– Ramayan: Book 3: Aranya Kanda – Book Of Forest Canto VIII – The Painful Trek

At least now he knew where Sita had been taken. It was up to hin ~ to find her. There appeared to be some cause for striving. Lakshman was greatly relieved at Rama’s change in attitude. He had never seen his brother angry and it had really frightened him. They walked fast towards the south since Jatayu had been quite definite about the direction taken by Ravana. It was a sad trek. Usually Sita would walk between them and ask a thousand questions. There would be frequent stops to allow her to pluck flowers or watch a deer or bird.

Rama could not speak at all and Lakshmana walked silently beside him. Both were absorbed in their own unhappy thoughts. The~ penetrated deeper and deeper into the dense forest, inhabited by wolve and tigers. The darkness was deep and forbidding. They had to rest frequently on the way since Lakshmana had to hack a path for them This was not a place frequented by rishis. Soon they came to a cave. At the entrance stood a rakshasi. She was immense in size and fearful to look at. She approached Lakshmana and solicited him as Shurpanekha had done earlier.

“My name is Ayomukhi”, she said, “and I want you as my mate Come with me and let us be away”.
Lakshmana had just about reached the end of his patience. He was racked by feelings of guilt about Sita and sorrow at Jatayu’s death and Rama’s extraordinary behaviour. Without bothering to exchange words with her, he simply lifted up his sword and sliced off her nose, ears and breasts. She roared with pain and rage and ran away. They walked on without a word.

Lakshmana sensed that there was some danger ahead and warned Rama to be alert. Just then they heard a dreadful noise as if the whole forest was being felled. Soon they came upon an enormous figure of a rakshasa, who appeared to have no head. His mouth was in his stomach. He was glaring balefully at them through his one eye, which was on his chest. His enormous tongue was lolling out of his cavernous mouth as if licking his lips in anticipation of the approaching meal. He had arms as long as trees and there was no way that they could by-pass him. Stretching his arms he caught them both and pulled them towards his mouth on his stomach.

Lakshmana was stricken with fear and said. “Brother, please save yourself and go and look for Sita, while this monster eats me up”. Rama told him not to give into despair. The creature was delighted at his prize and said, “It’s a long time since I ate human flesh. It’s so much tastier than the flesh of animals. You will never be able to escape me”.

Rama turned to Lakshmana and said, ?Misfortune after misfortune has been heaped on us, and now it looks as if we are going to be eaten up by this monster. Fate is the one enemy whom no one can conquer Lakshmana said, “Brother let us cut off the arms of this monster?. Hearing this, the rakshasa tried to cram them into his mouth as fast as possible, but quick as a thought, Rama cut off his right arm and Lakshmana his left and the monster fell to the ground with a horrendous noise, crushing some trees as he fell. He realised that these were not ordinary mortals and asked them who they were. They told him their lineage. When he heard this, Kabandha (that was his name) became very happy and said.

“I became a rakshasa due to the curse of the rishis. I was once as handsome as the two of you but I used to play pranks on the rishis by taking on different forms in order to frighten them. At last one day I took on this monstrous form and they cursed me that I would remain like this for the rest of my life. When I begged them to release me from the curse, they said that I would be released, when Rama, the son of Dasaratha, came to the forest and cut off my arms. And now you have come. Rama, I beg of you to cremate me and thus release me from this dreadful curse, so that I can regain my old form.

Rama said, “My wife has been abducted by a rakshasa called Ravana. Could you tell us anything about him?”.

Kabandha said that he had lost his memory but he would regain it with his old form and then he would tell them everything they wanted to know. He asked them to dig a huge pit and throw him in and make a bonfire with his body. As the huge body was cremated, there rose the figure of a handsome personage called Dhanu.

His memory returned and he said, “There is one person who can help you to get your wife back and his name is Sugriva. He is a monkey chieftain and is the brother of Vali. This Vali has driven him out of his kingdom and at the moment Sugriva is living with four companions on another hill called Rishyarnukha on the banks of the lake Pampa. He is brave and powerful and he will be able to help you. Do not indulge in grief but proceed straightaway towards Pampa. Follow the path to the west. It will lead you to a park called Nandana and very soon you will reach the lake called Pampa. There, in that beautiful place, you will find some solace. A disciple of the old rishi Matanga is living there waiting for you to come. She is very old and her name is Shabari. She is waiting to see you before leaving her body. This place is at the foot of the mountain called Rishyarnukha on which Sugriva lives. Go to him, 0 Rama, and you will succeed in your mission. Now please grant me leave to return to my celestial abode”. So saying that divine being disappeared from their sight.

The two princes felt very happy at this unexpected meeting and his message of consolation. They decided to proceed straightaway to Shabari’s ashrama.

After two days journey they reached lake Pampa. They made their way to Shabari’s ashrama which was situated on the side of the lake. Shabari was a very old woman, bent and wrinkled with age. Her long, matted, grey hair, fell almost to the ground. She had been awaiting
Rama’s arrival for many years and she recognised him at a glance. Rama made kind inquiries about her welfare and about her austerities.

