Hindu mythology is replete with stories connected to food. At the same time Hinduism places great importance on the glory of fasting where the mind is fixed on the Lord and one abstains from eating and drinking for a period of time. Lord Shiva is one of the most important deities in Hinduism who bestows grace, grants boons and protects his devotees from the evil tendencies of greed, anger, lust, etc. The night of Maha Shivaratri is considered to be very beneficial for fasting and prayer and is said to confer great benefits even if the Vrata is observed unknowingly. This has been observed in the famous story of the hunter Gurudruh.
Gurudruh was a hunter who took great care of his family. One day to his dismay, in spite of wandering the whole day he was unable to hunt any animal. Recalling his wife and children waiting hungrily and patiently for him he went deeper and deeper into the forest. Finally, overcome with tiredness, he climbed up a tree which happened to be a Bilva tree. Next to the tree there was a stream. Gurudruh knew that some animal would come to drink water in the stream so decided to keep vigil there. He sat on the branch and waited to spot any animal. As he climbed up his water pouch began leaking and water began to drip steadily down. Soon darkness set in but still Gurudruh patiently waited plucking the leaves and dropping them down to while away the time. Soon he saw a doe approaching the stream. As he was poised to strike with his bow and arrow he was shocked to hear the doe speaking to him begging him not to kill it. He refused as he remembered his hungry family. But the doe begged him with tears in her eyes saying that she had come in search of her young one and once she restored the young one to her husband she would return to him. The hunter was moved and reluctantly agreed. After some time cursing his bad luck Gurudruh continued to wait. This time he saw a huge and majestic male deer. The deer begged to be spared as he said that he was looking out for his wife and child and once they were located he would return to the hunter. Again he reluctantly agreed remembering the tearful eyes of the female deer. Time slowly passed by and this time he spotted a baby deer which was searching for its parents. The baby deer too pleaded that it would locate its parents and then come back to him otherwise they would get worried. The hunter knew he could not aim his bow and arrow at it and impatiently allowed it to go. Soon the night was almost over and as Gurudruh wondered frustratedly how long it would take him to get something for his family he saw the three deer slowly approaching him. Gurudruh was amazed when they told him that after successfully locating each other they were now ready to keep their part of the bargain and offer themselves to him. He intuitively realised that these were no ordinary animals. Bowing to them he asked them to reveal their identity. The three deer vanished and in their place stood Lord Shiva.
Lord Shiva blessed Gurudruh and informed him that it was the holy day of Mahashivaratri and unknowingly Gurudruh had fasted and worshipped him with Bilva leaves and water and Lord Shiva pointed out to a small Lingam at the bottom of the tree. Also, Gurudruh’s heart had been filled with compassion against the harmless and innocent ones. For this Lord Shiva considered him to be the most worthy devotee and blessed him and conferred on him salvation or Moksha.
Fasting assumes great importance in almost all religions of the world. The reasons for fasting are purification of body and mind with a focus on spirituality. It also helps in developing a sense of humility as it helps man to appreciate the value of food and the hardships faced by the poor and hungry. Besides this medically too there are benefits in fasting and fasting is also used as a means of expression against certain ideas or views as carried out by political activists etc or for atonement of sins or for the purpose of fulfilling some desires.