The Epic of Rama, Prince of India
Book IV. Rama-Bharata-Sambada
(The Meeting of the Princes)
Few passages in the Epic are more impressive than Rama’s wise and kindly advice to Bharat on the duties of a ruler, and his firm refusal to Bharat’s passionate appeal to seat himself on the throne. Equally touching is the lament of Queen Kausalya when she meets Sita in the dress of an anchorite in the forest.
But one of the most curious passages in the whole Epic is the speech of Jabali the Sceptic, who denied heaven and a world hereafter. In ancient India as in ancient Greece there were different schools of philosophers, some of them orthodox and some of them extremely heterodox, and the greatest latitude of free thought was permitted. In Jabali, the poet depicts a free-thinker of the broadest type. He ridicules the ideas of Duty and of Future Life with a force of reasoning which a Greek sophist and philosopher could not have surpassed. But Rama answers with the fervour of a righteous, truth-loving, God-fearing man.
All persuasion was in vain, and Bharat returned to Ayodhya with Rama’s sandals, and placed them on the throne, as an emblem of Rama’s sovereignty during his voluntary exile. Rama himself then left Chitra-kuta and sought the deeper forests of Dandak, so
The portions translated in this Book are the whole or the main portions of Sections xcix., c., ci., civ., cviii., cix., cxii., and cxix. of Book ii. of the original text.
I. The Meeting of the Brothers
Sorrowing for his sire departed Bharat to Ayodhya came,
But the exile of his brother stung his noble heart to flame,
Scorning sin-polluted empire, travelling with each widowed queen,
Sought through wood and trackless jungle Chitra-kuta’s peaceful scene.
Royal guards and Saint Vasishtha loitered with the dames behind,
Onward pressed the eager Bharat, Rama’s hermit-home to find,
Nestled in a jungle thicket, Rama’s cottage rose in sight,
Thatched with leaves and twining branches, reared by Lakshman’s faithful might.
Faggots hewn of gnarléd branches, blossoms culled from bush and tree,
Coats of bark and russet garments, kusa spread upon the lea,
Store of horns and branching antlers, fire-wood for the dewy night, –
Spake the dwelling of a hermit suited for a hermit’s rite.
“May the scene,” so Bharat uttered, “by the righteous rishi told,
Markalvati’s rippling waters, Chitra-kuta’s summit bold,
And the deep and hollow caverns where the wild beasts make their home,
Mark the spacious wooded uplands, wreaths of smoke obscure the sky,
Hermits feed their flaming altars for their worship pure and high.
Done our weary work and wandering, righteous Rama here we meet,
Saint and king and honoured elder! Bharat bows unto his feet,
Born a king of many nations, he hath forest refuge sought,
Yielded throne and mighty kingdom for a hermit’s humble cot,
Honour unto righteous Rama, unto Sita true and bold,
Theirs be fair Kosala’s empire, crown and sceptre, wealth and gold!”
Stately Sal and feathered palm-tree on the cottage lent their shade,
Strewn upon the sacred altar was the grass of kusa spread,
Gaily on the walls suspended hung two bows of ample height,
And their back with gold was pencilled, bright as Indra’s bow of might,
Cased in broad unfailing quivers arrows shone like light of day,
And like flame-tongued fiery serpents cast a dread and lurid ray,
Resting in their golden scabbards lay the swords of warriors bold,
And the targets broad and ample bossed with rings of yellow gold,
Glove and gauntlet decked the cottage safe from fear of hostile men,
As from creatures of the forest is the lion’s lordly den!
Calm in silent contemplation by the altar’s sacred fire,
Holy in his pious purpose though begirt by weapons dire,
Clad in deer-skin pure and peaceful, pouring on the sacred flame,
In his bark and hermit’s tresses like an anchorite of fame,
Lion-shouldered, mighty-arméd, but with gentle lotus eye,
Lord of wide earth ocean-girdled, but intent on penance high,
Rama sat with meek-eyed Sita, faithful Lakshman loitered near!
