RAMAYANA

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RAMAKATHA RASAVAHINI – PART 1

The Rama Story, Stream of Sacred Sweetness

Chapter 1: Rama – Prince and Principle

Chapter 2: The Imperial Line

Chapter 3: No Progeny from His Loins

Chapter 4: The Sons

Chapter 5: The Guru and the Pupils

Chapter 6a: The Call and the First Victory

Chapter 6b: The Call and the First Victory

Chapter 7a: Winning Sita

Chapter 7b: Winning Sita

Chapter 7c: Winning Sita

Chapter 7d: Winning Sita

Chapter 8: Another Challenge

Chapter 9: Preparations for the Coronation

Chapter 10a: The Two Boons

Chapter 10b: The Two Boons

Chapter 11a: Lakshmana – Too

Chapter 11b: Lakshmana – Too

Chapter 12: Sita Insists and Wins

Chapter 13: Entering into Exile

Chapter 14: Into the Forest

Chapter 15: Among Hermitages

Chapter 16a: Gloom over Ayodhya

Chapter 16b: Gloom over Ayodhya

Chapter 17a: The Brothers Meet

Chapter 17b: The Brothers Meet

Chapter 17c: The Brothers Meet

Chapter 18: Sandals Enthroned

The Inner Meaning

Rama is the Indweller in every Body. He is the Atma-Rama, the Rama (Source of Bliss) in every individual. His blessings upsurging from that inner Spring can confer Peace and Bliss. He is the very embodiment of Dharma of all the Codes of Morality that hold mankind together in Love and Unity. The Ramayana, the Rama story, teaches two lessons: the value of detachment and the need to become aware of the Divine in every being. Faith in God and detachment from objective pursuits are the keys for human liberation. Give up sense-objects; you gain Rama. Sita gave up the luxuries of Ayodhya and so, she could be with Rama, in the period of ‘exile’. When she cast longing eyes on the golden deer and craved for it, she lost the Presence of Rama. Renunciation leads to joy; attachment brings about grief. Be in the world, but, not of it. The brothers, comrades, companions and collaborators of Rama are each of them examples of persons saturated with Dharma. Dasaratha is the representative of the merely physical, with the ten senses. The three Gunas – Sathwa, Rajas and Thamas – are the three Queens. The Four Goals of Life – the Purusharthas – are the four Sons. Lakshmana is the Intellect; Sugriva is Viveka or Discrimination. Vali is Despair. Hanuman is the embodiment of Courage. The Bridge is built over the Ocean of Delusion. The three Rakshasa chiefs are personifications of the Rajasic (Ravana), Thamasic (Kumbhakarna) and the Sathwic qualities (Vibhishana). Sita is Brahmajnana or the Awareness of the Universal Absolute, which the Individual must acquire and regain undergoing travails in the crucible of Life. Make your heart pure and strong, contemplating the grandeur of the Ramayana. Be established in the faith that Rama is the Reality of your existence.

-BABA-

Chapter 1

Rama – Prince and Principle

The name ‘Rama’ is the essence of the Vedas; the Story of Rama is an ocean of Milk, pure and potent. It can be asserted that no poem of equal grandeur and beauty has emerged from other languages or from other countries until this very day; but it has provided inspiration to the poetic imagination of every language and country. It is the greatest treasure inherited by his good fortune by every Indian.

Rama is the guardian deity of the Hindus; the Name is borne by the bodies in which they dwell and the buildings in which those bodies dwell. It can safely be said that there is no Indian who has not imbibed the nectar of Ramakatha, the story of Rama.

The Ramayana, the epic that deals with the story of the Rama Incarnation, is a sacred text that is reverently recited by people with all varieties of equipment, the scholar as well as the ignoramus, the millionaire as well as the pauper. The Name that the Ramayana glorifies cleanses all evil; it transforms the sinner; it reveals the Form that the Name represents, the Form that is as charming as the Name itself.

As the sea is the source of all the waters on earth, all beings are born from ‘Rama’. A sea sans [without] water is unreal; a being sans [without] ‘Rama’ is without existence, now or ever. The azure Ocean and the Almighty Lord have much in common.

The Ocean is the abode of the Almighty, as myth and legend proclaim; they describe Him as reclining on the Ocean of Milk. This is the reason behind the title given by Valmiki (son of Prachetas) the great poet who composed the epic, to each canto, Kaanda. Kaanda means water, an expanse of water.

It also means ‘the sugarcane’. However crooked a cane may be, whichever section you chew, the sweetness is unaffected and uniform. The stream of Rama’s Story meanders through many a curve and twist; nevertheless, the sweetness of Karuna (tenderness, pity, compassion) persists without diminution throughout the narrative. The stream turns and flows through sadness, wonder, ridicule, awa, terror, love, despair and dialectics, but the main undercurrent is the love of Dharma (Righteousness, Morality) and the Karuna (Compassion) it fosters.

The nectar in the story of Rama is as the ‘Sarayu river’ that moves silently by the city of Ayodhya, where Rama was born and where he ruled. The Sarayu has its source in the Himalayan Manasa-Sarovar, as this Story is born in the Manasa-Sarovar (the Lake of the Mind)! The Rama stream bears the sweetness of Karuna; the stream of Lakshmana (his brother and devoted companion) has the sweetness of Devotion, (Bhakthi); as the Sarayu river joins the Ganga (Ganges) and the waters commingle, so too, the streams of tender compassion and devotion (the stories of Rama and Lakshmana) commingle in the Ramayana. Karuna and Prema make up, between them, the composite picture of the glory of Rama; that picture fulfils the heart’s dearest yearning for every Indian; to attain it is the aim of every spiritual striving.

The effort of the individual is but half the pursuit; the other half consists in the Grace of God. Man fulfils himself by self-effort as well as Divine Blessings; the fulfilment takes him across the dark ocean of dualities, on to the Immanent and Transcendent One.

The Ramayana has to be read, not as the record or a human career, but as the narrative or the Advent and Activities of an Avatar (Incarnation of God). Man must endeavour with determination to realise through his own experience the ideals revealed in that narrative. God is all-knowing, all-pervasive, all-powerful. The words that He utters while embodied in the Human form, the acts that He deigns to indulge in during his earthly sojourn, these are inscrutable and extra-ordinarily significant. The precious springs of His Message ease the Path or Deliverance for mankind. Do not look upon Rama as a scion of the Solar Dynasty, or as the sovereign of the kingdom of Ayodhya, or as the son of Emperor Dasaratha. Those correlates are but accessory and accidental. This error has become habitual to modern readers; they pay attention only to the personal relationship and affiliations between the characters of the story they read about; they do not delve into the values they represent and demonstrate.

To elaborate this error: the father of Rama had three wives; the first was such and such, the second was of this nature, the third had these traits! Her maids were of this ugly type … . The wars fought by Dasaratha, the father, were characterised by these peculiarities… those specialities … . In this manner, fancy leads man astray into the region of the trivial and the colourful, making him neglect the valuable kernel. People do not realise that the study of history must enrich life and make it meaningful and worthwhile, rather than cater to the appetite for paltry facts and petty ideas. Their validity and value lie deep within the facts and fertilise them like subterranean water. Wear the glasses of Bhakthi (Reverent Adoration) and Sradha (Steady Dedication); then, the eye will endow you with the pure Wisdom that liberates you and grants eternal Bliss.

As men squeeze juice out of the fibrous cane and drink only the sweetness, as the bee sucks the honey in the flower, regardless of its symmetry and colour, as the moth flies towards the brightness of the flame, ignoring the heat and the inevitable catastrophe, the Sadhaka (Spiritual Seeker) should yearn to imbibe the Karunarasa (the expression of the emotion of tenderness, pity and compassion) that the Ramayana is saturated with, paying no heed to other subjects. When a fruit is eaten, we throw away the skin, the seeds and the fibre. It is in the very nature of Nature that fruits have these components! Nevertheless, no one will eat these on the plea that he has paid for them! No one can swallow the seeds and digest them. No one will chew the outer rind. So, too, in this Rama-fruit called Ramayana, the tales of Rakshasas (demons, ogres and the like) form the rind; the wicked deeds of these evil men are the hard indigestible seeds; sensory and wordly descriptions and events are the not-too-tasty fibrous stuff; they are the sheaths for the juicy nourishment.

Those who seek the Karuna-rasa in the Rama fruit should concentrate more on the central narrative than on supplementary details that embellish or encumber it. Listen to the Ramayana in that mood; that is the best form of Sravana (process of spiritual listening).

On one occasion, Emperor Parikshith fell at the feet of the Sage Suka and asked for instruction on one point that was causing him dire doubt. “Master! One riddle has been worrying me since long. I know that you can solve it for me and that no one else can. I have listened to the narratives of the lives of my forefathers, from the earliest, the great Manu, down to those of my grandfathers and father. I have studied these stories with care. I observe that in the history of every one of these, there is mention of Sages (Rshis) attached to the monarch, some learned scholar-saints who are members of the court, attending durbars and sharing the business of government! What is the real meaning of this amazing association of scholars (who have renounced all attachments and desires, who have realised that the world is a shadow and a snare, and that the One is the only Reality) with kings and rulers playing subordinate roles and counselling them when asked? Those revered elders will not, I know, engage themselves in any activity without sufficient and proper reasons. Their behaviour will ever be pure and unsullied. But, this makes my doubt unsolvable. Please enlighten me”.

Suka laughed at the question. He replied, “You have asked a fine question, no doubt. Listen! The great sages and holy scholars will always be eager to share with their fellowmen the truth they have grasped, the sanctifying experience they have won, the elevating deed they have been priviliged to perform, and the Divine Grace they have been chosen to receive; they seek nearness to those who are in charge of administration, those who are adepts in ruling over peoples, with the intention to use them as instruments for establishing and ensuring peace and prosperity on earth; they implant high ideals in their minds, and holy ways of fulfilling them; they prompt the performance of righteous actions, in accordance with just laws. The monarchs too invite and welcome the sages, seek out the scholars and plead with them to be in their courts, so that they can learn from them the art of government and act according to their counsel. The monarch was the master and guardian of the people; so, they spent their days with him for the estimable purpose of realising, through him, the yearning of their hearts: “Lokaassamasthaah Sukhino Bhavanthu – May all the Worlds be happy”. They were eager to see happiness and peace spread over the world. Therefore, they tried to equip the kings with all the virtues, fill them with all the moral codes of discipline, arm them with all branches of learning, so that they may rule the realm efficiently, wisely and with beneficial consequences to themselves and their subjects.

There were other reasons, too. Listen! Knowing that the Granter of Joy to humanity, the Mentor of human morals, the Leader of the Solar line, the Dweller in the Heaven of Eternal Bliss, will take birth in a royal line, Sages who had the foresight to anticipate events, gained entry into the durbars of rulers so that they may experience the bliss of contact with the Incarnation, when It happens. They feared they may not get such access later, that they may miss the Bliss they could well garner. So, they profited by their vision of the future and established themselves in the royal capital, in the thick of the community, longing for the Advent.

“To this venerable group belonged Vasistha, Vismamitra, Garga, Agasthya and other sages (rishis). They had no wants; they were monarchs of renunciation; they sought nothing from any one. They were ever content. They appeared in the audience halls of the emperors of those days, not for polemics and the pomp of punditry or for collecting the costly gifts offered to such disputants and guests, or for decorating themselves with the burdensome title those patrons confer on the persons they prefer. They craved rather for the Darsan (Bliss of the Vision) of the Lord and for a chance to uphold Dharma (Righteousness) in human affairs; they had no other objective”.

“The kings too in those days were immersed in thoughts divine! They approached the hermits and sages in their retreats in order to discover from them the means of making their subjects happy and content; often they invited them to their palaces and consulted them about ways and means of good government. Those were days when there were sages with no attachment to self, and scholars with no craving for power; such were the men who tendered advice to the kings. As a consequence, there was no lack of food and clothing, of housing or good health, for the people of the realm. All days were festival days; all doors were decorated with green festoons. The ruler felt that his most sacred duty was the fostering of his people’s welfare. The subjects too felt that the ruler was the heart of the body politic. They had full faith that he was as precious as their own hearts; they valued him as such; they revered him and paid him the homage of gratitude”.

Suka explained the role of the sages in the royal courts in this clear downright manner before the large gathering that was sitting around him.

Have you noticed this? Whatever is done by the great, whichever company they choose, they will ever be on the path of righteousness, on the path of the Divine; their acts will promote the welfare of the entire world! So, when the Ramayana or other narratives of the Divine are recited or read, attention must be fixed on the majesty and mystery of God, on the Truth and Straightforwardness that are inherent in them, and on the practice of those qualities in daily life. No importance should be attached to extraneous matters; the means and manner of the execution of one’s duty is the paramount lesson to be learnt.

God, when appearing with Form for the sake of upholding Dharma, behaves in a human way. He needs must! For, He has to hold forth the ideal life before man and confer the experience of joy and peace on men. His movements and activities (Leelas) might appear ordinary and commonplace to some eyes. But, each of these will be an expression of beauty, truth, goodness, joy and exaltation. It will captivate the world with its charm, it will purify the heart that contemplates it. It will overcome and overwhelm all the agitations of the mind. It will tear the veil of Illusion (Maya). It will fill the consciousness with Sweetness. There can be no ‘ordinary’ and ‘commonplace’ in the careers of Avathars. Whatever is seen and taken as of that nature is really ‘super-human’, ‘super-natural’, deserving high reverence!

The story of Rama is not the story of an individual; it is the story of the Universe! Rama is the Personification of the basic Universal in all beings. He is in all, for all time, in all space. The story deals not with a period that is past, but with the present and future without end, with beginningless eternal Time!

No ant can bite, without Rama’s Will! No leaf can drop from its branch, without Rama’s prompting! Sky, wind, fire, water and earth – the Five Elements that compose the Universe – behave as they do for fear of Him, and in tune with His Orders! Rama is the Principle which attracts – and endears through that attraction – the disparate elements in Nature. The attraction that one exerts over another is what makes the Universe exist and function.

That is the Rama principle, without which the cosmos will become chaos. Hence, the axiom: If there be no Rama, there will be no Panorama (Universe).

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Chapter 2

The Imperial Line

In the Immaculate pure Solar Dynasty was born the highly mighty, the far famed, the strong armed, the Intensely loved and revered ruler, Khatvanga. His rule showered supreme bliss on the immense populations under his throne and persuaded them to pay homage to him, as if he were himself God. He had a ‘one-and-only’ son, named Dileepa. He grew up, shining in the glory of knowledge and virtue; he shared with his father the joy and privilege of guarding and guiding the people. He moved among his subjects, eager to know their joys and sorrows, anxious to discover how best to relieve pain and distress, intent on their welfare and prosperity. The father watched his son grow straight and strong, virtuous and wise. He sought a bride for him so that after the marriage, he could place on his shoulders part of the burden of the sceptre. He sought her in royal houses far and wide, for she must be a worthy companion for the prince. At last, the choice fell on the Magadhan princess, Sudakshina. The wedding was celebrated with unsurpassed pomp and exultation by the people and the court.

Sudakshina was endowed with all womanly virtues in ample measure. She was saintly and simple and a sincere votary of her husband; she served her lord and poured love on him, as if he were her very breath. She walked in the footsteps of her husband and never deviated from the path of righteousness.

Dileepa, too, was the very embodiment of righteousness, and, as a consequence, he saw that neither want nor disappointment affected him in the least. He held fast to the ideals and practices of his father so far as the administration of the empire was concerned, and so he could slowly and without any dislocation, take upon himself the full responsibility of administration. Thus, he was able to give his father rest in his old age. Khatvanga rejoiced within himself, contemplating the great qualities of his son and observing his skill, efficiency and practical wisdom. Some years passed thus. Then, Khatvanga directed the court astrologers to select an auspicious day and hour for the Coronation of Dileepa and on the day fixed by them he installed Dileepa as the Monarch of the realm.

From that day Dileepa shone forth as the Lord and Sovereign of the Empire, which stretched from sea to sea, with the seven islands of the Ocean. His rule was so just and compassionate, so much in conformity with the injunctions laid down in the scriptures, that rains came as plentifully as needed and the harvest was rich and profuse. The entire empire was green and glorious, festive and full. The land was resonant with the sacred sound of the Vedas recited in every village, the purifying rythm of the manthras chanted in the Vedic sacrifices performed throughout the land; every community lived in concord with all the rest.

Nevertheless, the Maharaja was apparently overcome by some mysterious anxiety; his face was losing effulgence. The lapse of a few years did not improve matters. Despair wrote its deep lines firmer on his brow. One day, he revealed the cause of his gloom to his queen, Sudakshina: “Darling! We have no children, and sadness is overpowering me as a consequence. I am even more affected when I realise that this Ikshvaku dynasty will terminate with me. Some sin which I committed must have brought about this calamity. I am unable to decide the process by which I can counter this malign destiny. I am eager to learn from our family preceptor, the sage Vasishta, the means by which I can win the Grace of God and make amends for the sin. I am very much agitated by grief. What do you suggest as the best means to win Grace?”

Sudakshina did not take time even to think out the answer. “Lord! This same fear had entered my mind too, and caused me much grief. I had not given expression to it. I smothered it in the mind for I cannot, I know, reveal my fears, without being prompted by you, my Lord. I am ever willing and eager to support and follow implicitly what appeals to you as the best means of overcoming our sorrow. Why should there be any delay? Let us hasten to consult revered Vasishta”, she said. Dileepa ordered the chariot to be brought for the pilgrimage to the hermitage of the Preceptor. He directed that no escort or courtier need accompany him that day. In fact, he drove the vehicle himself and reached the simple cottage of his Gurudev.

At the sound of the chariot, the hermits on the out-skirts of the Asram went into the cottage and made known to their Master the arrival of the Ruler of the Empire. Vasishta showered his blessing on him as soon as he saw him near the door and lovingly inquired about his health and the welfare of his subjects and his kith and kin.

Sudakshina fell at the feet of the sage’s consort, the famed Arundhathi, embodiment of all the virtues which adorn the noblest of women. Arundhathi lifted her into her arms and fondly embraced her prodding her with questions about her welfare. She led her into the inner part of the hermitage.

As befitted the monarch of the realm, Dileepa acquired from Vasishta whether the Yajnas and Yagas the ascetics had to perform as part of the cultural tradition were being carried out without any handicap, whether the anchorites were experiencing any difficulty in acquiring food and carrying on their studies and spiritual practices, and whether their sylvan campuses were terrorised by wild beasts. He was yearning, he said, to make their studies and spiritual excercises progress well without any distraction due to adverse environment or counter-influences.

When the king and queen entered the cottage and sat in their places, with the assembled sages and seekers, Vasishta suggested to the latter to move into their own hermitages, and asked the king the reason for his coming to his place accompanied by the queen and none else. The king communicated to his preceptor the nature and depth of his grief, and prayed for the only remedy that could remove it, namely, his Grace.

Listening to that prayer, Vasishta was lost in deep meditation. Perfect silence prevailed. The king too sat in the lotus posture on the bare floor and merged his mind in God; the queen attuned her mind with the Divine.

At last, Vasistha opened his eyes and said, “King! The will of God can be thwarted by no man, whatever his might or authority. I have no power to override the decree of the Divine. I cannot manifest enough Grace to confer, through my blessings, the son you desire. You have drawn on yourself a curse. On one occasion, when you were approaching the Capital, during your journey home, the Divine Cow, Kamadhenu, was reclining in the cool shade of the Divine Tree, the Kalpatharu! Your eye fell on her, but caught up in the tangle of worldly pleasures, you ignored her and passed on, in pride, to the palace. Kamadhenu was pained at the neglect, she was hurt that you had failed to honour her; she felt that your people will start dishonouring the cow, since the king himself had failed in his duty. When rulers, who do not revere the Vedas or adore Brahmins who learn and practise the Vedas or neglect the cow which sustains man, continue to rule without restraint, she argued, there will be no Dharma in the land.

“Kamadhenu cursed you that day that you should have no son to succeed to your throne; she declared, however, that when you take the advice of the Guru and start in humility and reverence to serve the cow and worship her in gratitude, the curse will be rendered infructuous and you will be rewarded with a son and heir.

“Therefore, worship the cow from this moment, with your queen, as laid down in the sacred texts and you are certain to have a son. The hour is near when cows start returning home from the pasture. My treasure, the divine cow, Nandini, is fast approaching the hermitage. Go, serve her with devotion and steady faith. Give her food and drink at appropriate hours. Wash the cow and take her out to the pastures and see that no harm comes to her while she grazes.”

Vasishta then initiated the King and Queen in the rituallistic vow of ‘Cow Worship’ (Dhenuvratha); he sent them into the cow-shed with holy water and offerings for the worship and himself walked towards the river for ablutions and evening prayers.

One day, while Nandini was grazing happily in the jungle, a lion espied her and followed her in order to allay his hunger. Dileepa observed this; he used all his skill and might to foil the lion from pouncing on her; he resolved to offer his own body in exchange. That lion, though feline and ferocious, was a strict follower of Dharma. Moved by compassion at the sacrifice that the king was willing to make to save the cow that he worshipped, it released the cow and the king from its clutches, and left the place.

Nandini was filled with an inexpressible sense of gratitude and joy at the self-sacrificing gesture of Dileepa. She said, “King! This moment, the curse that afflicts you is lifted! You will have a son who will subdue the whole world, support the principles and practice of Dharma, earn renown on earth and in heaven, enhance the fame of the dynasty, and, more than all, continue the Ikshvaku line, wherein, the Lord Himself, Narayana, will one day take birth! May this son be born soon”. Nandini blessed the King. Attended by the King, the sacred cow returned to the asram of Vasishta.

Vasishta had no need to be told! He knew all; as soon as he saw the face of the King and Queen, he surmised that their wish was fulfilled; so, he blessed them and permitted them to leave for the City. Then, Dileepa and Queen Sudakshina prostrated before the Sage and reached the Palace, full of joy at the happy turn of events.

The child grew in the womb as the blessing guaranteed. When the months ran their full course, at an auspicious moment, the son was born. When the happy tidings spread over the city and kingdom, thousands assembled before and around the palace in great joy; the streets were festooned with flags and green leaves; groups of people danced in glee calling on all to share in the thrill; they waved camphor flames to mark the occasion. Huge crowds exclaimed ‘Jai’ ‘Jai’ and moved on towards the Palace grounds.

Dileepa ordered that the birth of the heir to the empire be announced to the multitude gathered in the vast grounds of the Palace, by the Minister himself, and when he did so, the joyous acclamation of the throng hit the sky. The applause was loud and long; the jais echoed and re-echoed from one street to another. It took many hours for the gathering to disperse and reach home.

On the tenth day, the King invited the Guru and celebrated the rite of Naming the New-born (Namakaranam). The name Raghu was selected, on the basis of the asterism under which he was born. The child gave delight to all by its prattle and play; he was liked by all as a bright and charming youngster; he crossed his teens and became a brave, resolute, efficient helpmate of his father!

One night – no one could guess why the king felt so – while conversing with the Queen he said, “Sudakshina! I have achieved many a grand victory! I have succeeded in celebrating many a great ritual sacrifice. I have fought many a grim battle with mighty invaders and triumphed over them all, including even ogres and sub-human Titans! We are blessed with a son who is a precious gem! We have nothing more to gain.

“Let us spend the remainder of our lives in the adoration of God. Raghu is the repository of all virtues; he is fit in all respects to take up the burden of ruling over the Empire. Let us entrust the realm to him; we shall retire into the silence of the forest, live on roots and fruits, serve the sages who lead austere lives filled with godly thoughts and godward aspiration, and sanctify every moment with Sravana (Listening to the sacred teachings), Manana (Meditating on their inner meaning) and Nididhyasana (Practising the path laid down) We shall not yield for a minute to sloth based on Thamasic qualities.”

So saying, he called the Minister to his presence as soon as it was dawn: he directed that arrangements be made for the Coronation and marriage of the Prince. Full of the spirit of renunciation, he asked the Queen what her plans were. She shed tears of joy and gratitude and said, “What greater good fortune can I gain? I am bound by your order; proceed with your plans”. Her enthusiasm and willing acceptance strengthened the resolution of the Emperor.

Dileepa called together his ministers, scholars, and sages and communicated to them his intention to celebrate the Coronation and marriage of his son; they wholeheartedly agreed and the two functions were held in great pomp. The father then gave the Prince, valuable advice on administration emphasising the need to promote the study of the Vedas and the fostering of scholars learned in Vedic lore, and lay down laws that will promote popular well-being. After this, he moved into the forest, with the queen, bent on acquiring the Grace of God.

Emperor Raghu ruled the kingdom from that day in accordance with the directives given by the pundits and with the twin objectives: the happiness of his subjects and the promotion of righteous living. He believed that these two are as vital as breath, and he spared no pains in pursuing these ideals, and making his ministers too adhere to the path. Though young, he was rich in virtue. However tough a problem happened to be, he grasped it quick and discovered the means of solving it; he made his subjects happy and contented. Wicked kings were taught severe lessons by him. He won them over by peaceful approach and clever diplomatic tactics, or by fielding a little army in order to win them over, or openly breaking with them and defeating them on the field of battle.

He was engaged in activities that ensured the welfare of the people and promoted the culture enshrined in the Vedas. All classes of people extolled his rule, irrespective of age, economic status, or attainments. They said he was proving himself superior to his father in physical prowess, courage, righteous conduct and compassion. Eyeryone said that he brought lasting significance to the name he bore.

Raghu paid special attention to the care and comfort of the hermits engaged in asceticism in the forests; he saw to it that they were saved from harassment and himself supervised the arrangements for assuring them protection and encouragement. So, he received their blessings and grace in ample measure.

One day, the student-hermit, Kautsu, disciple of Varathanthu, came to the Court after finishing his studies. He prayed to the King to help him in securing the Thanks Offering which he had to submit to his preceptor. Raghu gave him the money that he wanted. Kautsu was happy that the gift he received was pure, collected from the people without causing them any distress, and paid by them gladly and gratefully, for Raghu did not collect even a paisa more than was absolutely needed, as he was ever afraid of the anger of God. The money was also handed over with great love and consideration, and so, Kautsu was overwhelmed by joy and gratefulness. His heart was full and he spoke lovingly to the King, “May you be blessed soon with a son Who will achieve world-wide fame”. With this, he left the presence of the ruler.

True to his words, ten months later, Raghu was blessed with a son, dazzling like a diamond! The rites of baptism and naming were performed by the palace priests; he was named ‘Aja’. [compare with Chapter 7d] He was a very charming babe. He grew into a sprightly boy, eager to learn all the arts and sciences. He became an adept in each of them. His fame as a great scholar and a very accomplished lad spread throughout the land.

In course of time, Raghu also felt his father’s urge to place on the prince’s head the burden of the sceptre and himself retire into the forest for the contemplation of God. He too called on the ministers to arrange for the transfer of authority by means of the rite of Coronation and to synchronise that rite with the marriage of Aja with a suitable bride. Indumathi, the sister of Bhojaraja, the ruler of Magadha, was the bride chosen to be the life partner of Aja. After the installation of Aja on the throne, the royal parents left for their forest hermitage.

Aja, with the queen as his loving partner, won the loyalty of the subjects by his wisdom and sympathy: they scrupulously followed the advice given by Raghu on the ways and means of administration. Aja loved and revered the world and its inhabitants as the reflections and images of the Indumathi he loved so deeply; so, he was full of happiness and exaltation. They used to spend days and weeks in beautiful sylvan retreats, admiring the glory and grandeur of Nature.

Meanwhile, the queen gave birth to a son. The parents were overjoyed at this happy event; they had the news communicated to their revered preceptor, Vasishta. They wanted ceremonial rites to be done for the newborn baby. He was named Dasaratha.

Dasaratha was, indeed, the pet of every one who saw him and who had the privilege of fondling him. The child waved and tossed its limbs about as if he was all vitality and joy. It appeared as if it was fed on Ananda and it lived only for imparting Ananda to all.

One day, Aja and Indumathi betook themselves into the forest, as was their wont, for recreation in the lap of nature. The silence and the sublimity of that day were even more appealing than on other days. They sat in the shade of a tree and conversed endearingly, when a wind rose heavy and strong. It brought a fragrance, sweet beyond description. And, they could hear the captivating strains of divine music! They rose and searched all around them for the cause of these mysterious gifts. They found high above their heads, between the clouds in the sky, Narada, the “mental son” (Maanasa Putra) of Brahma, moving fast somewhere. Even as they were watching him, a flower from the wreath he was wearing on his tuft, unloosened itself and wafted by the wind, it fell right on top of the head of Indumathi. Aja was amazed at this incident; but, he was shocked to find that the queen fell instantly on the ground in a faint and closed her eyes for ever!

The death of the woman he loved as intimately as his own breath caused desperate grief to the ruler; his lamentation shook the forest from end to end. The earth quaked in sympathy; the trees stood still, rooted in wonder at the sorrow that filled the royal heart and overflowed it.

Narada heard the wail of the king – his sobs and groans – as he wept over the corpse of his beloved. He came down to console his agony. “Raja!”, he said, “sorrow is of no avail when death strikes; the body is prone to birth and death; what brings about birth brings about death too; to seek to know why they happen is an exercise in insanity. The acts of God are beyond the cause-and-effect chain. Ordinary intellects cannot unravel them; they can at best guess the reason, as far as their faculties can reach. How can the intellect grasp something out of its domain?

“Death is inevitable for each embodied being. However, since the death of Indumathi is resonant with strangeness, I have to tell you its reason”, Narada said. He drew Aja near and said, “Listen! In former days, the sage Thrnabindu was engaged in extreme asceticism, and Indra resolved to test his attainments and the depth of his equanimity. He despatched a Divine Enchantress, named Harini, to attract him into the world of sensualism. But, the sage was immune to her wiles and remained unaffected. He opened his eyes and said, ‘You do not seem to be an ordinary woman! You are perhaps a godly damsel. Well, whoever you are, you must suffer the penalty for resolving to execute a foul deed, a nefarious plan! Be born as a human being, fallen from heaven; learn what it is to be a mortal human’. Cursing her thus, the sage closed his eyes and plunged into meditation again.

“Harini shook with fear and shed profuse tears of repentance; she prayed for pardon and for cancellation of her exile from heaven, she pleaded pathetically for the removal of the curse. At this, the sage melted a little and said, ‘O weak one! It is not possible for me to retake my words. But I shall indicate an occasion when you will be released. Listen! The moment a flower from heaven drops on your head, your human frame will fall and you can return to Heaven. Indumathi is that divine damsel and she has found her release this day. When a flower I wore fell on her, she rid herself of the curse. Why grieve over this? It is of no avail.” Narada spoke of the duties of a monarch and his responsibility and the example he must set before all; he spoke of the evanescent nature of life and the mystery of death, the ultimate fate of all beings that are born. After this, Narada wended his way across the sky.

Unable to save his beloved, Aja performed the obsequies and reached the capital city. He was heavy with grief; only Prince Dasaratha could give him some consolation and renew his will to live; he spent his days in morose dreariness. Since Dasaratha was now a full-grown youth, Aja made over the kingdom to him and sat on the bank of the Sarayu river, bent on fulfilling the vow of “non-acceptance of food”, (Anasana). Denying himself the sustenance to continue, he caused his life to ebb away.

As soon as Dasaratha heard the news, he hastened quickly to the Sarayu bank, and bewailed the loss of his dear father. He arranged for the funeral without delay and felt some relief that his father had given up life through a ritualistic vow. He drew some strength from this fact and resumed his duties as the Ruler, with full mastery of all his varied faculties.

Within a short time, the fame of Dasaratha illumined all quarters, like the rays of the rising Sun. He had the intrepidity and skill of ten charioteers rolled into one and so, the name Dasaratha (The-ten-chariot hero) was found appropriate. No one could stand up against the onrush of his mighty chariot! Every contemporary ruler, mortally afraid of his prowess, paid homage to his throne. The world extolled him as a hero without equal, a paragon of virtue, a statesman of highest stature.

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Chapter 3

No Progeny from his Loins

Ravana, the Rakshasa King of Lanka, heard of Dasaratha and his fame. He was so filled with envy that he determined on a sure plan to destroy him, by means, fair or foul. Ravana sought for an excuse to provoke Dasaratha into a fight; one day, he sent word through a messenger, that unless tribute was paid to him, he would have to meet Ravana on the battlefield and demonstrate his superior might in war. This call was against international morality, but what morality did a Rakshasa respect?

When Dasaratha heard the messenger speak, he laughed outright, in derision. Even while the messenger was looking on, he shot sharp deadly arrows which reached Lanka itself and fastened the gates of that City!

Addressing the envoys, Dasaratha said, “Well, Sirs! I have now made fast the doors of your fortress city; your master cannot open them, however hard he may try; that is the ‘tribute’ I pay to your impertinent lord”. When the envoys returned and informed Ravana of this, he was shocked to find all the doors closed fast; the desperate efforts made by Ravana with all his men met with failure; they could not open the gates. When Ravana was struck with shame, strangely enough, the arrows returned to Ayodhya and the doors flew open.

Ravana, however, decided that he must overpower all the rulers of the world and, realizing that he could do so only by winning Divine Grace, he went over to the depths of the forest and selected a favourable, auspicious spot for his ascetic practices.

The asceticism of Ravana was so intense and satisfying that God Brahma was compelled to appear before him and offer to grant him whatever boon he desired. “Ravana! Ask for anything you want! I shall give you your heart’s desire”, said Brahma. Ravana was revolving in his mind the insult he had suffered at the hands of Dasaratha; he argued that Dasaratha might get even mightier sons from whom he might suffer more; so, he asked the boon he wanted, “Lord! Bless me with this gift of Grace: let no child be born from the loins of Dasaratha”. At this, Brahma said, “So be it”, and immediately vanished from the scene, lest Ravana might frame another foul request if He were present before him! Ravana strutted about, proud and devoid of fear, exulting over his prowess and success.

Meanwhile, another project entered his head! “Dasaratha is a youth of marital age now; if I so contrive that he does not marry at all, it will make my safety doubly sure”, he thought within himself! Looking about with the aid of his Rakshasa skills, he discerned that there was a great likelihood that Dasaratha will wed the daughter of the King of Kosala. So, he decided to put an end to that princess! When one’s own destruction is imminent, reason turns crooked – as the saying goes! He entered the Kosala kingdom stealthily in disguise and kidnapped the princess. Placing her in a wooden box, he cast it over the waves of the sea.

Ravana could not see the truth that nothing can ever happen without the concurrence of the Divine Will. Brahma willed otherwise: the box was carried by the waves on to the shore. The place where it landed was a fine recreation area. The next day, Sumanthra, the Prime Minister of Dasaratha happened to visit the place on a quiet holiday, to be spent in discussing within himself the problems of the State. His eyes fell in the box; he retrieved it and opened it. He was surprised to find in it a charming girl, with attractive shining eyes and a halo of divine splendour. Sumanthra was overcome with pity; he spoke soft and sweet to the girl, “Little one! How did it happen that you were placed inside this box?”

She replied, “Sir, I am the princess of the Kosala kingdom; my name is Kausalya. I am not aware how I came inside this box nor who placed me in it. I was playing with my companions in the palace gardens; I do not remember what happened to me”. Sumanthra was moved by her simple and sincere statement. He said, “Such barbarian stratagems are resorted to only by Rakshasas; they are beyond the ken of men! I shall take you to your father and place you in his hands. Come with me! Let us go without delay”.

Sumanthra placed her in his chariot and proceeded to Kosala, where he restored her to the King and recited before the Court the details known to him.

The King too, interrogated Sumanthra in various ways. He discovered that he was none other than the minister at the Court of Dasaratha, Emperor of Ayodhya, and that his master was still unmarried. He was filled with joy at the discovery. He said, “Minister! You brought back to me this child of mine, saving her from destruction. So, I have resolved to give her in marriage to your master himself. Please inform the king of my offer”. He honoured Sumanthra with due ceremony and sent him with the Court Priest and appropriate presents.

Sumanthra told Dasaratha in detail all that had happened. In order to confirm his acceptance, Dasaratha sent with the Court Priest of Kosala his own Court Priest with gifts of auspicious nature. The date and time were fixed; Dasaratha proceeded to the Kosala capital accompanied by a magnificent array of elephantry, chariotry, cavalry and infantry. The paean of music which marched with him reached the sky and echoed from the horizon. The marriage of Dasaratha and Kausalya was celebrated with resounding grandeur and splendour. The King of Kosala took Sumanthra near him and said, “You are the person who brought about this glory; of course, nothing ever happens without God’s will. Nevertheless, how can I repay the debt I owe you and demonstrate my gratitude to you? Please honour my offer and accept it; be wedded this day itself in my capital city. If you agree, I shall arrange for the celebration of that joyous event this very day”.

Dasaratha and Sumanthra gave their consent to the proposal. Sumanthra was married to the daughter of Veeradasa, of the clan of Ganga. The news of the marriages of both King and Prime Minister at the same place, on the same day, spread throughout the City, nay, throughout the kingdom!The land was filled with wonder and delight. The festival lasted three days; the populace were treated to music, drama, dance and other forms of entertainment. Night and day were packed with excitement and joy.

On the fourth day, Dasaratha started back for Ayodhya, with his queen and courtiers as well as Minister Sumanthra with his bride and entourage; they entered the City amidst the acclamation of the people. His subjects exulted at the marriages of both King and Minister; they danced in the streets and shouted “Jay” “Jay” till their throats got hoarse. They lined the streets to see their Queen; they sprinkled rose-water on the roads by which they came and welcomed them waving flames of camphor.

Dasaratha resumed his royal duties and ruled the realm with love and care. Often, he went with his consort, on excursions into the forests, and spent his days happily. But, as time sped through days, months and even years, the shadow of distress darkened the face of the King. For, the pang of being childless saddened him.

The King consulted priests, pundits and ministers and when he knew that their desire confirmed the earnest prayer of Kausalya, he married another wife, Sumithra. Sumithra lived up to her name, for she was indeed full of companionable virtues. Kausalya and Sumithra were bound to each other by ties of affection, far stronger than those between a mother and child. Each yearned to give joy to the other; each had deep fortitude, detachment and sympathy. But, in spite of the lapse of many years, no signs of the King securing a successor to the throne were evident. Moved by despair, the King married a third wife, at the instance of the two queens. She was Kaika, the exquisitely charming daughter of the King or Kekaya in Kashmir.

The King of Kekaya, however, laid down certain conditions, before agreeing to give his daughter away in marriage! He insisted that the son born of Kaika should have the right of accession to the throne; if the King of Ayodhya could not agree to this, he declared, he would not consent. Garga. the Court Priest, brought back the message to Ayodhya. Kausalya and Sumithra recognized the ardour of the King to wed the princess of Kekaya, whose beauty was being extolled highly by all; they felt that the duty of a true wife is to obey the least wish of the husband and do her best to help the realization of that wish; they also knew full well that the Imperial Line of Ayodhya can never be polluted by a son who would transgress Dharma. Though Dasaratha might promise that the son of the third wife could succeed to the throne, the son of Kaika born in the dynasty would certainly be an embodiment of righteousness, free from such blemish: so, they pleaded with him, with palms meeting in prayer, “Lord! What greater happiness have we than yours? Accept the conditions laid by the King of Kekaya and wed his daughter and ensure the continuity of this dynasty of Raghu. There is no need to spend even a minute’s thought upon this”.

The words of the queens fanned his native ardour to an even brighter flame; therefore, the King sent Garga back with many presents agreeing to the terms and informing the King that he was following fast for the wedding ceremony. The ceremony itself was celebrated with lavish magnificence.

Dasaratha returned to his capital, shining like the moon amidst the stars, when he passed through the streets in procession, accompanied by the three queens. The King treated each of them with equal consideration; they too, evinced equal love and respect towards each other and the King. They adored him and were afraid to displease him. They endeavoured their best to carry out his wishes and not to hinder his desire, for they revered him as their God, in the tradition of the true wife. They lived with such intimate mutual love that it appeared as if all three had but one breath, though they moved about as three bodies!

Years passed. The King and the queens crossed the bounds of youth and middle age and approached the realm of old age; there were no signs of a son. Therefore, though the women’s apartments of the palace had all the comforts and accessories needed for happy existence, the hearts of the queens were torn by unrest, anxiety and despair.

One evening, the four (the King and his queens) sat in a room or the palace spending hours of anxiety over the future of Ayodhya, and the prospects of its prosperity and safety; and each attempted to answer intelligently and pleasantly. At last, unable to resolve the problem, they rose, heavily dejected and decided that they should consult the family Preceptor, Vasishta, and accept his advice.

At break of dawn, Vasishta was respectfully invited to grant his Presence; many Pundits and Counselors were also called for consultation. The King placed before them the problem of finding a successor to rule the vast realm between the two seas, the Imperial domain under the sway of the Raghu dynasty. Overcome by despair, Dasaratha prayed to the elders in plaintive terms for beneficial suggestions.

Vasishta dwelt long in thought; at last, he opened his eyes and spoke thus: “King! You need not grieve thus. Ayodhya will not be rendered masterless. She will not suffer widowhood. This domain will be gay, happy and prosperous, in unbroken festivity and evergreen with festoonery. She will be the guardian of right living, reverberating with music and joy. I will not agree to the raising of a prince from some other dynasty to the throne of Ayodhya. The Grace of God is a gift inscrutable. The Vow of Righteousness which you are fulfilling will surely bring you the supreme joy of having a son. Do not delay any further! Invite the sage Rshyasrnga, the son of Vibhandaka and perform, with him as the High Priest, the sacred Yaga (Sacrifice) called Puthrakameshti (the Yaga prescribed for those desirous of begetting a son). Make all the necessary ceremonial and ritual arrangements for the Yaga forthwith. Your desire will be achieved without fail”.

The queens listened to these reassuring words, spoken so emphatically by Vasishta. They were filled with Ananda! The bud of hope bloomed anew in their hearts. They retired into their apartments, praying most earnestly.

The King searched among his entourage for the most appropriate emissary to be sent to Rshyasrnga, son of Vibhandaka, and to invite him to the imperial capital on such a mission. At last, he called near him his old friend, Romapada, the King of the Anga State and sent him with necessary instructions and equipment. Meanwhile, arrangements for the Yaga were put through, on the bank of the sacred Sarayu river. Attractive sacrificial altars were constructed, in conformity with sacred injunctions. The City was decorated with flags and festoons.

As was anticipated, the great sage Rshyasrnga entered the city of Ayodhya, to the great delight of all, with his consort Santha.

Emperor Dasaratha welcomed the sage at the main gate of the Palace; he ceremonially washed the feet of the distinguished saint; he placed on his own head a few drops of the water sanctified by his feet; he then fell at the feet of Vasishta and prayed to him to enquire from Rshyasrnga the proper procedure for the contemplated Yaga.

Rshyasrnga wanted that the ministers and scholars be seated in appointed order; he directed the King also to sit on his throne. Then he described the various processes of the ceremony, so that the court priests could note them for their guidance. He gave them in such detail that every one even knew where exactly he was to sit in the sacrificial hall!

The sage decided that the Yaga shall begin on the stroke of seven, the very next day. The news spread all over the City in a trice. Before dawn every street was decorated with green festoons, every road was packed with people pressing forward to the vast open space on the bank of the Sarayu, where the Yaga was to be performed. The river bank was thick with the eager populace.

Rshyasrnga, with his consort Santha, entered the specially built Yaga Mantap, with the King and Queens, while Vedic chanting and the music of bugle, trumpet and clarinet and the cheers of the people resounded from the sky. Rshyasrnga was installed as the ‘Brahma’, or the Chief Organizer for the Yaga; he assigned various tasks like worship, recitation, chanting, propitiation, etc. to scholars, in consideration of their qualifications. The offerings were placed in the sacred fire with the prescribed formulae by Rshyasrnga himself, with scrupulous exactitude, deep devotion and faith.

From the fire that was scripturally fed, there arose before all eyes, a Divine Person who shone with the blinding splendour of a sudden stroke of lightning! He held a bright vessel in his hands. At this, the vast concourse including the priests were petrified with wonder, awe, fear and joy. They were overwhelmed by the sudden onrush of bliss and mystery. The King and Queens shed tears of joy; they cast their looks upon the Divine Person and prayed to Him, with folded palms.

Rshyasrnga continued the formulae with undisturbed equanimity, as the texts prescribe, offering oblations in the fire. Suddenly, a Voice as on the Day of Mergence, resounded from the dome of the sky. Rshyasrnga sat aghast and sought to listen to the Message from above. “Maharaja! Accept this Vessel, and give the sacred ‘payasam’ food brought therein in appropriate shares to your three queens”, the Voice announced. Placing the vessel in the hands of the King the mysterious Person who had emerged from the flames disappeared into them.

The joy of the people, princes, pundits and priests who witnessed this great manifestation knew no bounds. Soon, the final rituals were completed and the Maharaja returned in procession to the Palace, with the sacred vessel gifted by the Gods in his hands.

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Chapter 4

The Sons

The Queens finished the Ceremonial Bath (as advised by the Preceptor); they entered the Palace Shrine where the altar of the Family Deity was: Vasishta completed the ceremony of worship. The payasam (food) that the Divine Person presented, was then placed in three golden cups. Then, Vasishta called Dasaratha in and said, ‘Raja! Give these cups to your wives – first to Kausalya, next to Sumitra and last, to Kaika’. The King acted as ordered. They laid hold of the cups and fell at the feet of Vasishta and Dasaratha. Then, Vasishta directed that they should partake of the payasam, only after touching the Feet of Rshyasrnga, who officiated at the Yaga.

Therefore, Kausalya and Kaika kept their cups safe in the shrine itself and went among their maids to dry their hair, before attending to coiffure. Meanwhile, Sumitra stepped on to the terrace, and, keeping her cup on the short parapet wall, she dried her hair in the sun, ruminating all the time on her peculiar plight: “She was the second Queen! The son of the eldest queen will ascend the throne, as of right; the son of Kaika, the third Queen can ascend the throne according to the promise made by the King at the time of his marriage with her!” But, Sumitra wondered. “What will happen to the son I would get? He will be neither here nor there. Why have a son at all, to suffer as a nobody without status and sovereignty? Far better that a son is not born than be born and get neglected.”

But that was only for a moment. Soon she reconciled hers felt that what the Gods decide must happen; none can stop it. She remembered that it was the command of her Preceptor and the order of the King; so, she went towards the cup, determined to eat the contents, when, an eagle flew in from somewhere and whisked it off in its beak, far, far into the sky.

Sumitra repented for her negligence of the precious payasam; she felt that the King would be very upset if he came to know of the mishap. She could not decide on her next step; she went straight to her sister Kausalya and related the whole story to her. Just then, Kaika too came there with the gold cup, after tying up her dried hair. The three were very loving to each other, like sisters bound by one single silken thread of affection.

So, to avoid breaking the saddening news to the King, they had another gold cup brought and Kausalya and Kaika poured into it a portion each from their own share, so that all could take their seats together in the shrine. They ate the payasam, while Rshyasrnga was pronouncing his blessings and other elders and scholars were chanting auspicious Vedic hymns. The Queens then sipped sanctifying water and prostrated before the altar; they fell at the Feet of Rshyasrnga and proceeded to their own palaces.

Time rolled by; News that the queens were pregnant spread among the people. The bodies of the queens took on a shining complexion. The tenth month arrived. Maids and nurses awaited the happy event and watched over the queens with vigilant care. Meanwhile, they came to know that Kausalya had the pains of labour; they hastened to her palace; while on their way, they learnt that the Royal Consort had delivered a Prince! On the second day, Kaika brought forth a son. The glad tidings filled the entire zenana with joy. The next day, Sumitra had the pangs of labour and she delivered twin sons.

Auspicious signs were seen everywhere. The happy news filled all with immeasurable joy. The earth covered herself with green; trees blossomed all over! Music filled the air. Clouds showered fragrant drops of rain, but only on the apartments where the babies were laid in their cradles! The joy of Dasaratha knew no bounds. While for years he was immersed in agony that he did not have even a single son, the birth of four sons gave him indescribable satisfaction and happiness.

The King invited Brahmins and gave them gold, cows and land gifts in plenty. He arranged for the distribution of money to the poor, and of clothes; besides he gifted houses for the homeless. He gave food to the hungry. Wherever one cast his eye, he could see people acclaiming the happy event, shouting jai jai. The subjects gathered in huge assemblies to express their joy in music and dance. ‘We have now princes in the royal line’, they prided themselves; they were more exhilarated now than when they themselves had sons born to them. Women offered worship to God in gratitude for this act of Grace, for they were sure that the birth of the sons to their King was a signal act of Divine Mercy.

Dasaratha invited the Preceptor of the Royal Dynasty, Vasishta, to the Palace and according to his suggestion, he got a learned astrologer to write down the horoscopes of the new-born. He announced to them that the child of Kausalya was born at a most propitious moment – Uttarayana (the Divine Half-year), Chaitra month, the bright fortnight, the ninth day, the Punarvasu star, Monday, Simhalagna, (the zodiacal sign of the Lion) and the abhijith period (the period of Victory), when the world was resting happily, when the weather was equable (neither hot, warm nor cold). Kaika’s son was born the next day – Chaitra, bright half, tenth day, Tuesday gandhayoga. The third day were born the twins – Chaitra, bright half, eleventh day, Aslesha star, Vriddhiyoga. These details were communicated to the astrologer and he was asked to chart and write the horoscopes in consonance with science and inform the king of his inferences there from.

Then, Dasaratha prayed to Vasishta to fix the auspicious time for the naming ceremony of the children. The Family Preceptor sat still for a few seconds lost in meditation: he saw revealed in his yogic vision the future years; rousing himself from that vision, he said: “Maharaja! Your sons are not just ordinary mortals. They are incomparable. They have many names; they are not human; they are Divine Beings who have assumed human forms. They are Divine Personalities. The world’s good fortune has brought them here. I consider it a great chance that I could officiate at the naming ceremony of these Divine Children”. The mothers are three, but the father is one and so, Vasishta laid down that the ten-day period of ‘impurity’ be counted from the day when Kausalya delivered her child. So, the eleventh day after the birth of Kausalya’s son, the sage declared, was auspicious for the naming ceremony. The King fell at the feet of Vasishta in thankfulness for this favour and the Preceptor left for his hermitage.

The astrologer also approved the day and started writing down the list of materials that had to be kept ready for the ritual. He gave the list into the hands of the Chief Priest and left, loaded with the presents that the King granted him. Dasaratha had invitations written for the Ceremony, and sent them to the feudatory rulers, the nobles, courtiers, sages and scholars throughout his Empire, addressing them as befitted their rank and status. The messengers who carried the invitations were either ministers, court pundits, officers or Brahmins, their status being suited to the rank and status of invitees.

Ten days passed. The City of Ayodhya was brightened and beautified, and made most charming to the eye. The melody of music filled the air and spread over the length and breadth of the kingdom, making people wonder whether celestial angels were singing above. Fragrance was sprinkled on the streets. The city was overflowing with visitors. The Sages and the Courtiers could enter the inner apartments of the Palace and no others. The rest, whether prince or peasant, had separate quarters arranged for them. They had erected pandals In the courtyard of the Palace to seat all the guests and invitees. They were accommodated there so that they could watch the Naming with all its attendant ceremonials.

Very soon, music rose from the Durbar Hall; the chanting of Vedic hymns by Brahmins could be heard; the three Queens entered the elegantly decorated Hall, with the babies in their arms. They shone like Divine Mothers carrying the Gods, Brahma Vishnu and Shiva. The bliss and the splendour that pervaded their faces were beyond man’s powers of description.

As soon as the people noticed their entry, acclamations of ‘Jai’ rose from their hearts. Women waved auspicious lamps before them. Three special seats had been placed there for them. Kausalya took her seat first, followed by Sumitra and Kaika. Emperor Dasaratha sat by the side of Kausalya on her right.

The Brahmins started the ceremony, with due attention to detail. They lit the sacred fire and poured oblations with the recitation of appropriate formulae. Rice grains were poured and spread on golden plates; soft silk cloth was spread on the rice; then, the babies were placed on the cloth by the mothers. The child of Kausalya stared at Vasishta as if he was a familiar acquaintance! He endeavoured to go near him, as if he liked his company and would fain be near him! Everyone wondered at this strange behaviour. Vasishta was overwhelmed with joy at this; he shed tears of joy; he had to wipe his eyes and control himself with much effort; then, holding a few grains of rice in his hand, he said, “King! The child born to promote the joy of Kausalya will do the same for all mankind. His virtues will bring solace and contentment, joy and happiness, to all. The Yogis and seekers will find in him a great source of joy. Therefore, from this moment, his name will be Rama, “he who pleases”. And, the sages welcomed the Name as very apt and meaningful. They exclaimed, “Excellent, Excellent!”

Then, Vasishta gazed upon the twin children of Sumitra. The elder one, he felt, would be a hero, a stalwart fighter, and endowed with vast wealth. He knew that he would take delight in the service of God and His Consort, Lakshmi; that service would be for him like the very breath of life. So, he chose the name Lakshmana for him. His younger brother, Vasishta knew, would be a formidable destroyer of enemies, and withal a contented follower in the footsteps of his elder brothers. He therefore blessed him with the name, Satrughna, (the slayer of enemies).

Later, he gazed on the child that was the source of Kaika’s joy. That child, Vasishta knew, will fill all hearts with love and joy; he will amaze all by his unbelievable adherence to Dharma; he will rule over his subjects with great compassion and affection. So, he gave him the name, Bharatha (he who rules). The people were happy when they heard the Preceptor dilate on the glorious future of the children; they were filled with love for the princes and called them from that day as Rama, Lakshmana, Satrughna and Bharatha.

Dasaratha had arranged elaborate banquets for all who attended the ceremony; he filled with joy every one who had come; he offered each one the hospitality and presents that the status of each deserved; he showered enormous gifts as charity and as ritual penance he distributed cows, lands, gold and other valuables to the poor and the needy; he paid attention to the needs of every one, so that no one was discontented or disappointed; and, after the ceremony was over, he gave them leave with due civility to return to their homes.

The children grew fast on the fond care of the mothers. But, one curious thing was noticed early. It was observed very soon that Lakshmana always sought Rama and Satrughna always sought Bharatha! Since the day of his birth, Lakshmana was always wailing! The nurses, the ayahs and others tried various remedies and palliatives; but nothing could alleviate his misery or stop his wail. Internal pain was suspected and medicines galore were tried. They were of no avail. So, Sumitra was certain that the child’s pain was beyond the reach of drugs; she sent for the Preceptor Vasishta; she fell at His Feet as soon as he entered the room. ‘Master’, she appealed, ‘this Lakshmana is weeping since birth, and clamouring for something I am not able to discover. I have consulted doctors and treated him, as advised. But. the wailing is increasing day by day; he does not relish even mother’s milk! As for sleep, it is totally absent. How can he be healthy and hearty if he goes on like this? Kindly tell me why he is behaving so, and bless him that he may give up this continuous wail’.

Vasishta thought within himself for a while. Then he said: “O Queen! His pain is unique and you are trying to cure it by familiar means and drugs! His yearning is beyond the ken of mortals to understand. Do as I tell you and the child will be quiet and happy. The moment you do so, the child will cease wailing and begin playing about with gusto. Take him now and lay him beside Rama, the child of Kausalya. This is the panacea”. After this, Vasishta left, leaving his blessings on mother and child. Hearing his words, Sumitra took her child to where the other child was, in its cradle. She laid him by the side of Rama. From that very moment, the wailing stopped! Laughter and play began!

Those who saw this transformation took it as a great wonder! Lakshmana, who was until then suffering, began to prattle aloud in joy, kicking his feet about, waving his hands in glee, as fish do when they are thrown back into water, gliding gleefully along, in quick darts. He was in the presence of Rama, immersed in bliss and aware of the Grace Rama showered.

The story of Satrughna was also on similar lines. He was melancholic, averse to food and play. He appeared very weak and tired. Sumitra was worried at this development. So she invited the Preceptor to the palace and inquired from him the reason, Vasishta smiled again; he said, ‘Mother! Your children are not of the common stamp. They are born to enact a Divine Drama! Place Satrughna on the same bed as Bharatha! Then his daily routine will be joyful. He will be extremely happy. You need not worry any more’. Vasishta blessed her and left. Sumitra followed his instructions immediately. Since then, Satrughna spent time in the company of Bharatha. The children were in unbounded bliss together; their progress was beyond measure! Like the splendour of the Sun, they grew in intelligence and glory from hour to hour.

Sumitra had nothing to do now for her children; but, since she loved her twins as her dear life, she spent some of her time with Kausalya and some with Kaika, fondling the children and attending to their needs. She moved from one Palace to the other and relished her chore as a maid caring for the comforts of children. “I am not destined to mother them”, she sometimes pined in solitude. Often she wondered how this strange situation arose of her children being happy with those mothers and not with her.

At last, she went to the Preceptor and prayed to him to allay her anxiety. He laid bare the real reason: ‘Mother! Lakshmana is a ‘part’ of Rama; Satrughna is a ‘part’ of Bharatha.” Even as these words fell from his lips, Sumitra exclaimed, “Yes, Yes! I realize it now! I am glad I know from you the truth”, and she fell at the Feet of Vasishta and left for the inner apartments.

She said to herself, “When the eagle carried away in its beak the precious gift or payasam (Divine food) given by the Divine Messenger, I was so frightened at the prospect of the King becoming angry at my negligence that I informed Kausalya and Kaika about the calamity; she poured out for me a share from her cup and the other sister poured out another share from her own cup; so, I alone of the queens had twins, as a result of the twin shares I consumed! 0, the will of God is mysterious. It is beyond any one to know His might and majesty. Who can alter His decree?”

“Yes”, she consoled herself, “I bore them for nine months; I went through the pangs of delivery. But, their real mothers are Kausalya and Kaika, there is no doubt”. She was confirmed in this belief and she gladly entrusted her children to Kausalya and Kaika, and joined them in fondling and fostering them.

The maids as well as many kinsmen of the royal family derived great joy watching the children at play. After they left, Kausalya used to insist that rites to ward off the evil eye were performed scrupulously. She was so affectionate and considerate towards the children that she never recognized the passage of day and the arrival of night or the passage of night and the dawn of a new day. She could not leave them out of sight even for the fraction of a second! While taking her bath or when she was engaged in worship inside the shrine, her mind was on them and she would hasten towards them as quick as feasible. All her work she did in a hurry so that she could spend more time on their care.

One day, she bathed Rama and Lakshmana; she applied fragrant smoke to their curls in order to dry them and perfume them; she carried them to the golden cradles; she sang sweet lullabies and rocked them to sleep. When she found that they had slept she asked the maids to keep watch and she went into her rooms, and prepared the daily food offering to God, in order to complete the rites of worship. She took the golden plate of food and offered it to God. Some time later, she went into the shrine in order to bring the plate out and give a small quantity of the offering to the children. What was her surprise, when she found in that room, before the altar, Rama sitting on the floor, with the offering before Him, eating with delight the food she had dedicated to God! She could not believe what her own eyes told her! Kausalya wondered: “What is this I see? Do my eyes deceive me? Is this true? Can it be true? How did this baby which was sleeping in the cradle come to the shrine? Who brought it hither?” She ran towards the cradle and peeped into it, only to find Rama asleep therein! She assured herself that hers was but delusion; she went into the shrine to remove from there the vessel of payasam she had placed before the idols. She found the vessel empty! How could this be, she wondered! Seeing the child in the shrine might well be a trick of the eye; but, what about the vessel being empty? How could that be an optical illusion?

Thus she was torn between amazement and disbelief. She took hold of the vessel with the remnants of the offering and hastening to the cradle, stood watching the two babes. She could see Rama rolling something on his tongue and evidently enjoying its taste; she was amusingly watching his face, when lo, she saw the entire Universe revolving therein. She lost all consciousness of herself and her surroundings; she stood transfixed, staring with dazed eyes, on the unique panorama that was revealed.

The maids were astounded at her behaviour; they cried out in their anxiety, but she did not hear them. One maid held her feet and shook her until she awoke to her surroundings. She came to, in a trice, with a quick shiver. She saw the maids around her and stricken by wonder, she sat on a bedstead. Turning to the maids, she asked, “Did you notice the child?” They replied “Yes; we are here since long. We have not taken our eyes away from him.” “Did you notice any change in him?”, Kausalya enquired in eager haste. “We did not notice any change; the child is fast asleep as you can see” was their reply. Kausalya had her problem: Was her vision a delusion? Or fact? If true, why did not these maids notice it? She thought about it for long and, finally, consoled herself with the argument that since the children were born as products of Divine Grace, Divine manifestation was only to be expected of them. She nursed them and nourished them with deep maternal solicitude. They grew day by day, with greater and greater splendour, as the moon does in the bright half of the month. She derived immeasurable joy in fondling them and fitting clothes and jewels on them.

The childhood of Rama was a simple but sublime part in his life. Very often, forgetting that He was her child, Kausalya fell at His feet, and folded her palms before him, knowing that He was Divine. Immediately, she feared what people would say if they saw her bowing before her own child and touching Its feet in adoration. To cover up her confusion, she looked up and prayed aloud, “Lord! Keep my child away from harm and injury”. She used to close her eyes in contemplation of the Divine Child and begged God that she might not waver in her faith through the vagaries of His Maya (power to delude). She was struck by the halo or light that encircled His face. She was afraid that others might question her sanity if she told them her experiences. Nor could she keep them to herself. She was so upset that she behaved often in a peculiar manner, as if carried away by the thrill of the Divine Sport or her child. Sometimes, she was eager to open her heart to Sumitra or Kaika when they were near her; but, she controlled herself, lest they doubt the authenticity of the experience and attribute it to exaggeration, or her desire to extol her own son.

At last, one day, she made hold to relate to Emperor Dasaratha the entire story of wonder and thrill. He listened intently and said, “Lady! This is just the creation of your fancy; you are over fond of the child; you imagine he is Divine and watch his every movement and action in that light and so, he appears strange and wonderful. That is all”. This reply gave her no satisfaction; so, the Emperor consoled her with some specious arguments and sent her to her apartments. In spite of what Dasaratha affirmed, the Queen who had witnessed the miraculous incidents with her own eyes remained unconvinced. She was not convinced by his words.

Therefore, she approached the Preceptor Vasishta and consulted him on the genuineness of her experiences. He heard her account and said: “Queen! What you have seen is unalloyed Truth. They are not creations of your imagination. Your son is no ordinary human child! He is Divine. You got him as your son, as the fruit of many meritorious lives. That the Saviour of Humanity should be born as the son of Kausalya is the unique good fortune of the citizens of Ayodhya”. He blessed the Queen profusely and departed. Kausalya realised the truth of Vasishta’s statement! She knew that her son was Divinity Itself; she derived great joy watching the child.

Months rolled by. The children, Rama, Lakshmana, Bharatha and Satrughna learnt to crawl on all fours, sit on the floor, and move about. Special arrangements were made to keep watch over them at all times, lest they fall and hurt themselves. Many varieties of toys were procured and placed before them. The mothers with the children, the children with the mothers and nursemaids, spent the days, with no sense of the passage of time, in one continuous round of joy. The children could raise themselves up and stand, holding fast the fingers of mother or maid. They could hold on to the wall, and get up. They could toddle forward a few steps on their feet. Their efforts and achievements gave merriment to their mothers. They lisped in sweet parrot voice a few indistinct words and made them burst into laughter. They taught them to say, Ma and Bap and were happy when they pronounced the words correctly.

Every day at dawn they rubbed medicated fragrant oil over their bodies; then they applied detergent powder and bathed them in the holy waters of the Sarayu. Then, they dried curls in perfumed incense, applied collyrium [eye salve] to their eyes, placed dots on their cheeks to ward off the evil eye, and put ritual marks on their foreheads. They dressed them in attractive soft silk and helped them to recline in swings, where they slept soundly to the tune or melodious lullabies. Engaged in this pleasant task, the mothers felt that heaven was not far off in space and time; it was there all around them.

And what of the jewels for them! Oh! They were newer and more brilliant, each new day! Anklets, tinkling waist strings of gold and precious stones, necklaces of the nine gems! For fear that these might hurt by their hardness the tender body, they were set on soft velvet tapes and ribbons.

The plays and pastimes of the little boys defied description. When they were able to walk, boys of the same age were brought from the city and together they played games. The city children were given tasty dishes to eat and toys to play with. They were also loaded with gift articles. The maids who brought them to the palace were also fed sumptuously. Kausalya, Kaika and Sumitra had no care for their own health and comfort while bringing up their children; so happy were they with them.

After this period of nourishment and growth in the interior of the Palace, when they reached the age of three, the children were taken by their governesses to the playground, where they ran and rollicked to their hearts’ content. When they returned, the mothers welcomed them and fostered them with great love and vigilance. One day, Dasaratha while conversing with his queens, mentioned that the children will not learn much that is worth while if they moved about with the maids; their intelligence and skills cannot be developed that way. So, an auspicious hour was fixed to initiate them into letters; preceptors were called in to inaugurate the studies.

From that day, the charming little kids took residence in their teacher’s home; they gave up the costly royal accoutrements and wore a simple cloth wound round their waists, and another thrown over their shoulders. Since education cannot progress well if children are in the atmosphere of parental love and care, they had to live with the teacher, imbibing lessons all through the day and night; for more is learnt by service to the teacher, by observing him and following his example. They had to live on whatever was given to them as food by the teacher. They shone like embodiments of the Brahmachari ideal (the Seekers of Truth). When the mothers felt the anguish of separation and desired to see them, they went to the house of the teacher and made themselves happy, noting the progress of the children.

The teacher was also quite happy when he observed the steadfastness and enthusiasm of his wards; he was surprised at their intelligence and powerful memory, and he was filled with wonder and joy. Among all the four, he noticed that Rama had outstanding interest in his studies. He grasped things so quickly that he could repeat any lesson correctly, when he had heard it just once. The teacher was amazed at the sharp intelligence of Rama; he resolved that his advance should not be slowed down by the need to bring the others to his level. So he grouped the other three separately, and paid individual attention to Rama who learnt very fast.

Lakshmana, Bharatha and Satrughna too learnt their lessons admirably well, but they pined for the company and comradeship of Rama so much that, as soon as Rama was out of sight, they lost interest in study and in their duties towards their teacher. As a result, they could not catch up with Rama; they were following him a session or two behind.

Lakshmana dared tell his teacher once or twice that they had no need for any lessons or learning; they would be happy if they could but get the company of Rama! Rama was the very life of Lakshmana. The teacher observed this strange relationship between the two and drew much inspiration contemplating on it. He reminded himself of the statement of the sage Vasishta that they were no other than Nara and Narayana, the inseparable Divine Forces.

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Chapter 5

The Guru and the Pupils

The brothers lived in the preceptor’s house and served him with devotion. They renounced the comforts of the palace and gladly underwent the hardships. They carried out the wishes of the master in humility and with loyalty. They finished their studies in a very short period and mastered the subjects they were taught. One day Emperor Dasaratha proceeded with his Minister to the home of their teacher. He was beside himself with joy when he saw them reciting Vedic hymns and heard the sacred formulae rolling out of their tongues, clear and fast, like a cascade of bright pearls. He was happy that his sons had learnt so much.

Rama rose and fell at the feet of his father. Seeing this, the three brothers too came forward and prostrated before him. The teacher invited the Emperor and the Minister to seat themselves on raised seats covered with deerskin. Dasaratha began conversing with the teacher in order to find out how far the children had advanced in studies. Rama signed to his brothers that they should not overhear their talk; he left the room with the permission of the guru, carrying his books with him and calling on the others to follow him. The brothers took the cue from Rama in all matters and so they silently obeyed his merest gesture.

Vasishta and Dasaratha noted this incident; they appreciated the upright conduct of Rama, his understanding of the trend of the teacher’s conversation and the immediate reaction of humility and the way in which he was an example and ideal for the three brothers. They were glad that they had learnt so much discipline.

Vasishta could not contain himself. He said, “Maharaja: Your sons have mastered all the arts. Rama has mastered all the Sastras. He is no ordinary mortal. As soon as I began teaching him to recite the Vedas, he used to repeat them as if he knew them already. Only He who has inspired the hymns can repeat them so, not any other. The Vedas are not ‘books’, which he could have perused while at leisure! They have come down from guru and disciple, through recitation and listening only. They are not available anywhere, except from the preceptor! That is the reason why it is referred to as Sruthi (That which is heard). It is the Divine breath of God that has shaped itself into these manthras. I have not seen so far any one who has mastered them as Rama has done. Why should I say, ‘seen’? I have not even ‘heard’ of any one who has accomplished this remarkable feat!

“I can tell you of many more superhuman achievements of your son. Maharaja! When I think of my good fortune in securing these boys as my pupils, I feel it is the reward for the asceticism I practiced so long. They need learn nothing further. They have now to be trained in bowmanship and archery, and similar skills appropriate for royal princes. They have completed their studies under me and become efficient in all that I can teach. The day too is very auspicious. Take them back with you to the Palace”.

At this, Dasaratha, who was afflicted for months with the pain of separation, shed tears of joy. He could not contain his delight. He turned towards the Minister by his side, and directed him to convey the good news to the Queens and ask them to come over to the hermitage with the offerings that the pupils have to present to the preceptor while leaving his custody. Sumanthra proceeded very fast to the Palace, and communicated the news. He got ready the gifts and returned quicker than anticipated.

Meanwhile the boys had their belongings packed at the suggestion of Vasishta and the articles were loaded into the chariot. As directed by their father, the children worshipped the Guru according to prescribed ceremonial, gave him the gifts, and fell at his feet, asking his permission to leave for home.

Vasishta drew the boys to his side, pressed their hands and patted them on their heads. He blessed them and most unwillingly allowed them to leave. The pang of separation brought tears in his eyes. He walked up to the chariot with his pupils. The boys ascended the vehicle, and it moved away. They turned back towards the Guru and looked in his direction with folded palms, for a long distance. The preceptor, too, stood at that place, his cheeks wet with tears. Dasaratha noticed this bond between the teacher and the pupils; he was greatly pleased.

They reached home. The guru entered the hermitage with a heavy heart. Wherever his eyes were turned, he noticed darkness and no light. He feared that the attachment he had developed might confirm itself as a shackle; he decided to sit in Dhyana in order to suppress the rising tides of memory. Soon, he overcame the outer illusion and merged himself in inner Ananda. He realized that the boys were embodiments of Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha – the Four Goals of Human Life (Righteousness, Welfare, Endeavour and Liberation) and that they had taken human form in order to re-establish on earth these grand ideals of gracious living. This gave him unruffled peace.

Dasaratha resolved to supplement the education the boys had received, by training them in the use of arms; so, he called in expert archers and others and made arrangements to teach them the science of attack and defense. But who can claim to be the teachers of these boys who were already pastmasters in every field of study? They were only ‘acting’ the roles of humans and pretending to learn.

To Him who holds the strings of this puppet show, who can teach to pull the string? Men who could not recognize their Reality underneath the camouflage of Maya sought to train them and teach them the objective skills useful for external living. They have come to save the world from disaster; so, they have to be in the world and of the world, respecting the conventions of the world, so far as they subserve their purpose. Men could not understand their acts, for, they are beyond human intellect or imagination; they will be helpless if asked to explain them. But people must learn the ideals they put into practice. So, Rama was presenting himself as a cinder covered with ash, or a lake with a thick float of moss or the moon hidden by a curtain of clouds. The brothers were following the footsteps of Rama.

Rama and Lakshmana were revealing knowledge of stratagems and skills which even expert instructors did not know about. They were wonder-struck and were even a little fear-stricken. But, the four Princes never shot an arrow at an animal or bird. They never broke the vow taken solemnly by them that they will use arms only on occasions of great urgency, not for the pleasure of killing or wounding. The trainers took them often to the forest for hikes and game-shooting; but, when they spotted animals or birds and invited them to shoot, they remonstrated and said, “These arrows are not to be used against innocent targets; they are to be used for the protection of the good, the welfare of the world, and the service of the people. That is the purpose for which they are with us; we shall not insult them, using them for these silly pastimes”, they averred and desisted. The teachers had to accept their arguments. Every word, every deed of Rama demonstrated his compassion. Sometimes, when Lakshmana aimed his arrow at a bird or animal, Rama came in between and protested “Lakshmana! What harm has it done to you or the world? Why do you long to shoot it? It is quite against the code of prescribed morals for kings to punish innocent beings; don’t you know?”

The Emperor often sat among his ministers with the princes near him, and discussed with those around him the problems of political administration, judicial trials and the application of moral principles in the governance of the state. He related stories of their grandparents and others of the royal line, how they earned the love and loyalty of their subjects, how they fought wars with ‘demons’ and for ‘gods’ and how they won the Grace and support of God in their endeavours. The father and the sons were both exhilarated when these tales were told. Many a day, the ministers took turns in this pleasant task.

As they grew with the passage of years, the ministers became confident that they could be entrusted with some fields of governmental activity. The people dreamt that when they came of age and took hold of the reins of government, the earth will be transmuted into heaven. When people saw the princes they felt a bond of affectionate attachment springing between them. The conversation that ensued among them was marked by sweet concord. The city of Ayodhya had no one who did not love those simple, humble, virtuous, selfless Princes, or who did not evince a desire to watch them. They were as dear to the children of Ayodhya as their own bodies, as precious to the city as its own heart.

When they were in their eleventh or twelfth year, one day, Dasaratha called to his presence the minister Sumanthra, who was the repository of virtue, and commissioned him to arrange for teaching the princes the spiritual Science of Liberation (the Paraavidya). He said that however proficient a person may be in secular sciences (Aparaa Vidya), Paraa vidya alone can give him the strength to carry out his Dharma (Rightful duties). The highest moral culture must be imparted to them at this tender age itself.

Success or failure in later life was built upon the Impressions and experiences gained in the early stages of life. The early years are the foundations for the mansion of later years. Therefore he said, “Take the princes around the kingdom and let them learn not only the condition of the people but also the holiness of sacred places. Describe to them the sanctity of holy places, the history of the temples and of the saints and sages who have consecrated them, and let them drink deep the springs of divinity that are hallowing those spots. I feel it will be good if they do so. As they grow, they will be prone to sensual desires and urges. Ere they fall a prey to such tendencies, it is best to implant in them reverence and awe, and devotion to the Divine, that is immanent in the Universe. That is the only means to save their human-ness from demeaning itself into animality. And for rulers of kingdoms, it is essential. Consult the Guru and the preceptors and arrange the tour without delay.”

Elated at the prospect of the princes getting this great opportunity Sumanthra had all preparations made to his satisfaction; he got ready himself to accompany them. The Queens came to know of the pilgrimage that the Princes were undertaking. They were delighted that the Princes were going on such a holy venture and they made many things ready to render it as happy and useful as possible. They arranged a few nurses for them and some comrades of their own age to accompany them. The Princes too, were beside themselves with joy at the prospect of visiting the sacred places of the land. They enthused their companions and sought from the King equipment and clothes for them also.

The next day, when the auspicious hour specially selected for the journey was on, the Princes bowed before their parents, touching their feet with their foreheads; they fell at the feet of the Preceptor; the mothers placed holy dots on their foreheads and cheeks to ward off the evil eye and to guard them against evil; they discarded royal robes and put on the habiliments of pilgrims, that is to say, silk dhotis round the waist and silk shawls wrapped round the shoulders and, taking leave of all, they ascended the chariot. The palace resounded with shouts of victory rising from thousands of citizens who had gathered to see them off. The chariot moved on with guards before and behind.

Days, weeks, even months rolled by! They went to every temple and sacred spot; they imbibed the holiness of each place; they worshipped at each shrine with faith and devotion, they learnt after deep enquiry the history of each place and the antecedents of the shrines; they ignored every other thought or activity during all that long period. Sumanthra was describing to them the sanctity of each place so graphically and intimately that their hearts were thrilled. The Princes plied him with questions demanding further and deeper elaboration of his narrations, Sumanthra was overjoyed at the insatiable yearning of the boys, and he gave even more information and inspiration,

Thus they journeyed from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, and from the eastern sea to the western, spending more than three months. They had their eyes open to the sufferings of the people and the discomforts of the pilgrims in every region of the empire, and whenever they observed these, they pleaded with Sumanthra, the Minister, to set things right and to provide the needed amenities.

They were responsible for the repair and improvement of many temples, the provision of drinking water wells, the planting of avenue trees, the opening of centres for the distribution of water to thirsty wayfarers, the building of caravanserais, and the establishment or health centres. Whenever Rama expressed a desire that such amenities be provided. Sumanthra never hesitated to agree; he saw to it that they were immediately provided to his satisfaction. The Princes derived great comfort that the empire had such a loyal and efficient Minister as Sumanthra; they said to each other that when they had such ministers welfare and progress were assured.

Accounts of the pilgrimage of the Princes were conveyed to Ayodhya by special couriers who ran in relays, forward and backward with news they collected. Whenever delays occurred the Queens were weighed down by anxiety. They prayed to the Preceptor Vasishta to give them correct information regarding them. Vasishta had the yogic attainment to discover what was happening to them; so, he used to tell them the reassuring news that they were happy, healthy and hearty and that they would soon be returning to the capital. The mothers derived courage and confidence therefrom. The Preceptor blessed them and repaired to his hermitage.

Meanwhile, the news-gatherers brought good tidings. They said that the Princes were nearing Ayodhya; they must be reaching the City within two days! Arrangements were therefore made at the main Gateway of the City to welcome into the Imperial Capital the four Princes, who had successfully gone through their long and arduous pilgrimage and earned meritorious renown by their devotion and compassion during their triumphal tour. Rosewater was sprinkled on the roads to make them dust-free. Arches and festoons were put up. On both sides of the road, women stood with plates on which they had placed lamps, with bright flames, which they desired to wave before them as they passed along.

The Princes arrived at the Gate, as announced; lamps were waved before them; they moved along the main high-way, which was strewn with petals of fragrant flowers; parties of musicians and minstrels singing welcome songs proceeded slowly in advance. Brahmins recited hymns invoking the blessings of God upon the distinguished scions of the Imperial family. Sumanthra came alongside the Princes, who were shining with an ethereal glow on their faces.

When they reached the palace gates, many rites were gone through to ward off the effects of the evil eye; they were then led into the inner apartments. The mothers whose eyes were longing to look upon them were awaiting them there; the boys ran towards them and fell at their feet. They were raised up and held fast in close embrace for five or six minutes, during which they lost themselves in the thrill of joy, which enveloped both mother and son in the bliss of Mergence with the Divine! The tears that rolled from the eyes of the mothers out of the surgence of the love bathed the heads of the boys. They took hold of their sari ends and wiped the heads dry with them. They stroked the hair, they fondled the head, they seated them on their laps, and fed them fondly with sweet rice and curd-mixed rice.

Ah! The excitement and thrill of the mothers were indescribable. The pang of separation which they had suffered for three long months could be assuaged a little, only by having the children in their care and custody, day and night, for a few days. They wanted them to relate the story or their pilgrimage, and the boys narrated in sweet, simple, sincere style the sacredness of each holy place, as explained to them by Sumanthra. They listened to these narratives with such ardour and faith that they too seemed to experience the exhilaration each shrine provides for the earnest pilgrims.

Dasaratha celebrated the return of the young Princes from their holy journey by offering oblations to the Gods, and arranging a magnificent banquet for all Brahmins who had successfully completed the pilgrimage to Kasi and Prayaga. He gave the latter monetary gifts too. Thus, since the day when the princes were born, it was one continuous round of festival and feast in the capital city and in the kingdom. The city of Ayodhya shone with uninterrupted rejoicing. Feasting and festive entertainment knit the populace into a family, bound by love and gratitude. Every month, the days on which the children were born (the ninth, tenth and eleventh days of the bright half) were filled with gorgeous ceremony, to mark the happy event. Even when the boys were away on pilgrimage, these days were celebrated as grandly as if they were in the City; except for functions where their physical presence was needed, all else – the feasts, the gifts, the games, the dance – were all gone through with enthusiasm. The parents noticed a change in the boys as a result of the pilgrimage. The transformation was very surprising and they hoped that the strange ways or life they had assumed might weaken with the passage of days. They watched their behaviour and attitudes with great attention. But they continued, with no sign or diminution.

Rama stayed mostly indoors. He did not bathe at fixed hours as he was doing so far. He had a dislike to wear royal robes; he desisted from delicacies; he never sat on the golden throne; he appeared as if he was immersed in the contemplation of the Absolute, of something beyond the senses and the mind. Since their brother appeared so morose and was ostensibly sulking, the three younger brothers always kept near him. They never left his presence, for games or for any other reason.

The four used to gather in a room and holt themselves in. The mothers had to tap the door at intervals to bring in their food! However hard they tried to discover why they behaved so, they never revealed the reason! Rama alone deigned to answer their queries thus: “This is my nature; why seek to know the reason for my being so?”

The mothers soon felt that this state of things could no longer be kept away from gaze; they informed Dasaratha; he sent word that the boys be brought to his apartments. But, finding that the sons, who previously would have rushed in, took a long time to come, he was filled with wonder and worry. He made ready to proceed to their room himself. Just then, the attendant announced that the princes were approaching! The father was overwhelmed with bliss; he embraced them and held them tight to his breast; he sat, with the sons on both sides; he enquired from them about things, light and serious. Formerly, if he asked just one question, the boys used to reply to ten: but, that day, when he asked ten, they scarce replied to one.

Dasaratha drew Rama on to his lap, and pleaded fondly with him, “Son! Why this refusal to talk? Why this silence! What is it that you desire? What else have I than you in the world? Tell me what you need? I shall fulfil it immediately, without fail. Since you do not mix with the brothers and play with them as formerly, they too are unhappy.” Though the King lovingly stroked the chin and looked at the face of Rama, Rama did not say anything more than that he was quite content and needed nothing! Watching this strange behaviour, Dasaratha grew anxious and agitated; tears welled up in his eyes. The boys remained unaffected by his grief. The father spoke some soft words to them about how sons should conduct themselves and sent them to their apartments in the Palace.

He called Sumanthra so that he might confer with him; he asked him whether anything had happened during the pilgrimage to put the boys out of gear or whether he had brought them back too soon when they were themselves eager to visit a few more places of interest to them. Dasaratha plied him with so many questions that Sumanthra was filled with surprise and apprehension. His lips quivered as he replied: “Nothing happened during the journey to displease the Princes, no difficulty was encountered. Every wish of theirs was honoured and carried through. I gave away in charity as much as they wanted; I got built, wherever they suggested, houses for pilgrims; there was no hesitation or delay. They never told me about any happening which they did not like. Nor did I notice any such. The pilgrimage was one long journey of joy and adoration”.

Dasaratha knew his minister well. He said at last, “Sumanthra! You are a great good man. I know full well that you are incapable of neglect or error. But, for some inexplicable reason, I find the boys have undergone a transformation after the pilgrimage; they have developed distaste for food and fun.

“However much the people around persuaded him, Rama did not answer, nor did he indicate the reason for his strange behaviour. He was immersed in his own awareness of the falsity of things. I am surprised at this. The queens, too, have taken this so much to heart that they are being consumed by anxiety”. When Dasaratha spoke thus to Sumanthra, the loyal Minister replied, “If permitted, I shall meet the children and try to diagnose the ailment.” Dasaratha said, “Quite right! Proceed at once. Once we find the cause, the remedy isn’t difficult, the cure isn’t far”.

Sumanthra hurried to the children’s apartment, heavy with a load of anxiety in his heart. He found the doors bolted from inside, the guards standing outside them. When Sumanthra tapped, Lakshmana opened the door and let him in. He closed the door behind him and conversed with the boys for long on various matters, in order to draw out from them the reason for their malady. But, he could not delve into the mystery. He noticed the difference between the confiding spirit of camaraderie which he enjoyed during the months of pilgrimage, and the distance that had grown in recent months. He pleaded with Rama with tears in his eyes, for revealing to him the reasons for his melancholy. Rama smiled and said, “Sumanthra! What reason can be given for something which is my very nature? I have no wants; I have no desire. You need have no anxiety on that score”.

Unable to do anything else, Sumanthra came to where Dasaratha was and sat beside him. “I feel it will be good to invite the Guru tomorrow and consider which measures are proper”, he said and departed from the presence, after taking the King’s permission to leave.

The King was sad; he neglected everything else; he ignored the demands of empire and spun many theories in his mind to account for the behaviour of the children. They are entering the years of adolescence and so, such temperamental revolutions are natural, he surmised. He shared this opinion with the Queens and set his mind at rest, for a little while.

When they learnt that the Preceptor Vasishta was arriving at the Palace, the queens made the preparations necessary, and waited for him at the family altar. Just then, the Guru arrived; all fell at his feet; they showered eager questions on him about the peculiar malady of the boys and the change that had come upon them. They were all in tears. Noticing the agitation of the King and the Queens, Vasishta turned his attention inwards and sought the reason for the sorrow, through inner Vision. The truth was quickly revealed to his penetrating purity.Within seconds, he turned towards the Queens and assured them. “There is nothing wrong with the boys. These are not just ordinary children. They are free from the least trace of worldly desire. Their minds are untarnished. Do not get anxious. Bring them to me; you can retire now to your apartments.”

The King and Queens were happy at this assurance; they sent for the princes and left. Lakshmana, Bharatha and Satrughna quickly got ready to meet the Guru, when the news that he wanted them reached their ears. But, Rama evinced no haste. He was immersed in himself, as usual. So, Lakshmana touched his feet and prayed, “It is best we go without delay; or else, our parents will grieve that we dared disobey the command of the Preceptor”. Lakshmana pleaded with Rama insistently for a long time, advancing various arguments. Finally, Lakshmana, Bharatha and Satrughna were able to proceed to the altar room, with their eldest brother. There, they fell at the Feet of the Guru and reverentially stood before him.

Seeing them, Vasishta asked them with great affection to draw near and sit beside him. They all sat close to him, but Vasishta wanted Rama to come still nearer. He fondled Rama lovingly, playing with his hair and patting his back. He said, “Rama! Why have you thus become quiet and silent? Your mothers and father are suffering from grief and fear, unable to explain this inscrutable change. You have to pay heed to their happiness too, isn’t it? You have to demonstrate the validity of the precious axioms, Mathr devo bhava (Treat the mother as God) Pithr devo bhava (Treat the father as God) by your own action, isn’t it?” Vasishta placed before Rama many such lessons and truths for his consideration.

Rama sat smiling, listening to the Guru. When he had finished, he spoke calmly, “Master! You speak of mother; but, who exactly is ‘mother’? Who exactly is ‘son’? Why, what exactly is ‘body’? And what is the ‘Jivi’ (the individual)? Is this objective world real? Or is the Supreme Soul real? This body is but the image of the Supreme Soul isn’t it? The five elements that comprise the substance called ‘body’ are also the substance of the entire Universe. This Universe is but the concatenation of the five elements, isn’t it? The elements persist, in spite of all permutations and combinations. They have also a deeper base. Without realizing this, if this created Universe is itself assumed to be real, and if one yields to the fascination of this falsehood, if the truth be discarded for the sake of the lie, what are we to say of such colossal ignorance ? What can the individual gain by ignoring the Eternal Absolute Real Reality, the Atma?”

When Vasishta observed Rama raising such profound philosophical problems, he noticed also a halo of bright rays of spiritual splendour that emanated and surrounded his face! He knew that the Light was an indication of Divinity, attempting to surge outwards! So, he wanted Rama himself to provide the answers to the questions that Rama put forward. And the replies and explanations Rama gave were verily the Voice of God. Vasishta could see this fact clearly. He bowed his head before him, mentally, for fear of being noticed. He said, “Son! I shall see you again in the evening”, and left the palace, without even meeting Dasaratha; he was so overcome by the illumination of the occasion. He fondled the children with a joyous sense of gratitude and love.

Dasaratha saw the princes after some time; he too saw the strange Glow of Divine Awareness shining in their countenances. He could not understand how, it happened and he awaited the arrival of Vasishta in the evening. No sooner did he enter the shrine than the children, the mothers and Dasaratha fell at his feet and sat in their places with palms folded in prayerful humility.

All of a sudden, Rama surprised every one by asking a series of questions: “The Jivi, the Deva, the Prakrthi (Soul, God, Nature) what is the inter-relation between these? Are these three, One? Or are they distinct entities? If One, how did it become three and for what purpose? What is the unifying principle underlying these? What benefit is gained by recognizing them as different, giving up the cognition of the Unity?” The parents were aghast at the profundity of these questions and the tender age of Rama. They became fully merged in that stream of instruction and inquiry, that showered precious axioms which shed light on the problems raised, as if Heaven answered the questions raised by Earth! They forgot that Rama was their own child; the hours of the night rolled by in the analysis and understanding of the great monistic wisdom.

Vasishta saw that the words that flowed from the lips of Rama were indeed drops of the Nectar of Immortality, which can ensure Peace for mankind; he blessed the King and Queens and returned to the hermitage. The dialogues between Rama and the Preceptor form the text of ‘Yoga-vasishta’, a treatise which is meaningful and mellow. It is also referred to as the Ramagitha.

Rama spent his days immersed in Vedantha, communing with himself, talking while alone to himself, silent in company, and often laughing at nothing in particular. Dasaratha grew concerned. He was worried what would happen to the brothers; he sought to keep the younger three apart; but, they never agreed to be isolated from Rama; so, they had to be left in his company always.

The King and the Queens were very much depressed, for all their dreams of joy and glory had come to naught. They became desperate, for they saw no sign of recovery or transformation in the sons. They counted hours and minutes, passing the time in anxiety and prayer. Rama had no interest even in food and so with irregular and indifferent meals, he appeared weak and wasted in health.

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Chapter 6(a)

The Call and the first Victory

During those days in the region east of Ayodhya, the royal city, the sage Viswamitra was engaged in rigorous asceticism. He resolved upon a holy rite, known as Yajna. But, however often he inaugurated it, the demons desecrated the rite and fouled its sanctity. They showered pieces of flesh on the sacred area and made it unfit for such Vedic ceremonies. In many other ways, too, they cast obstacles and halted the holy mission. Viswamitra was at his wits’ end; he went to the capital city of the empire, Ayodhya, to meet the Ruler himself.

When reports arrived of the coming of the sage, the King sent his ministers to bring him with due honours into the Palace. They welcomed him at the City Gate and accompanied him right up to the Palace door. At the Palace Brahmins recited Vedic hymns, while Dasaratha washed his feet and, as laid down in the sacred texts and as is customary in receptions of sages, he sprinkled upon his own head drops of the water so sanctified. Viswamitra was led into the inner apartments and seated on a high chair, with the members of the royal court standing reverentially around him. “This is indeed a great day!” exclaimed Dasaratha. He expressed his joy at the unexpected arrival of the holy personage and the opportunity he gained to serve and honour him. Viswamitra directed the King and the ministers to sit and they obeyed.

The sage graciously enquired about the health and welfare of the King and royal family, and about the peace and prosperity of the kingdom. He asked him whether his reign was marked by strength and security and whether his government was ensuring the continued progress of his subjects. Dasaratha replied that, as a result of the Grace of God and the blessings of saints and sages, his subjects were dutifully and gladly engaged in their several tasks without fear of failure and that the administration had before it the steady promotion of the welfare of the people. He said that his government was serving the people in many ways to promote and preserve their happiness and security. Dasaratha yearned to know the reason for the sage’s arrival. He assured him that he was ever ready to fulfill his least desire. He declared with great devotion that he will discharge earnestly any duty that the sage may cast on him. He was only waiting to know what he could do for him. Viswamitra nodded his head in approval.

He turned towards Dasaratha and said, “I shall not declare now, before you, that you are a very righteous ruler, that you revere guests and supplicants, and that you are the embodiment of faith and devotion; the fact that the empire is happy under your rule is enough evidence of this. The welfare of the subjects depends on the character of the rulers. People will have peace or will suffer anxiety, when the rulers are either good or bad. Wherever I have enquired, I am told it is only in Ayodhya that we have a people full of love and loyalty to the sovereign and a sovereign full of affection and regard to his people. In every nook and corner of your kingdom, I hear this heartening news! Therefore, I know that your words come straight from the heart. I have not the least doubt; you will not deviate from your promise. You will adhere to the word once given”.

These words of the sage moved Dasaratha deeply. “Great men will engage themselves only in activities that help the world. And, whatever they do, they will not stray from the injunctions of the scriptures. There must be a good reason for whatever they contemplate, they are prompted by the Divine will in every act of theirs. So, I am ever willing, with all the resources at my command, to serve you and fulfill your slightest wish”, he replied. Dasaratha vowed again and again that he would carry out the sage’s command.

This made the sage very glad. “Yes! As you said, we do not emerge from our hermitages without reason. I have come to you on a high purpose! Listening to your enthusiastic response, I am doubly happy! I am filled with joy that my errand has borne fruit”. “You will stand by your promise, will you not,” asked Viswamitra! Dasaratha replied without delay, “Master! You should, perhaps, ask others such a question; but, Dasaratha is not the person to break the pledged word! He will give up his life rather than bring dishonour on himself, going back on his promise. What greater treasure can a monarch have than morality and integrity? They alone stand by him as sources of strength while discharging his manifold responsibilities. If these two are lost, the kingdom becomes a mansion without light, a wilderness beset with apish vagaries and factional fights. It will be torn by anarchy and terror. In the end, the king will meet with disaster. I am certain that such a calamity can never overwhelm my dynasty for ages to come. Therefore, without entertaining any shadow of doubt, tell me the mission that brought you to Ayodhya, and accept the service that this devoted servant is ready to offer”.

Viswamitra said, “No, no! I had no doubt in my mind. I simply uttered those words in order to hear this assertion of your steady adherence to truth! I know that the Ikshvaku rulers are intensely wedded to the duty of fulfilling the spoken word. Well! I require from you only one thing now. It is neither wealth nor vehicles, neither cows nor gold, nor regiments nor attendants. I need only two of your sons, Rama and Lakshmana, to accompany me. What do you say to this”, the sage asked?

At this, Dasaratha lost balance; he fell back and could not recover soon. Regaining his composure after some time, he gasped for courage to utter a few words. He said, “Master! Of what use will those boys be for you? The mission on which you intend to take those boys can be better fulfilled by me, don’t you think so? Give me the chance. Let me make my life worth while. Tell me what it is; I shall derive joy there from”. The sage replied, “My firm belief is that the task which these boys can fulfill can be undertaken by no one else. They alone can accomplish this task; neither your millions nor even you can carry it out! Boys such as these have not been born before! Nor will such be born again! This is my conviction.

“Listen! I resolved upon the performance of a celebrated Yajna (sacrificial rite). But as soon as I enter upon its preliminaries evil spirits and demons assemble from nowhere and cause sacrilegious obstruction. They cause interruptions and pile hindrances. I want these boys to ward off those demons and save the Yajna from these abominations, so that I can bring it to a successful conclusion. This is my purpose, my desire. What do you say now?” asked Viswamitra, in a serious stentorian voice.

The King replied, “Master! These tender little boys, how can they perform such a tremendous task? I am here, most willing and most ready. I shall come with my chariotry, infantry, cavalry and elephantry and guard the area of the sacrifice and your hermitage; I shall see that the Yajna is conducted with full success without the least interruption. I have some experience in fighting against these demoniac forces, since, as you know, I fought for the Gods against them and brought them victory. I can do it quite easily. I shall make arrangements to accompany you even now. Permit me to do so”, he appealed.

