She was just a hunters’ child. Sensitive and kind. Simple and innocent. It pinched her heart when her dad shot a dove. She cried when her mom cooked a terrapin. She closed her eyes in horror when her brother drove the knife into the heart of a doe. Days and years rolled on, the pleasure she found when the sky was azure, when the butterflies fluttered by, when the rivulets warbled their songs could not compensate the horror and remorse she felt when something or someone was harmed..
But when she finds things too unbearable for her, she runs away from home to escape from being wed for life to another hunter. She seeks refuge in an hermitage. She finds the ambience balmy and healing,, the chants and rituals soothing her troubled soul.
The old sage resident there seemed to know everything, even the way to reach God. But she is too shy to ask him. When it gets time for the old man to leave the earth, she asks him to take her along to the abode of God.
He gasps, ” Child, You are fortunate than me. Stay put here and meditate on Him. God will come seeking you one day, in the garb of a man.” He foretells her the story of Lord Rama and assures her that if only she waited and watched, he would visit her one day along with his brother and fulfil her wish.With this the sage breathes his last.
The lady, now alone in the deep woods, begins her long vigil for the advent of the Lord, keeping the place and its approaches clean, neat and levelled. She picks out and throws away, thorns and pebbles if found on the way. Every day she would collect fruits and berries for the Lord. and check each of them for deliciousness by biting a bit from each, and keeps the best ones of them aside for the Lord.
Years roll by , withering and warping the frail frame of the intrepid lady, but her spirit remains relentless.
At long last, Lord Rama, who is in search of his lost spouse comes wandering, wearily to the old lady’s door step accompanied by his dutiful brother Lakshman. The hag is overjoyed.She invites them in, recounts her ordeal to Him and offers the fruits and berries to the brothers and informs them that she made sure of their deliciousness by tasting each one of them. Laksmana is horrified at this outrage of offering tasted fruits to his august brother.
But Rama is captivated by her innocence and devotion to him , relishes the offerings and grants her eternal bliss.
This is the story of Sabari, which finds place in the great Indian epic Ramayana.
In one of his memorable compositions, “Yentani nae varnintunu Sabari bhagyamu”, set in Mukhari ragam, saint Tyagaraja recounts the pious lady’s encounter with the Lord and her ascent to heaven.
Here s my attempt at translation of the lyric into English.
“I find it hard to describe the good fortune of Sabari .
When the world is brimming full with eligible sages and their adorable spouses, I find it hard to explain this good fortune of Sabari.
She savoured the Lord with her eyes, she worshipped Him with her eyes.
Fed him delicious fruits.
She bowed herself at His feet, her body flush with goose-pimples.
She could get the audience of the illustrious scion of the Sun Dynasty and secure eternal bliss thereby.
I find it hard to describe the good fortune of Sabari , the lady whom Tyagaraja extolls for her benignity. “