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Chapter 7 (a)
Winning Sita

Meanwhile, one young student-disciple ran in with a bundle of palm leaf scripts and placed it in the hands of Viswamitra. He turned over a few leaves and passed it on to a revered old hermit sitting by his side. The Master asked the old man to read it aloud, so that all might hear.

He read that Emperor Janaka of Mithila had resolved to perform a celebrated Yajna, expressive of the highest glory of Righteousness, and that he was praying Viswamitra to give him joy by his gracious Presence with his disciples. When they heard this, all exclaimed, "Subham, Subham" (may it attain fulfillment). Viswamitra said, "Sons! Now that we van travel through the forests free from fear of demonic gangs, I have decided to start on the journey to Mithila with all the residents of the Asram, tomorrow itself".

When he heard this, Rama said, "Master! It is really a source of delight. Since there is nothing more that you need us for, we shall return to Ayodhya, if you permit us to do so. Please allow us to leave". At this, Viswamitra said, "I have given word to Dasaratha for a few more things; I have to keep those words too! I have promised him that I would myself bring you back to him and so, you cannot return without me! A unique Yajna is taking place in Mithila City. There is not enough time for me to take you to Ayodhya and then reach Mithila on the day the Yajna begins. If you two accompany me to Mithila, you can witness the Yajna and proceed to Ayodhya with me from there itself".

Hearing these words which had no trace of hesitation or doubt, Rama too answered decisively, without weighing pros and cons, "Master! Since my chief vow is obedience of the orders of my father, I have to submit a prayer before you". Viswamitra asked, "Come! Tell me, what is the prayer?" Rama replied, "My father directed me to guard the Yajna of Viswamitra from defilement and sacrilege, and make the great sage happy. He asked us to return victorious; he has not directed us to attend Yajnas elsewhere. Should I not receive special permission from my father for moving on to Mithila?"

At this Viswamitra said, "Rama! Dasaratha did not stop with that only! No". He said, "Go and obey all that the sage commands you to do; do not transgress his command by even the width of a grain". He told me, 'Master! You must yourselves assume full responsibility for my children; you must yourselves assume full responsibility for my children; you must yourselves bring them back to me'. You have listened to what he said when we left Ayodhya. So, follow my word now; come with me to Mithila, and from there we shall go to Ayodhya, I and you and all my disciples". Rama realized the truth that was inherent in this plan and he nodded in agreement saying, "We shall do as you desire".

Instructions went forth that every one must get ready before daybreak for the journey to Mithila. Viswamitra rose early and led the boys to the river for ablutions. He was thrilled at the chance of telling them of the hardships he encountered from the demons whenever he attempted to celebrate Yajnas in the past; he related to them how all his counter-measures failed to achieve their object; he expressed his gratitude for the destruction of the demons which had ensured safety for the hermitage as well as the surrounding regions. He described how the people were now happily relieved of fear and have unalloyed peace and joy.

The place was silent, calm, comforting. Sitting on the soft sands the sage Viswamitra was relating the special features and significance of the Yajna contemplated by Emperor Janaka, to the two brothers he had drawn close to him.

During the description he referred to a precious bow that Janaka had in his possession, a bow that was uniquely potent, and shone with rare splendour; he declared that they must not miss seeing it. At this, Rama asked how the bow happened to reach Janaka and Viswamitra answered, "Listen, son! Years ago, the Emperor of Mithila named Devaratha celebrated a great Yajna the like of which no mortal could dare perform, a Yajna which can confer vast spiritual benefits, a Yajna which pleased the Gods so highly that they gifted him this devine bow, as a mark of appreciation. It is the Bow of Siva. It is being worshipped with due rites by Janaka every day. He offers flowers and sandal paste, and waves camphor flame and incense in its honour; he places eatables and fruits before the Divine Presence in the bow, in reverential homage. The bow is so loaded with divinity that no one can raise it and string it, be he god, demon, angel or spirit. Many princes who attempted to string it have met with disgraceful disappointment. Rama! you are worthy heroes; you can examine it. During this coming Yajna, the Bow will most probably be on show; so, this is a good chance, certainly". Viswamitra went on describing the wonderful potency of the bow. Lakshmana turned his eyes as if searching for the direction in which Mithila was. Meanwhile Rama said, with delight "Certainly! We must see it. We shall come with you tomorrow". Hearing this, Viswamitra was elated.