Hearing these words, the sage said, “0 King! I am not satisfied in spite of all that you say. I assert once again, you cannot accomplish this assignment. Can you not realize that it is beyond even me who is acclaimed as well-nigh omnipotent and omniscient? How then can you take up this task and succeed? You consider these boys just ordinary children; this is a mistake resulting from the affection you have as the father. I know full well that they are the Divine Might itself in human Form. Do not hesitate. Keep your word so solemnly given and send them this very moment with me. Or else, accept that you are not true to your word; I shall depart. Do either of these, quick! This is no occasion for wavering and delay!” The King was frightened by the sharpness of the sage’s voice. He was overwhelmed by fear. In despair, Dasaratha wanted that his preceptor be invited to court. Vasishta came in and on seeing Viswamitra, they exchanged smiles and words of mutual respect. Vasishta heard from the King an account of all that had happened. Of course, Vasishta knew quite well the Divine Reality of the boys; so, he decided to advise the King not to have the least worry, but entrust the boys gladly to the loving custody of the sage.

Dasaratha pleaded that the boys were not keeping good health for some months and that they did not have even the physical stamina to engage in battle with the demons. “We are concerned since long about their health and now this demand for them has come like a jab on a painful sore. My mind does not agree in the least to send them forth to encounter the demons. I shall guard my children even at the risk of my own life”, lamented the King.

Viswamitra intervened and said. “King! Why do you foolishly lament in this manner? You should have desisted from making promises which you could not fulfill. It is an act of dark sin when a ruler makes a promise without considering the pros and cons and then, when he is asked to execute it, to delay, retract and even to go counter to the promise. This is most unworthy of kings like you. I spurn the help you offer, sorrowfully. Help rendered, however small, if it comes from the deeper urges of service welling in the heart is as good as the offer of life itself. Half-hearted and hesitating help, however great, is deplorable. I have no desire to cause pain and extract help from you. Well! Be happy with yourself and your sin, I am leaving.” Viswamitra rose and attempted to move off. The King fell at his feet and prayed for more light and more time. He asked that he may be taught his duty. He pleaded with the sage to convince him of the fairness of his demand, so that he could fulfill his plan.

At this, Vasishta called Dasaratha to his side and counseled him. He said, “King! You are coming in the way of an imminent cosmic revelation, a mighty fulfillment. Since your heart is affected by parental affection, the truth is veiled before you. Your sons will come to no harm. No, never. There is no height of heroism that is beyond them. Formidable Divine Forces have taken these human forms for the very purpose of destroying demons and demoniac powers. So, without further delay, send for the boys. You should not calculate now their physical strength or the measure of their intelligence. Calculate rather the Divine that is bubbling up from them every minute of their lives. There is no strength which can stand up to that, remember!” After some more advice on these lines, Vasishta sent for the Princes, Rama and Lakshmana. As soon as they heard that the sages Viswamitra and Vasishta wanted them, both of them rushed along and entering the hall, bowed in reverence. First, they fell at the feet of the father, then at the feet of Vasishta, the family Preceptor, and next, at the feet of Viswamitra. With a smile playing on his lips, Viswamitra addressed the boys when they rose and stood reverentially on one side. He said, “Boys! Will you come with me?” The boys were elated at the prospect.

On hearing this, Dasaratha was further disheartened; his face turned pale. Rama saw his father sorrowing over his approval; he approached him softly and said, “Father! Why are you sad when I am going with the great Sage? Is there any better way of utilizing this body than putting it at the service of others? This body has been given to us for that very purpose. And, to share in the holy tasks of ascetics and to be able to grant them some relief from harassment, is this not high use? There is nothing impossible for us, is there? We will destroy the demons (the Raakshasas), however fierce they may be and bring peace to the sages. If permitted, we are ready to start off this very minute”. These words charged with courage served to reduce to some extent the anxiety of Dasaratha.

But, the King was still struggling; he could not decide what to say. He drew Rama to himself and told him, “Son! The Raakhasas are no ordinary foes! Reports say that among them are Sunda, Upasunda, Maricha, Subahu etc. These are atrociously cruel. Their physical appearance is indescribably horrid; you have had no occasion yet to look upon such terrifying forms. I cannot contemplate the moment when you come face to face with them. How can you battle with those tricksters who are adepts at camouflage and physical transformations? You have not so far heard even the word ‘battle’! Nor have you seen actual combat on the field. And you are now suddenly called to fight such formidable foes! Alas! Destiny is indeed very cruel! Alas! Have my sons to face on the very threshold of their lives this monstrous ordeal?”

With these thoughts revolving in his mind, Dasaratha shed profuse tears out of the anguish of his heart. Lakshmana noticed his father’s mental weakness. He said, “Father! Why these tears! We are not timid girls! The battlefield is our legitimate arena; war is our rightful duty, the safeguarding of righteousness is our genuine responsibility. The service of sages and the maintenance of moral codes are our very breath. I am surprised you are sad that we go on such a glorious errand! The world will laugh at you for this display of weakness. Send us with your love and blessings. I too will accompany my brother and return with the glory of Victory.”

Rama saw his father overpowered by affection for him; he moved towards the throne and held his hand lovingly. He said, “Father! It appears you have forgotten who you are. Bring into your memory who you are, in which royal family immortalized by which forefathers you were born, and how much fame they had attained. Then, you will not weep as you are doing now. You took birth in the Ikshvaku dynasty. Till this day, you have spent your years, as the very embodiment of Dharma. The three worlds have acclaimed you as the dutiful observer of vows, as the guardian and practitioner of Dharma, and as the most redoubtable hero on the battlefield, as well as elsewhere. You are aware that there is no greater sin than retracting the word once given. Going back on the word you have given to the sage will tarnish your fair fame. Your sons cannot tolerate this ill-fame. When you cannot act according to your word, you can have no share in the merit of the sacrifices performed by you or even of the beneficial acts done by you like digging wells, and planting trees. Why dilate? We, your sons feel that it is a mark of disgrace, for which we have to bend our heads, even to listen to the talk that Dasaratha broke his plighted word. This is an indelible blot on the reputation of the dynasty itself. Your affection for your sons is blind; it is not based on discrimination. It will bring on us punishment, not protection. If really you are moved by affection towards us, you should pay attention to the promotion of our fame, shouldn’t you? Of course, we are in no position to advise you. You know all this. Your affection has drawn you into this miasma of ignorance; it has made it difficult for you to recognize your duty. As for us, we have not the slightest shred of fear. The Bride of Victory will certainly espouse us. Do not hesitate; bless us and entrust us to the sage.” Rama pleaded thus, and bending his head low, he touched the feet of his father.

Dasaratha drew Rama to himself and fondled his head; he said, “Son! All you have said is true. They are gems of great worth. I am not a fool to deny them. I shall proceed this moment with my four-winged army and protect the sacrificial ceremony of this sage at the cost of all that I possess. But, my mind does not accept the proposal to send you, just now being trained in the arts of war and weaponry, into the arms of those demoniac Raakshasas. No father will knowingly offer into the tiger’s paw the sons he has borne. And, is it right for you too to plunge us into the flames of grief? We gained you through austerity, and fostered you as the very breath of our lives? Alas! What can any one do when destiny itself is against us? I shall not blame you or any one else; it is the consequence of the sins I have myself committed”.

Dasaratha bewailed thus, with his hand upon his head. At this, Rama broke into a smile. He said, “Father! What is this weakness? You speak of thrusting us into the tiger’s mouth! Haven’t you realized yet that we are not goats to be so offered? Believe us to be lion cubs, send us on this sacred task with your blessings. Kings must not delay sacred tasks!” Hearing these rather sharp remarks of Rama. Vasishta rose, saying, “Excellent! Dasaratha! Did you hear the lion’s roar? Why the jackal howl hereafter? Arise! Send the message to the mothers and fetch them; place your sons at the service of Viswamitra.” Hearing these words, Dasaratha felt he could not do anything else than obey; he sent word that the Queens come into the presence.

The Queens put in their appearance with veils over their heads; they touched the feet of the sages and of Dasaratha and afterwards, they moved towards the children and stood by their side, fondling with loving fingers the crown of their heads. Vasishta spoke to them first. He said, “Mother! Our Rama and Lakshmana are ready to leave with Viswamitra in order to guard his Yajna rite from interference and obstruction by demoniac hordes; bless them before they leave.” As soon as she heard this, Kausalya raised her head in surprise saying: “What is this I hear? Are these saplings to guard and protect the Yajna which the great Sage is celebrating? I have heard that the Mantras themselves with their Divine potency will be the best armour; how can mere man dare take upon himself the burden of saving the Yajna from harm. The responsibility for the successful conclusion of the Yajna lies on the recitude of the participating priesthood”.

This appeared to Vasishta as correct; but yet, he thought it best to shed a little more light on the situation. “Kausalya! Mother! The Yajna of Viswamitra is no ordinary rite! Many obstacles are affecting it and creating anxiety”. Vasishta was continuing with his explanation when Kausalya intervened and said, “I am really amazed to hear that anxiety overshadows the Yajnas performed by sages and rishis. I believe that no power can stand against any sacred resolve. The sage is nursing this desire and craving for its fulfillment in order to manifest the Supreme Light and Peace; that is my surmise. He might have put forward this request in order to test the King’s attachment to his children. Or else, how can we believe that these tiny sprouts of tenderness will guard from harm the Yajna that this sage, endowed with all mystic and mysterious powers, is proposing to celebrate?”

While Kausalya was saying this, her hand caressing the head of Rama, Dasaratha who was listening to her talk, suddenly realized the truth in a flash and arrived at a bold decision. He said, “Yes! the words of Kausalya convey authentic truth. This is but a plan to test me; I am certain about it. Master! How can I, a weakling, encounter your test? I shall abide by your wish, whatever it is!” With these words, Dasaratha fell at the feet of Vasishta. Vasishta looked at him and said, “Maharaja! You have proven yourself worthy. These boys are not of common stamp. Their skills and capacities are limitless. We know this. Others do not know. This occasion is but the in-auguration of their triumphal march; it is the prologue to the history or their victorious career. It is the taking on by them of the vow or Dharma-rakshana, the Guardianship of Righteousness. They will return soon with the Bride of Victory. Therefore, without further thought, hand them over gladly to Viswamitra.”

Vasishta called the boys to his side, and placing his auspicious palm on their heads, he recited some hymns pronouncing his Blessings on them. The boys fell at the feet of the mothers and received their blessings. They stood ready to depart.

Dasaratha noticed the glow of joy and courage on their faces; he suppressed the grief that was surging within him; he placed his hands on the shoulders of the boys and came near Viswamitra; he fell at his feet and said, “These two, 0 Master, are from this day your sons; their health and happiness are dependent on you; if you order that a few personal guards may be sent with them, I shall gladly comply”.

At this, Viswamitra burst into laughter. “0! King, You are really insane! Is there any one who can guard them, these heroes who are coming to free the Yajna from obstruction? Do they need any? They are out to guard the Yajna which we cannot guard; do such mighty heroes need some one to protect them? Of course, your affection has blinded you. King! I shall bring them with me to you when the task for which I am taking them is accomplished. Do not worry. Rule over the kingdom without injustice or interruption.”

Viswamitra rose from the seat; every one offered reverential obeisance to the great sage. He walked out of the hall first, and the two princes followed him.

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Chapter 6(b)

The Call and the first Victory

As soon as they reached the main gate of the palace, people heard heavenly drums and clarions resounding from the sky. A shower of flowers rained upon them. As they moved along, the music of conches rose from every doorstep; the peal of trumpets was heard from every few yards of the road. They appeared to men, women and children, to the citizens of all ages, as two cubs trotting behind an elderly lion. No one knew why the princes were walking barefoot and leaving the palace with the celebrated sage; so, each one started asking his neighbour what the mission was on which they were bound. The ministers, courtiers and citizens accompanied them only as far as the City Gate, for, that was the royal command. There, they bade farewell to the princes and turned back.

Thereafter, they continued their journey, Viswamitra leading the way, Rama close behind him and Lakshmana bringing up the rear. They saw the lines of charming trees on both sides of the track; they filled themselves with the beauty of Nature that revealed itself before their eyes. When they had trekked some distance, they entered a jungle devoid of human habitation. Viswamitra ordered that they should wear from then on, wrist guards and finger guards of leather; he asked them to take on hand the bows slung on the shoulder and hold them in readiness. Thus equipped, they moved along the silent terror-striking forest, through the tangled bushes, fearless and effulgent, as if they were the monarchs of the region. Soon, they reached the river Sarayu. The sun was preparing to set; so, Viswamitra called Rama and Lakshmana near him and spoke to them soft and sweet words, “Darlings! Go to the river without further delay and have the ceremonial washing of hands and feet. I shall now impart to you two mystic formulae, (Mantra), which form the crown jewels of all mantras. They are named Bala and Athi-Bala (strength and super-strength). They are both charged with tremendous power. They will restore freshness to you, however exhausted you may be; they will prevent exhaustion however heavily you exert yourselves; they will not allow illness to approach you; they will save you from demoniac forces. Again, whenever you are journeying, they will, if you recollect them, keep away hunger and thirst, bestow exhilarating health and shower joy and enthusiasm. They will strengthen limbs and minds. Rama! These two mantras are supreme over all other Mantras; they are more effulgent and efficacious than the rest.” Viswamitra expatiated upon the potency of the Mantras for a long while. Rama had no need to be told of them; he listened with apparent surprise and with wonder-filled eyes. Lakshmana, meanwhile, was watching both the Sage and Rama, laughing within himself!

This incident is a good lesson for the world, wherein Rama had come to revive Dharma. It is a lesson Rama taught by his behaviour, rather than by words.

“Maya is inescapable for any one however great; it will turn them upside down in a moment; it will not loosen its grasp so long as the victim is engrossed in the belief that he is the ‘body’; it will not be frightened by the name or fame, the skill or intelligence of the person it seeks to possess. Only when the individual discards name and form, releases himself from body-consciousness and establishes himself in the Atma, can he escape from the misconceptions that Maya inflicts.”

This was that lesson! For, note this! Viswamitra had these two powerful Mantras in his control; he had accumulated a great store of spiritual treasure; he had realized, in spite of his own far-famed resources, that Rama alone had the might needed to outwit and destroy the demoniac hordes intent on disrupting the Yajna he was set on celebrating; he had counseled Dasaratha against over-affection towards the son, blinding him to the divine majesty of Rama; he had announced that Rama was the guardian of the entire world; he believed that there was no height of heroism that Rama could not reach. Yet he was preparing to initiate those very princes into some mystic mantras, as if they were children of common stock. Surely, Viswamitra was shackled by Maya! He had yielded to the delusion of judging by apparent attributes; Rama laid bare the strength of the stranglehold of Maya on the sage. For, it was He who had shrouded Viswamitra’s mind and made him enter proudly upon these initiation rites! Rama and Lakshmana finished their ablutions in the river, as directed by Viswamitra. The sage came to Rama and initiated Him into the two mantras. Rama pronounced the formulae after the teacher, and nodded his head as a novice should do, when a mantra is taught. Lakshmana too did the same. They bowed their heads as if they had agreed to be the ‘disciples’ of Viswamitra. Soon it became dark and the brothers arranged for themselves as beds the grass which grew thick on the ground. After they laid themselves, Viswamitra sat by their side and related tales of olden times. Soon the boys appeared as if they had gone to sleep, as a result apparently of the exhaustion of tramping long distances on foot. Viswamitra stopped his story and was lost in thought about his own destiny and destination.

Meanwhile, daylight broke across the land. Multi-coloured birds flitted from branch to branch on the tree, under which the two brothers were sleeping, singing sweetly, as if they were intent on awakening Rama and Lakshmana! It was to the ear the music of aerial minstrels. But they could not rouse the sleepers! So, Viswamitra accosted Rama and announced that dawn had arrived. “Awake”, he said. Rama sat up; he awakened Lakshmana who was in bed by his side, and both fell at the feet of the sage. They finished their morning ablutions in the Sarayu river; they took the sacred water in their palms and let it down again uttering hymns in praise of the Goddess of the River. Then, they bathed in the river and performed thereafter the Sandhya rite, involving the recitation of the Gayatri-mantra. [Sung by Baba: Om Bhur Bhuva Svaha/Tat Savitur Varenyam/Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi/Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat]

Soon they got ready for the journey and stood before the sage, with arms folded. Viswamitra asked, “Dear ones! Now we can move towards our hermitage, can’t we”? And Rama replied, “We await your command”! So, they started walking, with the sage in front and the brothers behind. Soon, they reached the confluence of the Sarayu with the Ganga. The brothers prostrated before the holy river, and cast their eyes all around the holy spot. They saw a hermitage, with heavenly vibrations pervading the surroundings. It struck them as very ancient and full of hoary associations. Lakshmana questioned the sage, “Master! Who lives in that holy hermitage? What is the name of the great personage who dwells there”? The sage smiled at the inquiry.

He said, “Dear Ones! God Siva had come here long ago with His divine attendants, to engage in austerities prior to His wedding Parvathi. While He was fulfilling His Divine obligations from here, Manmatha (the God of Love) obstructed the spiritual practices and caused anger to sprout in the Divine Heart. He opened His Third Eye, which threw such searing flames that Manmatha was burnt into ash. His body was destroyed and so, he is known now as ‘limbless’, Ananga. The word for a limb is anga; since Manmatha lost his angas here, in this region, this part of the country is known ever after as Anga! This is a rich region. This hermitage was used by Siva and it is being used since, by generations of His devotees, each of whom has merged in Him as the fruit of arduous asceticism. This hermitage will accept as residents only strict followers of the Dharmic Path. If you so desire, we shall spend the night here and start out again, after a bath in the Ganga”. Rama and Lakshmana could not contain their delight when Viswamitra came forward with this proposal. They said, “We are very happy” and accepted the idea. They bathed in the holy Ganga. Meanwhile, the news that Viswamitra was available near their residences and that he had with him two heroic sons of the Emperor spread wide and many rushed to welcome them and receive them in their own hermitages.

That night, the Sage and the Princes stayed at the Asram of Siva; they fed on fruits and roots; they watched with interest the activities of the hermitage. The Princes listened to the stories narrated by Viswamitra; time floated fast in that flood of Bliss. As soon as day dawned they had their bath and ablutions and lovingly took leave of the hermits. Then they walked on, the two disciples following the Guru. They had to cross the Ganga River and so, some people of that area rowed them across and set them on the other bank. Thereafter, they reverentially bade farewell and fell at the feet of Viswamitra, before they returned. Viswamitra was gratified at this act of hospitality; he appreciated the depth of their devotion and their sense of surrender; he allowed them to depart, loaded with blessings.

Just then, a noise as of a rumbling subterranean flood sweeping over the land battered their ears. They saw the waters of the river raging and rising, with long chains of white foam on the crest of the waves. Rama asked the sage, “Master! Why is it that all of a sudden the angry flood has filled the basin and how could they surge so fast and so high?” The sage replied, “Rama! The full and furious Sarayu falls into the calm quiet Ganga at this place; hence this reverberation and this rumbling!” The sage uttered these words coolly and casually. It was a familiar scene for him. He continued, “Rama! In ages gone by, on one occasion, Brahma willed and a great lake was immediately formed near Mount Kailas. This is known as Manasa-sarovar; the word means the sarovar (lake) of Manasa (the mind). The gods named it so. When the snows melt and the rains fall, the lake gets overfull and the flow from out of the sarovar becomes the Sarayu river, running by the side of Ayodhya towards the Ganga. The Sarayu is a sacred river, because the waters rise from the lake willed by Brahma Himself”. They proceeded on their way listening to the thrilling stories that lighted every river and spot of land.

Now they entered a thick dark forest. It aroused a sense of terror. Rama asked the Master, “No sign of man having ever traversed this forest is seen!” Before he could get the answer, an eerie succession of roars from the angry throats of a huge herd of animals – tigers, lions, leopards and a host of lesser wild life – captured their attention. It appeared as if the earth was being torn asunder! They also saw wild animals engaged in mortal fight with others, some running into thickets, away from the scene of violent death. The forest was the home of close-grown trees that reached the skies and spread their shades thick over the ground – the banyan, the deodar, the pine, the holy fig.

There was no path to guide the feet; they had to clear a track for progress. Lakshmana could not contain his curiosity; he asked Viswamitra, “Master! Who rules this fearful forest? What is its name?” The Master replied, “Lakshmana! where this jungle has grown, there were formerly two little kingdoms, Malada and Karosa. They shone like the region of the gods; in fact, people spoke of the area as having been specially created and fostered by the gods. They relate a story about the place. When the God Indra killed Vritra, He suffered the contamination of sin and as a consequence, he was stricken with insatiable pain of hunger. Indra was brought in that pathetic condition by the sages of this region, and given a bath in the holy Ganga. After that immersion, they poured on His Head pots and pots of Ganga water, uttering all the while, holy hymns and formulae. With that, the sin (of killing a person of high caste) was washed away.

“Brahma was delighted that the contamination (Mala) as well as the cry (Krosa) of hunger ended. So, He named these kingdoms as Malada and Karosa. The kingdoms, too, rose to fame with his blessing. The gods willed that the two areas be resplendent with grain and gold, and all means of plenty and prosperity.

“Meanwhile, a cruel ogress named Thataki appeared in this region and she started laying waste the rich and peaceful land. She was a Yakshini who could transform herself into any form she liked. It is rumoured that as she was born, she was endowed with the prowess of a thousand elephants! She brought forth a son named Maricha. He had the might and heroism of Indra himself. Mother and son jointly caused tremendous havoc and disaster. The jungle in which that vile ogress lives is at a distance of a yojana (nine miles) and a half from here. She reduced these two wealthy valleys Malada and Karosa into this dreaded wilderness. Out of fear the cultivators of its fertile fields fled in terror at her approach and so the jungle crept on and on. The thickly populated cities and villages were deserted and ruined, leaving no trace of human habitation. She could not be captured or destroyed, for, she could escape from all attempts to destroy her. No one has yet dared to put an end to her depredations. I cannot think of any one except you (yes, my deepest intuition says so), no one except you can destroy this monster possessing such overwhelming might. These two, the vicious mother and son, lead and guide the demons to disrupt and pollute the Yajnas and sacred rituals of the hermits.”

The words of Viswamitra moved the feelings of Rama. He could not contain within himself the anger that surged up. With great humility and reverence, he said, “0 great among ascetics! I have heard that the Yakshas are of poor might; besides, this Thataki is a female; hers is the weaker sex; how could she terrorize entire populations so? Wherefrom did she acquire all this power? How could she reduce this region to rack and ruin when it has been blessed by Brahma and the Gods? This is indeed astounding. It is something that is beyond the bounds of belief”. Viswamitra said, “Rama! I shall explain. Listen! There was, in the past, a Yaksha named Sukethu. He was as rich in virtues as in prowess. He had no child to succeed him and so, he practiced severe austerities to propitiate the Gods and receive their blessings. At last, Brahma was pleased with his austerity; He appeared before him; He blessed him that He will get a daughter, with extraordinary strength, cleverness and skill. Sukethu was elated at this boon, though it was to be a daughter, not a son.

“Sukethu returned and a daughter was born to him, as anticipated. The child grew fast and strong. Though it was of the weaker sex, through the grace of Brahma, it had the might of a thousand elephants; she was moving about, with no law or limit, as if she owned all she saw! She was a very charming girl and so, Sukethu, sought far and wide for an equally charming groom; finally, he secured one; his name was Sunda; and, Sukethu gave her in marriage to him. Three years later, she gave birth to a son; he is Maricha, about whom I told you. Mother and son have become invincible in combat. Sunda started off on his demonic adventures and attempted to ruin the Yajnas of sages and so, he incurred the wrath of the great Agasthya. He hurled a curse on the vile fellow, which killed him and saved the sages from further grief. In revenge, Thataki took her son along, and fell upon the hermitage of Agasthya. Agasthya had forewarning of this attack; so, he cursed them both to be reduced to the status of ogres. This enraged them more; they roared abuses and advanced frightfully with blood-red eyes against Agasthya! Agasthya felt that delay would be dangerous; he cursed Thataki that she should lose her charm and become an ugly fright! He willed that she become a cannibal! She was not subdued by the curse, but, she continued the attack with renewed ferocity. So, Agasthya escaped from the ravage and went to a safer place. Angered by this disappointment, Thataki spent her ire on this region (Malada and Karosa) destroying crops and gardens and reducing it to a big jungle.”

When this tale was told, Rama said, “Master! Since she was born as a consequence of Brahma’s boon, and as a gift for austerity, she had all these skills and strength; she misused them and drew upon herself the wrath and the curse. The sin of killing a woman is, as mentioned in the scriptures, very heinous, isn’t it? Agasthya must have let her off with the curse of ugliness, for this very reason. Or else, could not the great sage who caused the husband to die kill the wife also? I have heard that warriors should not be so mean as to kill women. Tell me what I should do now; I am prepared to obey”.

Viswamitra was happy that Rama put these qualms dictated by Dharma. “I am not ignorant of the fact that the killing of a woman is a heinous sin. Nevertheless, the protection of spiritually progressive men – the Brahmins, the virtuous, as well as cows – this is important. Dharma is intertwined with these three. There is no sin when the act is done for the promotion of Dharma and the removal of Adharma. Don’t you know the dictum, ‘Dharmo rakshathi rakshithah’; Dharma saves those who save it? This is not violence used for one’s aggrandizement. When violence is used for preserving the peace and prosperity of the world, I assure you, it cannot draw down any bad reaction. Moreover, creation, preservation and dissolution are expressions of Divine law; they happen according to the Divine will. They are not bound by the whims of man. You are Divine Manifestations. You have the authority and the duty. No dirt can stick to fire; so too, no sin can contaminate the Divine. The will that creates, the obligation that protects, can also carry out the duty to punish. The punishment that awaits the sins of the mother and her son cannot be avoided; It must be considered fortunate that Thataki ends her life at your hands today, before she adds to the heap of sins for which she has to suffer much. You will only be serving her best interests and the interests of the country; this is neither wrong nor sinful. If you entertain the feeling of compassion now, it would cause unlimited damage to the world; it would be promoting the decline of Dharma; it would help Thataki to indulge in more sins. Why should I dwell more on this point and relate to you thousand arguments? I have seen all, through my spiritual eye; you have incarnated in human form to destroy the Rakshasa brood. This is your mission, your task. You have to carry it out today and throughout your career. The guardianship of Dharma, and the destruction of the Rakshasas, (people with demonic tendencies) are the very purposes which have persuaded you to take birth! I knew this truth; that is the reason why I rushed to you for help; or else, why should I seek your support and service? Hermits, anchorites, and those performing austerities in forest retreats, entreat the help of the rulers of the land for the sake, not of themselves, but of the whole world. They give up attachment, and sustain themselves on the roots and fruits gathered by them; after some months or years of this regimen, they harden their lives even more, so that they may lose the body-consciousness and merge in the Light; why should such people worry over what happens to the world? But, the Wise, the Realized, besides saving themselves by the illumination of revelation, endeavour to tell others the path they have trodden, the glory of the goal they have reached, to persuade others to practice the disciplines that made them ready to receive the Truth. If the Wise care only for themselves and their liberation what is to happen to the world? People will descend further into iniquity, that is all. Dharma will be submerged. Hermits keep up relationship with the world for this reason, not for quenching any private craving of theirs. They live as the lotus on water. They may be entangled in the world, for all appearances; but, they have no attachment with the world. They will not allow the world to tarnish them. Their aim is one and one only: the progress and welfare of the world. They attend only to the fostering of Dharma. They depend only on God.”

When Viswamitra bared the truth in these words, Rama responded as if he was a novice, unacquainted with all that he had heard. He said: “The world will not understand that the words of hermits and sages have holy significances embedded in them. I interrogated you on the morality of this act so that we may know how you elaborate on the justice of the act. Do not read any other meaning into my question. My father, Dasaratha, told me to obey Viswamitra the Sage and do what he commands. I wish to follow what my father orders. You are a great Rshi. You have undergone severe austerities. When such as you declare that Thataki can be killed without incurring sin and that the act is just and moral, I know I do not commit wrong. I am ready to carry out any task you impose on me for fostering Dharma and for promoting the welfare of the people”. So saying, he held the bow in his hand, and tested the tightness of the string, producing a sound that echoed and re-echoed from the ten directions. The entire jungle was awakened; wild animals fled far and wide. Thataki was shocked by the unusually loud and awesome sound; she was inflamed with rage at this disturbing phenomenon; she rushed towards the place wherefrom it emanated! Rama saw the monster moving towards him like a mountain lurching or a huge wild elephant charging. He smiled and told Lakshmana, “Brother! Look at this mass of ugliness! Can common man survive the sight of this devilish personality? The very appearance is terrible! What are we then to say of its might? And, it is a woman! My mind does not fully co-operate with me when I resolve to kill it! I believe this monster will die, if its hands and legs are cut apart, that may be enough to destroy it”.

Thataki was rushing towards Rama with outstretched arms, so that she could grasp him and put him into her mouth like a piece of cake! She was roaring wildly and in terror-striking excitement. Viswamitra was praying, with eyes closed, that the brothers may not suffer harm in this combat. Thataki moved nearer and nearer to Rama, but with greater and greater reluctance, for, in his presence, she felt a strange kind of shock. Once or twice, she went near Rama, but, she had to retreat fast. She jumped about in fury, angry at herself! The dust kicked up by her rendered the area dark and suffocating. Rama, Lakshmana and Viswamitra stood silent and inactive for a while. Thataki was an adept in the art of delusion and destruction. She created a heavy rain of rocks. Rama now decided that the ogress should no longer be allowed to live on earth; she cannot be pardoned on the score of feminity! So, he drew his bow and shot an arrow at the body of the invisible Thataki identifying where exactly it was at the time. At this, she rushed once again at Rama. Her two arms were cut down by his arrows. She fell on the ground, crying in agony and pain. Lakshmana cut off her limbs, one by one. But, Thataki could adopt form after form, as she liked. So, she gave up one form and assumed another quickly and reappeared fresh and furious before them! She pretended to be dead, but soon came up alive! She adopted a variety of forms at the same time and started her old trick of the shower of rocks. She exhibited her wicked talents and evil tricks. Rama and Lakshmana received a few injuries, however watchful they were. Seeing this, Viswamitra felt that there should be no more delay, and that she must be killed straightaway. He said, “Rama! Do not hesitate! This is not the moment to consider her womanhood and show concessions! Removal of her limbs will not benefit. So long as there is life these Rakshasas can adopt any number of forms. Therefore, kill her! When evening approaches, her dark rage will swell even more. After sunset, it becomes impossible to encounter Rakshasas, whoever might attempt to do so. She must be destroyed within that hour.” Saying this, Viswamitra uttered some sacred mantras that ensure protection and grant safety.

Rama too directed his own thoughts and through his power of guiding arrows in the direction from where the sound emanates he recognized where Thataki was and shot an arrow fast at that target. The arrow had the effect of binding her limbs and preventing her from making the slightest movement. At this, Thataki shrieked most ferociously, and putting out her terrible tongue, attempted to fall upon Rama and Lakshmana and crush them under her weight. On this, Rama decided that delay will invite worse consequences; he shot a fatally sharp arrow right into the chest; with that, she rolled on the ground and gave up her life.

The earth showed a huge crater where she fell. Trees were uprooted by the impact of the gigantic mass, when she rolled in agony. Her last gasp of breath was so weird and loud that the wild beasts of the forest fled; herds of animals ran helter skelter. When the awful demoness fell dead, Viswamitra called Rama near, and stroking his hair lovingly, said, ” Son! Were you afraid? No! No! How can the saviour of all the worlds be afraid? This feat is the foundation stone; it ensures the stability of the mansion. Come, you are tired. The sun too has set. Perform the evening worship and rest awhile. Come with me”. He took them to the river, and later, he told them, “Children! We shall rest here for the night and we can proceed to our hermitage at dawn”. They spent the night listening to the stories that Viswamitra related; the Master also revealed to them their own faculties and latent majesty.

The dawn broke. The sage went through the morning ablutions, and approached the sleeping brothers with a benign smile. He spoke soft and sweet words to them. “Rama! I am delighted at your heroism! When you were overcoming that demoness Thataki, I comprehended the truth of your being the Absolute. Really, I am very fortunate.” Viswamitra shed tears of joy. He held forth all the mystic weapons he possessed, and the mantras which shape and sustain them, and in a swift act of dedication he placed them all in the hands of Rama. “I have no authority to wield these weapons; of what avail are they for me, even if I have them in my possession? You are the master and wielder of all weapons. They too will be most pleased when they are with you, for, they can fulfill their destiny best while with you. Note this! From this moment, all the weapons I commanded so far shall be your instruments, available for the mission on which you have come”, he said, pouring holy water with appropriate mantras, indicative of an irrevocable surrender of their ownership.

Thus, he offered to Rama the Dandachakra, the Dharmachakra, the Kalachakra, the Indrastra, the Vajrastra, the Siva-inspired Trisula, Brahmasirastra, Aishikastra and the most mighty and destructive of all, the Brahmastra. Then, he sat silent for a while, with eyes closed. He rose with the words, “Now, what have I to do with these too?” And he gave Rama two powerful maces, Modak and Sikhar. He said. “After reaching our Asram, I shall bring out other weapons too – the Agni missile, (Agni-astra), the Krauncha missile, the Narayana missile, the Vayu missile and others. “Sons, he said, “All these weapons are at the beck and call of the master; they are amazingly overpowering. “Thus saying, he whispered into Rama’s ear the mystic formulae which can materialize and activate them, and direct them towards the targets with incalculable fury. He asked him to recite the formulae under his supervision. Before long, Rama was able to visualise the deities presiding over each of the divine missiles and weapons and receive their grateful homage. Each deity presented itself before Rama and fell prostrate before him. Each one said, “Rama! We are your servants from this moment. We all vow and affirm that we shall abide by your commands.” Then they disappeared, awaiting further summons.

Rama was glad at this development; he touched the Sage’s feet, saying, “Master! your heart is the treasure chest of renunciation. You are, I realize, the Divine embodiment of Thyaga (detachment) and Yoga (conquest of the senses). Or will any one else renounce and gift away such an array of potent hard-won weapons? Master! Please delight me by counseling the manner in which I can withdraw the weapons after they have wrought the intended havoc. You have now taught me the formulae for unleashing them. I desire to know how I can recover them”. At this, Viswamitra felt elated; he said: “These forces and weapons like Sathyakeerti, Drshta, Rabhasa, Pitrsomasa, Krsana, Virasya, Yougandha, Vidhootha, Karaveeraka Jrmbhaka – are automatically recoverable by the exercise of the will of the bowman using them, expressed through mantras, which I shall communicate to you now.” He then initiated him into those formulae also. When they were pronounced, the deities so propitiated, appeared and prostrated to their new Master. Rama told them that they have to be ready when called, and that they could meanwhile be at ease.

Viswamltra then proposed to resume the journey and the three of them started footing their way along. A little distance later, they entered a region of high-peaked hills; their eyes fell on a charming garden, the fragrance of which welcomed them and refreshed their bodies and minds. The brothers were curious to know who owned that lovely spot. They asked the Sage to enlighten them. Viswamitra replied, “Son! This is the holy area which the gods choose when they come down on earth to practice austerity for the success of their desires. The great Kasyapa did penance here and won his goal. The place confers victory on all holy efforts. So it is named, Siddhasram, the Hermitage of Achievement! I have myself taken residence here, with the intention of cultivating Dedication and Surrender. This hermitage is the target of attack for demons who intercept and befoul every holy rite done here. You have to destroy them when they attempt their nefarious tactics”. So saying, Viswamitra entered that heart-warming seat of peace. He placed his arm on Rama’s shoulder caressingly and said, “This Asram is as much yours from today, as it was mine until now”; the hoary sage shed tears of gratification as he uttered those words. Even as they stepped into the Siddhasram, the residents ran forward with eager haste to wash the feet of the Master and offer water for ablutions to Rama and Lakshmana.

They scattered flowers along the path towards the Asram and led them to the door. They offered them fruits and sweet cool drink. They proposed to Rama and Lakshmana that they should take rest in a cottage specially allotted to them and made ready for their use. They did accordingly and after the rest, which refreshed them a great deal, they washed their feet and faces and came to the Sage Viswamitra, to know his instructions. They stood before the Teacher with arms folded and said, “Master! Can Yajna which you have willed to perform be inaugurated tomorrow?” Viswamitra was elated at this query; he replied, “Yes! Everything is ready! In this Siddhasram, it is so always. There is no need to wait for preparations to be completed. We are always ready. I shall take the prescribed vow, when dawn breaks tomorrow”. The news spread and every one set about the task of collecting all that was necessary for the great event. Dawn broke. Viswamitra took the vow of initiation and the Yajna began. As Skanda and Visakha stood guard for the Gods, the two brothers, Rama and Lakshmana stood resolutely determined to encounter all who attempted to interfere with its due performance. Since it was improper to speak to Viswamitra who was engaged in the sacrificial ceremony, Rama gestured to the other participants to find out from them when the demon horde could be expected and from which direction. They could only answer, “It is not possible to say when and from where!” “The demons have no regular timings; any moment they might pounce on us. Who can predict the time of their onslaught?” The hermits spoke to Rama about the demons, each according to his estimate of their character and habits.

Rama was delighted at the replies given by them; he decided that the wise course would be to be ever vigilant and ready to beat back the demon forces, who attempt to frustrate the sacred ceremonies of hermits. He alerted his brother too. They watched the four quarters very carefully and paid attention to the slightest sound indicative of the approach of danger. Recognising their bravery and earnestness, the ascetics derived vast joy and wonder, for, they were of tender age and lovely complexion, barely out of the stage of boyish pranks!

For five days and nights, the brothers kept unremittent guard over the sacrificial site and the hermitage without a wink of sleep or a moment of rest. The sixth day too started on the same routine. Viswamitra was engaged in the Yajna, immersed in the ritual exactitude of each item of the ceremony. The rthwiks (reciters of hymns and other participants) were engaged in their tasks of recitation, oblations, and recitation.

Suddenly, they were astounded by a thundrous noise that broke from the sky, as if the firmament itself was exploding into fragments! Fire emanated from everything on the sacrificial platform – the kusa grass, the plates and cups, the holy vessels holding ritual objects, the dry sticks which had to be offered in the holy Yajna fire, the flowers, the kumkum and other auspicious articles collected for the sake of worshipping gods! The flames rose on all sides!

Very soon, the sky was overcast by dark fearsome clouds and the bright day became a night of pitch darkness. Mysterious evil fumes sped fast towards the place where the Yajna was being performed! The sinister clouds started raining blood, and the drops when they fell were welcomed by tongues of flame which rose to receive them! Rama and Lakshmana sought to locate the enemy demons amidst the phantasmagoria of cruelty and hate. Rama, through His Divine Vision, knew where the leading ogres, Maricha and Subahu were, and he released the Manasa arrow in that direction. It struck the breast of Maricha, and stopped any further mischief from him. Next, he shot the Agniastra (Fire-weapon) at Subahu and it got lodged in the heart of Subahu. Rama understood that if their corpses dropped on the holy region the hermitage itself will be polluted; so, to prevent that sinful contact the arrows of Rama carried the vicious bodies hundreds of miles afar and cast them into the ocean! Maricha and Subahu shrieked and groaned in unbearable agony and struggled desperately amidst the waves; but they did not die. The other leaders of the demon hordes fled for their lives beyond the horizon. Lakshmana said that it was not advisable to allow any demon to survive however cowardly they might appear, for, they would soon return to their wicked practices. So, he prompted Rama to kill off the entire gang. The hermits who watched this great act of heroism were elated with admiration; they believed that the brothers were really Siva Himself, in His terror-striking boon-conferring Form. They bowed in reverence to them, in their own minds – for, they were too young to accept their homage.

The forest put on the vesture of brightness and joy, in a moment. Amidst all the distractions, Viswamitra continued steadily and without interruption the meditation on the deities and the recitation of the holy hymns that were enjoined for the Yajna! He never made even the slightest movement of body or mind; such was the depth of his concentration! The Valedictory Offering in the Sacred Fire was fulfilled with correctitude and thankfulness. Then, Viswamitra came smiling to where Rama and Lakshmana were standing. “0 praiseworthy heroes! You brought victory to my vow! Through you, I have realised my life’s desire. The name of this Asram has been justified; it has become truly the Hermitage of Achievement! he said”. The sage shed tears of joy; he fondled and caressed the boys; he proceeded towards the hermitage with his hands placed on the shoulders of Rama and Lakshmana; there, he gave them the share of the holy offerings made at the sacrificial fire. He asked them to retire and refresh themselves with a little rest.

Though the fulfillment of the purpose for which they had been brought was itself the most effective restorative for their limbs and minds, they felt that it would be improper to discard the command of the Master and so, they retired and slept soundly a long while. The Master removed himself to another thatched cottage, to ensure undisturbed sleep for them; he also instructed some men to keep guard so that no one unwittingly created noise which might awaken them. While the brothers were sleeping, Viswamitra was exulting over the successful conclusion of the Yajna and the Divine Prowess of Rama and Lakshmana. Meanwhile, Rama and Lakshmana woke up and after washing face, hands and feet, they came out through the door, to find there the boys of the hermit families keeping guard, lest their sleep be disturbed! They were informed that the Master was conversing with the ascetics in another cottage. So, they moved thither and fell at the sage’s feet. Rising, they stood with arms folded and said, “Great Teacher! If these servants of yours have to do any other task, please inform us and we shall gladly carry it out”. At this, one ascetic from the group stood up and addressed them thus, “With the destruction of the demons, all that has to be done has been accomplished. What else is there to be done? The desire entertained by the Master, since years, has been fulfilled. Nothing higher than this is needed. You two are of the form of Siva-Sakthi. That is how you appear to our eyes. You are no common mortals. It is our good fortune that has given us this chance to see you. Our gratitude knows no bounds”. At this, the residents touched the feet of Rama and Lakshmana.

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Chapter 7(a)

Winning Sita

Meanwhile, one young student-disciple ran in with a bundle of palm leaf scripts and placed it in the hands of Viswamitra. He turned over a few leaves and passed it on to a revered old hermit sitting by his side. The Master asked the old man to read it aloud, so that all might hear.

He read that Emperor Janaka of Mithila had resolved to perform a celebrated Yajna, expressive of the highest glory of Righteousness, and that he was praying Viswamitra to give him joy by his gracious Presence with his disciples. When they heard this, all exclaimed, “Subham, Subham” (may it attain fulfillment). Viswamitra said, “Sons! Now that we van travel through the forests free from fear of demonic gangs, I have decided to start on the journey to Mithila with all the residents of the Asram, tomorrow itself”.

When he heard this, Rama said, “Master! It is really a source of delight. Since there is nothing more that you need us for, we shall return to Ayodhya, if you permit us to do so. Please allow us to leave”. At this, Viswamitra said, “I have given word to Dasaratha for a few more things; I have to keep those words too! I have promised him that I would myself bring you back to him and so, you cannot return without me! A unique Yajna is taking place in Mithila City. There is not enough time for me to take you to Ayodhya and then reach Mithila on the day the Yajna begins. If you two accompany me to Mithila, you can witness the Yajna and proceed to Ayodhya with me from there itself”.

Hearing these words which had no trace of hesitation or doubt, Rama too answered decisively, without weighing pros and cons, “Master! Since my chief vow is obedience of the orders of my father, I have to submit a prayer before you”. Viswamitra asked, “Come! Tell me, what is the prayer?” Rama replied, “My father directed me to guard the Yajna of Viswamitra from defilement and sacrilege, and make the great sage happy. He asked us to return victorious; he has not directed us to attend Yajnas elsewhere. Should I not receive special permission from my father for moving on to Mithila?”

At this Viswamitra said, “Rama! Dasaratha did not stop with that only! No”. He said, “Go and obey all that the sage commands you to do; do not transgress his command by even the width of a grain”. He told me, ‘Master! You must yourselves assume full responsibility for my children; you must yourselves assume full responsibility for my children; you must yourselves bring them back to me’. You have listened to what he said when we left Ayodhya. So, follow my word now; come with me to Mithila, and from there we shall go to Ayodhya, I and you and all my disciples”. Rama realized the truth that was inherent in this plan and he nodded in agreement saying, “We shall do as you desire”.

Instructions went forth that every one must get ready before daybreak for the journey to Mithila. Viswamitra rose early and led the boys to the river for ablutions. He was thrilled at the chance of telling them of the hardships he encountered from the demons whenever he attempted to celebrate Yajnas in the past; he related to them how all his counter-measures failed to achieve their object; he expressed his gratitude for the destruction of the demons which had ensured safety for the hermitage as well as the surrounding regions. He described how the people were now happily relieved of fear and have unalloyed peace and joy.

The place was silent, calm, comforting. Sitting on the soft sands the sage Viswamitra was relating the special features and significance of the Yajna contemplated by Emperor Janaka, to the two brothers he had drawn close to him.

During the description he referred to a precious bow that Janaka had in his possession, a bow that was uniquely potent, and shone with rare splendour; he declared that they must not miss seeing it. At this, Rama asked how the bow happened to reach Janaka and Viswamitra answered, “Listen, son! Years ago, the Emperor of Mithila named Devaratha celebrated a great Yajna the like of which no mortal could dare perform, a Yajna which can confer vast spiritual benefits, a Yajna which pleased the Gods so highly that they gifted him this devine bow, as a mark of appreciation. It is the Bow of Siva. It is being worshipped with due rites by Janaka every day. He offers flowers and sandal paste, and waves camphor flame and incense in its honour; he places eatables and fruits before the Divine Presence in the bow, in reverential homage. The bow is so loaded with divinity that no one can raise it and string it, be he god, demon, angel or spirit. Many princes who attempted to string it have met with disgraceful disappointment. Rama! you are worthy heroes; you can examine it. During this coming Yajna, the Bow will most probably be on show; so, this is a good chance, certainly”. Viswamitra went on describing the wonderful potency of the bow. Lakshmana turned his eyes as if searching for the direction in which Mithila was. Meanwhile Rama said, with delight “Certainly! We must see it. We shall come with you tomorrow”. Hearing this, Viswamitra was elated.

Darkness fell and everyone rose and moved towards Siddhasram. Viswamitra called together the residents of the Asram and ordered that they should get ready to leave for Mithila as soon as the hour of dawn struck. Then, some of them asked, “Master! How can the routine of the Asram be observed without interruption if there is none left here?” The sage replied, “If each one carries on his duties wherever he is, that itself is the proper observance of the Asram routine. There is no special routine for the Asram apart from the Asramites. Those who seek Asraya (support) make up the Asram; without the Asrithas (dependents) there can be no Asram. When the Asrithas are with me, why worry about the Asram and the routine? The disciples are those to be cared for, those that have to observe the disciplines. Moreover, since the place has now become free from the fear of demons, the Asram cannot come to harm. The Creator of All is our Asrayam (Refuge) and when we depend on Him, He will foster all”. Viswamitra spoke in this rather unfamiliar strain and continued, “Take with you the things needed for your daily rites as well as all the tools and vessels belonging to the Asram; there is no need to leave anything here”.

Some novitiates queried, “Master! After what interval of time do we return to this place? If you tell us that, we can select as many articles as will suffice for that period of absence; why burden ourselves with more than what is essential?”

Viswamitra replied, “Time is no servant of the body; the body is the servant of Time. Therefore, one can never say when! Will I come here again or no? I doubt!” When they heard this, the hearts of all the residents suffered a shock. The clothes, vessels and tools they held in their hands slipped and fell on the ground. They could not find words to speak in reply. They could not protest, nor could they muster courage to question the Master. So, they bundled up kusa grass, sacred sticks for the sacrificial fire, ceremonial ladles and vessels, as much as they could carry. The meaning of Viswamitra’s words was a mystery and so each of them interpreted them in his own way.

The night rolled by and dawn broke. Every one was ready; when the doors were being closed and bolted behind them Viswamitra said, “Do not fasten the doors! Leave them open! This is not ours; any one who comes can enter. This Asram must welcome all who arrive at all times. This day, the bond between us and this Asram has snapped! Grow in happiness hereafter, ye patron gods of this holy area! I have achieved success in my endeavour; accept my grateful appreciation in return. You will no more be troubled by demon hordes; you can now live in peace, with ample progeny, prosperous and happy. I am going out of the Siddhasram, renouncing it. I have resolved to take residence in the region of the Himalayas, lying north of the sacred Ganga River”. Viswamitra prostrated on the ground as a mark of respect for the forest deities.

Then, he started on his journey, with Rama and Lakshmana and the senior monks of the Asram. The residents of the hermitage realized that their place was where Viswamitra was, and not the forest or huts where they had lived so long. They felt that the Himalayan region was equally suitable for them; so, they too offered gratitude and reverence to the forest deities and the grass-thatched dwellings and walked on behind the sage.

While they were thus proceeding in the northerly direction, they saw behind them, following their trail, thousands of deer, peacocks, birds and beasts of the jungle, running with raised tails, in eager haste of yearning. Viswamitra stopped and turning towards them he said “O denizens of the jungle! The places to which I am going are not congenial for your style of living, for your safety and security. This forest is your natural habitat. Do not be sad at the separation; do not follow us; remain here itself. God will grant you peace and joy”. He took leave of them too, before he resumed the journey.

The day’s journey brought them to the bank of the Sona River; they had perforce to spend the night at that place itself. They took their bath in the river and finished the evening ablutions. Then they gathered around the Master eager to listen to his tales. Rama asked: “Revered Sir, this region appears rich and prosperous; what is its name and history, I would like to know”. Viswamitra replied, “Rama! Brahma had a son through sheer Will. He was named Kusa; he was a great ascetic, steadfast and strict in vows, heroic in spiritual adventure, learned in the science of morals. He wedded the daughter of the noble ruler of Vidarbha. The two lived in the awareness and practice of the four ends of human life, Righteousness, Prosperity, Affection and Liberation. They had four sons – Kusamba, Kusanabha, Adhoortharajaka and Vasu – each one, equal to the father in virtue, and highly evolved in righteousness, integrity and other excellencies of the warrior caste.

Kusa divided the world into four parts and assigned one part to each of them, directing them thus: “Sons! Rule over the part assigned to each of you and prosper!” Thereafter, they entered upon their new duties and carried out their father’s command. Each of them started constructing a capital city for the kingdom – Kusamba built Kausambi, Kusanabha built Mahodaya, Adhoortharajaka built Dharmaranya and Vasu built Girivraja. Rama! This area is part of the kingdom of Vasu; we have all around us five hills, and so, this City is called Girivraja (Collection of Hills). This auspicious Sona river is also known as Sumagadhi, so that this region is named Magadha. The Magadhi flows from east to west here, like a jasmine garland placed among the mountain valleys. The majesty of Vasu has blessed the land on both banks of this river to be ever green and plentiful.

The second son, Kusanabha, was well established in Dharma; he was a pillar of Righteousness. He had a number of daughters, but, no son. He taught them right conduct and behaviour according to the rules and disciplines laid down in the scriptures. He emphasized that forbearance is the grandest gift one can give another; it is the most prolific fruit-bearing Yajna, the most beneficial way of being honest and the root of all right thought and action. He gave them this lesson even from the days when they were fed at the mother’s breast. They were later given in marriage – all of them – to the ruler of Kampilya City, Brahmadatta by name. When they all left for that City, his house became empty and barren.

“Alas”, he moaned, “this house which was so bright and resonant with wit and laughter has today become dark and dumb, dull and deep in gloom. Daughters, however many you may have, have to leave the parental home rendering it drab and dreary. If only I had a son, this calamity would not have overpowered me”. Thus, He entertained the longing for a son.

Just then, his father, Kusa, happened to visit him and he enquired the reason why he looked sad and full of concern; the son laid bare before him his mind and its anxieties. Kusa chided him for becoming so worried for this particular reason; he blessed him that he get a son soon. And, as he blessed, so it happened. The son born was named Gaadhi; he grew up a very devoted virtuous prince; since he was born in the lineage of Kusa he was known as Kousika.

His sisters lost their husbands after some time and as dutiful wives, they immolated themselves and gained heaven. They were born on the Himalayas as sacred rivers which joined together to form the famous Kousiki river. Kousika was attached very much to the eldest of the sisters, Sathyavathi by name and so, he took residence on the bank of this river, and established himself at Siddha asram, and celebrated the Yajna he had resolved upon with ceremonial rectitude.

Rama! Through your immeasurable heroism, the Yajna I had resolved upon has come to its successful conclusion. It has borne fruit; my rigorous vows have been fulfilled”.

At this, the monks who had gathered around the sage exclaimed, “O, how wonderful! Really, we are fortunate that we could listen to the story of the hoary ancestors of our Master! O, what a great source of joy the story is! The Kusa line is indeed consecrated. Those born in it are equal to Brahma Himself in sanctity. How lucky we are that we have this singular chance to serve the one visible embodiment of all that the line represents, the sage Viswamitra; this chance must be the fruit of merit accumulated through many lives in the past”.

Viswamitra interrupted them and said, “I would not have dwelt on all this, but, Rama! your question prompted me to reply; I do not give details regarding this body and its antecedents. It is already night; let us take rest. Delay in going to sleep might slacken the speed of our journey tomorrow. Rama! See! The Moon is peeping through the branches of yonder tree to catch a glimpse of you! It sends down cool rays to refresh the earth that has suffered long the hot rays of the sun”. That night, every one was ruminating over the tales of the forefathers of the Master.

They awoke from sleep pretty early and finished the morning ablutions. They performed the daily rituals too and got ready in time to continue the journey. They came near Viswamitra, and fell at his feet. Then, they stood one behind the other on one side, awaiting orders. Rama said, “Master! the river Sona is not deep at this place. The water is clear, we can wade across. No boat is needed!” Viswamitra replied, “Son! You are strange to this place and so, you do not know the exact place where we can wade across. I shall go first; you will follow me”. The sage walked into the riverbed and moved on. Every one had his bundle slung on his shoulder. The pace was slow and it was noon when they reached the river Jahnavi.

The first intimation they had about the river was sweet ‘kuhoo’ notes of swans, parrots and other birds on the bank. Every heart was filled with delight at the entrancing beauty of the scene. They bathed in the pure pellucid stream and, aware of the hallowed story of the river, they offered oblations to departed ancestors and gods. They lit the sacred fire on the bank and performed ritual sacrifices enjoined by the Sastras. Then, they collected edible fruits from the trees around and after assuaging hunger with them, they drank the nectarine water of the Jahnavi to slake their thirst.

Rama and Lakshmana walked towards the tree under whose shade Viswamitra was reclining and sat beside him, reverentially. Rama asked him, “Master! Why is it said that the Ganga flows as three streams in the three worlds? How does the Ganga reach the Ocean, which is the Lord of every stream and river throughout the world! Please tell me and make me glad!” Viswamitra said, “Son! The Himalayan range is the basis of all this world: it is the home for all animals and all herbs. It has two daughters, Ganga and Uma; Ganga is the elder of the two. Both these are being adored by the entire world. The gods asked that Ganga be given to them so that they might have prosperity. So, Himavaan (the Deity of the Himalayas) gifted Ganga to the gods in order to secure their blessings, and benefit the three worlds.

“The younger daughter, Uma entered upon a life of extreme asceticism. She immersed herself in hard spiritual discipline, prompted by supreme detachment from everything worldly. So, Himavaan sought to settle her in the world as a wife; in spite of strenous endeavour, he could not succeed in this for long. At last, he persuaded Rudra to agree to wed her. Thus, she too became entitled to the adoration of the three worlds.

“The Ganga you see here is the Ganga that the gods took with them, and that has come down to Earth and that has three steps, one in heaven, one on Earth and another sub-terranean”.

The Sage Viswamitra was journeying towards the city of Mithila with Rama and Lakshmana, as well as a few of his disciples, regaling them throughout the day and far into the night with picturesque descriptions of his own previous history, the historical events connected with the places through which they passed, and the annals of the various dynasties which ruled over the regions which they crossed.

That evening, he was seated on the sands of the bed of the Ganga, after the ablutions and rites. Rama reminded him that they will be happy to know about the origin of that holy stream. Viswamitra responded and said, “Rama-chandra! Your ancestors are responsible for Ganga coming down on earth. As a result of their good deeds, the peoples of the earth are sanctifying themselves, bathing in the sacred waters and performing morning and evening ceremonial rites and ablutions therein. The Ganga is the supreme stream of Divine purity. The nectarine waters can confer immortality. She was dwelling in the matted locks on Siva’s Head. For that reason, she is most auspicious. She grants all that is beneficial”. Hearing Viswamitra extol the river in such superlative terms, Ramachandra said, “How did my ancestors manage to lead down to earth a river with such amazing attributes of power and purity? If you can describe to us the story, we can derive great joy therefrom”.

When Viswamitra heard this request, presented with such humility, he said, “Rama! Listen! In ancient times, Ayodhya was ruled by an emperor named Sagara. He was a righteous ruler and valiant hero. Fascinated by his qualities of head and heart, the king of Vidarbha gave him his beloved daughter, Kesini, in marriage. She too was a strict follower of Dharma; she never wavered from the path of Truth.

“But, since even after the lapse of many years, they were not blessed with progeny, Sagara married the charming daughter of Arishtanemi, named Sumathi, as his second wife, with the concurrence of Kesini. She too proved barren and so, the king decided to spend the rest of his life in asceticism. He went to the bank of a stream by the side of which the sage Bhrighu was having his hermitage, and with his two wives, he plunged into the most severe disciplines of the anchorites.

“A long time elapsed thus. One day, at break of dawn, the sage Bhrighu, staunch upholder of Truth, appeared before him, and said, ‘O king! End this tormenting of the body, this asceticism. You will earn unparalleled renown in this world. Before long, you will be endowed with the bliss of having a son born unto you!” As soon as these words of compassion and grace fell upon his ear, Sagara opened his eyes and saw the sage standing before him. Immediately, he fell at his feet, and signed to the wives too to do likewise. He prayed that the sage may bless them direct.

“The senior queen, Kesini, bowed her head low and fell at his feet, with many an adulatory hymn emerging from her lips. Bhrighu asked her, “Mother! Do you desire a single son, so that the thread of continuity be not broken, or, do you desire for a large number of sons, who will be endowed with enormous physical valour and vast renown?” She replied that a single son will satisfy her, and prayed that her wish may be gratified. Bhrighu accepted her request and blessed her likewise.

“When the second queen Sumathi prostrated before him he asked her the same question. She craved for strong brave celebrated sons in plenty, and so, the sage granted that desire and blessed that it be fulfilled.

“Elated by the blessings of the sage, Sagara returned to his capital city, accompanied by his wives. They fixed their minds on the boons they received and spent their time happily. Within a few months, both queens conceived and awaited the happy event. When the nine months had passed, Kesini delivered a son and Sumathi gave birth to many.

“As the days sped by, the sons romped about and played excitedly with children of the same age and later, started moving out beyond the palace in search of companions and for the sake of games. The son of Kesini, Aswamanja by name, took them to the sands of the Sarayu river; he used to take delight in throwing the children into the river and laughed outright in glee, when the children were drowned! Soon, he earned an infamous reputation, as the worst criminal in the kingdom!

“When they emerged out of their teens, Sagara selected suitable royal brides for each of them and had the marriages celebrated. Aswamanja continued his wickedness, however, and the residents of Ayodhya had heart-rending grief as a result of his incorrigible viciousness. One day they approached Sagara and amidst loud wailings, represented to him the atrocious acts of his eldest son. At this, the king ordered that Aswamanja should immediately leave the city and that he must be exiled into the forests. Aswamanja had a son born to him by then. So, he had to leave behind his wife and son, besides his parents.

“Years passed. Aswamanja’s son Amsumanta grew up, won renown throughout the world as lovable, virtuous and valiant. Once, Sagara decided on the performance of the great Aswamedha (Horse-Sacrifice), and fixed an auspicious moment for starting the rites.” While Viswamitra was at this point in his narration, Rama put in a question: “Master! Was the horse-sacrifice performed in Ayodhya, or, did he choose some holy river bank for the purpose?” Viswamitra smiled, and replied, “Rama! I am realising how earnest you are about sacrifices and how reverent your attitude towards sages is! I shall describe it in detail as you desire. Listen! There is a holy range facing the Himalayas from a distance, called the Vindhya range. The region in between is sacred for all yajnas and yagas. The horse-sacrifice was done in that region. Experts in the recitation of Vedic hymns gathered there and the mountains echoed and reechoed to the loud and correct recital of the prescribed ritual formulae. Thousands were watching with great joy the unique ceremonial. Just then, the beautifully caparisoned horse was led in and worshipped. Later it was left to roam where it willed. In order to overcome and defeat any opposition to its free movement (indicative of an ambition on the part of the ruler who so opposes to be free from the domination of their suzerain, Sagara) Amsumanta followed its footsteps, with his army fully equipped to meet all contingencies. After an unopposed round of the entire country, the horse was led back. The exact moment when the sacrifice had to be done in orthodox Vedic style approached, and people went to bring the animal in.

“But the horse was nowhere to be seen! It is laid down that the loss of the sacrificial animal and its nonavailability at the auspicious moment bodes ill for the organizers of the Yajna! So, Sagara was naturally upset; he sent the numerous sons of his second wife, armed and equipped, to discover the horse and bring it back to the sacrificial altar. They sought the help of the gods and the demons, and searched everywhere and even dug the earth up, to see whether the horse was kept hidden below by its captors. But, they had to return and report that their mission had failed.

“Sagara was enraged at this. ‘Of what avail is this numerous progeny, if you announce to me only your incompetence? Why stand before me with faces darkened with disgrace? Go and do not come to me, until you recover the horse’.

“The sons reacted sharply to these angry words; they went back into the world, determined to leave no spot unexamined. Mountains, hills, lakes, rivers, caves, towns and villages, forests and deserts – why lengthen the list, they looked closely at every yard, every foot of ground. While they were proceeding thus they found in one place, a hermit, deeply immersed in Dhyan; the horse was there, near him, calmly nibbling grass!

“They were overcome by delight when they saw the horse, and by anger, when their eyes fell on the hermit’; they were tossed between two conflicting emotions. They lost their sanity, as a result of the irrepressible feelings. Their reason failed; their hearts were petrified. They shouted in the ear of the hermit, ‘Villainous brute! You have stolen our horse and hidden it in your backyard!’ The sage Kapila slowly opened his eyes and looked around. The sons of Sagara stood around him and poured abuses on his head; some even got ready to give him a heavy thrashing!

“Kapila saw that words and arguments were futile weapons to meet those bullies; he decided that he must deal with them differently. He burnt them into ash merely by casting his eye on them. Greatly distressed at the inordinate delay caused by their failure to return, Sagara was agitated much; how could he stop the sacrifice that he had half gone through? How could he continue and finish it? Seeing his plight, the grandson, Amsumanta fell at his grandfather’s feet and offered to search for the horse and his uncles, and bring news about them, if only he was sent on that mission. Sagara blessed him and sent him on that errand. Amsumanta was at his job, day and night; at last he was rewarded by success. He saw also signs of his uncles having been reduced into a heap of ashes! He was anxious to perform obsequies for the departed souls; but he could not see any well, tank, lake or stream. This was essential for depositing the funeral offerings. Heavily laden with sorrow, he moved some distance forward. A reverend old man came across his path and told him, ‘Do not allow grief to overpower you, dear son! Your uncles were reduced to ashes by sage Kapila with the welfare of the world also in view! Do not be content to offer the ritual obligations in mundane waters. Get the holy water of the Celestial Ganga. Bring the Ganga down to earth and let the sacred waters flow over the ashes. Then, the manes will be saved. But, first, take the horse with you and perform the sacrifice unto its glorious conclusion. Thereafter, you can think of ways and means to bring the heavenly Ganga to the Earth.’ Amsumanta fell at the feet of the hermit and hurried to his grandfather, where the yajna was being held up for want of the consecrated animal.

“Sagara was awaiting its arrival, with sleepless anxiety, both night and day, and so, when the horse was brought, he and the rthwiks (the Vedic scholars who officiated as priests) were filled with delight. Amsumanta felt that it would not be proper to announce, during the auspicious festival, that his uncles had an untimely death through the sage’s curse. So, he allowed the Valedictory Rite to come to an end; the priests and guests were given their share of votive gifts.

“Then Amsumanta gave a detailed account of what had happened to the uncles and exhorted his grandfather to bring the heavenly river of unique sanctity down to the place where the ashes were lying. Sagara was delighted at the suggestion. He engaged himself in many ascetic disciplines and ritual ceremonies, which, according to the advice of elders, would induce Ganga to give him the boon he wanted. But, he could not succeed. He waned in health day by day as a result of grief at the loss of his sons, and the failure of his attempt to ensure a bright future for them. At last, he cast off his body, a disappointed man.

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Chapter 7(b)

Winning Sita

“Rama! The ministers then crowned Amsumanta, after consulting the will of the people. He ruled over the kingdom without the slightest error or fault, for he was strong in morality and spiritual excellence. The people were fostered as if they were children born from his own loins. When old age crept on him, he offered the throne to Dileepa, his son, and proceeded to the Himalayas for the ascetic disciplines he wanted to impose on himself. His aim was not only self-realisation; he sought to bring down the Ganga for the sake of the salvation of the departed uncles. But, he too had to give up his body without fulfilling the desire.

“Dileepa was also moved by the same wish for, he knew how deeply his father and grandfather had longed for the consummation, bringing the Ganga down on earth! He tried various means. He performed many abstruse yajnas on the advice of sages. Pangs of sorrow that he could not fulfill the family ideal invaded him and he became chronically ill. Seeing that physical strength and mental stamina were declining, he placed his son Bhagiratha on the throne; he entrusted to him the mission that was beyond his grasp, namely, bringing the Ganga down. Soon after, Dileepa too left the earth.

“Bhagiratha, bright with spiritual splendour, vowed that he must succeed in the task allotted to him by his father. Though he ruled the kingdom very satisfactorily, he was sad that he had no children to maintain the line. This, as well as the supreme task of getting the Ganga, forced him to hand over the reins of government to the ministers and retire into the silence of the famous Gokarna Kshetra. He stood there practising austere penances like bearing the heat of the sun and taking food only once a month! At last appreciating his austerity, God appeared before him and said, ‘Son! Bhagiratha! Ask any boon you wish for, it shall be granted.’

“Bhagiratha had the Vision of the One with the brilliance of a thousand Suns. He fell prostrate, overwhelmed with gratitude and devotion. He prayed, ‘Lord! Cause the Celestial Ganga to flow on earth, so that my great-grandfathers might be saved from perdition, and be restored to Heaven. And, favour me with children so that the Ikshvaku Royal Line might not be rendered extinct, with me as its last representative. May the dynasty continue and flourish’. He held fast the Feet of the Lord and submitted his supplication.

“The Lord replied, ‘Son ! The first of your wishes is very hard to fulfill. Nevertheless, I shall grant you that one. The boon for the royal line? Yes. You will have a noble son and your dynasty will continue and flourish. Arise!’ At this, Bhagiratha rose and the Lord continued, ‘Bhagiratha! Ganga is swollen and swift; when it falls from heaven, the earth will not be able to bear the impact. So, as Ruler of the Earth, you have to ponder over the problem and discover means by which dire disaster can be avoided. When the Ganga descends upon the earth, the effect will be calamitous. So, the river must be made to fall first on the head of Siva; from there, the waters may be led on to earth with lessened impact. This is the best course, from the point of view of the inhabitants of the earth. Consider this well.’ After saying this, the Lord withdrew.

“From thence, Bhagiratha began austerities to propitiate Siva and at last, he succeeded in winning His favour and His consent to receive Ganga direct on His Head, when it descends from Heaven. And so it happened that the Ganga fell on Siva and flowed down from His Head on to the earth, in seven distinct streams – Hladini Nalini and Pavani flowed east, Subhikshu, Sitha and Sindhu flowed west, and the seventh stream followed the footsteps of Bhagiratha to where he led it, namely, the place where the ashes of his great-grandfathers lay in heaps, awaiting rescue from hell.

“It flowed along the route that Bhagiratha took and all along the route, men benefitted from the sacred stream and sanctified themselves. They were released from the effects of the sins, by the cleansing influence of the celestial Ganga. The great-grandfathers too were redeemed by the performance of obsequies on the bank of the thrice-holy stream, and with its waters.

“Since Bhagiratha brought the Ganga to earth, the river got the name, Bhagirathi! After the ceremonies for the manes were over, Bhagiratha returned to Ayodhya. Happy that he could fulfill through Divine Grace the keenest wishes of his father and grandfather, he ruled over the empire for many years receiving the spontaneous homage of his contented subjects. At last, he too left the body.”

When Viswamitra narrated the story of Rama’s fore-fathers thus, Rama and Lakshmana were all attention; they were enraptured with the incidents. But, the Sage said it was already midnight and they could all go to bed and sleep. So, they prostrated before the Preceptor and laid themselves on the thick sands of the river itself. Rama and Lakshmana could not sleep; they reclined on the sands, only in obedience to the order of their preceptor, not because they needed rest! They lay picturing to themselves the wonderful story of the descent of Ganga from heaven to earth, till they found that morning had arrived! There they performed the ablutions and morning rituals in the river and prepared soon for the journey ahead. As soon as some teenage disciples announced that the ferryboat was ready, all moved towards it and took their seats and crossed the holy river. They reached the northern bank and started on the further stages of their journey, admiring the heartening forest-scenery through which they passed.

When they had covered some distance, they came upon a vast city full of beautiful buildings. Rama turned to Viswamitra, and asked him, “Master! We are seeing from here in this exquisite forest a vast City. To what kingdom does it belong?” The sage replied, “Rama! It appears to be near, but, in fact, it will take quite some time for us to reach it! Perhaps, we may arrive there in the evening hours. I shall tell you the story of that City’s origin and fortunes when we actually reach it. Meanwhile, let us proceed”. Rama heard these words which the sage spoke with a twinkle in the eye and a smile on the lips; he grasped the meaning of his directive and walked on without a word in reply.

When they descended into the valley there was no sign of any City or human habitation; but, on rising to the heights, the City could be seen very near! Moving forward like this, they found that though evening drew near they could not reach the City. As Viswamitra had already indicated the City was still far away! As evening fell they halted; and after bath, they performed the evening rituals as laid down in the Sastras. While resting, Rama returned to the question he had already asked. “Master! will you kindly tell us about the City ?” At this, Viswamitra said, “Rama ! I too was just now thinking about that matter! Though I know that you are aware of the working of every mind, still, the veil of Maya (taking the appearance as real) hides the fact and precipitates men into misleading tracks. All cannot be masters of the mind. When persons like me find it impossible to keep it under control, there is no need to dilate on the fate of ordinary men! The very moment the thought flashed in my mind that you had forgotten to ask about the story of the City, you questioned me about it! No further proof is wanted to show that you are the All-knowing!

“Rama! In ancient times, Kasyapa had two wives, Aditi and Diti. The sons of Diti were repositories of physical might and the sons of Aditi, of moral grandeur. They grew up mightier and mightier with each passing day. The parents derived great joy, watching them grow up so fair and fast.

“One day, the sons of both Diti and Aditi gathered together and entered into a discussion on means of avoiding old age. Finally, they came to the conclusion that the Amrith or Nectar that can be secured by churning the Ocean of Milk will prevent the physical calamities of disease, senility, and death. Soon, they set about that task. The Mandara Peak was plucked and placed in the Ocean as the Churning Rod; the serpent Vasuki was chosen as the rope, to be wound round the rod so that the rope might rotate quick and fast. While the churning continued for a long time, the serpent Vasuki began vomitting its poison. It was enraged so much as a result of the pain that its fangs struck against the rocks of the mountain peak. The poison fume raged as a huge fire!

“Seeing this, the sons of Diti and Aditi became mortally afraid; they felt they would be burnt into ashes in that holocaust! They prayed for succour to the Lord. When Lord Vishnu appeared before them, the sons of Diti pleaded pathetically, ‘Lord! Save us! Put an end to this dread disaster’ and the Lord changed into Siva and said, ‘Dear Ones! I am the eldest of the Gods and so, I am entitled to receive the first fruit of this churning process’ Declaring thus, He drank off without delay the Halahala poison that was causing the panic.

“Thereafter, the sons of Diti and Aditi continued the churning of the Ocean. Another calamity threatened them now; the Mandara Peak started sinking! So, they prayed again to the Lord Vishnu. He appeared again and assured them, ‘Darling children! Do not become frightened’. The Lord assumed the Form of a Tortoise, and getting underneath the mountain peak raised it on His back and kept it safe on the hard shell so long as the churning lasted. The sons of Kasyapa were immensely grateful and happy. They extolled the Lord in profusion.

“From out of the Ocean of Milk, there emerged a God with a Danda (Stick) and Kamandalu Waterpot in His Hands! His name was Dhanvantari. Even as the sons of Diti and Aditi were looking at Him, there emerged again from the Ocean thick sweet juice or Rasa, which got rolled into a ball, which, in turn, soon swelled and broke, disclosing a bevy of maidens. Since they were born of Rasa, they are named, Apsaras. They tried in many ways to persuade the sons of Diti and Aditi to wed them; they prayed and petitioned; but all their efforts were of no avail; so, they lived without being wedded, free and fickle. Then, from out of the waves rose the daughter of the water-god, Varuni and she had a chalice full of intoxicating liquor. The sons of Diti refused to have anything to do with the liquor! The sons of Aditi quaffed it. Those who did not accept the Sura (liquor) were known as Asuras, and those who accepted it, as Suras.

“At last, from that Ocean of Milk arose the Amrith (Nectar). Who were to drink the Amrith? There arose a huge conflict between the sons of Diti and Aditi. In the terrible fight that ensued, the sons of Aditi began destroying the sons of Diti. The battle threatened to become a battle of extinction. The earth shook under the thrust and counter-thrust of weaponry in that battle. Fear and anxiety spread their dark clouds over the world. Suddenly, Vishnu appeared before the contending parties as an entrancingly charming damsel, who captivated the hearts of all and led their minds away from the combat into which they had plunged! She charmed everyone and during her appearance, the precious Amrith disappeared! The sons of Diti had all died. The grief of the mother was beyond consolation. Kasyapa failed to bring her to the state of normalcy. His attempts to teach her the evanescence of things failed to convince her. She wailed aloud and lamented most excruciatingly as if the end of the world had come.

(See also Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 3, Chapter 14: The Impregnation of Diti in the Evening) At last Diti brought herself round; she approached Kasyapa and submerging her agony deep into her mind, she said, ‘Lord! Is this just? We both had children by you. Now I have been made childless. Is this fair? Am I to grieve eternally thus? Not even one of my sons is alive. Rather than have many short-lived sons, one long living one is most desirable, isn’t it?’ When she wept aloud in this manner, Kasyapa consoled her and told her to enter on Thapas (the discipline of austerities to propitiate the Gods) so that she might have a son who will live long. He advised her to give up her grief which could never fulfill her desire. Encouraged by him and seeking his blessings she left immediately and started Thapas, with the professed aim of securing the boon from the Gods, of a son who will be able to defeat the Lord of Gods, Indra Himself!

“Kasyapa told her, ‘Thapas is no easy discipline. One has to be pure until the very end; one has to observe the vows and fasts, without the least infringement; then only will the Gods be pleased and grant the boon’.

“Diti reached the region known as Kusaplava and entered upon rigorous asceticism. Knowing her resolve, Indra desired to test her and came to her in the guise of her attendant. Diti’s prayer was answered; she became pregnant with child through Divine Grace. Days passed, months rolled by, Indra was beside her, as attendant! One day, in the hot hours of noon, overcome by sleep, she lay on the bed with her hair loose and her head placed where the feet were usually placed. This was against the strict rules of ceremonial purity, which she had to observe with tenacity. So, Indra got his chance; He noted that her posture was heterodox and contrary to Sastraic injunctions. So He punished her, by fragmenting the foetus in her womb. The fragments started weeping inside the womb for their limbs and segments which had broken away; the attendant, Indra spoke softly to them, ‘Maa ruda’ ‘Don’t weep’! Diti had terrible bouts of bleeding, she lamented her fate and wept most pitiably.

“Indra stood before her with folded palms and pleaded, ‘Mother; pardon me. You acted contrary to the rules of ceremonial purity and so, broke the vow. Your hair was unbound and loose; and your head was on the bed where the feet are normally kept. When you slept thus, your Thapas was defiled; when the enemy who is waiting for a chance to foil your fortune gets such an opportunity, will he keep quiet? I am Indra come in this form. You prayed for a son who would kill me, didn’t you? The foetus in the womb was to destroy me and so I took that chance to foil my foe. And I did not destroy him through condemnable tactics. You know that strict observance of the vow was essential for the success of your plan; you had to ensure that you did not violate the code. The foetus has been cut into seven fragments and I have spoken ‘Maa ruda’ to them. So, they will be born as the seven Godly Maruthas, (Wind Gods); I am conferring on you this boon’, Indra said thus and returned to Heaven.

“Rama! This is the place where Indra and Diti had this dialogue and this compromise. Here, Ikshvaku had a son, by Alamba Devi, who was named Visala. This kingdom is called Visala after him. Visala begot Hemachandra, the mighty. He begot Subhadra, and he had as son, Doomraswa, whose son was called Srnjaya; Srnjaya’s son was Sahadeva.

“Sahadeva was very rich and prosperous; he was a strong pillar of morality and righteousness; he was a valiant ruler of the kindom for a very long period. His son Somadatta had Kakustha born to him; Sumathi was the son of that heroic monarch. He too was a very upright virtuous ruler; in purity and holiness he was equal to the Gods. Rama! This day, we shall enter this Visala City and sleep there; we shall reach the city of Emperor Janaka tomorrow.”

When they heard these words all were happy. The news of the arrival of Viswamitra was communicated to Sumathi by messengers and he rushed forward to the Sage, with a retinue of courtiers, ministers, scholars and priests, praying that he should enter the City and sanctify the Royal palace by his stay.

Viswamitra was pleased with his humility and reverence. He inquired sweetly about his health and happiness, as well as about his kingdom. They were engaged in conversation for some time on the affairs of the kingdom and dynasty when Sumathi’s eyes fell on the brothers, Rama and Lakshmana. He was so enchanted by their charm and dignity that he asked Viswamitra, who these ‘lion cubs’ were. Viswamitra replied, “Sumathi! That is a long story, I have no time now to tell you. I shall relate to you the whole story on reaching your place.” He then directed the monks and ascetics who had accompanied him, as well as the two brothers, Rama and Lakshmana, to proceed to the City of Visala; he too rose and walked, Sumathi talking with him all the while on matters pertaining to the kingdom. On their reaching the City gate, music from many voices and instruments rent the air; Brahmins recited hymns of welcome and good wishes from the scriptures.

After partaking of the Reception feast arranged by the King of Visala, Viswamitra described to the gathering of royal kinsmen, priests and pundits, his own Siddhasram and the Yajna that he had celebrated therein, as well as the heroic way in which Rama and Lakshmana stood guard, to defend the sacrificial precincts from marauding demons. All those who listened to the skill and courage of the princes were struck with wonder and boundless Ananda. They looked on them with admiration, and felt that they are Nara-Narayana come again They prostrated before them, overcome by feelings of reverence.

Since it was already late, Rama and Lakshmana fell at the feet of Viswamitra and, taking his permission, they went over to the house that was specially set apart for their rest. Even before dawn, they rose, went through the morning ablutions, performed the matinal rites, and came to their Preceptor, in good time to proceed on the next stage of the journey. They expressed gratitude to King Sumathi, and moved on towards Mithila.

Sumathi accompanied them for some distance and then took leave of the sage and others. Viswamitra walked on with his disciples and the Princes; by noon they reached an expansive park. It appeared as if it could boast of a number of hermitages inside it years ago, but now the dwellings had crumbled. One could see also altars once maintained with loving attention, and spots where the sacred fire was once lit and fed. Rama noted that it was a place sanctified by ascetics and sages and he drew the attention of Viswamitra to his surmise. Viswamitra smiled, and said, “Rama! How correctly you have observed! I am very glad. I shall inform you why the great personage who resided in this place left it and went away. Listen!

“Even the gods used to acclaim this Hermitage. This is the hermitage of Gauthama Maharshi. For many years, he resided here with his wife, Ahalya. He gladly under-went the most severe austerities. He did many elaborate Yajnas. This park was resplendent with spiritual grandeur; it was bright and full of peace and joy. Every day was a holy day for the people here. Ahalya, the wife of the sage, was a woman of great virtue, and a perfect paragon of beauty. There was no one equal to her in personal beauty and charm; so, Gauthama was keeping her ever under watch, and guarding her with vigilant care. One day, while Gauthama was absent at the asram, Indra, the chief of the Gods, came into the hermitage in the guise of Gauthama himself! The virtuous spouse took Him to be her Lord; she served him reverentially but, the real Gauthama entered and, discovered her apparent faithlessness. He recognised Indra, in spite of his disguise, and became terribly enraged. ‘Evil-minded fellow’ he shouted; but Indra had suddenly disappeared.

“He turned towards Ahalya in his anger and roared, ‘You have vowed to destroy this hermitage by indulging in vice, is it? I shall not be here a minute longer. I cannot tolerate the sight of your face. Be prostrate behind some bush, living as a sprite on air, with no food or drink. I am off’. Gauthama hated the place that had been desecrated by deceit.

“Ahalya wept her heart out, and pleaded that she was innocent of sin, that she was deceived by the disguise and activated by reverence towards her lord only, that she was carried away by the duty of loyalty to her husband. She held his feet and prayed for pardon. Gauthama melted a little at her importunities; the truth became clear to him; but since words once spoken could not be withdrawn, he said, ‘Ahalya! you know that I have vowed never to go against the spoken word. Therefore, you have to lie in bush and briar, sad and starving, until Rama, son of Dasaratha, comes this way and seeing you, He will shower Grace on you, allowing you to touch His Feet, and He will speak with you in great compassion; the Darsan, Sparsan and Sambarshan will cleanse you, and you will shine forth in your real form and charm. I shall then rejoin you.’ So saying, Gauthama left this place and hastened to the Himalayan region. From that moment, Ahalya lost her name and form; she lives on air, and is deeply lost in austerity, eager to rejoin her lord. And, this once lovely park suffered neglect.”

When Viswamitra narrated this tale, Ramachandra expressed great surprise, “What! You are telling me that she is waiting for me! Poor thing! If you can make me know where she is, deep in austerity … tell me where.” As Rama moved on, Viswamitra and Lakshmana followed him at some distance. He passed through some tangled bushes and entered a hut, behind a bush of briar.

Ahalya was until that moment immersed in austerity; she was far away from the eyes of Gods, demons and men; she had forgotten her Name and lost her Form; she had no concern with food and sleep; she was merely existing as a piece of rock! She appeared like the orb of the Moon, well hidden by clouds, or the sacrificial fire, covered by thick curtains of smoke! As Rama neared her, his foot touched Ahalya.

Ahalya raised her head and seeing the Divinely charming Form of Rama, she held the Feet, exclaiming in ecstasy, “Ah! I am saved” “0 God, come to save me from sin! Your heart is moved at last”. She poured out her gratitude in many hymns of praise. She rose, like the moon from behind the clouds, effulgent and fresh. At that moment Gauthama too who was a master of the mysteries of yoga, appeared before them for he knew that Rama had come, and rescued his wife. He accepted her, purified by rigorous austerity, and blessed by Rama. Both husband and wife fell at the Feet of Rama and Lakshmana, who were both overwhelmed by the Ananda they had. Gauthama offered reverence and homage to Viswamitra. The band of disciples was amazed at the wonder they had witnessed; they looked on at the brothers with the fixed gaze of wonder. Viswamitra took leave of Gauthama, and walked on, in the north-easterly direction, with Rama and Lakshmana by his side.

They neared a City, by evening. The sage pointed to the City from a distance saying, “That is Mithila, that vast concourse of magnificent buildings !” At this, the Brothers as well as the disciples of the sage jumped with joy; they could not contain their happiness. From that spot, they walked faster. Forgetful of physical exhaustion, they quickly reached the main entrance of the City.

Wherever they turned, they saw ascetics and Brahmins engaged in the recitation of the Vedas. They saw many houses where sacrificial fires were fed with ritual offerings. Under every tree, sheltering in its shade, were groups of people around the bullock carts which had brought them from the countryside. There were men and women, old and young, with children belonging to all castes and professions, persons from all stages of life assembled at every corner; it was like moving in a stream of joy. The City was packed with eager people moving crisscross on all the roads. The sage and his followers reached the embankment of a tank which was comparatively less crowded; for, they had to decide where they were to stay, and they were not yet quite sure where. The time for evening ablutions had drawn near and, so, they kept their belongings on the bank, took their bath and finished the rites prescribed.

Since the Yajna was imminent, courtiers and warriors from the palace were moving among the monks that were arriving every hour, trying to find out their names, the Gurus and hermitages to which they were affiliated, their spiritual status, and whether they had been specially invited for the occasion. Emperor Janaka was insisting that all such information was to be communicated to him without delay.

Meanwhile, Viswamitra had finished his ablutions and rites; he sat on the embankment with his disciples and the Brothers, who looked like twin stars fallen upon the Earth from Heaven. He was describing to them the glories of Mithila. Meanwhile, a courier from the court approached them very politely and enquired, “Master! Please tell me who you are. Where have you come from? We are messengers from the King. We are only obeying orders and carrying out our duty. If you tell us your name, we can inform the King of your arrival.”

When the messenger hurried straight to the Palace and told the Emperor Janaka that the Sage Viswamitra had arrived, he made arrangements appropriate for the reception of the great Sage and sent the chief Brahmins, Priests and Pundits of the Court under their leader, Sathananda, to where Viswamitra was.

The group from the palace approached the embankment, reciting Vedic hymns of welcome and good wishes, and Viswamitra realised that they were coming to take them to the Emperor’s Presence. He directed Rama and Lakshmana to prepare themselves for proceeding with him. Every one made himself ready. Meanwhile, Sathananda honoured Viswamitra in true Vedic tradition, as befitted a great Master. He fell at his feet; he offered refreshments consecrated with Vedic formulae and announced with exemplary humility that he had come with others, under orders from the Emperor to accord him and all those who were with him, the most sincere welcome. They left a palanquin at the place to bring the bags and baggage of the party and took the Sage and others into the City preceded by bands of musicians, playing on their instruments.

As soon as they entered the Royal Road, Emperor Janaka himself moved towards them accompanied by Ministers and courtiers and his nearest kinsmen. Janaka fell prostrate before Viswamitra saying, “Lord! I have realised today my greatest ambition. Mathila has acquired, with your arrival, a unique splendour.” He then enquired about the welfare of the Sage, his pupils and disciples. His eyes fell on the two boys, Rama and Lakshmana. They struck him as embodiments of solar effulgence. He could not find words for a few seconds. He knew not where he was at the time. With great effort, he recovered enough awareness of the surroundings to ask Viswamitra “Master! who are these? They strike me as the twin Gods, the Aswinidevas. It looks as if they have just come down from Heaven in order to confer Grace on me. They have the tender Divine charm of those Gods. Or, perhaps, they are the Sun and the Moon come upon the Earth. How did these juvenile embodiments of beauty happen to come, walking the distance as members of the group led by you? Or, did they develop acquaintance with you near here and come with you?” Janaka was pouring out one query after another, as if he was talking to himself, forgetful where he was or what he really wanted to know.

Viswamitra saw his plight and could not restrain his smile. He said, “These are the sons of Emperor Dasaratha of Ayodhya. Their names are Rama and Lakshmana. The valour and skill of these boys are amazing and miraculous”. The sage desired to say much more, but, he thought it better to tell him all about them, after reaching the place where they were to stay. So, they walked on towards the quarters set apart for Viswamitra and his entourage.

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Chapter 7(c)

Winning Sita

It was a pretty little new temple-like structure, situated in the centre of a lovely garden; it was tastefully decorated with greens and festoons. The place was heavy with silence; it was as if peace fell in heavy showers there from the wings of Grace from heaven itself. It was quite adjacent to the Royal Palace. Therefore, after showing them in, Janaka fell at the feet of the sage again, saying: “Your arrival has added unto me immeasurable strength and joy. I am sure this fortune came to me as a result of the merit earned in many lives. I shall now take leave. For the Yajna to begin, there is an interval of twelve days, according to the Rthwiks. Please therefore stay on in this Mithila city itself and bless me”. Viswamitra assured him that he had no objection to his proposal, and removed all apprehensions on that score from the mind of Janaka. Rama and Lakshmana looked at each other, as if that was too long a time to be away!

Arrangements were made to give them rest and undisturbed sleep that night; milk, fruits and other articles were provided for them from the palace. “I shall take your Darsan at dawn tomorrow”, said Janaka while leaving. “It is not proper to delay your rest any longer, for you had a long and tiresome journey”. Janaka returned to the palace, with the pundits, priests and scholars. Rama and Lakshmana talked among themselves about the devotion and humility of the Emperor, and the Light of Peace and joy that shone on his face. They sat by the side of the Master and partook of the fruits and milk. Then, they departed after receiving permission, to their apartment for rest.

That night, they slept well. When daylight spread slowly over the City, the music of pipe and drum rose from their doorstep. Brahmins recited Vedic hymns. Rama and Lakshmana rose and finished their bath and other rituals, and approached Viswamitra. The sage gave them cups of milk to drink and said, “Sons! Janaka will be here any time now. Take breakfast and be ready”. Soon, they as well as the younger pupils of the Sage repaired to the apartments and partook of fruits and milk. They washed their hands and quietly gathered around their Preceptor, and reverentially sat near him.

Meanwhile, it became known that Emperor Janaka was arriving with the Royal Preceptor in order to pay homage; for, the blowing of conches and the play of the traditional nine instruments heralded the approach of the ruler of the realm. Janaka entered with the auspicious sandal paste and rice grains in his hands, while Sathananda and the entourage entered the sacred residence. With the delight of gratitude he washed the feet of the Sage. Then, Janaka fell at the feet of Viswamitra and stood by the side of the high seat that had been placed in front of the pedestal for the sage. As soon as Viswamitra directed him, Janaka occupied his own seat. Rama and Lakshmana sat on the carpet laid on the floor to the right of their Master. Janaka said, “Great sage ! Now, what is your command? I am ready to accept and honour it. Please communicate it to me”. Janaka folded his palms in prayer. At this, Viswamitra smiled, and said, “Last night, since there was no time I could not tell you in detail. I shall tell now about these Princes, Rama and Lakshmana, since you desired to hear their story. If you have no leisure now, I can tell you some other time”. Janaka exclaimed, “Master! what more important work have I than experiencing the ecstasy of conversing with you? This chance can be the fruit only of age long austerity. I am filled with Ananda at the expectation that you will tell me about them; I consider it great good fortune.”

Then, Viswamitra narrated the incidents that had taken place from his appearance at the court of Dasaratha up to the Yajna and the heroic way in which the young boys had stood guard and foiled the attempts of the demons to desecrate the rituals. He described the bravery and skill of the boys in their battle against the demons and praised their achievements. During the narration, tears of joy and gratitude welled from the sage’s eyes and he had to frequently wipe them with the end of his garment.

Hearing these words and filling his eyes with his majesty and the charming loveliness of the boys, Janaka experienced supreme delight, the delight he often derived in Samadhi! He felt that the boys were actual embodiments of Divine Splendour. Though he often tried to look somewhere else, his eyes thirsted only for the sight of those charming lotuslike faces which showered Brahmic illumination! Janaka suppressed with great difficulty the outward expression of his inner ecstasy and sat looking intently at them, in humility and reverence. He did not feel for a moment that he was an Emperor and that those boys were the Princes of another Imperial Monarch. He had an indelible impression that they had come down from Heaven to Earth; the feeling was strengthened and increased by the description of their superhuman might and skill. He realized that they were rare beings, akin to God himself, for they achieved successfully, even before reaching teenage, the guardianship of a Yajna, which the renowned Viswamitra could not carry through unimpaired. What a marvel! he wondered.

Then, the narrative was resumed by the Sage with the start of the journey towards Mithila. The stories related by the sage to the brothers were also explained to Janaka. When the story of the purification and liberation of Ahalya, the Consort of Sage Gautama at the hermitage which was near the Capital City, was related, Sathananda was surprised beyond measure; he ejaculated, “What! Has my mother been freed from the curse? Did these Divine personalities render my mother holy, and restore her to my father? Ah! Without doubt, they are Divine”. While streams of tears of gratitude and joy fell down his cheeks he became so overcome with emotion that he was unable to move, like a pillar. Viswamitra observed him and said, “Son! Do not be so overwhelmed with the little events that have happened so far! In the coming days, many events vastly more amazing will happen; they will cause amazement and ecstasy, by their superhuman glory. Your parents too will arrive at Mithila City tomorrow or the day after. You can hear the marvellous story of Rama and Lakshmana direct from them. Calm yourself”.

At this Emperor Janaka said, “Master! How fortunate are the parents who have such Divinely endowed sons! 0! how fortunate am I that they stepped into my house, when the thought spurred them”. He turned to Rama and Lakshmana and addressed them, “Darlings! Pardon me if the residence I have arranged for you is not quite to your liking or quite in keeping with your status. If you so desire, I am ever ready to arrange a more appropriate accommodation. If you like, I shall facilitate ‘sightseeing’ in the City for you are strangers to Mithila; ask for anything you require, without reservation; I shall feel happy only when you so ask”. To these words spoken with exemplary goodness and humility, Rama replied in a manner that revealed the respect he liked to offer Janaka.

He said “Maharaja ! We are but boys. We do not feel anything wanting in the arrangements made. We are quite happy. There is no need to take trouble arranging somewhere else or something more, for us. If however, you have such great affection towards us, you can fulfill one wish that we have…” and without mentioning what it was, he turned towards the Preceptor, Viswamitra. The sage then spoke, “Janaka! The mission on which these Princes came with me from Ayodhya was over when the Yajna I had resolved upon was accomplished without the least desecration. Rama and Lakshmana pleaded for permission to return home. Meanwhile, I received your invitation regarding the Yajna you have decided upon; so, I asked these boys also to accompany me to Mithila. Then, Rama pleaded that, since his father had deputed him only for safeguarding the Yajna at my Asram, he was reluctant to proceed further and be away from his father longer than permitted. But, I spoke to them of many divine weapons you have, objects, which they are naturally eager to see and handle. I described the Bow that you have here, the Siva Bow, which deserves to be seen by them. I told them the story of that Bow. Then they agreed to accompany me hither, longing to see it. They have no yearning to go round the City or visit interesting places; bows, arrows, weapons which can guard the fight and punish the wicked – these claim first consideration for their attention”. Janaka felt he had no need to hear more. He said, “In that case, I shall make arrangements to have the Bow brought to the Yajna Hall soon”, and instructed that the preceptor, Sathananda be consulted about an auspicious hour when it could be brought there.

