You are on page 1of 28

THE PATH OF TRUTH

(A novella based on the Ramayana and Bharatakaandam in Malayalam by S R D Prasad)

C K KERALA VARMA

“Few authors in world literature can lay claim to having inspired as many poets and dramatists and to having transmitted moral and ethical values to as vast and receptive an audience in nations living thousands of miles apart and with radically different languages and cultures as the obscure almost legendary composer of the Sanskrit Ramayana, a poet known to us as Valmiki.” - B A van Nooten Ramayana, the older of the Indian epic duo Ramayana and Mahabharata might have been composed in 500-100 BC. Ramayana is a celebration of man and nature. Prakrti and purusha. Prakrti, the female and purusha, the male. Purusha becomes divine when he mimics prakrti. Ramayana describes Rama thus: He is strong as the mightiest mountain (Himalaya), immeasurable as the deep sea, bright as the day, beautiful as the night, enduring as the earth and fierce as fire. He is as bright as the sun’s might and the moon’s benign light. “The limitless nature and omnipresent God are indistinguishable from each other” - Atharva Veda

The path of truth

Kosala (Capital:Ayodhya)
Brahmá Maríchi Kashyapa Vivasvata Manu Ikshváku (First King of Ayodhyá) Kukshi Vikukshi Vána Anaranya Prithu, Trishanku Dhundhumára Yuvanáshva Mándhátá Susandhi Dhruvasandhi Bharata Asita Sagara Anshuman Dilipa Bhagíratha Kakutstha Raghu Purushádaka (Kalmáshapáda) Shankana Sudarshana Agnivarna Shíghragna Maru Prashushruka Ambarísha Nahusha Yayáti Nábhága Aja

Family tree of Rama and Sita

Videha (Capital: Mithila) Nimi Mithi Janaka Udávasu Nandivardhana Suketu Devaráta Vrihadratha Mahábira Sudhriti Dhristaketu Haryas'va Maru Pratíndhaka Kírtiratha Devamidha Vibudha Mahándhraka Kírtiráta Maháromá Swarnaromá Hras'varomá Dasaratha Janaka Kushadwaja

2

The path of truth

Rama Lakshmana Shatrugna Bharata

Sita

Urmila Shrutikirti Mandvi

INDEX Sarayu Father Mandvi Mother In search of Rama The Ascetic Hermit at home Hanuman Lanka Ravana Rama Sita The final journey SARAYU All alone on the banks of Sarayu in the evening of my life I gaze intently at the gentle soothing flow of water, crystal clear despite the sins of man she has been washing on her way. I was born on the banks of this river, I have lived all my life by her and now am I looking to her to take me in like mother-earth did to Sita? This river taught me that we must change, evolve constantly without losing our basic character. You can’t step into the same river twice. Have I evolved for the better as effortlessly as the smooth flow of Sarayu? Her serene waters seem to reflect my content at having fulfilled all my promises. I have no burden left on my shoulders. But violent waves of self-doubt do disturb the serenity of the flow in monsoons of discontent. Rama is on his way to the river. He has just finished his farewell prayer for his country and his forefathers. Or is it a penance for the sins committed in all the great battles won? For the pain and sorrow caused for the sake of righteousness? Sita, pure and selfless, had taken all her woes in her stride. She had never sent out the slightest signal of complaint or displeasure. She had but once offended Lakshmana during their stay in exile at Panchavati. Rama had told him to guard her when he went hunting for a beautiful deer she was pining for. She started getting worried about Rama’s safety. She even thought she had heard his wail in pain. When Lakshmana refused to leave her guard, she lost her temper. She abused him and said he would not go because he had lustful designs on her! He was taken aback by her insinuation. She had said those 3 02 03 05 06 10 11 14 16 18 19 20 23 25

The path of truth

harsh words for the sake of Rama, to arouse anger in Lakshmana so he will go to Rama’s rescue. During the aswamedhayaga, an elaborate month-long prayer that Rama had ordained years ago, I had found it strange, and probably an ill omen, that he had used a gold statuette of Sita to represent his wife. She was not dead. It was just that Rama had banished her from his life. He had sent her away to the wilderness of justice. True to my clairvoyant fear, by the time the yaga was over, Sita was actually no more with us on this earth. Sage Durvasav, I remember now, had once warned our father that my brother would give up everything. His wife, his brothers, his kingdom…. He had made this prophecy in the presence of the wise Vasishtha, my father’s teacher and adviser. The worried king had decreed that the prophecy be kept a closely guarded secret.

Lakshmana is already gone. He gave himself up to River Sarayu the moment Rama wanted him to go. He walked into the welcoming arms of the river, holding his breath and keeping at bay every stream of life. Now Rama wanted me to be the king. The dilemma revisited. I just cannot go through the same test again. Let not the past haunt me anymore. There is no dearth of people pleading with Rama to stay back at Ayodhya and continue to rule over his kingdom of Kosala. Donning minimal clothing, wearing rings made of grass and chanting God’s praises, he is now on his way to offer himself to the river in sacrifice. Brahmin priests holding palm leaf umbrellas to keep the flame of oil lamps from getting blown out are leading the way for him. He cannot walk brusquely away. Obstructing his path are people flocking to dissuade him from going away. Rama had always been obstinately unwavering in all his decisions. And now it is unlikely that anyone would succeed in dissuading him from walking away from his world. Yes, none can change the course that Rama chooses for himself. I have decided to follow Rama to wherever Sarayu takes us beyond this life. Downstream Sarayu will take us to Ganga, the mighty river of forgiveness and then to the deep sea of infinite mystery. I glance upstream at the beginning. The gentle breeze blowing over the water flowing down from the Himalaya would always carry the fragrance of truth.

