The Epic of Rama, Prince of India
Book III. Dasa-ratha-Viyoga
(The Death of the King)
On the third day of their exile, Rama and his wife and brother crossed the Ganges; on the fourth day they came to the hermitage of Bharadvaja, which stood where Allahabad now stands, on the confluence of the Ganges and the Jumna; on the fifth day they crossed the Jumna, the southern shores of which were then covered with woods; and on the sixth day they came to the hill of Chitrakuta, where they met the saint Valmiki, the reputed author of this Epic, “We have often looked,” says a writer in Calcutta Review, vol, xxii, “on that green hill: it is the holiest spot of that sect of the Hindu faith who devote themselves to this incarnation of Vishnu. The whole neighbourhood is Rama’s country. Every headland has some legend, every cavern is connected with his name, some of the wild fruits are still called Sita-phal, being the reputed food of the exile. Thousands and thousands annually visit the spot, and round
Grief for the banished Rama pressed on the ancient heart of Dasa-ratha, The feeble old king pined away and died, remembering and recounting on his death-bed how in his youth he had caused sorrow and death to an old hermit by killing his son. Scarcely any passage in the Epic is more touching than this old sad story told by the dying monarch.
The portions translated in this Book form the whole or the main portions of Sections xxvi., xxvii., xxxi., xxxix., xl., xlvi., lii., liv., lv., lvi., lxiii., and lxiv. of Book ii. of the original text.
I. Woman’s Love
“Dearly loved, devoted Sita! daughter of a royal line,
Part we now, for years of wand’ring in the pathless woods is mine,
For my father, promise-fettered, to Kaikeyi yields the sway,
And she wills her son anointed, – fourteen years doth Rama stray,
But before I leave thee, Sita, in the wilderness to rove,
Yield me one more tender token of thy true and trustful love!
Serve my crownéd brother, Sita, as a faithful, duteous dame,
Tell him not of Rama’s virtues, tell him not of Rama’s claim,
Since my royal father willeth, – Bharat shall be regent-heir,
Serve him with a loyal duty, serve him with obeisance fair,
Since my royal father willeth, – years of banishment be mine,
Brave in sorrow and in suffering, woman’s brightest fame be thine!
Keep thy fasts and vigils, Sita, while thy Rama is away,
Faith in Gods and faith in virtue on thy bosom hold their sway,
To my father Dasa-ratha honour and obeisance pay,
To my mother, Queen Kausalya, is thy dearest tendance due,
Offer her thy consolation, be a daughter fond and true!
Queen Kaikeyi and Sumitra equal love and honour claim,
With a soothing soft endearment sweetly serve each royal dame,
Cherish Bharat and Satrughna with a sister’s watchful love,
And a mother’s true affection and a mother’s kindness prove!
Listen, Sita, unto Bharat speak no heedless angry word,
He is monarch of Kosala and of Raghu’s race is lord,
Crownéd kings our willing service and our faithful duty own,
Dearest sons they disinherit, cherish strangers near the throne!
Bharat’s will with deep devotion and with faultless faith obey,
Truth and virtue on thy bosom ever hold their gentle sway,
And to please each dear relation, gentle Sita, be it thine,
Part we love! for years of wand’ring in the pathless woods is mine!”
Rama spake, and soft-eyed Sita, ever sweet in speech and word,
Stirred by loving woman’s passion boldly answered thus her lord:
“Do I hear my husband rightly, are these words my Rama spake,
And her banished lord and husband will the wedded wife forsake,
Lightly I dismiss the counsel which my lord hath lightly said,
For it ill beseems a warrior and my husband’s princely grade!
For the faithful woman follows where her wedded lord may lead,
In the banishment of Rama, Sita’s exile is decreed,
Sire nor son nor loving brother rules the wedded woman’s state,
With her lord she falls or rises, with her consort courts her fate,
If the righteous son of Raghu wends to forests dark and drear,
Sita steps before her husband wild and thorny paths to clear!
Take me to the pathless jungle, bid me by my lord abide,
Car and steed and gilded palace, vain are these to woman’s life,
Dearer is her husband’s shadow to the loved and loving wife!
For my mother often taught me and my father often spake,
That her home the wedded woman doth beside her husband make,
As the shadow to the substance, to her lord is faithful wife,
And she parts not from her consort till she parts with fleeting life!
Therefore bid me seek the jungle and in pathless forests roam,
Where the wild deer freely ranges and the tiger makes his home,
Happier than in father’s mansions in the woods will Sita rove,
Waste no thought on home or kindred, nestling in her husband’s love!
