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Chapter 8
Another Challenge

Meanwhile, Dasaratha was proceeding towards Ayodhya, with his sons and daughters-in-law, the sages and scholars, army units of infantry, elephantry, cavalry and chariotry, and citizens of his empire. Suddenly, they observed certain bad omens and they had a premonition that something serious was about to happen. Dasaratha approached Vasistha and consulted him, "Master! What a surprise is this! Dark clouds are thickening and howling; the beasts on earth are tramping around us full circle. They should not behave so, isn't it? What can be the reason? What does it indicate? I am getting apprehensive about these omens". Vasishta could see what these portents meant by means of his divine insight; he said, "0 King! These are signs of some terrible event nearing us. The clouds are roaring frightfully. But, considering the fact that the beasts on earth are circumambulating our chariots, this much can be inferred: the disaster that threatens us will be averted. Therefore, you need have no anxiety". Vasishta instilled faith and confidence in Dasaratha, and they awaited events.

Suddenly, the wind grew into a fierce cyclonic storm! Even as they were looking on, giant trees were pulled by their roots and they fell with alarming noise. Even the mountain peaks rolled one over the other. Thunderous explosions rent the air, as if the earth itself was breaking into pieces. Those in one chariot could not see the vehicle before or behind them; so thick was the dust that rose all around! Horses and elephants started running wildly in panic. Foot soldiers dropped unconscious; others stood petrified by a weird fear.

Vasishta, Dasaratha and the four sons were the only persons who were unafraid in all that huge concourse! All the rest were drained of vigour and vitality. And for good reason, too. For the ground and air were enveloped in darkness. The darkness was heightened by blinding flashes of light! And, a dreadful figure, with terror-striking eyes, stood before them.

His head had a crown of thickly matted hair. He had a giant double-edged axe on his shoulder. He had on another shoulder a bag of arrows that shone like lightning streaks. He appeared to them like the forehead-eyed Siva on His way to destroy the mighty demon rulers of the Triple Fortress! As soon as he came to view, Vasishta recognized him as Paras'urâma. But he wondered why he was so fierce with anger that day, even though all his rage against the Kshatriya clans had long ago subsided as a result of the campaigns in which he had destroyed them. He tried to discover what could have kindled the flame again from the cooled embers. (See also S'rîmad Bhâgavatam, Canto 2, Chapter 7 (verse 22): Brief Description of the Past and Coming Avatâra's)

Vasishta himself moved towards Paras'urâma with the traditional signs of welcome, like inviting him to wash his hands and asking permission to wash his feet. But though he accepted these marks of good will and heartfelt reception, Paras'urâma was staring at Râma with eyes like glowing cinders! Râma was however reacting with a charming smile, a smile which only fed the fumes of his anger! He raved loudly thus! "O son of Dasaratha! I have listened to your exploits being praised by a thousand tongues. I heard also how you broke the Bow of Siva, as if it was just child’s play. But, all that is hearsay not directly seen by me. I have come now so that I can personally examine your valour.

"I have brought this divinely consecrated bow. It belonged to Jamadagni, my revered father. Show me your might, stringing it and fixing an arrow on it. Or else, come, engage me in fight!" He challenged Râma in this manner, in passionate anger.

Râma was not affected by all this demonstration of anger. He kept on smiling coolly. "O Bhargavarama! I thought the vengeance you had nursed against the Kshatriyas had ended long ago. Why this relapse? Why this downfall, this absurdity?" he asked. Just then, Dasaratha bent low and in plaintive tones, appealed to Paras'urâma thus: "Bhagavan! You are a Brahmin. You have won great renown. My sons are tender teenagers. Why develop vengeful hatred against them for no reason whatever? This ill becomes the high status of your lineage. Your forefathers studied the Vedas without intermission and performed rites and ceremonies with elaborate care. You yourself declared that day, when you entered on the Chandrayana Ritual that you will not handle any weapon thereafter; you said that your desires have been fulfilled; you did this before no less a God than Indra, gifting all the territories conquered by you to Kasyapa, yourselves resolving to spend the rest of your days in the performance of righteous deeds and the gaining of equanimity. 

"You were all along engaged in austerities on the Mahendra Peak! And, now quite contrary to your declared intentions, your mind is set upon destroying my dynasty and family. Is it not a terrible sin to act against one's given word? After this breach of promise, of what use is austerity? There is no God higher than Truth, is there? You are challenging only Râma and you say you will fight only with him! If anything injurious happens to that son, my entire family will be plunged in dire calamity. Our lives will end the moment danger harms him. A Brahmin like you should not become responsible for the loss of so many lives! It is not only a sacrilege on Brahminhood; it is a heinous sin".

