Lord Rama – Life in the forest & Sita Haran Pastimes : Part 2

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rama lakshmana sita forest

(Continued from Part1)
In the previous article, we have explained the divine identity and lineage of Lord Rama. We have talked about how He toured with sage Visvamitra to vanquish the Rakshasas and how He broke the celestial bow in Mithila to win Sita’s hand in marriage. We have narrated how Manthara poisoned Kaikeyi’s heart and how Kaikeyi halted the coronation of Lord Rama. We have described how Lord Rama was subsequently exiled to the forest, following the wishes of queen Kaikeyi, and how this plunged King Dasaratha, the royalty, and the entire city of Ayodhya into despair.

The citizens of Ayodhya followed Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita into the forest and would not desert them. ‘Without Rama, what is the use of our house, children or wealth?’, they thought. Feeling compassionate, Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita drove away in the middle of the night while these ordinary citizens lay asleep. In this way, Rama prevented them from any further agony. 

Finally, Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita reached Ushinara province, a territory that was ruled by Guha, Rama’s friend. Guha met with Rama at the shore of the Ganges. Though Guha had brought several gifts, Rama rejected them as He had taken a vow of leading an ascetic life. Guha and Lakshmana stayed awake guarding Rama and Sita as they slept on a bed of leaves. It was time to quit the chariots and go walking barefoot. Crossing over the river, the next morning, Rama bade goodbye to Guha and Sumantara, before entering the dense forests.

Traveling through the dense forests for days, they reached sage Bharadvaja’s hermitage. Taking directions from him, Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana crossed over the Yamuna using a raft made from timber and bamboo. Traveling thus, they reached Chitrakuta, a beautiful forest resplendent with varieties of trees and plants. At Chitrakuta they met with Valmiki who narrated how he was a robber before becoming a sage. The sage described how the instructions of Narada muni were pivotal in transforming his life. Rama instructed Lakshmana to construct a cottage close to sage Valmiki’s hermitage. Lakshmana quickly erected a timber-walled hut with a thatched roof. Within the spacious two-roomed hut, Rama constructed an altar for the worship of Vishnu. Delighted, Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana rested in peace.

King Dasaratha passes away

Unable to bear separation from Rama, and repenting for his actions, King Dasaratha soon passed away. Ayodhya was plunged into utter darkness. As the kingdom wailed, sage Vasistha ordered for Bharata to be immediately brought to Ayodhya and be crowned as the King. Bharata was unaware of his mother’s evil deeds. He was shocked to learn that Rama had been exiled to the forest for fourteen years and that his mother was liable for this series of events. Worse, Kaikeyi had schemed the whole thing just to ensure that Bharata becomes the next King of Ayodhya. Bharata hissed like an angry serpent, cursing his mother with a life in hell. He begged forgiveness from Kaushalya and assured her that he had no part to play in his mother’s wicked scheme. Finally, Bharata and Shatrughna performed the final rites of King Dasaratha. Later finding Manthara at the palace gates, Shatrughna publicly dragged her to the palace court. She shrieked out of fear and almost fell unconscious as her ornaments broke.

Bharata’s attempts to bring Rama back to Ayodhya

Bharata ordered his ministers to prepare to bring Rama back to Ayodhya. Traveling with a huge army, Bharata proceeded towards Chitrakuta. Meeting with Guha, and then seeking blessings from sage Bharadvaja, Bharata, along with Kaushalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi, accompanied by his army, proceeded towards Rama’s hermitage. Three months had already passed since Rama settled on the Chitrakuta mountain. At first, Lakshmana was anxious to see the huge army and thought that perhaps Bharata had come to kill Rama so that he would not have any competition for the crown. But Rama, who knew very well of Bharata’s devotion for Him, rebuked Lakshmana and asked him to stand down. Meeting with Rama, and witnessing Him in the outfit of an ascetic pierced Bharata’s heart who sobbed vehemently. Unable to control his grief, he cried piteously while requesting Rama to return to Ayodhya and reclaim His rightful crown. Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita broke down when they heard that King Dasaratha had left his body, unable to bear separation from Rama. With a heavy heart, they performed the last sacred rites of their father on the riverbank.