World-renowned is Rama’s valour, fearless by her Rama’s side,
Sita still will live and wander with a faithful woman’s pride,
And the wild fruit she will gather from the fresh and fragrant wood,
And the food by Rama tasted shall be Sita’s cherished food!
Bid me seek the sylvan greenwoods, wooded hills and plateaus high,
Limpid rills and crystal nullas as they softly ripple by,
And where in the lake of lotus tuneful ducks their plumage lave,
Let me with my loving Rama skim the cool translucent wave!
Years will pass in happy union, – happiest lot to woman given, –
Sita seeks not throne or empire, nor the brighter joys of heaven,
Heaven conceals not brighter mansions in its sunny fields of pride,
Where without her lord and husband faithful Sita would reside!
Therefore let me seek the jungle where the jungle-rangers rove,
Dearer than the royal palace, where I share my husband’s love,
And my wifely toil shall lighten Rama’s load of woe and care!”
Vainly gentle Rama pleaded dangers of the jungle life,
Vainly spake of toil and trial to a true and tender wife!
II. Brother’s Faithfulness
Tears bedewed the face of Lakshman as he heard what Sita said,
And he touched the feet of Rama and in gentle accents prayed:
“If my elder and his lady to the pathless forests wend,
Armed with bow and ample quiver Lakshman will on them attend,
Where the wild deer range the forest and the lordly tuskers roam,
And the bird of gorgeous plumage nestles in its jungle home,
Dearer far to me those woodlands where my elder Rama dwells,
Than the homes of bright Immortals where perennial bliss prevails!
Grant me then thy sweet permission, – faithful to thy glorious star,
Lakshman shall not wait and tarry when his Rama wanders far,
Grant me then thy loving mandate, – Lakshman hath no wish to stay,
None shall bar the faithful younger when the elder leads the way!”
“Ever true to deeds of virtue, duteous brother, faithful friend,
Dearer than his life to Rama, thou shalt not to forests wend,
Who shall stay by Queen Kausalya, Lakshman, if we both depart,
Who shall stay by Queen Sumitra, she who nursed thee on her heart?
For the king our aged father, he who ruled the earth and main,
Is a captive to Kaikeyi, fettered by her silken chain,
Little help can Bharat offer, standing by his mother’s side.
Thou alone can’st serve Kausalya when for distant woods I part,
When the memory of my exile rankles in her sorrowing heart,
Thou alone can’st serve Sumitra, soothe her sorrows with thy love,
Stay by them, my faithful Lakshman, and thy filial virtues prove,
Be this then thy sacred duty, tend our mothers in their woe,
Little joy or consolation have they left on earth below!”
Spake the hero: “Fear no evil, well is Rama’s prowess known,
And to mighty Rama’s mother Bharat will obeisance own,
Nathless if the pride of empire sways him from the righteous path,
Blood will venge the offered insult and will quench our filial wrath!
But a thousand peopled hamlets Queen Kausalya’s hests obey,
And a thousand arméd champions own her high and queenly sway,
Aye, a thousand village-centres Queen Sumitra’s state maintain,
And a thousand swords like Lakshman’s guard her proud and prosperous reign!
All alone with gentle Sita thou shalt track thy darksome way,
Grant it, that thy faithful Lakshman shall protect her night and day,
Grant it, with his bow and quiver Lakshman shall the forests roam,
And his axe shall fell the jungle, and his hands shall rear the home!
Grant it, in the deepest woodlands he shall seek the forest fruit,
Berries dear to holy hermits and the sweet and luscious root,
And when with thy meek-eyed Sita thou shalt seek the mountain crest,
Grant it, Lakshman ever duteous watch and guard thy nightly rest!”
Words of brother’s deep devotion Rama heard with grateful heart,
And with Sita and with Lakshman for the woods prepared to part:
Bows of war which Lord Varuna rendered to Videha’s king,
Coats of mail to sword impervious, quivers which can never fail,
And the rapiers bright as sunshine, golden-hilted, tempered well,
Safely rest these goodly weapons in our great preceptor’s hall,
Seek and bring them, faithful brother, for methinks we need them all!”
Rama spake; his valiant brother then the wondrous weapons brought,
Wreathed with fresh and fragrant garlands and with gold and jewels wrought,
“Welcome, brother,” uttered Rama, “stronger thus to woods we go,
Wealth and gold and useless treasure to the holy priests bestow,
To the son of saint Vasishtha, to each sage is honour due,
Then we leave our father’s mansions, to our father’s mandate true!”
III. Mother’s Blessings
Tears of sorrow and of suffering flowed from Queen Kausalya’s eye,
As she saw departing Sita for her blessings drawing nigh,
And she clasped the gentle Sita and she kissed her moistened head,
And her tears like summer tempest choked the loving words she said:
“Part we, dear devoted daughter, to thy husband ever true,
With a woman’s whole affection render love to husband’s due!