Darkness fell and everyone rose and moved towards Siddhasram. Viswamitra called together the residents of the Asram and ordered that they should get ready to leave for Mithila as soon as the hour of dawn struck. Then, some of them asked, "Master! How can the routine of the Asram be observed without interruption if there is none left here?" The sage replied, "If each one carries on his duties wherever he is, that itself is the proper observance of the Asram routine. There is no special routine for the Asram apart from the Asramites. Those who seek Asraya (support) make up the Asram; without the Asrithas (dependents) there can be no Asram. When the Asrithas are with me, why worry about the Asram and the routine? The disciples are those to be cared for, those that have to observe the disciplines. Moreover, since the place has now become free from the fear of demons, the Asram cannot come to harm. The Creator of All is our Asrayam (Refuge) and when we depend on Him, He will foster all". Viswamitra spoke in this rather unfamiliar strain and continued, "Take with you the things needed for your daily rites as well as all the tools and vessels belonging to the Asram; there is no need to leave anything here".

Some novitiates queried, "Master! After what interval of time do we return to this place? If you tell us that, we can select as many articles as will suffice for that period of absence; why burden ourselves with more than what is essential?" 

Viswamitra replied, "Time is no servant of the body; the body is the servant of Time. Therefore, one can never say when! Will I come here again or no? I doubt!" When they heard this, the hearts of all the residents suffered a shock. The clothes, vessels and tools they held in their hands slipped and fell on the ground. They could not find words to speak in reply. They could not protest, nor could they muster courage to question the Master. So, they bundled up kusa grass, sacred sticks for the sacrificial fire, ceremonial ladles and vessels, as much as they could carry. The meaning of Viswamitra's words was a mystery and so each of them interpreted them in his own way.

The night rolled by and dawn broke. Every one was ready; when the doors were being closed and bolted behind them Viswamitra said, "Do not fasten the doors! Leave them open! This is not ours; any one who comes can enter. This Asram must welcome all who arrive at all times. This day, the bond between us and this Asram has snapped! Grow in happiness hereafter, ye patron gods of this holy area! I have achieved success in my endeavour; accept my grateful appreciation in return. You will no more be troubled by demon hordes; you can now live in peace, with ample progeny, prosperous and happy. I am going out of the Siddhasram, renouncing it. I have resolved to take residence in the region of the Himalayas, lying north of the sacred Ganga River". Viswamitra prostrated on the ground as a mark of respect for the forest deities.

Then, he started on his journey, with Rama and Lakshmana and the senior monks of the Asram. The residents of the hermitage realized that their place was where Viswamitra was, and not the forest or huts where they had lived so long. They felt that the Himalayan region was equally suitable for them; so, they too offered gratitude and reverence to the forest deities and the grass-thatched dwellings and walked on behind the sage.

While they were thus proceeding in the northerly direction, they saw behind them, following their trail, thousands of deer, peacocks, birds and beasts of the jungle, running with raised tails, in eager haste of yearning. Viswamitra stopped and turning towards them he said "O denizens of the jungle! The places to which I am going are not congenial for your style of living, for your safety and security. This forest is your natural habitat. Do not be sad at the separation; do not follow us; remain here itself. God will grant you peace and joy". He took leave of them too, before he resumed the journey.