Paras'urâma paid no heed to the words of Dasaratha. He did not give ear to them. He was casting his looks only on Râma. He said: "The Bow that you broke and this one, both, have come from Heaven; Viswakarma the Divine Artificer made them both. One was offered to Siva, for use against the Demons of the Triple Fortress; the other was entrusted to Vishnu. Once the demons were destroyed, Siva sent it to Emperor Devaratha, with the arrows that were used for the fight. Perhaps the bow had become frail and feeble, since the purpose for which it was offered had been accomplished. It is no proof of might and heroism if such a bow is broken. This bow has work yet to do, and so it still retains its vigour and vitality. This bow is surcharged with efficacy and power. Take this, string it and break it as you did the other. That is the way to prove your strength and heroism. Do not strut about in pride that you have broken the Bow of Siva! Break this and write your name in the annals of the brave". [See also SB, Canto 9, Chapter 15: Paras'urâma, the Lord's Warrior Incarnation].

"You may doubt my words that this is the Bow of Vishnu", he continued. "Vishnu Himself kept this in the custody of Hrshika a great sage. He handed it over to his son, Jamadagni. Jamadagni is my father. He was the repository of tremendous merit acquired by austerity; he was so pure-hearted that he had no trace of hatred or vengeance in him. My father had renounced the use of weapons; yet, Karthaviryarjuna the wicked, killed him. It was a crime of unprecedented cruelty; no one had killed another so atrociously. I decided that I should not show mercy; I had to teach him a lesson; I vowed that I will destroy not only that monster, but all unrighteous kings. From that day, I have been cutting them to pieces and playing ball games with their heads. This Bow was with me in all those campaigns. I killed many wicked monarchs. I brought under subjugation the entire world. My anger at those who had killed my father cooled a little, with this. I gave up the vendetta, and started a Vedic sacrifice. I invited Kasyapa for that Yajna, since he was a great saint immersed in meritorious activity. I gave him the Earth which I had conquered as dakshina (ritual fees) for supervising the Yajna. Since then, I have been spending my days on the Mahendra Peak, with my mind immersed in peace and my intellect shining in spiritual splendour.

"Your father asked me why I have again taken up this weapon and put on a challenging pose, in spite of my having renounced the path of vengeance and hatred. I shall answer him now Râma! Two bows were created in Heaven and came upon the earth. You have broken the Siva Bow. This alone remains now, intact. If this too is broken, (it does not serve any purpose being with me, for its work is over) then, my renunciation will be complete; so I wish that this too is broken, or retained by you. I am waiting for this consummation. The moment has come; I am determined to utilize it, rather than let it go by or allow it to be misused. Perhaps, you doubt whether fighting is the best use that time can be put to? But, the significance of the fight has to be looked into; it may be for the progress and welfare of the world; it may promote the suppression of the unrighteous and the encouragement of the good. You cannot pronounce war as undesirable, judging from a superficial point of view. Analyse the purpose. When a knife has to be sharpened, one has to hone it on a grindstone. No one will condemn the process as injurious to the knife. If the body is to derive strength from food, the food has to be placed between rows of hard teeth and ground into paste, mercilessly. No one can condemn this process as violence exercised on the material. It may become necessary in order to provide Satwic food for either the Body or the Body Politic, to have recourse to struggle, conflict and the apparent infliction of pain.

"Well. We are in the middle of the road, half-way through a journey. It is not proper to indulge in talk, standing here. Let us get to action. It is imperative we should start straightway. Come on! Either string this bow and break it in the process or fight a duel with me!" This was the call from Paras'urâma. Lakshmana was fuming with anger, while listening to the challenge of Paras'urâma; he was about to intervene with a hot retort, when Râma quietened him saying, "This is not a matter concerning you. For the questions asked of me, I myself have to answer. It is against good manners for you to come between us; leave me to handle this situation". His affectionate and soft counsel made Lakshmana desist. But, when Paras'urâma started laughing at Râma and ridiculing him for not accepting his challenge as soon as it was thrown, Lakshmana could not control his reaction of resentment.

He shouted, "O Bhargava! This is not much of a task for Him who broke the Bow of Siva! To break this little bow, why do you challenge Râma? This is a Brahmin weapon! It is just a blade of kusa grass. I can myself break it, in a trice effortlessly, even while playing with it; for this petty task why ask Râma. I have no need to transfer the assignment". When Lakshmana uttered these words, Paras'urâma became even more inflamed. But Râma took things coolly and calmly; he smiled at Lakshmana and pacified him by his soft speech. The more enraged Paras'urâma became the quieter and more restrained was Râma’s reaction.

