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Childhood Episode - Part 2
At a short distance from the boundaries of Ayodya, there was a forest in which was situated sage Vishwamitra’s hermitage. There the sage used to perform Yajnas in the company of other ascetics and hermits. But the Rakshasas (the demons) had grown very powerful. Two of them, Marich and Subahu, used to disturb the sages be desecrating the alters.
When the ascetics and sages could no more tolerate the undesirable intrusion by the Rakshasas, they requested Vishwamitra to do something.
Assuring his fellow sages, Vishwamitra decided to approach Dashrath, the King of Ayodhya. Next day while Dashrath was in his court, a guard came and said. “Your Majesty! Sage Vishwamitra has come to meet you.”
King Dashrath was alarmed at the news of Vishwamitra’s arrival. He looked towards sage Vasishtha. The sage said, “Don’t worry. Let us hope Vishwamitra’s visit proves auspicious. Please go and welcome him.”
Acting upon the advice of the family priest, King Dashrath at once went out of the palace to receive sage Vishwamitra. He touched the sage’s feet and said, “Your pious presence has made Ayodhya a holy place. “ The king led him to the court and offered him a seat near sage Vasishtha.
When Vishwamitra had taken the seat, Dashrath said with folded hands, “What service can I render?”
“The Rakshasas create trouble and let us not perform Yajnas. They throw bones and filth into the sacrificial fire.”
Sage Vishwamitra further said, “We, the sages and ascetics, want you to provide us with protection.”
“Stop worrying, Your Holiness! I shall send my soldiers who will kill any Rakshasas who comes near your Yajna altar. And, if required, I myself shall go there. You may rest assured,” said King Dashrath.
“No, your solders will be of no help. Send Rama and Lakshmana with me. Then every thing will be set right,” said Vishwamitra.
King Dashrath was put in dilemma. H got nervous and said, “How can these boys fight those numerous Rakshasas?”
“You are free to refuse if you so desire,” saying this with anger, Vishwamitra got up to leave.
When sage Vasishtha saw that Vishwamitra was annoyed, he pleaded with him not to get agitated. He requested him to take his seat and said, “Please be calm.”
“Why don’t you ask Dashrath not to argue but to do as I say?” said sage Vishwamitra.
Sage Vasishtha said to King Dashrath, “O King! Don’t be a slave of blind love and ignorance. Let Rama and Lakshmana accompany sage Vishwamitra to the forest. They will be gaining something there.”
Dashrath’s fears were removed. He at once called Rama and Lakshmana there and, handing them to Vishwamitra, said, “Please excuse me. I was at fault. Now onwards, they will be at your service till you so wish.”
There is no reason to be worried of. Both of your sons will return richer with experience,” thus assuring King Dashrath, sage Vishwamitra led Rama and Lakshmana out of the palace.
While passing through the forest on their way to Vishwamitra’s hermitage, they were confronted by Taraka, a wicked she-demon. When she saw two young princes accompanying the sage, she was tempted to eat them. She dashed towards them.
“Rama, Beware! She is Taraka. The main creator of trouble in the forest,” sage Vishwamitra warned Rama.
Rama immediately killed Taraka with an arrow shot from his bow. In the hermitage, the sage trained the two brothers in the use of divine weapons. After that training, they were fully prepared to fight the demons.
Rama said to sage Vishwamitra, “Respected Sir! Now you may proceed with the performance of Yajnas without any fear.”
“May God bless you with long life,” said the sage and he got busy with the rituals, along with his fellow ascetics and hermits.
The news of Taraka’s killing made both Marich and Subahu mad with rage. They reached the Yajna site to desecrate it. A usual they began throwing flesh and bones of dead animals in the sacred fire.
Rama at once shot an arrow which rotated above the sacred altar with such a speed that it formed an umbrella and the Rakshasas failed in their attempt to disturb the holy rituals of the Yajna.
On the sixth day of Yajna, Marich and Subahu again came there with a large number of their followers. They were determined to desecrate the holy site of Yajna.
Rama and Lakshmana were standing alert to guard the place. When they saw Rakshasas throwing filth and bones towards the sacred fire of the Yajna from above, Rama lost temper. He said to Lakshmana. “the Rakshasas will not mend their ways unless punished.”
“Permit me to kill them all,” said Lakshmana with his bow ready to shoot.
“Well! You will engage Subahu and let Marich be my victim,” saying so, Rama drew his bow and instantly Marich was hit by the arrow which took and threw him and instantly Marich was hit by the arrow which took and threw him in the ocean a hundred miles away. Subahu was killed by Lakshmana.
The Yajna was completed without any further disturbance. A few days later, sage Vishwamitra received an invitation from King Janak of Mithila to grace the Swyamwar of his daughter Sita. The sage said to the two brothers, “King Janak has asked me to bless his daughter Sita for whose marriage a Swyamwar is being held. I would like you both to go there with me.”