“Is this he whom joyous nations called to fair Ayodhya’s throne,
Now the friend of forest-rangers wandering in the woods alone,
Is this he who robed in purple made Ayodhya’s mansions bright,
Now in jungle bark and deer-skin clad as holy anchorite,
Is this he whose wreathéd ringlets fresh and holy fragrance shed,
Now a hermit’s matted tresses cluster round his royal head,
Is this he whose royal yajnas filled the earth with righteous fame,
Now inured to hermit’s labour by the altar’s sacred flame,
Is this he whose brow and forehead royal gem and jewel graced,
Heir to proud Kosala’s empire, eldest, noblest, and the best?”
Thus lamented pious Bharat for his heart was anguish-rent,
As before the feet of Rama he in loving homage bent,
“Arya!” in his choking accents this was all that Bharat said,
“Arya!” spake the young Satrughna and he bent his holy head!
Rama to his loving bosom raised his brothers from his feet,
Ah, too deep is love for utterance when divided brothers meet,
Faithful Guha, brave Sumantra, bowed to Rama’s righteous feet,
And a joy and mingled sadness filled the hermit’s calm retreat!
II. Bharat’s Entreaty and Rama’s Reply
“Speak, my true my faithful Bharat,” so the righteous Rama cried,
“Wherefore to this jungle dwelling hast thou from Ayodhya hied,
Speak, my fond and loving brother, if our father bade thee come,
Leaving throne and spacious empire in this wilderness to roam?
And obey the lofty mandate from his royal lips that fell,
And the ancient Dasa-ratha, glorious still in regal might,
Doth he pass his bright life’s evening in each pure and holy rite?
Doth my mother, Queen Kausalya, still for Rama wet her eye,
And the gentle Queen Sumitra for her banished Lakshman sigh,
Doth the peerless Queen Kaikeyi pass her days in duties fair,
Guard her Bharat’s mighty empire, tend him with a mother’s care?
Is each holy rite and homage to the Gods and Fathers done,
Is the honour due to elders rendered by each duteous son,
Do thy warriors guard thy kingdom as of yore with matchless skill,
And with counsel deep and duteous do thy ministers serve thy will?
Rich thy fields in corn and produce fed by rivers broad and deep,
Rich thy green unending pastures with the kine and fattened sheep,
Tend the herdsman and his cattle, tend the tiller of the soil,
Watch and help with all thy bounty workmen in their peaceful toil,
For the monarch’s highest duty is to serve his people’s weal
And the ruler’s richest glory is to labour and to heal!
Guard thy forts with sleepless caution with the engines of the war,
With the men who shoot the arrow and who drive the flying car,
Guard Kosala’s royal treasure, make thy gifts of wealth and food,
Not to lords and proud retainers, but to worthy and the good!
Render justice pure and spotless as befits thy royal line,
And to save the good and guiltless, Bharat, be it ever thine,
For the tears of suffering virtue wither like the thunder levin,
And they slay our men and cattle like the wrath of righteous heaven,
Fruitful be thy lore of Veda, fruitful be each pious rite,
Be thy queen a fruitful mother, be thy empire full of might!”
“Dasa-ratha walks the bright sky, for his earthly task is done!
For impelled by Queen Kaikeyi to the woods he bade thee go,
And his spotless fame was clouded and his bosom sank in woe,
And my mother, late repenting, weeps her deed of deepest shame,
Weeps her wedded lord departed, and a woman’s tarnished fame!
Thou alone canst wipe this insult by a deed of kindness done, –
Rule o’er Dasa-ratha’s empire, Dasa-ratha’s eldest son,
Weeping queens and loyal subjects supplicate thy noble grace, –
Rule o’er Raghu’s ancient empire, son of Raghu’s royal race!
For our ancient Law ordaineth and thy Duty makes it plain,
Eldest-born succeeds his father as the king of earth and main,
By the fair Earth loved and welcomed, Rama, be her wedded lord,
As by planet-jewelled Midnight is the radiant Moon adored!
And thy father’s ancient min’sters and thy courtiers faithful still,
Wait to do thy righteous mandate and to serve thy royal will,
As a pupil, as a brother, as a slave, I seek thy grace, –
Come and rule thy father’s empire, king of Raghu’s royal race!”