The day's journey brought them to the bank of the Sona River; they had perforce to spend the night at that place itself. They took their bath in the river and finished the evening ablutions. Then they gathered around the Master eager to listen to his tales. Rama asked: "Revered Sir, this region appears rich and prosperous; what is its name and history, I would like to know". Viswamitra replied, "Rama! Brahma had a son through sheer Will. He was named Kusa; he was a great ascetic, steadfast and strict in vows, heroic in spiritual adventure, learned in the science of morals. He wedded the daughter of the noble ruler of Vidarbha. The two lived in the awareness and practice of the four ends of human life, Righteousness, Prosperity, Affection and Liberation. They had four sons - Kusamba, Kusanabha, Adhoortharajaka and Vasu - each one, equal to the father in virtue, and highly evolved in righteousness, integrity and other excellencies of the warrior caste.

Kusa divided the world into four parts and assigned one part to each of them, directing them thus: "Sons! Rule over the part assigned to each of you and prosper!" Thereafter, they entered upon their new duties and carried out their father's command. Each of them started constructing a capital city for the kingdom - Kusamba built Kausambi, Kusanabha built Mahodaya, Adhoortharajaka built Dharmaranya and Vasu built Girivraja. Rama! This area is part of the kingdom of Vasu; we have all around us five hills, and so, this City is called Girivraja (Collection of Hills). This auspicious Sona river is also known as Sumagadhi, so that this region is named Magadha. The Magadhi flows from east to west here, like a jasmine garland placed among the mountain valleys. The majesty of Vasu has blessed the land on both banks of this river to be ever green and plentiful.

The second son, Kusanabha, was well established in Dharma; he was a pillar of Righteousness. He had a number of daughters, but, no son. He taught them right conduct and behaviour according to the rules and disciplines laid down in the scriptures. He emphasized that forbearance is the grandest gift one can give another; it is the most prolific fruit-bearing Yajna, the most beneficial way of being honest and the root of all right thought and action. He gave them this lesson even from the days when they were fed at the mother's breast. They were later given in marriage - all of them - to the ruler of Kampilya City, Brahmadatta by name. When they all left for that City, his house became empty and barren.

"Alas", he moaned, "this house which was so bright and resonant with wit and laughter has today become dark and dumb, dull and deep in gloom. Daughters, however many you may have, have to leave the parental home rendering it drab and dreary. If only I had a son, this calamity would not have overpowered me". Thus, He entertained the longing for a son.

Just then, his father, Kusa, happened to visit him and he enquired the reason why he looked sad and full of concern; the son laid bare before him his mind and its anxieties. Kusa chided him for becoming so worried for this particular reason; he blessed him that he get a son soon. And, as he blessed, so it happened. The son born was named Gaadhi; he grew up a very devoted virtuous prince; since he was born in the lineage of Kusa he was known as Kousika.

His sisters lost their husbands after some time and as dutiful wives, they immolated themselves and gained heaven. They were born on the Himalayas as sacred rivers which joined together to form the famous Kousiki river. Kousika was attached very much to the eldest of the sisters, Sathyavathi by name and so, he took residence on the bank of this river, and established himself at Siddha asram, and celebrated the Yajna he had resolved upon with ceremonial rectitude.

Rama! Through your immeasurable heroism, the Yajna I had resolved upon has come to its successful conclusion. It has borne fruit; my rigorous vows have been fulfilled".

At this, the monks who had gathered around the sage exclaimed, "O, how wonderful! Really, we are fortunate that we could listen to the story of the hoary ancestors of our Master! O, what a great source of joy the story is! The Kusa line is indeed consecrated. Those born in it are equal to Brahma Himself in sanctity. How lucky we are that we have this singular chance to serve the one visible embodiment of all that the line represents, the sage Viswamitra; this chance must be the fruit of merit accumulated through many lives in the past".

Viswamitra interrupted them and said, "I would not have dwelt on all this, but, Rama! your question prompted me to reply; I do not give details regarding this body and its antecedents. It is already night; let us take rest. Delay in going to sleep might slacken the speed of our journey tomorrow. Rama! See! The Moon is peeping through the branches of yonder tree to catch a glimpse of you! It sends down cool rays to refresh the earth that has suffered long the hot rays of the sun". That night, every one was ruminating over the tales of the forefathers of the Master.