4

The path of truth

FATHER My father Dasaratha had been an heir-less king for long. His three wives Kausalya, Sumitra and my mother Kaikeyi bore him no child. Was it due to the curse of the blind Brahmin couple whose only child my father had killed by accident? No, it can’t be. The curse was that Dasaratha would die due to intense grief caused by his son. He must have hoped that he would certainly beget a son, if only to cause his death by grief later as cursed by the blind Brahmin sage. After years of fruitless wait he offered prayers and sacrifices seeking divine intervention to make his wives conceive. The sacrificial fire brought forth god’s gift to the queens in the form of a sweet. Why did Dasaratha give half of it to Kausalya, two parts of the rest to Sumitra and the smallest potion to my mother? Maybe, after Sumitra gave birth to twins, people would have assumed that the king had given her the nectar of fertility twice! He must have wanted his heir from the eldest queen to be as great as his famed ancestors like Dileepa, Bhageeratha, Raghu and Aja. He would have foreseen a possible rift among equal brothers that might weaken the state. The heir-apparent should be a stronger and a more complete person than his siblings. Was it not his duty as the king to look ahead at the future of the kingdom? Rama grew up to be a peerless archer and a fearless warrior amidst the myth of divinity surrounding his birth. I remember the visit of Sage Viswamitra to the palace when we were just about sixteen. Our father went out of his way to welcome the great sage, taking care not to offend him even in the slightest way. He was prone to destructive anger. My father had heard about his fight with the saintly Vasishtha over the latter’s favourite cow Kamadhenu, which he had tried to take away by force from its owner. Viswamitra had once tried to build a paradise outside heaven for his protégé Trishanku, one of our ancestors. He had even demanded that Brahma should make him a brahmarshi, though he was not a Brahmin. The irony of Viswamitra finally seeking the help of Vasishtha to get brahminhood and the title of brahmarshi amuses me now. The story was a lesson in humility. I wonder if Vismamitra had learnt his lesson. Wise, learned and powerful he certainly was; so was he imperious and arrogant. Viswamitra wanted Rama to go with him to drive away the demons that had been attacking his place of meditation. My father

5

The path of truth

was not sure if the young Rama was fully trained in warfare. The king offered to lead an army himself for the protection of the sage and his hermitage. Maybe it was just a father’s boundless love and anxiety for a young son. Viswamitra, perhaps sensing the potential of Rama as an invincible warrior, took only Rama and Lakshmana with him. Rama was young and fresh. Yet he was equal to the task. On the way the sage taught Rama advanced archery and techniques to overcome hunger and thirst during war. He killed or drove away all the mischievous demons. Rama’s first victim was Tadaka, a female demon. He killed her reluctantly. No man would want to kill a woman in battle. Rama was probably ashamed of the fact that he began his illustrious record of successful battles by killing a woman. I have heard that he had even wanted to do a penance for this unmanly and inauspicious act.

6

The path of truth

MANDVI Shatrugna and I stayed back in Ayodhya. We missed Rama and Lakshmana badly. Our daily lessons in statecraft and warfare also seemed to miss the star student. Little did I realise that this short period of lull was just a prelude to interesting happenings in our lives. A great wave of excitement washed ashore with the arrival of galloping ministers sent by King Janaka of Videha. After my brothers had succeeded in their mission, Sage Viswamitra had taken them to Janaka’s palace at Mithila. The king was instantly struck by the radiance that exuded from the young princes. He wished to marry his daughter Sita to Rama and his niece Urmila, daughter of his younger brother Kushadwaja, to Lakshmana. He requested the sage to allow Rama to try his hand on the huge and heavy bow that no archer could draw till date as a test of strength and archery to win the hand of the virtuous and beautiful Sita. Rama lifted the enormous bow with effortless ease and drew the string in a swift mighty move that broke the bow in two. The joy of the king found a match in the ecstasy of the coy princess. The royal envoys carried an invitation to Dasaratha to go over to the palace of Janaka to accept the young brides. Viswamitra must have taken the detour to Mithila on purpose. A welcome and useful purpose, I should say! Shatrugna and I accompanied our father to Mithila. My heartbeats of joy became distinctly palpable when Sage Viswamitra proposed that Shatrugna and I marry Urmila’s sisters Shrutikirti and Mandvi. The reunion with my brothers and the wedding of all of us together were probably the happiest time in our lives. Looking back now, I am sure the shy and pretty brides getting married to the brightest princes of the time would not have bargained for the testing times ahead. Sita’s brush with a series of misfortunes is legion. We can blame Ravana for the first instance of her separation from Rama. Who’s to blame for the second and the final instances? My wife Mandvi did not have it as bad as Sita or even Urmila. But, have I given her the life that she deserved? A life that a wife expects from a scion of Ayodhya, a son of Dasaratha? The monkeys of Kishkindha and the demons of Lanka must have given their wives a better quality of family life. We went back to Ayodhya after the wedding for a season of bliss and sensuous mirth. My mother’s brother Yudhajit came to visit us and to take Mandvi and me to his father’s palace at Rajagriha in 7

The path of truth

Kekaya. His father Aswapati, the king of Kekaya wanted us to spend some time with him. Shatrugna and Shrutikirti came with us for a quiet holiday away from the bustle of Ayodhya. We, the two young couples, could not have asked for a better get-away to nights of delight and days of daze.

MOTHER The honeymoon did not last long. The first indication of bad tidings came to me in a terrible dream that I had one night in my grandfather’s palace. The dream was too gory for comfort. The moon fell off from the sky shattering the earth into pieces separated by deep craters and split mountains. There were no trees, no greenery, no flowers and no animals. The land and the sea got mixed up. I could see only mud, blood, slush and rocks in darkness and smoke. Suddenly my father fell down from a high cliff into a sea of dirt and blood. Then a monstrous woman in red cackling like a hyena and jeering at him and the world took him away in a donkey-drawn cart amidst fire and leaping flames. I woke up bathed in sweat from this intriguing nightmare. It seemed to tell me of an imminent death and disgrace in the family. I had barely finished describing the bad dream to Mandvi, sweating profusely in the process and making delirious statements that something terrible was going to happen and me or Lakshmana or Rama or my father would surely die, when along the road that led to the palace came messengers of doom riding horses of speed and ferocity, with deep shades of gloom painted on their faces or so it seemed to me shaken out of my composure by recurring images from the inexplicable dream. The messengers carried summons from Ayodhya for our urgent return. We rushed back not knowing what was in store. The seven days of journey was a long torture of suspense to my anxious mind. I became restless when I found the streets of Ayodhya devoid of the usual gaiety and joy. The eerie silence and the absence of joyful life on the wide roads of the city I knew so well made my heart gallop faster than my horses. Where had all the familiar sounds of Ayodhya gone? There was no neigh of horses, no ringing of the archer’s bow and no seductive song of the enchantress, her ample chest heaving by the beats of a gentle drum and her hands weaving music on her lute and her sensuous lips leaving her flute breathless in desire. The trees that lined the streets grieved and shed leaves of sorrow. Birds sang no more. Beasts stood still and dull. Men and women made no merry. A mist of melancholy had enveloped the palace. I did not find my father in his court or quarter. All I met was the silent stare from the 8

