On their way southwards Rama and Laxmana passed through many difficult terrain. The forests were sparsely populated. Occasionally one encountered an ashrama of a sage with a small village around it. One such ashrama belonged to rishi Matang whose heart grieved for the lowly and downtrodden.
In his ashrama, one tribal devotee of Rama, named SHABARI, used to stay. She used to keep the place clean and tidy, and along with that she also performed her japa -repeating the holy name of GOD, did her ritualistic worship by offering flowers etc., and sang many songs in the glory of the Lord. Her chosen ideal was Rama for whose meeting she was waiting for long time.
Years passed by; Rishi Matang became old. When he was on his death-bed, he called Shabari near him and said, “Look, O devotee of Rama, your tapasya -austerities – and spiritual longing for Rama would not go in vain. Sri Rama is sure to visit this ashrama, this I can say on the basis of my spiritual power. Therefore, after my departure, I plead you to wait for Rama’s arrival. Hence take charge of this ashrama and live in peace and as a devotee of Rama. Your efforts would be rewarded in due course of time.” So saying the rishi passed away.
Simple hearted, poor, and belonging to lower caste, Shabari did not know much about running the ashrama. Soon everyone left her. The birds, the flowers, the shrubs and occasional domesticated animal became her friends. But she had full faith in the words of her Guru Matang. When he had said Sri Rama would come to that ashrama, she could not disbelieve those words.
Hence Shabari used to clean the place early in the morning, collect fruits, and would wait looking at the distant road for her Rama to come. Every day this was her routine. Every day she thought “Rama would definitely come today!” In these days of eager wait and expectation of seeing her Rama, she forgot all about her rituals, worship, japa or songs! She forgot about day and night, month and year as well as the seasons. Rains were replaced by the winter, winter turned into summer of scorching heat, but Shabari had lost her interest in everything. For her the sun rose with the definite hope that her Rama would come that day and she would be able to serve him.
These long years of wait turned Shabari into an old woman. Her eye sight became dim and the hearing was affected. She had no remorse. She continued to keep her tiring body busy in her routine of cleaning the ashrama and collecting fruits for Rama.
One day, at last, Sri Rama arrived in the ashrama. Pleasure of Shabari knew no bounds. The long awaited desire was fulfilled. Falling at the feet of Rama she said, “O Rama, I cannot describe your kindness in words. When so many great sadhakas (rishis and munis and yogis), cannot seek your Grace even in many births, you have come to me so soon.”
So saying she washed the holy feet of her chosen ideal and offered him berries which she had collected from the forest that morning. And the beauty of the relation between the true Bhakta and the Lord was such that Rama was happy in eating the same fruit that had been tasted by Shabari herself, lest the fruit should be bitter!
Laxmana, with tears rolling down his cheeks, was silently observing the pure love between God and the devotee. Until now he used to think that there was nobody on the earth or heaven who loved Rama as dearly as he did. But today Shabari proved him wrong. When tears dried down in the eyes of Shabari, when her voice was not choking, when she lifted her eyes from the holy feet of Rama then Laxmana bowed down at the feet of Shabari and said, “O mother, your love for Rama will be remembered for ever in this world. I bow down in reverence to the great devotee of Sri Rama.”
Then Shabari inquires about the purpose of their such hard journey. Rama recounts the sad tell of kidnapping of Sita, etc. Reflecting upon the facts, Shabari directs them to go further southwards to Pampa lake and to Kishkindha where the monkey king Sugreeva and the great Rama-devotee monkey Hanuman would be of great help in their search of Sita.