay you back in six months.”
“I trust you. Sasri, listen. Look for another job. This dilapidated place is haunted.” He left scratching his head.
Sasri smiled. He was happy that his daughter’s problem was solved and the king’s ring was safe somewhere inside the temple.