The Epic of Rama, Prince of India
Book V. Panchavati
(On the Banks of the Godavari)
Two yojanas from Agastya’s hermitage, Rama built his forest dwelling in the woods of Panchavati, near the sources of the Godavari river, and within a hundred miles from the modern city of Bombay. There he lived with his wife and brother in peace and piety, and the Book closes with the description of an Indian winter morning, when the brothers and Sita went for their ablutions to the Godavari, and thought of their distant home in Oudh. The description of the peaceful forest-life of the exiles comes in most appropriately on the eve of stirring events which immediately succeed, and which give a new turn to the story of the Epic. We now stand therefore at the turning point of the poet’s narrative;
The portions translated in this Book form Sections i., xii., xiii., xv., and xvi. of Book iii. of the original text.
I. The Hermitage of Agastya
Righteous Rama, soft-eyed Sita, and the gallant Lakshman stood
In the wilderness of Dandak, – trackless, pathless, boundless wood,
But within its gloomy gorges, dark and deep and known to few,
Humble homes of hermit sages rose before the princes’ view.
Coats of bark and scattered kusa spake their peaceful pure abode,
Seat of pious rite and penance which with holy splendour glowed,
Forest songsters knew the asram and the wild deer cropt its blade,
And the sweet-voiced sylvan wood-nymph haunted oft its holy shade,
Brightly blazed the sacred altar, vase and ladle stood around,
Fruit and blossom, skin and faggot, sanctified the holy ground.
From the broad and bending branches ripening fruits in clusters hung,
And with gifts and rich libations hermits raised the ancient song,
Lotus and the virgin lily danced upon the rippling rill,
And the golden sunlight glittered on the greenwoods calm and still,
And the consecrated woodland by the holy hermits trod,
Shone like Brahma’s sky in lustre, hallowed by the grace of God!
Rama loosened there his bow-string and the peaceful scene surveyed,
And the holy sages welcomed wanderers in the forest shade,
Rama bright as Lord of Midnight, Sita with her saintly face,
Lakshman young and true and valiant, decked with warrior’s peerless grace!
Brought them fruit and forest blossoms, blessed them with their blessings kind,
“Raghu’s son,” thus spake the sages, “helper of each holy rite,
Portion of the royal Indra, fount of justice and of might,
On thy throne or in the forest, king of nations, lord of men,
Grant to us thy kind protection in this hermit’s lonely den!”
Homely fare and jungle produce were before the princes laid,
And the toil-worn, tender Sita slumbered in the asram’s shade.
Thus from grove to grove they wandered, to each haunt of holy sage,
Sarabhanga’s sacred dwelling and Sutikshna’s hermitage,
Till they met the Saint Agastya, mightiest Saint of olden time,
Harbinger of holy culture in the wilds of Southern clime!
“Eldest born of Dasa-ratha, long and far hath Rama strayed,” –
Thus to pupil of Agastya young and gallant Lakshman said, –
“With his faithful consort Sita in these wilds he wanders still,
I am righteous Rama’s younger, duteous to his royal will,
And we pass these years of exile to our father’s mandate true,
Fain to mighty Saint Agastya we would render homage due!”
Listening to his words the hermit sought the shrine of Sacred Fire,
Spake the message of the princes to the Saint and ancient Sire:
“Righteous Rama, valiant Lakshman, saintly Sita seek this shade,
And to see thee, radiant rishi, have in humble accents prayed.”
“Hath he come,” so spake Agastya, “Rama prince of Raghu’s race,
Youth for whom this heart hath thirsted, youth endued with righteous grace,
Hath he come with wife and brother to accept our greetings kind,
Wherefore came ye for permission, wherefore linger they behind?”
Where the dun deer free and fearless roamed within the holy shade,
Where the shrines of great Immortals stood in order thick and close,
And by bright and blazing altars chanted songs and hymns arose.
