Translated from original Sanskrit version of Vyasa’s Mahabharata by U. Mahesh Prabhu
Every story of Vyasa’ Mahabharata is not just engaging but also exciting. Its Wisdom becomes apparent only on deep contemplation. Here’s one such little-known story of a pious lady called Anamika who humbled a great Rishi (Vedic sage) with her Sadhana (devotion) to her work.
There was once a Rishi who was known for his deep and pious bearing. Having renounced the world and all material pursuits, he dedicated himself to the path of meditation, knowledge, and peace. For decades, every day he’d pursue deep meditation beneath a tree deep in the woods. He lived in abject poverty, slept on the barren ground and begged food for sustenance in a village nearby. Villagers, who revered him for his austerities, were often glad to hand out good vegetarian food to him.
One day, as he was in deep meditation, a bird on the tree above him defecated on his shoulder. The sensation of the dirt on his body brought the sage out of his deep meditation. In annoyance, he glanced up at the feathered being and with his sheer glance the bird was burnt to ashes in no time and fell to the ground. The Rishi was startled and looked at the mortal remains of the bird in astonishment. In all these years of practicing his meditation, he’d not have thought of having powers to burn a bird to ashes with just a look! He realized that it was the result of his Sadhana – persistence and dedication to meditational practice – which had awakened superhuman powers in him.
Having discovered his supernatural abilities, the sage could no longer meditate that day. He stood, peering closer at the fallen bird. He still couldn’t believe that he had done that. He certainly didn’t mean to. He knew he had to be careful with his power as the wise rightly say “With great powers come great responsibilities.”
He went to the river and bathed the bird’s dirt from his body. Then, picking up his begging bowl, he took his staff and made his way through the forest into the nearby village. He wandered amongst the houses for a while before choosing a random home.
“Bhavati Bhikshaam Dehi!” he cried for the lady inside the house for food. He waited a while but got no response. “Bhavati Bhikshaam Dehi!” he cried again. No response – yet again! The Rishi began to frown. “Here’s an enlighten Rishi asking for food and there’s not a soul to even respond!” he thought. He could call just once more. It was a rule among the Rishis of the time that they could only ask for alms three times. And if they received nothing they fasted for that day. This Rishi was hungry and he loathed the idea of having to fast. The egoistic impression (Mada) was becoming visible in him.
“Bhavati Bhikshaam Dehi!” he shouted on top of his voice, giving the lady of the house last chance to serve him.
Suddenly, the front door opened and a lady appeared, bearing a tray of rice and fruit and vegetables. She approached the Rishi.
“Why did you make me wait so long?” the Rishi asked in a fit of rage (Krodha), adding “Don’t you know if you delayed anymore I would have been hungry all day?!”
The lady looked him in his eyes as he berated her.
“You would have been guilty of making a Rishi so hungry!” he continued. “I’m an accomplished Yogi. You don’t know my mystical powers.”
She took a deep breath and replied respectfully “Great Rishi, I am not a bird.”
The Rishi was startled! No one knew of the bird. He’d told to none. He’d been deep in the forest with no one of the village nearby. This woman had been in her home all this time. How did she know?
She bowed her head forth the Rishi and said: “Please forgive me for the delay delivering you this food.” Her voice was gentle and humble as she continued “I heard the first two times when you called but wasn’t able to respond as quickly as I would have liked.”
“Yes, yes,” Rishi muttered, “but how do you know about the bird?”
She shook her head and smiled, saying nothing.
“Really, tell me. How do you know of the incident?”
She still said nothing.
He stared at her, understanding dawning on him. “You are enlightened,” he whispered. “You knew everything before I even said a word.” He folded his hands and bowed. “Great lady, please forgive my earlier impudence.”
“Oh no,” she said, “there is no need.”
He blinked at her. “But how did you come to be enlightened? Do you practice meditation? Do you go on difficult pilgrimage? Do you perform long acts of worship? Tell me, please, how have you come to your depth of knowing?”
“Great Rishi,” she said, “I do not meditate, nor do I go on pilgrimage, nor do I spend so much time in acts of worship.”
“Then how?” Rishi was so desperately wanting to know.
She moved to the front door of her house. She pushed it open and stood aside so the sage could see.
There were children and a man sitting cross-legged on the ground of the hut, eating the afternoon meal. It was the ordinary sight of any family over lunch.
The sage was confused.
“My husband has just today returned home from a long journey. I was caring for him when you called for alms and that was what caused my delay in coming out.” She let the door shut and walked back to face the Rishi.
She clasped her hands. “Knowing that my duty is to my family above all others, I live my life in simplicity. I put all my energy into caring and loving them, besides trying to give a peaceful home to them because I know that in serving my family I serve my god. I see god in them. That is my path and the source of enlightenment.”
The Rishi gaped at her. “Just that?”
There was a deep silence around them as the sage stared at the ground, contemplating this revelation. This lady had not left her home. She had not renounced the world. She had not distanced herself from those she loved. Living there, amidst all the distractions of the material world, she had reached the pinnacle of knowledge – Enlightenment!
Vyasa’s Mahabharata calls this lady Anamika. Anamika in Sanskrit literally translates to ‘nameless one’. What point Vyasa is trying to make in this story is that no one is ordinary when they are dedicated to their Dharma (duties). It doesn’t matter if one is an ordinary worker, a business leader, or even a small politician – the greatest is one who shows utmost perseverance and dedication to their work. Their commitment is their Sadhana. Vyasa might have chosen a lady since many (if not all) women do not demand adoration from those around them. They do not ask for anything for their sacrifices. They simply serve with a smile. Isn’t this godliness? Isn’t this a matter of devotion? Is there a greater Sadhana than this? I think not!