– Ramayan: Book 3: Aranya Kanda – Book Of Forest Canto VII – Rama Bereft

Back in the forest Rama was filled with misgivings. Their love for each ~ other was so great that even though they were parted, they were still in communication with each other and he could sense Sita’s fears. He walked as fast as he could. He knew that Maricha would never deliberately have risked his life, had not something stupendous beer at stake. He saw ill omens all along the way. A jackal was howling and his left eye was throbbing which were considered to be a bad omen for men.

As he came to Janasthana, he saw Lakshmana walking towards hiir with a troubled look. Rama went towards him and held out his hanc and asked him worriedly, “My dear child why did you leave Sita alone and come here. Did I not tell you to stay with her? You were right That deer was indeed Maricha, sent as a decoy to lure me away in order to fulfill some evil design. And now you have also followed me, ever though I told you to stay with her. I am beginning to fear that we may never see her alive. The moment I heard Maricha calling out in my voice, I knew that some mischief was afoot”.

Lakshmana could not speak a word. He allowed Rama to go on.

Rama continued, “I was a beggar without a kingdom, yet she preferred to come with me, rather than stay in the comfort of the palace.

She could not live without me and neither can I live without her. Will my Sita be alive? If she dies, so will 1. Has my exile been fruitless, finally? Kaikeyi will be happy if she hears of our death but my poor mother will die of a broken heart”.

Thus lamenting, they reached the vicinity of the ashrama, Rama was already tired, hungry and thirsty when they arrived, for he had been chasing the deer for a long time. As soon as they reached, he went inside the hut? calling Sita to come out, but there was no answer. Only the wind rustled through the leaves. He ran out and rushed to all her favourite haunts, calling out “Janaki! 0 Janaki! Where are you my beloved? Why are you hiding from me? Can*t you see that I am tired and hungry? Have not you prepared a meal for me? Why do you play with me like this. I am in no mood for games. Come to me, my darling. I cannot bear this any longer”.

At last his limbs refused to carry him and he sank to the ground and murmured, “What I dreaded has happened. She has either been abducted or been eaten alive”. Lakshmana stood by his side and said not a word. Tears were flowing down his cheeks.

Turning to him Rama asked, “I left her only because I had entrusted her to you. Why did you leave her and come”?

His voice choked with sobs, Lakshmana said, “When she heard Maricha’s dying voice, emulating yours, she went into a panic and begged me to go to your aid. When I refused, she spoke so harshly to me that I could not bear it. She accused me of being your enemy and lusting after her. Even then, I refused to move, though my heart was bursting. Then she threatened to kill herself) jump into the river or hang herself. I could bear it no longer and I ran out of the ashrama leaving her alone. But before I left, I drew a magic circle around her and told her to stay within it. Had she done so she would have been safe”.

Rama heard Lakshmana and said, “You did wrong, my child, to have left her alone. She was out of her wits with anxiety over me and that is why she must have spoken as she did, but you, who know me so well, must have realised that no harm could have befallen me and yet you left her. Why did you do this”?

In his extreme grief, Rama kept on reiterating the same thing over and over again. The ashrama looked like a lotus pond in winter, desolate and forlorn. The trees appeared to be weeping and the flowers had faded and the deer stood listlessly, uninterested even in eating grass. The birds sat on twigs and gazed with dull eyes at Rama. Their voices appeared to have been lost.

Rama said in despair, “0 my love! Where have all the flowers gone, since you went away, and where have all the song birds gone who used to sing to us so sweetly every day”.

He was inconsolable in his grief. He ran from tree to tree and asked them if they had seen her. “Didn’t my darling Sita bid you farewell when she went away. Will you not tell me where she went”?
A deer came close to him and nuzzled him with her nose. He looked at her and his eyes filled with tears and he said, “My darling had eyes just like yours, so soft and kind they were. Are you trying to comfort me? Will you not tell me where she has’ gone”?

He ran all over the place again and again crying out, “0 Lakshmana, I cannot live without Sita. I cannot return to Ayodhya without her. What is a kingdom to me without her to share it. Go back brother, and tell them that Rama is dead. She put her entire trust in me and I failed to protect her. She was my dear wife and I could not save her What is the use of livings? Thus lamenting, his whole body on fin and his mind consumed with grief, Rama could not sit or stand.

Lakshmana had never seen him like this and he spoke gently to him “0 my dear brother! Please do not give way to grief like this. The forest is large and there are many places where she could have been bidder by someone. Perhaps in some cave or other. Let us go and search for her in a methodical manner. She used to love to wander along the rive] banks and sit under the trees. Let us go and see if she’s there. Rise yourself from this despondency and let’s go”.

