Category Archives: a. The Ramayana

Book 2: Ayodhya Kanda (part 2)

In Ayodhya
Lyndia Peters

The next morning was a symphony of exotic birdsong. Rama, Sita, and Laksmana awoke with the realization of sending their faithful and beloved Sumantra back to Ayodhya. Guha, the hunter king, approached Rama after the morning worship.Rama inquired, “Is there a vessel which the three of us may use to cross the Ganga?” Guha bowed slightly and acknowledged Rama’s request by ordering his best craft to be made ready for the departure of his respected guests.
The colours and royal majesty of the boat soon appeared and Rama and Laksmana gathered their few belongings and weapons to load onto the awaiting craft.Sumantra watched silently with tears welling up in his eyes.” Is there no other way? I can be of great use to you. I am loyal and true,” he said between sobs and sighs of sorrow.

Rama smiled, “You are, indeed, a loyal man.That is why I must ask you to return home to my father and deliver the news that our journey into the forest is blessed and that Sita and his sons are content and happy in their exile.” Rama embraced Sumantra and reassured the older man his duty was fulfilled in leaving the trio to venture forth alone.As his dharma (right decision) became clear to the sarathy (charioteer), he summoned his courage and readied his horses. Rama reminded him to send blessings to the king and all the royal family, and Sumantra departed with obvious sadness and despair.

The departure from Guha was no less sorrowful.” As a final request,” Rama said, “I must fashion my hair in jata, the way of the rsi, and require sap to achieve this end.”Guha provided the sap and both Rama and Laksmana used it to put their hair in jata. Blessings were exchanged and Rama thanked the hunter king for his kindness and reminded him to always follow dharma. Then the magnificent boat set off and the royal travelers moved deeper into the forest.

Disembarking on the other side of the river Rama, Sita, and Laksmana experienced the exquisite and wondrous beauty of the forest. Despite this enchantment with their surroundings they walked anxiously together with Sita between the two armed princes. A meal was found in the way of fresh mangoes and talk turned to the feelings of uneasiness and dread. Rama announced clearly, “There is no need to feel worried; so long as we are good and true this should not be a place of fear.” And with that, they resumed walking and the air of apprehension seemed to be lifted. The forest welcomed them as if it had heard the traveler’s intentions and knew it had nothing to fear.

After another day of traveling, they came upon a hermitage of rsis.” This must be the asrama of Bharadvaja,” remarked Laksmana.Rama smiled.This was of course true and soon the wise rsi could be seen. They approached and prostrated to Bharadvaja as they introduced themselves. The Brahman knew of Rama and spoke to them, “Ksatriyas of Ayodhya, you are welcome in this place. Please stay here with me until your fourteen years have passed.” Rama considered this offer and despite the enticing proposition, he politely refused. He did however, agree to spend the night and continue the journey the next day.

Bharadvaja provided directions through the forest and to the asrama of Valmiki.Rama, Laksmana, and Sita were blessed by the great rsi and spoke with him at length.Rama stated, “This place is deep enough into the forest.We are safe here and can make this our home for the next fourteen years.”Laksmana and Rama collected wood and supplies to build their own shelter. Laksmana requested, “Rama you sit, I will do the building.It will be the best you’ve ever seen.”With that, Laksmana build a shelter perfect for the three of them to live and they performed a blessing over their new home.They were all very pleased and spent their first night peacefully in their dwelling at the beginning of their forest exile.

In Dasaratha’s palace, there was still much distress and despair. Their beloved prince was gone to the depths of the forest, the brave Laksmana was gone too, and the fair and delicate Sita was not to be seen for fourteen long years.This truth was made even more apparent on the return of Sumantra who was back at the palace, alone. The subjects of Ayodhya, the people of the palace, and even the king himself felt the reality of Kaikeyi’s boon. Sumantra recounted the journey of Rama into exile on the aging king’s request. Dasaratha said feebly with a smile, “Perhaps, it would be best if I went to him; to visit Rama would quiet my mind and ease my soul. “This thought seemed to invigorate him and he grew louder and more excited. Kausalya and Sumitra were there by his side to quiet him.The old king lapsed into tears once again and apologized profusely to Kausalya, “I have taken your son from you. Please forgive me, please forgive me! “His vigor diminished and soon his apologies melted into sobs and the sobs to sighs. The king fell into a restless sleep with his two faithful wives by his side.

The king’s past nights, although restless, had been spent with Kausalya.Tonight was not unlike any other.Dasaratha was avoiding his grief of the loss of his son by retreating to his mind and the memories of the past. “Tonight I remember the times of my youth,” said Dasaratha to Kausalya, “and I must tell you of a day; one full of rain before the monsoon season, when I was hunting in the great forest.”

“On this day,” continued Dasaratha, “I had trekked great lengths and was deep in the forest as a shower of rain fell down upon the trees and dense foliage where I was hiding.Like many others, this hunt was a chance for me to exercise my hunting ability by making a kill without even seeing my prey. In the hunt, my senses were so keen that I did not need to rely on my sight; this was something of which I was very proud. From my vantage point deep in the trees, I heard an elephant make its way to a pool of water to wash itself and listened carefully as it lapped up water with its trunk. Silently, I took careful aim; letting my senses guide me. I aimed for the heart and with one shot heard the effect and the trumpeting of the dying beast echoed in my ears.As I listened closer, I realized the sound was not what I expected.There was no elephant’s call but the shocking screams of a dying man; I was aghast. The man called out, ‘Who has done this? Why do I, an innocent rsi, feel this arrow pierce my breast like a wild beast? Show yourself to me! Show yourself to me!’ I left my hiding place to see a young rsi contorted with pain and staining the cold white sand with his blood.

I explained myself to the dying holy man. His compassion was great but insisted I resume his task of collecting water for his old, blind parents so they would not be deserted and dying of thirst.I agreed shaking with regret and sadness and filled the container of water from the pool.The rsi struggled to ask, ‘Pull the arrow from my chest; the pain is too great, the torture too slow.I forgive you warrior prince and so end my suffering by bringing my death at once.’Upon removing the arrow, the rsi perished and I traveled to his home to fulfill my promise.

