Botanical Name: Ziziphus mauritiana Lam.
Common Names: Indian Jujube, Indian Plum, Chinese Date, Ber, Gangaregu, Badari.
The Ber tree is a much branched, thorny deciduous tree with a spreading crown, growing to a height of about 45 feet. It is a hardy species with its origin in India. Its presence is unmistakable in the sandy soils of arid and semiarid zones of India, and it is widely cultivated for its fruits. The dried fruits purify the blood and are used in the treatment of chronic fatigue, loss of appetite, diarrhea, pharyngitis, bronchitis, anemia, irritability and hysteria. The seeds are used in the treatment of insomnia and nervous exhaustion.
Mythology & History
Ber fruits have an association with Shabari, one of the extraordinary characters in the epic Ramayana. Shabari exemplifies the fact that the spiritual quest is not a prerogative of any sex, creed, class or community, but the birth right of all human beings.
Shabari was born into a hunter-gatherer community, and lived much of her life in Dandakaranya, the jungles of the Deccan Peninsula. At one moment in her life, she started observing in herself the loss of interest in anything other than the deep void engulfing her. To begin with, she developed an aversion to meat eating, and dropped the habit. There was a growing restlessness in her heart, and she did not know what would quench her thirst for the unknown. One fine day, with an overwhelming sense of dejection, she left her abode, and started wandering in the jungles, with no particular aim in life.
Having mastered the ability to eke out a living and sustain herself from the bounty of nature, she spent days alone, moving wherever her whim led. Fortunately for her, she reached the ashram of Matunga, a hermit who was seeking enlightenment. Sage Matunga could perceive Shabari’s noble intentions, the spiritual yearnings in the heart of this tribal woman, so he took her into his care.
Shabari spent several years serving Matunga and the other followers in the ashram. However, just as had happened to her life in her tribal hamlet, she remained dull in spirits, and the monotony haunted her. One day, sage Matunga summoned her and told her something that shook her to the core. He told her that his death was imminent. Second, he told her that Lord Rama, the avatar of that era, would pass by the ashram sometime in the future, and that meeting him would result in her discovering her life’s purpose.
Shabari’s miseries increased. She lost her mentor in Matunga and she had no idea who Lord Rama was. What would he look like? Would he come today, tomorrow, at all? How would she address him? Would he even notice her presence? As the cravings in her heart grew, doubts also assaulted her heart, “Will he understand my language? What shall I tell him? What shall I offer Him?” The dull heart of Shabari turned into a volcano.
Months passed, and eagerly Shabari awaited the arrival of Lord Rama. Years passed, and still there was no sign of Lord Rama. Shabari was growing old and frail, but there was no stopping her heart that craved the appearance of Lord Rama.
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