Meanwhile, Rama asked Janaka, “Maharaja! If you can tell us how that Divine Bow came into your possession, we can derive great joy.” Janaka gave the details with evident joy. “Darlings: Six generations after Nimi, the great ancestor of my dynasty, the King named Devaratha ruled over this kingdom. The Gods placed this Bow of Lord Siva in trust in his palace. It has been with us since then; it is a weapon of the Gods and so, I assert it is no ordinary Bow! It weighs some thousands of tonnes! No one has held it in the erect position so far! For, who can lift that weight? Many times in the past, I tried to discover who could bend the Bow and use it or hold it for public gaze and invited people to try. But I have yet to see one who could do it. Every king and prince who attempted the feat failed and returned humiliated. They could neither bend the Bow nor even move it ever so slight. One day, when I was turning the sod on the grounds where I had resolved to perform yajna, a vessel was revealed to view, in the furrow. When I removed it and examined it, I found in it a charming female child. Since the child came to us from the furrow, (sita) we named her Sita, and brought her up as our own child. One day, when she was playing with her companions, her toy rolled underneath the long box within which the Bow was kept; the more they tried to recover the ball with the help of various contrivances, the farther it rolled under the box! But, our child, Sita laughed at the discomfiture of her companions, and the palace guards. She pushed aside the box with her tender hand and recovered her toy to the astonishment of every one! I heard about this, through the Queens who came to know of it from the wonderstruck group around her at the time.

“That day, I resolved to give Sita in marriage to one who proves himself worthy to wed her, by stringing that Bow. Many a prince has since tried to lift and bend that bow, in order to win her, but all of them had to face ignominious defeat! They felt hurt and insulted; they said I had purposely humiliated them and in their resentment and despair, they grouped together and fell upon Mithila City with their combined forces. The siege lasted one full year. As a consequence, all my armoury was exhausted and I was concerned about the fate of the City. I had no other recourse but austerity to win the grace of the Gods. The Gods were pleased; they blessed me with additional reinforcements of infantry, cavalry, elephantry and chariotry. That is to say, help came to me from regions behind the besieging forces and when they were attacked from behind they were scattered. During these campaigns of vindictiveness, I was able to preserve the Bow; I guarded it like the apple of my eye. Its mysterious might is beyond description.

“Rama! Ramachandra! I shall not deny you the fulfillment of your wish; if you but agree, the Bow shall be brought to the Yajna enclosure. I shall also announce that any one who dare lift and bend it can try to do so.” When Janaka spoke so authoritatively, Rama and Lakshmana looked at each other but did not reply, for they were waiting for instructions from the Master whom they had followed so far.

Just then, Viswamitra, who knew the skill and strength of the brothers, said that what Janaka proposed could be done, and that he need not apprehend any obstacle coming his way. Janaka also announced that he would give Sita in marriage to whosoever lifted the bow and stringed it, for he had vowed that Sita will be wedded only to such a one. Viswamitra approved that procedure too.

Janaka took leave of the sage and returned to the Palace. He set upon the task of taking the bow into the Yajna Hall. A proclamation was issued that the Bow will be exposed to view, and communicated to as many kings and princes as possible. The eight-wheeled vehicle containing the box with the Bow was pulled and pushed into the enclosure by a large band of hefty heavy-weights; but they could not even move it a step. So, more men of gigantic mould had to be called in, to lend their hands, dragging the heavy chains attached to the vehicle and pushing it from behind. When at last the Bow moved into the sacred enclosure, the priests recited hymns of auspicious welcome.

Day dawned. The nine traditional musical instruments raised a paean of harmony that rose to the vaults of heaven. Conches were blown in peals. The auspiciousness of the Day was declared through song and ritual. Emperor Janaka entered the enclosure, accompanied by a group of priests and with attendants carrying materials for ceremonial worship of the Divine Bow. Long before that moment, the enclosure was filled with kings, princes, ministers, courtiers. sages and Vedic scholars. As soon as Janaka came in, the entire gathering stood up in order to render honour to the Ruler of the Realm. The Vedic pundits declaimed aloud hymns invoking the Gods to shower Grace; their voices rose up to Heaven in exclamatory unison. Others recited passages from the Vedas. All were so filled with expectancy that they looked on in wonder, without even a wink.

Janaka walked in reverence around the vehicle with the Bow, and offered floral homage to it, while chants were recited to propitiate it. He bowed before the Divine Bow, and then turned to the distinguished assembly. He announced: “Prostrations to the Sages! I welcome all who have come to this assembly! Since many years, my forefathers as well as many other monarchs have been, as you all know, worshipping this Divine Bow. Besides, it is already well known that no one, be he a God or Demon, Yaksha, Rakshasa, Garuda or Gandharva, Kinnara or Mahoraga, no one has so far been able to lift the Bow, hold it and string it! All who attempted have turned back, humiliated. In spite of this, this day, I have again resolved to bring the Bow into the sacred enclosure. Whoever among you assembled here does lift this bow or lifting, strings it, or stringing it, fixes an arrow on to it, or who can hold the weight of the Bow in his hands can come forward and take this chance; the Bow is before you”. With these words, Janaka bowed before the gathering with his palms folded, and sat on the Lion Throne.

Viswamitra cast a glance, with a smile, at Rama. Rama quickly approached the vehicle and lifted up the iron cover with his left arm. And with his right, he raised with no concern or exertion, the Bow from its box! Holding the Bow erect he looked around, while amazement was on every face! The thousands who witnessed the wonder – citizens, kings and princes, sages and elders – raised such an applause that the sky echoed the exultation! Soon Rama stringed the magnificent Bow! With delightful ease he fixed an arrow! And he drew the string back up to the ear, in order to release it. But the Bow snapped!

Everyone around was shocked into confusion and fear by the strange, unexpected explosion. Many fainted; some cried out in terror; some fled in panic. The sages uttered prayers to God. Why dilate further? The entire gathering, barring Janaka, Viswamitra and the brothers, Rama and Lakshmana, was plunged in inexplicable inconsolable dread!

Meanwhile, Janaka rose from his seat, fell prostrate before Viswamitra, and said. “Master! There is no one on earth who can claim greater strength than Rama; such strength is not of the Earth. I shall fulfill my word; I shall give Sita in marriage to him who lifted, bent and broke this Bow.”

Viswamitra replied, “Janaka! It will be good if this news is communicated to Emperor Dasaratha and the auspicious event celebrated after he comes. This is my desire; Rama is such a deeply dutiful son that he will not agree to the marriage until Dasaratha gives his approval”. So, Janaka had the Brahmins of the court called to his presence, along with some Ministers. He set them on the journey to Ayodhya as soon as day dawned. They sped on in their chariots, drawn by swift horses, for three days and nights, and reached Ayodhya on the morning of the fourth day. They halted the chariots right before the main entrance of the Imperial Palace, so that there could be no delay in taking the news they had brought to the Emperor. When the guards inquired their names and the purpose of their arrival, the Ministers required them to announce to the Emperor the fact of their coming from Mithila to see him. They informed Dasaratha immediately and they were immediately called into the palace and the Presence.

In spite of old age, Dasaratha looked a Divinely splendrous figure, when the Brahmins and Ministers of Mithila saw him on his throne. When they stood before that bright venerable face, they fell at his feet, without any hesitation or reservation. They stood up and said, “Maharaja! We are messengers from the Emperor Janaka of Mithila. He has commissioned us to inquire and learn from you about your welfare and the welfare of your realm. We have been sent with the approval of sage Viswamitra, and with the consent of the Royal Preceptor, the great Sathananda, by Maharaja Janaka to communicate to you an important message.”

Dasaratha’s face was brightened by smiles; his assurance was unshaken; he was struck by the humility and good manners of the envoys from Mithila. He said, ‘0 Greatest among Brahmins! 0 Ministers of the Mithila Court! There is no deficiency in the administration of the kingdom of Ayodhya, no obstruction anywhere for rituals like Agnihotra; no diminution in the happiness of any of my subjects, no obstacle from any quarter in the path of their moral and spiritual advance. My subjects are prosperous; they are progressing steadily towards the highest goal. I am glad to tell you this. I wish to know about the health and welfare of Janaka, the Emperor of Mithila, about the uninterrupted performance, in his kingdom, of the religious rites prescribed in the Vedas. You can communicate to me without any reservation the Message you have brought with you. I am eager to hear it”.

When Dasaratha granted permission so softly and sweetly the Ministers signed the Brahmins to speak out. The Chief Priest rose from his seat and delivered the message thus: “Great Sovereign Ruler! Our Maharaja Janaka has vowed that his daughter Sita Devi will be given in marriage only to heroic might; no doubt you must be aware of this, you might also be knowing that many princes have tried to prove their prowess and returned humiliated from Mithila. By Divine Will, your two sons Rama and Lakshmana accompanied the Sage Viswamitra eager to see the great Yajna which our Maharaja is celebrating; it happened that your eldest son, Rama, won Sita Devi by means of his incomparable valour! Maharaja! What shall we say! How shall we describe it? In full view of the distinguished gathering of sages, kings and princes, Rama, who has attained the highest pinnacle of valour, lifted and held the Bow of Siva by its middle, kept it erect and stringed it! More than this, he broke, as if in play, the Indomitable sacred Bow into two pieces! Since Sita Devi is to be given in marriage to him who lifts the Bow of Siva, the sages who had assembled, as well as our Maharaja, have decided to give her hand to Rama.

“We have been sent to request and receive your assent, to offer you cordial welcome, to invite you, with the preceptor, priests, ministers, courtiers and kith and kin, and attendants and followers, to the City of Mithila. Our Maharaja desires to celebrate the marriage of his daughter after receiving your Darsan. We are sent by him to your presence, in order to inform you of this”.

The priests and ministers stood with folded hands, reverentially awaiting the reply from Dasaratha. But, Dasaratha rolled it over in his mind with earnest care and sent for the sages Vasishta, Vamadeva and others, for consultations, before speaking a word in reply. He also invited the foremost among the Brahmins of the court. When they all arrived, he asked the party from Mithila to repeat the message they had brought. When they had listened to the news, he wanted their comments. But first, Dasaratha fell prostrate before sage Vasistha and prayed that he should give his approval. Vasistha, Vamadeva and others responded with joyous acclamations, “Most auspicious”! “Most auspicious”! They asked, “Why spend further thought on this? Make preparations for the journey to Mithila”!

The ministers jumped in joy; news of the wedding of Rama spread in a trice all over the City and into the Inner apartments of the Palace, where the Queens were. The citizens raised exclamations of “Jai! Jai!” in their exultation. Attendants and servants quickly made preparations for the journey. Jewels, silk brocades and other gifts were packed in large quantities and varieties; countless chariots were loaded with them.

The Emperor and the Imperial Escort, Vasishta the Royal Preceptor, the chief Priests and other Brahmins and Pundits, ascended their chariots and took their seats. It was as if Ayodhya itself was moving out to Mithila to witness the marriage. For all who longed to join, Dasaratha made suitable arrangements. No one eager to go was left behind! The horses seemed to share the joy that filled the hearts of the inmates of the chariots; for, they trotted fast, without slackening speed, or showing signs of exhaustion. Two nights and two days they spent on the road, and the third night, they reached Mithila!

Maharaja Janaka welcomed Emperor Dasaratha at the very Entrance Gate of his City. He welcomed the Ministers, Sages and Priests as befitted their position and status. He arranged that they take rest for the night in allotted residences. As soon as the day dawned, Dasaratha sent for the rthwiks (priests who have specialised in ritual lore), the queens and the kinsmen, and alerted them to be ready and available the moment they were wanted. Meanwhile, Janaka arrived at the mansion where Dasaratha was, and took him to the special enclosure where the Yajna was being celebrated. Seats had been allotted there for the Preceptors, the Emperor and his entourage, according to their rank and authority.

When all had occupied their seats, Janaka welcomed Dasaratha with the words: “Your coming to Mithila with these great sages and those foremost Brahmins and your kinsmen and escort augurs great good fortune for us. It marks the fruition of the good we have done in past lives. I am sure great joy has filled your mind, at the valour and victory of your son. I am about to enter into relationship with the great Raghu dynasty, resplendent with the ‘boundless heroism of its scions. My dynasty is about to be sanctified more then ever before by this kinship. I believe this is the result of the blessings showered on me by my forefathers. Maharaja! This morning, the Yajna we have been celebrating is coming to a close. I have thought of celebrating the marriage of Sita and Rama after the conclusion of the Yajna. I plead with you to confer your assent.”

Dasaratha thrilled with Ananada. His face was lit by bright smiles. He said, “Maharaja! You are the donor; elders declare that a gift is to be received at the sweet will and pleasure of the donor! So I am ever prepared to take the gift whenever it pleases you!” When Dasaratha spoke with such wit and wisdom, with such heart-melting warmth of affection, Janaka was overwhelmed with Ananda surging within him.

By then, Rama and Lakshmana entered the enclosure with the Sage Viswamitra; they prostrated before their father and their preceptors – Vasishta, Vamadeva and others. Dasaratha’s eyes glistened with delight as they fell upon the sons he had missed so long. He drew them to himself; he placed his hands on their shoulders; he pressed them to his bosom. Seeing the Ananda of the father while fondling his sons the Brahmins and ministers forgot themselves in appreciation of the depth of his affection. They were lost in admiration.

Dasaratha conversed intimately with his sons, and listened to their sweet simple descriptions of the Yajna which they guarded from desecration by demonic forces; they told him the incidents of the journey from the hermitage of Viswamitra to Mithila City. The narrative was heard also by Vasishta, Vamadeva and other sages, as well as by Bharatha and Satrughna, Sumantra and many ministers, courtiers, and nobles. They spent the night recapitulating the wonder and mystery that formed the warp and woof of that narrative.

Meanwhile, Janaka was immersed in preparations for the wedding. He was mostly in the palace itself; he invited the Chief Priest, Sathananda, to the court, and prayed to him reverentially to start collecting men and materials for the various rites preliminary to the actual wedding rite. The sage replied, “Maharaja! The Yajna concluded just today. During the next two or three days, there are, I notice, a few hours that are auspicious for the ceremonials. I can give details, if you desire to know”.

At this, Janaka said saluting Sathananda and standing with folded hands, “Master! I received the assent of the Emperor Dasaratha, last night. This is indeed a sign of extreme good fortune. My younger brother Kusadhwaja is not present here now; he was all these days very busy supplying provisions for the Yajna as and when the high priests asked for them. I am reluctant to celebrate this most auspicious ceremony without his being present by my side. I do not want to deprive him of his share of joy. I have set afoot plans to get him here quickly. I feel it would be best if we fix the day and hour after his arrival”. Sathananda responded, “Good! Good! That will make us all happy beyond calculation!” With this, he left the palace.

Janaka sent messengers with instructions that they should bring the brother to Mithila, with expedition. They found him in his capital City, Sankasya, for, they were taken thither by fleet – footed horses which sped faster than others. They reported to him the developments at Mithila, in detail; Kusadhwaja was overcome with the flood of Ananda that surged through him. He collected his kith and kin, as well as his entourage, in great haste; he had chariots loaded with gifts and presents, offerings and precious materials. He started off that very night and quickly reached Mithila.

Janaka hastened to meet him, for, he was counting the minutes that were hurrying by. He clasped his brother in fond embrace; he was filled with inexpressible delight. Kusadhwaja fell at the feet of his elder brother; he prostrated before Sathananda, and then all three sat on raised seats, in order to deliberate on the further course of action. They consulted among themselves and when they decided finally on what they have to do, they sent for the highly respected elder statesman, Sudhama, and told him: “Minister of State! Proceed now to the Presence of Dasaratha and pray to him to come here, to this Palace with his Ministers, Priests, Courtiers, kinsmen and others he would like to bring with him. Bring him with due honours”.

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Chapter 7(d)

Winning Sita

Sudhama took with him a group of courtiers and scholars and royal priests; he got ready tastefully decorated chariots to bring the Imperial Party and reached the Palace where Dasaratha was staying. He submitted to him sweetly and softly, the message he had brought, and with profound obeisance, invited him to the palace of Janaka. Dasaratha was ready; he moved out with his entourage and reached the Durbar Hall of Janaka, very soon. They greeted each other as befitted the occasion and their respective status and occupied the seats laid for them.

Then Dasaratha rose and said, “Janaka! For the Ikshvaku Dynasty, the sage Vasishta is God on Earth! He is our supreme preceptor. He can speak with full authority on the traditions of our dynasty”. As soon as Dasaratha sat down, Vasishta stood before the assembly and spoke as follows:

“Royal Sage! Listen, all those who have assembled! Brahman, the Unmanifested Supreme, the Eternal, the Pure, through the exercise of Will created Marichi; Marichi’s son was Kasyapa and his son was Surya; Surya’s son was Manu, Manu had a son named Vaivaswatha Manu; he ruled over the people and earned the appellation, Prajapathi. (See also Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 2, Chapter 7: Brief Description of the Past and Coming Avatara’s) A son lkshvaku was born to him; he was the first overlord of Ayodhya; and so the dynasty itself came to be called the Ikshvaku Line. Ikshvaku’s son was Kukshi. Kukshi’s son was named Vikukshi. His son was Bana; Bana’s son was Anaranya; Anaranya had a son who was named Trisanku. Trisanku’s son was Dhundhumara, Dhundhumara’s son was Yuvanaswa; Mandhata was the son of Yuvanaswa; his son Susandhi had two sons, Daivasandhi and Presenjit. The famous Bharata was the son of Daivasandhi. Bharatha’s son was Asitha; when Asitha was ruling the kingdom, a coalition of the Haihayas, Thalajanghas and Sasibindus invaded the realm and Asitha had to flee to the Himalayan region with his two queens. He took refuge in the region called Bhrgu Prasravana and after a few years passed away there itself.

“Both his queens were enceinte when he died. They sought asylum in the hermitage of Chyavana who was filled with compassion at their plight; he consoled them, saying, ‘Mothers! Do not entertain any fear. This is your very home. You will have safe delivery; you will have strong splendour-filled fortunate babies’. His blessing came true. Within a few days, the elder queen delivered a son named Sagara; and, he was installed as the emperor of Ayodhya. “His son was Asamanja, who had a son called Amsumantha; Amsumantha’s son was Dileepa, whose son was named Bhagiratha. Bhagiratha begot Kakustha. Kakustha’s son was Raghu. Raghu had a son, Pravardha. Pravardha had Sudarsana as son and Sudarsana, Agnivarna. Seeghraga was the name of the son of Agnivarna. Maru was the name of the son of Seeghraga. After him, the throne came from father to son, to Prasusruka, Ambarisha and Nahusha, in succession.

“Nahusha’s son was Yayathi and Yayathi’s son was Nabhaga. Nabhaga had Aja [compare with Chapter 2] as his son. Dasaratha is the eldest son of Aja, and his four sons, a precious jewel each one, are Rama, Lakshmana, Bharatha and Satrughna. Rama, the eldest of the four, raised, bent, strung and broke the Bow of Siva.

“0 Royal Sage! This royal dynasty is sacred and pure. Every one born in this line has earned spiritual illumination and has shone in spiritual splendour. They are rooted in righteousness, and, withal, are in the front rank of heroes. Rama, Lakshmana, Bharatha and Satrughna are precious lamps that shed luster on the annals of the clan.

“I must now suggest that it would be desirable to have this auspicious samskar of marriage celebrated for Lakshmana also, for he is the reflection of Rama. Your daughter Urmila can well shine as the spouse of Lakshmana. Do not hesitate; resolve accordingly and make the necessary preparations”. Vasishta blessed the gathering and resumed his seat.

After listening to the narrative of the Ikshvaku Dynasty, from the lips of the great sage Vasishta, Janaka rose from his throne and said, “O Brahmarchi! When the scion of a noble clan intends to gift his daughter in marriage, he has to announce the historic glory of his clan, hasn’t he? I have resolved to follow your example and recite the story myself, for it gives me great joy to recapitulate the names of my forefathers and recall their majesty. My birth with this body happened through the blessings of forefathers of this dynasty. It will be justified and its purpose fulfilled only if I describe them myself to this vast gathering.”

Janaka stood prayerfully before all. Vasishta agreed with the request and gave the permission sought. Janaka then began the narration: “Brahmarshi! Revered Preceptors! Maharaja Dasaratha! In the very distant past, there was an emperor named Nimi who adhered firmly to the path of righteousness, and who was therefore famous for might and foresight. His son Mithi built this City, Mithila, to serve as the capital for this kingdom. He was the first sovereign of this region. His reign was very popular and his subjects were happy and prosperous. His son, Sudhavasu had a son Nandhivardhana who ruled after him. Nandivardhana’s son was Sukethu and Sukethu’s son was Devaratha. Brhadratha was the son of Devaratha, and Mahavira was the name of the son of Brahadratha. Mahavira had as his name indicates, vast prowess. His son Sudhrthi had a son called Dhrshtakethu. Dhrshtakethu’s celebrated son was Haryaswa; Haryaswa had a son named Maru; Maru’s son was Pratheendhaka; Pratheendhaka’s son was Keerthiratha. Keerthiratha had a son named Devameedha. Devameedha’s son was Vibudha; Vibudha’s son was Keerthiratha; Keerthiratha’s son was Maharoma and Maharoma’s son was Hrswarupa. He was a talented ruler, a strict adherent of Dharma. He was acclaimed as a Mahatma. He is my father; I am indeed very happy to acknowledge that my father was an ideal personage. The truth is I am now ruling happily over this Mithila City as a result of the merit acquired and handed down as heritage by my forefathers.

“My brother Kusadhwaja is much more to me than a brother. I revere him as a divine personality. He is more of a friend to me than a brother. I brought him up with such love and affection that I have developed great attachment to him. Years ago, when the King of Sankasya demanded that I should yield the Bow of Shiva to him or else, meet him in battle, I refused and he laid siege to Mithila City. This was the signal for a bitter war between us during which Sudhanva was killed and I made my brother the ruler of Sankasya. That City is shining bright on the banks of the Ikshumathi River. Seen from afar, it reminds one of the Celestial Chariot of the Gods, famous as the Pushpaka Vimana! Let me tell you now of another auspicious idea that the Gods have inspired in me.

“I have brought him here today so that he might share in the joy of the wedding celebrations. Brahmarshi! You commanded that Rama wed Sita and Lakshmana wed Urmila, the other daughter of mine. I accept the command with immeasurable joy. Sita is a celestial damsel and she will wed Rama as the Hero’s Gift. I shall bow my head in all humility and gladness and give away Urmila to Lakshmana.

“I have another representation to make now for your consideration. Maharaja Dasaratha! You have four sons all born of the same heavenly gift of Grace. Why allow two to remain single? It will contribute to our happiness fully if they too are wedded. It is the asterism of Magha today. This is a good day to commence the rites and have the preliminary ceremonials. The day after, under the asterism Uttaraphalguna, I seek your assent to gift the two daughters of my brother, Mandavi to Bharatha and Sruthakeerthi to Satrughna in marriage”.

At this every one in the huge gathering acclaimed the proposal, exclaiming, “Subham!” “Subham!” (Most welcome! Most welcome!) Their applause rent the sky.

When Emperor Janaka made this suggestion about the marriages of both Bharatha and Satrughna, the sages Vasishta, Vamadeva, Viswamitra and others deliberated among themselves. Dasaratha was easily persuaded to assent and then they informed Janaka thus: “0 King! The two Royal clans the Ikshvaku and the Videha, are filled with holy traditions, the sanctity of which is beyond measurement. The greatness of these two dynasties cannot be measured and described by anyone, however learned or proficient. Dynasties of this status or any that can be pronounced equal to them in nobility, have not appeared on earth before. It is indeed a very auspicious event that these two are now brought together by these bonds of marriage.

“This is highly appropriate, laudable and holy. In addition, we are glad that the brides and grooms are fit in every way for each other. Janaka! Your brother, Kusadhwaja is one who knows and practices Dharma. It is really good that he too should become related to Dasaratha through the marital bond of his daughters. It is a source of immense joy. Hence, we are ready to bless the marriages of his daughters, Mandavi and Sruthakeerthi with Bharatha and Satrughna. Our wish is that these Royal dynasties should be bound close by these marriages”.

Janaka and Kusadhwaja fell prostrate before the sages overcome with delight at their wish being fulfilled. “This is no ordinary event. How fortunate we are that we have been blessed with this consummation! How lucky that the sages agreed to this proposal and eased the path. Sages will never encourage inauspicious happenings. We shall reverentially obey all your commands”, they said.

Vasishta then said, “No, why should we postpone these two weddings to the day after or some later day! Tomorrow is auspicious for all. It will be very good if all four weddings are celebrated on the same day”. Janaka replied, “I am blessed, indeed! Worthy Preceptor, Emperor Dasaratha has been, since long, your disciple, executing whatever you commanded. We brothers too, from this day, are your disciples. All our burdens are on your shoulders; direct us how to proceed, how to act, we shall unquestioningly follow”. They stood awaiting his reply, with hands folded in utter humility and reverence. At this, Dasaratha rose and said, “Ruler of Mithila! The virtues I find in you two I cannot describe in words! You have made excellent arrangements for the stay and reception of such a magnificent array of Maharajas and Maharshis, as well as of the vast mass of people who have thronged this City. I shall go back to my residence now and carry on the rites of Nandi and Samavarthana in full concordance with Vedic prescription”. The brothers honoured him duly as he emerged from the hall and took leave of him at the main entrance as befitted his status. They then went to their own palaces to fulfill their assignments.

Dasaratha performed the Nandi rite; very early in the day he made all the four sons perform the Samavarthana rite. He fixed golden ornaments on the horns of cows selected for being given away to pious Brahmins, along with costly vessels for milking them. It was a feast for the eye, the scene of the boys giving the cows away! The citizens of Mithila felt as if the deities of the four quarters were before them with Brahma in their midst; the four sons around Dasaratha appeared thus to them.

While this gift was going on, Yudhajit, the Prince of Kaikeya, brother of Queen Kaikeyi, the mother of Bharatha arrived. His father was yearning to have his grandson, Bharatha, for some time with him, and so he had hurried to Ayodhya, but he learnt there that the Royal family had left for Mithila for the marriage of Rama. His father, he said, had no knowledge of the wedding of Rama. He too had no idea that it was happening. So, he had come over to Mithila, since he could witness the marriage and also communicate the desire of the grandfather to have the grandson with him for some time. Dasaratha was glad that he could come.

That night, Dasaratha spoke endearingly to his sons and others on a variety of pleasant topics. No one in the camp slept. Every one was impatiently awaiting the dawn of the happy day, when each could witness the wedding ceremony of their dear princes. Each one was overwhelmed with joy as if his own son was the bridegroom or his own child the bride. Their Ananda can be compared only to Brahmananda; that was the measure of their love towards Rama and his brothers.

Early in the morning Janaka proceeded to the special dais on which the rituals of the wedding were to be gone through; he was accompanied by a highly spiritual splendour-showering group of sages. He then completed the preliminary rites and was awaiting the arrival of the bride-grooms and their parents and kinsmen. Rama, Lakshmana, Bharatha and Satrughna had their ceremonial baths; they wore yellow silken dresses; they had silk cloth wound round their heads; they were bedecked with many ornaments studded with diamonds and sapphires; they gave the impression that they were alluring, heart-captivating Gods who had come down from Heaven.

The auspicious hour named Vijaya was drawing near and they approached the dais preceded by musicians whose instruments struck up a melody that reached the dome of Heaven. The Councilors of the Court, the feudatory rulers, and their attendants followed them carrying huge plates of jewels, silk clothes, gold coins, and other auspicious articles essential for the ceremony.

The populace gazed upon their beauty and prowess, without even winking the eye; they confided to each other that the dignity of their bearing marked them out as Divine, and not human at all. They exclaimed, “0, What charm! What a surge of beauty”! Every one was filled with amazement. “They are denizens of heaven come down on earth,” they whispered among themselves, as the bridegrooms passed between the thick rows of onlookers. Women swore that they had never cast their eyes on such charming princes. Every window and terrace was packed to overflowing. At last, the Princes reached the dais, and seated themselves.

Then Janaka and his brother, Kusadhwaja, brought their daughters to the dais. They had been given ceremonial baths and elaborately and beautifully decorated as befitted brides on the wedding day; they wore veils, and followed their fathers, with thousands of maids following them, carrying fruits and flowers, heaps of red and yellow cosmetic fragrants, rice grains, jewels, and gems. It seemed as if the treasures of Mithila were flowing in a full scintillating stream in the wake of the wedding.

The four brides were shining like magnificent lamps. They sat face to face, Rama, Lakshmana, Bharatha and Satrughna on one side and opposite them, Sita, Urmila, Mandavi and Sruthakeerthi. A velvet cloth was held as a screen between. The residents of Ayodhya and the nobles who had come from there sat behind Dasaratha and the residents of Mithila and those invited for the wedding ceremony by Janaka sat behind him on the elevated dais.

The eyes of all were drawn by the elaborate artistic and rich decorations which distinguished the marriage shamiana. It was all gold, silver and flower and silk and velvet, festoons and flags, candelabras and columns, arches and finials. One could not take the eye off any of these once it drew one’s attention. The vast area was filled to overflowing with kinsmen and well-wishers. It looked as if Mithila itself was experiencing the thrill of the wedding and enjoying the celebrations as if they were her own.

Soon, Dasaratha rose and politely reminded the Preceptor Vasishta, “Why should we delay?” Hearing this, Janaka stood before Vasishta with folded arms, praying that he should himself officiate at the ceremony.

Vasishta agreed and with Viswamitra and Sathananda accompanying him, he lit the sacrificial fire, in the centre of the dais, while Vedic scholars and experts in Vedic recitation raised their voices and repeated hymns appropriate for the auspicious ceremony.

They arranged around the Altar of Fire, golden plates decorated with flowers and sandal paste, full of tender sprouts of nine species of grains. There were also incense burners, sacred spoons for offering oblations in the holy flames, golden water pots, cups, and such other articles essential for the rite. They spread the holy kusa grass thick on the floor, so that it lay as level and as smooth as laid down in the texts. Then, they began to pour oblations into the fire while reciting the hymns which assure happiness and prosperity to the brides and bridegrooms; every rite was gone through with meticulous accuracy and correctitude. The initiatory threads were tied on the wrists of the Princes and princesses.

The next rite was the rite of gifting the brides. Vasishta called upon Janaka to come forward; he came near the Sacred Fire Enclosure, dressed in regal splendour and wearing all the regal jewels. As directed by the sage he held the hands of Sita and placed them in the outstretched palms of Rama; his eyes streamed tears of joy; coconut symbolizing prosperity had already been placed in the palms of Rama and after Sita’s hands rested on it, milk was poured on the hands by Janaka as part of the ceremony of gifting. Janaka spoke these words to Rama at that time: “Rama! Here is Sita, my daughter. She will tread your Dharmic path from now on. Accept her. She brings prosperity, peace and joy. Hold her hand with yours. She is highly virtuous and true. From this moment, she will follow you like your shadow, ever.” With these words, he poured water on the hands of Rama, to set the seal on the gift

Then he came near where Lakshmana was; he said, “Lakshmana! I am giving you this bride, Urmila, accept her”, and with the prescribed mantras, he completed the ceremony of gifting her to the bridegroom. Similarly, he approached Bharatha and pronouncing the Vedic mantras traditionally used for the wedding, he gifted Mandavi to him as his bride. In the same manner Sruthakeerthi was gifted by him with the pouring of holy water and Vedic recitation to Satrughna. After this the scholars well versed in Vedic lore completed the customary rites and rituals for drawing upon the wedded couples the Grace of the Gods.

Then Janaka rose and standing in the centre of the dais, he announced to the bridegrooms, ‘Darlings! Our daughters are to be installed as mistresses of your households. The auspicious moment has come”. As soon as he said so, with the blessings and approval of Vasishta, the four brothers held their brides each by their hand and they circumambulated first the sacred fire, and then Janaka and Vasishta the Preceptor, and prostrated before them.

While they were doing so, showers of flowers fell upon them; joyous music rose from a galaxy of instruments. The distinguished gathering acclaimed the moment and scattered rice grains on their heads, wishing them all the best in life. The jubilation with which they cheered “Subham! Subham”, shook the sky. It filled all ears with delight. The gods played divine music in heaven; elysian drums were beaten in ecstatic exaltation. The minstrels of heaven sang hallelujahs.

On the dais, court musicians sang the traditional wedding songs describing the splendour of the marriage ceremony and extolling it as on a par with the marriage of Lord Siva and Gauri. They sang it in a rich variety of ragas and melodies, filling the atmosphere with vibrations of delight. The four brothers with their brides stood on the dais facing the vast gathering, and bowed In acknowledgement of their cheers and greetings: “May you be happy for ever”, “May everything auspicious be added unto you”.

The brothers, resplendent in their youth, heroism and beauty, proceeded with their brides into enclosures behind the curtains from where their mothers were watching the ceremony, so that they might prostrate before them and be blessed by them. Then, they returned to the palace allotted for the stay of the Royal Party. From that day, for three days, the populace witnessed a magnificent variety of ceremony and festival, packed with joy and jubilee. The people of Ayodhya who had come to Mithila as well as the inhabitants of Mithila itself could not distinguish night from day! It was festivity without intermission.

The day after the wedding, Viswamitra went to Dasaratha and told him that the mission upon which he had resolved had been fulfilled. He called the brothers close to him; he fondled them very affectionately. He blessed them profusely, and turning to Dasaratha, expressed his intention to proceed to the Himalayan regions. At this, Rama, Lakshmana, Bharatha and Satrughna fell at the sage’s feet. Viswamitra then went to the palace of Janaka and told him also that his desire had fructified triumphantly! He blessed Janaka, and the brides, Sita, Urmila, Mandavi and Sruthakeerthi. He announced there too that he was proceeding to the Himalayas. Dasaratha and Janaka and many others of Ayodhya and Mithila were in a fix; they could neither let the Sage depart, nor persuade him to stay. At last, they laid at his feet their load of gratitude and took the dust of his feet when he left, blessing every one.

The third day, when Dasaratha expressed his desire to leave for Ayodhya, Janaka did not Interpose any obstacle, but made all arrangements for their departure. He gathered the courtiers and attendant maids that were to accompany the brides; he collected and filled many chariots with the articles that they had to take with them. He gave as presents large numbers of elephants, chariots, horses and cows. He presented to the sons-in-law jewels and precious gems in plenty; also a vast variety of priceless gifts that could be used in daily life. With the dawn of the next day, the caparisoned chariots were ready for the journey. The women of the court were in tears; indeed, to speak the truth, all the women of the City were weeping at the departure of the four dear princesses.

Unable to bear the pangs of separation from Sita and Urmila, many nurses and maids broke down with grief. The mothers held the hands of the sons-in-law and prayed to them to treat their daughters gently and with affection. “They know no hardship or sorrow, they have grown up soft and tender,” they pleaded in pathetic appeal. They wept as if they were losing their very eyes. At last, they ascended the chariots and moved off. The City was filled with gloom, as much gloom as the ecstasy it was filled with for three days Previous!

Janaka found it hard to take leave of Sita; he tried his best to curb the flow of tears; he accompanied Emperor Dasaratha for some distance describing to him the virtues of Sita and pleading with him to treat her with loving tenderness; with tears in his eyes, he prayed that he may be informed frequently of her welfare and happiness. He spoke also of the other brides and evinced great anxiety on their behalf too. Dasaratha responded most sympathetically; he spoke soothingly, trying his best to allay the agitation of his mind. He said, “Janaka! We have no daughters of our own. So, these are the daughters whom we longed to fondle so long! They are both daughters and daughters-in-law for us. There will not be anything wanting for them; all things necessary for their joy and happiness will be provided. Do not worry or grieve in the least. Return fully assured of our love and affection for them”. Thus saying Dasaratha ordered his chariot to halt.

Janaka alighted from the chariot of the Emperor and approached the brides who were seated with the bridegrooms. He consoled them in various ways to bear the pang of separation from the home where they had been reared so lovingly. He imparted courage, and quoted many Dharmic texts which enjoin loyalty to the husband and the husband’s kith and kin. He reminded them how they have to treat the servants of the household which each of them was now entering. He accepted their respectful prostrations and caressed them once again and blessed them. When he turned his back on them to proceed to Mithila, he burst into sobs; nevertheless he ascended his chariot and moved towards home. The chariots sped Ayodhya-wards and Mithila-wards; very soon they were miles apart.

When Janaka reached Mithila, the apartments of the Palace were empty, with no sign of life, no shine of joy, no sound of elation. He could not be there even for an instant. Mithila was a City of Grief. Janaka sent for Sage Sathananda and the Ministers and in order to free his mind a little from the upsurge of sorrow, he had a number of items of business discussed and settled with them. In the midst of the discussions, his mind would wander into sadness again; he used to give replies unrelated to the problems raised. At this, one minister said, “0 King! The separation from Sita seems to have caused great grief in your heart. No father can escape this separation and this grief. Once she is gifted to the bridegroom, the father’s duty is to reduce the attachment gradually; this is a matter not unknown to your Majesty. And, we know that Sita is no ordinary maiden! She is a Divine Angel. So, separation from her must cause you greater agony. 0 King! The daughters are Divine; and, note, the sons-in-law too have Divine Splendour! They appear to have descended from Heaven. In Mithila, every one, young and old, had that feeling, and that reverence towards them. It is really a wondrous coincidence that such bridegrooms have been wedded to such brides, worthy in every way, in physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual characteristics, in status, wealth, power, family honour, dynastic sanctity and religious faith. This cannot happen to all. Therefore, the daughters will have happiness, without the least diminution. Their lives will be filled with greater and greater joy as the years roll by”. They recalled the grandeur of the marriage celebrations and calmed the agitated mind of Janaka. They engaged themselves in consoling him and restoring his equanimity and mental peace.

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Chapter 8

Another Challenge

Meanwhile, Dasaratha was proceeding towards Ayodhya, with his sons and daughters-in-law, the sages and scholars, army units of infantry, elephantry, cavalry and chariotry, and citizens of his empire. Suddenly, they observed certain bad omens and they had a premonition that something serious was about to happen. Dasaratha approached Vasistha and consulted him, “Master! What a surprise is this! Dark clouds are thickening and howling; the beasts on earth are tramping around us full circle. They should not behave so, isn’t it? What can be the reason? What does it indicate? I am getting apprehensive about these omens”. Vasishta could see what these portents meant by means of his divine insight; he said, “0 King! These are signs of some terrible event nearing us. The clouds are roaring frightfully. But, considering the fact that the beasts on earth are circumambulating our chariots, this much can be inferred: the disaster that threatens us will be averted. Therefore, you need have no anxiety”. Vasishta instilled faith and confidence in Dasaratha, and they awaited events.

Suddenly, the wind grew into a fierce cyclonic storm! Even as they were looking on, giant trees were pulled by their roots and they fell with alarming noise. Even the mountain peaks rolled one over the other. Thunderous explosions rent the air, as if the earth itself was breaking into pieces. Those in one chariot could not see the vehicle before or behind them; so thick was the dust that rose all around! Horses and elephants started running wildly in panic. Foot soldiers dropped unconscious; others stood petrified by a weird fear.

Vasishta, Dasaratha and the four sons were the only persons who were unafraid in all that huge concourse! All the rest were drained of vigour and vitality. And for good reason, too. For the ground and air were enveloped in darkness. The darkness was heightened by blinding flashes of light! And, a dreadful figure, with terror-striking eyes, stood before them.

His head had a crown of thickly matted hair. He had a giant double-edged axe on his shoulder. He had on another shoulder a beg of arrows that shone like lightning streaks. He appeared to them like the forehead-eyed Siva on His way to destroy the mighty demon rulers of the Triple Fortress! As soon as he came to view, Vasishta recognized him as Parasurama. But he wondered why he was so fierce with anger that day, even though all his rage against the Kshatriya clans had long ago subsided as a result of the campaigns in which he had destroyed them. He tried to discover what could have kindled the flame again from the cooled embers. (See also Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 2, Chapter 7 (verse 22): Brief Description of the Past and Coming Avatara’s)

Vasishta himself moved towards Parasurama with the traditional signs of welcome, like inviting him to wash his hands and asking permission to wash his feet. But though he accepted these marks of good will and heartfelt reception, Parasurama was staring at Rama with eyes like glowing cinders! Rama was however reacting with a charming smile, a smile which only fed the fumes of his anger! He raved loudly thus! “O son of Dasaratha! I have listened to your exploits being praised by a thousand tongues. I heard also how you broke the Bow of Siva, as if it was just child’s play. But, all that is hearsay not directly seen by me. I have come now so that I can personally examine your valour.

“I have brought this divinely consecrated bow. It belonged to Jamadagni, my revered father. Show me your might, stringing it and fixing an arrow on it. Or else, come, engage me in fight!” He challenged Rama in this manner, in passionate anger.

Rama was not affected by all this demonstration of anger. He kept on smiling coolly. “O Bhargavarama! I thought the vengeance you had nursed against the Kshatriyas had ended long ago. Why this relapse? Why this downfall, this absurdity?” he asked. Just then, Dasaratha bent low and in plaintive tones, appealed to Parasurama thus: “Bhagavan! You are a Brahmin. You have won great renown. My sons are tender teenagers. Why develop vengeful hatred against them for no reason whatever? This ill becomes the high status of your lineage. Your forefathers studied the Vedas without intermission and performed rites and ceremonies with elaborate care. You yourself declared that day, when you entered on the Chandrayana Ritual that you will not handle any weapon thereafter; you said that your desires have been fulfilled; you did this before no less a God than Indra, gifting all the territories conquered by you to Kasyapa, yourselves resolving to spend the rest of your days in the performance of righteous deeds and the gaining of equanimity.

“You were all along engaged in austerities on the Mahendra Peak! And, now quite contrary to your declared intentions, your mind is set upon destroying my dynasty and family. Is it not a terrible sin to act against one’s given word? After this breach of promise, of what use is austerity? There is no God higher than Truth, is there? You are challenging only Rama and you say you will fight only with him! If anything injurious happens to that son, my entire family will be plunged in dire calamity. Our lives will end the moment danger harms him. A Brahmin like you should not become responsible for the loss of so many lives! It is not only a sacrilege on Brahminhood; it is a heinous sin”.

Parasurama paid no heed to the words of Dasaratha. He did not give ear to them. He was casting his looks only on Rama. He said: “The Bow that you broke and this one, both, have come from Heaven; Viswakarma the Divine Artificer made them both. One was offered to Siva, for use against the Demons of the Triple Fortress; the other was entrusted to Vishnu. Once the demons were destroyed, Siva sent it to Emperor Devaratha, with the arrows that were used for the fight. Perhaps the bow had become frail and feeble, since the purpose for which it was offered had been accomplished. It is no proof of might and heroism if such a bow is broken. This bow has work yet to do, and so it still retains its vigour and vitality. This bow is surcharged with efficacy and power. Take this, string it and break it as you did the other. That is the way to prove your strength and heroism. Do not strut about in pride that you have broken the Bow of Siva! Break this and write your name in the annals of the brave”.

“You may doubt my words that this is the Bow of Vishnu”, he continued. “Vishnu Himself kept this in the custody of Hrshika a great sage. He handed it over to his son, Jamadagni. Jamadagni is my father. He was the repository of tremendous merit acquired by austerity; he was so pure-hearted that he had no trace of hatred or vengeance in him. My father had renounced the use of weapons; yet, Karthaviryarjuna the wicked, killed him. It was a crime of unprecedented cruelty; no one had killed another so atrociously. I decided that I should not show mercy; I had to teach him a lesson; I vowed that I will destroy not only that monster, but all unrighteous kings. From that day, I have been cutting them to pieces and playing ball games with their heads. This Bow was with me in all those campaigns. I killed many wicked monarchs. I brought under subjugation the entire world. My anger at those who had killed my father cooled a little, with this. I gave up the vendetta, and started a Vedic sacrifice. I invited Kasyapa for that Yajna, since he was a great saint immersed in meritorious activity. I gave him the Earth which I had conquered as dakshina (ritual fees) for supervising the Yajna. Since then, I have been spending my days on the Mahendra Peak, with my mind immersed in peace and my intellect shining in spiritual splendour.

“Your father asked me why I have again taken up this weapon and put on a challenging pose, in spite of my having renounced the path of vengeance and hatred. I shall answer him now Rama! Two bows were created in Heaven and came upon the earth. You have broken the Siva Bow. This alone remains now, intact. If this too is broken, (it does not serve any purpose being with me, for its work is over) then, my renunciation will be complete; so I wish that this too is broken, or retained by you. I am waiting for this consummation. The moment has come; I am determined to utilize it, rather than let it go by or allow it to be misused. Perhaps, you doubt whether fighting is the best use that time can be put to? But, the significance of the fight has to be looked into; it may be for the progress and welfare of the world; it may promote the suppression of the unrighteous and the encouragement of the good. You cannot pronounce war as undesirable, judging from a superficial point of view. Analyse the purpose. When a knife has to be sharpened, one has to hone it on a grindstone. No one will condemn the process as injurious to the knife. If the body is to derive strength from food, the food has to be placed between rows of hard teeth and ground into paste, mercilessly. No one can condemn this process as violence exercised on the material. It may become necessary in order to provide Satwic food for either the Body or the Body Politic, to have recourse to struggle, conflict and the apparent infliction of pain.

“Well. We are in the middle of the road, half-way through a journey. It is not proper to indulge in talk, standing here. Let us get to action. It is imperative we should start straightway. Come on! Either string this bow and break it in the process or fight a duel with me!” This was the call from Parasurama. Lakshmana was fuming with anger, while listening to the challenge of Parasurama; he was about to intervene with a hot retort, when Rama quietened him saying, “This is not a matter concerning you. For the questions asked of me, I myself have to answer. It is against good manners for you to come between us; leave me to handle this situation”. His affectionate and soft counsel made Lakshmana desist. But, when Parasurama started laughing at Rama and ridiculing him for not accepting his challenge as soon as it was thrown, Lakshmana could not control his reaction of resentment.

He shouted, “O Bhargava! This is not much of a task for Him who broke the Bow of Siva! To break this little bow, why do you challenge Rama? This is a Brahmin weapon! It is just a blade of kusa grass. I can myself break it, in a trice effortlessly, even while playing with it; for this petty task why ask Rama. I have no need to transfer the assignment”. When Lakshmana uttered these words, Parasurama became even more inflamed. But Rama took things coolly and calmly; he smiled at Lakshmana and pacified him by his soft speech. The more enraged Parasurama became the quieter and more restrained was Rama’s reaction.

Soon, Parasurama lost control of himself; he gave free rein to his tongue and started pouring rank abuse; this caused some consternation in Dasaratha’s heart. The maids and servants hid themselves from the furious onslaught. The four arms of the army were shaken by fear. The Pandits were terrified. Sita, however, watched the scene with amusement; she was not in the least agitated. She was not affected by the slightest apprehension. She was instilling courage and confidence in the hearts of Urmila, Mandavi and Sruthakeerthi, telling them that he was a lame jackal before the Lion that Rama was. When they saw Rama reprimanding Lakshmana, Bharata and Sathrughna had no mind to intervene. Or else, they too would have joined the fray and asked Rama for permission to fight, or take up the challenge. They awaited the orders of Rama and kept away. Vasishta could know the past and the future and so, He realized that the incident was but a scene in the Divine Drama. He was silent and unshaken.

Ramachandra spoke with profound calm. “Parasu- rama! You are a Brahmin. For a Kshatriya you are an object of worship, on the basis of caste. You are a kinsman of the revered Viswamitra. I don’t feel it proper to kill such a high caste Brahmin. Nor is it proper to aim this holy weapon against you. You yourself declared just now that it belongs to the Realm of the Gods, that it has so far destroyed every enemy, city and fort against which it has been used, and that it can overwhelm and defeat the strength and pride of whomsoever it encounters. Is it not sheer waste to make it unserviceable? So, choose any one of these two alternatives and tell me: Shall I use it to prevent you from moving about on your feet? Or shall I prevent you from attaining the higher worlds that you have earned by means of austerities?” When he heard these words, Parasurama was even more enraged; his eyes turned red with anger; he rushed forward towards Rama, exclaiming, “What are you prattling?” Rama took hold of the Vishnu Bow that was slung on his shoulder, with a derisive laugh, which hurt his pride. Lo! No sooner did the weapon reach the hands of Rama than Parasurama got debilitated. He lost all energy and vitality. Rama shone in such added splendour that no eye could stand that blaze. He stood there as if countless lamps were lit on one spot, radiating blinding light all around. When the authentic wielder of that bow, Narayana Himself, held it in His grasp, the bow too acquired added lustre; a triumphal aura surrounded the bow and lightning streamed from it. The gods gathered in the sky and showered flowers on Rama holding the Bow. The auspicious sound of music filled the sky.

Meanwhile, Parasurama was full of smiles. He said, “Rama! Did you notice what happened! I have experienced the delight of the Divine Manifestation, your Divine Splendour. In days gone by, I gifted this earthly region to Kasyapa. Receiving it, the sage Kasyapa declared, that I should not enter his dominion again and even if I did, I should not spend a night therein; he pronounced a curse upon me, on these lines. Well. It is already getting dark. I can no longer be present here. I have to hurry fast to the Mahendra Mountain. Through my incomparable austerity, I have won high heavenly regions. Break the bow and with it, break all the power I had won. All the power I have in me is yours. 0 Rama, watch this, I am offering to you the power earned by me”.

Thus saying, he came near and embraced Rama with both hands clasped firm around him. At that moment, three facets of Divinity that had subsisted in him so long came forth from him and merged in Rama. Then Parasurama addressed Rama thus: “Rama! The world cannot easily understand the mystery of the Divine; even those like me who have earned great power through denial and detachment and ascetic practices rely more on their own spiritual achievements, ignoring the influence of the Divine Strategy of Vishnu.

“I have therefore, set about to make known your reality and genuine power to the world; I have given you as an offering the powers I had; I have also proved once again that you are the mighty Vishnu, the God endowed with unique power, the God who directs the Drama of the Universe. There is nothing that is devoid of you, nothing that is not you. You are all. Yours is all. I had the good fortune of wielding for some time your divine bow and, as a consequence, I earned some reverence from the world. That is the merit I have won. This is my offering.” With this Parasurama disappeared.

Rama gave over the bow and arrows to the God Varuna, with an unperturbed smiling countenance. (see also Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 3, Chapter 17: Victory of Hiranyaksa over All the Directions of the Universe and Bhagavad Gita of Order, Chapter 10: The Yoga of his Opulence [On His Identity], verse 29). He prostrated before Vasishta and Dasaratha, who were by his side. Dasaratha was all the while shivering with fear, apprehending what might happen to his son from this Apparition, what calamity will land on him. Now, he was free of anxiety. He drew Rama near and fondled him affectionately in various ways. He raised the son’s face towards him holding it by the chin and, finding it rather difficult to express his feelings in words, said, “Dear Son! I am indeed lucky, I was afraid whether I would be able to see you again. Your resolute courage, your heroism is beyond imagination”. Thus, he praised Rama very much and appreciated his exploit in many ways. In reply, Rama said. “Dharma has to win: Victory is the inevitable concomitant of righteousness. In the preliminary stages of the struggle, it may create some fear and some obstacles which might appear formidable. It will cause even weakness of mind. It might arouse suspicions of defeat or failure. But, instead of bowing or beading before it one has to fix his attention on the goal itself. Then it can never fail. Failure can never affect it. Men do not peer deep into the truth of Dharma’s might; they are carried away by superficial handicaps and worries and so they give up the path and suffer. What has happened is for the best, I ascribe this to your blessings”.

Saying this, Rama again fell at the feet of his father. “The armed forces are awaiting your orders to resume the march and proceed towards Ayodhya. Kindly communicate your commands to them,” said Rama. At this Dasaratha was filled with delight. He said. “Son! Why should we delay further? Grief and joy afflict us one after the other and cause distress to the person and his body. We can go to the capital city and seek to live there happily in the best manner possible”. He called the ministers to his side, and required them to order the troops to march.

The soldiers cheered in joy and began to move forward. The interlude of fear had ended. Dasaratha spent the remainder of the journey describing, and enjoying the description of, the amazing events of the day. As they neared the City, some regiments were sent in advance in order to inform the citizens of the arrival of the party, with the sons and daughters-in-law. The memory of the grandeur and glory of what they had experienced at Mithila and on the way home gave speed to the feet and they flew like arrows from bowman’s hand into the City. They announced that Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna were entering the City with their brides and that Dasaratha had sent them to give the glad tidings.

The citizens of Ayodhya decorated and embellished the streets and houses in a variety of attractive styles. Plantain trees were tied to posts on both sides of the road. Bunches of coconuts were hung from the posts. Rosewater was sprinkled. The entire City was made charming and attractive.

Musicians with their instruments took positions all along the route. Fireworks were collected and distributed all along the line, so that it could be made one continuous stream of colour and cheering noise. They awaited, with the deepest feeling of joy, the party, counting the minutes as they looked into the distance to catch the first glimpse. Women in veils crowded the windows and terraces of the mansions, or peeped from behind curtains tied across them.

Emperor Dasaratha entered the capital City of Ayodhya, with his sons and their brides. Music rent the air as soon as they were sighted. People cheered enthusiastically, shouting Jai Jai, till their throats were hoarse. Women waved lights, threw flowers on their path and sprinked rosewater. The young men were like bright stars. When the populace saw the ennobling scene, many forgot where they stood or who they were; their joy knew no bounds. Their thirst could not be quenched, however long they gazed; so they walked long distances backward, so that they could keep their eyes fixed on them! Thus, the entire route was covered and they reached the gates of the palace. There, Brahmins had stationed themselves so that they could recite Vedic hymns invoking good fortune and prosperity on the newly weds. Maids waved lights and performed many rites to ward off the evil eye. They prayed the daughters-in-law to come in, placing the right foot first.

Meanwhile, at the entrance to the zenana, there stood the queens, Kausalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi awaiting their approach with avid eagerness. They sprinkled sandal scent, tucked flowers in their hair, and placed dots of red on their foreheads. When the sons came, the queens were overwhelmed with joy; they drew them near and fondled them, patting their heads and chins; they blessed them profusely. Then the four sons and daughters-in-law prostrated before the three mothers. When they did so, their eyes streamed tears of joy, for, their happiness knew no bounds.

Meanwhile, the maids brought rice, boiled in milk, in golden plates; the mothers placed the food in the mouths of the newly weds, and persuaded them to eat it. They gave them milk to drink. Then, they were taken to the inner apartments.

In the evening, ladies from Ayodhya were invited to the palace for sharing in the auspicious ceremonial of welcoming the newly weds. An imposingly beautiful dais was got ready; golden seats were placed upon it. The queens brought costly clothes and jewels with precious gems set on them in artistic patterns; they commissioned talented maids-in-waiting to help the daughters-in-law to put them on, and they themselves supervised the wearing of the costume and jewellery. They held them by the hand and led them to their seats.

By that time, Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna had come there and taken their seats wearing princely robes, and costly jewels as well as crowns. Each sat to the right of his bride. The mothers as well as the ladies who had been invited from the City feasted their eyes on the splendour of the scene and their Ananda was immeasurable. While they were going through the ceremonial, gifts were distributed outside the Palace to people in profusion. Cows, cash, gold, land, grain, vehicles and horses were all given away in plenty.

Brahmins came before the dais and cast auspicious rice grains on the heads of the newly weds to the accompaniment of the recitation of Vedic hymns. Then women in married status waved 108 lamps before them to ward off the evil eye. After this the sons rose and with their wives they prostrated before the mothers, the father and the Guru, Vasishta. Then, they retired to their own apartments

(Read more about Parasurama in the Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 9 [Liberation], Chapter 15: Parasurama, the Lord’s Warrior Incarnation & Chapter 16: Lord Parasurama Destroys the World’s Ruling Class at the Hare Krishnatemple [free zip-downloads]).

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Chapter 9

Preparations for the Coronation

Meanwhile, the prince from Kekaya, the maternal uncle of Bharatha, approached Dasaratha and represented that a long time had elapsed since he came from his kingdom. “Father is waiting to see me back. He would have been very happy to be present here during these festivities. He does not know about the wedding of Bharatha. He would be very disappointed when he comes to know that the marriage of his grandson was celebrated in his absence. That disappointment can be assuaged to some extent if Bharatha is sent with me now, so that some festivities might be arranged there for his satisfaction and pleasure.”

Dasaratha consulted his wives and called Bharatha to his presence. “Son! Your maternal uncle, Yudhajit, had come to take you with him from Mithila itself, I did not agree. I have come to know that your grandfather is very anxious to see you. So, make yourselves ready to accompany him”, Dasaratha ordered. Then Bharatha said, “Father! It would be very good if Satrughna too comes along with me”. So, he was also ordered to prepare himself to leave. And, both of them left for the city of Girivraja, with their wives.

Moved by his respect towards elders, Bharatha made preparations to leave Ayodhya, with his wife. No objections were raised, or arguments presented against. Bharatha was endowed with the highest intellect; besides, he was master of himself, his senses and desires, Bharatha and Satrughna, with their wives, journeyed quite happily, and reached the city of Girivraja. The grandfather was longing to see him and fondle him, and inquired about the health and happiness of people in Ayodhya; he asserted that they looked exhausted by the long hours of travel and insisted that they should rest; he led them to the residences allotted for them. From that moment, he treated them more affectionately than his own children and paid close attention to their smallest needs.

Though the grandfather cared for their comfort and joy, the brothers appeared to suffer from some secret discontent; for, they could not bear separation from their aged father and Rama, who was the very breath of their existence. They conversed among themselves constantly only about Dasaratha and Rama. Off and on, anxiety about the health and welfare of the father tormented them, in spite of themselves, and deprived them of peace of mind.

While their feelings in Girivraja were such, in Ayodhya, not a single moment passed without Dasaratha pining for them. He sensed a void without them. Many times, he asked himself the question, “Why did I send them from here? O, it would have been good if I had not agreed to send them”.

The four sons were as four arms for Dasaratha. Now he had been deprived of two. One day, Rama saw his father plunged in thought, at the separation from Bharatha and Satrughna. He approached his father and sitting near him spoke soft and sweet words, making him happy. Rama was supremely gentle. However harsh others might speak, he used to reply soft and sweet. Though others might do him harm, he never remembered it against them. He only sought to be good and be of service to them. Whenever he found time he used to discuss with aged monks, revered Brahmins and learned scholars, codes of good conduct and rules of morality. He analyzed the mysteries of Vedantic thought in simple words and like an ordinary enquirer, he posed problems before pundits for elucidation. The sages and scholars who had mastered the science of Vedanta and philosophical enquiry were elated at the elaborations given by Rama of the knotty points he himself raised; they praised in a thousand different ways his intelligence and scholarship.

Rama spoke to his subjects even before they spoke to him; so ardent was his love towards them. He lovingly inquired about their welfare and was full of sympathy for them. So, the subjects too loved him as their staunchest friend and dearest kinsman, and they revered him for his affectionate interest in them. Rama followed strictly the various rules of living, dictated by tradition, whatever the inconvenience or discomfort. To whomsoever he spoke, he had a charming smile on his face, a merry twinkle in the eye and lasting sweetness in his words. No one noticed the slightest trace of anger, dislike, despair or hate in his face.

He was the embodiment of compassion and sympathy. He was full of eagerness to rescue those who surrendered their wishes to his will. Undesirable habits to which royalty is an easy prey never dared approach him. He was not a victim of the evil habits of garrulity and dalliance. In spite of this, if any one displayed before him his cleverness in argument, he would never fail to foil him by cleverer counter-argument and put him in his place. He never knew illness of body or anxiety in the mind. He recognized the needs of the people and, even before they represented them to the ruler, he considered the response that could be made and remedied the grievance, after taking the permission of Dasaratha and making the ministers interested in the solution. Dasaratha too did not obstruct his wishes in any way; he put them into execution the moment he came to know about them. Rama paid detailed attention to even the smallest detail of administration and took adequate precautions to see that problems and complexities do not raise their heads once they had been solved and set right. Another quality which was evident in Rama was: He never revealed in advance what he had resolved in his mind. Until it took final shape no one could make out his will or wish. And his anger or resentment, or his satisfaction would never be futile. He would not delay or allow himself to be diverted or deceived. With such supreme characteristics, Rama shone in glory. Dasaratha was delighted observing the way Rama was winning the love and loyalty of his people. He heard from ministers, priests and others the growing popularity of Rama and was thrilled.

One night, Dasaratha was thirsty and he desired to drink a little water; he did not like to awaken the sleeping queens; so, he poured out himself into a small cup the water from a jar near the bed and while drinking it, he observed that his grasp was not firm; the fingers were shaking! He had no sleep after that. His mind sank into a variety of thoughts. Finally, he inferred that old age had brought on debility; he decided that he should no longer rule over the empire. Any attempt to govern the people without strength of limb and will can only spell confusion and calamity. He was counting the minutes so that as soon as day dawned he could communicate his resolve to his ministers. At last, night melted away and there was light.

Finishing his morning ablutions and completing his rites of daily worship he directed the chamberlains to call together the ministers, the leaders of the people and the priests for a special meeting at the Palace. Bowing to the command of the Emperor all whom he wanted gathered very soon, and awaited him. Dasaratha fell at the feet of Vasistha and informed him of the happenings during the night and the stream of thought that they aroused in him. He said that he had decided to place the burden of Imperial administration on Rama. He prayed that no objection be raised against his proposal. He wanted that all arrangements be made soon for the realization of his desire.

The chief among the Ministers, Sumanthra, announced this decision to the gathering; the ministers, courtiers, citizens, priests and scholars who were gathered there, acclaimed the news with joyful approbation. They cheered, ‘Subham; Subham!’ (“0 most auspicious! Fortunate are we”). Their applause reached the heavens. Vasistha rose from his seat and said, “Emperor! you need not worry over this in the least. Rama is in every way fit for this great role but we can well afford to wait a little and celebrate it on a grand scale inviting all those whom we wish to be present. I suggest that we wait for a month or two, so that the Coronation of Rama is done as magnificently as we would like to.”

But, Dasaratha exclaimed, “Mahatma! Nothing is beyond your ken; you are omniscient. When the king loses strength of limb, he does not deserve to hold the reins of high office. It is a bad sign when a king, whom old age has debilitated, entertains the greed to continue on the throne. It indicates avarice in the heart. Knowing all this, if I oppose it, I would have failed in the duty I clearly envisage. Pardon me; do not try to adjourn this ceremony. Grant me permission to appoint Rama as the Yuvaraja (heir-apparent) within the next two or three days”. Dasaratha pleaded thus, in great humility and with deep reverence.

Vasistha lifted Dasaratha up and conferred blessings on him. He said, “0 King! The wedding of Rama too happened on the spur of the moment! It dropped from heaven as Grace. So the people of the kingdom, your subjects, had no chance to share in the joy of that momentous occasion. If the Coronation too is resolved upon and celebrated suddenly, it would pain not only the rulers of many parts of this land, but, even more, it will be a source of great sorrow for the brothers, Bharatha and Satrughna. And Janaka who has become your kinsman and friend might not be able to attend! I suggest, therefore, that you may well ponder over these considerations before settling the date”.

The chief among the Ministers then rose and said: “May the revered family Preceptor pardon me! The decision of the Emperor has the appreciation and approbation of every one. Ramacandra is, as the name indicates, as the Moon, which repels the burning heat and restores coolness and comfort to all. He removes the pain caused by hate, malice, greed and envy. There should not be any delay in crowning him as Yuvaraja, for whatever reason. Please issue necessary orders on this behalf, O Emperor! I am praying for this, on behalf of the entire population of this empire”.

When the Emperor and the Chief among the Ministers pleaded like this, Vasishta could not hold on to his attitude any longer. He said that it was necessary to know what the people themselves thought about it. At this Dasaratha stood up and with one sweep of his eye, he looked at the ministers, leading citizens, pundits and priests, as well as others of the vast assembly. The assembly was acclaiming the auspicious proposal in a voice of thunder! In the midst of that excitement, one citizen, who belonged to a very important group, rose and exclaimed, “Maharaja! The mighty emperors of your line fostered us, the subjects of this empire, as if we were their own children. This Kosala realm attained prosperity and peace through the care and affection of Ikshvaku. Your eldest son Rama is rich in virtue, highly devoted to the ways of righteousness, as heroic as the Chief of Gods, and more than all he has the ability to rule over the three [triloka] worlds. It is indeed our good fortune that you entertain the idea of crowning him as Yuvaraja. This is undoubtedly our fortune.”

When the citizen spoke thus, on behalf of all the subjects of the realm, Dasaratha addressed the gathering, “Members of this Assembly! I have all these years ruled over this empire along the path laid down by my forebears and guarded its welfare and prosperity to the best of my abilities, with a sincere desire to promote the good of the entire world. All the years of my life I have spent under the shade of this White Umbrella [sathwic way of life: pure, equal and steady and detached] that is over my throne; I am now an old man. I have realized that the vigour and vitality of these limbs have declined. This dilapidated body has to be given a little rest. I have decided on this. It is not an easy task, not an insignificant minion, to rule over a kingdom, for it calls for dedication of oneself to Dharma or Righteousness. Dharma can be maintained unbroken in the running of the government only by a person engaged in constant Sadhana and who is endowed with rigorous control of the senses. I have borne this burden so long that I am exhausted with the effort. If all of you approve and appreciate my plan, I shall tell you all about it. I shall never act against your desires and preferences.

“There is no pressure on you; do not fear that I am forcing my wishes on you, or that this is a royal command, which you have perforce to obey. I leave you to your own free will and judgement. In case some other arrangement strikes you as more beneficial, you are at perfect liberty to present it before us for candid consideration. Therefore, confer among yourselves and inform me by nightfall what you have agreed upon”.

Even before Dasaratha concluded his address, the assembly became restive and excited, as a flock of peacocks under a cloudridden sky that promises copious thunder showers! They shouted aloud their assent, their gratitude and their joy, in unmistakable terms. “You desire just what is our own desire. We do not want any other gift; give us this gift. 0 this is indeed great good fortune. 0 Good Luck! Yuvaraj Ramachandrajiki Jai. Jai Dasaratha Rama.” The acclamation rent the firmament. Listening to the popular acclaim, Dasaratha was tossed between joy and apprehension.

He stood petrified by this spontaneous outburst of loyalty and affection. Recovering composure after some time, Dasaratha gazed upon the assembly and started speaking: “Members of this Assembly! No task is more important to me than acceding to your wishes. I shall, without fail, crown Rama as the Yuvaraja. But, I have some little apprehension too. I want to explain it to you and receive from you consolation on that point. I desire that you should tell me your correct assessment and give me the satisfaction I crave. The fact is while I was about to lay before you the proposal to crown Rama as Yuvaraja, even before I spoke about it, you proclaimed that I must crown him without fail and that he had unbounded capabilities to rule over this realm efficiently and well. Looking this fact in the face, it is obvious that you are a little dissatisfied with my rule, or that some of my laws are against your interests or inclinations. Or, did I exhibit any tendency opposed to Dharma? Are you yearning for the coronation of Rama as Yuvaraja because you doubt my ability to govern you for your good? I invite you to point out my faults or the errors I have committed, fearlessly and fully. I welcome this frank recital”.

At this, one of the people’s leaders rose and replied, “The capacity and intelligence of Rama are beyond description. And, you, 0 King, are equal to the God of Gods; you are like Sankara (Siva), with the same divine compassion and readiness to confer whatever is asked on behalf of the subjects. You are Vishnu in your ability to protect us. We must be awfully vile and wicked if ever we cast aspersions on your rule. Those who do so are atrocious sinners. You have arrived at this resolve, since you are eager to do us good, and you are anxious to make us happy. We obey unquestioningly your command”. At this, Dasaratha turned to the Chief Priest. “0 Greatest among Brahmins! you have heard the expressions of the wishes of the people. Do not delay any further; collect all the materials and ritual requirements for the Coronation Ceremony”, declared Dasaratha, thrilled with the excitement of anticipation. “Erect the enclosures and the platforms that the scriptures prescribe for the component rites, the sacrificial sites and other sacred structures”, he said.

He fell at the feet of the Family Preceptor, Vasishta, requesting him to supervise the process. “Master! All those who can make it will be present; let us not delay, awaiting those who have to come from afar. They can derive equal joy when they hear that Rama has been crowned. Do not suggest, as a reason for postponement, the need to invite the Kekaya ruler or Janaka and wait until they arrive. Grant permission to have the holy rite of Coronation performed as early as possible”, he pleaded and prayed with folded hands.

“Maharaja!” Vasishta responded, “I have got all things ready; we can get going as soon as you want. I have directed that the hundred sacred pots, the tiger skin, the covered sacrificial enclosure with its adjuncts, the materials laid down in the scriptures for the rituals of worship, the herbs and flowers, will all be available by dawn tomorrow. Nor is this all. I have intimated the four wings of the armed forces to be in good trim; and also the elephant, Sathrunjaya, the one which has every auspicious mark that the Sastras lay down, to be caparisoned most magnificently; the White Umbrella of Splendour, the Royal Flag of the Imperial Dynasty will also be ready at the Palace. The auspicious moment too has been selected; it will be tomorrow”. When Vasishta announced the good news the populace was overcome with grateful ecstasy; they leaped in joy.

The roads were scrupulously swept and cleaned; elaborate designs were painted on them and on the walls and buildings facing them; festoons were hung; arches and awnings and shades were erected over the roads; every citizen was busy and happy. The entire city was working fast and excitedly The Brahmins and the leading citizens took leave of Dasaratha and emerged from the Palace, a veritable stream of exhilaration and excited conversation. The ministers and Vasishta proceeded into the Inner halls with the Emperor.

Dasaratha sent for Rama, and meeting him in the Durbar Hall, he explained to him all the ceremonial formalities and rituals connected with the Coronation. He reminded him that he should be ready before sunrise, and described the preliminaries he had to observe. Lakshmana heard the news; he ran towards Kausalya, the mother, to convey the joyful tidings and communicate his exultation. She could not contain her happiness; she just waited for Rama to appear before her. There was very little time before them; so, the entire city was agog [full of intense interest] with excitement. The villages around for miles and even neighbouring states, knew of it pretty soon, for good tidings spread quick and fast. And no one waited for another; no sooner did he hear than he hurried forward to the Capital City. The flow of humanity along all the roads leading to Ayodhya became an uncontrollable surge.

Ramachandra listened to what Dasaratha was detailing to him, but he did not reply; his feelings were beyond words. He could not express what passed in his mind; he stayed silent. So, Dasaratha accosted him; “Son! why is it that I do not see in you any sign of joy at the prospect of your being crowned tomorrow as Yuvaraja? Do you not like to become Yuvaraja? Or, is it a sign of anxiety or fear that we are placing on your head the burden of the State?” In spite of long questioning, and fond appeals, Rama appeared tongue tied before the Emperor. At last, he said, “Father! I do not understand why you are acting in such hurry. My dear brothers, Bharatha and Satrughna, are not here now. Again, grandfather is far away and he may not be able to reach in time. Father-in-law also might not be able to come. And, rulers of other States, Princes, the vassal Kings – they too may find it difficult to attend. My mind is heavy because we are disappointing such large numbers of people. It does not accept the idea of celebration when so many are certain to feel pained”. Pleading pardon for his sentiments, he fell at the feet of Dasaratha.

It was Vasishta who replied. “Rama! These objections were raised even by us; do not think that we quietly acceded to the wish of the Emperor. We thought of all the arguments for and against, and we consulted the opinion of the people before we decided. Do not raise any objection now; respect the wish of the Emperor; the Coronation and the anointment have to take place tomorrow itself. You have to observe certain vows; this day you should not use a cot or a soft bed. You and Sita have to be on fast. As soon as day breaks, you must both take bath, after applying sacred oil on the head; for, the auspicious star Pushya which has been selected for the holy rite rises at that time. So, retire into your residence now, without demur”.

As soon as the Preceptor finished, Rama fell at the feet of his father and of Vasishta and proceeded to his palace, accompanied by Sumanthra, the trusted Minister. He had no hesitation this time. He conveyed the news to Sita, and thence moved on fast to the apartments of his mother. He prostrated before her; she raised him tenderly, and fondled him affectionately, overwhelmed with joy; she directed him to give away to Brahmins, as a mark of thanksgiving, cows which she had collected for the purpose and which she had decorated with costly ornaments. She made Rama give away many other varieties of gifts to others. Lakshmana and his mother were there, at that time. Kausalya had Rama seated by her side and wiping the tears of joy that flowed freely she said, “Son! I had long awaited this precious moment; my yearning is now fulfilled. I am happy; my life is rendered worthwhile. 0 dearest jewel! My golden son! From tomorrow, you are the Yuvaraja! Live long, rule over the empire, let the welfare of the people be ever your ideal; may your rule be happy and secure, in accordance with the dictates of justice and morality; accumulate untarnished fame and maintain the reputation and glory earned by the kings of this line; attain might and majesty more than even your father. The day you achieve that position, I would feel that my life has attained fruition; my vows, fasts and vigils would have then borne fruit”.

Kausalya, the mother, caressed Rama, stroked the curls of his hair and spoke sweet words of benediction. She gave him very valuable counsel, to which Rama paid meticulous attention. Rama chuckled at Lakshmana and teased him in innocent fun. “Brother! Can you tell me which Rajyalakshmi will be delighted at this lovely taunt?” He reported, “Brother! I need no Rajyalakshmi to wed me. In your kingdom itself, if you assign any responsibility, I shall fulfil it; that is enough fortune for me”. With that, he prostrated at Rama’s feet!

Rama said, “Lakshmana! You are my breath. So, half the responsibility in governance is yours. So, you too should get ready, with me, wearing jewels and regal robes. You have a half share in my burdens, and in my happiness, my fame and fortune. You have a half share in all that I am and will”.

While Rama was speaking thus, Sumitra was shedding tears, and showering blessings on both Rama and Lakshmana. She said, “Rama! The love that subsists between you and Lakshmana gives me great happiness. My son needs no higher status than being your servant. If he is able to have for ever your love and affection, that is enough for him”. When she finished, Rama fell at the feet of the mother and rose. Lakshmana too did the same and accompanied Rama to his palace, when he moved towards it. The vow of ritual fast was begun by Rama at nightfall. He lay upon a mat made of the sacred kusa grass.

[For further reading, see also Srimad Ramayana, Vol. one, Canto 2: Rama’s Inauguration Debated and Canto 3: Settling Lord Rama’s Inauguration]

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Chapter 10(a)

The Two Boons

Vedic hymns echoed everywhere. For the ceremonial bath of Rama and Sita, the holy water of the Sarayu river was brought in pots of gold by attendants. Pundits recited hymns calling down benediction on them; the recitation was most heartening and pleasant to the ear.

While Manthara, the maid of Kaikeyi, was returning the previous night, she witnessed the excitement of the populace and asked some one the reason. She came to know about the imminent Coronation of Ramachandra, which was the cause of all the joy and exultation. She also saw the maids of the Palaces of Kausalya and Sumitra dressed in jasmine-white saris and bedecked in costly jewels, hurrying hither and thither. She could not bear the sight any longer. She had creeps all over her body like scorpion-stings in plenty. She ran towards the palace of Kaikeyi, and finding that the queen had already retired into the inner apartments, she neared the door and shrieked, “Mother! Mother! Open the door! A very urgent matter, now! Your life itself in mortal danger! An earthquake is afoot”. Hearing her excited announcement in words that rolled one over the other, the Queen hastily opened the door and inquired in fear, “Why? What has happened? What is the calamity? Has anything caved in? Why all this anxiety and pain?” “No, nothing of mine is destroyed. Your life is being destroyed, that is all. You have to live hence-forward as a crazy care-worn woman”, Manthara said. All in tears, she elaborated the pitiable state that awaited the queen and with many a gesture and groan, she lamented, loud and long.

Kaikeyi could not make out why. “The Maharaja is quite well, isn’t he? And, Rama, Lakshmana? Kausalya? Sumitra? There is nothing the matter with them? Well! If these are quite well, and no danger threatens them, I am not worried at all. What can happen to me? Has any danger come to them, tell me, Manthara! Tell me soon!’, the Queen insisted. She turned the maid’s head towards her, held her chin in endearing appeal and pleaded for an answer.

Manthara replied, “Nothing evil has happened to those whom you mention! But, they have decided …… to wring the neck of your son!”, and she broke into a pathetic wail. At this, Kaikeyi retorted, “You are committing a mistake, Manthara! The Maharaja is not such a person; nor is Rama, or Lakshmana, or my sisters, Kausalya and Sumitra! These my sisters love my son even more than their own sons. Your statement reveals your warped mind, that is all. It is not the truth! Well, you have not told me yet what the matter really is; come on, tell me the full story.”

Manthara answered, “Matter? At dawn tomorrow, Ramachandra is to be crowned Yuvaraja! The Senior Queen, her mind full of unrestrained joy, is giving away costly silk saris and jewels to her maids. She is asking Rama to give away gold and cows in plenty. Engaged in all these activities of celebration, they are neglecting you! I cannot bear this in silence. I cannot tolerate it. You are unable yet to understand the implications. You revel in the empty boast that there is none so fortunate. Your fortune is drying up fast. For your husband and co-wives, you have become a neglectable person. Before long, you will be reduced to the despicable status of a maid. Be advised to be a little alert, ere that humiliation overtakes you. Awake from sleep; plan your course of action with full awareness of the consequences. Decide upon the means by which you can escape from the calamity that yawns before you; it is approaching you fast.

“When Rama becomes Yuvaraja, the entire empire will be held in the grasp of Kausalya, remember! Just as every one else, you too will have to dance to her tune.” Manthara was acting her role and shedding false tears to reinforce her wily stratagem.

Kaikeyi was impressed by her loyalty, but she was not convinced of the rightness of her arguments. She said, “Manthara! What has happened to you? Have you become insane? Why do you talk like mad! Rama becoming the Yuvaraja is the happiest augury for the entire empire. Here, take this necklace of mine, as a reward, a gift, for bringing me this great good news first! Be happy, be full of joy! The coronation of Rama as Yuvaraja gives me even more joy than perhaps to Kausalya. My joy at this good news is boundless. Ramachandra too loves me more than he does even his mother, He reveres me more. I will not listen to such imputations against such a pure, loving person. You seem to have lost your wits; your reason has taken leave of you.” Kaikeyi reprimanded Manthara sharply.

Manthara became even more demonstratively aggrieved. She got more excited and clamorous. “My reason is clear and fresh; it is yours that has suffered!” she ejaculated. “You are not concerned about the evil rate that awaits you. You hug blindly your old faith and fond attachment. I am anxious and worried for the sake of your happiness and self-respect. The others are all play-acting and pretending, just to deceive you. They have no respect for you in their hearts. The Maharaja has no love towards his other Queens: he is enamoured only of the Senior Queen, Kausalya. Just to please you, he might use endearing words now and then, that is all; but, he has no love in his heart towards you. Consider this. These people did not inform you; they did not consult you about this proposal, for they have no regard or respect for you. Have they spoken to you about it even once, on one single day? Consider how many months they usually deliberate and plan in order to come to such a decision. You cannot have a Coronation so suddenly; it doesn’t drop from the sky one fine day on its own ….. can it? But, they have decided silently and secretly.”

“The whole thing is the intrigue of Kausalya” asserted Manthara. Kaikeyi could not suffer it any longer. She burst out: “Stop that stuff, Manthara! My sister is incapable of intrigue; she will never descend so low. It can never be. And, the Maharaja? He is much nobler, more righteous than even my sisters! You cannot find in him a trace of subterfuge or meanness. They must have resolved upon the Coronation quickly, for good reason. The wedding celebrations of Rama which would have involved months of preparation took place at short notice, didn’t they? So too, the Coronation of Rama might have been decided at short notice; why should it not be? The Maharaja himself will reveal to me the special reason that induced him to arrange it so. You have not cared to know the truth; you have conjured up all kinds of absurd reasons and baseless fears and cast doubts on the motives of innocent persons! In a few minutes, things will be clarified; have patience.” Kaikeyi admonished the maid severely.

Manthara feared that her stratagem will fail ignominiously. So, she stooped to even worse tactics of persuasion. “Dear Mother! Ponder over the matter a little more deeply; I have listened to many things while moving about, outside the palace. In fact, this Coronation affair has been decided upon, months ago. That is the reason why Bharatha and Satrughna were packed out of the capital. They were apprehending that their presence here will cause complications. And, there must be good ground for such fears; or else, who will arrange for the Coronation when they are away? Have you become incapable of asking yourself this simple question? Formerly, when you were accepted in marriage, Dasaratha had promised and given his plighted word that the son born of you will be crowned king of this realm; you might forget it, but I refuse to. It is the fear that the presence of Bharatha here at the present juncture might rouse the memory of that promise and prove an obstacle to their plan, which made them keep Bharatha out of the way, by sending him to his grandfather’s place. When once the Coronation is accomplished, nothing can be done to reverse it. To promote this mean trick, they kept the idea secret and kept it from you so long; think about this for a while, the inner design. You do not spend any thought on such matters; you believe ‘all that is white is milk!’ Your foolishness and innocence are taken advantage of by others. You simply exult in your love for Rama and recite ‘Rama, Rama,’ in your infatuation. Well, leave everything else aside! Did that Rama, whom you love so greatly, did he at least inform you of this great good fortune happening to him?”

The crooked-minded Manthara used many a specious and cunning argument to cloud and poison the pure unselfish mind of Kaikeyi.

She said, “Mother, who is there in this City of Ayodhya willing to pay some little regard to us? Who treats you here as worthy of count? They are all one, united against you. You are a stranger here. They might even throw you out of Ayodhya shortly; they will not desist from even such meanness. The Emperor is a crafty trickster, a clever juggler; when he approaches you, he speaks soft endearment to satisfy his whims; and then he departs triumphant! You do not realize the fault in you which is preventing you from attaining the high status you deserve. Mother! You may remember, the kings are ever ruled by lust, and not by love. Your father knew this fact, and so he did not agree to give you in marriage to this aged suitor. After prolonged negotiations and confabulations, through the intercession of sage Garga, when it was decided that you be given in marriage, the suitor was compelled to agree to many conditions.

“This day, those agreements have been cast into flames; and your son has been cheated; all the while, they are quietly playing their merry drama! Else, why should they take advantage of this chance, of your son being away? Why should they be in such hurry that no ruler can attend the Coronation from any State beyond the bounds of the empire? Consider how their low mentality reveals itself! How full of mischief and deceit are they!

“When neighbouring Rulers are invited, your father will certainly not miss the opportunity to attend. Naturally, he will bring to the notice of all the promise made to him. So, the plan is to get through the Coronation without informing anyone, and once that is over, they know, nothing can be done to undo it. This conspiracy is hatched by the wily with this objective; so, be warned in time. Once this moment is missed, your fate will be as contemptible as that of a dog. Therefore, do not delay; ponder deeply; decide upon some method of preventing the Coronation from taking place”. Manthara fanned the flames of anger and hatred. Kaikeyi succumbed to her machinations, at last! She said, “Hearing your words I feel that each statement is more convincing than the previous one! Yes, indeed! This is no matter that can wait. What has to be done next? If you can indicate the step I have to take, I shall put it into action”.

When Kaikeyi gave this clear sign of having been won over by her wiles, Manthara was overwhelmed with pride and joy. She spoke with greater assurance now. “Mother! There is no need to spend further thought. The arguments that can support your demand are ready and strong. That day, when the Emperor thankfully accepted your timely help, did he not offer you two boons, any two you might demand of him? And, did you not tell him that since you had no need then for anything, you would reserve the gift and ask for the two boons when the need arose? This day, these two will serve a thousand purposes! You can demand that he grant them now, can’t you?” When Manthara spoke thus, plainly and emphatically, Kaikeyi raised her head as if she was startled, and said, “O Manthara, how clever you are! Though in appearance you are an ugly hunchback, in resourcefulness and intelligence, you are extremely charming. Though wanting in beauty of body, you make up by being an expert in intellectual attainments. Tell me how I am to secure these two boons, and what those boons are to be.”

Manthara replied, “Mother! One boon shall be that your son shall be crowned Yuvaraja. The second can well be that Rama shall not stay in the empire”. Listening to her suggestions, given on the spot, without a moment’s thought, Kaikeyi fell into a trough of reflection; she said, after recovering herself, “Manthara! It may be a just demand that my son should be crowned, but my mind will not agree to send Rama out of the kingdom. I am pained at the very thought”. With that, she dropped into a seat. Manthara saw that she must act quick. “Mother! This is no occasion for sentimental qualms. Procrastination turns even ambrosia into poison. You have to be a little firm or else, we cannot succeed in our plan. For the cruel wrong done by them this is no adequate reprisal. If you desire that your son must rule as King and that you should have the status of the Queen-Mother, then, act this way; or, I shall end my life by taking poison. I cannot bear to see you suffer while I am alive”. Manthara wept aloud, as if she was carried away by intense love and attachment towards Kaikeyi.

She was the nurse who brought up Kaikeyi from childhood; she had petted her, played with her and fondled her, all these years. Towards Manthara, Kaikeyi had great affection and regard; she raised no further objection; she started to calm her sorrow instead. “Manthara! Rest assured! I shall, without fail, act in such a way that you are pleased. Tell me how shall I act now?” she said.

Manthara replied, “When I suggested you should ask that Rama be sent into exile into the forests beyond the realm, do not imagine, I had not weighed the consequences. I did it only after due deliberation”. Since Kaikeyi was a child in political affairs and legal lore, she said. “The law declares that unhampered possession and enjoyment of usufruct for twelve continuous years give the person ownership of the property. So, it is better to fix a length of years for the exile, say, fourteen years; when he returns after that period, he cannot claim the kingdom; it becomes the unquestioned property of your son”. Manthara noticed that the Queen had accepted the proposal to ask for the two promised boons in the form suggested by her. So, she said, “Mother! Don’t delay further! If you beg him for the boons, just as you are now, the Emperor will not be persuaded to yield. You must work up a wave of rage; scatter the pillows and sheets in your bedroom; throw off your jewels into the corners; loosen the hair and make it wild and disheveled; act as if you have resolved to give up your life! Go and lie down on the floor of the Hall of Anger, the room where queens who are overcome by anger and grief retire, so that they may be discovered and consoled. You cannot just go to him as you are and straight away ask for the boons. Pretend that you are in desperate agony and that only the grant of the boons can save you from death. Then only will your demand be worthy of consideration and acceptance. Rise! Take the first step for the work ahead!”

When Manthara pressed her, Kaikeyi yielded to her persuasion, and after carrying out her directions, she entered the Anger Hall and lamented her fate and the impending calamity. And, Manthara flopped on the floor outside the door of that Hall, after drawing the doors together, as if she was unaware of what was causing all the furore inside.

Meanwhile, the Emperor has finished making all arrangements for the Coronation Ceremony, and when he emerged from the Durbar Hall, he felt that, instead of proceeding to the apartments of Kausalya, he should communicate the happy tidings to Kaikeyi first; so, he hurried towards her palace. The maids who stood at attention all along the passage appeared upset with anxiety; the Emperor argued within himself that they had not heard the good news; for, it would have lit up their faces! He pitied them that they did not know that Rama was to be crowned the next day! He directed his steps to the bedroom where he expected the Queen to be.

There his eyes fell on the scattered jewels, the unkept bed, the heaps on the floor and the general state of untidiness and distraction. He was surprised at all this and searched for the Queen in the room peeping into the corners. A maid-in-waiting announced, “Maharaja! Her Highness Kaikeyi Devi is now in the Hall of Anger”. Hearing this, he was gravely upset; he turned his steps in that direction. Kaikeyi was sprawling on the floor, in the blinding darkness of the room, wailing and weeping. He said, “Kaika! What ugly scene is this! Why are you so angry? Who caused you so much sorrow? Tell me, I shall kill them this very moment; I shall confer joy on you. You have only to tell me what you desire; I am ever ready to fulfil you wish. Your joy is my joy. Don’t you know that I have nothing in this world higher and dearer than you? Come, do not test me further”. The Emperor sat by her side, and, caressing her head, he consoled her in various ways, and questioned her about the reason for her anger and grief.

Kaikeyi was in a fit of rage; she gnashed her teeth noisily; she threw aside the hands of the Emperor when he tried to fondle her. She said angrily: “Enough of this false pretence! I put faith in you so long, and this is the degradation I have brought on myself! I do not trust you any more. I could not believe that you are capable of this hypocritical game. Is this the punishment for putting faith in you? Go, go to your favourites; why sit here by my side? You mortgage your mind in one place and your tongue in another. Give your tongue to the place where you have given your mind. I am not in a mood hereafter to place faith in your words. Do not inflict more sorrow on me, but, go back the way you came. What do you care what happens to me? Better to die as a queen than drag on as a slave! This day is the last day of my life.”

These wailings heard between her sobs and sighs conveyed no meaning to Dasaratha. He was utterly confused, and struck with amazement. He moved nearer the Queen and tried to console her and assuage her anger. “Kaika!”, began he, “What do these words mean! I do not understand. I never use false hypocritical words, nor can I ever use them. My mind and my tongue act in unison; they will ever be the same; where my love is, there my sweet expressions will be. My tongue will not falsify my mind; it is impossible for it so to behave. I do not know how it has happened, how you have not been able to know me and my sincerity in spite of the lapse of many years. Without telling me plainly what has actually happened to give you so much grief and pain, do not torture me like this. Tell me what has happened, why are you behaving like this? What has caused you this agony?”

Dasaratha pleaded piteously for a long time, but with no effect! The Queen only retorted sharply, brushed aside with effrontery, ridiculed sarcastically and turned a deaf ear to the importunities of the Emperor. She pretended as if she treated his words as of no worth. Dasaratha was wounded very deep in his heart. Not knowing what to do, he called Manthara in. She rushed in, play-acting her conspiratorial role, shrieking for help for the queen, her mistress. “O King! Save my mother!” she cried and clasped the feet of the Emperor.

The Emperor was really the embodiment of innocence; he had no trace of duplicity in him. So, he could not see through the drama they were enacting. He feared that some calamity must have happened to make his beloved so perverse and stern. So, he asked Manthara again to tell him what exactly had taken place. Manthara said, “Maharaja! What can I tell you? I am not aware of the least bit of what happened. Mother does not divulge the reason for her anger to any one. All of a sudden, she hastened from the bedroom into this Hall of Anger. Noticing this, I came hither. I prayed and pleaded in various ways, but she does not disclose the reason. She does not confide even in you; will she then reveal it to poor me? We see her suffering and in agony; it is unbearable; we cannot simply look on any longer! We are afraid of what might happen to her, and so, we have been waiting for your arrival. Unless you comfort her and bring joy into her mind, her condition might become critical. She has suffered too deep and too long. Her condition is growing worse every moment. We will retire now.”

Manthara left the Hall with the other maids, saying: “Please find out from her the reason for her grief and anger and pacify her soon by appropriate remedies”. Manthara only added to the mystery, and Dasaratha was even more confused by her statements; he sat by the side of the disconsolate Queen, and said, “Kaika! Why do you keep me in the dark?” He gently lifted the head of the Queen from the bare floor and placed it on his lap, and sought to persuade her to reveal to him the reason for her inconsolable suffering. After some time, Kaika shook off her silence, and began to speak. “Maharaja! You haven’t forgotten, have you, the two boons you promised to confer on me, that day, during the battle between the Devas and the Asuras?” Dasaratha was relieved. He said, “Kaika! Why have you put yourselves into all this temper and pain for the sake of this simple thing? I will not forget the promise of the two boons so long as there is life in me. That promise is as dear to me as Kaika herself; you are the breath of my life, and the promise too is as the breath.

“Queen! Has any one harmed you? Or, is your health affected adversely? Or has any wicked person dared act against your will? Speak! For your sake, I shall face even mortal injury, and punish them so that happiness may be restored to you. Do not doubt me. O, Embodiment of Charm! Why do you suffer thus? Are you unaware that the entire Empire is at your beck and call? Whatever you wish to have, from any region, you have only to tell me, I shall secure them for you and bring you joy. Inform me, what is it that you fear, what has brought this sorrow; do not withhold any thing, or hesitate to speak out! As the sun scatters the mist, I shall shatter the grief that smothers you”. Dasaratha fondled and flattered the Queen, and tried various means of consoling her and restoring her spirits.

Kaikeyi kept in her mind the advice that Manthara had given her; she resolved that she must secure from her husband a promise on oath, before revealing her bitter wishes to him. To induce it out of him, she displayed exaggerated and seductive love, and wiped the tears from her eyes; she held firm the hands of the King, so pitiably enslaved by her enchantments and so greatly enamoured of her charms. She said, “Lord! I have no resentment against any one, nor has any one done me any harm or dealt me any insult. I have no craving for anything from any distant region of the earth. But, I have a long-nourished desire, I must admit. If you swear on oath that you will fulfil it, I shall tell you what it is”. She enticed him with a smile playing on her face; Dasaratha too smiled in response, and sliding a little towards her, said, “O, you foolish Queen! For this one simple affair, why was it necessary for you to put on so much of temper, and cause so much of anxiety and anguish? Hear this: Among women, you are most dear to me; and, among men, Rama is most dear to me. You are both my very breath. You know this well, don’t you? I cannot survive a single day without feasting my eyes on you and him. Therefore, I swear on Rama himself. Tell me what your wish is; I shall fulfil it without fail”. When he declared thus on oath, with both her hands in his, Kaikeyi was overwhelmed with joy! She rose and sat up; she demonstrated even more love towards him for she was glad he had changed into a well-wisher of hers.

She asked, “O King! You have sworn on Rama; he is the witness to the oath; is this genuine?” and, she made her position doubly secure, saying, “Lord! You are a Votary of Truth! You are the Highest among the Righteous! You are endowed with sovereign Might and Majesty! You must have in your memory the war between the Gods and the Demons; yet, let me remind you of that exploit once again. That day, when the Demon Sambara slaughtered all before him, you struggled desperately to defeat him. Had I not guarded you and nursed you into life, keeping myself vigilant and alert, you know what would have happened to you. You appreciated my devoted sacrifice and declared, ‘Kaika! you rescued me from death itself. What can I give you in return! Whatever it may be, ask me two boons; I shall fulfil them, and repay the debt I owe you, the gratitude I have to evince.’ You desired that I should name the boons you offered to grant. But I felt then that your coming back to life was itself the most precious boon for me, and so, I replied, ‘Lord! I have no boon to ask from you now; I shall present my request for them some time later; Keep them with you in reserve for me,’ I pleaded with you. You were elated at my attitude and expressed your admiration! You said you liked my renunciation, and declared that the boons will be kept on trust, so long as life lasts, and can be drawn upon with no objections raised. All this must be fresh in your consciousness, aren’t they? You are the monarch of the earth. You are faithful to the plighted word. Therefore, give me now the two boons of mine that you kept in abeyance on my behalf. Make me happy thereby. I do not demand any new boon from you. I ask only for what are really mine. I need not remind you; you know very well that it is a heinous sin to refuse to give back riches placed in trust in one’s hands for safe custody. If you say now that you cannot grant them, you will be injuring me, with that breach of faith. I cannot bear the disappointment; rather than live with that sense of defeat, I consider getting rid of life is more honourable. When the husband does not honour the word given to the wife, how can the wishes of the people in the kingdom be realized? An Emperor who stoops to deceiving his wife, making her believe him and then acting against that belief, does not deserve the position of protector of his subjects, does he? You know that the lawgiver sage Manu has laid down that such ungrateful prevaricators should not be treated as monarchs. Why should I dilate further on this point and repeat a thousand arguments? In case my boons are not granted this day, Kaikeyi will not be alive at dawn”.