The rsi’s parents were waiting his return and I stared at the couple unsure of what words my lips must utter. ‘Why do you linger, my son?’ asked the blind old man. I choked back my sorrow and explained the events leading to the death of the poor man’s child. The parents requested they be brought to their son’s body and I obliged them. They sought to see him one last time and reached to trace the position of his lifeless body. Their sorrow was great and the father remained strong enough to perform his son’s last rites. When the pyre was burning, the old man spoke again, ‘Since your courage was great and you returned to speak the truth I will not curse your death in torment and fire. Although, the pain you have caused I curse upon you. Your most beloved child will also be taken from you, and before you leave this world you too will suffer the loss of sight as have I. ‘With that the man turned to his wife and before I could stop them they entered the flames of their son’s funeral pyre.” Kausalya gasped, “You have never told me about this curse.”

“I did not remember until the day Rama left,” answered the king. “As while he rode away my sight went with him and I have been, these past five days, in sightless darkness.”

“I know,” he sighed, “my time is near and I will not even be here to console your grief of the loss of our son.”Dasaratha lapsed into sobs of apologies once again and Kausalya stayed with him, his head in her lap, until he was no longer awake and retired to her own chambers. Thus, another sleepless night began.

The next morning Dasaratha’s attendants began their morning routine and went to awaken their tormented king.He could not be woken and in shock the servants realized that this night had been his last and that all breath had left him. The news traveled quickly to his queens and soon Sumitra and Kausalya were weeping at his side. The silence in the streets was proof enough that the tragedy of the king’s death was common knowledge and sorrow had swept the land. Kaikeyi’s son Bharata was sent for by the swiftest messenger, under oath not to speak of the king’s death or Rama’s exile. The mourning began and the body of Dasaratha was preserved with oils until his last rites could be performed by Bharata, his son. That night no one in

Ayodhya was untouched by grief; no soul found an hour of restful sleep.

As the messenger rode to Bharata, the prince awoke from a prophetic nightmare.Upon waking, he consulted his brother Satrughna and both agreed the signs were not encouraging. “The most unsettling,” Bharata explained, “was father, with long white hair and garlands of flowers, being pulled by a mule-cart. “Both men agreed that this would indicate a bad omen for the life of he who was seen to be drawn in a mule-cart; no sooner had their words been spoken then the messenger from Ayodhya arrived. After brief words with the messenger Bharata and Satrughna hastily collected themselves and all their anxiety to depart to the father’s palace with thoughts of bad omens and dread.

In Ayodhya, the streets were silent and the palace hung heavy with gloom.The princes, still unaware, were disheartened and confused. Bharata searched for his parents and found his mother, Kaikeyi, in her chambers. Upon a few brief formalities the prince asked to see his father. Kaikeyi replied, “Dasaratha has died.”This knowledge was agonizing Bharata and he collapsed to the floor weeping for his father.Before long Kaikeyi raised Bharata up and said, “Do not weep there is also great joy in this time of sadness.” Bharata could not believe what his mother was saying.Kaikeyi continued, “Bharata, my son, you will soon become king.”

Bharata looked speechless at his mother and withdrew; her eyes burned with evil like coals in a glowing fire. Shocked, Bharata regained control of his voice and demanded, “I must speak to Rama. Where is my beloved brother for him to hear the treacherous words his mother speaks?”

Kaikeyi smiled malevolently, “The king banished Rama to the forest before he died.” The pain was too much for Bharata to bear.His body shook and his knees grew weak and again the prince collapsed to the floor in grief. He looked up at Kaikeyi questioningly and felt her wickedness mounting as she explained how she exploited her boons from Dasaratha to send Rama to exile and make Bharata king.

Kausalya, Vasishta, and many of the people of Ayodhya doubted Bharata and his intentions.This pained Bharata since his loyalty was to Rama and his own rage was directed at Kaikeyi. Vasishta approached Bharata and spoke, “Now that you have arrived you have obligations. Your father’s last rites must be performed; the duty falls to you. “The prince resumed his sorrow at the thought of this and on the great guru’s request followed him out of the room.

Later that evening the flames of the funeral pyre of the great king, Dasaratha, blazed; although no one came too near the wisps of light stung.Mourning and distress was felt far and wide, and nowhere as strong as inside the palace walls. Bharata and Satrughna, Kausalya and Sumitra comforted each other and the love of this family was strengthened.

When a few days of mourning had past the two young princes were together discussing their father, their lives, their grief, and Rama. To them it had happened all at once; the death of their father, the loss of their brother and for Bharata the shame and resentment of his mother.As they left their apartments they saw a hideous sight. It was the joyous, smiling Manthara in glorious finery from her hump to feet. Satrughna, inspired by misery and rage, sprang out at Manthara and dragged her into the hall. Her jewels and finery speckled the palace floor and her shrieks echoed between the walls. Servants, women of the harem, and other palace dwellers rushed to the noise and saw Manthara’s plight. No one rushed to assist her as Satrughna violently struck her and blood ran red from her mouth and nose. Only when Kaikeyi entered the hall did anything change. Kaikeyi begged her son to stop Satrughna from killing her maid. Kaikeyi screamed, “Bharata, what would Rama think?” To which Bharata ordered a disappointed Satrughna to leave Manthara be and said, “For you to speak of Rama does us all great injustice and pain. It is because of my great and noble brother that I do not have your blood on my sword!Satrughna, it is not dharmic to kill a woman. “And with his words, many a person was convinced that Bharata was as virtuous as his brother Rama and things such as these spread faster than the sunlight of a cloudless dawn throughout Ayodhya.

Despite his change in popularity and the dire need for a new king, Bharata was determined to crown Rama and only Rama. The very next day he announced to the people of Ayodhya, “There will be a new king,” he paused for the cheering of his name to die away, “and I will not be satisfied until the crown is upon Rama’s head.” The crowd was elated at the sound of Rama’s name and the cheering commenced in an echoing din as the names of Bharata and Rama were shouted through the streets of Ayodhya. As the city cheered Bharata readied the army and all the necessary tools for a coronation. He was so determined to see Rama as king Bharata would bring the coronation to him.

