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Musings on sita's agni-pravEsam#5

From: sudarshan (lucasfie_at_md2.vsnl.net.in)
Date: Fri Nov 20 1998 - 12:10:57 PST

Dear Sri.S.H.Krishnan and other members (who are following this thread),

One of the singular ironies of the Ramayana is that it is the story of how
sub-humans fought each other and even unhesitatingly laid down their lives
in thousands for a seemingly supra-human ideal. 

If you think deeply about it you cannot help but wonder about the whys and
wherefores of how the common "vAnarA-s" of Kishkinda and the ordinary
"rAkshasA-s" of Lanka got themselves dragged into an imbroglio involving
the complex affairs and high morals of a world to which they never
belonged.... of an entirely different world ....one that really belonged to
and was peopled by superior beings like Rama and Sita.

It boggles one's mind, too, to think that tens of thousands of
"ulpa-jantu-s" (lesser beings) like apes, orangutans, chimpanzees, bears,
squirrels and great birds laid down their lives in the war of Lanka ....all
in the name of, and all for the sake of HUMAN honour, HUMAN sense of
right and wrong and HUMAN values and virtue.....

In the  light of this extraordinary irony we won't therefore be very wrong
in imagining then, as we did in our last post, that in the aftermath of the
Lanka war, Sri.Rama did spend a moment or two
soliloquising in grim and pensive anguish:

"What has this war been really about? To redeem the honour of the IkshvAku
House? To save the name of Dasaratha? Or my own? Why, oh why then did this
war have to be fought by these poor "vAnarA" foot-soldiers? Why, why
indeed, did these apes and bears, these poor denizens of the forest, have
to be used by me as so much cannon-fodder? This was a war that ought to
have been fought between "rAkshasa" and the citizenry of AyodhyA. The ranks
in my army here
ought to have been filled with the hordes of men who followed Bharatha
across the Sarayu into Chitrakoot. Would those my kinsmen from Ayodhya have
set forth to spill blood on my behalf as readily, gladly and as
unquestioningly as these beloved "vAnarA-s" have done?"

"Would they?", we should indeed ask ourselves too !

Now if we were to skip the pages of the "yUddha-kAnda" and turn to the
morbid chapters of VAlmiki's "uttara-kAnda" we would easily find there the
answer to the agonising question.

The answer is, of course, a categorical "No". No, the people of great
Ayodhya, the "superior human beings" of the IkshvAku House would never
indeed have stepped forward to put their lives at stake for the sake of
what ought to have been their supreme ideal, their highest duty --- to
remain ever affirmed of the unsullied honour of their sovereign, Sri.Rama
and the pristinity of their queen, Sita.

And why not?

If Sri.Rama Himself were to ask us why we thought so poorly of and passed
such harsh and 
uncharitable judgment on his subjects we would, I suppose, forthwith jog
His memory for Him and draw attention to the events in Ayodhya (in the
"uttara-kAndam") which took place not too long after "sitA's
agni-pravEsam".

"shr-Nu rAjan yaThA powrAhA kaTha-yanthi shuBhA-shuBham I
 chatvarApaNa-ratyAsu vanE-shu-pavanEshu cha II"   
 (Valmiki Ramayana VII 43.13)

(AyodhyA's sons and daughters --- paragons of human purity indeed! -- soon
ventured to discuss amongst themselves the virtue of Sita and Rama; they
are seen to say to themselves,"What sort of happiness can he have sleeping
with that woman who has lived in Ravana's house? How can
he enjoy even a moment with her, one wonders?!")

"yathA hi kuruthE rAjA prajA tama-nuvartathE "II  (VII 43.19)
"Evam bahuviDhA vAchO vadanti paravAsina-ha I
 nagarEshu cha sarvEshu rAjanjanapadEshu cha II" (VII 43.20)

(In the alleys of the city and in the countryside this is the kind of talk
that the people of Ayodhya are engaged in .....")

"keedrsham hrdayE tasya sitAsamBOgajam sukham I
 anka-mArOpya tu purA rAvaNEna balAdrthAB  II " (VII 43.17)

(How could he not recoil with revulsion at even the touch of her.... she
who was "kept" by a mere "rAkshsasA" (a sub-human) ?!")