Announcing thus, she burst into loud weeping and wailing. Dasaratha was rendered helpless and weak by her histrionics; like an innocent deer that is drawn into the net spread for his capture by the imitative cries of the hunter, Dasaratha overcome by cooings of love and drawn by the entrancing gestures of the Queen fell into the trap, like an insane ineffective man. He vowed solemnly “I shall certainly give you the two boons,” holding her palms tightly in his.

No sooner were those words uttered than the eyes of Kaikeyi bloomed wide and bright. She watched the face of Dasaratha intently for some time, and said, “O King! This day I have realized how good you are! This day, you have proved the genuineness of your claim that you will never break a promise once made”. She started extolling Dasaratha in this and other ways. The love-lorn Emperor was highly elated by her praise; he urged her on, with the prompting, “Kaika: Why do you delay further? Ask! Ask for the boons!” Kaikeyi hesitated; she stuttered: “With the arrangements made for the Coronation of Rama, perform the coronation of Bharata, my son: this is the first boon I demand! Next, Rama, wearing matted hair and deerskin, and dressed in tree-bark raiment, shall go into the Dandaka forest and remain there for fourteen years, as a forest-dweller; this is the second boon I ask for. Bharata must become the Heir-Apparent, with no one obstructing his path. Rama must be sent out into the jungle before my very eyes. Grant these two boons and maintain the honour and dignity of your line untarnished; or else, assent to the extinction of Kaikeyi’s life this very moment”. Thus declaring, she stood up and stared wildly in a determined stance, like a demoness.

[For further reading, see also Srimad Ramayana, Vol. one, Canto 7: Manthara Afraid and Canto 8: The Estrangement of Kaikey]

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Chapter 10(b)

The Two Boons

The Emperor was crushed by the cruel bolts that rained on him. Was it a dream! Could it be true! Was it Kaikeyi who asked for these boons? Or, was it a blood-thirsty monster? Could it be a terrible hallucination of his? Was it a vile trick played by some horrid illness? He could not gauge! So, he cried, “Kaika! Is it you, there? Or is it some ogress who has assumed your form? Tell me first who you are”. Like a person who has lost control of his limbs, he tottered unable to mouth the words he wished to speak. He rolled listlessly from side to side like mad, his eyes looking wildly all around. Suddenly, sparks flew from his eyes as he gazed at Kaikeyi. He exclaimed in terrible anger, “Vile woman! What exactly is your aim? Is it to uproot the entire royal line? What injury has my dear son Rama done to you? He loves you even more than he does his own mother. How could your heart agree to send my Rama into thick dark jungle? It took you so long to be a Princess; now, I find you are a venomous cobra; I allowed you to infest my home, out of sheer ignorance. How could such a sinful idea enter your head, when Rama, the very breath of my life, is being acclaimed by every being that breathes? If imperative, I am prepared to give up the empire or even my life; but, I cannot give up Rama; no. You crave that your son be hailed as Emperor. Well; have him so. I shall hie to the forest, with Kausalya, Sumitra and others, taking my Rama with me. But, I can never send Rama alone into the jungle. That is impossible. Give up this atrociously sinful desire. Give up the hatred of Rama that you have cultivated. Kaika! Tell me frankly do you really desire that these things take place? Or, is all this merely a stratagem to find out whether I have affection towards your son, Bharata? If so, you can ask that Bharata be crowned Yuvaraja; but there is no meaning in asking that Rama be exiled into the forest. Such a desire should not be entertained or expressed lightly. Kaika! Rama is the first-born son. He is the repository of all virtues. The years of his reign will be most glorious; you have told me often that you are looking forward to the time when such golden dreams will come true. And, now you want that this self-same Rama should be sent into the forest! What is the deeper meaning of this request? Are you joking with me? If it is all a joke, why this scene in the Hall of Anger? Why this rolling on the hard stone floor? Jokes too have limits beyond which they become pitifully cruel. I cannot entertain the idea, even as a joke. No. I can never be separated from Rama. Kaika! You have been behaving like an intelligent woman all these years. But now, your intelligence has become crooked and wicked. Such perversions are always harbingers of self-destruction. It is a heinous sin to injure the good. Of course, the good will not be affected by these tactics; the stratagems of the wicked will only promote the fame and glory of the good. They might appear hard to bear, only for some little time”.

“Your wicked plans appear to me to be fraught with disaster to the Ikshvaku dynasty itself. For, until this moment, you have never spoken an unpleasant word or thought of an inauspicious act. I find it impossible to believe that it is the same one who is asking me such things today! Kaika! you were all along afraid of transgressing the Codes of moral law; you were anxious to win the Grace of God by means of each little thought, word and deed. Where has that fear of unrighteousness gone now? What have you done with that devotion to God that kept you on the path of righteousness?”

“What is the gain you look for when you want Rama to be sent to the forest for fourteen years? His body is soft and tender, like the petal of a freshly blossomed flower; he is most charming to behold. Rama is so enticingly beautiful. Of what profit is it for you if he suffers unbearable pangs of pain in the forest? In this palace, there are many thousand attendants and maids. Can any one of them point a finger at him and say, that he is faulty in any respect? Well. Leave alone our palace. Can you bring from the capital city any single person, can you name anyone who blames Rama? He has discovered many in misery and relieved them with gifts and riches; he has shown great consideration for them. He has noticed many that are homeless and provided them with houses. By his love and care, he has won the affection of all people. That you should harbour hate against such a lovable son strikes me dumb; I cannot find words to describe your devilish cruelty.”

“There are many who exploit their own subjects, and act only to foster their own selfish interests; such demons are appearing in good numbers today. But, in your eyes, due perhaps to the age, or your own past sins, persons who assuage the wrongs done to the poor and the distressed and foster their advancement, those who directly inquire into their difficulties and problems and afford relief, such good men appear bad, deserving exile and punishment!”

“Every one in this empire relishes listening to the virtues of Rama and takes great delight in recounting his goodness. While they feel exhausted in the fields, farmers and labourers sing songs on Rama and his charms, to make their tasks lighter; when I came to know of this, I was filled with joy. How can your heart agree to inflict on such a compassionate soul this excruciating sentence? This very evening, when I placed before a gathering of sages, elders, ministers, leading citizens, scholars and many experts in statecraft, the proposal for the Coronation of Rama, no one raised a note of dissatisfaction or dissent. On the other hand, they praised Rama in countless ways, and declared that it was the fruit of the merit that they had accumulated in many past lives that they could now secure as Heir-apparent and lord a spiritual hero who had mastered his senses, an embodiment of selfless activity, intelligent detachment and unflinching loyalty to Truth; they indicated their joy by continuous Jay Jays. Is this treasure of my love, this favourite of my people, whom you seek to send into the forest? Whatever you may say, this is certain. I will not send my Rama into the forest. And listen to this also. The coronation of Rama shall take place tomorrow; it cannot be cancelled”. Dasaratha announced this, in an outburst of pride and courage.

At this, Kaikeyi assumed a terrific mien and retorted: “Maharaja! Remember, a few moments ago, you vowed under many oaths that you will grant me the boons I ask. And, now you are going back on your word. Now, who is dragging the glory of the Ikshvaku Line in the dust, you or me? Ponder over this. It is the pride of the Ikshvaku Line that no one of that dynasty shall go back on his word once it is given. You are now soiling that fair fame. Without weighing the pros and cons, you promised to grant without fail the boons I wanted. The mistake, if any, is yours, not mine. You gave me the boons; then, you promised to grant them today. You are the very person who gave your word twice. Consider your honour, your status, your dignity, when you deny the very words you spoke then and now.”

“It may be common usage for rulers to injure and insult the weak, and act contrary to promises solemnly made. But, it cannot promote self-respect. Those who break their promises and cheat women are savages, not sovereigns. When rulers slide into this savagery, the subjects will naturally resent and revolt; the kingdom will fast become demon-dom!”

“All these years, you have striven to acquire honour and renown; and you have won them to a large extent. Now the infamy of breaking the plighted word is on your head, not on mine. Recollect the careers of the kings of old. Take good care that you do not act counter to your vows and oaths. Ponder well. You are proceeding along a path that is atrociously bad! Beware! You are moving against the dictates of Dharma. Well. Were you as intelligent as you are reputed to be, you should have first ascertained fully the nature of the boons I wanted before you gave the promise. You did not look before and after; you were enchanted by my words and you gave word that they shall be granted. And now, you blame me when I ask you to fulfill that promise! Consider how seriously you are mistaken in this! How foolish you proclaim yourself to be! You accuse me for having given up my fear of the unrighteous act, my devotion to the Divine, and my courting this reprehensible cruelty. But, what about you? You are acclaimed as Dharmavratha (a strict adherent of the vow to be righteous in word, thought and deed), and Daiva-samaana (equal to a God); what name can you claim now when you are going back on your oath? Pronounce judgement on yourself. The cleverness that dives and discovers the faults of those before you isn’t commendable; if one dives into one’s own faults and failings and is vigilant that they do not lead him astray into wrong and sin, that way of using of intelligence is commendable. Kings and rulers are highly intelligent; they are taken to be all-knowing. If such as you do not benefit by self-examination, but are concerned only with selfish interests, what right have you to blame us as selfish and narrow-minded? You granted the boons; it is a fact. You took an oath; it is a fact. You broke the oath; you went back on the given word, it is a fact. Reflect within yourself whether these three are true or not. You are deluded by attachment to the son; you were enslaved by fondness for the wife. So, you dump your promise into the waters! I am not the culprit; it is you who have done wrong. For, it is natural for a mother to be attached to her son. Every woman who is a mother will yearn that her son must rise to a position of the highest authority, that of the Monarch of the Realm. It is the prompting of Nature. It is her bounden duty to see that her plan is unassailed by others; it is only natural that she plans in advance to counteract all possible assailments. I am only carrying out my natural duties and responsibilities, remember; there is nothing unnatural or wrong in my conduct.”

“When Rama is crowned as Heir-Apparent, his mother Kausalya, will become the Rajamatha, the Queen-Mother. My son will stand with folded arms, awaiting the command of Rama, ready to run errands for him. He will fall at the feet of Rama, while reporting to him about the task he has accomplished for him; maybe, he will be reprimanded. No; I cannot be a witness to such scenes; I will be so humiliated that I cannot live a day longer. Better far to drink poison now and die than look on at the shameful condition of my son. I am declaring this, as a solemn oath, taken in the name of my son Bharatha, whom I value as much as my breath. I shall not be satisfied with anything less than exiling Rama to the forest.”

With these agonizingly harsh words, Kaikeyi fell on the floor, and started sobbing and groaning in a fit of heartrending sorrow.

Dasaratha beat his head in despair. He said, “Kaika! Has anyone advised you that this calamity will benefit you? Or, has some evil spirit possessed you, and forced you to utter these desires? What is this absurdity, this ridiculous madness, sending Rama into the forest and crowning Bharatha? Why not wish well for me, your husband, for Bharatha, your son, and this Kingdom of Ayodhya? Give up this desire fraught with certain calamity. Think deeply over the consequences. Or else, you and I, and your son, all three, will become targets for the direst infamy. It will not end with that. The entire kingdom will be ruined, and many more tragedies are bound to take place. Mean, degraded woman! Can we ever believe that Bharatha will agree to get himself crowned, even if I now accept your request and promise to do so? Bharatha is a true adherent of Dharma; he is intelligent and a model of rectitude. He will not agree either to exiling Rama into the forest or to himself becoming the Heir-Apparent. Not he alone, but, the Ministers, the Courtiers, the Vassals, the Allies, the Sages, the Commons, the Citizens – every one will oppose your desire. How can you be happy when so many are unhappy?”

“Consider the situation you are responsible for! The elders and sages endorsed it; they were all of one mind. This evening, at the Grand Assembly of Citizens, I announced that I shall celebrate the Coronation of Rama. If I act counter to that Announcement, I will be counted as a coward who runs back from the battlefield at the sight of the enemy. All arrangements have been completed for the Coronation. All have been informed about the Festival. The people have started preparing the City for the Celebration; the streets are already packed with happy throngs, with faces shining in expectant joy. At this moment, if I send Rama into the forest, will not the people laugh at me, saying, ‘What! This man has finished three chapters – the Coronation, the Rulership of the Realm and the Exile – all in one single night!’ In what manner can I explain my action to them, after what I had publicly declared in the midst of the mammoth gathering of the populace? How harshly the people will blame me, feeling that their king is such a big fool. I ruled over them all these long years and won their applause as a consistent adherent of Dharma, as an embodiment of high virtues and as a redoubtable hero, brave and full of courage. But now, how can I bear the dishonour of being talked about as a fool, who plunged into this low level of conduct?”

Dasaratha spoke in this strain, reminding her of the hard blow that his fair name and unblemished fame will receive if he acts according to her desire. Nevertheless, Kaikeyi transformed herself into a Demoness of Destruction, and brushed aside Dasaratha’s importunities, as if they were empty words and she did not attach any value to them. She refused to yield or loosen her hold. On the other hand, her grip became tighter every moment, her greed more deep-rooted. She spoke quite contrary to the appeals of the Maharaja and insisted on reminding him only of the promise from which he threatened to resile. So, Dasaratha said, “Kaika! If it happens that Rama goes to the forest, I will not be able to live a moment longer. And, I need not tell you what will happen to Kausalya. She will draw her last breath that very moment. And, Sita? She will be mortally shocked; she cannot live even for a second away from Rama. Will the people look upon all this with equanimity? When the great hero, the paragon of wisdom, Rama, is being sent as an exile into the forest, can Lakshmana keep quiet? Why detail a thousand things? The very next moment, Lakshmana will cast off his body. This is the bare truth. Thus, our Kingdom will have to suffer all these catastrophes and calamities. You too are aware of this string of tragedies; but, I cannot understand why you are attempting, with eyes open, to win a widow’s role? O, wicked, vile soul! I was deceived by your charms; it was like cutting one’s own throat while charmed by a sword of gold. I drank the cup of milk, unaware that it had poison in it. You cheated me, with many a winsome trick. At last, you have planned to consign to the dust my dynasty itself. Shame on me! What a fool I am! I secured this son, after performing a scriptural Yaga (Sacrifice); Divine Grace gave Him unto me. Am I to barter away his fortune and his future for the paltry pleasure a women gave me? Is this worthy of His Majesty Emperor Dasaratha? Will not the meanest being in my kingdom hurl stones at me, in derision? Alas! Is this to be the fate of Dasaratha in his last days? I clasped a thing round my own neck, not realizing that it was a rope that strangles. I never knew that it was the Deity of Death with whom I dallied and diverted myself so long. Alas! I flirted with Death and fondled it on my breast. I treated her as my favourite, comrade and companion. It is surely the weight of my sins recoiling on me now. Or else, was there anywhere, at any time, a father, who, for the sake of a woman’s bed drives his son into the fearful forest, as an exile?”

“Ah! What strange behaviour is this, of a human being! I am unable to believe this, in spite of everything. Kaika! Change your foolish thought. Rama will not go against any word of mine. The mere report of these happenings is enough. He will prepare himself to move into the forest! He will not even ask the question, why are you anxious to send me into the jungle! He is of such sterling virtue. Why mention only Rama! No one of my sons will disobey any of my commands.”

“Bharatha will be disgusted when he hears of your plan. He may even ignore the fact that you are his mother and behave quite inexplicably. He may be ready for any dire step. Rama is his very life, his vital breaths, all the five put together. He may do something to defeat your pet desire. That is to say, he may exile himself into the forest and ask that Rama be crowned. He is of that stamp of goodness and rectitude. I am wondering at your crooked intellect, which cannot grasp the workings of Bharatha’s mind. Kaika! Wicked designs are precursors of self destruction, as the saying goes. This design has entered your head, presaging your ruination, remember. You are bringing on the fair name of the Ikshvaku Royal family an indelible blot; you are plunging so many into fathomless depths of grief; you are bringing about their end. Can so many lives be hurt for the sake of this fell desire? What happiness do you hope to have, after perpetrating all this?”

“Even if you do achieve your goal, will that be Ananda? Can you call it so? O Shame! Those who exult over the sorrows of others are in truth sinners of the darkest hue, of demonic brood. Those who strive to cause joy to others, those who yearn that others be happy, they are the holy ones. You are a Queen; you are a Princess, of Royalty born; yet, you are not conscious of this elementary truth. You are a disgrace to royal blood. One final word! Rama is my very life. Without him, I cannot hold on to life. No! I cannot continue to live. He will not disappoint you; so, though I may not order him by word of my own mouth to go into the forest, he may, on hearing of my oath and your desire, himself proceed thereto, in order to make my word valid; he will brook no delay or debate. As soon as I hear news of that event, know that I draw my last breath. Lakshmana, Sita, and Kausalya may, in all likelihood, follow Rama. Kausalya cannot exist alive, apart from Rama. Sita will not stay away from Rama. Lakshmana cannot walk except along the footsteps of Rama. Urmila too may proceed along with Lakshmana into exile. There will be none here then, to perform the funeral rites of this body, and days will elapse to get Bharatha and Sathrughna from the Kekaya Kingdom. Till then, this will have to lie without the ceremonial. Perhaps, the people will rise against me for having descended to this low level of wickedness and condemn my body to be thrown as carrion for crows and vultures, since it does not deserve decent disposal. Perhaps, no; for, my subjects will wait until Bharatha arrives, embalming the corpse by some means or other. Bharatha will never agree to accept the throne and be King. Under such circumstances, he is not entitled to touch the body or perform the funeral rites. Come! At least, promise me that you will have my funeral rites performed by him”, he pleaded. He said, “Of course, I am sure you are ready to promise me so; for, you are after the Ananda you hope to derive from a widow’s life. What is it that you hope for, tell me, O vile viper! You have turned into a demon, at last! Are you undermining and laying under the earth, the Raghu Clan, this Royal Line? Is this the upsurge of your basic nature? Or, is it some mysterious Divine fate that dogs your thought and forces you to act against your will in this strange way? I find it beyond me to gauge the secret.”

While Dasaratha was being tortured in mind like this, the night rolled on into its third quarter. He groaned like a man in great pain afflicted with some mortal illness. He was caught in the coils of agony.

Dasaratha tried his best, now, to win the affections of Kaikeyi and persuade her to accept the Coronation of Rama; he began to flatter her, in honeyed words. “O, Queen! You are the very embodiment of auspiciousness and prosperity. I treated you so long as my very breath. You too fostered and guarded me as if I was your very heart. Come, let us spend the remaining years without giving room for scandals about differences between us; let us be peaceful and happy during the rest of our allotted lives. O, Charming Princess! I will not live many years more. Throughout my life, I was famed as a steady adherent of Truth, and all men honoured me on that account. I have sworn at the public gathering that Rama will be crowned tomorrow as Heir-apparent. Consider how my subjects will despise me, if the function does not take place! Consider how they will cast insults at me! You saved me that day, during the battle between the Gods and the Demons. Are you giving me up now, when something worse is threatening me? This is not just or proper. Well, I shall endow on you this entire kingdom as dowry. Crown Rama, yourself, tomorrow. Bharatha too will be very happy if you do this. Not merely he; ministers, sages, elders, scholars, common citizens, the entire populace will appreciate and thank you for this. Your fame will last eternally on this earth. Instead, if you create obstacles in the way of Rama’s Coronation, the whole world will castigate and condemn you. Even your son will find fault with you and fall foul of you. Your cruel fancy will bring ruin on you; besides, it will cover this royal line with shame. You will become the target of the ‘Fie’ that the smallest of the land will fling at you. Reflect over these possibilities! Earn eternal renown; stop the stratagem to prevent the coronation. Crown Rama with your own hands, tomorrow!”

Dasaratha described the joy she could derive from this generous act in sweet enticing words, artfully put together. He hoped to enrapture her at the prospect of herself crowning the Heir-apparent; but, Kaikeyi interrupted him, and said, “King! Your words strike me as strange and meaningless. You are trying to slide back from the promise made on oath; to cover up your sin, you are spinning fascinating yarns! No. A thousand such tricks will not induce me to change my stand. You said, on your own, ‘Ask the boons you desire; I shall grant them’, and, now instead of acting on that promise, you exhibit a fine bunch of sighs and groans. This does not become you. You are, by your own conduct, undermining your reputation and honour. I am not in the least responsible for this distress of yours. Recollect the pronouncements of those who are masters of Dharma, that Sathya (Truth) is the Parama (Highest) Dharma (Principle of Righteousness). I, too, have based my request for the promised boons on the same principle of Dharma. And as befits a follower of Dharma, you, too, agreed and said, ‘Right! They shall be granted’. Nevertheless, you have started imputing motives to me, that I am thrusting you into unrighteousness, that I am set upon committing an unpardonable sin, that I am attempting to bring lasting infamy on your name! This is most improper; it is thoroughly unjustifiable.”

“I am absolutely innocent of any wrong, in this affair. You made the solemn promise without a thought on the past or the future, and, when that promise had to be put into action, you suddenly become confused and desperate. The fault is yours, not mine. Those who promise and are not willing to act accordingly, are sinners of great magnitude. Act as the promise directs you to; then, the Truth you have maintained will itself wash off any related sin. Don’t you remember? In the past, Emperor Sibi sliced flesh from his own body as food for an eagle pursuing a dove for prey! So too, Emperor Alarka had pledged his word that he would give whatever was asked from him; he was a king of unique splendour. And to keep up his promise, he plucked and gave a Brahmin his own two eyes! Look at the Ocean. It is the Lord of all the Rivers; yet, bound by Its Vow, It limits Itself between the shores, instead of transgressing them. Why repeat a thousand examples? For all things, for all men, Truth is the highest authority; the highest ideal. Truth is Brahman. Truth is the Primeval Sound. It is Dharma. Truth alone undergoes no change or diminution. Royal Majesties like you should not give up the Imperishable for the sake of the perishable. Hold fast to the promise you made, and ensure lasting fame and glory for yourself. That is the right thing to do. Do not yield to delusive attachments to the son, deceptive sympathy for women; do not over-rule the dictates of political idealism and royal obligation. Do not tarnish the Ikshvaku Dynasty with irredeemable dishonour!”

“Don’t play otherwise; call Rama to your side and tell him to get ready to proceed to the forest, and set on foot preparations to call Bharatha from where he is now to this City. Instruct the Minister concerned to attend to these matters without delay. See! The eastern sky is getting bright. These two boons must be realized before dawn. However long you argue, I will be content with no less. If, on the other hand, you are adamant and you consummate the Coronation of Rama, I am determined to end my life in full view of the thickly packed Assembly. This is my vow; this shall happen.”

[see for the story of Vamana, Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 8: The Manus, Administrators of the Universe, Chapters 18, 19 and 20]

Dasaratha watched Kaikeyi raging and swearing, angry and fearful; he could neither demonstrate the rage that was surging within him, nor could he suppress it. He was like Emperor Bali who promised three feet of land to God (in the form of Vamana) but, discovered that he could not fulfill that promise, for Vamana measured the entire earth with one foot, the entire sky with another foot, and stood asking for the third foot of land, that had been gifted to Him! Dasaratha dreaded the curse that awaited him, for breaking the rules of Dharma. His eyes were dimmed with doubt and despair. His head became heavy on the shoulders. He fell on the floor, were he stood. At last, mustering up some courage, he shouted, “O Sinful Woman! If the Coronation of Rama is cancelled, my death is a certainty. After that, you can rule over this kingdom, as a widow, as freely as you wish”. Giving vent to his anger in this strain, Dasaratha cried out, “Alas! Rama! Has it come to this that I have to send you, with my own consent, into the forest? No, I will not send you. I will rather give up my life; I cannot keep alive a moment, apart from you. O, vicious demon! How could your heart entertain the plan of sending my lovely and tender Rama into the thick dark wild jungle? Horrid Fury! What a Monster have you become!” And, with that, Dasaratha swooned, and soon lost consciousness.

Night was melting before the brightening dawn. The Nine Instruments of Music at the palace gate heralded the Day of Joy. The roads started getting the showers of rosewater. The air was thick with fragrance and festive noise. The sky was charged with hope and excitement. The constellation Pushya rose as the Star of the day. The sage Vasishta proceeded with his group of disciples to the Sarayu River for the ceremonial bath, and returned from there, with the Consecrated Water necessary for the Coronation Ablutions. He passed along the Royal road where the citizens had gathered to witness the sacred articles; the palace-guards cleared the way for the holy group. At last, they entered the Royal Palace through the richly decorated Main Gate.

Even at that early hour, the open spaces inside the palace were filled with priests, vassal rulers, representatives of the people of the Realm, and elders. They occupied the seats allotted to them. The rhythm of Vedic Hymns recited by scholars along the streets echoed from the skies. Meanwhile, Vasishta beckoned Sumanthra, the Minister, and said, “Go; the auspicious hour fixed for the rite of Coronation is approaching; many preliminary rituals have to be attended to; go and inform the Maharaja that his presence is urgently needed. Convey the message that Vasishta is waiting for his arrival.”

Sumanthra being an old faithful, had the freedom to enter any of the inner apartments of the palace; so, he hurried into the chambers of Queen Kaikeyi, in search of the Emperor. Entering the Hall, where the Royal beds were, Sumanthra was shocked out of his wits. He was aghast at the sight of the Emperor fallen on the floor! Are my eyes seeing aright, he wondered; he lost his moorings. He went near the King, and said, “King! This morning must find you like the sea at moonrise, heaving with ecstasy. I cannot understand why you are lying prostrate on the ground. The auspicious hour is approaching. The great sages, learned in Vedic Lore, are ready in their roles, awaiting your arrival at the Hall of Ceremonies. Rise and wear royal robes and jewels, and come into the Hall, accompanied by the Queens, in lustrous imperial splendour. The sage Vasishta bade me hither and bring you into the holy precincts of the Throne.”

Listening to his importunities, Dasaratha could not restrain the outbursts of his grief. He wept aloud, and spoke to the Minister between sobs thus: “Sumanthra! Your adulation pierces my heart.” Sumanthra could not take a step forward, nor could he move a step backward. He stood transfixed, where he was. He prayed with folded palms, “Maharaja! why this turn of events? At a time when you have to be immersed in Ananda, why this grief, this piteous weeping? What is the reason behind all this? It is beyond my understanding.”

When Sumanthra stood hopeless, sunk in sorrow, Kaikeyi intervened and said. “O Best of Ministers! The Emperor spent the entire night without sleep, in anxiety about Rama. If you can go immediately and bring Rama with you here, the mystery will be unravelled. I am telling you this; do not misunderstand me but bring Rama here quickly.”

Sumanthra took her instructions as the commands of the Sovereign; he hastened to the Residence of Rama. At the entrance of that palace, he saw on both sides long lines of attendants and maids, carrying huge plates containing gifts of silk, brocade, jewels and gems, garlands and bouquets, scents and sweets. It was a delight for the eye, but Sumanthra did not stop to cast a look at them. When he hurried into the palace, he felt something precious lacking in all this festivity; he was overwhelmed and nonplussed. The joy that he had felt earlier had turned into sorrow.

Riding in his chariot towards Rama’s Palace he had noticed how the hundreds of thousands of loyal subjects who filled the streets talked among themselves that he was on his way to bring Rama into the Coronation Hall, for the ceremony. He saw their faces blooming in joyous expectation; they scarce winked their eyes, lest they miss some incident or facet of joy. At last, Sumanthra stepped into the Palace of the Prince. He could walk straight, without any question asked, into all sections of that seven-storied mansion. As a fish dives noiselessly through the depths of a flooded river, Sumanthra glided through the corridors and halls of that Palace!

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Chapter 11(a)

Lakshmana – Too

Within the Palace, the companions of Rama, elated and happy, ready with their bright countenances and splendid robes were waiting to accompany him to the Festival Hall. Sumanthra went into the apartments that lay still deeper Inside the Palace. There he saw Rama, seated on a golden cot, scattering Divine Light around him, and Sita standing by his side, gently fanning him. He shone like the Moon with the star, Chitra.

Sumanthra was in a hurry; he could not brook delay. He said, “Rama! Mother Kaikeyi and your Father have both asked me to bring you quickly to the Palace of that Queen; they have sent me on that mission here; I have hurried hither for that same purpose”. As soon as he heard those words, Rama turned towards Sita and said, “Sita! This is a sign of some obstacle, and not of anything else. I am not unaware of this; but I kept silent and said, ‘Yes’ for everything, so that Father might be kept happy. Father’s orders are to be honoured, lest he be pained.” While Rama was talking in this strain, the heart of Sumanthra was pounding fast inside him. He was trying to interpret Rama’s words and the picture of Dasaratha lying wailing on the floor. He was now convinced that the obstacle Rama spoke of was genuine.

But, Sita interrupted Rama; she said “Lord! What are you talking about? On this auspicious occasion you should not speak thus. Whatever the obstacle, father-in-law’s words must be honoured. If he is content, we are content. For his sake, we must renounce whatever has to be. Do not hesitate even a little; go immediately. Whether the Coronation takes place or not, we shall be equally happy. Mother Kaikeyi has inordinate affection towards you; any- thing that she directs us to do, any order that she gives us, will be for our good beyond doubt. There is no one here on earth who is as solicitous for our welfare as Mother Kaikeyi. When Father and such a Mother send word that you should hasten towards them, how happy we should be!” Saying this, Sita followed Rama to the main door of the Hall and wished him well.

Rama told her, “Sita! Don’t I know all this? For me, the days that are past, the days that are around us and the days yet to come are all the same. I welcome each day with full joy. To uphold the reputation of Father, I am prepared to do anything, I am prepared to go anywhere. I am indeed immensely happy that you share my feeling and second my resolve.” Rama moved out, accompanied by Sumanthra. When they ascended the chariot waiting on the road in front of the Palace, people raised shouts of ‘Jai, Jai Ramachandra Prabhu ki Jai.’ The acclamation shook the skies.

Sumanthra announced to the populace, “Now the chariot is not taking Rama to the Coronation Hall. It is taking him to where the Emperor is. So, allow the chariot to go as fast as it should. Rama will return in a few moments; so wait here itself.” Sumanthra explained the reason for the hurry, and drove in hot haste. When Rama was proceeding thus along the city streets to the Palace of Kaikeyi, in his divine chariot, as soon as he was sighted, heroes cheered like lions. Minstrels and courtiers started paeans of praise. The strains of many instruments of music filled the sky. Acclamation of “Jai”, “Jai” rose from the thick masses of people on both sides of the road. Women in their best clothes, bedecked with jewels, thronged the terraces of the house and filled the windows, eager to wave lamps when Rama passed by.

When he approached the Palace, they showered floral petals and waved sacred lamps. People gazed upon the Prince until he passed beyond reach of the eye; then, they relished with joy the picture of “Rama in the chariot” they had imprinted on their hearts, and, stood without stirring wherever they were, like idols of themselves, lost in contemplation of the Bliss that filled them.

The chariot rode into the precincts of the Palace of Dasaratha named Vardhamana, as imposing as Mount Kailas itself. It passed through the three quadrangles guarded by vigilant bowmen.

Then, Rama alighted from the vehicle. Thereafter, he moved through two more quadrangles on foot. While walking across, he told his companions and even Lakshmana to stay back. For, Rama knew what was about to happen soon. In spite of this, he was acting like a mortal, as naturally as any would under the circumstances! Finally, Rama entered the apartments of the Queens and the place where Dasaratha had fallen on the bed. His hair was disheveled; he was wearing the clothes of ‘yesterday’. He was lying on the bed without any regard to propriety. Rama was astonished at the spectacle. Kaikeyi was standing by the side of the bed.

Dasaratha’s face had lost all trace of brightness; he was lamenting and wailing. He raised his head; his eyes fell upon Rama. His tongue failed to spell out what he longed to say. Tears streamed from his eyes. Though he tried to speak, no sound came. Rama had never before seen or experienced such a fearsome scene. He was filled with anxiety; he hastened to the presence of his father, and held both his feet in his hands. “Tell me, father, why you lament so? What is the cause? I shall try to confer joy on you, in the best manner possible. I shall dedicate my very life for the sake of restoring your Ananda. Tell me what has caused this grief; do not weep”, he pleaded.

At this Dasaratha exclaimed, ‘Rama!” and broke into tears again, unable to continue. He lost consciousness. Rama tried to revive him and console him; but, he fell deeper into grief and could not be pacified. Then, Rama mustered courage and took his father to task, “Father! what is all this? You have to instill courage into young persons like me; on the other hand, you are weeping and wailing and filling us with fear! No. This is not right. This is the occasion to be happy; but, is it Dharma, is it proper, for you to sink into grief? Till this day, whenever you were angry or worried, my coming to you used to remove in a trice all signs of those troubles, and to make you beam with Ananda. You used to gain peace again when you drew me near, didn’t you? How is it then that the longer you took at me the more you suffer from sorrow? This makes my grief too more painful. Can you not mention the reason for this strange behaviour and bring solace to me? Won’t you tell me? Has any wrong been committed by me? Or, if there is anything I have to do, tell me, I shall do it without fail. I shall correct myself, if you tell me my faults. Do not grieve; do not doubt or hesitate; tell me with the authority of affection what I have to do, and I shall bow to the order. Father! Your being plunged in grief is not good augury for you, for me as well as for the Empire”.

Praying thus, Rama turned towards Kaikeyi. With folded palms, he asked her, “Mother! Have I committed any wrong? Tell me who that execrable sinner is who caused such grief to father! The moment father saw me, he used to beckon me lovingly, draw me close to him, and fondle me caressingly! Now, he does not even look at my face; why is it so? He does not utter one word; he keeps his face turned away from me! If, however, the fault, the crime is mine, I am ready to suffer any punishment to atone for it. It is enough for me if father is happy. Or, is he suffering from any illness or disease? Else, have my brothers, Bharatha and Satrughna sent any bad news? They are well, aren’t they? Mother Kausalya and Sumitra are well, I hope! I am overcome with grief, since I am unable to understand the reason for father’s agony! I shall do whatever is needed to bring joy back to him, however hard it may be. His command, however painful, I shall discharge to the full, most loyally, with bowed head. Whoever is born, the father is the cause of his birth. Therefore, the father is everyone’s visible God. I seek nothing higher than his happiness. Have compassion on me; tell me what has taken place. Mother! was your self-respect hurt by any incident, resulting in your speaking some harsh words against father? Or, did my mother act against his will and hurt his feelings? Mother Kausalya will never behave like that. And, Sumitra? I am more certain about her. She will not at all act so. And father will certainly not lament so distressingly, even if either of them acted so foolishly. There must be some very serious reason for his plight. When father is reluctant to tell me what that is, at least you can tell me about it and console my grief”.

Looking at Rama who was so pathetically praying to her, Kaikeyi gave up all sense of mercy and moderation, all consideration for the husband who might be plunged in deeper misery when he hears her words spoken in utter disregard of the calamities they were sure to usher in. She did not stop to inquire whether the words could be uttered or whether they were better left unspoken. She did not discriminate between the fleeting present and the oncoming future. She brushed aside the claims of love, and cast off her own innate dignity and motherly status.

She said, “Rama! Listen! Years ago, during the battle between the Devas and the Asuras (Gods and Demons), your father was wounded by dire demonic arrows and he suffered unbearable pain. I nursed him back to health and happiness. He appreciated my sacrifice and service and told me to name two boons promising to grant them to me. At that time, I felt that the only thing I craved for was his recovery and victory; so I replied: ‘I do not desire any boon now; I shall ask you for the promised boons when I feel the urge later’. Your father said, ‘Right! whenever you like, ask me whichever two boons you wish for; I shall certainly grant them and fulfill your desire. These boons have no limit of time and are bound by no condition. Whenever you ask, whatever the boons, I shall give them’, he vowed.

“You know that scions of the Ikshvaku line never break their promised word. Putting faith in that well known fact, I asked now for those two boons: one, that my son Bharatha should be crowned Emperor and two, that you should be sent into the Dandaka Forest for a period of fourteen years. As a result, your father is creating this hubbub! Why elaborate further? I shall not modify or withdraw my demands. If your father is as adherent of Truth, and if you desire to prove that you too are an adherent of Truth, you have to go this very moment to the Dandaka Forest, wearing deerskin and matted hair. You have to reside there for fourteen years.

“Since you are his very life-breath, he does not like to send you into exile; he is reluctant to ask you to go. He apprehends you may take it amiss; that is the reason for this grief. Rama! No other calamity or deluge has happened here. It is meaningless to exaggerate this minor matter and make out that a mountainous catastrophe has landed on us. Rama! The father can be saved from the sin of breaking his word only when his very image, the son, resolves to fulfill the vow he fails to fulfill. Else, if he who vowed and he who is the son of the person who vowed, both neglect it, then the father has to meet the doom of eternal downfall. You are not unaware of this”.

Rama was not affected in the least, while listening to these words uttered with such deliberate hard-heartedness. With a smile playing on his lips, he replied, “For this reason, it is not proper that father should lament”. He nodded his head as if to signify his approval of the proposals made by Kaikeyi. But, when this conversation fell on his ears, Dasaratha felt as if his heart was being sawn within. He rolled and groaned in extreme agony. Rama turned towards Kaikeyi and said, “Mother! It will happen as you have contemplated! I am reverentially placing on my head the promise made by my father. It is enough if father draws me near him as he so lovingly used to do until now and speaks to me affectionately, and blesses me. Well, if I am at least told that I don’t deserve these, that I have not earned that merit, I will accept it without demur and with equal joy and satisfaction. For, father always wishes the best for me. He blesses me always and desires that I progress ever. He is a great seer; he is for me not only the father, but the preceptor who teaches the highest path. What responsibility and duty have I than conferring joy on him, who is both father and teacher? This is my dearest duty, my Dharma. I will derive immense Ananda in the forest for fourteen years. Not merely fourteen, if father’s wish is such. I am prepared to live all my life in the forest itself! But, why is it that father is hesitating to tell me about these two boons? This is what pains me. Will I ever say no to what he says? Rama is the servant and support of the parental word, not its opponent. Is there any act of gratitude nobler than dedicating this body, which was received from the father, to his service alone? I shall offer it with Ananda; I am not one who waits to be told to do so.

“Mother why did you not mention to me that Bharatha is the person to be crowned? I and my brother – there is no difference between us; why then did you entertain any difference between us? We know no distinction among ourselves. Also, why is it that you say, ‘This is your father’s command’? Do I ever disobey your commands? No I never do so. Whether you say it or my father says it I un-hesitatingly carry it out. I am leaving Ayodhya this very day, and proceeding to the forest. Mother! Send proper messengers charged with the task of bringing Bharatha from the grandfather’s place. It is best to get him quickly. If my moving into the forest and the coronation of Bharatha happen at the same time, father will be saved from physical strain, mental anxiety and the sense of void. And you too can be fully content! Who can say how events will shape themselves?”

When Kaikeyi heard these words from Rama, she was filled with Ananda and apprehension. She feared what might happen if Bharatha arrived while Rama was still present in the city; she concluded that it was best to insist on Rama leaving for the forest that very day itself. She replied, “Rama! It is possible to make arrangements to get Bharatha from where he is to Ayodhya; but, there is no need why you should continue here until he reaches this City. Since you have decided to start the hermit life, why should you delay your departure? For, the longer the start is delayed, the day of your return too will be advanced! It is advisable that you get ready to leave even now. “Your father is eager to tell you this himself, but, he is unwilling to express his command directly. Though his heart insists that he should say it, he is bothered by a sense of shame, for he loves you much. He is reluctant to inform you of his promise to me; that is the reason for his distress. He has no other grief. The quicker you depart from Ayodhya, the sooner he will recover from agony. Until you leave Ayodhya, I am afraid, he will not take food or bathe. Therefore, if you yearn to restore him to happiness, the sooner you depart the better”.

Dasaratha lying prostrate on the bed heard these heart-piercing words of Kaikeyi; he could not contain his anger and sorrow. He burst into indistinct fury, “Fie on you, traitorous demon!” and turning to Rama, he cried, “Rama” twice, before he fainted again. Rama sat on the bed, with the head of his father on his lap; he stroked the forehead and consoled and comforted him with sweet lovingness. He also spoke to Kaikeyi, “Mother! I am not a covetous fellow, poisoned by worldly ambition. I have no desire to win over the people and establish my rule over the kingdom. I wish to live like a hermit; I yearn to foster and maintain righteousness (Dharma), that is all. I have only one more resolve: to confer joy on my most revered father. To realize these three objectives, I am prepared to undertake any task. A son has no greater duty, no higher good, than serving the father. Mother! Though father has not directly spoken to me, you are telling me what his command is, aren’t you? That is quite enough. Besides, you are speaking in his very presence, and despite his hearing what you say, he is unable to alter or deny anything. Therefore, I infer that your words are virtually his. So, I bow to the order, and shall leave as directed.

“Mother! I have one little wish, which I hope you will fulfill. When Bharatha is ruling the empire, see that he obeys in every way the orders of Father and that he contributes to the joy and satisfaction of Father by his acts. For me, for Bharatha; indeed, for every son, there is nothing more holy and more fruitful than the vow of filling the heart of the father with contentment and happiness. Service of the father is the Sanathana Dharma, the eternal duty, of the son”.

With these words, Rama fell prostrate on the ground and touched the feet of Mother Kaikeyi. Dasaratha, who heard his Son, writhed as if the Dharma that Rama expounded and the equanimity which he revealed aroused his love even more and thus aggravated his sorrow beyond control. Knowing that Rama will not stay in Ayodhya any longer, he lost all sense of propriety and status. He shouted, “Rama!”, and slumped on the hard floor of the room. Women in the zenana heard the thump, and were stunned into grief and wonder. They lamented loudly among themselves at the turn of events. Rama realized that it was not advisable to delay any longer. He prostrated before his father and touched his feet. Then, he walked out of the apartment.

Lakshmana was standing at the door and listening to the words spoken inside the room. He was in tears; he was furious against Kaikeyi and angry against father. He found it impossible to give expression to his feelings; so, he followed the footsteps of Rama with arms folded, eyes on the ground, head bent low. Though he had lost a kingdom, and had to exile himself into the forest, Rama’s face shone like the moon behind thick dark clouds, unaffected by the black veil. The splendour of his countenance was unaffected; for, he faced honour and dishonour with equal serenity. He behaved like a veteran Yogi, with no trace of agitation in thought, word and deed; he walked as if nothing had happened to cause him worry. However, Sumanthra guessed that some transformation had happened inside the palace. The guess soon grew into certainty. When his eyes fell on Lakshmana, his heart suffered a shock. To add to his fears, Rama brushed aside the White Umbrella that was held over him by the attendant. He ordered that the ceremonial whisks be not used for him. He declared that he did not deserve any more the silver chariot. On hearing this, Sumanthra lost strength of body and will. He was confirmed in his worst fears.

Rama did not speak a word to those around him or to the citizens he met; not that he was sad, no, he knew that others would be hurt if they heard the news. For, if he spoke, he would have to speak out the truth; and he would be spreading sadness through his own words. In spite of this, his style of walking back to the palace announced the sad news to all onlookers.

Rama did not proceed direct to the apartments of Sita. He chose to walk to the palace of Kausalya. The palace was resplendent with flags and festoons and other external marks of jubilation. The women and other attendants of the palace got intimation of the approach of Rama and Lakshmana to the mansion and they got ready lamps on plates, and ranged themselves in rows to welcome them. Old and trusted guards at the main entrance rose sharply when they espied the Brothers, and exclaimed, “Victory! Victory” “May it be victory to you”! They bowed low and offered homage. When Rama entered the second square inside, Brahmins who had gathered there showered their blessings on him. On entering the third square, the young maids in attendance on the queen rushed in, carrying the happy tidings that Rama and his younger brother were arriving, to offer reverence to the mother. They were themselves delighted at the sight of the princes. From the outer door right up to the room where the Mother was, maidens standing on both sides of the long passage waved ceremonial lamps as sign of welcome, to ward off evil and welcome joy and prosperity.

Queen Kausalya had observed vigil all night, in preparation for the holy day that had dawned. She was engaged since dawn in worshipful rites. Aged Brahmin priests were propitiating the God of Fire with Vedic hymns, when Rama was announced. The mother was overwhelmed with joy, since she could witness with her own eyes the Coronation of her son. She celebrated her joy by means of several rites; she gave away plentiful gifts. She fasted and kept vigil; Ananda was enough food for her, the Ananda she shared with all. She ran forward to clasp Rama in her arms; she caressed the curls on his head; she led him by the hand into the shrine room where she was spending the morning. She had no knowledge of the somersault events had taken. Innocent and simple-hearted that she was, she wore the white sari of purity and with the sacred silk cord tied round her wrist, she was gratefully engaged in the worship of the Gods. Looking at the face of Rama, she noticed an added splendour illumining it. So she could not contain within herself her Ananda. “Son!” she said, “your forefathers were all Royal Sages, Rajarshis. They were strong upholders of Right. They were super-souls, Mahatmas, each one. You shall be as long-lived as they, as renowned as they; your glory must reach the ends of all the quarters as their glory did. Son! Follow the ideals of Righteousness which were held high by this dynasty; do not neglect them, even in a fit of absence of mind. Hold on to them, without wavering in the least.” With these words, she placed a few grains of rice on his head, in token of her blessing on the auspicious day. She placed a golden seat near hers, saying, “Son! You observed the ceremonial vigil last night, didn’t you? And, you fasted yesterday, according to rule. You must be exhausted. Sit here for a while, and eat a few fruits.” So saying, she held forth a gold plate of fruits which she had made ready for him.

Rama was thrilled by the Ananda of the mother and the love she showered on him. He wondered how he could communicate to her the turn of events; he was unwilling to destroy the atmosphere of joy. For the sake of giving her satisfaction, he sat on the golden chair, fingered the contents of the plate and said, “Mother! From this moment, I should not touch gold. I should not sit on golden chairs. I am awaiting your blessing, for, I have to proceed as an exile to the Dandaka Forest. I came to you for taking leave”. Kausalya could not understand a word of what he said. She could only say, “Son! Within a few minutes, you are to be crowned King, and you talk of the Dandaka Forest! I am at a loss to make out the sense of what you say”. She thought her son was teasing her with a joke. She said, “Son! In this auspicious hour, you should not, even in fun, talk of things of bad omen. Give it up, my lovely gem!” She scooped with her fingers a little from a plate of rice, boiled in milk and with sugar, and placed it on Rama’s tongue! Observing her love and her Ananda, the eyes of Lakshmana were spontaneously filled with tears.

Kausalya noted it; she turned to him, and inquired, “Lakshmana! Why are you so sad?” She hurried towards him and tried to caress him, but Lakshmana could not suppress his grief any longer. He wept aloud and sobbed. The queen stood aghast; she did not know why he sobbed. Rama’s words and Lakshmana’s grief confused her much. Meanwhile Rama interceded: “Mother! if you promise not to grieve, I shall tell you one thing” and he held her hands in his, very firmly. “This is something that will endow me and you, and our entire family and dynasty with imperishable glory. So, don’t give room for any anxiety, doubt or distress. Agree to it with alacrity and affection. Does it not give you great joy that I obey father’s command? He has resolved to crown my brother, Bharatha! He has resolved to send me, in the habiliments of a hermit, into the Dandaka forest for a period of fourteen years. I have bowed to his command and come here to take leave of you.” At this, Kausalya shrieked “Rama”, and fell on the floor. “What a turn of events is this? Is the tender child of mine to be sent into the dark jungle? What crime has my Rama done to deserve this? Can this be true? Or, is it meaningless jabber coming out of my own brain, since I had no sleep and no food?”

While she was thus trying to explain to herself and consoling herself, the happenings at Kaikeyi’s palace had spread throughout the zenana and the noise of wailing and lamentation rose from maids and attendants everywhere. All faces streamed with tears in great sorrow. Cries of “Rama! Do not leave us”, were heard on all sides. Grief-stricken groups hurried to the palace of Kausalya, who was overwhelmed with astonishment, sorrow and fear. She could not unravel the mystery of it all. She could not rise from the floor, for she was weighed down with anxiety and despair. Nevertheless, she was longing to understand what had really happened to cause this universal agony. She drew Rama on to her lap, and caressing his curly hair she asked, “Son! What is this I hear? This news? Tell me clearly what took place. I cannot bear this suspense any longer”. Rama told her, “Honouring the two boons that father had promised Kaikeyi once upon a time, father granted her these two wishes”. Rama told Kausalya that the first boon she was granted was, “Bharatha is to be crowned” and the second was, I should be sent to the Forest for fourteen years”.

When Rama related these facts and confirmed their truth, Kausalya exclaimed, “Rama! Did Kaikeyi really demand such boons? Kaikeyi had unbounded love and affection towards you. She would not have wished for these things any day. Let that rest. Even if she has, I am sure it must be only to test the king! For this simple thing, why should there be so much confusion and anxiety? Or, assuming that she asked for the boons; will your father ever agree to grant them? I refuse to believe this. Will your father, who cannot tolerate your absence from his presence for a single moment, send you away into the forest for fourteen years? This is plunging me into more confusion.”

Seeing his mother doubting the truth of the incidents that actually took place, Rama again held both her hands in his and pleaded, “Mother! Believe my words! Father had already promised to grant her whichever two boons she desired; afterwards, when she asked for these two, he had no inclination to break his plighted word, to take back the promise he had solemnly granted. Nor could his mind agree to order me into the forest and be without me. So, he is suffering great mental distress. I cannot bear the sight of his affliction. I have just now returned from that palace. He is stricken unconscious: he is in terrible anguish. This is the truth. I am not so cruel as to cause such anxiety in you over a light laughable matter, believe me. I have accepted father’s order; I have come to you for your permission.”

With these words, Rama fell at the feet of his mother. Kausalya lifted him up tenderly. She said, “Rama! What strange behaviour is this? However barbarian a person may be, will he demand these horrible boons? Can ever any human being think of sending you, who is to be crowned in a few minutes, into the forest and for fourteen years? Am I to suffer throughout my life? I got a son, after observing many a vow and ritual. Looking on your lovely face, I overcame the pangs of those years of sorrow. I have no other desire; I ask for no other boon; enough for me if my son is with me, near me. Have I become unfit for this little gift? Did I deliver a child only to throw it into the forest? Will any mother agree to send her son into the jungle? Alas, what sin have I committed in the past? In which of my previous lives have I kept apart a mother from her son? Since the day when you were initiated into Vedic studies, I was deriving happiness every moment from the thought that the day of your Coronation was drawing near. Have those sweet dreams of mine come to naught? Have all my hopes been dashed to the ground and broken to pieces? Have all the vows, vigils, rites and rituals I so scrupulously observed and performed for ensuring your joy and happiness been in vain? 0! what a big sinner am I? Why has my heart not broken on hearing this news? Perhaps, I have to hear and bear many more heart-breaking news! Death does not help me! My heart still beats, in spite of this shock. Alas, even death awaits the allotted moment. He comes; but on seeing my plight leaves me alive, postponing the moment of my release. Yama too has no mercy towards me, I am pronounced undeserving of even the realm of Death. O Rama! That this calamity should happen to us!” She lamented and fell on the floor in a faint. Coming to, she rolled on the floor, pressing her heart with the palm of her hand. Rama could not quietly look on the scene. The wailing of the maids, who gathered around blasted his ears like thunderbolts.

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Chapter 11(b)

Lakshmana – Too

Rama did not utter a single word. He sat near his mother and stroked her forehead, caressing her hair and consoling her. He brushed away the dust with which her clothes were covered. Like a huge well-set rock struck deep in the sea, Rama sat unhurt by the lashing of the surging billows around. He was above and beyond the blows of grief and the blandishments of joy. He was filled with as much equanimity now when he had to leave for the forest for fourteen years, as he had a few moments ago, while proceeding to the Durbar Hall to be crowned as the Ruler of a great empire!

Kausalya too knew that Rama would never swerve from his path of duty. She was aware that Rama would never break his plighted word, and that he would not stray a hair’s breadth from the path laid down by his father. She was certain that her lamentations would not induce him to turn back. So, she gave up all attempts to persuade him to give up his resolution. “Son! Of what use is it to blame others when one is destined to meet these tragic developments? No. It is sheer waste of words. Everything is for our own good. No one can say ‘no’ to the dictates of the Divine. I have had no happiness in this Ayodhya, in this palace. I can be happy only where my Rama is. So, I shall come with you; take me with “you”, she said. And, she attempted to rise on her feet. The maids held her and seated her leaning against the wall; they spoke softly and sweetly, to bring her round.

Lakshmana was watching the anguish of Kausalya and listening to her words. He could not control his emotions. He was bursting with anger. He held his hands tight over his chest, and said, “O! Revered Mother! I shall never accept this. Is Rama to leave the kingdom and betake himself to the forest, yielding to the prattle of a woman?

I cannot tolerate it. Father has become too old; his mind is very unsteady as a result. And, he is entangled in sensual pursuits, and he has become a slave to the enticements of Kaikeyi; he is pitiably uxorious; he has no sense of discrimination about the consequences of his actions. He is liable to issue any kind of order in his infatuation. Orders of such type should not be obeyed. The king is in a state of feeble-mindedness, unable to distinguish the real from the unreal, the momentary from the momentous. When such rulers give orders out of infatuation they can well be disobeyed. What crime did Rama commit that he should be sent into the forest? Even the cruelest enemy of Rama (if he has any), or even the most hard-hearted barbarian suffering punishment for his crimes, cannot point his finger at the slightest slur on his behaviour or action. No king on earth has the authority to drive into the forest as an exile a person of such unquestioned innocence, purity of intentions and holy sanctity. Rama is steady in his straightforward path; he is the master of his senses; he honours and treats with respect enemies of every type. Will any father drive such a son into the jungle? Moreover, the king is most attached to Dharma; he is a hero full of sacred ideals; he is an adherent of the best in all faiths. Can such a king issue this command? Judging from this, it is certain that Dasaratha is either insane or enslaved by passion. Any command from a person who is either of these, is unworthy of consideration. The words of a king who behaves like a lunatic or an infant need not be honoured at all. Forgetting the dictates of political morality, giving up the path of worldly wisdom, throwing to the winds the demands of paternal affection, he has become mad, giving free vent to his whims and fancies. Need his command be treated as valid? I won’t agree that it should be respected”.

Lakshmana turned towards Rama, and clasping his hands in reverence, he said, “Rama! Pardon me! Assume the rulership of the realm before news of this spreads and becomes known to all. I shall be by your side, with my bow. Whoever in Ayodhya stands up against you will have to meet the arrows from this bow. Of course, there is no such, either in Ayodhya or any other place. But, if any opposition develops, this great City will become a desert, with no human inhabitant. My sharp arrows will see to that. Why repeat a thousand things? If Bharatha opposes, or any one on his behalf, I shall destroy him, root and branch. I will not care. Even Dasaratha, if he stands forth as a supporter of Kaikeyi in this struggle, I shall capture him and shut him up in prison”.

While Lakshmana was holding forth in this strain, Rama looked at him sternly, intercepting the flow of his feelings and admonished him thus: “Lakshmana! Your words are crossing the bounds. No one can deny me what I wish for. None can change the march of my will. My exile in the forest cannot be avoided. You are talking prompted by your love towards me and the desire to prevent your separation from me. Forbear! Forbearance will save you against all anxiety and fear. Be patient. Don’t get agitated. Do not entertain ideas of hatred against either father or brother Bharatha. They are pure, holy persons. Kaikeyi too is highly venerable. She is to be honoured and worshipped. The boons she asked are also blameless. She loved me, caressed me, fondled me, nursed me, played with me, derived joy from me, more than her own son, Bharatha. When the Mother prays today for such boons from father, boons quite contrary to the ways of the world, surely there must be some hidden significance in the affair. This must be the Divine Plan, not mere human tactics. Be quiet, give up your fears and hatreds, We shall await what happens next”, Rama advised him.

At this, Lakshmana fell at the feet of Rama and said. “Rama! On what basis, under what authority is Bharatha to be given the Crown that ought to be yours? Which other son has the right which the eldest has not? You are obeying this absurd, unjust order because of father; but I will not approve of it, whatever you may say in justification”. Turning to Kausalya, Lakshmana continued: “Revered Mother! To tell you the truth, I am devoted to Rama. I speak this on oath: I cannot exist even a single moment apart from Rama. If Rama has no desire for the Kingdom and if he moves into the forest, I will follow him. I will walk in his footsteps, I will be the shadow for him. If he but orders so, I shall jump most joyously into the blazing fire. I shall heed only his orders, not of any one else. Mother! I cannot bear the sight of your sorrow. He is your son; he is my Ramachandra. How can any one be away from his own life-breath?” Listening to Lakshmana, Kausalya was a little comforted. She stroked the head of Lakshmana saying, “Your love gives me much consolation. Your words give me great strength. Brothers of your kind are rare indeed! The world considers the mother who has borne such children as venerable and holy; but, we are afflicted now with the feeling that we are great sinners. Rama will not desist from his resolve. Exile is inevitable for him. I want only this now: Take me also with you”, she wailed.

Rama looked at Lakshmana and said, “Brother! I know the extent of the love you bear towards me. I am not unaware of your heroism, your ability and glory. Mother is suffering great grief, since she is unable to understand the true facts and the value of self-control. Besides, since I am the child born of her loins, grief is natural. But consider: for all values of life, righteous conduct, Dharma, is the very root. And, Dharma is secure only on the foundation of Truth.

“Sathya and Dharma are interchangeable. One cannot exist without the other. Truth is Goodness; Goodness is Truth. I am now achieving both Sathya and Dharma, while acting in accordance with the command of Father. No one dedicated to the good life shall break the word plighted to the mother, the father or the esteemed Preceptor. Therefore, I shall not overstep the orders of Father. That is certain. It was not Kaikeyi that ordered me; she only communicated to me the command of father. And, she did so in his very presence; so, one has to bow his head in reverence to it. If it wasn’t father’s command, when Kaikeyi was telling me that it was, he could have declared that it wasn’t, couldn’t he? He didn’t; he was simply bewailing and groaning; for this reason, it is as authentic as his own command. So, I shall not deviate from any resolution. There is no possibility of my going back on it. Do not allow your reason to slide into this terror-creating Kshatriya mentality. Give up violence and cruelty and adopt my stand.” Rama stroked the beck of Lakshmana, who was weighed down by anger and sorrow and spoke soft loving words to assuage his grief. Then, turning to his mother, Kausalya, he said, “Do not obstruct my resolve and cause breach of my vow. Whatever may happen to anyone, my exile to the forest cannot be averted. Send me with your Love; bless my vow, my resolution.” Then he fell at her feet and prayed for permission to leave.

The mother was shaken by the agony that was torturing her; she placed her hands on the back of Rama and wept aloud. Seeing her plight, Rama too was unable to restrain his emotions. He held her feet and said, “Mother! My word is supreme Truth. Listen. No hardship will happen to me while in the forest. I will spend these fourteen years with the largest measure of happiness and joy. I shall come back and fall at these Feet again. I shall fulfill all your hopes about me. Mother! It is Dasaratha’s Command! It is a Command which not only I but, you, Lakshmana, Sumitra and Bharatha too have to carry out to the very letter. This is the ancient law, the Sanathana Dharma.

“Mother! I shall make another appeal, pardon me. The arrangements made by you and others for crowning me must be used by you, with equal joy and enthusiasm, for the Coronation of Bharatha. Father has entrusted the forest region to me. It is best: it is in accordance with the highest Dharma that each should do his duty allotted to him. Trying to avoid one’s duty as hard to accomplish, is to entertain the idea of difference between me and Bharatha. What you have to do is to bless us both, asking each to carry on successfully the responsibility entrusted to each.”

Kausalya listened to these words of Rama; she could not bear the grief that descended on her. She groaned in peat pain. “O my son! Father brought you up and helped you grow and was happy to see you tall and strong. So, he deserves reverence and obedience. Am I too not worthy of reverence? And obedience? And, consider this! The wife is the husband’s half. The husband is the wife’s right half. Thus, when each is the half of the other, I am half of Dasaratha, am I not? That is why the wife is named the Ardhangi (half the body) of the husband. When you say that you have been commanded by Dasaratha, it is only the command of half of him. It did not originate from all of him. It will become authoritative only when this half too agrees. When I do not it is not valid as a command. You know the meaning and significance of Dharma in all its varied aspects; so, you must be aware of this too. Without the mother’s acceptance, no duty can be binding and nothing deserves the name Dharma. More than the father’s command, the mother’s is to be followed. That is the more important duty. For, it is the mother who nourished you into childhood and boyhood, not the father! Had the mother not borne it for nine months, there would be no child at all! You are now throwing that mother into the flames of grief, and proclaiming, ‘0, it is my father’s command, I must obey it at all costs’. I shall not accept that conduct as correct. No treasure is richer to the mother than her son. And, for mothers such as I the son is all. When the son looks askance at me, and considers the father’s order as superior, of what benefit is it for me to secure heaven and live on Divine Nectar there? I shall rather be in hell. I shall deem it heaven if my son is with me.

“Rama! What can I do at this place? I have not tasted a moment’s happiness throughout my life! From birth, I was bound by the limitations imposed by mother and father; then, caught in anxiety about what kind of husband I would get, and what his character and behaviour would be, I was at last wedded to your father. For years, the agony of childlessness afflicted me. Then, I had to suffer from conflict with the other wives of your father. I have no relief from that battle, from that day to this. As a result I do not know of what merit in my previous life, I secured you as son. And, now, separation from you is happening to me. When have I been happy? My life has become a vast stream of grief; I am struggling in it, unable to swim. I sink in it without any hope of being saved. I had you as a branch which I could hold on to save myself. If you deny me that, what will happen to me? As a consequence of my absence away from him, your father will not suffer any feeling of loss. He has his Ananda in Kaikeyi; none else is needed by him. Therefore, instead of hanging on here, and broiling in agony and finally, giving up breath, I prefer looking on at the charming face of my dear son. Though I may not have food and drink in the forest, I shall sustain myself on that joy”. Though Rama felt that there was some validity in her plea, he was forced by the need to obey the wishes of his father and his promise that he would not fall in that duty.

Meanwhile, Lakshmana intervened and said, “Brother! Mother’s words are the highest Truth. The mother deserves even more reverence than the father. The scripture has laid down ‘Mathr devo bhava, Pithr devo bhava’, thus placing the mother first, and the father in the second position. It says, ‘Let the mother be your God’, and thereafter ‘Let the father be your God’. It is not proper for you to stick so firmly to your resolution and cause so much grief to mother.”

Rama turned to him and intercepted his words. “Lakshmana! You are supporting the statements of a mother who is suffering from the clouding effect of a strong attachment to progeny. Consider the order of the Father, which concerns the welfare of the empire, the world in its entirety and the human community. You have not understood the inner implication and meaning of that order. Only Dharma can ensure the other three goals of man – Wealth, Happiness and Liberation. There is no need to doubt this or argue about its correctness. When activity is merely devoted to the earning of riches, the world hates the individual. When it is devoted entirely to the selfish fulfillment of one’s desire, the world condemns it as contemptible. Therefore, activity has to be in conformity with Dharma. Lakshmana! This is not all. Dasaratha is our Father, Preceptor, and Monarch. He might give us a command, either through desire for something, or through anger against somebody or through attachment with and love towards some one, that is not our concern! We have only to obey; there is no justification for discarding it.

“A son who delights in sin might act against the command; I am not such a son. Whatever Father commands, I will bow my head in reverential homage. Regarding this, you might have a bit of doubt. When a father, a fool blinded by lust, devoid of intelligence to discriminate between the momentary and the eternal, intent only on his selfish aggrandizement, and putting his trust on the stratagem of others, inflicts injuries on his own son, you might ask, should the son put his trust in him and obey him? Without fail he ought to! He may be a fool or a cruel tyrant, are you not his son? When that is so, your status is ever lower and his is ever higher. This decides all duties and rights. The son can at best try to clarify to him and explain according to his light what appears to him confused or complicated. He should not refuse to obey, dismissing it as foolish or absurd.

“Consider this aspect also. Dasaratha is a very talented person, a great warrior and heroic fighter, a pillar of righteousness. And, he is struggling in agony to keep his plighted word! He wasn’t deluded by Kaikeyi, or blinded by lust! No. He was moved by the supreme need to abide by his promise, a promise he had solemnly made. Besides, he had told her that he would grant her the boons, whatever they be, even if the grant involved injury to his own life! I can never assent to the view that he is overcome by lust. Father is in misery, because he sees no escape from the consequences of that assertion, which his heart does not agree to send me into the forest.

“Lakshmana! Father is a staunch supporter of Dharma, more staunch than his predecessors on the throne. His fame has echoed and re-echoed from every corner of the three worlds. Will it not be a bad example to humanity if his Queen, the Anointed Queen, leaves him and accompanies her son, deserting the husband? Life is short; its span is limited. To lose one’s reputation forever by thus resorting to unrighteous acts is not good, either for me or for you.”

Then, turning towards the Mother, he pleaded pathetically, “Mother!”, and before he could continue, Kausalya was numbed into stiffness by sorrow. She realized that her efforts to change the stand that Rama had taken were fruitless. She found that she could not escape the obligation to give him leave to go, with her blessings. She felt that the more she lamented, the more Rama was pained.

Meanwhile, Lakshmana was greatly moved; his eyes turned red; he lost all awareness of where he was and amidst whom; his lips became dry; his tongue was tied; he had a fixed stare; he bowed his head and looked on the ground; tears flowed without let or hindrance. Rama watched him, and felt that it would not be proper to leave him in that state. Besides, Lakshmana might do something with himself, if left alone; he might even do injury to others. And, those acts would be deemed to have happened on account of me, he thought.

So, Rama decided to question Lakshmana. “Brother! The fumes of anger are as incense to the horde of sins. Suppress them. You might be distressed at the thought that Rama has been so grossly insulted and dishonoured. But, Sathya and Dharma, the path of Truth and Righteousness, heed no honour and dishonour; it does not crave for one or shy away from the other. Be brave. Fill your heart with courage. Remain here and serve Father; use your days thus for the fulfillment of the highest purpose of life.” When his elder brother blessed him thus, Lakshmana was startled into speech. “Brother!” he cried, “When Rama, my very breath, is proceeding to the forest, whom am I to serve here, with this inert material physical object called body? This Lakshmana has no desire to serve any one except Rama. You value your Dharma, your sense of duty; I too have my sense of duty, and I value it equally. Therefore, I shall come behind you. I have no need to await any one’s order. I am not included in the persons bound to the boons claimed by Kaikeyi. Even if I am involved with them, I shall not pay heed to her commands or to the directives of her henchmen. No one other than Rama has the authority to command me or issue directives about my movements or conduct. So, here and now, I too shall don the hermit’s habiliment of bark, tie up my hair into matted locks, and prepare myself to follow you.” With these words, Lakshmana divested himself of the jewels and regal paraphernalia he had burdened himself with, while proceeding to the Coronation Hall; he threw the jewels and silken robes in disgust. The ear-ornaments and the necklaces fell in the far corners of the room. He was fretting to accompany his brother. Rama’s heart softened at the sight of the spontaneous devotion and dedicated loyalty of Lakshmana. He went close to him, and placing his hand upon his shoulder, spoke softly, “Brother! My joy has no bounds, since I have such a brother as you! This is my great good fortune. By your coming with me, mother Kausalya too will gain some peace of mind. She is very much agitated by fear and doubt about how I will spend my fourteen years in the forest, and whether I will return after the period of exile is over. So, tell mother to be free from fear. Go and soothe her. While we spend the hours like this, Father must be suffering more and more anxiety. Kaikeyi will suffer from the welling doubt that I may not leave at all! Therefore, I shall now go to Sita and inform her and thence, I shall go to the Palace of Kaikeyi to take leave of father. Meanwhile, you will go to your mother Sumitra and receive her consent to join me.”

With these words, Rama went round Kausalya full circle, and fell flat at her feet in reverence. At that, the maids and attendants as well as the other inmates of the zenana, set up a loud wail, as if the Deluge had come upon them. But, Kausalya bravely drew Rama towards her when he stood up awaiting her blessings. She embraced him, and caressed his hair, and with her hands on his shoulder, she said, “Son! Rama! you are the staunchest adherent of Dharma. You are a resolute hero. You can have no cause to fear life in the forest. You have resolved on the exile in the forest; it has become impossible for me to dissuade you from that decision. May it be well with you. Fulfill your ideal, your yearning, to respect the wish of your father! Repay the debt that one owes to one’s father, by acting according to his command. As for me, I wish only one thing: return happy to Ayodhya. I shall be happy, on that day at least. Rama! The decree of destiny is indeed inscrutable. Its text can not be reshaped even by the most powerful. The Dharma for whose sake you are now leaving us will certainly guard you and guide you while in exile. Rama! How nice it would be if at this very moment the fourteen years roll by, and I see you return, rather than your departure. Alas! Pardon my madness! Son! How shall I convey to you my blessings? Shall I say, let the fourteen years pass by, as fourteen days, no, no, as fourteen winks of the eye! Come safe, come soon. And, be crowned Emperor. O, Jewel of Raghu dynasty! 0, my dearest son! The Goddess of Dharma will surely shelter you during the years of exile, for it is to propitiate Her that you are entering the forest. She is the strongest and most steadfast of Guardians. I shall be propitiating the Gods here these fourteen years and praying that no harm comes to you. The service you have offered to your mother, your father and your preceptor will confer on you long life, health and happiness. Your loyalty to Truth will grant you impregnable courage. The mountains, the rivers, the bushes, the anthills, the beasts and birds of the forest, these will approach you in kind affection, cater to your needs, and fill you with joy. The sun, the moon, and other heavenly bodies will ward off all evil and protect you. Even the demonic Rakshasas of the forest intent on heinous acts of cruelty will be drawn towards you, for your heart is full of cool comforting love, and they will surrender at your feet, accepting you as Master”.

Blessing Rama thus, Kausalya gulped down with some effort the sorrow that was overwhelming her, and put on a calm brave face. She smelt the crown of Rama’s head and held him hard and close in loving embrace. She kissed his cheeks; her lips quivered, when she spoke the parting words, “Rama! Return safe; proceed in joy”. Rama knew the depth of affection that the mother was bestowing on him. He touched the mother’s feet many times in reverential gratitude, and said. “Mother! You should not grieve; you should not reduce sleep or food, do not injure your health. Remember me, at all moments with a joyful heart. Your thoughts will be reflected in my safety and prosperity. When you grieve here, how can I be happy there? When you wish that I should be happy there, you have to be happy here. And, with all your heart, you must be blessing me from here”. Praying thus, he moved out of the place, averse to leave her thus, but, yet, anxious to do his duty.

Rama stepped on the royal road, and started walking along, barefooted, through concourse of citizens who had filled it. People were petrified at the sight of that resplendent symbol of truth and virtue. The citizens had heard rumours floating over the streets, telling them that Rama was leaving for the forest; they were unable to believe it as true; they prayed it might be false. But, when they saw him tramp barefooted, their hearts sank; the exaltation they experienced at the news of the Coronation plumped into the depths of misery. Faces that bloomed in joy suddenly faded and dropped, wan and withered. Rama did not raise his head to look at any of the faces around him. He proceeded to the apartments of Sita.

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Chapter 12

Sita insists and wins

Sita was watching the entrance door, for she was anxious to learn what had happened at the palace of Kaikeyi, and why Rama had not come as yet, though the auspicious hour fixed for the Coronation was fast approaching. She had finished her own rites of Vigil and Fast, and held in readiness a plate of sandal paste, flowers, grain and other prescribed articles so that there would be no delay caused by her tardiness, to accompany her Lord to the Coronation Hall. Her heart was beating fast in expectancy of Rama’s arrival. All the maids and attendants around her were overcome with the ecstasy of the coming hour of triumph. Lovely maidens were ready with sparkling lamps for the ceremony of waving them before Rama as he entered. Into the decorated hall shining in unprecedented charm, suddenly Rama stepped in, unheralded, with bowed head, and on bare feet.

Every one was shocked. Sita moved forward towards her Lord; she could scarce believe her eyes. Her body shivered like a leaf in the wind. She bit her lips and swallowed her surprise. “Lord! What is the meaning of all this; Why are you thus? You said this day is the day dedicated to Brihaspathi, the Preceptor of the Gods; you said, it is a very auspicious day, the star is Pushya, and you are to be crowned this day as the Yuvaraja, the Crown prince, of this Empire. How is it that they do not hold over your divinely beauteous self the White Umbrella of Imperium with the brilliance of sunlit Pearls, with its hundred ribs of gemset gold? Where are the resplendent whisks with their featherpure sheen that appear like Moons? Why are they not accompanying you today? Why are the minstrels of the court silent, without singing your praise, as you proceed to the Durbar Hall? O, Lord! How is it that the Masters of Vedic Lore, the Brahmins have not anointed you with consecrated honey and curds? And, the Ministers, the Vassal Kings, and the Leaders of the various communities in the State are not walking behind you, as usage requires! The majestic royal elephant, a mountain peak on the move, Sathrunjaya, tramping the ground, making people mistake it for a dark blue cloud flowing over the road, he must come first, announcing your arrival, shouldn’t he?”

While Sita was raining questions like these, Rama could not decide how to answer them; it was not a matter that could be explained quickly in few words; so, Rama entered an inner Hall, and drawing Sita nearer, he said, “Sita! Revered Father has willed and resolved at this very auspicious hour to send me to the forest; therefore, it has become urgent to honour his command”. Sita heard the words, but she could not believe that they could be true. She asked, “Lord! What crime did you commit to deserve this punishment, this exile into the forest? Dasaratha is the embodiment of justice, a dharmatmaa. He will never issue an order of this nature without legitimate reasons! What is the real purpose, the inner significance, of this order to live in the forest?”

Rama smiled at her question, and replied, “Sita! Long ago, father had promised to grant mother Kaikeyi two boons; but, that promise had not been fulfilled so far; she too had not demanded them, until now. This day, she asked for them both. They were, first: Bharatha must be crowned as Yuvaraja, and second: I should move into the forest, and live there with matted hair and vestments of bark for fourteen years. Father is supremely righteous. He never acts against the plighted word. Therefore, he bowed his head to Dharma and acceded. I felt I should see you before leaving! You have taken birth in a greatly revered family. You know and value all the moral codes and goals. Janaka Maharaja, Master of the inner Mysteries of the highest morality, is your father. You too walk steadily on the path of Dharma. I have to leave for the forest this very day. Dasaratha has given this empire, inherited by him through many generations, to Bharatha; from now on, he is the Lord over this realm. Immediately after being crowned, he will come to you for your blessing. Do not extol me before my brother; nor should you exhibit any trace of sorrow or displeasure at my being sent to the forest. Don’t slight him or look down upon him. Kings appreciate only those who adore them and serve them. So, do not praise me or decry him. He is my brother and your brother-in-law; but, that is only with reference to physical kinship; with reference to kinship, Bharatha is your monarch and mine. Give him due honour. Do not cause any displeasure or distress to him by word or deed. Fair one! Follow the directives of not only Bharatha, but, also of old father, Dasaratha. Serve also mother Kausalya who is suffering unspeakable agony because I am leaving her. Take all appropriate measures to keep grief away from her. The other two mothers, Kaikeyi and Sumitra, them too, you must obey and please. Sita! Bharatha and Sathrughna are to me as dear and close as my very breath. Treat them as your own brothers; or, foster them lovingly as your sons. 0, charming damsel! Do not leave this place and go to Mithila City, for the reason I am not here. Remain in Ayodhya itself, and, comfort mother and father, serving them in suitable ways to remove the sorrow from their hearts. With love and care, confer comfort, courage and contentment on them.”

When Rama was instructing Sita on her duties, she could not contain her laughter! She also felt sense of shame at the turn the arguments took. She could not remain silent for long. “Rama”, she interrupted, “Rama! you are the son of Dasaratha. I have not heard at any time words unworthy of that lineage fall from your lips. Mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter-in-law every one has to experience a quantum of happiness and misery; in proportion to the good and bad done by each. But, the wife has a special source of fortune, good or bad. That is to say, she has a share in the good and bad for which her husband is responsible. She is endowed with a part of his joy or grief. So, if the Emperor Dasaratha has ordered you to go into the forest, he has given me too the order to go. A woman may be fed and fostered by her mother and father; she may be revered by her son; she may be served by her maids. But, they can never be her shield and support. The trinkets and toys with which you try to convince me serve only to arouse amusement in me. During the years preceding my wedding, father taught me all the duties that shall guide and bind me. I am neither an ignoramus nor a seeker of power. And, more than these, let me tell you, I do not cling fanatically to any opinion because it is mine. There is no need for you to point out my special duty to me, for, I know them all. It is only when I decide to remain here, isn’t it, that you have to tell me how and in what ways I have to serve the parents-in-law, the sisters-in-law, and the ruler of the land? But, when I am with you, what chance is there, what need is there, for me to take on the service of others. I am coming with you in full joy! Since a long time, I have had an unfulfilled desire to spend some years in forests. It is my good fortune that I have now the chance to satisfy that desire, in the company of my Lord! I will not give ear, if you insist that I should not express my point of view in this great matter. Don’t be angry with me that I disobey you. It is not just and proper for you to throw me aside here, as one throws out water from the cup after quaffing a mouthful. Believe my word! I shall not continue in Ayodhya even for a moment; take me with you”.

With these words, Sita fell at Rama’s feet and held them tight. “I have not the slightest sorrow that you were not crowned. I hold you dear, crowned or uncrowned. Wherever you are, that is the Empire for me. There is my Treasure. That is my Glory,” she pleaded and prayed. Rama told her that forest life was fraught with fears and dangers. The forest was infested with wild animals and wilder men, demonic depredators and dacoits. One has to encounter floods in rivers, wade through thick thorny undergrowth. He said that she was not used to traverse places on foot and therefore, she will have to undergo great exhaustion. He described various other forms of fear and anxiety that will confront her. But, Sita was unmoved. She replied. “Lord! However wild the animals may be, however thick and terror-striking the forest may be, what harm can they cause, what injury can they inflict on me, when you are by my side? I can walk through forest tracks; it will be no trouble for me. I will be happier if you ask me to walk first, preparing the path smooth for you to tread. I shall pick and cast away stones, pebbles and thorns to lessen pain, making your journey easy. Allow me to be with you, so that I may render this service and be happy. Here, in the palace of Ayodhya, and in the zenana, I could not get the chance to serve you. I felt worried and miserable that all services for you were undertaken by attendants and aides. There will be no attendant, no aide in the forest! So, I can be happy, doing all the services myself. That is my great good fortune! Make my life worth while, Lord. Give me that glorious chance!” Sita prayed in a variety of ways, pleading for mercy and justice. Rama was moved to compassion, He said, “Sita! Living in the forest, you cannot be happy, you have to suffer greatly in the coming days”. Rama expatiated on the horrors of jungles and the sufferings that one has inevitably to meet there. But, Sita stood firm. “Rama, I shall not interpose any obstacle in the observance of your vows. From your words, I infer that you are hiding something from me, some objection which you do not like to raise before me. I shall observe along with you the vows of personal austerity incumbent on a person on the Brahmachari path; I too shall live on tubers and fruits. I too shall discard the use of scents; we shall only inhale the fragrance of forest flowers. You are a scion of the lkshvaku line, which has saved millions from danger and disaster! Can you not guard me against them? Are you so weak of hand? I won’t give you trouble; through me, you will not have the slightest worry. Lord! I cannot but follow you. I will lay myself down and sleep at your feet; that will give me the fullest bliss. Rama! I know and recognize none except you. I cannot exist alive for a moment apart from you. Well. If you hold fast to your resolution and proceed, leaving me in Ayodhya, Sita would have drawn her last breath before you reach the forest. Take this as Truth”.

Sita’s eyes shed streams of tears as she spoke these words. Rama tried to pacify her. He said, “0 “Sita, you are a very staunch adherent of Dharma. It is best for you to stick to your righteous qualities maintaining them at this place. You cannot act as your will dictates; you have no freedom to behave as you desire. Your Dharma is to act in accordance with my words. Therefore, give up this idea of yours. I am saying this for your own good. Guarding you will be a burden for me certainly. Streams rolling down from mountain peaks, wild beasts that dwell in the caves, lions and tigers roaming without let or hindrance amidst the hills and valleys – these have to be overcome. Rivers in spate will have to be forded. We may have to leap down from huge boulders and rocks. Considering these difficulties I have to tell you in such emphatic terms to stay. You have to wear matted hair and clothes of the bark of trees. We men have to go to some river or lake for the evening rites of worship; at that time, who will watch over you against any calamity that might happen? Whatever may be the crisis, we cannot give up those rites. You know how strict that rule is; so, you may have to be alone for some time daily. We cannot say what will happen when”.

Rama tried to picture before Sita fearful scenes of forest life, but Sita was not affected in the least. She said, “Rama! Why tell me these things, as if I am a simpleton of some back-ward village; or an ignorant stupid woman, unaware of the teachings of the Sastras? I am well aware of your skill and prowess. Nothing is impossible for you on earth, nay! in all the fourteen worlds! And, when you are with me, what fear can disturb me? Well, if a wild beast attacks me and I fall a prey to it, I will be happy that I die in your presence, rather than anywhere far! I shall die happily then. I shall never agree to a life, if I have to spend it without you. You said that I have no freedom to do as I wish. Did you say so, with the full consciousness of its meaning? Or, was it just a remark to test me? I am not able to reason out. I am half of you; it is my right to name myself as your half. You too have the same right. And, that is the truth. You are not fully free, nor am I. I have as much right over you, as you have over me. But, I do not now plead for my rights or claims. I am yearning for being near you, being ever in your presence. My words arise from that craving”.

Listening to Sita revealing her hard determination, Rama continued. “Sita! You are entangling yourself in the complexities of rights and claims! When I proceed to the forest, the aged parents will be wailing and weeping for me. At that time, you can console and comfort them, with gentle assurances. That is your duty. You must conduct yourself according to the needs of each occasion. Be with them; serve them; that is the way to please me, and give me Ananda”. Rama spoke as if his decision was final, and in a tone of command. But, Sita responded only with a smile. “When the son born of these very parents plunges them in deep grief and goes away, clinging with a bear’s grasp to his adamantine resolution and, when the very son whom they love so much gives everything up and goes into the forest, what responsibility has the daughter-in-law, who has entered this house-hold from her own, a stranger in the family, what responsibility has she to console and comfort those deserted by the son? Ponder over this for a while!” she said. “I am told you insisted on your mother remaining here, serving her husband, though she wept out her eyes in bitter tears, and prayed that she be allowed to follow you to the forest! You told her that her duty of serving her husband is predominant. You declared that it will bring untold disgrace on the Ikshvaku dynasty if she abandons the lord she is wedded to, out of affection for the son she has borne and brought forth into the world! Such moral rules of inestimable value, you dilated upon, before her. But, as soon as you come near me, you have reversed that advice and started telling me that my predominant duty is service to the parents-in-law and not service to the husband! Think it over! Which is the correct advice? For the wife, the husband is God – this was not laid down for Kausalya alone; it is the guide and goal for women, all over the world, without exception. You have, evidently, forgotten this truth, for it does not suit your present wish. You are unable to explain how the moral rule you quoted before Kausalya does not apply to me.

“However long you argue, whatever you may assert, I shall not leave off treading along the prints your feet make. You may kill me for transgressing your order, but I assert I can never be without you. Ramachandra! No sooner did you speak of the exile in the forest you are entering upon than I had such an upsurge of joy, remembering an incident that took place in my childhood! You cannot understand the extent of that joy! My mother, with me seated on her lap, was immersed in anxiety about the husband destiny had in store for me, whether he would be morally upright and endowed with excellent attributes. She was stroking my hair, and lost in thought. The maid put in her appearance just then and announced that certain woman ascetic desired audience with her. She lifted me and gently placed me on the floor, and went forward to meet her. Mother fell at her feet and directed me to do likewise. I did as she directed. The woman eyed me closely from head to foot, and said, ‘Mother! Your child will spend years with her husband in the forest! At this, my mother replied, with a laugh. ‘Not married yet! And, you talk of her spending life in the forest!’ She did not keep quiet, however. She explained, ‘After marriage! She will have to live in the forest with her husband, for some time!’ And then, she went her way! Ever since that day, I am looking forward excitedly to the time when I can go and live in the forest with my Lord! Make me happy, take me with you”. Sita fell at his feet and sobbed out her prayer.

Rama was moved to pity. He raised her gently and said. “Sita! To whom else am I to confide the secret spring of my decision? Listen! You are young; in the forest there are many hermitages full of ascetics, hermits and sages. I will have to go to them in order to be of service to them and to offer my reverence to them. Kings and Princes too may be present there (since they come to hunt) and honour them and be blessed by them. Their eye may fall on you; and, consequential complications and conflicts may arise. And, since I will be wearing the apparel of an ascetic, it may not be proper to enter into fights with them. At least for this reason you will have to remain in Ayodhya.”

Sita had her own reasons to protest at this. She said, “Rama! It is not just that you should deceive me, spinning such fairy tales, as if you are of common stock! When you are by my side, can even the Ruler of the Gods cast his eye on me? If he does, will he not be reduced to ashes that very moment? No, for this reason, you cannot leave me here; you cannot escape your duty and responsibility on this score! Let me also tell you something: If you are not with me, what will be my fate? I will have to be alone, in Ayodhya; and incidents of the nature you just now dilated upon can happen here! Or else, I may suffer inner agony not being able to bear the conjugal happiness of others! So, do not leave me alone, take me with you, and let your renown and mine spread for all time over the entire world. Let me add: You are dear to all as Ramachandra, Rama the Moon! I am Sita, which means, cool, the cool Moonlight! How can the moon be in the forest and its cool light stay away in Ayodhya? Where the moon is, there its light must be! Hence, this separation can never be. The two shall ever be together, never apart! If the two happen to part, it is but evidence of the approach of some unnatural catastrophe, a world shaking tragedy. Or, it may come about for the sake of an epoch making endeavour to destroy the wicked and save the good from extinction! Since no such crisis is evident now, our separation is impossible. It cannot happen”. Sita, the Supreme Mother, spoke these words in a resolute voice, as If she would brook no objection.

“Sita! You will have to sleep on hard rocky ground, wear apparel made of fiber or bark, live on tubers and roots. Even this food, it might be difficult to get every day! Their availability depends on the seasons of the year. When they are not procurable, you might have to be hungry for days. The forest is infested with demonic tribes who are masters of a million stratagems, and who eat with delight human flesh. O! it is impossible to describe fully the travails of life in the forest! You cannot bear these terrors and tribulations. If you accompany me into exile, people will condemn me and pour abuse on me. How can the Celestial Swan that lives on the ambrosial waters of the Manasa-Sarovar survive drinking the brackish waters of the sea? How can the Kokil sporting in the garden that is full of tender-leaved mango trees be happy and carefree in a patch of low grass? Reflect on these matters. It is most desirable that you stay at home.”

Sita listened to these words of Rama, spoken so soft and sweet; but, all the while, she stood with her eyes on the ground, and tears were streaming down her cheeks. She stood like a pillar, unmoved and immovable. Her tears fell continuously on the floor; Rama could not bear the sight of her distress. Sita could find no word to answer the objections Rama raised. Finally, she managed to control her emotions, and swallow her grief. She said, “O Lord of my life! You are the treasure-house of everything good and auspicious. When I am separated from you, even heaven is horrible hell. Parents, brothers, sisters, parents-in-law, sons, preceptors, kinsmen – all these might be resplendent repositories of goodness; but, for a woman, her husband is the only source of strength, joy and fortune. He alone can grant her happiness and delight. Except the husband, she has none to guide her and guard her; he is her refuge, her only resort. Lord! When the husband is away from her, the wife will find the body, the home, the city, the kingdom, the wealth heaped around her, everything as sources of grief and sorrow. They cannot confer joy on her stricken mind. Sweetness will turn bitter when her Lord is away. Delight will be curdled into disease. All the joys I crave for are centered in you. Nothing can equal the ecstasy I derive when I fix my eyes on your face that shines so bright and comforting like the full moon in autumn. When I am with you there the birds and beasts will be my kith and kin. The forest will be the city I love. The apparel made of tree bark will be silken clothes. The hermitage with the thatch of leaves will be as delightful a home for me as a heavenly mansion. The fairies and angels of the forest, the sylvan deities will be parents-in-law. I shall revere them with equal awe. When I am with you, sheaves of grass and heaps of floral petals will give as much softness for the bed. The God of Love cannot aspire for more. And, the tubers, roots and fruits that you speak of will be as sweet and sustaining as Divine Nectar itself! The mountain peaks there will gladden me as much as the towers of Ayodhya. I will come down one slope and climb another, as gladly as while coming down one flight of stairs and getting up another here. It will be so easy and delightful.

“Every day, I will derive the thrill of delight at the sight of your Lotus Feet. Besides, this will be a golden chance for me to serve you at all times in every way. How can I survive the agony, if I am to lose this precious chance? 0, Treasure-chest of Mercy! Do not leave me here; take me with you! Really there is no need for me to pour these importunities into your ear; for, you reside in all beings and you are aware of all that they feel and think. It isn’t proper that you should inflict such pain on me, when you know how my heart is yearning for the chance to be with you. Lord! I am downcast, miserable. If you leave me and go, it will bring your name down. You have all the noble attributes; why then deny mercy to me? Can I keep alive for fourteen years, separated from you? I find it impossible to keep alive even for ten winks of separation! Accept my prayer, show me a little kindness. When I am with you, how can any one dare harm or attack me? Why? No one dare cast a glance at me. Can the jackal or the hare open its eye and dare look at the lion? I am not a tender fragile person. To speak the truth, you are tenderness personified! The Earth is my mother. Therefore, I have every right and every strength to traverse the Earth. Really, happiness is your share in life; my lot is to sufier. When such is the case, why do you invert facts and cause disappointment to me. It is not correct. I declare that I can carry out with ease tasks which are beyond you! You know full well that I lifted up and placed aside the Bow of Siva, that no king however proud of his prowess could lift. I am surprised that you doubt my capabilities! My valour and skill are not inferior to yours. So, do give me permission and make arrangements to depart with me in great joy.”

Sita bowed low, and fell at Rama’s feet with these words. Rama felt that it would be improper to continue resisting her wishes. He resolved to yield. “Sita!” he said, “Give up your grief. Do not give way to sadness. As you desire, I shall take you with me. Engage yourselves quickly in preparing for the journey to the forest!” Hearing the sweet words with which Ramachandra spoke, Sita was elated; she was filled with boundless joy. She said, “Preparation? What has one to prepare, to live in the forest? I am always ready, with whatever I need, for I need only you; I have no other want. I am following you, this moment. In you I have all I need. You know I have no desire for anything other than you”. With these words, she held Rama’s hand in hers and stepped forward. Rama said, “Sita! Consider this: You will not be in Ayodhya for fourteen years. Therefore, go and release the parrots and birds you have reared as pets with love and care. And the cows you fostered with affection! Give them away to Brahmins, so that they might be treated lovingly. Distribute the various articles of dress, the vehicles, and other articles used by you, to the people, or else, they will be ruined by time. It is far better that they be used rather than get disintegrated”. When this suggestion was made, Sita immediately ran towards the cages, and addressing each pet bird in loving accents, told them; “Go! Like us, roam freely in the beautiful forest.” With her own hands, she opened the cages and set them free! Then she went to the cow-shed. She fed the cows with various tasty foods and talked to the Brahmins who were to receive them as gifts. Her charming face beamed with joy. Spectators who watched her giving the things away felt their hearts melt with sorrow at her impending departure. They shed tears in streams for they were moved by the large-hearted generosity, and more than all, by her exultation at the prospect of accompanying her husband into exile in the forest. Her ecstasy was beyond the pen of any poet.

Meanwhile, Lakshmana joined them. After taking leave of his mother the three then moved on.

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Chapter 13

Entering into Exile

Thousands had gathered in the quadrangle of the Palace. Their grief was immeasurable. Meanwhile, the Minister went in, and aroused the Emperor who had fallen unconscious on the floor. He made him sit up, and placed him in position. He communicated to him the news that Sita, Rama and Lakshmana had come to have audience with him. Rama had already stood near his father, speaking words of soothing love. When Dasaratha saw Sita and Lakshmana, his grief knew no bounds. He embraced Rama closely and fell on the floor. Anguish choked his throat; he pressed his hands on his chest and tried to suppress the agony. Sita and Lakshmana could not look on at the suffering Emperor.

Lakshmana saw Kaikeyi, standing by with an air of authority; his eyes became red with rage; he looked daggers at her as if he would kill her on the spot. But he controlled his anger, and cooled his emotion, watching the serenely calm face of Rama. At that time, Kaikeyi said, “Rama! You are plunging your father in deeper grief! The sooner you leave and reach the forest, the quicker will your father be relieved from anxiety. Do not delay any longer! Prostrate before your father, and go”. These words so devoid of elementary kindness seemed to split the heart of Dasaratha. Dasaratha suddenly shouted, “Demoness! Evil spirit! How hard and adamantine are your words” and fell in a faint. Just at that moment, Sita, Rama and Lakshmana fell at his feet. Rama said, “Father! Bless us and permit us to leave. This is a time fit for rejoicing, not pining and grieving. Over-attachment brings infamy in its train”. Rama pleaded that he should be courageous and give up the delusion that makes him dote on him. Rama clasped his father’s feet, and then knelt on his Knees caressing and consoling.

Dasaratha opened his eyes and looked full at his beloved son. He sat up with great difficulty and holding both hands of Rama in his, he said, “O my darling Son! Listen to my words! You are possessed of self-control and discrimination. You know what is right; it is proper that you should do only the right thing. Now, it is not right when one person does wrong, for another to suffer from its consequences, isn’t it? The play of Fate is unpredictable, it is a riddle beyond solution”.

The Emperor began to pile argument on argument in his innocence and love, to dissuade Rama from his resolve to proceed to the forest.

Rama was known to Dasaratha, the father, as a Master of the Codes of Morality, and as a strict adherent of these Codes; he was skilled in justifying his acts; he was unafraid of the consequences of his resolve. Dasaratha read from the face of Rama who stood before him that he had come ready to take leave of him for the journey into exile. When he saw Sita too before him, he called her near and when she knelt by his side, he stroked her head softly, and described to her the travails of forest life. He told her that the best course for her would be to stay back, either with her parents-in-law, or with her own parents. His words came through groans of unbearable sorrow. He gnashed his teeth in rage, when his eyes fell upon Kaikeyi; all the while, he was fuming and fretting within himself, unable to contain his grief.

Sita fell at his feet and said “Revered Father-in-law! My mind longs only for the service of Rama. That good fortune awaits me in full measure in the forest. I cannot stay back, losing this precious chance. Service rendered to parents or parents-in-law cannot give the wife the joy of fulfillment that service rendered to her husband can alone give. There is no joy or happiness greater or higher than that. Do not oppose me or present arguments against my leaving. Confer on me your blessings and send me with Ramachandra.”

