Sabari – A Great Tapasvini

Valmiki Portrays her unique merit in the Ramayana

Srimad Ramayana Portrays various characters who are capable of guiding us in our spiritual guest and evolution. Sabari is unique in her devotion and penance.

Her life and greatness have influenced devotees very much. Various poets describe her association with Sri Rama in their own perspective. Through the character of Sabari all of them want to show the depth and efficacy of the mercy of Sri Rama.

Emphasis is laid upon the eternal truth-that sex, lineage and habits never interfere with the relationship of God and soul. The Lord looks upon the earnestness and longing of the aspirant. He accepts the devotee and his offerings with all love. The basic for all these descriptions is Sri Adi Kavi valmik’s kavya.

Devotee and Tapasvini

Most of the devotees and poets of later days portray Sabari as a devotee only. On the other hand, we can visualize a great Tapasvini- a great disciple of a great preceptor-through saga Valmiki’s words.

The age of Valmiki was different. It emphasized austerities and tapas as the way for salvation. The emphasis was shifted to devotion during the later days. Devotional fervor inspired poets to visualize various scenes. Their spiritual emotions created new fantasies. They visualized new scenes. Saint Tyagaraja, for example, wondered at the mighty power of devotion and sang several Telugu songs.

O! who can compare devotion with any mundane thing. If there was no devotion could a monkey cross a mighty ocean? If there was no devotion would Sri Rama have been fed by Sabari with fruit that was already tasted by her?

Long Wait by Sabari

Sabari heard of Sri Rama’s arrived at Dandakaranya. She wanted to have his darsan. She waited for his arrived in her asram for 13 long years. Daily she used to sweep the pathway for several miles and pluck fruits. She wanted to offer the sweetest among the fruits to Sri Rama. So she chose good fruits, tasted a bit by biting a small portion and kept them apart for Sri Rama. The Lord also accepted them. He never declined to accept them though they were already tasted.

If there was not so much intense devotion, would Sabari have Sri Rama’s darsan, drinking the divine beauty of his whole form, and offer him sweet fruits, asks saint Thyagaraja.

Uthukkadu Venkata Sabbaier signs on the glory of her devotion as follows:

Kalamellam tavam irundu
kanindu, kani
tantalallavo! (Tamil)

Tamil Poet’s Portrayal

Kambar’s portrayal of the character is superb. Sabari was moved to see Sri Rama. She was emotional. Tears rolled down her cheeks like waterfalls. She offered with great devotion the chosen fruits and prostrated at Sri Rama’s feet. She humbly told him,” O Lord! , all my sins have vanished. I have obtained all the fruits of long days of penance now.”

Reference in Tulsi’s Epic

Tulsidas’ Sri Rama accepted Sabari’s devotion and had even accepted her as a proper person to receive spiritual instructions from him. Sri Rama gives a long lecture on nine types of devotional practice. This portion is special in Tulsi’s epic.

But Valmiki’s portrayal is entirely different. Kabanda, after taking ethereal form, guided Sri Rama to go to the hermitage of Matanga Maharishi. It is an elaborate passage.

The hermitage of Matanga was situated on the western bank of Pampa river. Sabari saw the two princes. Here Valmiki addressed Sabari as Siddha, Tapasi.

The very word, Siddha Tapasi, thrills our body and mind. Rising respectfully with joined palms, this holy lady, who had already attained perfection through Yoga and tapas bowed down at the feet of Rama and Lakshmana, clasping their feet, and offered due hospitality according to tradition. Sri Rama spoke to that ascetic woman enquiring about her spiritual life and progress.

Sabari’s Austerity

This portion of Valmiki Ramayana throws light on the austere life of that Tapasvini.

“O lady with austerity alone as your wealth, hey Halothane! (sloka 8). Have all the impediments (to the practice of your austerities) been thoroughly overcame by you? Is your asceticism steadily growing? Have anger as well as your diet been fully controlled by you? Have you observed all religious vows completely? Have you obtained satisfaction by this? Has your Guru Seva (O! Lady of pleasing speech).

These words of interrogation are enough for us to understand the peak of austerity that was attained by Sabari.

Dutiful Disciple

Valmiki clearly portrays Sabari as a dutiful disciple of great masters. She had already acquired the Divine World through her service to preceptors and through her own tapas. The spiritual power of those high-souled rishis is clearly brought before us. The hermitages of those sages were full of many wonders. The deer and tigers lived together there with all confidence and without any fear of fight or danger to life. Sabari had lived in that hermitage for several years. She had practiced Tapasya under the guidance of the Great Guru. She had rendered whole-hearted service with all devotion and faith to the maharishis.

Valmiki says that Sabari wore matted locks on her head and was clad in the bark of trees and black deer skin. This description is generally used while describing maharishis. The aspirants’ caste, creed, gender, education and other worldly status never come in the way of evolution and emancipation is clearly brought out in Sabari’s glorious life.

Her own meritorious life has brought her all glory. She was blessed with the darsan of Sri Rama. The joy of seeing him in physical form was the fruits of her penance.

Offering her mortal frame in the Homa Agni (sacrificial fire), she took leave of Sri Rama. She ascended to heaven in the holy presence of Sri Rama. She was shining with divine effulgence. Her soul shone with divine light and luster and went upwards, says Valmiki.

Here we should make note of one important point. Sri Rama did not confer heavenly adobe upon her. She was illumined with her own spiritual luster (chap 75, sloka 1). It is a beautiful usage by the Adi Kavi.

Sri Rama himself wondered and reflected over the spiritual might of Sabari and her preceptors.

Sri Rama was just a witness of her ascendance to heaven. She had attained that high position through her association with and service to mahamunis. This idea is substantiated by Sri Nigamanta Maha Desika in his Raghuveera Gadyam also.

May this sublime life inspire us, kindle our aspirations and lead us on to emancipation with jnanis give us divine energy and make us grow spiritually. This is the real fruits of our birth. We should keep this as the main purpose of our life and march on towards this ultimate goal.

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