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The 4th Widow of AyodhyA-Part 4 of 8

From: M K Sudarshan (sudarsan_at_batelco.com.bh)
Date: Wed Apr 30 1997 - 23:46:14 PDT

                  THE FOURTH WIDOW OF AYODHYA (continued)
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Rama heard the sound in the same instant as he saw Lakshmana pick it up himself.

The strange sound was a feeble, yet clear, guttural animal grunt. It came
from a distance of about a furlong away and from a bank of wild-bushes
behind the spot Lakshmana was seated.

It lasted for barely a fraction of a second. But it was long and loud enough
for both Rama and Lakshmana to pick it up instantly!

In the jungle one's ability to listen to the faintest sounds of the wild
often determined the difference between survival and death. The slightest of
sounds --- a rustling of the bushes, the cracking of a twig, the snapping of
a tree- branch or the barely audible grunt under an animal's breath ---
these slightest sounds that one picked up in the moments before some
stalking predator attacked, were verily those that protected man. It was not
ability to hunt; or ability to wield weapons; or sheer physical strength
that guaranteed man his safety in the wild jungle; instead, it was the
ability to "listen" and listen sharply, the ability to "pick-up" instantly a
whole "range of sounds" that filled the unique and savage reality of the
forest. It was, indeed, that very special skill to "detect and understand
jungle sounds" that ensured a man's survival... which usually meant either
pre-empting the predator's attack or quickly retreating from it !! 

In a strange sort of way, Rama'd often said to himself, in the jungle one
learnt to be "worshipful" towards its many natural sounds in a very Vedic
sort of way ! After all it was these "sounds" that revealed to him the many
"hidden truths" of the deep wilds; hence one always made an effort to be
ever ready, ever prepared or be ever "all keyed-up" to receive them -- so
that when the "sounds" did come, one welcomed them as an invaluable blessing
of forewarning and protection!

Rama'd felt this "worshipful" response was akin really to that of a Vedic
student, who in order to "survive" another day to learn another "truth",
remains ever reverential towards the "holy sounds of the ancient smriti-s" !

It also perhaps explained, Rama'd thought to himself, why the "rshi-s", the
"tapasvins" and other practitioners of pure Vedic-sound all felt naturally
drawn to spending their lives amidst the elements surrounding the silent and
inscrutable reality of the great "aranyA-s" !!

Rama saw Lakshmana swivel on his haunches and, in the next instant, scoop up
his bow and fit a shaft into it in one swift, fluid movement. The deadly
weapon was drawn in a taut arch until the gut-string groaned in protest
against the severe tension exerted on it by Lakshmana's powerful arms
pulling bow and string wide apart. Lakshmana was down on one knee, in the
classical pose of an expert marksman, pointing his weapon at an unseen
target, his eyes keen and blazing, fixed in the direction from where he'd
heard the faint and hostile sounds of a wild beast a moment ago.

Lakshmana looked fierce and terrible ...! He looked, Rama thought in that
instant, as aroused and as deadly as a magnificent king cobra, its massive
hood flaring menacingly, its hideous, hissing head raised and arched like a
giant bow, its forbidding fangs bared, poised to sink its furious venom in
one vicious stroke of rage uncontrolled.... he looked, indeed, like a
ferocious serpent that'd just been deprived of a moment of coital tenderness
by some unfriendly intruder !

For a brief second, his brother, Lakshmana, resembled some dark and
archetypal spirit of death... of the macabre ....

In the instant before Lakshmana released the missile from his bow Rama
bellowed out to him, "Stop, Lakshmana, stop! Don't shoot!".

Lakshmana's fingers, which were about to uncurl around the feathered root of
the shaft, froze instantly ! 

The bow quivered in his hands; the muscles of his shoulders back writhed in
a paroxysm of pent-up power and high-tension. The power that'd just been
summoned within his body  to let fly, in the next instant, a speeding arrow
along a blinding trajectory, straight and unerringly, to its target, ---
that power'd been, at the very last moment before its launch, been throttled
by a mere command from Rama !

"What're you saying, Rama !", Lakshmana hissed back,"There is a beast out
there stalking us ! I'll bring it down this instant!".

"I know, Lakshmana, it's a beast! But don't shoot, please ! Stop!", cried
Rama laying a restraining arm on his brother's shoulders.

In a moment the blazing eyes of the archer dimmed a little; the muscles
relaxed; the bow slackened.

"What d'you mean, Rama ? This beast out there could attack us any moment now!"

"Back off, Lakshmana, now ! Don't shoot, please!", Rama commanded sternly.

Lakshmana's great bow fell limply by his side. The menacing cobra folded up
its hood and fangs and seemed to retire.

He stood up and faced Rama squarely. "What's the meaning of this, Rama ?"

Rama smiled and spoke calmly, "Lakshmana, you've our father's instincts with
the bow! A very keen one, indeed ! But hold it ! Rein it in, my boy !"