Thus saying, he tried to rouse his brother from the lethargy into which he appeared to have fallen due to his deep sorrow. Rama tried to control himself and with a superhuman effort he accompanied Lakshmana and they began their search in a methodical manner Lakshmana comforted him by saying that she could not have gone far since he had just left the ashrama. Of course, he was not to know that she had been abducted in an aerial vehicle. They searched all the available places but they could not find her. Rama was spent with sorrow and fatigue. His limbs felt weak and useless. He sank to the ground and did not speak for an hour. His face had lost its lustre and habitual look of serenity and peace. Lakshmana did not know what to do with him. He tried his best to revive him but it was of no use.

“0 Lakshmana! I do not think there is a greater sinner than me on this earth. That is why misfortune after misfortune has been heaped on me. But this is the greatest calamity of all. I think I am losing my mind. I lost my kingdom, I lost my father and I am wandering around like a mendicant in this forest infested with rakshasas and wild beasts, but all this was bearable because of the sweet company of my beloved wife. But now, my queen has been captured by some cruel rakshasa who might be torturing her even now. Look at this stone. We used to sit here in the afternoons and discuss so many things. I cannot bear this grief any more. It is tearing up my vitals and depriving me of all reason. How cruel the sun is! He must surely be knowing where she has been taken, yet he will not tell me. And this wind, he goes everywhere and even now he must be fanning my darling’s face and drying her tears, yet he will not tell me her hiding place”. Thus lamenting again and again, Rama would cry out, “0 Janaki! 0 Vaidehi! 0 Maithili! Will you not come back”?

Lakshmana had never seen him like this. He pleaded with him as Krishna was going to plead with Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, begging him to shake off his grief, which was unmanly and ignoble, but it was all in vain.

“Come my dear brother. Abandon this grief and arise. Victory belongs only to the brave. Only those who keep trying will achieve their goal. Arise, and let us go and search again”.

But his words fell on deaf ears. Rama was sunk in gloom and did not even hear him. Lakshmana felt doubly guilty for he had been the unwitting cause of her abduction.

Again and again Rama lamented, “When I lost my kingdom, Sita was there to comfort me but now who is there to give me solace. 0 Lakshmana! How can I endure this wretched life without her”? Turning
to the deer he asked, “She was your friend. She loved you so. Will you not tell me where she has gone”?

Then Lakshmana noticed that the deer appeared to be putting on some sort of pantomime by running towards the south and running back again.

“Look Raman~ he said, “These deer are trying to tell us something. I think she must have been taken away in a southerly direction. Let us also go that way”.

Thus saying, he encouraged his brother and the two of them slowly walked towards the south, examining the ground as they went. Rama spied the faded lotus flowers and petals and exclaimed, “Look Lakshmana! I recognise these flowers. I had plucked them from the river and decorated her hair, just this morning. 0 Sita! My lovely wife! Where are you”! So saying, he took the petals in his hands and kissed them, while tears streamed from his eyes. Then suddenly his sorrow turned to rage. With eyes wild with anger, he shouted at the mountain, “I will crush you to powder. I will burn up the waters of this river with my wrath. I will destroy the entire world if you do not tell me where my princess”.

Lakshmana feared for his brother’s reason and going forward a little he pointed out to Rama the large furrows made on the soft ground by Ravana’s huge feet and the dainty footprints of Sita as she ran here and there trying to elude his grasp. Rama could not contain himself at these sights but Lakshmana went further and showed him the broken bow and the quiver and again the crushed chariot.

Rama cried out her name again and again and said, “0 Lakshmana Look! These are some of her jewels and these are her flowers which have been stamped into the ground. Who could be the owner, of such a magnificent bow? Here is the white umbrella, the insignia of a king Which king would have dared to commit such a crime. Here are two donkeys lying dead. The charioteer must have been a rakshasa. If their intention was to avenge the annihilation of their army, they have not than succeeded, for I can never live without her. Lakshmana you were right. Do you remember what you told me when Kaikeyi ordered me to go the forest. You said that I was too soft and that my kindnes; and devotion to dharma would be mistaken for cowardice. You were perfectly right. Keeping my senses under strict control, I have accepter this role of a mendicant for the good of humanity – to set an example of unflinching adherence to dharma?- but even the gods seem to have misunderstood me. But beware Lakshmana! From today I will be a changed man. My kindliness and compassion will be cast aside and I will be a most unforgiving and terrible opponent. I will make the three worlds empty of all creatures. Even fire and air will be burnt up in the holocaust of my anger and the gods will have to stand by and watch helplessly”.

