Sabari, a Siddha, Sramani and Tapodhana

Valmiki Ramayanam Aranyakanda Sarga 74 : This Version :

This story has been retold in so many ways and always brings tears to the eyes of the devout. When we see what this version of the Valmiki Ramayanam says about this wonderful meeting, we see how many liberties have been taken with the original story. (Location Map of Matanga Asrama)

Sabari is shown here wearing a saree and not the black deer skin described. Her hair is shown opened, instead of matted, the enitre image of a Lady Tapasvi has been removed from public perception, over the course of time.

The princes, Rama and Lakshmana set out westward as indicated by Kabandha. They saw trees having क्षौद्रकल्पफलान् ( fruits of the lesser kalpa OR fruits equal to Kshoudra (wild honey or sugarcane juice)). They stayed on a hilltop for the night. When they reached (crossed over) to the western side of the pampa, they saw the lovely asrama of Sabari over there. They went forward to meet that accomplished lady (सिद्धा). She greeted them with an Anjali (joined palms) and touched the feet of the wise Rama and Lakshmana out of respect.

पाद्यम् water to wash feet, आचमनीयं च and water to sip, सर्वम् all, यथाविधि as per tradition, प्रादात् she offered, ततः then, संशितव्रताम् a woman observing spiritual practices, ताम् of yours, श्रमणीम् austere woman, रामः Rama, उवाच said:

Anyone who has been told by the movie media that Sabari was a sort of ignorant or tribal woman, can see that Valmiki spoke of her as a Siddha, Samshitavrata and Shramani – an accomplished ascetic, who knew the Vedic practice – yathavidhi – of honouring guests.

This portrayal of Sabari as an enlightened lady ascetic continues over the next few verses.

Sri Rama addressed as Tapodhane and enquired after her practice. “तपोधने austere woman, ते your, विघ्नाः obstacles, निर्जिताः कच्चित् hope you have overcome, ते your, तपः penance, वर्धते कच्चित् progressing indeed, ते your, क्रोधः anger, आहारश्च desire for food, नियतः कच्चित् is controlled indeed? चारुभाषिणि a lady of pleasant talk, ते you, नियमाः spiritual practices, प्राप्ताः कच्चित् attained indeed, ते your, मनसः mind, सुखं कच्चित् happiness, ते your, गुरुशुश्रूषा serving the teacher, सफला कच्चित् has yielded results?”

Thus we see that Sabari was not only a well spoken Tapasvi, well versed in the modalities of austerities, but she was respected as such by Sri Rama. There is also the question of her caste. Movie media has repeatedly portrayed her as a lower caste woman. If that is true, then we must accept that Sri Rama had nothing against other jathis performing Tapas and that Rshis accepted and guided people of any caste or jathi, Else, we must accept her as a higher jathi stri. We cannot have it both ways. In the following shloka, Valmiki edscribes her as a Siddha Sammata – lady accepted and respected by other Siddhas. (like Akka Mahadevi)

Then that Sabari who was सिद्धसम्मता a lady adored and accepted by Siddhas, तापसी austere woman, वृद्धा old woman, सा शबरी that Sabari replied. “अद्य now, तव your, संदर्शनात् by seeing you, मया by me, तपस्सिद्धि: accomplishment of my penance, प्राप्ता is attained.. पुरुषर्षभ best of men, देववरे best among gods, त्वयि when you, पूजिते worshipped, अद्य now, मे my, जन्म birth, सफलम् fruitful, स्वर्गश्चैव even heaven, भविष्यति is certain.”

Sabari’s speech shows us that she knew of Rama’s divinity (deva vare) and that worship of Rama would yield both tapassiddhi and svarga.

Sabari informed Sri Rama that the sages whom she served had reached Svarga by their Vimanas (flight-machines?) when Sri Rama had reached Chitrakuta. They had told her that Sri Rama would reach here with Lakshmana, and at that time she would attain all the higher worlds, and that she must extend hospitality to them.

