Those were the glorious days in ancient India when men were honest and truthful and kings were ever engaged in striving for the welfare of their people. In such times there once lived a king whose named was Rantideva. He had a large and generous heart and every being came within his embrace of love for he saw Lord Hari in every living creature.
Rantideva was always making gifts to the poor and the needy. He said to himself, "The Lord gives me all these things in plenty. Should I then sit back and enjoy them when so many mouths of Sri Hari are yet to be fed? I shall not be in want, because He has made me His blessings in the world."
And sure enough, he would always have plenty of food and clothing to distribute. The king was famous in the world for his warm hospitality which he extended to rich and poor alike. Whenever anyone was in trouble, he would go to the king. And whenever Rantideva was of service to anyone, he would feel that it was a service unto Sri Hari. Thus he gave a mother's love to his people. Like a child runs to its mother with its troubles, hurts and pains, so too his subjects would go to him. He would try to remove the cause of their sorrow and if he was unable to do so, it would pain him immensely.
Thus passed many years of prosperity and people basked in the generous love of their king.
But then a time came when the country was hit by famine. The crops failed, the cattle died and men, women and children starved in large numbers. They flocked to the gates of the king's palace. Rantideva would sit and pray, "O Lord, give me the strength to remove their suffering. " Then he would go out and distribute to his people what little he had left. And yet the famine continued. In fact it grew worse from day to day. And there was a time when he did not have enough to eat for himself. He could not even feed his family. For none of the members of his household ate unless the masses had been fed. Sometimes there would be food for them, but the king would have to go hungry. Nevertheless, he was happy, because his mind was satisfied when his people were fed. As the conditions grew worse, he did not have anything left to give to the hungry and the starving. No help came to him. And yet his faith in Sri Hari only increased. Day after day, the king and his dependents starved and the famine persisted.
When the king had thus fasted for forty-eight days, someone brought him a bowl of porridge made of flour, milk and ghee. By this time the king was in no position to even move, so weak had he become due to continuous starvation. Overcome by hunger and thirst, Rantideva and his family were indeed glad to see an unexpected meal before them. They were about to eat when there came to the door, a wrinkled old Brahmin, much in need of food. The king received him respectfully and gave him some of the porridge to eat. As they were about to eat again, a beggar came to the door. His face appeared pinched with hunger, so Rantideva gave him too, some of the meal to eat. Then there came a sweeper and he brought with him his dogs. He looked at the king pitifully and said, "Maharaj! My dogs and I have not had any food for many days now. We are starving for want of food. Now we have come to you, for if you will not help us, who will?" So the king gave him the remaining porridge.
Now the king and his family had again no food to eat. There was just a little drink left. Just then, came a Chandala, his throat parched with thirst, his eyes heavy with exhaustion. He begged the King to moisten his dry lips with a little bit of water. Rantideva saw him as yet another form of Sri Hari and held the cup to his cracked lips. He prayed to the Lord and said, "Please, Lord! I do not care for the rewards of this earth. Nor do I care for powers of any kind. My only prayer is - give me the capacity to feel the pain of others and the power to serve them. Let me not ever be indifferent to their sorrows and their sufferings. Make me Thy instrument to give them relief, to make them happy."
The man drank the water. The sparkle of life came back into his eyes. And wonderfully enough, the king felt his own hunger, thirst and fatigue dropping away from him. He felt refreshed and fulfilled, as a hungry man is after a good and satisfying meal. Suddenly there appeared before him Maya and all her attendants. She smiled at him and said, "O King, I am indeed pleased to see your devotion and your extraordinary love for your people. You have suffered much. If you worship me now, I can remove all your wants for all time to come. I can give you the riches and the entire wealth of the world."
Rantideva showed them due respect, but only as the different forms of Hari. He asked Maya for nothing, for his mind was absorbed in Sri Hari. He said to her, "I have no use for all the riches you have to offer me. I have no wish to live any longer than I have to. I do not hanker for the enjoyments of the world, because my mind does not run after them."
And Maya, the queen of the world, the mistress of all beings, the consort of Sri Vishnu, fled from his presence with her whole retinue of attendants. She vanished like a dream does when a person awakes.
Then Rantideva was blessed by the presence of the Lord Himself. He worshipped Him and prayed that he might never be separated from Him. In time, Rantideva became one of the greatest yogis of the land. He merged himself in meditation. By his wonderful service to his people and his love for all living creatures whom he worshipped as Sri Hari, he attained the blissful Being of Lord Narayana.