False are women loved and cherished, gentle in their speech and word,
When misfortune’s shadows gather, who are faithless to their lord,
Who through years of sunny splendour smile and pass the livelong day,
When misfortune’s darkness thickens, from their husband turn away,
And forget a woman’s duty, woman’s faith to wedded lord,
Who to holy love inconstant from their wedded consort part,
Manly deed nor manly virtue wins the changeful woman’s heart!
But the true and righteous woman, loving spouse and changeless wife,
Faithful to her lord and consort holds him dearer than her life,
Ever true and righteous Sita, follow still my godlike son,
Like a God to thee is Rama in the woods or on the throne!”
“I shall do my duty, mother,” said the wife with wifely pride,
“Like a God to me is Rama, Sita shall not leave his side,
From the Moon will part his lustre ere I part from wedded lord,
Ere from faithful wife’s devotion falter in my deed or word,
For the stringless lute is silent, idle is the wheel-less car,
And no wife the loveless consort, inauspicious is her star!
Small the measure of affection which the sire and brother prove,
Measureless to wedded woman is her lord and husband’s love,
True to Law and true to Scriptures, true to woman’s plighted word,
Can I ever be, my mother, faithless, loveless to my lord?”
Tears of joy and mingled sorrow filled the Queen Kausalya’s eye,
As she marked the faithful Sita true in heart, in virtue high,
And she wept the tears of sadness when with sweet obeisance due,
Spake with hands in meekness folded Rama ever good and true:
“Sorrow not, my loving mother, trust in virtue’s changeless beam,
Swift will fly the years of exile like a brief and transient dream,
Girt by faithful friends and forces, blest by righteous Gods above,
Thou shalt see thy son returning to thy bosom and thy love!”
For his failings unremembered, blessings and forgiveness prayed,
And his words were soft and gentle, and they wept to see him go,
Like the piercing cry of curlew rose the piercing voice of woe,
And in halls where drum and tabor rose in joy and regal pride,
Voice of grief and lamentation sounded far and sounded wide!
Then the true and faithful Lakshman parted from each weeping dame,
And to sorrowing Queen Sumitra with his due obeisance came,
And he bowed to Queen Sumitra and his mother kissed his head,
Stilled her anguish-laden bosom and in trembling accents said:
“Dear devoted duteous Lakshman, ever to thy elder true,
When thy elder wends to forest, forest-life to thee is due,
Thou hast served him true and faithful in his glory and his fame,
This is Law for true and righteous, – serve him in his woe and shame.
This is Law for race of Raghu known on earth for holy might,
Bounteous in their sacred duty, brave and warlike in the fight!
Therefore tend him as thy father, as thy mother tend his wife,
And to thee, like fair Ayodhya be thy humble forest life,
Go, my son, the voice of Duty bids my gallant Lakshman go,
Serve thy elder with devotion and with valour meet thy foe!”
IV. Citizens’ Lament
Spake Sumantra chariot-driver waiting by the royal car,
“Haste thee, mighty-destined Rama, for we wander long and far,
Fourteen years in Dandak’s forest shall the righteous Rama stray,
Such is Dasa-ratha’s mandate, haste thee Rama and obey.”
Mounted on the car of splendour for the pathless woods to part,
And the king for needs providing gave her robes and precious store,
For the many years of exile in a far and unknown shore,
And a wealth of warlike weapons to the exiled princes gave,
Bow and dart and linkéd armour, sword and shield and lances brave.
Then the gallant brothers mounted on the gold-emblazoned car,
For unending was the journey and the wilderness was far,
Skilled Sumantra saw them seated, urged the swiftly-flying steed,
Faster than the speed of tempest was the noble coursers’ speed.
And they parted for the forest; like a long unending night,
Gloomy shades of grief and sadness deepened on the city’s might,
Mute and dumb but conscious creatures felt the woe the city bore,
Horses neighed and shook their bright bells, elephants returned a roar!
Man and boy and maid and matron followed Rama with their eye,
As the thirsty seek the water when the parchéd fields are dry,
Clinging to the rapid chariot, by its side, before, behind,
Thronging men and wailing women wept for Rama good and kind:
“Draw the reins, benign Sumantra, slowly drive the royal car,
We would once more see our Rama banished long and banished far,
Iron-hearted is Kausalya from her Rama thus to part,
Rends it not her mother’s bosom thus to see her son depart?
