Along with his brother Lakshmana, Rama went in search of his wife, and enlisted the help of the Vanara king, Sugreeva. Learning that Sita was kept at Lanka, the kingdom of Ravana, which lay across the ocean, Rama, along with the Vanara army, arrived at the seashore.
To reach Lanka, they had to cross the vast ocean, and after much discussion, it was decided that a bridge would be built across the ocean. The multitudes of monkeys and bears which formed the Vanara army were asked to bring stones and boulders to the seashore, so that a bridge could be built.
Shouting with excitement, and happy at the prospect of helping Rama, the monkeys and bears ran around, looking for the biggest stones they could find. The Vanaras were a strong race, and they carried huge boulders, and even hills, on their shoulders easily, and dropped them in the ocean to help build the bridge.
The other animals at the seashore too wished to help Rama, and each of them helped him in his own way – the fishes and the other sea creatures did their bit by helping the boulders rest at the right place, while the birds flying overhead brought small stones to fill the gaps.
A small squirrel was seeing this huge effort, and he too wished to help. He thought for a moment, and then started collecting small pebbles lying on the shore, and dropped them in the ocean. After a while, he was too tired to even carry those pebbles, but still wanted to participate. He ran to the edge of the water, and, after rolling in the sand, ran to the water and washed himself. He ran back to the shore and rolled again, and more sand got stuck to him, since he was now wet. Again he ran to the water to wash himself. The small grains of sand which stuck to his body were all he could contribute to the massive task of building a bridge across the ocean!!
However, the small squirrel rushing to and fro on the shore was now getting in the way of the monkeys who were carrying huge boulders, and they started shouting at him, asking him to get out of the way.
“Brothers, I too want to help you. These small grains of sand are all I can throw into the ocean as my contribution to the bridge. Please do not shout at me”, said the little squirrel.
The monkeys laughed out aloud, and shouted, “Of what use are these tiny grains of sand, which can scarcely be seen among the huge boulders and hills we are bringing. Get out of the way and let us do our work!”
The squirrel was unperturbed, and continued its work calmly. Finally one of the monkeys, in his anger, picked up the squirrel and flung him far away from the shore.
Rama, who was watching this, caught the squirrel before it fell, and set it down carefully. He then addressed the Vanara army, “O Vanaras, you are brave and strong, and are doing a wonderful job bringing all these huge boulders and stones from far and dropping them in the ocean. But did you notice that it is the tiny pebbles and stones brought by this small squirrel and some of the other smaller creatures which are filling the small gaps left between the huge stones? Further, do you not realize that the tiny grains of sand brought by this squirrel are the ones which bind the whole structure and make it strong? Yet you scold this small creature and fling him away in anger!”
Hearing this, the Vanaras were ashamed, and bowed down their heads. Rama continued, “Always remember, however small, every task is equally important. A project can never be completed by the main people alone. They need the support of all, and however small, an effort should always be appreciated!”
Rama then turned to the squirrel and said softly, “My dear squirrel, I am sorry for the hurt caused to you by my army, and thank you for the help you have rendered to me. Please go and continue your work happily.” Saying this, he gently stroked the back of the squirrel with his fingers, and three lines appeared where the Lord’s fingers had touched it.
Thus did the squirrels get the 3 stripes on their backs, as a blessing from Lord Rama, to remind us that no task, however small, is unimportant! Every task should be looked upon as service to the lord, and his blessings will always be with us.