Weeping, on the feet of Rama, Bharat placed his lowly head,
Weeping for his sire departed, tears of sorrow Rama shed,
Then he raised his loving brother with an elder’s deathless love,
Sorrow wakes our deepest kindness and our holiest feelings prove!
“But I may not,” answered Rama, “seek Ayodhya’s ancient throne,
For a righteous father’s mandate duteous son may not disown,
And I may not, gentle brother, break the word of promise given,
To a king and to a father who is now a saint in heaven!
Not on thee, nor on thy mother, rests the censure or the blame,
Faithful to his father’s wishes Rama to the forest came,
Higher than an empire’s glory is a father’s spoken word!
All inviolate is his mandate, – on Ayodhya’s jewelled throne,
Or in pathless woods and jungle Rama shall his duty own,
All inviolate is the blessing by a loving mother given,
For she blessed my life in exile like a pitying saint of heaven!
Thou shalt rule the kingdom, Bharat, guard our loving people well,
Clad in wild bark and in deer-skin I shall in the forests dwell,
So spake saintly Dasa-ratha in Ayodhya’s palace hall,
And a righteous father’s mandate duteous son may not recall!
III. Kausalya’s Lament and Rama’s Reply
Slow and sad with Saint Vasishtha, with each widowed royal dame,
Unto Rama’s hermit-cottage ancient Queen Kausalya came,
And she saw him clad in wild bark like a hermit stern and high,
And an anguish smote her bosom and a tear bedewed her eye.
Rama bowed unto his mother and each elder’s blessings sought,
Held their feet in salutation with a holy reverence fraught,
And the queens with loving fingers, with a mother’s tender care,
Swept the dust of wood and jungle from his head and bosom fair,
Lakshman too in loving homage bent before each royal dame,
And they blessed the faithful hero spotless in his righteous fame.
Lastly came the soft-eyed Sita with obeisance soft and sweet,
And with hands in meekness folded bent her tresses to their feet,
Pain and anguish smote their bosoms, round their Sita as they prest,
As a mother clasps a daughter, clasped her in their loving breast!
Reft of home and kith and kindred by her forest hut she stood!
“Hast thou, daughter of Videha,” weeping thus Kausalya said,
“Dwelt in woods and leafy cottage and in pathless jungle strayed,
Hast thou, Rama’s royal consort, lived a homeless anchorite,
Pale with rigid fast and penance, worn with toil of righteous rite?
But thy sweet face, gentle Sita, is like faded lotus dry,
And like lily parched by sunlight, lustreless thy beauteous eye,
Like the gold untimely tarnished is thy sorrow-shaded brow,
Like the moon by shadows darkened is thy form of beauty now!
And an anguish scathes my bosom like the withering forest fire,
Thus to see thee, duteous daughter, in misfortunes deep and dire,
Dark is wide Kosala’s empire, dark is Raghu’s royal house,
When in woods my Rama wanders and my Rama’s royal spouse!”
Sweetly, gentle Sita answered, answered Rama fair and tall,
That a righteous father’s mandate duteous son may not recall!
IV. Jabali’s Reasoning and Rama’s Reply
Jabali a learned Brahman and a Sophist skilled in word,
Questioned Faith and Law and Duty, spake to young Ayodhya’s lord:
“Wherefore, Rama, idle maxims cloud thy heart and warp thy mind,
Maxims which mislead the simple and the thoughtless human kind?
Love nor friendship doth a mortal to his kith or kindred own,
Entering on this wide earth friendless, and departing all alone,
Foolishly upon the father and the mother dotes the son,
Kinship is an idle fancy, – save thyself thy kith is none!
Leaves it with the dawning daylight for another transient home,
Thus on earth are kin and kindred, home and country, wealth and store,
We but meet them on our journey, leave them as we pass before!
Wherefore for a father’s mandate leave thy empire and thy throne,
Pass thy days in trackless jungle sacrificing all thy own,
Wherefore to Ayodhya’s city, as to longing wife’s embrace,
Speed’st thou not to rule thy empire, lord of Raghu’s royal race?
