– Ramayan: Book 7: Uttara Kanda – Best Book Canto I – Sita Abandoned

It is in this book of the aftermath that sage Valmiki recounts the whole
previous history of Ravana, the king of the rakshasas. It is also in this book that the painful episode of Ram’s repudiation of Sita is told. We may well wonder at the intentions of the sage in doing this. Maybe he wanted to compare the polaric differences in the towering personalities of the two men, who loved Sita so passionately. One, the lusty, powerful: rakshasa? Ravana, who was prepared to exterminate his entire race, his brothers, his friends and even his own sons, in order to quench his thirst for another man’s wife. Next, the divine personality of Ram: who made the heart-rending decision to subdue his passion for his lawfully wedded wife, and place his duty to his subjects first, who was prepared to sacrifice the one he loved most, on the altar of the cosmic law of dharma, which proclaims that a king should put God first, his country next and his own personal desires last. Ravana perished with the rest of his tribe while the land of Kosala flourished under the rule of its saintly king.

Thus did many years pass while Ram reigned with Sita by his side, helped by his beloved brothers and able ministers. There was an Ashoka
grove attached to their palace, which was even more beautiful than the one in Lanka. Fragrant trees like the champaka, Kadamba, ashoka and sandalwood were there and fruit trees like mango and pomegranate. After finishing his day’s work, Ram would often walk in these fragrant gardens with his adorable queen. One day while they were thus sitting in the garden and talking to each other, Ram noticed that his wife showed all signs of pregnancy. She was wearing a glistening red robe and her skin glowed with an ethereal beauty.

Ram was delighted and taking both her hands in his, he led her gently to an arbour in the grove and seated her tenderly on a jewelled seat. He offered her the nectar of many flowers, untouched by bees, in a golden goblet. With his own hands he raised the glass to her lips and made her sip the delightful concoction. He embraced his alluring wife with great love and asked her: “My darling one! I see that you are with child. This is the only thing which we lack in our lives. How radiant you look! I have no doubt that the child will be a wonderful infant. Tell me, my dearest love, how can I make you more happy? Is there some wish of yours which is still to be fulfilled? Ask for anything and it shall be yours”.

Sita raised her lotus face to his and whispered, “My Lord, I consider myself to be the luckiest woman alive. What further wish can your wife have, than to be beside you all the time”?

But Ram insisted, “My lovely one. I want to make you even happier than you are now, if that were possible. Tell me something which I can do for you. I am longing to shower you with everything, for it is said that a pregnant woman should have all her whims humoured”.

Sita turned her beautiful eyes on him and said, “Do you remember the forest near Chitrakoota where we used to wander, hand in hand? Do you remember the sages and their wives and the peace of their hermitages? I have a great desire to go and visit them once again and eat the wild fruits and roots and drink the pure waters of the Ganga and perhaps even stay there for a day or two”.

Ram looked adoringly at his beloved wife. There was nothing he could deny her. If anything, his love for her had increased with the passing years. He had never felt the desire to take another consort, as the rest of the kings used to do. In fact, the very idea was abhorrent to him. Sita was the most charming woman he had ever known and he desired none other.

Holding her hands in his, he looked deep into her eyes and said, “0 Vaidehi, my beloved wife, you shall certainly go there if that is what you wish. In fact, I will send you there tomorrow”.

Having given his promise to the princess of Mithila, Ram left her and went to the outer courtyard to talk with his friends. In the course of their light banter, he turned to his friend Bhadra and asked, “Tell me Bhadra, what do the people say about me and Sita and my brothers? Kings are always a butt of criticism for the common folk”.

Bhadra folded his palms and said, “Sire, people speak only good about you. Sometimes they discuss the events of past years, when you achieved the impossible, by killing the demon king, Ravana and rescuing the princess of Videha. Your exploits are recounted with great enthusiasm
by everyone “What else do they say, Bhadra. Tell me all. Why do you avert your d face? Is there something, which you feel should not be reported to me? ~ Have no fear? I want to know the good and the bad. No king can afford to ignore what people say of him, so tell me”.

In a faltering, low tone, Bhadra said, “They also remark that though your action in having killed the rakshasa, is to be applauded, your conduct with regard to your wife, is shameful. How could the king have accepted a woman who had been kept on Ravana’s lap and who had lived in his palace for so many months? How can the queen forge the indignities which she must have suffered? We will have to put with similar insults. Our wives will be able to go as they please as we will be forced to condone them. As the king, so the subjects’! This is what the people say, in their ignorance”.

Ram’s whole face changed when he heard this slanderous accusation against him and his immaculate wife. He could not speak a word. His friends tried to comfort him and said, “Your Majesty, it is the nature of common people to speak ill of the nobility. A king need not pay heed to such false accusations”.