True is righteous-hearted Sita cleaving to her husband still,
As the ever present sunlight cleaves to Meru’s golden hill,
Faithful and heroic Lakshman! thou hast by thy brother stood,
And my duty still unchanging thou hast sought the pathless wood,
Fixed in purpose, true in valour, mighty boon to thee is given,
And the narrow path thou choosest is the righteous path to heaven!”
And their eyes were fixed on Rama, pride of Raghu’s royal race,
Meanwhile ancient Dasa-ratha from his palace chamber came,
With each weeping queen and consort, with each woe-distracted dame!
And around the aged monarch rose the piercing voice of pain,
Like the wail of forest creatures when the forest-king is slain,
And the faint and feeble monarch was with age and anguish pale,
Like the darkened moon at eclipse when his light and radiance fail!
Rama saw his ancient father with a faltering footstep go,
Used to royal pomp and splendour, stricken now by age and woe,
Saw his mother faint and feeble to the speeding chariot hie,
As the mother-cow returneth to her young that loiters by,
Still she hastened to the chariot, “Rama! Rama!” was her cry,
And a throb was in her bosom and a tear was in her eye!
“Speed, Sumantra,” uttered Rama, “from this torture let me part,
Speed, my friend, this sight of sadness breaks a much-enduring heart,
Heed not Dasa-ratha’s mandate, stop not for the royal train,
Parting slow is lengthened sorrow like the sinner’s lengthened pain!”
Sad Sumantra urged the coursers and the rapid chariot flew,
And the royal chiefs and courtiers round their fainting monarch drew,
And they spake to Dasa-ratha: “Follow not thy banished son,
He whom thou wouldst keep beside thee comes not till his task is done!”
Dasa-ratha, faint and feeble, listened to these words of pain,
Stood and saw his son departing, – saw him not on earth again!
V. Crossing the Tamasa: the Citizens’ Return
Rama rested by the river, day of toilsome journey o’er,
And Ayodhya’s loving people by the limpid river lay,
Sad and sorrowing they had followed Rama’s chariot through the day!
“Soft-eyed Sita, faithful Lakshman,” thus the gentle Rama said,
“Hail the first night of our exile mantling us in welcome shade,
Weeps the lone and voiceless forest, and in darksome lair and nest,
Feathered bird and forest creature seek their midnight’s wonted rest,
Weeps methinks our fair Ayodhya to her Rama ever dear,
And perchance her men and women shed for us a silent tear,
Loyal men and faithful women, they have loved their ancient king,
And his anguish and our exile will their gentle bosoms wring!
Most I sorrow for my father and my mother loved and lost,
Stricken by untimely anguish, by a cruel fortune crost,
But the good and righteous Bharat gently will my parents tend,
And with fond and filial duty tender consolation lend,
Well I know his stainless bosom and his virtues rare and high,
He will soothe our parents’ sorrow and their trickling tear will dry!
Faithful Lakshman, thou hast nobly stood by us when sorrows fell,
Guard my Sita by thy valour, by thy virtues tend her well,
Wait on her while from this river Rama seeks his thirst to slake,
On this first night of his exile food nor fruit shall Rama take,
Thou Sumantra, tend the horses, darkness comes with close of day,
Weary was the endless journey, weary is our onward way!”
Gave them rest and gave them water from Tamasa’s limpid wave,
And performing night’s devotions, for the princes made their bed,
By the softly rippling river ’neath the tree’s umbrageous shade.
On a bed of leaf and verdure Rama and his Sita slept,
Faithful Lakshman with Sumantra nightly watch and vigils kept,
And the stars their silent lustre on the weary exiles shed,
And on wood and rolling river night her darksome mantle spread.
Early woke the righteous Rama and to watchful Lakshman spake
“Mark the slumbering city people, still their nightly rest they take,
They have left their homes and children, followed us with loyal heart,
They would take us to Ayodhya, from their princes loth to part!
Speed, my brother, for the people wake not till the morning’s star,
Speed by night the silent chariot, we may travel fast and far,
So my true and loving people see us not by dawn of day,
Follow not through wood and jungle Rama in his onward way,
For a monarch meek in suffering should his burden bravely bear,
And his true and faithful people may not ask his woe to share!”
Lakshman heard the gentle mandate, and Sumantra yoked the steed,
Fresh with rest and grateful fodder, matchless in their wondrous speed,
Rama with his gentle consort and with Lakshman true and brave,
Crossed beneath the silent starlight dark Tamasa’s limpid wave.
On the further bank a pathway, fair to view and far and wide,
Stretching onwards to the forests spanned the spacious country side,
“Leave the broad and open pathway,” so the gentle Rama said,
“Follow yet a track diverging, so the people be misled,
So our true and faithful people shall not know our southward way.”