The path of truth

courtiers and guards. Perplexed and fearing the worst, I rushed to my mother. What she told me hit me like a lightning that turned the clouds of sorrow into a thunderstorm of shock, anger and then remorse. “Your father is no more, my son,” she said softly. “We have been waiting for you to do the last rites. His body is waiting in a boat of oil.” “Why, Rama and Lakshmana could have done that in good time,” I managed to mutter, the words choking in my throat. “The king had sent them and Sita on exile,” said she haltingly in a matter-of-fact tone. I was both shocked and confused. An exile would normally be a punishment for theft, adultery or abortion. How could they ever deserve a penalty of exile? “Did Rama grab the house or wealth of another? Did he kill or harm an innocent? Did he eye another’s wife?” I asked feebly of my mother in trembling words that seemed to pause hesitatingly on my tongue, “Did Sita kill an unborn child?” The memory of the dreaded dream that I had in Rajagriha haunted me and made me weak in my knees. “No, my dear,” she hastened to say, “Rama has done no crime. He who is full of virtue and compassion would never steal or kill or look at another’s wife. When your father wanted to make Rama the heir, I claimed the throne for you. I made him promise that he would banish Rama for fourteen years. Sita and Lakshmana, his ever doting wife and brother also went on exile with Rama.” I could scarcely believe what she told me. “Your father kept his word given to me and asked Rama to go on exile. Rama said yes, for he was a noble prince and a dutiful son. He lost no time in leaving for the forest along with his wife and brother. But the king kept pining for his favourite son. He became weak and sick and died of grief and remorse.” She sounded ecstatic when she reasoned that I would straight away be crowned the king, now that Dasaratha was gone and Rama was on exile, “Go ahead and do the funeral rites of your late father, my son, and then you’ll be the new king.” She also confided in me with no little pride that she had stopped Dasaratha from sending the entire granary, gold and wealth with Rama to the forest. She had thought that I would not be interested in taking over an impoverished kingdom! She saw that I was not looking very pleased. She tried to put me at ease. She said Rama had readily agreed to carry out her wish. “My 9

The path of truth

kingdom, my wealth, my life, my wife.... all will be Bharata’s, if that’s my father’s wish,” Rama had said. I exploded into a thunder of anger that took my mother by anguished surprise. My rage at her despicable scheming was overshadowed by my anguish at my mother’s lack of understanding of my character. How could she have assumed that I would ever agree to upstage Rama or any other brother of mine to capture the crown? I did not have to think twice before declaring that my first task, after my father’s funeral, would be to bring Rama back to his rightful place. My anguish grew more when I later fell at the feet of Kausalya. She was like a mother to me. She pushed me away saying with unconcealed scorn that I had won the kingdom without a battle. Lying distraught on the cold floor of sorrow and distress, with no care for hair or dress, she wept her heart out to me, “Please banish me also to the forest so I’ll spend my last days with my luckless child.” “Your wail of blame pains me, mother. You’ve loved me like a son. I’ve loved you and Rama equally well. I’ve but no love lost for those who sent Rama away. My mother has become my enemy by killing my father and getting my brothers exiled. Please don’t despise me. Give me strength instead so I’ll go get Rama back and undo the injustice done unto him,” I cried out to Kausalya. It broke my heart to see that my three mothers had been seeing me in this light, a light darker than darkness. The world around me went black; darkness surrounded me. I do not know how long I remained unconscious. Kausalya’s tears falling on my face woke me up. She had rested my head on her lap. Her tears washed my fears away. She bode me no ill. I felt my honour had been restored. If Rama’s mother could forgive me, I need fear nothing. I could feel the ground giving way under my feet when I heard her telling me, “Before leaving Rama told me, ‘I’m leaving behind my father and mothers with no anxiety and sorrow because the virtuous and courageous Bharata will look after them.’” I assured her that I would win Rama back at any cost. I remained firm in my resolve to not usurp the throne that was legitimately Rama’s. My mother had by now become quite meek and remorseful. My outburst on hearing what she foolishly thought would please me must have been the final verdict on her scheming misadventure. Earlier, Siddhartha, one of my father’s venerable advisors, had reminded her about our ancestor Sagara who had banished his wicked son Asamanj from the kingdom as a punishment for killing children for pleasure. Who would now deserve a sentence of banishment? The selfless Rama without a fault or the wicked Kaikeyi of enormous sin? 10

The path of truth

Kausalya, while weeping over the dead body of Dasaratha, had abused my mother as her husband’s killer. Even Vasishtha, the embodiment of quiet dignity and humility, had come down heavily on my mother’s wickedness when he set his eyes on Sita ready for her life in the forest in a simple cloth made of bark. He was the only person who seemed to have read me correctly, for he had warned my mother that I would rather follow Rama to the forest than agree to be a part of her scheme. I wonder how my mother had taken his words of reproach. His was generally the last word in history, morality and conduct. For he was so ancient that he used to be the teacher of my father's ancestors of at least three generations. He continued to be the mentor and teacher of the highest reverence for my father and us as well. My mother no longer tried to change my mind by pointing out the great fortune that had come my way on a platter. She did not try to convince me with the same arguments she had used with my father. She seemed happy to see my resolve to make amends for her sinful act. I felt remorse at having treated her in a way a son should never do his mother. She probably had done it in a weak moment, carried away by a mother’s selfish love for her child. What made her do it? Was it her desire for power? Was it to strengthen her position as the favourite queen of the king? She was the youngest and the prettiest of Dasaratha’s wives. She was also the most accomplished. She had been trained in horse riding and basic warfare. That was how she had once accompanied him in his battle against the demon-king Shambara. My father believed that it was only due to her being with him during the equal and fierce battle that he could defeat the enemy. He had at that time agreed to fulfill her fondest wishes. I did not know that my father had promised her father that her son would be made the heir. Manthara, the personal maid of my mother, had used exactly these stories to convince her that she should stop Dasaratha in his plan to crown Rama as the heir. She, at her devious best, had won my mother over by insinuating that Dasaratha had deliberately chosen a time when I was away to announce Rama as the heir. He had also decided against telling Kaikeyi or her father about it. Shatrugna was as upset as I. He just could not stand the sight of the bejewelled Manthara wearing the very ornaments gifted by my mother as a reward for her role in the misadventure. He dragged her down by her hair and drew out his sword in a fit of anger. It took me quite an effort to calm him down and prevent him from the unbecoming act of slaying a woman.

