By Swami Harshananda
Sacrificing oneself for the betterment of others has always been considered as a great virtue in religion. One of the greatest examples found in the epics and the purāṇas is that of the king Rantideva. He was the son of Saṅskṛti and belonged to the Candravanśa. He had performed many yāgas or Vedic sacrifices. He was once doing severe austerities in the forest along with his family. As a part of this, he fasted for 48 days. On the 49th day he received divine food, just enough for him and his family. As the family was getting ready to partake the food, a few hungry guests came one after another. Rantideva gave away all the food, including the meagre drinking water.
These guests who were actually the Trimurtis appeared before him. Rantideva honored them with devoted obeisance but never asked for any boon. The gods then granted him and his family highest spiritual wisdom. According to the Mahābhārata, the king Rantideva was very fond of feeding guests sumptuously and offering them gifts liberally.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore