The Epic of Rama, Prince of India
Book XII. Aswa-Medha
(Sacrifice of the Horse)
The dark cloud of suspicion still hung on the fame of Sita, and the people of Ayodhya made reflections on the conduct of their king, who had taken back into his house a woman who had lived in the palace of Ravan, Rama gave way to the opinion of his people, and he sent away his loving and faithful Sita to live in forests once more.
Sita found an asylum in the hermitage of Valmiki, the reputed author of this Epic, and there gave birth to twins, Lava and Kusa. Years passed on, and Lava and Kusa grew up as hermit boys, and as pupils of Valmiki.
After years had passed, Rama performed a great Horse-sacrifice. Kings and princes were invited from neighbouring countries, and a great feast was held, Valmiki came to the sacrifice, and his pupils, Lava and Kusa, chanted there the great Epic, the Ramayana, describing the deeds of Rama. In this interesting portion of the poem we find how songs and poetry were handed down in ancient India by memory. The boys had learnt the whole of the Epic by heart, and chanted portions of it, day after day, till the recital was completed. We are told that the poem consists of seven books, 500 cantos, and 24,000 couplets. Twenty cantos were recited each day, so that the recital of the whole poem must have taken twenty-five days. It was by such feats of memory and by such recitals that literature was preserved in ancient times in India.
Sita came. But her life had been darkened by an unjust suspicion, her heart was broken, and she invoked the Earth to take her back. And the Earth, which had given Sita birth, yawned and took back her suffering child into her bosom.
In the ancient hymns of the Rig Veda, Sita is simply the goddess of the field-furrow which bear crops for men. We find how that simple conception is concealed in the Ramayana, where Sita the heroine of the Epic is still born of the field-furrow, and after all her adventures returns to the earth. To the millions of men and women in India, however, Sita is not an allegory; she lives in their hearts and affections as the model of womanly love, womanly devotion, and a wife’s noble self-abnegation.
The portions translated in this Book form the whole or portions of Sections xcii., xciii., xciv., and xcvii. of Book vii. of the original text.
I. The Sacrifice
Years have passed; the lonely Rama in his joyless palace reigned,
And for righteous duty yearning, Aswa-medha rite ordained,
And a steed of darkest sable with the valiant Lakshman sent,
And with troops and faithful courtiers to Naimisha’s forest went.
Fair was far Naimisha’s forest by the limpid Gumti’s shore,
Monarch, came and warlike chieftains, Brahmans versed in sacred lore,
Proud retainers by each chieftain and each crownéd monarch stood.
Palaces and stately mansions were for royal guests assigned,
Peaceful homes for learnéd Brahmans were with trees umbrageous lined,
Gifts were made unto the needy, cloth by skilful weavers wrought,
Ere the suppliants spake their wishes, ere they shaped their inmost thought!
Rice unto the helpless widow, to the orphan wealth and gold,
Gifts they gave to holy Brahmans, shelter to the weak and old,
Garments to the grateful people crowding by their monarch’s door,
Food and drink unto the hungry, home unto the orphan poor.
Ancient rishis had not witnessed feast like this in any land,
Bright Immortals in their bounty blest not with a kinder hand,
Through the year and circling seasons lasted Rama’s sacred feast,
And the untold wealth of Rama by his kindly gifts increased!
II. Valmiki and His Pupils
Foremost midst the gathered Sages to the holy yajna came
Deathless Bard of Lay Immortal – Saint Valmiki rich in fame,
Midst the humble homes of rishis, on the confines of the wood,
Cottage of the Saint Valmiki in the shady garden stood.
Fruits and berries from the jungle, water from the crystal spring,
With a careful hand Valmiki did unto his cottage bring,
And he spake to gentle Lava, Kusa child of righteous fame, –
Sita’s sons, as youthful hermits to the sacred feast they came:
Sing the Lay of Ramayana from the first unto the end,
Sing it to the holy Brahman, to the warrior fair and tall,
In the crowded street and pathway, in the monarch’s palace hall,
Sing it by the door of Rama, – he ordains this mighty feast,
Sing it to the royal ladies, – they shall to the story list,
Sing from day to day unwearied, in this sacrificial site,
Chant to all the gathered nations Rama’s deeds of matchless might,
And this store of fruits and berries will allay your thirst and toil,
Gentle children of the forest, unknown strangers in this soil!
Twenty cantos of the Epic, morn to night, recite each day,
Till from end to end is chanted Ramayana’s deathless Lay,
Ask no alms, receive no riches, nor of your misfortunes tell,
Useless unto us is bounty who in darksome forests dwell,
Children of the wood and mountain, cruel fortune clouds your birth,
Stainless virtue be your shelter, virtue be your wealth on earth!
If the royal Rama questions and your lineage seeks to know,
Say, – Valmiki is our Teacher and our Sire on earth below,
Wake your harps to notes of rapture and your softest accents lend,
With the music of the poet music of your voices blend,
Bow unto the mighty monarch, bow to Rama fair and tall,
He is father of his subjects, he is lord of creatures all!”
