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The 4th Widow of AyodhyA-CONCLUSION

From: M K Sudarshan (sudarsan_at_batelco.com.bh)
Date: Fri May 02 1997 - 07:53:22 PDT

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

"Lakshmana, my dear brother, you insist on sharing my distress. So be it,
then! Listen, if you must, to my grief,".

The Lord of Ayodhya, in a voice turned gravelly and choking with emotion,
continued, "D'you remember the "dhanur" months you and I spent swimming in
the Sarayu ?"

Lakshmana looked very surprised.

What a coincidence that Rama should ask him the question about a boyhood
memory that he'd himself been thinking about just a while ago back at the
camp-site!

"Yes, I do, Rama, and very vividly, too" he replied.

"Those mornings used to be bitterly cold, weren't they?"

"Yes, indeed ...colder than these currents of the Godavari."

"And yet we used to rush to the bathing-ghats before anyone else got there!"

Lakshmana chuckled softly at the memory.

"That's because we'd wanted, Rama, to have the place all to ourselves! We'd
wanted our fun --- all that diving, snorkelling, splashing we did! We'd
wanted to have the Sarayu all to ourselves, remember ? ...before even the
women-folk from the city got there", said Lakshmana recalling again those
halcyon days.

"Yes,indeed! so you do remember, eh," said Rama, "But tell me,Lakshmana,
whom did we usually meet first on the banks of the Sarayu as we returned to
the palace AFTER the ritual-bath?"

"The city's women-folk. I remember them hurrying to the bathing-ghats before
the men arrived there", said Lakshmana.

"Can you recall meeting anyone else ? Someone trying to beat even the
women-folk first to the river-side ?", asked Rama.

Lakshmana thought for a moment.

"I can't remember, Rama, it was all so long ago.... Why d'you ask ?"

"The widows. Can you recall the widows of AyOdhya, Lakshmana ? D'you
remember them ?"

A wave of nostalgia suddenly swept Lakshmana!

An old, erased memory from the deepest cranny of his mind suddenly surfaced.
He remembered exactly what Rama was trying to recall!

"Oh, yes, Rama, I remember! I do, I do now!", he exclaimed.

"You mean those poor widows of AyodhyA, don't you, Rama ?! Yes, I remember
them! We passed them by, the poor wretched souls! They used to furtively
scamper towards the bathing-ghats to finish their ablutions ...before anyone
else saw them there on the Sarayu banks, right ?".

"Yes, exactly, I'm talking about them, my dear Lakshmana," said Rama, "D'you
remember how the poor creatures wrapped themselves in shrouds and sneaked
across like thieves through the shadows ....in the streets of AyodhyA, in
those earliest hours of the day! The poor women used to be desperate to
avoid being noticed by anyone else on the street !"

"Yeah, I remember the widows, Rama," Lakshmana exclaimed,"But I'd always
wondered why they were so scared to be seen going to the Sarayu for the
"dhanur" month ritual-bath. Is it taboo, or something, for widows to be seen
out on the Sarayu during the holy month ?"

"No taboo, brother," replied Rama, "After all, that great Compassionate One
who presides over the month of "mArga-sIrsA", d'you think, Lakshmana, the
Spirit of Compassion, that "dEvatA" would grudge compassion to widows ?! Is
there anyone in this wide world who needs compassion more than a hapless
widow, Lakshmana ! None !"

"For young maidens, Lakshmana, a ritual-bath in the months of "dhanur" is
believed to fetch them good husbands. So ordinary folk cannot understand why
widows should want to secretively have a ritual-bath in the Sarayu !!

"Hard hearts cannot understand, Lakshmana, that a widow, who has lost a
husband in this world, alas, also pines for another good, eternal husband in
the other world ! She who has been cruelly denied the love of a husband in
this world... what wrong is there if she yearns for the Love of that Supreme
Lord in Heaven as her only Eternal Husband in the life hereafter ! And if a
mere ritual bath in the Sarayu is believed to help a widow secure that goal
... what harm is there in it, Lakshmana ?

"And yet, Lakshmana, those widows dreaded being discovered on their way to
the ritual-bath! They dreaded the ordinary folk of Ayodhya city! D'you know why?

"Because, Lakshmana, the folk would jeer at them loudly ! The folk would
humiliate them openly. They'd sneer at them ....I've heard them yell ... "Oh
Ho! Behold, there goes a widow to her ritual-bath! My... my .... my ! What a
pretty sight we've here, don't we!", they'd jeer loudly ...."A
"ritual-bath", indeed! For a widow! To please the gods, eh? Or maybe it's a
"beauty-bath"! For the sake of a secret paramour on the river-side ?! Ah,
who can tell! A widow's mind is a wicked mystery, indeed! See off a husband
to the other world and get on with with a merry dalliance on the Sarayu, eh
? On the pre-text of a "dhanur-mAsa" rite !" ..... "Shame on these widows!
Look at the devils ! Look at them stealing away, at the unearthly hour, to
their appointment with sin!"

Rama continued, "They'd heckle them all mercilessly, Lakshmana, I'd seen it
happen many times while we returned from the Sarayu after own bath! 

