Category Archives: G. The Epics, Bhagavad Gita and the Rise of Bhakti

Book 5: Sundara Kanda

Hanuman’s Adventure
Angela Fischer

Hanuman continued to pace on the mountaintops, readying himself for the big leap to Lanka. The earth began to crack beneath his feet, animals scurried, trying to hide from the gigantic ape, while leaves and flowers fell from treetops to the ground. He could feel the winds from his father, Vayu, encircle him, encouraging him to make the jump. Hanuman then took the time to salute his father, the wind god, as well as Surya, Indra, Varuna, Kubera, and the Lokapalas. He thought about Rama and Laksmana and how much they were relying on him to succeed. With that, Hanuman stood still on one of the mountaintops and gathered himself trying to forget all doubt. He let out a loud roar, crouched down, coiled his tail and yelled, “Like an arrow from Rama’s bow I fly to Lanka!” All the vanaras below began to cheer. Hanuman leapt into the air with such great force that flowering trees were ripped from the ground, leaving a trail of colorful flowers behind him.
Hanuman continued to rise up higher and faster into the sky. The devas gathered around to watch the monkey’s great leap. To help Hanuman reach Lanka, the sun god dampened his rays to prevent from burning him. Vayu held his son in his arms and blew the winds strongly around him so he would reach Lanka even faster. Varuna, the ocean god, lifted a mountain named Mainaka from beneath the waves. Mainaka explained to Hanuman, “Varuna bade me rise to be a resting place for you. The Lord of the waves would like to be of use to you. Come Hanuman, rest a while upon me. Then you can fly to Lanka from my summit.” But Hanuman gratefully replied, “I am moved by your love and by the ocean’s kindness. But my time is short and I have none to rest. Farewell, good mountain, we shall meet again someday.” And with that, Hanuman continued on his journey to Lanka while Mainaka sank beneath the waves once again. Nearby, the light gods were watching Hanuman. They wanted to test his abilities because they felt the leap was too easy a task for him. One of the devas of light, Surasa, turned herself into a raksasi and blocked Hanuman’s path. The raksasi was as big as Hanuman and she told him “By Brahma’s boon no one can pass me without going through my mouth!” Hanuman knew he could outsmart Surasa and replied “raksasi, your mouth is too small to contain me. Open wider, so I may fit in.” And with that, Surasa opened her mouth as wide as she could. Hanuman, being the quick thinking monkey he was, shrunk in size until he was no bigger than a human’s thumb and quickly flew in and out of the raksasi’s mouth without her even noticing. Surasa was amused by the monkey and said to him “Pass in peace Hanuman; it was only the devas testing you. May your journey be fruitful; may all your missions succeed.”

Still pressing on, Hanuman soon found himself unable to move forward. It was as if some sort of force was holding him back. He looked around to see what the problem was. It wasn’t long before he realized it was the work of another raksasi, named Simhika. Simhika had emerged hungrily from the water. She charged at Hanuman with her mouth wide-open, fangs exposed. By now Hanuman had lost all of his patience. He flew as quickly as he could into Simhika’s mouth, down her throat and into her belly. He grabbed her intestines in his hand and flew back out her mouth dragging her innards with him. Leaving Simhika’s remains behind, Hanuman continued on his journey.

Soon, Hanuman reached an island covered in groves and shrubs and flora of all kinds. Streams trickled and waterfalls fell with a beauty and glory that Hanuman could not have even imagined before this moment. It contained the most glorious streams and waterfalls he had ever seen. He knew this must be Lanka. Relieved that he had made it this far, he knew there was still a larger task ahead. Hanuman again shrunk in size, this time becoming three feet tall. He wandered further into the island until he saw Ravana’s city. A deep moat surrounded the city, with only a single bridge acting as a crossing. Across the bridge was an army of raksasas (demons). They were fiercer than any raksasas he had ever seen before. Behind the raksasa army was a towering wall that appeared impossible to climb. Hanuman began to doubt his abilities after seeing the well-guarded city so he sat up in a tree for a while, trying to shed all uncertainties that he had. He knew Rama, Laksmana, and Sita were relying on him now more than ever.

It was nighttime before Hanuman regained the courage he needed to press forward. He was slowly approaching the bridge when he decided to shrink in size even more. This time he was no bigger than a kitten. Hanuman crept along the underside of the bridge, trying to avoid the site of the raksasa army. Suddenly, he felt a strong hand grab him by the scruff of his neck; it was Lankini, the spirit and guardian of Lanka. She picked Hanuman up and said, “What have we here? It seems to be no warrior, but only a little monkey. But not everything is what it seems to be, and you are very heavy for one so little. Who are you, and why are you trying to creep into Lanka?” Hanuman responded, “I saw the beauty of Lanka from yonder peak, and I was so enchanted that I came to see it nearer. I will admire the sights of Lanka and go away as I came. I mean no harm to anyone.” Lankini knew Hanuman was not telling the truth so she slapped him across the face. Hanuman retaliated and punched her in the jaw. The blow caused Lankini to topple over. Instead of fighting back, Lankini folded her hands to Hanuman and said, “So the prophecy is true! Brahma gave me a boon and said I would be invincible at these gates. But he also said that one day a little monkey would come along, and when he struck me down I would know the end of the raksasas was at hand. And I know what brings you here. It is she; it is Sita who brings doom to Lanka. It is no use my standing guard here any longer. Lankini does not bar your way any more; you are free to enter as you please.” Hanuman then crossed the bridge and as he did Lankini melted into the night and left the gates of Lanka forever.

Hanuman carefully leapt onto the wall that protected Lanka and slid down the other side. He marveled at the sight of Lanka but knew he had no time to spare and quickly set forth to find Sita. To prevent himself from being spotted by the raksasas, Hanuman ran across the rooftops until he reached Ravana’s palace. Inside the palace the hunt for Sita really began. He spotted many beautiful raksasis but knew none of them were Sita. Ravana’s palace had many rooms and Hanuman was determined to search each one. Inside numerous bedchambers Hanuman saw beautiful, sleeping women but none of them were Rama’s Sita. Still he pressed on. After much searching, Hanuman reached a door that appeared to be even more magnificent than the others. He slowly opened it and crept in. Inside, he saw a sleeping raksasa who could only have been Ravana. He had long arms that hung down to his knees and dark skin. He wore white silk and he was covered in fancy jewelry. Hanuman looked past Ravana’s bed and saw another bed in the room. He slowly tiptoed over to the other bed, thinking Sita might be asleep inside of it. As he got closer, he noticed a woman was fast asleep inside the soft bed. She was more beautiful than anyone he had ever seen before. He said quietly to himself “By her beauty she must be Sita. But how does she sleep so contentedly in Ravana’s bedchamber, with a smile curving her perfect lips?” He then thought to himself that Sita would rather die than spend the night with Ravana so he looked closer at the sleeping woman and realized that it was Mayaa’s daughter, Mandodari.

He had searched hundreds of rooms and still found no trace of Sita anywhere. Feeling dejected, Hanuman thought to himself “Sampati the eagle said he saw her here from across the sea. Then where is she? Ravana must have killed her between then and now, and cremated her body. Or perhaps there are dungeons below the palace where he holds her. But I have looked everywhere and found no sign of such a prison, or a stairway leading down to one.” He knew that if he returned to Kiskindha with no news of Sita Rama would surely kill himself and the others would follow suite shortly. He believed he had failed Rama. Feeling sorry for himself once more, Hanuman left the palace and sat atop a tree and watched moonbeams strike the earth. Suddenly he noticed a copse that became illuminated by the moon. The copse was hidden by the shadow of Ravana’s palace and could not be seen in the darkness of night. A slight glimmer of hope spread through Hanuman as he realized that this thicket had not yet been searched. Maybe this is where Sita was hidden away. He found his way to the asokavana and slowly entered it. Inside he found a beautiful garden. Hanuman remembered Rama telling him that Sita loved flowers, trees, and all wild things. This must be where Ravana is keeping Sita! He peered through the trees and saw a little temple hidden in the asokavana. Slowly, he crept up to the little temple and looked inside one of the windows. Inside he saw a woman dressed in dirty silk, her face stained with tears, and she was surrounded by sleeping raksasis. There was no doubt in his mind this was Sita. Unfortunately, morning was near and Hanuman decided to hide in a nearby tree to prevent any of the waking raksasis from seeing him.