They awoke from sleep pretty early and finished the morning ablutions. They performed the daily rituals too and got ready in time to continue the journey. They came near Viswamitra, and fell at his feet. Then, they stood one behind the other on one side, awaiting orders. Rama said, "Master! the river Sona is not deep at this place. The water is clear, we can wade across. No boat is needed!" Viswamitra replied, "Son! You are strange to this place and so, you do not know the exact place where we can wade across. I shall go first; you will follow me". The sage walked into the riverbed and moved on. Every one had his bundle slung on his shoulder. The pace was slow and it was noon when they reached the river Jahnavi.

The first intimation they had about the river was sweet 'kuhoo' notes of swans, parrots and other birds on the bank. Every heart was filled with delight at the entrancing beauty of the scene. They bathed in the pure pellucid stream and, aware of the hallowed story of the river, they offered oblations to departed ancestors and gods. They lit the sacred fire on the bank and performed ritual sacrifices enjoined by the Sastras. Then, they collected edible fruits from the trees around and after assuaging hunger with them, they drank the nectarine water of the Jahnavi to slake their thirst.

Rama and Lakshmana walked towards the tree under whose shade Viswamitra was reclining and sat beside him, reverentially. Rama asked him, "Master! Why is it said that the Ganga flows as three streams in the three worlds? How does the Ganga reach the Ocean, which is the Lord of every stream and river throughout the world! Please tell me and make me glad!" Viswamitra said, "Son! The Himalayan range is the basis of all this world: it is the home for all animals and all herbs. It has two daughters, Ganga and Uma; Ganga is the elder of the two. Both these are being adored by the entire world. The gods asked that Ganga be given to them so that they might have prosperity. So, Himavaan (the Deity of the Himalayas) gifted Ganga to the gods in order to secure their blessings, and benefit the three worlds.

"The younger daughter, Uma entered upon a life of extreme asceticism. She immersed herself in hard spiritual discipline, prompted by supreme detachment from everything worldly. So, Himavaan sought to settle her in the world as a wife; in spite of strenous endeavour, he could not succeed in this for long. At last, he persuaded Rudra to agree to wed her. Thus, she too became entitled to the adoration of the three worlds.

"The Ganga you see here is the Ganga that the gods took with them, and that has come down to Earth and that has three steps, one in heaven, one on Earth and another sub-terranean".

The Sage Viswamitra was journeying towards the city of Mithila with Rama and Lakshmana, as well as a few of his disciples, regaling them throughout the day and far into the night with picturesque descriptions of his own previous history, the historical events connected with the places through which they passed, and the annals of the various dynasties which ruled over the regions which they crossed.

That evening, he was seated on the sands of the bed of the Ganga, after the ablutions and rites. Rama reminded him that they will be happy to know about the origin of that holy stream. Viswamitra responded and said, "Rama-chandra! Your ancestors are responsible for Ganga coming down on earth. As a result of their good deeds, the peoples of the earth are sanctifying themselves, bathing in the sacred waters and performing morning and evening ceremonial rites and ablutions therein. The Ganga is the supreme stream of Divine purity. The nectarine waters can confer immortality. She was dwelling in the matted locks on Siva's Head. For that reason, she is most auspicious. She grants all that is beneficial". Hearing Viswamitra extol the river in such superlative terms, Ramachandra said, "How did my ancestors manage to lead down to earth a river with such amazing attributes of power and purity? If you can describe to us the story, we can derive great joy therefrom".

When Viswamitra heard this request, presented with such humility, he said, "Rama! Listen! In ancient times, Ayodhya was ruled by an emperor named Sagara. He was a righteous ruler and valiant hero. Fascinated by his qualities of head and heart, the king of Vidarbha gave him his beloved daughter, Kesini, in marriage. She too was a strict follower of Dharma; she never wavered from the path of Truth.