Dasaratha could well understand and appreciate the yearning of Sita. He extolled her virtues with genuine enthusiasm, for the edification of Kaikeyi, standing before him. Meanwhile, the wives of Royal ministers, and the wives of Royal Preceptors who were in the room gathered around Sita, and, in their turn, they too described the hardship inherent in forest life. The Court Preceptor’s spouse sought a cleverer ruse to dissuade her. She said, “Sita! You have not been required to leave and go into the forest. It is your task to remain here and comfort the parents of your husband who are sunk in sorrow. You are half of Rama, aren’t you? So, this half must stay in order to alleviate the sorrow that the departure of the other half is causing them. Moreover since you are half of the eldest son, the Heir to the Throne, you have the right to rule over the Empire. If Rama moves into the forest and lives there to honour the word of his father, stay and rule over the realm and uphold the renown of Rama, filling his parents with delight. As the wife of Rama, this is the correct step you should take; this is your legitimate duty”.

These words were spoken as soft and sweet as the whispering of autumn moonbeams into the ears of chakravaka birds; but they made Sita reel in misery. She was so overcome that no reply came from her.

During this interval, Kaikeyi had secured hermit’s robes of fiber as well as rosaries of tulsi; she held them before Rama and said, “The Emperor holds you as dear as his very life. So, he is bringing down eternal infamy on his head, unwilling to let you go. His affection for you is clouding the righteousness of the course. He will not utter the words, ‘Go into the forest’, at any time, under any circumstance. It is fruitless to await his agreement and his permission. So, decide on any one of these two steps: Are you courting infamy and dishonour and staying to rule over the Empire? Or, are you leaving for the forest and bringing eternal glory to the Ikshvaku Dynasty? Decide and act”.

Rama was glad that she spoke so. But, the words entered the heart of Dasaratha like sharp nails driven in by heavy hammer-strokes. “Alas! What cruel fate is mine! That I should be alive even after hearing such harsh words!”, he exclaimed, and rolled to the floor in a faint. Regaining consciousness, he recalled the words he had heard, and again, became unconscious. Rama could not bear the sight of his father’s helplessness in the face of the situation that confronted him. He felt that he should accept the suggestion of Kaikeyi and leave; for, the sooner he left, the better it would be for all concerned.

He received in his hands the fiber-robe his step-mother had brought and winding one of them around himself, he gave the other to Sita. She stood holding it in her hands, with her head bent in embarrassment, for she did not know how to wear it or fasten it around her. It looked too short a piece. Rama, who had already worn his robe, came near and spoke to her in a low voice. She was ashamed to confess that she did not know how to wear the fiber-garment, which hermit women draped around themselves so elegantly. She whispered, “Besides, this is not like the ones we wear; it is too short and not wide enough!” Rama consoled her, and, putting courage into her, took her aside, and saying that it could be worn ‘thus-wise’, he wound it round her himself. Seeing this, the wives of the hermits and other women of the palace shed tears of sympathy.

At this juncture, Vasishta the Royal Preceptor, arrived at the scene; he stood aghast, taking in the situation at a glance. He fell foul of Queen Kaikeyi. He declared that Sita need not wear the garment of fiber. He asserted that Kaikeyi had asked for and had been granted two boons only – Bharata to be crowned and Rama sent into the forest. He said that Sita could go into the forest with all regal paraphernalia and every requisite for a comfortable sojourn there.

At this, Rama unwound the garment he had placed over her dress. But Sita came forward and fell at the feet of the Sage. She said, “Master! Of course, my wearing that garment is not the direct consequence of mother Kaikeyi’s desire. Can I not follow the ways of my Lord? Would it be proper for me, would it bring credit for me, if I live in the forest bedecked in jewels and costly silken garments, when my Lord is wearing the garment of a hermit? It would be extremely absurd for a dutiful wife to adopt this attitude, wouldn’t it be? Therefore, give me permission to put on these garments, so that I may maintain the wife’s code of conduct and carry out my duty”.

The adherence to righteous conduct which prompted this prayer moved the mighty Sage into tearful compassion. With sorrow stuttering his voice, he said, “Sita! This line of thought comes quite naturally to you, since you are the embodiment of virtue. But, as kings and rulers, there are certain principles to be respected, by you and others. The crooked and wicked brain of your mother-in-law Kaikeyi needs some correction and warning. As a matter of fact, this day, your husband was to be crowned Emperor of this realm. Though that event did not take place as a result of a combination of circumstances, including promises made long ago, I must say that it is against political justice to crown Bharata instead. Only the eldest son has the right to the Throne; no one else has the claim. If he for any reason gives up the right through his own free will, as he has done now, you, as the other half of his person, have the right to wield that authority; no third party can exercise it.

When Vasistha was expounding rules of political morality, Kaikeyi was visibly affected by fear. But she was not unaware of the fact that Sita would not desire to exercise regal authority and power. However long Vasishta elaborated on her rights and claims, Sita refused to pay attention to them; she was yearning for the chance to wear the fiber garment of the hermit in preference to the robes of Imperial Splendour. The wife of the Royal Preceptor felt that Sita would never retract from her resolve; so, she and others took the garment and wound it round her, in correct hermitage style.

Meanwhile, Lakshmana too wore the same sylvan garments, as Rama had on. Rama decided that there should be no more delay. The three prostrated reverently before Dasaratha, who fainted away at the sight of his sons in their ascetic attire. They prostrated also before Kaikeyi who was standing nearby. They fell at the feet of sage Vasishta and of his Consort. And they started towards the forest.

Citizens of Ayodhya who had gathered at the Palace gates saw them walking as hermits; they broke into bitter sobs. Many were so shocked that they fell unconscious. Many beat their heads in sheer despair. While on the door step of the Royal Gate, Rama once again prostrated before Sage Vasishta, and spoke a few words exhorting the people to remain calm and to uphold virtue. He told them that they should not grieve over the turn of events, that he would return to Ayodhya after the fourteen years of stay in the forest, and that the order of exile was only for their good, for his own good and for the good of the whole world.

Then, he distributed largesses to the poor; he gifted houses as well as gold, lands and cows to Brahmins, so that they could perform ritual worship and sacrifices without stint. He prayed to the Sage to arrange for the performance of Vedic sacrifices on appropriate occasions. He stood with folded palms before him and said. “Holy Sage and Preceptor, for these, the people, and for my parents, you are the real parents. Advise the King, admonish the King, that he may rule over the people as he would treat his own children”. When the people heard this prayer repeated on their behalf, they became sad, heart-broken. Some of them beat their breasts, cursing themselves for losing the fortune of being ruled by such a Prince. Some inflicted injuries on their own heads. Some rolled on the ground and wailed aloud.

Meanwhile, Rama turned again towards the mass of citizens, and with palms folded, he spoke a few words to them. “My dear people, you are as dear to me as my very life. Our Sovereign Ruler has sent me to protect and foster the forest region. Do not entertain any animosity against him for this reason. Guard him and pray for him at all times. Adhere to his commands; make him happy and be happy yourselves. Your love for me should not lead you to dislike the King. Never wish ill for him. Those only are dear to me who work for the happiness of the King, after I leave for the forest. Those are the people who are really devoted to me, who do what I really like. Fulfill this desire of mine; honour these words of mine; make me happy. My dear people! Being separated from me, my mother Queen Kausalya will naturally be immersed in grief. Every mother in a similar situation will have unbearable agony. But, I plead with you, since you are intelligent and full of sympathy “do your best to alleviate her sorrow and comfort her”.

Then he called Minister Sumanthra near, and said, “O Sumanthra! Proceed now to Father. Advise him and quieten him. That is the task on which you have to busy yourself”. Sumanthra was overcome with grief; he stood silent, with tears streaming down his cheeks. He could not restrain his sorrow; he sobbed and wept aloud. Other Ministers who were standing around him, as well as the Aides in attendance, attempted to bring him round into a state of calmness and courage. But they were too sad to stand there. So, they went into the Palace, in accordance with the directive given by Rama. The entire city was sunk deep in a vast sea of sorrow.

Meanwhile, Dasaratha recovered from his faint and became conscious of what had happened. He lamented, “Rama! Rama!” and tried to raise himself up. But, heavy with grief, he fell on the floor again. When he rose, he tried to walk, but could not; he moved falteringly around.

At that moment, Sumanthra entered the room, and endeavoured to hold him and console him. But, with huge outbursts of anguish surging in him, how could he convey consolation to his master? However, he remembered Rama’s order to that effect; and, so he dutifully swallowed the sorrow that was overwhelming his heart and sat by the side of the Emperor with tears still flowing in streams. He could not utter any word for a long time.

Dasaratha opened his eyes; he saw Sumanthra by his side; exclaiming in uncontrollable grief “Rama!”, he fell into the lap of the old minister and poured out his sobs. Then, he rose and groaned, “Sumanthra! Rama has gone into the forest; yet, my life has not gone out of this body! What can my life gain by sticking to this body?” Then, getting a little calmer, he said, “Here! Hasten behind Rama! Take a fast chariot and go. My daughter-in-law can never bear the heat of the sun. She will soon have blisters on those lotus petal soles! Go! Go with the chariot!”

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Chapter 14

Into the forest

“SUMANTHRA!”, Dasaratha said, “My Ramachandra is an unshakable hero; he will not turn back. His resolution cannot be shaken or suppressed by any one. Efforts made for modifying it will be futile; and, we will only be causing him distress by our attempts. Besides, Rama is an unswerving adherent of Truth. Do not delay, for if even a little time is spent in getting the chariot ready, you may miss his trail. My subjects cannot bear the sight of Rama walking along the royal roads of Ayodhya. Go, go!”

The Emperor hurried him out, with the words, “Carry with you in that chariot, a few hampers of food and a few weapons and give them over. Sumanthra! I forgot to tell you this. Plead as strongly as you can, mention also that I told you to pray that Sita be directed to return to Ayodhya. Take them into the chariot, and let them go with you some distance towards the forest. Go into the forest along with them, for, if Sita is frightened at the sight of the jungle, and you become aware of her fear, immediately ask Rama for orders, and pray Sita, the tender Princess of Mathila, to return to Ayodhya, bringing to her mind that it is also my wish. Tell her that, if she cannot agree to stay in Ayodhya, the Emperor will arrange to send her to her father, Janaka”. Dasaratha repeated these words often, and laden with grief at the pictures they evoked, he lost consciousness and rolled on the ground.

Rising soon, he exclaimed, in great distress, “Sumanthra! Why waste words and time? Bring my Rama, Lakshmana and Sita before me now; let me have a look at all three. Decide on doing that, and make me happy.” Then, he plaintively- requested Sumanthra, “Go fast, don’t delay, take the chariot to where they are and drive the vehicle as far as it is possible for it to proceed, to the spot beyond which it cannot go. Perhaps, it may be possible to journey in a chariot for three or four days. At the end of that period, let them alight; stand there watching them, until they move beyond the reach of your eyes, before you turn back to bring me the news of their health and safety. Now, go. Don’t stay near me. Go.” Dasaratha asked the Minister to hasten.

Bowing his head in acceptance of the Emperor’s order, Sumanthra fell at his feet and got the chariot ready. He caught up with Sita, Rama and Lakshmana, who were going along the City roads on foot; he told them what the Emperor had spoken to him; he had them seated inside the chariot; then, he drove off in the direction of the forest. On both sides of the Royal Road, masses of citizens were weeping and wailing, and Sumanthra tried to exhort them to control their emotions, and be calm. They crossed the City limits and moved a little distance further. The populace from the Capital ran behind the chariot, all in one panic-stricken mass, raising clouds of dust that reached the high heavens. There was no sign of road or ground; It was one vast plain of distraught humanity. Old men, women, men young and strong, Brahmins, all with one voice, screamed amidst sobs, “Rama! Rama! Take us with you! Don’t leave us behind!” The streets of Ayodhya were empty; the City was as silent as a City in sleep. Darkness fell, like a heavy weight, on every roof.

Some men and women who could not travel stood like stumps, helpless on the road. Many bolted doors and spent the days suffering utmost anguish; avoiding food and drink, rolling on the floor, in whatever place they were when Rama left. Some awaited the return of Rama at nightfall, hoping that he might be induced by compassion to come back to his beloved people.

Meanwhile, Dasaratha had himself seated in a chariot! He shouted aloud, “Rama! Rama! … Sumanthra! Sumanthra! Stop that chariot! I will look at the treasure of my Love, just once.” He quickened the pace of the horses and came faster and faster. The mass of citizens following Rama were caught between his chariot and the chariot of the Emperor, and many of them were so exhausted that they fell on the ground. When they saw a chariot passing by with speed, they raised their heads to find out whether Rama was returning seated in it; they rose and tried to stop it, to have a glimpse of Rama, their beloved Prince. But, when the groans of Dasaratha fell on their ears, they too broke into sobs; they allowed the chariot to pass pleading pathetically, “O King! Go soon, go and bring back our Ramachandra!”

Dasaratha saw the chariot of Rama speeding along the sand-dunes outside the City, and, he cried out, “Sumanthra! Sumanthra! Rein in. Stop”, and himself commanded his charioteer to speed up. Sumanthra cast his glance back and espied the chariot following his. He told Rama, “Ramachandra! Father Dasaratha is behind us; I feel it is best to stop for a while and find out what his orders are.” Rama too saw the huge muss of citizens, and the chariot carrying his father, fast hastening behind him. He knew that if he stopped now, they would surround him and break into un controllable grief, that those who sat exhausted on the sides of the road would rise and race, impelled by a new hope, and so, it would be only an act of greater cruelty on his part, for he would be giving them hopes without any benefit. It will also injure the realization of his promise. If the subjects witness the wailing of Dasaratha, it will bring him down in their estimation. Weighing all these considerations in his mind he told Sumanthra who was his charioteer, that there was no need to stop the vehicle. He said, it was best that he drove it even faster. At this, Sumanthra prayed, with folded palms, “Rama! I have been ordered to be with you for four days only. After that period, I have to return to Ayodhya, haven’t I? On seeing me, he will certainly reprimand me for not stopping the chariot, as commanded by him. What shall I tell him in reply? Kindly keep me with you, throughout all the years of exile in the forest. I shall deem my life well and happily lived if I am allowed to be in the forest with you. If you agree, I shall not stop; I shall drive as fast as you wish. Kindly communicate your order on this”.

Rama thought about the problem presented by Sumanthra and its implications. He said, “Sumanthra! He who ordered you to get into the chariot and take us in it, right into the forest, as far as it could negotiate, was your Master, the Emperor. He who now follows this chariot, weeping and pleading with you to stop, is Dasaratha. You have to listen to and obey the command of the Emperor, not the orders of Dasaratha. You are the Minister of the country, of its Ruler; not of an individual named Dasaratha. As individuals, between us, there is the bond of affection that ties the son to his father. But, as Emperor, he has imperial authority over you and me, equally. Your loyalty and my loyalty towards him are the same. You have to carry out your Duty. When Dasaratha chastises you for not giving ear to the request he is now making, tell him that you did not hear him; it is not wrong to say so.” And, Rama asked him to drive faster, without caring to stop the chariot.

Sumanthra drank in with avidity the nectar of moral analysis that Rama had vouchsafed to convince him. When Dasaratha saw that Rama was driving on, he stopped his vehicle, and turned back towards Ayodhya, moaning his lot, and wailing aloud. The people, however, followed the chariot, undaunted by physical exhaustion, urged on by their determination to hold on to their beloved Rama. Some of them who were ready to sacrifice their life for him and die in their effort to reach him, trudged along, breathless and broken, their feet devotedly stepping on the track left by the chariot in which he sat. Rama saw those subjects of the realm trekking behind him, drawn by the Love they bore towards him; he was filled with compassion. He stopped the chariot, and spoke to them sweet and soft words that touched their hearts. He discoursed on the various moral aspects of the situation, and pleaded with them to return to Ayodhya.

They replied that separation from him was unbearable agony for them that they could not reside even for a moment in an Ayodhya wherein Rama was absent and that they were prepared to die in the forest rather than live in Ayodhya! While many among them asserted thus, the younger among them declared that a City wherefrom the Divinity of Dharma had disappeared was more horrible than the jungle, and that they could not live in such a frightful place. The forest where you reside is the Ayodhya for us, they said. Do not be worried in the least, about our exhaustion or our travail. Observe your vow, your duty as you have resolved; we too shall observe our vow. You have decided to honour the wish of your father as a sacred duty; we, too, have a sacred duty, to honor the wish of the Rama in our hearts, the Atma Rama, our Master, the Authority we loyally revere. We will not falter in our resolution. We will not return. Death alone can defeat us,” they announced, amidst sobs and tears of despair.

The compassionate heart of Rama melted at those words of love and loyalty. Sita shed tears in streams. Lakshmana watched the upsurge of devotion rising from the common people of the realm; his eyes turned red with anger, his tongue was tied with emotion, when he thought of Kaikeyi, the step-mother, who did not have even an iota of this sentiment towards Rama. He sat on the ground, his head heavy with sad thoughts

Rama felt that it was best to persuade them, by whatever means, to return home. He consoled them, sympathized with them, reminded them of the rites and rituals they had to perform every day and the consequences of non-observance. He described the horrors of forest life and the handicaps they would encounter when trying to live there as hitherto, and advised them to perform the rites and rituals correctly and without break, so that his years of exile may pass off quick and smooth; they would be helping him to spend his exile in peace and joy, and to return to Ayodhya at the proper time, fresh and fine.

The Brahmin youths present before him could not be convinced by these arguments! Rama pleaded with them, saying: “Your aged parents will miss your devoted service; it is wrong to leave them unaided and alone”. At this, they said, “Rama! Our aged parents are so weak and dispirited that they cannot follow you to the very forest; they came thus far and turned back, pouring their mental anguish in streams of tears. They have directed us to follow you, and be with you, for, they said, ‘We are too weak; you are strong and young; Go! Serve Rama on our behalf’. Those aged people are distressed more because you are away from Ayodhya than because we are away from them. They will be happy that their sons are with Rama, a fortune they could not enjoy. Take us with you for this reason at least, to shower joy on those aged people”. Praying thus, they fell at the feet of Rama and wept.

Rama was struck silent at this sincere expression of love and reverence. He was thrilled by the spirit of renunciation of these young men which he felt was grander even than his own renunciation of the throne. His joy was not unmixed with a sense of pride at being surpassed by his subjects in filial piety. Darkness descended on the earth, while the pleadings and rejections were going on. So, Rama asked them to take rest and refreshments for the night, rather than trek back in the darkness.

In order to encourage them to do so Rama bathed in the Thamasa River which flowed by, partook of a meal of roots, tubers and fruits, and rested awhile. The people who had followed him over long distances were so tired physically that after the meal, they fell into deep undisturbable sleep.

Rama knew that, on waking, they will all insist on accompanying him; so, he woke Sumanthra up and directed him to get the chariot ready without the least noise and drive the vehicle so that its track may not be recognized. Sumanthra recognized that there was no other way; he drove so that the tracks were confusingly complex, and even gave faint indications that the chariot had turned towards Ayodhya itself! After skillfully laying these tracks, he drove forward in the direction of the forest.

The new day dawned! The citizens of Ayodhya rose and looked around. There were no signs of the Royal Chariot! Nor were Sita, Rama, or Lakshmana in evidence. They were thrust into deep agony; they aroused the sleeping; they sought to trace the wheel marks on the ground. They ran wildly in all directions, seeking to spot the vehicle.

One among them said, “Brothers! Rama saw how tired we were, how we were sleeping out of sheer exhaustion; so, He left this place without taking us with Him.” Then they started blaming each other, for showing signs of exhaustion and inducing Rama to leave them and go alone. Others condemned themselves as inferior to fish; for, they said: “Fish cannot live without water, but, we are alive, though Rama has left us stranded”. “Fie, fie, on our lives”, they cursed. “We have brought on ourselves this separation from the Person dearest to us. Why are we not bringing upon ourselves Death, which will end sorrow, they moaned. But soon, they felt that since the Atma (Self) in them is Rama, the act of Atma-Hathya (Self-destruction) was unthinkable. It was also not a meritorious act. And, suicide can succeed only when one’s destiny is to die by one’s own hand! So, another among them suggested that they could pray to Destiny to sanction that kind of end for them all.

They got involved in these pathetic discussions and doubts. They were anxious to decide soon on the next step they had to take. Before long, someone announced that the tracks left by the wheel, were traced. It was good news indeed! For, the tracks showed that the Chariot had proceeded towards Ayodhya! They followed the track for some distance; but soon, they could not be seen any longer. They had faded out. It became impossible to guess what had happened; so, they returned to the City, their thoughts all in a mess.

Many consoled themselves, saying that Rama would certainly return to the Palace, for he had seen their plight and his heart was full of compassion towards the broken hearted. Rama would return before the lapse of two or three days, they said. The women entered on various vows and types of worship in order to propitiate the gods to persuade Rama to return to his subjects.

People lived thereafter like Chakravaka birds which have no lotuses to live on, since the Sun is absent and lotuses would not bloom without its warmth.

While the people were suffering thus, Sita, Rama and Lakshmana reached the outskirts of the town of Sringivera, with Minister Sumanthra. Rama noticed the river Ganga, and immediately directed Sumanthra to stop the chariot. He alighted and prostrated on the bare ground before the Stream of Holiness. Sita and Lakshmana as well as Sumanthra got down and did likewise. Rama told the others that Ganga was the source of all the wealth and prosperity, all the peace and plenty that shone around. Ganga gave all beings Supreme Bliss and the Highest spiritual boons. Then they decided to bathe in the Holy Waters.

Rama directed Lakshmana to find some place where Sita could get down from the bank to where she could safely take bath. The banks of the river were soft and slushy in the jungle area; so, Lakshmana chose a spot, which he reinforced by placing stones and rocks so that she could descend safely and ascend in comfort after her ablutions. He prayed to Sita, the Mother, to use that temporary ghat for her bath. She took great care, while stepping down; and before she entered the river, she too prostrated to the Goddess Ganga. Lakshmana went into the jungle to gather some edible fruits so that Rama and Sita could recoup, with some food, after bath. He offered them, reverentially, and they partook of them.

Meanwhile, a few boatmen could be seen collected there. Their eyes fell on the Royal Chariot, as well as on the princely forms of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. They inferred that they must have arrived at that place on a picnic. So, they hastened to their chieftain, Guha, and informed him that some Royal Visitors were near. Guha sent a messenger to inquire and ascertain who they were and what their purpose was, in the forest, by the shore of the Ganga.

He brought back the information that they were none other than the sons of Emperor Dasaratha, and that the Princess was Sita herself, and that they were accompanied by the Royal Minister, Sumanthra. Guha felt that the supremely delightful moments should not be enjoyed alone! He informed his kinsmen and comrades and friends that the great Prince, Rama, had come to the Ganga with his brother and wife. He collected fruits and flowers in plenty, and the entire party proceeded in reverential humility towards the Ganga. Guha placed the fruit and flower offerings at the feet of the Royal Visitors, and fell at the feet of Rama. His kinsmen and friends also prostrated before Rama.

Watching the joy that thrilled them, Rama called Guha near and inquired of him how they fared and whether they were all happy and peaceful. He asked the chieftain Guha how far his administration was helping the community to prosper. Guha answered, “Lord, Rama-Chandra! Beholding your Feet, we have all derived limitless Ananda. We achieved this great good luck only through the merit accumulated by us, by good deeds in the past. Or else, can we, who spend our days in this inaccessible forest, ever hope to be blessed by your visit and the Darsan of your Lotus Feet? From now on, this region is certain to enjoy plenty and peace, for your Feet have trodden this soil. There can be no doubt on this, the transformation is bound to happen.”

Lakshmana, Sita and Sumanthra noted the sincere expression of his joy and the tears of Ananda. They were astonished at his devotion, humility and wisdom. Meanwhile, Guha held fast the Feet of Rama and said, “Lord! All this is yours; all the riches, territory, and authority that I have as Chieftain, as well as all my subjects are yours. They are awaiting your commands; they are at your disposal, usable for your purposes, your services, I am your servant. Accept me as such, accept all that I am offering and enter the City where we dwell.”

When Rama heard this prayer, he smiled and replied, “Guha! you are a staunch devotee; you are deeply virtuous. Your heart is very pure. But listen, I have to roam the forest as an exile, wearing the habiliments of a hermit, in obedience to the command of my father. I should not step into a town or city. I must take only the food prescribed for monks engaged in austerities. I have to live in accordance with regulations laid down for ascetics doing thapas. For these reasons, I am unable to fulfill the wish that you have expressed now.”

Hearing these words, Guha was stricken with sorrow. The large gathering of people who had come there from the city, Sringivera, whispered among themselves about the divine charm of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana. One of them wondered how the parents of those lovely brothers and that angelic lady could possibly exile them into the forest. “How could their tongues ever pronounce such a sentence?” At this, another retorted, “Keep quiet, you fool! Those parents have really done good. Had they not spoken that sentence, we could not have feasted our eyes on their Divine Forms. This day, our eyes are enjoying a rare festival.” This filled many with satisfaction and joy. The Nishada tribesmen who comprised the gathering spoke among themselves words of worshipful admiration of the royal visitors. They extolled the beauty, the tenderness, the soft sweet natures of Sita, of Rama and Lakshmana.

Guha was immersed in sorrow that he had lost the fortune of welcoming Rama into the capital City of the Nishadas, whose chieftain he was. He felt that even if the City, was ‘seen’ by Rama, even if his eyes glanced at it once, it would be blessed with peace and prosperity for ever; so, he suggested that Rama should walk up towards a gigantic but gorgeous Simsupa tree that grew near by and Rama agreed. Guha knew that Rama’s eye had fallen on the City from that spot. He was pleased at the thought. Rama too was happy when he saw the City from a distance. He allowed the Nishadas to touch his feet and directed that they should return to their homes, since nightfall was imminent.

Then Rama went through the holy rites that had to be observed at dusk. Meanwhile, Guha gathered quantities of soft grass and tender leaves, and prepared soft beds. He sent his subjects to collect tubers and fruits, tasty and fresh, from the trees and creepers of the forest, and to bring them packed in leaves, for being offered to the distinguished visitors. Sita, Rama and Lakshmana as well as Sumanthra partook of the frugal meal, and retired for rest and sleep.

Sita slept on the soft bed of grass. Lakshmana sat at the Feet of Rama, in order to massage them tenderly, to relieve the tension of exertion. Rama realized that Lakshmana would continue the service, so long as he appeared to be awake; he desired to induce him to take rest; so, he pretended as if he had gone into deep sleep. At this Lakshmana feared that any further pressing of the feet might disturb the sleep, and he quietly slipped into the distance. There, he sat in the ‘hero’ posture, so that he could gaze intently at the four directions, and recognize at once any wild animal approaching the spot, or any demon or demonic person bent upon disturbing the sleep of Rama; he was all attention and vigilance.

Seeing this, Guha too instructed his faithful lieutenants to guard the area and ensure that nothing happened to disturb the sleep of Rama. He put on his shoulder the pouch of arrows, and holding the bow in readiness, sat near Lakshmana, eager to share his vigil.

Guha, his eyes filled with tears, held his palms folded before him, and asked him, “Lakshmana! The Palace of Emperor Dasaratha is, I guess, grander and more magnificent than the Divine Mansion of the Ruler of the Gods, Indra. In that Palace, everything is charming and beautiful; everywhere there is fragrance and sweetness; soft feather-beds and lamps embossed with precious gems, add to the grandeur and comfort of the palace. There, the beds have sheets light and white like froth on fresh milk, and pillows to match. Sita and Rama who used to sleep on such luxurious beds are now lying on a grassy heap, with no coverlet or pillow, sleeping through sheer physical exertion! It is insufferable agony for me to contemplate this scene. There his father and mother, his aids and maids were looking after his needs and comforts in various ways. Sita and Rama who lived royally until yesterday are now lying on the ground! Alas, my heart is torn to pieces by grief.

“Sita is the beloved daughter of the world-renowned Emperor Janaka; yet, now, she is lying on a spread of dry grass. What a strange turn of fate is this! Are Sita and Rama fit for life in the forest? O, it is now being proven true that the consequences of one’s acts are binding, in spite of everything else.

“Kaikeyi is the daughter of the King of Kekaya State. No one can believe that she is capable of this atrociously sinful act. These two are at a period of their lives when they have to be happy together. What a reprehensible act is it to inflict on them this hard sentence! Such a fate should not overtake even one’s worst enemy.

“The Kekaya Princess has proved herself to be the axe that would cut asunder the very roots of the Tree of the Solar Dynasty. Her selfish greed has sunk the world in sorrow. Ah! My horrid eyes are destined to look on this pathetic sight! What despicable sin did I indulge in to deserve this punishment? Whose happy life caused my eyes in the past to become red with envy, that I had to see my beloved Rama in this plight?”

Guha wailed thus; unable to stop the onrush of the surging waves of grief, he kept his mouth shut, and sat with head bowed in irrepressible agony. At this, Lakshmana too was plunged in gloom.

Lakshmana gathered some courage and said, “O! Chieftain of the Nishadas! One does not get happiness through another, nor does he become miserable through another. He cannot get good fortune or bad fortune through another. There is no possibility for such indirect means to succeed. Nor can one really be either happy or miserable. Each one comes for some purpose, urged by the potentiality of his acts in the previous birth or by some Sovereign Will and Resolution. And, in the course of fulfilling that purpose, they appear to be happy or miserable, that is all. A beggar dreams that he is a king; a king dreams that he is a beggar. When they awake, they find that the happiness and the misery were unreal and short-lived. So too, the world is a dream, unreal, illusory. It is Mithya. You feel sorrow because Rama is in this plight, but Rama is above and beyond grief and joy. For those who watch him, according to the good fortune or misfortune as decided by the merit or demerit acquired and accumulated, he may appear to be happy or miserable; what you see as joy or grief in Rama is only the reflection of your own mental state.” At this, Guha calmed himself, and gave up the rage he had directed against Kaikeyi, a little while ago. He understood that it was not proper to find fault with another and assign blame.

“People are all laid up in the sleep of delusion. And, they are engaged in witnessing a variety of dreams. This is the way men spend the night called ‘life’; the Yogis, self-mastered people, they alone keep awake in the night, without being caught up in or enchanted by dreams. They have no use for the world and its contents. They have turned away from all sensual pleasures and entanglements. Until this stage is reached, people cannot refer to themselves as ‘awake’. When Jnana is attained and the Reality is realized, then the bonds of delusion fall off, and Love is fixed on the Lotus Feet of Sri Rama”. Guha’s thoughts ran on in this strain. He was comforted and strengthened by them. The rest of the night was spent by Guha and Lakshmana, narrating to each other the super-human attributes of Rama and the fullness of the Glory that was latent in him.

Meanwhile it was dawn; while one of them stood guard where Rama slept, the other finished his morning ablutions and returned. Soon Rama moved his limbs, rubbed his eyes, and sitting up, looked at the four quarters. He awakened Sita, and both wended their way to the river Ganga. After bathing, and completing the morning rites, they came to the place where Guha and Lakshmana were. Rama directed Lakshmana to bring a quantity of the milky juice of the ficus tree. Lakshmana moved off without murmur into the forest near by, and without much delay, he brought with him a leaf-bowl full of the juice. Rama applied the juice to the locks of hair on his head, and they turned into a thick matted lump, the like of which is generally worn by hermits.

Looking on at this act, Sumanthra could not restrain his sobs. He was shocked that the head which had to wear the jeweled crown was now carrying the burden of matted hair. He lamented that his eyes were destined ever to see this tragic sight. His heart was scorched by agony. “I cannot be with you any longer in the forest; it has become impossible. I have accomplished the orders of the Emperor. Fate is cutting short my stay in your presence. He ordered me to take you in the chariot until we arrive on the banks of any holy river, and then leave you there and return. I have the duty to inform you this fact; now, It is your turn to tell me what I have to do,” said Sumanthra, standing before Rama, with head bent in sorrow, in humility, tears flowing freely from his eyes.

“Do not grieve”, Rama said, “Accomplishing the orders of the Emperor is your duty, and mine too. I am very happy that you carried out the orders he gave you. Thenceforward, I shall carry out the order that he has given me. I shall follow his directions with the greatest reverence, and in scrupulous detail. Do not delay; return to Ayodhya. My parents will be awaiting your arrival with unbounded anxiety. They are longing to hear from you the description of your journey so far. So, take the chariot back and proceed fast”, he urged.

Sumanthra pictured to himself the place he had to go back to. He pleaded pathetically, “O Ramachandra! Let not Ayodhya become an orphan city. The Emperor will find it difficult to hold himself together in your absence. Bharatha will find it impossible to reign.” Sumanthra fell at the feet of Rama, unable to bear the weight of his sorrow. Rama lifted him up, and holding him by the shoulder, he consoled him. “Sumanthra! No principle of righteousness is higher than Truth. The Vedas, the Puranas, the Epics, all assert and proclaim this, as you know. Now, I have been assigned the task of following this supreme principle of Righteousness! What great good fortune is this! If I miss this chance and lose this fortune, I and my dynasty will earn eternal infamy in all the three worlds. Infamy will burn the righteous more excruciatingly than a million deaths and cremations. Go, fall at the feet of my father and make clear to him my determination and my joy. You must be vigilant to see that my father is not worried about me, Sita and Lakshmana.”

Guha and his followers heard these words of Rama, and were visibly affected by them. Without being aware of it, they started shedding tears. Lakshmana could not bear the anguish; he uttered a few words of anger and bitterness against those who had caused this tragedy. But, Rama realized his temper and stopped him forthwith. Then, he turned to Minister Sumanthra and said, “Sumanthra! Lakshmana is a stripling; do not attach importance to his words. Do not communicate them to father. Lakshmana’s mind is undergoing such suffering since he has great affection for me, and since he is affected by the troubles that afflict Sita. He gave vent to such expressions, for he has a mistaken notion about those who sent me to the forest in exile. By nature, Lakshmana is endowed with very good qualities” Then, Rama began to describe the virtues of his brother.

Sumanthra raised his head and pleaded with Rama about Sita. “Lord! Janaki is tender and soft-natured. She cannot brave the travails of forest life. It is necessary to advise her to return to the city, and convince her that it is the proper thing to do. She is the life-breath of Ayodhya. She is the Goddess of Prosperity for the Empire. If she cannot come to Ayodhya, the inhabitants of that City will suffer like fish in a dry tank. Let her return, and reside, as she desires, with her mother-in-law or her parents. The Emperor has commanded me, again and again, to tell you this in these very words. When you return to Ayodhya at the end of the fourteen years, Janaki could be brought from her father’s palace”. While Sumanthra was importuning in this manner, Rama signed to Sita, as if to draw her attention to his yearning and prayer.

When Sumanthra had concluded, Rama addressed Sita, “Sita! Did you listen to the message of father? Go home and let my parents forget at least a part of the agony they feel at my separation. In their old age, they are too weak to put up with this terrible situation. So, it is very necessary that you go back with the minister to Ayodhya”. Rama used various other arguments to persuade her to accept the request of father.

Sita replied, “Lord! You are omniscient. You know the ideal moral conduct prescribed for each section of man kind. I have no need to remind you. Please listen for a while to my prayer. The shadow has to follow the substance. Can it be away from it? Solar rays cannot exist separate from the Sun. Moon-light cannot exist separated from the moon. In like manner, this Sita shadow cannot leave and exist after leaving Ramachandra, the Rama Moon.”

Then, she turned to Sumanthra and said, “Sumanthra! You are to me as venerable as my father and father-in-law. You are my well-wisher. Please consider this: I do not seek any other refuge except the Lotus Feet of my Lord. The world knows that the daughter-in-law who is brought into the family cannot be any nearer than the son born in the family. That they will forget their agony at the separation of the son, if the daughter-in-law returns, is a statement that has no meaning. As regards the wealth and comfort of my father’s palace, I have enjoyed them enough in my child hood days. Now, they appear to me as dry and as cheap as grass, without my Lord being with me. I have no other path, except the path which he treads. Therefore, without misunderstanding me, please agree to my words; drop this attempt to take me back to Ayodhya. Forget It. Convey my prostrations to my parents-in-law and assure them that there is no cause for anxiety about us. Tell them that Sita is happy, many thousand times happier than when she was in Ayodhya or Mithila. I am with the Lord of my heart, with the great hero, the best of warriors, his brother, Lakshmana so, I am passing these days in the forest, happily, undisturbed by fear, anxiety or agitation of mind. Tell them I am not tired in the least by the journey. Tell them I am very happy, that I consider this exile a great piece of good fortune.”

Hearing these words, Sumanthra was so overwhelmed with admiration and grief, that he could not look up at the face of Sita; he could not listen any more to such profoundly moving words; he could not himself find words to speak to her. He reflected on her virtues, on her pure feelings, and on her steadfastness; he deplored the fate that deprived Ayodhya of the presence and inspiration of a lady of such supreme character.

He spoke to Rama: “Rama! In that case accept one prayer. Keep me too with you in the forest and allow me to serve you for the fourteen years here itself”. Rama replied: “Sumanthra! You are well-versed in law and the rules of morality. You are the Minister of Emperor Dasaratha, not a minister under me. It was he who has commanded you to come back; how can I permit you to stay? Even otherwise, it is not desirable that you stay away from the Emperor at this particular juncture. You are as the right hand to the Emperor. You should not pay attention to your own Ananda and try to keep away from him; go, go to him, without further delay. If you go soon, you could give me and my parents a great deal of consolation and assurance”. Rama persuaded him to go, using various other arguments and examples. Finding it impossible to resist, Sumanthra wept aloud and prostrated before the three; his steps were heavy and hesitant when he turned back; both his mind and his body were unwilling.

Rama caught his hand, helped him to walk up to the chariot, and ascend to his seat thereon. Rama spoke sweet and soft to Sumanthra, as well as to the horses of the chariot, in order to induce them to turn and proceed to wards Ayodhya.

Sumanthra drove the chariot back to Ayodhya. The horses were reluctant to retrace their steps; they turned back towards the place where Rama was, longing to be with him and loth to move away. Despite prodding and persuading they could scarce move on. They neighed pathetically in protest; they stopped off and on craning their necks to catch a glimpse of Rama.

Sumanthra too was turning back in unbearable sorrow; he wiped the stream of tears that flowed down his cheeks; he kept his head hanging as if unwilling to show his face to men. When Guha saw the plight of Sumanthra, he was so overpowered with agony that he leaned on to a tree, sobbing, with his head pressed against its trunk. After sending the aged Minister back, Rama proceeded to the Ganga, with his wife and brother.

“When even dumb animals found it impossible to live away from Rama, what can be said of the anguish suffered by the parents who had borne him and brought him up lovingly and with such great hope, and by the subjects of the realm who adored him with loyalty and love. Alas! Who can measure the grief that was harrowing the heart of Queen Kausalya?” Guha thought within himself. The sorrow seared his soul. His eyes soon fell on Rama, Sita and Lakshmana walking towards the Ganga; so, he hurried towards them, and realizing that they desired to cross the river, he shouted to the boatman who was on the opposite bank, to bring the boat to the ferry. When the voice of his master fell on the ear, the boatman hastened to row it across and, within minutes, it was ready where Rama was awaiting its arrival

Guha called the boatman aside and told him to clean the boat and make it fit for the Prince of Ayodhya, the Son of Emperor Dasaratha, his Consort and brother, to go across the Ganga, on their way to the forest where they intended to spend some years. The boatman had heard from his Nishada brothers the sad tale of the exile of the heir-apparent to the throne; so, he lost no time in coming over. But he had one disturbing doubt that had to be resolved. He had come to know that Rama had placed his foot on a rock and that it was suddenly transformed into a woman; was this the same Rama, or was he a different person? That was the question he asked Guha. Guha said, “My dear boatman, what a strong memory you have! I am glad you remembered that incident which happened long ago, and you have reminded me too of it!” He turned to Rama and said, with great exultation, “Rama! Listen! This man, my tribesman, this boatman has treasured in his mind your majesty and glory; he is now bringing back to my memory how you released Ahalya, the wife of Sage Gouthama, from the stone into which she was cursed. My subjects were very much agitated over the terrible curse that was inflicted on that lady. And, they were delighted when they knew of your Divine Power that liberated her. O, how fortunate are my people, that they are aware of your Divinity!” Guha was describing the faith and devotion of his boatman in great joy.

Meanwhile, Rama moved towards the boat; the boat man stood before Rama with folded palms and said, “Ramachandra! All the years of my life have become worthwhile with the good fortune that has come to me today. The Rama of whom I had heard long ago, I am able to look upon today. That I could row you, your consort and your brother across the Ganga is the reward I have earned by accumulating merit through many previous lives. Let me pray for one blessing; Allow me to sprinkle on my head the water sanctified by washing your feet, before I row you across.” Guha had not realized that his servant, the boatman was so deep in devotion to Rama. He was surprised at the request he had so humbly laid before Rama; he was supremely delighted that the man had prayed so. He said, “Listen to me, brother! Let Rama take his seat in the boat; then, you can wash his feet with the waters of the Ganga taken in a vessel; It is not good manners to wash them while he is standing on the bank.” Guha reprimanded him for his obstinacy and simplicity.

But, the boatman would not yield. He pleaded, “Lord! You possess vast wealth. I am helplessly poor. I am scraping together the wherewithal to maintain my family through the fees I get for ferrying people across. I find my daily income insufficient even for running my little family. How can I be happy, if even this income is lost? Therefore, please do not misunderstand me. Permit me to wash your feet, even before you step into the boat”.

Rama grasped the undertone of the boatman’s strange request; he smiled and turned towards Sita, saying, “Did you notice this boatman’s fear?” Guha could not under stand what it all meant, and why Rama had smiled. He was perplexed at the fellow’s behavior. He said, “Hello, boatman! I do not understand what you are talking. How is the cost of maintaining your family related to this present duty of yours – taking Rama across the Ganga so that he might enter the forest and live there? Are you demanding more fees from Rama for this hereditary task? If so, you are only revealing your greed! In case your earnings are not enough for the support of your family, I am ready to supplement it, as the chief of this realm. Don’t yearn to get it from Ramachandra. Attend to your business and get the boat ready”. Guha grew angry at the persistence of the fellow.

At this, the boatman submitted that he had heard people say that the feet of Rama had some peculiar power. They say when the feet contacted a stone, it turned into a woman. My boat is made by putting together many pieces of timber. If each piece becomes a woman, my Lord would leave them all to my care, for, they were born from the parts of my boat! How can I bear the additional burden? But, if the feet are washed before he places them in the boat, I can be free from fear. Besides, when I sprinkle the wash on my head, my sins too would vanish. Therefore, please permit me to have my wish fulfilled.” Guha was lost in thought. But, Rama called the boatman near him, and he said, with a smile lighting up his face, “My dear man! Come, wash my feet” and he placed his feet in the palms of the boatman! His joy knew no bounds. He kept the feet within his palms and washed them both very care fully and lovingly, not missing the space between the toes, using the sacred Ganga water. Then, he sprinkled the wash on his own head, and over all parts of the boat, to guard them against malefic powers. He was immensely de lighted at the success of his plan.

He held the hand of Rama, as he placed his feet in the boat and got in. Rama helped Sita to board the boat, holding her hand firm in his grip. He made Lakshmana sit beside him on one of the cross planks. They spoke to each other of the devotion and childlike innocence of the boatman, and enjoyed the movement of the boat over the waters. They conversed with Guha on various topics and the time passed so quickly that they found themselves on the other bank without being aware of the journey. Rama pretended to be ashamed of himself when he found he had not even a cowrie shell to offer the boatman, in lieu of the fees due to him. Sita knew the feeling of her Lord’s heart, by instinct. She removed a ring from a finger of hers and placed it in the hands of Rama. Rama hailed the boatman and said, “Here, Boatman! This is your fee. Take it.” The boatman fell at the feet of Rama, exclaiming, “O Rama! This day I achieved the gift of gifts. All my sins have been mashed into dust. I am liberated from the awful doom of birth and death. The pangs I endured for many lives on earth have borne fruit; my God has blessed me; my fore fathers and my progeny have been freed from sin by this blessing. Lord! Enough for me if I receive and deserve your blessings. And, when you return, O Lord! come this way, and confer on me the chance to do this service. That is the reward I value most in life.” He fell prostrate on the ground before Rama, with tears rolling down his cheeks.

Rama and Lakshmana consoled the boatman and tried to assuage his ecstasy. They attempted to persuade him to accept the gift. But, the boatman protested, saying, “If I accept fees for taking you across this tiny stream, tell me how much are you receiving as wages for taking generations of my line, and billions of my fellowmen across the vast and terrifying ocean of Samsar which involves all beings in the fast moving current of change. I am immersed in Bliss since I got this chance; please do not bind me further by forcing me to accept wages for this lucky chance that fell my way.” These words touched the heart of Rama; he felt that it would not be good to put pressure on him. Rama blessed him most liberally and allowed him to depart.

Rama and Lakshmana placed their bows and arrows on clothes spread on the bank, and they stepped into the river for bath. When they finished, Sita too stepped into the sacred river and after bath, she offered prayers to Ganga, and vowed that she would return after spending fourteen happy years with her Lord and sprinkle on her head the sacred water in thankfulness for the conclusion of the exile.

Then Rama called Guha near and said, ‘Dear friend! I have already used for my own purpose too much of your time. Now, you must go back to your town.” When this command fell on his ear, the face of Guha fell. Tears flowed down the cheeks in streams. With palms folded, he prayed, “Rama. Please listen to my words. I shall be with you for some time in the forest; I know all the paths of the jungle; I can give you useful information. I am desirous of serving you this way. Please do not say, no.” Rama was happy when he noticed Guha’s love and devotion, and he took him with him. Walking some distance, they rested awhile when evening fell, under the shade of a wide. spreading tree.

Guha and Lakshmana hurried to sweep the area clean and make it fit for Rama and Sita to rest. The fruits on that tree were looking very eager to fall and be of service to the Divine visitors; they turned red with excitement and joy. Guha and Lakshmana collected the fruits and placed them on broad leaves before Sita and Rama. But, Rama asked his brother, “Lakshmana, can we eat these fruits without first performing the evening rites?” So, they proceeded to Prayag, the confluence of the holy rivers, which was nearby and had the holy sight, before they took their bath; Rama described to them the glories of the spot, while returning from the river. He said that the efficacy of the waters at the confluence of the three holy rivers was so potent that it could cleanse man of all the sins that tarnish his mind.

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Chapter 15

Among Hermitages

Thus, Rama entered the hermitage of Bharadwaja taking Sita with him and accompanied by Lakshmana and Guha. The sage appeared at the doorway and walked forward to welcome him, as if he was waiting since long to be blessed by the Darsan; seeing him, Rama prostrated before him, and when Bharadwaja lovingly embraced him and invited him to enter the hermitage, he was very happy to comply. The sage made them sit on the seats he had spread on the floor, for each according to his status.

He inquired after the welfare of every one of them and declared that his heart’s desire was fulfilled that day. He asked his pupils to bring fruits and roots, and placing them before his guests, he pleaded that they might partake of them. They spent the night in that hermitage, accepting the sage’s hospitality and service.

When day dawned, Rama proceeded to the confluence of the three rivers at Prayag, and requested the sage too to give him company. Bharadwaja said, ‘Listen, O Lord! I chose this holy spot for my hermitage and austerities, since I knew I could get here the darsan I longed for many years. To get the thrill of your Darsan, I undertook vows and performed Vedic Yajnas and Yagas. I immersed myself in the chanting of Divine Names and in meditation on the Divine Form, so that I might be rewarded with the chance to converse with you. I was awarded darsan of all three of you. I have no more wants. I am no more concerned with bath or with food. I do not want to be reckoned as a fool who continued consuming drugs, even after he was cured of illness. I am free now from the fell disease of birth and death. I have seen God.’

Seeing him filled with ecstasy, with tears flowing, Guha was overwhelmed with surprise. He said to himself, “O! What great good fortune is mine!” He was overcome by supreme joy. Meanwhile Rama suppressed His Divinity and acted as if he was just a man with common human attributes. While Sage Bharadwaja was dilating delightedly on the Rama Principle, Rama listened, as if it all related to another person called Rama and not to himself! He replied, “O! Foremost among sages! All those who are recipients of your hospitality are, for that very reason, adorable. All such are full of virtue and wisdom.” The pupils, ascetics, sages and monks of the hermitage who heard the words of Bharadwaja and those of Rama were struck with wonder and filled with joy.

After the holy bath at Prayag, Rama left the hermitage with Sita, Lakshmana and Guha, and entered the deeper recesses of the forest. Bharadwaja followed them as far as the river bank, and there he clasped Rama in loving embrace, wishing for them a happy journey. Rama prayed for the blessings of the Sage and said, “Master! Tell us which direction is best.” The sage replied, with a laugh: “Lord! There is no path unknown to you in all the worlds, is there? You are playing the role of a mere man, in this habiliment. Well, since I have been asked, it is my duty to reply to the best of my knowledge.” Thus saying, he beckoned to four of him pupils, and sent them with Rama to show him the track that led to the next hermitage complex. Those boys were delighted at the chance they secured to journey with Rama for some little distance. They felt that it was a gift earned in previous lives. They walked in front showing them the track. Behind them, Rama went with Sita, Lakshmana and Guha. They went as far as the bank of the Yamuna river, and there, they took leave of Rama and turned back, without the least will to do so. Sita, Rama and Lakshmana were very pleased with the pupils for the help they rendered; they blessed them with all their hearts and allowed them to leave. Then, they got ready to have the holy bath in the sacred Yamuna. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the villages on the bank noticed these visitors of extra-ordinary charm and splendor, and gathered around them, wondering who they were and whence they came and what their names were. They were too shy and too afraid to ask. They were talking in whispers among themselves.

Sita, Rama and Lakshmana finished their bath, with out paying heed to them, and, coming on to the bank, Rama called Guha near, and said, “Dear one! It is a long time since you joined us; it is not proper that you should spend so much time with us. You must carry out your duties to your subjects. Go home now, to your post of duty.” He then gave him permission to leave. Guha found himself helpless to answer him. “Can anyone give up the wish-fulfilling gem that he has come by? How unfortunate I am to be forced to do so!” he wailed. He could not disregard the command of Rama. So, he prostrated before Sita, Rama and Lakshmana, and showered on his head the dust of their feet. He left their presence, most unwillingly.

A short time after Guha left them, the three resumed their journey. Soon, they saw before them a City, which shone brighter than even the City of the Nagas. As they neared the light, they wondered which City it was. The nearer they came, the more delighted they were at the grandeur and charm of the City and its suburbs. Reaching quite near, they took it to be Amaravathi, the City of the Gods and they were still more delighted. They felt that the citizens must be gods, not men. They sat under a tree in its cool shade and admired its splendor and magnificence. The people came around them and questioned among themselves whether they had come down from ‘heaven’, and were the Immortals themselves. They ran into the town and spread the good news that some divine personalities were coming into the City bringing great good luck with them. Every one who heard them ran towards the visitors and vied with each other in attending to their comforts. Some placed milk before them; some spread fruits; all looked at them without even a wink! No one could leave them and go back. They stood unwilling to depart.

One of them, bolder than the rest, came forward, and spoke; “Sirs! Your charm and imposing personality make us infer that you are princes of royal blood. But, you are journeying by foot along these rough jungle paths, with this damsel. You are climbing mountains and crossing rivers; you are hard travelers braving all the dangers of the trek; so, we have to conclude that you are like us, mere citizens. We cannot understand how you manage to travel across this forest where lions abound and herds of wild elephants roam. And, you have with you this tender embodiment of loveliness and beauty. Have you no kith and kin, no friends and comrades, no well-wishers? If there were any such, certainly, they would not have allowed you to venture on this journey”. He inquired into the nature and cause of the journey and put a number of other questions to Rama.

Meanwhile, a woman advanced from the gathering towards them, and addressed Rama thus; “0 Prince! I am placing a prayer before you. Woman that I am, I am afraid to express it. Pardon my effrontery. We are common folk, unacquainted with verbal finesse. Your physical charm reflects the luster of emerald and gold, which seem to be the source of your brightness. One of you has the complexion of the rain-cloud, while the other is resplendent white. Both are as enchanting as a billion Gods of Love, moulded into human bodies. Again, we are not aware how this sweet damsel is related to you? She has the exquisite charm of the Goddess of Love, Rathi Devi. Watching her modesty and innate humility, as well as her charm, we women are ashamed of ourselves. Kindly tell us who you are, and for what purpose you have come thus wise.”

Listening to their prayers and watching their eagerness and joy, Rama and Lakshmana were very much amused. Just then, Sita turned towards the women and spoke to them thus: “Sisters! This simple, sincere person with the golden complexion is Lakshmana. He is my Lord’s brother, a younger brother. Then about the dark-blue person: he with the Lotus-petal-eyes that enrapture the worlds, with the long, strong bow-arms, (here, she turned towards Rama), this is my Lord, the very breath of my life.” Saying this, she bent her head and looked at the ground. Just then, a young maiden interjected, “Ma! You haven’t told us your name!” Sita immediately said, “My name is Sita. I am known as Janaki, the daughter of Janaka.” The women looked at each other in wonder and appreciation and then, with one voice, they blessed Sita profusely, saying, “May you both be as happy a couple as God Siva and Goddess Parvathi and may you live together, as long as the Sun and Moon, as long as the Earth rests upon the hood of the snake Adisesha, in harmony and unbroken joy.”

Rama too spoke to the men and informed them that they had come to see the grandeur and beauty of the forests and that their journey so far had been quite comfortable and useful, that they were not in the least exhausted or in-convenienced. He asked their permission to leave, and then, they turned to the forests again. Having nothing left to do, the men and women hied homeward. Sita, Rama and Lakshmana wended their way, talking among themselves about the citizens and the questions they asked, the affection they manifested and the joy that glinted in their eyes. Suddenly, Rama noticed signs of exhaustion on the face of Sita, and proposed that they rest a while under a shady tree. A cool broad stream flowed near by. Lakshmana ventured into the jungle and soon gathered some fruits and tubers, which all three ate with relish. They spent the night there, quite happily.

At dawn they awoke, and finishing the morning ablutions, they started off on the next lap of their journey. Soon, they entered the fearsome recesses of the forest. The towering peaks, dark dreadful tangle of trees, and the deafening roar or flooded streams, produced a queer feeling of awe and mystery.

Right in the midst of that frightful area, they came upon a patch of garden, nursed and fostered by man, and upon it, a hermitage that was charming to behold. That was the ashram of the sage Valmiki. On one side of the hermitage rose the cliffs of a tall mountain; on the other side, far below, at the bottom of a deep trough, flowed a murmuring stream. The hermitage was a picture of beauty; it shone like a gem on that green carpet. Sita felt considerably relieved and assuaged when her eyes fell on that picture.

Learning from his pupils that they had entered the garden Valmiki emerged from the hermitage and appeared at the door. Sita, Rama and Lakshmana hurried forward and fell at the feet of the sage. The sage too, moved forward and, as if he had known them long, he welcomed them, with fond embrace. He invited all three to enter the hermitage. The sage Valmiki provided comfortable seats for Rama whom he loved as his very breath, and for Lakshmana and Sita; he called for fruits and edible tubers and placed them before the three. As desired by Valmiki, they partook of them, and expressed their pleasure. Valmiki sat before them, watching Rama and quenching the thirst of his eyes. He was filled with inexpressible delight.

With utmost humility, Rama addressed the great sage thus: “Most venerable Sage! You are conversant with the past, the present and the future of all; so, the reason why I have entered this forest must be as clear to you as the berry in one’s palm. Nevertheless, I feel it right that I should discharge my duty of informing you why I am here, with my wife and brother.” Then Rama described how Queen Kaikeyi sent him into exile in the forest, and how brother Bharatha was crowned as ruler of the realm, according to the promise made by the father.

The sage listened to the story, and communicated his joy with a face lit with smiles. He said. “Rama! As you fulfilled their desires then, you have satisfied my desire now. My austerities, vows and yearning have at last yielded fruit today. I must confer on Kaikeyi my heartfelt gratitude and a share of the bliss I am now enjoying.”

Valmiki sat long in silence, with his eyes closed, while trying to keep within control the emotions of gratitude and joy surging inside him. Tears gathered in his eyes, tears of Ananda, and they rolled down his cheeks in big drops that chased each other.

Rama broke the silence and said, “We shall reside at the place where you direct us to live. Indicate to us a place where we shall not cause any trouble to any one and where we shall not come in the way of hermits and hermitages; give us proper advice. We shall put up a ‘thatch’ of leaves at that place and spend some time therein.”

These words from a pure sincere heart moved the sage; he said, in reply, “0 Rama! I am indeed blessed. You are as the Flag that proclaims the glory of the Raghu dynasty. For what reason are you voicing thus? You are the force that fosters the path laid down in the Vedas; you are the power that safeguards it from harm. Sita is ‘the deluding half of your personality, your Maya. She creates, maintains and destroys (as you ‘will’) worlds beyond worlds. And, Lakshmana is the very basis of the movable and the immovable, the ‘thousand-hooded serpent’, the Primal Sesha-Nag, which upholds the Universe. You have assumed forms, in order to carry out the wishes of the Gods, that you re-establish righteousness in the world. You will, I am sure, destroy all demonic hearts, pretty soon. You will protect the good and the compassionate. Rama! You are the eternal Witness of the play named ‘The World’. The Universe is the ‘seen’; you are the Witness. Even the gods fail to gauge your Reality and your Glory. How then can ordinary mortals understand your Mystery? Only those who have received your Grace, namely, Wisdom, can claim to have known something of your Truth and your Majesty. You have taken this human form in order to promote the peace and security of good men and the gods; as a consequence, you are conversing and behaving like one of us. Only fools are misled into behaving that you are a man among men! We are all puppets who play about as you direct, as you pull the strings. Who are we to direct you to act thus wise or to stay at a certain place? Rama! Are you planning to delude us, ascetics, by your words? 0, how wonderful is your play! How realistic is your acting! Don’t I know that you are the Director of this cosmic drama? I cannot understand why you are asking me to select a spot where you can stay for some time in this forest. Which spot can I choose and recommend? For, is there any spot in the whole Universe where you are not, already? Answer me this question, and thereafter, I shall point out the place to which you can go and where you can stay” Valmiki said, looking at the charming face of Rama; in the extremity of his delight, words melted away on his tongue. [See: Srîmad Bhâgavatam]

Rama laughed within himself when he listened to the revered sage. Meanwhile, the sage spoke again, soft and sweet, with a smile beaming on his resplendent face. “Rama! I know in reality you reside in the hearts of your devotees. Now, I shall tell you the best place where this form of yours can stay. Listen. You can reside there with Sita and Lakshmana. Select those whose ears, like the ocean, receive gladly the streams of stories recounting your exploits, and are ever happy, listening to the narratives of your divine acts and words, whose tongues are busy repeating your name and tasting its nectarine sweetness, whose throats recite and revel in the recitation of your praise and of your words which are soft and refreshingly sweet, whose eyes yearn to see your cloud blue form as the Chataka bird yearns for the first cloudburst, whose ever-present longing is to discover you anywhere, in any quarter, and delight in the discovery when you find any such. O! Rama, dwell there, with Sita and Lakshmana.

“Rama! If you wish that I elaborate further, listen: Stay in the heart of the person who discards the evil in others and loves them for the good they have, who trudges along the journey of life in the path of morality and integrity, who observes approved limits of conduct and behavior, and who has the faith in thought, word and deed, that the Universe is your creation and that the entire objective world is your body.

“Nevertheless, since you have assumed now this human body and come here in order to carry out the commands of your mother and father, and questioned me in that role, I am venturing to answer, as if that role is real. You can reside on the Chitrakuta Hill. It has all facilities for comfortable stay. It is a holy place, and a charming beauty spot. The atmosphere is saturated with love and peace. Lions and elephants roam together there, with no trace of rivalry. The river Mandakini, extolled in the Vedas, flows round the hill. Sages like Athri live there in hermitages, which you can visit and render more sacred. Confer your blessing on that sublime spot and on that dear divine river.”

As soon as Valmiki gave this direction, Rama agreed and receiving his permission to leave, he resumed his journey with Sita and Lakshmana. Within a short time, they saw the Mandakini, and were happy to bathe in its sacred waters, and perform the prescribed ceremonial rites. They rested awhile under a shady tree, and ate some fruits, before walking over the grass for some distance, admiring the verdure and the scenery.

Then, Rama spoke to Lakshmana thus: “Lakshmana! I am at a loss to decide on the exact spot where we can erect a cottage of leaf thatch and bamboo for our stay in this place; I do not find it easy to say which place is good and which is not; so, select and fix upon a spot.”

No sooner did these words fall on his ears than Lakshmana crumpled on the ground right at the feet of Rama. He was in evident anguish. “What wrong have I committed that you should speak to me thus! Is this a sentence for any sin? Or, are you testing me, and my nature? Or, are you joking and making fun of me?”, he asked. He was in great sorrow and he stood with his head bent with fear and anxiety.

Rama was surprised at his behavior. He went near him and clasped him to his bosom. “Brother! What happened now to make you so sad? I cannot guess why you are so heart-broken,” he said. “Tell me”, he pleaded, “tell me the reason, do not prolong my astonishment and sorrow.”

Lakshmana replied immediately. He said, “Brother! I have surrendered everything to you. I have no likes and dislikes. What is pleasing to you is, on that account, pleasing to me. You know that this is the fact. But, yet, you now ask me to select a place which I like and erect a cottage for you thereon! My heart received a shock when you directed me to exercise my will. Order me where it is to be raised; I shall do so. Be merciful, do not speak to me in this strain, bless me by accepting the surrender I am offering at thy feet of all of me, the will, the intelligence, the mind, the senses, the body, all with no exception and no reservation. I am your servant, following you in the hope of having the chance to serve you. Use me. Command me, and have the command obeyed and the action accomplished.”

When Lakshmana prayed and supplicated so sincerely, Rama consoled him and pacified his feelings. “Lakshmana”, he said, “Why are you worried so much on this little matter? Do not take it so much to heart. I gave you that direction in just a casual way. I am not unaware of the loyalty that fills your heart. Well. Come along with me. Right! I shall select the spot myself.” And, with Sita by his side, he took the forest track, along with Lakshmana, and shortly, they sighted the northern bank of the Mandakini river. That length of bank was curved like a bow; it appeared as if the bow was held by the Chitrakuta peak standing behind it like a hero. One felt that the arrows it was ready to let loose were Sense control. Mind control, Charity, Renunciation, etc., and the target they were intended to destroy was the Gang of Sin. Rama described the spot thus and added: “This hero will not withdraw from the fight”! He directed that the cottage be built on that captivating spot.

Lakshmana requested Rama and Sita to rest a while under a tree, and set about collecting poles, leaves, creepers and fiber from tree-barks to spin ropes from. In order to raise a hut spacious enough for three, he dug pits, planted poles, and labored quickly to complete the construction. When Sita and Rama rose from the shade after some rest, they found the cottage rising before their eyes, a thing of beauty, certain to be a lovely home by all counts. Rama felt that he too should give Lakshmana some help in his work, and so, seeing his brother on the roof, giving the finishing touches, he handed him from the ground bits of string to tie the bundles of dry grass to the cross poles in order to thicken the thatch. Sita too desired to give a helping hand; she plucked long leaves from the tree branches Lakshmana had brought, and gave sheaves of them into Rama’s hands to be passed on to Lakshmana.

The house was ready for occupation, even before sun set. Rama looked often and long at the neat little cottage, and he praised the devotion and skill of his brother to Sita, in high terms. Sita too appreciated the house and said that she had at no time seen a dwelling place of such charm; she had for a long time yearned to live in just such a habitation. She told Rama that her long-cherished desire was fulfilled that day.

Meanwhile, Lakshmana came down from the roof; he went round the cottage to examine whether anything was wanting. Then, he asked permission from Rama to proceed to the Mandakini for a bath. A short while after, Sita and Rama both went to the river and had their bath; they returned to the cottage and partook of the fruits that Lakshmana had gathered in the morning, and slept soundly on the floor of their new home.

Before another day passed, the news that Sita, Rama and Lakshmana had taken residence on the Chitrakuta Hill spread among the hermits of the forest and groups of them, bringing their pupils and comrades, approached the sacred cottage, and after taking Darsan, left for their hermitages. Rama asked them about their health and progress and also enquired about the difficulties they encountered. Rama assured them that whenever they required his service, he was ready, with his brother, to go to their rescue.

But they mentioned no difficulties and referred to no troubles. They said, “Rama! The fact that we have been able to see you is enough to make our lives trouble-free. We have no difficulties, nor can any difficulty come into our lives. Your Grace is enough protection for us.” They sat petrified with wonder at the charming personality of Rama. Rama welcomed the ascetics and treated them with affectionate regard. Seeing him and being in his presence cooled the pining hearts of the ascetics and gave them immense consolation and confidence. A deep calm descended on their consciousness.

Rama is predominantly Love. He made every one of the forest-dwellers happy. He discoursed with them, and slaked the thirst for Love that was tormenting them. Those who came to him, whether ascetics or hunters, received from him instruction that was appropriate to their aspirations. Rama elevated their occupations into a higher level by his sympathy and counsel. Those who went to him and returned from his presence talked among themselves of his virtues and compassion; they reached their homes extolling him and congratulating themselves. The forest where they had resolved to reside shone with a new glory and thrilled with a new joy, right from the day they entered the cottage. It was charming to the eye and saturated with a coolness that delighted the mind. The ascetic communities that lived in the forest had fear and anxiety removed from their lives; in their place, Ananda grew and flourished. Even the hard-hearted hunter clans started observing the rules of morality; they soon became ornaments of the human race. The Vindhyan Range was sad that the Chitrakuta Mountain had won this fortune. Why? Not the Vindhyan Range alone; all mountain ranges continued to be sad, for they could not attract Rama to select them for his residence.

Lakshmana had the unique chance of feasting his eyes upon the Lotus Feet of Sita and Rama, and imbibing the affection they bestowed on Him; so, he forgot everything else, and immersed himself in supreme spiritual ecstasy, Sath-Chith-Ananda. His mother, Sumithra Devi, or his wife Urmila, or his other kinsmen did not appear before his vision, even in dreams. So austere was his refusal to remember them. Sita too never recalled, even for the fraction of a second, her relatives or parents, or the Cities of Mithila and Ayodhya. She was fixing her eyes and attention on the Lotus Feet of Sri Ramachandra. That was the veritable festival for her eyes; she watched the stream of sages and their consorts who came to Rama for instruction and guidance. Time flowed by her without her noticing the passage of night and day. The chakora bird delights to the point of self-forgetfulness when the moon shines in the sky; so too, Sita reaped delight, fixing her eyes intently on the Face of Rama. For Sita, the lovely little grass-thatched bamboo cottage was so attractive that she forgot the palace of Mithila, where she grew up into maidenhood, and the palace of Ayodhya where she spent years as the Princely Daughter-in-law. That cottage was to her more pleasing and palatial than all the mansions she knew.

Off and on, Rama used to relate stories of ancient heroes famed in Puranic lore and describe the varied achievements of persons who had mastered the mysteries of austerity. These were heard by Sita and Lakshmana eagerly and with enthusiasm. In the midst of these narrations, Rama used to remember his parents, and remind them of their grief at being separated from them; on these occasions, Sita had her eyes filled with tears at the thought of her father-in-law and mother-in-law. Drops rolled down her cheeks when she pictured the plight of Queen Kausalya. Suddenly, she pulled herself up, with the thought that she was with Rama, the Lion among Men, that it was not proper to give in to sadness or anxiety in the forest while she was in his presence and that whatever happens must be welcomed as the leela (cosmic play) of her Lord. Thus, Sita spent her days in undiluted happiness in that cottage, with Rama and Lakshmana. They too were guarding her like the lids of the eye against the slightest disturbance or noise that might affect her equanimity, and raise fears in her mind. No worry affected them; no grief or pain or shade of sadness marred their happiness at Chitrakuta.

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Chapter 16(a)

Gloom over Ayodhya

Meanwhile, the Ruler of the Nishadas who was returning to his kingdom after accompanying Rama for some distance into the forest, saw the Minister Sumanthra sitting in his chariot on the bank of the Ganga, the horses having been tied by their reins to a shady tree. Guha found Sumanthra weeping and wailing inconsolably, alone. Guha himself could not control any longer the anguish he had restrained so long. He cried out, ‘Rama’, and ran towards Sumanthra. He embraced the old man and both sobbed aloud in agony, unable to put their grief in words. They stood under the tree together, but fell on the ground as if they were themselves trees felled by an axe. They lamented the fate of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana and poured abuse on Kaikeyi, the cause of all the calamities.

The horses stopped grazing, and desisted from drinking water. Tears rolled from their eyes. Whenever they heard Sumanthra and Guha utter the names of Sita or Rama, or Lakshmana, they raised their heads aloft, and peered into the distance, anxious to catch a glimpse of those whom they adored and loved with as much zeal as the two men in the agony of separation. Sumanthra noted the grief which was tormenting the animals and his anguish became even greater.

Some hours must have passed by this heart-rending wail. At last, Guha managed to recover a little; he mustered some courage, as needs some one must; he addressed Sumanthra thus: “Ah, Minister! You are profoundly intelligent, steadfast in morality and a person who has identified the Reality behind all this passing show. Fate plays strange tricks, and so, one has to learn to put up with them. Rise! Return to Ayodhya! Convey the news to Kausalya and Sumitra, who are yearning to see you and to listen to your account.” He raised Sumanthra forcibly from where he had fallen. He seated him in the chariot. He brought the horses and yoked them to the central pole.

Sumanthra realized that what Guha was insisting was the correct step. Moved by a spurt of blind courage the old man signed to the horses to move forward; his body lost strength as a result of the anguish of separation from Rama. Therefore, however much he tried he could not drive the chariot as of old. He rolled down inside the chariot and rose in his seat many times in a few minutes. And the horses? They too would not move. They were set on turning back and straining their necks to see the road behind.

Sumanthra cursed himself and his fate. “Fie on me”, he said. “May this horrid life of mine be ended. This body has to be burnt into ash some day. Far better it were if, instead of dying through some disease or some worldly calamity, it died as a result of unbearable agony at separation from Rama. That would have made my life worth while. That would have made my fame ever-lasting; earning that fame is enough compensation for all the ills of life.” “No, Sumanthra,” he said to himself. “Had you the good luck, you would have stuck to Rama; when bad luck haunts you, what else can you do than come away and be alive? Of what use is it now to pine and blame yourself?” Sumanthra chided himself most mercilessly, in this strain.

He started again the dialogue with himself. ‘With what face am I to present myself in Ayodhya? When the citizens ask me where Rama is, what can I answer? When they ask me, ‘how could you come away leaving Rama in the jungle,’ what can I tell them? Will I not be overwhelmed by shame and sorrow? O, my heart has become stone. Else, why has it not split into fragments at all that I have gone through?” Sumanthra was disgusted at his own meanness, he wrung his hands in despair. He decided that he should not enter the City during the hours of sun-light, when people would be moving about. It would be less humiliating, he felt, to enter the City at night, after every one had gone to bed and was fast asleep.

But, soon, his inner voice told him, “What? Can the people of Ayodhya ever sleep? No, no. They cannot. It is just my foolishness and ignorance that make me imagine they do. They would be awake, awaiting news of the return of Rama or, at least, any news about him. I cannot escape the humiliation and the shame, whether I enter the City at night or during day. Well. For me, who did not deserve the grace of Rama, this ill-fate is the proper meed. It is best I go through it and bear the burden of that blame.” Thus, Sumanthra wended his way slowly and haltingly, spending time in framing questions to himself and presenting answers to them

At last, he reached the bank of the Thamasa River. So, he decided to spend a few hours there, allowing the horses to graze a bit and himself preparing for the entry into the City after nightfall, when the people would not be about the streets, but would be safe in bed. Finally, the chariot rolled into the gate of the City and began to move through thoroughfares.

Sumanthra took extra care to ensure silence from wheel and hoof; the chariot moved at the pace of a snail. But, who could silence the agony of the horses? They recognized the streets through which they had taken Rama; they groaned aloud at their present fate, when their dear Rama was far, far away.

The populace of the City heard this pathetic neigh; their ears were set to hear this piteous cry; they told each other that Sumanthra had returned with an empty chariot; they ran into the street and stood pathetically on both sides to witness the sad spectacle.

Sumanthra bent his head low, when he saw the crowds. Seeing him in this pitiable posture, they guessed that Rama had not returned, and swooned on the spot, falling wherever they stood. Many wept aloud. The residents of the palaces of the Queens, when they heard the neighs of the grief-stricken steeds, sent maids in haste to inquire why; they hurried in groups towards Sumanthra and showered questions on him. He sat dejected and crestfallen, like a mute person, unable to find words to tell them the answers. He sat unmoved like a broken pillar, as If he was deaf and could not hear what they were so earnestly asking him.

From his behaviour, the maids inferred that Rama had rejected all importunities to return. They lamented, “O Minister! Have you left Sita in the terror-striking forest, and come back yourself, alone?” and broke into a sudden sharp wail.

One maid was more courageous than the rest. She told Sumanthra that Kausalya had ordered that he should come straight to the palace where she was.

There Sumanthra found the Emperor prostrate on the floor, exhausted without sleep or food, in disheveled clothes. Sumanthra mastered the surge of sorrow within him, and uttering the words “Jai! Jai”, which are traditionally to be pronounced first in the imperial presence, he stood by, shaking head to foot. Recognizing that voice, Dasaratha sat up quick, and plaintively asked him, “Sumanthra! Where is my Rama?”

Sumanthra clasped the Emperor in his arms; the Emperor clung to him as a drowning man clings to a blade of grass. Seeing both of them weeping on account of immeasurable sorrow, Kausalya was submerged in grief; she could scarce breathe; she gasped and was pitifully suffocating with agony. The maids noticed this and, themselves loudly lamenting the misfortune that had overtaken all, they struggled to console the queen and restore her.

Meanwhile, Dasaratha pulled himself up a little; he made Sumanthra sit right in front of him; he asked him “Sumanthra! Tell me about my Sita and Rama. Tell me all about them. How is Lakshmana? Alas, tender Sita must indeed be very much tired. Where are they now? Tell me”. Noting that Sumanthra was not eager to reply, he shook him by the shoulders and pleaded most piteously.

Sumanthra was too full of shame to look the Emperor in the face; he bent his looks towards the floor, and with eyes streaming with tears, he scarce could speak. Dasaratha continued his sobs. He said, “O Rama! My breath is still lingering on in this frame, even though a son like you left me. The world has no sinner equal to me in heinousness. Sumanthra! Where exactly are my Sita, Rama and Lakshmana, at present? Take me without delay to the place where they are. Do me this good turn. Fulfill this desire of mine. Without seeing them, I cannot live a second longer”.

And, like a person infatuated and desperate, he shouted in pain, “Rama! O Rama! Let me see you at least once. Won’t you give me the chance to see you?

The maids standing outside the hall where he was lying could not sleep or take food, since they were sunk in sorrow at the Emperor’s plight. Sumanthra replied, “Imperial Monarch! Rajadhiraja! You are extremely wise; you are made in heroic mould; your abilities are profound. Your lineage is divine. You have always served ascetics and saints. You know that as night follows day and day follows night wealth and want, happiness and misery, nearness and separation come one after the other, with a certain inevitability. Only fools are carried off their feet in joy when happiness comes and are dispirited, down-hearted when misery comes. Learned men like you should not be affected by either; they should be full of equanimity, what ever might happen. I have no credentials to advise you to face this situation courageously for, you know the need for courage very much more. O Benefactor of the World! Heed my prayers. Give up this grief. I shall describe the details of my journey with them now. Please listen calmly.” At this, Kausalya struggled to raise herself up, with the help of the maids; she leant on them and made herself ready to listen to what Sumanthra had to say.

Sumanthra began, “O Master! The first day we journeyed up to the bank of the Thamasa. Sita, Rama and Lakshmana bathed in the river and after drinking water, they rested under a spreading tree. The next day, we reached the Ganga River. Darkness was invading from all sides. I stopped the chariot according to the command of Rama. All three bathed and rested on a stretch of sand. When dawn broke Rama asked Lakshmana to bring him the juice of the banyan tree, and when he did so, Rama applied it on his hair and matted it, so that he could wear it on the crown of his head. Meanwhile, the ruler of the Nishada tribe, a friend of Rama, brought a boat; Sita was made to get in to the boat first; after her, Rama sat in it; later honouring the order of Rama, Lakshmana entered the boat, carrying the bow and arrows. Ere he sat in the boat, Lakshmana came to me and asked me to convey prostrations and homage to the parents, and his prayer for blessings. He also directed me to request you to put up with things boldly and wisely.”

Sumanthra continued his account of what Rama had asked him to announce at Ayodhya. “Master”, he told Dasaratha, “Rama said ‘Communicate my homage to the Preceptor. Advise my father not to grieve over what has happened’. After this, Rama called me near him, and directed me thus, ‘Call together the Ministers, the Citizens of Ayodhya, and the kinsmen of the Royal Family and tell them of this request, specially made by me: only those among them who help to make my father’s life happy are dear to me.’ Rama said, ‘On Bharatha’s arrival, convey my blessings to him, and direct him to accept the burden of ruling over the empire, and to conserve and to promote justice and integrity, fostering the welfare of the people through means that are pure in thought, word and deed. Tell him that I desire him to serve the parents so well that they will forget their agony at separation from me.’

“While Rama was engaged in commissioning me thus, Sita too approached and told me to inform you she was happily spending time with Rama with nothing wanting. She wanted me to offer her prostrations at the feet of her father-in-law and mothers-in-law. She wanted me to tell them not to be anxious about her and to be assured that she was happy with her lord, and eagerly expecting them to bless her always. She requested me to tell them that she inquired often of their health and welfare.

“Meanwhile, the boatman realized that it was Rama’s wish that he should not delay any longer; so he started to dip the oar in the river. Soon, Rama moved off. I was looking on at the receding boat, with my heart literally petrified; I must have spent a long time standing there on the river bank. I had to return perforce to this place to carry out the orders of Rama; else, I certainly would have drowned myself in the Ganga; I had become so desperate. I had to continue my life, just for this purpose – to convey to you the message from Rama. This Ayodhya which has no Rama in it appears to me forlorn and fearful as a forest.”

Listening to the words of Sumanthra and the soft sweet messages from Rama and Sita, Dasaratha could not restrain his anguish; he could not forget all that had happened; he fell in a faint.

The Emperor’s breath was suffocated, like a fish which struggles to wriggle out of the dense slush into which it has fallen. Seeing his plight, the queens burst into heart rending wails. Words cannot describe that moment of desperate distress. Seeing their sorrow, even sorrow could not restrain its own sorrow. The agony of the queens, the agony of the Emperor, the agony of the maids of the palace, spread confusion and consternation over the entire City. The residents of the Capital scattered in terror, just like birds of the forest, frightened at midnight by a sudden thunderbolt.

Like a lotus stalk which, plucked and thrown out of the water, fades fast, the Emperor was fast leaving the body. Words could not emerge from the throat, the tongue became dry. The senses turned dull and ineffective. Kausalya watched the Emperor and she noted that the Sun of the Solar Dynasty was setting.

She mustered courage and stepping near, she placed the head of her lord on her lap and tried to make him listen to a few words of consolation and comfort. She said, “Lord! Sita, Rama and Lakshmana will be arriving soon and seeing you. Hear my words; take courage; strengthen yourself”. When she so compassionately prayed into his ear, Dasaratha opened his eyes, and muttered audibly, “Kausalya! Where is my Rama? Show me, show me, where is he? Take me to him. Alas! My sweet and tender daughter-in-law is not here now. And, Lakshmana, where is he that I don’t see him here”.

Dasaratha bent his head, unable to hold it up any more. The burden of grief was so heavy. A few minutes later, the Emperor remembered the curse that was pronounced on him by the blind hermit, the father of Sravana. He sat up with a struggle, and began telling Kausalya in feeble accents, the story of that curse.

“Kausalya! On one occasion, I had gone into the forest on a hunting expedition. A large number of soldiers and huntsmen followed me thither. We could not meet any wild animal the whole day; but, I felt that I should not return to the Capital with empty hands, with nothing bagged. We entered the forest in the night, and waited and watched for some luck. The dawn was about to break into the darkness around us on the brink of a vast lake, when something moved on the edge of the water. I could also hear the sound of the movement.

“I inferred that it was a big beast of the jungle, and since I could shoot the arrow straight at the sound and effect a kill, I drew my bow and let go the sharp, sure arrow. It flew fast and furious and hit that animal already on the move. Suddenly, I heard the cry of pain, ‘Ah’, emanating from the place where it fell. I ran forward with the soldiers and lo, I found it was not a beast I had killed; it was the young son of a hermit! I bent by his side and prayed that he should pardon me, for the tragic error. The son of the hermit told me; ‘Emperor! Do not grieve. Fulfill this request of mine, the request I shall presently tell you; that will be enough requital for the sin you have perpetrated. My name is Sravana. My father and mother are both blind. I was spending the days of my life serving them both; that service was granting me all the happiness I needed. I was blessed with even the highest knowledge, the Realization of the Reality. They are now suffering from excruciating thirst. I came here to this lake to take some water to them. You shot at me imagining me to be an animal of the forest. Who can avoid the decrees of destiny? My present condition is such that I can no longer walk with this water to my parents. Therefore, take this vessel of water with you to them; go in the northerly direction, until you come to a lonely thatched hut, and, after they have slaked their thirst, describe what has happened to me here. Not tell them anything about me before they slake their thirst”. Saying this, he placed the vessel in my hands, and passed away.

Kausalya! O, how pathetically anxious he was for his parents! He never worried about his life which was fast ebbing away; he did not speak a harsh word to me; those soft sweet loving words he uttered are still echoing in my ears. With his last breath, he repeated the sacred Pravana, Om, Om, Om, clearly, three times. Seeing him and his calm courageous death, I decided that I should make amends for my sin by fulfilling his last desire. I hurried to the hut he had mentioned, and gave the vessel into their hands, without uttering a single word. But, those parents started asking many questions; they inquired, ‘Son! Why did you take so much time? Why this delay?’ They moved their hands forward and waved them about, so that they may touch him, and feel his presence before them. I stepped back a little; meanwhile, the aged couple, wailed, ‘Son! Why is it that today you are not speaking to us? We shall not drink the water that you have brought unless you talk to us and answer our queries!

“I had directed, that the body of Sravana be brought behind me by the soldiers to the parents’ hut. They arrived at this time with the corpse. I placed the body within reach of the mother. She wept most pathetically over the body; I could not look on. Some time later, the mother established some little mastery over her grief and told me, ‘Emperor! There is no use extending our lives hereafter, since our son has left us. We have grown old; who will serve us and foster us? Kill us too, as you killed him. Or else, erect a pyre, so that we can immolate ourselves with our son’. I bowed my head, and accepted their command. I heaped dry wood and piled up a pyre. The son’s corpse was placed on it. They sat on it and by sheer exercise of Yogic power, they created fire in themselves and burnt themselves.

“Before they immolated themselves, they addressed me and spoke a few words. Their holy curse is proving true today.” At this point, Dasaratha stopped some time, in order to take rest, and to compose the agitation of his mind. Kausalya pacified him, and gave him consolation and mental calm. She said, “Lord! What did the parents say? Tell me, I am anxious to hear”. Dasaratha stayed silent for a while and replied, “Kausalya! What can I say? How can I repeat those words? Those old people, the aged couple, spoke thus: ‘You will end your life, as we are doing now, out of unbearable agony at separation from your son’. And then, they breathed their last, amidst the rising flames.

“At that time, I had no son; I wondered how their curse would affect me. How could their word come true, I thought within myself. But I also thought, that being the words of an aged sage, they cannot but become true. That meant I must have sons, so that I may be separated from them. You know how sad we were, for we had no sons then. I felt that the curse might prove a blessing; I prayed it may come true, so that, even though I may have to be separated from them, I might have sons. I could not tell you this secret till now. Now, I understand that the words of that holy hermit represented genuine truth. The agony of separation from Rama is bringing about my end. I have recalled to memory the tragedy of Sravana. My courage is spent. I cannot muster it any more.”

Dasaratha was lost in the contemplation of the incidents of the past. “Rama! Rama! Rama!” he cried thrice, and leaned back on Kausalya. Kausalya noticed the change that had come over him, and screamed. The attendants and maids gathered around. They found that the Emperor had drawn his last breath. The city was turned into a vale of tears, a seething pool of grief. Crowds surged into the palace. The streets became fast-moving torrents of weeping humanity. People cast curses on Kaikeyi, for, they felt that the City had lost its Eyes, as a result of her machinations.

Vasishta, the Royal Preceptor, arrived at the Hall, where the body of the Emperor lay. He spoke appropriate counsel and tried to assuage the sorrow of the queens. He consoled Kausalya and Sumitra, telling them about the deceased forefathers and how they too could not escape death, in spite of their might and majesty. Since there was no one present who could officiate during the obsequies, the body was, according to the instructions given by Vasishta, kept immersed in oil so that it might not disintegrate. Vasishta beckoned a courier, and told him. “Here! Go quickly to Bharatha; do not tell him a word about the death of the Emperor; but tell him only this&emdash;the Preceptor wants that you and your brother should return immediately to the Capital City.” The courier fell at the feet of the Preceptor, and took leave of the Minister, before he started on the long journey in a fleet chariot.

Ever since Ayodhya was plunged in sorrow, Bharatha was experiencing various premonitions in the form of ominous dreams. He was awakened by the terror and turmoil which the dreams presented before him. Many nights Bharatha had not even a wink of sleep. He sat up in bed, in an eerie state of expectation. He feared that some bad news was coming fast towards him. He moved out even before dawn, and, after an early bath, he engaged himself in various rites and ceremonies in order to propitiate the Gods and avert the expected calamity. He sat long in the shrine, praying for relief. In spite of all this, he was haunted by a mysterious fear.

The dreams were persisting for fourteen days and so Bharatha had reached the very bottom of his courage and faith. Meanwhile the courier from Ayodhya managed to reach the City of Kekaya, where Bharatha was, on the fifteenth day of his long journey. When Bharatha was informed of his arrival at the main entrance to the Palace, Bharatha ordered that he be brought in immediately, so that he might know what had brought him.

The courier prostrated before Bharatha and prayed that he and his brother start without the least delay, according to the command of the Preceptor, to Ayodhya. Bharatha inquired about the welfare of people in Ayodhya, plying the courier with a variety of questions. He replied that there was nothing special to report, except that the Preceptor wanted them to return soon, without delay. This was the task on which he had come and he had nothing more to may. Nor did he know anything more.

Bharatha knew that couriers would not speak more than a few words before their royal masters and the royal masters too should not keep on talking to them intimately for long. Etiquette demanded that he should not converse with him for more than a few minutes. The courier too had his code of discipline. So, he rose and left the chamber.

That very moment, Bharatha entered the inner apartments, and took leave of his maternal uncle; along with his brother, Satrughna, he got into the waiting chariot, and hurried it to move forward faster and faster. Like an arrow from an intrepid bow, the chariot flew over mountain paths, hill tracks and jungle roads. Grief was surging from Bharatha’s heart, as fast as the chariot itself. He could not explain why or wherefore. Some inexplicable agony afflicted him. Bharatha did not wish to delay on the road for food or even for a gulp of water to assuage his thirst.

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Chapter 16(b)

Gloom over Ayodhya

Satrughna noticed the sense of alarm and anxiety that had overcome his brother; he suggested a few times that a halt could be made for food and drink; but, Bharatha did not heed; he stayed silent. Moreover, they observed a series of bad omens encountering them as they drove along. Crows cawed raucously from positions and directions foreboding evil. Dogs howled piteously, in an eerie tone. These signs of calamity ruffled the calmness which Satrughna had heroically maintained until then.

When they arrived at the main gate of the City of Ayodhya, and looked up, the fear was confirmed; for, the festoons of mango leaves had not been renewed for days. Only dried leaves were hanging across the moaning gate way. They were beating against the wind, as if gnashing in anger and sorrow. Why were green leaves not hung across? What had happened to the City? Why this neglect, this sign of distress? The brothers guessed that some terrible bolt of sorrow had fallen on the Capital.

They entered the City and drove on. The Royal Stables for horses and elephants were at the very entrance; when Bharatha’s eyes fell on them, his heart broke; he lost control over himself. For, he found the animals standing without moving a muscle, heads bent and eyes streaming tears. The mahouts and grooms stood with a heavy load of grief, unable to lift their heads. When they drove further into the City,they found the doors of all the mansions on both sides of the road closed, as if the people inside declined to welcome any one in. The roads themselves were dusty and unswept. The few citizens who were up and moving suddenly turned their gaze away, when they saw the chariot that was coming in. When they recognized Bharatha, they shed tears.

The diamond bazaar was closed; so were all shops, all over. Bharatha could not find the tongue to inquire from anyone the reason for the pall of gloom that hung over the City.He was petrified at the unforeseen signs of distress. The chariot entered the Royal Palace. The guards received them silently, with no acclamation of joy, the traditional shouts of Jai, Jai; they stood mute and bent; they could not raise their eyes, for they were tears overflowing. The brothers were now convinced that some unspeakable calamity had overtaken the City; they alighted from the chariot and ran into the palace.

Kaikeyi had noted that her son had come; she went forward with great joy to receive him. The bevy of maids who rose with her and walked behind her were groaning in sorrow. Bharatha looked at their faces and stood stunned where he stood, unable to speak even a single word. But, Kaikeyi started to speak. She said, “Son! Is your uncle well?” Bharatha gave some indistinct reply to that question and pressed forward with his own query, “How is father? How is my eldest brother? How is my other brother? How are my aunts, the queens?”

At this, Kaikeyi was rendered mute. Tears gathered in the eyes of the maids who stood around. He realized that some terrible news was being hidden from him; he asked, “Mother! Where is father? At this, the maids burst into sobs and tears. Seeing them, Kaikeyi too sensed that she should not delay any longer; she too shed tears and acted the role of a grief-stricken woman. Bharatha could not unravel the mystery unaided; he prayed to his mother to explain to him what had happened to whom, and why every one was so overcome with sorrow.

At this, Kaikeyi replied, “Son! What shall I say? I was very happy that with the help of Manthara, I was able to achieve all that I desired; but, with the very first step, my success has broken into bits; the Gods cast an unpropitious eye on it. The Emperor, your dearly beloved father, has left for Heaven”. Kaikeyi started sobbing aloud. No sooner did these words fall on his ear, than Bharatha rolled on the ground like a she-elephant at the roar of a lion. He cried out, “Alas, “Father!” as he fell. Like a plantain tree cut asunder, Satrughna too fell flat on the floor. Their agony was indescribable, immeasurable. Bharatha sat up pressing his head with both hands, and wept aloud. He cried out, “Father! We could not be present round your bed when you drew your last breath. O! what great sinners are we? Of the four sons, all the four could not reap the same merit. And this Bharatha and this Satrughna are the worst, the most unfortunate. During the last moments, you would have talked so lovingly to us. You would have given us invaluable blessings and directions for life. Well, we must be grateful that Rama was there with you. You would certainly have told him what you wished to convey to us. Brother! Rise. Come with me. We shall go to Rama and find out what father has left as message for us. Mother! Tell us where Rama is now”. Bharatha stood up, ready to go. He was waiting only for his mother’s reply.

Kaikeyi said, “Son! If Rama were here, your father would not have breathed his last, don’t you realize that? Rama is not in the City, don’t you know? This was like pouring poison into a wound; Bharatha was shocked by the new blow. Bharatha asked, “Mother! Rama is my very breath. Where has Rama gone?” Bharatha was on the brink of collapse, Kaikeyi replied quick and fast: “Whereto? Do you ask where he has gone? Well. To the forest”. “May be”, Bharatha intervened, “But, why has Rama who has gone to the forest not returned yet?”

Kaikeyi’s answer was delivered calmly and with deliberation. She said, “Son! We have no time to relate and listen to that long story. First, busy yourself in arranging for the last obsequies of your father!” From this, Bharatha learnt that his mother was trying to hide some unpleasant secret from him. So, he asked the whereabouts of Sita and Lakshmana, one after the other. The mother replied, “They both have followed Rama into the forest. They will not be returning to this City until after fourteen years. Thus did your father command”. Kaikeyi delivered this statement, with a firm, hard voice.

Kaikeyi saw that Bharatha was rendered increasingly desperate and distressed by her statements; so, she drew her son near and, stroking his head, she started consoling him saying, “Son! There is no need to lament over your father. He was, while alive, engaging himself continuously in a series of meritorious activities and so, his soul would have attained heaven. Your duty now is to follow the ideal he has set before you, to earn similar fame by meritorious deeds and rule over the Empire happily. Increase his fame and renown by your own wise and merciful rule and maintain the great name of the dynasty.” Kaikeyi endeavoured to heal the lacerated heart of her son by these and similar words.

But, they struck his heart like a dagger-thrust. Each word hit him like a hammer-stroke. Satrughna developed a burning sensation all over his body, as he listened to her. But, he kept quiet; he did not scream. Bharatha, however, rose suddenly, deciding to discover the truth, for, he felt that his mother was deceiving him by her words, keeping some facts away from him and talking in riddles. He drew Satrughna along and rushed out of the room towards the apartments of Kausalya, the eldest queen and the mother of Rama.

And what did he see there! Kausalya was rolling on the floor, in her dust-ridden clothes, lamenting aloud, “O Lord! Lord. Rama, Rama!” Her maids themselves sunk in sorrow, were nursing her into some sort of courage. Bharatha could not restrain himself. Crying out “Mother! Mother!” he collapsed on the floor at her feet. Queen Sumitra too was there, with Kausalya. Both of them recognized Bharatha and Satrughna, and, they suddenly fainted away. Recovering, they clasped each other in a fit of agony and wept aloud; it was a scene that would have melted the hardest stone. The brothers could not bear the weight of sorrow; they fell on the floor.

“Mother! Take me to father; tell me the reason why he passed away. Why did my dear brothers, Rama and Lakshmana, proceed to the forest, with Sita? It is all a mystery to me; save me from this agony; tell me why”. Bharatha pleaded pitifully, clasping the feet of Kausalya. Kausalya embraced him tenderly and replied, “With your return, my son, I am consoled a little. Seeing you, I can forget the pang of separation from dear Rama. You are as much as Rama to me; I make no distinction”. Even while saying so, she interrupted her words, with sobs and groans, and the cry, “Ah! Rama! Can I keep alive for fourteen long years, while you spend them in the forest? Have you resolved that I should be reduced to ashes by the sorrow of separation, just as your father was? Alas how unfortunate am I?” Bharatha suffered even more at these outbursts. His imagination pictured all kinds of tragedies and miseries, for, he was not yet aware of the truth. He prayed: “Mother! Do not keep facts away from me. Trust me. Tell me why Rama went away into the forest, and why father breathed his last; tell me and save me from this tangle of confusion.”

Kausalya was ever simple and straight-forward and very compassionate by nature. She took Bharatha to be Rama himself returned. She drew Bharatha near her, and wiping her tears off, she said, “Son! Bharatha! Be bold. Do not grieve over the past; such grief is useless. Strange things do happen when times are not propitious and circumstances so conspire. Of what benefit is it to lay the blame on some one? No one should be found fault with. It is my destiny to live on with this load of sorrow. This cannot be avoided; it must be endured by me. But, you are young. You are like the sun at the hour of early dawn. Remember that.

“My dearly loved darling, Rama, in obedience to father’s order, wore apparels of fiber, tied his matted hair into a topknot, and is now moving about in the jungle. Sita, who cannot live away from him even for a moment, is with him, clothed in a bark-garment. Lakshmana attempted to prevent Rama from going into the forest, but his efforts were of no avail. He declared that Ayodhya without Rama was a jungle for him; he followed Rama. All this happened before my very eyes. O! What a sinful soul should I be that I still live!

