(Rendered by the Author from Tamil)




The rainy season was in full swing. The jungle, which lapped the gloom of night at all hours, grew darker with the gathering clouds. The trees struggled against each other with their branches, looking like wrestlers engaged in strenuous duels. The thickets, shrubs and hanging creepers all around hemmed in the trees, and seemed members of a watching crowd encircling the prize-fighters. The rain water could hardly reach the ground owing to the thick foliage.


Only by the side of Lake Pampa, the forest growth was sparse. Mowdgalya, a disciple of the sage Matanga, had sallied forth in search of Darbha and Samith1 even in that heavy downpour. Even on normal days the wilderness would not yield an easy passage to anyone who tried to explore it. No wonder then that the task became much harder with the onset of driving rain. Though the young man had started on his errand at daybreak, he was still groping his way back to the Ashrama. His fatigue and hunger were on the increase.


A loud thunderclap in close embrace with a dazzling streak of lightning sheared its way across the wilderness. Mowdgalya, who had just then sought shelter under a tree beside a little pond, dashed into the pond, hardly realising he had taken a risky jump. His plunging into the waters and the emergence of the laughing face of a damsel above the water level almost synchronised. The gleam of her shining teeth pierced him more sharply than the flash of lightning that erstwhile dazed him.


The lightning flash disappeared. Her laughter too ceased. Still the rumbling trail of the thunder was heard, even as the echo of her laughter prolonged its reverberation in his memory.


The disciple of the sage could hardly control his mind. Who is she? Why does she dare the terrible forest during such weather? And why this unabashed playfulness? These questions formed and re-formed themselves in that inquisitive youth’s mind. Her deliberate and slow advance towards him, lifting her form above knee-deep water, only whetted his curiosity to know more of her. Her dark wavy tresses fell in a mass on her back. They were wet and dripping water. Her complexion, though not fair, possessed all the radiance with which youth and health could endow it. Were her eyes born with laughter in them? And those edging glances of hers, were they trying to transfix everyone gazing at her? Her eyebrows, like two arches, proclaimed the shapeliness of her elongated lashes.


The sky was visible over the pond and a pale light peeped in. She could be seen with her waist cloth bulging out with the contents in its folds. The weight pulled at her upper garment, only to show to advantage the roundness of her bosom. A bunch of wild blooms tucked up on her waist demonstrated, as nothing else could, her enjoyment of forest life.


Her palm clasped a half finished jungle fruit. Before Mowdgalya could conclude that her sac contained more fruits of the kind, she threw one or two of them at him. He responded with alacrity by catching them with his hand. But all the while his eyes expanded in wonder at her growing fascination for him.


“Just jungle fruits; you can have them if you please...But are you not, by the way, a sage’s son? she queried him, her voice ringing like a bell.


“What? She addresses me,” exclaimed Mowdgalya to himself, and indicated ‘yes’ by a quick nod of his head.


“Taste them, and I shall offer you more if you like them,” said she, pursuing her conversation unaffectedly.


But Mowdgalya suddenly dropped into the water the fruit he had taken to his mouth. He examined the next one also carefully and abandoned it with equal haste. The fishes which had disappeared deep under the water, owing to the splash of rain on the surface of the pond, gathered in groups round the dropped fruits.


She laughed again, clapping her hands.


“Why? Don’t you need them?” she asked, trying to control her merriment.


“I find the fruits you gave me are already bitten. Why do you offer them to me? Are they not polluted?” he asked, but remained powerless to chastise her for her mischief.


“The rest are also similar, look,” she said, and showed him her collection, as she came closer to him.


“Whose doing is this? So, all the fruits are spoilt,” he exclaimed, with a look of suspicion in his eyes.


“Why? I have myself tasted them to make sure that they are ripe and fit to eat. The whole lot of them is fully ripe. They are only swollen a bit with rain water. Here is jungle-berry, here wild guova, here plantain and pine-apple. Every one of them very sweet and inviting,” she said, as she tried to offer them to him, hardly taking him to be a stranger.


“But they are polluted,” his feeble voice protested, though it ended feebly within him. His hunger was getting intense. Indeed the fruits were attractive.


“If you wash them in water, the pollution will go,” said she. His conscience yielded to the suggestion. “Well, they are washed already in the rain,” echoed back his voice.


One, two, three, he swallowed them with great avidity. By that time, the rain had also dwindled to a drizzle.