rama warrior

Bharata, a brahmin named Jabali, and Sage Vasistha all tried to convince Rama to return to Ayodhya. Jabali even spoke like an atheist urging Rama to think of His self-interest and enjoy royalty instead of sacrificing all pleasures for the sake of morality. Jabali was well versed in spiritual science but spoke like an atheist out of love for Rama. Similarly, sage Vasistha was aware that Rama was destined to spend His time in the forest and eventually kill the demon Ravana. Yet, he could not endure seeing the prince like this and urged Rama to return home. Finally, when Rama could not be convinced, Bharata brought a pair of ornate wooden sandals embellished with Gold and requested Rama to wear them. After Rama had worn them, Bharata collected these sandals and placed them upon his own head, and proclaimed that these shoes shall be the ruler of Ayodhya for the next fourteen years. Bharata also added that in the meantime, he would be residing in a hut outside Ayodhya and shall survive on fruits and roots, while his hair shall be matted. If at the end of fourteen years, Rama does not return to Ayodhya, then Bharata shall enter into a blazing fire and give up his life. “So be it,” replied Rama and He embraced each of His brothers. Kaikeyi submitted at the lotus feet of Rama, recognizing Him as the Supreme Lord. Rama consoled Kaikeyi, assuring her that she was not to blame for the turn of events. He requested her to return and live peacefully. In the coming days, Rama’s sandals were duly crowned as the King of Ayodhya, while Bharata and Shatrughna moved into a small hut, where they led an ascetic life. In this way, Bharata ruled Ayodhya.

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Rama slays the demon Viradha

Meanwhile, Rama wanted to vanquish the demons who tormented the life of the sages. From Chitrakuta, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana soon moved to the Dandaka forest. Over there Sita met with Anasuya, sage Atri’s wife, who gifted her with a celestial garment, garland, ornaments, and cosmetics. After the sages had left, Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana continued with their journey. On their way, they were attacked by a Rakshasa named Viradha, who wanted to kill Rama and Lakshmana, so that he could marry and enjoy with Sita. A terrible fight ensued. The demon had been granted a boon by Lord Brahma, that he could not be killed by any weapon. When the demon attacked, Rama showered him with arrows that cut his lance into pieces. Rama and Lakshmana attacked the demon together and cut off his limbs. But the demon could not be killed. Finally, the two brothers decided to bury the demon. Digging a pit, they dragged the demon into it. On regaining his consciousness, Viradha revealed that he was previously the Gandharva named Tumburu. Tumburu had been sporting with apsaras when demigod Kuvera visited, and Tumburu failed to attend to his master properly. It was due to this reason that he was cursed to become a demon. By the grace of Rama, Tumburu was now relieved of his curse and returned to his heavenly abode.

Rama, Sita and Lakshmana reach Panchavati

Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana then proceeded toward sage Sarabhanga’s hermitage. Sarabhanga was a perfected soul who had meditated on the Supreme Lord for many years and had realized that the same Supreme person was Rama. Rama was now standing before him. Indra had personally come to receive the sage and carry him to the heavens, but the sage refused to go, desiring to stay on earth to catch a glimpse of Rama. After gazing at Rama to his heart’s content, Sarabhanga invoked the fire element and immolated his mortal body, before ascending to the heavens.

vishnu avatar

Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana then proceeded to meet with sage Sutikshna who took them to the hermitage of sage Agastya. Agastya muni presented to Rama the celestial weapons previously used by Lord Vishnu. Among them were two quivers filled with celestial arrows and a sword sheathed in golden scabbard. Following the sage’s instructions, Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana then proceeded to the beautiful forest of Panchavati where they set up their residence, on the bank of river Godavari. Here they met with Jatayu, the king of vultures, who introduced himself as an old friend of King Dasaratha. Rama joyfully embraced the giant bird who swore to protect Sita when the two brothers were away.

Rakshasi Surpanakha

Time flew by. Rama and His companions lived in complete solitude occasionally seeing an ascetic. On their tenth winter, a powerful demon named Surpanakha, who was a sister of Ravana (king of demons), approached Rama’s hermitage. She was immediately attracted to Rama and took on a guise of a beautiful young woman to lure Him. Rama and Lakshmana joked with Surpanakha when she expressed her desire to marry Rama. Rama suggested that Surpanakha wedded Lakshmana while Lakshmana offered that she married Rama. Surpanakha finally grew angry with Sita, who she felt was the chief obstacle to her attaining Rama. When Surpanakha tried to attack Sita, Lakshmana severed the demon’s nose and her pointed ears. Screaming in pain, Surpanakha fled.

