Ramayana: Vishwamitra, Rama's Teacher

At the end of this part of the story, you will read that Vishwamitra told stories to young Prince Rama as part of his education. Those stories are not included here, but you can find them at Wikipedia: Vishnu's Incarnation as Vamana, The Churning of the Ocean, The Descent of Ganga, and Gautama's Cursing of Indra.

[Notes by LKG]

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

Vishwamitra, Rama's Teacher

The Infant Rama

Of the four children Rama was the most beautiful: lying in his white cradle, he was like to a blue lotus bloom amidst the gleaming waves of the Ganges. Vasishtha, the wise Brahman, perceived that he had all the marks of Vishn, and revealed his knowledge to the Maharajah, by whom the child was well beloved.

One evening, the full moon rose in all its splendour, and Rama stretched out his hands because he desired to have it for a toy. His mother bought him jewels, but he threw them from him and wailed and wept until his eyes were red and swollen. Many of the women assembled round the cradle in deep concern. One said that the child was hungry, but he refused to drink; another that the Sasti was unpropitious, and offerings were at once made to that goddess; still Rama wept. A third woman declared that a ghost haunted and terrified the child, and mantras were chanted.

When the women found that they were unable to soothe Kausalya's son, the Maharajah was called, but Rama heeded him not. In his despair, Dasaratha sent for his chief counsellor, who placed in Rama's hands a mirror which reflected the moon. Then the little prince was comforted, believing that he had obtained the moon; he ceased to weep, and everyone was put at ease once again.

When the children grew older they began to lisp words, and as they were unable to pronounce "peeta" and "mata" they said "pa" and "ma." If Rama were asked his name, he answered "Ama." Sometimes the Maharajah sat among his sage counsellors with the little boy upon his knee.

In their third year, the princes had their ears pierced, and after that they played with other children. They made clay images of gods and put clay offerings in their mouths, and they broke the images because they would not eat.

The Education of Rama

Their education began when they were five years old. Vasishtha was the preceptor, and first he worshipped Saraswati, goddess of learning, and instructed his pupils to make offerings of flowers and fruit. They received instruction daily, beginning with the alphabet; then they studied grammar, and at length they mastered eighteen languages; they were also instructed in music and dancing and painting and in all the sciences. From time to time the princes were examined by their royal sire in the presence of his counsellors.  Afterwards they were trained to exercise in arms and take part in military sports, and they became skilled archers, and elephant riders, and horsemen and charioteers.

Of all the princes Rama was the most accomplished; he rose above the others like to a flag which flutters proudly above a high dome.

The Arrival of Vishvamitra

Now when the princes were sixteen years old, their royal sire began to consider what brides should be selected for them. It chanced that while he was discussing this matter one day with his counsellors, Vishwamitra paid a visit to the palace. Dasaratha welcomed him with due honours, and spake saying: "Speak and tell what is thy request so that I may grant it speedily."

That mighty sage, who had been a Kshatriya [warrior] in former times, but became a Brahman after practising rigid and long austerities, made answer and said: "O Maharajah, the Rakshasas are destroying our sacrificial offerings, and I pray you to permit Rama to return with me to my hermitage, for he is mighty and brave and young and is able to overpower the demons."

Reluctantly did Dasaratha consent, but not until Vasishtha had reassured him, and he commanded that Lakshmana should accompany Rama to the hermitage. Then the princes took leave of their parents and went away with Vishwamitra.

A Journey with Vishvamitra

On the first night, they abode in a hermitage situated where the river Sarayu pours into the Ganges, and the sage informed the princes that on that very spot Shiva had been wounded by the arrows of Kamadeva, god of love, whom he angrily consumed with the fire that issued from his third eye.

Next day the sage led the two princes towards a dark and fearsome jungle haunted by numerous beasts of prey in which dwelt the terrible Rakshasa woman named Taraka, mother of Maricha; she was misshapen and horrible, and continually ravaged all that country. Rama twanged his bow to challenge her, and she came towards the princes roaring angrily and throwing boulders. Because she was a female, the sons of Dasaratha were reluctant to cause her death.

Image source: Rama and Lakshmana attack Thataka

Rama shot arrows and cut off both her arms, and Lakshmana deprived her of nose and ears. She immediately changed her shape and became invisible, but by the power of sorcery continued to cause many stones to fall in showers about the young heroes. Vishwamitra urged Rama to slay her, and, guided by sound alone, he shot a great arrow which caused her death. Then the sage rejoiced greatly, and embracing Rama kissed his head.

In the morning Vishwamitra chanted powerful mantras, which caused celestial weapons to appear for Rama, and the spirits of the weapons stood before the prince with clasped hands and said: "We are thy servants, O nobly generous one. Good betide thee! Whatever thou dost desire, lo! we shall accomplish for thee."

Said Rama: "When I have need of you, I will think of you, and then you will wait upon me."

Thereafter, Vishwamitra led the princes to his hermitage, which was situated in a pleasant grove where deer disported and birds sang sweetly. All the sages welcomed them.

It chanced that when six days had gone past, the Brahmans prepared to offer up a sacrifice. Suddenly a band of Rakshasas, led by Maricha, son of the hag Taraka and Savahu, rushed towards the altar to defile the offering with bones and blood. Rama thought of his celestial weapons, and they immediately appeared beside him. He cast one at Maricha which drove him hundreds of miles out to sea, and he threw a fire weapon at Savahu which consumed him; then he attacked and slew all the other demons. . . . The sages rejoiced greatly, and honoured the prince.

The Journey to Mithila

Next morning, Vishwamitra informed Rama and Lakshmana that he and the other sages purposed to attend a great sacrifice which was to be offered up by Janaka, Rajah of Mithila. "You will accompany us," he said, "and the rajah will show you Shiva's great bow, which neither god nor man can break."

Now, both while they abode at the hermitage and as they journeyed towards Mithila, the princes heard the sacred legends of Vishnu in his dwarf incarnation, of the Churning of the Ocean, of the descent of Ganga through Shiva's hair, and of the cursing of Indra by a sage.

(1100 words)

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