Ramyan: Yuddha Kanda - Book Of War

Canto VIII: Trial By Fire

Turning to Hanuman, Ram told him to go to the grove of Ashoka trees where Sita was sitting and give her the happy tidings. It is to be noted that despite his intense desire to see her, Ram did his duty to Ravan first, before rushing to see her as he must have wanted to do. He did the obsequies for his enemy, anointed Vibhishan as king and then and only then, did he give into his urgent desire to see his beloved.

When he entered the grove Hanuman found Sita in the same sad pose as she had been when he first saw her - a picture of despair and sorrow, for no one had told her of the happenings on the battlefield.

He went and stood beside her with folded palms and said, "My lady! I have come with happy news. Ram has killed Ravan, and Vibhishan has been crowned, king of Lanka. He has asked me to bring this happy tidings to you".

Sita was speechless with joy. Tears of happiness rolled down her eyes.

Hanuman spoke respectfully, "My lady, believe me, I have spent sleepless night thinking of your pathetic condition and now it is my luck that I have been chosen by our Lord to bring you this joyous news. I ask your permission to do one more thing. Let me kill all these rakshasis who have been harassing you for so long".

Sita smiled and said, "Dear Hanuman, they were only servants obeying their master. Why should you kill them? Everyone has to reap the fruits of their past actions. I must have done something in my past life to deserve this punishment. My rule is to show compassion and mercy to all, even if they are sinners. No one is infallible. To err is human. Go and tell my husband that I am eagerly awaiting his arrival. Hanuman bowed humbly and departed. He told Ram the whole story of his meeting with Sita and said that she was eagerly waiting for him. Ram's eyes filled with tears when he heard this but he remained sunk in thought for a while. At last he sighed and told Vibhishan to ask Sita to have an auspicious bath and clothe herself in beautiful apparel and then come to him. Vibhishan conveyed this message but she said, "I want my Lord to see me as I am now".

Vibhishan replied that it was his duty to obey Ram's commands implicitly and that he could not take her in that state. So Sita clad herself in silks and jewels and came to Ram in the palanquin which had been sent for her. He was lost in thought and sat with eyes fixed on the ground. The vanaras crowded round, eager to have a glimpse of the one, for whose sake so much trouble had been taken and the whole race of demons, annihilated. Vibhishan pushed them back and ordered them to go away since Ram would want to see Sita alone and it was not correct for the common populace to view someone of the royal household.

Ram chided him and said, "A woman's protection should be her purity and chastity and not a wall or a curtain. Let them stay where they are and see her if they wish. Let them gaze as much as they want on the beauty of the princess of Videha. Moreover, it is only right that she should see me surrounded by those who fought for her".

Lakshman was puzzled by Ram's strange behaviour. He was sure that something was bothering him. Vibhishan went and led Sita to where Ram was waiting. Sita felt as if her limbs would fail her and she shrank into herself. Covering her face with her upper cloth, she came near Ram and whispered shyly, "My Lord"! Tears choked her and she could not utter another word. Shyly she looked up at him and her thirsty eyes drank in his beauty.

Ram averted his face and spoke in an unusually harsh tone, "I have accomplished what I set out to do. I have vindicated my honour and kept up the reputation of the fair house of our clan. I have wiped out the insult which was offered to me and killed the one who abducted you. Hanuman who leaped across the ocean and destroyed Lanka has been rewarded, so has Vibhishan, who left his brother and took refuge in me".

Sita had been waiting for a year for this moment, when her beloved husband would come and rescue her and take her in his arms and comfort her and make her forget the trials which she had gone through. She could not understand why Ram who had never spoken harshly to her at any time, was now using this tone of voice and why he was narrating all these incidents. She looked at him with her fawn-like eyes, which were slowly filling with tears and Ram's heart was torn with sympathy and love, but he knew that he had to vindicate her name before the public.

"Do not think that I fought this war for your sake. I did it only to save my name and honour. Having lived for eleven months in the city of Ravan, there is a great stain on your character. That lecherous wretch has feasted his eyes on you and carried you in his arms. Rumours are rife about you and I cannot take you back. You are now free to go where you wish, 0 Janaki. I can no longer bear to look at you. Your presence hurts my eyes like blinding light before sore eyes. Now that I have done my duty and rescued you, I owe you nothing more. I belong to a noble house and it does not befit me to take you back. Having lived for eleven months in the house of a notorious womaniser like Ravan, do you expect me to believe that he could refrain from ravishing you - you, who are so lovely and alluring"?

Hearing these cruel words coming from the mouth of her husband from whom she had heard nothing but love, Sita swayed like a creeper separated from its prop. Tears streamed from her eyes and she looked like a wilting flower. To make matters worse, there was an interested and sympathetic audience to witness this painful scene. She had thought her heart had broken when she had been abducted by Ravan but now she realised that it was nothing compared to this ordeal.