The Rakshasi sought help from her brother Khara, who was the leader of the demons in the forest. Khara immediately ordered fourteen powerful Rakshasas to go and make quick work of Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita. The demons arrived at Rama’s hermitage just like clouds driven in a storm. As all fourteen of them rushed towards Rama, He strung His bow and severed their darts. Moving faster than the eye, Rama aimed arrows at the demons’ hearts, causing them to fall dead. Surpanakha who was astonished to witness Rama’s prowess fled and described the entire incident to his brother Khara. Screaming in anger, Khara ordered his brother Dushana and all the fourteen thousand Rakshasas to follow him into the war. Khara’s chariot was filled with every kind of weapon he possessed. Disregarding ominous signs, Khara marched towards Rama’s hermitage. Sensing an imminent attack, Rama instructed Lakshmana to carry Sita to somewhere safe and protect her. Accordingly, Lakshmana brought Sita to a secured cave and stood at its gates protecting her. Rama equipped Himself with the celestial weapons He had received from sage Agastya. The army of demons rushed towards Rama like a mass of dark blue clouds. Rama stood firm. A violent fight ensued. With His arrows, He cut down the axes, swords, lances, and spiked maces thrown at Him by the enemy. He severed the arms, legs, and heads of several rakshasas as they fell lifeless to the ground. He shot innumerable shafts that could not be intercepted or endured and which killed the demons by the thousands. Crushed by Rama the demons sent up a piteous wail.

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rama sita Surpanakha

Some Rakshasas put up a brave fight but were ultimately killed in the battle. Finally, Khara asked Dushana, his brother, to attack Rama. Dushana was very powerful and was capable of taking on ten thousand warriors at once. After a violent fight, in where all his limbs were severed, Rama cut off Dushana’s head. The demigods who witnessed the battle from the skies highly praised Rama for His heroic feat. One by one the mighty Rakshasas were slain in the battle. Trishira, the powerful three-headed demon, attacked Rama and fought valiantly. He even struck Rama on the forehead causing Him to bleed. Soon Rama fired fourteen serpent-like arrows that severed Trishira’s chest, causing him to fall dead.

Sensing imminent defeat, Khara charged toward Rama and even struck Rama with his arrows. Hit hard by Khara’s shafts, Rama’s armor was broken into pieces. Seething with anger, Rama fired six arrows that struck the demon in the head, arms, and chest. Rama broke Khara’s chariot, his charioteer, horses, armor, etc. Khara then attacked Rama with his mace, but He shot it down with twenty steel-tipped arrows. Finally, Rama released an arrow imbued with the celestial force of Indra’s thunderbolt. It struck Khara, burning a hole in his chest, and killing him in the process. As the demons were vanquished, the demigods and sages greatly praised Rama for His heroic achievements. The region was rid of the evil demoniac curse and had become habitable once more.

Sita Haran – Kidnap of Sita

There was one demon named Akampana who had fled Rama’s onslaught at Panchavati. He reached Lanka, the capital of demons, and conveyed the entire story to Ravana. He described how Rama had single-handedly vanquished the entire demon army at Janasthana forest, killing Khara and Dushana in the process. Ravana was skeptical initially as he could not believe that one human could accomplish such a feat. But then he thought that Akampana was also a great general and was an expert in gauging the strength of the enemy. Ravana also remembered how he had previously received Brahma’s boon that he could not be defeated in any battle by demigods or other celestial beings. But he had not asked for immunity against humans as he used to consider them trivial. Akampana warned Ravana that though Rama appeared human, He was invincible in war and that Ravana would not be able to match His strength. Hence he suggested that Ravana kidnap Sita so that Rama could be dealt an emotional setback. This would render Him weak and He can then be defeated. Ravana thought about Akampana’s proposal. He crossed over the southern ocean and met with Maricha, who had become an ascetic and retired to the forest having been defeated by Rama. When Ravana disclosed that he wanted to kidnap Sita, Maricha was left utterly shocked. He strongly warned Ravana against touching Sita. Maricha who was well aware of Rama’s strength revealed to Ravana how Rama could even bring down the heavens if He so wished. If Ravana kidnapped Sita, an enraged Rama would surely bring upon the destruction of the entire Rakshasa race, Maricha warned. Heeding the advice of Maricha, Ravana gave up his evil intentions and returned to Lanka.

rama squirrel

However, soon Surpanakha reached Lanka and rebuked his brother Ravana in front of his ministers for not taking any action against Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita who were responsible for cutting off Surpanakha’s ears and nose. Rama had killed Khara, Dushana, and the entire Rakshasa army at Dandaranya, Surpanakha reported. Surpanakha longed for revenge and wanted to incite Ravana. Knowing her brother’s weakness, Surpanakha related to Ravana how beautiful Sita was and how Ravana should snatch Sita away from Rama and make her his consort. Ravana’s mind was fascinated by hearing Sita’s beauty and he decided to kidnap her.