Thus saying he took an arrow out of his quiver and fixed it on the bow. Lakshmana fell at his feet and begged him to desist from a universal destruction.

“Rama, -my beloved brother. You have always had only the good of the world in your mind. How can you give way to anger like this? The charm of the moon, the radiance of the sun, and the patience of mother earth, have all combined to make up the perfection of your personality. How can you allow your anger to get the better of you? Sita and you are both images of dharma. Evil can never befall you. Dharma must triumph in the end. Obviously there was some sort of scuffle here. It is your duty to find out who the miscreant was and to punish him for it and not to punish the whole of creation, which is guiltless.

Let us try to find out where Sita has been taken? Let us search the three worlds and if she cannot be found, then you can go about destroying the worlds but not till then. 0 tiger among men! You bore the trials and tribulations of a banishment on the eve of your coronation without a single word. How can you give way to your emotions now? You are to set an example to others. If you give into grief like this, how can an ordinary man control himself! Who is it who has never had any troubles? Even the history of our race shows that many of the kings had difficulties which they overcame with fortitude. No one can escape his karma. But you should not allow sorrow to gain supremacy over your mind. You have always been a god to me. Now the god in you seems to be sleeping, due to sorrow. Control your emotions and let your intellect rule your mind. Search for the one who has done you this grievous wrong and punish him. That is the duty of a Kshatriya”.

Rama heard him out in silence and unstrung his bow and returned the arrow to its quiver, “You are right, 0 Lakshmana! You must tell me what to do. I will follow your advice. My mind refuses to function. You should think for both of us”.

They went forward and soon came to the mighty, fallen figure of Jatayu. At first they thought he must be the rakshasa but on going closer they discovered that it was their dear friend, Jatayu, who was hanging on to his life in the hope of seeing Rama before drawing his last breath.

Jatayu was dying and spitting blood. Making a tremendous effort he said, “Rama do not waste your time here. My life as well as your wife have been taken by the rakshasa king, Ravana. I tried to stop him and almost succeeded but he cut me with his sword, and sped away to the south with Sita in his arms. Go to his kingdom and you will surely find her”.

Rama was overcome with sorrow to know that he was the unwitting cause of his friend’s death. He had fought valiantly but had to succumb to Ravana’s superior strength. Rama knelt on the ground beside Jatayu and bugged him and wept.

Laksnmana , he said. ?We have lost Sita and now our poor friend is also gone. I am sure there is no one in the whole world who is ~ as unfortunate as I. If I were to touch the waters of the ocean, I am sure they would dry up due to my misfortune. Fate has pushed me into this deep pit of pain and I know not how to get out of it”.
Rama sat beside the dying eagle stroking him with his loving hands. Life was ebbing fast from his body.

Once more Rama asked him, “Tell me if you can, how this has happened. Why has Ravana done this to me? I have not harmed him in any way. What prompted him to commit such a heinous act? What does he look like? Where does he live”?

Rama scarcely expected the dying bird to reply. He was speaking from the depths of his own sorrow, but the bird seeing Rama’s unhappiness made a tremendous effort and whispered, “Child, my life is fast ebbing away. All I can say is that he was carrying her away like a whirlwind towards the south. But take heart, for the time that he abducted her is called vijaya and it is certain that anything lost during that time, will be found again. Though he is a master of astronomy, Ravana seems to have misjudged the time. You will surely find Sita and kill Ravana, so please do not give in to grief. Now I beg of you to hold me in your arms, for my last moment has come and I will surely find release from this bondage of samsara if I am held in your holy hands’. He could speak no more and died in Rama’s arms, with his eyes looking tenderly into his and giving him salvation.

Rama was heartbroken and recalled to mind all the happy times they had spent with Jatayu. He told Lakshmana, “0 Lakshmana! Jatayu was like a father to us. We must give him a fitting funeral. Collect some firewood. He died for my sake and I shall cremate him with my own hands”.

He carried him tenderly in his arms to the banks of the river Godavari. A spot was selected and covered with darbha grass. Lakshmana brought wood and made a pyre on which Rama placed the bird with great love.

“0 king of birds”! he said, “May you reach those heavenly regions which are reserved for those who have performed great austerities”. So saying Rama kindled the fire by rubbing a fire stick and lit the pyre himself. Then he made his offerings to the forefathers and recited the appropriate verses. After the cremation was over, the two princes purified themselves in the river and sadly proceeded on their way.

Thus ends the seventh Canto called “The Rama Bereft” of the Aranya Kanda in the glorious Ramayana of the Sage Valmiki.

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