There is a nice story in one of our Vedic scriptures, the Caitanya Caritamrta.
In the Vedic system it was a common practice that if there needed to be some declaration taken that was very important, instead of signing all these legal contracts like we do today, from notary publics and lawyers, they took the vows in front of the deity and that was the sealing event which sealed the deal.
One time there was an old Brahman. In the Vedic culture, the brahmans were the priestly class. There was an old brahman who wanted to go on a pilgrimage to the various holy places and a young brahman accompanied him. The young brahman took it upon himself to be responsible for the wellbeing of the older gentleman to make this very difficult journey as easy as possible. We must remember that in those days the peoples’ journey was travelled by foot. They didn’t drive, they didn’t fly, and they didn’t even ride horses. They walked, so you can understand how difficult it would have been.
They did this pilgrimage and throughout the entire journey the young brahman took excellent care of the old brahman. Finally before returning home they reached the end of their pilgrimage, which was in Vrindavan, the most holy place on this planet. Vrindavan is where Lord Krishna appeared on this planet 5 000 years ago. When they arrived in Vrindavan and visited the various holy places, the older brahman was so pleased with the young brahman that he told him, “I will give you my daughter as your wife when we return home.”
The old brahman was from a very aristocratic family. The young brahman was from a very poor family, and the young brahman knew that this was not going to work, “I’m from a poor family, there is no possibility that the family members will allow the brahman’s daughter to be my wife”, so he told this to the old brahman. “No, no, no,” said the old brahman, “I am the head of the family, I will make the decision.” The young brahman said, “Ok, but I would like you to declare this in front of the deity and the old brahman agreed. So they went before the Gopala deity and the old brahman made this declaration, then they returned back to their village again, remember the long trip.
When they returned to the village, the old brahman said nothing about giving the daughter to the young brahman and the young brahman knew that this was not good. Not because he was thinking, “Hey, I want my wife! Where is my wife?” But because he knew the old brahman took a vow in front of the deity, this is not some light thing, it would be very bad spiritually for the brahman if he didn’t fulfill his promise. So he went to the old brahman and asked about this, and the old brahman said, “Yes, you are right.” So he told his family members what was going to take place, and the eldest son absolutely disagreed about, “No way! My sister, your daughter, will never be the wife of this poor brahman.” Big problem here; so he went to the young brahman and he told him, “I’ve got this problem.”
The brother was so determined to get his way that he said, “If you do this, I will commit suicide.” So the old brahman said to the son, “What am I going to do?” And the son said, “Don’t worry, I will take care of it. You just say that you don’t remember. You just don’t remember this.” When all this took place the young brahman called an assembly of all the villagers and he said, “We were on a pilgrimage and the brahman made this promise to me and now I’m not having that promise fulfilled.” Then the people looked at the old brahman and he said, “I don’t remember.” (Laughs) Then his son got up in front of all the villagers and said, “This young brahman actually exploited my father, he coerced him, he didn’t even take good care of him. And then he made him make this statement.”
The young brahman said, “Wait a minute!” to the villagers, “This promise was taken in front of the Gopala deity, the Gopala deity will confirm this to be true. If I bring the deity here and He declares it to be true, then will everybody accept it?” And they said, “Yes, of course.”
The old brahman was feeling very bad. He said, “What am I going to do?” And the son said, “C’mon, don’t wait the deity is going to come here! You’ve got nothing to worry about!”
The young brahman went all the way to Vrindavan, weeks and weeks of travel and went before the Gopala deity to tell Him what had happened. I want You to come to the village so that this can be decided, so everybody can know that it is true.
– I’m a deity. How am I going to go to the village?
– If You can talk, You can walk.
– Ok. But you have to promise me this: every day you will cook Me one kilo of rice and offer Me the rice, and you will never look back to see. I will follow you, but you will never look back because if you look back wherever that takes place, I will stop there.
– Ok, of course. But how am I going to know You are behind me if I don’t look back?
– You will hear My ankle bells.
The deity had bells on his ankle because in the Vedic custom that is not uncommon for people to wear ankle bells, especially the women and the deities.
So they begin the journey, every day the young brahman could hear the ankle bells and he cooked one kilo of rice and left it as an offering to the deity. Finally they got back, just outside the village, they were very close, the village was right there. The young brahman all of a sudden heard that the ankle bell stopped, he didn’t hear them. He looked around and the deity was standing there, so he went into the village and he told people, “Come! Gopala has come.” All of the villagers were very surprised, they all came running out and there was the magnificent Gopala deity who had come all the way from Vrindavan to their village at the request of the young brahman. The old brahman came out and was so happy to see the deity. He said, “Yes, of course, I made this promise,” and of course the envious son had nothing to say. The young daughter who was very beautiful was properly married to the young brahman and everyone was happy. That deity is still in India today, it is located in the temple very near Jagannath Puri; and is known as Saksi-Gopala, the Witness Deity.
So this is reality. In our western world of very little understanding we would of course think this is a fairytale, but I can assure you it is not a fairytale. That is why when people make their vows in front of the deity; it is a very serious thing.