Wise Sumantra hastened northward, then returning to the road,
By his master and his consort and the valiant Lakshman stood,
Raghu’s sons and gentle Sita mounted on the stately car,
And Sumantra drove the coursers travelling fast and travelling far.
Morning dawned, the waking people by Tamasa’s limpid wave,
Saw not Rama and his consort, saw not Lakshman young and brave,
And the tear suffused their faces and their hearts with anguish burned,
Sorrow-laden and lamenting to their cheerless homes returned.
VI. Crossing the Ganges, Bharad-vaja’s Hermitage
Morning dawned, and far they wandered, by their people loved and lost,
Drove through grove and flowering woodland, rippling rill and river crost,
Crossed the sacred Vedasruti on their still unending way,
Crossed the deep and rapid Gumti where the herds of cattle stray,
All the toilsome day they travelled, evening fell o’er wood and lea,
And they came where sea-like Ganga rolls in regal majesty,
’Neath a tall Ingudi’s shadow by the river’s zephyrs blest,
Second night of Rama’s exile passed in sleep and gentle rest.
Morning dawned, the royal chariot Rama would no further own,
Sent Sumantra and the coursers back to fair Ayodhya’s town,
Doffing then their royal garments Rama and his brother bold
Coats of bark and matted tresses wore like anchorites of old.
Guha, chief of wild Nishadas, boat and needed succour gave,
And the princes and fair Sita ventured on the sacred wave,
And the strong boat quickly bounding left fair Ganga’s northern shore.
“Goddess of the mighty Ganga!” so the pious Sita prayed,
“Exiled by his father’s mandate, Rama seeks the forest shade,
Ganga! o’er the three worlds rolling, bride and empress of the sea
And from Brahma’s sphere descended! banished Sita bows to thee
May my lord return in safety, and a thousand fattened kine,
Gold and gifts and gorgeous garments, pure libations shall be thine,
And with flesh and corn I worship unseen dwellers on thy shore,
May my lord return in safety, fourteen years of exile o’er!”
On the southern shore they journeyed through the long and weary day,
Still through grove and flowering woodland held their long and weary way,
And they slayed the deer of jungle and they spread their rich repast,
Third night of the princes’ exile underneath a tree was past.
Morning dawned, the soft-eyed Sita wandered with the princes brave,
To the spot where ruddy Ganga mingles with dark Jumna’s wave,
And they crost the shady woodland, verdant lawn and grassy mead,
Till the sun was in its zenith, Rama then to Lakshman said:
“Yonder mark the famed Prayaga, spot revered from age to age,
And the line of smoke ascending speaks some rishi’s hermitage,
There the waves of ruddy Ganga with the dark blue Jumna meet,
And my ear the sea-like voices of the mingling waters greet.
Mark the monarchs of the forest severed by the hermit’s might,
And the logs of wood and fuel for the sacrificial rite,
Mark the tall trees in their blossom and the peaceful shady grove,
There the sages make their dwelling, thither, Lakshman, let us rove.”
Where the vast and sea-like rivers met in sisters’ sweet embrace,
And the asram’s peaceful dwellers, bird of song and spotted deer,
Quaked to see the princely strangers in their warlike garb appear!
Rama stepped with valiant Lakshman, gentle Sita followed close,
Till behind the screening foliage hermits’ peaceful dwellings rose,
And they came to Bharad-vaja, anchorite and holy saint,
Girt by true and faithful pupils on his sacred duty bent.
Famed for rites and lofty penance was the anchorite of yore,
Blest with more than mortal vision, deep in more than mortal lore,
And he sat beside the altar for the agni-hotra rite,
Rama spake in humble accents to the man of holy might:
“We are sons of Dasa-ratha and to thee our homage bring,
With my wife, the saintly Sita, daughter of Videha’s king,
Exiled by my royal father in the wilderness I roam,
And my wife and faithful brother make the pathless woods their home,
We would through these years of exile in some holy asram dwell,
And our food shall be the wild fruit and our drink from crystal well,
We would practise pious penance still on sacred rites intent,
Till our souls be filled with wisdom and our years of exile spent!”
Pleased the ancient Bharad-vaja heard the prince’s humble tale,
And with kind and courteous welcome royal strangers greeted well,
And he brought the milk and arghya where the guests observant stood,
Crystal water from the fountain, berries from the darksome wood,
And a low and leafy cottage for their dwelling-place assigned,
As a host receives a stranger, welcomed them with offerings kind.
