There are two stories of little animals in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. They have been inspiring us for thousands of years. Let us hear the first story in the words of Swami Vivekananda:

Be like the humble Squirrel

“The monkeys removed whole hills, placed them in the sea and covered them with stones and trees, thus making a huge embankment. A little squirrel, so it is said, was there rolling himself in the sand and running backwards and forwards on to the bridge and shaking himself. Thus in his small way he was working for the bridge of Rama by putting in sand. The monkeys laughed; for they were bringing whole mountains, whole forests, and huge loads of sand for the bridge— so they laughed at the little squirrel rolling in the sand and then shaking himself. But Rama saw it and remarked: “Blessed be the little squirrel; he is doing his work to the best of his ability, and he is therefore quite as great as the greatest of you.” Then he gently stroked the squirrel on the back, and the marks of Rama’s fingers, running lengthways, are seen on the squirrel’s back to this day.” Now, the squirrel knows that the effort of building a bridge across the ocean is an effort that is on a gigantic scale. It also knows that compared to that its own contribution is very small. But it did not remain idle assuming that its contribution would not be of much significance. It wanted to contribute to the work with all its might. This is what we have to learn. Working like that squirrel according to once own capacity is the way to build a complete personality. Be ready to shoulder responsibility.

Swami Vivekananda narrated this story while delivering a lecture on Ramayana.

The story teaches us some important virtues:

  1. Little drops of water make the mighty ocean
  2. No work is too small
  3. Learn to appreciate sincere work even if it comes from the lowest ranks
  4. Ignore other people’s discouraging remarks and carry on with your job
  5. Quality of work is more valued than the quantity of work

A Vaishnavaite Saint’s praise for the squirrel

There were 12 great Vishnu devotees (Alvars) in Tamil Nadu who composed 4000 hymns in Tamil on Lord Vishnu. One of the earliest of the twelve Alvars is Tirumazisai Alvar. He composed his poems 1500 years ago in which he said he was not like the famous squirrel. Here is the translation:

“ I am not like the little squirrel ,which
As the monkeys shoved and heaved the mountains
So spontaneously dipped in the water:
With its wet fur rolled, it on the sand
And ran back in to the waves of the sea
Concentrating only on building the bridge
But my heart is hard as the trees, I grieve that
Even my heart did not desire to serve the Lord of the Rangam”

This hymn proves that the Ramayana squirrel has been inspiring people for thousands of years.

Mahabharata Mongoose

There is another interesting story in the Mahabharata about a mongoose.

It is the story of a poor Brahmin who lived with his wife, son and daughter in law. The Brahmin used to beg for food. Sometimes the family went without food for several days. One day they got some food after a long period of starvation. Though they were poor, they never forgot to do the rituals like yagna. So the Brahmin dedicated one fourth of the food to the Gods and divided the other part in to four equal portions. Just before they started eating, a beggar came and asked for food saying that he was very hungry. The Brahmin gave his portion first. When he asked for more and more food each one gave his or her portion of food as well. When his stomach was full he went to wash his hands. At that time a mongoose was running across and the water fell on one part of its body. That part became golden in colour. The Brahmin revealed his true identity as Brahma, one of the Hindu Trinity. When he offered them a boon, all the family members refused to accept it saying it was part of their duty to show hospitality to any guest. Brahma, very much pleased with them, sent them straight to heaven.

Several years after this incident, the eldest of the five Pandavas, Dharma performed a Rajasuya Yagna in Indraprastha. It was a grand success and everyone praised the Pandavas sky high. But the mongoose whose body partly turned golden went there and challenged them. It said, “ Look I rolled on the water of the Rajasuya Yagna. But my body did not turn fully gold. When I went to a greater Yagna in Krita Yuga, my body turned partly gold than I was told the other part would also turn in to gold when an equally great Yagna was performed. Dharma was humbled by the mongoose challenge. At last the mongoose requested Lord Krishna to bless it and Krishna readily obliged the mongoose. Pandava’s Yagna was performed in the Dwapara Yuga (third of the four yugas).

Moral of the story: The values change from Yuga to Yuga. The people’s approach was 100 percent perfect during the Krita Yuga or Golden Age. During Dwapara Yuga it was only 50 percent perfect. The Brahmins in the Golden Age refused to take any credit for the charity they did. But the Pandavas made a big show of their charity. The second point is that giving food to the needy is equal to a great Yagna like Rajasuyam. Don’t feel proud for everything you do. There is always someone out in the world who can outsmart you. So be humble.

An Anonymous English poem about the squirrel (the last four lines are mine)

Hippity hop;
Up he goes
To the tree top
Whirly, twirly,
Round and round,
Down he scampers
To the ground
Furly, curly
What a tail !
Tall as a feather
Broad as a sail!
Where’s his supper?
In the shell
Snappity, crackity
Out it fell
Ramayana or Mahabharata
Every where you are
And inspire to perspire
And persevere for ever