Zillions of pilgrims flock to Kasi, where there is a shrine of Lord Shiva. It is believed that those who visit this sacred place will gain ‘moksha’ liberation and will escape the cycle of life and death. They will, in other words, win a place in Kailasa, the abode of Shiva.
In Kailasa, Goddess Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva, apprehensively, asked the Lord
“So many people are worshipping you in Kasi, but will Kailasa be big enough to accommodate all of them?”
Lord Shiva replied
“All of them cannot come to Kailasa, dear! I will design a drama and show you the folks who will win my Grace and ultimately come to Kailasa. We will both act in this drama.”
Lord Shiva and Parvati then disguised themselves and came down to Kasi. Parvati, as a shriveled old hag, sat on the step of the Shiva temple and Lord Shiva, as a wizened old man, lay thirsty and crying for water in her lap. Pilgrims were carrying the sacred water of the Ganges in silver vessels to pour on the Shiva Lingam in the temple as an offering to Lord Shiva. She wept and implored them to drop some water in the lips of her poor husband. Some looked at her pathetically and walked their way. Others said that they would bring some water only when they return from prayers and offerings to God. No one was willing to use the sacred water which they had collected to quench the thirst of the old man. In their mind, it was meant for God and it would be a sacrilege to offer it to a mendicant.
Coincidentally, among the pilgrims, there was a thief who was hurrying in the temple to pick a few pockets. He heard the plaintive voice of the old woman and he stopped. He asked her what was the matter and she explained, adding that she could not leave her husband to fetch water as he could die any moment. Moved by the plight of the wretched couple, he got hold of his gourd. Earlier he had filled it with the water of the Ganges. The woman stopped him, in saying
‘Before you give my husband a drop of the sacred water, please say a word of Truth in his ear!’
The thief could not understand the woman and he asked her to explain what she meant. She replied
‘My husband will probably breathe his last as soon as the water wets his throat. Speak a good deed that you have done in your life when you offer the water!’
He looked at the woman helplessly and said
‘Mother, I am a thief and I live by stealing others. I have never done a good act in my life. Offering water to this old man is my first good action.’
In so saying, he placed the gourd to the lips of the old man and poured a guzzle of water.
Then and there, the old couple disappeared and in their place stood Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati in all their majesty, blessing the thief.
‘Son!’ Lord Shiva said ‘Life is meant to be dedicated to others, not to the self. Despite all your past wrongful acts, you have to-day performed a good deed by offering water to an old vulnerable person and you have spoken the truth. We grace you with this vision! Remember there is no morality higher than truth; there is no prayer more fruitful than service to others!’