Soon, Paras'urâma lost control of himself; he gave free rein to his tongue and started pouring rank abuse; this caused some consternation in Dasaratha’s heart. The maids and servants hid themselves from the furious onslaught. The four arms of the army were shaken by fear. The Pandits were terrified. Sîtâ, however, watched the scene with amusement; she was not in the least agitated. She was not affected by the slightest apprehension. She was instilling courage and confidence in the hearts of Urmila, Mandavi and Sruthakeerthi, telling them that he was a lame jackal before the Lion that Râma was. When they saw Râma reprimanding Lakshmana, Bharata and Sathrughna had no mind to intervene. Or else, they too would have joined the fray and asked Râma for permission to fight, or take up the challenge. They awaited the orders of Râma and kept away. Vasishta could know the past and the future and so, He realized that the incident was but a scene in the Divine Drama. He was silent and unshaken.

Râmachandra spoke with profound calm. "Paras'urâma! You are a Brahmin. For a Kshatriya you are an object of worship, on the basis of caste. You are a kinsman of the revered Viswamitra. I don’t feel it proper to kill such a high caste Brahmin. Nor is it proper to aim this holy weapon against you. You yourself declared just now that it belongs to the Realm of the Gods, that it has so far destroyed every enemy, city and fort against which it has been used, and that it can overwhelm and defeat the strength and pride of whomsoever it encounters. Is it not sheer waste to make it unserviceable? So, choose any one of these two alternatives and tell me: Shall I use it to prevent you from moving about on your feet? Or shall I prevent you from attaining the higher worlds that you have earned by means of austerities?" When he heard these words, Paras'urâma was even more enraged; his eyes turned red with anger; he rushed forward towards Râma, exclaiming, "What are you prattling?" Râma took hold of the Vishnu Bow that was slung on his shoulder, with a derisive laugh, which hurt his pride. Lo! No sooner did the weapon reach the hands of Râma than Paras'urâma got debilitated. He lost all energy and vitality. Râma shone in such added splendour that no eye could stand that blaze. He stood there as if countless lamps were lit on one spot, radiating blinding light all around. When the authentic wielder of that bow, Narayana Himself, held it in His grasp, the bow too acquired added lustre; a triumphal aura surrounded the bow and lightning streamed from it. The gods gathered in the sky and showered flowers on Râma holding the Bow. The auspicious sound of music filled the sky.

Meanwhile, Paras'urâma was full of smiles. He said, "Râma! Did you notice what happened! I have experienced the delight of the Divine Manifestation, your Divine Splendour. In days gone by, I gifted this earthly region to Kasyapa. Receiving it, the sage Kasyapa declared, that I should not enter his dominion again and even if I did, I should not spend a night therein; he pronounced a curse upon me, on these lines. Well. It is already getting dark. I can no longer be present here. I have to hurry fast to the Mahendra Mountain. Through my incomparable austerity, I have won high heavenly regions. Break the bow and with it, break all the power I had won. All the power I have in me is yours. 0 Râma, watch this, I am offering to you the power earned by me".

Thus saying, he came near and embraced Râma with both hands clasped firm around him. At that moment, three facets of Divinity that had subsisted in him so long came forth from him and merged in Râma. Then Paras'urâma addressed Râma thus: "Râma! The world cannot easily understand the mystery of the Divine; even those like me who have earned great power through denial and detachment and ascetic practices rely more on their own spiritual achievements, ignoring the influence of the Divine Strategy of Vishnu.

"I have therefore, set about to make known your reality and genuine power to the world; I have given you as an offering the powers I had; I have also proved once again that you are the mighty Vishnu, the God endowed with unique power, the God who directs the Drama of the Universe. There is nothing that is devoid of you, nothing that is not you. You are all. Yours is all. I had the good fortune of wielding for some time your divine bow and, as a consequence, I earned some reverence from the world. That is the merit I have won. This is my offering." With this Paras'urâma disappeared.

Râma gave over the bow and arrows to the God Varuna, with an unperturbed smiling countenance. (see also S'rîmad Bhâgavatam, Canto 3, Chapter 17: Victory of Hiranyaksa over All the Directions of the Universe and Bhagavad Gita of Order, Chapter 10: The Yoga of his Opulence [On His Identity], verse 29). He prostrated before Vasishta and Dasaratha, who were by his side. Dasaratha was all the while shivering with fear, apprehending what might happen to his son from this Apparition, what calamity will land on him. Now, he was free of anxiety. He drew Râma near and fondled him affectionately in various ways. He raised the son’s face towards him holding it by the chin and, finding it rather difficult to express his feelings in words, said, "Dear Son! I am indeed lucky, I was afraid whether I would be able to see you again. Your resolute courage, your heroism is beyond imagination". Thus, he praised Râma very much and appreciated his exploit in many ways. In reply, Râma said. "Dharma has to win: Victory is the inevitable concomitant of righteousness. In the preliminary stages of the struggle, it may create some fear and some obstacles which might appear formidable. It will cause even weakness of mind. It might arouse suspicions of defeat or failure. But, instead of bowing or beading before it one has to fix his attention on the goal itself. Then it can never fail. Failure can never affect it. Men do not peer deep into the truth of Dharma’s might; they are carried away by superficial handicaps and worries and so they give up the path and suffer. What has happened is for the best, I ascribe this to your blessings".