Crowds swarmed the royal parade as it started off towards the forest.It was a slow moving but joyous procession. A week passed on the same path Rama and his company traveled in two days. First, they met the hunter king who observed the army and readied his own forces to fight to protect Rama. Guha and Bharata conversed and Guha was convinced that Rama was safe and Bharata was virtuous. The kind king assisted the substantial outfit in crossing the river and directed them on the path of Rama. Bharata followed the trail and his excitement was mounting to see his brothers and Sita.

Now deeper in the forest, the company was tired, yet in good spirits. The asrama of Bharadvaja was fast approaching and Bharata took Satrughna and Vasishta to greet the rsi. Suspicion slowly caressed the heart of the Brahmin. Bharata’s noble face and his unadulterated words proved his intentions and removed all doubt. Bharadvaja extended an invitation to the princes and their followers to stay the night in his asrama. It proved to be a spectacular display of spirituality and magic courtesy of the rsi. The crowd was entertained with food and fancy that none would likely ever see again. They set off the next morning to find Rama, the future king of Ayodhya.

The longest portion of the journey was over. The travelers anticipated that very soon they would find the location of Rama, Sita, and Laksmana. Their feelings were correct and soon a wisp of smoke could be seen rising from the trees. Scouts were sent on ahead to ascertain the path to take through the forest. The one discovered led straight to the site of Rama’s dwelling. The parade followed the path, led by the scouts, and soon Laksmana saw the army approaching.Rama saw it too and spoke, “It must be our father coming to visit his exiled sons.”But there was no royal white umbrella. Laksmana was anxious and began to doubt Bharata’s intentions. Rama convinced his younger brother that such talk was foolish, and soon his statement was verified as Bharata and Satrughna reached the cottage.

Bharata wept at the sight of his brother and embraced Rama with a sigh of relief. “You must return to the palace,” said Bharata. “There you can restore happiness and dharma in Ayodhya.”

“Oh dear brother,” replied Rama, “that is not dharma. My path led me here and here I will stay for fourteen years.”

“But the people need you now,” answered Bharata more desperate than before.Rama just smiled as Bharata begged his return.

“There is no need for me to dishonor our father’s name in not fulfilling his orders,” Rama spoke after a pause, “so long as he is king Ayodhya will be well taken care of.” At this Bharata begin to weep.Through his tears he tried to speak and explained that poor Dasaratha had died of a broken heart five days after Rama left for the forest. Rama was overcome with grief. The queens had arrived up the path to the cottage and saw their poor son’s despair. Kausalya touched Rama’s arm and said quietly, “You must offer him tarpana.”Rama nodded and collected himself to worship the memory of his father and perform the blessing of holy water.

The next day all the travelers had arrived to the clearing and Bharata resumed his request for Rama’s coronation.Rama remained silent, but always with a faint smile. When Bharata paused Rama decided to share with him an unknown truth. Rama began in a strong voice so that all around could hear, “Father once told me of a promise he made. This promise was to your grandfather in return for marriage to Kaikeyi.Dasaratha granted that one day Kaikeyi’s father would have his grandson take the throne of Ayodhya. It is dharmic that we honor the promise of our father.”A murmur spread through the hushed crowd. Bharata gasped and began to realize that there would be no way of convincing Rama to return to the throne now.However, before he left the city Bharata made sure to prepare for any situation that would arise. He searched his baggage and produced a pair of wooden sandals.Rama looked at them amused. Bharata set them on the ground in front of Rama.

“Brother, will you step into these padukas,” said Bharata.Rama grinned and stepped in and out of the sandals.Bharata picked the newly christened sandals off the ground. Bharata announced, “These padukas will rule Ayodhya. It will always be Rama’s kingdom. Until his return in fourteen years, I will rule by these sandals and live like Rama eating berries and with my hair in jata. When the time has passed Rama will resume the throne and if he does not return in fourteen years, I will end my own life.” The crowds cheered and Rama smiled knowingly at his brother; Bharata would be a fine ruler of Ayodhya.

Back to the city traveled the princes, queens, armies, and crowds. At the palace Bharata, kind and virtuous, erected a lesser seat for himself and kept the padukas seated on the throne. The people were joyous and the city was alive once more. But trouble was not over for all these good people. In a land far from the forest and across the water an evil resided. The evil was the same that had possessed Kaikeyi and burned much stronger here. It was restless in the heart in which it dwelt; Ravana had a sleepless night and he did not even know of the coming threat that was the blue prince from Ayodhya.

Book 2: Ayodhya Kanda (part 1)

In Ayodhya
Nicole Hembroff

Upon their return to the kingdom, Rama continued to be an ideal son. He was ever present at his father’s side. He was studious and excelled in the Vedas. He loved archery, music, art and everyone who surrounded him. Rama, although handsome and strong, was always humble and tried to show others how much he appreciated their actions, no matter how small. His divine nature did not inflate his ego, in fact, he rarely thought about it. It was only in moments like his encounter with Parasurama Barghava that he was forced to recognize his own power. Dasaratha had realized his son’s nature during that incident as well, but it was not long before he no longer considered it. Instead, he concentrated on the love he felt for his favorite son.

As the king neared the end of his days, he realized he must choose a yuvaraja, an heir. There was no question as to whom he would choose. Rama had been born for that very purpose and Dasaratha could not wait to see his son crowned yuvaraja. He knew Rama would prove to be an exceptional leader.

Soon after, Dasaratha began to see frightening visions. The universe was trying to tell him something and it wasn’t good. He believed the omens were warning him of his death. His time must have been coming sooner than he had expected. The king called his advisers and told them of his plan to crown Rama yuvaraja. After consulting many people in his kingdom, Dasaratha knew they shared his faith in Rama’s ability to rule.

