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Musings on sita's agni-pravEsam#7

From: sudarshan (
Date: Wed Nov 25 1998 - 10:21:32 PST

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

It is worth the time and effort to spend the next few posts in examining a
little closely the actual scenes leading to the "agni-pravEsam" described
in the final passages of the "yuddha-kAndam" by Sri.Valmiki.

The War is over. The triumphant "vAnarA-s" have had their celebrations. The
beating of drums, the blowing of bugles and the ceremonial waving of flags
and weapons have signalled victory for the Prince of Ayodhya.....

They all now wait with bated breath for the climactic moment ---- the
moment for which they'd all fought for; the moment they'd staked their
lives for; the moment that would at last crown their moment of glory in the
battle-field.... the moment when Raghava and Vaidehi would be re-united!

There is an air of nervous expectation in the air. A heavy hush descends on
the "vAnarA" ranks.

The simian warriors wait for Rama to give them the order. When it does
come, and it will come, they tell themselves, in a moment never too soon,
they will swoop down en masse into the city of Lanka..... and retrieve the

It is in that atmosphere of charged expectation that we see a strange

Rama's visage, always a classic and handsome profile chisseled out of
nobility, equipoise and charm, suddenly turns apoplectic. The jaws are set,
the eyes ablaze like volcanic cinders, and blood-shot veins stretch thick
and taut across His temples. He looks grim and agitated, an unusual and
unwonted picture of some ugly, black and pent-up emotion.    

Shortly, we see Him sternly beckon Vibeeshana and speak to him in a
chillingly menacing manner.

"divyAnga-rAgAm vaidEhIm divyABharaNa BhushitAm I
   iha sItAm shirah~snAtA-mupasThApaya mA chiram  II"

It is a short, curt and clipped order spoken in a snarling under-breath.
When you read this particular verse you can't help imagining Rama's order
coming across like the hiss of viper on the verge of a paroxysm of barely
suppressed wrath.

"Go forthwith and bring the daughter of Janaka here. Ask her to present
herself here duly bathed, groomed and bedecked with her jewellery."

This is indeed one of the strangest scenes in the Ramayana.

After all those years of separation from His beloved spouse during which
time He grieved in the woods of Dandakaranya and Kishkinda and raved and
ranted in the pain caused by Her loss, a moment arrives when He can see Her
again ..... and Lo! ..instead of rushing forth to gather Her in His
arms..... the Prince of Ayodhya instead finds nothing better to do than to
worry about Her perfumery and wardrobe! 

Something very hideous was certainly brewing in Sri.Rama's mind.

When Vibeeshana conveys the message to Sita she too is extremely perplexed
at Rama's strange request. She protests mildly to the "rAkshasA" king:

  "EvamuktA tu vaidEhi pratyUvAcha vibeeshaNam I
     asnAthA drashtu-micchAmi BhartAram rAkshasADhipa II"

She says,"I'd rather first see Him as I am --- soiled, grimy,
grief-stricken and tear-ridden.... Why does He want me to appear before Him
bathed and bejewelled? To appear as though I have been leading a gay life
these several months? Let me see Him, Vibeeshana, let me see Him, please,
as I am, exactly as I have been these many months here......".

The "rAkshasa", perhaps having already an uneasy foreboding of events to
come persuades her,
"Your Highness, I should think you had better follow your husband's

Admonished thus by a mere "rAkshasA" with whom She is barely acquainted,
poor Sita obediently does as She is bidden. When she appears before Rama a
little while later She presents Herself in full regalia and splendour....
as would befit a queen of her ilk. She is made to undergo a royal douche;
sweet-smelling unguents are applied on her body; she is draped in the
finest of silks; she is daubed with the most fragrant of fragrances. She is
carried then in a palanquin borne by a convoy of courtiers and amidst an
excited and milling throng of spectators.

Indeed, they make a real spectacle of Her as She makes her way into Rama's

This particular scene in the Ramayana is one of the masterpieces of
Sri.Valmiki. It is so full of understated pathos it never fails to bring a
lump to the reader's throat.

It makes us reflect deeply : should Vibeeshana have yielded to Her when
Sita pleads with him to let her go to her Lord in the same state in which
she'd lived all those lonely months in Ashokavanam..... if only she'd been
allowed to go to Rama looking exactly as Vibeeshana had found her .....
pale, desiccated, grimy and unkempt.... if Vibeeshana had yielded.... would
the "agni-pravEsam" ever have occurred?

Would not the sight of a wretched Sita.... as She really was.... would it
not have been, at once and forever, more than ample testimony to Sri.Rama,
and to the whole world at large, of Her pristine virtue.... of her
innocence... of her supreme nobility...?

In the Sundara Kandam (V.33.10-11) there is a wonderful passage describing
how Hanuman felt on first perceiving Sita in the Ashokavanam .... the way
She actually looked:

"rOdha-nAdatini~svAsAd-Bhumi-sam-sparsha-nAdapi I
  na tvAm dEvImaham manyE rAgnya-ha samgnyAva-DharaNath II"

Looking at the haggard and miserable state in which he finds Sita in,
Hanuman suspects if he has got Her indentity right:

"Can this one really be the Sita who is known to be a divine creature, a
veritable goddess? No. Divinity does not weep; divinity does not grieve;
divinity does not sigh the sigh of heart-break; divinity's feet do not
touch the ground. And yet this forlorn, this wretched figure must be Sita,
I reckon, for this plaintive cry of "Rama, Rama" can be none other than
This then is the tragic irony of this whole scene where Rama commands Sita
to appear before Him ..... bathed, perfumed and bejewelled. It is the same
tragedy which afllicts all times and of all mankind ... the tragedy in our
wanting to see Truth....  the real Truth ... in anything but its bare,
simple, stark and original form ..... the only form in which Truth ever
resides.... the form of the eternal Vedas.

More in the next post.

adiyEn dAsAnu dAsan,