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Chapter 6 (a)
The Call and the first Victory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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