As dawn broke, Ravana woke up wanting nothing but to see Sita’s beautiful face. He walked from his bedchamber to the asokavana where he held her captive. Hanuman peered through the leaves of the tree he was hiding in and watched as Ravana entered Sita’s room. He was in awe at Ravana’s greatness. He had never seen a king so grand. As Ravana walked closer to Sita, she covered herself with her hands to avoid his gaze. He said softly to her “Whenever I come here, you try to hide your beauty with your hands. But for me any part of you I see is absolutely beautiful. You are the perfect woman; beauty begins with you. Honor my love, Sita, and you will discover how deep it is. My life began when I first saw you, but you treat me so cruelly.” She didn’t reply. Getting frustrated, Ravana decided to downplay Rama’s excellence and said to Sita “he is not my equal, in wealth or power, valor, or even tapasya. Forget your wandering hermit. By now he has lost his mind from sorrow. Be sensible, as your humankind always is. Just think there is no hope of Rama ever seeing you again, no hope that he can cross the ocean. Give up your stubbornness; it is all you have to lose.” Sita, angered at what Ravana had just said replied, “I am the wife of another man, Raksasa, and my husband is my life. How can you even think of me as becoming yours, when I am already given to Rama? I have always belonged to Rama and I always will.” Angered greatly by her words, Ravana threatened Sita, “Two months I give you, out of my great love. Remember to be in my bed before those sixty days are part. If you are not, my cooks will serve you to me in pieces for my morning meal.” And with that, he left. The raksasis who were guarding Sita followed Ravana closely, trying to console him.

One of the raksasis stayed behind with Sita. Her name was Trijata and she was older than the other raksasis. She softly said to Sita, “Come and hear what I dreamed!” Knowing that Trijata was kind and caring, Sita stepped close to Trijata so she could listen to her dream. In the dream, Trijata saw Rama and Laksmana reuniting with Sita while Ravana fell to the ground, screaming in pain. She saw Ravana’s brother Kumbhakarna sink beneath the waves, while Vibhisana wore the crown upon his head. Trijata also told Sita about the monkey she had dreamt about, who set Lanka on fire with his tail.

Sita was overjoyed when she heard the news and ran to a nearby asoka tree. She sat beneath it and sobbed for she knew Rama would rescue her soon. This was the same tree Hanuman was hiding in. Hanuman knew he had to talk to her but he was scared Sita would think he was a raksasi, or worse yet, Ravana in disguise, so he hid behind the tree’s leaves and softly spoke to her. He told her the story of King Dasaratha and how he was forced to banish Rama to the jungle. He told her about an evil emperor who abducted a woman named Sita. He then explained how Rama, the brave warrior needed help finding Sita so he made friends with two monkeys, Sugriva and Hanuman. He told Sita how only one monkey was able to make the leap to Lanka. Finally, he told her that he was that monkey, he was Hanuman. Sita was excited but hesitated slightly as she looked up into the tree’s branches for the varana. Hanuman climbed down the tree and prostrated himself at her feet. Hanuman talked about his journey before he gave Sita Rama’s ring. “Rama will be here sooner than you think. But if you like, I can take you out of here today upon my back,” offered Hanuman. But Sita replied, “Dear Hanuman, my heart insists that Rama must come to Lanka and slay its raksasa. Besides, I would rather die at once than try to escape and be captured again. Also, good Hanuman, you must forgive me, but I am Rama’s wife and it isn’t proper of me to cling to your back as we cross the sea.” Hanuman understood and agreed to fly back to Rama alone so he could tell him where she was so he could save her himself. Sita then took out the chudamani (hair ornament) that she wore in her hair and said to Hanuman, “Give this to Rama. He knows it well. When he sees it, he will think of my mother, of his father Dasaratha, and of me; memories of us three are upon its jewel. Everything depends on you Hanuman; my life is in your hands.” Hanuman bowed down at her feet. He gently took the chudamani from her hand and quietly left her side.

As Hanuman was leaving Lanka he decided to make his presence known; he wanted to destroy the beautiful garden of the asokavana. He had a feeling that it was Ravana’s favorite place. He uprooted many trees and stirred whirlpools so they spilt over their banks. He also trampled over exotic plants. Some nearby raksasis heard the commotion and went to see what was happening. They were shocked to see a monkey causing so much damage and decided to bring the news to Ravana. Ravana sent hundreds of his guards to capture the monkey, including his mighty son Aksa. It was a battle between monkey and raksasa. The guards were easily defeated but Hanuman enjoyed fighting Aksa; he thought he was a handsome and noble warrior. Eventually Hanuman knew the time had come to kill Aksa; he smashed down Aksa’s chariot with a stone pillar then proceeded to pick Ravana’s son up. He then smashed Aksa’s head against a stone wall, killing him instantly. Ravana was shocked to see the great power the monkey possessed so he called for his other son Indrajit to fight him. He said to Indrajit, “Your brother and your friends have died. It seems no legion can stand against this monkey, let alone take him. Go, my son, bring him to me. Bring him alive.” Indrajit followed his father’s orders and went up to the vanara. He drew a special arrow from his quiver, one that contained Brahma’s astra. He shot the arrow at Hanuman, causing him to fall to the ground immediately. Indrajit believed he had won the battle but Hanuman thought to himself, “The boy doesn’t know that by Brahma’s own boon to me, his astra can hold me only for a moment. But I want to see Ravana’s face before I fly out of Lanka, and this is my chance. I am not afraid!” Ravana’s men quickly approached the fallen varana, captured him and brought him to Ravana. Ravana ordered the vanara to tell him who he was. Hanuman told him that Rama had sent him and that the end of Lanka was near. This greatly angered Ravana and he ordered his guards to kill Hanuman. Ravana’s brother Vibhisana explained to Ravana “On no account should a messenger be killed; he is our enemy and he must pay for what he has done. Whip him, maim him, even; shave his head and scar his body with your wrath. But do not have him killed.” Taking this to heart, Ravana retorted, “Nothing is more precious to a monkey than his tail. Let this monkey’s fine tail be set on fire. Let him be sent back with a burnt stump behind him to show that he crossed my path. Yes, let the monkey’s tail be lit and let him be marched through the streets of Lanka. Let my people mock him for what he did today.”

The raksasis from the asokavana ran to tell Sita about the monkey and how his tail was about to be set on fire. This news brought tears to Sita’s eyes – Hanuman was her only hope. She knew she had to do something so she began to pray to Agni the God of fire, “If it is true that I have been faithful to Rama, true that I have kept my vows and that my mind has always been pure, then don’t let Hanuman, who leapt across the sea to find me, who braved every danger to bring Rama’s message to me, be burned by your flames. Let your touch be upon his tail be as cool as the caress of his father Vayu.” As soon as she finished praying, Hanuman’s tail was being wrapped in cloth, dipped in oil, and set aflame. However, Hanuman felt no pain because of Sita’s prayer. Instead, the quick thinking monkey decided to use the fire to his advantage. He grew in size until he was as tall as the tallest tower in Lanka and he ran about frantically, setting buildings on fire. Next, he shrunk in size until he was no larger than a cat and he hopped from rooftop to rooftop, setting all of Lanka on fire. After Hanuman felt he had made the strength of Rama’s army known, he flew back to Bharatavarsa.

All of the vanaras at Bharatavarsa cheered when they saw Hanuman again, they knew he had found Sita safe and sound. They all then walked to Sugriva’s palace together and celebrated Hanuman’s victory by drinking the king’s finest wine. Once Rama and Laksmana heard the news of Hanuman’s return, they quickly went to him to find out anything they could about Sita. Hanuman told Rama of his adventures in Lanka. He told him how beautiful Lanka was and how he set it on fire. He told him about Ravana and his raksasa armies. He then finally told him about Sita, how she was alive but very sad all the time. He described her tear stained face, her matted hair and her torn dress. Finally, Hanuman gave Rama Sita’s chudamani and Rama said with tears in his eyes, “Laksmana, I see her face when I hold this golden ring. She weeps for me my brother.” Rama was happy to hear that Sita was alive and waiting for his arrival.Hanuman continued to rise up higher and faster into the sky. The devas gathered around to watch the monkey’s great leap. To help Hanuman reach Lanka, the sun god dampened his rays to prevent from burning him. Vayu held his son in his arms and blew the winds strongly around him so he would reach Lanka even faster. Varuna, the ocean god, lifted a mountain named Mainaka from beneath the waves. Mainaka explained to Hanuman, “Varuna bade me rise to be a resting place for you. The Lord of the waves would like to be of use to you. Come Hanuman, rest a while upon me. Then you can fly to Lanka from my summit.” But Hanuman gratefully replied, “I am moved by your love and by the ocean’s kindness. But my time is short and I have none to rest. Farewell, good mountain, we shall meet again someday.” And with that, Hanuman continued on his journey to Lanka while Mainaka sank beneath the waves once again. Nearby, the light gods were watching Hanuman. They wanted to test his abilities because they felt the leap was too easy a task for him. One of the devas of light, Surasa, turned herself into a raksasi and blocked Hanuman’s path. The raksasi was as big as Hanuman and she told him “By Brahma’s boon no one can pass me without going through my mouth!” Hanuman knew he could outsmart Surasa and replied “raksasi, your mouth is too small to contain me. Open wider, so I may fit in.” And with that, Surasa opened her mouth as wide as she could. Hanuman, being the quick thinking monkey he was, shrunk in size until he was no bigger than a human’s thumb and quickly flew in and out of the raksasi’s mouth without her even noticing. Surasa was amused by the monkey and said to him “Pass in peace Hanuman; it was only the devas testing you. May your journey be fruitful; may all your missions succeed.”

