[Editor’s note: Amar Chitra Katha – a collection of 300-something picture books taught my generation all they needed to know about Hindu itihasa – rishis, kings, queens, heroes… they had them all. I recollected the contours of this story from Amar Chitra Katha but Google helped with filling out some details. This post first hit the Drafts folder in Mar 2013. so after a gestational period of three years and five months, its time had come 🙂 ]*

Many centuries ago, Devotee Pundalik went on a pilgrimage in north India and camped near the hermitage of Kukut Rishi. At the auspicious Brahma muhurt time, he saw three dark (and slightly ugly) women headed towards the hermitage. He wondered who the women were and what they intended. Upon spying them, he saw them engaged in an exhaustive process of sweeping and cleaning the hermitage. In a few hours, they completed and left the hermitage. As they stepped out of the hermitage, they were transformed into beautiful women. Fascinated with what he saw, Pundalik observed them thus for a few more days. On the third day, as the women were leaving the hermitage, Pundalik threw himself at their feet and humbly asked, “Mothers, who are you? I have been watching you for three days. You come in ugliness and are transformed into beautiful beings.”

They replied, “We are the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. All day long, people expiate their sins and leave behind the ugliness and dirt. Now where can WE wash away all the sin, ugliness, dirt from our bodies?”

They continued, “Thousands of peoples visit Kukut Rishi every day. The Rishi shows them the way of Karmayoga. The entire hermitage became sacred by the touch of the lotus feet of Kukut Rishi. When we sweep the hermitage, the sacred dust falls on our body and we get transformed into beautiful beings again. THAT is the power and piety in the dust of saints’ feet.” [This Hindu-blog post covers the interesting aftermath of Pundalik’s encounter with the three sacred rivers.]

I was reminded of Pundalik’s story at one of the The Ugly Indian spotfixes. After the volunteer group applied the finishing painting touches and prepared to leave, one of the leaders said “Don’t leave just yet. Chai pee-ke jao ji! Mandir jaane ke baad bina prasaad liye koi jaata hai? [Translation for non-Hindi readers: Please have tea and go. After a temple visit, does anyone leave without partaking of the offerings (prasaad)?]

This message, of a selfless activity serving to cleanse accumulated dirt/impurities/negativity, really resonated with me.