How The Squirrel Got Its Stripes (A tale from the Ramayana)

Following text is a tale from the Ramayana

Ram asked his army to build a bridge over the sea. Work began at once on a stone bridge. The monkeys pulled out rocks and heavy stones from the mountains, and carried them to the sea. They cut them into shape and began to build the bridge. All this was very difficult work and it took a long time. Thousands of monkeys worked night and day. Rama felt happy. “How hard they work! Their love for me makes them work like this,” thought Rama.

One day Rama saw a small brown squirrel. He was going up and down the seashore with little pebbles in his mouth. The little squirrel could carry only little pebbles at a time in his small mouth. He carried the pebbles from the seashore and dropped them into the sea. A great monkey was carrying a large heavy stone on his back and the squirrel came in his way. The monkey jumped back.

“Here, you little thing,” shouted the monkey in a voice like thunder, “you’re in my way, I stepped back and you’re alive now. But I nearly fell. And what are you doing here?”

The little squirrel looked up at the great monkey.

“I’m sorry you nearly fell, Brother Monkey,” he said in his small voice, “but please always look where you are going. I’m helping Rama build the bridge. And I want to work hard for him.”

“You, what?” shouted the monkey and laughed aloud. “Did you hear that!” he said to the other monkeys. “The squirrel is building a bridge with his pebbles. Oh dear! Oh dear! I’ve never heard a funnier story.” The other monkeys laughed too.

The squirrel did not think this funny at all. He said, “Look, I can’t carry mountains or rocks. God gave me only a little strength. I can only carry pebbles. My heart cries out for Rama and I’ll do all I can for him.”

The monkeys said, “Don’t be foolish. Do you think you can help Rama? Do you think we can build a bridge with pebbles? He has a big army to help him. Go home and don’t get in our way.”

“But I want to help, too,” said the squirrel and would not go.

He carried the pebbles again from the shore to the sea. The monkeys were angry and one of them picked up the squirrel by his tail and threw him far away.

The squirrel, crying out the name of Rama, fell into his hands.

Then Rama held the squirrel close to him. He said to the monkeys, “Do not make fun of the weak and the small. Your strength or what you do is not important. What matters is your love. This little squirrel has love in his heart.”

He then held the squirrel closer to him and said, “Little one, your love touches my heart.” He said these words and passed his fingers gently over the little squirrel’s back. And when he put him down there were three white stripes on his back. These were the marks of Lord Rama’s fingers.

From then on the squirrel carries the three white stripes on his back.

Summary

This is a short mythological story taken from the Ramayana. It tells us how the squirrel came to get the stripes on its body.

Once, Lord Rama, wishing to cross the sea, asked his army of monkeys to build a bridge for him. There was a small squirrel too. When he heard about the bridge, he decided to help too. He loved Lord Rama so much that he wanted to do something for him. Because of his small size, he could carry only small pebbles in his mouth and kept dropping them into the sea.

One day, he came in the path of a big monkey carrying a big stone. In order to save him, the monkey had to move to one side and while doing so he nearly tripped. He was very angry and asked the squirrel what he was doing there. When he heard the squirrel’s answer, he told him that his efforts were useless. But the squirrel, unmindful of the monkey’s remarks, continued to carry the pebbles.

One day another monkey saw him. He was so annoyed that he lifted him in his hands and threw him away. The squirrel landed in Lord Rama’s hands. Lord Rama was touched by his love for him. He stroked him gently on the back and put him aside. The loving strokes of fingers left a permanent mark on the squirrel’s body in the form of stripes.