Brahma and the flaming Agni, Vishnu lord of heavenly light,
Indra and benign Vivasat ruler of the azure height,
Soma and the radiant Bhaga, and Kuvera lord of gold,
And Vidhatri great Creator worshipped by the saints of old,
Vayu breath of living creatures, Yama monarch of the dead,
And Varuna with his fetters which the trembling sinners dread,
Holy Spirit of Gayatri goddess of the morning prayer,
Vasus and the hooded Nagas, golden-winged Garuda fair,
Kartikeya heavenly leader strong to conquer and to bless,
Dharma god of human duty and of human righteousness,
Shrines of all these bright Immortals ruling in the skies above,
Filled the pure and peaceful forest with a calm and holy love!
Girt by hermits righteous-hearted then the Saint Agastya came,
Rich in wealth of pious penance, rich in learning and in fame,
Mighty-arméd Rama marked him radiant like the midday sun,
Bowed and rendered due obeisance with each act of homage done,
Valiant Lakshman tall and stately to the great Agastya bent,
With a woman’s soft devotion Sita bowed unto the saint.
Saint Agastya raised the princes, greeted them in accents sweet,
Gave them fruit and herb and water, offered them the honoured seat,
With libations unto Agni offered welcome to each guest,
Food and drink beseeming hermits on the wearied princes pressed.
“False the hermits,” spake Agastya, “who to guests their dues deny,
Hunger they in life hereafter – like the speaker of a lie,
Car-borne kings protect the wide earth by their prowess and their fame,
By these fruits and forest blossoms be our humble homage shewn,
By some gift, of Rama worthy, be Agastya’s blessings known!
Take this bow, heroic Rama, – need for warlike arms is thine, –
Gems of more than earthly radiance on the goodly weapon shine,
Worshipper of righteous Vishnu! Vishnu’s wondrous weapon take,
Heavenly artist Viswa-karman shaped this bow of heavenly make!
Take this shining dart of Brahma radiant like a tongue of fame,
Sped by good and worthy archer never shall it miss its aim,
And this Indra’s ample quiver filled with arrows true and keen,
Filled with arrows still unfailing in the battle’s dreadful scene!
Take this sabre golden-hilted in its case of burnished gold,
Not unworthy of a monarch and a warrior true and bold,
Impious foes of bright Immortals know these weapons dread and dire,
Mowing down the ranks of foemen, scathing like the forest fire!
Be these weapons thy companions, – Rama, thou shall need them oft, –
Meet and conquer still thy foemen like the Thunder-God aloft!”
II. The Counsel of Agastya
“Pleased am I,” so spake Agastya, “in these forests dark and wild,
Thou hast come to seek me, Rama, with the saintly Janak’s child,
But like pale and drooping blossom severed from the parent tree,
Far from home in toil and trouble, faithful Sita follows thee,
With a woman’s deep emotion woman’s duty she hath done!
How unlike the fickle woman, true while Fame and Fortune smile,
Faithless when misfortunes gather, loveless in her wicked wile,
How unlike the changeful woman, false as light the lightnings fling,
Keen as sabre, quick as tempest, swift as bird upon its wing!
Dead to Fortune’s frown or favour, Sita still in truth abides,
As the star of Arundhati in her mansion still resides,
Rest thee with thy gentle consort, farther still she may not roam,
Holier were this hermit’s forest as the saintly Sita’s home!”
“Great Agastya!” answered Rama, “blesséd is my banished life,
For thy kindness to an exile and his friendless homeless wife,
But in wilder, gloomier forests lonesome we must wander still,
Where a deeper, darker shadow settles on the rock and rill,”
“Be it so,” Agastya answered, “two short yojans from this place,
Wild is Panchavati’s forest where unseen the wild deer race,
Godavari’s limpid waters through its gloomy gorges flow,
Fruit and root and luscious berries on its silent margin grow,
Seek that spot and with thy brother build a lonesome leafy home,
Tend thy true and toil-worn Sita, farther still she may not roam!
Not unknown to me the mandate by thy royal father given,
Not unseen thy endless wanderings destined by the will of Heaven,
Therefore Panchavati’s forest marked I for thy woodland stay,
Where the ripening wild fruit clusters and the wild bird trills his lay,
Tend thy dear devoted Sita and protect each pious rite,
Matchless in thy warlike weapons peerless in thy princely might!
