CRISIS AND EXILE

51. Will Rama Renounce the World?

King Dasharatha wanted Rama to succeed him, but he worried Rama would renounce the world and become a forest rishi. So he sent Vashishtha, the royal priest, to investigate.

“Tell me, Rama,” Vashishtha said, “do you want to renounce the world?”

Rama stared at the priest thoughtfully in silence.

“Do you want to renounce God?” Vashishtha continued.

Rama understood: to renounce the world would be like renouncing God. “Now I see,” he said, smiling. “God has become all things everywhere, in the palace and in the forest.” Then he added, “Tell my father I am ready to become Ayodhya’s king.”

52. Manthara Persuades Kaikeyi

When Kaikeyi’s maid Manthara heard that Dasharatha planned to make Rama king, she poisoned Kaikeyi’s mind against him.

“Kaushalya will be Queen Mother. You’ll be her servant,” Manthara hissed. “Your son Bharata will be Rama’s servant. Use the boons Dasharatha promised you: make him exile Rama for fourteen years and crown Bharata king instead.”

Kaikeyi confronted Dasharatha. “I demand my two boons!” she said. “You promised!”

The king begged her to relent, but Kaikeyi insisted.

“I am bound to do what you ask,” said Dasharatha, stricken with grief.

Thus he sent Rama into exile and agreed to make Bharata king.

53. Dasharatha Sends Rama into Exile

When King Dasharatha sent Rama into exile, Rama did not protest.

“A king’s promises must be kept,” said Rama.

“I’ll go with you!” shouted Lakshmana.

“And I will go also,” added Sita.

“It’s too dangerous, Sita,” said Rama.

But Sita insisted. “I am your wife, and I will go with you.”

Then Lakshmana’s wife Urmila said, “I will go also!”

“I can’t protect both my brother and my wife,” said Lakshmana. “You will help me most if you stay here.”

Urmila wept bitterly, but she did as Lakshmana asked.

Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana went into exile together.

Urmila stayed behind.

54. The Exiles Depart

Wearing clothes of bark, Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana began their exile. A charioteer drove them to the river, while the people of Ayodhya followed.

“Go home, men and women of Ayodhya!” Rama said. But the people did not leave.

In the night, Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana departed while the people slept. Guha, the chief of the fisher folk, ferried them across the river in his boat.

In the morning, the men and the women of Ayodhya saw Rama was gone, and they returned home as Rama had commanded.

The hijras, being neither men nor women, waited devoutly until Rama returned.

55. Lakshmana Guards Rama and Sita

During their first night in the forest, Rama and Sita slept peacefully, while Lakshmana watched over them.

The goddess of sleep, Nidra-Devi, appeared before Lakshmana. “You must sleep,” the goddess said.

“I cannot,” Lakshmana replied. “I must protect my brother and his wife.”

“Then someone else must sleep for you,” said the goddess.

“Go ask my wife, Urmila,” said Lakshmana. “She stayed behind in Ayodhya.”

The goddess spoke to Urmila, and Urmila agreed to sleep in Lakshmana’s place. So for all the years of exile Lakshmana did not need to sleep; Urmila slept both night and day for her husband.

56. Dasharatha Grieves for Rama

After Rama departed into exile, Dasharatha was grief-stricken, unable to leave his bed.

“There was a boy,” he said in his delirium, remembering the boy he had shot, the son of the blind parents. “All my fault. That is why I have lost Rama.”

Tossing and turning, Dasharatha repeated, “Rama. Rama. Rama.”

Sitting by Dasharatha’s bedside through the night, Sumitra and Kaushalya fell asleep. In the morning, they discovered the king was dead.

All Ayodhya was plunged into grief.

Bharata and Shatrughna were away in Kekaya with their grandfather, and they did not know what had happened in their absence.

57. Bharata and Shatrughna Return

When Bharata and Shatrughna returned, they learned that Kaikeyi had sent Rama into exile at Manthara’s urging.

“But why did Rama agree to this madness?” exclaimed Shatrughna.

Then he saw Manthara, looking ridiculous in a fine new gown and fancy jewelry.

He grabbed her by the hair. “You’ll die for this!” he shouted, dragging her across the floor towards Bharata. “Kill her, brother!” he shouted.

“No,” Bharata replied. “Wicked as she is, she is a woman, and women are not to be killed. Otherwise, I would kill my own mother for her wicked deed. Rama forgave them; so must we.”