When Rama arrived, Dasaratha said, “My son, you have proven yourself in every way. A father could not have more pride in his son and I want to crown you as heir to my throne.” The ceremony was to be held on Pusyami. But something in Rama’s heart did not bode well. He knew he had been training to be a king since birth, yet he felt uneasy about his father’s announcement.

It was not until after Rama had left that Dasaratha was told Pusyami was only a day away. He immediately called his son back, which only served to increase Rama’s anxiety. When he arrived, Dasaratha said, “You must participate in a fast with your wife Sita. For the next night you must sleep on a bed of darbha grass and you cannot embrace one another.”

The king felt the hurried ceremony was advantageous in some ways. The omens had been growing stronger since his decision, but that was not the only benefit. Rama’s younger brother Bharata was away with Satrughna to visit Kaikeyi’s father, King Asvapati. The brothers loved each other very much, but Dasaratha knew envy could manifest in the best of friends. Thus, with Bharata away, no unnecessary rivalry would occur.

After receiving a blessing from Kausalya, Rama and Sita began their fast. Just to be sure, his guru Vasistha was sent to watch over them. As one would expect, Rama and Sita stayed true to their fast. They slept soundly while preparations and festivities continued outside.

Although it seemed like everyone was celebrating, it was not the case. On a balcony Kaikeyi’s maid Manthara stood glaring at the joyous throngs of people below her. She was known for her hag-like qualities. She was not particularly pretty, young or even nice for that matter. When she discovered the celebrations were to be held in honor of Rama’s position as yuvaraja she was furious. The maid ran immediately to Kaikeyi’s chambers and snarled “Dasaratha has decided to crown Rama yuvaraja.” To her dismay, Kaikeyi was ecstatic. Even though Rama was not her son by blood, she loved him as though he were.

Kaikeyi’s response did not fit Manthara’s plan in the slightest. The maid proceeded to convince her with the aid of her silver tongue. She said, “Kaikeyi, don’t you know Rama perceives Bharata as a threat? Surely Rama or Kausalya will attempt to have him banished or more likely still, they will slaughter him.” Kaikeyi was horrified. She cried, “We must hatch a plan to stop Rama from being crowned or my son’s very life will hang in the balance.” Manthara was eager to help and reminded Kaikeyi, “You have two boons saved up from saving your beloved Dasaratha’s life. Don’t you remember that he was so grateful to you that he offered two boons in return for your heroism? You didn’t need them at the time but you asked him to remember his promise. Wouldn’t now be an excellent chance to claim them? Kaikeyi, you did say you would use them in a time of great need.” She grinned, showing her crooked teeth and said, “This moment is just such a time.”

That night, when Dasaratha went to see his favorite wife, he found out she was in her krodhagraha. The queen had never gone to her chamber of anger before. He was instantly concerned for her and rushed to discern what he could do to help. When he saw her, she hardly looked herself. It was as though she had been possessed by some demon, even her voice was not her own. He tried to touch her but she pulled away. Dasaratha told her “I will do anything to help ease your pain. I swear on Rama’s very life that I will end your suffering.”

This was Kaikeyi’s chance to take matters in her own hands. She asked, “Dasaratha, do you remember the two boons I have saved for so many years? I want to claim them now. I would like to use the first boon to send Rama into the forest for fourteen years and the second will make my son, Bharata king!” When Dasaratha realized what she was asking, he fainted. Upon awakening he wondered, “Am I dreaming?” He thought a demon must have possessed his beloved wife. How else could she ask such things?

When he realized Kaikeyi was perfectly serious, he cried that she was evil. He begged her “Please! Change your mind! Ask me for anything but this! How can you expect me to deny the throne to my beloved Rama, the very son everyone agrees is most worthy of ruling? How can you be so cruel, so twisted? What have you done with my dear wife?” He did not know how he would tell the family and his subjects about his decision, especially when he did not believe it himself. Time and time again he beseeched her to change her mind. The harder he begged the more she exclaimed “Never!” He knew he had no choice, he must honor her request. Dasaratha fainted once again.

The next morning, the whole city was ready to celebrate the crowning of Rama. Yet something seemed to indicate that all was not well. The sun did not shine and it even began to rain. Upon awakening, the king hoped to find his wife reformed, alas, her mind was unchanged. She was still infused with the ugly disposition she’d displayed the night before.

All the preparations had been made; everyone was expecting Rama to be crowned. Kaikeyi snarled at Sumantra, “Go and fetch Rama.” He could tell the queen was not at all like herself and the king looked incredibly distressed. Sumantra was worried but decided to push the feeling aside as he went to bring Rama to the king.

He told the prince, “Dasaratha wants to speak to you privately before the ceremony.” Rama was led through the crowd in a chariot. Sumantra had to demand the masses to let them through; they were all waiting to see their shining prince crowned as yuvaraja.

Finally, they reached the palace and Rama entered with his excited brother Laksmana. When they arrived in the royal chamber, Rama was surprised to see his father’s sad face juxtaposed with the evil shadow that had taken over his mother’s. He would receive no blessing that day, only the news that he was to be banished or condemn his father. Being the dharmic man he was, Rama exclaimed, “Of course I will agree to mother’s wishes. I would not wish to bring shame to my family.” He seemed to be the only one maintaining his composure at this moment. His father was crying, his brother was becoming angry and his mother still kept her cold demeanor intact.

Before leaving the kingdom he and Laksmana went to visit his mother, Kausalya. He worried about hurting her when he broke the news, but summoned up the courage to do what he must. The rumor had spread to her dwelling already. The queen hoped it was just that, a rumor. Rama had been her shining star, in a life where her husband largely ignored her. When Rama entered Kausalya’s apartment, he was greeted with joy and with blessings. Alas, those blessings were to go unfulfilled. He told her of the news she already hoped was untrue. She was shocked. For the first time in Rama’s life, his mother said, “Your father was never around for me, he cared for Kaikeyi the most. What will I do when you leave? I have no other choice but to come to the Dandaka vana with you.”

