Maricha changed himself into a most captivating deer. Its face was like a glowing, golden, topaz from which gleamed its amethyst eyes. Its hair was golden in colour with spots which looked like silver and glistened in the sun. Its dainty, branching, antlers were dazzling and seemed to be set with gems. Its hooves looked like black, polished onyx. Its neck was long and curved and it had a tantalising way of tilting its head at an angle and gazing sideways through its beautiful eyes. It suddenly appeared on the lawn in front of the ashrama and frisked and danced around, giving long looks in Sita's direction.
At times it would stop and pretend to be nibbling at the grass and at times it would step softly, as if afraid of being caught. The other deer which were grazing nearby, sensed that this was no ordinary deer and ran away in panic. In his old days Maricha would have loved to eat one of them. He kept looking at the ashrama, for Sita was not outside. Just then, she came out to gather flowers for their morning worship. The deer came close to her and stood still with bent head as if grazing. The morning sun fell in golden shafts on its skin and brought it into flaming life. Sita stood absolutely still when she saw it. She could not believe her eyes. She had never seen such a fascinating creature in all her days in the forest. Though her hand went automatically to pluck the flowers, she could not take her eyes off the little deer, which took care to see that
it was always within her gaze.
It did the most absurd things to beguile her. It pranced and frolicked and turned its long neck to look sideways at her. It appeared almost human in its enchanting ways. She ran forward to try and catch it but it avoided her grasp adroitly and skipped off and stood just a few feet in front of her. Again and again she tried to grasp it, but it skillfully avoided her. She tried to tempt it with bits of grass and leaves. Sometimes it would pretend to nibble at it but the moment her other hand came up to catch it, it would prance off like a filly, with a tantalising backward glance. She chased it round and round the lawn, forgetting the flowers she had come to pluck. Her flower basket had fallen to the ground and the flowers were lying forlornly on the grass. At last she was quite dejected and called out to Rama and Lakshmana. Hearing her voice raised in appeal, both of them came running out of the house.
Raising her charming face to him she said, "Rama, please capture this deer for me. Look how beautiful he is. Such an enchanting figure! I've never seen anything like it. I must have him for myself. Please catch him for me. He is so clever that he has dodged every effort of mine to catch him, but I am sure you can do it".
Lakshmana peered closely at the deer and said, "Brother I am sure this is not a deer. This must be our old friend Maricha in disguise. Remember how clever he is in taking on the disguise of a deer in order to kill the rishis. This must be him. No ordinary deer could be so extraordinarily beautiful".
Rama looked at Sita's excitement and was moved. He had never seen her so excited. He could deny her nothing. Moreover there was no doubt about it. The deer was indeed enchanting. He looked at her tenderly and said, "My love, I shall surely capture this deer for you if that is your wish". Then turning to Lakshmana he said, "I think that your suspicions are correct and this deer could well be a rakshasa, but even so, it is my duty to kill it. Whatever it is, I must chase it, for Sita wants it and I can deny her nothing. If even a man like me should feel so attracted to this deer, then why not she? She loves all animals as you know. I will either capture this deer alive, or kill it and be back soon. Please stay with Sita. Do not leave her even for a single moment. Be
on the lockout for danger. I can sense danger. It is close by. I feel that
some crisis is imminent in our lives. Guard Sita with your life and I will return with the deer, dead or alive".
He strapped his sword to his waist and took up his bow and quiver. He turned to smile reassuringly at Sita. She looked adoringly at him. She was sure that her beloved Rama would get the deer for her. As he reached the edge of the forest he turned round once again to look at her. It was the last time he was ever to see her so happy. Her wide eyed, excited look and enchanting smile were to haunt him for many months before he saw her again.
Rama turned towards the deer. It was just in front of him, prancing and cavorting in its usual cute fashion. Rama was not unduly worried. He was sure, the deer would fall to his grasp pretty soon. He followed casually but looked around for any danger, for he could sense danger close by. Ravana's aerial vehicle was well hidden and he could not see it. Now the deer seemed to be playing some sort of game with Rama. It would come almost within his grasp and then dance away with a naughty look as if to say, “catch me, if you can”.
Rama began to get impatient and also to worry a little, for the day was wearing on and the deer seemed to have some deliberate campaign to lure him deeper and deeper into the forest. Like the moon playing hide and seek between the clouds, the deer would appear for some time in front of his gaze and disappear within the forest. At times it would turn and look at him with terror, at others it would stop as if totally exhausted and pretend to rest but as soon as Rama stretched his hand to catch it, it would dart away like an arrow, looking mockingly back at him. Rama realised that he had come a long way from the ashrama. He also realised that this was no ordinary deer, but a rakshasa, like Lakshmana had suspected. He stood still for a while and it suddenly appeared before him. He rushed towards it and the animal fled in panic. This was the end. He decided to kill it since it seemed impossible to capture it.
an arrow to his bow he let it fly. With unerring accuracy, the arrow entered the body of the animal and split it in two. Maricha howled like a mad dog and fell to the ground. As he fell, he regained his hideous, rakshasic form. So Lakshmana was right, thought Rama, and this is indeed the wicked rakshasa, Maricha. His life was ebbing away fast and with his last breath he let out a cry. Imitating Rama's voice perfectly, he called out loudly, "Ha Sita! Ha Lakshmana"!
