You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : April 1997

The 4th Widow of AyodhyA-Part 3 of 8

From: M K Sudarshan (sudarsan_at_batelco.com.bh)
Date: Wed Apr 30 1997 - 07:22:49 PDT

                   THE FOURTH WIDOW OF AYODHYA (continued)
                      ---------------------------

By strange, mysterious coincidence unknown to Rama, his brother Lakshmana,
too, at the very instant was similarly reminiscing his boyhood years in
their father's palace and those happy moments Rama and he'd spent swimming
in the choppy Sarayu during bitterly cold "dhanur" months. 

The "dhanur" month was when the common folk of AyodhyA rushed to the banks
of the Sarayu much earlier than they usually did at other times of the year
for their pre-dawn ritual bath. Then followed day-long rites, penances,
"nOnbu-s" and fasts which the holy "sastrA-s" especially mandated be
observed during the sacred month of "mArga-sIrsa". The women-folk of
AyOdhyA, young nubile maidens, mothers and grand-ladies, were especially the
first ones to flock the river- banks (so they could finish their ablutions
well before the men arrived there for their own "anUshTAnam-s") almost as
soon as the last vestige of the previous night had disappeared and just as
soon as early birds were climbing out of their nesting places, chirping and
cooing, to herald the birth of another fresh day.

The palace protocol of AyodhyA forbade young members of the royal family to
be seen too freely or frequently in public congregations of the common-weal.
(The Queen Kausalya was known to endlessly worry about "evil eyes" and
spells being cast on her handsome princelings! And Rama, who loved mixing
with plebeians, Lakshmana remembered, never tired of arguing with her that
the commoner of AyodhyA would pluck his eyes out first with his own hands
before casting "evil-eyes" on his beloved Rama!!) The only time protocol had
been relaxed was for the "ritual-bath" during the month of "dhanur".

Rama and he, Lakshmana recalled, used to be thrilled with the month-long
suspension of stuffy palace-protocol. It was the only time of the year which
provided them the many outlets for fun and indulgence pre-teen boys like
themselves craved!

They'd both wake up a full hour-and-half earlier than even AyodhyA's
women-folk did in those cold "dhanur" months! Then they'd both rush
forthwith from the palace straight to the Sarayu banks, take in the sights
and savour the joy, the beauty of "bramha-mUhurtam" --- those rare, precious
and serene moments before day-break! They'd wallowed and splashed about in
the pure and bracing waters of the Sarayu all by themselves ....enjoying to
their hearts content the experience of being unshackled from the strict
codes of regimen the great Raghuvamsha- palace otherwise imposed on
princelings ! 

By the time the first of milling crowds of commoners from the city of
AyOdhyA reached the bathing-sites by the river-side, the royal siblings
already'd had their fill of a ritual-bath.

Some "ritual-bath", indeed ! It'd been a bath, Lakshmana recalled with
amusement, with so little of "ritual" and so much more of pure and simple
fun .. frolic...and unbounded boyish glee !

But now, the Rama who lay before him, is he the same exuberant lad of those
happy days ? ... Lakshmana was thinking ... is he the same Rama ? ...who now
lay before him across the camp-site... sprawled on the bare, cold grass in
the wildnerness of Dandakaranya.... shivering beneath a quilt made of a
"rakshAsa's" hide ?

Is it the same Crown Prince of AyodhyA who'd sported with him in the cool
waters of the Sarayu in the carefree days of youth ?

Alas, no .... not anymore... it was definitely not the same Rama of yore !
The Rama who now rested before him was a completely different
person....Lakshmana thought. His brother was virtually unrecognizable .....
it was simply impossible to say he resembled the old Rama ....

This Rama now lying before him was a "dharmic" giant of such proportions
that left men's imaginations utterly boggled! The playful brother of his had
somehow turned over the years into a many-splendoured creature of magnificence !

Rama's life, since the days spent swimming the Sarayu-rapids, had all been
nothing but one long unceasing and awesome record of human rectitude and
righteousness ... which seemed inhuman sometimes .... and always ....godly ..

This Rama who lay before him in the middle of a jungle.... a Prince... who'd
thrown away a kingdom, without a moment's hesitation, for the sake of a
father's misplaced sense of honour....!

This Rama who lay shivering before him in the middle of a jungle... under a
deer-skin rag .... had been able to look Kaikeyi, his step-mother, in the
eye and forgive her wholeheartedly for the perfidy she'd heaped on him .... !!

