The Ramayana: A "Telling" of the Ancient Indian Epic

The Boyhood Of Rama

On the banks of the Sarayu River stood the beautiful city of Ayodhya, the capital of Kosala. In the city there were magnificent palaces decorated with precious stones. Spires of great temples rose above the city as if to touch the sky. For protection, the city was surrounded by a great moat. The people of Ayodhya were peace-loving and happy. No one was ignorant or poor. Everyone had faith in God and read the scriptures daily. Each person knew his or her role in society. The brahmins devoted their lives to studying the sacred texts. The rulers and warriors governed and protected the city. The farmers and merchants fed and clothed the citizens. Yet, all was not well in Ayodhya. Dasaratha, the king was unhappy. Although he was very old, he had no son to inherit his throne.

One day the king called upon his priest Vasistha. "Vasistha," he said. "I am growing old. I long for a son, a son who will take my place on the throne. "The priest knew all too well that his king needed to have a son. He replied, "Dasaratha, you will have sons. I shall perform a sacred rite to please the gods. "Excited by this wonderful news, the king ran to tell his three wives Sumitra, Kaikeyi, and Kausalya, "I will have sons!"

At the same moment many of the gods were growing more and more angry with Ravana, the ruler of the rakshasas, or demons. Ravana was no ordinary looking demon. He had ten heads and twenty arms. He also had remarkable powers. But he was using his power to prevent the gods and holy men from performing sacred rituals. This was a terrible insult to all who were holy. Learning of Ravana's actions, Vishnu, the protector of the universe, decided it was time to do something. But what? Years ago Ravana was granted a boon, or promise. This boon protected him from gods and demons. How then, Vishnu wondered, could Ravana be stopped?

Vishnu thought, "Ravana, in his arrogance, protected himself only from those beings whom he thought could hurt him. He failed to protect himself from humans and monkeys. "Vishnu decided to be born as a human who could kill Ravana. The gods and holy men were pleased with his decision. Vishnu sent a messenger to king Dasaratha with payasam, a sweet made of milk and rice, laced with a special potion. The messenger said, "Give each of the three wives this drink. It is a boon that will bring sons." Then the messenger disappeared. The king gave each of his wives part of the drink.

 No sooner had his wives finished, than each shone with the glow of a divine being in their womb. There was great rejoicing in the city when four sons were born to their king. Their names were Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata, and Satrughna. Even as infants, everyone noticed that Rama and Lakshmana were inseparable. It was as if they were one life in two bodies. 

All four sons grew to be intelligent men. They learned the holy scriptures well. They were devoted to the welfare of others. Dasaratha was finally happy. He enjoyed watching his sons grow before his eyes. He did not say it in so many words, but he did have a special place in his heart for Rama.One day the sage, or wise man, Vishvamitra came to Ayodhya to see the king.

  The king had great respect for him. "Greetings, oh, wise one. What brings you to my kingdom?" The sage said, "I have come to ask you a favor." "How can I help? No wish is too great to ask," the king responded. "It pleases me to hear those words from you, " said Vishwamitra. I have been trying to perform an important sacred rite which is again and again being interrupted by Ravana's demons. My vows prevent me personally from fighting these demons. "The king listened intently. "I pray, Dasaratha, that you allow me to take Rama with me to protect my sacred rite." "But Rama is only a child. He is but sixteen years of age. I have a better idea. I shall send you my armies to battle these demons. I will even accompany you. I shall fight these demons with my own hands. But please do not take Rama. Without Rama I cannot live even a few minutes. " The king began to weep. Vishwamitra understood the king's pain. But the sage also had no choice. He knew that Rama was an avatar, or incarnation of Vishnu on earth. He also knew that only Vishnu in human form could kill Ravana. The king told Rama about Vishwamitra's request. Rama understood and willingly went with the sage.

"I shall go, too, father," declared Lakshmana. The king did not protest. Rama and Lakshmana, weapons slung over their shoulders, and followed the sage along the Sarayu River bank. The journey was a long one. Whenever the three stopped to rest, the sage took the time to teach the boys how to use the powerful weapons of the gods to fight the demons. They journeyed until they reached the foot of a frightening forest. They paused. The sage said, "This was once a beautiful and prosperous country. Now the terrible she-demon, Tataka, lives here. She attacks and kills anyone who enters. "Neither Rama nor Lakshmana were afraid.

The sage turned to Rama and said, "Now it is up to you to rid this forest of these demons. By doing so, you will restore the land to the prosperity and the peace it once enjoyed. " Rama clutched his bow and removed arrows from his quiver. Rama and Lakshmana followed Vishwamitra into the forest. They heard many strange and frightening sounds. Each step they took brought them deeper into the forest. Suddenly there was an unearthly roar. The three men stopped. From nowhere a huge rock came hurling out of the sky heading straight for Rama. He slipped an arrow in place and drew his bow. He fired just as the rock was about to hit him. The arrow split the rock in two. The pieces fell harmlessly to earth. 

Then appearing out of between two trees, Rama saw a horrible sight. It was the hideous form of the demoness, Tataka. She was enormous. Around her neck was a human skull. She had sharp claws on her hands. She looked at Rama and made a growling noise. Lakshmana decided to wait no longer. He fired his arrow and gravely wounded the demoness. A strange look came over her face as she felt the arrow pierce her flesh. Placing her hand to the wound she moaned, "What mortals have wounded me?" Then taking careful aim, Rama fired his arrow into Tataka's heart killing her. No sooner had the she-demon died, than the gods in heaven rained lotus blossoms down on Rama blessing him. The three continued on their journey deeper into the forest. Along the way, Rama and Lakshmana killed many demons.

 The sage told Rama: "I am delighted with you. I shall give you even greater weapons to defeat any enemy." He knew that Rama's work was far from complete. There was still the powerful Ravana to deal with. It was one thing to kill Ravana's demons; it was another to kill Ravana himself. The three finally left the forest. They headed for Mithila to visit King Janaka. Seeing the sage, Janaka greeted him saying, "Have I told you about my daughter?" "Please tell me about her," responded the sage.

The king spoke: "A few years ago a portion of my land was being plowed and I found a divine child in a furrow. I called her Sita and adopted her as my own daughter. She has grown into a beautiful, young woman. Many princes have desired her hand in marriage. "But I wanted the man who married my Sita to be a man of great strength and righteousness. To prove his strength, this man would have to lift and string the ancient bow of Shiva. No man has shown the strength to even lift this bow." The sage turned to Rama and said, "There is a bow belonging to King Janaka that I would like you to string." Rama entered a long room filled with thousands of people. The bow was so heavy it took no less than five thousand exceptionally strong men to bring the bow and its casing into the room. Several princes who had tried to lift the bow looked on as Rama approached the weapon. Rama looked at Shiva's bow. First he touched it. It was beautiful. Then with no effort whatsoever, he hoisted the bow from its casing and started to string it. As he did so, the bow snapped in two and fell to the palace floor. First there was disbelief, then everyone stood and chanted, "Rama. Rama."

The king rose to his feet and declared, "Sita has found her spouse! Send a messenger to Ayodhya informing them of the wedding of Rama to my daughter, Sita. " The wedding ceremony was held in the palace. As part of this ceremony, the worship of the sacred fire began. The holiest sages recited mantras, prayers. After this, King Janaka led Sita to Rama. He placed her hand in his and said to Rama, "This is Sita, my daughter, O Rama, who is from today your partner in life. Accept her. Hold her hand in yours. She will always follow you as your shadow." Rama looked at Sita. He had never seen a more beautiful woman. Sita looked at Rama. She had never seen a more handsome man.

    

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