“I could not go with them, nor would my life depart, when they left; how shall I describe my miserable plight? My heart is really carved out of adamantine stone. O tender-hearted Rama! You suffer so much now, since you were born of me. Or else, why should you? Alas! Rama! How much suffering you have to endure, living on fruits and roots, and wandering about in the terror-striking recesses of the jungles!” She groaned aloud once and fell in a faint on the floor.

Bharatha saw all this and listened to what was told him; but the puzzle still remained unsolved. He was struggling in fear and anxiety, unable to delve into the mystery. Meanwhile, a message was brought by Minister Sumanthra that the royal preceptor, Sage Vasishta, had asked that Bharatha should go to him. Sumanthra too burst into tears when his eyes fell on the brothers. He clasped Bharatha to his breast; the brothers too could not control their grief. Bharatha hoped that Sumanthra at least would throw light on the mystery hanging over the tragic events in the Capital; he tried various means to draw Sumanthra to giving him an account of the happenings; but, Sumanthra did not like to speak on them; he thought Bharatha and Satrughna had already been told what had happened by those whom they had met before his arrival.

They went to the Preceptor together. Bharatha and Satrughna fell at the feet of Vasistha and wept aloud. He raised them up, with affection and sympathy, and taught them many a moral and philosophical lesson, in the process of consoling them. “Already, there has been much delay; it is not advisable to delay any further”, he said, and directed Bharatha to prepare himself for performing the funeral rites of his father. Bharatha was lost in thought for a long while; then, he pleaded with the Preceptor Vasishta. “Master! This is a duty that has to be carried out by the eldest son, and Rama is the eldest of us four. Now you are proposing that I should carry it out. Is this just? Is this right? You have preserved the body all these days; keep it so for two or three days more. We shall proceed to where Rama is, Satrughna and I, and bring him back with us. Please give us permission to do so.”

Vasishta replied, “Son! You are a simpleton! Rama would not like to return earlier than the period which has been fixed. He honours the word, when once given. How ever much you might plead, Rama will not enter Ayodhya until the fourteen years are over. Therefore, give up that plan of yours; perform the obsequies of your father and later, you can do whatever you desire.” Vasishta spoke in this strain again and again to convince Bharatha of the futility of his idea.

Bharatha found that he could not avoid obeying the preceptor. He agreed; the father’s body was bathed, and the rites laid down in the Vedas preliminary to cremation were duly gone through. Meanwhile urged by an irrepressible yearning, Bharatha went straight into the apartments of Kausalya and Sumitra, and falling at their feet, he prayed, “Mothers! No. You must desist from immolating yourselves in the funeral pyre of father. If you try to do so, I will not perform the last rites for him.”

He secured from them the promise that they would not. Both of them were much impressed by his love and affection. They could not but comply with this request. They said, “Son! We shall act in accordance with your desire.”

Then the body was taken and placed on the pyre of sandalwood piled on the bank of the Sarayu River. Bharatha performed the last rites with scrupulous correctitude, evincing a faith in the Vedas which was a thousand times more than what Vasistha expected and foresaw. He gave away in charity, in the name of his father, the sixteen prescribed articles, in plenty. He gave cows, lands, gold, houses, clothes, food, horses, elephants, coins, and other valuables. The recipients extolled throughout his generosity and filial piety.

But the feudatory kings, the scholars and priests, and the common people could not reconcile themselves to the absence of Rama. That sorrow gnawed their hearts. That agony of separation caused pangs of pain every moment. They knew they were helpless; there was no way out. Rama would never give up the plighted word. He would not return, whatever the inducement; he would not come back to Ayodhya until the fourteen-year period was over. They had to accept that fact. So they steeled their hearts to bear with the agony and decided to keep alive, awaiting his return, hoping to rejoice when the term of exile ends.

Meanwhile, Vasishta the Royal Preceptor, gathered the feudatory rulers, the vassal kings, the ministers, sages and monks, the wise men of the Empire, and leaders among the people, and held a Conference. First he administered words of advice according to the Dharmasastra, the canons of moral law, on the duties and obligations of rulers. He narrated, in the beginning, the entire series of events from the plot woven by Kaikeyi to the day when Rama left for the forest. Then Vasishta dilated upon the high qualities of the deceased Emperor – his adherence to Truth, his elevated standards of conduct, his high spiritual attainments, his regal splendour, and his loyalty to Vedic injunctions, which made him a generous patron of countless Yajnas, Yagas and other ceremonial rites. Vasishta then went on with the narration of the attempt made by the Emperor to celebrate the Coronation of Rama and the obstacles that came in his way, which resulted in the exile of Rama and the death of the Emperor himself through grief at the separation from his dearly beloved son.

Bharatha and Satrughna, who were unaware of these tragic developments at the Capital now being described by their Preceptor, were overwhelmed with anger, as well as sorrow and a sense of shame. They bent their heads; their hearts were filled with contrition. Streams of tears flowed down their cheeks. The persons assembled before them could scarce lift their eyes towards them. Even Vasishta wiped his eyes which were fast filling with tears. The hall was saturated with gloom; a silence fell over the assembly; all men sat like stone images.

Bharatha and Satrughna could not any more listen to what Vasishta was narrating; they were too full of anger at Kaikeyi for her nefarious conduct. Bharatha cursed himself that he was born of such a mother; he was so ashamed at this consequence of his own evil deeds in past lives that he could not lift his head or look any one in the face. They were anxious to leave the hall and get away.

Vasishta knew what their feelings were; he went near them with comforting counsel. “Son”, he said “there is no use lamenting over the past. What has happened has happened. Now, we must think and resolve upon what has to be done. Your father, I must say, was fortunate in all respects. Why grieve over him? Listen to me; bow your head to his command. He has granted you the authority to rule over this Empire. It is right that you accept his grant and honour his order. Your father agreed to be separated from Rama, since he could not bring him self to breaking his own plighted word. He gave up his life, since he had immense love and affection towards Rama. He died in order to redeem his promise; there is no doubt about that. He knew that honouring a promise once made is more valuable than life itself. That is why he was ready to face death itself rather than go back on his word. And, consider, Rama too went into exile in the forest with his wife in order to honour his word!

“It is the glory of the Ikshvaku royal line that every one belonging to it would sacrifice anything for the sake of keeping the word once given. That is the splendour which you share. You too must now act according to your fathers word and accept the responsibility of administering the kingdom. May you attain all auspiciousness in the task. May success and prosperity attend on all your undertakings. I have ventured to advise you thus, only because of the affection and compassion I have towards you; or else, I would not have laid on your shoulder this heavy responsibility. I know you can maintain the fair name of your father; you have the administrative ability, the skill, and the courage needed for taking up this burden. Do not hesitate or doubt. Accept the charge.”

Vasishta patted Bharatha on his back and blessed him. Bharatha took his loving advice and when the Preceptor finished, he rose quickly from his seat, and fell prostrate at his feet. He struggled to speak, for he was in inconsolable grief; his lips were quivering; his throat was unclear. Words could hardly shape themselves on his tongue. He said, “Master! Are these words of yours really an indication of your love and compassion? No, in fact, you have no love, no compassion towards me. For, if you had, you would have never agreed to place all this burden on me. You are sentencing me to this punishment without the least compassion. This Empire that drove the holiest and purest person into the jungles, this Empire that plunged the entire population into years of incessant tears, this Empire that has lost its most righteous ruler, this Empire that has brought eternal infamy to its ruling dynasty, the Ikshvaku Line, this Empire that has brought about the pathetic state of widowhood on mothers Kausalya, Sumitra and the rest, this Empire that has degraded itself in so many ways – you are now entrusting to me!

“Alas, this is the consequence of the sins I have committed, the consequence of this unfortunate fellow being born from the womb of that embodiment of cruelty and hatred, Kaikeyi. Instead of inflicting this punishment on me, please earn some spiritual merit by sending me to where Rama is. I can make my life worthwhile and save myself, by engaging in the task of sweeping the paths ahead of them, to make them soft for his feet. I cannot remain in this place a moment longer.”

Bharatha fell at Vasishta’s feet and prayed for permission to leave for the forest. At this, the Ministers of the State rose with folded hands and said, “Lord! It is not proper to continue this state of affairs long; we are having no ruler now. You cannot escape the responsibility which the Preceptor is imposing on you. After Rama returns, you can act in the way you prefer, but now, please accept our prayers. Protect the realm and promote the prosperity of the people. Take up the reins.”

Bharatha did not reply to their importunities. He wanted instead leave to go to mother Kausalya and see her for a while. Vasishta readily agreed. Bharatha and Satrughna moved out of the Assembly, and made their way straight to the palace of Kausalya. They fell at her feet and Bharatha told her, “Mother! Pray pardon this unlucky Bharatha who has been the cause of all this calamity, having been born from the womb of that wicked woman, Kaikeyi. This cursed fellow is the source of miseries of the realm. Give me permission to leave for the forest. I cannot walk or move about even a moment in this city of Ayodhya with head erect, after my master and lord, Rama has left it on account of me. This Empire belongs as of right to the eldest son; this insignificant fellow has no right over it. I do not need this burden, I shall not bear it. Bless me, so that I can leave immediately”. Bharatha stood waiting, filled with grief.

Kausalya mustered courage and started to comfort Bharatha. She said, “Bharatha! Consider the circumstances and give up your grief. This is no time for wavering. Rama is out there in the midst of the forest region. Your father is in Heaven. Your mothers, kith and kin, your friends and well-wishers and the subjects are sunk in deep sorrow. All are now looking forward to you as their sole refuge and resort. Realize that all this has happened because the times were not propitious and so deeds of men became crooked and shocking; take courage and decide. Obey the directions of your father. Bow your head to the command of the Guru, Vasishta. Honour the petitions of the people. Act as the ministers are praying you should.”

Kausalya was holding his hands fondly in hers, while she was trying to persuade him to accept the authority of the monarch of the realm. Her words touched him with a strange softness, as if they were cool sandal paste over a burning heart. They were sweet to the ear, and very appealing to hear. For, Kausalya had no word of condemnation for his mother who had caused this string of disasters; she entertained not even the least doubt regarding his loyalty; Bharatha felt immensely happy and relieved when he listened to her words. He was delighted beyond measure when he noted how broad her heart was and how sincere her affection towards him. He had not calculated even in his wildest dream that Kausalya would treat him like this, when her own son was an exile for fourteen years in the forest, and also pour out such plentiful affection on him, who was the son of another wife of her husband! What a difference, he wondered, between his own mother, Kaikeyi, and Kausalya. He could not gauge it by any unit of measurement. He found in Kausalya the completion and fulfillment of the love that should fill the heart.

He folded his palms and importuned, “Mother! Your words filled with tenderness and love are like a shower of cool rosewater on my lacerated heart. Perhaps, you mistook me for Rama! But, alas, I am not that pure-hearted Rama. Bharatha, born of Kaikeyi; I have a crooked nature, inherited from her. I am mean, with no sense of shame. I am the enemy of Rama. You have taken me to be Rama and spoken so kindly, so affectionately. Your heart is so set upon Rama that you address every one as you address Rama himself. I am speaking the truth, mother! Listen to me, and pay heed to my prayer.”

“Mother! Only those who are established in righteousness deserve to rule. When persons of devious intelligence and shady skills like me rule the realm, the earth will degenerate into an image of the nether regions. Selfish pushers, narrow-minded adventurers, greedy vultures, pomp-loving personalities, self-centered individuals, persons suffering from chronic envy, these do not deserve the right to rule. They harm the interests of the people whom they rule over; they undermine the foundations of righteousness. The kingdom will be ruined by them. Only those who tread the path of virtue and righteous conduct deserve to rule over others. I can discover only one such, and he is Rama. I do not know of any other. Therefore, I shall leave this very instant, and clasping the feet of Rama, pray to him. I shall bring him back with me to Ayodhya. Grant me the permission; bless me without further delay”. Bharatha prostrated before Kausalya and waited for the answer.

Bharatha’s words soothed the heart of Kausalya to a large extent. She said, “Son! In you I find surging forth the self-same feelings my Rama has. Looking upon you, I can bear a little the agony of separation from him. So, if you too proceed to the forest, what is to happen to us? If you declare that your going is inevitable, then, take me too. For whom have I to spend my days within this Ayodhya? Having lost the husband, and having become distant from the son, the wife has not yet dissolved herself in the agony of the loss. Go, secure the permission of the Guru, Vasishta; we shall enter the forest, and spend at least some time with Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. I can then end this life of mine.” When she spoke thus Bharatha derived some consolation and peace of mind.

Thereupon, Bharatha fell at the feet of Kausalya and Sumitra, and rose to proceed towards the palace of Kaikeyi.

Bharatha walked first and Satrughna followed him. They were heavy with grief and resentment that Kaikeyi, putting her trust in Manthara, had brought about such havoc. They tried hard to suppress the anger that rose within them. At last, they entered the palace. They saw at the entrance Manthara herself, elaborately bejeweled, waiting to receive them. Satrughna could not tolerate that sight; he dragged her down by the hair and rained blows on her. She bawled out, ‘Ayyo’ ‘Ayyo’ and when the sound reached the ears of Kaikeyi, she ran to the spot, and started rating Satrughna for his action.

Taking advantage of the opportunity, Bharatha let him self go, with uncontrolled indignation. He shouted at her, “Fie upon you, blackest sinner! You placed faith in this wicked woman’s words and committed despicable sin. How was it that your heart did not break in twain when this woman’s disastrous counsel entered it? How could your tongue pronounce those baneful boons? Did it not turn into ashes, when it uttered those abominable desires? With what face can you dare reside in this palace? Aren’t you ashamed to move within its precincts? Alas! How did the Emperor place his faith in the words of a person so evil as you are? Blinded by lust, he agreed to barter away the son, in order to win the wife; the conspiracy you hatched was mean and fraught with misery. You polluted the pure heart of the Emperor; you set the Kingdom on fire; you have destroyed the dynasty and its glory; you have brought eternal disgrace on the Royal Line of Raghu; your crooked, poisonous heart has achieved all this ruin. To declare you as my mother is a dire sin. How could you decide that, when you harm another, your son will attain good fortune? Are not the children of others as dear to them as yours are to you? Women who plan ill for other’s children are only out the water from the tank. I am unable to decide whether I have to laugh or weep at your banal stupidity.”

“Instead of fouling these minutes conversing with you, I would rather proceed to the presence of Rama, and pray to him to come back to Ayodhya so that I can return with him. In case, he declines to return, I am determined to stay with him as Lakshmana has done, and be happy serving him. I shall not look on your face again.”

Saying this, Bharatha turned his back on her, and started with his brother. Kaikeyi ruminated on her erroneous action; she lamented at the turn her plot had taken; she felt that wicked plans by whosoever entertained might grant only temporary happiness. But they are certain to pave the way to ultimate downfall; she found no means of escape; she could not find words to express her remorse and sorrow; so, she stood petrified and dumb.

Kaikeyi got disgusted with Manthara. She realized the truth. She felt delighted at the righteous stand taken by Rama. And she hung her head in shame at the recognition of her own sin.

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Chapter 17(a)

The Brothers meet

Bharatha and Satrughna went straight to the place where the Ministers, the Royal Preceptor, and the leading citizens of the Capital had assembled. All of them were awaiting their arrival, anxious to know what they had resolved upon, and silently expectant to listen attentively to what they were about to tell them.

Meanwhile, Bharatha fell at the feet of the Preceptor and declared, “Divine Master! I am telling you my honest intention; please believe my sincerity, for, I am not hiding anything. I am opening my heart without any reservations. The effect is harder than the cause; the metal that is extracted from the soil is harder than the soil, you know. Born in the womb of the hard-hearted Kaikeyi, I am indeed even more hard hearted. Or else, how can you explain that I am still alive, despite the fact that Rama is far away from me? Kaikeyi has transferred Sita and Lakshmana into the forest, she has sent her husband into heaven, plunged the subjects of this vast Empire in sorrow and anxiety, and brought eternal infamy on her son. And, you are now demanding that I should rule over the Empire and cover myself with lasting disgrace. I am not in the least happy over this; I do not deserve this at all. Will not people laugh at me in scorn if I sit on the Lion Throne as Lord Ruler when Rama is moving about in the jungle?

“My reign will bring only harm to the people; for, my accession itself will be immoral and unrighteous. And, who will deign to honour an usurper and obey his commands? I cannot punish the unrighteous and the immoral! With what face can I correct wrong doers, when I myself have done mountains of wrong in ascending the throne that is not rightfully mine? People would certainly point the accusing finger at me, when opportunity arises, though they may keep quiet for some time, for fear of the reprisals that I might inflict using my authority.

“The evil design of my mother has now become transformed into an agonizing headache for me. I cannot wait even a single moment here, without seeing Sita and Rama. I am only communicating to you my terrible anguish; only the sight of Rama can cool my heart and cure my agony. No words of consolation or explanation can bring me solace in my grievous plight. I have obtained permission from Kausalya and Sumitra. I have decided to proceed at dawn tomorrow to the place where Rama is at present. My sins, however plentiful they might be, will be reduced to ashes the moment the eyes of Rama fall on me. Even if Rama does not speak to me, I shall be happy taking his Darsan always, hiding behind some tree, and following him at a distance, delighted at the chance. Elders who have gathered here! Pray for me, bless me that I may progress as a result of the darsan of Rama. Minister! Give me permission to go to the presence of Rama. I am the slave of the Lord Rama. He is the Lord for all of us.”

No one in that assembly, among the Ministers, the Feudatories, and the leaders of the people could raise his voice in reply. They realized the depth of Bharatha’s remorse. They understood that Bharatha had an unsullied heart and that he was refusing to be bound by the coils of the conspiracy his mother wound round him.

The chief of the Elders of the City rose from his seat, and said, “Lord! We too shall come with you. We too find separation from Rama an insufferable agony. We do not care what happens to our lives after we get one chance to have his Darsan.” He asked for this permission on behalf of every one gathered there.

Others too responded to the suggestion wholeheartedly and came forward with prayers that they too be taken to Rama. Within minutes, the news spread into every nook and corner of the vast City and men, women, children, young and old, got ready to start! Who can dissuade whom? There was no one that day among the huge population of Ayodhya so cruel as to prevent others from proceeding to Rama for his Darsan. The mothers, Kausalya and Sumitra, too set out on the journey with their maids.

Meanwhile, Kaikeyi, overcome with repentance for her errors and her sins, communicated with Kausalya and prayed that she too might be allowed to accompany the queens. She pleaded that she might be permitted to pray for pardon, and join the others In their attempts to persuade Rama to return to Ayodhya. Kausalya who had a pure unblemished heart, did not entertain the least doubt or deviation from right-consciousness; she sent word that Kaikeyi could certainly join her.

Bharatha was informed that the entire City was on the move. He informed the Ministers that at least a few had to stay behind, in order to guard the City, without leaving it helpless. So, some were left behind. Vehicles were made ready before every house during the night itself, so that the inmates might join the trek, during the early hours. Practically everything on wheels was commandeered for the purpose. Food and drink for the entire mass of people were duly arranged. Like Chakravaka birds, the men and women of Ayodhya awaited the heralding of the dawn, so that they might journey towards their dearly beloved Lord. It was a night of ecstatic anticipation for the citizens; they spent it in contemplating on the Darsan that awaited them.

The army with the entire force of chariotry, elephantry, cavalry and infantry got ready to march. Vedic scholars were directed by the Minister that they had to keep on reciting the auspicious hymns; they had also to take with them the ceremonial requisites for the ritual worship of Fire. Right on time, according to the calculations of the astrologers, the leading chariot for Bharatha and Satrughna, and the palanquin next in order for Queen Kausalya were brought before the palace. Bharatha ordered that every one must occupy the chariot or vehicle allotted. And allowing his chariot to move on with no one in, Bharatha and Satrughna walked on, by its side, barefooted.

People thought that they might walk in that manner only for some little time, for some short distance. But, they found that Bharatha was in no mood to get into the chariot; however long the distance to be covered. Kausalya could not tolerate this; she said, “Son! I cannot suffer the sight of your walking. Sit in the chariot at least for some time.” At this, Bharatha replied, “Mother! This is only to make amends for the sins I am burdened with. Do I suffer now while walking on the road at least a fraction of what Rama and Sita are suffering in the forest, while they walk barefoot? When they are walking barefoot, it is highly wrong for me, their servant to ride in a chariot. Pardon me for disobeying your command; permit me to walk as I am doing now.”

Meanwhile, the Royal Preceptor, Vasishta, and his consort Arundathi, who were seated in the preceding chariot, stopped their vehicle and witnessing the determination of Bharatha, they prayed to Bharatha at least to sit in their chariot and act as their charioteer. But, Bharatha was adamant. He said, “I am the servant of Rama and I am bound only to his chariot. Until I get the precious chance to act as his charioteer, I shall not ride in any chariot nor hold the reins of any other steed. This is my vow.” Vasishta desisted from any further persuasion; he was genuinely delighted at the love and reverence that Bharatha bore towards Rama.

They reached the bank of the River Thamasa at nightfall on the first day. The next day, they reached the bank of the Gomathi. The Thamasa is a tributary of the Gogra River, while the Gomathi is a tributary of the Ganga. As soon as it was dark, the vehicles were stopped, shelters were provided for women, children and the aged; the Minister ordered the soldiers to distribute food to the people, systematically and with due respect. Really, throughout the journey, everyone carried out the work assigned to each with care and enthusiasm. They took good care that no one suffered any hardship.

Resuming their journey with the dawn of the third day, they reached Sringiverapuram when darkness fell on the land. The king of the Nishadas saw the huge concourse and the army on the march; he was perturbed, for, he wondered why Bharatha was proceeding to the forest and why he was taking with him the army with all its components. What was the significance of it all? He tried to solve the mystery. He discussed within himself the pros and cons of this unusual procedure. He argued within himself: “When the tree is poisonous, its fruit too is bound to be poisonous.” He tried his best to foil the plans of Bharatha; he directed his men to keep every boat sunk in the depths of the Ganga, and to deprive the prince of all means of crossing the river. He ordered that they should prevent the concourse from crossing over to the other bank, even at the cost of their lives.

And, the King of the Nishadas stood ready with his bow and arrow, set to attack, willing to sacrifice his life in the cause of his beloved Rama, in spite of the fact that the forces which Bharatha was leading were far superior in strength to his own.

Guha alerted his community and all its members to be prepared for the imminent battle. Then, he got ready to meet Bharatha in order to discover whether he had come as foe, or as friend, or whether he was neutral, only a passing visitor who need not be worried about. Knowing that Bharatha was a Prince of Imperial Lineage, he secured as offering to be presented to him large quantities of flowers, fish, flesh and fruits.

He planned to discover the innate intent of Bharatha by noting his reactions to the various articles that were offered to him. Roots and tubers and fruits are Sathwic food; if he preferred them, he must be reckoned a friend. The flesh of slain animals is Rajasic food; preference for that type of food would mark out the “middle of the road” neutral, who is neither ally nor adversary. Fish, if accepted eagerly, would Indicate a foe, for they are Thamasic Items of food.

Taking with him these offerings, Guha, the Chieftain of the Nishadas, proceeded to the presence of Bharatha. Good omens greeted him at the very first step. His eyes fell on the Sage Vasishta. He ran forward and fell at his feet, announcing himself by name. The Preceptor recognized him as the companion of Rama; he blessed the Chieftain, and calling Bharatha to his side, he spoke to him of Guha as the ‘friend’ of Rama.

As soon as those words fell on his ears, Bharatha embraced Guha warmly, and showered questions on him about his health and welfare. Bharatha prompted Guha to relate to him how he met Rama. When Guha mentioned how Rama spent one whole night with him on the banks of the self-same river, Bharatha showed great earnestness to listen to his description of that night; his eyes and ears were panting with thirst for the nectar of that narrative.

The chieftain of the Nishadas was all praise and adoration for Rama; he showed him the thatched hut he had prepared so that Rama, Sita and Lakshmana could rest for a while; he told him of the conversation he had with Lakshmana during the night. On hearing all this, Bharatha and Satrughna could not stop the stream of tears flowing down their cheeks; they could not suppress the surging waves of sorrow. Watching them, Guha was convinced that they had genuine brotherly feelings towards Rama and that there was no trace of hostility in them. He was struck by their devotion and the sincerity of their dedication.

Bharatha had a close look at the huts constructed for the use of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana; he desired that they be tended with due care so that they suffer no damage. Following the orders of the Preceptor, Bharatha performed the ceremonial bath in the holy river Ganga, along with his mothers. Bharatha asked Guha to take them to the place where Rama spent the night; pointing his finger to a heap of darbha grass that had been scattered by the wind, Guha said, “Sita and Rama rested here, on this bed of dry grass that night”. Bharatha and Satrughna prostrated before that holy spot. Bharatha lamented, “Alas! My Lord accustomed to sleep on a thick soft silken bed, how could he sleep on such hard stuff? Alas! How did that holy mother Sita bear all this hardship?” Overcome with grief, Bharatha could not move from the place for a long while.

Rising, Bharatha requested that he be shown the places which Rama, Sita and Lakshmana had rendered holy by treading on them. Guha took them to an Asoka tree, under whose shade they sat for some time to eat a frugal meal of fruits. There too the brothers fell on the ground reverentially, knowing it to be holy ground.

While they were moving round the places sanctified by Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, the two brothers suffered indescribable agony. The humility, reverence, and devotion they manifested touched the heart of the Nishada chieftain. Bharatha could not contain his anguish when he contemplated the discomforts that Sita – Goddess Mahalakshmi Herself – the dearly beloved daughter of Emperor Janaka, the daughter-in-law of Emperor Dasaratha, and the Consort of Rama the Mighty, was enduring. Bharatha disclosed to Guha that the inhabitants of Ayodhya City could not survive in that City any longer, for the holy couple Rama and Sita, had left it; they felt that Ayodhya had been transformed into a jungle, for it had no Rama in it; he said that he too could not bear their grief, and he too realized that Ayodhya was wherever Rama was; so, he explained, he had come with his following and with the inhabitants, to the sacred Presence of Rama.

Guha grasped the situation clearly now and gave up all the suspicions he had entertained, when he saw Bharatha advancing with his army, with its four components of infantry, cavalry, elephantry and chariotry, towards the jungle where Rama was. He opened his heart to Bharatha and begged to be pardoned for the doubts he had framed in his mind about his intentions. Bharatha said that his fears were natural and that he had committed no wrong. For, the truth was, he was indeed a wicked barbarian! “I am the reason for the exile that Rama is going through”, he said. “For that one crime, I deserve to be killed; he who kills me commits no sin”, he groaned. When Bharatha was condemning himself so harshly, Guha poured out his prayers for pardon.

News spread in Sringiverapura, the Nishada Capital, that Bharatha had come to the bank of the Ganga. At this, the subjects of Guha hurried groups to honour the brother of Rama. They fed their eyes on the beauty and majesty of the brothers; they praised them to their hearts’ content; they prostrated reverentially before them. They also roundly reprimanded Queen Kaikeyi. They blamed the God of Destiny, Brahma, for being so cruel. They shed profuse tears; they extolled Rama through manifold forms of praise. They prayed to Bharatha and Satrughna (every one of them, men, women, children, all) to bring Rama, Sita and Lakshmana back with them.

Bharatha was struck dumb at this demonstration of extreme agony at separation from Rama! Tears rolled down his face. “Prayer is my task; what happens to the prayer is dependent on the Grace of Rama. I am but a slave; who am I to exert pressure on Rama? Join with me in my prayer; pray from the depths of your hearts that Rama should return to Ayodhya. His heart will certainly melt at our agony. This is our duty. Let your prayers help my prayers to succeed. Rama has come to save the world, and he will not refuse the prayers of the people.” Bharatha consoled and comforted the Nishadas and others in ways best suited to their needs and capacities. Meanwhile, darkness fell on the earth, and Bharatha asked the Chieftain of the Nishadas, to direct his people to go home. They ate the fruits brought by Guha and spent the whole night talking about Rama and His glory.

When the eastern sky brightened to usher in the new day, Bharatha instructed the Minister to awaken the populace; he bathed in the sacred Ganga, with his brother; the Mothers too finished their bath. Every one got ready to continue the journey. Guha the Chieftain of the Nishada tribe, collected enough craft to row over the large mass of people, the chariots, the horses, and other sections of the armed forces that had accompanied Bharatha. The task of ferrying them across the Ganga was quickly and successfully accomplished. After ascertaining whether all had been transported across, Guha moved forward into the jungle, showing Bharatha the way. The Brahmins, and the Preceptor Vasishta walked on as one group; the people of Ayodhya followed in one vast mass; units of the army followed behind; journeying thus, Bharatha reached the confluence of the rivers Ganga and Yamuna, the sacred Prayag, in the afternoon. Bharatha had never walked so much on foot, and so, his soles became sore and they hurt with a burning sensation. Yet, he plodded on, for, he felt his pain as recompense for the pain inflicted on Rama. He ignored it, for he was conscious only of the pain Rama was undergoing at that very moment.

Prayag is known as Triveni, for the river Saraswathi too enters the twin rivers at that holy place. Its sacredness is tripled thereby. They bathed at the famous confluence with due rites. The anchorites, hermits, celibates, sages, and monks of Prayag were delighted at the chance to fill their eyes with the sight of Bharatha. They told among themselves, “O! he casts around him the same halo as Rama; in fact, the appearance is just the same.” Every one who looked at him could scarce indulge in a wink, lest the delight would be interrupted thereby!

The inmates of the Bharadwaj Ashram in Prayag learnt of the coming of the brothers with contingents of his armed forces, accompanied by their mothers, and ministers. Sage Bharadwaja sent his disciples to Bharatha and invited the party to visit the Ashram. Interpreting the invitation as a command, Bharatha and his entourage entered the Ashram. The brothers prostrated before that Monarch of the Monastic Orders. Bharadwaja raised them by the shoulder and drew them near with great affection. He gave them refreshingly cool drinks. He noticed that Bharatha was sitting with his head bent in shame and fear, lest his share in the exile of Rama be revealed through questions that might be asked. Bharadwaja discovered the reason for his silence and nervousness. He said, “Bharatha! You need have no apprehensions; I am aware of all that happened. No one can control or direct the path of Destiny. Why pine over the boons that your mother demanded? No trace of wrong can be attributed to her for this. The Will of God induced her to ask such boons. Kaikeyi, I know, loves Rama as her very breath; so, the reason for the turn her mind took is to be sought, not in any human field of thought and reason, but, only in the Divine plan. As the world judges events, Kaikeyi has done wrong; as the Vedas lay down, the Goddess Saraswathi who presides over the tongue has done wrong; know that what has happened is in conformity with the will of the Almighty.

“Bharatha! The world will enthuse over your spotless renown, and sing your praise. Vedas will be valued more on account of such as you, exemplifying their teachings and demonstrating their efficacy. Do not hesitate! The son to whom the father entrusts the kingdom is thereby deemed deserving of the right to govern it. That relentless adherent of Truth, that High-Souled ruler Emperor Dasaratha gave the Empire to you, and ordered that you should act according to the Dharma of Monarchs.

“The exile of Rama into the forest has resulted in a series of calamities. The entire world is sunk in sorrow on account of this event. Now your mother is repenting pitiably over the wrong; you are innocent and blameless. No blemish can attach itself to you now if you rule over the Empire. In fact, Rama will be happy to know that you have taken up the reins of imperium.

“I must also say that the mission on which you are now set is very laudable indeed. Your purpose is highly commendable. For, devotion to the Lotus Feet of Rama is the spring and source of all prosperity and progress. Bharatha! I can boldly declare that there is none so virtuous, so fortunate as you. You have proved yourself worthy of being the dearly beloved younger brother of Rama, Rama sanctified this, our Ashram, while on his way to the forest. That night, till the hour of midnight, Rama was talking to me mostly of you and your virtues. They proceeded with me to Prayag for the holy bath; they remembered you even while engaged in bathing! He felt very sad that he could not see you and Satrughna the day he left Ayodhya. I can not measure the love that Rama has towards you.

“Besides, Rama is ever intent on assuaging the grief of those who take refuge in him. The entire world is his family; all are his kith and kin. I believe you are the ‘affection’ of Rama, in human form, no less. What you feel as a blemish on your name is, to me a lesson, an example, and an inspiration. Bharatha! You should not be weighed down by sadness. You are in possession of the Wish-fulfilling Gem! Why then should you lament that you are poor? It isn’t proper that you should do so. The Darsan of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana is verily the treasure all spiritual aspirants seek. I secured that fortune; for, I feasted my eyes on that Darsan. I could speak with them; I was in their Presence and I could touch them too. I had the privilege and pleasure of being their host. Perhaps, there was some balance of fortune still awaiting me; for, I have now this pleasure of getting your Darsan too. Ecstasy has now filled my heart. I am truly blessed. Rama has exiled himself into the forest for our sake, ascetics living therein, so that our yearnings might be fulfilled and our holiness heightened. We are blessed indeed.”

In this manner, Bharadwaja, the great Sage, praised Bharatha for his manifold virtues and excellences. While speaking in this strain, tears of joy rolled down the cheeks of the revered ascetic. Bharatha and Satrughna had their minds set on Rama and his limitless Prema; they felt that they were indeed fortunate to be his brothers, but the joy was immediately extinguished at the thought that they had been themselves exiled from the presence of that Embodiment of love. So, they were plunged in gloom, in unbearable agony and inexpressible grief. In a voice choked by anguish, Bharatha said, rising up from the prostration he offered to the Sage, “Master! You are aware of the Past, Present and the Future. You have spoken the very Truth. You are master of the Highest Truth. Rama is unbeatable in skill and power. I have resolved to utter in your Presence only the Truth. Rama knows the workings of the people’s mind and what is now agitating them. I have at present no grief over the wrong committed by my mother. I have no fear that the people would blame me for the tragedy that has befallen them. I have no despair even when it is announced that I am ineligible for heaven.

“My father has earned high renown; though dead, his fame has spread over the entire world. When his beloved son, Rama departed from his presence with Lakshmana, he gave up the bubble breath that very instant. He could not survive the bolt of that tragedy. There is no need, therefore, to be anxious any more about him. But, Sita, Rama and Lakshmana are moving about bare-footed. Donning the robes of ascetics, they sit on mats of kusa grass; they reside in leaf-thatched huts; they are fried by the sun, soaked by rain; they shiver in the cold and bear its pangs; they are undergoing untold hardships in the forest, aren’t they? Now, tell me, am I not the sole cause for all these hard ships? It is this sad fact that is eating me throughout all the hours of the day and night. Food refuses to enter my stomach; sleep refuses to close the lids of my eyes. This crookedness of my mother’s mind has become a dagger sticking in my heart. The stratagem she devised for my installation on the throne has turned into a trap to ruin me.

The agony that is gnawing me from within cannot be appeased, whatever is done. Nothing can cure it. It will end only on the day when Rama returns to Ayodhya. No other remedy exists to destroy this agony.”

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Chapter 17(b)

The Brothers meet

The monks who had gathered were delighted to hear these words from the Prince. Bharadwaja told him, “Son! Do not grieve any more. The moment your eyes fall on the Lotus Feet of Rama the burden of grief which torments you now is certain to disintegrate and disappear.” The ascetics too consoled and comforted him in various ways. Meanwhile, the Great Sage Bharadwaja beckoned a pupil and directed him to bring roots, tubers and fruits to be placed before Bharatha and Satrughna. He also ordered his pupil to arrange for the supply of food to the aides, the ministers and courtiers, and the citizens of Ayodhya, all of whom had borne uncomplainingly many a hardship on the way in their eagerness to have the Darsan of Rama, and who were afflicted in mind by the agony of separation from their beloved Lord.

Complying with that order most reverentially, the pupil quickly offered plentiful repast to every one who had come as guests. For the Princes, Bharatha and Satrughna, their Families, the Ministers and Courtiers, the Pundits and the Brahmins, hospitality was arranged on an elaborate festive scale. Everything was produced plentifully and perfectly, through the ascetic’s mysterious will-power itself. Bharatha was filled with wonder.

But it must be said that not only the two brothers, but the entire gathering from Ayodhya looked upon the pomp and profusion as mere trash! They were not charmed in the least. The scents, the bouquets of fragrant flowers, the juicy fruits and the attractive tasty dishes struck them with awe. The two resplendent seats specially set up for Bharatha and Satrughna defied all description.

When all was ready, the Sage invited every one inside the specially erected Hall, where they were to partake of the banquet. They entered that marvel of beauty. The Royal Preceptor and his consort were led to high seats reserved for them. The queens too entered the place, covered and cordoned off for their sake, and, bending under the weight of sorrow, they too complied with the command of the Sage.

At this time, the bright-faced disciples of the Sage brought in the brothers, Bharatha and Satrughna, with all due honour, in accordance with the practice of that renowned Hermitage. The young ascetics stood on both sides of the passage, waving yak-tail whisks and reciting scriptural hymns. They approached the magnificent seats set for them but, as soon as they came near, they bowed their heads and fell on the floor, in respectful obeisance. They took the whisks from the hands of the pupils, and started waving them reverentially, standing one on each side of the Lion Thrones! They were adoring the thrones, instead of sitting in them! All present were surprised at this gesture, this homage offered to the empty Thrones.

When the Sage invited them to occupy the Thrones, Bharatha and Satrughna fell at his feet and implored, “Master! These Thrones belong to Sita and Rama, and not to us. We have no right for them. In this holy hermitage, those two alone, Goddess Lakshmi and Narayana, have the title to sit on Lion Thrones. We are their servants. Permit us to serve them thus”. At this, the ascetics and the entire assembly were thrilled with joyous appreciation. They extolled among themselves the immense depth of the devotion that the brothers had for Rama. Tears of joy flowed from their eyes. The monks were astounded at their faith and its steadfastness.

The brothers offered the elaborate fare that was brought as food to the Thrones picturing in their minds the charming figures of Sita and Rama, occupying them; a little while after, they broke off small particles from the offered dishes and placing them adoringly on their eyelids, they ate them as sacramental food. The elders, ministers, aides and the residents of Ayodhya craved pardon from the Sage Bharadwaja for not partaking of the food, since, as they said, they could not relish any food, overwhelmed as they were by the agony of separation from Rama. They refused to eat, for, they felt that the Darsan of Rama alone could give them the sense of contentment. That was the nectarine feast they yearned for. They were plunged in a gloom as deep as the standard of the Sage’s hospitality was high. They said they were too engrossed in their anxiety for the sight of Rama to entertain the idea of food. The sage had finally to accede to their wish to be left alone; he could not prevail upon them to sit down at the feast.

Every one got ready to start for the forest, even as early as the first intimations of dawn. They prostrated before the Sage, secured his blessings and his permission before they left the hermitage. While the servants walked in advance showing them the way, the palanquins and chariots followed immediately after. Bharatha walked behind, with his hand on the shoulder of the Chieftain of the Nishadas, Guha. He appeared as the very Personification of Fraternal Love and Devotion. He had no footwear to guard against thorns and pebbles; he had no umbrella over his head to guard him against the scorching sun. He did not allow any one to hold one above him. He did not permit any one to bring him footwear. But, the earth took pity on him and transformed the path he trod, soft and sweet. The wind comforted him, blowing cool and gentle, all through the journey. The Sun drew a cloud between him and itself.

They reached the bank of the River Yamuna when evening fell. Throughout the hours of night, boats were seen gathering near the bank in countless numbers. Hence, at daybreak the entire mass of people could ferry over at the same time! Then, they finished their bath, and proceeded forward, after prostrating before the holy river in reverential gratitude.

Thenceforward, Bharatha and Satrughna moved on in the robes of recluses, into which they had changed. With them walked the Ministers, the Companions of the Princes, and their aides, carrying the pictures of Sita and Rama in their hearts. While on the march, inhabitants of the villages on the way stood in awe at the strange crowds that passed along; women who where walking towards the river to bring water to their homes placed the pots on the ground and stood stunned, looking on the brothers, without even winking their eyes for one moment. They wondered who they were and concluded that they were the same two brothers, Rama and Lakshmana, passing through that path again, this time, without the Sita they had with them then, but accompanied by the armed forces, the chariots, elephants, horses and foot soldiers. They wondered where Sita could be at that time? They searched for her amidst the moving mass, with eager curiosity; and they shared their disappointment with their friends in sad whispers.

“The other day, when we saw Rama and Lakshmana, the brothers were shining with the splendour of physical charm, youth, virtue and intelligence. But, there is some sadness clouding the faces of these two, and so, these might not be those who passed this way that day,” argued a woman in the group. Their conversation was overheard by one of the spies of the royal entourage, who reported it to Bharatha.

Meanwhile, the women came to know that they were the brothers of Rama, and that they were proceeding to where Rama was, in order to have darsan. At this, one rough-natured woman burst into rage. She exclaimed, “Ruling over the Empire that his father gave him, look at this person, going to have Darsan of his brother Rama, accompanied by the armed forces! Has he no sense of shame?” she asked.

Another woman interrupted her at this point. She said, “Sister, don’t say so. Our Emperor Dasaratha can never have, from his loins children with hearts so hard. He must be going to Rama with the various units of the armed forces, in order to pray to Rama, and persuade him to return to Ayodhya, and to take him back with Imperial Honours.”

A third woman declared her acceptance of this interpretation. She said, “Yes, yes. Who knows which snake rests in which hole on the earth? No one can pronounce on the nature of another. Who can judge the feelings and motives that prompt others to action. They may be of very high order, for aught we know. But, Rama is the firm adherent of Truth. He will not return to Ayodhya until the full term of fourteen years is spent in exile, whoever might plead with him and pray to him. This is my belief”. She expressed her noble sentiments in this manner.

The spies duly reported the conversation of these village women to their Master, Bharatha, and to Satrughna. They were delighted to know that those unsophisticated women from the rural regions had grasped the greatness of Rama to such an amazing extent. Thus, they walked along listening to the people’s admiration for the virtues of Rama and for their own humility and fraternal devotion. They were every moment fixing their minds on Rama only.

Many Brahmins, ascetics, monks and other holy men were encountered by them as they walked on; they found that all whom they met were engaged in the pleasant task of extolling Rama and his virtues. On seeing them Bharatha prostrated before them and inquired where they were coming from. When the holy men struggled to master the surging waves of ecstasy and at last succeeded in discovering their voices in order to reply, Bharatha watched them in eager expectancy. When they said they were returning after having Darsan of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana, he and his brother fell flat on the ground before them, and rose with tears of joy streaming down their cheeks.

They said, “O, how fortunate you are! Tell us, tell us how far are they? Where are they?” They inquired about the health and welfare of those holy men also, and learning from them that they had to continue the journey for some distance more, they decided to spend the night at the place where they were.

As soon as dawn broke, they discovered that they were quite near to the Chitrakuta Peak; so, urged on by the yearning to meet Rama, Lakshmana and Sita, the Mother, they continued the journey, with redoubled haste. By about noon, they could hear the murmur of the Mandakini River; they could see clearly the Chitrakuta Peak.

The moment their eyes discerned the Peak, the citizens of Ayodhya and the two brothers prostrated on the ground, in reverence. Rising, they walked forward, with renewed vigour. Those who were too exhausted and had despaired of further exertion, suddenly found that they had developed elephantine resources of energy. They walked fast, without paying any attention to their physical condition. Those who bore the palanquins and trudged along on bleeding soles suddenly found reinforcements of strength by cheering Jai, Jai, and reciting the name, Rama, Rama, while they hastened forward.

Even before the hour of dawn that day, Rama had risen from sleep; he communicated to Sita that his brother was coming into his consciousness more often than on other days. At this, Sita said, “Lord! You know that I do not get any dreams, any a day. But this night I had a very wonderful dream! I can even say it wasn’t really a dream. I dreamt that Bharatha and Satrughna had become frail and weak, as a result of separation from you; I dreamt that, finding it impossible to be in Ayodhya without you for a single moment, they are coming to us, with, not only the people of Ayodhya, but also the Queens Kausalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi.” Tears gathered in her eyes while she was describing the experience.

Rama called Lakshmana near and told him, “Brother, you heard, didn’t you, the account of Sita’s dream? This does not indicate good tidings; for Sita saw all the others and I saw in my dream only father, father alone, with no association or relation with the rest of them. This strikes me as a bad omen. Come! It is best we take a bath.” Accordingly, the three of them went to the river for the bath.

Just then, birds flew across the sky in flocks; the northern region was darkened by a thick cloud of dust. Many animals and birds were scared into wild haste. Taking note of this unusual occurrence, Lakshmana climbed a tree to find out the reason.

He saw an army on the move, with infantry, cavalry, chariotry and elephantry advancing to where they were. He inferred that a king was at their head. He informed Rama accordingly. Rama told him that it was the dream of Sita coming true! He advised that the best course would be to return quickly to the ‘thatch’ – the Parnasala.

Meanwhile, the Bhils, the Kirathas and other tribesmen of the jungle ran into the presence of Rama and gasped out the news that a regular military force was advancing towards the spot and that the chariot of the royal leader of the army had a flag with the sign of the banyan tree upon it. Sita, Rama and Lakshmana were confirmed in their inference that it was no other than Bharatha who was coming towards them. They had no more doubt on that point. By this time, Lakshmana started quaking with anger. When coming to have a darsan of Rama, why bring troops in full strength, he argued. That vile woman, his mother, must have advised him and he seems to have accepted her wicked stratagem, to attack the lonely and unarmed Rama in his jungle retreat and ensure that he does not return and reign, he surmised. Lakshmana was well-nigh consumed by the flames of anger that rose in him. His eyes were reduced to red-hot coals. His words became sharp as sword-thrusts. Rama realized the change that had come over him; he said, “Lakshmana! Forbear! Don’t be agitated. Be calm. Bharatha is strong in virtue. His love is immeasurable. He adds luster to the royal line of Ikshvaku, like the lotus to the lake. It is not proper to cast aspersions on one so pure, so immaculate and holy”. Thus, describing the exact nature of the motives and mind of Bharatha, Rama succeeded in quietening Lakshmana’s upsurge of anger. Very soon, Bharatha himself sent word through some forest-dwellers that he was seeking the Darsan of Rama, along with his brother Satrughna and their attendants and followers. Rama felt glad when this happy news was brought to him. Like lakes in late autumn, his lotus eyes were filled with water.

All this happened while Rama, Lakshmana and Sita were returning in haste to the ‘thatch’ after their hurried bath. Bharatha saw them when they reached the cottage of grass. He was torn by agony. He fell flat on the feet of Rama and sobbed aloud on the ground. Lakshmana saw the anguish Bharatha experienced at the separation from them; he realized that his estimate of intentions was very wrong! He suffered terrible contrition within himself; his head was bent by the weight of sorrow; he shed profuse tears along with Bharatha and Satrughna.

Rama raised his brothers from the ground and sought to calm their feelings and quieten their grief. Even while he was so engaged, the Queens, Kausalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi, and the ministers, the Royal Preceptor Vasistha, the Pundits, the Citizens, the members of the armed forces came near, and were overcome by both grief and joy when they saw Rama. Their sorrow when they looked on Rama in hermits’ robes by the side of the lowly hut could not be wiped out by the joy at setting their eyes on their dearly beloved Prince. They wailed and wept, shedding tears of grief and gratitude. The cry, ‘Rama! Rama!’ that rose from their torn hearts sped over the vast expanse of earth and sky.

Rama spoke to them soft and sweet and persuaded them to control their emotions; then, he walked towards the mothers, but could not bear to look on that picture of misfortune and misery. He became aware of the calamity that had befallen, but he soon consoled and comforted himself; he drew Lakshmana near him and told him the fact. Feeling that it would be better that Lakshmana be informed more fully, he requested Sumanthra, the loyal Minister of the Line, to relate to him the details and also the facts regarding administration of Ayodhya. At this, Sumanthra fell down unable to bear the burden of grief. Struggling to rise he said amidst sobs, “Lakshmana! Where can we have Dasaratha hereafter? He was reduced to ashes by the flames of sorrow at being separated from Rama, Sita and you. Ayodhya has become a jungle. Wherever you look, you see only sorrow; whatever you hear, you hear only wailing. Not merely men, even birds and animals cast off their lives when you left. Those who survive are keeping alive in the hope of your return.” Hearing this, Lakshmana shed streams of tears. He stood like a stump, unable to reply.

Without a word, Lakshmana approached Rama, and told him in a faltering voice, “I could not imagine, even in my dreams, that such a terrible calamity would happen. We could not see our father in his last moments.” Rama consoled him, saying that there was no profit in grieving over what has already come to pass. “Physical bodies are as transient as bubbles in water; they are bound to burst and disappear, if not today, at least the day after,” he said. He gave expression to many a moral maxim, until both the brothers went to the river, to finish the bath ritually laid down when one hears of the death of those who are near of kin.

Meanwhile, Sita went towards her mothers-in-law, and touched their feet in great reverence. She also prostrated before the feet of the wife of the Royal Preceptor. She met the women who had come from Ayodhya and with due consideration put them at ease, by her sweet welcome. When their eyes fell upon Sita, the Queens wept aloud. The womenfolk who had come from Ayodhya saw the plight of their charming young Princess and they were so overcome with sorrow that they too could not desist from wailing. Coming to know that Emperor Dasaratha had left the body, Sita prostrated before the Queens again and again, saying: “Alas! What great misfortune is ours! The Emperor gave up his life because he could not bear separation from us!” Sita felt that the news of Dasaratha’s departure was as a thunderbolt on her heart. She and the Queens wept for long at the turn that events had taken. Every one that day could not take either food or drink; they had no mind for either. The entire day and night were spent in sorrow.

When the sun rose Vasishta directed Rama to perform the obsequies for the departed father. They were carried out in strict conformity with Sastraic injunctions. Since Sri Rama Himself uttered the mantra sanctifying the waters, “May the holy waters of Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswathi, Narmada, Sindhu and Cauvery come into this vessel and sanctify the water therein”, the ritual was rendered sacred and eminently fruitful.

Thereafter, the Preceptor, the Ministers of the Court, the Queens and the citizens of Ayodhya spent two full days with Rama, Lakshmana and Sita. At the end of the two days, Rama approached the Preceptor, and said, “Master! Those citizens and residents of Ayodhya are suffering very much here, drinking nought else but water and eating nought else but roots and tubers. Looking at Bharatha and Satrughna and also on the Mothers, I feel every moment is as long as an age. It is best you return to the City. You are spending your time here; the Emperor has ascended to heaven. It is not proper that I emphasize the urgency more. Please act, as seems most beneficial.” With these words, Rama fell at the feet of Vasishta.

Vasishta replied, “Rama! Lord of the Raghu dynasty! Why do you speak thus? You have not realized how happy and contented these people are, since they are fortunate enough to be looking at your charm.”

When the people heard that Rama had requested them to return, each one of them felt tossed into fear and despair, as a boat caught in a hurricane in midsea. But, when they heard the Sage Vasishta pleading on their behalf, they sailed smooth, as the boat does, when a friendly breeze blows into its sails. Their minds rejected the thought of returning to Ayodhya, and giving up the fortunate chance of the bath, three times a day, in the Mandakini River, living on the sweet simple meal of fruits, roots and tubers gathered by their own efforts from the forest and more than all, filling their eyes with the pictures of Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana and their ears with the edifying and exquisite words of Rama.

Sita was engaged in serving the mothers-in-law, anticipating their needs and over-eager to serve. She consoled and comforted them; she told them how she was spending her days happily in the forest, lacking nothing, and she made them wonder at her fortitude and skill. They were rendered happy at the thought that she was able to derive so much joy under such adverse conditions. They bore their own sorrow with greater ease, when they saw how Sita was braving her own.

Bharatha had not a wink of sleep during the night, nor a pang of hunger during the day. While the people were happy, looking on at the face of Rama, Bharatha and Satrughna were filled with misery, while they looked on at that face. They could not bear it any longer; they approached Vasishta and fell at his feet; they prayed to him to persuade Rama to return to Ayodhya, with Sita. They pleaded with him most earnestly expressing their agony in manifold ways. The Preceptor knew only too well the strength of Rama’s faith in his ideals, the tenacity with which he stuck to his sense of Truth, and his determination to carry out his father’s wishes. But, he was so moved by the sorrow of Bharatha that nothing was left undone to persuade Rama to return.

He called Rama to where he was and said, “Rama! Listen to the prayers of Bharatha. Conduct yourself in accordance with the wishes of good men, the interests of the people, the principles of politics and the directives of the Vedas”. Rama recognized the affection that the Preceptor had towards Bharatha that found expression in these words; he knew that Bharatha would never deviate from the path of righteousness, that he would carry out his directions with full heart and in word, deed and thought and that he would always follow his steps and strive for his welfare and prosperity. He felt happy at this. So, he spoke softly and sweetly a few auspicious sentences, in response to the proposal made by the sage: “Master! You are my witness, my father’s feet are my witness. Let me assert this: No one is so dear to me as my brother, Lakshmana. No one has a brother in the world as dear as Bharatha is to me. Those who are attached to the feet of their preceptor are indeed really fortunate; you have such affection and compassion on him; that is his great treasure. He is younger than me, and so, I hesitate to praise him in his presence. My opinion now is that Bharatha should speak out his mind”. Saying so, Rama prostrated before Vasishta and took his seat.

Vasishta turned towards Bharatha; for he could not reply direct to Rama. He knew that Bharatha was to be ‘Ruler’. He said, “Give up all hesitations and doubts. Rama is your elder brother; he has immeasurable compassion. Open your heart to him; tell him all that you have in mind”. Hearing these words of the sage, he felt that Vasishta had probed the mind of Rama and that both of them were inclined to favour him and grant his desire. So, he was glad at the turn of events.

Bharatha stood motionless before them. Tears flowed from his eye, red and bright like lotus petals. “The revered sage has told Rama all that has to be said. What remains for me to add specially to the appeal he has made on my behalf! I know full well the nature of my Rama. He has no anger against even wrong-doers. He has unbounded affection for me; I cannot deny it. A sense of shame has made me silent while I stand before him. But my affection makes me delighted to look upon him; my eyes do not feel content, however long they fix their gaze on him. God could not tolerate my affection towards Rama; He could not bear to see so much love between brother and brother. So, He designed this distress, devising my mother herself as the instrument to bring it about. I know that it does me no credit or bring me any respect, if I say this. How can I establish my superiority by placing the blame in my own mother? When one proclaims himself innocent, can that statement make him truly so? I am myself hesitating to declare, because of my doubts that my mother is feebleminded or that I am good and intelligent. I am diffident to state so. Can pearls grow in the shells of snails that infest tanks? Why should I blame others for my sorrows? My misfortune is as vast as the Ocean. I know that all this tragedy has happened as a consequence of sins. I have been seeking a way of escaping from my grief, through some means, along any of the four quarters. I see now that there is one way out and only one. My Preceptor is the great sage Vasishta; Sita and Rama are my sovereign Rulers. Hence I am certain all will be well with me. Lord! I do not wish for anything else: Rama! Grant but this one wish of your servant. Rama, Lakshmana, Bharatha and Satrughna are all four the physical progeny of Emperor Dasaratha. So all four are equally bound to obey the commands of their father. The father has equal affection for all the sons. And, there is no limitation or regulation that the commands of the father must be obeyed by this one son or that other son. You have borne the responsibility of obeying his commands, thus far. Now, it is our turn to bear the burden of exile; Sita, Rama and Lakshmana must return to Ayodhya and we two shall be in the forest as exiles until the sentence lapses. Confer on us this boon and bless us.” Thus saying, Bharatha fell at the Feet of Rama.

Listening to this prayer of Bharatha, Vasishta shed tears of joy. Rama was not taken in by this argument. He said, “Bharatha! I feel that your line of thought is not as valid as you seem to think. It is not correct so to act. Ask me for anything except this.” Bharatha replied, “In that case, brother, allow me and my brother to be with you here and serve you, as Lakshmana has been doing. This will then be a wholly satisfying holy life for us.” Rama did not accept even this prayer.

He said, “Bharatha! For me as well as you, the commands of the father are unbreakable; we have to bow our heads in reverence before them, and carry them out without the least murmur. The most appropriate action for us all is that I should follow the orders issued to me and that you should follow the orders issued to you. let us not spend precious days in such purposeless talk and cause distress to the people who have come such long distances hoping against hope. Return to Ayodhya that has been allotted to you with them and rule them righteously. I shall carry out the task allotted to me and act righteously guarding and fostering the forest realm assigned to me.” Neither Bharatha nor any one else could meet this decisive statement of Rama with any counter proposal or argument. They had to accept it as the right path to take.

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Chapter 17(c)

The Brothers meet

Bharatha was overcome with grief. He lamented, “On whom else can God heap such unbearable agony than on me, who happens to be the son of a mother who felt that Rama, Sita and Lakshmana are her enemies? Yes, Brother! I heard that you walked into the forest on bare feet with nothing to protect you from thorns and pebbles. The news wounded my mind like sharp spears; but, yet, I lived on! I am the cause of all this calamity; but as a sinner, I am alive; or else, I would have cast off my body long ago. My breath persisted in this body even when Guha suspected me of treachery against my brother and got ready to confront me in battle at the head of his forces! Alas! My heart is harder than diamond; that is the reason why it has not broken, in spite of those blows.

“I am looking on calmly at the very tragedy of which I am the cause; yet my life is so unfortunate that I am able to stand the thrust of so much sorrow. My mother has such dreadful poison in her that scorpions and serpents discard their proud possessions in sheer shame; being the son of such a mother how can God allow me to escape the consequences of my destiny?” Bharatha was indulging in such self-torture that the citizens, the queens, the sages and others who watched his grief, his penitence, his humility, his reverence and his fraternal affection were all stricken like lotus blooms fallen on ice. They reminded Bharatha of many incidents from the Puranas so that he might recover from his depression.

Then Rama addressed Bharatha. He said, “Brother! Why do you give yourself up to despair? Your sorrow is in vain. Destiny cannot be countermanded. At all times, everywhere, you will be honoured by good and virtuous people; those who ascribe crookedness to you will be miserable here and hereafter. And, condemning one’s mother? This crime will be committed only by those unfortunates who have not been trained either in the society of the virtuous or at the feet of preceptors. Bharatha! Your name will be remembered long and those who bring it to their memory will be able by its unseen influence to discard their vices. You will be earning renown in this world and bliss in the next. The world will be sustained by your ideals and your rule. Bharatha! Both hatred and love cannot be suppressed and hidden in the heart. Their needs must find expression despite all attempts to keep them imprisoned in the heart. I know your nature very well. In order to uphold Truth, the Emperor let me go and, unable to bear the separation from me whom he loved so much, he lost his very life. It is not right for a son like me or like you to dishonour the word of such a loving father. Therefore, do not hesitate further. Tell me what you have to say, ask about things that you desire to know and decide to shoulder the responsibilities imposed on you. That is the best course for you.” Rama spoke these words with great emphasis.

Bharatha had no chance to speak any more about his fond desires. But, he resolved to press one demand of his, the final one. “Rama! The Kingdom that you have given up, that has brought on this disgrace of being the cause for your exile, I do not like to rule over; I have no love towards it either. I can never go against your will, command. I will not do so at any time. If you but cast your loving eye on me with no trace of anger, I shall consider myself blessed. Lakshmana has served you now so long; send him back with Satrughna to Ayodhya and allow me to take his place at your Feet.

“This will bring both fair renown. Lakshmana is an expert in administration; he can rule over the Empire wisely and well in all fields of administration and bring solace to the soul of the departed father. Grant this prayer of mine; keep me with you; do not refuse my request; do not kick me from the presence”. Imploring piteously in this way, Bharatha clasped the feet of Rama.

“Or else”, continued Bharatha, “kindly return to Ayodhya with Sita and stay there. We three brothers will stay on in the forest. We shall carry on our lives here in any manner that you prescribe. If on the other hand, you pile upon me this royal burden, I cannot bear the weight and live. Keep me at your feet and pile on me a weight thousand times heavier than the Empire; I shall bear it gladly and with enthusiastic delight. I have no knowledge of the science of government, or the texts on morality; you are aware that one who is sunk in grief can have no wisdom in him. Even shame will be ashamed when one’s servant answers back and points to one’s want of knowledge. Do not put me in that position. Rama! I am opening my heart to your gaze and revealing my inmost feelings. I desire only to promote the welfare of the world. Kindly decide on the best cause for each of us; do not doubt our intentions; shower your Grace on us and confer on us your commands. We shall bow our heads in loyal reverence and carry them out without hesitation”.

These words of Bharatha gave the vast gathering who listened to them, great joy. Their hearts melted with compassion and gratitude. They extolled in manifold ways the affection and faith that Bharatha had placed in his brother Rama. They were affected by the expression of his deep devotion. All of them with one voice prayed, “Rama! Lord! Accept the prayer of Bharatha. With the passing away of Emperor Dasaratha, the long-established glory and happiness of the people too have passed away! The world has been pitiably orphaned. Ayodhya is wailing like a despairing waif. Like a chaste woman who has been deserted by her lord, she is lamenting her lot”.

Meanwhile, Kaikeyi (the forlorn queen) – what shall we say about her! She was standing there, her heart gnawed by grief. She was anxious to discover how she could explain her wrongs; she tried her best to seek out Rama while he was alone, so that she could beg his pardon, but, could not succeed. She was ashamed even to show her face to Rama. She wondered how she could ever subject Rama, whom she loved so dearly, to all the privations and travails she now witnessed. Rama was her very breath. Therefore, she felt sure that by herself she was never capable of inflicting harm on him; she guessed that it must be the influence of some Evil Power that had possessed her which brought about this sad series of events. But, she said to herself that the world would never pardon her, however strongly she asserted that it was none of her doing. Torn by these doubts and misgivings, Kaikeyi was powerless to move forward towards Rama to speak to him, nor could she walk away from him for she was anxious to have the burden lifted from her heart. She stood there, weak and frail, fearful and faltering.

Rama noted her agitation and using an opportune moment, he moved towards her in order to fall at her feet and pay her his homage.

Kaikeyi was waiting for just this chance. She clasped Rama’s feet, saying. ‘Child! You are much younger to me; you are my son. But yet, you are the Master of the Whole World because of your virtue and your wisdom. I do not commit any wrong when I hold your feet in my hands. Come. Rule over Ayodhya. Pardon my sin. That alone can redeem me from the disgrace which I have brought on myself. If that cannot be, keep Bharatha in thy presence at thy feet; bestow on me that boon. That will give me peace of mind as long as I live; I have no wish to live after the consummation of this wish of mine. I am myself shocked that I craved for the fulfillment of those two desires, which not even the most vicious ogress would have entertained. Did I ask for them while I was the daughter of the Ruler of the Kekaya Kingdom? Or did I speak those words when I was possessed by some evil genius? Or, was I under the poisonous influence of some evil star? I do not know; I cannot tell.” She wept aloud in anguish, holding the hands of Rama fast in her clasp.

Rama shed tears at her plight. He assuaged her by his soft and sweet words. He said, “Mother! You have done no wrong, not even the least bit. The human crowd is a pack of crows; they caw loud and hoarse, without any rule or reason. Men do not try to know the truth; in their ignorance, they blabber as the whim dictates. Those boons were not asked by you of your own free will with full knowledge of the implications. All this happened thus, for I willed it to happen so. You have rendered much help for the fulfillment of the purpose for which I have incarnated and the task I have set before myself. You have committed no disservice. Mother! I am repenting very much for having made you plead with me so long instead of expressing at the very outset my gratitude for the help you have done for my plan of action. Do not grieve over what has happened; if you do so, it will cast a shadow on my task; it will make my days inauspicious. Bless me, Mother! Shower your affection on me. Mother! Bless me.” Rama prayed and fell at the feet of Kaikeyi.

When Rama spoke thus, Kaikeyi recovered her mental peace a little. The other Queens, Kausalya and Sumitra, heard the conversation and when they realized that Kaikeyi was but the innocent instrument of the Divine Will, they too consoled and comforted their sister Kaikeyi. Nevertheless, Kaikeyi stuck to her wish and held on to her prayer that Rama must accept the throne and be installed as Emperor with Sita as the Empress of Ayodhya and that Lakshmana, Bharatha and Satrughna must serve them and be their loyal companions in court. She said that she would spend her life until death put an end to it, witnessing this Glory and sharing in this ecstasy. She repeated these words often and pressed for the grant of her wish.

Four days and nights were thus spent by them in the forest, praying, pleading, consoling, explaining, assuaging, weeping and imparting solace. They had all only one wish ruling their hearts; to persuade Rama to return to the Capital. At last, Rama directed Vasishta, the Royal Preceptor, and Bharatha to return to Ayodhya along with the Queens and the Citizens. News of this order spread despair among them; they said that the place where Rama was, was for them as delightful as a million heavens put together, and so, they refused to move. They said that only those whom the Gods discarded would turn their backs on the forest where Rama was. They said, “O, what great fortune is this that awaits us here! A bath in the holy Mandakani river, delicious fruits for appeasing hunger, the Darsan of Sita and Rama, so charming to the eye, so exhilarating to the heart! Where else is heaven? What else is happiness?”

They talked in this strain among themselves and resolved that they should persuade Rama by every means to return with them, if they have to go at all. Each one of them expressed his inmost wishes in words soaked in sweet love. Finally, one wise old Brahmin said, “Well, if we possess the good fortune and the merit to deserve the auspicious and happy company of Rama in this forest, He would certainly agree to keep us here. If that is not our destiny, our evil fate itself will harden the heart of Rama, and He would drive us back to Ayodhya. If Rama does not bestow Grace who else can? What does it matter where we spend our days, when we cannot spend them in the presence of Rama? Away from Rama, we are but living corpses.” When he finished, all of them responded with the exclamation, “True! True! These words are absolutely true.”

When Emperor Dasaratha passed away, the Family Preceptor Vasishta had sent a message to Janaka, and as soon as he received it, he and his queen, Sunayana, had come to Ayodhya for condoling the bereaved. They learnt there about all developments. When Bharatha arrived, and decided to proceed to Chitrakuta along with the Mothers, the Royal Preceptor, and the leaders of the people, Janaka and his queen also accompanied them. They were waiting long for a favourable chance to meet Sita and Rama.

Meanwhile, Sita’s mother directed a maid to find out whether Kausalya and other Queens were available for audience, and she hurried towards their residences. It was the eleventh day of the bright half of the Jyeshta month. The Queens met that day, in the forest – the four of them. Queen Kausalya paid honours to Queen Sunayana, and treating her with great respect, offered her a seat. It was the first time the Queens met Janaka’s consort.

As soon as Queen Sunayana saw the Queens of Ayodhya, Kausalya, Sumithra and Kaikeyi, she felt that even the hardest diamond would melt before their loving conversation, their tender manners and their compassionate comradeship. She found that their bodies had become emaciated, and that their heads were bowed by sorrow. Their eyes were fixed on the ground below their feet. They were shedding streams of tears. The three Queens extolled the virtues and excellences of Sita and Rama, but could not stop the outflow of grief.

Queen Sunayana could find no words to speak. At last, she said, “Mother! Of what avail is sorrow at this stage? Providence directed things along this crooked way. A diamond-edged cutter was used to sunder the cream on the milk! We have heard of the life-giving Amrith, the heavenly nectar; but, we have not seen it. But, we are privileged to see now the equally potent poison. We have the visual experience only of crows, storks, vultures and owls; but the visual experience of the Celestial Hamsa which has Lake Manasa-Sarovar as its habitat is beyond us. Queens! The sport of destiny is full of contradictions and absurdities; they are as unpredictable as the wayward sport of children”. While trying thus to console the Queens, Sunayana herself could not restrain her tears.

At this, Kausalya said, “Sunayana! This has happened not through the fault of one particular person. Happiness and misery, profit and loss, are all the consequences of Karma, the deeds, words and thoughts of the persons themselves. Has it not been declared, “Avasyam anubhokthavyam, krtham Karma subhaasubham?” Good or bad, whatever karma has been done, its consequences have to be willy-nilly suffered or enjoyed. God knows the hardship-filled process of Karma; He confers the appropriate consequence according to the deed. Each one carries on the head this Divine Command. O, Queen! We are entangled in delusion, and we yield in vain to grief. Why should the merit earned and stored by us in previous lives desert us when we grieve? Can this rule of cause and effect holding sway over the world from before the beginning of the world be set aside for our sake? It is a mad hope”. Kausalya ended her attempt at consoling, with many a sigh.

When she finished, Queen Sunayana spoke thus: “Mothers! You are indeed highly fortunate, for, Emperor Dasaratha has a renown for holy merit that few rulers have. You are the Consorts of such a noble person. You are the mothers of the very embodiment of Dharma, the very personification of Love, Rama, whose heart embraces all beings in compassion. You have earned everlasting fame all over the world. What you said now is the ultimate truth. Happiness and misery are the two pots balanced on back and front by the rod to which they are tied and placed on the shoulder. Every one has to carry both in equal measure. In case one has no misery, one cannot identify happiness, can he? Na sukhaallabhyathe sukham. From happiness, no happiness can ensue, isn’t it?” Kausalya said amidst her sobs, in a grief-stricken voice, “If Sita, Rama and Lakshmana reside in the forest, many calamities will happen. I know that Bharatha cannot survive separation from Rama. My agony is heightened when I see Bharatha, more than when I see Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. Fear overpowers me when I think of Bharatha”. Sumitra and Kaikeyi agreed it was very true. They too were saddened at the condition of Bharatha.

Sumitra spoke next. She said, “Mother! Through your blessings and good wishes, our sons and daughter-in-law are as pure as the Ganga itself. Bharatha had never so far asserted that he was the brother of Rama and claimed something from him. But now, he is demanding that he should fulfill his wishes, in a satwic, highly righteous manner. Even the Goddess of Speech, Saraswathi, will hesitate to accept the assignment of describing the virtues, the humility, the large-heartedness, the fraternal attachment, the steadfastness of that faith, the courage and inflexibility of that courage, that mark out Bharatha as a great person. Can the ocean be measured by means of a snail shell? Bharatha is at all times, under all conditions, the effulgent Lamp of the Royal Line; only, people did not realize this until now. A gem has to be examined before its value can be determined; gold has to be tested on the touchestone, before its genuineness and fineness can be known. Let us not talk despairingly about him at this time. Our reason is now affected by sorrow and deluded by filial attachment.” Sumitra wiped her tears, as she concluded her wise words of consolation.

Hearing her words, the Queen of Mithila, Sunayana, thought within herself, “The queens of Ayodhya are really very great, one greater than the other, in nobility. They do not praise their own children, as mothers are prone to do; they extol the virtues of the sons of co-wives. This is quite against the nature of women, as usually found in the world. How they are describing and appreciating sons born to the other wives of their husband! These queens who do not distinguish between their sons and the sons of the other queen, are ideal housewives for the whole world. Ah! What large heartedness! What purity and perfection in the feeling of Love?”

Kausalya mustered some little courage, and addressed Sunayana thus: “Queen of Mithila! You are the consort of the Ocean of Wisdom, Emperor Janaka. Who dare convey counsel to you! We prattle away in our ignorance. Yet, I pray you might tell the Emperor Janaka at the earliest, when he is in a mood to listen, these words of mine, namely, ‘Persuade Rama and make him agree to have Bharatha for some time with him. Since Lakshmana has already spent some time in his presence, let Lakshmana be sent to Ayodhya to oversee the activities and administration there, and Satrughna be directed to assist Lakshmana in his duties at Ayodhya.’ If only Rama agrees, the rest of the problems would set themselves right quickly. It is only the condition of Bharatha that gives me anxiety. His attachment and love for Rama are deep-rooted and delicate. The Emperor has passed away; Rama will not return from the forest. If Bharatha finds separation from Rama unbearable, it might lead to his death. Then, the empire would be reduced to a living corpse! My heart is torn by fear and anxiety when I picture the future, and the calamities that are in store.” Kausalya held fast in her hands the two hands of Queen Sunayana, and appealed to her to fulfill this mission, achieve this end, and confer Ananda on them all.

Sunayana was touched by the affection that filled the heart of the Queen and her adherence to the path of righteousness. She said, “Mother! Humility and virtue are innate in you. They are natural expression of your goodness and nobility, as smoke on fire and beds of grass on mountain peaks. Of course, the Emperor Janaka is ever ready to serve you by word, deed, and thought. He is ever eager to help. But, can a lamp illumine the Sun? Rama has come into the forest to accomplish the task of the Gods. After finishing that assignment, he will surely return to Ayodhya and reign over the Empire. The might of his arms will ensure the attainment by subman, man and superman, of all their dearest wishes. These tidings were long ago revealed by the Sage Yajnavalkya. His words can never be falsified.”

With these words, Sunayana fell at the feet of Queen Kausalya. Taking leave of her, and preparing to leave the place, she proceeded towards the cottage where Sita was. When she entered and saw Sita, she was overwhelmed with grief. She could not control her tears; she ran towards Sita and caught her arms. Sita consoled her mother by various means; she counseled courage and faith; she prostrated at the feet of the mother.

She stood before her mother in her anchorite robes, appearing like Parvathi, the Consort of Siva, during the days when she did thapas. The mother could not contain within herself the question: “Child! Are you really my Sita, or, are you Parvathi?” She looked at her long and leisurely from head to foot, and was filled with wonder and joy. [picture: Parvathi in a hatha yoga pose]

At last, she said, “Sita! Through you, two families have been consecrated, the family of your parents and the family of your parents-in-law. Your fame will reach the farthest horizons. The flood of your renown will flow as a river in full flow between its two banks, the two royal lines of Mithila and Ayodhya. The Ganga has but three sacred spots on it – Haridwar, Prayag and the Sagarasangama, where it joins the Sea. May the stream of your pure fame enter and sanctify each one into a holy temple.”

Hearing these words of truth that flowed from the affection of her mother, Sita blushed and bent her head, as if she was overcome with a sense of shame. She said, “Mother! What words are these? What is the relevance? What comparison can be found between me and the holy Ganga?” Saying this, she went through the gesture of prostration directed towards the Ganga, with a prayer for pardon.

Sunayana embraced her daughter, and stroked her head in tender affection. “Sita! Your virtues are examples for all women who are mistresses of families to follow and emulate.” Sita intercepted her, and said, “Mother! If I spend much time with you, the service of Rama might be delayed. Therefore, please permit me to go into his presence.” The mother too realized that her desire lay in that direction and so, she felt that she should not be an obstacle in her way. She fondled and caressed Sita profusely and said at last, “Child! Go and serve Rama as you wish.” Sita fell at her feet and left the place, for serving Rama.

Sunayana pondered long over the reverential devotion that Sita had towards her husband, and her other virtues. She never took off her eyes from Sita until she disappeared from view. She stood at the same spot, watching her and admiring her. She was awakened from the reverie by her maid who came near her and said, “Mother! Sita has gone in; it is best we now return to our residence.” Suddenly, Sunayana turned back, wiping the stream of tears from her eyes; her unwilling steps took her to the cottage allotted to her.

The Sun set just at this time; so, Rama and Lakshmana, Bharatha and Satrughna proceeded to the river for evening sacraments like bath and ritual worship of the Gods at dusk. The pundits, the members of the Brahmin caste, the ministers and others also accompanied them. After finishing these, they partook of fruits and tubers, and laid themselves to bed under trees allotted to each group. When dawn broke, after the morning sacraments were gone through, all of them gathered around the cottage of thatch where Rama was. Rama came out with a bewitching smile, and passed through that thick crowd inquiring of each lovingly about health and welfare.

Bharatha fell at the feet of Rama when He came near him. He said, “Lord! A desire has arisen in my heart; I am unable to express it before you on account of fear and shame.” Rama stroked the head of his dear brother, saying as he did so, “Why do you hesitate to tell me? Come, tell me what it is.” At this, Bharatha said, “Brother! I have a great desire to see the hermitages, the sanctifying bathing ghats on the banks of the river, the glens of these thick forests, the wild animals that roam therein, the lakes and streams, the waterfalls around this Chitrakuta peak. They have all been rendered holy by the imprint of your Lotus Feet. The residents of Ayodhya are over-powered by the urge to see those meritorious spots”.

Rama replied, “Bharatha! Your desire is highly commendable. You can gladly explore this region, with the permission of the Sage Atri”. Hearing this, Bharatha was very happy. He fell at the feet of the sage as well as of Rama, and then proceeded to the interior of the forest, visiting on the way, with Satrughna and the people from Ayodhya, many hermitages and other holy spots.

On the way, he saw a well by the side of the mountain. It had in it holy waters from all the sacred rivers and lakes. Bharatha sprinkled its waters reverentially on his head; he prostrated before that seat of sacredness. He cleaned the water by removing with his own hand some dry leaves and dirt that had fallen on the water. It is this well that is honoured even today as Bharathakupa or Bharatha’s Well, all over the world.

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Chapter 18

Sandals Enthroned

On the sixth day of their stay, Bharatha called together, after the morning rites, bath and devotional ceremonies like the worship of the Dawn, his brother Satrughna and his own aides and followers. He watched for a favourable moment to accost Rama and when he found one, he rose suddenly from his seat and mustered sufficient courage to lay himself prostrate at his feet. Standing in front of him with his palms folded, Bharatha prayed thus: “O, Mark of Auspiciousness on the brow of the Royal Ikshvaku line! You have fulfilled my desires in every way. On my account, you have determined to suffer miseries of all kinds. You are undergoing all types of troubles for my sake. Lord! I am awaiting your commands. For fourteen years, I shall be awaiting your return and serving you in the kingdom. Show me the path by which I can feast my eyes on your Lotus Feet when the period of exile ends. Teach me the courage I need to survive these fourteen years of separation. Rama! Your subjects, their families, the people residing in the vast Empire, the Brahmins, the Pundits — all are spiritually earnest; they are bound to you by feelings of reverential devotion. They are bearing the pangs of misery buoyed up by the love you bear unto them. I care not even for the attainment of self-realization if, to attain it, I am separated from you. You are aware of the inner feelings of your servants; you know their deepest desires. You can guide me and lead me to the goal, here and hereafter. This conviction is the sustenance and strength on which I exist. On account of this conviction, I treat all this agony as just shriveled blades of grass. Till now I elaborated before you my sorrow as if they were burdening my head. That was a failing on my part; do not hesitate to reprimand me for this fault.”

Hearing this, the gathering hailed his statements and expressed their appreciation. As the Hamsa, Celestial Swan, is able to separate the milk from the water which is mixed with it and drink just the milk, so, they said, Bharatha had separated the Truth from untruth and given expression to the Truth alone.

Rama, compassionate towards the distressed, listened to those words poured from the pure heart of his brother. Rama replied thus, in conformity with the place, the time and the circumstance: “Brother! For you who reside at home, and for us who reside in the forest, there is the One who fosters all, to foster and fend. You have in a worldly practical sense, the Perceptor Vasishta and the Emperor Janaka as guardians and guides. No trouble can bother either you or me, even in our dreams; no, it can never happen. The highest duty for us is to carry out strictly the commands of our father; that alone can confer on us all the good we long for; that alone can enable us to earn lasting renown. That path is the one approved by the Vedas. The Vedas declare that whoever reveres the commands of the preceptor, the father and the mother and walks on the right path, is the noble example for all.

“Be ever aware of this truth; throw away the shroud of grief; take up the burden of Empire; rule over it for 14 years with justice and rectitude as your ideals. The King is the face of the State. For, the face eats and drinks and thus strengthens and activates all the limbs of the body. The King feeds and sustains every section of his people. The mind encloses within itself all likes and dislikes; so too, the King is the repository of all moves and movements in the political field”. Rama expounded many a useful doctrine of political ethics to Bharatha. But, Bharatha was too agitated to earn mental peace as a result of Rama’s advice. The mothers, teachers, and ministers stood benumbed, for they too were overcome by the imminence of the moment of parting. Suddenly, Rama in his infinite Graciousness loosened his sandals and gave them to Bharatha. And, Bharatha reverentially accepted them in his palms and placed them in his head. Tears streamed from his eyes, like the twin rivers, the Ganga and the Yamuna.

Bharatha could not express his joy in words. “These are not the ‘sandals’ worn by the Ocean of Mercy! These are the guardians of the lives and prosperity of all mankind. These are the chests enclosing the precious treasure of Rama’s brotherly love. They are the protecting doors of the fort which enshrines the royal fame of the Raghu clan. These are two hands that are ever engaged in good deeds. These are the veritable eyes of the Universe. These are the symbols of Sita and Rama who are coming with us as these two”.

Bharatha extolled the ‘sandals’ thuswise and danced around them in sheer joy and thankfulness. All present fell at the feet of Rama and acknowledged the sublimity of Rama’s Grace.

Bharatha prostrated before Rama and prayed that he might grant him permission to leave. Rama appreciated the spirit of contentment with which he welcomed the ‘sandals’; he drew Bharatha near and embraced him fast and firm with great affection and delight. Satrughna also fell at Rama’s feet; Rama embraced him with great affection and he communicated to him also many a directive for ruling the kingdom and carrying out the duties devolving on him. Consider Bharatha as Rama himself, he told him. “Be his support and counsel and help him to establish peace and prosperity in the Empire”.

Then, Bharatha and Satrughna embraced Lakshmana in fraternal love, saying, “Brother! Your luck is indeed great. Yours is the best of luck. In all worlds there is none so fortunate as you.” They praised Lakshmana to their hearts’ content and took permission to depart. Lakshmana too called them near and told them that the ‘sandals’ of Rama are the springs of all varieties of auspiciousness and so, they, who have won that gift, were indeed more fortunate than any. He advised them to act worthy of the gift and earn the Grace of Rama forever. “That is your duty now”, he reminded them.

Later the brothers proceeded to where Sita was and fell at her feet. On seeing her, they could not contain their grief; they burst into sobs. She consoled them softly and sweetly in various ways. “Is there naught else than the armour of Rama that can protect any one in the world? You are indeed blessed. The fourteen years will roll by as swift as fourteen seconds, and the Empire will smile in plenty and peace with the return of Rama. Carry on the administration with patience and devotion; don’t deviate a little from the guidelines he has marked out. By this rigorous obedience you will be able to secure the fruits of your desires.”

Then the brothers, Bharatha and Satrughna, went straight to Emperor Janaka and fell at his feet in exemplary reverence and said, “Lord! You have such compassion on us that you came to Ayodhya when you heard about the death of our father and of the exile of Rama in the forest. You observed our plight with your own eyes and comforted us during those critical days. You gave us appropriate advice to resuscitate ourselves. In order to fulfill your inner desire, you subjected yourself to all this strain and trouble, coming over here into this jungle. You have shared with us our grief and contributed your valuable part in the pleading we made to Rama to persuade him to return. When those pleadings failed, you consoled us and taught us to bear the disappointment and distress, and enriched us with your blessings. We offer our reverential gratitude. What more can we say or do? Your blessings are the most effective reinforcements we require”. Janaka listened to these words uttered so sincerely and so thankfully by the two brothers. He appreciated their reactions and feelings, their character and conduct; he drew them near himself and he lovingly caressed them and stroked their heads.

He said, “Sons! May you walk along the path laid down by Rama and may you thereby win his Grace. I am proceeding to Mithila straight from here”. The ministers, feudatory rulers, Brahmins, sages, ascetics, and others who had come with the brothers, went one after another towards Rama, Lakshmana and Sita, and falling at their feet, they took leave of them and turned their faces homeward, their hearts heavy with a sense of gloom. Sita, Rama and Lakshmana went to where the mothers were and prostrated before them. They consoled them, saying, “Do not worry in the least. Be engaged in the correct performance of your duties and responsibilities. Have before you ever the wishes and ideals that father has laid before us”. As for themselves, they said they would be spending happily and peacefully the period of fourteen years as a quick span of fourteen seconds, and returning joyfully to Ayodhya. These words restored the spirits of the queens.

They fell at the feet of Kaikeyi and told her that she had not an iota of responsibility for the exile of Rama into the forest and that she was ever worthy of their reverence and worship. She had never intended any harm, they said. They assured her that they would ever pray for her; they pleaded with her that she should not have the least worry over them in the forest. They gave her a great deal of courage to bear her burden of repentance. “Bharatha had spoken rashly and impertinently, in a fit of senseless fury, when he was suddenly confronted with the two calamities: the death of his father and exile of his brother. He flew into a passion, for his blood boiled at the person he imagined was responsible for these events. He did not even care for the fact that you were his mother!” Rama, Sita and Lakshmana prayed that she should not blame Bharatha for that incident; they begged her to pardon Bharatha for the indiscretion.

While Rama was speaking thus, Kaikeyi was downcast with shame at the memory of her iniquity. She could not look Rama in the face. She felt within herself, “Alas, that I should be the cause of inflicting so much misery and suffering on this son endowed with a heart of compassion and a mind full of virtues, a son who is unalloyed gold, nothing less. Am I not the reason for him to spend his years in this terrifying jungle? O, what a devilish deed did I perpetrate? But, did I do it on my own? Or, was it Rama that willed the turn of events through my instrumentality? Whatever the truth, I cannot escape; I have committed the gravest sin”.

Kaikeyi was overcome with sorrow over the irrevocable past; she held both hands of Sita in her grasp and petitioned for pardon. Soon, she added, “No. No. It is not just that you pardon a sinner who brought about such unbearable travail on such a pure and tender woman.” She continued to lament her misfortune for long. Every one who had come from Ayodhya took leave of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana as and when they could get the chance. Afterwards, they ascended their chariots in due order.

Sita, Rama and Lakshmana approached each chariot before it left and consoled and comforted each occupant and persuaded them to leave. Sita, Rama and Lakshmana fell at the feet of the Preceptor, and apologized to him, saying that they had caused him and his consort a lot of trouble; they expressed sorrow that they could not serve them as well as they wished to, and as their duty demanded. Then they asked permission to stay back.

Vasishta was of course a Brahmajnani and a Maharshi; so he could know the inner feelings of Sita and others. He appreciated the devotion and humility of the brothers and Sita and their strict adherence to the path of Dharma. Vasishta and his consort could not leave the presence of Rama, for they were so attached to the virtues he embodied. The picture of those three standing by the side of the jungle track with folded palms, bidding adieu to each passing chariot and the people inside, melted the most adamantine heart. Vasishta and his consort, Arundhati, were very much moved at the sight of their large hearted sympathy.

Then, Rama saw the chieftain of the Nishadas standing before him, amidst his followers. He went forward to him and extending his arms, he embraced him, more warmly than when he clasped to his bosom his own brother. He consoled Guha, with affectionate appeals to calm himself and persuaded him to accept the separation wisely. Guha could not do anything to change the turn of events; so he fell at the feet of Rama, and rose with a heavy heart, and walked off, with his eyes fixed on Rama for as long as he could catch sight of that picture of charm.

Sita, Rama and Lakshmana stood under a spreading tree, until the last of them left. Meanwhile, Emperor Janaka also prepared to leave, at the head of his party, for Mithila. Rama and Lakshmana prostrated before their father-in-law and mother-in-law; Sita fell at the feet of her parents. The parents embraced her and stroked her head in fond tenderness. They said, “Daughter! Your courageous determination and your devotion towards your husband will bring us great renown. Through you, our family and clan have been rendered holy. We must have accomplished some great vow and fulfilled some great austerity or else you would not have been born in lour line”. They extolled her in profuse terms and expressed their joy and exultation. They assured her, “Sita! You can suffer no want; Rama is the breath of your existence. We know that since you live in his shade, no harm can touch you. However, as a result of you two being different entities, problems and perplexities might now and then confront you. Those are but the play of destiny, just passing clouds”. Janaka presented before them many Vedantic truths to bring them comfort and contentment. Then, he too left the hermitage and took the track that led him out of the forest.

Sita, Rama and Lakshmana stood in the shade of that tree, until the people from both Ayodhya and Mithila went beyond the range of their eyes. Then, they returned to their thatched cottage, and there, while Rama was describing with appreciative ardour, the devotion and faith of Bharatha and Satrughna, their exemplary love and loyalty, and the affectionate attachment of the subjects of the Empire, Sita and Lakshmana listened attentively and echoed the same sentiments. Their hearts felt sore at their departure; they would fain have liked their presence longer. Often during the talk, they remembered the death of Dasaratha and tears rolled down their cheeks as they recalled the Emperor’s affection towards them. Seeing their plight Rama’s face was lit up with a smile; he expatiated on the mystery of life and the key to its unraveling. Thus, they spent that eventful day, in the silence of that sylvan retreat.

Meanwhile, the stream of people emerging from the edge of the forest towards the populated areas near Ayodhya — the ascetics, the sages, the Brahmins, the brothers Bharatha and Satrughna, the queens Kausalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra, the ministers and the vast mass of citizens — could not contain the burden of sorrow, which became heavier the farther they went, and the nearer they approached the City. They spent the time describing to each other the events of the five days they had spent in Rama’s presence, and admiring the ideals that Rama had embodied and exemplified and his love, compassion and affection. They did not halt anywhere for food or even for sleep, since they felt neither hunger nor the prompting of sleep. Sorrow at the separation had overwhelmed and put to flight all minor insufficiencies.

The second day, they encountered the mighty Ganga river; the Chieftain of the Nishadas arranged boats to row them across and also prepared plentiful repast for the tired populace and for the distinguished persons from the Court. But, no one partook of the hospitality he provided, for their grief at having come away from Sita, Rama and Lakshmana lay too heavy on their hearts. Unable to displease Guha and unwilling to wound him, they just sat before the plates, fingered the items and getting up soon, threw the contents away. Why? Even the horses had no wish to feed. They just refused. Vasishta, the Royal Preceptor noticed this, and he said, “See! Rama is the inner Resident, the Atma that is in all; He is the Intelligence, the Awareness that marks out each Being”.

They had no inclination to turn aside in order to snatch a few hours of rest. Bharatha had resolved to travel straight to Ayodhya and not delay on the way. He was anxious to present before the citizens pining in Ayodhya the holy sandals of Rama, and bring them some little comfort and courage. So the party forded the Gomathi and the Sarayu rivers and reached the outskirts of Ayodhya, on the fourth day of their journey.

The aged, the children and the women of Ayodhya who could not join the vast assembly that marched to the place where Rama had fixed his camp, were watching for the signs of their happy return, after accomplishing their mission, namely, persuading Rama to take up the reins of rulership. Their eyes had well nigh gone blind, with exhaustion and extreme anxiety. When they heard the distant whirr of chariot wheels, they ran out into the streets and peered into the passing vehicles, asking “Where is our Lord?” But, since dusk soon thickened into darkness, they went back into their homes, and spent the night in joyous hope that they could see their beloved Prince, with the first rays of the rising sun. Vast disappointment not unmixed with a little satisfaction awaited them next morning, for, they learnt that Rama did not return to the Capital from the forest, but had sent instead, the Sandals he wore, as his representative.

Meanwhile, Bharatha called together the Royal Perceptor and the Ministers of the Court and assigned to them the various duties of administration. He entrusted them with the authority to perform their duties. He then called Satrughna near and allotted to him the task of fostering and consoling the queen-mothers. He arranged a gathering of Brahmins and Pundits, and standing before them with folded palms, he told them that he would fulfill their wishes, whether great or small, for he knew they would only promote the best interests of himself and the people. He wanted that they should place their demands before him without hesitation.

He also called for a gathering of the citizens of Ayodhya and the leaders of the people from all parts of the Empire and he described before them all that had happened in the Capital and at the place where Rama was living in exile. He gave them a summary of the conversations he had with Rama, and appealed to them to adore and revere the Sandals of Rama for the period of fourteen years when Rama would be away, as the authentic Presence of Rama himself. “They will guard us all, they are our refuge and resource”, he said. “In the full confidence that the sandals are ruling over us, let us”, he said, “live with Rama installed in our hearts; after his return, Rama will rule over us directly, granting us the joy of his physical presence and direction. Our duty from this moment is to wait for that happy day, with prayer in our hearts”.

Then, Bharatha decided on an auspicious hour, when the Sacred Sandals could be installed on the throne, for, he had the joy of all classes of the population in view, the Royal Preceptor, the Pundits, the ascetics, the priests, the ministers and others of the Court, the leaders of the people and the common ranks of citizens. He saw to it that arrangements were made on a grand scale to celebrate the event.

That day, he prostrated before the mothers, Kausalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi and then proceeded tot he Throne with the Sandals borne on his head. Praying for the blessings of Vasishta and permission from him and all those assembled, he placed them on the throne, offering them reverential loyalty. He placed all his responsibilities safely in their custody.

Later, that steadfast adherent of Dharma, that incomparable hero, Bharatha walked towards the village of Nandigrama, where he had a thatched hut made ready for his residence. He wore his hair braided into a knot, as Rama and Lakshmana had done; his apparel was made of the bark of trees, as theirs was; he lived in a cave specially dug into the earth. His food and dress were the same as those of the ascetics of the forest; his acts, thoughts and words too were austere and spiritually oriented.

Bharatha renounced the luxurious life of Ayodhya which Indra, the Ruler of Heaven praised, as unattainable by Him; he gave up the rich life of the Royal Palace, which even Kubera, the God of Riches envied. He was happy in that tiny village, living unseen by others, inside the ‘grass-thatched’ hut! He vowed that he would not look at the face of any one until Rama returned from exile. His mind was fixed on Rama and on the day of his return from the forest into which He had gone. His body became weaker with every passing day. But, the spiritual splendour on his face brightened more and more with the passage of time. His devotion to Rama grew to vaster and vaster proportions. He was transformed into a pure soul that has achieved fulfillment. In the firmament of his heart, the stars shone in glorious galaxies; below them, his feelings and emotions shone like the Ocean of Milk, calm, deep and pure.

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RAMAKATHA RASAVAHINI – PART 2

The Rama Story, Stream of Sacred Sweetness

Chapter 1: The Dandaka Forest

Chapter 2: Panchavati

Chapter 3a: The Wily Villain

Chapter 3b: The Wily Villain

Chapter 4a: An Ally Accepted

Chapter 4b: An Ally Accepted

Chapter 5a: Success in the Search

Chapter 5b: Success in the Search

Chapter 6a: Lanka on Fire

Chapter 6b: Lanka on Fire

Chapter 7a: The Bridge

Chapter 7b: The Bridge

Chapter 8a: The Siege

Chapter 8b: The Siege

Chapter 9: The Nether Region

Chapter 10: Ten Heads Roll

Chapter 11: Happy Ayodhya

Chapter 12a: The Coronation

Chapter 12b: The Coronation

Chapter 13a: Exile for Sita

Chapter 13b: Exile for Sita

Chapter 14: Ending the Play

THE INNER MEANING

Rama is the Indweller in every Body. He is the Atma-Rama, the Rama (Source of Bliss) in every individual. His blessings upsurging from that inner Spring can confer Peace and Bliss. He is the very embodiment of Dharma of all the Codes of Morality that hold mankind together in Love and Unity. The Ramayana, the Rama story, teaches two lessons: the value of detachment and the need to become aware of the Divine in every being. Faith in God and detachment from objective pursuits are the keys for human liberation. Give up sense-objects; you gain Rama. Sita gave up the luxuries of Ayodhya and so, she could be with Rama, in the period of ‘exile’. When she cast longing eyes on the golden deer and craved for it, she lost the Presence of Rama. Renunciation leads to joy; attachment brings about grief. Be in the world, but, not of it. The brothers, comrades, companions and collaborators of Rama are each of them examples of persons saturated with Dharma. Dasaratha is the representative of the merely physical, with the ten senses. The three Gunas – Sathwa, Rajas and Thamas – are the three Queens. The Four Goals of Life – the Purusharthas – are the four Sons. Lakshmana is the Intellect; Sugriva is Viveka or Discrimination. Vali is Despair. Hanuman is the embodiment of Courage. The Bridge is built over the Ocean of Delusion. The three Rakshasa chiefs are personifications of the Rajasic (Ravana), Thamasic (Kumbhakarna) and the Sathwic qualities (Vibhishana). Sita is Brahmajnana or the Awareness of the Universal Absolute, which the Individual must acquire and regain undergoing travails in the crucible of Life. Make your heart pure and strong, contemplating the grandeur of the Ramayana. Be established in the faith that Rama is the Reality of your existence.

