The Epic of Rama, Prince of India
Book VI. Sita-Harana (Sita Lost)
The misfortunes of our lives, according to Indian thinkers, are but the results of our misdeeds; calamities are brought about by our sins. And thus we find in the Indian Epic, that a dark and foul suspicion against Lakshman crossed the stainless mind of Sita, and words of unmerited insult fell from her gentle lips, on the eve of the great calamity which clouded her life ever after. It was the only occasion on which the ideal woman of the Epic harboured an unjust thought or spoke an angry word; and it was followed by a tragic fate which few women on earth have suffered. To the millions of men and women in India, Sita remains to this day the ideal of female love and female devotion; her dark suspicions against Lakshman sprang out of an excess of her affection for her husband; and her tragic fate and long trial proved that undying love.
The portions translated in this Book form the whole or the main portions of Sections xvii., xviii., xliii., xlv., xlvi., xlvii., and xlix. of Book iii. of the original text.
1. Surpa-nakha in Love
In his lonesome leafy cottage Rama dwelt in Sita’s love,
And with Lakshman strong and valiant, quick to labour and obey,
Tales of bygone times recounting Rama passed the livelong day.
And it so befell, a maiden, dweller of the darksome wood,
Led by wand’ring thought or fancy once before the cottage stood,
Surpa-nakha, Raksha maiden, sister of the Raksha lord,
Came and looked with eager longing till her soul was passion-stirred!
Looked on Rama lion-chested, mighty-arméd, lotus-eyed,
Stately as the jungle tusker, with his crown of tresses tied,
Looked on Rama lofty-fronted, with a royal visage graced,
Like Kandarpa young and lustrous, lotus-hued and lotus-faced!
What though she a Raksha maiden, poor in beauty plain in face,
Fell her glances passion-laden on the prince of peerless grace,
What though wild her eyes and tresses, and her accents counselled fear,
Soft-eyed Rama fired her bosom, and his sweet voice thrilled her ear,
What though bent on deeds unholy, holy Rama won her heart,
And, for love makes bold a female, thus did she her thoughts impart:
“Who be thou in hermit’s vestments, in thy native beauty bright,
Friended by a youthful woman, arméd with thy bow of might,
Who be thou in these lone regions where the Rakshas hold their sway,
Wherefore in a lonely cottage in this darksome jungle stay?”
With his wonted truth and candour Rama spake sedate and bold,
And the story of his exile to the Raksha maiden told:
And his eldest, first born Rama, by his mandate here I came,
Younger Lakshman strong and valiant doth with me these forests roam,
And my wife, Videha’s daughter, Sita makes with me her home.
Duteous to my father’s bidding, duteous to my mother’s will,
Striving in the cause of virtue in the woods we wander still,
Tell me, female of the forest, who thou be and whence thy birth,
Much I fear thou art a Raksha wearing various forms on earth!”
“Listen,” so spake Surpa-nakha, “if my purpose thou wouldst know,
I am Raksha, Surpa-nakha, wearing various shapes below,
Know my brothers, royal Ravan, Lanka’s lord from days of old,
Kumbha-karna dread and dauntless, and Bibhishan true and bold,
Khara and the doughty Dushan with me in these forests stray,
But by Rama’s love emboldened I have left them on the way!
Broad and boundless is my empire and I wander in my pride,
Thee I choose as lord and husband, – cast thy human wife aside,
Pale is Sita and mis-shapen, scarce a warrior’s worthy wife,
To a nobler, lordlier female consecrate thy gallant life!
Human flesh is food of Rakshas! weakling Sita I will slay,
Slay that boy thy stripling brother, – thee as husband I obey,
On the peaks of lofty mountains, in the forests dark and lone,
We shall range the boundless woodlands and the joys of dalliance prove!”
II. Surpa-nakha Punished
To the foul and forward female thus his mocking words addressed:
“List, O passion-smitten maiden! Sita is my honoured wife,
With a rival loved and cherished cruel were thy wedded life!
But no consort follows Lakshman, peerless is his comely face,
Dauntless is his warlike valour, matchless is his courtly grace,
And he leads no wife or consort to this darksome woodland grove,
With no rival to thy passion seek his ample-hearted love!”
Surpa-nakha passion-laden then on Lakshman turned her eye,
But in merry mocking accents smiling Lakshman made reply:
“Ruddy in thy youthful beauty like the lotus in her pride,
I am slave of royal Rama, would’st thou be a vassal’s bride?
Rather be his younger consort, banish Sita from his arms,
Spurning Sita’s faded beauty let him seek thy fresher charms,
Spurning Sita’s faded graces let him brighter pleasures prove,
Wearied with a woman’s dalliance let him court a Raksha’s love!”