Mark yon gloomy Mahua forest stretching o’er the boundless lea,
Pass that wood and turning northward seek an old Nyagrodha tree,
Thou shalt enter Panchavati, blossom-covered, calm and still!”
Bowing to the great Agastya, Rama left the mighty sage,
Bowing to each saint and hermit, Lakshman left the hermitage,
And the princes tall and stately marched where Panchavati lay,
Soft-eyed Sita followed meekly where her Rama led the way!
III. The Forest of Panchavati
Godavari’s limpid waters in her gloomy gorges strayed,
Unseen rangers of the jungle nestled in the darksome shade!
“Mark the woodlands,” uttered Rama, “by the Saint Agastya told,
Panchavati’s lonesome forest with its blossoms red and gold,
Skilled to scan the wood and jungle, Lakshman, cast thy eye around,
For our humble home and dwelling seek a low and level ground,
Where the river laves its margin with a soft and gentle kiss,
Where my sweet and soft-eyed Sita may repose in sylvan bliss,
Where the lawn is fresh and verdant and the kusa young and bright,
And the creeper yields her blossoms for our sacrificial rite.”
“Little can I help thee, brother,” did the duteous Lakshman say,
“Thou art prompt to judge and fathom, Lakshman listens to obey!”
“Mark this spot,” so answered Rama, leading Lakshman by the hand,
“Soft the lawn of verdant kusa, beauteous blossoms light the land,
Mark the smiling lake of lotus gleaming with a radiance fair,
Wafting fresh and gentle fragrance o’er the rich and laden air,
Mark each scented shrub and creeper bending o’er the lucid wave,
Where the bank with soft caresses Godavari’s waters lave!
And the timid deer of jungle browse within the shady grove,
And the valleys are resonant with the peacock’s clarion cry,
And the trees with budding blossoms glitter on the mountains high,
And the rocks in well-marked strata in their glittering lines appear,
Like the streaks of white and crimson painted on our tuskers fair!
Stately Sal and feathered palm-tree guard this darksome forest-land,
Golden date and dowering mango stretch afar on either hand,
Asok thrives and blazing Kinsuk, Chandan wafts a fragrance rare,
Aswa-karna and Khadira by the Sami dark and fair,
Beauteous spot for hermit-dwelling joyous with the voice of song,
Haunted by the timid wild deer and by black buck fleet and strong!”
Foe-compelling faithful Lakshman heard the words his elder said,
And by sturdy toil and labour stately home and dwelling made,
Spacious was the leafy cottage walled with moistened earth and soft,
Pillared with the stately bamboo holding high the roof aloft,
Interlacing twigs and branches, corded from the ridge to eaves,
Held the thatch of reed and branches and of jungle grass and leaves,
And the door was pressed and levelled and the toilsome task was done,
And the structure rose in beauty for the righteous Raghu’s son!
To the river for ablutions Lakshman went of warlike fame,
With a store of fragrant lotus and of luscious berries came,
Sacrificing to the Bright Gods sacred hymns and mantras said,
Proudly then unto his elder shewed the home his hand had made,
In her soft and grateful accents gentle Sita praised his skill,
Praised a brother’s loving labour, praised a hero’s dauntless will,
Rama clasped his faithful Lakshman in a brother’s fond embrace,
Spake in sweet and kindly accents with an elder’s loving grace:
Let him hold thee in his bosom, soul of love and arm of might,
And our father good and gracious, in a righteous son like thee,
Lives again and treads the bright earth, from the bonds of Yama free!”
Thus spake Rama, and with Lakshman and with Sita child of love,
Dwelt in Panchavati’s cottage as the Bright Gods dwell above!
IV. Winter in Panchavati
Came and passed the golden autumn in the forest’s gloomy shade,
And the northern blasts of winter swept along the silent glade,
When the chilly night was over, once at morn the prince of fame
For his morning’s pure ablutions to the Godavari came,
Meek-eyed Sita softly followed with the pitcher in her arms,
Gallant Lakshman spake to Rama of the Indian winter’s charms:
“Comes the bright and bracing winter to the royal Rama dear,
Like a bride the beauteous season doth in richest robes appear,
Frosty air and freshening zephyrs wake to life each mart and plain,
And the corn in dewdrop sparkling makes a sea of waving green,
But the village maid and matron shun the freezing river’s shore,
By the fire the village elder tells the stirring tale of yore!
