[A novella based on the Ramayana and S R D Prasad's Bharatakaandam in Malayalam; continued from the previous post]
C K Kerala Varma
As years rolled on, I could sense growing uneasiness in Rama. He was getting restless about isolated incidents of robbery and killings in the kingdom. He and Lakshmana combed the country. They came across Shambuka on an extremely rigorous meditation with his body hung head down. Rama assumed that this arrogant act by the low-caste Shambuka must have been causing those incidents. He chopped off the poor ascetic’s head. There were a few sages like Dwijarshabha who had ordained that the low-caste had no right to meditate! I would not venture a guess about what Jaabaali would say on this.
To declare his pre-eminence in the country and the neighbourhood Rama decided to hold aswamedhayagna by sacrificing an all-conquering horse. Organising the yagna turned out to be a matter of relief from the routine for me. Sages and ascetics, kings and princes, actors and drummers…. The yagna would run for days. Rama was present in person every day. A gold statuette of Sita took the place of the absent queen. Could we not have brought Sita back for the yagna, reversing a definite blot on Rama’s record of fairness? The yagna was also to seek forgiveness for the mistakes made.
The visit of the poet-sage Valmiki during the yagna had in it, unknown though to us, the tidings of a great upheaval about to happen. Shortly after that, two young boys, clad in hermit clothing but luxuriously radiant like the sun, came singing. Their rhapsody about Rama’s sun-dynasty overwhelmed all those assembled with its sheer melody and poetry. Rama was so moved with their song that he asked me to give them gold in plenty.
Our admiration for these extraordinary boys grew more when they refused to accept any material reward.
Rama wanted to know more about them. They said Sage Valmiki had sent them here. He was the author of the ballad they were singing. Their mother lived in the ashram. They grew up in the hermitage tutored and mentored by the sage. They did not have anything more to say. Rama, in his sagacity, capped the volcano that had erupted within him. He just requested Lava and Kusha to come back every day and continue with their song.
I was amazed at the way Rama checked the well of emotions that were swelling within him. Each song that the boys sang would drown the father in him in intense remorse. After a few days, when the boys were nearing the end of their song of Rama, he told Valmiki that he was ready to take back Sita and his children. He was but plagued by the fear of popular opinion.
“Let her go through a final test here in front of all those assembled for the yagna,” said Rama.
Valmiki reluctantly agreed. He also had his say, “Sita is extremely virtuous and chaste. She had given birth to these twins in my ashram. May God take away my hard earned status as a sage, if she is guilty! You had sent her away knowing well that she’s pure and innocent.”
Rama listened to the learned hermit with bowed head and folded hands. He agreed with whatever Valmiki said, but signalled helplessness.
Sita was ushered in. Clad in a simple sheet of saffron hue, she stood motionless with her head bowed down. She did not betray any emotion. She seemed to seek forgiveness of everyone. She did not wait this time for her pyre of fire to be ready. Before we could fathom what was happening, she disappeared, as if drawn by the gravity of the earth, as if she was sucked back into the womb of mother earth.
Lava and Kusha grew up in the palace along with my sons and the sons of Lakshmana and Shatrugna. We brought them up as fine princes ready to succeed us whenever their time would come.
[C K Kerala Varma is a friend of mine and a senior officer in the State Bank of India. I am happy to publish his novella. Please go back in this blog if you wish to read the previous chapters. Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri]