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Musings on "sita's agni-pravEsam" #10

From: sudarshan (
Date: Tue Dec 08 1998 - 09:28:19 PST

Dear Sri.S.H.Krishnan & other members who are following this thread,

It was in unequivocal terms that Rama made known to
Sita, and to the world at large, that he would'nt in the least hesitate to
go the farthest, go to the most painful length of any sacrifice, howsoever
great or sacred, in order to stand by a solemn word of honour given by Him
to the faithful ones of "Dandakaranya" who had entrusted their
destiny unto Him. 

"apyaham jivitam jahyAm vA seethE salakshNAm I
  na tu pratig~nyAm samsrutya brAhmanEBhyO vishEshata-ha II" 

  (III.10.19 of Valmiki Ramayanam) 

This is a grandiloquent pronouncement made by Sri.Rama... a profound one
and heavily commented upon over the ages by legions of Ramayana scholars of
different doctrinal hue and predilection. It will bear a little scrutiny in
the limited context of our ongoing discussion on "sita's agni-pravEsam"

Sri.Rama's pronouncement is extremely significant on several scores:

(1) It reveals the Lord's absolute resolve to the go the very last mile ...
yard or inch... in ensuring that His Will be done ("bhagavath-pratig~nyA").

(2) It reveals that His Will be done at any cost .... He makes it
abundantly clear to Sita that in the course of their respective
"avatAra-kAla" on earth, if circumstances conspire to bring about His
having to sacrificing Her.... if that were the only way to keep His resolve
of protecting the faithful.... so be it...there would'nt be a moment's
hesitation on His part in proceeding to do so. 

Now, from the hindsight offered us by the latter incident of "Sita's
agni-pravEsam", may we not reasonably conclude that in making the haziest
of suggestions of "Her sacrifice" here, Sri.Rama was, in truth, hinting not
at a hypothetical but an actual possibility?

Is it not implicitly but patently clear in this statement here of Rama that
if circumstances ever transpired calling for Her "sacrifice", He would
expect Sita to readily and willingly offer Herself for such an
eventuality ------ if for nothing else but to demonstrate to the world at
large..... that the Lord's Will ....inexorably and inevitably .... be done!
And since we know that Sita was His own inseparable and beloved 
"saha-dharma-chAriNI", would Sri.Rama have been grossly mistaken in such
expectation? No.

(3) The most interesting phrase in this celebrated Valmiki-verse used by
Sri.Rama is, however "brAhmanEBhyO vishEshata-ha ...".

In using this singularly significant expression, Sri.Rama was laying
particular emphasis on His being beholden to "brahmins".... We must take it
to mean that Sri.Rama regarded His bounden duty to protect faithful
"brahmins" very, very, very seriously indeed! So great was His resolve to
protect the interests of those "brahmins" who abided faith in Him, and Him
alone, that Sri.Rama did not consider it a great cost to expend Lakshmana
or Sita in the process.

The interesting question to ask here at this point is, who are these
Brahmins Lord Rama is referring to?

The most obvious answer, and the most literal one too in the dramatic
context of the "aranya-kAndam", is that the great "rshi-s", sages and seers
of the Dandaka forests who had sought His protection (against "rAkshasA"
raids) in the course of performing their "yagnyam-s", ritualistic
sacrifices..... they are verily the "brahmins" Sri.Rama was referring to.

The unusual, but more profound answer is that it was not "brahmins"
per se as personal entitities that the Lord was referring to, but more
importantly, it was "the brahminic Way, the brahminic Ideal and the
brahminic endeavour in life" which was being specifically called to

In making His magnificent pronouncement in Valmiki's III.10.19 Sri.Rama was
thus solemnly declaring that He would not hesitate for even an instant to
go out on all limbs to protect the "brahminic Ideal" at any cost..... even
at the cost of sacrificing Lakshmana or Sita. (In saying so, what a
breathtaking contrast Sri.Rama is, indeed, I might be permitted to say in
passing, what a wonderful contrast the Lord was to some of our present-day
politicians in TamilNadu who go around saying the inverse with smug
that "it is not brahmins we are against, but Brahminism", as if in saying
so it betokens their secular, modern, progressive and cosmopolitan values!)

But "what is this brahminic Way?", we may ask ourselves.
"What is the brahminic Ideal, the brahminic endeavour of life" which Lord
Rama swore to protect at the cost of even Sita?".

The answer is simple and direct :

The Way of the Vedas.... the "path of eternal truth".... is indeed the
"brahminic Ideal" in pursuit of which men of wisdom perennially endeavour
to live. It is for the protection of that Ideal, that noblest of all
endeavour in life, it is for that indeed the Lord pronounced to Sita and
bid Her too thereby
to prepare for the test of "agni-pravEsam":

"apyaham jivitam jahyAm vA seethE salakshNAm I
  na tu pratig~nyAm samsrutya brAhmanEBhyO vishEshata-ha II" 

  (III.10.19 of Valmiki Ramayanam) 
 ***********             **************             ****************

Now, how do we proceed to relate the above pronouncement of Lord Rama, how
do we relate its underlying Vedic agenda to the event of Sita's ordeal
through the"agni-pravEsam" ? First we must spend time and effort in
examining a little further the scenes leading to the "agni-pravEsam".  

Next post.

adiyEn dAsAnu-dAsan,