“Let me take leave of you; but before I go may I know your name?” he asked her with softness pervading his voice.


“I belong to the huntsman caste: my people call me Sabari. I am an only daughter to my father. My father has been long supplying milk, honey and fruits to the inmates of the Ashrama nearby, where the sage Matanga presides in all his serenity. Don’t you know him–my father? You look in Ashramite,” she went on garrulously. But the last query seemed to taunt him.


“I see...then he is your father. Where do you live? Which is your dwelling place?” he piled up his interrogations. However much he tried to suppress his desire to know more of her, the greater was the eagerness his voice exhibited in the questions.


“My dwelling place is there among the hills. My boon companions are the shrubs and trees. None there will ever bar my freedom. The wild creatures too respect me. They will be always waiting for me...Do you wish to see them with me? Why not you start at once with me?” she added with increasing enthusiasm.


Mowdgalya hesitated to reply. Instead of a flat refusal to her request, the words, on another occasion, please”, escaped him. He added apologetically, “Look, the setting Sun who has been visible since the sky cleared up a bit, is sparing yet a ray or two of his, like a man of affluence and power spending on little charities at the last hour of his mortal existence for the sake of fame to live after him.”


Sabari did not move. Seeing her perfect form revealed through the wet cloth clinging to her body, Mowdgalya was lost in admiration of her beauty. Recovering from his stupor, he slowly wended his way back to the Ashrama. But his mind was hovering round Sabari all the way, till the Ashrama of Matanga became visible in the distance.




Satyavrata asked him: “But these do not look like having been pecked at by birds.”


“I am not aware of anything; she it was that made me believe it,” answered Mowdgalya, to the surprise of his friend Satyavrata.


“What did she say?” Satyavrata pursued, while his eyes began to scrutinise the countenance of his friend. Mowdga1ya’s gaze was not directed straight at his friend. With his head inclined on one side and his gaze fixed elsewhere, he began: “Just listen to me. One day I roamed the jungle in search of Darbha and Samith. It became late for me. And the rain was pouring heavily. I then met her. She held in her hand a sling to aim stones at birds. She was also bringing down some of them with her unerring aim. I stopped her from her act. I said: ‘Please don’t disturb the reign of peace and Ahimsa of the Ashrarma nearby. To which she replied, ‘My father’s orders’. If birds peck at fruits, the Ashramites might refuse to take them. Hence, in order to frighten away the rest, she had to kill a few. I said: ‘No, don’t do it.  There is nothing amiss in taking fruits pecked at by birds.’ From that day onwards she has been supplying fruits, even if they bear the mark of a beak.”


“But do they resemble the marks of beaks? Surely not. These are certainly marks of teeth,” remonstrated Satyavrata.


Mowdgalya tried to cut short the discussion. “They are birds’ marks. Why do you make so much ado about this small incident? I am perfectly satisfied that they are impressions of birds’ pecking.”




The entire Ashrama was buzzing with gossip and complaint. It hummed like a bee-hive disturbed. Everyone whispered into his neighbour’s ears that Mowdgalya had been called by the Master for an inquiry.


When Sabari’s father was approached, he said that he neither gave orders to kill birds nor heard anything from his own daughter. He spoke the simple truth.


Matanga made his personal enquiry of Mowdgalya. His heart was burdened with sadness.


“For how long have you been eating fruits tasted by her, and also giving a share to me?” demanded the sage of him.


Mowdgalya’s strength of mind gave way before the severe, commanding tone of his Master. Lowering his head, he remained silent.


“I put you one more question. How long have you known her?”


“Two months.” The disciple thought it best to speak the truth.


“Well, did she make love to you herself, or were you responsible for inducing her?”


He struggled within himself, unable to reply. For he was not sure if he really loved her, nor had he devoted any thought to the consequences of his action.


“How can I answer this question? No doubt, I had on many an occasion dreamed of her and had playfully treated her. But never have I looked upon her in the way you imagine. I can assure you I have not encouraged her at all to take our relationship to be anything more than a casual friendship.”


“Still, were you not solely responsible for her persisting in this act of sending bitten fruits to the Ashrama?”


He stood perplexed, without attempting any answer to that question.


“You must know that for the sin of having touched her you have to undergo a punishment.”


Mowdgalya shuddered at the prospect of a severe chastisement at the hands of the Master.


“It is but just that you should marry her. Go at once and seek her permission.”


