Chapter 3(b)
The Wily Villain


ramagold.jpg (27175 bytes)Rama returned to Panchavati from the depths of the jungle, after killing the 'impersonation' called the Golden Deer. He thought within himself that the plot of his story would have by now worked out, at the hermitage, as directed by His Will. He said within himself, "Though this is but the blossoming of my plan, people should not understand so soon that it is Divine Design; I have to behave hereafter as an ordinary human being." When he was half-way back, he saw Lakshmana coming and he decided that he too must be kept unaware of the secret purpose behind the seeming tragedy. So, he asked, as if he was perturbed in mind, "Lakshmana! Brother! You have disobeyed me and brushed my word aside. You have come away, leaving Sita alone in the hermitage. How could you do so? You have come so far leaving her helpless! Alas! You are witnessing the demonic wickedness of the Rakshasa brood every day; how could you desert Sita so? Alas! What has happened to her? I am afraid some calamity has befallen! I feel that Sita is not there, in the hermitage. Alas! What shall we do now? What is to be our future?"

Hearing this lamentation, Lakshmana fell at the brother's feet and said, "Brother! You know me, as the workings of your mind. Whatever the occasion I am ever ready to offer myself, my very breath, at your feet. Will I ever go counter to your command? However this time it happened. The force that compelled me to disobey is the prompting of my Destiny. What can I do? The outburst, 'Ha, Sita, Ha, Lakshmana' that arose from the throat of that false Deer reached the hermitage. As soon as she heard it she urged me in various ways to turn to your side. I am conversant with the tricks of these Rakshasas and so, I fell at her feet and prayed for pardon. I told her, 'Rama cannot be harmed in the least. No danger can approach him. The cries we heard are only the false stratagems of the Rakshasas.' A second time, those cries struck our ears. Then she lost all courage. They were exact reproductions of your voice. At this, she ignored her own Reality; she ignored the mores of kinship and family; she used words that should not be spoken or taken by the ear; I could not suffer any more. So, I directed her to take every precaution; I did all I could to keep her safe, and then came away from the hermitage. I shall gladly accept whatever punishment you award me, whatever measure you take to expiate for the wrong I have done."

With these words, Lakshmana fell flat at the feet of Rama. At this, Rama said "Lakshmana! You ought not to have left her all alone, whatever the reason. I feel that Sita will not be at the hermitage when we reach there. How can we pride ourselves as heroic men, when having come into this forest, we are not able to guard Sita from being carried away by the Rakshasas? Can you tolerate when people talk tomorrow that Rama was unable to save his wife from the calamity of being kidnapped? Can you remain calm in mind, listening to such talk? Alas! How am I to bear this tragedy?" Rama moaned and groaned in great mental pain, just like an ignorant man, and ran forward to the hermitage, to find whether his fears were true.

Rama and Lakshmana grieving over the loss of Sita

As Rama had indicated, Sita could not be found therein. In seemingly unbearable anguish, Rama lamented her disappearance. Lakshmana fell even as he stood, unable to bear the grief. Aware that he had caused this catastrophe, he felt like giving up his life; but, he realized soon that Rama, already deprived of Sita, would be put to further anxiety and tangles if he departs from this world, taking his own life. He felt that if he dies, Rama would wander alone, in sorrow, through the forest glades; he will have none to give him food and drink. He could not bear the anguish of Rama at the loss of Sita. He could not find his tongue, nor could he frame words, to console Rama and pacify him. Lakshmana ruminated in his mind on all that had happened that day. He soon came to the conclusion that it must be the result of Rama's own will; he realized that this brother of his was not an ordinary man; he knew now that what was happening was part of the drama that was destined to bring about progress and prosperity for all mankind. For, he, who would gladly wipe the tears from all eyes, he who was the guardian of the world, he who had not evinced an inkling of sorrow so far, was now lamenting and weeping like any ordinary human, at separation from his wife! Watching these happenings, Lakshmana could easily infer that it was all the unrolling of a play directed by Rama! Lakshmana knew very well that Sita was incomparably virtuous. That such a uniquely pure woman should have met with this calamity was inexplicable, except as a scene in a play, or a part of the Divine Plot, devised by Rama. No one anywhere can execute even the slightest deed without orders from Rama! However, Rama had come down as man, and resolved to guide man by his example along the path of justice, integrity, detachment, devotion, virtue, veracity, morality and humility. Lakshmana realized that this was the meaning of the play which Rama and Sita were enacting, He recognized himself as but an actor, whose whole duty was to act the role assigned to him as well as he could.