Still pressing on, Hanuman soon found himself unable to move forward. It was as if some sort of force was holding him back. He looked around to see what the problem was. It wasn’t long before he realized it was the work of another raksasi, named Simhika. Simhika had emerged hungrily from the water. She charged at Hanuman with her mouth wide-open, fangs exposed. By now Hanuman had lost all of his patience. He flew as quickly as he could into Simhika’s mouth, down her throat and into her belly. He grabbed her intestines in his hand and flew back out her mouth dragging her innards with him. Leaving Simhika’s remains behind, Hanuman continued on his journey.

Soon, Hanuman reached an island covered in groves and shrubs and flora of all kinds. Streams trickled and waterfalls fell with a beauty and glory that Hanuman could not have even imagined before this moment. It contained the most glorious streams and waterfalls he had ever seen. He knew this must be Lanka. Relieved that he had made it this far, he knew there was still a larger task ahead. Hanuman again shrunk in size, this time becoming three feet tall. He wandered further into the island until he saw Ravana’s city. A deep moat surrounded the city, with only a single bridge acting as a crossing. Across the bridge was an army of raksasas (demons). They were fiercer than any raksasas he had ever seen before. Behind the raksasa army was a towering wall that appeared impossible to climb. Hanuman began to doubt his abilities after seeing the well-guarded city so he sat up in a tree for a while, trying to shed all uncertainties that he had. He knew Rama, Laksmana, and Sita were relying on him now more than ever.

It was nighttime before Hanuman regained the courage he needed to press forward. He was slowly approaching the bridge when he decided to shrink in size even more. This time he was no bigger than a kitten. Hanuman crept along the underside of the bridge, trying to avoid the site of the raksasa army. Suddenly, he felt a strong hand grab him by the scruff of his neck; it was Lankini, the spirit and guardian of Lanka. She picked Hanuman up and said, “What have we here? It seems to be no warrior, but only a little monkey. But not everything is what it seems to be, and you are very heavy for one so little. Who are you, and why are you trying to creep into Lanka?” Hanuman responded, “I saw the beauty of Lanka from yonder peak, and I was so enchanted that I came to see it nearer. I will admire the sights of Lanka and go away as I came. I mean no harm to anyone.” Lankini knew Hanuman was not telling the truth so she slapped him across the face. Hanuman retaliated and punched her in the jaw. The blow caused Lankini to topple over. Instead of fighting back, Lankini folded her hands to Hanuman and said, “So the prophecy is true! Brahma gave me a boon and said I would be invincible at these gates. But he also said that one day a little monkey would come along, and when he struck me down I would know the end of the raksasas was at hand. And I know what brings you here. It is she; it is Sita who brings doom to Lanka. It is no use my standing guard here any longer. Lankini does not bar your way any more; you are free to enter as you please.” Hanuman then crossed the bridge and as he did Lankini melted into the night and left the gates of Lanka forever.

Hanuman carefully leapt onto the wall that protected Lanka and slid down the other side. He marveled at the sight of Lanka but knew he had no time to spare and quickly set forth to find Sita. To prevent himself from being spotted by the raksasas, Hanuman ran across the rooftops until he reached Ravana’s palace. Inside the palace the hunt for Sita really began. He spotted many beautiful raksasis but knew none of them were Sita. Ravana’s palace had many rooms and Hanuman was determined to search each one. Inside numerous bedchambers Hanuman saw beautiful, sleeping women but none of them were Rama’s Sita. Still he pressed on. After much searching, Hanuman reached a door that appeared to be even more magnificent than the others. He slowly opened it and crept in. Inside, he saw a sleeping raksasa who could only have been Ravana. He had long arms that hung down to his knees and dark skin. He wore white silk and he was covered in fancy jewelry. Hanuman looked past Ravana’s bed and saw another bed in the room. He slowly tiptoed over to the other bed, thinking Sita might be asleep inside of it. As he got closer, he noticed a woman was fast asleep inside the soft bed. She was more beautiful than anyone he had ever seen before. He said quietly to himself “By her beauty she must be Sita. But how does she sleep so contentedly in Ravana’s bedchamber, with a smile curving her perfect lips?” He then thought to himself that Sita would rather die than spend the night with Ravana so he looked closer at the sleeping woman and realized that it was Mayaa’s daughter, Mandodari.

He had searched hundreds of rooms and still found no trace of Sita anywhere. Feeling dejected, Hanuman thought to himself “Sampati the eagle said he saw her here from across the sea. Then where is she? Ravana must have killed her between then and now, and cremated her body. Or perhaps there are dungeons below the palace where he holds her. But I have looked everywhere and found no sign of such a prison, or a stairway leading down to one.” He knew that if he returned to Kiskindha with no news of Sita Rama would surely kill himself and the others would follow suite shortly. He believed he had failed Rama. Feeling sorry for himself once more, Hanuman left the palace and sat atop a tree and watched moonbeams strike the earth. Suddenly he noticed a copse that became illuminated by the moon. The copse was hidden by the shadow of Ravana’s palace and could not be seen in the darkness of night. A slight glimmer of hope spread through Hanuman as he realized that this thicket had not yet been searched. Maybe this is where Sita was hidden away. He found his way to the asokavana and slowly entered it. Inside he found a beautiful garden. Hanuman remembered Rama telling him that Sita loved flowers, trees, and all wild things. This must be where Ravana is keeping Sita! He peered through the trees and saw a little temple hidden in the asokavana. Slowly, he crept up to the little temple and looked inside one of the windows. Inside he saw a woman dressed in dirty silk, her face stained with tears, and she was surrounded by sleeping raksasis. There was no doubt in his mind this was Sita. Unfortunately, morning was near and Hanuman decided to hide in a nearby tree to prevent any of the waking raksasis from seeing him.

As dawn broke, Ravana woke up wanting nothing but to see Sita’s beautiful face. He walked from his bedchamber to the asokavana where he held her captive. Hanuman peered through the leaves of the tree he was hiding in and watched as Ravana entered Sita’s room. He was in awe at Ravana’s greatness. He had never seen a king so grand. As Ravana walked closer to Sita, she covered herself with her hands to avoid his gaze. He said softly to her “Whenever I come here, you try to hide your beauty with your hands. But for me any part of you I see is absolutely beautiful. You are the perfect woman; beauty begins with you. Honor my love, Sita, and you will discover how deep it is. My life began when I first saw you, but you treat me so cruelly.” She didn’t reply. Getting frustrated, Ravana decided to downplay Rama’s excellence and said to Sita “he is not my equal, in wealth or power, valor, or even tapasya. Forget your wandering hermit. By now he has lost his mind from sorrow. Be sensible, as your humankind always is. Just think there is no hope of Rama ever seeing you again, no hope that he can cross the ocean. Give up your stubbornness; it is all you have to lose.” Sita, angered at what Ravana had just said replied, “I am the wife of another man, Raksasa, and my husband is my life. How can you even think of me as becoming yours, when I am already given to Rama? I have always belonged to Rama and I always will.” Angered greatly by her words, Ravana threatened Sita, “Two months I give you, out of my great love. Remember to be in my bed before those sixty days are part. If you are not, my cooks will serve you to me in pieces for my morning meal.” And with that, he left. The raksasis who were guarding Sita followed Ravana closely, trying to console him.

One of the raksasis stayed behind with Sita. Her name was Trijata and she was older than the other raksasis. She softly said to Sita, “Come and hear what I dreamed!” Knowing that Trijata was kind and caring, Sita stepped close to Trijata so she could listen to her dream. In the dream, Trijata saw Rama and Laksmana reuniting with Sita while Ravana fell to the ground, screaming in pain. She saw Ravana’s brother Kumbhakarna sink beneath the waves, while Vibhisana wore the crown upon his head. Trijata also told Sita about the monkey she had dreamt about, who set Lanka on fire with his tail.