Finally, Laksmana lost his composure. “How could our father have done this to you Rama? He has surely become a slave to his love for Kaikeyi. Dasaratha is not thinking of his kingdom. He has lost sight of his duty and his wretched wife’s opinion should not matter. We must end this horror and kill both Kaikeyi and our father. Rama, you have to rule, it is your destiny!” Kausalya gave her full support. “Laksmana,” she said, “I think your idea is the only one that will work. You are right, Rama must be yuvaraja.”

Rama did not hold their words against them. In such strange times it seemed natural to be so distraught. He declined explaining, “I cannot dishonor my father. Such strange occurrences must be the workings of dharma. Why else would Kaikeyi, who loves me as though I were her biological child, sentence me to banishment in the blink of an eye? I am determined to go into the forest. I will only ask for your blessing.”

Despite his requests Kausalya and Laksmana could not calm down. They said, “Kaikeyi can not simply be an instrument of dharmaa. She must have some ulterior motive.” It was clear to them that the young queen was evil. It hurt Rama to think of the way Kaikeyi had treated him. He knew that was not the mother he had loved all his life. Their explanation must be wrong; she must have been possessed by the will of the Gods.

Rama knew he could not sacrifice a piece of heaven to fulfill his mother and brother’s wishes. Again, he asked them “Please offer me your blessings so I might go to the forest with some semblance of serenity. I urge you to act rationally. Al I ask is that you support me in my decision.”

Kausalya finally understood there was nothing she could do to persuade him to change his mind. She only hoped he would take her with him. Rama knew she mustn’t go. Who would be there to support Dasaratha in his time of need? It was clear the king had just as much opposition to Kaikeyi’s request as everyone else. Rama told her, “Mother you must stay and comfort my dear father. You are the only one who can truly take care of him.” As any loving mother would, Kausalya blessed him on his path and wished for his safe return. He bowed at her feet and left her apartment.

Rama now had the task of parting with his most beloved Sita. He could not maintain his cool exterior when he went to see her. She knew something was wrong as soon as she saw him. Holding her hands tightly, he told her of his fate. Before she could respond, he explained, “I must uphold my father’s dharma; I have no choice but to journey to the forest. Sita, you must stay behind and await my return, but it is important that you be careful when speaking to Bharata about me. No matter how close we are, it would still be difficult for him to hear your praise of my greatness. You must not mention that I should have been king. Please, remember me and pray for my safe return and I promise everyone will take care of you in my absence. Do not forget to help my mother and father through their grief; you three will find strength in each other. Sita, my love, if you stay behind, our time apart, although difficult, will pass more quickly than you think.”

To Rama’s surprise Sita became very angry with him. She cried, “How can you think of leaving me? Have I done something wrong? I was taught when a man and woman are married they are bound to share his path. To be cut from you for fourteen years would be the cruelest punishment you could offer me.” She wouldn’t have any of his requests. She demanded, “I am coming to the forest with you Rama. I will find happiness just by being near you. Any hardships we might bear will seem like joys as long we are together.”

Being the protective, caring husband he was, Rama tried to resist. “The forest will be too dangerous and do not forget, our time apart will pass quickly. How can you live off forest plants and clothe yourself in tree bark? It would surely be too much for your delicate body to handle.”

For the first time since he had known her, Sita started to cry. “I will not be parted from my one and only love. All the dangers in the world cannot keep us apart. In fact, they will only serve as a wonderful new experience for us, a change of scenery, a chance to enjoy each other without the burdens of the kingdom.” She even told him of a prophecy she had received from rsis when she was young. They foresaw she would spend years with Rama in the forest. It was fate; she had no choice but to accompany him. With her last hope of accompanying him Sita threatened, “Rama, I vow I will take my own life if you refuse me. We were meant to be together; we have been in the past and will be forever more.”
It was then that Rama realized how deep Sita’s love for him really was. He claimed he had been merely testing her loyalty. If their destiny was to go to the forest together then they would do so.

Laksmana had been eavesdropping and ran into the room. He shouted, “If Sita is going there is no way I will be left behind!” He would offer protection and help as they continued on their journey. Rama could not send him away; after all, they were inseparable. To part the two brothers would be a crime.

The three prepared for their journey. They gathered their weapons and armor, gave away their worldly possessions, and went to see Dasaratha one last time. The people had heard by now of Rama’s fate. They all wanted to follow him into the forest, leaving Kaikeyi and Bharata to rule nothing.

When they reached Dasaratha his wishes were much the same as those of his subjects. In the midst of fainting spells and crying, the king begged Rama, “You must betray me!” But Rama could not dishonor his father. The king gave up but asked him, “Could you stay one more day?” Knowing one more day would turn into many, Rama declined, I promise it will not seem long before we have all returned.” The king ordered his armies and possessions to be taken by the travelers but Kaikeyi would have none of it. They were to live like rsis, with nothing but bark for clothing.

Finally, Dasaratha was able to express his anger to his wife. He fumed, “You only said they were to go into the forest, you didn’t mention anything about what they can take with them!” Rama did not require his father’s generosity. He said, “Laksmana and I will be happy to wear valkala –bark clothing. But I will allow you to send silks and jewelry for Sita to wear. She should not have to give up her beauty just because she has chosen to accompany me into the forest.”

Rama asked, “Dasaratha will you promise to take care of my mother. She would be in need of your help. Through each others support I know you will find a way to overcome your grief.” Now his time had come to leave. After receiving the blessings of Kausalya, Sumitra, and Dasaratha, the three loyal companions entered Sumitra’s chariot and left the city. Everyone was weeping as the chariot drove away. Dasaratha ran to follow them but fell, crying for the chariot to be stopped. Kausalya took his hand and helped him to the palace. He could not be around Kaikeyi anymore; she had caused him too much pain. The king only hoped Bharata would remain loyal to his brother and bring him back to Ayodhya.