Deriving strength from these thoughts, Lakshmana approached Rama and fell at his feet. He said, "Brother! you are, I know, the Director of the Drama which the Cosmos is. There is nothing you cannot do, nothing you do not know. Everything that happens follows your will only. These events could not happen unknown to you. I will not take a denial. I believe so, firmly. By these incidents, I believe you are designing to promote the peace of the world and destroy the Rakshasa race. My mind is whispering this to me and asking me to be firm in that faith. This must be the Truth behind this play. Pray tell me the Truth and give me peace of mind".

Rama replied with a smile, "Lakshmana! You are a limb of my person; so, what can I keep away from you? You have hit the truth. I have incarnated in order to uphold and foster Dharma (Righteousness). To do so, I have to enact many scenes of righteous and unrighteous conduct. A baby that wails has to be comforted into quiet joy by means of prattle and play, toys and jingles, songs and swings. The mother has to devise many stratagems on the spot, in order to persuade the baby to drink the milk it needs. The purpose is the giving of the milk feed. But, consider how useful these means are - the songs and swings, the toys and talks, the tricks and tickles. These methods help the quenching of hunger and the stoppage of wailing. That is their reason, too. You have to add them all up in order to discover how the hunger was quenched and the grief ended. Similarly, dear brother, I who am the Mother of the Universe, have to act in these manifold ways to re-establish Righteousness and demolish unrighteousness. These incidents have been designed to secure the twin aims of the removal of grief and the winning of bliss; they are not just meaningless exercises. Ordinary folk base their conduct on the ideals presented to them; so, as Master and Leader, I have to practice what I intend to place before them as ideal conduct. Unless I practice what I hold forth as the ideal, I cannot claim to be Master and Leader. When masters and leaders who do not deserve the positions appear and exercise authority, Righteousness declines and unrighteousness runs wild. Therefore, brother, remember that those in authority as masters or leaders must prove their advice right, in actual practice; they must help realize the ideals they preach by their own genuine effort. This is the way for them to earn the Grace of God and the gratitude of men.

"Sita knows the role she is playing. These two bodies - mine and Sita's - evince the joys and pangs of union and separation, only as bodies! The pain and pleasure, the weeping and wailing are all illusory and unreal. They follow the needs and compulsions of the Incarnation I have taken upon myself, along with other limitations. I am taking you into confidence regarding my Reality; take note that you too will have to act in conformity with time, deed and cause, space, occasion and recipient, as the story unfolds. This Divine Mystery is beyond the intelligence of others. So, you must also keep mum on this and play according to the rules. We have to concentrate on the mission on which we have come".

After this Revelation, they plunged immediately into the task of searching for Sita. Both acted their roles during this search most sincerely, admirably, and realistically. Not only the brothers, but Sita too exhibited supreme nobility and acted with equal staunchness and sincerity, even though the Rakshasa guards, in the place where she was kept captive, terrorized her and threatened her most cruelly. She did not waver or yield; she stuck bravely to her determination to save her self and to preserve her purity. She maintained her vow undefiled.

The drama enacted by the two parties held forth for every householder and every individual the highest ideal of righteous conduct. It placed before the fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, brothers and friends the best lines of behaviour expected of them and how each of them had to keep their promises, and tend their virtues. Why dilate further? The Ramayana lays down ideals for all relationships in life, and for the realization of the highest aim of human life. Nowhere else can be seen such a variety and quantity of moral dicta and their practical applications. The one text, Ramayana, has soaked in its pages directions for correct conduct in all situations and under all conditions: it teaches how to justify human birth, how to carry on the government of a kingdom, how to regulate the reactions of the people and how to design the laws that can control and consummate the wishes of the people. If only the Ramayana is studied closely and observed in daily practice, mankind can attain peace and prosperity in all fields.

