Why do only Indian squirrels have stripes on their back, whereas squirrels from other countries don't have stripes on their body?
Is this because of Rama? What is the story/belief behind this?
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There's a legend often associated with Ramayana. This episode is not there in Valmiki Ramayana, Kambaramayanam, Adhyatmaramyana or Ramacharitamanas. But I know it has been current for a very very long time. I heard it from my grandmother.
Several popular modern versions of Ramayana in English and our own languages include it.There is a reference to it in a single verse in Naalaayira Divyaprabandham. Tondaradippodi Azhvaar, who lived in the 8th century AD says in the 27th verse of his Tirumaalai:'I am not like the squirrel which tried to help those monkeys which were lifting and moving hills, by itself rolling over in the sea to provide a small block to the flow of the waves. My heart has the strength of trees, but is treacherous. I am unable to use it in the service of Sri Ranganatha. I am just wasting myself!'
Okay so the story goes like this,
Prior to the war, the vanara-sena consisting of monkeys and bears were busy building the bridge to Lanka. The construction was heavy-duty work. Some monkeys noticed a squirrel running back and forth in the construction site. They got curious and tried to observe what the squirrel was up to. The little brown squirrel dipped in the sea and rolled on the sands till its body was fully covered with sand. It then ran to the site of construction and shook the sand off its body and ran back to get the next ‘load’ of sand.
Another version of the story says that it carried little pebbles in the mouth. In any case, the impact of its work was minimal; but the little squirrel went about the routine in full earnest. The monkeys found it amusing and started to mock the squirrel and the bears soon joined them in the act. The squirrel was quite upset in being teased and ran straight to Rama to complain. It had to stand tall on its little feet and shout to make itself heard to Rama – quite tall compared to the rodent. Rama heard the squirrel and his heart melted seeing tears in its eyes. He acknowledged the contribution of the squirrel, however small it was, in his efforts to bring Sita back.
Rama ran his fingers on the back of the animal as a gesture of acknowledgement. That movement of Rama’s fingers earned the squirrel its stripes, which are carried even today by the three striped palm squirrels.