"But, since even after the lapse of many years, they were not blessed with progeny, Sagara married the charming daughter of Arishtanemi, named Sumathi, as his second wife, with the concurrence of Kesini. She too proved barren and so, the king decided to spend the rest of his life in asceticism. He went to the bank of a stream by the side of which the sage Bhrighu was having his hermitage, and with his two wives, he plunged into the most severe disciplines of the anchorites.

"A long time elapsed thus. One day, at break of dawn, the sage Bhrighu, staunch upholder of Truth, appeared before him, and said, 'O king! End this tormenting of the body, this asceticism. You will earn unparalleled renown in this world. Before long, you will be endowed with the bliss of having a son born unto you!" As soon as these words of compassion and grace fell upon his ear, Sagara opened his eyes and saw the sage standing before him. Immediately, he fell at his feet, and signed to the wives too to do likewise. He prayed that the sage may bless them direct.

"The senior queen, Kesini, bowed her head low and fell at his feet, with many an adulatory hymn emerging from her lips. Bhrighu asked her, "Mother! Do you desire a single son, so that the thread of continuity be not broken, or, do you desire for a large number of sons, who will be endowed with enormous physical valour and vast renown?" She replied that a single son will satisfy her, and prayed that her wish may be gratified. Bhrighu accepted her request and blessed her likewise.

"When the second queen Sumathi prostrated before him he asked her the same question. She craved for strong brave celebrated sons in plenty, and so, the sage granted that desire and blessed that it be fulfilled.

"Elated by the blessings of the sage, Sagara returned to his capital city, accompanied by his wives. They fixed their minds on the boons they received and spent their time happily. Within a few months, both queens conceived and awaited the happy event. When the nine months had passed, Kesini delivered a son and Sumathi gave birth to many.

"As the days sped by, the sons romped about and played excitedly with children of the same age and later, started moving out beyond the palace in search of companions and for the sake of games. The son of Kesini, Aswamanja by name, took them to the sands of the Sarayu river; he used to take delight in throwing the children into the river and laughed outright in glee, when the children were drowned! Soon, he earned an infamous reputation, as the worst criminal in the kingdom! [See SB, C9, Chapter8, verses 15-16 etc.]

"When they emerged out of their teens, Sagara selected suitable royal brides for each of them and had the marriages celebrated. Aswamanja continued his wickedness, however, and the residents of Ayodhya had heart-rending grief as a result of his incorrigible viciousness. One day they approached Sagara and amidst loud wailings, represented to him the atrocious acts of his eldest son. At this, the king ordered that Aswamanja should immediately leave the city and that he must be exiled into the forests. Aswamanja had a son born to him by then. So, he had to leave behind his wife and son, besides his parents.

"Years passed. Aswamanja's son Amsumanta grew up, won renown throughout the world as lovable, virtuous and valiant. Once, Sagara decided on the performance of the great Aswamedha (Horse-Sacrifice), and fixed an auspicious moment for starting the rites." While Viswamitra was at this point in his narration, Rama put in a question: "Master! Was the horse-sacrifice performed in Ayodhya, or, did he choose some holy river bank for the purpose?" Viswamitra smiled, and replied, "Rama! I am realising how earnest you are about sacrifices and how reverent your attitude towards sages is! I shall describe it in detail as you desire. Listen! There is a holy range facing the Himalayas from a distance, called the Vindhya range. The region in between is sacred for all yajnas and yagas. The horse-sacrifice was done in that region. Experts in the recitation of Vedic hymns gathered there and the mountains echoed and reechoed to the loud and correct recital of the prescribed ritual formulae. Thousands were watching with great joy the unique ceremonial. Just then, the beautifully caparisoned horse was led in and worshipped. Later it was left to roam where it willed. In order to overcome and defeat any opposition to its free movement (indicative of an ambition on the part of the ruler who so opposes to be free from the domination of their suzerain, Sagara) Amsumanta followed its footsteps, with his army fully equipped to meet all contingencies. After an unopposed round of the entire country, the horse was led back. The exact moment when the sacrifice had to be done in orthodox Vedic style approached, and people went to bring the animal in.