Wrath of unrequited passion raged like madness in her breast,
Torn by anger strong as tempest thus her answer she addrest:
“Are these mocking accents uttered, Rama, to insult my flame,
Feasting on her faded beauty dost thou still revere thy dame?
But beware a Raksha’s fury and an injured female’s wrath,
Surpa-nakha slays thy consort, bears no rival in her path!”
Fawn-eyed Sita fell in terror as the Raksha rose to slay,
So beneath the flaming meteor sinks Rohini’s softer ray,
Rama rose to stop the slaughter and protect his helpless dame.
“Brother, we have acted wrongly, for with those of savage breed,
Word in jest is courting danger, – this the penance of our deed,
Death perchance or death-like stupor hovers o’er my lovéd dame,
Let me wake to life my Sita, chase this female void of shame!”
Lakshman’s anger leaped like lightning as the female hovered near,
With his sword the wrathful warrior cleft her nose and either ear,
Surpa-nakha in her anguish raised her accents shrill and high,
And the rocks and wooded valleys answered back the dismal cry,
Khara and the doughty Dushan heard the far-resounding wail,
Saw her red disfigured visage, heard her sad and woeful tale!
III. Rama’s Departure
Vainly fought the vengeful Khara, doughty Dushan vainly bled,
Rama and the valiant Lakshman strewed the forest with the dead,
Till the humbled Surpa-nakha to her royal brother hied,
Spake her sorrows unto Ravan and Maricha true and tried.
Shape of deer unmatched in beauty now the deep Maricha wore,
Golden tints upon his haunches, sapphire on his antlers bore,
Till the woodland-wand’ring Sita marked the creature in his pride,
Golden was his neck of beauty, silver white his flank and side!
“Come, my lord and gallant Lakshman,” thus the raptur’d Sita spake,
“Mark the deer of wondrous radiance browsing by the forest brake!”
“Much my heart misgives me, sister,” Lakshman hesitated still,
“ ’Tis some deep deceitful Raksha wearing every shape at will,
Oft waylaid by artful Rakshas are by deep devices slain,
Bright as day-god or Gandharva, woodland scenes they love to stray,
Till they fall upon the heedless, quick to slaughter and to slay,
Trust me, not in jewelled lustre forest creatures haunt the green,
“Tis some maya and illusion, trust not what thy eyes have seen!”
Vainly spake the watchful Lakshman in the arts of Rakshas skilled,
For with forceful fascination Sita’s inmost heart was thrilled,
“Husband, good and ever gracious,” sweetly thus implored the wife,
“I would tend this thing of beauty, – sharer of my forest life!
I have witnessed in this jungle graceful creatures passing fair,
Chowri and the gentle roebuck, antelope of beauty rare,
I have seen the lithesome monkey sporting in the branches’ shade,
Grizzly bear that feeds on Mahua, and the deer that crops the blade,
1 have marked the stately wild bull dash into the deepest wood,
And the Kinnar strange and wondrous as in sylvan wilds he stood,
But these eyes have never rested on a form so wondrous fair,
On a shape so full of beauty, decked with tints so rich and rare!
Bright his bosom gem-bespangled, soft the lustre of his eye,
Lighting up the gloomy jungle as the Moon lights up the sky,
And his gentle voice and glances and his graceful steps and light,
Fill my heart with eager longing and my soul with soft delight!
If alive that beauteous object thou canst capture in thy way,
As thy Sita’s sweet companion in these woodlands he will stay,
And when done our days of exile, to Ayodhya will repair,
Dwell in Sita’s palace chamber nursed by Sita’s tender care,
And our royal brother Bharat oft will praise his strength and speed,
And the queens and royal mothers pause the gentle thing to feed!
Slay him and his skin of lustre cherish for thy Sita’s sake,
I will as a golden carpet spread the skin upon the grass,
Sweet memento of this forest when our forest days will pass!
Pardon if an eager longing which befits a woman ill,
And an unknown fascination doth my inmost bosom fill,
As I mark his skin bespangled and his antlers, sapphire ray,
And his coat of starry radiance glowing in the light of day!”
Rama bade the faithful Lakshman with the gentle Sita stay,
Long through woods and gloomy gorges vainly held his cautious way,
Vainly set the snare in silence by the lake and in the dale,
’Scaping every trap, Maricha, pierced by Rama’s arrows fell,
Imitating Rama’s accents uttered forth his dying cry:
“Speed, my faithful brother Lakshman, helpless in the woods I die!”