58. Bharata and Shatrughna Go to Rama

Bharata and Shatrughna went to see Rama in the forest, bringing news of their father’s death.

“He was so angry at my mother that he wanted Shatrughna to perform the funeral, not me,” Bharata explained, weeping.

“And even after the funeral,” said Shatrughna, “his spirit is restless. He won’t cross the river of death and comes to me in dreams, demanding that we hunt a wild rhino, his four sons, together.”

So Dasharatha’s sons hunted and killed a rhino.

A flock of crows feasted on the carcass, and this appeased the spirit of Dasharatha; he no longer troubled Shatrughna’s dreams.

59. Bharata Petitions Rama

Bharata begged Rama to end his exile. “Return to Ayodhya now,” he said. “Be our king!”

“I cannot,” Rama insisted. “I must remain true to our father’s promise, even in death.”

“Then let me stay here with you!”

“You cannot,” Rama said. “Ayodhya must have a ruler.”

“I’ll rule, but as regent only,” Bharata agreed. “You will return and be our king.”

Bharata handed Rama the king’s golden sandals. Rama put on the sandals, took them off, and handed them back to Bharata. Bharata then returned to Ayodhya and placed the sandals on the throne, waiting for Rama to return.

60. Manthara Begs Forgiveness

When Bharata came to beg Rama to return to Ayodhya, Manthara accompanied him.

“Forgive me, Rama!” she said.

“There is nothing to forgive,” Rama replied. “Listen: in a previous lifetime you were a celestial gandharvi. You accepted birth as a mortal so that Dasharatha’s eldest son would be sent into the forest.” Manthara was even more surprised by what Rama said next. “We will meet again, Manthara! You will be a woman, hunched over as now, and your name will be Kubja. My name will be Krishna. When I embrace you in that next lifetime, your back will become straight.”

61. Rama Visits Sutikshna

The exiles came to the ashram of the rishi Sutikshna, and he invited them to stay there.

Meanwhile, they heard a loud roaring in the woods. “What’s that?” asked Sita, frightened.

“Many wild animals live here,” Sutikshna explained. “They make a ruckus, as you can hear, but they do no harm.”

“I will kill those wild animals!” Rama declared.

“Oh no, great prince!” said Sutikshna. “There’s no need to kill them. We seek peace here, even in the forest.”

Rama pondered the rishi’s words, and after a time they moved on, visiting the ashrams of other rishis in the forest.

62. Rama Visits Sharabhanga

Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana came to the ashram of rishi Sharabhanga deep in the forest.

“Hear my story,” the old man said to them. “The god Indra invited me to ascend to Nandana-Vana, the heavenly pleasure-garden, but instead I stayed here. I wanted to gaze upon Rama with my own eyes.” Sharabhanga then looked at Rama and smiled. “I have grown old here, waiting. Now I can depart.”

Sharabhanga told the exiles where they should go next on their journey, and then he entered the fire.

From the flames, a young Sharabhanga emerged, and he rose to heaven at last.

63. Viradha Attacks

A fierce rakshasa grabbed Sita and carried her away. Rama and Lakshmana shot him, and he dropped Sita but grabbed them instead and ran deeper into the forest.

“I am Viradha!” the rakshasa shouted, “Weapons cannot kill me.”

Rama and Lakshmana slashed off Viradha’s arms with their swords.

Viradha collapsed, but he did not die.

“Bury me in a pit!” groaned Viradha. “There I can die.”

So they buried Viradha in a pit.

A celestial being then arose from the earth.

“I am Tumburu,” he said, “a gandharva cursed to live as a rakshasa. You freed me from that existence!”

64. Rama Comes to Panchapsaras Lake

Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana heard music in the forest. Following the music, they came to a lake.

“I don’t understand,” said Rama. “Where are the musicians?”

A wandering rishi explained. “The rishi Mandakarni once lived here, and he practiced austerities for a thousand years. The devas feared him, so they sent five apsaras to seduce and distract him. The plan worked: Mandakarni was besotted. He built a house for the apsaras, and then he hid the house beneath this lake. You can hear them even now, as they sing and dance and make merry in the depths of Five-Apsaras Lake.”

65. Sita Tells a Story

Worried about Rama’s eagerness to fight rakshasas in the forest, Sita told Rama a story.

“A hermit once lived peacefully in the forest,” she said, “forever performing rituals and reciting prayers. Indra feared the hermit’s spiritual powers, so he visited the hermit disguised as a soldier. ‘Take this,’ he said to the hermit, giving him a sword. ‘You will find it useful.’ The hermit had always lived at peace, but he began carrying the sword with him everywhere. He no longer performed rituals; instead, he practiced using the sword. Eventually, the hermit lost his powers, just as Indra had hoped.”