Ravana crossed over the ocean in his celestial chariot and met with Maricha once again. This time he did not pay any heed to Maricha’s warnings. He warned Maricha and threatened to kill him if he did not cooperate with Ravana. Accordingly, Ravana and Maricha reached Rama’s hermitage at Dandaka forest. Maricha, who was a powerful mystic, assumed the form of a beautiful deer and moved around Rama’s hermitage. The deer playfully came near Sita and then moved away again. Sita was completely charmed by the deer and wanted to keep it as her pet. Hence, she requested Rama again and again to catch the deer. Lakshmana warned Rama that the deer must be a Rakshasa as it seemed to be unusually attractive. But Sita’s insistence forced Rama to disregard all apprehensions and chase after the deer instead. After chasing for a few miles, Rama understood that it was indeed a Rakshasa as no deer could run with such a great speed. It seemed to be a trick to drive Rama away from His hermitage. Raising His bow, He shot an arrow which killed the deer. Coming closer Rama found that it was Maricha who had assumed the form of the beautiful deer. Before leaving his body, Maricha perfectly imitated Rama’s voice and cried out, ‘Lakshmana! Help me! Alas, Sita!’. The sound of his cry reverberated across the entire forest. Rama understood that the demon wanted to confuse Sita and Lakshmana. He wanted to return to His hermitage as quickly as possible but it was miles away.

At the hermitage, Sita was anxious on hearing Rama’s cry. She pleaded with Lakshmana, again and again, to go to the rescue of Rama. But Lakshmana comprehended that it was a ploy of the demons. He assured Sita that Rama could not be defeated even if all the demigods united against Him. Hence she had no reason to fear a small deer harming Rama. But Sita would not have any of it. She rebuked Lakshmana for staying unperturbed and charged him with harboring desires to enjoy Sita. Pierced by Sita’s sharp words, Lakshmana unwillingly left her and set out to search for Rama.

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As soon as Lakshmana left, Ravana approached Sita, who was now all alone. Ravana came in the guise of an ascetic. He was captivated by her beauty and his mind was filled with lust. Mistaking him to be an ascetic, Sita welcomed her guest and fetched him food. As time passed, Ravana became more and more enchanted by Sita’s beauty. He decided to carry her by force if necessary. Revealing his true form and real identity, Ravana proposed to Sita and asked her to become his queen. Sita reproached Ravana again and again. She scorned and derided him with sharp words. Ravana was outraged to discover that Sita remained committed to Rama, a mere human according to him, despite Ravana, the King of Lanka, petitioning her again and again. Finally, losing patience, Ravana caught hold of Sita and forcefully carried her to his chariot that was waiting nearby. As the chariot rose, she called for Rama at the top of Her voice. Distracted with grief and anguish, Sita wailed like a mad woman.

Jatayu fights to rescue Sita

As the chariot rose higher, Sita noticed Jatayu resting on a tree and cried to him for help. Jatayu initially tried to talk sense into Ravana and warned him against stealing another’s wife against the eternal codes of morality. He warned Ravana that Rama would vanquish him along with his entire kingdom. Seeing Ravana indifferent, Jatayu, the king of vultures, decided to fight the demon. Ravana punched blows at Jatayu but the bird carefully dodged them. He attacked Ravana with his talons. The fight was frightening to witness.

Lod rama

Ravana struck thousands of arrows toward Jatayu. Ignoring his wounds, Jatayu attacked Ravana with his beak and claws inflicting wounds. He broke Ravana’s jewel-studded bow, which fell from the sky. Ravana strung another bow and shot arrows toward the bird. Dodging them, Jatayu tore off the heads of Ravana’s mules and killed the charioteer, causing the chariot to fall to the ground. The demigods witnessing the battle highly praised Jatayu. Jatayu tore Ravana’s back with his talons and struck his head with his beak. An enraged Ravana rushed towards Jatayu and lopped off the bird’s wings with his razor-sharp sword. Jatayu fell off the sky being mortally wounded. Jatayu was brave and fought till the very end to rescue Sita. Overcoming Jatayu, Ravana forcefully grabbed Sita and flew towards Lanka. The demigods who witnessed Ravana’s flight understood that Ravana’s time was coming to an end. Reaching Lanka, Ravana took Sita to the inner section of his palace and entrusted her to the care of female demons. He ordered them to take good care of Sita and provide her with every object of enjoyment she desires. Ravana tried to seduce Sita again and again but failed miserably. Finally, he warned Sita, that if she did not yield to become Ravana’s consort within a year, Ravana would have her killed and eat her flesh. With her mind rapt in the thoughts of Rama, Sita fell unconscious, tormented by fear and grief.

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