In the asram’s peaceful courtyard fearless browsed the jungle deer,
All unharmed the bird of forest pecked the grain collected near,
In his pure and peaceful accents rishi Bharad-vaja said:
“Not unknown or unexpected, princely strangers, have ye come,
I have heard of sinless Rama’s causeless banishment from home,
Welcome to a hermit’s forest, be this spot your place of rest,
Where the meeting of the rivers makes our sacred asram blest,
Live amidst these peaceful woodlands, still on sacred rites intent
Till your souls be filled with wisdom and your years of exile spent!”
“Gracious are thy accents, rishi Rama answered thus the sage,
“But fair towns and peopled hamlets border on this hermitage,
And to see the banished Sita and to see us, much I fear,
Crowds of rustics oft will trespass on thy calm devotions here,
Far from towns and peopled hamlets, grant us, rishi, in thy grace,
Some wild spot where hid in jungle we may pass these years in peace.”
“Twenty miles from this Prayaga,” spake the rishi pond’ring well,
“Is a lonely hill and jungle where some ancient hermits dwell,
Chitra-kuta, Peak of Beauty, where the forest creatures stray,
And in every bush and thicket herds of lightsome monkeys play,
Men who view its towering summit are on lofty thoughts inclined,
Earthly pride nor earthly passions cloud their pure and peaceful mind,
Hoary-headed ancient hermits, hundred autumns who have done,
By their faith and lofty penance heaven’s eternal bliss have won,
Holy is the fair seclusion for thy purpose suited well,
Or if still thy heart inclineth, here in peace and comfort dwell!”
Spake the rishi Bharad-vaja, and with every courteous rite,
Cheered his guests with varied converse till the silent hours of night,
Fourth night of the princes’ exile in Prayaga’s hermitage,
Passed the brothers and fair Sita honoured by Prayaga’s Sage.
VII. Crossing the Jumna – Valmiki’s Hermitage
Where the dark and eddying waters of the sacred Jumna stray,
Pondering by the rapid river long the thoughtful brothers stood,
Then with stalwart arms and axes felled the sturdy jungle wood,
Usira of strongest fibre, slender bamboo smooth and plain,
Jambu branches intertwining with the bent and twisting cane,
And a mighty raft constructed, and with creepers scented sweet,
Lakshman for the gentle Sita made a soft and pleasant seat.
Then the rustic bark was floated, framed with skill of woodman’s craft,
By her loving lord supported Sita stepped upon the raft,
And her raiments and apparel Rama by his consort laid,
And the axes and the deerskins, bow and dart and shining blade,
Then with stalwart arms the brothers plied the bending bamboo oar,
And the strong raft gaily bounding left for Jumna’s southern shore.
“Goddess of the glorious Jumna!” so the pious Sita prayed,
“Peaceful be my husband’s exile in the forest’s darksome shade,
May he safely reach Ayodhya, and a thousand fattened kine,
Hundred jars of sweet libation, mighty Jumna, shall be thine,
Grant that from the woods returning he may see his home again,
Grant that honoured by his kinsmen he may rule his loving men!”
On her breast her arms she folded while the princes plied the oar,
And the bright bark bravely bounding reached the wooded southern shore.
Where the unknown realm extended mantled by unending wood,
Gallant Lakshman with his weapons went before the path to clear,
Soft-eyed Sita followed gently, Rama followed in the rear.
Oft from tree and darksome jungle, Lakshman ever true and brave,
Plucked the fruit or smiling blossom and to gentle Sita gave,
Oft to Rama turned his consort, pleased and curious evermore,
Asked the name of tree or creeper, fruit or flower unseen before.
Still with brotherly affection Lakshman brought each dewy spray,
Bud or blossom of wild beauty from the woodland bright and gay,
Still with eager joy and pleasure Sita turned her eye once more,
Where the tuneful swans and saras flocked on Jumna’s sandy shore.
Two miles thus they walked and wandered and the belt of forest passed,
Slew the wild deer of the jungle, spread on leaves their rich repast,
Peacocks flew around them gaily, monkeys leaped on branches bent,
Fifth night of their endless wanderings in the forest thus they spent.
“Wake, my love, and list the warblings and the voices of the wood,”
Thus spake Rama when the morning on the eastern mountains stood,
Sita woke and gallant Lakshman, and they sipped the sacred wave,
To the hill of Chitra-kuta held their way serene and brave.
“Mark, my love,” so Rama uttered, “every bush and tree and flower,
Tinged by radiant light of morning sparkles in a golden shower,
Mark the flaming flower of Kinsuk and the Vilwa in its pride,
Luscious fruits in wild profusion ample store of food provide,
Mark the honeycombs suspended from each tall and stately tree,
How from every virgin blossom steals her store the faithless bee!
And from flowering fragrant forests peacocks send the answering cheer,
Oft the elephant of jungle ranges in this darksome wood,
For yon peak is Chitra-kuta loved by saints and hermits good,
Oft the chanted songs of hermits echo through its sacred grove,
Peaceful on its shady uplands, Sita, we shall live and rove!”
Gently thus the princes wandered through the fair and woodland scene,
Fruits and blossoms lit the branches, feathered songsters filled the green,
Anchorites and ancient hermits lived in every sylvan grove,
And a sweet and sacred stillness filled the woods with peace and love!
Gently thus the princes wandered to the holy hermitage,
Where in lofty contemplation lived the mighty Saint and Sage,
Heaven inspired thy song, Valmiki! Ancient Bard of ancient day,
Deeds of virtue and, of valour live in thy undying lay!
And the Bard received the princes with a father’s greetings kind,
Bade them live in Chitra-kuta with a pure and peaceful mind,
To the true and faithful Lakshman, Rama then his purpose said,
And of leaf and forest timber Lakshman soon a cottage made.
“So our sacred Sastras sanction,” thus the righteous Rama spake,
“Holy offering we should render when our dwelling-home we make,
Slay the black buck, gallant Lakshman, and a sacrifice prepare,
For the moment is auspicious and the day is bright and fair.”
Lakshman slew a mighty black-buck, with the antlered trophy came,
Placed the carcass consecrated by the altar’s blazing flame,
Radiant round the mighty offering tongues of red fire curling shone,
And the buck was duly roasted and the tender meat was done.
Pure from bath, with sacred mantra Rama did the holy rite,
And invoked the bright Immortals for to bless the dwelling site,
And to Vishnu Lord of Creatures, Rama raised the sacred song.
Righteous rite was duly rendered for the forest-dwelling made,
And with true and deep devotion was the sacred mantra prayed,
And the worship of the Bright Ones purified each earthly stain,
Pure-souled Rama raised the altar and the chaitya’s sacred fane.
Evening spread its holy stillness, bush and tree its magic felt,
As the Gods in Brahma’s mansions, exiles in their cottage dwelt,
In the woods of Chitra-kuta where the Malyavati flows,
Sixth day of their weary wand’rings ended in a sweet repose.
VIII. Tale of the Hermit’s Son
Wise Sumantra chariot-driver came from Ganga’s sacred wave,
And unto Ayodhya’s monarch, banished Rama’s message gave,
Dasa-ratha’s heart was shadowed by the deepening shade of night,
As the darkness of the eclipse glooms the sun’s meridian light!
On the sixth night, – when his Rama slept in Chitra-kuta’s bower, –
Memory of an ancient sorrow flung on him its fatal power,
Of an ancient crime and anguish, unforgotten, dark and dread,
Through the lapse of years and seasons casting back its death-like shade!
And the gloom of midnight deepened, Dasa-ratha sinking fast,
To Kausalya sad and sorrowing spake his memories of the past:
“Deeds we do in life, Kausalya, be they bitter, be they sweet,
Bring their fruit and retribution, rich reward or suffering meet,
Retribution of his karma, sequence of a mighty plan!
Oft in madness and in folly we destroy the mango grove,
Plant the gorgeous gay palasa for the red flower that we love,
Fruitless as the red palasa is the karma I have sown,
And my barren lifetime withers through the deed which is my own!
Listen to my tale, Kausalya, in my days of youth renowned,
I was called a sabda-bedhi, archer prince who shot by sound,
I could hit the unseen target, by the sound my aim could tell, –
Blindly drinks a child the poison, blindly in my pride I fell!
I was then my father’s Regent, thou a maid to me unknown,
Hunting by the fair Sarayu in my car I drove alone,
Buffalo or jungle tusker might frequent the river’s brink,
Nimble deer or watchful tiger stealing for his nightly drink,
Stalking with a hunter’s patience, loitering in the forests drear,
Sound of something in the water struck my keen and listening ear,
In the dark I stood and listened, some wild beast the water drunk,
’Tis some elephant, I pondered, lifting water with its trunk.
I was called a sabda-bedhi, archer prince who shot by sound,
On the unseen fancied tusker dealt a sure and deadly wound,
Ah! too deadly was my arrow and like hissing cobra fell,
On my startled ear and bosom smote a voice of human wail,
Dying voice of lamentation rose upon the midnight high,
Till my weapons fell in tremor and a darkness dimmed my eye!
Hastening with a nameless terror soon I reached Sarayu’s shore,
Saw a boy with hermit’s tresses, and his pitcher lay before,
Weltering in a pool of red blood, lying on a gory bed,
Feebly raised his voice the hermit, and in dying accents said:
That with quick and kingly justice slayest thus a hermit’s son?
