Rantideva (रन्तिदेवः) was a maharaja who belonged to the lineage of Chandravamsha. Known for his hospitality, he was the kindest, most liberal rajas 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.
Birth and Lineage
Srimad Bhagavata Purana (Skanda 9 Adhyaya 21) describes the legend of Rantideva. According to it the lineage of Rantideva begins with Vitatha (Bharadvaja) who had a son Manyu.
वितथस्य सुतान् मन्योः बृहत्क्षत्रो जयस्ततः । महावीर्यो नरो गर्गः सङ्कृतिस्तु नरात्मजः ॥ १ ॥
गुरुश्च रन्तिदेवश्च सङ्कृतेः पाण्डुनन्दन । (Bhag. Pura. 9.21.1-2)
Bharadvaja -- Manyu -- Nara (one among five sons of Manyu) -- Samkriti -- Rantideva.
राज्ञो रन्तिदेवस्य महिमवर्णनम् ॥ Greatness of Rantideva
After the great war was over Narada once narrated the stories of sixteen maharajas 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॥
The merit of sacrificing even one's creature comforts for the welfare of others has been hailed in the adhyatmik 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.
Legend in Srimad Bhagavata
Among the examples cited in the Puranas, Raja Rantideva in the lineage of Bharata attained immortal glory by his great sacrifice of essential food and water.
व्यतीयुः अष्टचत्वारिंशत् अहनि अपिबतः किल । घृतपायससंयावं तोयं प्रातरुपस्थितम् ॥ ४ ॥(Bhag. Pura. 9.21.4)
Rantideva once went without food and water for 48 days. 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 ghee, rice cooked in milk along with water. When he along with his family, trembling due to starvation and parched with thirst, was intending to eat it, a brahmana arrived before him.
A great Haribhakta he had the insight to see the Paramatma in every being, Rantideva welcomed the Brahmana and gave him a share of the dish and the Brahmana took his meal and left gladly. When he was about to partake the remaining payasa, another stranger, a shudra came before him. Rantideva who treated every visitor as the Hari Himself offered a share of the payasa 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, when a person, Chandala, from the lowest rung of society sought some water from him. The raja deeply moved and tormented with compassion on him who was stricken with pain and exhaustion said,
न कामयेऽहं गतिमीश्वरात्परां अष्टर्द्धियुक्तामपुनर्भवं वा । आर्तिं प्रपद्येऽखिलदेहभाजां अन्तःस्थितो येन भवन्त्यदुःखाः ॥ १२ ॥ (Bhag. Pura. 9.21.12)
"I do not seek from the Paramatma, the highest position attended with the eightfold spiritual power or even Moksha (cessation of rebirth) from samsara. 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.
Having all the good qualities of a Haribhakta, free from attachments, Rantideva cherished no desires. Bowing to all of them, he concentrated his mind on the glorious Vasudeva with utmost devotion seeking no boons from Him. In this state the Maya constituted of the Trigunas dissolved like a dream.
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 portrayed in the story of Rantideva.
- Reluctance to earn for himself and sharing everything he had shown the detachment of Rantideva from materialistic world.
- Rantideva truly saw divine nature in everywhere, thus did not see any difference between all the atithis and himself.
- All the qualities of an uttama danam are showed clearly in the story. All the dana-grahitas were hungry and thus deserved to be given food. Rantideva expecting nothing in return gives them everything he has. He shows great respect to the atithis, without any kind of pride of being a donor.
- Vettam. Mani, (1975). Puranic encyclopaedia : A comprehensive dictionary with special reference to the epic and Puranic literature. Delhi:Motilal Banasidass.
- Srimad Bhagavata Purana (Skanda 9 Adhyaya 21)
- Shastri, J. L. and Tagare, G. V. (1950) Bhagavata Purana Parts 1-5. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Pvt. Ltd. (Pages 1232 - 1234)
- Article on Rantideva : Merit of Sacrifice published in The Hindu (The Hindu, February 6, 2006)