Sita was overjoyed when she heard the news and ran to a nearby asoka tree. She sat beneath it and sobbed for she knew Rama would rescue her soon. This was the same tree Hanuman was hiding in. Hanuman knew he had to talk to her but he was scared Sita would think he was a raksasi, or worse yet, Ravana in disguise, so he hid behind the tree’s leaves and softly spoke to her. He told her the story of King Dasaratha and how he was forced to banish Rama to the jungle. He told her about an evil emperor who abducted a woman named Sita. He then explained how Rama, the brave warrior needed help finding Sita so he made friends with two monkeys, Sugriva and Hanuman. He told Sita how only one monkey was able to make the leap to Lanka. Finally, he told her that he was that monkey, he was Hanuman. Sita was excited but hesitated slightly as she looked up into the tree’s branches for the varana. Hanuman climbed down the tree and prostrated himself at her feet. Hanuman talked about his journey before he gave Sita Rama’s ring. “Rama will be here sooner than you think. But if you like, I can take you out of here today upon my back,” offered Hanuman. But Sita replied, “Dear Hanuman, my heart insists that Rama must come to Lanka and slay its raksasa. Besides, I would rather die at once than try to escape and be captured again. Also, good Hanuman, you must forgive me, but I am Rama’s wife and it isn’t proper of me to cling to your back as we cross the sea.” Hanuman understood and agreed to fly back to Rama alone so he could tell him where she was so he could save her himself. Sita then took out the chudamani (hair ornament) that she wore in her hair and said to Hanuman, “Give this to Rama. He knows it well. When he sees it, he will think of my mother, of his father Dasaratha, and of me; memories of us three are upon its jewel. Everything depends on you Hanuman; my life is in your hands.” Hanuman bowed down at her feet. He gently took the chudamani from her hand and quietly left her side.

As Hanuman was leaving Lanka he decided to make his presence known; he wanted to destroy the beautiful garden of the asokavana. He had a feeling that it was Ravana’s favorite place. He uprooted many trees and stirred whirlpools so they spilt over their banks. He also trampled over exotic plants. Some nearby raksasis heard the commotion and went to see what was happening. They were shocked to see a monkey causing so much damage and decided to bring the news to Ravana. Ravana sent hundreds of his guards to capture the monkey, including his mighty son Aksa. It was a battle between monkey and raksasa. The guards were easily defeated but Hanuman enjoyed fighting Aksa; he thought he was a handsome and noble warrior. Eventually Hanuman knew the time had come to kill Aksa; he smashed down Aksa’s chariot with a stone pillar then proceeded to pick Ravana’s son up. He then smashed Aksa’s head against a stone wall, killing him instantly. Ravana was shocked to see the great power the monkey possessed so he called for his other son Indrajit to fight him. He said to Indrajit, “Your brother and your friends have died. It seems no legion can stand against this monkey, let alone take him. Go, my son, bring him to me. Bring him alive.” Indrajit followed his father’s orders and went up to the vanara. He drew a special arrow from his quiver, one that contained Brahma’s astra. He shot the arrow at Hanuman, causing him to fall to the ground immediately. Indrajit believed he had won the battle but Hanuman thought to himself, “The boy doesn’t know that by Brahma’s own boon to me, his astra can hold me only for a moment. But I want to see Ravana’s face before I fly out of Lanka, and this is my chance. I am not afraid!” Ravana’s men quickly approached the fallen varana, captured him and brought him to Ravana. Ravana ordered the vanara to tell him who he was. Hanuman told him that Rama had sent him and that the end of Lanka was near. This greatly angered Ravana and he ordered his guards to kill Hanuman. Ravana’s brother Vibhisana explained to Ravana “On no account should a messenger be killed; he is our enemy and he must pay for what he has done. Whip him, maim him, even; shave his head and scar his body with your wrath. But do not have him killed.” Taking this to heart, Ravana retorted, “Nothing is more precious to a monkey than his tail. Let this monkey’s fine tail be set on fire. Let him be sent back with a burnt stump behind him to show that he crossed my path. Yes, let the monkey’s tail be lit and let him be marched through the streets of Lanka. Let my people mock him for what he did today.”

The raksasis from the asokavana ran to tell Sita about the monkey and how his tail was about to be set on fire. This news brought tears to Sita’s eyes – Hanuman was her only hope. She knew she had to do something so she began to pray to Agni the God of fire, “If it is true that I have been faithful to Rama, true that I have kept my vows and that my mind has always been pure, then don’t let Hanuman, who leapt across the sea to find me, who braved every danger to bring Rama’s message to me, be burned by your flames. Let your touch be upon his tail be as cool as the caress of his father Vayu.” As soon as she finished praying, Hanuman’s tail was being wrapped in cloth, dipped in oil, and set aflame. However, Hanuman felt no pain because of Sita’s prayer. Instead, the quick thinking monkey decided to use the fire to his advantage. He grew in size until he was as tall as the tallest tower in Lanka and he ran about frantically, setting buildings on fire. Next, he shrunk in size until he was no larger than a cat and he hopped from rooftop to rooftop, setting all of Lanka on fire. After Hanuman felt he had made the strength of Rama’s army known, he flew back to Bharatavarsa.

All of the vanaras at Bharatavarsa cheered when they saw Hanuman again, they knew he had found Sita safe and sound. They all then walked to Sugriva’s palace together and celebrated Hanuman’s victory by drinking the king’s finest wine. Once Rama and Laksmana heard the news of Hanuman’s return, they quickly went to him to find out anything they could about Sita. Hanuman told Rama of his adventures in Lanka. He told him how beautiful Lanka was and how he set it on fire. He told him about Ravana and his raksasa armies. He then finally told him about Sita, how she was alive but very sad all the time. He described her tear stained face, her matted hair and her torn dress. Finally, Hanuman gave Rama Sita’s chudamani and Rama said with tears in his eyes, “Laksmana, I see her face when I hold this golden ring. She weeps for me my brother.” Rama was happy to hear that Sita was alive and waiting for his arrival.

Book 4: Kiskindha Kanda

In Kiskindha
Lexie Filafilo

As Laksmana and Rama hiked with ease up Rsyamuka mountain they did not know they were being watched from the top of the mountain by a scared vanara named Sugriva. Ever since Sugriva was chased from his kingdom by his brother, Vali, Sugriva was very neurotic and jumpy indeed. He could tell that these two men had bows and this discomforted Sugriva: what if his brother sent them to kill him?
vanara are mystical monkeys, not like everyday monkeys that one could see in a zoo. They have some blood of the gods in them from ancient times, and therefore some of them have fantastic powers. As the vanara are an ancient race they have, over time, become quite refined.

Sugriva ran to Hanuman—the son of Vayu—and told him of the strange men that he believed were sent by his brother to kill him. Hanuman, who was calm in even the most grave situations attempted to comfort Sugriva: “Please Sugriva, remember the curse that rsi Matanga put on Vali and his vanaras because he desecrated holy land by throwing an asura’s carcass on it. That curse does not allow Vali, or those who are employed by him, to come to this place. It will be alright.” But Sugriva was still quaking terribly: he was remembering how his brother took his wife Ruma and then exiled him from Kiskindha—the kingdom of the vanaras. Sugriva could not be comforted. “I will go down and talk to them,” Hanuman said, “if I think they are harmful I will take care of them, and if not I will bring them up to speak to you.”

Hanuman quickly dashed down the mountain, and changed his shape—as this was one of his special powers—into a tall Brahmin. Hanuman introduced himself to the two men, who he felt were powerful, but not harmful. “My name is Hanuman, I am the minister to the king of the vanaras, Sugriva, who was exiled to this mountain by his brother, Vali.” The men, who of course were Rama and Laksmana, trusted Hanuman instantly, and smiled at the Brahmin. Laksmana said to Hanuman: ” This is Rama and I am his brother Laksmana. We were also exiled from our kingdom, and have been wandering the forest for the past years. Rama’s wife, Sita, has recently been abducted, and we are on a quest to find her. We were climbing the mountain with hopes of meeting Sugriva.” With that, Hanuman changed back into vanara form, “come friends, I’ll take you to Sugriva now.”

