Shabari was from the tribal community. She left everyone and everything in search of a Mahatma who would initiate her into spiritual knowledge. At last she came to the ashram of Sage Matanga at the foothills of Rishyamukha. The Sage accepted her as his disciple and initiated her into the higher knowledge. She served the sage very faithfully and devotedly. Many years passed.
Desiring to fold up his manifestation, Matanga rishi called Shabari and told her of his decision. Shabari prayed to her teacher to bestow liberation on her also. The far-sighted rishi told her that it was not yet time for her to leave her physical body. He told her that in time, Lord Rama would come this way and she could give up her life and reach the Highest State of Liberation after meeting him. Having advised her, Rishi Matanga left for his heavenly abode.
Shabari eagerly waited for the arrival of Lord Rama. Every day she would clear the pathway of stones and twigs and decorate the path with wild forest flowers. She would bring fresh clean water from the nearby lake to wash the Lord’s feet. And she would daily collect fruits for the Lord. She would taste every fruit. She would discard unripe and tasteless fruits and set aside the sweet fruits for the Lord. Years passed. Shabari became old, but did not lose hope. She knew that the Lord would come one day – her Guru’s words would indeed come true. So Shabari waited and waited…..
One day she saw Sri Rama accompanied by his brother Lakshmana approaching the ashram. Shabari was overwhelmed. She received the Lord with her heart filled with joy. The Lord smilingly acknowledged her devotion. Shabari offered a seat to the Lord and washed his feet. And then she brought the fruits that she had lovingly gathered for him. She gave the tasted fruits to the Lord. Lakshmana noticed that the fruits were bitten and protested that the fruits offered were already tasted and therefore not fit to be offered to the Lord.
Lord Rama smiled at Lakshmana and told him that the fruits were very sweet, infact doubly sweet! Lakshmana looked at Rama questioningly. Rama told him that not only the fruits were sweet by their own nature but they were doubly sweet because they contained the sweetness of Shabari’s devotion! On hearing this, Shabari’s eyes were brimming with tears. She prostrated to the Lord and asked him to bestow on her the kaivalya-pada. The Lord smiled and told her that her devotion alone had already made her the recipient of mukti! Infact it was her devotion that had led the Lord to her simple hut. Lord Rama enumerated the “Nava Bhakti Sadhana” to Shabari – the nine steps to reach that State of Devotion which in turn is nothing but the State of Enlightenment.
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