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AFTER Rama left his father's presence
with these words, the stricken King lay
prostrated in speechless sorrow, and it was
some time before he could muster his
faculties sufficiently even to think.
When he recovered some strength, he
muttered half unconsciously: "Surely I
must in a previous birth have inflicted
hideous suffering to loving hearts. I must
have torn calves from their mothers,
children from their parents, husbands
from their wives. How else could I suffer
thus? And death does not come when we
want it. And I have to endure the torture
of always having before my mind's eye
my godlike son deprived of his birthright
and forced into the bark-garments of a
hermit. O life, how bitterly you cling to
those who would be rid of you! Rama has
gone into exile and yet I do not die! Rama
... Rama ... Have you gone? ..."
A little later, his mind clearer, the King
said: "Sumantra, get ready the chariot and
take my sons and Janaki to the frontier of
Lakshmana touched the feet of his
mother Sumitra and uttered the single
word "Mother." She embraced him, kissed
his head and said: "Your devotion to your
brother has filled your mother's heart with
pride and joy. It is your duty, child, to
guard and serve Rama. Always stand in
vigilant watch by Rama's side in the
forest. Your elder brother is to you both
preceptor and king. This is the dharma of
our race. Go with my blessing,
Lakshmana. In the forest, regard Rama as
your father and look upon Janaki as
myself and the forest will be to you as
Ayodhya. Go cheerfully, my dear son, and
God bless you."
In the Ramayana, Sumitra is a woman
of few words and mature wisdom and
great tact and infinite courage, full of
faith, in whom 'hope shines like a fame
when it has gone out in all others.' The
tradition is that Sumitra knew Rama's
divinity and the purpose of his incarnation
and that this enabled her not only to
comfort Kausalya but to see a holy
ministration in Lakshmana's sharing
Sumitra said: "Ascend the chariot, O
Prince. God blesses you. Tell me where I
am to drive, for the fourteen-year period
has begun, my Prince."
Sita got up the chariot cheerfully.
Kausalya had made up for her a packet of
personal requirements. The shields, bows
and arrows and other weapons of the two
brothers together with pickaxes and
baskets were placed in the chariot.
Pickaxes and baskets are essential in the
forest. Rama and Lakshmana ascended the
chariot. Sumantra drove it forward.
Let us pause a while at this stage when
Rama's forest life begins, and pray that we
may be purified of our sins. Truth,
courage and love are the gospel of the
Ramayana to us. To give it to us was
Rama born. We shall gain these gifts if we
meditate on the Princes and Janaki in the
bark habiliment as they left the city.
The crowds in the street cried to the
charioteer: "Go slow, go slow. Let us have
a look at Rama's face. Alas, Alas, who
could send such children to the forest?
How could their mothers endure this
sorrow and survive? Look at Vaidehi's
face. She is indeed blessed. And
Lakshmana is happy to have such a
brother to whom he can give devoted
service. He is indeed a hero and a knower
of dharma." So the people of the city
talked among themselves as they followed
the chariot. And their grief swelled like a
Rama was saying to the good
charioteer, "Faster, faster" The people
were saying, "slow, slow." And the crowd
became bigger and bigger. Sumantra
managed somehow to take the chariot out
of the press of the mourning town where,
in addition to the loud sorrow of the
crowded streets, the houses were full of
mourning women and children.
The King stepped out of Kaikeyi's
apartment and looked at the departing
chariot. A long time he stood there
watching the cloud of dust as though he
saw in it the beloved form of Rama. When
even this went out of sight, he fell down,
moaning. Kausalya and Kaikeyi sat on
"Do not touch me," said Dasaratha to
Kaikeyi. "I hate the sight of you, sinful
woman! Everything is at an end between
you and me. I renounce you here and
"If Bharata agrees to your
arrangements and accepts the kingdom,"
he said again, "he need not perform my
obsequies, and even if he did, my departed
spirit would reject his offering of waters.
How can Rama live in the forest? Will he
sleep on the bare ground with a stone or a
log for a pillow? Will he eat fruits and
Thus the king went on lamenting
Sometimes he would turn to Kaikeyi
and say, "May you be happy in your
success! Long may you live a happy
Heart-broken and empty like one
returning home from the cremation
ground, he entered Kaikeyi's apartment by
force of habit; then suddenly he said, "Not
here. Take me to the dwelling of
And so they did, and there he lay
waiting for his end.
At midnight, he said, "Kausalya, are
you there? Touch me with your hand. My
sight is gone with Rama."
Poor Kausalya did her best to comfort
the King, but what comfort was there in
her wounded heart to give? For as the
slow sorrow-laden hours crawled from
watch to watch, the cold night seemed to
her a devouring flame, and the gentle
moon fierce as the noonday sun.
To her thus sorrowing Sumitra said:
"Sister, you have heard the Shastras and
know dharma. Why should you grieve like
this? It is your office to put courage in
others, you should not lose heart yourself.
Rama has gone to the forest for guarding
the King's honor. You are indeed blessed
among women, for you are the mother of
a hero who has scorned a kingdom and
preferred to uphold his father's honor.
