DELHI, India, October 15 2012 - I dedicate this article to my parents. What I am going to write in this article may seem impractical to you. You will probably disagree with the protagonist of this story, but it is precisely this lack of surety of the contemporary world that I want to bring forth through this piece.
This is about India’s favourite son of all times- a boy called Shravan Kumar, who lived in the age of Lord Rama, so in about 5114 BCE.
Shravan was the son of a blind couple and the family was extremely poor. The fact that both his mother and father could not see made matters worse. In Hinduism at all times, it has been a traditional desire of all Hindus to visit the four main pilgrimage sites in India (spread in all four directions of the country).
If you manage to pay obedience at all four sites, then it is believed that you get rid of the punishment of your bad karma and secure a nicer life in your next birth. It is also considered to be the duty of all ‘good Hindus’ to visit pilgrimages through their lives as a matter of discipline and routine.
Shravan, being an ideal son, wanted his blind parents to pay their respects at all pilgrimages (called teerth as per religious practices). Since both his parents were old, sick and blind, he carried them both on his shoulders using a scales-like carrier so that he could balance them both properly on his shoulders.
Shravan walked miles carrying the both of them. He would feel extremely tired, get hurt very often, feel hungry and thirsty, but he never gave up. He just had one goal, which was to achieve the wish of his parents to visit all pilgrimage sites.
One day, while walking through a forest, his parents felt very thirsty and asked Shravan to bring some water for them. Shravan asked them to wait in the carrier as he walked towards a river to fetch water for them. A king called Dasaratha (who later became the father of Lord Rama) was also in that forest at the time hunting for deer.
Dasaratha had the unique capability of being able to kill a deer just by hearing its presence, and not necessarily seeing it.
It was a quiet time in the thick of the night. As Shravan filled water into the vessel from the river, Dasaratha, who was at a distance, thought he heard a deer and shot an arrow in the direction of the sound. Shravan was hit by the arrow and died.
Hearing the scream of a person, Dasaratha ran towards the river only to see a young boy lying in a pool of blood instead of a deer. Before Shravan died, he requested Dasaratha to take the vessel of water to his parents as they were very thirsty.
Extremely shattered at his deed, Dasaratha walked towards the old couple with the vessel of water in his trembling hands. The sixth sense of the blind couple instantly told them that the person serving them water was not their son.
When Dasaratha revealed to them what had happened, they both cursed the king and died.
Shravan has been immortalized in Indian history. Even in the 21st century, parents want their sons to be like Shravan Kumar- obedient, religious, virtuous and selfless. We send our kids to the Silicon Valley to be great engineers, we want them to excel as scientists in NASA, we want them to be world famous as sportspersons, film stars and what not.
But at the end of the day, we want their heart and soul to be that of Shravan Kumar.
Shravan has also become a kind of a cliche in modern-day India. He is also a benchmark of good values. When I was a child, my father would often joke with me and say, ‘never serve me water my child, I am sure you don’t want to die!’
You might think that if Shravan had been a bit practical and modern in his approach, he would probably have saved himself and his parents from such a tragic death. He could have stayed with them in his village, done a bit of farming or something else to earn decent money for himself and his family, and also arranged treatment for the both his parents. Hindu medicine even during that ancient era was extremely advanced, so they probably would have at least attempted a treatment.
And once it was at least better, even if they were not completely healed, they could have gone to as many pilgrimages as they liked!
But then, that was the age of Lord Rama, who is popularly known as Maryada-purushottam (epitome of good values). Rama himself gave up his kingdom to fulfill a promise made by his father and went on a 14-year long exile. So expecting modern-day practicality from that age is unrealistic.
I think that the lesson this story teaches to all of us is very simple: Love thy parents. No matter what happens, one must continue to serve our parents at all times, particularly during their old age.
You don’t have to necessarily die for them, but make sure you live for them.
I am no Shravan Kumar, I don’t intend to be one. I cannot be one.
But I try to do things that will make life a bit easier for them. I hope you are doing that too.
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