11

The path of truth

IN SEARCH OF RAMA The ministers and the elders, including the wise Vasishtha and the venerable Siddhartha, were all for carrying out the last wish of the late king, though they had been critical of the way it had come about. I knew it was not the wish of the king but the wish of his sensuous wife. I lost no time and none of my earlier firmness to declare that Rama would be the king. The tears in the eyes of all those assembled were both a sign of their love for Rama and appreciation for my conduct. We made elaborate arrangements for our journey into the forest in search of Rama. I was keen to carry everything necessary for an emergent coronation in the forest itself. My mother, now fully repentant, accompanied Kausalya and Sumitra in our procession to the woods. Shatrugna and Vasishtha joined me in this mission that was dear to every heart. It was a long procession of hope by the people of Ayodhya. Horses, chariots, soldiers, workers and guides formed the vanguard, followed by carts full of grain and grocery, meat and milk animals and other supplies. The very thought of bringing Rama back as the king seems to have enthused the people. I was aware that Rama had not wanted anyone to go in search of him. After he had got off the chariot that took them to the woods, he had told the charioteer to keep driving to the north for sometime before returning to Ayodhya, just to trick people onto the wrong track if they tried to follow him. We camped for the night on the bank of Ganga. Guha, the valiant and efficient chief of the Nishada tribe responsible for keeping at bay intruders into the kingdom of Kosala from across the river, welcomed the royal guests. He offered, without much of an enthusiasm though, to host them for the night and feed the troops. I thanked him and asked him the way to the ashram of Sage Bharadwaja. I was hoping that Rama would be camping there. I was in a hurry to meet him before he moves on. The harsh and unexpected response from Guha filled me with remorse and anguish. He asked me if I were on my way to drive Rama further away and out of my way forever. When I explained to him the purpose of my journey, he brightened up. He seemed to have a thousand tongues when he lavished praise on my sense of fairness and righteousness. Rama, Sita and Lakshmana had stopped over for a night at the same place. Guha showed me the open ground where Rama and Sita slept over a sheet of grass. Lakshmana had stood guard for the whole night. They had not asked for anything other than feed and water for their horses, Guha said amidst sobs.

12

The path of truth

Early next morning, Guha was ready with boats to ferry us across the river. Sage Bharadwaja had set up his house of meditation at the meeting place of the rivers Ganga and Yamuna. Vasishtha took me to Bharadwaja. The sage was sarcastic about my father who had abandoned righteousness for the sake of a woman. “Rama had already given up everything for your sake”, he said. “Why go hunting after him? He won’t be an impediment for you.” Be it the illiterate forest-dweller or the wise sage, everyone would jump without a pause to the foregone conclusion of my complicity! I had taken the innuendo of Guha in my stride, but I choked visibly when explaining my predicament to the learned sage. Vasishtha also chipped in with his words of assurance that seemed to calm down the sceptic sage. He now left his diffidence behind and went about organising, out of nothing as if by magic, a grand feast for us the two princes, our royal entourage and the troops. His ascetic students led me to a sparkling throne surrounded by dancing girls in a palace rivalling the one at Ayodhya in grandeur. I saw in hallucination my father and Rama seated on the throne. I took it easy assuming that this must be Bharadwaja’s way of testing whether I would succumb to worldly pleasures and give up my pursuit of Rama! I must have won his confidence, for he said later that my fame would last till the last drop of water in this world. When I was taking leave of the sage, he blessed me profusely and said I should not see evil in what my mother had done. He showed us the way to Chitrakoot on the banks of Mandakini. Rama was likely to be camping there.

THE ASCETIC As we neared the wild camp at Chitrakoot, we could see the tell tale signs of human habitation. Firewood, plucked flowers, large square pieces of tree bark cleaned and hung up to dry, dung cakes dried and ready to burn, gentle smoke amongst tree leaves.... When we saw swords and arrows resting outside the hut, we knew it was no abode of sages, but the camp of warriors. After asking the troops to wait at a distance, I quietly entered the simple dwelling followed by Shatrugna. Vasishtha and my three mothers came in much later. I saw through my eyes blurred by tears Rama austere in his coat of bark but radiant like sun. My blood rushed to my head, tears to my eyes and I passed out.

13

The path of truth

When I opened my eyes, I found both Shatrugna and me on Rama’s lap, his palms massaging us softly back to our senses. He gently scolded me for running away from my responsibilities at Ayodhya. Who would run the affairs of the state in my absence? He showered his love equally on all the three mothers, showing not an iota of displeasure at what my mother had done. All three of them had tears rolling down their cheeks when their eyes rested on Rama, Sita and Lakshmana attired in extreme austerity. During his incessant inquiries on every little detail about Ayodhya, I was looking for a gap to break the news of our father’s death. Rama’s flow of words came to an abrupt end when he heard the terrible news, mumbling to himself in sobs and trembling words that he was responsible for his father’s untimely end. He then led Sita and his three brothers to the river to offer the final prayers for our late father. Did he, the eldest son of the great king of Ayodhya, feel sorry for the impoverished way in which the last rites were carried out? He was weeping throughout, maybe out of helplessness, maybe out of sorrow. Was not the death of Dasaratha caused by his utter helplessness at the unexpected turn of events? A king should create destiny, not ride destiny. His last rites, his equally great sons shuddered to think, were an extension of the same helplessness. My hopes of persuading Rama to come back to Ayodhya became thinner when I observed how easily he had given up all worldly comforts. He had transformed himself into a selfless acetic, sporting matted lock, wearing dried bark-peels for a cloak. I wanted him to allow me to do amends for the unjust acts of our father and my mother. I said my mother and I could get over our feelings of guilt only if he forgave us and came back to his rightful place in the palace of Ayodhya. Our late father would rest in peace only if Rama would agree to be the king. Rama would hear nothing of it. He saw no wrong in my mother claiming the throne for me. He knew that when our childless father had sought Kaikeyi as his youngest wife so that she would beget him a worthy heir, he had promised her father, the king of Kekaya that his son born of her would be the future king. Rama also quoted Sage Narada who had once told her that her son would be a great ruler. I was at a loss for words when I got unexpected support from the scholarly Jaabaali, an agnostic saint rooted in rationalism and one of Dasaratha’s intellectual advisors. He was pretty direct in denouncing Rama’s foolish reaction to whatever happened in Ayodhya. He appealed to Rama’s superior sense of right and wrong, “You’re a prince with a noble upbringing and high learning. You shouldn’t think like the mass swayed by irrational faith and emotions. 14

