Sunday, July 6, 2014

Ramayana: Rama's Quest for Sita

Those of you who were in the Indian Epics class will find an episode here, a quite famous one in fact, that was not included in the versions of the Ramayana that you read for class: the story of Rama, Lakshmana, and the demon Kabandha! You can see a Kabandha image gallery at the Indian Epics Resources blog.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Ramayana unit. Story source: Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913).

Rama's Quest for Sita

Rama's Grief

RAMA wept for Sita. He searched hither and thither through the forest, and called on every mountain and tree and on every bird and every beast, asking whither she had gone. When he found a tattered garland which his loved one had worn, he swooned with overpowering grief.

Then Lakshmana sprinkled water drops on his face until he revived. "Alas! my brother," he cried, "do not sorrow thus lest death should snatch thee away."

Said Rama: "Sita is my heart's love. I cannot live without her. For my sake she deserted the royal palace to wander in this fearsome jungle. Now that she is gone, the moments seem longer than years. . . . How can I live on when she is lost to me?"

Lakshmana comforted his brother; then they arose together and continued their vain search. . . . Rama beheld a beauteous lotus in a clear stream, and, blinded with tears, he deemed it was the face of Sita. "O hard-hearted one," he exclaimed, "art thou hiding there among the water blooms? Seekest thou to test my love in this manner? Arise and come to me, my sweet love, nor doubt me any longer."

But the bloom moved not, and Lakshmana led away his grief-distracted brother.

"Mayhap she hath returned to the hut now," Rama cried. Then the brethren hastened to the hermitage, but found it empty as before. . . . Rama wailed in the moon-light and cried to the orb of night: "O moon! Mankind welcome thy coolness, but thou dost bring to me naught but sorrow and tears. . . . Thou lookest over the whole world, beholding all living beings. Where, O tell me, where is my beloved one, my lost Sita?"

Rama wandered fitfully through the jungle: the moonbeams and the shadows fluttered around, and it seemed as if the face of Sita were peering from everywhere. So passed a sleepless night, full of mourning and illusions.

Jatayus

On the morrow, the brethren went forth again in quest of the lost one. They came to the place where Jatayus lay dying, and that lordly bird spake to Rama and related all that had befallen Sita and himself.

Rama sat on the ground; he embraced the dying Vulture King, and said unto Lakshmana: "Alas! my brother, the noble Jatayus hath given up his life to serve me. I have lost my kingdom and my-sire; I have lost Sita, and now our ally, the Rajah of Vultures, is dying. . . . All my friends are passing away. If I were to sit in the shade of a tree, the tree would fall; if I stooped to drink water from a river, verily the river would dry up." . . .

Then he spake to Jatayus, saying: "Whither hath Ravana gone with my well-beloved?"

Said the Vulture: "He went southward towards an unknown forest fastness. . . . Alas! My strength fails, mine eyes grow blind, my life is ebbing from my body."

When he had spoken thus, Jatayus died in Rama's arms, and his soul ascended to the heaven of Vishnu in a chariot of fire.

Kabandha

Thereafter the brethren went towards the south. On their way they met a black demon of monstrous size; his head was in the middle of his body; he had but one eye, and his teeth were numerous and long. Suddenly the misshapen demon stretched out his two great arms, and the brethren fought against the arms.

The demon cried: "Who are ye that dare to combat with me? I welcome ye because I am an hungered this day and long to feast on human flesh."

Rama and Lakshmana fought on until they cleft both the great arms that were coiled around them, whereat the monster fell upon the ground. Said Rama: "We are Dasaratha's sons, who are exiles in the jungle."

Image source: Rama, Lakshmana and Kabandha

Then the demon revealed that he was Kabandha, and bade them burn his body so that he might be bereft of his Rakshasa form and nature; thereafter, he promised, he would inform them regarding Sita.

The brethren dug a pit and cremated the monster, and from the fire arose Kabandha, the Gandharva, who had been placed under spells. He spake and said: "Ravana dwells in the island of Lanka; he is the King of Rakshasas. If thou wouldst fain overcome him, thou must seek the aid of the ape chief, Sugriva, King of the Vanars, who dwells on Rishyamukha mountain."

Hanuman and Sugriva

When the brethren went towards this mountain, Hanuman, son of Vayu, the wind god, a counsellor of the Ape King, came forth to meet them. He conducted Rama and Lakshmana before Sugriva, to whom they related the story of Sita's abduction.

Said Sugriva: "Some days past I beheld a woman who was borne aloft in the arms of a flying Rakshasa; she threw down her ornaments, which we have preserved with care."

Then the ornaments were brought forth, and they were recognized by Lakshmana, but Rama wept so profusely that he knew not whether he gazed upon the jewels of Sita or not.

Sugriva, who was the son of Surya, the sun god, desired to aid Rama, but he told that his bride and his kingdom had been taken from him by his half-brother Bali, son of Indra, whom he feared. Then Rama promised to slay Bali and restore the kingdom to Sugriva. And as he promised so did he do. Sugriva challenged his brother to single combat, and Rama discharged an arrow which pierced the heart of the usurper.
Image source: Death of Vali

All the apes rejoiced greatly when the rightful King of the Vanars was restored to his throne.

The rainy season came on soon afterwards, and Rama and Lakshmana went to dwell upon the mountain Malyavana, where they found a cave.

Next: Hanuman

(900 words)





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