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The Shivaratri Hunter Story





“I, too, shall come at dawn,” replied the big buck, “for I am the leader of the herd and they all look to me for direction. I am the one who teaches them ev­ery­thing. Now I must return and put one of my kinsmen in my place and see to it that everyone is taken care of, particularly all the young. Then, I will cer­tainly return here at dawn and you can have this body for your meal. I shall take this oath: May I get on my head the suffering that befalls the sinner who sleeps after sunrise or the grief that visits a Vishnu follower who slanders a worshipper of Shiva, or a Shiva follower who slanders a devotee of Vishnu, or one who does not worship at all. The huntsman felt that the oath was sufficiently binding and let him go.

The fourth quarter too came on and was about to end. He continued his un­planned vigil and fast, softly humming the melodies to himself of the devotional songs to the Lord, which were wafting in to his forest hideaway from the tem­ple some miles away. And thus, quite involuntarily, he was doing the puja that mil­lions were engaging in voluntarily that night. Now, the clouds on the eastern horizon were becoming fringed with golden splendor and dawn was about to break. There was still a vestige of desire left in the huntsman’s heart, when yet a fourth deer presented itself. As he fitted his arrow to his bow, the deer looked up with a benign smile on its face, and in a totally unfearful voice blessed the hunts­man that he have a long and happy life. And the deer also assured the huntsman that he need have no feelings of remorse in killing her and eating her flesh, be­cause she freely offered herself to him as a sacrifice and gift on this holy occa­sion, and no sin would come on him. Having said this, she kneeled down and low­ered her head and made herself ready to receive the arrow.

Just then the first deer bounded in, having returned after giving birth to her baby, and cried out, “No, don’t shoot her! I have given my word to return and offer myself to your arrow. Please spare her. She is pure and innocent. Here, shoot me instead!” Then the second deer came and said, “My sister here has just given birth. Her baby will never know her mother. Mine are old enough to fend for themselves; please take me!” Then the buck darted in and with his big body put himself in front of the other three, saying, “My time is naturally coming to an end. These are all helpless creatures who don’t deserve to die, but I have fought many a battle and have lived a full life and my body is filled with strong muscle and plenty of fat to make many full meals for you and your family. Please shoot me and let these consorts of mine go. Or, if you must take them, then at least shoot me first,” prayed the big male.

All of them were now standing by the shivalingam under the sacred bilva tree, waiting peacefully for the huntsman’s decision. The huntsman shed tears of re­pen­tance. He condemned himself for his wickedness and fell at the feet of the amazed deers. “Dear brother! Dearest sisters! Please forgive me!” he ex­claimed, “You have saved me! You have wiped away my ignorance and sin. I take this oath in your presence,” he said, breaking his bow, “I will never kill again!”

Then he heard a voice from heaven proclaim: “O huntsman! You have become pure by repentance and renunciation and the faith you placed in the sincere vows of these sacred deers. You have fasted, you have observed vigil on this holy day of shivaratri, you have placed bilva leaves on the lingam, you have granted a lease of life to these animals. Now, I bless you with my grace and I confer a boon on you that when you leave this form you will be forever re­membered, for you will shine as a great star in the sky, so that all men will know of your virtues.”

Then a brilliant inner light flooded his being. Overwhelmed by the radiance, he sat down in front of the lingam under the bilva tree to contemplate that glo­rious light. And it was there, that some devotees returning to their homes from their all-night shivaratri vigil, found him, utterly still, totally absorbed within himself. A luminous glow surrounded him, as he sat there. Quickly the word went out that a great mahatma, disguised in the simple dress of a low-caste hunter, had come into the area and was meditating at the site of the bilva tree and the shivalingam in the forest. The townspeople came with offerings of fruit and articles of wor­ship, and did everything possible to make this high-souled sage feel welcome and stay among them.

He remained there and was looked after and revered for the remainder of his life. When he left his body he rose to the heavens to shine as a great star, sur­rounded by the four deer, who also shone as stars. Together they make up the center cluster of a mighty constellation in the skies, And even today in the February sky, we can see them as the beautiful constellation of Orion, looking down upon all mankind, exhorting them to pity, to peacefulness and compas­sion, to keeping the plighted word, and to worship God, knowingly or unknow­ingly, with whatever one is engaged in doing.

 Swami says, “My grace comes like a flash. You must always be ready. When you least expect, I act.” In the case of this low huntsman, the seeds had been planted and tended. When the preparation for his transformation was complete, the divinity made its move, and quite unexpectiedly grace descended. And so, this seemingly ordinary man was elevated to the highest. Through his story, we can be inspired to live the univer­sal message of nonviolence and love for all beings.

-   Al Drucker, May 27, 1990

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