The path of truth

One comes to this world alone and dies alone. Please don’t give undue reverence to the word of honour of your father and stepmother. They did not act in an honourable way. Selfish and clever men of power framed most of our rites and rituals, which lack any sense or purpose. A man of learning and wisdom must tread the path of duty and action, not the road of rites and rituals.” Jaabaali asked Rama to go beyond his irrational reverence for his father and mother to take up his responsibility as the king. “Why do you waste useful food by offering it to the dead? The dead cannot eat! Dasaratha was just a seed that created you. Please accept what is apparent and real rather than delude yourself with the unseen or vague superstitious thoughts. There is no need for a king to give up worldly pleasures and lead a life of austerity. What you’re doing now is not a sacrifice but an abdication of your responsibility. Please don’t shy away from enjoying the bliss that’s your due. To protect the earth, to nurture the country is the dharma of a king.” Rama went red on his face, more due to the reluctant awakening of inner realization than anger. He said, “My father is the absolute truth for me. I will honour his every word. If I don’t honour his word or break the promise I made to him and Kaikeyi, I won’t deserve a place in heaven. Your advice is full of evil. If at all I’ve to fault my father, it would be for honouring an atheist like you. A faithless infidel has no place in a wise king’s court. A sage of no belief is worse than a thief.” I was taken aback by the severity of the words of the normally gentle and unflappable Rama. It was a question of right or wrong and the duty of a king rather than a matter of faith and belief. Now Vasishtha spoke mildly to soothe the temper of the young Rama, “The learned Jaabaali knows well the ways of the world. He said his honest words to wake you up from the slumber of inactivity you had adopted in the name of truth.” Vasishtha reminded him about each of his thirty seven ancestors from Mareechi to Dasaratha, none of who had wasted their time wandering in the wilderness. “Please accept your due role as the new king, for the throne always went to the eldest son in this dynasty,” he pleaded with Rama. “Follow your father, your mother, your teacher. I’ve been the teacher of your father and yourself. Today if you obey the words of your mother and your teacher, you’ll serve well the cause of faith and duty. Your mother too has come here with your brother Bharata to take you back to your throne. Take the path of truth and ruth to Ayodhya.” Rama’s answer was again a simple no, “I’ll never break my father’s word of honour.”

15

The path of truth

It became clear to me that the combined efforts of all of us were coming to naught. Finding no other way out I declared to Rama, “I’ll sit here beside you without water and food and keep looking at you till you agree to our request. I’ll lie down weak, tired, starving and dying till you come back to Ayodhya.” Rama continued to be unyielding, “My dear brother, what crime did I do to deserve this punishment? An act of forced persuasion like this is unbecoming for a noble prince like you. Please get up and rush to your palace where your call of duty awaits you.” I carried my campaign forward by asking everyone else why they were not forcing Rama to go back. It now seemed that they had read Rama better. They said, “Rama is firm on what his father had asked him to do. He will never agree to go back.” This was exactly what he wanted to hear. His tone, so far soft and compassionate, assumed the harshness of a command. He ordered me to rule over the kingdom for fourteen years. “Both Kaikeyi and Dasaratha had walked the right path. I will be back as the king after the period of exile is over.”

HERMIT AT HOME The finality of Rama’s tone settled it. There was no time to be wasted. I now had my role made clear. My commitment to the people, to the country must take precedence over every other thing. I was amazed at the speed with which my thoughts and resolve attained clarity and purpose. Rama was the king of Kosala, though he would have to spend his time of exile away from his kingdom. I would look after his duties as the king in his absence. I would place his pair of sandals on the throne as a clear signal of his power and my humility. I would not live in the palace. I would forgo all the comforts of a prince. I would live the austere life of an ascetic in a simple dwelling, wearing what Rama, Lakshmana and Sita would wear during their exile, eating raw vegetables and fruits and roots like they would in the woods. I would rule with complete detachment and without any personal ambition. Truth, justice, fairness and the welfare of people would be my guiding principles. The mind was clear. But the heart ached when we took leave of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita. Lakshmana clasped me close and wept. He had mistaken my intentions when he, atop a tree by their hermitage, saw me leading a large troop to Chitrakoot. He had assumed that I had decided to finish them off to safeguard my position as the king of Kosala! My own brother? Guha and Sage Bharadwaj could now be excused! How long would I have to carry this burden of blame? 16

The path of truth

Lakshmana was ashamed of himself. It was Rama who had corrected him when he had told him about his fear that I would attack them with my army and seize the kingdom forever. Rama, ever so noble in deed and right in creed, had rebuked him for thinking up such evil thoughts about their dear brother. “Bharata must have felt deep grief and intense remorse when he found out on his return to Ayodhya that we had retired to a life of denial and renouncement in the wilderness. He must be coming to meet us and persuade us to go back.” How right Rama was! I would not blame Lakshmana for assuming the worst. Ever since that fateful day of evil scheming by Manthara and my mother, he must have been restraining his anger. Anger restrained thus is prone to leap forth unchained at the slightest provocation. It was hard to console Kausalya and Sumitra who would not see their sons for fourteen long years. Was the sorrow of my mother any less? I glanced at her through the corner of my eyes while I was trying to take my other two mothers away from Rama and Lakshmana. She was a picture of composure with a tinge of melancholy. It was clear that she had got used to the harshness of the situation. Her remorse at having caused it was giving way to a sense of resignation and helplessness. She was now ready to accept any kind of situation, any kind of punishment. The journey back to Ayodhya from Chitrakoot lacked the enthusiasm that had marked our trek in search of Rama. I kept his sandals carefully bound on the head of the royal elephant. At Ayodhya I placed them on the throne. I told the elders, ministers and courtiers that I would stay in a hut in Nandigrama, a village on the outskirts. I would not have a life more luxurious than what King Rama would have during his years of exile. Every thing was in place. I had no regrets about the decisions I had taken. The venerable Vasishtha and all other elders also agreed with my decisions. Can I have the same confidence about the way Mandvi felt about it? I had taken leave of her when we had left in search of Rama. Like me she had been hoping that Rama would come back. After we came back to Ayodhya without Rama, I told her the reasons for my renouncing worldly comforts. She said she would also follow in my footsteps and stay with me outside the palace. She did not do it grudgingly. She had found my stand right and willingly followed me. This gave me a great sense of comfort. Her support made my task of management with detachment easier. Otherwise I would have been bogged down with a sense of guilt and nagging self-doubt.

17

The path of truth

HANUMAN Shatrugna and I had no way of finding out about the life of Rama during his exile, except the bits we heard from the disciples of sages that happened to pass by Ayodhya. We heard that Rama had left Chitrakoot soon after we had returned to Ayodhya. He probably did not want to risk another attempt at persuasion by us! Ten years later, when we heard that the demon king Ravana of Lanka had taken Sita away by force, I kept in readiness our army. The kings of Mithila and Kashi had offered to help. Hanuman would tell me, after the victorious return of Rama to Ayodhya, that when he had met Sita in Lanka she had asked whether I had not been ready with the army for her. I had been waiting for the day Rama would come back after his fourteen years of exile. It was Hanuman who came first with the news of Rama’s imminent arrival. The sudden rush of joy into my head made me faint and fall onto the ground. I quickly gathered myself and hugged warmly the messenger of the great news, “Years of anxiety and uncertainty are finally over. Thank you, friend for your joyful tidings. A moment of ecstasy like this comes but in a hundred years,” My initial amusement at the sight of this strange monkeylike person turned to adoration when I listened to his report of the exploits of Rama and the final victory over Ravana. While talking to me, Hanuman slowly shed his initial diffidence. Rama had sent him as a pilot to find out if I were ready to welcome Rama back. Or did I want to cling to my kingdom? “Rush to Bharata with the news of our victory,” Rama had asked Hanuman. “Study keenly his expressions of happiness or disappointment. Has he become so used to the grandeur and splendour of his position that he does not want to give it up? For, if he wants to continue as the king, let him. I would gladly step aside.” I had become used to getting misunderstood. Rama was the last in a series of improbable skeptics. My mother Kaikeyi, Kausalya, Guha, Bharadwaj, Lakshmana, and now Rama himself had mistaken my intentions one time or the other. Hanuman was the greatest find during Rama’s exile. He became my brother’s closest confidant. He could be trusted to help Rama out of any situation. In brute strength he had no equal. He was also wise and fearless. They say he had learnt his early lessons from the Sun God. Holding the book of ancient scriptures in his hands, he would walk backward reading it! He was the one who found out where Ravana had hidden Sita. He took Rama’s message to her. He assured her that they would soon attack Lanka and rescue her. That was when she suggested that I must have kept my army ready for the attack. Later on, it came as no surprise to me when, during the