“We shall be honoured to obey your order.” Said Rama and Lakshmana with humility.
On their way to Mithila, they saw a vacant hut, with a huge stone lying outside it, in the forest. Fama asked sage Vishwamitra what that was and why the hut was unoccupied.
“This is sage Gautam’s wife Ahilya who was cursed and turned into stone by the sage,” said Vasishtha.
When asked by Rama, Vishwamitra related the story, “Ahilya was an extremely beautiful woman. Once Moon god, bewitched by her beauty, entered the sage’s bedroom in the guise of Gautam while he was away. Ahilya could not recognise him. While Moon god was leaving the hut, sage Gautam returned. He got annoyed and cursed Ahilya to turn into stone. Since then she has been waiting for you. Go and liberate her from the curse with the touch of your foot.”
As soon as Rama touched the stone, it regained the form of young beautiful Ahilya. Washing Rama’s feet with her tears, she said, “I was a sinner. You have granted me salvation. No doubt, you are God incarnate.” Having said so, she left for the heaven.
In Mithila, sage Vishwamitra stayed in a beautiful garden, with Rama and Lakshmana. King Janak came there to pay his respects. The sage blessed him and told him who Rama and Lakshmana were.
King Janak himself escorted sage Vishwamitra and Dashrath’s sons to the hall where Swyamwar was to take place. On a dais the grand now of lord Shiva was placed. Only he could ask for Sita’s hand who would tie the string of the bow first of all. Sita was also brought in the hall by her friends and maids. Every one, present there, was captivated by her beauty.
When every thing was ready, King Janak asked the royal bard to announce the condition of the Swyamwar.
The royal bard proclaimed, “O Brave Princes! This bow of lord Shiva is not only very heavy but also very hard to bed. Valiant warriors like Ravan and Vanasur have not been able to raise it an inch even. He who succeeds in tying its string, shall be chosen by princess Sita as her husband.”
Many kings and princes tried their best but failed in their attempt to fulfil the condition. Those, who boasted of their physical prowess, had to face humiliation. The foolish ones made laughing stock of themselves. Those, who were mature and wise, did not try.
King Janak began to lose heart at what was happening. He feared his vow would prove an injustice to his daughter. He felt himself a culprit.
Out of disappointment, Janak lost temper. He said, “So many kings and princes, big and small, have come here from different states and islands. Is it not strange that there is not even a single soul present here who can tie the string to win the hand of Sita, my daughter? I don’t understand the reason for the failure of all of you to even move it. I am convinced that this earth has no brave man left upon it. None must think oneself valiant any more. Now, you may please leave this place. Perhaps my daughter is destined to live and die as a virgin. I curse myself for having vowed to ask for the fulfilment of such an impossible condition. I hold myself responsible for the ill lick of my daughter. Even gods and demigods, present here, appear to be helpless.”
At the use of insulting words by King Janak, Lakshmana could not control himself and said, “None dares to speak such a language in any gathering where any of Raghu’s descendants is sitting. King Janak should have know it. I declare, with all the humility at my command, that, I permitted by my elder brother, I shall spin this universe like a ball. This old bow is insignificant.”
Lakshmana’s lion-like roar created panic amongst the princes and kings present there. Rama pacified Lakshmana and made him sit down. Sage Vishwamitra smiled and said to Rama. “Get up and tie the string of the bow so that King Janak is relieved of the tension.”
Rama, after bowing before the sage, walked up to the dais and attempted to pick up the bow.
When Sita’s mother looked at the child-like innocent face of Rama, she was perturbed. She said to her sister-in-law, “Oh Dear! Why does any body not tell the sage that Rama is still a boy. How does he expect him to tie the string of lord Shiva’s bow?”
“No, Sister! Don’t underestimate the sages and ascetics. Don’t you know that sage Agastya dried up the ocean. Gods like Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh are helpless before a small incantation,” said Sita’s aunt assuring the queen.
Sita, on the other hand, was praying to lord Shiva to grant success to Rama by reducing the weight of the bow. Just then Rama picked up the bow like a toy and drew the string to tie it on the other end of the bow
When Rama tried to bend the bow to let the string reach the other end, it broke into two with a big bang. The sound of the bang was deafening. The hall resounded with its echo. Everybody was forced to put fingers into the ears. All were stunned, but King Janak was very happy.
Rama threw the two pieces of the bow on the ground. Atmosphere of melancholy vanished at once. Musicians began to play upon their instruments and dancing girls started dancing without being ordered, just out of joy.
King Janak immediately left his throne and stood before Rama, saying, “O Rama! You have saved my honour which I had almost lost. I thank you for this. I am proud that Kshatriyas still walk over this earth.”
The exploding sound, created by the breaking of lord Shiva’s bow attracted the attention of the great sage Parshuram of the Bhrigu dynasty. He at once reached the Swyamwar-site and challenged him who had invited his death by breaking the bow.