In order to discover some clue about how Sita left or why or when or whereto, Rama and Lakshmana forsook the hermitage, armed with weapons; they examined every tank and looked over every hill in the region. They could not come across any sign. While proceeding thus, they saw before them branches of trees that had been pulled asunder lying across the track. There were other evidences of a combat that had taken place like broken arrows and patches of blood. Rama drew the attention of his brother to these. He said, "A fight seems to have taken place here", and looked around for information about who had engaged whom. He found an eagle of truly regal mien lying on the ground, gasping for breath, but still repeating reverentially with eyes closed the Name it adored, "Rama, Rama". The brothers walked straight to the bird and lovingly stroked its head and body. When the hand of Rama blessed it with the tender touch, the bird recovered some little strength. It opened its eyes and looked around. It saw the beautiful form of Rama that could captivate all the worlds. Suddenly it was overpowered by a flood of both joy and sorrow. The incapacitated bird could not move its limbs, nor could it turn on its side; so it crawled a little forward and raising its head, placed it at the Feet of Rama. Rama placed the head on his lap and gently fondled it into awareness and activity.

Jatayu said in feeble accents, "Lord! While the wicked Ravana - yielding to maleficent motives, forsaking justice and uprightness, casting away powers acquired by years of asceticism, was carrying away Mother Sita, in a chariot, through this forest, as a dog goes in stealth and as a fox goes cunningly, the Mother of all the Worlds, the Daughter of Janaka wailed aloud, 'Rama', 'Rama', covering the entire forest in gloom. I heard the wail, but did not know who it was that raised the sad cry. I flew near and discovered to my great surprise and sorrow that Mother Sita was the person in distress! I could not remain quiet. Though old and decrepit, I pronounced your Name, and derived strength thereby and courage to give him battle. I pecked at him so furiously that his body streamed with blood all over. He placed Sita in the shade of a tree and fought ferociously. He drew his wheel-weapon and slashed my wings into shambles. I could not do anything to stop his onward journey with Sita; so, I lay here, weeping over my defeat, and waiting for your arrival. I am most unlucky, for, though I saw Mother being taken away by that ruffian, I could not save her". Jatayu shed tears of despair, as he spoke those words.

Rama too displayed great interest and anxiety, and he addressed the bird thus: "O Chief of Birds! I shall never forget your help. The good deed you have performed will give you Bliss in the next world. Do not feel sad". Thus saying, Rama dusted its wings with his own matted hair, while Lakshmana hurried to bring some water to slake its thirst and refresh it. Rama poured the water drop by drop into the bird's mouth. Jatayu was delighted at the good fortune and his face glowed with ecstasy. Jatayu said, "Rama! I am luckier than even your father, for, he did not have this chance of drinking water from your hands when he left this world. I could get my last sip from your golden hand! I could rest on your lap. I could drink nectar from your fingers. And, while drawing my last breath, I could fill my eyes with the picture of your charming Lotus Face. I am certain I will be merging in you. O, I am indeed blessed". Then, Jatayu spoke in feeble tones: "Rama! That vicious demon proceeded in the southern direction. Most probably, he must have reached Lanka. Therefore, go straight to Lanka, destroy that wicked fellow and then bring the Mother to your presence". Jatayu could speak no more. He cried 'Rama' just once and drew his last breath. Rama allowed the vital breath of Jatayu to merge in Him; he performed the obsequies to the body of the bird and took the valedictory bath. After these rituals, he moved towards the south picturing in his mind the regions of the South and the ordeals of Sita. [Picture: Jatayu attains liberation]