18

The path of truth

coronation of Rama, Sita did not hesitate to gift Hanuman the necklace Rama had tied around her neck! His soft and modest voice could not hide his childlike excitement when he described his first meeting with his mentor Rama. Rama and Lakshmana had reached the monkey-county Kishkindha in search of Sita. Sugriva, the rebel brother of King Bali of Kishkindha, came to know about two strange persons camping near his hideout. He was afraid they were the spies of Bali out to plot his capture. He sent Hanuman disguised as a beggar to find out the truth. Hanuman realized the greatness of Rama the moment he set his eyes on him. Hanuman confessed to Rama that he was no beggar. He told him all about the predicament of Sugriva. Bali had banished him from his kingdom. Bali had also taken his wife. Hanuman took Rama and Lakshmana to the hideout of Sugriva. Sugriva was plotting to overthrow Bali. The new alliance between him and Rama would help each other. Rama promised to kill Bali. Sugriva, Hanuman and the other monkeys would help Rama in his rescue mission for Sita. Bali was no mean adversary. He had once defeated Ravana. He was the only person Ravana feared and respected. Rama managed to kill him by sending a fatal arrow from behind while Sugriva engaged him in a combat. Rama could not defend himself when Bali, on his deathbed, said it was a cowardly trick. When Bali realised who his killer was, he spoke his last words like a true warrior, "I would have rescued Sita in a day. I would've tied Ravana in knots and offered him at your feet." Rama stood still bowing his head. Hanuman remembered that Rama had gone pale with shame when Bali's wife Tara had accused him of killing Bali by deceit. Sugriva became the king of Kishkindha. He deployed his full resources in the search for Sita. Prominent in the team, apart from Sugriva and Hanuman, were Jambava, Nila, Nala, Sudheeshna, Rumanwa and Bali's son Angada. Soon after they had realised that Sita was missing, Rama and Lakshmana had come across the powerful bird Jatayu, wings clipped, lying motionless and half dead. He told them, just before breathing his last, that Ravana had taken Sita away. He had tried in vain to release her from Ravana’s clutches. Sugriva provided the second lead. He had seen a woman in the air struggling in the arms of a ferocious looking man. She had thrown down a little cloth bundle. Sugriva had kept it safely. He now showed it to Rama. Lakshmana immediately recognised Sita's anklet in the bundle. He had always been worshipping at the feet of Sita. He could easily recognise the ornament that had been adorning her feet! They

19

The path of truth

still had no clue about the place where Ravana would be holding her captive. While wandering clueless they chanced upon an old infirm bird. He had overhead them talking about Jatayu. He said he was Sampati, the older brother of Jatayu. He knew everything about the islands in the southern ocean. He told them whatever he knew about Lanka, the island kingdom of the demon king Ravana. They hastened southward to land's end. They stood facing the vast expanse of water. Rama was at a loss to figure out how they could ever cross the ocean to rescue his wife. Everyone looked up to Hanuman. He was the only monkey powerful enough to jump across an ocean! Hanuman made one giant leap over water to land in Lanka.

LANKA Lankalakshmi was the awesome female demon guarding the outer gate of Ravana’s capital. Hanuman knocked her down with a sleight of his left hand. He then walked stealthily into the ladies’ quarter of the palace, hoping to find Sita there. He initially mistook a lady of infinite charm lying in luxury in one of the rooms as Sita. He then realized Sita would never have accepted such hospitality. He felt ashamed at his hasty and foolish conclusion. He later came to know that she was Mandodari, the wife of Ravana. Hanuman had a peek into a room where he found the strong and able bodied Ravana in deep slumber and great splendour amidst a bevy of exceptionally beautiful maidens. Hanuman spent the night hiding in the palace garden. He did not notice Sita who had chosen to spend her days in captivity underneath a tree in the garden. He had never seen Sita before. It was also a dark night. Early morning he saw Ravana looking dazzling in his royal robes walking in, followed by pretty damsels holding jars of wine. Ravana tried his best to charm Sita into agreeing to be his wife. He used in vain both enticements and threats. He finally stormed out of the garden. Hanuman approached Sita with soft and reassuring steps, singing a hymn in praise of Rama. The sorrowful Sita brightened up when she realized who Hanuman was. He told her that Rama would soon rescue her.

20

The path of truth

He then went on a rampage of the entire city. The guards had a tough time overwhelming Hanuman and taking him to the court of Ravana. Hanuman matched Ravana in anger and arrogance. He threatened Ravana with immediate war if he did not send Sita back. “Set his tail on fire,” thundered Ravana, “that’ll teach this haughty monkey a good lesson.” Hanuman used his tail on fire as a toy for arson. He went around setting most of the city on fire before jumping into the ocean on his return journey. Of all the demons of Lanka only two had won the respect of Hanuman. Ravana’s wife Mandodari by her noble bearing and charm and his brother Vibheeshana who seemed critical of Ravana’s misdeeds. True to the early impressions that Hanuman carried, Vibheeshana defected to Rama’s camp just before Rama launched his assault on Lanka. His conduct turned out to be in sharp contrast with the way in which his brother Kumbhakarna, equally critical of Ravana’s methods, chose to fight for the king and the kingdom and would finally give up his life fighting Rama in a ferocious battle that initially would fill the monkey brigade with the fear of defeat.