III. Recital of the Ramayana
Joyous went the minstrel brothers, and their lofty lay begun,
Rama to the hermit minstrels lent a monarch’s willing ear,
Blended with the simple music dulcet was the lay to hear,
And so sweet the chanted accents, Rama’s inmost soul was stirred,
With his royal guests and courtiers still the deathless lay he heard!
Heralds versed in old Puranas, Brahmans skilled in pious rite,
Minstrels deep in lore of music, poets fired by heavenly might,
Watchers of the constellations, min’sters of the festive day,
Men of science and of logic, bards who sang the ancient lay,
Painters skilled and merry dancers who the festive joy prolong,
Hushed and silent in their wonder listed to the wondrous song!
And as poured the flood of music through the bright and live-long day,
Eyes and ears and hearts insatiate drank the nectar of the lay,
And the eager people whispered: “See the boys, how like our king,
As two drops of limpid water from the parent bubble spring!
Were the boys no hermit-children, in the hermit’s garments clad,
We would deem them Rama’s image, – Rama as a youthful lad!”
Twenty cantos of the Epic thus the youthful minstrels sung,
And the voice of stringéd music through the Epic rolled along,
Out spake Rama in his wonder: “Scarce I know who these may be,
Eighteen thousand golden pieces be the children-minstrels’ fee!”
Gold and silver, bounteous monarch, forest life beseem not well!”
“Noble children!” uttered Rama, “dear to me the words you say,
Tell me who composed this Epic, – Father of this deathless Lay?”
“Saint Valmiki,” spake the minstrels, “framed the great immortal song,
Four and twenty thousand verses to this noble Lay belong,
Untold tales of deathless virtue sanctify his sacred line,
And five hundred glorious cantos in this glorious Epic shine,
In six Books of mighty splendour was the poet’s task begun,
With a seventh Book supplemental, is the poet’s labour done,
All thy matchless deeds, O monarch, in this Lay will brighter shine,
List to us from first to ending if thy royal heart incline!”
“Be it so,” thus Rama answered, but the hours of day were o’er,
And Valmiki’s youthful pupils to their cottage came once more.
Rama with his guests and courtiers slowly left the royal hall,
Eager was his heart to listen, eager were the monarchs all,
And the voice of song and music thus was lifted day to day,
And from day to day they listened to Valmiki’s deathless Lay!
IV. Lava and Kusa Recognised
Flashed upon the contrite Rama glimpses of the dawning truth,
And with tears of love paternal Rama clasped each minstrel youth,
Yearned his sorrow-stricken bosom for his pure and peerless dame,
Sita banished to the forest, stainless in her righteous fame!
That his heart with eager longing sought her from her banishment:
“Pure in soul! before these monarchs may she yet her virtue prove,
Grace once more my throne and kingdom, share my unforgotten love,
Pure in soul! before my subjects may her truth and virtue shine,
Queen of Rama’s heart and empire may she once again be mine!”
V. Sita Lost
Morning dawned; and with Valmiki, Sita to the gathering came,
Banished wife and weeping mother, sorrow-stricken, suffering dame,
Pure in thought and deed, Valmiki, gave his troth and plighted word, –
Faithful still the banished Sita in her bosom held her lord!
“Mighty Saint,” so Rama answered as he bowed his humbled head,
“Listening world will hear thy mandate and the word that thou hast said,
Never in his bosom Rama questioned Sita’s faithful love,
And the God of Fire incarnate did her stainless virtue prove!
Pardon, if the voice of rumour drove me to a deed of shame,
Bowing to my people’s wishes I disowned my sinless dame,
Pardon, if to please my subjects I have bade my Sita roam,
Tore her from my throne and empire, tore her from my heart and home!
In the dark and dreary forest was my Sita left to mourn,
In the lone and gloomy jungle were my royal children born,
Help me, Gods, to wipe this error and this deed of sinful pride,
May my Sita prove her virtue, be again my loving bride!”
Men of every race and nation, kings and chiefs of righteous fame,
Softly through the halls of splendour cool and scented breezes blew,
Fragrance of celestial blossoms o’er the royal chambers flew.
Sita saw the bright Celestials, monarchs gathered from afar,
Saw her royal lord and husband bright as heaven-ascending star,
Saw her sons as hermit-minstrels beaming with a radiance high,
Milk of love suffused her bosom, tear of sorrow filled her eye!
Rama’s queen and Janak’s daughter, will she stoop her cause to plead,
Witness of her truth and virtue can a loving woman need?
Oh! her woman’s heart is bursting, and her day on earth is done,
And she pressed her heaving bosom, slow and sadly thus begun:
“If unstained in thought and action l have lived from day of birth,
Spare a daughter’s shame and anguish and receive her, Mother Earth:
If in duty and devotion I have laboured undefiled,
Mother Earth! who bore this woman, once again receive thy child!
If in truth unto my husband I have proved a faithful wife,
Mother Earth! relieve thy Sita from the burden of this life!”
Then the earth was rent and parted, and a golden throne arose,
Held aloft by jewelled Nagas as the leaves enfold the rose,
And the Mother in embraces held her spotless sinless Child,
Saintly Janak’s saintly daughter, pure and true and undefiled,
Gods and men proclaim her virtue! But fair Sita is no more,
Lone is Rama’s loveless bosom and his days of bliss are o’er!