On the way, a demoness called Aja-mukhi espied them and was entranced by their personal beauty. She said to herself, "Ah! What loveliness of body! What a feast to the eye! I must wed them and win happiness". So resolving, she clasped the hand of Lakshmana and drew him towards herself. Lakshmana inferred that she too was stricken with the malady of Surpanakha, and he treated her with the same contempt. He cut off her limbs and taught her a severe lesson. The forest through which they passed was as terrible as the demons they found there. It was infested with wild animals that roared, howled and growled most fearfully. Even the toughest heart would quake in fear at the scene and the noises. While the brothers were tracking across, a demon called Kabandha, a mass of distortion and disfiguration, appeared before them; he opposed their advance and shook the forest with his unearthly guffaw; he attempted to snatch Rama and Lakshmana but, Rama slew him ere he could succeed. He was a monster, with no head; his arms were inordinately long; he had his mouth in the center of his stomach! He was a terror in that forest, devouring whatever he could get in the sweep of his arms. By killing him, Rama saved the forest-dwellers from a dreaded foe.

On the point of death Kabandha realized who his enemy was; he recognized Rama. He said, "Master! You have this day liberated me from the shackles of a curse that had reduced me to this ludicrous and cruel role. My sins have been exonerated by the vision I have of you". While falling at the feet of Rama, Kabandha said, "Your mission will succeed, without delay or obstacles. You will certainly triumph over the forces of wickedness".

Rama, the large-hearted lover of all, moved on from that spot, walking on foot, with his brother as sole companion. They soon came across an old woman - she had a stoop; her head could not be held erect; her eyesight had become dull; her hands were quivering, she was coming towards them, with a basket of fruits on her head! She saw the charming figures of the brothers and inferred that they were the two, who were described with excitement and delight by the rshis of the forest! Placing the basket on the ground, she stood on the track, whispering 'Rama' 'Rama' in reverence and thankfulness. Lakshmana guessed that this too was an impersonation by some wily Rakshasa to harm them. But, Rama knew that his guess was wrong; he proposed to sit under a near-by tree, the tree that was adjacent to the very hermitage where the old woman was residing. 

Sabari the old woman noticed the lotus-petal-like eyes, the ringlets of hair on their foreheads, the long arms that reached down to the knees, and the dark-blue complexion of Rama. She could contain her ecstasy no longer; she could not surpress her adoration. She ran forward and fell at the feet of both. She asked, "Where are you coming from? What are your names?" Rama replied, smilingly and coolly: "Mother! We are coming from Ayodhya; we are residing in the forest; I am called Rama; this brother of mine is known as Lakshmana". At this, Sabari exclaimed, "Father! My long cherished desire has been fulfilled, I have been waiting for your arrival, day and night, and looking for you into the distance, until my eyes have become dull and insensitive. I have achieved success. My longing has had its result. My vigil and fasts have borne fruit. Ah! I have been rewarded! This is the result of my Guru's Grace; this is the mysterious working of God". She brought the basket near Rama. Meanwhile, Rama asked her, "Mother! You speak of a Guru: who is he, this Guru of yours?"

She said, "His name is Mathanga Rshi. But, since women are not taken as pupils in this hermitage, I listened to his lessons, hiding behind bushes and trees. I served my Guru and other rshis, removing the thorns from the tracks that led to the rivers where they take their bath, mostly by rolling over the ground, for, I had to do it pretty early, before dawn. I also removed the pebbles and stones that might hurt their feet. I lived on fruits and tubers as the other pupils did. I served my masters unseen, and spent my days in the recesses of the jungle. Mathanga, the Mahatma, who knew the yearnings of my mind, told me one day, 'Mother! Your body has reached a ripe old age. If you strain so much, you will soon be exhausted. So, come, reside in the hermitage and take good rest'. While I was spending my days thus in the service of this hermitage, the rshi desired to quit the body and called me beside him. He said, 'Sabari! The task on which I have come is over. I have resolved to leave this body now. You shall remain in residence at this hermitage itself. Within a short time Rama will come into this forest. Invite him to enter this hermitage and offer what little service you can to him. Let this hermitage be sanctified by the touch of his feet". I protested a great deal; I told him how I could never be happy in the hermitage without him. I prayed to him to take me too, through death to where he was proceeding. My Guru was not in a mood to accede to my wishes. He said that I had to be here awaiting the arrival of Rama and that I could not avoid that responsibility or lose that joy. From that day, I am existing here, with arms outstretched to welcome you, with eyes watching the horizon, and carrying about with me this decrepit body, so that I may live to see you and serve you. O Rama! O Lord! O Compassionate to the Afflicted. O Dweller in the hearts of Rshis. The wish of my Guru has been fulfilled. The hermitage is just a few feet off; please sanctify it by entering it". Sabari fell at Rama's feet and entreated him to accede to the last request of her Guru.

