Reading Guide. On their way to find Sugriva, Rama and Lakshmana find a long-deserted hermitage, but there is a woman living there, Shabari, who has been waiting for their arrival. Like others in the wilderness who have been awaiting Rama's arrival, this old woman has been expecting Rama for a long time! She tells Rama that the holy men who lived in the hermitage departed for the heavens long ago, but they foretold that Rama would come to her. The hermitage itself is caught in a time warp, with everything just as the saints left the place: nothing has changed. Now that her destiny is complete, she asks Rama to perform her funeral rites.
Image: The image below is a sculpture from the Simhachalam Temple in Andhra Pradesh. You can learn more about this famous temple at Wikipedia.
Source. Valmiki's Ramayana, translated by Ralph T.H. Griffith, Books 1-6 (1870-1874). [800 words] As always, I'd recommend reading the poetry out loud or listen to the audio recording as you read.
The princes reached the holy ground
Where noble trees stood thick around,
And joying in the lovely view
Near to the aged votress drew.
To meet the sons of Raghu came,
With hands upraised, the pious dame,
And bending low with reverence meet
Welcomed them both and pressed their feet,
Then water, as beseems, she gave,
Their lips to cool, their feet to lave.
To that pure saint who never broke
One law of duty Rama spoke:
"I trust no cares invade thy peace,
While holy works and zeal increase;
That thou content with scanty food
All touch of ire hast long subdued;
That all thy vows are well maintained,
While peace of mind is surely gained:
That reverence of the saints who taught
The faithful heart due fruit has brought."
The aged votaress pure of taint,
Revered by every perfect saint,
Rose to her feet by Rama's side
And thus in gentle tones replied:
"My penance' meed this day I see
Complete, my lord, in meeting thee.
This day the fruit of birth I gain,
Nor have I served the saints in vain,
I reap rich fruits of toil and vow,
And heaven itself awaits me now,
When I, O chief of men, have done
Honour to thee the godlike one.
I feel, great lord, thy gentle eye
My earthly spirit purify,
And I, brave tamer of thy foes,
Shall through thy grace in bliss repose.
Thy feet by Chitrakuta strayed
When those great saints whom I obeyed,
In dazzling chariots bright of hue,
Hence to their heavenly mansions flew.
As the high saints were borne away
I heard their holy voices say:
'In this pure grove, O devotee,
Prince Rama soon will visit thee.
When he and Lakshman seek this shade,
Be to thy guests all honour paid.
Him shalt thou see, and pass away
To those blest worlds which ne'er decay.'
To me, O mighty chief, the best
Of lofty saints these words addressed.
Laid up within my dwelling lie
Fruits of each sort which woods supply —
Food culled for thee in endless store
From every tree on Pampa's shore."
Thus to her virtuous guest she sued
And he, with heavenly lore endued,
Words such as these in turn addressed
To her with equal knowledge blest:
"Danu himself the power has told
Of thy great masters lofty-souled.
Now if thou will, mine eyes would fain
Assurance of their glories gain."
She heard the prince his wish declare;
Then rose she, and the royal pair
Of brothers through the wood she led
That round her holy dwelling spread.
"Behold Matanga's wood" she cried
"A grove made famous far and wide,
Dark as thick clouds and filled with herds
Of wandering deer, and joyous birds.
In this pure spot each reverend sire
With offerings fed the holy fire.
See here the western altar stands
Where daily with their trembling hands
The aged saints, so long obeyed
By me, their gifts of blossoms laid.
The holy power, O Raghu's son,
By their ascetic virtue won,
Still keeps their well-loved altar bright
Filling the air with beams of light.
And those seven neighbouring lakes behold
Which, when the saints infirm and old,
Worn out by fasts, no longer sought,
Moved hither drawn by power of thought.
Look, Rama, where the devotees
Hung their bark mantles on the trees.
Fresh from the bath: those garments wet
Through many a day are dripping yet.
See, through those aged hermits' power
The tender spray, this bright-hued flower
With which the saints their worship paid,
Fresh to this hour nor change nor fade.
Here thou hast seen each lawn and dell,
And heard the tale I had to tell.
Permit thy servant, lord, I pray,
To cast this mortal shell away,
For I would dwell, this life resigned,
With those great saints of lofty mind,
Whom I within this holy shade
With reverential care obeyed."
When Rama and his brother heard
The pious prayer the dame preferred,
Filled full of transport and amazed
They marveled as her words they praised.
Then Rama to the votaress said
Whose holy vows were perfected:
"Go, lady, where thou fain wouldst be,
O thou who well hast honoured me."
Her locks in hermit fashion tied,
Clad in bark coat and black deer-hide,
When Rama gave consent, the dame
Resigned her body to the flame.
Then like the fire that burns and glows
To heaven the sainted lady rose,
In all her heavenly garments dressed,
Immortal wreaths on neck and breast,
Bright with celestial gems she shone
Most beautiful to look upon,
And like the flame of lightning sent
A glory through the firmament.
That holy sphere the dame attained,
By depth of contemplation gained,
Where roam high saints with spirits pure
In bliss that shall for aye endure.