“Master, she belongs to the hunter’s caste. Where am I, and where is she? How can there be an alliance between us?” Mowdgalya’s blood boiled.


Sage Matang opened his eyes wide and transfixed Mowdgalya with his gaze.


He went on: “Were you not aware of her birth before you tasted the fruits bitten by her? It will be manliness indeed on your part to accept her without a word. Else, go wherever you wish without a moment’s delay, for I cannot bear to see you near me.” There was no trace of mercy in the Master’s voice.


Mowdgalya stood motionless. He fell at the feet of the Master. Being a coward, he left the Ashrama the very next day. He was willing to forget the forest and the intoxicating figure of Sabari in his abject fear of marrying with a low-caste. He fancied that he was elevating his family and his birth. But in the eyes of the world, he proved himself an unworthy specimen of humanity. The world refused to forget him; Sabari too did not.




“Daughter, what a risk you were in, do you know?” asked the hunter chietain of his daughter.


She stared at him with an enquiring look.


“Alas, had the Sage cursed you...?”


“Curse? What for?”


“You tasted the fruits and took the bitten ones to the Ashrama every day. It is a great act of mercy that for that crime of yours they did not at all harm you. Great souls! Let us show them reverence.”


Sabari was more puzzled than ever and looked at her father with great curiosity.


“Don’t you follow me?”


“No, father, I never took those fruits for the sages living in the Ashrama.”


“To whom, then?”


Sabari dropped her head in shame. Her father could hardly make out anything at first. But, as he plied her with questions, she said tremulously: “Only for one individual did I taste them everyday, and after finding them quite ripe took them and left them with him.” “Who is that one?..Is it Mowdgalya?”


Sabari nodded her head in assent.


“Did he know that the fruits were bitten by you?”




“Ah !...What is this? It is all strange news to me.”


“He gave me permission too.”




Sabari hastily went in and brought peeled-off plantain skins and dried-up coverings of pomegranates. She showed her father certain words scribbled with nail on the inside. Her father read them and found expressions like ‘Darling’ and ‘Again tomorrow’ decipherable in them.


“Whose writing is this?” asked her father.






“Yes, dear father, it is his: it is of the same person who has personified in himself all my aspirations.”


“Daughter, what a crime have you committed! He is a Brahmin of high lineage. You belong to a forester’s family. How could there be any kind of relationship between you both?”


“Then why did he not tell me that? Why did he taste the fruits everyday which I had tasted for him first?”


“Well, my daughter, you have been duped. You can now guess that Mowdgalya does not want you.”


“Why should I make a guess? He will make everything clear in person.”


“Don’t expect him hereafter to clear your doubts. The sage will tell you everything himself.”


“Who told the sage about this?”


“Everything has been made very clear now. Only I was a fool to have allowed you to roam in the forest without any guard. I realise my folly.”


“Father, why need you regret it? Mowdgalya can never give any other reason for his act than that he desired me. I am certain. Maybe, to avoid evil tongues and ears, he finds excuses. If you ask him straight, he will tell you how dearly he loves me.”


“Alas! My daughter, the world is not as dense in understanding as you are. Mowdgalya has preferred exile from this place to his having you as his partner in life.”


“No, no, I can never believe all this. Has he gone? It cannot be...He loves me more than anything in life. Pray, father, show me a way out of this. I cannot be away from him any longer. Take me to him and marry me to him in an auspicious hour.”


“None is able to give any clue to where Mowdgalya has gone. Oh, my daughter, you are raving. It is evident he did not regard you as the object of his love.”


“So he has left! Where has he gone? When did he leave?”



Sabari closed her eyes with both her hands and sobbed like a child. Her father drew her near to him and in a gentle affectionate tone, sought to infuse hope in her: “Daughter dear! My only prop in my old age! Should this kind of fate overtake you? Go with me to the sage Matanga.




The sage was seated at his ease after his morning austerities were over. One or two disciples of his were writing down on palm leaves his words of wisdom.


Seeing the hunter chieftain and his daughter, the sage beckoned to them with kindness to come nearer.


“Is she your precious daughter?” queried the sage.


“Yes.” said Sabari’s father meekly.


“Foolish girl, why have you done this rash act without realising the depths of depravity in man? Haven’t you brought disgrace to your family as well as to yourself!”


“Oh Master, my daughter has sinned. Pray, forgive her,” said her father in anguish, and prostrated before the sage.