She bowed humbly before him and said, “My Lord, the fruit of my austerities is now standing before my eyes. The moment your glance fell on me, I was purified. I am now certain to attain salvation. The rishis whom I served for many years, all went to their heavenly abode. They asked me to wait here for your arrival. All these years I have been waiting for you. Every day I have been collecting fruits from this forest and preserving them for you”.

She went and brought her cherished store of fruit. She had tasted each berry and kept only those which were most delicious. It is considered to be very bad manners to offer another person something which has been defiled by one’s own mouth but being a woman of a lower order, she was not aware of these rules. All she knew was that she should give only the best, to her beloved Lord. Rama knew her heart and much to Lakshmana’s astonishment, he sat and ate all the
fruits which the old woman offered to him. She made him sit down and squatting beside him, she took the fruits one by one and placed them lovingly in his mouth, while Lakshmana watched fascinated. Ram smiled reassuringly at him and continued to eat the fruits with apparen relish. After this, she begged him to give her permission to depart to another world.

Rama said, “You are indeed a highly realised soul. May all your desire be granted. You will surely attain the world of the rishis whom you served so faithfully”~ Hearing these words of Rama, she was very happy She sat in meditative pose and was consumed by the fire of her tapas After she shed her body, they walked along the sides of the lake and they were amazed at the holiness of the spot. The vibrations let by the rishis were so powerful that tigers and lambs strolled about without fear of each other. Rama found a lot of solace for the pain in his heart but they had no time to waste and they hurried forward impatient to reach the mountain of Rishyarnukha and meet Sugriva Soon they reached the banks of another lake. Nature was lavish in her gifts to this place. Flowering trees and bushes abounded. The grassy banks were strewn with flowers, peacocks were dancing and birds singing melodiously. Rama was overcome with sorrow once again and he sat
down dejected and asked Lakshmana to carry on and meet Sugriva, for he could go no further. Lakshmana was surprised. “What is the matter brother?” he inquired.

“The beauty of this place makes me ache for Sita. I cannot live without her. How she would have loved this place! I can have no peace until I am reunited with her. Please go on and meet Sugriva on my behalf. I will sit herewith the memories of my beloved wife. This is the vernal season, 0 Lakshmana. It makes me long for my love. My love for her has grown with every passing day. Look at the beauty of this lake filled with lotuses. I used to love to pluck them for her and decorate her hair. My mind is pierced with the arrows of love. I cannot concentrate on anything. I can only think of the princess: of Videha. The wind is filled with the perfume of flowers. It is scattering petals on my face, as she used to do sometimes to tease me. It seem: to be dancing to the tune of the cuckoos. Look at the branches of these trees – how they are entwined.

They seem to be embracing each other The perfume of sandalwood is being wafted all over my body. Sita would have loveed it. I am drowned in sorrow and only Sita can comfort me and she is far, far away. Look Lakshmana at those birds. They are all flying in pairs. Ah! my little dove. Where is she now? In this vernal season, she must be equally smitten with the pangs of separation. 0 Lakshmana! I am on fire with desire for Sita. My whole body burns. I miss her large black eyes, her sweet voice, her caressing touch. How can I continue to live apart from her? She used to love this season and she must be pining for me, as I am for her. Lakshmana, I am consumed with worry about her. I hope she will not kill herself. My life is in her keeping and hers in mine. We cannot exist without each other. Everything about this place makes me long for her and I am unable to bear this pain”.

Lakshmana had thought that Rama had got over his sorrow but now he realised that it was not so. He did not know what to say. He had never realised the extent of his brother’s feelings for Sita. He felt relieved that he had never felt such a depth of passion for his own wife, Urmila. He had been able to leave her without a pang. His whole life was bound up with his brother Rama, and he was happy that he could be with him all the time. At last in order to comfort Rama he said, “I know
brother, what a jewel Sita is and how impossible it would be to find another like her but how can you let yourself be overwhelmed by this storm of feeling. Without a second thought, you threw away a kingdom and went to the forest, serene and unmoved. You have the courage of a lion. How can you give into grief like this? Let us keep going and find the one, who stole Sita and punish him as he deserves to be punished.

Moreover, don’t you think that Sita will be waiting for you to go and rescue her. She will not expect you to sit here, bemoaning your loss. She will be expecting you to forge ahead to find out her whereabouts. Be firm and strong. The pain of separation becomes greater when you dwell on it. Abandon this grief and let us get started on our search for Sita. Wherever he has imprisoned her, in this world or the next, we will find her. Come brother, shed this sorrow and become your own self – undaunted, firm and serene, under all circumstances. Enthusiasm coupled with effort will get us anything we desire ?. Rama found great comfort in these words of Lakshmana, and shaking away the sorrow he moved towards the mountam of Rishyarnukha with firm steps. Rama’s eyes
looked longingly at the cascades tumbling over themselves in delight, line and refused to let his mind be swayed by thoughts of his beloved. The most important thing was to save her at all cost. Very soon they reached the mountain and started climbing, looking around for anyone who resembled Sugriva.

Thus ends the eighth Canto called “The Painful Trek” of the Aranya Kanda in the glorious Ramayana of the Sage Valmiki.

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