When I spotted this spiny, stunted-looking, but endearingly beautiful tree (actually a shrub) during my nature walk, I had no idea it was the Ber tree – that is – the Indian Jujube/Cherry. And, there was just one of its kind. All others around it were Neem, Peepal etc. Loaded with thorns as well as pretty pale yellow star-shaped flowers (tell me about the ironies of life!), it implored me to pay attention, take note of the leaves, the zig-zag branches, the insects that crowded around its succulent raw fruit. I spent a good twenty minutes on this tree/shrub.
As I got back home, I knew I had to do my leaf art based on this tree. But, identifying it took a while. And, when I did identify, what a pleasant surprise it was to know that it’s the Ber tree – the fruit that I relish a lot! The fruit that immediately brings to mind the story of Shabari and Ram. So, this is the story I based my leaf art on for the 20th day of the leaf-art challenge. (Wow, just 10 more days to go. I seem to have come quite far and the motivation hasn’t dwindled one bit…)
See more pictures of the art and the Ber tree, and read this story of Shabari and Ram, which portrays that love and devotion is beyond the realm of rich, poor, caste/race, colour and social background. Also – sharing some resources for Indian mythological stories for children.
This story is from Hindu mythology (from the Ramayana), alright, but it’s not the religious aspect that I want you all to focus on, but the message of universal oneness and love. That’s what draws me in.
No matter where you’re from – geography, culture, religion, I’m sure this story will resonate with you. And, you’ll love to read this to your children. :-)
The Story of Shabari and Ram
(from wikipedia) According to the story, even though hundreds of other yogis were waiting to receive Rama in their ashrams, Rama went only to Shabari’s ashram because of her sincere devotion.On seeing Rama, Shabari became ecstatic and said, “There were so many exalted yogis waiting for your darshan, but you came to this unworthy devotee. This clearly shows that you will neither see whether a devotee lives in a palace or humble hut, whether he is erudite or ignorant. Neither will you see caste nor color. You will only see the true bhakti. I do not have anything to offer other than my heart, but here are some berry fruits. May it please you, my Lord.” Saying so, Shabari offered the fruits she had meticulously collected to Rama.
When Rama was tasting the Ber, Lakshmana raised a concern that Shabari had already tasted them and therefore unworthy of eating. To this Rama said that of the many types of food he had tasted, “nothing could equal these berry fruits, offered with such devotion. You taste them, then alone will you know. Whomsoever offers a fruit, leaf, flower or some water with love, I partake it with great joy.” Lakshman didn’t taste the fruits. He brought them to his mouth but threw them aside considering them as impure. Pleased with Shabari’s devotion, Rama blesses her with his vision. Rama notices the donas or bowls of handmade leaves in which she had offered the fruits and is impressed by the hard work Shabari has gone through to make them and hence blesses the tree, so that the leaves naturally grow in the shape of a bowl. The Ramayana says that Shabari was a very bright and knowledgeable saint.
Here in India, we may all know this story about Shabari offering Ber to Ram, but I don’t think many would know about Shabari’s life before meeting Ram. Here’s the story of her life (from wikipedia).
Shabari was a hunter’s daughter and belong to a tribal community. The night before her marriage, she saw that thousands of goats and sheep were brought by her father, which were going to be sacrificed for the marriage dinner. Moved by compassion, during the early hours of the morning, she renounced the world and ran away to meet a Master. After days of traveling, she met a sage at the and accepted him as guru (teacher) serving him with devotion. When her guru Matanga was about to die, Shabari—now an old woman—says that after serving him throughout her life, she wanted to reach the same “abode of peace” which Matanga reached. Thereupon, the sage said that by the virtue of her seva (service), Lord Ram shall give her darshan and asks her to wait for his arrival. Saying thus, the sage sitting in lotus posture attains Mahasamadhi. As per her guru’s words, Shabari waits for the arrival of Ram.
Everyday Shabari would go out of her ashram, with the help of a walking stick and pluck berry fruits for Lord Ram. She would pluck a fruit, first taste it, and if it was sweet she would put it in her basket and discard the bitter ones. She wanted to give the good and sweet fruits to Ram. The thought never came to her that she should not taste it before it was offered to a deity. Traditional writers use this narrative to indicate that in bhakti, faults are not seen by God. Thus collecting a few fruits, Shabari went back to her ashram and eagerly anticipate Ram’s arrival.
Shabari is commonly used as a metaphor for an endless wait for God.
About the Ber Tree or the Indian Jujube/Cherry
According to the field guide – Trees of Delhi – the Ber is a smallish, spiny tree with a short bole and crooked, twisting branches forming a dense, spreading crown. The ber has been cultivated for its fruit in India for so long that no one quite knows where it was originally wild, but it is a fair guess that the dry Delhi region formed part of its native range.
The Ber leaves are broadly oval; glossy green on top, white-downy below; margins are very finely toothed; 3-nerved at base. The veins are longitudinal.
More pics of my art:
The Spiral Sun – that depicts eternity and movement. I think the story of Shabari and Ram will inspire love for an eternity…
Resources for inspiring Indian stories from mythology for children:
- Short mythological stories (online)
- Myth Quest Series by Anu Kumar
- Fun in Devlok by Devdutt Pattnaik (humorous, interesting illustrations, contemporary take on mythology)
- Lord Ganesha’s Feast of Laughter (giggle-provoking stories!)
And, the Day 19 leaf art titled – The Scent of Gratitude.