With the winter’s ample harvest men perform each pious rite,
To the Fathers long departed, to the Gods of holy might,
With the rite of agrayana pious men their sins dispel,
And with gay and sweet observance songs of love the women tell,
And the monarchs bent on conquest mark the winter’s cloudless glow,
Lead their bannered cars and forces ’gainst the rival and the foe!
Southwards rolls the solar chariot, and the cold and widowed North
Reft of ‘bridal mark’ and joyance coldly sighs her sorrows forth,
True to name and appellation doth in whiter garments glow,
Southward rolls the solar chariot, cold and crisp the frosty air,
And the wood of flower dismantled doth in russet robes appear!
Star of Pushya rules December and the night with rime is hoar,
And beneath the starry welkin in the woods we sleep no more,
And the pale moon mist-enshrouded sheds a faint and feeble beam,
As the breath obscures the mirror, winter mist obscures her gleam,
Hidden by the rising vapour faint she glistens on the dale,
Like our sun-embrownéd Sita with her toil and penance pale!
Sweeping blasts from western mountains through the gorges whistle by,
And the saras and the curlew raise their shrill and piercing cry,
Boundless fields of wheat and barley are with dewdrops moist and wet,
And the golden rice of winter ripens like the clustering date,
Peopled marts and rural hamlets wake to life and cheerful toil,
And the peaceful happy nations prosper on their fertile soil!
Mark the sun in morning vapours – like the moon subdued and pale –
Brightening as the day advances piercing through the darksome veil,
Mark his gay and golden lustre sparkling o’er the dewy lea,
Mantling hill and field and forest, painting bush and leaf and tree,
Mark it glisten on the green grass, on each bright and bending blade,
Lighten up the long drawn vista, shooting through the gloomy glade!
Thirst-impelled the lordly tusker still avoids the freezing drink,
Wild duck and the tuneful hansa doubtful watch the river’s brink,
From the rivers wrapped in vapour unseen cries the wild curlew,
Unseen rolls the misty streamlet o’er its sandbank soaked in dew,
And the drooping water-lily bends her head beneath the frost,
Lost her fresh and fragrant beauty and her tender petals lost!
Where in hermit’s barks and tresses Bharat wears the royal crown,
Scorning regal state and splendour, spurning pleasures loved of yore,
Spends his winter day in penance, sleeps at night upon the floor,
Aye! perchance Sarayu’s waters seeks he now, serene and brave,
As we seek, when dawns the daylight, Godavari’s limpid wave!
Rich of hue, with eye of lotus, truthful, faithful, strong of mind,
For the love he bears thee, Rama, spurns each joy of baser kind,
‘False he proves unto his father who is led by mother’s wile’ –
Vain this ancient impious adage – Bharat spurns his mother’s guile,
Bharat’s mother Queen Kaikeyi, Dasa-ratha’s royal spouse,
Deep in craft, hath brought disaster on Ayodhya’s royal house!”
“Speak not thus,” so Rama answered, “on Kaikeyi cast no blame,
Honour still the righteous Bharat, honour still the royal dame,
Fixed in purpose and unchanging still in jungle wilds I roam,
But thy accents, gentle Lakshman, wake a longing for my home!
And my loving mem’ry lingers on each word from Bharat fell,
Sweeter than the draught of nectar, purer than the crystal well,
And my righteous purpose falters, shaken by a brother’s love,
May we meet again our brother, if it please the Gods above!”
Waked by love, a silent tear-drop fell on Godavari’s wave,
True once more to righteous purpose Rama’s heart was calm and brave,
Rama plunged into the river ’neath the morning’s crimson beam,
Sita softly sought the waters as the lily seeks the stream,
And they prayed to Gods and Fathers with each rite and duty done,
And they sang the ancient mantra to the red and rising Sun,
With her lord, in loosened tresses Sita to her cottage came,
As with Rudra wanders Uma in Kailasa’s hill of fame!