-BABA-

Chapter 1

THE DANDAKA FOREST

While Bharatha was thus spending his days at Nandigrama in the constant contemplation of Rama, far away in the forest, on the Chitrakuta Peak, Sita, Rama and Lakshmana were praising his devotion and sense of dedication. They were happy in the peaceful, quiet forest home. One day, a fool named Jayantha sought to measure the valour of Rama, an adventure as foolish and suicidal as the attempt of an ant to discover the depth of the Ocean!

Prompted by sheer mischief, he transformed himself into a crow, and approaching Sita, who was seated by the side of Rama lost in the contemplation of the scenery spread out before them, and with his sharp beak, he pecked at the sole of her tender foot, causing blood to trickle from the wound. Seeing the stream of blood, Rama plucked a blade of dry grass from the ground and threw it at the crow.

Rama will never hurt any one who has not done any injury. But, when it is necessary, and when it has to be done, even Rahu will swallow the Moon, isn’t it? So too Rama. He will never hurt the innocent. But, that blade of grass became a huge flame of fire and flew towards Jayantha. And, when he fled, it pursued him relentlessly wherever he went. Helpless and frightened, the crow returned to its original form and Jayantha fell at the feet of Rama praying for succor. Indra came to know that the culprit was his own son and he too repented for his son’s audacity and irreverence.

Jayantha prostrated before Rama and pleaded for mercy. He said, “I am a fool. I did not realize the baseness of my deed. Save me from your anger, from this fire.”

Rama pitied the poor fellow, who had so humbled himself. He made one of his eyes ineffective and sent him away alive, as a single-eyed individual. The blade of grass that had become a missile of fire was neutralized by him and it resumed its nature. Jayantha was grateful that he was let off with just a token punishment for the heinous crime he had committed; he lived for a long time on the Chitrakuta Peak, where Sita, Rama and Lakshmana had taken residence. One day, the tenth day of the bright half of the month Margasira, Rama ordered Jayantha to proceed southwards from his habitat.

Sita, Rama and Lakshmana too left Chitrakuta and reached the hermitage of the great Sage, Athri. The Sage came to know in advance of the intention of Rama to visit his retreat, through his pupils. So when Rama was approaching the Asram, he moved far out on the forest track in order to welcome Rama, Sita and Lakshmana. Athri was so overpowered with joy at the sign of Grace, that he shed profuse tears in his ecstasy and declared that the visit had indeed made his life realize its highest aim. He said that his austerities had at last borne fruit that day. That evening, the Sage Athri gathered his pupils and placed a high seat for Rama at the head of the assembly. His consort Anasuya had meanwhile attended to the needs of Sita and brought her too to that place. Then, he described to all present the sacredness of the occasion, the powers of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, and the Divine Forces that had incarnated as those three. Anasuya also praised the virtues of Sita, and gave her holy counsel on the duties of women and the ideals they should ever hold dear. Sita spoke of the fact that every individual, every being, and every creature had the feminine principle inherent in its composition; she said that though there are masculine and feminine roles, acting on the world stage, all are basically feminine, when their strength, emotions and attitudes are considered. She said that her Lord, Rama, is the incarnation of the One and only Masculine principle in the Universe. In him, she said, there is no trace of duality, of mine and thine, of grief or joy. He is the embodiment of fearlessness; He is strength personified. Purusha or the Eternal Masculine has wedded Nature or Prakrithi, the Eternal Feminine. Though Nature appears manifold and variegated, it is really One undifferentiated Unity. Thus Sita revealed the truth of the Rama principle to Anasuya, the consort of the Sage Athri.

Rama, Sita and Lakshmana spent a very happy time at the Asram of the Sage Athri. They gave good counsel to the residents and pupils on various problems of right conduct. Then, taking leave of the Sage, they resumed their journey through the jungle. The Asramites shed tears of sorrow when they parted company. Despite their determined attempts to accompany Rama during the subsequent stages of his forest life they had to stop away and resume the life for which they had dedicated their lives. They had to witness helplessly the departure of the Divine Master of their hearts.

The jungle echoed with the roar of ferocious beasts that wandered about in search of prey. Manifold varieties of plumaged birds sang melodiously on the trees. Each had a peculiar beauty and melody: their coos and cries were balm for the ear. It appeared as if they had entered a new world of thrills. While passing through this region of awesome grandeur, suddenly their eyes fell upon a lovely hermitage, which had at its center a picturesque temple. Lakshmana moved forward, and cleared the track, pushing back the bushes that stood across. He broke off the thorny creepers that hung overhead and threatened to harm wayfarers. Rama and Sita could walk safely along the track he cleared. When they came to the precincts of the hermitage a charming garden presented itself before them. Well-fostered and affectionately looked after, the fruit trees and flowering trees rose beautifully from the ground, with their charming crowns of beauty. The branches were drooping under the weight of ripe juicy fruits. Sita was filled with delight; she forgot all exhaustion; she was lost in the heavenly peace and joy that she had come into. She walked behind Rama, imbibing the thrill of the Nature that surrounded her. When some residents noticed their approach, they ran in haste to their Preceptor; he hurried forward to the main gate to welcome Rama, Sita and Lakshmana. His eyes were streaming tears of joy. Appropriate hospitality was offered to the guests; they were taken in and given cool refreshing drinks; tasty fruits and tubers were placed before them. The guests accepted their attention and regard with great pleasure; they partook of the simple repast. In the evening, they took bath and performed due rites. Rama spoke to the residents on ideal modes of conduct and behaviour. He permitted them to ask questions on the doubts that might be puzzling them and the knotty points of interpretations of the scriptures. They welcomed the opportunity most enthusiastically. Rama, too, offered convincing and clear explanations, in simple and satisfying words. Without doubt, the dwellers of the Asram experienced very Heaven on earth. They spoke among themselves with great delight that the Presence of Rama was as elevating an experience as contact with God Himself in Heaven.

When dawn broke, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana bathed and went through the matinal rites. In spite of the plaintive prayers of the Asramites, they started on their journey, expostulating that people should not stand in the way of their vows and resolutions. They had resolved, they said, not to stay in one single hermitage or place for more than one single night.

When they resumed their journey, and passed through the forest, a monstrous form, being the frightful ogre Viradha, appeared all of a sudden and rushed menacingly towards them. Sita was naturally frightened at the apparition; but, soon, she mustered courage knowing that, when she had the Lion Rama to protect her, she had no need to be frightened at the ‘lame fox’ that had presented itself! “Let it roar its worst”, she consoled herself. She stood behind Rama and watched developments. Meanwhile, Lakshmana shot at the monster a sharp arrow from his bow. Soon, he showered many missiles on it. When it was wounded by the arrows, Viradha transformed into a blazing fury of anger and appearing like the very embodiment of death and destruction, pounced upon Lakshmana. Rama saw that his brother was getting exhausted by the struggle; he fixed a crescent headed arrow to his redoubtable bow and shot at the ogre. The arrow shattered to pieces the formidable three-pronged spear that the ogre was flourishing; it then sliced off the head of the monster. At that very moment, a bright heavenly form emerged from the fallen corpse!

Viradha had been born as an ogre on earth in consequence of a curse that he had invited upon himself from his divine Master, Kubera. He was one of a group of heavenly angels, Gandharvas, who were serving Kubera. Kubera had, later, taken pity on him and declared that his demonic career would come to an end the moment he met his death through an arrow from the bow of Rama. He could then return as a Gandharva to the Presence of Kubera, it was said. So, the Gandharva fell at the feet of his Saviour, and extolled him with high praise, before leaving for his permanent abode.

Rama interred the huge body of the demon that lay on the ground; he also went through the rites prescribed for such disposal. Just then a shower of rain fell on the spot, as if the gods above were showering tears of joy at the compassion that Rama was evincing.

Next, Rama entered the famous hermitage of the sage Sarabhanga. Even while he was nearing the asram, the ascetics and monks were talking among themselves of the havoc caused by the inroads of Ravana, the demon King. When Rama, Sita and Lakshmana appeared before them in the midst of their conversation, they sensed the meaning of their visit and knew that their fears would soon come to an end. When the sage Sarabhanga saw the divinely charming figure of Rama, he could scarce believe his eyes; he doubted whether it was a dream, or an illusion, or some strange experience caused by meditation mania. But, soon, he realized the genuineness of his good fortune; he was overwhelmed with the ecstasy of winning his long-desired goal; he knew that his asceticism had at last been blessed by the fruition of his yearning; he offered them profuse hospitality.

He extolled Rama to his heart’s content. “Rama! You are the Heavenly Swan moving majestically on the waters that fill the minds of the sages. Ah! This day. I have realized the Goal of life,” he said. “Rama! I am unaware of any spiritual discipline worth the name. It was possible for me to win you through just one path, the path of Love. My eyes have seen you now; they need look on nothing else. And, you have given word that day that you would fulfill the wishes of the sages. Well. Now you have to stand by that word. My wish is this: Stand before me in this most charming form, until my breath leaves this body. I wish to cast off this body even while my gaze is fixed on you,” he appealed.

Within minutes, a pyre was set up; he ascended it and it was lit, with Sarabhanga sitting unconcerned on top, with eyes shining in joy at the ecstasy of looking on at Rama. The eyelids did not quiver: the gaze did not slacken. With the forms of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana imprinted on his heart, Sarabhanga reduced his body into a handful of ashes. The blue placid waters of his heart reflected the blue form of Rama, whom he had adored until the very last. His soul merged in the Universal that was before him.

Though at first the asramites were grieving over the departure of their Preceptor and Master, they soon realized that he had the unique fortune of a rare blessing. God Himself had come in human form and blessed him with mergence in His majesty and glory. They felt that they too had shared in that gift of Grace; they adored Rama and extolled him in various ways. They shouted ‘Hail! Victory! Victory!’ and taking the ashes of their Master, they applied it on their brows in reverent gratitude.

The news of the immolation of Sarabhanga soon brought to that hermitage residents from other asrams as well. They fell at the feet of Rama and praised him and his mission of compassion. “Lord! How fortunate was Sarabhanga,” they cried. “Many a sage has fallen prey to the voracious ferocity of the Rakshasa tribe of demons in this area. But Sarabhanga was blessed by the Lord Himself. He offered his body and life to the Lord Himself. “Lord! Save us from these rapacious enemies. Let us progress in our spiritual exercises and disciplines, without these demonic raids. And, at the end of it all, O Lord, bless us with the fruit we strive for: Your Presence before our Vision,” they pleaded.

Meanwhile, a sage, Sutheekshna by name, came forward and prostrated before Rama. He was the pupil of the renowned Agastya. He was an incomparable devotee and his mind was saturated with love for Rama. He had steady faith that God can be won by Love alone. He could not picture before his mind’s eye any form of God other than Rama. He gazed upon Rama, without winking an eyelid, lest even that fraction of time should go waste. His heart melted into adoration at the sight of Rama.

He said, “Lord! Did you come so far into this region just to bless me? Can you not merge me into the Love you are? Having come upon the earth with this visible form, do you still wish that I should adore, as hitherto, the Formless Absolute? No. I love this Form, and this Name. I do not know any rite or ritual. I know only that you, the embodiment of Love, can be attained through love. Yearning is the only earning I have accumulated. That is the only asceticism I have subjected myself to. Tell me, is that not enough? 0, Saviour from the travail of Birth and Death! No form of worship is so effective as service of the Lord through Love, isn’t it? Singing your glory, meditating on it, and deriving unspeakable bliss in the process – can anything else yield greater joy?” he said. Sutheekshna danced about, unaware of where he was or what he was doing; tears flowed in streams down his cheeks; he appeared insane for all who could not gauge the inner joy he was experiencing. Rama knew the urge within the Sage; he drew him near himself, and embraced him most lovingly. He spoke soft and sweet, to bring him round to a consciousness of his surroundings. While Rama was holding his hands, the great sage entered the supreme state of Samadhi. He became a doll, unmoved and immovable. Rama brought him back into consciousness; as soon as he came to, he fell at the feet of Rama, falling flat on the ground.

He raised his hands above his head and joining palms in adoration, he expressed his joy and took delight therein. He said, “Lord! You are the Conflagration that destroys the Forest of Delusion in which man has lost himself. You are the Solar Orb that makes it possible for the Lotuses of the Hearts of Good Men bloom in beauty and fragrance. You are the King of Beasts, come to destroy the brood of Demonic Elephants. You are the Eagle come to hunt down and destroy the bird that flits into birth and flits out of life, in a recurring cycle of joy and grief. Lord! Your eyes are as charming as Lotuses; my two eyes cannot drink in all the beauty of your effulgent Form. You are the Moon that sheds cool light to enrapture the twin Chakora birds, namely, the eyes of Sita. You swim happily as the Celestial Swan in the placid lakes that shine in the hearts of Sages. You are the Garuda Bird that preys upon and destroys the Serpents that breed in the minds of doubters and unbelievers. All cruelty, confusion and calamity will be burnt away when a tiny glance from your eye falls on them.” He extolled Rama thus and in various other forms, and derived great joy at getting the chance. He also utilized the chance to gaze upon the Lord and to have His Image imprinted on his heart. He was not conscious of the passage of time or the needs of the body. He did not wink once while looking on and drinking deep the glory of Rama.

Rama watched him for a while and then he raised him up with his hands upon his shoulders. He said, “Sutheekshna! You are endowed with all desirable virtues. Ask from me anything you wish, for I shall bless you as you desire.” The sage replied, “O, Friend and Kinsman of the Distressed! My wish is this: Reside ever in the depths of my heart, with Sita and Lakshmana.” Rama said, “So be it.” Then, with him as companion, Rama moved forward towards the asram of Agastya, with Sita and Lakshmana following him.

A short distance later, they heard the murmur of a river flowing by. When they walked towards the sound and neared the river, they could see a mountain peak beside the flowing water. In the middle there were beautiful flower gardens; and, like a lotus shining in the center of a tank, there could be seen the lovely hermitage of Agastya on a carpet of fragrant flowers.

Words cannot adequately describe the exquisite nature of that scene. Sita, Rama and Lakshmana stood petrified for a few moments at the captivating splendour. The atmosphere was so astoundingly spiritual. There, animals that are enemies of each other by their very nature, aquatic animals and land animals, beasts and birds of every type, sported and lived together, free from fear or enmity. They could see many monks and ascetics lost in meditation sitting on the river bank.

When they neared the asram, Sutheekshna ran forward to convey the tidings to his Master. He fell at his feet and declared, “O Teacher Great! O Embodiment of Mercy! The prince of Ayodhya, the very Sustainer of this Universe, has just come into our Asram with Sita and Lakshmana. The very person whom you were seeking to know and visualize through your spiritual practices for years, without regard to whether it is day or night, he has come to you, near you. Ah! What a great good Day is this! What great good fortune!”. Sutheekshna forgot himself and was filled with immeasurable ecstasy.

At this, Agastya rose suddenly from his seat and walked fast into the open. He saw the three, coming towards him; tears flowed freely from his eyes. He ran forward, shouting, “Lord! Lord!”. He clasped Rama to his bosom; he had no mind to release Rama from the embrace. He stood with his arms around Rama, clinging to him, as a creeper clings to the trunk of a tree.

Agastya could not contain the joy that welled up within him when he led Rama, Sita and Lakshmana into his hermitage. He invited them to rest on elevated seats. He had fruits and sweet tubers brought and he offered them for their repast. Then, he enquired about the journey they had gone through and, when Rama was answering his queries, Agastya listened with eyes closed in deep delight, tears of joy streaming down the cheeks. There was a happy smile hovering on his face. At last, he spoke, “Lord! I am convinced that there is no one more blessed than I am. The Lord, Narayana, has Himself come to me; He is staying in my hermitage! Is this true? Is it a dream? No. It is clearly a fact of experience. He gave expression to his joy in grateful and devotional words.

Rama said, “O Monarch among Monks! I have nothing to hide from you. You know too well the reason why I have come into the forest. Direct me, how I can destroy the brood of demoniac persons, the Rakshasas, who obstruct the austerities of sages and monks, and how I can protect and preserve from danger the dedicated servants of God; I shall act accordingly; I am awaiting your advice. In the cold Hemantha season lotuses shrivel up and die. The season has approached for the shriveling of the Rakshasas.”

Hearing these words of Rama, Agastya smiled. He replied, “Lord! You are omniscient. I do not know why you require me to tell you how. I am unable to decide whether you are blessing me or testing me. Nevertheless, through the effect of your Grace, the Darsan (sight), Sparsan (contact) and Sambhashan (speech) that you have just now blessed me with, I am able to grasp the significance of your question. That too is your grace. Maya which is your creation and your puppet, your slave, lying at your feet, is watching ever, for the slightest raising of your brow, to carry out your commands. Through the skill endowed by you, Maya is creating all beings on earth and in heaven.

“Your Maya is unconquerable. It is harassing beings endlessly, that is to say, those who fall a prey to its machinations. That is a fact that is known to all. Your Maya is like the ficus, spreading far and wide; the orbs in the Cosmos are as the fruits of that tree; the beings and things that exist in this Cosmos are like the worms and larvae that creep inside the fruit. The fruit might appear lovely outside; but, when it is opened, hundreds of worms can be seen wriggling inside”.

“Those attached to this exterior world and its transitory treasures are afraid of you, since in your aspect as Time, you cause inexorable ruin of their plans. The Cosmos itself is an appearance on your Reality. Rama! You are adored by all the worlds. You ask me for directions, just as a common man would; you praise me as men do. This raises a laugh in me. I am not concerned with anything now. I desire that you stay in this hermitage, with Sita and Lakshmana. That is the only boon I ask for. I prefer always to worship your Attribute-full Form, not your Attribute-less Principle. That is what I believe in and teach. That is my Ideal, my favourite Goal, my Aspiration”.

“Therefore, grant me this boon. It is your sport, to elevate your servants, and yourself to slide into the background as if you are innocent of anything and ignorant of everything! But, do not elevate me. Do not ask me for directions. My duty is to assent and accept your wishes and to follow your footsteps. Father! Do not inveigle me into your Maya, and delude me into egoism, making me the target of your sport”.

At this Rama said, “O Venerable Sage! This region is well known to you; so, what harm is there if you tell me which place I can select for my stay? This is what everybody would expect of you, isn’t it?” Agastya replied, “Master! Since you have commanded me I shall obey implicitly and give answer. Very near this place, the sacred river Godavari is flowing. Since ages, that great river has been flowing full and free. Adjacent to it, we have the Dandakaranya; when you sanctify it by residing in it you would have conferred upon the monks and sages that live therein all content and happiness. For, that forest region and its guardian ruler are under a curse and afflicted thereby”.

At this, Rama intercepted the sage with the words: “Master! Sita is anxious to learn the story of that curse. Tell us about it in detail”. Agastya saw through that request and so he addressed Rama as “O, Director of this Eternal Play. Once upon a time famine raised its head in Panchavati area. All the monks and ascetics who lived there took refuge in the hermitage of Sage Gouthama. He gave them all they needed through the powers he had acquired as a result of his austerities! When the famine was over, the monks decided to return to their old dwellings”.

“But, there were some pseudomonks among them, who conspired against him, and planned to bring him to disrepute. They brought a cow that was in the throes of death and made it enter the hermitage garden, on a particularly green and attractive patch. Gouthama saw it was about to bite a beautiful flower away from its stem; he attempted to drive it away. But, at his very first push, the cow breathed its last! The conspirator monks immediately laid on him the dreaded sin of ‘go-hathya’ (bovicide)! They condemned him as an outcast and a heathen. Gouthama desired to discover whether the cow died as a result of his push or as its allotted span had ended. He sat in deep meditation exploring an answer to this vital question. Soon it was revealed to him that it was but a trick played by inimical monks. He was disgusted at their despicable nature. He said, ‘May this forest polluted by such low-minded persons be out of bounds for the good and the saintly. May it become the haunt of demonic yakshas’ “.

“Another incident too added to the effects of this curse. The ruler of this region, Danda by name, violated the chastity of the daughter of his own preceptor, Bhrgu. Brghu listened to the pathetic story as related by his daughter and, in the extremity of his anger, he overwhelmed the region with a downpour of dust. Therefore, this area was sodden deep with mud, and in course of time, it was a thick jungle from end to end. The region is named Dandakaranya, after that infamous ruler. Rama! Crest-jewel of the Raghu Dynasty! I am certain that when you take residence in that forest, the Rakshasas will be decimated and the curse will be lifted. Monks and Sadhaks can once again dwell there and progress in their austerities. Humanity everywhere will benefit by this cleansing and this consummation. I may tell you that the sage who cursed will also be rendered happy by you, for he is sad at the consequence of his anger”.

When Agastya finished his account of the story of Dandakaranya, Rama said, “Well, so be it. I shall reside there”. He took leave of the Sage Agastya, and proceeded to the Dandaka forest, with Sita and Lakshmana. Before they left his hermitage, Agastya brought forth certain weapons that he had acquired by asceticism from divine Sources, and placed them in the hands of Rama saying that he had no wish to use them; they had now a wielder who deserved them and who could utilize them for a holy purpose. “Rama!” he said, “You are my shield, my strength, my prowess. These weapons cannot save me, but You can. Your Grace is the most powerful weapon I possess. You are my refuge, my fortress, the impenetrable armour for my breast”.

Even as Sita, Rama and Lakshmana entered the thick jungle-ridden area of Dandaka, trees that had gone dry were thrilled into greenery and were covered with tender, whispering clusters of leaf. Weak, enervated creepers and vines suddenly felt alive, alert and active; they gave birth to bunches of fragrant flowers. The forest hastened to clothe itself in lovely green, speckled all over with multicoloured floral dots. They sought a spot where they could reside therein and soon arrived at the place known as Panchavati, which Agastya had indicated.

They saw there the old Eagle Chief, Jatayu. He was a great friend of Dasaratha accompanying him on his spatial expeditions to help the denizens of heaven. Rama related to the Eagle the sad news of the death of Dasaratha and alleviated his sense of loss and bereavement. Rama told him about himself, and spoke to him about Sita and Lakshmana, and of his other brothers. They were set on rigging up a thatched hut on the banks of the Godavari. Jatayu became a close friend, and through him they could acquire a clearer picture of the region. That night, they spent the hours under a tree in sound and refreshing sleep.

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Chapter 2

PANCHAVATI

Rama wished to stay at Panchavati on the Godavari for some length of time. So, reclining under the cool shades of a spreading tree Rama called his brother near, and said, “Lakshmana! Brother! Fix upon a beautiful and comfortable spot in this area and build thereon a nice little cottage, as charming as you wish”.

Lakshmana received this order as a dagger-thrust! He could not bear the agony. He fell at the feet of Rama, crying out in anguish: “Tell me what crime I committed to deserve this cruel command.” Sita and Rama were struck with amazement at this behavior. Rama said, “Lakshmana! I cannot understand what makes you so sad. Have you heard any day a single cruel word from my tongue? Have I become so insane as to utter harsh, unpleasant words to you or any one else? You attend to my needs and wishes and serve me as the very breath of life. How then can I speak in cruel terms to you? Your grief is meaningless, mistaken. After all, what did I tell you now? I told you only this: Choose any spot you like and build thereon a hut for us to live in. Isn’t it so?”

At this, Lakshmana closed his ears with the palms and protested sadly,”Rama! Rama! I cannot bear to hear these words.” Rama was surprised at this gesture of grief. But, Lakshmana stood before him with folded hands, supplicating with the words: “Lord! There is no one in me to say ‘I’. My only treasure, my only possession is Sita and Rama. I have no wish of my own; I have no will of my own. My wish, my will, is Rama’s wish, Rama’s will, Rama’s command. Obeying it is my wish, my will. I am the slave who cares for none else, nothing else. How then can I bear to listen to words which indicate that I have to choose according to my wishes a spot for the cottage? As if I have the capacity and inclination to choose! Had I preferences of my own, how can I be a fit servant of Rama? How can I deserve this privilege and pleasure? It would mean I am unfit to be alive on earth, and my life is but a burden and a shame”. Lakshmana stood, sobbing aloud, unable to stifle his grief.

Rama saw his plight. He consoled him with kind words. “Brother! Your heart is highly sanctified. I used those words in the ordinary worldly sense, but do not be under the impression that your brother is unaware of your innermost quality of dedication. Do not grieve.”

Rama showered His smiles on Lakshmana and continued, “Brother! I am delighted at the purity of your devotion and the genuineness of your service. Your intentions are innocent and elevating. I will not pain you by such words hereafter. I spoke to you the language of common usage, that is all. Do not take them so much to heart. Come! Let us go and choose!” Saying thus, He took Sita and Lakshmana with him. After traversing some distance, Rama stopped and said, “Well! Erect the Parnasala here!”

When he heard those words, Lakshmana exclaimed in great joy. “Ah! I am blessed, indeed. My duty is to carry out such commands not exercising my wish or will, to do anything on my own.” He fell at the feet of his elder brother; rising happy and content, he entered on the task of collecting branches and twigs for the hut that was to be their home.

Sita and Rama realized that Lakshmana had a highly sensitive mind, a delicately subtle intellect; they derived great joy within themselves at the recollection of the depth of his faith and devotion. Sita confessed to Rama on many occasions that life for her in the forest was even more delightful than life at Ayodhya, for the reason that a brother like Lakshmana was accompanying and serving Rama.

When Sita and Rama saw the hermitage constructed by Lakshmana, they were charmed by its beauty, its captivating simplicity and comfort, and the inspiring setting in which it shone. Sita entered the cottage, and was immediately struck by the skill and artistic taste of her brother-in-law. She praised him for finishing it so quickly and with useful adjuncts and parts.

The three of them spent their days happily in that cottage. News that Sri Rama had made the Panchavati his home and that he was residing there in a house of leafy thatch like their own, spread far and wide; so, every day, groups of ascetics trekked thither in order to offer their homage. They brought with them their pupils too; they had their fill of Darsan and they had the great good fortune of speaking to Rama and being spoken to, by Him. Thereafter, they left most unwillingly, praising Rama all the way back to their own hermitages.

Many others came, with the intention of solving the doubts that pestered them, while trying to understand the scriptures, and while attempting to define and interpret the Codes of Morality or the texts on Rituals. Others prayed to Rama and sought to clarify from Him whether the ascetic practices they were following were correct and beneficial. Since Rama was master of all Dharmas and since He knew full well all the scriptures, they derived the fullest satisfaction from His answers and directives. Each one was filled with joyous contentment.

While on the subject or questions and answers, it is best that the four grades of questions be clearly understood. Questions are generally classified into four groups: (1) Trivial; (2) Low; (3) Passable and (4) Praiseworthy. Questions that are raised in order to drag another into a controversy and later, to inflict a humiliating defeat on him, are trivial. Questions that are put in order to demonstrate one’s own cleverness and skill are ‘low’. Questions which announce the intellectual equipment and reasoning faculty of the questioner are ‘passable’, and belong to the third class. Questions that are asked with the sincere desire to remove one’s doubts are ‘praiseworthy’ and belong to the highest class. It needs no mention that the sages, monks and ascetics came to Rama with the fourth type of questions only.

Rama and Lakshmana were filled with delight when they saw the ascetics. Many among them were overcome with admiration and gratitude when they listened to the ideals propounded by Rama, so simple, so easy to grasp and realize, so truly conforming to the dictates laid down in the Sastras and Scriptures, and so free from complexity. They burst into paeans of praise and adoration. “O Master Supreme!” they exclaimed, “O, Omniscient One, who knows the Past, Present and Future! Who else can be our Lord and Liberator? You reside in the hearts of Sages; we have secured you in our midst as a result of the austerities we have gone through. O, how fortunate are we! How have our wishes been fulfilled!” They departed from the Presence, most unwillingly, with tears of joy mingled with tears of grief streaming down their cheeks.

A few of them laid themselves under the shady trees a little distance from the cottage where Rama was, and were determined not to return to their hermitages. They gathered fruits and tubers from around the spot, and watched out for Rama, eager for additional chances of Darsan. When sometimes Rama came out of the cottage and walked around, they filled their eyes with the unforgettable picture, from behind some tree or bush. Thus they spent the days in full contentment.

Rama stole the hearts of all who came into His Presence; they became mad in their single-pointed devotion to Him; they felt that contemplation of His Face and repetition of His Name were all the austerity that they had to practice thereafter. He discoursed on Dharma and spiritual disciplines during both day and night, to those who gathered around Him.

Often, He called Lakshmana to His side and told him, “Brother! Having come for this holy task, how can I stay on at Ayodhya? How can I enact the further chapters of the Ramayana from there? This is the purpose for which I have come. The fostering and protection of the good and the godly, the destruction of the wrong and evil that threaten the peace and welfare of the world, the promotion of righteous behavior and activities … these will proceed from now on”. Thus, He informed his brother about what he had resolved upon and about the intent and meaning of His Incarnation as Man on earth.

Off and on, he raised Lakshmana to the role of a vehicle for spreading his teachings, intended for the uplift of humanity and instructed him on the ideals of morality and progress. “Lakshmana!”, he said once, “Affection for the body, attachment towards possessions of any kind, egoism that breeds the conflict of ‘You’ and ‘I’, the bonds that grow between the individual and his wife, children and property – all these are the consequences of the Primal Illusion, Maya. That Illusion is basic, mysterious, and wondrous. Maya establishes her domain over all beings and things, all species of living creatures. The ten indriyas (five senses of perception and five senses of action) have each its presiding deity and Maya perceives the objective world and derives pleasure therefrom, through their instrumentality. Every item and particle of such pleasure is Maya-produced and therefore illusory, evanescent and superficial.

“Maya has two forms: One type is called Vidyamaya and the other Avidyamaya. The Maya named Avidya is very vicious; she causes boundless misery. Those drawn by it will sink into the depths of flux, the eternal tangle of joy and grief. The Maya known as Vidya has created the Cosmos, under the prompting of the Lord. For, she has no innate force of her own. Only while in the Presence of the Lord can she create the three-stranded Cosmos (Prapancha). (The three strands are Sathwa, Rajas and Thamas, each of which separately or in some kind of combination is characteristic of beings: Sathwa meaning the equal balanced temper, Rajas the sanguinary or the emotional, active temper, and Thamas, the ignorant, inert temper).

“The truly wise, the Jnani, who has realized the Reality, is the Person who has given up the rights and obligations of caste and society, of age and status and lives in the constant awareness that all this is Brahman. He has understood that there is no manifoldness or diversity here; it is all One. (Sarvam khalu idam Brahma; Na iha naanaa asthi kinchana). He knows that the entire Cosmos is constituted of the same Brahman, that there can be no second entity apart from Brahman.

“O Lakshmana! You must know that the Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra (Siva)) are but the reflections of the one Brahman in each of the three strands or attributes – Sathwa, Rajas and Thamas. The Rajas attribute is personified as Brahma, the Sathwa aspect as Vishnu and the Thamas aspect is known as Rudra or Siva or Iswara. The entire Cosmos, including the world is the manifestation of the One Brahman through one or other, or some combination or other of these three attributes. So, the wise man will go beyond and beneath these three strands and seek the Origin in the One. He alone deserves the name monk or Vairagi – for he has no raga or likes and dislikes”.

Sometimes, Rama had Sita and Lakshmana near Him and explained to them that so long as the Individual Jivi does not understand aright the affinities it has to Maya and to the Supreme Brahman, it can never liberate itself and merge in the Supreme; it has to remain a particularized Individual only, bound by the coils of illusion to the limits of name and form. But, Rama said, the instant the Individual discovers and knows that It is but the image of the Supreme, and that the distinction between the Supreme and Itself has no basis in Truth, Maya will disappear, like fog before the risen sun. This is the genuine Atmajnan, for, the Supreme is Param-atma and the Individual is the same Param-atma seen as an Image in the Body-with-name-and-form, the Upadhi.

“Act in accordance with the rules of conduct laid down for the status you have risen to and the call that has come to you (swadharma); you derive detachment thereby. Practice Yoga or the Search for Union with the Supreme; you derive Jnana thereby. This Jnana is the very last step in spiritual progress. It leads to Consummation. Adoring the Supreme with the greatest possible Love is called Bhakthi, Devotion. I shower Grace on such a one; Bhakthi will grant him full prosperity. Bhakthi emanates from the heart, spontaneously. It does not depend on extraneous things or persons. Bhakthi can confer Jnana too on the person who has dedicated Himself to the Supreme. The joy that Bhakthi endows on a man is unique and immeasurable. How does a person first decide to walk on the path of Bhakthi? It all begins with the compassion of some one good and godly sage or realized soul. This path leads men quickly to Me.” Listening to such discourses, Sita and Lakshmana forgot where they were and under what conditions. Rama too seemed unaware of all that happened in the enthusiasm with which He dilated on the attractions of the spiritual path. They spent long periods in introspection and exploration of inner delight.

One day, Lakshmana was ruminating on these deep Truths and precious directives while he was keeping watch around the cottage. His eyes fell on a tiny sapling of lime, struggling upwards under the shade of a huge tree. He desired to plant it nearer the cottage and help it grow vigorously under his care; so, he was digging it up by the roots with intense love and attention, when the wicked and vicious sister of Ravana, Surpanakha by name, rushed into the scene!

As soon as her eyes fell on Lakshmana, she was allured by the halo of goodness and the splendor that illumined his body. She was struck dumb at the unexpected vision. She suddenly transformed herself into a charmingly pretty damsel and approached Lakshmana with amorous gestures. But, Lakshmana paid no heed; he continued his task, unaffected by the apparition. Surpanakha could not bear inattention any longer. She came close to him and in a pathetic voice, she appealed, “Lord! Why are you plunging me into despair? Cool my unbearable ardour; cast on me your loving happiness – conferring eye”. Lakshmana did not react to her call; he heard her words, but he only smiled within himself at her audacity; he continued with his attempt to pluck the plant safely from the shade. Surpanakha lost patience; she prepared to draw him to herself. But, Lakshmana drew back, saying, “Mother! I am the bondslave of Sri Rama. I am not a free man; whatever I do, however small a job it may be, is done only as He commands”, as a prelude to the advice he planned to give her. Hearing his words and curious to know with whom he was talking, Sita and Rama came out of the cottage into the garden. Rama noticed Surpanakha and recognized that she had changed into the damsel before him. He prepared himself for all eventualities. Meanwhile, Surpanakha pelted harsh abusive words at Lakshmana like, ‘coward’, and ‘villain’ and laughed loudly in scorn at his irresponsive behavior. She had not noticed Rama, all her attention and anger were fixed on Lakshmana alone. She pleaded before him, “O Most Charming! Wed me and be happy. I can delight you and serve you most loyally.” Lakshmana tried to ward her off by saying, “Pretty woman! I am a slave; If I wed you, you will have to live as a slave”, and continuing the jocular retort, he said in fun, “Well. There is my master, Rama; if you wed him, I will be your slave.” Surpanakha took him at his word; she believed that it was good strategy. She turned to the cottage which Lakshmana had pointed to her; and, there, standing near the door, laughing together at her, she found a very beautiful woman and beside her, the embodiment of masculine charm!

Surpanakha was smitten with passionate love; she ran forward to Rama and weeping out her distress, she prayed, “God of Love! God of Beauty! Accept me as yours.” Rama too decided to treat her to a homily and derive some fun out of the ludicrous situation before him. He said with a chuckle, “O Beauteous Woman! I cannot wed you, for, I am under the vow of monogamy. I have my wife here; my brother, Lakshmana there, has a wife, but, she is not here. So, wed him and derive fulfillment. He is the proper person for you; approach him.” At this, the woman hastened to where Lakshmana was and started her appeals once again. She said, “Your brother has agreed to the wedding; so, do not delay; accept me”. Her attitude now was very humble and gentle. Lakshmana grasped the absurdity of her plight and wanted to heighten the fun. He sent her to Rama and Rama sent her back to Lakshmana several times, until she grew so desperate, mad blinded by passion, she relapsed into her demonic nature! Her crooked intelligence told her that it was Sita that stood in the way of her success in this adventure of lust; for, Rama could not wed her, since Sita was by His side. If she were removed, Rama would certainly yield to her solicitations. So, she fell upon Sita in order to kill her and swallow her; for, she was a demon to the core. At this, Lakshmana stood ready, watching the face of Rama for orders. Rama realized that the woman was far gone and she had to be stopped. Feeling that an axe need not be used when the nails are enough, He raised his hand up, and counted four on his fingers, looking at Lakshmana.

Lakshmana immediately grasped the meaning of that command! By counting four, Rama indicated the Four Vedas, which are collectively called Sruthi, that is to say, “The Heard”, which means, the Ear. Lakshmana had a sharp vigilant intellect and so, he could rightly interpret the slightest gesture of Rama. Rama had held his hand up, towards the sky. The sky or Akasa is the fifth elemental force, characterized by Sound; sound is the symbol for Brahmam, known as Sabda Brahmam, or God. God resides in heaven, and heaven is also indicated by the raised pointing hand. Heaven is also known as ‘naaka’ in Sanskrit; it has also another meaning, ‘Nose!’ No sooner did Rama make those two gestures, Lakshmana rushed towards the demonic woman with his sword drawn; he dragged her down to the ground, and shouting that her effrontery must be punished, he slashed off her ears and nose! Surpanakha raised such a loud wail that the forest quaked and quivered. She assumed her real shape as an ogress and yelled, “Is this just? How can you deform so cruelly a woman who has come to you? I shall bring my brother Ravana here and inflict retribution for this cruel act”. With this, she disappeared quickly into the forest.

She went straight to the demon chieftains, Khara and Dushana in the Dandaka forest and wailed, “How can you bear silently this insult and injury dealt to your sister? For what purpose have you stored so much of valour and might? It is better you burn them into ashes. Are you masculine? Can you call yourselves so? Shame on you and your boast of heroism.” They could not understand what had happened to her, and who had deformed her so piteously. They asked her, “Sister! Who inflicted this injury? Tell us; we shall wreak vengeance with all our might”.

At this, Surpanakha started retailing her story. She began with an elaborate description of the charm and captivating beauty of Rama and Lakshmana. Hearing this, the brothers got wild and inquired why she was wasting her time and theirs with that superfluous prologue, “Tell us, who injured you? Who defaced you?” Then, she informed them all that had happened in the forest.

Khara and Dushana were highly incensed at the plight of their sister whose ears and nose had been slit; they collected an army of fourteen thousand ogres and marched in hot haste towards Rama and Lakshmana, the brothers who had punished her in that manner. The ogre warriors were so indomitable that they could not be defeated even in dreams; they knew no retreat or defeat; they were invincible in battle. Like winged mountains, they moved fast along the valleys in terror-striking groups, while the earth shook under their feet. Each of them was armed to the teeth with a variety of deadly weapons.

The earless, noseless widow, Surpanakha, with her bleeding face walked in front of the entire force, eager to take revenge. She was leading them to the patch of green where she had met the brothers.

But, she spelt an inauspicious beginning for the campaign. Hers was the bad omen for the expedition. A bleeding face, a widow, a defective – these are considered bad omens. Surpanakha was all there. The Rakshasas were not aware of the pros and cons of the signs and omens for starting on a march towards the battlefield; they relied on their physical and material might, and their nefarious stratagems. It is for this very reason that they are always unable to stand before the might of Divine and Dharmic forces.

For, who can withstand the power generated by the observance of Dharma and the Grace of God? They never paid attention to Righteousness or Divinity; they concentrated all their energies and skills on equipping themselves with physical might. Proud of their weapons, their muscles and their wickedness they strode forward into the forest, blowing their trumpets, roaring like lions, bellowing like wild elephants, yelling about their exploits and gyrating wildly in their wild dances. They never realized that their onslaught was comparable only to the onslaught of a sparrow on an eagle!

From a distance, Surpanakha pointed out to her brothers the hermitage where Rama was. To arouse the ogres into a final frenzy the army shouted, in unison. “Kill, catch, murder,” and ran forward. When they approached the hermitage, the brothers challenged Rama, crying out at the top of their voices, “O Most Wicked, O Most Unfortunate! You dared deform our sister, did you? Now, try if you can, to save your life from extinction!”

Rama was already aware of their approach; he directed Lakshmana to keep Sita away, in a cave, and be on guard. “Do not worry about me in the least! Nothing ill can ever happen to me,” Rama said. Lakshmana knew the might of Rama and so, he obeyed implicitly. He had no doubt at all about Rama’s victory, He led Sita into the cave and stayed there itself, with his bow and arrow ready for emergence.

Rama stood before the hermitage, a smile lighting up his face and his Kodanda bow, well stringed, ready for the fray. Rama passed his hands gently over the matted hair on his head; at this, the ogres saw billions of blinding flashes emanating from the crown of hair. His arms appeared to their eyes as huge multihood serpents. As a lion glares at an elephant, and bares its teeth relishing the victory that was already assured, Rama the Lion stood defiant and terrible before the pack of frightened elephants. The cries, “Here is the person who deformed her”, “Hold him”, “Catch him”, “Kill him”, rose over the tumult. But, no one dared come forward to put that cry into action. However much they were prodded and encouraged, not one of them could muster enough courage to approach Rama.

The curses and cries of the ogres filled the forest, and wild animals in panic ran helter-skelter seeking shelter. A few ran into the cave where Sita was; Lakshmana sympathized with their agony, and allowed them in, so that they might rid themselves of fear and anxiety. He gave them refuge end welcomed them in. For, he knew that they were in dire distress.

The ogres who surrounded Rama were so overcome by his beauty and charm that they did nothing but stare at the glory and the splendor; many reveled in descriptions of his grace; many were lost in admiration and appreciation; all were bound to Rama through Love and Reverence. No one of them could or did raise a weapon against him or cast an angry look!

Surpanakha too joined in the praise. She said to Khara and Dushana, who were standing wonder-struck near her, “Brothers! What incomparable beauty is standing before us! I have never seen till now such charm, such grace, such pure harmony, such melodious physique. Do not kill him, but catch him just as he is and present him to me.”

The brothers too were similarly entranced. They replied, “Sister! We too have never set eyes on such an embodiment of beauty. The nearer we approach him, the faster he binds himself to us, the more we are fascinated by his charm. We do not have even an iota of anger or hatred towards him. The longer we look upon him the more profuse the joy that wells up within us. Perhaps, it is this feeling that is called Ananda by the sages living here.”

Khara did not like to converse with Rama, himself; So, he sent a messenger to him, to find out from him who he was, what his name was, where he came from, why he entered the forest and took residence therein, etc.

The messenger neared Rama and asked him the questions he was directed to place before Rama. Rama smiled at this behavior. He said, “Listen, fellow! I am a kshatriya, come into this forest to hunt wild animals like your master. I am not afraid even of the God of Death [Yamaraja]. If you feel you have the capacity, come, give me battle and win. Or, else, return home, every one of you, and save yourselves from destruction. I shall not kill those who run away from the field.” This statement was carried by him back to Khara and Dushana, and it was related to him correctly. At this, the brothers took up their arms, the spears, axes, pestles, bows and arrows, and yelled until the skies were booming with the echo. They showered their missiles upon Rama. Rama cut them into pieces with a single arrow from his bow. Other arrows flew amongst them by Rama did as much havoc as fire or lightning could do. The ogres retreated before the onslaught, crying out in pain, “O Mother”, “O Father”, “Alas” “Save us” and so on in sheer agony and despair.

Seeing them fleeing, Khara, Dushana and their youngest brother Thrisira, called out, “Rakshasas! Do not flee from the fight. Whoever is found running away will be killed on the spot, by our own soldiers.” At this, they planned within themselves, and said, “Well! It is far better to die at Rama’s hand, than at some one else’s or anywhere outside his Presence.”

So, they came back to their ranks and moved forward towards the place where Rama stood. But, they were in no mood to give battle. They were so fascinated by the personal charm and splendor of Rama that they stood entranced gazing at the Divine Beauty.

Meanwhile, Rama let loose the arrow called Sammohana, which had the effect of deluding the enemy and confounding them. As a result, each soldier saw his neighbor as the person he had been deputed to destroy. Khara and Dushana had exhorted them to kill Rama, and so each one fell upon the other, shouting, “Rama is here”, “here is Rama”; they killed each other in great glee. The entire place was cluttered up with the severed limbs of the ogres. Blood flowed in streams through the forest. Vultures and crows flocked around, eager to fill themselves with the carrion. Fourteen thousand ogres faced one person on that day in that field! The ogres died, every one of them, crying, “Rama”, “Rama” when they fell. Khara and Dushana too died, along with their loyal henchmen.

The ascetics and sages who witnessed this scene of terror realized the unique valour of Rama and felt happy that the end of Ravana too was certain at the hands of this redoubtable hero. They were confirmed in their belief that Rama was the Almighty Providence who had come to wipe out from the face of the earth the entire race of ogres or Rakshasas, and thereby ensure the peace and prosperity of mankind.

As soon as the fierce engagement ended, Sita and Lakshmana came near Rama and prostrated before him. Rama raised Lakshmana gently from the ground and described to him the fate of the fourteen thousands and their masters, during the battle that lasted barely half an hour. He detailed the incidents with evident joy and interspersed the narration with many a smile and chuckle. Meanwhile, the eyes of Sita were roaming over the body of Rama in order to assure herself that he was unhurt, and had not suffered even a scratch. The next day, groups of ascetics and sages with their disciples and pupils visited the Panchavati Ashram of Rama, for they had heard of the destruction of the ogre army, achieved single-handed by the Prince from Ayodhya. They extolled Rama for his bravery and bowmanship. Some among them who had acquired the power of forward vision approached Rama in all humility and said, “O Master! You have to be vigilant and alert in the coming days. The Rakshasas are opposed to all limitations and regulations that justice and uprightness impose. Their daily routine is to cause harm to all and sundry. Their highest goal is to fulfil their selfish desires. They do not care how they fulfil them and by what means. They have an elder brother named Ravana who possesses vastly greater powers. His army is many millions strong. This termagant will certainly go to him and bewail her fate. And he won’t desist from taking up her cause and trying to wreak vengeance on those who disfigured her”.

Thus they forewarned Rama and Lakshmana, giving them such information as they had with them. Rama listened to them with a smile playing on his face. He said, “Yes. Yes. I am not unaware of this. I have come on this particular mission.” He nodded his head, as if he was eagerly looking forward to the happy event of the encounter with Ravana himself. But, he did not speak more; he sat as if he was innocent of any knowledge of the future.

He turned his eyes on Lakshmana, and with a twinkle in the eye, he told him, “You heard it, didn’t you?” Turning to the sages, Rama said, “Please do not become anxious or worried. I am prepared to meet all situations”. They were consoled and comforted by that assurance and promise. Rama instilled faith and courage into them and allowed them to return to their hermitages, confident that they can continue their studies and practices in peace and tranquility undisturbed by the Rakshasa hordes.

As the sages foretold, Surpanakha lost no time to appear before her brother, Ravana, rending the air with her weeping. Hearing it the Rakshasas of Lanka were frightened that some calamity had overtaken their land; they came out into the streets and started discussing in groups what the reason could possibly be. Surpanakha barged into the Audience Hall of Ravana, the Rakshasa Emperor, and spouted angry invectives, to the astonishment and anxiety of every one present.

Her appearance was monstrous; her body was covered with blood, her words were poisoned by anger. Ravana understood that some one had inflicted great injury on her. Ravana was shocked at her plight. He roared from his throne, “Sister! Tell us in full what happened.”

Surpanakha replied, “Brother! If you are a genuine Rakshasa, if the super-human powers gained by you after years of asceticism are real, then, come, the moment has arrived to use your valour, your courage and your heroism. Arise! Do not ignore the calamities that await you, and let things go by, lost in the intoxication that drink provides.

“You have paid no attention to events that are taking place at Panchavati, who has come there, for what purpose, and for what task. Princes determined to destroy the Rakshasas have entered the Dandaka Forest. They are felling to the ground lakhs of Rakshasa soldiers. They have cut to pieces the brothers, Khara and Dushana. They have wiped out of existence, in the wink of an eye, thousands launched against them. Their heroism is beyond description. Their personal beauty – Ah!” Here, Surpanakha halted and stood silent, contemplating the splendour that had enraptured her. Hearing her story, Ravana became uncontrollably furious. He gnashed his teeth; he slapped his thighs as if in a burst of challenge. “What? Did those vile persons kill Khara and Dushana? Perhaps, they did not know my name, that I am behind them as their support. Perhaps, they have not heard of my might and vengefulness.”

Ravana continued to boast aloud retailing to the people present his exploits. Surpanakha interrupted him, saying: “O Mass of Wickedness! When your arch-enemy is dancing on your head, you are sitting here like a coward, extolling yourself and your invincibility! This is no sign of an emperor worthy of his throne. Perhaps, you do not know that sanyasins are ruined by the company they keep, emperors are ruined by the ministers they employ, wisdom is ruined by desire for appreciation, and the sense of shame is destroyed by imbibing drink. Well, brother; do not neglect fire, illness, an enemy, a snake and a sin on the ground that it is small and insignificant. When they grow big, they are bound to inflict great harm. Therefore, hasten: do not hesitate.”

These words of Surpanakha poured the poison of hatred into the ears of Ravana. At this, Kumbhakarna, the other brother who was present, asked Surpanakha with a smile on his lips, “Sister! Who sliced your ears and nose?” With a loud wail, she replied, “Alas! This wicked deed was done by those very Princes”.

Ravana then consoled her, to some extent; he then asked her, ‘Sister! The nose is on the face; the ears are on the sides of the face. They cannot be sliced at one stroke. Now, tell me, were you sleeping soundly, when they cut them off? This is indeed surprising”. The people present also wondered how it could have happened. Surpanakha replied, “Brother! I lost all awareness of my body, why, of the region where I was when those soft sweet hands touched me. When my eyes were drinking the charm of their beautiful faces, I was not conscious of what they did. The very sight of those Princes rendered me so entranced that I lost all awareness of myself and the surroundings. What shall I say of the ecstasy I derived by conversing with them! They bubble over always with joyful smiles; they know no other attitude or reaction. Even masculine hearts will surely be fascinated by their charm. They are really enrapturing representations of the God of Love. I have never so far set eyes on such beauty. Fie upon our Rakshasa prowess, our vile stratagems, our abnormal figures, our ugly appearance! We are indeed disgusting. Look upon them but once; you will swear I am right. Why? Khara and Dushana, who died in the battle were reluctant to fight with them. They were protesting and pleading with me: ‘How can we feel enmity and fall upon these embodiments of auspiciousness and paragons of beauty?”

The courtiers and ministers assembled in the Hall listened to this description with awe and delight. Her words confounded even Ravana. The picture of Rama that she drew was something that gave him great joy and peace, when he contemplated on it. Deep within him, he felt an urge to cast eyes on that inspiring embodiment of divine charm. As he listened to his sister, the anger that had raised its hood within slowly slithered away. He decided to investigate calmly what really happened at Panchavati.

So, he addressed his sister thus: “Sister! Tell me, do those two brothers live at Panchavati all alone? Or, are there others with them? Have they no followers, companions or courtiers?” Surpanakha replied “No. They have no band of bodyguards or kinsmen or warriors. The elder of the two, named Rama, has a woman with him, who is endowed with superlative beauty. She is even more charming than they; she is the very Goddess of Love, in human form. The two brothers are resident at Panchavati, with this woman; they roam about freely and without fear in the forest glades and valleys. In fact, I have never so far set eyes on such perfect feminine beauty; the like of her does not exist on heaven or earth”.

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Chapter 3(a)

THE WILY VILLAIN

Listening to the words of Surpanakha, the lusty passion of Ravana was aroused, and he became the bond-slave or ruinous foolishness; he wriggled out of the feelings of hatred towards Rama and Lakshmana and started planning stratagems to bring Sita away from their presence. He sank in thought and was plunged into anxiety and restlessness, without any effort to quench hunger or thirst. Such was the fatal fascination that haunted him. While Surpanakha was describing the beauty and splendour of the brothers, Rama and Lakshmana, there was one person in the Audience Hall, Vibhishana, who gave ear to the story with joy in the heart and tears in his eyes. He installed those Divinely charming figures in the temple of his heart and yearned deeply for the chance of being in their Presence and falling at their feet. “Will they receive me? Can I be saved? Do I deserve to be blessed by them?”, he asked himself. He told himself: “They are Divine, for certain. They have appeared on earth in human form, in order to destroy the wicked brood of Rakshasas”. He offered in his mind all that he had and was; he began living in the constant meditation of their glory from that very moment.

Ravana had fallen from the Yogic heights he had reached in his previous lives and so, he was roaming about as a Rakshasa; really speaking, he was a great devotee of God. He was aware, deep within his consciousness, of the Universal Absolute, named Narayana. He was not unaware of the fact that Rama was Narayana Himself come in human form in order to confer joy and peace on the gods and in order to destroy all traces of demonic wickedness on earth. However, since there was no other route for him to reach Narayana, he had to cultivate wanton wickedness and violent hatred, and invite Rama to kill him; of course, this might be called a type of devotion that is stupid and infamous. But, his inner aim was to cross the ocean of Birth-death, through that act of self-abnegation and surrender to Narayana. [see also: Ramakatha Rasavahini, Part 1, Chapter 3]

Meanwhile, since his body and mind had grown out of Rakshasa urges and developed with the help of demonic sustenance, he ignored the Divine in him, which was calling for merger in the Divine Rama. He relied on his Rakshasa nature and awakened its sinister possibilities and powers. The Divine and the Demonic facets of his personality rose and sank alternately, moment after moment. So, he convinced himself at last that the two brothers were Royal Princes and no more; he resolved that he would kill them both and bring away the lady, of whom he was so enamoured. He promised his sister that he would avenge the injury inflicted on her in that manner. He announced that the Assembly was adjourned; he ordered his aides to bring to the Audience Hall the imperial chariot for his journey. He took his seat in the chariot with no companion beside him. He hurried to the ‘sea-shore dwelling’ of Maricha, and sat by his side, detailing to him the events that had happened. He ordered Maricha to play his part in the execution of his plan. But, Maricha said that he had borne the brunt of the might of both Rama and Lakshmana, once already. [see also: Ramakatha Rasavahini, part 1, Chapter 6(b)] He told Ravana that they are not of the common run of Princes; he advised him against such wild enterprises. He argued long and lovingly with Ravana, to dissuade him. But, passion had made Ravana blind to the dictates of duty and morality. So, he threatened to punish Maricha, if he did not yield to his will. Maricha decided within himself that it was better to die at the hands of Rama than of the Rakshasa that Ravana was. He agreed to the proposal that Ravana laid before him, and got ready to play his part in the conspiracy.

Ravana proceeded to the Dandaka Forest, with Maricha following him close. On the way, Ravana explained to his companion the strategy he had conceived. He directed Maricha to transform himself, by means of his demonic powers, into a lovely golden deer. He wanted him to frisk about, in that alluring form, before the hermitage where Rama, Sita and Lakshmana were. Maricha had to assent, since he had no way of escaping from his ire. Ravana told him: “Rama will try to capture you, and will follow you and you should lead him far into the distance, and from thence, you must yell in painful agony, ‘O Sita! O Lakshmana’, in a voice exactly like that of Rama”. Then, keeping the chariot afar, both moved towards the hermitage.

While this web was being woven, at the hermitage in Panchavati Sita and Rama suddenly felt that the moment of fulfillment of their task had come. Rama sent Lakshmana to collect tubers and fruits for the day. And, noting that the proper hour had come, he told Sita thus: “Companion! You know all. Both of us are aware why we have come on earth, and what our task is. That task is now calling us; we have to enter upon it, in right earnest now. Your nature and characteristics are noble and holy beyond measure. We both have assumed these human bodies, through rites associated with the Fire Principle. My body arose from the Offering brought out of the flames of the sacrificial Fire by the God Agni Himself. [See also: Ramakatha Rasavahini Chapter 3] You rose from the earth that was furrowed by the sacred plough in order to consecrate it for a Fire-Altar, where a Yajna had to be performed. [See also: Ramakatha Rasavahini Chapter 7(c)] Our bodies are born in fire and are being sustained by the warmth of fire. Therefore, Sita, deposit all your Divine attributes and splendour in Fire, and act as an ordinary human being hereafter. I too shall move and act as an ordinary human being, and exhibit sorrow and anxiety on your account, the pangs of separation and the pain of loneliness. The world would keep in mind only these modes of behaviour, and take us as human. They will accept them as worldly conduct and natural reaction. Remember that the smallest act of ours has to be an ideal for the householders of the world. We have to hold forth models in the relationship between the husband and the wife; they have to be quite in consonance with the principles of Truth and Righteousness. Our activities have to be in conformity with the guidelines laid down in the Sastras, the spiritual texts. We have to shape our lives, in an exemplary manner, so that common men can be inspired thereby and prompted to follow the ideals elaborated therein. We have to enact this drama until the final consummation, namely, the destruction of Ravana and the Rakshasas.

“Therefore place your Divine Splendour in the keeping of the God of Fire, Agni, and move about as an ordinary woman caught in the coils of illusion, Maya. For, there can be no effect without a cause. We must consummate the effect, namely, the destruction of Ravana and the Rakshasa brood. So, we must manipulate a cause to justify it or bring it about. Ravana has a basic fault in his structure, namely, his lustful passion. We have to highlight it before the world. So, we have to so prepare such a situation that it would appear as if he kidnaps you in a fit of passion. The world has to realize that his ‘dedication and devotion to God’ are not of the highest order, for, of what use is that sense of surrender if it is tarnished by the craving for sensual pleasure and immoral yearning? Activities and behaviour emanating from a consciousness that is not pure are tarnished; the devotion to God that is polluted by lust is as foul as dirt – these truths have to be emphasized now, for the benefit of mankind.

“It is also imperative to announce for the benefit of mankind that any spiritual sadhana or asceticism, or religious rite or ritual undertaken with the intention of gaining super human powers are paltry and pernicious. We have to hold forth Ravana as a warning to mankind that however many divine rites and acts one may do, if one does not give up one’s demonic passions and impulses, they add up to only one result: rendering them unholy and sterile.

“Over and above all this, Sita, there is one overwhelming consideration we have to place before ourselves. There is a curse that has been pronounced on Ravana and he has also been assured of a means by which he could end its consequence. We have to see that the means is fulfilled. The beginning of his end has arrived. Today or tomorrow, we have to be separated from each other. Of course, we are inseparable entities and nothing can keep us apart. Yet, we have to pretend that it has happened, in order to render the make-believe effective. Go now, and deposit your Divine Form in the keeping of Agni (Fire). It is time for Lakshmana to return with the fruits and tubers. And, Ravana is ready with his perverted intelligence.

“I have to inform you of another secret too. You have to perform your part in the destruction of the Rakshasas. Though you might be apparently under the surveillance of Ravana, since your Power is immanent in Fire, you will have to burn Lanka to ashes emerging from the Fire where your Self is dormant from now on. Lanka has to be turned to ashes, not by Fire, but, by you as Fire. And, Rama has to kill Ravana; that is the Divine Will. This truth has to be proclaimed. This mystery is to be kept from Lakshmana also. He is our instrument in this endeavour. When this task is accomplished and we have to re-enter Ayodhya, I shall accept you again from the Fire where you reside. That act too I will transform into a lesson for the world. The drama starts now,” Rama said. Both Sita and Rama decided on their plan of action and awaited the unfoldment of Ravana’s strategy.

From that moment, every act and behaviour of Sita and Rama, the pangs of separation, the gasps of anxiety, the sighs of pain, the groans of grief – were gestures and reactions in the drama decided upon. They were not genuine at all. For, how can Sita and Rama ever be separated? Through their conduct, they only willed to reach mankind some valuable lessons.

At this moment, Lakshmana made his entrance, with his hands full of fruits and other eatables. They partook of the simple meal and drank the cool limpid water of the river nearby. Then, they sat, admiring the charming landscape and bringing to mind the atrocities of the Rakshasas which fouled the peaceful atmosphere of the forests. They talked exultingly about the sweetness and sanctity of sylvan life. Not far from them, Ravana and Maricha were arguing how best to enter the hermitage to execute their nefarious design. Maricha was disgusted at the passion and perversity of Ravana; but, he did not have the courage to deny him his own complicity. He had no inclination to die at the hands of such a wicked person; so, he accepted the role Ravana granted him and agreed to do as he wanted. Maricha changed his form into a fascinating golden deer, a form that was certain to attract the admiration of Sita and Rama. He thought within himself: “Ah! What an auspicious day is this that has dawned! I am about to be blessed in a few moments with the vision of the three most charming individuals on earth! On me will fall the looks of Sita. And, then, ah, Rama will follow me, with bow and arrow in hand. Ah! How fortunate am I! I am the servant, who has to tread on the footsteps of Rama; but, my Master will follow me now. Of course, I know that I am engaged in a most heinous act; but, I am forced into it; I do not act according to my will. I am being forced into it, and so, I am free from sin. Whatever sin I have perpetrated, when Rama’s arrow shot by Rama’s hand strikes me, this artificial form will disappear; that will be my happy destiny. Can all people aspire for such an end, can all people achieve it? And, I will have another piece of good fortune. When I draw my last breath, my eyes will be fixed on Rama! That Divine Beauty will be in front of me; the sweet Name will be on my tongue! Ah! How fruitful has my life become! I do not find any one luckier than I”.

Maricha dwelt on these sweet thoughts, as he walked slowly towards the hermitage. The all-knowing Rama and the all-knowing Sita were both awaiting his appearance. The deer approached hesitatingly and with evident trepidation the precincts of the cottage. It fixed its looks on Sita and Rama and stood for a while; then, it frisked and skipped a few paces and peering into a bush of creepers, it entered it out of sheer curiosity, only to come out of it in a trice. Sita, Rama and Lakshmana noticed its antics and admired its appearance; seeing that it had a golden skin, they decided that it was a strange species of deer. They noticed its special characteristics and were fascinated by its charm. Sita said, “If only I could have this deer with me, I could spend time happily in its company. When you two are engaged in things concerning you alone, I could be happy playing with this unique pet. Please catch this bright little animal for me. Can you not fulfill this tiny wish of mine, so that I can entertain myself when alone, fondling it and watching it play about?” Sita appealed thus, exhibiting great attachment to the mysterious deer.

Noticing this, Lakshmana rose from his seat, saying “Mother! I shall get it for you”. Rama stopped him. He knew that ‘it will fall only into his own hands’. Lakshmana did not know the drama that was being enacted with this as the prologue. He said, “Lakshmana! It has to be caught, without inflicting any wound or injury. So, I have myself to pursue it and catch it. I have myself to fulfill this wish of Sita”. At this, Lakshmana was silenced and he sat down, as directed by Rama.

Moreover, since the subsequent scenes of the drama were known to both Sita and Rama, Rama kept it to himself, while he said: “Lakshmana! This forest is the dwelling place of Rakshasas. Remember what happened two days ago, when their leaders, Khara and Dushana fell upon us. Their kinsmen and comrades might come in force and attack us. So, it is necessary to have arrow on bow always and watch all the four quarters with utmost alertness. Guard Sita with great care. Do not leave Sita alone, under any circumstance. This deer might escape me and flee into the distance. I have to catch it alive; so, it may take some time for me to accomplish this task. Or use your intelligence and physical prowess as suits the occasion, and save Sita from any danger that might threaten her while I am away”.

Rama then stalked the strange deer and went beyond sight. The deer did not cast its looks forward, but, ran fast with its head bent backwards, its eyes cast on Rama, the pursuer! Seeing this behaviour, Rama was delighted. Rama knew that the deer was Maricha himself, his great devotee who had experienced and realized the Rama Principle and the Rama Power. So Rama too fixed his eyes on the deer and followed its gait with great interest. The deer came within reach one moment, but it sprang afar with one leap, to attract Rama to a little more distance. Rama seemed to be enjoying this tantalizing pursuit. But, after some time spent thus, Rama fitted an arrow on his bow and aiming at the deer he released it straight on the target.

When the fatal arrow struck him, Maricha exclaimed in agony, “Ha! Sita! Ha! Lakshmana!”, and collapsed on the ground. The cry fell on the ears of Sita and Lakshmana. Even before the sound reached him, Sita said, “Lakshmana! Did you hear? That is the voice of your brother. He is calling you for help. Go, go immediately; do not delay. These Rakshasas are experts in magical transformations and tricks. They cause profuse calamities, changing their shapes and natures.” She wanted that Lakshmana should proceed in haste to the spot from which the cry had come.

Lakshmana was an intelligent person, used to discriminating and arriving at right conclusions. He was also a loyal adherent of the directions of his brother; he revered those orders, precious as his own breath. So, he said, “Mother! No calamity can ever happen to Rama. No Rakshasa, however crafty, can harm Rama. You have seen, haven’t you, how he destroyed in a trice thousands of these very Rakshasas? Do not be anxious; muster courage and be calm. Rama will soon come back hale and hearty into this hermitage.

Just then, the cry came again across the distance: “Ha! Sita! Ha! Lakshmana!”; at this, Sita was even more agitated and confused. She said, “Lakshmana! Why is it that you are behaving so heartlessly? I do not understand your intentions. Go soon. Go and put an end to the danger into which your brother has fallen. Help him; go”. She demonstrated her fear and anxiety in many ways and tried her best to persuade Lakshmana to leave her.

Of course, Sita knew quite well that Rama can never be touched by trouble. But, things have to happen as foundations for future events. She acted like an ignorant person affected by the cries. Lakshmana spoke assuringly in various ways; he pleaded piteously that he would not disobey his brother. Seeing that she cast aside all his arguments and appeals, Lakshmana said at last, “Mother! The Command of Rama is my very Life; I consider it as precious as my breath. Did you not hear Rama ordering me never to leave you unguarded, but always to protect you? Therefore, I shall not move one step away from here, whatever might happen.”

Sita desired that Lakshmana be sent afar, for Ravana had to approach the hermitage; it was the plan that Rama had designed to effect the destruction of Ravana and the Rakshasas. She had to fulfill the will of Rama. So she too held on to her words and made them sharper and more hurting, so that Lakshmana could yield.

Lakshmana closed his ears with the palms; he could not bear the imputations and the charges. He prayed, “Mother! I shall suffer all the anger you pour on me.” But, when Sita became harsher and threatened to go herself to the rescue of Rama if he would not proceed, Lakshmana had no alternative. He could bear it no longer. He could not allow her to roam about in the forest in order to discover Rama and help him. So, with a heavy heart, he moved away from the hermitage in search of Rama.

When Lakshmana left the hermitage, he pleaded with Sita to enter the place and be within closed doors, and never to move out. He exhorted her to be careful and vigilant. He moved out of the hermitage, with no willingness and with no strength to move! He turned round and addressed the spirits of the forest, praying to them to keep watch over Sita and guard her. He drew four lines around the hermitage and invoking on them mysterious and mighty mantric power, he asked Sita not to step beyond them on any account, under any pretext or pressure.

Lakshmana was a person endowed with all the virtues; he was caught between loyalties to two divergent commands; he could not disobey either; so, he was overcome with anguish. He had perforce to act counter to the commands of Rama; he had to leave Sita alone and unprotected. Fear shook his heart. He walked off, in spite of his legs failing him; he turned back towards the hermitage, at every step he took forward.

At that very moment, Ravana was transforming himself in appearance and apparel, for, he was awaiting just this chance. He became in outer form a Rishi; but, his intention, in spite of his innate power to terrify by his very name both gods and demons, was to steal like a sly dog. Casting his eyes all around him, he entered the hermitage, surreptitiously, with a trembling heart. When he attempted to enter by the front door, the mystic lines that Lakshmana had drawn across seemed to raise tongues of fire at him. He feared that his plan might fail and that something even worse might happen to him. So, he stood beyond the line, and shouted, “Mistress of the House! Give me some alms”.

Sita heard the cry; she knew that it was Ravana. She brought tubers and fruits in her palms, and came through the door and stood outside. But Ravana dared not go near her to receive them. He said, “I shall not come close to any hermitage; this is my vow.” He wanted that Sita offer the alms into his hand. Sita replied, “No, I cannot cross the line that was drawn by my brother-in-law. Come yourself, revered guest! Receive it from me, here.” At this, the mendicant who was really an impersonification, urged, “Lady! I will not cross the line and come beyond it. Nor can I accept alms given from beyond a line. It is not proper for ascetics like me. Come. Give it to me, I am hungry; I am very hungry.” He acted the part so well, with many a gasp and gesture, that Sita decided to give him the alms she had in her hand, crossing the line and getting near him.

All this happened in a trice. No sooner did she cross the line than Ravana drew her by the hand and lifted her away into a waiting chariot; he did not pay heed to her lamentations, but drove the chariot into the distance with terrible speed. Sita screamed out, “O Rama! Lakshmana! Come and save me from the wicked monster.” The anchorites and forest-dwellers around Panchavati heard the cry but could not save the person who lamented. The entire forest faded green to brown, when the voice of agony passed through it. “O Rama! O Master! Save me; O Save!” “Save me from this monster!” that was the cry that reverberated in the forest and made all things that move and do not move, sorrow-stricken. Sita was admonishing Ravana inside the chariot. “Ravana! You are building a royal road for your own destruction. You are effacing your empire, your subjects, your dynasty, completely, without trace. You are perpetrating this vileness with a laugh on your face; but, the day will come when you will pay for it with tears in your eyes. Mean wretch! This vicious act is unbecoming of a person who has practiced austerities like you.” She gave him many a piece of advice and warning; she also called upon Rama and Lakshmana to rescue her.

The monarch of eagles, Jatayu, heard the plaintive cries that rose from that moving chariot. He recognized the voice as that of Sita. [See also: Ramakatha Rasavahini-2, Chapter 1] He realized that Sita was in the chariot of Ravana. He grieved over his age, which made him too weak to fight Ravana, the villain who was taking her away. He felt that it would be wrong not to hinder him. He knew that no act of service can be nobler than rescuing a woman from the clutches of a fellow who was kidnapping her from her lord and master. He resolved to sacrifice his life, if need be, for the holy act of saving Sita from the demonic grasp, and using all his energy and skill for that act of service. Circling overhead, Jatayu shouted, “O Sita! Have no fear, I shall destroy this cruel villain and release you. I shall place you in the Presence of Rama.” He flew across the chariot’s path, and hit Ravana many times with his sharp beak, causing him to bleed profusely; he beat the chariot with his wings and attempted to stop it by creating a terrific wind that would retard its speed. Even while on his wings, he gave Ravana excellent advice to correct himself, before it was too late. “Ravana! This is a step that would bring you no good. Release Sita and go safely home. Or else, like moths that fall into fire, you and your brood will be burnt in the fire of Rama’s anger. Your pride will cause your total ruin. To kidnap another’s wife is a heinous sin. Only a sinful heart will yearn for another’s wife and wander in search of her. Only base brutes, worse than dogs or foxes, will descend to such depths. You are acting like one who is so mad that he cannot pay heed to what is in store for him. Consider, is there a more barbarous crime than this? O! What a sin have your parents done to be claiming you as their son? Your head has turned because you reckon on your physical strength, your riches and the peoples under your control. But, listen, all these will go up in flames and be reduced to ashes. Even the powers you have achieved through your austerities will be destroyed in a trice. Will you remain calm and inactive, when your wives are carried away or coveted by other Rakshasas? In fact, those who respect women, both those who are their wives and those who are not, will never invite this dread misfortune on their heads”.

Uttering these words of golden advice, Jatayu flew along with the speeding chariot for some distance, Sita derived great consolation listening to the words of Jatayu. She was comforted when she heard these sentiments so well expressed.

Jatayu succeeded in stopping the chariot and forcing Ravana to engage in battle with him, after making Sita dismount and helping her to sit under a tree. But, age took its toll; he could not fight for long; he was overcome soon. But he was able, during the fight, to pull down the crown from his head, and pluck a few bunches of hair. He pecked at his body so fiercely in so many places that he was turned into a mass of bleeding flesh. Jatayu’s beak and widespread wings hurt Ravana a great deal and humbled his pride. As a last resort, Ravana drew his wheelsword, and with its sharp edge, he cut off the wings of Jatayu, felling him helpless on the ground. Wings are as the very breath to eagles. So, he cried out in his agony the name of Rama and fell on the ground.

“I fought, with no reservations, in the cause of my Master; but, my struggle was of no avail. This too is the will of Rama. Rama must have planned all this, in order to confer some benefit on the world. Or else, can Sita be taken away by force by any one, without His will designing the act? I have now only one prayer to Him. I must hold my breath at least until I meet Him and am able to convey this news to Him. I have nothing greater to do in this life.” So saying, He closed his eyes and was lost in prayer.

Meanwhile, Ravana had placed Sita again in the chariot, and started off in great haste and with much commotion. Jatayu saw him moving past; he heard Sita crying out for help. Jatayu was sunk in anguish that he could not offer further resistance; he lay in a pool of his own tears, his heart yearning for Rama and his tongue whispering His Name. “When death draws near, when calamity is a few steps off, nature behaves in an unexpected manner to warn and teach. Things behave topsy-turvy. This Ravana too, is behaving in this manner, since his end is near, and his kith and kin are about to be wiped off the face of the earth.” Jatayu realized this truth and lay there, keeping himself alive by his own will, awaiting the approach of Rama.

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Chapter 3(b)

THE WILY VILLAIN

Rama returned to Panchavati from the depths of the jungle, after killing the ‘impersonation’ called the Golden Deer. He thought within himself that the plot of his story would have by now worked out, at the hermitage, as directed by His Will. He said within himself, “Though this is but the blossoming of my plan, people should not understand so soon that it is Divine Design; I have to behave hereafter as an ordinary human being.” When he was half-way back, he saw Lakshmana coming and he decided that he too must be kept unaware of the secret purpose behind the seeming tragedy. So, he asked, as if he was perturbed in mind, “Lakshmana! Brother! You have disobeyed me and brushed my word aside. You have come away, leaving Sita alone in the hermitage. How could you do so? You have come so far leaving her helpless! Alas! You are witnessing the demonic wickedness of the Rakshasa brood every day; how could you desert Sita so? Alas! What has happened to her? I am afraid some calamity has befallen! I feel that Sita is not there, in the hermitage. Alas! What shall we do now? What is to be our future?”

Hearing this lamentation, Lakshmana fell at the brother’s feet and said, “Brother! You know me, as the workings of your mind. Whatever the occasion I am ever ready to offer myself, my very breath, at your feet. Will I ever go counter to your command? However this time it happened. The force that compelled me to disobey is the prompting of my Destiny. What can I do? The outburst, ‘Ha, Sita, Ha, Lakshmana’ that arose from the throat of that false Deer reached the hermitage. As soon as she heard it she urged me in various ways to turn to your side. I am conversant with the tricks of these Rakshasas and so, I fell at her feet and prayed for pardon. I told her, ‘Rama cannot be harmed in the least. No danger can approach him. The cries we heard are only the false stratagems of the Rakshasas.’ A second time, those cries struck our ears. Then she lost all courage. They were exact reproductions of your voice. At this, she ignored her own Reality; she ignored the mores of kinship and family; she used words that should not be spoken or taken by the ear; I could not suffer any more. So, I directed her to take every precaution; I did all I could to keep her safe, and then came away from the hermitage. I shall gladly accept whatever punishment you award me, whatever measure you take to expiate for the wrong I have done.”

With these words, Lakshmana fell flat at the feet of Rama. At this, Rama said “Lakshmana! You ought not to have left her all alone, whatever the reason. I feel that Sita will not be at the hermitage when we reach there. How can we pride ourselves as heroic men, when having come into this forest, we are not able to guard Sita from being carried away by the Rakshasas? Can you tolerate when people talk tomorrow that Rama was unable to save his wife from the calamity of being kidnapped? Can you remain calm in mind, listening to such talk? Alas! How am I to bear this tragedy?” Rama moaned and groaned in great mental pain, just like an ignorant man, and ran forward to the hermitage, to find whether his fears were true.

As Rama had indicated, Sita could not be found therein. In seemingly unbearable anguish, Rama lamented her disappearance. Lakshmana fell even as he stood, unable to bear the grief. Aware that he had caused this catastrophe, he felt like giving up his life; but, he realized soon that Rama, already deprived of Sita, would be put to further anxiety and tangles if he departs from this world, taking his own life. He felt that if he dies, Rama would wander alone, in sorrow, through the forest glades; he will have none to give him food and drink. He could not bear the anguish of Rama at the loss of Sita. He could not find his tongue, nor could he frame words, to console Rama and pacify him. Lakshmana ruminated in his mind on all that had happened that day. He soon came to the conclusion that it must be the result of Rama’s own will; he realized that this brother of his was not an ordinary man; he knew now that what was happening was part of the drama that was destined to bring about progress and prosperity for all mankind. For, he, who would gladly wipe the tears from all eyes, he who was the guardian of the world, he who had not evinced an inkling of sorrow so far, was now lamenting and weeping like any ordinary human, at separation from his wife! Watching these happenings, Lakshmana could easily infer that it was all the unrolling of a play directed by Rama! Lakshmana knew very well that Sita was incomparably virtuous. That such a uniquely pure woman should have met with this calamity was inexplicable, except as a scene in a play, or a part of the Divine Plot, devised by Rama. No one anywhere can execute even the slightest deed without orders from Rama! However, Rama had come down as man, and resolved to guide man by his example along the path of justice, integrity, detachment, devotion, virtue, veracity, morality and humility. Lakshmana realized that this was the meaning of the play which Rama and Sita were enacting, He recognized himself as but an actor, whose whole duty was to act the role assigned to him as well as he could.

Deriving strength from these thoughts, Lakshmana approached Rama and fell at his feet. He said, “Brother! you are, I know, the Director of the Drama which the Cosmos is. There is nothing you cannot do, nothing you do not know. Everything that happens follows your will only. These events could not happen unknown to you. I will not take a denial. I believe so, firmly. By these incidents, I believe you are designing to promote the peace of the world and destroy the Rakshasa race. My mind is whispering this to me and asking me to be firm in that faith. This must be the Truth behind this play. Pray tell me the Truth and give me peace of mind”.

Rama replied with a smile, “Lakshmana! You are a limb of my person; so, what can I keep away from you? You have hit the truth. I have incarnated in order to uphold and foster Dharma (Righteousness). To do so, I have to enact many scenes of righteous and unrighteous conduct. A baby that wails has to be comforted into quiet joy by means of prattle and play, toys and jingles, songs and swings. The mother has to devise many stratagems on the spot, in order to persuade the baby to drink the milk it needs. The purpose is the giving of the milk feed. But, consider how useful these means are – the songs and swings, the toys and talks, the tricks and tickles. These methods help the quenching of hunger and the stoppage of wailing. That is their reason, too. You have to add them all up in order to discover how the hunger was quenched and the grief ended. Similarly, dear brother, I who am the Mother of the Universe, have to act in these manifold ways to re-establish Righteousness and demolish unrighteousness. These incidents have been designed to secure the twin aims of the removal of grief and the winning of bliss; they are not just meaningless exercises. Ordinary folk base their conduct on the ideals presented to them; so, as Master and Leader, I have to practice what I intend to place before them as ideal conduct. Unless I practice what I hold forth as the ideal, I cannot claim to be Master and Leader. When masters and leaders who do not deserve the positions appear and exercise authority, Righteousness declines and unrighteousness runs wild. Therefore, brother, remember that those in authority as masters or leaders must prove their advice right, in actual practice; they must help realize the ideals they preach by their own genuine effort. This is the way for them to earn the Grace of God and the gratitude of men.

“Sita knows the role she is playing. These two bodies – mine and Sita’s – evince the joys and pangs of union and separation, only as bodies! The pain and pleasure, the weeping and wailing are all illusory and unreal. They follow the needs and compulsions of the Incarnation I have taken upon myself, along with other limitations. I am taking you into confidence regarding my Reality; take note that you too will have to act in conformity with time, deed and cause, space, occasion and recipient, as the story unfolds. This Divine Mystery is beyond the intelligence of others. So, you must also keep mum on this and play according to the rules. We have to concentrate on the mission on which we have come”.

After this Revelation, they plunged immediately into the task of searching for Sita. Both acted their roles during this search most sincerely, admirably, and realistically. Not only the brothers, but Sita too exhibited supreme nobility and acted with equal staunchness and sincerity, even though the Rakshasa guards, in the place where she was kept captive, terrorized her and threatened her most cruelly. She did not waver or yield; she stuck bravely to her determination to save her self and to preserve her purity. She maintained her vow undefiled.

The drama enacted by the two parties held forth for every householder and every individual the highest ideal of righteous conduct. It placed before the fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, brothers and friends the best lines of behaviour expected of them and how each of them had to keep their promises, and tend their virtues. Why dilate further? The Ramayana lays down ideals for all relationships in life, and for the realization of the highest aim of human life. Nowhere else can be seen such a variety and quantity of moral dicta and their practical applications. The one text, Ramayana, has soaked in its pages directions for correct conduct in all situations and under all conditions: it teaches how to justify human birth, how to carry on the government of a kingdom, how to regulate the reactions of the people and how to design the laws that can control and consummate the wishes of the people. If only the Ramayana is studied closely and observed in daily practice, mankind can attain peace and prosperity in all fields.

In order to discover some clue about how Sita left or why or when or whereto, Rama and Lakshmana forsook the hermitage, armed with weapons; they examined every tank and looked over every hill in the region. They could not come across any sign. While proceeding thus, they saw before them branches of trees that had been pulled asunder lying across the track. There were other evidences of a combat that had taken place like broken arrows and patches of blood. Rama drew the attention of his brother to these. He said, “A fight seems to have taken place here”, and looked around for information about who had engaged whom. He found an eagle of truly regal mien lying on the ground, gasping for breath, but still repeating reverentially with eyes closed the Name it adored, “Rama, Rama”. The brothers walked straight to the bird and lovingly stroked its head and body. When the hand of Rama blessed it with the tender touch, the bird recovered some little strength. It opened its eyes and looked around. It saw the beautiful form of Rama that could captivate all the worlds. Suddenly it was overpowered by a flood of both joy and sorrow. The incapacitated bird could not move its limbs, nor could it turn on its side; so it crawled a little forward and raising its head, placed it at the Feet of Rama. Rama placed the head on his lap and gently fondled it into awareness and activity.

Jatayu said in feeble accents, “Lord! While the wicked Ravana – yielding to maleficent motives, forsaking justice and uprightness, casting away powers acquired by years of asceticism, was carrying away Mother Sita, in a chariot, through this forest, as a dog goes in stealth and as a fox goes cunningly, the Mother of all the Worlds, the Daughter of Janaka wailed aloud, ‘Rama’, ‘Rama’, covering the entire forest in gloom. I heard the wail, but did not know who it was that raised the sad cry. I flew near and discovered to my great surprise and sorrow that Mother Sita was the person in distress! I could not remain quiet. Though old and decrepit, I pronounced your Name, and derived strength thereby and courage to give him battle. I pecked at him so furiously that his body streamed with blood all over. He placed Sita in the shade of a tree and fought ferociously. He drew his wheel-weapon and slashed my wings into shambles. I could not do anything to stop his onward journey with Sita; so, I lay here, weeping over my defeat, and waiting for your arrival. I am most unlucky, for, though I saw Mother being taken away by that ruffian, I could not save her”. Jatayu shed tears of despair, as he spoke those words.

Rama too displayed great interest and anxiety, and he addressed the bird thus: “O Chief of Birds! I shall never forget your help. The good deed you have performed will give you Bliss in the next world. Do not feel sad”. Thus saying, Rama dusted its wings with his own matted hair, while Lakshmana hurried to bring some water to slake its thirst and refresh it. Rama poured the water drop by drop into the bird’s mouth. Jatayu was delighted at the good fortune and his face glowed with ecstasy. Jatayu said, “Rama! I am luckier than even your father, for, he did not have this chance of drinking water from your hands when he left this world. I could get my last sip from your golden hand! I could rest on your lap. I could drink nectar from your fingers. And, while drawing my last breath, I could fill my eyes with the picture of your charming Lotus Face. I am certain I will be merging in you. O, I am indeed blessed”. Then, Jatayu spoke in feeble tones: “Rama! That vicious demon proceeded in the southern direction. Most probably, he must have reached Lanka. Therefore, go straight to Lanka, destroy that wicked fellow and then bring the Mother to your presence”. Jatayu could speak no more. He cried ‘Rama’ just once and drew his last breath. Rama allowed the vital breath of Jatayu to merge in Him; he performed the obsequies to the body of the bird and took the valedictory bath. After these rituals, he moved towards the south picturing in his mind the regions of the South and the ordeals of Sita.

On the way, a demoness called Aja-mukhi espied them and was entranced by their personal beauty. She said to herself, “Ah! What loveliness of body! What a feast to the eye! I must wed them and win happiness”. So resolving, she clasped the hand of Lakshmana and drew him towards herself. Lakshmana inferred that she too was stricken with the malady of Surpanakha, and he treated her with the same contempt. He cut off her limbs and taught her a severe lesson. The forest through which they passed was as terrible as the demons they found there. It was infested with wild animals that roared, howled and growled most fearfully. Even the toughest heart would quake in fear at the scene and the noises. While the brothers were tracking across, a demon called Kabandha, a mass of distortion and disfiguration, appeared before them; he opposed their advance and shook the forest with his unearthly guffaw; he attempted to snatch Rama and Lakshmana but, Rama slew him ere he could succeed. He was a monster, with no head; his arms were inordinately long; he had his mouth in the center of his stomach! He was a terror in that forest, devouring whatever he could get in the sweep of his arms. By killing him, Rama saved the forest-dwellers from a dreaded foe.

On the point of death Kabandha realized who his enemy was; he recognized Rama. He said, “Master! You have this day liberated me from the shackles of a curse that had reduced me to this ludicrous and cruel role. My sins have been exonerated by the vision I have of you”. While falling at the feet of Rama, Kabandha said, “Your mission will succeed, without delay or obstacles. You will certainly triumph over the forces of wickedness”.

Rama, the large-hearted lover of all, moved on from that spot, walking on foot, with his brother as sole companion. They soon came across an old woman – she had a stoop; her head could not be held erect; her eyesight had become dull; her hands were quivering, she was coming towards them, with a basket of fruits on her head! She saw the charming figures of the brothers and inferred that they were the two, who were described with excitement and delight by the rshis of the forest! Placing the basket on the ground, she stood on the track, whispering ‘Rama’ ‘Rama’ in reverence and thankfulness. Lakshmana guessed that this too was an impersonation by some wily Rakshasa to harm them. But, Rama knew that his guess was wrong; he proposed to sit under a near-by tree, the tree that was adjacent to the very hermitage where the old woman was residing.

Sabari the old woman noticed the lotus-petal-like eyes, the ringlets of hair on their foreheads, the long arms that reached down to the knees, and the dark-blue complexion of Rama. She could contain her ecstasy no longer; she could not surpress her adoration. She ran forward and fell at the feet of both. She asked, “Where are you coming from? What are your names?” Rama replied, smilingly and coolly: “Mother! We are coming from Ayodhya; we are residing in the forest; I am called Rama; this brother of mine is known as Lakshmana”. At this, Sabari exclaimed, “Father! My long cherished desire has been fulfilled, I have been waiting for your arrival, day and night, and looking for you into the distance, until my eyes have become dull and insensitive. I have achieved success. My longing has had its result. My vigil and fasts have borne fruit. Ah! I have been rewarded! This is the result of my Guru’s Grace; this is the mysterious working of God”. She brought the basket near Rama. Meanwhile, Rama asked her, “Mother! You speak of a Guru: who is he, this Guru of yours?”

She said, “His name is Mathanga Rshi. But, since women are not taken as pupils in this hermitage, I listened to his lessons, hiding behind bushes and trees. I served my Guru and other rshis, removing the thorns from the tracks that led to the rivers where they take their bath, mostly by rolling over the ground, for, I had to do it pretty early, before dawn. I also removed the pebbles and stones that might hurt their feet. I lived on fruits and tubers as the other pupils did. I served my masters unseen, and spent my days in the recesses of the jungle. Mathanga, the Mahatma, who knew the yearnings of my mind, told me one day, ‘Mother! Your body has reached a ripe old age. If you strain so much, you will soon be exhausted. So, come, reside in the hermitage and take good rest’. While I was spending my days thus in the service of this hermitage, the rshi desired to quit the body and called me beside him. He said, ‘Sabari! The task on which I have come is over. I have resolved to leave this body now. You shall remain in residence at this hermitage itself. Within a short time Rama will come into this forest. Invite him to enter this hermitage and offer what little service you can to him. Let this hermitage be sanctified by the touch of his feet”. I protested a great deal; I told him how I could never be happy in the hermitage without him. I prayed to him to take me too, through death to where he was proceeding. My Guru was not in a mood to accede to my wishes. He said that I had to be here awaiting the arrival of Rama and that I could not avoid that responsibility or lose that joy. From that day, I am existing here, with arms outstretched to welcome you, with eyes watching the horizon, and carrying about with me this decrepit body, so that I may live to see you and serve you. O Rama! O Lord! O Compassionate to the Afflicted. O Dweller in the hearts of Rshis. The wish of my Guru has been fulfilled. The hermitage is just a few feet off; please sanctify it by entering it”. Sabari fell at Rama’s feet and entreated him to accede to the last request of her Guru.

Rama was naturally happy at the dedication and devotion of the old woman. He was the very embodiment of spontaneous surging love. So, he rose and walking towards the hermitage with his brother, Lakshmana, entered it. O! Sabari was overpowered by a flood of joy; the flood broke all limits and expressed itself in ecstatic thrill and speech. That gem among women was until that moment too weak to tread a few paces; now, she found herself endowed with the strength of a thousand elephants! She marched buoyantly to the river and brought, in quick time, cool limpid water that was eminently sweet. She tasted first the fruits she chose from the basket and she offered to the brothers those she found sweet and ripe. While they ate, she looked on happily and with gratitude at their charming faces, and when they had finished, she washed their feet and placed on her head the drops of water sanctified by the contact. “Lord! I have no more desire. For what shall I live on? I survived until now for that one piece of good fortune – the darsan of Rama. I have had the Darsan. Now, save me by merging this life, this breath, in thy Lotus Feet. I have heard your glory extensively from the sages and saints. Today, I have witnessed it; I am full of gratitude and joy”. Rama relished the fruits she offered with so much devotion; while partaking of them he said, “Mother! These fruits are as sweet as your own heart. Really, these are not fruits that grow on trees. Why, the wild fruits that grow in jungles are not so sweet at all. They can never be. These are fruits that have grown on the holy tree of life, on the branches of the pure mind, in the sunshine of love”. Rama ate the fruits extolling their taste all the time.

Seeing Rama in this mood, Lakshmana was happy beyond words; for, Rama had not eaten fruits with such joy since long; all these days, Lakshmana had to persuade him to taste a few, with a good deal of parley, pleading and praying, even after the fruits were peeled, cut, and placed before him. Rama was so afflicted by the separation from Sita. In spite of all the efforts of Lakshmana, Rama would eat only half a fruit or so; never was Lakshmana satisfied with the quantity that his brother ate. Today, Sabari gave him the fruits which had dropped ripe from the trees; she used to dust them and clean them and keep them for him every day, and when Rama did not arrive, she consumed them herself as sacramental food, given to her by Rama himself! Day after day, she roamed the forest in search of sweet ones to be placed before Rama. Thus, daily the fruits were saturated with her love and devotion and the fruits became doubly desirable. Lakshmana noticed that this was the reason Rama was eating them with joy. He was filled with delight, and he admired the devotion of Sabari that was so richly rewarded. He appreciated the divine joy that she had filled herself with as a result of her long years of spiritual study and practice.

Sabari stood with folded hands before Rama and said, “Lord! I am of low caste; I am of untutored intellect, dull and stupid. I am not learned in any sacred art or text. I am lower than the lowest. How can I extol you or describe your glory? I have no skill in the use of words. I have not cultivated my Reason. Nor have I practiced austerities prescribed to gain insight into Divinity. I am on the lowest step in spiritual Sadhana. My only strength is my love for God. I have no other support or sustenance”. She spoke of Rama’s compassion, in accepting her offering. “Your grace is boundless”, she said. Rama was listening to her words intensely. He lifted her chin and looked right into her eyes. He said, “Mother! Devotion is the thing I need; the rest are subsidiary. Other things like scholarship, intelligence, status, social prestige, caste, I do not pay any attention to them. They are of no value in my eyes. More than all the powers gained by spiritual disciplines and austerities, I relish the sweetness of devotion saturated with love. I seek only that. A man who has no love in him is as barren as a cloud with no moisture, a tree with no fruits, or a cow yielding no milk; he is ever far from God and can never earn Grace. Sabari! Of the nine ways of evincing and cultivating devotion, I only desire that any one be followed consistently by man. But, I find you have followed to the very end all the nine ways. So, I do not see any one higher than you in spiritual attainment. I am indeed elated in all manner of ways, for, you have offered me devotion that is pure, steady, and self-less and which is Love springing from the heart and surging from it in all directions and towards all directions and towards all beings. You have not cast aspersions on any one, even while dreaming! That is what makes your mind so pure. Your mind does not blossom when ‘good’ comes to you; nor does it wither, when ‘bad’ comes. You are blessed in all ways”.

Sabari drank in these words of counsel that Rama spoke to her. She said, “Rama! There is no path for the devotee other than doing one’s best to please the Divine, is there? I do not crave for aught else. This day, my father, my God, the Lord of my life, the Lord of all the Worlds, the Lord of all Creation has appeared before me! How can I measure my good luck, O Lord of Janaki, of Sita the daughter of Janaka?” At this she remembered Sita, and the brothers, too, suddenly realized their plight. Rama told her, “Alas, Sabari, all this while you kept us happy, rid of anxiety, floating in joy; but, now, you have plunged us in grief”. Sabari was struck with remorse; she raised her head in consternation and pleaded, “Lord! What is this you say? Pardon my indiscretion” and she fell at the feet of Rama.