At last she said in a faltering tone, "Why do you speak such harsh words to me? This is the talk of a common man to a woman of the streets and you are not a common man, neither am I a woman of the streets. If you doubted me, why did you send Hanuman to search for me? Why did you not tell him that you had no further use for me! Why did you take the trouble of crossing the sea and fighting and killing Ravan? You risked your life and the life of all your friends by coming here. You could have saved yourself a lot of trouble and I could have given up my life then and there and then I would not have had to hear these cruel words. If I had been touched by that sinner once, it was because I was too weak and helpless to protect myself. How can you blame me for that? Even after living with me for so many years, it looks as if you have never been able to understand me. My thoughts and love have never strayed from you even for a moment. I might be called Janaki, the daughter of Janaka but I am really Sita, the daughter of the earth. Did you ever consider my exalted birth before passing judgement? Does my love and chastity mean nothing to you. If that were so, why did you corner Saying this she turned to Lakshman and said, "Lakshman, make a pyre for me. It is the only cure for the grief which is burning me more than flames. I have been falsely accused and I do not want to live any more. My husband has repudiated me in front of this big crowd of people and asked me to go where I want. There is only one place that I can go and that is the heart of a fire".

Lakshman looked angrily at Ram who stood with his head cast down, like a painted statue. Ram did not make any protest when Lakshman went reluctantly to make the pyre. Sita circumambulated Ram and went towards the blazing fire. Standing with folded palms before it, she said, "If it is true that my thoughts have been set on Ram and never swerved from truth, then let this fire, which is the witness to all minds, protect me. My husband thinks I am tainted. If I am totally innocent, so may the god of fire protect me. If I have never been unfaithful to Ram, in thought, word or deed, let the god of fire protect me. If the earth and the sky and the four quarters and the gods believe that I am sinless, let the god of fire protect me".

So saying she went round the fire once and then flung herself into the heart of the conflagration. All the rakshasis who had collected there, set up a loud wail of protest. Wearing gold ornaments and yellow silk, Sita glowed like molten gold in the midst of the fire. Ram stood, as if carved out of stone with face fixed to the ground. Though his heart was breaking, he did not do anything to save her, who was dearer to him than his own life. At that moment the celestials came down and spoke to Ram: "How is it possible for you to watch Sita immolate herself in the fire? Dont you know that you are Narayana, the primeval Being and Sita is Lakshmi, your eternal consort. You are Vishnu and you were born to destroy Ravan. Now your task is accomplished and dharma is saved".

As soon as Brahma finished speaking, Agni, the god of fire, stepped forward from the blaze with Sita in his arms. She was dressed in red and even the flowers she wore in her lustrous tresses were unsinged. "Here is your wife Sita, who is totally without blemish. She was never unfaithful in thought, word or glance. Believe me and accept this jewel among women".

Tears flowed unchecked down Ram's eyes and he said, "I know that my wife is as pure and chaste as unsullied snow. I never doubted her even for a moment, but if she had not undergone this ordeal of fire, people would have spoken ill of her and of me. They would have said that Dasharatha's son, blinded by love for his wife, was willing to take her back even though she had lived so long in the house of another man. I knew full well that Sita would have been totally protected by her purity. Ravan could never have sullied her. Sita is to me, what splendour is to the sun. As a good man cannot abandon a good name so also I can never abandon Sita. If I spoke harshly to her and watched unmoved, when she entered the fire, it was only to vindicate her name before the eyes of all".

So saying, he went near Sita and looked deep into her lovely eyes as he had been longing to do. When Sita turned her reproachful, tear filled, lotus eyes at him, Ram chided her softly so that none could hear, "0 daughter of the Earth! My beautiful Sita! How could you think even for a moment that I could have doubted you? Why do you think I trudged through the length and breadth of this country if I was not crazy for a glimpse of your bewitching face? Why do you think I faced the wrath of the demon king and risked my life, if I did not crave for you. My dearest love, I did it so that none could ever point an accusing finger at you". Hearing this impassioned declaration, Sita was pacified and looked at him with all her love pouring out of her eyes. Thus for a long moment, they were lost to the world and gazed long and deep into each other's eyes to the joy of all who were assembled there.

As they stood hand in hand, the gods brought Ram's father Dasaratha so that Ram could see him and there was a happy reunion between the three of them. The celestials told Ram to return immediately to Ayodhya for the fourteen years were drawing to a close and Bharat was waiting for his arrival with great anxiety.

Thus ends the eighth Canto called "Trial by Fire" of the Yuddha Kanda in the glorious Ramayana of the Sage Valmiki.

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