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The Shivaratri Hunter Story

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Quite unknowingly, he had observed the shivaratri fast that day. Now, seeking food, he spied a small water-hole, and he climbed a nearby tree on its edge, awaiting some animal that would come there to slake its thirst. To help him see in the night, he plucked off some of the boughs and leaves of that tree. He didn’t realize that this was a bilva tree, the most sacred tree dear to Lord Shiva, and the leaves that he let fall, fell on a shivalingam that had been installed at the base of this tree. Of course, he never realized the great blessing that had been bestowed on him by the Lord, to have the chance to visit a Shiva temple on ma­hashivaratri, to be able to fast and be immersed in the holy vibrations of wor­ship of the great Lord all day, and now, to place bilva leaves on a shivalingam.

When the first quarter of the holy night was drawing to a close, a fat deer came slowly to the water-hole. The huntsman set his aim, but he was surprised when the deer spoke to him. His heart had softened much during this day, so he listened patiently without anger. “O merciful man, I am about to deliver my calf. Already I can feel the labor pains. Allow me to go back to my herd and give birth there and entrust my little baby to some sister’s care. Then I will come back to this very place and you can kill me and feed your fill.”

But, how could the huntsman believe her words? She was obviously trying to escape his arrow. So he asked her “How can I trust you and let you go? Whoever will come back willingly to be killed after once having escaped death?” Then the deer said, “Listen. I shall take an oath, for there is nothing greater than the sworn word. If I do not return as promised may I suffer hell like the youth who ill-treats his parents, or the student who wont listen to his teachers and who sleeps in class, or the thief who robs others. May I suffer the agony into which these fall who give pain to others, if I do not come to be killed by you when dawn breaks.”

The huntsman allowed her to go unharmed. He heard the distant sounds of conches blown in the Shiva temple and he felt a wonderful warmth within him­self that seemed to completely dispel his hunger. Still he kept a careful vigil lest an­other deer comes and goes unnoticed, and he continued to pluck leaves to make a clear view for himself, and the leaves continued to rain down and fall on the shivalingam below.

Towards the end of the second quarter of the night, another deer came down to the water and the huntsman strung his bow. This deer also spoke to him, very sweetly, “Listen, huntsman. You must have already killed my dear sister who is pregnant and who usually comes to drink at this place. She started before me. Tell me the truth, has she met death at your hands?” The huntsman replied that he had allowed her to go after she promised under strict oath that she would return later to be killed by him. I am suffering from great hunger and I cannot dally any longer. Get ready to meet your end.”

But the deer implored, “Please, let me return to the herd and look after my lit­tle ones and put them in good care.” Just then, a little baby doe came skipping out of the jungle and started suckling on this mother-deer. “Is it moral to kill a mother with a suckling child? Stay. I shall give this kid to be nursed by some sis­ter and I will have them look after the other young ones also, and then I shall come back at dawn.” “Declare it on oath,” said the man whose heart melted at her plight. “May I suffer the calamities that visit a wife when she cheats her husband, or a servant when he cheats his master, or a child when he cheats his parents, or a hypocrite when he cheats the Lord.” He let her go and nuzzling her baby, she left.

Soon the third quarter of the sacred night drew towards its end. He continued to spend it in vigil, fasting, listening to the temple bells and dropping bilva leaves. He was being transmuted internally by his unsuspecting sadhana and by the decla­rations and oaths of the deers. Suddenly a big male deer with magnifi­cent antlers came into view in the starry sky. When he aimed his deadly arrow, this deer also spoke up. It said, ”Stay! You have killed my two consorts and yet you need me?” The huntsman said, “No, I let them go; they come at dawn, if what they swore is true.”

 
     
 
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