Ram hardly heard what they were saying. Taking leave of then in his usual, courteous manner, he went to the garden and sat immersed in thought. He decided that it was his duty to check on this matter before coming to a decision. That evening, he wore the clothes of an ordinary citizen of Ayodhya and went incognito on a tour of the city. As luck would have it, as he passed the house of a washer-man, in one of the small streets of the city, he heard the sound of raised voices and went close to the door of the house and stood outside listening. The husband was berating his wife. “I have heard reports of your indecent behaviour. You have been seen talking to the nobleman who comes for a walk down this street. You may go back to your own home. I will not keep you here any longer. I belong to a respectable family and will not keep a loose woman as my wife. You are free to go where you please”.

The poor woman pleaded that she was totally innocent and had only answered some questions, the man had put to her. The washerman replied sternly, “Do you think I am Ram to tolerate such behaviour? He is the king and can do as he pleases. But, as for me, I will never keep a wife who has been seen with another man”

Ram stood riveted to the spot for a few seconds. He felt like a tree which had been struck by lightning. The tender buds and leaves of hope which had sprouted in his heart after their return from Lanka, were scorched and the naked, charred and blackened, branches raised their arms, in mute appeal to the heavens. He felt as if his whole body was on fire. All the fresh, green leaves had fallen off and only the stark, bare branches remained. He managed somehow to stagger back to the palace and going to a private chamber, he requested his brothers to come to him at once. They came immediately and were surprised to see Ram’s demeanour. He stood with his back to the door, looking out on the wintry garden. His face was pale and his eyes had a glazed look as he turned to face his brothers. His hands trembled slightly.

Lakshman knelt before him and said, “Brother what is it? Tell me. Where is the enemy? You know that you have but to command and I shall obey”.

Ram spoke in a voice which was drained of all emotion, “Do you know what the citizens are saying about me and Sita”?

All of them hung their heads and Ram continued, “I see that all of you know and have hidden the truth from me all these years. 0 Lakshman! You are witness to the fact that I refused to take her back after the war, until her purity was proved in the ordeal by fire. Yet these people now talk as if I had done a heinous act. My heart is breaking and I am drowning in sorrow, yet my duty as a king is clear before me. The first duty of a king is to his subjects and not to himself. Sita is dearer to me than life itself but I have no choice but to abandon her for the sake of my subjects.

Lakshman, take her away in the chariot with Sumantra, and leave her on the other side of the Ganga near the Tamasa river, where we stayed a long time ago. Just this morning she requested me to take her there. Let her have her wish. She will suspect nothing”.

Lakshman jumped to his feet and said, “Ram, you cannot do this to her! She is burnished gold, purified in fire. Please do not ask me to do this. I will do anything else you ask, but not this. Don’t you know that she is carrying your child in her womb. How can you bear to do this! Can you not wait till the child is born”?

His face carved out of stone, Ram said in a stern voice, “After the child is born, you will say, let her stay while she suckles the infant and then you’ll say, let her stay till he is five years old and thus it will go on and on and eventually Ram would have betrayed his country for the sake of his own felicity”.

He continued in a hard, loud voice, “I do not want to hear another word from any of you. I want none of your advice. I am your king and I demand only implicit obedience”. For a few stunned moments there was absolute silence, except for Ram’s heavy breathing due to his effort to suppress an emotion which threatened to overpower him.

At last, ashen in hue and mask-like face he said, “Go Lakshman! Leave her in a secluded spot on the banks of the Tamasa river, near the holy Ganga, close to some of the hermitages, and return immediately. Do not wait to talk to her. Do not try to explain anything. Let her think the worst of me or else she will die of a broken heart. Do not look at me so accusingly. Anyone who objects to my decision is my bitter enemy. Take her away this very instant, 0 Lakshman! If I see her even once, I am doomed. I will be unable to carry out my own command. If I see her fawn-like gaze fixed on me with a beseeching look, I will be lost and not all slander in the world will enable me to let her go. So go now! Go, before my heart fails me – before emotion weakens my adamantine resolve. Why do you hesitate? It is I, the king of the country who is commanding you”. His brothers could not speak
a word. Lakshman cursed his luck for having been chosen to carry out this terrible command.

His eyes brimming with tears, Ram stumbled out of the room and went to an enclosed spot in the garden where he would not be able to see Sita.

He spent the night in the garden, keeping a lonely vigil with the stars. If he went to his room and took his beloved in his arms, he knew that he would never be able to let her go. Who knew what bitter thoughts passed through his mind but he was firm in his resolve? Dharma was his god and to dharma he was prepared to sacrifice his beloved queen and his unborn child. Sita slept alone that night. She wondered at her Lord’s absence but then she thought it must be because he was held

up with some official matters. Like a child, she was excited at the thought of the treat in store for her on the morrow. Some of the happiest moments of her life had been spent in the forest with her loving husband and she was eagerly looking forward to spending at least another night in the hermitage with the loving wives of the sages. She had already tied up a small bundle of gifts for the ashramites and their wives and she was ready to go when Lakshman arrived.

Without looking at her, he said in a voice which was totally drained of emotion, “The king, your husband, has commanded me to fulfil your desire to visit the Ganga and the hermitages of the sages. Are you ready to leave”?