RAVANA Hanuman told Rama about Sita’s resolve to give up her life if Rama would not rescue her within a month. Rama lost no time in organizing the assault. They built a stone bridge across the sea to Lanka. They broke into teams led by stalwarts like Rama himself, Lakshmana, Hanuman, Sugriva, Angada and Nila. They effectively surrounded the capital of Ravana, blocking all the exits. Rama sent Angada, the son of late Bali, to Ravana as a messenger of peace in his final attempt at reconciliation. Ravana would hear nothing about it. He threatened to kill the messenger. Angada, slighted and angry, led the first assault. The equally strong Indrajit, one of the sons of Ravana, stopped him in his advance. The tide soon turned in favour of the attacking army. Hanuman killed Dhumraksha, the bravest of Ravana’s warriors. He also killed Akampana, a demon highly skilled in archery. Nila killed Prahasta. Hanuman stopped Ravana in his ferocious march and engaged him in a one-to-one combat. They were surprised at each other’s invincible strength.

21

The path of truth

Later, when Ravana aloft on his chariot challenged Rama, Hanuman offered his strong shoulders as a carriage for Rama. Ravana became so tired he could no longer hold on. Rama sensed victory. But his sense of fairness had the upper hand. He let Ravana go, telling him to return to his palace for rest. The arrogant and fearless demon king of Lanka must have been humiliated by Rama’s noble gesture. Rama had already won the psychological war! Ravana was losing all his key men. His brother Kumbhakarna was no match for Rama’s archery. So was Makaraksha. Lakshmana killed Atikaya and Indrajit. Hanuman accounted for Nikumbha. Sugriva chipped in with the brutal killing of Viroopaksha. The final battle with Ravana turned out to be extremely strenuous for both Rama and Lakshmana. Ravana inflicted a near fatal wound on Lakshmana. The presence of mind of the wise and resourceful Hanuman, who lost no time in getting the right herbs for healing the wound, saved Lakshmana from certain death. It seemed for a while that the flag of victory was fluttering atop the magnificent chariot of Ravana. Rama had no chariot. He fought valiantly with his feet firmly on the ground. He deserved the final victory, for he was riding the chariot of strategy powered by horses of restraint. He held the reins of compassion in his hands. His flag of truth and righteousness fluttered high in the air.

RAMA A person as loyal and devout as Hanuman was surprised when Rama showed no apparent eagerness to rush to Sita. Rama waited till Vibhishana was made the king after the funeral of Ravana. He then asked Hanuman to meet Sita after getting the nod from the new king. Sita was overjoyed to hear the news of Rama’s victory. She wanted to meet her husband immediately. Hanuman hastened back to Rama with her request. Rama asked Vibhishana to lead her to him after she had her bath and wore fine clothes and jewellery. What Rama told Sita when he finally met her shocked Hanuman and Lakshmana alike. He said that the attack on Lanka was not for her, but for the sake of justice and honour. Due to her long stay at Ravana’s place, her purity was now suspect. “You have become a blot of sin and shame on my fame,” he said. “Go away to wherever you may. I’ll not have anything to do with you now. You may live with my brothers or Vibhishana or Sugriva.” It was as if his eyes were too sick to look at the bright lamp that was Sita. Sin, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder or in the mind of the perceiver.

22

The path of truth

Sita could not believe her ears. She asserted that Ravana had not touched her even once in Lanka. She would have killed herself during her ignoble imprisonment had not Hanuman come with the assurance of her imminent rescue. She suddenly turned to Lakshmana. She asked him to make a pyre of fire. He reluctantly did it hoping that Rama would stop this cruel and unnecessary test. Sita announced her intention of walking into the leaping flames of fire to prove her innocence. Hanuman’s soft voice choked when he told me that he had moved closer to the fire to rescue her in case she harmed herself. He had always believed that it was only her prayers that had saved him from fire in Lanka during his first visit to locate her. To everyone’s relief and disbelief she came out unscathed. Did Rama’s sense of fairness and justice come unscathed out of this test by fire? It was celebration time for the entire city when finally Rama, Sita and Lakshmana arrived in Ayodhya. Rama made me sit on his lap and held me there for long. I lost no time in bringing his sandals from his throne and offering them at his feet. With happiness and relief filling my heart and pride swelling in my body, I returned the kingdom to him. I had ruled the country the way he wanted. The fame, wealth and granary of the kingdom had increased tenfold in these fourteen years. Lakshmana could not hide his smile when he described how a lighthearted jest by Rama had led to the abduction of Sita. Ravana’s sister Shoorpanakha happened to set her lustful eyes on the handsome Rama during their stay at Panchavati in the eleventh year of their exile. She approached Rama with eyes that dripped with desire. Rama drove her away, “Look, my wife is here with me. You can try Lakshmana over there. He’s without female company.” Lakshmana too played his part well. He told her, “I’m just a servant here. Instead of being content with serving the servant, you could as well serve the master.” She went back to Rama. When he continued to be evasive, she went red with anger in her demonic way and tried to maul Sita in her frustration. At this point Lakshmana drew his sword out and chopped off her nose and ears. “She ran away screaming. Ravana avenged her humiliation by abducting Sita, hoping to make her his wife. He must have reasoned that a lesser punishment would not meet the ends of justice for our irreverent and arrogant act,” chuckled Lakshmana.

23

The path of truth

His smile deserted him when he described how he had been tricked into leaving Sita unguarded in their forest hut. Ravana had organized his treachery so well that he simply had to come to Sita disguised as a hermit to grab her and lift her up with his powerful left hand and make off at lightning speed. Ravana had first sent his magician-uncle Mareecha to lure Rama away. Mareecha created the illusion of a strange and beautiful deer by hallucination. Sita, fascinated by the deer, pleaded with Rama to fetch it for her. Rama then asked Lakshmana to not leave her alone till he came back. After some time, worried that Rama was taking too long a time and disturbed by strange sounds, Sita asked Lakshmana to go in search of Rama. When he was reluctant to leave his position as her protector, she became so annoyed she suggested he had amorous designs on her. Stung by her insinuation he had to leave her unguarded for some time. Ravana, who must have been hiding nearby, made full use of this lapse. Lakshmana could not help his sobs when he described his agitation on not finding her in the hut when they came back after slaying the sly Mareecha. The entire chain of events leading finally to the rescue of Sita seemed to be flashing in his mind when Lakshmana narrated the incidents of those fateful days. Peace, happiness and prosperity returned to our lives. The people of Ayodhya had not seen better times. All four of us experienced uninterrupted domestic bliss for the first time. It was too good to last. One day Rama summoned me in a state of distress. I rushed to his chambers in the palace. Lakshmana and Shatrugna were also there. Rama’s face had turned pale. His voice lacked the usual firmness. He said in a diffident tone, “People have been uttering slander against Sita. She had the test of fire in Lanka. Yet, they have been suspecting her character. They do not want their king to live in marriage with a queen who had stayed with Ravana for some time.” Before any of us could counter his line of thinking, he ordered Lakshmana to take Sita away the very next morning and abandon her in the forest near the ashram of the great sage Valmiki across the river Tamasa. The next day Lakshmana was heart-broken when he narrated his ride with Sita to the woods. She had thought he was taking her for a visit to the sages. After crossing the river in a boat he fell at her feet and started sobbing. She was taken aback by this unexpected gesture. With his head down with shame he told her the fact. She accepted her