Old and feeble are my parents, sightless by the will of fate,
Thirsty in their humble cottage for their duteous boy they wait,
And thy shaft that kills me, monarch, bids my ancient parents die,
Helpless, friendless, they will perish, in their anguish deep and high!
Sacred lore and life-long penance change not mortal’s earthly state,
Wherefore else they sit unconscious when their son is doomed by fate,
Or if conscious of my danger, could they dying breath recall,
Can the tall tree save the sapling doomed by woodman’s axe to fall?
Hasten to my parents, monarch, soothe their sorrow and their ire,
For the tears of good and righteous wither like the forest fire,
Short the pathway to the asram, soon the cottage thou shalt see,
Soothe their anger by entreaty, ask their grace and pardon free!
But before thou goest, monarch, take, O take thy torturing dart,
For it rankles in my bosom with a cruel burning smart,
And it eats into my young life as the river’s rolling tide
By the rains of summer swollen eats into its yielding side.’
Writhing in his pain and anguish thus the wounded hermit cried,
And I drew the fatal arrow, and the holy hermit died!
Darkly fell the thickening shadows, stars their feeble radiance lent,
As I filled the hermit’s pitcher, to his sightless parents went,
Darkly fell the moonless midnight, deeper gloom my bosom rent,
As with faint and falt’ring footsteps to the hermits slow I went.
Like two birds bereft of plumage, void of strength, deprived of flight,
Were the stricken ancient hermits, friendless, helpless, void of sight,
Lisping in their feeble accents still they whispered of their child,
Of the stainless boy whose red blood Dasa-ratha’s hands defiled!
‘Come, my son, to waiting parents, wherefore dost thou stay behind,
Sporting in the rippling water didst thou midnight’s hour beguile,
But thy faint and thirsting mother anxious waits for thee the while,
Hath my heedless word or utterance caused thy boyish bosom smart,
But a feeble father’s failings may not wound thy filial heart,
Help of helpless, sight of sightless, and thy parents’ life and joy,
Wherefore art thou mute and voiceless, speak, my brave and beauteous boy!’
Thus the sightless father welcomed cruel slayer of his son,
And an anguish tore my bosom for the action I had done,
Scarce upon the sonless parents could I lift my aching eye,
Scarce in faint and faltering accents to the father make reply.
For a tremor shook my person and my spirit sank in dread,
Straining all my utmost prowess, thus in quavering voice I said:
‘Not thy son, O holy hermit, but a Kshatra warrior born,
Dasa-ratha stands before thee by a cruel anguish torn,
For I came to slay the tusker by Sarayu’s wooded brink,
Buffalo or deer of jungle stealing for his midnight drink,
And I heard a distant gurgle, some wild beast the water drunk, –
So I thought, – some jungle tusker lifting water with its trunk,
And I sent my fatal arrow on the unknown, unseen prey,
Speeding to the spot I witnessed, – there a dying hermit lay!
From his pierced and quivering bosom then the cruel dart I drew,
And he sorrowed for his parents as his spirit heavenward flew,
Thus unconscious, holy father, I have slayed thy stainless son,
Speak my penance, or in mercy pardon deed unknowing done!’
Long and loud bewailed the parents by the cold unconscious dead,
And with hymns and holy water they performed the funeral rite,
Then with tears that burnt and withered, spake the hermit in his might:
‘Sorrow for a son beloved is a father’s direst woe,
Sorrow for a son beloved, Dasa-ratha, thou shall know!
See the parents weep and perish, grieving for a slaughtered son,
Thou shalt weep and thou shalt perish for a loved and righteous son!
Distant is the expiation, – but in fulness of the time,
Dasa-ratha’s death in anguish cleanses Dasa-ratha’s crime!’
Spake the old and sightless prophet; then he made the funeral pyre,
And the father and the mother perished in the lighted fire,
Years have gone and many seasons, and in fulness of the time,
Comes the fruit of pride and folly and the harvest of my crime!
Rama eldest born and dearest, Lakshman true and faithful son,
Ah! forgive a dying father and a cruel action done,
Queen Kaikeyi, thou hast heedless brought on Raghu’s race this stain,
Banished are the guiltless children and thy lord and king is slain!
Lay thy hands on mine, Kausalya, wipe thy unavailing tear,
Speak a wife’s consoling accents to a dying husband’s ear,
Lay thy hands on mine, Sumitra, vision fails my closing eyes,
And for brave and banished Rama wings my spirit to the skies!”
Hushed and silent passed the midnight, feebly still the monarch sighed,
Blessed Kausalya and Sumitra, blest his banished sons, and died.