Apart from the great Sages whom Shri Ram met during his life in the Jungle who were knowledgeable and wise to sing ballads in praise of Shri Ram, it’s surprising to see a Kevat (Boatman) found subtle ways to express his regards and love for Shri Ram, while ensuring he did not breach the implied social protocols towards Royal family members of that time.
In the past, Bharat (called India in the modern days), in order to have a reliable and sustainable ecosystem of various service offered within the kingdom, had a caste system based on profession one adopted. As prevalent in the times when India was ruled by foreign powers, things changed and the caste system was based on lineage. We have examples of Sage Vishwamitra became Brahmin despite being born to a Kshatriya, King Gaadi. Parashuram, born in a Brahmin family became a Kshtriya. Owing to this social stratification, whatever it may have been called at that point of time as it now, there were social protocols to be followed, especially towards the Royal family.
Kevat (the boatman) who used to help people commute across the river Ganga was approached by Shri Ram, Mata Sita and Lakshaman when they started their 14 years Vanvaas (Life in jungle). They wanted to cross the river on their way to Chitrakut. Kevat saw this as one in a lifetime opportunity to touch the feet of Shri Ram. He knew Lakshaman was too possessive about his elder brother and would not let an insignificant person as him to touch the feet of Shri Ram. Despite lacking formal education and wisdom, Kevat devised a way to get this opportunity for himself.
Here’s the shloks from the Ayodhya Kand of the Shri Ramcharitmanas that depicts their conversation. This is, perhaps the sweetest conversation of all in Shri Ramcharitmanas.
मागी नाव न केवटु आना। कहइ तुम्हार मरमु मैं जाना॥
चरन कमल रज कहुँ सबु कहई। मानुष करनि मूरि कछु अहई॥
He (Shri Ram) called for a boat, but the ferryman would not bring it. The latter said, ‘I know your secret; about the dust of your lotus- feet. Everyone says it has some kind of drug, possessing the quality of turning things into humans.
छुअत सिला भइ नारि सुहाई। पाहन तें न काठ कठिनाई॥
तरनिउ मुनि घरिनी होइ जाई। बाट परइ मोरि नाव उड़ाई॥
By its very touch a rock was transformed into a charming woman and my wooden boat is not harder than a stone. If my boat itself gets converted into a hermit’s wife (like Ahalya), I shall be robbed of the very means of my subsistence, in that my boat will disappear.
एहिं प्रतिपालउँ सबु परिवारू। नहिं जानउँ कछु अउर कबारू॥
जौं प्रभु पार अवसि गा चहहू। मोहि पद पदुम पखारन कहहू॥
It is by means of this boat that I maintain the whole of my family; I know no other trade. If, therefore, my lord, you must cross the river, permit me to lave your lotus-feet.
पद कमल धोइ चढ़ाइ नाव न नाथ उतराई चहौं।
मोहि राम राउरि आन दसरथसपथ सब साची कहौं॥
बरु तीर मारहुँ लखनु पै जब लगि न पाय पखारिहौं।
तब लगि न तुलसीदास नाथ कृपाल पारु उतारिहौं॥
“I will let you board the boat only when I have bathed your lotus-feet; I seek no toll from you. I swear by you, O Ram, as well as by King Dasarath, that what I tell you is all true. Let Lakshman shoot me with his arrows if he will; but until I have washed your feet I will not, O gracious lord of Tulasidas, ferry you across.”
सुनि केवट के बैन प्रेम लपेटे अटपटे।
बिहसे करुनाऐन चितइ जानकी लखन तन॥
On hearing these words of the ferryman, mysterious, though imbued with love, the all-merciful Lord looked at Janak’s Daughter, Mata Sita and Lakshman and smiled.
कृपासिंधु बोले मुसुकाई। सोइ करु जेहिं तव नाव न जाई॥
बेगि आनु जलपाय पखारू। होत बिलंबु उतारहि पारू॥
The all-compassionate Lord smilingly said, “Do that which may prevent the loss of your boat. Bring water at once and lave my feet; we are getting late, take us across”
जासु नाम सुमिरत एक बारा। उतरहिं नर भवसिंधु अपारा॥
सोइ कृपालु केवटहि निहोरा। जेहिं जगु किय तिहु पगहु ते थोरा॥
The same gracious Lord, by uttering whose Name only once, men cross the boundless ocean of mundane existence, and for whose three strides the universe proved too small, thus importuned an ordinary boatman.
अति आनंद उमगि अनुरागा। चरन सरोज पखारन लागा॥
बरषि सुमन सुर सकल सिहाहीं। एहि सम पुन्यपुंज कोउ नाहीं॥
In great joy and with a heart overflowing with love he proceeded to bathe the Lord’s lotus-feet. Raining flowers on him all the Gods envied him a lot and said there was none so meritorious as he.
पद पखारि जलु पान करि आपु सहित परिवार।
पितर पारु करि प्रभुहि पुनि मुदित गयउ लेइ पार॥
Having laved the Lord’s feet and drunk of the water in which they had been immersed alongwith the other members of his family, he thereby transported the souls of his deceased forbears across the ocean of metempsychosis and then gladly took the Lord across the Ganga.
उतरि ठाढ़ भए सुरसरि रेता। सीय रामुगुह लखन समेता॥
केवट उतरि दंडवत कीन्हा। प्रभुहि सकुच एहि नहिं कछु दीन्हा॥
Getting down from the boat Sita and Rama stood on the sands of the Ganga alongwith Guha and Lakshman. The ferryman too got down and fell prostrate before the Lord, who felt uncomfortable at the thought that He had given nothing to the ferryman.
पिय हिय की सिय जाननिहारी। मनि मुदरी मन मुदित उतारी॥
कहेउ कृपाल लेहि उतराई। केवट चरन गहे अकुलाई॥
Sita, however, who could read the mind of Her beloved lord, took off Her jewelled ring with a cheerful heart. The gracious Lord said, “Take your toll.” But the ferryman clasped His feet in great distress.
नाथ आजु मैं काह न पावा। मिटे दोष दुख दारिद दावा॥
बहुत काल मैं कीन्हि मजूरी। आजु दीन्ह बिधि बनि भलि भूरी॥
“What have I not already received, my lord? The fire of my errors, sorrows and indigence has been quenched today. I worked for my livelihood for a long time; it is only today that God has given me an adequate and handsome return.
अब कछु नाथ न चाहिअ मोरें। दीन दयाल अनुग्रह तोरें॥
फिरती बार मोहि जो देबा। सो प्रसादु मैं सिर धरि लेबा॥
By your race, my compassionate Lord, I want nothing now. While returning, whatever you bestow on me I shall thankfully accept that boon.”
बहुत कीन्ह प्रभु लखन सियँ नहिं कछु केवटु लेइ।
बिदा कीन्ह करुनायतन भगति बिमल बरु देइ॥
The Lord as well as Lakshman and Sita did their utmost; but the ferryman would accept nothing. The All-merciful Shri Ram, therefore, dismissed him after bestowing on him the boon of unalloyed devotion.
I have many more blogs planned that will potentially help everyone understand the good learnings from Shri Ram’s life in simple language. I am hoping to publish them soon. Until then, if it interests you, you may read Ramcharitmanas in Hindi and English on the Mere Vishnu app. You may download the Android app from this link – https://t.ly/mvsn or scan the QR code in the following picture.