Saying this, Râma again fell at the feet of his father. "The armed forces are awaiting your orders to resume the march and proceed towards Ayodhya. Kindly communicate your commands to them," said Râma. At this Dasaratha was filled with delight. He said. "Son! Why should we delay further? Grief and joy afflict us one after the other and cause distress to the person and his body. We can go to the capital city and seek to live there happily in the best manner possible". He called the ministers to his side, and required them to order the troops to march.

The soldiers cheered in joy and began to move forward. The interlude of fear had ended. Dasaratha spent the remainder of the journey describing, and enjoying the description of, the amazing events of the day. As they neared the City, some regiments were sent in advance in order to inform the citizens of the arrival of the party, with the sons and daughters-in-law. The memory of the grandeur and glory of what they had experienced at Mithila and on the way home gave speed to the feet and they flew like arrows from bowman’s hand into the City. They announced that Râma, Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna were entering the City with their brides and that Dasaratha had sent them to give the glad tidings.

The citizens of Ayodhya decorated and embellished the streets and houses in a variety of attractive styles. Plantain trees were tied to posts on both sides of the road. Bunches of coconuts were hung from the posts. Rosewater was sprinkled. The entire City was made charming and attractive.

Musicians with their instruments took positions all along the route. Fireworks were collected and distributed all along the line, so that it could be made one continuous stream of colour and cheering noise. They awaited, with the deepest feeling of joy, the party, counting the minutes as they looked into the distance to catch the first glimpse. Women in veils crowded the windows and terraces of the mansions, or peeped from behind curtains tied across them.

Emperor Dasaratha entered the capital City of Ayodhya, with his sons and their brides. Music rent the air as soon as they were sighted. People cheered enthusiastically, shouting Jai Jai, till their throats were hoarse. Women waved lights, threw flowers on their path and sprinked rosewater. The young men were like bright stars. When the populace saw the ennobling scene, many forgot where they stood or who they were; their joy knew no bounds. Their thirst could not be quenched, however long they gazed; so they walked long distances backward, so that they could keep their eyes fixed on them! Thus, the entire route was covered and they reached the gates of the palace. There, Brahmins had stationed themselves so that they could recite Vedic hymns invoking good fortune and prosperity on the newly weds. Maids waved lights and performed many rites to ward off the evil eye. They prayed the daughters-in-law to come in, placing the right foot first.

Meanwhile, at the entrance to the zenana, there stood the queens, Kausalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi awaiting their approach with avid eagerness. They sprinkled sandal scent, tucked flowers in their hair, and placed dots of red on their foreheads. When the sons came, the queens were overwhelmed with joy; they drew them near and fondled them, patting their heads and chins; they blessed them profusely. Then the four sons and daughters-in-law prostrated before the three mothers. When they did so, their eyes streamed tears of joy, for, their happiness knew no bounds.

Meanwhile, the maids brought rice, boiled in milk, in golden plates; the mothers placed the food in the mouths of the newly weds, and persuaded them to eat it. They gave them milk to drink. Then, they were taken to the inner apartments.

In the evening, ladies from Ayodhya were invited to the palace for sharing in the auspicious ceremonial of welcoming the newly weds. An imposingly beautiful dais was got ready; golden seats were placed upon it. The queens brought costly clothes and jewels with precious gems set on them in artistic patterns; they commissioned talented maids-in-waiting to help the daughters-in-law to put them on, and they themselves supervised the wearing of the costume and jewellery. They held them by the hand and led them to their seats. 

By that time, Râma, Lakshmana, Bharata and Satrughna had come there and taken their seats wearing princely robes, and costly jewels as well as crowns. Each sat to the right of his bride. The mothers as well as the ladies who had been invited from the City feasted their eyes on the splendour of the scene and their Ananda was immeasurable. While they were going through the ceremonial, gifts were distributed outside the Palace to people in profusion. Cows, cash, gold, land, grain, vehicles and horses were all given away in plenty.

Brahmins came before the dais and cast auspicious rice grains on the heads of the newly weds to the accompaniment of the recitation of Vedic hymns. Then women in married status waved 108 lamps before them to ward off the evil eye. After this the sons rose and with their wives they prostrated before the mothers, the father and the Guru, Vasishta. Then, they retired to their own apartments

(Read more about Paras'urâma in the Srîmad Bhâgavatam, Canto 9 [Liberation], Chapter 15: Paras'urâma, the Lord's Warrior Incarnation & Chapter 16: Lord Paras'urâma Destroys the World's Ruling Class) 






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