IV. Lakshman’s Departure
“Heardst that distant cry of danger?” questioned Sita in distress,
“Woe, to me! who in my frenzy sent my lord to wilderness,
Speed, brave Lakshman, help my Rama, doleful was his distant cry,
And my fainting bosom falters and a dimness clouds my eye!
To the dread and darksome forest with thy keenest arrows speed,
Help thy elder and thy monarch, sore his danger and his need,
For perchance the cruel Rakshas gather round his lonesome path,
As the mighty bull is slaughtered by the lions in their wrath!”
Spake the hero: “Fear not, Sita! Dwellers of the azure height,
Rakshas nor the jungle-rangers match the peerless Rama’s might,
And I may not leave thee, Lady, in this cottage all alone!
Cast aside thy causeless terror; in the sky or earth below,
In the nether regions, Rama knows no peer or equal foe,
He shall slay the deer of jungle, he shall voice no dastard cry,
’Tis some trick of wily Rakshas in this forest dark and high!
Sita, thou hast heard my elder bid me in this cottage stay,
Lakshman may not leave thee, Lady, for his duty – to obey,
Ruthless Rakshas roam the forest to revenge their leader slain,
Various are their arts and accents; chase thy thought of causeless pain!”
Sparkled Sita’s eye in anger, frenzy marked her speech and word,
For a woman’s sense is clouded by the danger of her lord:
“Markest thou my Rama’s danger with a cold and callous heart,
Courtest thou the death of elder in thy deep deceitful art,
In thy semblance of compassion doest thou hide a cruel craft,
As in friendly guise the foeman hides his death-compelling shaft,
Following like a faithful younger in this dread and lonesome land,
Seekest thou the death of elder to enforce his widow’s hand?
False thy hope as foul thy purpose! Sita is a faithful wife,
Sita follows saintly Rama, true in death as true in life!”
Quivered Lakshman’s frame in anguish and the tear stood in his eye,
Fixed in faith and pure in purpose, calm and bold he made reply:
“Unto me a Queen and Goddess, – as a mother to a son, –
Answer to thy heedless censure patient Lakshman speaketh none,
Daughter of Videha’s monarch, – pardon if I do thee wrong, –
Fickle is the faith of woman, poison-dealing is her tongue!
Free from guile is Lakshman’s purpose, free from sin is Lakshman’s heart,
Witness ye my truth of purpose, unseen dwellers of the wood,
Witness, I for Sita’s safety by my elder’s mandate stood,
Duteous to my queen and elder, I have toiled and worked in vain,
Dark suspicion and dishonour cast on me a needless stain!
Lady! I obey thy mandate, to my elder now I go,
Guardian Spirits of the forest watch thee from each secret foe,
Omens dark and signs of danger meet my pained and aching sight,
May I see thee by thy Rama, guarded by his conquering might!
V. Ravan’s Coming
Ravan watched the happy moment burning with a vengeful spite,
Came to sad and sorrowing Sita in the guise of anchorite,
Tufted hair and russet garment, sandals on his feet he wore,
And depending from his shoulders on a staff his vessel bore.
And he came to lonely Sita, for each warlike chief was gone,
As the darkness comes to evening lightless from the parted Sun,
And he cast his eyes on Sita, as a graha casts its shade
On the beauteous star Rohini when the bright Moon’s glories fade
Quaking Nature knew the moment; silent stood the forest trees,
Conscious of a deed of darkness fell the fragrant forest breeze,
Godavari’s troubled waters trembled ’neath his lurid glance,
And his red eye’s fiery lustre sparkled in the wavelets’ dance!
Unto Sita’s lonely cottage pressed the Raksha in his might,
Mute and voiceless was the jungle as he cast on her his eye,
As across the star of Chitra, planet Sani walks the sky!
Ravan stood in hermit’s vestments, – vengeful purpose unrevealed, –
As a deep and darksome cavern is by grass and leaf concealed,
Ravan stood sedate and silent, and he gazed on Rama’s queen,
Ivory brow and lip of coral, sparkling teeth of pearly sheen!
Lighting up the lonely cottage Sita sat in radiance high,
As the Moon with streaks of silver fills the lonely midnight sky,
Lighting up the gloomy woodlands with her eyes serenely fair,
With her bark-clad shape of beauty mantled by her raven hair!
Ravan fired by impure passion fixed on her his lustful eye,
And the light that lit his glances gave his holy texts the lie,
Ravan in his flattering accents, with a soft and soothing art,
Praised the woman’s peerless beauty to subdue the woman’s heart:
“Beaming in thy golden beauty, robed in sylvan russet dress,
Wearing wreath of fragrant lotus like a nymph of wilderness,
Art thou Sri or radiant Gauri, maid of Fortune or of Fame,
Nymph of Love or sweet Fruition, what may be thy sacred name?
