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
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