Rama was naturally happy at the dedication and devotion of the old woman. He was the very embodiment of spontaneous surging love. So, he rose and walking towards the hermitage with his brother, Lakshmana, entered it. O! Sabari was overpowered by a flood of joy; the flood broke all limits and expressed itself in ecstatic thrill and speech. That gem among women was until that moment too weak to tread a few paces; now, she found herself endowed with the strength of a thousand elephants! She marched buoyantly to the river and brought, in quick time, cool limpid water that was eminently sweet. She tasted first the fruits she chose from the basket and she offered to the brothers those she found sweet and ripe. While they ate, she looked on happily and with gratitude at their charming faces, and when they had finished, she washed their feet and placed on her head the drops of water sanctified by the contact. "Lord! I have no more desire. For what shall I live on? I survived until now for that one piece of good fortune - the darsan of Rama. I have had the Darsan. Now, save me by merging this life, this breath, in thy Lotus Feet. I have heard your glory extensively from the sages and saints. Today, I have witnessed it; I am full of gratitude and joy". Rama relished the fruits she offered with so much devotion; while partaking of them he said, "Mother! These fruits are as sweet as your own heart.  Really, these are not fruits that grow on trees. Why, the wild fruits that grow in jungles are not so sweet at all. They can never be. These are fruits that have grown on the holy tree of life, on the branches of the pure mind, in the sunshine of love". Rama ate the fruits extolling their taste all the time.

Seeing Rama in this mood, Lakshmana was happy beyond words; for, Rama had not eaten fruits with such joy since long; all these days, Lakshmana had to persuade him to taste a few, with a good deal of parley, pleading and praying, even after the fruits were peeled, cut, and placed before him. Rama was so afflicted by the separation from Sita. In spite of all the efforts of Lakshmana, Rama would eat only half a fruit or so; never was Lakshmana satisfied with the quantity that his brother ate. Today, Sabari gave him the fruits which had dropped ripe from the trees; she used to dust them and clean them and keep them for him every day, and when Rama did not arrive, she consumed them herself as sacramental food, given to her by Rama himself! Day after day, she roamed the forest in search of sweet ones to be placed before Rama. Thus, daily the fruits were saturated with her love and devotion and the fruits became doubly desirable. Lakshmana noticed that this was the reason Rama was eating them with joy. He was filled with delight, and he admired the devotion of Sabari that was so richly rewarded. He appreciated the divine joy that she had filled herself with as a result of her long years of spiritual study and practice.

Sabari stood with folded hands before Rama and said, "Lord! I am of low caste; I am of untutored intellect, dull and stupid. I am not learned in any sacred art or text. I am lower than the lowest. How can I extol you or describe your glory? I have no skill in the use of words. I have not cultivated my Reason. Nor have I practiced austerities prescribed to gain insight into Divinity. I am on the lowest step in spiritual Sadhana. My only strength is my love for God. I have no other support or sustenance". She spoke of Rama's compassion, in accepting her offering. "Your grace is boundless", she said. Rama was listening to her words intensely. He lifted her chin and looked right into her eyes. He said, "Mother! Devotion is the thing I need; the rest are subsidiary. Other things like scholarship, intelligence, status, social prestige, caste, I do not pay any attention to them. They are of no value in my eyes. More than all the powers gained by spiritual disciplines and austerities, I relish the sweetness of devotion saturated with love. I seek only that. A man who has no love in him is as barren as a cloud with no moisture, a tree with no fruits, or a cow yielding no milk; he is ever far from God and can never earn Grace. Sabari! Of the nine ways of evincing and cultivating devotion, I only desire that any one be followed consistently by man. But, I find you have followed to the very end all the nine ways. So, I do not see any one higher than you in spiritual attainment. I am indeed elated in all manner of ways, for, you have offered me devotion that is pure, steady, and self-less and which is Love springing from the heart and surging from it in all directions and towards all directions and towards all beings. You have not cast aspersions on any one, even while dreaming! That is what makes your mind so pure. Your mind does not blossom when 'good' comes to you; nor does it wither, when 'bad' comes. You are blessed in all ways".