On thy lips of ruddy coral teeth of tender jasmine shine,
In thy eyes of limpid lustre dwells a light of love divine,
Tall and slender, softly rounded, are thy limbs of beauty rare,
Like the swelling fruit of tala heaves thy bosom sweetly fair!
Smiling lips that tempt and ravish, lustre that thy dark eyes beam,
Crush my heart, as rolling waters crush the margin of the stream,
And thy wealth of waving tresses mantles o’er thy budding charms,
And thy waist of slender beauty courts a lover’s circling arms!
Woman seen by eyes of mortals owns not such transcendent grace,
Wherefore then, in lonesome forest, nymph or maiden, make thy stay,
Where the jungle creatures wander and the Rakshas hold their sway?
Royal halls and stately mansions were for thee a meeter home,
And thy steps should grace a palace, not in pathless forest roam,
Blossoms rich, not thorn of jungle, decorate a lady’s bower,
Silken robes, not sylvan garments, heighten Beauty’s potent power!
Lady of the sylvan forest! other destiny is thine, –
As a bride beloved and courted in thy bridal garments shine,
Choose a loved and lordly suitor who shall wait on thee in pride,
Choose a hero worth thy beauty, be a monarch’s queenly bride!
Speak thy lineage, heaven-descended! who may be thy parents high,
Rudras or the radiant Maruts, Vasus leaders of the sky,
All unworthy is this forest for a nymph or heavenly maid,
Beasts of prey infest the jungle, Rakshas haunt its gloomy shade,
Lions dwell in lovely caverns, tuskers ford the silent lake,
Monkeys sport on pendant branches, tigers steal beneath the brake,
Wherefore then this dismal forest doth thy fairy face adorn,
Who art thou and whence descended, nymph or maid or goddess-born?”
VI. Ravan’s Wooing
“Listen, Brahman!” answered Sita, – unsuspecting in her mind
That she saw a base betrayer in a hermit seeming kind, –
“I am born of royal Janak, ruler of Videha’s land,
Rama prince of proud Kosala by his valour won my hand.
Rich in every rare enjoyment gladsome passed our happy time,
Till the monarch Dasa-ratha, – for his days were almost done, –
Wished to crown the royal Rama as his Heir and Regent son.
But the scheming Queen Kaikeyi claimed a long-forgotten boon,
That my consort should be exiled and her son should fill the throne,
She would take no rest or slumber, nourishment of drink or food,
Till her Bharat ruled the empire, Rama banished to the wood!
Five and twenty righteous summers graced my good and gracious lord,
True to faith and true to duty, true in purpose deed and word,
Loved of all his loyal people, rich in valour and in fame,
For the rite of consecration Rama to his father came.
Spake Kaikeyi to my husband: – ‘List thy father’s promise fair,
Bharat shall be ruling monarch, do thou to the woods repair,’
Ever gentle, ever duteous, Rama listened to obey,
And through woods and pathless jungles we have held our lonely way!
This, O pious-hearted hermit, is his story of distress,
And his young and faithful brother follows him in wilderness,
Lion in his warlike valour, hermit in his saintly vow,
Lakshman with his honoured elder wanders through the forest now.
Rest thee here, O holy Brahman, rich in piety and fame,
Till the forest-ranging brothers greet thee with the forest game,
Speak, if so it please thee, father, what great rishi claims thy birth,
Wherefore in this pathless jungle wand’rest friendless on this earth.”
“Brahman nor a righteous rishi,” royal Ravan made reply,
“Leader of the wrathful Rakshas, Lanka’s lord and king am I,
He whose valour quells the wide-world, Gods above and men below,
He whose proud and peerless prowess Rakshas and Asuras know!
Be a sharer of my empire, of my glory take a part,
Many queens of queenly beauty on the royal Ravan wait,
Thou shalt be their reigning empress, thou shalt own my regal state!
Lanka girt by boundless ocean is of royal towns the best,
Seated in her pride and glory on a mountain’s towering crest,
And in mountain paths and woodlands thou shalt with thy Ravan stray,
Not in Godavari’s gorges through the dark and dreary day,
And five thousand gay-dressed damsels shall upon my Sita wait,
Queen of Ravan’s true affection, proud partaker of his state!”
Sparkled Sita’s eyes in anger and a tremor shook her frame,
As in proud and scornful accents answered thus the royal dame:
“Knowest thou Rama great and godlike, peerless hero in the strife,
Deep, uncompassed, like the ocean? – I am Rama’s wedded wife!