Why should you grieve for a son who
fulfils a difficult duty to perfection? We
should not feel sorry for one who walks in
the path of his ancestors and wins undying
fame. I am proud that Lakshmana has
accompanied Rama. Janaki, though
knowing well the hardships she has to
face, has also gone with her husband.
Rama's glory will shine like an undying
lamp. This is no occasion for grief. His
purity, his virtue shall be a shield and
armor to them. He is so great and holy
that the sunrays falling on him will not
burn him and the wind that blows will
caress him with its coolness. His pure
frame, as he sleeps at night, will be
embraced and protected by the moon-
beams as an infant is by its loving mother.
Shed all anxiety over your heroic son. No
foe can en counter him and escape with
life. Our Rama is endowed with all
auspicious qualities. Your hero son will
surely return to Ayodhya and ascend the
throne. The Lord of the world, and no
other, is Rama. Sita is with him, and Sita
is no other than the Goddess Lakshmi.
Rama will return and ascending the throne
will fill with delight the kingdom which
now laments his exile. You saw the grief
of the citizens as they watched his
departure. My heroic son, the devoted
Lakshmana, armed with bow and sword,
has gone with him to guard his person. No
harm, no danger can approach Rama. You
will see with your own eyes Rama
returning after fulfilment of his vow.
Believe me, Rama will return, beautiful
like the full moon, and touch your feet
with joy and devotion. You will then shed
tears not of grief but of joy. Dear, dear
Kausalya, give up your grief. You will see
the three of them returning. You should
console and encourage the other women
in the palace and not stand broken-hearted
yourself. Who else in this world stands
firm by dharma like Rama? Is this a cause
for grief? No, be proud of your son,
Listening to Sumitra's words, Kausalya
was somewhat consoled.
The people of the city followed Rama's
chariot in a huge crowd. They tried to stop
the chariot, shouting, "Do not go to the
forest. Return to the city."
"I am going to the forest to uphold my
father's, word," Rama said. "There is no
time for sorrow here and you should not
seek to hinder me."
But the people would not listen to him,
and went in crowds after him shouting
wildly: "Do not go to the forest, do not go
to the forest!" Rama stopped the chariot
and addressed them with his eyes full of
love for them: "Citizens of Ayodhya, I
know the love you bear for me. You will
show it best by transferring it on my
behalf, and at my behest, to my beloved
brother Bharata. Nothing else will please
me more. Bharata is good and noble, has
all royal qualities and is fully worthy of
love. So conduct yourselves as to please
him. Young in years, he is old in wisdom
and his heart is at once heroic and tender.
He has the strength to protect you. He is
your king, and you owe him loyalty and
affection. I am going to the forest to fulfil
my father word and the King has
appointed Bharata as Yuvaraja. He is in
every way fitted for that position. You and
I alike should obey the King's commands.
You should go back and try to mitigate
the sorrow of my father at parting from
Thus Rama spoke to them in kindly
tones. But they loved him all the more
because of this and would not be
consoled. Some Brahmanas, old in years
and excellent in virtue, looking at the
chariot wept and cried: "Why, O horses,
do you carry our Rama into the forest?
We have heard it said that horses are
sharp of hearing. Listen to us then and
bring back our Rama."
Hearing these words of yearning from
old Brahmanas, Rama stopped the chariot.
The three descended from it and went
The common people, leading citizens
and wise elders, men of penance, why,
even the birds on wings, tried to prevent
Rama from going to the forest. The river
Tamasa, says the poet, seemed to conspire
with them, for now it flowed across his
path. The chariot stopped on the
riverbank. Sumantra unyoked and watered
the horses and let them loose to graze.
Rama said: "Lakshmana, this is the
first night of our forest life. Let us spend it
on the bank of this holy river. Life in the
forest holds no hardship, as you and I
know. Look, the birds, the animals and
even the trees seem to sympathise with us.
The only pain is when we think of the
grief of our parents in Ayodhya, though I
feel reassured as I think of Bharata's
nobility and goodness. He will assuredly
tend our parents with true affection.
Sumantra, go, look after the horses."
Then, Rama offered the evening
prayers by the river and said: "Let us fast
on this first night of our forest life,
Lakshmana. Your presence by my side
rids me of all care."
Lakshmana spread some grass on the
ground for Rama and Sita to sleep on but
he himself spent the night in vigil talking
Long before dawn Rama rose from
sleep and told Sumantra: "The citizens
who have followed us, fatigued by their
long journey, are fast asleep. I am deeply
moved by their affection; but I cannot
permit their love to force me to go back.
Let us therefore, move on even now,
while they are yet asleep."
The horses were harnessed and the
chariot slowly crossed the river. Standing
on the southern bank, Rama told
"If you take the chariot to the other
shore, where the people are asleep, and
drive it for a little distance towards
Ayodhya and then bring it back to this
side, we can proceed on our journey
before they wake up. They will see the
track of the chariot going towards the city,
and thinking that we have returned home,
may themselves go back. Unless you do
this the crowd will go on following us."
Sumantra did this and, when the
chariot returned, the three got into it again
and proceeded southwards.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?