24

The path of truth

fate with composure and characteristic resignation, “Please go back with peace, don’t have any remorse. I was born to grieve. The abiding emotion of my life is sorrow.” He left her wandering in the wilderness. He seemed lost in a wilderness of puzzle and confusion. He remembered an incident that had happened when Rama and he had gone with Sage Viswamitra to rid his hermitage of marauding bands of demons. They saw an ancient grove near the city of Mithila. The sage told them that the grove used to be the abode of a great sage called Gautama. His fair and beautiful wife Ahalya had been disloyal to him. She, smitten by the fire of desire, had yielded to the lust of Indra. Gautama found this out and condemned her to a long period of solitary and invisible stillness in the grove. The young Rama purified her of sin and shame. He freed her from her invisible state of stillness. He brought her back to normal life and reunion with her husband. Now Lakshmana was at a loss to reconcile the generosity and large heartedness that Rama had shown to a sinner with what he did to his innocent wife. He had forgiven and blessed a sinner to unite her with her husband. But he would separate his unblemished wife from himself, sending her to an uncertain life of rigour and solitude in the deep forest. Rama continued to reign over Ayodhya as a model ruler. He hardly ever showed any external signs of his inner conflicts or pangs of sorrow tinged with guilt. His brothers were more fortunate. Our wives gifted us with two sons each. Mandvi gave me Taksha and Pushkala. Urmila gave Chandraketu and Angada to Lakshmana. Srutikirti bore Shatrugna two fine sons in Subahu and Shatrukhadi.

SITA As years rolled on, I could sense growing uneasiness in Rama. He was getting restless about isolated incidents of robbery and killings in the kingdom. He and Lakshmana combed the country. They came across Shambuka on an extremely rigorous meditation with his body hung head down. Rama assumed that this arrogant act by the lowcaste Shambuka must have been causing those incidents. He chopped off the poor ascetic’s head. There were a few sages like Dwijarshabha who had ordained that the low-caste had no right to meditate! I would not venture a guess about what Jaabaali would say on this. To declare his pre-eminence in the country and the neighbourhood Rama decided to hold aswamedhayaga by sacrificing an all-conquering horse. Organising the yaga turned out to be a matter of relief from the routine for me. Sages and ascetics, kings and princes, actors and drummers…. The yaga would run for days. Rama was present in person every day. A gold statuette of Sita took the

25

The path of truth

place of the absent queen. Could we not have brought Sita back for the yaga, reversing a definite blot on Rama’s record of fairness? The yaga was also to seek forgiveness for mistakes made. The visit of the poet-sage Valmiki during the yaga had in it, unknown though to us, the tidings of a great upheaval about to happen. Shortly after that, two young boys, clad in hermit clothing but luxuriously radiant like the sun, came singing. Their rhapsody about Rama’s sun-dynasty overwhelmed all those assembled with its sheer melody and poetry. Rama was so moved with their song that he asked me to give them gold in plenty. Our admiration for these extraordinary boys grew more when they refused to accept any material reward. Rama wanted to know more about them. They said Sage Valmiki had sent them here. He was the author of the ballad they were singing. Their mother lived in the ashram. They grew up in the hermitage tutored and mentored by the sage. They did not have to say anything more. Rama, in his sagacity, capped the volcano that had erupted within him. He just requested Lava and Kusha to come back every day and continue with their song. I was amazed at the way Rama checked the well of emotions that were swelling within him. Each song that the boys sang would drown the father in him in intense remorse. After a few days, when the boys were nearing the end of their song of Rama, he told Valmiki that he was ready to take back Sita and his children. He was but plagued by the fear of popular opinion. “Let her go through a final test here in front of all those assembled for the yaga,” said Rama. Valmiki reluctantly agreed. He also had his say, “Sita is extremely virtuous and chaste. She had given birth to these twins in my ashram. May God take away my hard earned status as a sage, if she is guilty! You had sent her away knowing well that she’s pure and innocent.” Rama listened to the learned hermit with bowed head and folded hands. He agreed with whatever Valmiki said, but signalled helplessness. Sita was ushered in. Clad in a simple sheet of saffron hue, she stood motionless with her head bowed down. She did not betray any emotion. She seemed to seek forgiveness of everyone. She did not wait this time for her pyre of fire to be ready. Before we could fathom what was happening, she disappeared, as if drawn by the gravity of the earth, as if she was sucked back into the womb of mother earth.

26

The path of truth

Lava and Kusha grew up in the palace along with my sons and the sons of Lakshmana and Shatrugna. We brought them up as fine princes ready to succeed us whenever their time would come. THE FINAL JOURNEY Some of our provinces on the banks of the river Sindhu were under the threat of attack. Rama asked me to drive away the invaders. I took along my two sons. It would be a good lesson in warfare for them. It was a well-fought battle that we won on the seventh day. Come to think of it, this was the only battle that I had led. After the war, I stayed on for five years training my two sons in statecraft. My elder son Taksha took over Takshasila. My second son Pushkala was given Pushkalavata. I returned to Ayodhya confident that the two boys were well settled in their new roles. When I reached Ayodhya, Rama said it was time for the sons to take over. He agreed to my suggestion to make Lava and Kusha the rulers of the North and the South of Kosala. Mathura went to Subahu and Vaidisha to Shatrukhadi. Lakshmana’s sons Chandraketu and Angada took over other provinces. We had reached the end of our life’s journey. Lakshmana was the first to go. My wait on the banks of Sarayu will soon be over with the coming of Rama and Shatrugna. Am I happy that I have had a complete life? I have churned this ocean of life seeking the immortality of gyan and karma, overcoming the temptations of mohini-lust, iravatpower and lakshmi-lucre. I have been a prince; I have been a hermit. Have I led equally well my extremely austere life as an ascetic and the worldly life as a prince, a husband and a father? Did I have the inner peace of an ascetic and the bliss of a family man? Did I ever do anything that was not fair, that was not just? My mother and my brothers Rama and Lakshmana had misunderstood me. What did I do to deserve that? Let me now hope that I’ve laid at rest all such notions of my ambition. I can hear the sounds from my brothers’ procession. Louder is the call of the river, inviting me on her divine flow to the sea of truth.

Teacher minister doctor Always say things dear To the king out of fear, Then the end is near For the king for sure For his kingdom dear, His name and honour. -Tulasidas (Ramacharitamanas)

27

The path of truth

Bharatakaandam (Malayalam) author Prasad with his paintings

The Path of Truth author C K Kerala Varma

28