That night, Kausalya was Dasaratha’s comfort. They shared stories and tears. Unfortunately, since Rama had left, Dasaratha had lost his sight. Their sorrows seemed to drown them until Sumitra came to fetch Kausalya. She said to Kausalya, “Dasaratha needs your strength now, not your grief. Our son will return before long.”
As Rama journeyed to the forest the people of Ayodhya followed him. They could not stop begging him to return. They vowed, “We will make you come back or you will force us to follow you into the forest.” He knew neither option was plausible. The crowd followed Rama, Sita, Laksmana and Sumantra until their day’s journey had ended. They all spent the night together by the river.

In the morning, the exiled party rose before dawn. They had to leave early in order to ensure that their followers could not trace them. They backtracked and finally headed toward the Dandaka vana. The people would think they had gone home and would not follow them.

The chariot carried them further into the lands of Kosala. From there they reached the Vedasruti river and from there the Gomati river. Along the way Rama told his companions stories of the lands they passed through. As they continued it dawned on Rama that he might never see his family or Sumantra again, but he had to remain strong for the other members of his party.

When they reached the Ganga, they decided to spend the night by a tree. It was not long before the group was greeted by a friend of Rama’s. His name was Guha and he was the king of hunters. He came bearing mattresses and a feast. Guha offered, “I have a place for you to stay for as long as you wish.” Rama politely declined, “I prefer to stay true to my life as a tapasvin –renouncer.” Instead, Guha spent the night with them. He, Sumantra, and Laksmana watched over the weapons while Rama and Sita slept.

Laksmana could not think of sleep. His head was filled with worries. His father would surely die of grief and they would never see him again. After he had gone, how were Kausalya and Sumitra to live under Kaikeyi and Bharata’s rule. His fears for his family plagued him constantly as the night wore slowly on.

Book 1: Bala Kanda

The Beginning
by Lindsay Anderson

On the sunrise of a day long past a humble and aged mendicant named Valmiki was deep in ritual meditation. It was not long before his solace was interrupted by the unmistakable voice of Narada. Narada, son of Brahma, was cursed to wander through life without rest. As Valmiki stared at Narada the rsi was drawn to the wanderer’s divine presence. Valmiki asked Narada, “Has there ever existed a moral man who embodies all the most noble virtues?” Valmiki began to list off countless merits, watching as Narada’s expression grew more eager. Narada’s response was the name Rama. Narada began the story of Rama, the dharmic ksatriya, in a voice that mirrored the whispers of the wind. Valmiki was mesmerized by the heart-felt story of Rama.

A significant amount of time had passed since Narada’s visit, but as Valmiki was walking along the Tamasa River with one of his disciples, visions of Rama still echoed in his mind. Upon hearing the call of two kraunca birds Valmiki turned to watch them dance as they made love. Suddenly, an arrow shot by a hunter flew through the daylight sky, killing the male kraucha instantly and causing Valmiki to tremble. In his anger, a powerful curse escaped Valmiki’s lips articulated in a profound and rhythmic meter. Even in meditation Valmiki could not get the morning’s events out of his mind. His eyes flew open and saw the god Brahma before him. Brahma spoke, “Valmiki, have no fear, I authored those words you spoke. Narada came on my authority and you must now tell the story of Rama in the same style of your curse.”

Sitting by the banks of the Tamasa, Valmiki assembled the story of the Ramayana composing it in twenty-four thousand verses, into six books. It was not until Lava and Kusa arrived at Valmiki’s asrama, or hermitage, that he spoke the sweet words of the Ramayana, only to hear them be repeated in a way he could not speak. It was then that he knew these boys were sent from providence in order to sing his story. After the two young men memorized the Ramayana, they went on their way to share it with the world. They spoke the words fluently as they told the story of the Ramayana at a military camp amongst the common people. A king joined the circle with tears in his eyes, for this was his story. The poets who recited it were his own sons.

The young men sang the history of Ayodhya, the capital of Kosala, speaking of the past kings from whom the perfect man had descended. The current king was Dasaratha, who felt fulfilled, except for the lack of a son, who would be able to take over the kingdom after he passed on. His constant prayers had been ignored in the past so Dasaratha decided to perform an asvamedha yajna, horse sacrifice, with Rsyasrnga as the priest, following the fortune foreseen by the sage Sanatkumara that he would have four sons to continue the Iksvaku line. They waited for the perfect day, in which all the flowers were in bloom and the water was clear, before they sent the horse into the fields of Bharatavarsa. As the year drew to a close, Dasaratha approached Rsyasrnga, bowing to his feet and asked “Rsi, make me fruitful.” As Rsyasrnga began to carry out the putrakama yajna, a sacrifice to bring the birth of sons, the devas (gods) hovered above. They had recently begged Brahma to control Ravana’s evil. Ravana was a demon who had received two boons. The first boon, from Siva, granted Ravana strength no other creature in the universe possessed. The second boon, from Brahma, provided immortality with one exception; Ravana could only be killed by a member of the human race. In order to rectify the balance of the earth Brahma decided that Visnu would be born to Dasaratha in the form of a human son.

Rsyasrnga had nearly completed the yajna when a dark messenger appeared from the fire holding a chalice full of payasa, a liquid sweet. He handed it to Dasaratha and ordered him to give it to his queens. When Dasaratha turned the messenger vanished. Dasaratha approached his wives with the vigor of youth. He informed them that his prayers were answered and that he would soon have the gift of four sons. That night Dasaratha approached each queen and slowly made sweet passionate love to each. The potion was successful and each queen conceived.

During Rama’s birth Kausalya, Dasaratha’s senior-most wife, was in bliss. Rama did not cry and even as an infant was excited by the thought of adventure. This month became known as Caitra. Kaikeyi, the youngest wife, gave birth to the beautiful baby Bharata. Within the next twenty hours as the moon had shifted into Aslesha, Sumitra bore the twins Laksmana, and Satrughna. The crowds in Ayodhya were never ending because the citizens came to celebrate the birth of the children, and potential heirs to the throne.

