This drawing is based on a story from the Mahabharata that my brother had once told me a long time ago.
A half golden mongoose appears during the final day of the Ashwamedha sacrifice conducted by Yudhisthira of the Pandavas and starts rolling around in the sacrificial offerings. After doing this for a few minutes, the mongoose asks, “Is there no sacrifice here that is worthy of the gods?"
Confused, Yudhisthira asks the mongoose for an explanation.
The mongoose tells them a story of a village going through a terrible famine. There was a poor family with nothing to eat. To find food, the husband would go to fields already harvested, and like pigeons pick left over grains from the harvested field.
One day, after many hours of harsh work, the husband finds a handful of barley grains. He brings the grains home, and his wife cooks it. Just when his son and daughter in law, his wife and he are about to eat their first meal in few days, a guest arrives.
The husband washes the guest’s feet and inquires how he was doing. The guest says he is hungry. The husband gives his guest his share of cooked barley. The guest eats it, but says he is still hungry. The wife hears the guest and offers her share of cooked barley as well, even though she too is starving. The guest eats that too, but said he still feels hungry. The son and daughter-in-law give up their share of cooked barley too.
In the end, the guest finishes his meal, then smiles and re-appears in the form of god Yamadharmaraja. The god gives the family a boon and fills their home with food, saying that it is not the quantity that matters, but quality of care and love despite one’s circumstances.
The mongoose, which was passing by, playfully rolled around on the plate where a few grains of barley remained. The patches of fur wherever the barley touched it turned to gold! Wishing to transform the rest of its fur as well, it travelled from one sacrifice to the next in search of any offering that was worthy.
The mongoose then asks once again if there is any sacrifice available to equal the pieces of barley so that it may become fully golden.
Yudhisthira looked around at his grand sacrifice and realized that none of the offerings were given with the same love as that of the poor man’s family.
He turned to the mongoose to apologize, but the mongoose had vanished.