After Hanuman found Sugriva, scared and huddled in a shivering ball in a cave, he told Sugriva of the ksatriya’s story, and explained that Rama and Laksmana were there to meet Sugriva, not to kill him. Sugriva, relieved, went out and prostrated himself at Rama’s feet, and told him that they would be great friends. Rama and Sugriva then performed the age old vanara ritual of friendship. Rama and Sugriva, Hanuman and Laksmana stayed up all night discussing their pasts. “Hanuman has told me of how you were exiled from your kingdom, and how your wife was taken from you while you were in the forest.” Sugriva said, over the blaze of the fire, “I too lost my wife and my kingdom.” Sugriva continued to tell the story of his brother Vali, and how he chased Sugriva from the kingdom of Kiskindha.

“My older brother Vali and I were really close. Out father died, and when Vali was crowned king I was so happy for him. One day an asura named Mayavi, who was smitten with the same woman as Vali, called him out to fight for her. His wife, Tara, and I pleaded with him not to go, but Vali was much too proud to listen to us. I went with Vali, and we followed Mayavi deeper and deeper into the forest. Finally, we came to a cave and Vali went in. He told me to guard the entrance, in case Mayavi tried to get away. I waited for days, and no one came out. Eventually, I saw a river of blood flowing from the cave. With tears in my eyes over my brother’s death I rolled a huge stone over to block the cave entrance so that the asura could not escape. I went back to Kiskindha, and was crowned king. Then one day, Vali came back. He accused me of attempting to kill him, so I could take over the throne. He put me in prison and took my wife. I escaped, and when he found out he tracked me down and he chased me all the way to where I am today.” Sugriva finished his story with a tear of loss for the brother he once looked up to. Rama was moved by his story, and thought Vali to be a very adharmic monkey for the pain and anguish that he caused his brother, Sugriva. Rama said, “I will kill your brother, and you will be reinstated to the throne, where you belong.”

Sugriva said to Rama “I appreciate it, but I am worried friend. Vali has a boon of strength from Brahma. I do not want my new friend to get hurt. If you can shoot an arrow through each of the seven hard wood trees over there, I am sure you will have no problem killing Vali.” Rama picked up his bow, and shot one arrow. It went through each of the seven hard wood trees consecutively. Sugriva shouted, “Vali is as good as dead!” The four hugged, and started their trip to Kiskindha to kill Vali.

Sugriva stood at the edge of the kingdom, calling Vali to fight. He knew his brother could not resist a fight. Vali, as suspected came running out of the kingdom, eager to finish the grudge he had been harboring once and for all. Both of the vanaras grew to the size of trees, and began pounding each other with their fists, boulders, and anything that that they could get their large hands on. At first Sugriva was doing well, his confidence began to rise; he was winning the fight.

Meanwhile, Rama was sitting hidden in a tree, watching the fight. He realized that the vanara brothers looked too much alike and that he could not possibly try to shoot Vali with an arrow if there was a chance he could hit Sugriva. Sugriva’s attention was focused on why Rama was not shooting his brother, and this gave Vali the opportunity to give Sugriva three harsh pounds to the head. Sugriva reeled and ran back to Rsyamuka bawling like a child.

“Why did you let me be pummeled by my brother, when you were supposed to be my friend?” Sugriva wailed to Rama when he returned. Rama calmed him saying, “I could not tell you apart. We will go back tomorrow and try again, this time though you will wear a garland made out of gajapuspi, the most colorful of flowering vines, so I can tell you apart no matter what happens. Don’t despair friend, tomorrow will be the end of the awful Vali.” The next day, Sugriva called Vali out once more, and despite the attempts of his wise wife Tara, he went anyway. “He has Rama on his side,” Tara said, as most creatures of the jungle knew about Rama’s presence in their home by now, “why would that coward come back otherwise?” Vali’s pride was too much, and once again he flew at his brother. Rama watched from a tree, and waited, hoping that Sugriva could kill Vali himself. Rama was worried about the karmic seeds he would plant if he killed Vali. Finally, when he knew that Vali was going to win the fight if he did not intervene, Rama shot Vali in the chest. Vali’s wretched screams echoed through all the worlds.

Rama went to Vali, and stood over his dying body. Slowly Vali’s eyes opened and he saw Rama standing over him. Vali asked, “Why have you done this to me you coward? It was not your fight. This deed will surely sow terrible seeds of karma for you.” Rama hovered over Vali as he continued, “What will happen to my son Angada, my beautiful wife Tara, my kingdom? I had heard that your wife was stolen by Ravana. Why did you not ask me to kill him for you? I would have. This was not a dharmic act you have committed, but a cowardly one. Oh how you will pay in other lives for this; why Rama? Why did you do this to me?”

Rama answered Vali slowly and calmly, “Perhaps you do not understand the ways of dharma as well as you suggest. An older brother’s dharma is to his younger brothers, especially if their father is dead. You did not follow dharma when you chased Sugriva out of the kingdom. I have sworn an oath of friendship with your brother, and in that way he is like my younger brother. I am justified in what I did, it was a dharmic act.” As Rama talked, Vali was soothed by his voice. It was as if Rama’s voice made Vali realize the error of his way, and made him find peace from within himself. “I understand,” Vali said in a quiet and raspy voice of death, “please make sure that Sugriva is made king and that my wife and son are taken care of.” Vali died and Tara, who had heard her husband’s earlier cries, rushed to her dying husband’s side and broke down in tears. Sugriva also wept for his brother whom he had murdered. He felt he should die with his brother. Rama and Laksmana told Sugriva that his duty was to be strong. Angada and Tara built a pyre for Vali, and when they lit it, they set him free.

Rama told Sugriva that he could not go into the city to watch his coronation because it would be breaking the vow he made to his father. “Crown Angada yuvaraja” he reminded Sugriva, “Laksmana and I will go and take refuge in a cave during the rainy season. I will see you when the month of Krittika arrives, and we will begin the search for Sita.” Sugriva prostrated himself at Rama’s feet and said, “I will see you in a few months my friend, and at that time I will keep my promise to you: I will find your beloved Sita.”

During the rainy season plants grew by leaps and bounds in only a day. Rama and Laksmana found a cave on the mountain Prasravana to wait out the rainy period in. Rama started to get very anxious during the time that he was in the cave. Luckily, Laksmana was able to keep Rama occupied with stories, and he calmed him down when he started missing Sita too much. Meanwhile, in Kiskindha, Sugriva was having a rollicking good time in his harem. He had married Tara, and was enjoying the drunken stupor that he had been in since he was crowned.

The month of Krittika came and passed, and Rama was very disheartened because he had not heard from Sugriva once. Laksmana was filled with rage because of the broken promise, and begged: “Rama let me kill Sugriva; he has no honor.” Rama replied quietly, “There is no honor in what you suggest Laksmana, it would be best if you went and reminded Sugriva of his duty to me. Ask him why he has not honored his promise to find Sita.” Laksmana arrived in Kishkindha. There were vanara guarding the palace that did not recognize him, and they sent for a back up army to fight the perceived threat. Angada lead the army, and when he saw Laksmana he stopped. “Bring me to your uncle,” Laksmana said, recognizing Angada at once. Angada brought him to his uncle’s harem. Once Laksmana was in the harem, he saw the absolute excess in which Sugriva had been living, while Rama was suffering in the forest. Sugriva, who was barely able to stand because he was so drunk, sent Tara over to reason with the angry ksatriya. Tara told Laksmana how Sugriva looked up to Rama, and how his excess of alcohol and women was due to his long exile in the forest. When Tara felt that Laksmana had been sated sufficiently by her words, she brought him to Sugriva. “Even as we speak now,” the monkey king said smoothly, “my troops are marching here to be deployed on a mission to find Sita. I have not forgotten about Rama, or my promise.” Laksmana smiled and said, “Let us go to the forest to tell Rama, and wait for your troops.”

When Sugriva got to Rama, he prostrated himself at his feet. “I have not forgotten my promise to you Rama,” Sugriva said with tears in his eyes, “even as we speak my soldiers are coming here to get their orders.”

