Ramayana, the story of Ram and Sita, is entrenched in our minds. The epic is as complex as it is long. We have been told about the various lessons that Ramayana teaches us – on life, death, loss, redemption, lust, purity, loyalty, and so on. However, the aspect that is rarely discussed is what the epic holds on hospitality. The section that majorly discusses hospitality is the story of Shabari. If you have some knowledge of Indian mythology, chances are that you have heard of Shabari. For those uninitiated, here is a quick run-through of the story.
According to Valmiki’s Ramayana, around two thousand years ago, Shabari lived in the outskirts of a forest. Even though a daughter of a hunter, Shabari is compassionate and loving towards all living beings. Now, at the time it was a custom to sacrifice herds of goats and sheep when a daughter is to be married. When it is time for Shabari’s wedding, her father follows suite and brings in many animals to be slaughtered. To avoid the killing of the innocent animals, Shabari runs away into the forest where she requests many teachers to accept her as their disciple but is turned down.
Shabari is well prepared to serve them both – she has berries. However, she wants to ensure that each fruit they eat is sweet. So she takes a small bite from each berry and gives them only the ones that are sweet. While Ram enjoys the sweetness of the fruits, Lakshman is not amused. The thought of eating something that has been already tasted by someone else repulses him. However, Ram is very pleased by Shabari’s devotion and tells Lakshman, “Brother, these berries are so sweet, I have never tasted berries as sweet as Shabari’s berries. Whomsoever offers a fruit, a leaf, a flower, or water with love, I take it with great joy.” He asks Shabari to ask for any wish.
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