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

Following the wedding everyone returned to Ayodhya. All in the city cheered their arrival. Rama and Sita continued to serve their parents and delight the holy ones and gods. Sita and Rama were the perfect husband and wife. They were exceedingly devoted to each other. Rama's parents watched him mature into a young prince. Rama was a perfectly perfect young man. He had all the noble qualities. He was patient with others' wrongs, but would not do wrong himself. He enjoyed the company of elders and wise men. He was very intelligent and courageous. He was righteous and kind. He was the perfect warrior. He knew when to use violence and when not to. He was healthy, strong and handsome. He was highly learned in the scriptures. Rama was a sat-purusa, the ideal man.

Life In Ayodhya

Now the king was growing older. He noticed omens suggesting his end was near. "I have lived long enough," he thought. "I must be sure my throne goes to Rama, the most worthy of my sons. What a great blessing it would be to see him as king before I go to heaven. "Then it will be done," Dasaratha concluded, "I shall step down and Rama shall be made king."

The king told everyone about his decision. He informed the priests to begin the sacred rites that would allow Rama to assume the throne of Ayodhya. Kaikeyi, the last and youngest of the king's three wives, had heard of the decision to make Rama king while Dasaratha was still living. This decision pleased her. But Manthara, a maid-servant, did not want Rama to be king. If she could somehow convince Kaikeyi to change the king's mind, her position at the palace would be secure.

That evening, she spoke to Kaikeyi in secret. "If Rama takes the throne, you would lose all your control over the king. If Rama is crowned, his mother will control of the kingdom Your rule will come to an end. Awake. Act now. You must convince Dasaratha that it is your son who should be king. "Kaikeyi believed Manthara. She decided to see Dasaratha. She tried everything to convince Dasaratha to listen to her. "Dasaratha," Kaikeyi began, "Do you remember that fateful day I saved your life in battle? Do you remember how I stopped your runaway chariot. " "Yes," replied the king. "And do you remember what you said after I saved your life?" Without waiting for an answer, she said, " Oh my powerful king and beloved husband you promised me two boons. Hear my boons now so that they may be granted." The king reluctantly listened to his wife's requests.

"First," she began. "I wish to have my son, Bharata, placed upon the throne of Ayodhya. Second, I want Rama banished from the kingdom for a period of no less than fourteen years." The king fell to his knees and begged his young wife not to hold him to these dreadful wishes. As a righteous and honest man, he knew he could not go back on his word. Yet, he couldn't bear to ask Rama to forsake the throne and go away for fourteen years. He turned pale and speechless.

Kaikeyi told Rama the terrible news. Rather than argue, Rama comforted his father. "Father, your word is law. I shall do whatever you bid. It is the sacred duty of a son to respect his father." Then, he turned to his own mother Kausalya, and requested "Please be sure that father installs Bharata as crown prince." Rama knelt and touched the feet of his parents respectfully. He stood, turned and left the palace. Lakshmana declared, "I shall destroy anyone who opposes your right to the throne.."

Rama responded, "No, Lakshmana. You know it is my sacred duty, my dharma, to fulfill these wishes." "My brother, if you must leave Ayodhya, then I shall follow you," Lakshmana said. Rama tried to convince Sita to remain, but she said sobbing, "And, it is my duty, my dharma, as a wife to be at your side. How can I live without you? I must join you."Rama tried hard to convince them to stay but they were insistent. "Then, Sita, come with me," Rama said.

Rama also gave his brother permission to join them. As the three left the palace, they cast away their royal robes and put on the clothes of hermits. The people of Ayodhya wept as Rama, Sita and Lakshmana passed from the city. As the chariot went from sight, Dasaratha cried, "Rama! Rama! Do not leave me." In time, Dasaratha lost the will to live. His heart simply gave out. Ayodhya mourned the loss of their king. In a few days, Rama, Lakshmana and Sita crossed the river Ganges searching for a land undisturbed and isolated from everyone. Soon they reached Chitrakoot, a beautiful place with many trees and streams. It was paradise. They built a small hut near a stream.

Several days had passed. Lakshmana, while hunting in the forest, heard the pounding of a thousand hooves. He climbed a tree to see whose army was approaching. To his amazement, he saw the lead horseman carrying the flag of Ayodhya. Bharata had found his brothers. Lakshmana was sure that his brother had come to kill them. Lakshmana called to Rama: "A great army is approaching led by our brother, Bharata. I will kill him with my own hands." "Don't be a fool," Rama said. "He is our brother and he is the king. We must welcome him."

Bharata embraced his brothers. He cried, "My heart is filled with grief and shame. Grief for the loss of our noble father. Shame for being offered the throne that you rightfully deserve. Come back to Ayodhya and be our king." "That cannot be done," Rama said. "I gave my word and I shall stay here for fourteen years and no less. Then and only then will I return." Nothing could sway Rama. "Rama, my brother," Bharata declared, "as long as you are in exile, no one shall be king. To ensure this give me your sandals.