Within ten days of Sugriva’s arrival in the forest, his troops arrived and were standing in the valley awaiting Sugriva’s instructions. Sugriva climbed onto a tree stump and started speaking to his soldiers: “Search to the ends of the earth my vanaras, and find the evil Ravana that has caused such pain for my dear friend Rama.” Sugriva continued on, telling the troops of all the places that they would be searching, which he was remembering from the days he was fleeing his brother Vali. “Vinata, go west with one quarter of the troops. Sushena, go east with one quarter of the troops. Satbali, you go north. Finally, Hanuman take Angada, who is like a son to me, and go south. I will give you all one month. If you have not found Rama’s Sita come back to this place in shame.” As the troops began to leave in their assigned directions, Rama and Sugriva went to Hanuman. “Hanuman,” Rama said with passion, “I believe that if anyone can find my Sita, it is you. Go and find her for me dear vanara, and when you do give her my ring.” Rama took the ring off his finger and gave it to Hanuman. “She will be afraid, and will not trust you at first. This ring will let her know that she can trust you.” Hanuman prostrated himself at the feet of both Sugriva and Rama and left on his mission to find Sita. Susena, Vinata, and Satbali searched high and low, day and night for a complete month respectively, but none of them could find Sita. Likewise, Hanuman, Angada, and their team searched, but to no avail. Angada, who could see that his troops were becoming dejected, said, “I know that we will be the ones to find Sita. It is Fate. Do not give up brave monkeys.” The vanaras’ spirits were lifted, and they continued searching, and to their relief found a cave that they had never seen before.

On entering the cave and walking down a long tunnel they came to a beautiful kingdom with fantastic gardens that they could not imagine even in their wildest dreams. Suddenly, an ascetic appeared before them, and seeing that she was friendly, they ate with her. The ascetic told them her name was Svayamprabha and that the kingdom they were in was called Riksabila and was created by Mayaa. Svayamprabha was guarding the kingdom. Hanuman reciprocated, introducing himself and telling her of their quest to find Sita. “I am moved by your honor,” Svayamprabha said. “Normally all that enter this fine place cannot leave, but since your hearts are pure, and you are on an honorable quest I will free you.” With that, the vanaras were at western shore of the Bharatavarsa.

Angada, being an observant monkey said, “Time is different in Riksabila than it is in our world. A week has passed since we have been in the cave. We have not found Sita, and our time is up.” Angada was visibly perturbed, and was pacing back and forth quickly. “I am worried,” he said quickly to the ministers that had gathered around him, “that Sugriva will not take kindly to our delay. He killed my father and this is just the excuse he needs to kill me as well.” Thara, agreed with Angada, “Sugriva killed our king with no thought for us, his people. Why would we continue looking for Sita for him, or go back to him, when we have no allegiance to him, and him to us likewise. Let us return to Riksabila and live our days out in that beautiful place.” Hanuman, who was always calm said, “It is not a good plan for us to make enemies of people that are as powerful and pious as Laksmana and Rama, and we surely will if we desert our mission and our king. We are capable of finding Sita, I can feel it. Let us continue on.” After much discussion, Angada had made his mind up to go and stay on the beach, to die there. Many others seeing their prince so distraught agreed to die with him on the beach.

Thousands of little vanaras sat in groups on the beach. Angada and the monkeys surrounding him told stories about Rama, and Jatayu, and his noble death. Little did they realize, far above them, an old eagle was watching them.

Sampati the eagle was extremely old, and had not had a decent meal in a great time, considering his aged condition, and his visible lack of wings. Excited at the prospect of the meal he said, “I do not have to worry about searching my food out, today it has found me.” Angada heard him and screamed to his soldiers, “death is coming to kill us and he is in the form of a giant bird, run!” But Angada could not run; he was paralyzed with fear, and was so upset that he began to talk nonsensically about Jatayu and his noble death. Hearing this Sampati said, “How do you know Jatayu?” Angada suddenly felt a wave of trust come over him and he told Sampati the story of Rama, and how Jatayu had given his life in an attempt to save the chaste Sita from the adharmic Ravana. “I have not heard of Jatayu in many years,” Sampati said quietly, “you see I am his brother, Sampati.” “When we were just young,” Sampati said, “Jatayu and I were very competitive. One day we made a bet to see who could fly higher. We flew up for days and days, and we were neck in neck all the way. We were flying so fast that we did not realize how close we were to the sun until it was too late. Jatayu started to burn up, and fall. As soon as I saw he was in trouble I stopped flying and caught him, but as soon as I touched him my wings began to burn. I fainted and woke up when I came into contact with the ground. My wings were burned off that day, and I have not seen or heard of Jatayu since.”

Sampati walked to the edge of the water and peered out into the ocean. “What are you doing?” inquired Angada. “I am an old mystical eagle, and my family is blessed with amazing sight so that they can hunt from far above their prey. I am looking to the ocean to see if I can see Sita on the Island of Lanka, the home of Ravana.” After a long while, Sampati said, “I see her, she is within the palace walls.” Suddenly as if by a miracle, the stumps where Sampati’s wings once were began to glow and when they stopped, his wings were whole again. With tears in his eyes Sampati said, “A rsi once told me, that when I helped the avatara of Visnu by finding his love, abducted by evil, that I would have my wings back. Good luck friends, trust in yourselves and you will succeed.” Sampati flew off for the first time in thousands of years.

The vanaras were renewed because they had found Sita. The only problem was how they were going to reach her. Vanara are fantastic creatures and they are able to jump great distances, so they decided that their best bet would be for one of them to jump to the island. Angada said “I can jump at least 100 yojanas, I will do it.” Jambavan interjected, “I must insist that you do not do that. You are the heir to the throne, and you must not risk your life, even if it is for a good cause.” Continuing, Jambavan said, “Hanuman you are capable of jumping over 300 yojana, or do you not remember?” Hanuman shook his head no, bewildered by this amazing statement. “When you were only a young boy,” Jambavan started, “you thought that the sun was a piece of fruit, and you wanted it for yourself. You jumped all the way up to the sun, and Indra, seeing you, and thinking you were a very cocky boy, knocked you down with his lightening bolt. Your father, Vayu, caught you, and you were not harmed at all. Brahma, seeing what happened said that such an amazing child deserved a boon, and with his decree no weapon would ever harm you. Indra realized that it was not out of pride that you wanted the sun, but out of childish delight and he also gave you a boon. It was the boon of life because he said that you could choose when you would die.” Hanuman sat there shocked. “Don’t you see, Hanuman,” Jambavan said patting Hanuman on the back, “You were born to jump to Lanka.”

A smile crossed Hanuman’s face as if he was just realizing what he could do for the first time. “I’ll do it,” he said. Suddenly, the son of the wind began to grow, he grew to the size of the mountains and then he grew larger. When he stopped he stepped with a gigantic leg onto one of the mountains behind the beach. He was so large that he had to put the other foot on the peak beside the first. Hanuman began moving back and forth, preparing for his long jump across the ocean to save Rama’s Sita.

Book 3: Aranya Kanda

In The Forest
Shayne Dahl

In the days following Bharata’s departure, the rsis were scattered along the banks of the river with their backs turned to the exiled wanderers. Curious, Rama approached and asked them if he or his companions had caused them discomfort. With a broken voice, an elder sage replied, “We are silenced not by our grievance towards you three but in fear of Khara, the demon cousin of Ravana of Lanka.” He performs grotesque rituals with dark intentions. Khara and his minions befoul our yajnas with their black magic. “Rama, Laksmana and Sita, be wise and please abandon this inauspicious site.” The three heeded this request.
They felt more and more the loneliness akin to exile the further they moved into the wilderness. Just when the comfort of reconciliation settled their apprehensions, the rotten stench of a raksasa burned putrid in their nostrils. Obstructing their path, the demon stood tall as a tree. With a gangrene face thickly layered in flies and maggots, it grabbed Sita and grunted disgustingly. ” I have Brahma’s boon! I am invincible to your weapons! I want your blood!” Casually, Rama filled its chest with arrows and Laksmana sliced away its appendages. Severed stumps wriggled pathetically as it lay in a puddle of tar-black blood. Realizing the truth of its claim to Brahma’s boon, Rama and Laksmana grabbed the neck to strangle it. They brought the demon to a violent gurgle, then death.

A cascading light became abruptly visible upon the creature’s demise. A face formed, then a body above the already decayed torso. “I was cursed by Kubera ages ago to incarnate as a demon. He told me I would be freed by Rama’s hands and return to Devaloka in time to come. Please, bury this torso so I may return to Devaloka. Also, direct your travels to Sarabhanga’s asrama. He will bless you as fate requires.” They cured his demonic imprisonment by burying the bloody torso. They then continued their wanderings.

Not far from Sarabhanga’s asrama, they saw a great chariot manned by the master and god of war. He slowed to halt just before the asrama. The blue prince ran to him under the setting sun, excited as any in sight of an incredible one like Indra. Before he was near enough to be heard, Indra had already left and blazed into the sky. As they left, Indra spoke these words to his Devas: “Rama and I are not to meet before the great event of his life and of this world, lest the natural course of things be interrupted.”

