Thursday, April 26, 2012

How The Indian Palm Squirrel Got Its Stripes

I referred to this beautiful Hindu story in a post a few months ago, but I thought it would be worth giving a more complete telling. It is an account of how the Indian palm squirrel, or the three-striped palm squirrel, got the distinctive white stripes that run down the length of its back. You can read a more complete version of this story, and other Hindu and Indian religious and cultural texts, here.

At a time when Lord Rama had been banished from his princely capital at Ayodhya, his wife Sita was captured by a demon, or Rakshasa, named Ravana, who carried her off in a flying chariot to his kingdom across the sea. When Rama and his brother Lakshmana discovered that Sita was missing, they searched everywhere for her, but had no luck until the eagle king Jatayu, who had been mortally wounded by Ravana and was dying, told them what had happened. As Rama and Lakshmana continued searching, the monkey king Sugreev confirmed Jatayu's account, and offered to help Rama recover his wife.

The monkey king, a devoted friend to Rama, gathered together a huge army of thousands of monkeys and bears to begin construction of a stone bridge that would span the ocean and allow Rama access to Ravana's kingdom. The monkeys and bears spread out through the forests and mountains, uprooted trees and carried huge boulders down to the sea to build the bridge.

As work progressed, a small brown squirrel saw what was happening, and, desiring to serve Lord Rama, ran to join the laborers. She ran back and forth as fast as she could, carrying pebbles to add to the growing bridge across the sea. Working tirelessly, she placed one pebble onto the pile, then darted back for another.

When some of the monkeys saw the squirrel scurrying back and forth with her pebbles, they began to mock her, ridiculing her small size and making light of her contribution to the bridge. Soon the bears joined in, teasing and chasing the small squirrel.

Humiliated and in tears, the squirrel ran to Lord Rama, who heard the cries of the tiny squirrel over the rush of the sea and the noise of the workers. When he saw the tears in her eyes, he was moved by her dedication and the hard work that she had freely given to him. He picked her up gently in his cupped hands to comfort her, telling her that the pebbles she had contributed would make the bridge stronger. He also decreed that from that time forward, no creature would ever make fun of the squirrel. As a sign of his decree, he stroked the fur of her back, and when he lifted his hand, the impressions of his fingers left the three stripes that the squirrel displays proudly to this day.

Lord Rama comforts the squirrel

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