As the next sixteen years passed Dasaratha was at peace. He had everything he had ever wanted. His sons had grown up quickly remembering every detail they had ever had been taught. They succeeded in archery, the study of the Vedas, and the roles of ksatriyas. They had learned to drive the chariot as no other; Rama was normally in the lead, with the inseparable Laksmana at his side, while Bharata and his sidekick Satrughna followed. However, one day, a commotion at the gates would dramatically change Dasaratha’s world. A stern man stood there with eyes as dark as coal, and demanded to be announced to Dasaratha. All knew this was Visvamitra, once a king, now a brahmarsi, a warrior mendicant. Dasaratha came to welcome him saying, “My kingdom and services are here to assist you in every way.” Visvamitra replied, “I am here to request Rama’s assistance. I need him to journey with me to defeat two raksasas (demons) whose unholy acts tarnish my sacrifice.” Pleading with Visvamitra, Dasaratha cried, “No, not Rama. Anyone but him.” Visvamitra insisted, “You know your son will be safe with me.” Again, Dasaratha resisted. Visvamitra’s voice boomed, “If you do not keep your word to me you will bring shame to your entire kingdom.” Dasaratha’s guru, Vasistha, argued that a ksatriya should follow his dharmic path. Dasaratha finally consented and allowed Visvamitra to take Rama, as long as Laksmana could accompany him.

With the blessing of their mothers, Rama and Laksmana did as their father had requested. They obeyed every word Visvamitra had spoken, and followed him on the path out of Ayodhya. Viswamitra taught Rama the bala and atibala mantras, special incantations which would allow him to avoid hunger, tiredness, and thirst. As Rama filled his palms with water, the sound of the mantra spun around him. Rama began to shine with new resonance. Visvamitra turned to Laksmana and spoke the same words, causing the same event to occur. They prepared to sleep, removing their swords from their waist, and the bows from their hands; they laid close together in the tall grass for the first time in their lives.

After worshipping the rising sun and receiving a blessing from Visvamitra they were on their way. They did not rest until they saw the amazing sight of the strong dark waters of the Sarayu River flowing into the heavenly waters of the Ganga. Visvamitra showed the place and told the tale of Siva who under the influence of Kama, deva of love, became entranced by Parvati, who was the mountain’s daughter. Of the people there, Visvamitra spoke, “They are Sivabhaktas and can see the future as we see the past, and they await our company.” There, they received a welcoming fit for a god, and stayed up with the Kamasrama rsis half way through the night telling tales of the great god Siva. It was not until Viswamitra called an end to their stories that the night was brought to an end. Dawn would approach quickly and Visvamitra and the princes would need to be on their way. They received a boat from the rsis and bid them farewell. They proceeded along their dharmic paths paddling through the rivers that flowed as if directly connected to the sea.

Reaching the shoreline the princes followed Visvamitra into the deep dark forest that preserved a thick haze of evil. Rama acknowledged that this would be an excellent place for rsis, only to be informed of the true history of the jungle. Visvamitra declared that originally there had been no jungle, only the kingdoms of Malda and Karusa. Indra had been guilty of brahmahatya, murder of a Brahmin, and tried to convince the rsi of Devaloka to wash away his sins. Devaloka agreed, resulting with the water falling to the earth at this very place. The kingdoms became luxuriant and flourished until the day Tataka had entered their territory. She had not been born a raksasi but a child of Suketu who performed a tapasya, or penance, for a son, but received a daughter. She had married Sunanda, son of Jajara who died shortly after the birth of their son Marica. Tataka, drunk on forest brew, ventured into Agastya’s asrama, making advances on the rsi. Furious, Agastya cursed her to become a dark and hideous demoness. Visvamitra continued to tell Rama that it had been foretold that he would free her of this wicked spell. Instantly Rama’s head quickly turned to face a grassy knoll nearby, just in time to hear Tataka’s revealing roar. With her body encrusted with blood and grime, she grasped handfuls of earth to heave at them. Visvamitra pierced her heart with a mantra. Tataka picked up a large boulder, while Rama raised his bow and shot an arrow that viciously ripped off her arm, causing the boulder to fall upon her own feet. In amusement, Laksmana lifted his bow, discharged the arrow, and he cut off her nose, and ears. Tataka made herself invisible as soon as black blood spewed from her face. Rama and Laksmana made their way up the hill pausing in the middle as the screams of Tataka ceased. Rama stood with his bow ready to fire as she pounced. Rama’s arrow penetrated her heart, killing her instantly, relieving her of her curse. Tataka returned to her natural radiant form. She thanked Rama for saving her from such an awful curse and ascended to the skies. After the evening’s events at peace in their heart’s Visvamitra and the two princes were at peace and settled in for a good night’s rest.

They were astonished when they awoke the next morning, for the forest had begun to bloom with flowers of every color of the rainbow, and the evil haze had vanished. Visvamitra was so amazed with Rama’s accomplishment that he gave him a gift. While Rama sat towards the east, Visvamitra also taught him the mantra that would allow Rama to harness the power of these extravagant weapons. As Rama spoke the powerful words, the lords of the astras (weapons) appeared between the divine and earthly realms and whispered, “we belong to you and will do your bidding.” Rama told them to remain in his mind until they were needed. Rama shared the mantras with Laksmana.

Laksmana, Visvamitra, and Rama continued their adventure, only to stumble upon Visvamitra’s asrama called Siddhasrama. There Visvamitra began a six-day oath of silence, while Rama, and Laksmana stood guard with their bows in hand. The fifth day had passed and they knew it was only time before the raksasas, Marica and Subahu, would appear to prevent the completion of the yajna. All the rsis gathered around the raging fire, chanting the Vedas repeatedly. An undeniable cackle suddenly erupted from the raksasas ending the silence of the rsis sacred chant. Rama released his arrow into Marica’s chest sending him flying into the air. However, since Rama was compassionate the demon was only punished and not killed. Without hesitation, Rama called upon an agneyastra, a fire weapon or missile, and within a blink of an eye, Subahu was a heap of ashes. Visvamitra instantly knew who Rama truly was, so he spoke of Janaka’s sacrifice and told of Siva’s bow that lay in Mithila. No one had ever been able to lift it, but there was no doubt in Visvamitra’s mind that Rama would master the challenge.