Dasa-ratha claims no duty, and his will is empty word,
View him as a foreign monarch, of thy realm thou art the lord,
Dasa-ratha is departed, gone where all the mortals go,
For a dead man’s idle mandate wherefore lead this life of woe?
Ah! I weep for erring mortals who on erring duty bent
Sacrifice their dear enjoyment till their barren life is spent,
Who to Gods and to the Fathers vainly still their offerings make,
Waste of food! for God nor Father doth our pious homage take!
And the food by one partaken, can it nourish other men,
Food bestowed upon a Brahman, can it serve our Fathers then?
Crafty priests have forged these maxims and with selfish objects say, –
Make thy gifts and do thy penance, leave thy worldly wealth and pray!
There is no Hereafter, Rama, vain the hope and creed of men,
Seek the pleasures of the present, spurn illusions poor and vain,
Take the course of sense and wisdom, cast all idle faith aside,
Take the kingdom Bharat offers, rule Ayodhya in thy pride!”
“Fair thy purpose,” answered Rama, “false thy reason leads astray,
Tortuous wisdom brings no profit, virtue shuns the crooked way,
For the deed proclaims the hero from the man of spacious lies,
Marks the true and upright Arya from the scheming worldly-wise!
Gods who judge our secret motives curse me with their deepest wrath,
And thy counsel helps not, rishi, mansions of the sky to win,
And a king his subjects follow adding deeper sin to sin!
Sweep aside thy crafty reasoning, Truth is still our ancient way,
Truth sustains the earth and nations and a monarch’s righteous sway,
Mighty Gods and holy sages find in Truth their haven shore,
Scorning death and dark destruction, Truth survives for evermore!
Deadlier than the serpent’s venom is the venom of a lie,
From the false, than from the cobra, men with deeper terror fly,
Dearer than the food to mortals, Truth as nourishment is given,
Truth sustains the wide creation, Truth upholds the highest heaven,
Vain were gifts and sacrifices, rigid penances were vain,
Profitless the holy Vedas but for Truth which they sustain,
Gifts and rites and rigid penance have no aim or purpose high,
Save in Truth which rules the wide earth and the regions of the sky,
I have plighted truth and promise and my word may not unsay,
Fourteen years in pathless forests father’s mandate I obey,
And I seek no spacious reasons my relinquished throne to win,
Gods nor Fathers nor the Vedas counsel tortuous paths of sin!
Pardon, rishi, still unchanging shall remain my promise given
To my mother Queen Kaikeyi, to my father now in heaven,
Pardon, rishi, still in jungle we shall seek the forest fare,
Worship Gods who watch our actions, and pervade the earth and air!
Unto Agni, unto Vayu, shall my constant prayers run,
I shall live like happy Indra, hundred sacrifices done,
And the deep and darksome jungle shall be Rama’s royal hall,
For a righteous father’s mandate duteous son may not recall!”
V. The Sandals
Till once more with hands conjoinéd Bharat to his elder spoke:
“Rama, true to royal mercy, true to duties of thy race,
Grant this favour to thy mother, to thy brother grant this grace,
Vain were my unaided efforts to protect our father’s throne,
Town and hamlet, lord and tiller, turn to thee and thee alone!
Unto Rama, friends and kinsmen, chiefs and warriors, turn in pain,
And each city chief and elder, and each humble village swain,
Base thy empire strong, unshaken, on a loyal nation’s will,
With thy worth and with thy valour serve thy faithful people still!”
Rama raised the prostrate Bharat to his ever-loving breast,
And in voice of tuneful hansa thus his gentle speech addrest:
“Trust me, Bharat, lofty virtue, strength and will to thee belong,
Thou could’st rule a world-wide empire in thy faith and purpose strong,
And our father’s ancient min’sters, ever faithful, wise and deep,
They shall help thee with their counsel and thy ancient frontiers keep.