Lakshmana looked at Rama quizzically.

The Lord of Ayodhya smiled again and spoke softly to his brother.

"My dear Lakshmana, d'you remember our father, Dasaratha, too, had the same
ability ?  The same one you were just about to exercise now ! Father, too,
could shoot by sound as well as he did by sight ! A mere sound in the
distance was enough for him to send an arrow after it; he hit his targets
unfailingly! I know you can do it too, my dear brother ! It's a skill any
warrior is proud of! But it's a skill that's already wrought many a tragedy
in the House of the IkshvAku-s ! Once is enough, Lakshmana ! Once is often
enough!"

Lakshmana remained puzzled by his brother's strange outburst.

Rama then turned on his heel and quickly strode away towards the direction
from where the animal sounds had first emanated. 

"Follow me now, Lakshmana," he said,"and you'll see what I'm talking about!".

They ran a few hundred yards into the wilderness until they came into the
dense bank of bushes.

After searching through the dense foliage for a few minutes Rama finally
stopped and raised his arms as if to say, "Sshh....quiet!".

Lakshmana who'd followed behind him, too, stopped in his tracks and asked,
"What's the matter, Rama, it must be some wild beast, isn't it?".

"Look, Lakshmana !", whispered Rama,"Look at the object of the great danger
you were about to slaughter ....with that blind arrow of yours ! Look at it!
Here it is!"

Lakshmana peered from behind Rama's shoulders. 

The sight he saw seemed to hit him with a force that momentarily took his
breath away.

In a muddy burrow on the ground, amidst the bushes under a great log of
forest timber, Rama and Lakshmana, saw a mother, a wild she-boar, who'd just
delivered half-a-dozen young ones ! 

She was still in some sort of discomfort after what must have been a few
painful hours of labour. Yet the suckling mother-boar seemed to look
ecstatic; the just-born cute little-ones greedily cuddled her teats heavy
with the warm and fresh milk of new promise, new life !!

Rama and Lakshmana gazed for a long moment at the picture of mother and
infant... and felt their heart-strings tug. 

And then the brothers quietly withdrew, leaving the she-boar to her moments
of quiet eternity with the just-born ones.

As they made their way slowly back to their camp-site, Rama spoke softly,
pensively, more to himself, it seemed, than to the thoroughly shaken Lakshmana.

"This is the holy month of "dhanur", my dear Lakshmana. This is the time
when one waits for the early hours of pre-dawn, the "bramha-mUhUrta". It's
the hour when the "devatA-s", the gods and manes themselves visit us in this
world. They beseech us to observe the 'sAstra-ic' injunctions ---- the
ritual-bath, the offering of oblations, the fasts, the offering of worship,
other "samskArA-s"... It's the special moment of our lives....

"It's a special moment when the gods protect us unasked even, Lakshmana.
They protect us from evil, the sins, our lapses and endless transgressions
in life. They protect us from the "karma-s" of our lives and that of our
forebears too... from all that is untoward or inauspicious...

"It's the hour that every man should look forward to in his life ... for
it's the hour when he can easily seek release, pardon or protection from
powers much larger than human ...more than godly... from a Power which is
All-Compassion....

"If you think about it, Lakshmana, it's perhaps that great, Compassionate
Power that rules the "dhanur" month which, without our seeking It even, has
just saved us both from committing an act of heinous "pApa-karmA" .... the
wages of which would've haunted us as surely as those that afflicted our
father, Dasaratha, when, many ages ago, he did something exactly the same as
what you were about to do : dealing death to innocent beings in the forests
...callously, irresponsibly.. .. and unthinkingly.... 

"Think of the protection that you and I've just received and been blessed
with, Lakshmana ....and thank that All-Compassionate Power of the "dhanur"
months. It has just granted us protection from a grim fate that befell our
own father, a great warrior, who shot with skill, but alas, without wisdom
.... and reaped the consequences .... terrible consequences both for himself
and his progeny...of which you and I, here and now, are part of ...and all
that we know our great family, our great lineage, suffers today... all that,
too, is part......

"Think of what's just happened, Lakshmana ... and rejoice that in this holy
moment in "dhanur" we have been spared of a deed .... which would've surely
resulted in the same "karmA" our unfortunate and dear father fell victim to
.. ..the same "karmA" repeating itself in our own lives as well ..."

Lakshmana heard Rama in stunned and absolute silence.

He deeply understood what Rama was saying.

Then he heard Rama say in a quiet voice:

"Let's go fortwith to the River Godavari, my dear Laskhmana, for it's the
time for the "ritual-bath" of the "dhanur-month". It's time for the
"anushtAnam-s" of thanksgiving to the "dEvatA-s" !"

Lakshmana replied, "I suppose, it is indeed. Let's go".

They both strode quickly towards the river-side.   
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(to be continued)

sudarshan