This is the story of the devotion of Shabari in Ramayana.

Ages ago, the land of India hosted many different tribes. These tribes had different ideologies, cultural beliefs, and gods and Goddesses. Shabri belonged to one such tribe. She started seeking religious knowledge at a very young age. The priests of her tribe were not able to answer her questions. So she started exploring other regions of India. One day she found a Sage named Matanga. Matanga was able to quench her thirst for knowledge. She accepted him as her Guru and lived in his ashram (Guru’s hut).

Years later when Matanga was on his death bed, he had a vision. He told Shabri to stay at the ashram as the seventh avatar of God Vishnu would visit this place in the future. The name of the avatar would be Rama.

Shabri could not let go of the final words of her Guru. She lived at the ashram alone, chanting “My Rama would come” all day long. She would clean the hut and the path leading up to it every day. She would go out into the jungle and bring flowers and berries. She would sprinkle those flowers on the path. She would taste those berries a little to keep only the sweetest of them. She did this day in and day out.

Finally, during their days in exile, Rama along with Sita and Laxman came to her hut. She had already completed her routine. At the very first sight, she knew who Rama was. Filled with emotions of gratitude and excitement she hugged Rama and touched his feet. She invited them into her hut and offered them the berries. While Rama and Sita ate the berries happily, Laxman did not. He was not impressed by the fact that she had tasted them before offering them to Rama. But to keep the old lady’s heart he pretended to eat those berries and slipped them in one of his bags.

Rama thanked Shabri for her generous hosting. They stayed the night in Shabri’s hut. The next day Laxman asked Rama about the berries. According to Laxman, an already eaten fruit was unworthy of Rama. Rama educated Laxman on the importance of Bhakti (devotion). Different people have different capabilities, he said. So their offering may differ in quality, quantity, and taste. But one should only judge the devotion of the devotee, not its offering.

After understanding his mistake, Laxman brought the berries out of his bag and respectfully planted them in the soil. So the story goes that these uneaten berries turned into the Sanjeevani, a miracle herb. And to complete the circle, later the Sanjeevani healed Laxman from the poisonous arrows of Meghnath.

Through this act of acceptance, Rama also broke the taboo of untouchability. Shabri, the tribal woman belonged to the so-called lower caste. Back in the days, an upper-caste touching a lower caste was considered inappropriate. This story became a symbol of change for many.

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