This Rama, the first-born scion of the IkshvAku-s, who pretended to be
sleeping soundly ...lying amongst the bushes like some savage of the jungle
... this "savage" had firmly refused a Kingdom again when it was sought to
be returned to him on a platter ... refused on a matter of some high and
"dharmi-c" principle again !!!

Lakshmana abruptly realized, with a mixed sense of wonder and absurdity,
that after all the years, he'd yet to understand the essence of this man ...
of this brother... the Lord of AyodhyA ...who once'd been a bonny good
Prince who liked nothing better than a "jala-kreeda" in the Sarayu in the
days of old .....

Who was this Rama ? What really was he ? .... Lakshmana found himself asking.

He'd heard some people secretly say Rama was a fool ! A royal fool ! A fool
who held a mysterious abstraction called "dharma" to be dearer than the cold
reality of self-interest! A pure, good-hearted creature of "krta-yuga"
tragically trapped in the moral morass of the present "trEta-yuga" ! A moral
anachronism ! A misfit in the royal house of the "IkshvAku-s", one who
embraces scruples when he ought to be showing the ruthlessness of a master
statecraftsman ! A wimp! A lamb of a man that sought to hide the meekness of
its will through what it believed was a roaring bleat of high-sounding morals !

Lakshmana'd overheard all those muffled taunts being thrown behind his
brother's back by many people ---- subjects, common-folk, pandits ... why,
by Sage Jabali even, who'd hinted as much, and more, when he came
accompanying Bharatha to parley with and persuade Rama to return to the
kingdom ....

Lakshmana'd heard all those sneers ...and sometimes caught himself sneakily
wondering if they weren't right after all ! 

If Rama hadn't been all that they jeeringly said he indeed was... then
perhaps the Raghuvamsha family could have escaped the tragedy and ignominy
that'd befallen it, couldn't it ?

If only Rama had remained firm in his resolve to ascend the throne of
Ayodhya .... everything would've been in its place, after all, wouldn't it !

Sita would've now been gracing the Court of AyodhyA ? Instead she was now a
pathetic hostage held, perhaps, in some dank dungeon deep in some Lankan
fortress.

And he, Lakshmana, wouldn't be sitting here in the middle of a jungle on a
cold "dhanur" morning... stoking smoke out of a belching camp-fire fuelled
by the damp twigs he'd foraged on the banks of the Godavari ..... far away
from home....so far from the sweet waters of the blessed Sarayu ?

Perhaps Rama was, indeed, a royal fool !

But then Lakshmana asked himself : 

Why'd he felt so compelled to follow Rama, the fool, into exile ?
Why'd dear Sita followed her husband if he was nothing but a fool?
Why'd the people of Ayodhya, en masse, pursued and begged him not to leave them?
Why'd Guha, the jungle-aborigine, opened his hearth and heart to him ?
Why'd poor Bharatha beseeched, again and again, for his return to Ayodhya?
And yet had left quite happily, almost empty-handed, with nothing but Rama's
pair of sandals to serve as a surrogate presence ?
Why'd Sage Jabali trembled like a thoroughly admonished school-boy when Rama
cut short his clever-sounding but "a-sAstrA-ic" diatribe and, in return, had
himself delivered a withering but sterling discourse on what true "dharma" was ?
Why'd Sage AgastyA or Lady Anusuya showered him with their overwhelming love
and kindness?
Why'd the venerable Sage Bharadwaja shown them so much solicitude ?
Why'd the grand old lady of the forest, Sabari, why'd she waited so many
long years just to have him visit her humble hut, and partake of her paltry
hospitality, before she gave up the ghost ?
Why'd a decrepit bird, Jatayu, chosen to give its life for him ?

Why ?.... Why indeed ?

Why did all those people do all that they did ... for a moral anachronism of
the 'trEta-yuga' .... named Rama ?

Lakshmana knew he simply had no answers to such questions! 

He continued staring at the inert figure of Rama as it lay in the darkness
of the jungle ---- a figure that never ceased to inspire awe in him ... awe,
attraction, fear, respect, devotion, humility, love .... all of them ...a
mix of feelings in him which he'd never been able to fully measure ....
since they were all feelings that ran deep, strong and silent .... like the
placid waters of the River Godavari ...as she swiftly meandered through the
dense, green groves that ringed the camp-site .....            
                  ---------------------------------------

(to be continued)

sudarshan