Sabari dropped her head. The stream from her eyes began to flow copiously. The heart of the sage was touched.


“Did he desire you?”


She gently nodded her head in assent.


“Well, he is a coward. Forget him.”


“Never, oh, never,” she screamed and fell down at the sage’s feet.


“Isn’t it your fault that you loved such a low creature as he?” said the sage in disgust.


She lifted her eyes towards him and tried to win his pity with her tear-filled gaze.


“Yes, you have tainted your pure heart by placing faith in him. Your love is not for such imperfect beings. Get hold of Something supreme and enduring. I shall show you the way.” And he placed his palm off her bowed head in an act of benediction.


“To me the greatest thing in life is to gain him.” cried Sabari disconsolately. Her reason refused to come to her aid.


A benign smile spread over the sage’s countenance which seemed to be suddenly lit up by an inner vision.


“My daughter, come closer to me and sit down. I give you this counsel for the sole purpose of turning all your love and aspiration to something everlasting.” said he, and looked at her with a new hope.


Sabari listened to him earnestly.


“Know that to bestow unlimited Love on any creature, the Lord of Vaikunta alone is capable. Your faith and love placed in Mowdgalya faded away in two months’ time. Even after realising it, you still cling to your ignorance obdurately. If at all anything is worth striving for, it is His Love. Let me illustrate this. You have seen the dewdrop. How pure and crystal-clear it sparkles in the morning sunshine! In a moment it disappears without leaving any trace of its existence. Need I further labour its significance to you? Just reflect on it. If this little dewdrop wishes to keep within itself the Sun’s light, it can make its brief life a laughing orb and thereby make its momentary career momentous indeed. It can merge itself with the limitless Flame. Suppose it should hanker after a Malati flower and make love to it saying: ‘Ah, my darling, keep me in your heart.’ What will happen to it? Just imagine awhile. Ere its brief period comes to an end, the Malati flower, which blooms in the night, unable to bear the morning light, will fade away and drop down to the ground gasping: ‘Alas’ I am dying.’ Thus its death is assured even before the Sun rises high in the sky. The Malati’s life is so short. Yet the dewdrop would yearn for a place in its heart! What a pity it should be, if the dewdrop chose the Malati instead of the Sun for its object of worship! This love of yours is equally futile. Your purity and virginity, you have sacrificed at his altar. May you hereafter change the object of your faith and love from Mowdgalya to the ever-merciful and ever-inspiring Lord of Vaikunta! Such faith and adoration placed in Him will enable you to reach Him even with this body of yours.”


The sage uttered these words and paused, to make sure that she followed him.


“Master”, You must redeem me. But what figure or image do you ask me to retain in my mind’s eye? What figure, what face and what arms? Till now, only one image and one face have taken hold of me.” Sabari cried again, as if her heart would burst.


“Calm yourself, and I shall certainly guide you. You will see with these mortal eyes the son of Dasaratha, Sri Ramachandra, in this very spot near the holy Pampa, attired in the same bark-skin and garb of a forest-dwelling Rishi, but a face thousand-fold more beautiful than your cherished Mowdgalya’s. The world will acclaim him an incarnation of the Lord of Vaikunta. Till then, forget this body of yours and do penance without caring for food or water. Place Sri Raghava in the same place where you have enthroned your Mowdgalya till now. He will walk this earth for the sake of succouring the fallen and the downtrodden, with a heart as expansive as the sea in its compassion. Yes, even after age, decrepitude and greyness have overtaken you, continue to wait for him. He will certainly come to you with his matchless personality worthy of a thousand-eyes-fill of gaze from you. He will hold his Kodanda (bow) and walk into your presence of his own accord. Your life will be liberated that day. You will have the choice left to you still to reach Heaven with this body of yours if you care. May you then serve your Master and Lord in many ways! Give him any amount of fruits, all in the same manner as you have served your lover with.” The sage ceased his speech.


Sabari sat like one dumb-struck.


She began to visualise her Rama approaching her with his princely bearing, with his bow and his deer-skin attire, and, more than all, with his all encompassing merciful look.


She was transported with a vision, such as she had not beheld all her lifetime.


The Maharshi finally said to her: “Sabari! Yours will be the unique instance of a mortal saved by the Lord in man’s form and sought after by Him of his own accord.”


“May your blessing come true, Master!” said Sabari and bowed before him in humility.


1 Grass and sticks for ceremonial use.