Sita was delighted and happily accompanied him to the waiting chariot. It was a grim twosome which set out in the pearly mist of the morn. Neither Sumantra nor Lakshman could speak a word or even look at her. Sita alone was full of cheer. She turned round for a last look at the sleeping town, not realising that it was, indeed, her last look. Suddenly her heart had misgivings. Everywhere she saw ill omens. Her right side and eye were twitching and she felt weak all of a sudden.

In an agitated voice, she asked, “0 son of Sumitra! Tell me, is all
well with your brother? I have not seen him this morning. Where was he in the night? I fear something inauspicious has happened” In a choking voice Lakshman said, “The king, your husband, is quite well. He gave orders that you should have an undisturbed night, since you had to undertake a strenuous journey in the morning. He told me to wish you well More than that he could not say.
By afternoon they reached the banks of the river Gomati and camped at one of the ashRams. Next morning they went forward in the chariot and reached the banks of the holy river. Here Lakshman could contain himself no longer and broke down and wept like a child.

“Why are you crying Lakshman”? asked Sita. “You are making me depressed. I have been longing to come here and now that you have brought me here, you make me sad, by your weeping. Is it because
you have been parted from Ram for two days? Then what about me? How much should I cry? I cannot endure life without him. Come, let us hurry and go to the ashRams and distribute our gifts and then we will return. I too am beginning to feel uneasy. I fear something is wrong with my Lord”

Wiping his eyes, Lakshman brought a boat and escorted Sita to
the opposite bank. He then fell at her feet and sobbed his heart out Sita was really disturbed at the sight. “Tell me Lakshman, what is the matter? Has something happened to my dear husband? Why didn’t he come? I was hoping he would come with me”. Till the end, her only thought was for him, who was her all. She never dreamt that the misfortune which the omens foretold was coming to her.

Eyes, full of tears, Lakshman looked pleadingly at her, “My noble queen! Forgive me for what I have to do. Ram has entrusted me with the ignoble task of abandoning you here. Better for me to have die rather than carry out this command of his”. So saying he prostratec himself before her.

Sita bent down and gently lifted him up, “What is it Lakshman? What is the reason for my husband’s sudden decision”? She could not believe that she was hearing rightly.

“Rumours are afloat everywhere, my lady, about you and about him I cannot tell you all. He forbade me to tell you anything. All I car say is that his heart broke when he heard the vile accusations against you. But he is the king. He is Dharma incarnate. The king’s duty is always to safeguard the interests of his subjects. Forgive him and forgive
me also, 0 gracious queen of Ayodhya! I can say no more. Night is fast approaching. How can I bear to leave you here, all alone, with
none to protect you? Ram never left you even for a minute, without asking me to guard you. The only time we both left you, was when the wicked king of the demons came and abducted you. Now who is there to look after you? May your mother, the earth, give you all protection. May the sky be your canopy. May this holy river look after all your wants. My lady, remember, you are carrying the seed of the lkshvaku line in your womb. It is your duty to safeguard it at all times”. Lakshman was frightened that in her agony, Sita might do some harm to herself.

Sita looked like a frightened deer, listening to Lakshman’s words and then said in a bewildered tone, “What sin have I committed, that for no reason of mine, my husband should repudiate me, twice? Surely I was born for sorrow. Grief alone seems to be my constant companion. Patiently I have to look at his forlorn face. Leaving my all, I followed my husband to the forest, inhabited by wild animals and rakshasas. No woman would have done as I did, yet now he has abandoned me. Was it my fault, that the rakshasa abducted me? When the sages ask me what crime I have committed, that my husband should abandon me, what should I tell them, 0 Lakshman? What wrong have I done? I cannot even take the easy path of ending my life in this holy river, for I will be guilty of breaking the noble line of the lkshvaku race. Lakshman, do not grieve. Leave me here and return to the king, my husband, and tell him that his wife wishes him well. A husband is a woman’s god and I have always considered him as such. May he find eternal fame by following the dharma of a king. More important than my suffering is the fact that his honour should remain intact. Never will Sita be guilty of bringing dishonour to Ram. Farewell Lakshman. You have been more than a brother to me. I have deep regard for you. I hold nothing against you. The shades of night are falling and you must go fast, lest my Lord becomes agitated”.

Lakshman fell at her feet once more. He could not speak a word. Slowly he backed his way to the boat and was ferried to the other shore.

He turned back to look at her once again and saw her lying on the ground, on the bosom of her mother, weeping as if her heart would break.

Sita looked up and saw the chariot receding in the distance. The plaintive cry of the peacock calling to its mate, jarred on her delicate nerves. The Ganga flowed smoothly on, as if to comfort her in her agony. She gazed, mesmerised by the glistening water and wondered what it would feel like to have them close over her head, like a balm, but then she felt the life within her move and she knew that she could not take the easy way out.

Thus ends the first Canto called “Sita Abandoned” of the Uttara Kanda in the glorious Ramyana of the Sage Valmiki.

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