                           **********          ************           
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The great "superior" humans of Ayodhya ---- they whom Swami Desikan
undeservingly hailed in his "Raghuveera-gadyam" as "sAketha janapada jani
Dhanika jangama taditara jantu-jAta ...." i.e. the "fortunate ones who were
blessed to have lived in the shadow of Sri.Rama and walked the same
hallowed earth He did", it is doubtful indeed if they would have ever
rallied behind Sri.Rama  had he given them the clarion call to arise and
help him fight the Lanka War to retrieve the name and glory of Sita.... and
that of the House of the IkshvAku-s.  They would never have been able to
discern the virtue of Sita ... they'd never have recognized her for what
she truly was---- the greatest and most dazzling symbol of all that is
noble, pristine and truthful in humanity .....

Indeed the poet Valmiki shows us clearly in the "uttara-kAndam" how the
people of Ayodhya, behaving towards Sita in the sordid way they did,
represent the universal pathology of Man's spiritual condition.... the
crippling inability of his to reach out and perceive and touch and feel the
Beauty of Truth in the most ordinary moments and things of day-to-day
living....or, what as the English mystical poet William Blake described
well, the crippling inability of Man  

      " To see the world in a grain of sand
         And heavens in a wild flower
        (To) Hold infinity in the palm of (his) hand
         And eternity in an hour....."         

Quite in sharp contrast to the "human beings" of Ayodhya, and to the
perversions of their perception and the infirmities in their minds, now
look at what mere "animals" ---- the poor monkeys of Kishkinda who laid
down lives fighting Sri.Rama's war for Him ---- look at what those
"ulpa-jantu-s" thought of Sita. Their "vAnarA" thoughts and sentiments
relating to this matter are so beautifully and touchingly expressed in the
voice of their fine leader and spokesman, Sri.HanumAn. 

Just listen to him speak as he first sets his eyes on Sita after
discovering Her in the Ashokavanam:

"dushkaram krutavAn rAmO heenO yadanayA praBhuhu I
 Dhaya-yath-yAtmanO dEham na shOkEnAvaseedati II      (V.15.53)

"tulya-sheela-vayO-vrttAm tulyA-Bhijana-lakshaNAm I
 rAGhavO-arhati vaidEheem tam chEyamasitEkshaNA II

"yadi rAmaha samUdrAntAm mEdineem parivartayEth I
 asyAha krutE jagachhApi yuktamityEva may mati-hi  II

"rAjyam vA trishu lOkEshu sitA vA janakAtmajA I
 trylOkya-rAjyam sakalam sitAyA nApnuyAtkalAm II   (VI 16, 5, 13-14)

"This Rama is a flint-hearted being indeed! He is a hard-hearted, yes! He
does a thing which other people would find impossible. Being separated from
a lady like this one, how did he manage to survive so long as he has done?
How surprising that he is not dead yet of heart-break?! Must be a hard life
his, truly!".

HanumAn (the quintessential "brahamachArin"!!!) continues:

"Rama and Sita are well-mated; they are made for each other indeed! Their
respective families from which they hail too are well matched. They deserve
each other. So having unfortunately lost this woman, this precious prize
and possession, this "gem of purest ray", if Lord Rama should go and dry up
all the ocean for her and devastate this world and the hereafter too, I
should not think he was doing anything extreme or excessive. She is such a
rarity, the breath of all that lives, the very "eternity in an hour", that
anything may be well and completely destroyed if that were to be the only
means of recovering her. Put Sita in one scale and the possession of the
three worlds in the other .... the other would never tip ... not even by a
whisper of the passing wind!"

Such was the spirit reverence and awe that the "vAnarA-s" --- the monkeys
of the forests, the dumb denizens of Kishkinda --- such was the spirit they
exhibited for Sita-pirAtti. What a stark contrast indeed to the black and
shameful things SitA's own people in Ayodhya had to say about her at her
back in the "uttara-kAndam" !!

Is it any wonder then, dear Sri.S.H.Krishnan and other dear members, I ask
you, is it any wonder then that the "ulpa-jantu-s" should have stepped
forward, more readily and more unhesitatingly than the Ayodhya-vAsi-s would
probably ever have done, to fight the great Lanka war alongside Sri.Rama?

Is it any wonder then too that the Lord of Ayodhya grieved so much for his
"vAnara" martyrs in the aftermath of the war?
                                 
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Having said so much we must now ask ourselves:

What did the "sub-human" "vAnarA-s" see in the presence and spirit of Sita
which the "superior humans" of Ayodhya failed to see.... refused to see....
and in fact, on the contrary, willed themselves to see something infinitely
vulgar and self-degrading in its stead ?

The answer to the question will lead us further and nearer (hopefully) to
the Vedic themes we said lie hidden in the episode of Sita's
"agni-pravEsam".

We will continue in the next post.

adiyEn dAsAnu dAsan,
sudarshan