At Chitrakuta, Sita was still with Rama. She was kidnapped only in Panchavati. Then how did the Rishis know of the future event that Sita would not be there when they visited Pampa? Were the rishis aware of a plan, when Rama was sent to Pancavati by them?

Sabari indicated all the forest produce available near the banks of the Pampa that she had collected for them.

This may mean, that she did this anyway, everyday, or she knew that they would be arriving that day. It also shows that she did not ‘bite/taste each fruit before she offered it to Rama, as the movies tell us.

At Rama’s request, Sabari told him all about the wonderful hermitage of Matanga Maharshi. After this, Rama blessed her that she could reach any world of her choice, since she had worshipped him. The old and worn out Sabari, wearing clothes of black deer skin, glowing like the brilliant fire, offered herself to the fire (hutasana), and went to heaven.

“इति this, उक्ता had been permitted, जटिला a woman of matted locks, वृद्धा old, चीरकृष्णाजिनाम्बरा woman wearing bark clothes and deer skin, शबरी Sabari, जीर्णम् emaciated, देहम् body, तस्मिन् मूहूर्ते at that moment, जिहासती desiring to give up, रामेण by Rama, अनुज्ञाता permitted, आत्मानम् herself, हुताशने in fire, हुत्वा after offering, ज्वलत्पावकसङ्काशा body glittering like fire, स्वर्गमेव to heaven, जगाम went.”

She then appeared with beautiful ornaments, robes and fragrances, and glowed like lightening before she disappeared to the place where Maharshis roam.

This section also describes the wonders of Matanga Asrama, which we can discuss in the next post.

Other Questions Needing More Investigation:

  • In the popular media : Guha, a noble king, ally and great friend of Sri Rama, is popularly depicted as a ferryman / tribal chieftan, Brahmarshi Valmiki is depicted as a robber turned saint, The Tapodhana, lady ascetic Sabari is shown as a devout lady but not as a knowledgeable one. How did this metamorphis of characters happen? Who was responsible for it? In whose interest was it?
  • My first guess is that the ‘bhakthi cults’ deliberately downplayed the gnyana, dhyana and other competency aspects of the characters and highlighted innocent devotion, in order to make God easy and attainable for the masses.
  • I also believe that some intentional / unintentional damage was done by the buddhists and jains.
  • Of course modern politics and power seeking tendencies try to drown truths with noise and volume, for their own vested interests.

Other Notes : Sabari River :

  • There is a legend source unknown to me that Sabari turned into a river, a tributary of the Godavari.
  • The picturesque Sabari river that originates in the hilly jungles of the tribal Bastar in Chastisgarh.
  • Sabari flows for about 30 km in Andhra Pradesh after entering the State from Chattisgarh and joins the river Godavari at Kunavaram in Khammam district. Once the Polavaram project is constructed, the backwards will extend up to the Chattisgarh border wiping out the Sabari from the face of Andhra Pradesh.
  • The backwaters of Polavaram will not allow the Sabari to drain into the Godavari when the dam is full. The overall length of the Sabari will be reduced by about 30 kilometres which will severely upset the ecology of this tribal river.
  • The Sabari river is not only important from environment point of view but also from the historical perspective. The river was mentioned in several of the ancient texts of India. (Source)
  • At this time I cannot find any connection between Sabari and SabariMalai where Ayyappa is worshipped. If I do, I shall update that information here.

Authorship and Copyright Notice : All Rights Reserved : Satya Sarada Kandula

This map below from, shows you the Anjaneya Hill where Hanuman was born, Rsyamukha Hill where Rama and Sugreeva met, the Matunga Hill, where Sugreeva hid from Vali, The Tungabhadra river that Janamejaya refers to, the Gandhamadana, Malayavanta, Hemakuta mountains and the way to Bellary!

For some more information on Hampi : you can see :