Rama And The Boatman

[washing Rama's feet]“Tulsi wonders how someone who can see what happens on the inside and out can ever oppose the One who gave mercy to the boatman by allowing him to wash His feet.” (Dohavali, 49)

tulasī jāke hoyagī aṃtara bāhira dī।thi |
so ki k।rpāluhi deigo keva।tapālahi pī।thi ||

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The unique attitude of the devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is illustrated nicely in the meeting between Shri Rama and the boatman in the forest. Meeting God is not a regular occurrence; it is a seemingly chance encounter given to only the most fortunate. The origin of all can be the benefactor of all as well. He can give anything and everything to any person who should please Him. But what the boatman asked for will surprise you.

There are many gods, especially in the Vedic tradition. Visit a home of someone within that tradition and you’ll likely find an altar somewhere that features paraphernalia and pictures of several divine figures. Are they all equal? Is every one of the gods the same? If they were equal, then what would the purpose be to worshiping more than just one?

[gods of the Vedic tradition]Just as there are different departments within the government, so within the administration of the material universe are found many elevated personalities, dignitaries if you will. They hold special powers. They can live for a long time and they can do amazing things. Of importance to the less powerful is the ability of these figures to grant benedictions. You can be blessed with money, fame, good health, speech, learning, or a clear path towards success.

The boatman could have asked for any or all of these things when he met Rama. Rama is the head of all the dignitaries; He is the person whom they all serve. They do this happily. They are not compelled to worship Him. When playing the role of gods, however, they are forced to give whatever gifts are asked for properly by their worshipers.

Rama is not. In fact, when someone approaches Him, He might deny the request. Think of the child who asks to eat ice cream for dinner every night. Think of the friend who wants to borrow your car, when you know that they can’t drive very well. Rama looks out for the welfare of His devotees, so He assesses their requests first. He uses intelligence to see whether or not the worshipers will be benefitted in the end.

The boatman was about to take Rama to the other side of the river. The Nishada chief Guha arranged for this boat. Rama was travelling in the forest with His wife Sita and His younger brother Lakshmana at the time. In the Ramayana of Valmiki not much detail is given about the boatman; we get more information in the Ramacharitamanasa of Tulsidas. The Ramayana is the original work describing Rama’s deeds, but as the creation goes in cycles, so there are many appearances and disappearances of Shri Rama and other incarnations. There are also many works of the Vedic tradition that describe Rama’s deeds. Some feature greater detail for certain incidents and some feature lesser. The Ramacharitamanasa is a work that touches on many aspects that are found in works other than Valmiki’s Ramayana.

[Rama liberating Ahalya]Ready to serve, the boatman made one stipulation. In pure devotion, he was not afraid of Rama. He did not worship in awe and reverence. He was not handcuffed by veneration. Instead of asking something from God, He insisted on being able to serve in a certain way. In order to get Rama to agree, the boatman brought up a recent incident. He said that Rama’s feet were known to turn stone into women. This references the time when the wife of the sage Gautama got liberation from a curse. She was turned to stone and remained so for a long time, and she regained her form only when Rama’s feet touched her.

The boatman told Rama that he was worried that his boat would be turned into a woman if Rama stepped aboard. This boat was the man’s livelihood, so how could he survive if he lost it? The request of the devotee could not be denied. Rama allowed the boatman to wash His feet. The boatman’s family then all came to drink that sacred water. Such mercy is rarely bestowed on anyone. For starters, not many will ask for it. The initial inclination is to ask things from God; not to serve Him. The boatman was different.

Another unique thing about the boatman was his social class, and namely that it wasn’t very high. He lived in the forest after all. He was not known to be a reputed scholar. Neither was he a warrior, nor a business man. Rama, as the Supreme Lord, sees both within and without. He saw the pure devotion in the heart of the boatman, and that alone qualified him to receive the special mercy.

[Rama with the boatman]Goswami Tulsidas wonders how any person can be opposed to Rama. Especially if they are intelligent enough to see the spirit soul within and the maya without, they should appreciate what Rama did. They should go to Him and no one else. They should know that behind the impersonal Brahman is the transcendental personality who does anything for those who love Him.

In Closing:

“Turned stone into woman did You,

So to my boat You’ll do that too.


Thus first I insist to wash Your feet,

Then with the other side You’ll meet.”


Granted request the son of Raghu’s fame,

Boatman’s family to drink water then came.


Worship by the wise should also be done,

As Rama for class distinctions caring none.


Categories: dohavali 41-80

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1 reply

  1. Jai Sree Ram

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