Sarabhanga was delighted to see the forest wanderers. He explained that Indra visited as an escort. Together, they would travel to Brahmaloka (one of two spiritual realms; the other being Devaloka), for his enlightenment was imminent. Then, Sarabhanga asked for Rama’s blessing and walked into the flames of the pyre his disciples had built him. He vanished in the heavy flames and a streak of light raised to the sky as petals rained briefly. Sarabhanga’s disciples then begged Rama to help them for their fear of the raksasas‘ had become a distraction in mind they could not evade even while seated in the deepest meditation. Rama looked each of the disciples keenly in the eye and said, “I promise you, we will destroy these demons. Dissolve your fear. Those causing your distress will fall to our weapons like deadweight from the sky.” Rama, Sita and Laksmana trekked on into the night; hell-ridden grunts and snarls littered the moonless sky. They arrived at Sutiksna’s asrama in days passing.

There, they were greeted kindly with beverages and food. While Rama and Laksmana were enjoying their stay, Sita was troubled. Rama inquired and she answered, “Why did you promise to slay the raksasas of the jungle? This is their home! They have not harmed you specifically; therefore, it is adharmic for you to end them. You are powerful and should not act violently when unprovoked.” Smiling, he responded, “My love, I am a ksatriya; therefore it is my dharma to protect those incapable of protecting themselves. I will not kill unprovoked. But Sita, you must reconsider your definition of provocation. The prayers of the rsis keep sanctity in this world alight. If I do not accomplish my dharma as a ksatriya and rid the forest of these rank demons, how will the earth maintain its divinity?! Fate has brought us here with deep intentions; my burning heart tells me so. I love you, please trust me.” Her daunting expressions faded to a smile when the avatara’s eyes glowed in honesty.

Ten years passed as quickly as a midnight dream. The raksasas now ailed at the thought of Rama and Laksmana, for these two had filled many black hearts with sharp arrows and decapitated the flyblown heads of the blood-thirsty effortlessly. Sita further developed a gift she was given by the gods. She could understand and communicate with the jungle creatures easily and took pleasure in doing so. After much wandering between asramas, learning of and slaying demons, the three returned to Sutiksna’s asrama. There, Rama explained to Sutiksna how he searched for Agastya Muni’s asrama ill-successfully. Sutiksna shared with him the directions and sent them with his blessing.

Stories of Agastya Muni’s power were discussed along the way. Upon arrival, Agastya Muni gave Rama weapons and armour that was given him by Indra as a gift. “You will need these, as well as a chariot for the great battles with evil, holy one. The fear you’ve instilled in the fanged and dark hearted has inspired their demonic thirst for human blood to intensify. They wish to fill their stomachs before your weapons cleave their dreadful faces. Go to Pancavati and tread your destiny.” With his blessing, they left.

On their way, rustles were heard in the branches above. Laksmana aligned his aiming eye towards the movement and prepared an arrow. A voice was heard, “Please refrain; I am a friend of Dasaratha’s.” Laksmana lowered his defensive response and a marvellous, well-sized eagle descended with soft flapping wings, “I am Jatayu. Your course of direction is dangerous. Please, accept me as a guardian. When you and Laksmana go out and hunt, I will watch over your wife Sita.” Rama replied, “Thank you noble one. We gladly accept your gesture and your friendship.”

They walked on and found an auspicious location to build an asrama. Sita would request tasks of the animals and they gladly performed them, for they loved her. One day, after they had settled comfortably, the most rancid smell wafted into the asrama and razed, among other natural beauties, a good number of lotus flowers. No sooner did Rama, Laksmana and Sita look up did there appear a wretched raksasi.

She was inflamed at the sight of Rama’s handsome face. “I am Surpanakha, sister of Ravana,” she spouted with a raspy hiss, “I live with Khara, my cousin. I am powerful and I want you for my husband. Lose this woman and be with me, I can shape-shift into any beauty you prefer.” “I am sorry, I’m married,” Rama replied kindly, “However, my brother Laksmana is single and better looking than I. Why don’t you pursue him instead?” Desperately, she turned to Laksmana and rubbed his chest with her grimy fingers. He denied her sarcastically; “I’m just a servant and you are a princess. Try my brother again. He will leave her for you!” She became ferociously jealous and charged Sita. Laksmana swiftly maimed her with his sword, causing much of her face to appear as scraped bone and torn muscle.

She ran home to her cousin who was enraged at the sight of his pained sibling. “Who did this?! I will make him howl like tortured child. Craving the taste of his own death, he will be murdered slowly!!” Immediately, fourteen of Khara’s toughest warriors were sent to complete the deed.

Seeing the bat-like demons approaching in the night sky, Rama stamped his foot as loud as thunder. “Unless you wish to greet death in vain, leave now.” They screamed piercingly from above and began a sharp descent. Rama released serpentine weapons with precision and brought them to the ground, where their bodies twitched a few moments, then became limp. Astonished, Surpanakha reported what she had witnessed to Khara. He raged like the wickedest storm, “Show me the faces of these arrogant fools so I can take pleasure in smashing them to death and send them skyward to their ancestors!!! I will bring a thousand raksasas for each one killed!”

Rama sent Laksmana with Sita to take cover in a nearby cave. He sensed the coming battle would be unlike any before. As they left, the forest dwelling animals retreated and the gods gathered above Pancavati; they too were aware of the coming battle.

Khara and his armies arrived with the anger of hell empowering their will. Fiercely and without warning, they attacked. Transforming the evening sky into a blur of weaponry, their pointed violence aimed towards Rama, as lightning to a steel rod. Tridents, arrows and javelins fell on him like a world ending meteor shower, some scathing his flesh. However, none wounded Rama because he wore immaculate armour. His response was quicker than light, arms madly rotating from quiver to bow; soft mantra whispers were heard invoking astras, which aided his strike with supernatural blessings. The sound of demon corpses thudding to the ground was deafening and shook the jungle like a mighty earthquake. At times, Rama would call upon astras capable of turning one arrow into a fiery thousand with accuracy rarely dreamt of. Drenched in thick black blood and tolerating the rotting stench, he stood valiantly, god incarnate.

Dushana, Khara’s brother, swooped out of the fleets, casting flaming trees, boulders and fire-spitting serpents at Rama. Rama evaded their aim and ended Dushana’s life with four quick arrows to the heart. Khara attacked next; striking Rama three times before the blue one sent his horses enough arrows to crash his chariot. Rama jumped and cut up Khara’s charioteer. Khara split Rama’s bow and sprung at him with a heavy mace. Rama warned, “Your craving for death is like a deep lust, I will send you there!” He accurately shot twenty blazing arrows at Khara and they nestled deep in his back, arms and stomach. No sooner did he tear them out of his flesh did Rama send an arrow with a supreme mantra whisper to the center of Khara’s chest where it struck and, alas, felled the raksasa. Excited for Rama’s triumph, the Devas rained petals, magically cleansing the bloodied earth of demon entrails.

A raksasa who narrowly escaped fled to Lanka and relayed the defeat to the ten-headed Ravana. Ravana could not believe that a human single-handedly destroyed his warrior cousin and his legions. Even after stories of Rama’s mass slaying met Ravana’s ears, he casually stated, “I will go and kill him and his companions where they stand.” The raksasa warned against it and proposed that he lure Rama to Lanka by kidnapping Sita, Rama’s wife. Ravana recognized the wisdom in this scheme and planned to leave the following morning.

The great evil one took to his chariot and flew to Marica, his uncle who was once a raksasa but since had become a rsi. Seeing the troubled look on Ravana’s face he asked, “What has happened my nephew?” Ravana explained the situation and the vengeful plan to kidnap Sita. “He is noble therefore he will die in absence of his love. I need your help uncle,” explained Ravana. Wisely, Marica responded, “Whoever devised the plan is a fool. Rama is no one to be challenged! He has slain all the raksasas who have crossed his path in vain. Be wise and yield or you will be destroyed.” Ravana trusted his uncle and returned to Lanka.

Surpanakha approached her great brother and scolded him like he had never heard; “You’re indulgent and not fit to rule. Your kingdom laughs behind your back while you become arrogant in the bedroom! A mere human desecrated your troops and you refuse to act.” Even while she described the dominance that the Ayodhya prince demonstrated in battle against his raksasas, Ravana seemed unmoved. She knew he was as lustful as an unruly beast and she wanted the three companions dead, so she altered her discourse to whet Ravana’s appetite. “Rama’s wife is heaven sent. Her skin would feel so smooth beneath your fingertips. Her eyes are mini-galaxies waiting to see you and love you openly in your bed. I tried to take her for you but I was maimed. Go capture her for your harem, she waits to realize and adore your vast power.” Ravana’s lust bore through the logic that his uncle had previously instilled. He was determined to have Rama’s princess be his own.