Rama asked her, “Sabari! Do you know anything about Sita? Have you heard anything about her?” Sabari replied, “Don’t I know! Don’t I know about Sita? No woman who knows the Rama principle will be ignorant of the Sita-principle, that Gem of womankind, that Crown of virtue, that Light of feminity? O! what great good fortune is hers! She is the very shadow of my Rama! Rama! I must tell you what my Guru Rshi Mathanga has taught me about the Sita principle. Of course, there is nothing you do not know. But, since you asked me now, whether I knew anything about Sita, I shall tell you what I know. ‘Rama deluded the minds of Manthara and Kaikeyi, in order to fulfill his mission of destroying the Rakshasa brood’. [See: Ramakatha Rasavahini part 1, Chapter 10(a)] As a result of this, my Guru told me ‘Sita, Rama and Lakshmana have entered the forest as exiles’. He said, they would visit hermitages and bless the ascetics and that Rama would kill the demons who obstruct their rituals and disciplines. He said that Rama would devise a plan by which Ravana, who is knit strongly with the Rakshasa clans, will be tempted to enact a role in a drama centering around the ‘abduction’ of Sita! He assured me that the Sita abducted by Ravana is only a pseudo-Sita and not the real, genuine Mother. He had told me that Rama would come into this forest, while searching for the Sita who has been abducted and that, I would be rewarded as never before by that visit. My Guru also told me that Rama would cultivate an alliance with Sugriva, who has taken refuge in the Rishyamuka Hills (adjacent to this hermitage) from the deadly depredations of his elder brother, Vali. Rama would accomplish the task of seeking out Sita through Sugriva. Rama! You are the Director of this Cosmic Drama, which you have designed. The incidents of your Drama were known to my Guru and he has revealed them to me. Your stage is the entire Cosmos. Your will decides the future of the Universe; it ensures the stability and progress of the Universe. All that happens is the unrolling into action of your Will; without it, nothing great or small can ever happen.

“Lord! You are acting in this play, as if you are unaware of your own plot. You are pretending to be grief-stricken at separation from Sita! Only those who are foolish, or who have no faith in the Atmic reality, or who are atheists can take it as true; those who are aware of Divinity and its mysteries, those who are devotees, and Sadhaks seeking to know God as their own Reality, will not be led away into the belief that it is genuine. You are the Doer of all that is done; no one however powerful can hinder or oppose your Will. You will the reactions of people to all happenings as good or bad; they are not the authors thereof. The ignorant may assert that they are the executors of their deeds. Rama! Pardon my impertinence. I have spoken too much in your presence”. Thus saying, she fell at the feet of Rama. She developed the inner Fire of Yoga and as a result, her body was reduced to ashes, while her breath was merged in the Rama-principle she adored.

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Chapter 4(a)

AN ALLY ACCEPTED

Thus, Rama and Lakshmana fulfilled the deep yearnings of Sabari and filled her departing soul with bliss. They continued their journey through the forest, moving like twin lions, talking about the devotion and immeasurable dedication of the aged aspirant, Sabari. Traveling fast, they approached the Rishyamuka mountain Range. Amidst the hills of that range, Sugriva was residing as a refugee, with his Ministers and Courtiers. Sugriva espied the two brothers, nearing the hills and was astonished at their noble mien and mighty stride. They appeared to be Divine. Sugriva was ever on the watch for strange faces nearing his habitat, for, he was afraid, his elder brother, Vali, might torment him, even in his present home, by sending emissaries of death or distress. He had his eyes on all lines of access to his craggy residence. He was frightened at the gait and the glory of the two strangers; he was anxious to know quickly who they were and what their mission was. So, he called Hanuman to his presence and said, “Mighty hero! Have you noticed those two effulgent personalities? Do not delay any longer; go, inquire who they are and why they have come and from where. Bring me all the news you can gather. If by some chance they happen to be persons sent by Vali, give me a signal. I shall be watching for it – bend your head low over your chest. That will do. I shall immediately arrange to give up this hill for another.”

Sugriva gave him various directions and suggestions to meet all contingencies. Hanuman hurried towards the strangers by leaps and bounds; reaching their presence, he fell at their feet in great reverence. He said, “O Shining Ones! You arouse deep wonder and curiosity in me. Your charming forms are attracting my mind with a strange yearning. You look so tender and innocent. Indeed, you are not mere men. Of that, I am convinced. I guess you are the Divine pair Nara-Narayana, come down on earth. Won’t you tell me why you are going through this jungle, with no others to serve or guide you?” Hanuman questioned them in great humility and reverence.

Rama appreciated the devotion and humility of Hanuman. There was a smile on his face when he replied, “We are the sons of Emperor Dasaratha, ruler of Ayodhya. We entered the forest. This is my brother, Lakshmana. My name is Rama. My wife too came with me into the forest; but, while we were residing at Panchavati she was carried away by some Rakshasa when both of us were absent from our cottage. Now, we are moving around in this area, searching for her, intent on knowing her whereabouts and on regaining her.” Rama spoke to Hanuman without any inhibitions, the plain facts which could explain their presence near their range of hills. He said, “Well! I have given you my antecedents and story. I like to know about yours, too.” Hanuman realized that the brothers were his own Overlords; so, he fell at their feet once again to pay respectful homage. Rising up, and standing before them on one side, shedding streams of tears in sheer joy and devotion, he could not speak at all.

At last, gathering courage, and standing with folded arms, he said in a faltering voice: “Lord! I am a stupid ignoramus; that is the reason why I questioned you so; pardon my audacity and my foolishness, O, Monarch of Monarchs! You are asking me to tell you my antecedents and present condition, as if you are ordinary mortals who can know them only when told. Is this just? I could not know who you were, bound as I am by the Delusion which you yourselves spread over us. Lord! You are mighty and unconquerable. How can the servant be on a par with the Lord and Master? All beings are overcome and deluded by your strategy and plan! I desire to make a declaration, for which my Lord is witness. I know no other activity than adoring my Lord. When the servant is fostered and guarded by his Lord, why should he fear? The might of the Lord is the shield of the servant” Saying so, Hanuman assumed his real form. Rama was fined with delight at the sight of Hanuman; he embraced him, “You are as dear to me as Lakshmana is.” He drew Him to himself and fondled him lovingly stroking his head and gently touching his forehead and face. He said, “Hanuman! I shower my Love most on those who serve me and who deem that service as the highest means of liberation”. At this, Hanuman said, “Lord! Sugriva, the Ruler of the Vanara hordes, has drawn upon himself through various circumstances, the enmity of his elder brother Vali and he has been driven out of his kingdom as an exile into this forest where he has taken residence. He too is your servant. He deserves your affection and blessings. Confer Grace on him and release him from the disgrace he is now immersed in. He has the capacity and authority to send millions of monkeys all over the world to seek and find Sita. He is the Monarch of Monkeys. He can achieve victory in that undertaking.” Hanuman detailed the manifold excellences and capabilities of Sugriva, and persuaded Rama to seek his friendship. When Rama decided on that step, Hanuman offered to carry them on his shoulders, right to the top of the mountain range where Sugriva was.

Sugriva was delighted at the sight of Rama and Lakshmana. Sugriva understood the reasons why Rama had come into the forest and to him. They both sympathized with each other and appreciated each other’s distress. They felt bound by common bonds of comradeship. Sugriva fell at the feet of Rama and Lakshmana, and offered reverential hospitality. Rama assured Sugriva that he would destroy his fear and remove his distress, for, he was the embodiment of compassion itself. And, Sugriva too promised to sacrifice everything, even his own life, in the service of Rama. The vow of everlasting friendship was solemnized with ritual Fire as witness. For, Fire is present as warmth and light in the heart of every living being; fire that is present in the inner consciousness can burn away any wavering or waywardness that might affect the vow. In fact, Fire or Agni (the subtle Divine Effulgence and Illumination which is the core of Fire) is the chief element in the Ramayana. Rama was born of the nectarine gift brought by the God of Fire from out of the sacrificial altar [See also: RRV, Chapter 3 and RRV Chapter 7(c)]. Sita was wedded to Rama with Agni as the Witness. Lanka was destroyed by Agni. It was in Agni that the Reality, the principle of Sita was kept in deposit while she was taken by Ravana to Lanka, and it was from Agni that she was again redeemed, when the war with Ravana ended in victory for Rama. The implication is that the heart of Rama was cleansed and rid of alloy with each contact with Agni. For, Rama is the symbol of Jnana or the Supremest Wisdom. He is the symbol of the Supremest Morality, too. So, the pact with Sugriva was affirmed and sanctified by invoking Agni (Fire) as the Witness. Lakshmana sought to deepen faith and tighten the bond, by relating to Sugriva the Truth of Rama and the mission on which he had come.

He told him also of Sita and her Divinity. She was the daughter of the King of Mithila, he said, and so she can be won and her blessings secured, only by untiring Mathana, or Churning, or Sadhana. Listening to him, Sugriva shed tears of contrition. He said, “Master! One day, while I was engaged in exchanging counsel with my ministers, I heard the cry, ‘Rama! Rama!’ from the sky, from within the Pushpaka chariot, which we saw flying through space. While we were watching this strange scene, she threw a bundle tied in cloth down to where we stood. It was a bundle of jewels and so, we have preserved it intact and safe. It is very likely that the Rakshasa called Ravana has carried her away. For there is no iniquity that Ravana has not committed so far.” Sugriva gnashed his teeth in anger at the monster whom he suspected as having done this foul deed. Rama asked that the bundle of jewels be brought. At this, Sugriva himself rose and proceeding to the cave where he had hidden it, he carried it to the Presence and placed it before Rama. The cloth in which the jewels were bundled was a part of the fiber cloth which his step-mother had thrown towards Sita, so that she might wear it while in exile as a recluse in the forest. Recognizing it as such, Lakshmana shed tears. Seeing him overcome, Sugriva and Hanuman also became sad. Rama loosened the knots and undid the bundle; he showed the contents to Lakshmana in order to confirm whether the jewels were those of Sita herself. Lakshmana declared that he could not identify them all, for, he had never raised his eyes and looked at Sita. “I have seen only the toe-rings that sister-in-law wore; for I used to prostrate at her Feet every day. Yes. These are the toe-rings she wore; I can vouchsafe for that. While moving through the jungles, I used to follow her and walk on her footsteps. You know that you always walked in front and I followed behind Sita. I was walking, watching her feet and so, I know these rings quite well.” Sugriva and Hanuman looked on wistfully at the brothers, when they acted their roles and were deeply moved at the sight of the jewels dropped by Sita. Sugriva could not bear it any longer. He said, “Lord! Do not give way to sorrow. This day itself I shall set on foot plans to discover where Sita is, and for destroying the wicked Ravana. I shall bring Sita back and make you both happy. This is my plighted word, my sacred promise.”

Rama expressed great satisfaction at this promise. He said, “Tell me in detail the reason why you are residing in this forest and not in your capital.” At this, Sugriva described consecutively and in clear concise terms, as beads are strung on a string to form a garland or rosary, who his parents were, which his real place of residence was, what were the reasons for the enmity that grew between himself and his elder brother etc. Rama felt that the story of Sugriva was more or less a kin to his own, especially the separation from the wife and the exile from the Kingdom. He felt that Sugriva was upright and just, and that Vali deserved punishment since he had carried away his brother’s wife, a crime which the code of monkey morals will not excuse.

Rama asked Sugriva to tell him the story of his birth. Sugriva replied, “Yes. I seek to place at your feet the chronicle of the origins and fortunes of my entire clan. Once upon a time, Brahma, the Creator, created a monkey form. It was endowed with great might; but, it was ever wayward in movements and activities. So, Brahma named it Ruksharaj; when it demanded to be told where it should reside, Brahma directed, ‘Live in the forest, for, there you can move as your waywardness dictates. And, when you catch a Rakshasa, kill him and save the area from his misdeeds’. Ruksharaja migrated to the southern region and followed Brahma’s instructions. One day, the monkey Ruksharaja went to a lake to slake its thirst and when it dipped its face on the surface of the clear water, it saw its image in the lake. It was much concerned, for, evidently there was an enemy hiding in the lake, lying in wait for him! It roamed all round the shore of the lake, eager to catch the enemy when it popped out of the waters. The enemy inside the lake roared when he roared, gnashed its teeth when he did so; it echoed, reflected, all noise and all gestures. Unable to control himself any longer, Ruksha jumped into the lake to strangle his rival. That jump transformed him into a female! Struck with amazement, she came on shore; and turning to the Sun, she prayed for Grace. She also prayed to Indra, with great mental anguish. Through the Grace of Surya (the Sun) she got a son, that is, Sugriva, myself; and through the Grace that Indra bestowed on her, she got another son, Vali, my brother. Immediately after the birth of the two children, she became once again, Ruksharaja! Ruksha took the two babies with him and approached Brahma for instructions. He related to Brahma his entire story so that He could recollect the facts of his decision thus: “0 Vali and Sugriva! Go into the regions of the South and establish yourselves in Kishkindha. The Lord of all the Worlds, the Supreme Sovereign of the Universe, He who is known by many Names will take birth as Rama, as the son of Emperor Dasaratha of the Raghu Dynasty; he will come into the forest according to his father’s command; he will engage himself in many superhuman achievements; he will also behave like an ordinary mortal. During his wanderings, he will arrive at Kishkindha where you are and form friendship with you. Seek the fortune of securing his darsan, hearing him speak and touching his feet. Your lives will be rendered blessed thereby.”

“We listened to the Voice of Brahma addressing us thus. We were delighted at the prospect that lay before us. We did not undertake any japa, austerity, ritual or yajna; all our talents and accomplishments were the direct result of the Grace that Brahma showered on us that day. When that Voice ceased, we offered homage in our minds to Brahma and reached Kishkindha. We destroyed the rakshasas who infested the forests there. One day, a rakshasa named Mayavi, the son of Maya, proceeded against us in order to wreak vengeance against us. He besieged us at midnight and created tremendous confusion. My elder brother could not tolerate even one moment the audacity of the foe. Vali rose and fell upon him with all his might; and Mayavi fled in terror. Mayavi hid himself in a cave, and Vali pursued him to the very last. I was also engaged in the hot pursuit of the wicked rakshasa, close behind Vali. As he entered the cave where Mayavi had taken shelter, Vali directed me, ‘Brother! I am going into this cave to kill the enemy; watch the entrance and remain here, lest he escape’. When I asked him how long, he replied, ‘Even fifteen days and nights! Keep close watch that long. And, if I do not emerge on the sixteenth day, you may take it that he has killed me; you can then return’. I waited and watched for full thirty days; by that time, the smell of blood emerged from the cave, a smell that I inferred was that of my brother’s blood. I feared that Mayavi might emerge alive from the cave; so I placed a huge boulder at the mouth of the cave and knowing that it was foolish to wait any longer, I returned home. I gathered my companions and well-wishers and consulted them about the next step. We felt that Mayavi who could kill the redoubtable Vali must indeed be a formidable enemy and so, I spent the days in perpetual fright.

“The inhabitants of the capital realized that they must have a leader in these hard times when they were beset by foes on all sides. They pleaded that since Vali had died, I must step into his place. I had no inclination to accept the authority, but, they forced me into it. Shortly after, within about two or three days, Vali returned to the capital; he had slain Mayavi and rid the land of that vile foe. On finding me holding the position of ruler, Vali was filled with uncontrollable anger; he inferred that I had shut the exit of the cave with a boulder to prevent him from coming out alive, and that I had deliberately sought the position that was thrust on me. He decided to wreak vengeance on me for this. He began treating me as the lowest of the low and to impute motives for even the slightest fault or mistake. He deprived me of all powers and positions and looked down on me as if I were less than a menial of his household. He forced me out of the family home. He took my wife into his custody. One day, determined to destroy me, he fought with me ferociously. I could not stand up to his prowess; so, I left Kishkindha and took refuge here. Vali insisted that those who supported me or befriended me should not stay behind and so, they have also joined me at this place. My wife tried hard to come back to me; but, however much she tried, he did not allow her to come away. He treated her as his own wife.” Sugriva’s eyes were streaming tears as he related his sad story. Rama consoled him and sympathized with the plight. He assured him once again that he would protect him from harm and guard him against evil.

Sugriva said, “I am residing on this hill, helplessly, for, this is the only place where my vengeful brother, Vali, cannot come; there is a curse laid on him by a sage which effectively prevents him from entering this region. Or else, I would have died at his hands long ago.”

Rama inquired, “Friend! How did he incur that curse?” Sugriva explained, “Master! Dundubhi, the brother of Mayavi, was a mighty hero. No one could equal him in valour and physical strength. He reveled in confrontations with mountains and the sea, in sheer joy at demonstrating his might! One day, while he was exulting on his daring exploits, standing in front of a mountain peak that he had pulverized, he heard an unseen Voice announce: “Dundubhi! Do not allow your head to swell so! Beware! There lives one who is mightier than you. He is gaily wandering on the shores of the Pampa Lake, assuming leadership and asserting his power. His name is Vali’. When these words fell on his ears, Dundubhi changed himself into a formidable buffalo and rushed into Kishkindha, where the Pampa Lake is situated. He ploughed the earth with his horns and bellowed his way through hill and dale, parading in lofty pride his impregnable power. His fury was getting wilder at every step; he cast terror all around. When he dug his horns into the earth, huge trees rolled uprooted on the ground. His ferocity quaked all hearts. While he was thus invading his region, like Rahu venturing to swallow the Moon, Vali perceived him, and, that very instant, he fell upon him. The two strange-looking foes struggled for victory, like wild tuskers entangled in mortal combat. The fight lasted more than six hours! Finally, Vali gave a mortal blow to Dundubhi; staggering with pain, he fell dead on the ground, like a mountain peak reeling to the ground during a violent earthquake. The impact was so unsettling that giant trees too lay flat on the ground along with him! Vali was so intoxicated with success that he tore the corpse apart and threw the halves far into the distance, one to the south and other to the north. But, one bleeding mass of flesh and bone fell on a hermitage, showering a rain of blood over the holy area, which polluted the ascetics peacefully engaged in meditation and recitation of sacred hymns. It was the hermitage of the great saint, Mathanga. He had gone to the river for his ritual bath. When he returned, he noticed drops of blood all over the place and soon came near the half-corpse of a terror-striking monster. He could not contain himself. His disciples and pupils, yearning to be bathed in bliss, were bathed in blood. His forbearance gave way; he halted a moment wondering who could have dared commit such a sin; his anger could not be kept under restraint; it did not allow him to look back or peer into the future. He pronounced a terrible curse! “If that vicious, sinful Vali approaches this hill or even casts his eye on this hill, may his head be broken in two”. That was the imprecation he uttered. Scared by that curse, Vali is keeping away from this hill; he cannot approach this place or even look upon it. Emboldened by this circumstance, I am living here, unhampered, robbed of my wife and deprived of my kith and kin”. Sugriva related his plight to Rama, with nothing held back.

Rama was disturbed by the story of the wickedness of Vali which was tormenting Sugriva since long. He could not listen any more to the list of his atrocities. Rama could not tolerate unrighteous acts; he would not relish the description of vice. He comforted Sugriva and assured him that Vali could not escape punishment for relying solely on physical strength and material power ignoring the strength and power that one should earn through righteousness and devotion to God. He vowed that with one arrow he would fell Vali to the ground and put an end to his wicked life, even if all the fourteen worlds oppose the fulfillment of the vow. He said, “Do not cast your looks upon the face of a person who is unaffected by the sorrows of his friend, or by the absurd boast of his enemy. Do not choose a friend merely to win some temporary gain, or to satisfy some urgent desire, or to plunge into some foul behaviour. Friends must have deep love towards each other; he who has no love filling his heart, moving his mind or lighting up his face can only be a bad undesirable ‘friend’. The hearts of such false friends will be crooked and contaminated. A wily servant, a greedy, miserly and evil-minded wife or husband, a false friend – these four make life painful, as when pierced by spears and spikes. Therefore, o Sugriva, do not grieve. I shall come to your rescue, to the fullest extent of my physical, verbal and mental capabilities. What does it matter how strong Vali is? You are not aware of your own strength; you are bewildered by your estimate of his strength, that is all. That is at the bottom of your doubts and fears. Well. Perhaps, you desire to be assured of my powers, before you develop confidence and courage. Ask me to accomplish any task so that your faith in me can take deep root. I shall demonstrate my strength and fill your heart with courage. When that is done, I shall fight with Vali and destroy him”.

Rama gently stroked the back of Sugriva, in order to induce him to trust him and be rid of fear and anxiety. Sugriva was eager to see the prowess of Rama; he was also wanting some prop for faith. He said, “Rama! Once upon a time, I and my brother agreed to test our strength and skill on a line of seven giant palm trees, trying to fell them one after the other, shooting a single arrow right through all of them. I felled only three; but, my brother Vali hit five and they all rolled on the ground. His capacity had that maximum measure. To defeat Vali, one should have strength beyond his. I am most eager to find out whether you have that extra might and to see how many palm trees you can fell with one arrow”.

Sugriva and his courtiers then took Rama to a place where seven mammoth palms were piercing the sky in a row. They asked him to attempt to shoot them down; they talked among themselves that since those monstrous trees were four or five times huger than the five that Vali felled, Rama must be considered strong enough to overpower Vali even if he felled two of these giants. Looking at that row, Rama smiled and calling Sugriva near him, he told him, “Sugriva! These palms are in my eyes the weakest and tiniest”. Then he fitted an arrow on his bow; he felled all the seven; his arrow carried all the fallen palms up a mountain that was in the distance, blasting the rocks on the way!

Sugriva was overwhelmed with wonder and devotion. He prostrated at the feet of Rama, exclaiming, “Rama! A hundred Valis could not have achieved this feat. I am indeed fortunate; I have no more worries in life, since I have secured your friendship! Though I am estranged from one Vali, I have today got a hundred-fold Vali as my thickest comrade! Pardon my mistake. I am ashamed that my small-mindedness persuaded me to test your powers in this manner. O! I am indeed lucky that I am blessed with the friendship of God Himself, in this form. My tale of woe has ended this day. Hope has dawned in my heart that I can soon regain my Kishkindha; I am really happy that I can again live happily with my wife and children. I am only tossed in doubt about when and how soon it can happen – within minutes, or hours or days. Of course, that depends on the will of Rama, on His Grace. It will be fulfilled the moment He decides”.

Sugriva knew that Rama alone could help him and that Rama alone had to be relied upon. He prostrated at Rama’s feet and said, “Rama! Your Will, your Compassion, they are my sole refuge. When are you intending to put an end to my sorrows?” Rising again from his seat, Sugriva declared, “Listen, Rama! So long, I had labeled Vali as my greatest enemy, and shivered in fear of him. Now, I find he is my greatest benefactor. For fear of him, I took residence on this mountain range; since I was here, I could notice your arrival and meet you and be blessed by this friendship! Therefore, Vali is the root cause of all these developments. He is, indeed, my benefactor”. “Rama! We fight with another person while in a dream; we hate him to the utmost; we adopt all methods to ruin him; but, as soon as we awaken and rise from bed, we know that the hatred and the struggle were false and baseless. Your Darsan has awakened me from my dream. While in that dream, I hated Vali and interpreted all his actions as inimical to me; I fought with him, in my ignorance. Now that I have seen you and had the benefit of listening to your counsel, I have risen, conscious from my dream. The touch of your holy feet has imparted the vision of Truth. My long fostered hatred and envy, greed and egoism, my enmity towards Vali and my plans for vengeance, these made me weaker and weaker. I was sunk in my single-minded yearning for a favourable moment to pay off old scores. This was the thapas, the austerity, that granted me your Grace; I got you and my agony was reckoned as asceticism, my anger was transformed into love. Lord! Bless me, pour Grace on me. I have no more desire to regain my kingdom. My wife and children have their careers marked out for them by destiny; what can I do to change the course of events? I shall no more worry about them. Enough for me if you confer on me the joy of serving you and being with you, in your presence, for the rest of my life”.

When Sugriva prayed in this strain, Rama tenderly stroked his head and said, “Son! The words you utter are indeed true. Kingdoms and power, joy and grief, anger and anxieties, properties and privileges, good and bad, are all of the stuff of which dreams are made. The proximity to God, the God-Principle in you, that alone is real. But, remember, my vow, my word, can never prove false. Whatever might happen, I shall grant you the kingdom; you cannot escape the responsibility of ruling over it. You cannot evade the fight with Vali which must take place tomorrow. Come, get ready”.

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Chapter 4(b)

ANY ALLY ACCEPTED

Rama rose. Both he and Lakshmana moved forward, armed with bow and arrow, with Sugriva by their side. Hanuman and others were permitted to remain in that hill-residence itself. Sugriva was given necessary instructions, while on the way; at last, he was directed to go forward alone, and shout a challenge in front of the main gate of the City. Following this command given by Rama, Sugriva stood before Kishkindha City and shouted so fiercely that the walls of the fort shook, and the earth quaked in fear. No sooner did that call fall on his ear than Vali rose from his bed as a cobra does when it is trodden upon, and came out, ready to fight and put Sugriva to flight. He knew it was his brother who had challenged him to combat.

At this, Tara, Vali’s wife, clasped his feet and reminded him of the words spoken by his own son some days earlier. She said, “Lord! The brothers who have sought his help are no ordinary men. They are endowed with mighty powers. Sugriva, who was in hiding all this time, has come now with new confidence and courage. He has even dared challenge you. He would not venture to do so without looking before and after. He must have received conviction about their capabilities and won the promise of their assistance. The princes, Rama and Lakshmana, have Divine Powers; it is not propitious that you enter into battle with them.” Listening to her pathetic importunities, Vali burst into a jeering laugh. “Cowardly woman!”, he said, “It is said that Rama is equal-minded. If that is true, he will certainly look upon both of us with an equal eye. Moreover, I have not done him any harm, have I? In spite of this, if Rama kills me, well, I shall believe my birth and years of life have been fulfilled thereby!” Tara was happy on the one hand that he had such an outlook; on the other hand she could not entertain for a moment the idea of separation from her lord. So, she pleaded again, “Lord! It is considered a bad omen when a woman objects. Do not rashly accept the chal1enge.” But, Vali set aside all her pleadings. “When battle calls, no one cares for omens. Either the enemy should die or one’s own life should end.” So saying Vali pushed Tara aside and rushed towards the main entrance to the Fort roaring in terror-striking rage.

He saw only Sugriva there; so, he jumped on him and both began a heavy fight with their fists, inflicting hammer-blows on each. Sugriva could not bear the rain of fierce hits; he felt a desire to flee; Vali with many a kick and pull, caused such agonizing pain that Sugriva managed to escape, leaving Vali victor! Vali retired into the Fort, patting his thighs exultingly. Rama and Lakshmana followed the fleeing Sugriva. When they reached the hill-resort, Sugriva fell at the feet of Rama, his heart heavy with the burden of disappointment, despair, pain and fear. He said, “Lord! I do not understand why you caused this disgrace to me. I proceeded on this venture, buoyed up with a huge pile of hope that you would come to my rescue. All the while, I was watching for the Moment when your arrow will hit Vali and finish him. But, that event never happened. I could not bear the weight of those blows; so, I had to take the shameful course of fleeing for sheer life. My brother is a mighty hitter; I could not stand those blows.”

Rama consoled him and said, “Sugriva! Don’t grieve. Listen to the reasons. You are so like each other, so indistinguishable one from the other, so much the same in appearance and attainments, that I could not take correct aim at him.” Those words had a deep inner meaning, too. They meant that Vali too was devoted to His Feet. “He too is my votary. He has yearned for My Grace as much as you have.” But, Sugriva could not grasp the hidden import of the declaration. He prayed, “Knowing so much, could you not discover who Vali was and who Sugriva was? I cannot believe your words. I do not know the reason why you could not. Perhaps, you wanted me to display my ability to the utmost. If that was your intention, I could have taken note of it from the beginning itself; what really happened was, I was so confident that you would bring about his downfall, that I took the fight rather easy, and in a light-hearted manner.”

Rama drew the down-hearted, dispirited Sugriva to his presence and consoled him profusely. He passed his Divine hand over the body of Sugriva, so that the pain disappeared in a trice. The wounds and contusions were instantaneously healed. Sugriva was overwhelmed with surprise. He exclaimed, “Rama! Your hand can achieve anything; it contains everything. Creation, Preservation, Destruction, all three are subservient to Your Will. I have no desire to rule over this kingdom. Compared to the joy Your Grace can confer, that joy is nothing at all.”

Rama did not pay heed to his words. He said, “These words of yours are but reflections of passing thoughts. You spoke like this when you had a vision of my Power and Glory. I do not attach much value to them, for, I care more for feelings that rise in the heart. There are many great devotees who forget everything when they experience the Sport and Supreme Might of God, and believe that there is nothing higher than God. But, after some time, or when their mental cravings do not bear fruit, they develop doubts even about what they experienced or saw! These are the veils that hide, the curtains that distort the truth in the minds of those with weak faith. I know how it all happens and so I do not attach much value to these sentiments. You have to get ready to confront your brother once again.” Thus, Rama forced Sugriva into the fray.

Sugriva had no liking for the fight, but he was certain that this time Rama would keep his promise and kill Vali. He walked boldly on, with confidence in his heart. Rama got some wild flowers and had them strung as a garland which he put round Sugriva’s neck. What Rama meant was: Vali had already told Tara that Rama looked upon all as equal. It was this ‘equal’ sight that prevented him from killing Vali. “Now, I have put this garland of flowers round his neck to show that my love towards Sugriva is greater, and so, I can with justice, deal with Vali differently. Sugriva has a garland extra, indicating that he wears the symbol of Divine Love. Love needs no reason for its flow; it comes from no selfish urge.”

Thus encouraged and filled with heroism, Rama and Lakshmana persuaded Sugriva to shout the challenge again at the gate of Vali’s Fort. They hid themselves behind a tree that was nearby. When Vali rushed out eager for the fight, and when the earth quaked under the weight of his impact, Sugriva was frightened; he prayed to Rama with all his heart to come to his succour soon, and went forward to meet his foe. To justify his own attainments and capacity, Sugriva fought to the best of his ability. When his strength gave way, and the first signs of exhaustion appeared in him, he called out ‘Rama’ just once. Rama has as his favourite task the guarding of his devotees. So, when he heard the call, he placed an arrow on his bow and shot it straight into the proud heart of Vali. Vali swung round helplessly and slid until he fell flat on the ground. At that moment, Rama came near Vali and granted him the Divine vision of Himself.

Though struck by the fatal shaft, Vali rose and assumed a sitting posture; he was strong and courageous beyond compare! With folded palms, he cast his lingering looks on that cloud-blue complexion, those lotus-petal eyes, and shed streams of tears in his ecstatic exhilaration. He could scarce contain his joy; he exclaimed “O Rama! Being such a divinely auspicious embodiment of beauty, being the very Lord of all Creation, why had you to perform this questionable act? Had you but told me, and then, killed me, I would have been extremely happy to die. Would I have refused to render you the good that Sugriva could? No. No. This has been thus done, not without some justifiable reason. For, the Lord would never undertake any task without just reason. Seen from the outside, the task might appear contrary to our idea of Divinity; but, with the inner view, the fact that it is based on Truth would become evident. I know that the deeds of the Lord should not be interpreted from the common worldly point of view. The Lord is above and beyond the Gunas, attributes that limit and regulate human conduct. So, His deeds can be understood correctly only when viewed from a position unaffected by emotion, passion, or prejudice. Acts done with perfect equanimity can be understood only by perfect equanimity. If you are swayed by characteristics and attributes, you would naturally see only kindred characteristics and attributes, even when they are absent!” Vali was endowed with a very clear intellect. So, he argued thus and said, “Rama, I know full well your prowess and skill. You can with one arrow destroy not only this Vali, but the entire Universe. You can create the Universe again. Nevertheless, I desire to learn from you the sin for which you have killed me. Please identify for me the error I was responsible for. You have come upon earth in human form in order to re-establish Righteousness, haven’t you? What is the meaning and purpose of this action – hiding behind a tree, like a common hunter, in order to kill me”.

Rama graciously sat by the side of the dying Vali and said, “Vali! You know that my deeds are not motivated by selfish ends. Give up your wrong notion that I sought and secured the friendship of Sugriva in order to search the whereabouts of Sita. Why, you yourself said just now that I have assumed this human form for the purpose of re-establishing righteousness on earth! Now, tell me, if I simply witness the wrong, the unjust and vicious deeds of yours, what would you call it? Service or dis-service to the world? Righteous or unrighteous? The brother’s wife, the sister and the daughter-in-law are all three equivalent in status to one’s daughter. To cast sinful eyes on them makes one a heinous sinner. No sin affects one when such a sinner is killed.

“How unjust was it for you to infer that Sugriva closed the entrance of the cave with the evil intention of killing you! You said you would come out at the end of fifteen days, at the most, and asked him to wait at the mouth of the cave until then. Yet, he waited there, anxiously awaiting you, for one full month! Finally, when he was assailed by the smell of blood, he was grieved that his brother was killed by the ogre; he hesitated to enter the cave, for to the ogre who destroyed you, Sugriva would certainly be no match. When he placed the boulder up against the mouth of the cave, his intention was to prevent the ogre from coming out, and to see that he is confined within that cave itself. The citizens pressed on him the rulership and he had to accede to their wishes. What crime had Sugriva committed when he acted thus? You did not stay to inquire. He never disobeyed your commands and directives, even to the slightest extent; for he loved you and revered you. He adheres strictly to the path of Truth. But, you treasured in your heart vengeance against him for no reason at all; your overweening pride drove him into the forest. When you sent him out, you should have allowed his wife too to go with him. Instead you chose her to be your wife, the person whom you should have treated as your own daughter. Do you call this a sin or don’t you? There is no sin more heinous than this. Besides, you occupy the position of the ruler of this region. You have to protect and foster your subjects. How can you punish those who commit crimes when you yourself revel in the same crime? ‘As is the King, so are the subjects’, says the proverb. The people will be such as their rulers are. Therefore, what you have done becomes more heinous and more reprehensible. Doesn’t it?”

Thus, Rama out of His infinite love clarified to Vali the crimes and sins he had committed. Vali listened with attention and thought over what he heard. At last, he realized his error, and said, “Lord! My cleverness has failed to make you pronounce my acts as right. Now hear me! I am not a sinner at all. Had I been a sinner, how could I be floored by an arrow from the Lord’s own hands, and how could I pass my last moments looking on the Face of Divinity and listening to the sweet words of the Lord?” Rama was highly pleased at these words spoken with such high wisdom, out of the depths of love and devotion, delight and dedication. Then Rama wished to announce to the world the genuine spirit of renunciation that Vali had at heart. He said, “Vali! I am restoring you to life. I am freeing you from the obligation of old age and senility. Come. Have your body back again”. He placed His hand on the head of Vali. But, even while He was blessing him so, Vali intervened with a prayer, “Ocean of Compassion; Give ear to my appeal. However many attempts one might make throughout life, at the moment when breath deserts us, death cannot be avoided. At that moment, even the souvereign sages do not get Your Name on their tongues! Unique good fortune I have secured now, here, when I pronounce Your Name, look on Your Form, touch Your feet and listen to Your Words. If I miss this chance and let it slip away, who can say how long I may have to wait for these again? Continuing to breathe, what great achievement will I accomplish? No. I do not wish to live any longer”.

“Lord! Even the Vedas, the Source of all Knowledge, speak of you as only ‘Not this’ ‘Not this’; thus they proceed, until they declare finally, ‘This’ ‘This’ I have now secured in my grasp; shall I let it slip? Is there in this world a fool who would give up the Divine Wish-Fulfilling Tree that he has in his grasp for the sake of a wild weed? This Vali, born out of a mental resolution of Brahma Himself, endowed with strength of body and sharpness of intellect and renowned for these qualities, cannot yield to the temptation of clinging to the body as if it is real and valuable. No. If I yield, I will become the target of infamy. Why elaborate? When there is no self-satisfaction, what do other types of satisfaction matter? Lord! As a result of Your Darsan and Your words, I have overcome all sense of duality and distinction. I have acquired the Vision of the One, apart from all the rest. The mass of ‘consequence’ I had earned through my sins has been destroyed; let the Body which is burdened with the Consequence be destroyed along with it. Do not allow another body appear to bear the burden”. Vali declared his determination to give up his breath and called his son to his presence. He said: “This fellow grew up until now as the lust-born son of this body. He is strong, virtuous, humble and obedient. Now I wish You would foster him as Your Love-deserving Son. I have placed him in Your hands.” With these words he placed the hands of his son in the hands of Rama. Rama drew Angada, the son, near Him, and blessed him, with great love. Pleased at the acceptance, Vali shed tears of joy; his eyes were fixed on the Divine Face before him. His eyes slowly closed in death. Will an elephant worry or take any notice of flowers that fall away from the garland round its neck? With the same unconcern, Vali too allowed his breath to slide away from him.

The inhabitants of Pampa Town gathered in sad groups as soon as they heard the news of Vali’s demise. His wife, Tara, came to the place, accompanied by her retinue; she fell upon the body and lost consciousness. The agonizing wail of Tara was so poignant that stones melted in sympathy. When she recovered consciousness, off and on, she looked on the face of her lord and cried in utter grief. “In spite of all the protest I made and the arguments I used, to stop you, you rushed forward to this doom. The wife should ever be vigilant about the security and happiness of her lord; there is no one more concerned about the welfare of the husband than the wife. Others, however eminent, will always have some little egoism mixed in the advice they give. Lord! On account of the mischief of Destiny, my counsel could not prevail. Lord! How am I to foster and bring up this son? Will those who killed you desist from harming your son? Who will guide us now? How did your mind agree to leave us behind and proceed to the next world? For whose sake must I continue this life?”

Then, Tara turned to Rama and poured out her heart. “You sent my dear Lord, my very breath, to the next world. Do you want us, who are left behind, to live at the mercy of strangers? Is this the right thing for a noble person, a person devoted to right conduct, to be proud about? Is it appropriate? If you do not desire our progress, if you have no wish to alleviate our sorrow, then, kill me and my son; the arrow that killed the mighty hero will not quail before a weak woman and a stripling lad. Let us join him in his journey”. She fell at the feet of Rama and wept in inconsolable anguish. Rama said, “Tara! Why do you weep so? You are a heroic wife; do not behave in this manner, for, it brings your role into infamy. Be calm. Control yourself. The body is a temporary phase; it is contemptible. Vali himself regarded this body as debased! Its fall, its end, might happen any day, it cannot be avoided. It is but an instrument to achieve the Supreme Goal and if that end is not kept in view and attained through it, the body is but a lump of coal whose destiny is the fire. Weeping for Vali as this body is foolish, for, the body is here. Do you then weep for the Atma that was in this body? That Atma is eternal; it cannot die or decay, diminish or disintegrate. Only those who have not realized the Atma principle suffer from the delusion that the body is themselves; until then, even the most learned are led into error. Being enamoured of the body as if it is you is ‘ignorance’; being aware of the Atma, which you really are is ‘wisdom’. Getting the knowledge of the Atma is as precious a piece of good luck as getting a diamond in the dust. The Atma is the gemstone embedded in this mass of flesh. The body carries urine and faeces, bad odours and bad blood; it is pestered by pests and problems. Its decay cannot be arrested; it must die some day. The achievement that one can realize through it is its justification. That is the crown of human life. Your husband has achieved many heroic and honourable victories through his body. While ruling this kingdom, he protected and promoted his servants and faithful followers as if they were his very breath. He destroyed the Rakshasas. He had deep devotion towards God. But, he inflicted injury on his brother. Besides that sin, he did not commit any other. His death at my hands was the consequence of that sin. Therefore, believe that it too has been washed away. Now, you have no reason to grieve.

When Tara heard these words of counsel and consolation, wisdom dawned in her mind and she was calmed. Rama said that there should be no more delay. He asked Tara to go back and have the funeral rites for Vali performed by Sugriva. He advised Sugriva to bring up Angada with love and care. When the rites were over, he sent Lakshmana into the Capital City, and had Sugriva installed on the throne. Hanuman and others too entered the City and helped him as friends and followers, to carry on the task of government successfully. As soon as he assumed the reins of office, Sugriva called together the elders and leaders of the community; he ordered them to make all proper arrangements to seek and find the whereabouts of Sita. He asked them to initiate all steps necessary for the purpose. Sugriva was not happy that he became the ruler and was honoured by that responsibility; he was, on the other hand, sad and morose, because he had been the cause for the killing of his brother. “Alas! Anger leads one to perpetrate the direst of sins; it breeds hatred, and murders love. Shame on me! To what depths have I fallen, since I allowed anger and hatred to enter my heart; My heart is torn in anguish by the words of adoration Vali addressed to Rama. I never realized, even in my dreams, that Vali had such a deal of devotion and dedication in him. Ah! His wisdom is boundless. His furious anger did not allow that wisdom to express itself! Yes. Anger suppresses the divine in one; lust and anger drag life into disaster”. Though much depressed by these thoughts, Sugriva learned the guidelines of government from Lakshmana. He prayed to Rama that He should enter the City and bless him and his subjects. But Rama said that he had to live in the forests only and not enter any town or city. Otherwise he would be disobeying his father’s wish.

Sugriva held a conference of leaders and announced that, since the season was late autumn, rains were imminent and the monkey hordes would be hard put to it to move about in the cold and in the storm, So, he suggested that as soon as the autumn passed, they must set about the task of searching for the place where Sita was. He presented this information to Rama and Lakshmana also. Rama realized the truth of these statements and he acceded to the proposal. The brothers retired to the Rshyamuka Hill and took residence there.

The rains started soon; it poured as if potfuls were emptied from the sky on every square inch of space! It became a hard task for Lakshmana to procure, in time, even tubers and fruits for sustenance! They could not come out of the shelter of the hermitage. Sunlight was scarcely to be seen. Rama spent the time in administering valuable counsel to Lakshmana. “Lakshmana!”, he would say, “when a wicked son is born, the code of morality will be corroded. When a cyclone starts its career, the clouds shudder in fear. The company of bad men is the prelude to the disappearance of wisdom. The company of good men makes wisdom blossom.” Thus, they spent their days, learning and teaching, matters concerned with Wisdom and its acquisition and preservation.

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Chapter 5(a)

SUCCESS IN THE SEARCH

The rains stopped. The Sarad season dawned on the world. The earth shone resplendently green. Grass sprouted everywhere and soon the earth decked itself with many-coloured floral dress. Greed weakens when gladness grows; so too, the waters evaporated when the star Agasthya appeared in the sky. The mind is rendered pure and pellucid when desire and delusion disappear; so too, the rivers were rendered clear and clean. Rama told Lakshmana, “Brother! It is desirable to give a warning to Sugriva now.” Lakshmana paid heed to that command, and requested Hanuman, who was a daily visitor to the hermitage, to remind Sugriva of the promised task. Hanuman was most earnest and anxious to fulfill the orders of Rama; so, he warned Sugriva immediately and effectively. He called together the leaders of the monkey hordes and initiated the arrangements. Sugriva gave every one the determination and courage needed for the execution of the task assigned. Urged by the resolution that the mission must succeed, he sent them to all the four quarters. He entrusted the over-all leadership to Hanuman himself. Led by Hanuman, the entire assembly of monkeys shouted, “Jai” to Sugriva and “Jai” to Rama, the Lord. Dancing and jumping in glee, the monkeys hurried on their different demarcated paths, inspired by Hanuman and the holiness of the mission.

Hanuman went East with a group of followers. Sushena and Mandava proceeded North. They searched the Gandhamadana Mountain Range, the Sumeru Peak, the Arjuna Mountain, and the Nilagiri Ranges, and the caves therein, until at last they reached the shore of the Northern Sea. The group led by Hanuman were also equally earnest in their search. They cared least for sleep or food; they were ready to offer their very lives at the feet of Rama. They desired only one thing, success in their task of serving Rama. From the least to the highest, every one had the same loyalty and spirit of dedication. Reciting the Name, “Rama” “Rama” “Rama”, they peeped into every nook and corner, every peak and promontory, every cave and cove, every valley and riverbank, for, they could penetrate into regions and places where men cannot enter.

One day, they reached the shore of a broad lake. There they espied a woman deeply engaged in austerities. They prostrated before her from a distance. She opened her eyes and seeing their exhausted condition, she said, “Monkeys! You appear very tired and hungry. Refresh yourselves with these fruits” and she supplied plenty of food. When they sat around her, she heard from them the mission on which they were moving about. She said that she was proceeding to the holy place where Rama was in residence. “Listen to my story”, she said. My name is Swayamprabha. I am the daughter of a Celestial Gandharva. I have an Apsaras friend called Hema. While engaged in austerities, Brahma appeared before me and asked me what I needed. He assured me that he would grant me my wish. Then I replied, ‘I wish to see God as man, moving on earth!’ He said: ‘Be here alone. In due course, a number of mighty monkeys would arrive here and halt at your request. From them, you can know of Rama, who is God come in human form. Later, you can look on Rama himself. Ah! That boon is being realized. The first sign and the second, of its fulfillment are already evident. The first is your arrival. The second is your account of Rama’s story and the place where He is in residence. Now, I am as happy as if I have already attained the third, namely, the Darsan of Rama.’ The woman was immersed in unbounded ecstasy and delight and shedding tears of joy. The monkeys too were deeply moved and shed tears of delight. Meanwhile, the woman began introspecting with eyes closed. She broke the silence with the announcement, “Monkeys! On a sea-shore, in a beautiful City, at the center of a charming garden, alone, all by herself, Sita is bewailing her fate. You will see her without doubt. Be assured of this. Proceed in confidence and with courage.”

One day, during their journey, the monkeys sank in gloom and sighed, “Alas! Of the period allotted to us by our Master, Sugriva, only two days remain. And, we have not traced Sita!” Angada and the rest lamented their fate and were lost in despair. Tears rolled down their cheeks. They had come to the shore of the sea and were sad that no one of them could cross it to continue the search. So, they sat in groups on the sands and were pining in disappointment. Jambavantha, the old leader, counseled Angada in many ways. “Why do you grieve? We have put forward our best efforts; we have searched all places without the least dereliction of duty; we have not wasted a single moment in idling; we have not worried even about food and drink. We have been engaged ceaselessly in the search for Sita. Our Master and ruler, Sugriva, might not be a witness to our activities; but, believe me, Rama is witnessing them! Therefore, Rama will not be a party to the infliction of any punishment on us. We have no reason to fear the anger of Sugriva. Since this is His Task, let us carry it out with His name on our tongue and His Form in our minds.”

While Jambavantha was thus consoling and comforting Angada, a huge aged bird hopped up to the shore, in order to perform the last rites for its dead brother, and offer water sanctified by sesame grains, in the holy sea. The monkeys gathered around the new arrival and wondered whether it was a Rakshasa who had transformed himself into that form. The bird, however, started speaking first. It said, “Monkeys! My name is Sampathi. Myself and Jatayu (see: RRV-3a) are brothers. Eagles as we are, we both raced towards the sun in competition, years ago. My brother could not bear the scorching heat as we neared the Sun; he flew back. But, a sense of pride induced me to continue the flight. As I proceeded stage by stage, my wings were burnt, and fell off. I dropped like a stone from the depths of the sky. A sage named Chandrama happened to pass that way and see my plight. He sat by my side and taught me a good deal of wisdom through his lessons. Listening to his precepts, my pride was destroyed. He told me, ‘0 King of Birds! Listen to my words. In the Thretha Yuga (see also: BV-34) that is coming, God Narayana is incarnating in human Form; His Consort will be carried by Ravana to an unknown place. An army of Vanaras (Monkeys) will proceed to trace her whereabouts; your life will be rendered holy and worthwhile on seeing those emissaries of God engaged in their holy mission. You can assure yourselves that it has been rendered so, because, at that very moment, your wings will grow in strength, your duty will be to communicate to them information regarding the place where Sita is kept.’ This day, I came to this place by the sea in order to perform the last rites of my brother, Jatayu. Seeing you, I recollected the words of that sage uttered so long ago. Why? As soon as I recollected, see! his words have come true!’ At this, the Vanaras exclaimed excitedly, “Sampathi! Keep aside the story of your life. Our term is fast ending. Tell us quick the clues to know where Sita is. Tell us what you know, what happened to her!”

Sampathi lost no time in elaboration. He said, “O Vanaras! One day, when I was afflicted with uncontrollable hunger, I called my son, Suparna, to my side and told him, ‘Son? Fly quick. Get me some food. I am old; I am hungry; my wings too have fallen off. Seeing my plight, he flew into the forest, but did not return. My anxiety for him suppressed the pangs of hunger. At last, he appeared with some quantity of venison. My hunger made me forget the restraint natural to a wise being; I was enraged at the inordinate delay and I decided to pronounce a curse on my son. Fearing this, my son caught hold of my feet in supplication and said, ‘Father! I did not waste a single moment while away. Please listen to my prayer. Pardon me for the delay that was unavoidable’. He placed the venison before me, and when my hunger was appeased by eating it, I asked him to relate to me the cause for the delay. He said, when I was flying into the forest, a person with twenty hands and ten heads was hurrying along. With him was a woman of indescribable beauty. She was weeping and wailing most pitiably. I knew it was a monster and so, I attacked him and saw the woman inside the chariot. She was crying out just one Name, Rama! Rama! Rama!; no other word emerged from her mouth. My futile attempts to stop his progress and to save that woman caused this delay’. When I heard these words, I felt terribly ashamed that I had lost my wings and that I had grown old, I was overcome with grief. I guessed he must be a Rakshasa; so, I asked my son, in which direction that ten-headed monster was proceeding. He answered that he had taken the southern direction. Immediately, I exclaimed, ‘Alas! That monster is the Ravana, whom the sage had mentioned; that woman is the Divine Mother, Sita! There can be no doubt in this. That monster has stolen her like a dog, a fox, and he is running away with his prey. I gnashed my teeth in anger. What else could I do?” Thus, Sampathi explained what had happened and what he knew of the incident. “I have been awaiting the arrival of the army of Vanaras, as the Sage had informed me; I was hoping every day that they would be passing my way. Today, my prayer is answered. My life has been sanctified”.

Then, Sampathi announced, “O Vanaras! The City of Lanka is situated on the Triple-Peak-Hill by the shore of the sea; that City has many charming gardens and parks. There, Sita is in the Asokavana, moaning her fate. She is awaiting your arrival. So, proceed further south”.

Angada asked the bird, how it came to know that she was in the Asokavana, under a tree grieving over her misfortune. Sampathi answered that the vision of the eagle does cover an area of 400 yojanas and that, had he not been handicapped by age, he would certainly have helped them even more in their mission. The problem now was crossing the ocean! Sampathi said, “O Vanaras! You can achieve success in the task allotted to you by Rama if there is one among you who has the strength and the skill to leap a distance of 100 yojanas.” As he was saying thus, the wings of Sampathi grew and flapped a little. He could hop a slight distance and within a short time, he could actually fly. The words of the sage had proved true.

Sampathi was wonder-struck at the regaining of the wings. He said, “O Brave Vanara heroes! To fulfill the command of Rama, you have carried out the search with great efficiency and enthusiasm, without allowing even hunger and thirst to hinder your efforts. You have evinced steady faith and deep devotion, you have risked your lives often, while engaged in the search. It is Rama who has been conferring endurance and strength on you; He is having His task executed by you. Your duty now is to contemplate on Him and pray to Him with a full heart. When that is done, you can see Sita without fail and give satisfaction to Rama. You can, with His Grace, leap over the ocean with ease, see Sita and bring joy to Rama’s heart. The joy that we cause in the heart of God is the only worthwhile achievement; what can we say of lives that do not offer this gift to God? Only those who live on the lines laid down by God and who by their acts carry out His Wish are valid; the rest are barren and futile; they only consume precious food and move about, burdening the earth.” With these words, Sampathi took wing and flew away.

The Vanaras who watched him fly aloft were struck with pleasant surprise at the sudden recovery of his powers. They said among themselves that Ramanam can achieve the impossible; as the saying goes, the dumb can speak, the lame can climb hills. The wingless Sampathi could get back its wings and fly into the sky only through the Grace won by recital or the Name. By means of Sampathi’s words the Vanaras were enabled to see and know things correctly. Each of the monkey leaders started estimating its strength and leaping capacity. Meanwhile, Jambavantha addressed them thus. “Friends! Old age has overwhelmed me; my skill and strength have declined. Somehow prodded by the joy of executing the commands of Rama and encouraged by His Blessings, I have been able to stay on till now and move about with you. I was in full possession of my strength and intelligence, and in the best adult stage of life, when the Lord incarnated as Vamana (see also: RRV-10b) and demonstrated His Trivikrama Form.”

Hearing this, the Vanaras gathered around the Crown Prince of their kingdom, Angada. “O Prince”, they pleaded, “Search for some feasible means. Decide who amongst us has to attempt to leap over the ocean.” Then, Angada called together a full session of all the Vanaras and announced that he would like to know the capacity of each for this enterprise. At this, Vikata rose and said, “I can leap over thirty yojanas at the most.” Nila declared, “Prince! I can manage to leap at one jump forty yojanas, but I regret I will not be able to exceed the distance by even a finger-breadth”. Durdhara rose next, and said that he could easily jump a distance of fifty yojanas. Nala came forward and with great flourishing of hands, he said he could jump sixty yojanas. While such competitive boasting and parading of skills were going on, Angada declared, “Listen, I can leap over this ocean once, but I have my doubts whether I would have enough strength left to leap back. One has not only to reach the other shore; one has to fight with the Rakshasas there, if need arises. That would make me still weaker and I would have no strength left. I am afraid my resources won’t last so long and for all these three operations.”

When Angada spoke in these depressing terms, the leading Vanara elders rose as one and pleaded, “Prince! You are the heir-apparent to our kingdom. The discussion whether you are capable or not, to take up this mission is irrelevant. It is not right and proper that you should cross over to the land of Rakshasas; it is against the canons of royalty. This is a task which you have to assign to some servant of the kingdom. When you have millions of servants eager to do what you bid, it is not right that you should consider undertaking this task.” Jambavantha suggested that some one else might be charged with the errand and Angada looked around, and looking at Hanuman, he said, “0 Son of the Wind-God, you are the dedicated servant of Rama. Your devotion is indeed deep. You were blessed first among all of us with the Darsan of Rama. Through your intelligence, diplomacy and moral pressure, you established friendship between Rama and our ruler, Sugriva. And, now, you are observing silence, when we are involved with difficulties in the execution of the mission of Rama. I find it difficult to understand the meaning of this silence.” Angada extolled Hanuman still further and said, “There is no adventure that you cannot tackle successfully. You are strong, you are highly intelligent. You are endowed with all the virtues. Evaluate your own skills, capacities and excellences, and rise.” The words of Angada filled Hanuman with his erstwhile strength. He rose with a sudden gesture and said. “0 Vanaras! Wait here, all of you, awaiting my return. Wandering all these days through hills and dales, jungles and plains you have had no time to rest awhile. Eat the fruits and tubers available in this area and station yourselves here. I shall, this instant, leap over the ocean, enter Lanka, see Sita and come back. I have no other work than carrying out the command of Rama. How else can we make our lives worth-while than by earning His Grace?”

With these words, he raised his folded palms in salutation before the vast gathering of monkeys. He took leave of Angada, the Crown Prince. The monkey hordes were raising in unison the exultant cry, “Jai Rama”. “Victory to Rama”. Hanuman pictured in his mind the glorious Form of Rama, and, with one leap into the sky, he was off over the sea. Unable to withstand the tremendous airflow caused by his leap and flight, trees on the hills were uprooted and carried along. The impact of his leap was so great that the peak on which he stood sank into the nether regions.

Seeing him fly across, the sea thought within itself thus: “This Hanuman is a servant of Rama; he is proceeding on the mission of Rama. Ah! How lucky is he! He has the strength and intelligence necessary to win victory in that mission of Rama; he is indeed the foremost among the devotees of Rama”. The sea was boisterous with the joy it felt at the sight of Hanuman going over and across. The Mainaka Peak, which was submerged in the sea, rose over the waters, for, he wished to serve the person who was engaged in the service of the Lord. He said, “O Son of the Wind-God! It will be exhausting for you to cover the full distance in one leap, please take rest for a while on my head and confer on me the good fortune of having a share in the service you are devoted to.” Hanuman gave ear to the prayer of Mainaka, but did not halt. He touched the peak as a token of halting and sped on. He bowed to the hospitable peak in gratitude. “Mainaka! I am going on Rama’s errand; till I fulfill it, I can have no thought of rest or even food and drink. It is not proper for me to stay awhile on the way,” he said. A little further on, a Serpent-demon called Surasa and an Ogress named Simhika obstructed His passage, but Hanuman overcame them all and reached the Lanka shore.

There, splendid in the sunlight, he found many gardens and parks as well as pleasure centers which made Hanuman forget where he was. He was amazed at the variety of multi-coloured birds that fluttered to and fro in clusters within the parks. Hanuman climbed on to a charming mound that was nearby and thought within himself, “This success is not due to my skill or strength; it is entirely due to the Grace and Blessings of Rama only”. Seeing the uniquely grand houses, the long wide streets, the attractive gardens, etc., in that city, Hanuman was moved with wonder and doubt – doubt whether it was a replica of Heaven itself. Wherever one cast his eye, one saw well-built Rakshasa soldiers parading the streets, Rakshasa women, famed for their skill and powers to assume whatever form they wanted were found by Hanuman indulging in licentious sports. Deva, Naga, Gandharva and human damsels enslaved by Ravana were pining and wailing in the palaces, awaiting the day of release. Hanuman concluded that it would not be wise to move about in his native form among the vast crowds that filled the streets. He assumed a subtle imperceptible form and entered the City.

There was at the very entrance gate of Lanka a demoness, named Lankini, placed there on purpose to prevent any foreigner, whatever his intentions may be, from entering the city. She saw the strange figure of Hanuman, venturing to enter and accosted him in a threatening manner. Who goes there? Where do you come from? Who are you? We have never before seen such a creature in this region. You could not have come from outside the bounds of Lanka, for Lanka is surrounded by the sea. Ah! did you, by any means, come across the sea? How can you avoid me and enter the city? Halt! Stop where you are!” Hanuman paid no attention to her vapourings; he moved forward, dragging his tail behind him as if he had not heard her threats. Lankini became even more furious and ferocious. She roared in anger, “O ill-fated fool! Do not my words fall on your ears?” Hanuman brushed aside her protests and questions; he walked towards the gate, with a smile on his face. Lankini shouted, “Ugly beast! Whoever goes against my orders will be eaten up. Remember. I will chew your bones in seconds. Be warned”. She rushed forward to catch the tiny monkey that Hanuman had become, while he sought to enter Lanka City. When she came right in front of him, Hanuman tightened his little fist and hit her a mighty blow. She rolled unconscious on the ground. Blood flowed in streams from her mouth. She recovered after a while and rushed madly forward to catch hold of Hanuman. But, when Hanuman dealt another blow, she could not bear the impact; she fell and could not rise again. But, she managed to sit up after great struggle, and with folded palms, she supplicated, “O Person of wonderful Form! Long ago, when Brahma, [see also: RRV, Part 1, Chapter 3] the first of the Trinity, was turning away from Ravana, after granting him many boons, he faced him all of a sudden and said. ‘The day your Guardian of the Gate is fatally hurt by a blow from a monkey’s hand, know that your downfall begins; your powers can no longer help you. Be warned by that incident that death is drawing near. That monkey will enter Lanka at the command of God for fulfilling His Mission. His arrival heralds the destruction of the Rakshasas; be conscious of this’. You are the messenger indicated; how fortunate that my body was sanctified by contact with your sacred hand! Ah! How soft and thrilling was the blow you gave me.” Saying thus, she fondled the spot where Hanuman had hit her.

Meanwhile, paying no heed to her words, unmoved by praise and unconcerned with blame, Hanuman entered Lanka, repeating ‘Rama’ ‘Rama’ ‘Rama’ with every breath. Still a thought tormented him. Who would give him the clue about where Sita was? How to identify Sita when one sees her? He adopted a subtle form to escape notice and moved from one tree-top to another. He roamed in the bazaars and among groups of Rakshasas, unknown to any one. Suddenly, his eyes fell upon a building that seemed a temple of Hari (Vishnu, whose Avatar Rama was). It had a garden of Tulsi plants all around it; over the entrance door, the name Hari was carved beautifully. The house was undoubtedly a Temple of God, Vishnu. Hanuman was surprised! “How came the name of Hari over this door?” he wondered, “Surely, this is a holy spot,” he decided.

The curiosity of Hanuman was awakened; he jumped on to the roof of that place and peeped through the window to find out what exactly was happening. Just at that moment, a person was stretching his limbs prior to rising from bed, pronouncing the Name of Hari. When that fell on his ears, Hanuman was extremely delighted. He was also emboldened when he knew that even in Lanka there were people reciting the name of Hari. So, he felt like searching for Sita with greater courage and less apprehension. “The man of this house appears to be devout and good. Perhaps, he may be able to tell me the where-abouts of Sita. He might be persuaded to befriend me since we are both loyal to the self-same Form of God”. With this idea, Hanuman changed himself into a priest of the Brahmin caste, and made his entrance into that house. Though for a moment he had some doubt regarding the stranger, Vibhishana, the owner of the house, decided that, whoever he is, he surely must be honoured since he was a Brahmin; so, he came forward and prostrated before Hanuman. “Master! which is your native place ? Where are you coming from? How could you avoid being noticed and harassed by the Rakshasas in the streets?” Vibhishana asked. He described to his guest the horrors indulged in by the Rakshasas and extolled the audacity and fearlessness of Hanuman. Hanuman replied, “I am a Servant of Hari. My name is Hanuman. I have come because Rama sent me,” and he spoke thereafter of the virtues and excellences of Rama in some detail. Hanuman noticed that while he was describing Rama, tears rolled down the cheeks of Vibhishana. “O, What a happy day! How great is my fortune! As soon as I rose from bed, I could hear today these glorious words which bring peace and joy”, thought Vibhishana to himself.

Hanuman interpreted these incidents as the Grace of Rama. He was wonderstruck that in Lanka, the Land of Fear, there could be one such person soaked in Hari. He asked him, “Sir, how is it that you live without fear in this vile atmosphere?” Vibhishana replied “It is due to the Grace of God. For however long He resolves that we should live, we have to live that long; there is no escape. He is the master of the objective world and so, His law cannot be overruled, or changed by any one. Does not the tongue move about incessantly in the cavity of the mouth where teeth with sharp edges surround it? Who helps it to escape being bitten? So, too, I am living here. Enough about me; tell me on what task you have been sent here.” Hanuman realized that he was a good man and that association with such men would without doubt yield good results. Before answering the queries of Vibhishana, he repeated the Name many times in joyful gratitude, Ram, Ram, Ram, Ram, and prayed for permission to disclose his mission to the pious pure-minded Vibhishana. He felt it would not be correct to hide things from him. As a preliminary, he asked, “Sir, what is your name? What are you doing in this Lanka?” Touched by the humility and good manners of Hanuman, Vibhishana replied, “Sir, I am an unfortunate person, the brother of Ravana. My name is Vibhishana. I am in a pathetic fix, for I am unable to recite the Name of Hari, to my heart’s content.” Hearing this Hanuman felt he had his answer. He performed one high skip in joy and said, “I am a Messenger of Rama. I have come in search of Sita.” In an instant, Vibhishana fell at the feet of Hanuman and asked, “Sir, where is my Rama now? I am yearning long to see Him, but I lack the virtues that alone can entitle me to that gift. My tribe is the demonic Rakshasa tribe. Can I have the chance to have His Darsan? I have not engaged myself in Sadhana; I have no freedom here to practice austerities and rites. I have earned no right to the good fortune. Will I be blessed by Rama?” Listening to his appeal, the heart of Hanuman melted in sympathy.

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Chapter 5(b)

SUCCESS IN THE SEARCH

Hanuman consoled Vibhishana a great deal. He said, “Vibhishana! Rama heeds only the heart; He will not be affected by family affiliations, religious affinities, or Sadhana attainments. He is pleased best by feelings and their purity. He will bless you for the loftiness of your ideals and the cleanliness of your daily life. He will grant you the Darsan you are yearning for; do not grieve. Why, you can take me as the best proof for what I am saying about His compassion and grace. I am a monkey; waywardness is the hall-mark of my tribe; the word ‘monkey’ has become a by-word for a prankish, playful, petty mind. I am not versed at all in the Sastras. As for asceticism, I have no idea what it means. I have not repeated, according to prescribed rules, the Name of God, nor have I gone on pilgrimages seeking holy rivers! How then has Rama blessed me? Because He heeds only the Love that animates and the feelings that activate people. In your case also, He will pay attention only to the Purity of Feelings. Be confident, do not doubt.”

Relieved by these words, Vibhishana informed Hanuman details of how Sita was brought to Lanka. Hanuman refused to partake of any food or drink, since he had resolved to refrain from both until he could see Sita and communicate to her the message of Rama. He was eager to renew the search without delay. But, Vibhishana advised him to proceed cautiously and slowly, and inform himself of the strength and weakness of Ravana’s Empire before he left. He himself acquainted him with these points in some detail. Thereafter, he permitted Hanuman to leave on his errand. Hanuman was so delighted to learn that Sita was in Lanka that he actually forgot to ask where she actually was! He entered many mansions to find out whether she was anywhere therein. He saw bevies of women, fallen on their beds, intoxicated by drink and dance, and floored by the banalities of luxury. Keeping in mind the characteristics and excellences of Sita that Rama had described to him, he observed closely every woman in those houses; but he could not meet Sita. In near despair, he jumped on the peak of a hill and thought over the situation, deeply, for long. “How can I go back to Rama, without completing my mission, meeting Sita and consoling her? Better far to drown in the sea yonder. Alas. Mine is a wasted life. Fie upon it”, he said to himself.

That very instant, he saw a beautiful garden, trim and green, shining in the distance. Coming down the peak, he realized that since the garden was in a valley surrounded by tall mansions, he could not discover the place from the ground. Not knowing what to do next, he hied fast to the house of Vibhishana and discovered him immersed in reciting the Name of Rama. Seeing Hanuman, Vibhishana rose and approached him in a friendly and pleasing manner. He asked, “Hanuman! Did you see Sita?” Hanuman expressed his disappointment, but, Vibhishana gave him the information. “Hanuman! There is in this City a garden named Asokavana. There, in the midst of terrible and mighty Rakshasas, Sita is kept; my wife and daughter are with her, doing service.” He also disclosed to him the route by which he could reach the garden and the spot. Hanuman could not stay a moment longer; he reached the garden in a trice. Those who saw him began shouting and accosting, for, his figure was strange and peculiar to them. Noticing this, Hanuman felt that his figure was making him too prominent and public, and so he assumed a diminutive size. Jumping unnoticed from branch to branch, hiding himself behind clusters of leaves, he reached the Asokavana.

There he saw a woman, sitting under a tree, weak and worn, through want of food and sleep. The fierce Rakshasas sitting guard around her were threatening her, to change her will and to break her determination. Meanwhile, a grand cavalcade neared the place heralded by the beating of drums and the blowing of trumpets. Behind them Hanuman could see a royal personage, bejeweled and be-robed in magnificent style. Hundreds of maidens followed him, carrying plates full of jewels, sweet and fragrant presents and soft silks. Ensconcing himself within the green shade of leaves, Hanuman watched the scene from the top of a nearby tree. It was Ravana, evidently, for, he pleaded before Sita and prayed to her that she might offer her love to him. He tried to extract a promise by threats of cruel punishment. Hanuman heard him exhort those around him to inflict pain and injury on her. That frail feeble woman did not raise her eyes towards Ravana even once during all the tirade. She only said, “Fool! Vile vicious fellow! Rama alone has rights over me: no one other than Rama has any. I shall reduce this body to ashes in the flames of sorrow at separation from Him. I shall never stray from my resolve. Believe in this and beware!” Hanuman heard these emphatic words and realized that the woman was Sita and no other. His mind gained peace and calmness when he knew this. Very soon, Ravana stung by disappointment and angry at the discomfiture, became even more violent in speech. He gave her a month’s respite, to think over and accede. The cavalcade and the maids with the plates also accompanied him out of the garden. When they had all left, Sita raised her head towards the heavens and sighed; “Rama! Has not compassion yet entered your heart? Why have you condemned me to this torture? When am I to be freed from this?”, and she burst into weeping.

A Rakshasi named Thrijata was one of the warders of Sita; she was deeply attached to the Lotus Feet of Rama; she was a pious devotee, who had both worldly wisdom and spiritual experience. She spoke to her companions keeping watch over Sita, “Comrades! Last night, I had a dream, which I must relate to you. But, first, let us serve and revere Sita and win her grace. For, listen to the story that revealed itself to me in my dream. A monkey entered Lanka, slaughtered the Rakshasas and set the city on fire! Ravana had no clothes on; he was riding, of all animals, a donkey and moving fast in the southerly direction. And, his head, I noticed, was shaven close. Besides, I found that his arms were severed from the body. Vibhishana was crowned the emperor of Lanka. Throughout the length and breadth of the land, the name of Rama was resounding. Then Rama sent for Sita. Sisters of the Rakshasa clan! Take note. I never get dreams. I haven’t seen any so far. So if I dream at all, know it will certainly come true; it will happen just as in the dream. Moreover, the realization, in actual fact, of this dream will not take long; things must happen just as I dreamt, within four or five days.” The Rakshasa women were amazed at the revelation; they forthwith prostrated at the feet of Sita and silently resumed their routine duties.

Seeing the behaviour of Thrijata, Sita addressed her, “Thrijata! Rama Himself must have sent you here to be one of this group that is around me. Truly, it is because there are a few women like you in this Lanka that unfortunate persons like me are able to sustain our chastity and virtue. Or else, what will be the fate of women like me? You heard, didn’t you, the expressions Ravana used just now? He has given a month’s respite. If Rama does not come within that month, I, or, rather, this body, will be cut to pieces and it will be plucked and eaten by vultures and crows. Being the consort of Rama, I can never tolerate that horrid fate for this body. Tell me some plan through which I can get rid of this body sooner.” Hanuman heard these words from the branch of the tree; he was overcome by sorrow, when Sita spoke in that strain of despair. At this, Thrijata fell at Sita’s Feet, and assured her, “Mother! Do not lose hope, Rama is no ordinary being. His might and majesty are unequalled. It will ever be so. You are certain to be saved by him. He will arrive very soon and hold your hand in his. Do not lose courage.” She consoled her by loving words and left for home.

Availing himself of this chance, Hanuman jumped from his perch to a lower branch; he dropped right before Sita the ring that was given by Rama; it fell shining like a flame of purest ray. And, he kept on repeating “Rama! Rama” in ecstatic bliss. When her eyes fell upon the ring, Sita was astonished at what she saw. “Is this true, or, am I dreaming? Can it be true? How can this golden ring worn on the golden finger of my Lord be found in Lanka? Is this Rakshasa magic or mere hallucination? … No. I should not hesitate any longer, even after recognizing it as my Lord’s to take it in my hand. It will be a sin if I refrain from handling it.” So saying, she took it and placed it on her eyes in reverence. Tears of gratitude flowed from her eyes. “Rama! Are you granting me your Darsan, the joy of your presence through this ring?” she said and raised her head.

There she saw a small monkey sitting on a branch of the tree and reciting in deep devotion, “Rama, “Rama”, continuously. In a flash, she remembered the incidents in Thrijata’s dream as related by her. “Ah! Good days seem to be fast approaching. For ten long months, I have not heard the name of Rama pronounced in this Lanka. This day, I am able to see a living being reciting that holy name. I also received the dearly loved ring of my Lord,” she exulted. She could not keep her joyful excitement down. Sita, who had not talked to any stranger for long, looked at the monkey-form and addressed it thus: “O monkey! Who are you? Wherefrom is this ring?” She could not put full trust in the monkey, for, she had been deceived for months by tricks of impersonation. She interrogated the monkey in various ways in order to verify his credentials. Off and on, she would ask the monkey about the welfare of Rama and at the very thought of His being alone, in the forest, tears would flow profusely from her eyes. Sita swung alternately between joy and grief. Hanuman watched her plight; he could not keep away from her the bond of love and loyalty that was holding him on to Rama. He related the dynastic story of Rama and His exploits, as well as his own story until he met Rama. When she listened to that story, she felt as happy as when Rama stood before her; she could picture Rama standing beside her at Ayodhya and in the forest retreats; she felt so thrilled that she forgot herself and her condition.

Soon, she recovered consciousness and knew where she was. She said, “O Monkey! I am glad you told me all this; but, let me ask one question: How were you able to enter this heavily guarded city, in spite of your being only a weak little monkey? How could you escape being caught by these Rakshasas and succeed in spotting out this place and coming to me?” Hanuman replied, “Mother! What skill and strength have I? I am the servant of Rama, His slave. He makes me do everything He wants or likes. Without Him, I cannot survive even a moment. I am a doll in His hands. I play as He pulls the strings; I have no will of my own.” Then, Hanuman elaborated on the glory of Rama and manifested his devotion and dedication in the most impressive manner. It was most thrilling to hear those words of his.

Rama had told Hanuman for communication to Sita some incidents which no one else knew. He had said, “It may so happen that Sita may not believe your words; she may doubt your genuineness. Then, you can remind her of these events, which are known only to her and me.” So, Hanuman began relating those special incidents. “Mother Sita! He has asked me to tell you of the attempts made by the wicked Crow to cause injury to you and of His attempt to save you and to kill that demon.” At this, Sita wept aloud, saying “Hanuman! Why is Rama who was so kind to me then delaying to release me from this torture? Rama is the ocean of mercy. Yes. But why has he become so hard-hearted at my fate? No. No. I am wrong. Rama is the embodiment of compassion. He has to play a role that involves all this apparent hard-heartedness, that is all. Hanuman! You are no ordinary individual! For, Rama will not associate Himself so close with ordinary individuals. Nor will He send His ring with inferior persons. How fortunate you are to be His messenger! Show me once your full stature and form.”

Then, Hanuman landed on the ground and stood before Sita with palms folded in adoration. When Sita saw him growing into a huge and terror-inducing size, she half suspected it to be some demonic trick; she closed her eyes and turned aside! Realizing her fear and the suspicion that was at the basis of that fear, Hanuman said, “Mother! I am neither Ravana nor any one of his devilish Rakshasas. I am the faithful servant of Rama with the pure sacred body of unequalled splendour. He is the very breath of my existence; believe me, I am speaking the Truth. Guessing that you may not have faith in my being His authentic messenger, He took off His finger this golden ring and placed it in my hands to be given to you. With me, there came Jambavan, Neela, Angada and thousands of others of extraordinary heroism. But, I alone was able to cross the ocean through the Grace of Rama. The others are all on the other shore. We were able to hear from Jatayu [RRV-3b] and Sabari [RRV-3b] the story of your having been brought here by this villainous Rakshasa King. When we came to know three days ago from Sampathi news confirming your being here, we felt as happy as when seeing you before our eyes. Rama and Lakshmana are awaiting my return with the good tidings. If you permit me, I shall get back immediately and communicate to them news about your welfare.”

Sita pleaded, “Hanuman! I do not know whether you will be back at this place or when. Please stay for a day more and delight me, by telling me about Rama and Lakshmana.” But, since the demonesses gathered around in groups to carry out their separate assignments Hanuman resumed his miniature size and hopped on to a branch of the tree.

Sita sat under the tree, ruminating on all that Hanuman had related to her; she derived delight while doing so, and she cast her eyes showering benediction on Hanuman sitting on the branch above her head. That day, she had no thirst or hunger; she did not touch the fruits and drinks that the women-guards brought for her; her pathetic condition hurt the kind heart of Hanuman. She appeared to him as the very picture of misery. Hanuman heard the harsh and sharp-pointed words used by the women-guards, and he gnashed his teeth in anger, for, he could not deal with them as he wished to; Sita alone could give him orders what to do.

After some time, Sarama, the wife of Vibhishana and her daughter, Thrijata, came to the tree and fell at the feet of Sita sitting disconsolate thereunder. They enquired about her health. Since they were partial towards her, Sita spoke to them about how the dream of Thrijata had come true, and how a monkey had actually entered Lanka in accordance with it. Sarama and Thrijata showed extreme enthusiasm and excitement when they heard the account of what had happened; they plied Sita with questions, in their eagerness to know all details. Sita showed them the monkey perched on the branch and the Ring it had brought. They both pressed the ring on their eyes in reverent adoration. Hanuman was watching for an opportunity to see Sita while alone and very soon he got it. Hanuman jumped to the ground and whispered to Sita ‘Mother! Do not be anxious and grief-stricken. Sit on my back, and I will transport you in a trice to where Rama and Lakshmana are awaiting news about you.” Hanuman pleaded in many ways for acceptance of this plan. Sita replied, “Hanuman! I am indeed very glad to hear you speak thus. I am sunk and struggling in the sorrow of separation; your sweet words give me solace like a boat on a stormy sea. But, do you not know that I will never contact a person other than my Lord? How then can I sit on your back; consider that.” These words of Sita were a sharp repartee which hit Hanuman in the heart and exposed his pettiness and pride for having suggested a dishonourable step.

But, Hanuman recovered soon and said, “Mother! Am I not your son? What is wrong when the son carries the mother on his back? What evil consequence can follow from that?” He supported his idea with various pleadings and points. In reply, Sita declared, “Hanuman! Of course, for me and for you, the feelings of mother and son are real; but, imagine what the world will think of it. We have to consider that aspect, also, haven’t we? We must so live that we are ideals for the lives of others. We should not draw upon ourselves by our acts the ridicule, contempt or condemnation of others; no one should point the finger of scorn at us. And, above all, we must derive self-satisfaction, as a result of our acts. When I know I cannot derive that satisfaction I will never attempt such acts. Even if my life departs, I don’t need or crave for another’s assistance.

“Moreover, my Rama has to destroy this vile demon who tortures me; He is the person who has to discharge the responsibility, no one else can. He must come himself into this Lanka, kill this Ravana, and lead this Sita back holding her in His hand – that is the sign of the true hero that He is. That is the sign of genuine valour. Look at this Ravana; he came like a thief in a false form and stole me from my Lord. But, Rama is the embodiment of Righteousness; he observes the norms of right behaviour. He honours the spoken word. When news spreads that this Rama sent a monkey and brought away Sita without the knowledge of Ravana, it would be dishonouring him. Getting out of here in the way you suggest will surely be treason. We should not resort to mean stratagems. We should guard the fair name of Rama as our very breath. His fame is the deity we adore in our hearts. We have to preserve it unimpaired by thought, word and deed. Your proposal has not given me satisfaction for this reason”. Hanuman admired her untarnishable virtue and her steadfast adoration of her Lord, and the loftiness of the ideals she maintained. He extolled her in his mind and recollected her words, in order to draw inspiration therefrom. He said, “Mother! Pardon me. Since I saw with my own eyes the tortures you are undergoing and the pangs of separation which Rama is suffering, I entertained this idea to take you as quickly as possible to the Lotus Feet of the Lord. Pardon me if it was wrong”, and fell at her feet, again and again, in great remorse.

At this, Sita questioned him many times on the condition of Rama and Lakshmana and how they were faring in the forest. “Why worry about men? They can bear any burden or travail. They can bear separation from women with fortitude. Women suffer most, for, it is terror for the wives to live apart from their husbands.” Hanuman told her, “Mother! Rama and Lakshmana are keeping well, of course; but, do not compare them with ordinary males. It is not fair. Alas! Every moment, Rama is spending in thoughts of you and of separation from you, and so, He is not paying heed to either thirst or hunger. He does not eat or drink, unless pressed lovingly by Lakshmana to partake of a few fruits or a little drink. I do not remember a single occasion on which Rama drank a gulp of water on His own initiative. Do not be under the impression that they have forgotten you or are neglecting you.

“Lakshmana is spending his days watching over Rama as the lids guard the eye; he is the breath of the Breath of Rama; he is overcome by the agony of separation from you and of witnessing the anguish of his brother; he has become a rock, unaffected by any feeling other than concern for Rama. He is the source of courage and sustenance that is unfailing and full. He has not slept these ten months, nor has he taken food.”

When Hanuman was describing the pathetic condition of the brothers, Sita acted as if she was amazed at the love and affection that Rama had towards her. Again and again, she said, “Yes. You too describe only the misery of the men; what do you know, how can you gauge the sorrows of women?” She pretended not to believe all that Hanuman related to her! She watched Hanuman and appreciated his wisdom and powers; she recalled the story of how Rama and Hanuman had met and came to be bound in love and loyalty, and derived great joy and content therefrom. At last, she got firm faith in Hanuman and his mission.

Again and again, Hanuman pleaded, “Mother! Why this feeling of separateness? Why spend days and months in agony and pain? Please sit on my back and I shall take you in a trice to the Presence of Rama.” Sita noted the anxiety of Hanuman to win his point in spite of her arguments, moral and spiritual, legal and worldly; she decided therefore to stop further conversation on this score by a sharp repartee. She said, “Hanuman! Are you or are you not one who obeys strictly the commands of Rama?” Hanuman replied, “Yes. I would rather give up my life than go against the commands of Rama or disobey His orders.” He banged his chest with his fist in order to lend emphasis to his declaration. “Well. Consider this. Did Rama command you to seek me out and bring him information about where I am after seeing me, or, did He ask you to bring me with you?” Hanuman was rendered dumb by this question. He could not continue his pleadings. He said, “Mother! I did not think so deep into the consequences of my proposal. I ask pardon again.” From that moment, he never broached that matter.

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Chapter 6(a)

LANKA ON FIRE

Hanuman knew that it was wrong to spend any more time in Lanka. He felt that the sooner he communicated to Rama the welcome news about Sita the better for all concerned. He prayed for permission to leave. She said, “Go. Go safe and soon. Tell Rama to come soon and take me with Him”. She shed tears of hope and sorrow. Hanuman was moved by the pathos of the scene. Sadness overwhelmed his brave heart. He consoled her and said, “Very soon, Mother, Rama will lay siege to this Lanka, with his Vanara hordes, he will destroy these Rakshasa forces, rescue you and restore you to Ayodhya.”

But, Sita was inconsolable. She had her doubts. “Hanuman! What is it that you say! Can monkey hordes fight against and destroy these Rakshasas who have mastered many a mysterious stratagem and subterfuge, and who are themselves much stronger? How can the two brothers, Rama and Lakshmana, stand up against these demons and win? Victory over the demons is an impossible dream. This can end only in my death. Rather than causing the death of so many of you on the battlefield, I would fain breathe my last and save all your lives.” Sita was lamenting thus, while Hanuman interrupted her and said, “Mother! Do not weep. We of the monkey horde are the bond slaves of Rama. All of us believe that Rama is our strength and our courage. We take in as our very breath the name, Rama. We have no other source of life. Therefore, even if each of these Rakshasas increases a thousand fold in devilry, we monkeys can easily destroy them. We can win victory over them in spite of their wiles and wickedness. You are doubting the extent of our strength and skills, since we appear in our wonted forms. Let me show the Form I can assume in battle.” Hanuman rose sky-high, and stood before Sita – a mountain-peak of shining Gold. Sita was astonished at this; she said, “Hanuman! Stop. Stop. Enough. Limit yourself. If the eyes of the Rakshasas fall on you, you may not be able to return soon to Rama.” Sita protested and pleaded with him to assume his old form. Hanuman gave up the terrible form he had converted himself into, and became a quiet little monkey in no time. Hanuman fell at the feet of Sita and turned his steps away. But, the plight of Sita and her anguished face were so deeply imprinted on his heart that his feet would not move away.

While returning from the place where Sita was, he saw an orchard and plucking some tasty fruits, he ate his fill. He cast aside those that were unripe and the extra one he had plucked. Sighting this, a Rakshasa guard wanted to frighten him away but Hanuman gave him a blow which felled him to the ground. He ran to the head of the gang of guards; he fled in terror to his superior in office and he in turn approached his master; thus, the news of a monkey rioting in the garden reached the Imperial ears of Ravana himself. It struck Ravana as an evil omen. He could not restrain his anger at the mischief and the insult. The flames of his ire rose to the skies. He ordered a few hundred Rakshasas to overwhelm and catch the audacious animal. Since they could not succeed in their mission, he sent a few thousand trained and heavily armed Soldier-Rakshasas into the garden where Hanuman was awaiting their onslaught. Even that formidable force could not harm the monkey or persuade him to move off! Hanuman broke a dry twig from the tree on which he sat and with that tiny weapon which he waved around to the recital of Ram, Ram, he warded off every missile that was directed at him. Seeing this, the Rakshasas wondered who he was. Was he an emissary of the Gods? Or, was he the harbinger of the destruction of Lanka? The defeated heroes returned to camp, burdened with premonitions of disaster. They had no courage left to report their discomfiture to their ruler, Ravana. “You sent on this expedition countless Rakshasas selected for this special assignment; but, we could not achieve the object. When the monkey roared once, hundreds of our men died for sheer fear. The earth shook under our feet. That roar echoed and re-echoed from every mansion in the city. Seeing our plight, our leaders decided to come to you and report that this is no ordinary foe, and that this presages some evil calamity.” This was the statement they made before Ravana. He was told the plain fact, without any reservation; if the monkey was allowed to roam about, danger was certain to envelope the land.

At this, Ravana sent his own dear son, Akshayakumara, at the head of thousands of seasoned Warrior-Rakshasas. But Hanuman slaughtered this host in a trice, and Ravana had to mourn the death of his beloved son. The entire land shivered in fear at the news of the death of the Prince and the decimation of his army. People whispered in fear, that this was no ordinary monkey, that it must be a Divine Phenomenon, and that it was the terrible avenger for the sin of bringing Sita over to Lanka. Many prayed to Sita in their heart of hearts to deliver Lanka from the monkey, for they feared it was her vengeance that had taken shape as that strange beast. Ravana sent word for Meghanada, and commissioned him to destroy this new invader. He placed at his disposal a huge army of several thousands. Meghanada ascended his chariot and led the heroic army in great pomp. As they marched along, earth and sky were astounded at their might and their angry tread. Their war cry rent the heavens. All who witnessed that pageantry and panoply were struck with wonder and admiration.

Hanuman watched their march and heard their trumpetings with absolute unconcern; he sat unmoved, on a little branch of the spreading tree, and enjoyed the antics of the Rakshasas until they drew near. The soldiers rained arrows on Hanuman from all sides. With one ear-splitting roar, Hanuman jumped down and plucking a giant tree by its roots, he waved it round, beating off the rain of arrows that tried to reach him. The arrows were swept off so fast that when they hit back the Rakshasas who shot them, the impact killed them in such larger numbers that very few were left to carry on the fight. Meghanada was felled by a blow; he rolled, spouting blood. So, he resolved to resort to the sacred arrow of Brahma that he had with him. He knew that Brahma, the first of the Trinity, had told Ravana that he would meet his death at the hands of man and monkey. He decided to prevent that calamity. The Brahmaastra was released with appropriate ritual formulae. Hanuman had great reverence for the weapon that is sanctified by such manthras and dedicated to Brahma. So, he did not counteract it; he reverentially prostrated before it. So, it was easy for Meghanada to bind him with the Serpent Rope.

The happy news was immediately carried to Ravana by the exultant Rakshasas. Lakhs of eager faces crowded the streets to see the monkey that had been bound. Hanuman was unaffected by fear or anxiety; he moved calm and collected watching the crowds with an amused smile. At last, he reached the Audience Hall of Ravana. The courtiers and ministers assembled there were aghast at the insulting indifference shown by Hanuman to the display of power and luxury that the Hall contained. Ravana laughed aloud at the absurd figure of the monkey; but the next moment, he was overcome by fear of impending death. However, anger was the over-riding emotion at that time in him. He asked, “Hey, you monkey! Who are you really? Whose is the might that you have been exhibiting and using? Why did you destroy this orchard and this park? Though bound, you have no sense of shame; you look around with your head high up. Come. Give me the right answers”.

Hanuman had a hearty laugh at his interrogator. He used for his replies a style of speech and a vocabulary which were beyond the understanding of the people who stood around him. But, Ravana, who was an expert in Rhetoric and Grammar, understood him quite well and the dialogue between them appeared to the listeners like a disputation between two intellectual giants. Ravana demonstrated before Hanuman several magic feats in order to impress him with his invincibility. He manifested many powers and feats. But, Hanuman remained unmoved. He said, “Ravana! I know your prowess. I have heard that you fight with a thousand arms. I am aware also of your famous fight with Vali. But, what wrong have I done? I was hungry; I plucked a few trees by their roots; it is my nature. I was in my element, my natural habitat, the tree top. Of course, each one has the desire and the determination to safeguard his own life, to protect his own body. Your soldiers are awfully wicked. They hurt me; so, I hurt them, and unable to bear the hurt, they died. I fought with them in order to save myself. The arrow of your son forced me to enter into his bondage. But I am not trying to deceive you in return. My only desire is to carry out the orders of my Master. Listen to me carefully. Give up all sense of personal pride and reputation. Reflect on the grandeur of your clan, the family to which you belong. Remember, you are the great-grandson of Brahma. You are the grandson of the great Pulastya. You are the son of Visravas. Give up this delusion of accumulating pomp and power; adore in your heart the Destroyer of Fear from the hearts of those devoted to Him, the Crown Jewel of the Ikshvaku Dynasty, the precious Gem of the Raghu Dynasty, Rama! Surrender to Him, take refuge in Him. Even Time shivers in fear before Him. It is not good for you to harbour enmity towards Him. Listen to me: Place Sita at the Lotus Feet of Rama, and meditate on the Grace that flows from those Feet. Strengthened by that Grace, rule over the state of Lanka for ever and ever. Make the glory of your grandfather, Pulastya, reach the far corners of the world, without blemish, so long as the sun and moon illumine the sky. The fair name of your line should not be tarnished by you in the least. Give up your pride and your delusion. O, Emperor! Rivers taking birth on mountain ranges get flooded in the rainy season and roll furiously along; but within weeks, they run dry with just a trickle of water. Your power and wealth will soon dry up and vanish. Adore Rama as the source of power and wealth; then, they would never get dry; for, He is the inexhaustible spring of peace and prosperity. He is ever full. He won’t lose, but you will benefit from Him. 0 Ravana! I am telling you with nothing held back, with an open mind. No one can rescue the unfortunate person who is blinded by hatred towards Him. Accept my advice.”

These words of Hanuman were soft and salutary; they were full of wisdom and morality. But, Ravana was not prepared to benefit by the counsel. He said, “Fool! Dare you advise me what to do? Fie on you, fie! Death has drawn near you; or else, you would not have the courage to lecture long thus in my presence. Enough of your prating, keep your mouth shut!” Hanuman did not obey. He retorted “Ravana! These words or yours spell your doom. Alas! You have become insane. You will know the truth of my diagnosis as time passes. In a few days, you can know to whom Death is drawing near, to you or to me!”

When Hanuman spoke thus, in utter fearlessness, with no bounds or limits, Ravana was enraged beyond control. He rose, spouting fire and slapping his thighs in challenge he roared an order to his henchmen to kill the impertinent monkey. And, everyone rushed to where Hanuman sat bound in snake ropes. Just at that moment, Vibhishana, Ravana’s brother, entered the Hall, followed by his retinue. He prostrated before his elder brother and said, protestingly, “Master! It is not right to kill an emissary. Rajadharma will not approve the deed. Punish him in any other manner, but do not pronounce the sentence of death”. The ministers of Ravana supported this stand and declared that what he had suggested was the noblest truth. Ravana laughed in scorn at their absurd ideas of right and wrong; still, he climbed down and said, “Well. Mutilate him and send him off.” The ministers gathered in a group to decide on the mutilation. They came to the conclusion that monkeys are proud of their tails and would fain keep them intact long and strong. Some one suggested that the best punishment would be to wind sheets of cloth on the tail, pour oil until it soaks and drips and then set fire to the tail. This plan got unanimous acceptance! They exulted among themselves at the brilliance of the idea. “The tail-less monkey will proceed to its master and bring him here for avenging the loss. Then, we can witness the manliness of his master and his might.” There was a spate of whispers in the Hall.

Hanuman was watching their movements, listening to their confabulations, and laughing within himself all the while. When they had finished, he burst into a thunderbolt of laughter! The Rakshasas were enraged at this display of insulting behaviour. They procured cloth and oil and started the process of winding and soaking. But, the more they wound and soaked, the longer grew the tail! Miles of cloth and tanks of oil had to be ordered. News of the wonder spread all over the City and crowds of men, women and children ran towards the Hall to witness the miracle. Meanwhile, bands of musicians led the procession. Crowds began clapping hands. Hanuman was led along the streets with oil-soaked cloth wound along the whole length of his tail. At last, the Central Square of the City of Lanka was reached. There, before a huge crowd of eager citizens, a burning flame was applied to the tip of Hanuman’s tail. Suddenly, Hanuman assumed his subtle form, and so the ropes that had bound him became too loose and fell off. He could now assume his natural size and jump about. He rose in one jump on to the top of a golden mansion; he shouted Rama, Rama, and made the Rakshasas shudder in fear, for, a strong wind rose from nowhere and blew with great speed. Hanuman somersaulted in the air and was beside himself with joy. He jumped from one mansion to another, with the burning tail trailing behind him. And, the tail grew longer and longer. The conflagration swelled in size as he moved from street to street. The mansions all over the City of Lanka were caught in the conflagration, and changed into heaps of ashes. The Rakshasas fled desperately with their wives and children, forsaking their burning homes, eager to save their lives. To add to the confusion, cattle, horses, mules and elephants broke away from their sheds and ran helter skelter in panic and pain. The entire City was enveloped in a shroud of wails, cries, roars and trumpetings. “O! Save us”, “O! Take us to a safe place” … agonizing appeals like these rose from the throats of women and children and echoed from the sky.

Queen Mandodari heard that wail. She summoned the soldiers guarding the Palace, and ordered them to give refuge therein to women and children. She confessed her fears and poured out the grief she suffered. “Alas! The foolish obstinacy of Ravana is causing the extinction of the Rakshasa clan; this blow will end only with the holocaust. I and brother-in-law Vibhishana advised him a great deal. We prayed with folded arms. He refused to pay heed. We lamented that it will end in the destruction of every single Rakshasa. But as they say, ‘When extermination is near, discrimination flees far’. Bad times are approaching him, and so, he is behaving in these nefarious ways”. Wherever she turned her eyes, ferocious tongues of flame glared at her. And Hanuman too was very much before her eyes, jumping about in the midst of the flames. From every household there rose the cry, “Hanuman! Save us”. “Spare this house”. With folded palms, they prayed, “Take pity on our children”. The wife of Kumbhakarna, the younger brother of Ravana, ran forward with her prayer, “O, Messenger of Rama! My husband is submerged in deep sleep. Do not set fire to our home. Save my husband from being burnt to death”.

Lanka was caught in the throes of total destruction. Ravana himself came to know of the calamity pretty soon. He ordered that the monkey be surrounded by soldiers with weapons and mortars. Those who proceeded towards Hanuman scattered in panic when the burning tail of Hanuman flailed them mercilessly. Many were killed by that flaming tail. Women clamoured and called on the clouds to shower rain and stop the fire from spreading. Malyavantha saw their plight and said within himself, “No, this is not fire that can be put out by rain! This is the unbearable grief of Sita”. Others said, “This is the flame of anger against Ravana; it is the fiery form of the curse he has to go through. It will burn this city to ashes”. The huge flame hopped from roof-top, without any sign of exhaustion. Sometimes, Hanuman made himself small, sometimes, gigantic, but, the pace of destruction was the same, whatever size he assumed. The crackle of the flames and the incessant thud of falling walls could be heard from all sides.

Sita heard the news; she raised her head and had one long look at the smoke and sparkle surrounding the garden. The sky was darkened by smoke! The garden too had become uncomfortably hot. Sita called upon the God of Fire without delay and prayed that He should save Han