"I knew it then, I know it now .... Lakshmana, believe me, there's nothing
more wretched on earth than the plight of a young widow cowering in the
shadows that darken the streets of AyodhyA !"

Lakshmana listened quietly.

After a while he asked, "Rama, which one of those widows of AyodhyA are you
grieving for now ?! My brother, what's wrong with you? I do not understand
you at all ! Pray tell me what's really the matter with you ?!!"

"I grieve for the 4th widow -- a young widow -- from the palace of the
IkshvAku, Lakshmana!

"I can see now, in my mind's eye, that poor soul running to the banks of the
Sarayu ....surreptitiously... for a ritual-bath in this icy month of
"dhanur"! This poor widow, too, covers herself in a tattered shroud! This
widow, too, wants to evade discovery by the jeering folk of AyodhyA ....

"My heart bursts with grief for this 4th widow, Lakshmana !"

Lakshmana remained silent.

Rama continued in a voice that was quieter than a painful whisper:
"You won't undertand it, my brother, but I tell you, our dearest Bharath
.... our dear Bharatha is verily that forlorn fourth widow ...."

Lakshmana turned to Rama and looked aghast.

"What do you mean, Rama ? What're you saying!"

"I mean our dearest brother, Bharatha, ...he's the fourth widow of Ayodhya
..and I grieve for him !"

Lakshmana listened in stunned silence.

"I can see what's exactly happening in the AyodhyA this very moment now,
Lakshmana.

"And it fills me with grief! I can see the hard-hearted people of AyodhyA,
the same stony hearts that'd hurled insults on poor young widows in the cold
morning of a "dhanur" month.... I tell you ... I can see the same jeering
folk silently heaping insults... on Bharatha behind his back !

"They're the overzealous ones of AyodhyA... Lakshmana ...who profess their
great love and loyalty to me! I'm sure they're strutting around right now
wearing their "great love for Rama" on their insincere sleeves ! In fact
those folk have no love for me, but only to pretend it !

"I know very well that sort of people in AyodhyA, Lakshmana ... and they are
not few in number! 

"They're the sort who will jeer at poor, unprotected widows .... and destroy
a widow's dignity and self-worth even more completely than would be possible
if she was disrobed or otherwise dishonoured !

"They're the sort, Lakshmana, who now speak ill of Bharatha, too, behind his
back ....they're silently calling him a traitor to the House of Raghuvamsha
... they're calling him a usurper... a "Rama-drOhi" ...and much worse.

"Mark my words, today, Lakshmana, that's the same sort of people who will,
one day many years from now, when Sita and I rule AyodhyA ... they will
speak ill of me and dear Sita, too....even when I'm their King and ..their
Lord ..... 

"Lakshmana, I grieve now because I see, at this very moment, in my mind's
eye, I see my poor Bharatha arise in the wee hours of the morning and sneak
away from the palace to the Sarayu-banks for his "dhanur" ritual-bath !

"I see him scurrying through the dark streets of AyodhyA like one of those
wretched widows! He covers his royal self with a tattered shroud, Lakshmana,
lest someone from the street-houses of AyodhyA should recognize him ...and
should learn about where he was headed!

"I can see, Oh Lakhmana, the mongrel dogs, foraging in the gutters in the
by-lanes of Ayodhya, look up and bark furiously at my beloved Bharatha... as
if he were a street-side beggar ..... my heart breaks, Oh Laskhmana, I'm not
able to bear the pain of that scene.... 

"I see the look of fear on Bharatha's face! It's the same look of fear
that'd I'd seen on the faces of those poor widows on their way to the
river-side!

"If he were to be discovered, Lakshmana, do you know what the carping
commoners of AyodhyA would say of Bharatha? Exactly the same humiliating
things they're wont to say of young widows!

" "Ah, there goes Bharatha", they'd say with venomous sarcasm, "there goes
the junior scion of the House of IkshvAku on his way to a holy dip in the
Sarayu in the holy month of "mArga-sIrsa" ! His mother and he usurp the
throne! He sends his father Dasaratha to the grave! And he's packed his
brother Rama off into the forest and damned him to exile!..... And after all
that treachery, here he is! Our great and pious Bharatha! Rushing to the
Sarayu to offer his oblations to the gods of the "dhanur" !  Ah! what
wonderful piety, indeed! What a great noble soul our Bharatha is !" "

"And that, dear Lakshmana ....that is what you wanted to know ... that is
the sorrow of the 4th widow of AyodhyA ! 

"Now that you know about it .... can you and I do anything about it, Lakshmana?

"And if you ask me why I grieve for that soul .... what am I to say, my dear
brother, to make you understand ...to make you see the wretch in my spirit...?"
                         ************************************

Rama fell deeply silent.
Lakshmana, too.

Only the waters of the Godavari gurgled noisily.

In a moment, soon, the glorious sun rose across the hill-tops and the world
was swathed in the golden brilliance of a new day.

The forest birds filled the DandakaranyA-s with a symphony of sweet chirping
and tweeting.

                               ( CONCLUDED )
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SRI RAMA RAMETHI RAME RAME MANORAME
SAHASRANAMA TATHULYAM RAMA NAMA VARANANE
    
sudarshan