66. Rama Visits Agastya

Rama came to Agastya’s ashram.

“Two rakshasa brothers once lived here,” said Agastya, “Ilvala and Vatapi. Ilvala would transform into a brahmin and invite another brahmin to dinner. Vatapi would transform into a sheep which Ilvala cooked and served. Then, after the guest ate, Ilvala would shout: Brother, come out! Vatapi would burst through the brahmin’s stomach, killing him.”

Rama stared at Agastya, horrified.

“But I defeated them,” Agastya explained, smiling. “I used my powers to digest Vatapi before Ilvala could summon him. Afterwards, I incinerated Ilvala with the power of my gaze.”

Rama then regarded Agastya with great admiration.

67. Agastya Arms Rama

The rishi Agastya bestowed weapons on Rama.

“This diamond-studded bow of gold was made by Vishvakarma,” Agastya said. Next, he gave Rama two quivers, saying, “These quivers are inexhaustible, forever filled with arrows that blaze like the sun.” Then he gave Rama a sword that once belonged to Indra and also a bow that once belonged to Vishnu. “With this bow, Vishnu slew many enemies,” Agastya proclaimed. “May you do the same.”

Rama received the weapons gratefully.

Agastya then directed Rama to go to Panchavati, a pleasant place in the forest where he could live peacefully with Sita and Lakshmana.

68. Lakshmana Chases a Boar

Lakshmana had tracked a wild boar through the dense woods. He then raised his sword to strike the boar, but missed. Instead, he cut off the head of an ascetic. The ascetic had been meditating, motionless and silent; Lakshmana hadn’t even noticed he was there.

Lakshmana wept for what he had done, but then the god Indra appeared.

“That hermit was Ravana’s nephew,” said Indra. “He was meditating in order to acquire powers he could use to destroy me. I sent the boar to lure you here. You have accomplished a great deed, and I thank you!”

Then, Indra vanished.

69. Sita Visits Anasuya

In the forest, Sita met Anasuya, wife of the rishi Atri.

“Listen to my story,” Anasuya said. “Three handsome men once came here, saying ‘We have fasted twelve years. Feed us from your breast.’ I realized they were the gods Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva. I used my yogic powers to turn them into babies and let them suckle. Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Parvati then came and asked me to release them. I made them gods again, and they departed.”

Then Anasuya gave Sita gifts: a garment that stayed ever-clean, a garland that stayed ever-fresh, and cream to make her skin ever-soft.

70. Sita and Rama Wander the Forest

One day Sita and Rama wandered far from camp, and Sita was tired.

“I’ll carry you,” said Rama, lifting Sita into his arms, and they headed back to the camp.

The day was hot, and drops of Sita’s sweat fell to the ground, as did drops of Rama’s sweat.

Later Sita and Rama saw saplings had grown where their sweat had fallen.

The saplings continued to grow and bore fruit. Sita’s trees bore green fruits, and Rama’s red fruits.

“We’ll call these Sita-fruit!” said Rama.

“And these will be Rama-fruit!” replied Sita, laughing.

These fruits still grow in India today.

71. Indra Tests Lakshmana

Indra wanted to test Lakshmana, so he sent a beautiful apsara to tempt him. Lakshmana chased her away, but a few strands of the apsara’s hair clung to Lakshmana’s clothing.

That evening, Sita noticed the strands of hair and teased Lakshmana. “I see you’ve found some lovely lady here in the wilderness,” she said, laughing. “I wonder what your Urmila would say about that?”

“How dare you doubt my fidelity!” shouted Lakshmana, and he jumped into their campfire.

The fire did not burn him. “You see?” said Lakshmana. “That is the proof that I am forever faithful to my Urmila.”

72. Jatayu Appears

In the forest, Rama and Lakshmana saw an enormous eagle.

“Careful, brother!” said Lakshmana. “It might be a rakshasa.”

“I am no rakshasa,” said the eagle. “My name is Jatayu, a friend of your royal father. I was grieved to hear of his death and of your exile, Rama. Know me as your father’s friend, and allow me to watch over you here in the forest.”

Rama accepted Jatayu’s offer gratefully and took him to their camp to meet Sita.

“Dear Sita,” said Jatayu, “this forest is full of dangers. I offer you my help should you ever need it.”

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