List! the Moon may lose his lustre, Himalaya lose his snow,
Heaving Ocean pass his confines surging from the caves below,
But the truth-abiding Rama will not move from promise given,
He hath spoke and will not falter, help him righteous Gods in heaven!”
Blazing like the Sun in splendour, beauteous like the Lord of Night,
Rama vowed his Vow of Duty, changeless in his holy might!
“Humble token,” answered Bharat, “still I seek from Rama’s hand,
Token of his love and kindness, token of his high command,
They shall nerve my heart to duty and shall safely guard thy own,
They shall to a loyal nation absent monarch’s will proclaim,
Watch the frontiers of the empire and the people’s homage claim!”
Rama gave the loosened sandals as his younger humbly prayed,
Bharat bowed to them in homage and his parting purpose said:
“Not alone will banished Rama barks and matted tresses wear,
Fourteen years the crownéd Bharat will in hermit’s dress appear,
Henceforth Bharat dwells in palace guised as hermit of the wood,
In the sumptuous hall of feasting wild fruit is his only food,
Fourteen years shall pass in waiting, weary toil and penance dire,
Then, if Rama comes not living, Bharat dies upon the pyre!”
VI. The Hermitge of Atri
With the sandals of his elder Bharat to Ayodhya went,
Rama sought for deeper forests on his arduous duty bent,
Wandering with his wife and Lakshman slowly sought the hermitage,
Where resided saintly Atri, Vedic Bard and ancient sage.
Anasuya, wife of Atri, votaress of Gods above,
Welcomed Sita in her cottage, tended her with mother’s love,
Gave her robe and holy garland, jewelled ring and chain of gold,
Heard the tale of love and sadness which the soft-eyed Sita told:
How the monarch of Videha held the plough and tilled the earth,
From the furrow made by ploughshare infant Sita sprang to birth,
Rama ’midst the gathered monarchs broke the bow and won the bride,
How by Queen Kaikeyi’s mandate Rama lost his father’s throne,
Sita followed him in exile in the forest dark and lone!
Softly from the lips of Sita words of joy and sorrow fell,
And the pure-souled pious priestess wept to hear the tender tale,
And she kissed her on the forehead, held her on her ancient breast,
And in mother’s tender accents thus her gentle thoughts exprest:
“Sweet the tale you tell me, Sita, of thy wedding and thy love,
Of the true and tender Rama, righteous as the Gods above,
And thy wifely deep devotion fills my heart with purpose high,
Stay with us my gentle daughter for the night shades gather nigh.
Hastening from each distant region feathered songsters seek their nest,
Twitter in the leafy thickets ere they seek their nightly rest,
Hastening from their pure ablutions with their pitchers smooth and fair,
In their dripping barks the hermits to their evening rites repair,
And in sacred agni-hotra holy anchorites engage,
And a wreath of smoke ascending marks the altar of each sage.
Now a deeper shadow mantles bush and brake and trees around,
And a thick and inky darkness falls upon the distant ground,
Midnight prowlers of the jungle steal beneath the sable shade,
But the tame deer by the altar seeks his wonted nightly bed.
Mark! how by the stars encircled sails the radiant Lord of Night,
With his train of silver glory streaming o’er the azure height,
And thy consort waits thee, Sita, but before thou leavest, fair,
Let me deck thy brow and bosom with these jewels rich and rare,
Old these eyes and grey these tresses, but a thrill of joy is mine,
Thus to see thy youth and beauty in this gorgeous garment shine!”
And the young wife glad and grateful bowed to Anasuya’s feet,
Robed and jewelled, bright and beauteous, sweet-eyed Sita softly came,
Where with anxious heart awaited Rama prince of righteous fame.
With a wifely love and longing Sita met her hero bold,
Anasuya’s love and kindness in her grateful accents told,
Rama and his brother listened of the grace by Sita gained,
Favours of the ancient priestess, pious blessings she had rained.
In the rishi’s peaceful asram Rama passed the sacred night,
In the hushed and silent forest silvered by the moon’s pale light,
Daylight dawned, to deeper forests Rama went serene and proud,
As the sun in mid-day splendour sinks within a bank of cloud!