Rama was deeply disturbed when he heard that cry imitating his voice. He realised that the whole enterprise had been a trick to lure him away from the ashrama and now this cry was no doubt to bring Lakshmana to his aid. All of a sudden he was terribly frightened. He feared for the safety of his beloved. What if some harm should come to her. Of course, he could depend on Lakshmana to guard her with his life but this cry was most disturbing. He knew that Sita would be distraught with grief when she heard it and perhaps she might even believe that he was in danger. He started to run back as fast as he could but he was a long, long way from the hermitage.
Far away in the ashrama, Sita heard that piteous call for help from Rama, as she thought, and she froze with fright. She was sure that it was her beloved and that he was in great danger. She forgot that he was an invincible warrior and there was no one who could defeat him. That pathetic cry took away all her reasoning capacity and she turned to Lakshmana with an agonized look and said, "Did you hear that call of My Lord. He is in distress. I want you to go to him immediately. He must be surrounded by rakshasas and his life must be in danger, otherwise he would never have cried out like that. Do not hesitate a moment. Hurry to his assistance".
Lakshmana did not move an inch from his place. He was totally unmoved by that shout of Maricha's for he realised it was only a ruse.
Sita was trembling with fear and anger and begged him repeatedly to go. Lakshmana did not know what to do. At last he said, "0 Sita! Don't you know that Rama is invincible in battle. Didn't you see with your own eyes how he slew so many hundreds of rakshasas, singlehanded? Have you no faith in his prowess? As soon as I saw the deer I knew it must be a rakshasa and I warned Rama but he p~id no heed to me, for he wanted to please you. He will be back soon, I assure you. The voice we heard was not his, but Maricha's. Rama has asked me to stay by your side and guard you. I cannot disobey him, even if you entreat me. It would be very dangerous to leave you alone here at this moment. I feel that there is some danger lurking here. Rama felt it, too, that is why he made me promise to stay with you, whatever happened".
Sita was furious with him. Her fear had made her lose all sense of proportion. All she could think was, that her Lord was in danger and this man was refusing to go to his aid. She rushed out of the ashrama and said, "If you don’t go, I will".
Lakshmana jumped up and caught her as she was running out. For one shocked moment they looked into each other's eyes. It was the first time in his life that he had ever touched her or even looked fully at her face. Both of them were shocked. Hurriedly he dropped his hands and begged her pardon. Her unreasonable fear for her husband made her speak in the most unbecoming way to Lakshmana. Poor girl, driven by destiny, she spoke in a most taunting way to him.
"You are a traitor to Rama. You have followed him to the forest with some ulterior motive. Either you are a pawn of Bharata or else you have evil designs on me and you hope that if Rama dies you can have me for yourself. But let me tell you, once and for all, that I will kill myself, here and now, if you do not go immediately. I will not let you touch me".
Lakshmana recoiled in disgust when he heard these cruel words from the gentle Sita. He stood with folded palms before her and said, "Sita, I have always looked upon you as a mother. My own mother had given me this advice when I left Ayodhya - that I should regard Rama, as my father and you, as my mother. You are like a goddess to me and I refuse to be angry with you for what you are saying. Your words are no doubt prompted by your fear for your husband. I have never heard you talk like this. You are attributing a heinous crime to me, when I am completely innocent. I cannot bear to stand and listen to such talk. I will go after my brother but I fear that something is threatening you. Please do not force me to go".
Behaving like a common woman, Sita beat her breast and swore to kill herself if he did not go. She berated him severely and threatened to throw herself into the river or jump into the fire. Lakshmana was in a panic. He did not know what to do. At last with tears in his eyes he said, "All right I will go, but first I will draw this magic circle round you. Please see that you do not step out of it. As long as you remain within it, you will be safe. I go with the greatest reluctance. My brother is sure to be most displeased with me. But it looks as if I cannot please
both of you at the same time". So saying he took the tip of his bow and made an enchanted circle round her with mantras. He bowed to her and walked away with unwilling steps.
All Sita could say was, "Go, go, go!" Reluctantly and with man a backward glance, poor Lakshmana walked away from the ashram with slow, unhappy steps.
Thus ends the fifth Canto called "The Golden Deer" of the Aranya Kanda in the glorious Ramayana of the Sage Valmiki.