 I will place them on the throne. For the next fourteen years I will serve our land in your name. And, if after those fourteen years, you do not return, I shall walk into a fire and die." Bharata took the sandals, mounted his horse and left the forest. In Kosala, Bharata put Rama's sandals on the red and gold Ayodhya throne.

The Forest Life

Several days passed. Rama, Lakshmana and Sita walked south until they came upon Dandaka forest. Once a beautiful place, Dandaka was now a barren wasteland. Shreds of bark from dead trees littered the ground. Stumps of trees were all that remained of a once lush forest. The sound of the wind seemed to warn anyone who approached. At night demons prowled the land in search of flesh. Religious men who gave up all worldly comforts and became hermits also lived in the forest. They spoke of the horrors that Ravana's demons had done. Rama and Lakshmana promised they would kill all these demons.

After ten years, Rama, Lakshmana and Sita crossed the Godavari River and reached Panchavati. Here was a magnificent forest, untouched by demons. The air was fragrant with the smell of flowers. Fruit grew on every vine. Birds sang joyfully. "Let us build a hut here." Rama said. Nearby lived the ancient vulture king, Jatayu. Jatayu made friends with them and enjoyed guarding Sita while the brothers hunted. Just beyond the clearing lived Shurpanakha, the she-demon. She was Ravana's sister. She had a pot belly, huge ears, claws on her fingers and toes, slits for eyes, and dirty hair.

One day she saw Rama in the forest. She put down the bone she was gnawing on and said, "I want him for my husband." Using her magical powers, she turned herself into a beautiful maiden. She asked Rama, "Why does such a strong, handsome man like you live in this forest? Who are you?" Rama told her his story. Upon seeing Sita, the she-demon said, "That woman is not good enough for you." Rama responded, "And who, might I ask, is?" "I am. I can make you happy." "Perhaps I should introduce you to my brother, Lakshmana," Rama said half-jokingly. Sensing that Rama was not interested in her, the demon grew angry. She assumed her original form and jumped on Sita.

In an instant, Lakshmana took his gold-handled knife from his belt and cut off the she-demon's nose and ears. She howled in pain as she fled. Shurpanaka ran until she met her brothers Khar and Dushan who lived on the edge of the forest. Seeing his sister's bloodied face, Khar cried, "Who has done this to you?" His wounded sister whimpered, "A human." "A human!" Khar replied, "What human can do this? Take us to them. We will kill them. "Khar gathered his army of demon warriors and marched into the forest.

Lakshmana noticed the sky growing darker. Day seemed to turn into night. Then he looked again. The sky was filled with flying demons. Upon seeing this, Rama told Sita to remain in the hut. With Lakshmana at his side, Rama would face Khar's forces. Rama fired his golden arrows skyward. With each shot, mortally wounded demons fell to earth. The fierce battle continued. No magic or weapons could save the demons from Rama's divine weaponry. In the end, Khar and his 14,000 warriors were slain. Shurpanakha watched in horror as her brothers and their army were destroyed. She hurried to Lanka to see her brother, Ravana."Oh, Ravana. Khar and Dushan have been killed by humans. All their warriors are dead, too," Shurpanakha cried.

Ravana rose from his throne. The crowns on his ten heads glistened. He raised his ten left arms pointing to his disfigured sister and said, "And how many thousands of humans fought so well?""There are but two, my lord." answered Shurpanakha weeping."Two!" roared Ravana, his voice echoing through the palace."The two banished princes from Ayodhya. They have done this alone," his sister said."What gods are on their side?" Ravana wondered."One more thing," Shurpanakha added. "Rama's wife, Sita, is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. She would make a lovely queen.""Sita," said Ravana.

"Whoever Sita embraces as her husband will outgain the gods in happiness," she added. "Perhaps there is a way to revenge my sister's wounds and avenge the loss of my two brothers," Ravana thought. "Maybe I can punish Rama in a way he will never expect." Ravana summoned his magic chariot and flew off. Over the vast ocean and great mountains he travelled until he landed at the den of Mareech, the magician. This magician was able to assume the form of any human or beast. Ravana told Mareecha about Rama. He also spoke of his desire to take Sita from the forest, carry her back to Lanka and make her his queen.

I shall do whatever I can to help," said the magician. He continued. "I will go to the Chilrakoot forest where I shall change into a golden deer and stand near their hut. I will lure Rama away. You will do the rest." The next day, a beautiful deer appeared at the stream in Panchavati. Sita was enchanted by it. "Please capture that deer for me," Sita asked Rama. Lakshmana looked carefully at the creature. He told his brother, "This deer is too beautiful. It is too perfect. I have never seen a deer like that before. Brother, approach it with caution."

"Stay with Sita, " Rama told Lakshmana. "I will, my lord," Lakshmana replied. No sooner had Rama taken a step toward the deer than it darted into the woods. It was taking Rama farther and farther from the hut. Then deep in the forest, the deer paused. Rama moved closer to it. As he did so, the deer changed into the form of Mareech.

    

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