Knowest thou Rama proud and princely, sinless in his saintly life,
Stately as the tall Nyagrodha? – I am Rama’s wedded wife!
Mighty-arméd, mighty-chested, mighty with his bow and sword,
Lion midst the sons of mortals, – Rama is my wedded lord!
Stainless as the Moon in glory, stainless in his deed and word,
Rich in valour and in virtue, – Rama is my wedded lord!
Sure thy fitful life is shadowed by a dark and dreadful fate,
Since in frenzy of thy passion courtest thou a warrior’s mate,
Tear the tooth of hungry lion while upon the calf he feeds,
Touch the fang of deadly cobra while his dying victim bleeds,
Aye uproot the solid mountain from its base of rocky land,
Ere thou win the wife of Rama stout of heart and strong of hand!
Press thy red tongue cleft and bleeding on the razor’s shining blade,
Hurl thyself upon the ocean from a towering peak and high,
Snatch the orbs of day and midnight from their spheres in azure sky,
Tongues of flaming conflagration in thy flowing dress enfold,
Ere thou take the wife of Rama to thy distant dungeon hold,
Ere thou seek to insult Rama unrelenting in his wrath,
O’er a bed of pikes of iron tread a softer easier path!”
VII. Ravan’s Triumph
Vain her threat and soft entreaty, Ravan held her in his wrath,
As the planet Budha captures fair Rohini in his path,
By his left hand tremor-shaken, Ravan held her streaming hair,
By his right the ruthless Raksha lifted up the fainting fair!
Unseen dwellers of the woodlands watched the dismal deed of shame,
Marked the mighty-armed Raksha lift the poor and helpless dame,
Seat her on his car celestial yoked with asses winged with speed,
Golden in its shape and radiance, fleet as Indra’s heavenly steed!
Angry threat and sweet entreaty Ravan to her ears addressed,
As the struggling fainting woman still he held upon his breast,
Vain his threat and vain entreaty, “Rama! Rama!” still she cried,
To the dark and distant forest where her noble lord had hied.
Then arose the car celestial o’er the hill and wooded vale,
Like a snake in eagle’s talons Sita writhed with piteous wail,
Dim and dizzy, faint and faltering, still she sent her piercing cry,
Echoing through the boundless woodlands, pealing to the upper sky:
Save a faithful wife and woman from a Raksha’s lust and greed,
True and faithful was thy warning, – false and foul the charge I made,
Pardon, friend, an erring sister, pardon words a woman said!
Help me, ever righteous Rama, duty bade thee yield thy throne,
Duty bids thee smite the sinful, save the wife who is thy own,
Thou art king and stern chastiser of each deed of sin and shame,
Hurl thy vengeance on the Raksha who insults thy faithful dame!
Deed of sin, unrighteous Ravan, brings in time its dreadful meed,
As the young corn grows and ripens from the small and living seed,
For this deed of insult, Ravan, in thy heedless folly done,
Death of all thy race and kindred thou shalt reap from Raghu’s son!
Darksome woods of Panchavati, Janasthana’s smiling vale,
Flowering trees and winding creepers, murmur to my lord this tale,
Sweet companions of my exile, friends who cheered my woodland stay,
Speak to Rama, that his Sita ruthless Ravan bears away!
Towering peaks and lofty mountains, wooded hills sublime and high,
Far-extending gloomy ranges heaving to the azure sky,
In your voice of pealing thunder to my lord and consort say,
Speak to Rama, that his Sita ruthless Ravan bears away!
Unseen dwellers of the woodlands, spirits of the rock and fell,
Sita renders you obeisance as she speaks her sad farewell,
Whisper to my righteous Rama when he seeks his homeward way,
Speak to Rama, that his Sita ruthless Ravan bears away!
Ah, my Rama, true and tender! thou hast loved me as thy life,
From the foul and impious Raksha thou shalt still redeem thy wife,
When thou hearest, helpless Sita is by Ravan torn away!
And thou royal bird, Jatayu, witness Ravan’s deed of shame,
Witness how he courts destruction, stealing Rama’s faithful dame,
Rama and the gallant Lakshman soon shall find their destined prey,
When they know that trusting Sita is by Ravan torn away!”
Vainly wept the anguished Sita; vain Jatayu in his wrath,
Fought with beak and bloody talons to impede the Raksha’s path,
Pierced and bleeding fell the vulture; Ravan fled with Rama’s bride,
Where amidst the boundless ocean Lanka rose in towering pride!