King Janak tried to calm down Parshuram but he would not listen to any argument. He said, “Tell me the name of the person who dared to break lord Shiva’s bow. Otherwise I shall turn this planet upside down.”
King Janak kept quiet. Rama said, “O Respected Brahman! May be that person is one of your devotees.”
“No, it cannot be. The bow-breaker is my enemy and I shall not let him live any more,” said Parshuram with anger.
Angry threats of Parshuram made Lakshmana smile. He said, “We do not remember the number of such ordinary bows broken by us in our childhood. But you never lost temper then. What makes you so much annoyed now? Is there anything special about it?”
“You fool! Don’t you know you are standing in front of death? That is not an ordinary bow, it is Lord Shiva’s bow which no human being can move a bit,” was Parshuram’s reply.
“We don’t find any difference between this bow and any other one. It was an old useless bow and broke into two at the touch of brother Rama. How can you blame him?” said Lakshmana.
“I am known as the destroyer of Kshatriyas. Shut your mouth and save your life,” retorted Parshuram.
“O Great Brahman! We have tolerated you because we do not hit a god, a Brahman, a saint and a cow. So, provoke me not,” said Lakshmana.
Parshuram lost self- control at what Lakshmana had said. He shouted, “Vishwamitra! This boy is not only foolish but also arrogant. I was still now lenient because of your young age,” saying so, he raised his axe to attack Lakshmana.
Rama stood in Parshuram’s way with folded hands and requested him to excuse Lakshmana as he himself confessed to be the offender. He said, “I am your humble servant. How can I fight you? Otherwise, we, the Raghuvanshis, fight with death itself.”
Then Parshuram gave his own bow to Rama to draw its string. When Rama did so, Parshuram by then knew that Rama was not an ordinary man. He bowed before Rama out of respect.
When King Janak found that Parshuram had been pacified, he gestured to Sita’s friends to lead her to Rama. Standing before him, she glanced at Rama and put the flower garland around his neck. That indicated her choice of Rama as her husband.
Parshuram blessed both Rama and Sita and, hailing Rama, went out of the hall. Gods from the heavens showered flowers on the couple to show their approval and pleasure. Then Janak said to sage Vishwamitra, “Please advise me what to do next.”
“O King! Send some messenger to Ayodhya to inform King Dashrath so that he comes here for the solemnisation of the marriage,” replied Vishwamitra.
Janak at once despatched his man to Ayodhya.
Janak’s messenger, after reaching Ayodhya, did not take much time in meeting the telling Dashrath of Sita’s choice of Rama as her husband. King Dashrath was very happy and excited. He sent the happy news to his queens without losing any time.
Bharat and Shatrughna cane running to their father as soon as they heard of the message of King Janak. Dashrath asked Bharat to make arrangements for taking marriage party to Mithila.
“As you order,” saying this Bharat and Shatrughna got busy with the job. Chariots, elephants and horses began to be decorated. King Dashrath with the family priest sage Vasishtha, relatives, courtiers and other elites of the city reached Mithila the very next day.
The people of Mithila were over-awned with the grandeur of the marriage party. Marriage party was also pleased at the grand reception given to them.
King Janak and his relatives welcomed King Dashrath and other members of the party with great respect and enthusiasm. They escorted the guests to the place where marriage ceremony was to be performed. Reaching there, King Janak requested his family priest Shatananda to perform the ceremony. He further said, “You may please solemnise the marriages of the four brothers at he same altar.” This Lakshmana was married with Urmila, Janak’s second daughter and Bharat and Shatrughna with Mandavi and Shrutikirti, the daughters of Janak’s younger brother Kushadhwaj.
After the ceremony, Janak gave cart-loads of ornaments, jewels, clothes and other valuables as dowry to his and his brother’s daughters.
At the time of the departure of the marriage party, Janak got emotional and said to King Dashrath, with tears in his eyes, “O King of kings! We feel ourselves fortunate to be bound with you be relation. This has enhanced our prestige. Please treat me as your slave. We may be excused for any lapse on our part during your stay here.”
“Dear brother! The truth is otherwise. I think myself lucky to call myself a relative of a noble and saint king of your status.”
Then the marriage party left Mithila with the brides and reached the outskirts of Ayodhya.
The entire city had turned out to welcome the king, the princes and the brides. Every house and shop, every land and square was decorated with flowers and buntings. Every body was in a festive mood.
Before entering the city, Dashrath worshipped god Shiva, Parvati and Ganesh, as advised by the family priest sage Vasishtha.
Kaushalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra were standing at the main gate of the palace, with golden trays full of flowers, incense and sweets. They were there to receive their sons and their brides.
After greeting them, Kaikeyi donated a large quantity of golden ornaments and clothes to Brahmans and others as a votive offering. Then the brides were led into the palace in the company of singing women.
This ends part 2 … tune in for part 3 next week.
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