tam — that; tu — but; eṇa-kuṇakam — the deer calf; kṛpaṇam — helpless; srotasā — by the waves; anūhyamānam — floating; abhivīkṣya — seeing; apaviddham — removed from its own kind; bandhuḥ iva — just like a friend; anukampayā — with compassion; rāja-ṛṣiḥ bharataḥ — the great, saintly King Bharata; ādāya — taking; mṛta-mātaram — who lost its mother; iti — thus thinking; āśrama-padam — to the āśrama; anayat — brought.
The great King Bharata, while sitting on the bank of the river, saw the small deer, bereft of its mother, floating down the river. Seeing this, he felt great compassion. Like a sincere friend, he lifted the infant deer from the waves, and, knowing it to be motherless, brought it to his āśrama.
The laws of nature work in subtle ways unknown to us. Mahārāja Bharata was a great king very advanced in devotional service. He had almost reached the point of loving service to the Supreme Lord, but even from that platform he could fall down onto the material platform. In Bhagavad-gītā we are therefore warned:
so ’mṛtatvāya kalpate
“O best among men [Arjuna], the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation.” (Bg. 2.15)
Spiritual salvation and liberation from material bondage must be worked out with great caution, otherwise a little discrepancy will cause one to fall down again into material existence. By studying the activities of Mahārāja Bharata, we can learn the art of becoming completely freed from all material attachment. As it will be revealed in later verses, Bharata Mahārāja had to accept the body of a deer due to being overly compassionate for this infant deer. We should be compassionate by raising one from the material platform to the spiritual platform; otherwise at any moment our spiritual advancement may be spoiled, and we may fall down onto the material platform. Mahārāja Bharata’s compassion for the deer was the beginning of his falldown into the material world.