Sabari drank in these words of counsel that Rama spoke to her. She said, "Rama! There is no path for the devotee other than doing one's best to please the Divine, is there? I do not crave for aught else. This day, my father, my God, the Lord of my life, the Lord of all the Worlds, the Lord of all Creation has appeared before me! How can I measure my good luck, O Lord of Janaki, of Sita the daughter of Janaka?" At this she remembered Sita, and the brothers, too, suddenly realized their plight. Rama told her, "Alas, Sabari, all this while you kept us happy, rid of anxiety, floating in joy; but, now, you have plunged us in grief". Sabari was struck with remorse; she raised her head in consternation and pleaded, "Lord! What is this you say? Pardon my indiscretion" and she fell at the feet of Rama.

Rama asked her, "Sabari! Do you know anything about Sita? Have you heard anything about her?" Sabari replied, "Don't I know! Don't I know about Sita? No woman who knows the Rama principle will be ignorant of the Sita-principle, that Gem of womankind, that Crown of virtue, that Light of feminity? O! what great good fortune is hers! She is the very shadow of my Rama! Rama! I must tell you what my Guru Rshi Mathanga has taught me about the Sita principle. Of course, there is nothing you do not know. But, since you asked me now, whether I knew anything about Sita, I shall tell you what I know. 'Rama deluded the minds of Manthara and Kaikeyi, in order to fulfill his mission of destroying the Rakshasa brood'. [See: Ramakatha Rasavahini part 1, Chapter 10(a)] As a result of this, my Guru told me 'Sita, Rama and Lakshmana have entered the forest as exiles'. He said, they would visit hermitages and bless the ascetics and that Rama would kill the demons who obstruct their rituals and disciplines. He said that Rama would devise a plan by which Ravana, who is knit strongly with the Rakshasa clans, will be tempted to enact a role in a drama centering around the 'abduction' of Sita! He assured me that the Sita abducted by Ravana is only a pseudo-Sita and not the real, genuine Mother. He had told me that Rama would come into this forest, while searching for the Sita who has been abducted and that, I would be rewarded as never before by that visit. My Guru also told me that Rama would cultivate an alliance with Sugriva, who has taken refuge in the Rishyamuka Hills (adjacent to this hermitage) from the deadly depredations of his elder brother, Vali. Rama would accomplish the task of seeking out Sita through Sugriva. Rama! You are the Director of this Cosmic Drama, which you have designed. The incidents of your Drama were known to my Guru and he has revealed them to me. Your stage is the entire Cosmos. Your will decides the future of the Universe; it ensures the stability and progress of the Universe. All that happens is the unrolling into action of your Will; without it, nothing great or small can ever happen.

"Lord! You are acting in this play, as if you are unaware of your own plot. You are pretending to be grief-stricken at separation from Sita! Only those who are foolish, or who have no faith in the Atmic reality, or who are atheists can take it as true; those who are aware of Divinity and its mysteries, those who are devotees, and Sadhaks seeking to know God as their own Reality, will not be led away into the belief that it is genuine. You are the Doer of all that is done; no one however powerful can hinder or oppose your Will. You will the reactions of people to all happenings as good or bad; they are not the authors thereof. The ignorant may assert that they are the executors of their deeds. Rama! Pardon my impertinence. I have spoken too much in your presence". Thus saying, she fell at the feet of Rama. She developed the inner Fire of Yoga and as a result, her body was reduced to ashes, while her breath was merged in the Rama-principle she adored.



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