Rantideva (रन्तिदेवः) was a king who belonged to the lineage of Chandravamsha kings. Known for his hospitality, he was the Kindest, most liberal kings who ruled ancient Bharatavarsha.
The grandson of Nara (the brother of Garga) and son of Samkriti, Rantideva is to be remembered with reverence at morning and dusk, for his unique kindness very famous in history.
After the great war was over Narada once narrated the stories of sixteen kings to Yudhisthira. They are Marutta, Suhotra, Paurava, Shibi, SriRama, Bhagiratha, Dilipa (Khatvanga), Mandhata, Yayati, Ambarisha, Shashabindu, Gaya, Rantideva, Bharata, Pruthu and Parasurama. (Maha. Drona. 61 -70)
According to Puranic Encyclopedia, Rantideva has been mentioned for his hospitality in history. He is known to have engaged 20,000 people to cook food for the guests who came to the palace everyday. He was very vigilant about treating guests day and night alike (Atithimaryada). He gifted away all wealth which was righteously earned to brahmins. A learned in Vedas he subdued enemies by Dharma. He performed the yajnas, with great shraddha, the havyas of which were received by the devatas themselves.  67th Adhyaya of the Drona Parva describes the greatness of Rantideva.
यस्य द्विशतसाहस्रा आसन्सूदा महात्मनः॥ 7-67-1
गृहानभ्यागतान्विप्रानतिथीन्परिवेषकाः। पक्वापक्वं दिवारात्रं अपर्याप्तं धनं तदा[वरान्नममृतोपमम्॥ 7-67-2
न्यायेनाधिगतं वित्तं ब्राह्मणेभ्यो ह्यमन्यत। वेदानधीत्य धर्मेण यश्चक्रे द्विषतो वशे॥ 7-67-3
yasya dviśatasāhasrā āsansūdā mahātmanaḥ॥
gr̥hānabhyāgatānviprānatithīnpariveṣakāḥ। pakvāpakvaṁ divārātraṁ aparyāptaṁ dhanaṁ tadā[varānnamamr̥topamam॥
nyāyenādhigataṁ vittaṁ brāhmaṇebhyo hyamanyata। vedānadhītya dharmeṇa yaścakre dviṣato vaśe॥
राज्ञो रन्तिदेवस्य महिमवर्णनम् ॥ Greatness of Rantideva
The merit of sacrificing even one's creature comforts for the welfare of others has been hailed in the spiritual tradition. This is especially important in the case of food and water, which are necessary to sustain life in the body. Needless to say it requires immense self-control to forego these fundamental requirements. Among the examples cited in the Puranas, Raja Rantideva in the lineage of Bharata attained immortal glory by his great sacrifice.
In his discourse, Sengalipuram Sri B.Damodara Dikshitar said Rantideva once went without food and water for 48 days. One can imagine the kind of famine that must have struck his kingdom for a king to be reduced to such dire straits. He was such a noble ruler that he would give away whatever anyone sought. On that occasion even though he had become weak and suffered intense hardship he remained calm. As if by divine intervention on the 49th morning there came to him some porridge (rice cooked in milk with sugar and ghee), and when he was intending to eat it, a brahmana appeared before him.
A great devotee who had the insight to see the Paramatma in every being, Rantideva welcomed his guest and gave him a portion of the dish and he left gladly. When he was about to eat the remaining porridge, another guest a shudra came before him. The king who treated every visitor as the Paramatma Himself offered a share of the porridge to him. After he left another stranger appeared in his place surrounded by dogs. Without any hesitation Rantideva apportioned all the porridge that was left between his guest and his dogs.
Finally, only some water remained to quench his thirst and when he was about to drink it, a person from the lowest rung of society sought some water from him. The king took great pity on him who was stricken with exhaustion and said, "I do not seek from the Paramatma, the highest position attended with the eightfold Yogic power or even Moksha (cessation of rebirth). Dwelling in their heart (as the sufferer) I would rather undergo the suffering of all embodied souls so that they may be relieved of misery," and gladly gave him the water. Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, who had tested his forbearance as his guests, revealed themselves and blessed him.
नीतिः ॥ Moral
- The importance and greatness of the daanam, helping others self-lessly is very well protrayed in the story of Rantideva.
- Reluctance to earn for himself and sharing everything he had show the detatchment of Rantideva from materialistic world.
- Rantideva truely realized God everywhere, thus did not see any difference between all the atithis and himself.
- All the qualities of an uttama daanam are showed clearly in the story. All the daana-grahitas were hungry and thus deserved to be given food. Rantideva expecting nothing in return gives them everthing he has. He shows great respect to the atithis, without any kind of pride of being a daata.
- Vettam. Mani, (1975). Puranic encyclopaedia : A comprehensive dictionary with special reference to the epic and Puranic literature. Delhi:Motilal Banasidass.
- Article on Rantideva : Merit of Sacrifice published in The Hindu (The Hindu, February 6, 2006)