Who is a friend? Webster’s dictionary says that a friend is ‘an intimate associate’, ‘a supporter’, ‘one who is attached to another by esteem affection’. But, today, when we call anyone as our friend, do we mean it the same way? We can even say that nowadays, friendship is being contrived and developed for the sake of convenience and benefits. The sanctity of friendship is often lost these days. How was the friendship in good old days? We shall see few examples from great stories.
It is really difficult to describe the bond of friendship between Karna and Duryodhana in the great epic Mahabharata. Even on the very first day of their meeting, Duryodhana told Karna that he and his kingdom were at Karna’s feet. Karna also overwhelmingly replied that he sought only the love of Duryodhana. Towards the end of the story, we see Karna’s unshakeable affection for his friend – when his mother Kunti asked him to join Pandavas, who were really his brothers, he refused saying that it was against dharma. He was ready to give his life for Duryodhana and considered it to be his duty.
You might have heard of the story of Sudama: a wonderful example of friendship. In his young days, Sudama was the companion of Sri Krishna, in the Gurukula of Sage Sandipini. Sudama became known as Kuchela because he had only dirty clothes to wear. He was utterly poor. His wife asked him to approach Sri Krishna for help. Kuchela, although initially reluctant, decided to go and meet Krishna. He wanted to offer some gift to Krishna but could not find anything in the house. Kuchela’s wife prepared few handfuls of ‘aval’ (flattened rice) out of the grain collected from nearby houses. Sudama reached Krishna’s palace with the aval bundled in a piece of cloth. He was well-received by Krishna and Rukmani. They relished eating the aval. Sudama was also very happy to be in the company of Krishna. He returned home without asking for any help. But, when he reached home, he found that his home was blessed with all the wealth.
Here the depth of the friendship should be understood through the way they enjoyed each other’s company. Both of them could not control their tears and started weeping (as they were meeting after a long time). Though Sudama was in dirty clothes and had a poor appearance, Krishna embraced him and gave him royal treatment. Sudama forgot asking for any help and was lost in the thoughts of happy days they had spent together.
In the great epic, Ramayana, we come across a devoted friend of Rama, namely, Guha. Rama reached the forest region to begin his exile of fourteen years. Guha, the chief of the region, appealed to him to stay in his place for all fourteen years. Kambar, the great Tamil poet, puts the bond of love between Rama and Guha through Rama’s words, “Guhanudan Aivaranom” which means “With Guha, we are now five brothers not four.”
Later, Sri Rama develops friendship with Sugreeva. We also get a beautiful definition of a good friend from Sri Rama. While praising Sugreeva, Sri Rama says, “You are indeed a real friend. Like the clouds yielding rain, the sun destroying darkness and the moon pleasing the human hearts, a good friend comes to one’s help spontaneously.”
Doesn’t Sri Rama’s definition come closer to our dictionary meaning of friendship? However, could we accept without any argument that our friends are ‘friends indeed’ who help in our need? Not every time.
In today’s world friendship is maintained as a social need. To revel, to enjoy and to chat we need company… there is no special bond of love. Sometimes the spirit of friendship even ends in mustering support for wrong deeds.
“Like learning, the friendship of noble, the more it is cultivated, the more delightful does it become”: Thiruvalluvar.