As he flew his chariot to Marica’s, Ravana fantasized about the beautiful Sita Supanakha described. Ravana told his uncle the details of his scheme once again, this time more forcefully. “You will, by the powers of maya, transform into a golden deer, which will entice the lovely Sita. She will request Rama and Laksmana to seize it for her. Then, you lead them deep into the forest while I kidnap the princess.” Marica attempted, at first, to sway his nephew by warning him otherwise but with every word he spoke, the expressions on Ravana’s ten heads became angered and reddened. Knowing his nephew’s wrath, Marica decided it best to commit the act, even though in dhyana he knew it to be adharmic. To Pancavati they flew.

Ravana and his uncle landed in a forest clearing nearby Rama’s asrama. Reluctantly, Marica made himself into a shining golden deer. Ravana admired Marica’s siddhi (supernormal powers) and sent the golden deer on its way with a slap. All the forest creatures smelt the sorcery beneath the hide of the animal and stayed clear of its stench.

Sita was awe-struck with Marica’s creation. She dropped her basket and called to the deer. Unmoved by her words, it wandered elsewhere. She called the brothers. Rama was bewildered but Laksmana knew intuitively that the deer was not as it appeared to be. He shared his suspicion with Rama, who considered Laksmana’s insight, yet was still compelled to capture this majestic animal for his wife. “If it is evil, I will kill it. If not, I will capture it. Watch over Sita, I will return shortly,” Rama said to his hesitant brother. Then he spirited after the deer into the neighbouring woods.

After an hour of sporadic chasing, Rama realized it was no ordinary stag but an enemy in disguise for its movements were like no thing of the natural world. He spun an arrow and pierced the target in the heart. It transformed back to Marica and with a last breath cried in a voice identical to Rama’s, “Laksmana! Laksmana! Help me!” Sita’s heart nearly stopped at the sound of her husband’s voice screaming a near death cry. “Go to him Laksmana, save him! Save him!” Being wise, Lakshmana knew his brother was not inferior to any opposition so he refused and attempted to console Sita. In a panic attempt, she spoke harsh words to him, accusing him of coveting her, “You want him to die don’t you Laksmana?! You want him to die so I will be your wife!! Go to him now or I will kill myself!” Confused and hurt by her words, Laksmana defied his intuition and ran to the woods. Before leaving, he cast a magical barrier at the door of the asrama that no one could enter unless Sita allowed. With legs furiously pumping and sweat pouring down his dark face, Laksmana ran through the woods to the illusory call.

Meanwhile, Ravana approached the asrama disguised as a holy man. When he saw Sita, he nearly collapsed at the sight of her delicate face. He loved her that instant. Barely managing to voice a word, he softly asked, “Who are you? You are so beautiful. Are you a goddess? You should abandon this area; the raksasas are dangerous here. Why are you alone?” He seemed harmless to Sita at the time. He was aged and appeared to host great wisdom, like most other rsis she met over her ten years in the jungle. Foolishly, she invited him in, “Come and sit with me.”

She explained her identity to him and he loved to hear what he already knew come from her tantalizing lips. He imagined pursuing her right then in the asrama but he unmasked himself instead, knowing that if he were to capture her he had to act fast. “I am Ravana of Lanka,” his body transformed, she was disgusted and afraid. “Come to Lanka with me, be my queen. You would be a jewel in the ocean. Leave the foolish human; I am the ruler of worlds.” She refused him mockingly, “If my husband sees you here, he will fill your black heart with arrows and you will only know pain.” At once, his ten heads licked their lips and he was aroused, caught once again in his fantasy of her naked body. She saw this twisted gesture and ran for the door. He snatched her quickly with a hiss. She cried to the animals, “Tell Rama and Laksmana what has happened; that Ravana of Lanka has taken me by force!!!” His decorative chariot flew to the south as she wailed madly, pounding her fists against his hard chest.

Jatayu, perched in the trees nearby, heard her alarmed scream and launched toward them. “Rama is king! You will suffer for your actions, selfish demon!” Although he was old and near blind, he directed his jagged claws and swooped with a guttural cry to the center head of Ravana. Raking the raksasa’s back, Jatayu shot his talons at a pair of eyes. Black blood sprayed like hellish rain over the earth and his chariot plummeted to destruction. Jatayu was tired but determined. He mustered up all of his strength and dove at the stunned raksasa like a heavy comet. Ravana drew his smooth weapon and cut off Jatayu’s wings, mid-flight.

Sita wailed, for she knew the devotion of Jatayu was of the truest kind. She went to hold him as he struggled for breath but the beast from Lanka muscled her and took to the sky. Flying over a mountain, she saw monkeys gathered atop. “Rama, Laksmana,” she cried, “Help!!!” Then, she loosened her necklace, took out her earrings, ripped a piece of her sari off and let them fall to the jungle dwellers.

As soon as they entered Ravana’s palace in Lanka, Ravana smiled perversely. His excitement was interrupted by Sita. “You are a thief. My husband will level your city and bring you to your knees. You are a coward and a fool for what you have done!” He replied confidently, “You will love me because I can give you what no forest dweller can dream; a power over nations. He is weak and ill-minded. This is why I seized you so easily. Forget him, he is already dead.” Her eyes winced and tears swelled, “My Rama will?” Ravana interrupted with a wrathful tone, “You will accept my love because none have been offered it in the passing ages. If you do not receive me within one year, I will cut up your body as you live and consume it with delight!” He walked out of the room, each step a crack of thunder.

Meanwhile, back in Panchavati, Laksmana and Rama had met up in the forest. They realized their folly and sprinted back to the asrama. Rama scolded Laksmana for leaving Sita, regardless her rash words towards him. They searched all over for her, uncovering no hint of what happened. “None suffer as I do now, brother,” Rama mumbled, “Everything has been stripped from me and I am sorrowful because of it! Sita is nowhere. Surely she has been taken from us by an evil one.” When a deer approached, Laksmana came to his knees and pleaded, for the animals knew and loved her equally. The empathetic deer raised its nose along with the other forest creatures towards the south. The Ayodhya princes left soon thereafter.

Southbound, they saw pools of blood and came across the fatally wounded Jatayu. Immediately, they knew there had been a battle. Rama was infuriated. He cursed and raged and threatened to destroy the universe. Laksmana was frightened and calmed him. “You should find those responsible and deliver their karma. Calm yourself brother, I beg you. Suffering exists in the lives of all of us, even the greatest ones whom you admire.” Rama slowed his furor.

Just as he did, Jatayu called out his last words, “Go south… a powerful raksasa took Sita there.” Rama knelt by his side, crying. “I fought him… he is Visrava’s son, Kubera’s brother…” The great eagle exhaled a life ending sigh and passed. To honour Jatayu’s devotion, Rama and Laksmana built him a pyre and lit his wounded shell. White light sparked and flew gently to the sky with wings.

Moving south, Rama and Laksmana noticed a cave. Inside was a strange and desperate one named Kabandha. He was a greasy monster with scabbed stumps for legs and severed bloodied wrists for hands. He cried, “I am blessed today! Cursed by a hermit to be the monster you see before you and maimed by Indra whom I offended, I have awaited your arrival. Burn this body and free me. My name was Dhanu.” Rama spoke sternly, “Do you know of my wife’s abduction? Her name is Sita and she was taken by a demon.” “I used to know all things,” he replied, “If you release me of this burden I will reclaim that knowledge and help you find Sita.” They burned his freakish body and in the smoke raised a shining spirit. He said “Go meet with Sugriva, prince of the vanaras. He lives on the mountain called Rsyamuka. Fate intends for you two to meet. Both of you will benefit from your fellowship.” Then, he gave directions and leapt into the sky.

Nearing Rsyamuka, the twins became more relaxed. They spotted a calm clear lake that brought tranquility to their rigid state. Along the shoreline they paused because Rama wept like a dark cloud; “Lovers should never be separated during spring months. How am I to last even a few days in her absence?” Rama went on grieving until Laksmana wisely interrupted, “Brother, fate has thrown us here for a greater destiny. You know in your heart just as I that our dharma is to follow this painful road and respond intelligently to the coming obstructions. You are no ordinary human, Rama. You are capable of feats no god could accomplish. Trust that there is a meaning for your sorrow which extends beyond the immediate moment.” Rama smiled, “Without you Laksmana, I would have been laid waste by my own wrath. Let us wilfully seek Rsyamuka and meet the foretold Sugriva.”

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.