"But the horse was nowhere to be seen! It is laid down that the loss of the sacrificial animal and its nonavailability at the auspicious moment bodes ill for the organizers of the Yajna! So, Sagara was naturally upset; he sent the numerous sons of his second wife, armed and equipped, to discover the horse and bring it back to the sacrificial altar. They sought the help of the gods and the demons, and searched everywhere and even dug the earth up, to see whether the horse was kept hidden below by its captors. But, they had to return and report that their mission had failed.

"Sagara was enraged at this. 'Of what avail is this numerous progeny, if you announce to me only your incompetence? Why stand before me with faces darkened with disgrace? Go and do not come to me, until you recover the horse'.

"The sons reacted sharply to these angry words; they went back into the world, determined to leave no spot unexamined. Mountains, hills, lakes, rivers, caves, towns and villages, forests and deserts - why lengthen the list, they looked closely at every yard, every foot of ground. While they were proceeding thus they found in one place, a hermit, deeply immersed in Dhyan; the horse was there, near him, calmly nibbling grass!

"They were overcome by delight when they saw the horse, and by anger, when their eyes fell on the hermit'; they were tossed between two conflicting emotions. They lost their sanity, as a result of the irrepressible feelings. Their reason failed; their hearts were petrified. They shouted in the ear of the hermit, 'Villainous brute! You have stolen our horse and hidden it in your backyard!' The sage Kapila slowly opened his eyes and looked around. The sons of Sagara stood around him and poured abuses on his head; some even got ready to give him a heavy thrashing! [See also: SB, Canto 9, Chapter 8, verses 9-10)

"Kapila saw that words and arguments were futile weapons to meet those bullies; he decided that he must deal with them differently. He burnt them into ash merely by casting his eye on them. Greatly distressed at the inordinate delay caused by their failure to return, Sagara was agitated much; how could he stop the sacrifice that he had half gone through? How could he continue and finish it? Seeing his plight, the grandson, Amsumanta fell at his grandfather's feet and offered to search for the horse and his uncles, and bring news about them, if only he was sent on that mission. Sagara blessed him and sent him on that errand. Amsumanta was at his job, day and night; at last he was rewarded by success. He saw also signs of his uncles having been reduced into a heap of ashes! He was anxious to perform obsequies for the departed souls; but he could not see any well, tank, lake or stream. This was essential for depositing the funeral offerings. Heavily laden with sorrow, he moved some distance forward. A reverend old man came across his path and told him, 'Do not allow grief to overpower you, dear son! Your uncles were reduced to ashes by sage Kapila with the welfare of the world also in view! Do not be content to offer the ritual obligations in mundane waters. Get the holy water of the Celestial Ganga. Bring the Ganga down to earth and let the sacred waters flow over the ashes. Then, the manes will be saved. But, first, take the horse with you and perform the sacrifice unto its glorious conclusion. Thereafter, you can think of ways and means to bring the heavenly Ganga to the Earth.' Amsumanta fell at the feet of the hermit and hurried to his grandfather, where the yajna was being held up for want of the consecrated animal.

"Sagara was awaiting its arrival, with sleepless anxiety, both night and day, and so, when the horse was brought, he and the rthwiks (the Vedic scholars who officiated as priests) were filled with delight. Amsumanta felt that it would not be proper to announce, during the auspicious festival, that his uncles had an untimely death through the sage's curse. So, he allowed the Valedictory Rite to come to an end; the priests and guests were given their share of votive gifts.

"Then Amsumanta gave a detailed account of what had happened to the uncles and exhorted his grandfather to bring the heavenly river of unique sanctity down to the place where the ashes were lying. Sagara was delighted at the suggestion. He engaged himself in many ascetic disciplines and ritual ceremonies, which, according to the advice of elders, would induce Ganga to give him the boon he wanted. But, he could not succeed. He waned in health day by day as a result of grief at the loss of his sons, and the failure of his attempt to ensure a bright future for them. At last, he cast off his body, a disappointed man.



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