His aides were busy preparing the bridge to cross over to Lanka. Once, Sri Rama was on the shores of the samudram after supervising the construction works. He wanted to take a rest. So, he removed his bows and arrows from his shoulders. Tradition has it that the arrows are to stand upright and not left horizontally on the ground. So Sri Rama plunges the arrows into the sand. He took a dip and rested under a shady tree. When the arrows were removed, he was shocked to see blood on the tip of one of the arrows. He immediately knelt down to find the source of the blood. To his utter regret and sadness, a small toad was found with blood oozing from it back. It was in great pain and looked at Sri Rama with tearful eyes.
Rama, the ocean of compassion and mercy, then addressed the toad. “I am so sorry to have caused you this pain without intentions. But please tell me why you did not cry out immediately when my fatal arrow stitched your back, I could have stopped the bleeding and saved your life?”
The toad, in its last moments of prana, replied: “O Sri Rama, what is there for me to tell. When sentient beings embodied in samsara and are afflicted by pain and suffering, they are used to crying out to you for grace and refuge. They would call out, O Sri Rama. At the precise moment your arrow dropped on my back, I was chanting Ramah Namavali. I was about to cry out in the same manner like all your bhaktas. When I chanced to look up to see what had hit me, I found that it was You that had inflicted upon me this suffering. O Rama, ocean of compassion and mercy, I received your arrow hit as your prasadam and silently withstood the pain.”
Hearing the toad’s last words, Sri Rama’s tears rolled down His cheeks. With His sin-destroying hands, Sri Rama caressed the back of the toad with great affection and witnessed it breathing last. Later Rama would recall the story to Sita and she cried too. This is bhakti for you.
Bhakti terminology is enriched by Vedic sacrifices. ‘Bhakta’ means food, what is being sacrificed. It also means one who offers sacrificial food as an offering to God, who is the final recipient and the Enjoyer of ‘bhokta’ of the sacrifice. He is the Enjoyer of all material things and also the devourer. Bhakti is thus sacrificial offering to God. Prasadam is God’s mercy of Grace, the leftover ucchista or the outcome of this bhakti sacrifice or offering. It is prasadam when God has touched the offering and purified it by His effulgence.
Generally, bhakti means having devotion, attachment or loyalty to God and God alone. The way of devotion provides a means for helping overcome the vicissitudes of human existence and gaining release. Bhakti yoga, the Way of Devotion, is strongly emphasized in the Bhagavad Gita. Those who serve God through bhakti, passionately embrace Him. A person need only trust and love god in order to be preserved in eternity. The root of this bhakti path of loving god is traced back to Rig Veda hymns. Upanishads and Puranas are later treatises. Of this the Ramayana and Mahabharata are popular sources of bhakti inspiration.
Thanks so much to Smt Vimala who had run this by me. I did not know about this incident before. The illustrious painting of Lord Rama is the work of our Shri Venkatesan L Subramaniam, who had taken this picture on a Shri Rama Navami day to Swamigal. Upon looking at ths, He had exclaimed, “Lord Rama is really present in the picture!”