Kewat is the boatman who helps Shri Ram, Mata Sita and Lakshman cross River Ganga at the time of their exile. It is believed that during Satya Yug, when the whole world was flooded, Kewat was a tortoise in those waters. He had great devotion for Bhagwan Vishnu and tried to touch Bhgwan Vishnu’s feet, but was unsuccessful. After many re births, he was born into the Harivansh and became a Kewat who ferried people across the Ganga. He took birth after birth to touch the lotus feet of Bhgawan Vishnu and finally he accomplishes it when he washes the feet of Shri Ram in the Treta Yug.
Shri Ram, Mata Sita and Lakshman reach River Ganga and wait to cross it to go ahead in their journey into the forest. Nishad Raj Guh calls for Kewat. Kewat comes and sees that none other than his swami is waiting for him. He is filled with happiness and wants to touch Shri Ram’s feet, but he knows that Shri Ram treats all equally and wouldn’t allow doing so. Kewat thinks of an idea. He innocently asks Nishad Raj who the three are. When Nishad Raj tells him who they are and asks him to take them across the river, Kewat refuses straight out. All are surprised by his action and Shri Ram asks him the reason as to why wouldn’t he do so.
With folded hands, Kewat says that he could not afford to lose his source of income. He says that Shri Ram is the divine persona who transformed a stone into a woman. It worries him that if Shri Ram‘s divine feet touch his boat, and it transforms into a woman, how would he make his ends meet. Shri Ram is pleased with his devotional gesture, but mentions that he is a mere human like others. But Kewat is adamant and then says that he would ferry them in his boat, only if he could wash Shri Ram’s feet. Shri Ram is overwhelmed at this gesture and agrees to his request.
Thus, Shri Ram fulfils the wish of Kewat who was waiting to touch the lotus feet of his swami since so many births. After washing their feet Kewat places his hands on earth and asks Shri Ram to first step on his hand before stepping into the boat, and thus cleanses himself of all sins.
On the other shore, Shri Ram wants to gift Kewat something, but he has none to give. Understanding Shri Ram’s thoughts, Mata Sita gives her ring to gift it to Kewat. Shri Ram offers it to the boatman, but Kewat refuses saying that he wouldn’t take fee from a person from the same profession. Lakshman surprisingly asks Kewat that how he can compare himself with Shri Ram. Then, the Kewat humbly says, that while he ferries passengers from one side to the other side of Ganga, Shri Ram ferries the passengers from one life to the other, hence both are boatmen. Kewat requests Shri Ram to take him across the material world to his divine feet when his turn comes. Shri Ram is overwhelmed by his bhakti and embraces him. He blesses him that Kewat would be free from the cycle of birth and merge into him. Blessed is the simple boatman who waited patiently for his turn birth after birth to just touch the feet of the Almighty. True devotion teaches the quality of patience, another beautiful lesson of the Ramayan.