The next morning Visvamitra summoned the princes and they were off to Mithila. Along their path, they came across a flourishing and wealthy land; Rama and Laksmana had never seen such greenery. Rama asked to whom this beautiful kingdom belonged. Visvamitra replied that the king, Kusa, was a descendent from Brahma, and had four sons, half-human and half-divine, that each of whom found a separate city to rule. Among those four sons, there was Kusanaba, the eldest, who brought Gadhi into this world, and Gadhi was Visvamitra’s father. Visvamitra spoke of his sister, Satyavati, who had become the rsi Ricaka’s wife, gaining svarga (heaven), due to her purity. She returned to earth as a ravishing river. It was at the side of this river that Visvamitra could continue to hold and protect her. Visvamitra spoke about how he felt at peace beside the lovely river, while the princes listened contentedly. It was after the tale that they decided to rest.

Waking the next morning refreshed, they traveled north until they reached the Ganga, where Viswamitra told the extensive story of her descent, and the curse of the Iksvaku line. It began with Sagara, one of Rama’s ancestors, who had two wives. One wife gave birth to an evil son, Asamanja, who was to continue the family name. He bore sixty thousand sons all of equal strength and wisdom. Asamanja was once caught drowning young children and was exiled, leaving behind his most devoted son, Asuman. In the hopes of maintaining Asuman’s good nature Sagara performed an asvamedha yajna, which was never completed because Indra, jealous of the ritual, had spirited the horse away to a cave. In this cave, Maharsi Kapila Vasudeva sat in meditation. The sixty thousand sons looked everywhere for the horse, and eventually stumbled upon the cave. Ignorant of the rsi’s power, they drew their weapons thinking he had seized the horse. Kapila turned them to ashes. When his uncles did not return Asuman went in search for them. Finding the cave, he waited patiently until the Maharsi awoke. Recovering the horse Asuman returned home. Years passed, but the Iksvaku name continued to be tainted, until Asuman’s grandson, Bhagiratha, performed a yajna asking Ganga to descend to the earth. After receiving permission, Bhagiratha prayed to Siva to break Ganga’s fall, to prevent destruction. With the completion of the yajna, the sixty thousands sons of Sagara were revived, went to heaven, and the Iksvaku name was purified.

Continuing on Visvamitra, Rama, and Laksmana reached Visala, where Rama heard the tale of Gautama, and his wife, Ahalya. Ahalya could not resist the touch and attention from Indra. One night when Gautama was praying by the riverside, she allowed Indra to make love to her. She sensed the danger and encouraged Indra to leave, however Indra’s response was to persist in his seduction. Gautama opened the door, only to be stopped by shock. He cursed Indra’s body to be adorned with a thousand phalluses, and cursed Ahalya to become dust until Visnu in the shape of a prince removed the curse. Standing before the asrama, Visvamitra opened the door; Rama walked and merely touched the pile of dust. Suddenly Ahalya appeared radiant before them. As Rama watched, Gautama appeared and was once again reunited with his wife.

Arriving in Mithila, Visvamitra and the princes listened to Sadananda (Gautama’s son) thank them for freeing his mother and tell the life story of Visvamitra. With the rising of the moon, everybody listened intently to the story being told, and it was not until the next morning when Siva’s bow was once again mentioned. Janaka (king of Mithila) began the story of how he acquired the bow. It had begun when Siva’s father in law, Daksa, held a yajna to which neither Siva nor his wife Sati had been invited. Therefore, Sati attended performing an austerity so strong she turned herself to ashes. Angered, Siva approached with an army of a thousand men who helped him cut off Daksa’s head and replaced it with a goat’s head. Being unable to control his grief, he did not trust himself with the bow, and gave it to Devaratha. Janaka continued to inform Visvamitra and the princes that there was a prize for being able to lift and string the bow. He explained that some years ago he had been plowing his field and came across a remarkable child lying on the ground; he picked the child, Sita, up and decided to raise her as his own. Sita was a remarkable child, different from any other. After many failed attempts, Janaka decided that the only person worthy of Sita’s marriage was the man who could lift and string Siva’s bow. Janaka then lead Visvamitra and the princes to the palace arena. With hope in his heart, Janaka called upon Rama to come and attempt to lift the bow. Rama approached the table; he picked the bow up with ease and as he strung the bow, the earth shook and the people fell stunned as the bow broke in half. Janaka embraced the prince with excitement, as he ordered his guards to go to Ayodhya and summon Dasaratha for the wedding.

Dasaratha accepted the invitation and left the next morning. When he arrived in Mithila a roar of people exploded. Dasaratha spent a peaceful night with his sons, hearing about their heroic adventures. It was not until the next morning that Dasartha and Janaka discussed their family’s histories. Both officially agreed to the marriage. Janaka continued to speak of his other daughter, Urmila and suggested that Laksmana take her as his bride. Believing this was a great idea Dasaratha agreed. Visvamitra suggested that Janaka’s brother Kusadhvaja’s two daughters be married to Bharata and Shatrughna, allowing their houses to be bound forevermore. The city was full of festive colors as the four princes were married and blessed by Visvamitra. After his blessing, it was time for Visvamitra to return to his sister’s side in the mountains. Brokenhearted, Rama and Laksmana watched him walk away.

It was time for Rama and Laksmana to return home with their new brides. They traveled along the path toward Ayodhya when they were interrupted by a storm that made them quiver. Out of the storm, an unkempt rsi appeared bearing a battle-ax in one hand and a bow in the other. He was none other than Parasurama Bhargava. He spoke, “Rama I have heard of your feats and of your lifting the bow in Mithila.” He continued, stating that he had another bow with which to test him, the bow of Visnu. He gave Rama two options; he could fight a duel, or accept Parasurama as his superior. Without hesitation, Rama grabbed the bow from Parasurama’s hand and quickly strung it. Drawing the bow, he pierced Parasurama’s heart. Admitting his own defeat, Parasurama vanished along with the darkness, allowing Rama and the princes to continue on the pathway towards their home in Ayodhya.