We have all grown up hearing tales of Ramayana from our grandparents.
The Ramayana is one of the two great Hindu epics, alongside the Mahabharata. It tells the story of Rama, one incarnation of the god Vishnu. It has been an influential sacred text within Hinduism for centuries, with Rama serving as a model of devotion to dharma, or virtue. However, the banishment of a pregnant Sita by Rama in the Ramayana remains the most troubling and perplexing event for many Indian people. Sita, the main character of Ramayana never got a fair deal in this scripture. She was first abducted by Ravana and stayed in his captivity. Once Rama won the war, instead of welcoming Sita with open arms, he subjected her to Agni Priksha. What a humiliation for a pure soul. Sita entered the pyre without any fear and hesitation Why did Rama do such a thing? Was he excessively reputation-conscious? Did he abandon Sita just because he didn’t want his good name sullied by having a wife suspected to be impure? But if he had been so obsessed with his reputation, then why did he not remarry after sending Sita away? A king overly concerned about appearances would want a trophy queen by his side; being a queen-less king was hardly a reputation-enhancer. Here, to highlight the extremely pure bearing of Sita, poet Kamban has depicted the moment as being one of an excruciating, fiery torment. Fire is burnt by the heat Sita holds within herself; generated by a lifetime of chastity, self control, faithfulness, suffering and sacrifice. These are represented here not as abstract ethical virtues but rather as part of the substantial and dynamic reality that suffuses the inner being of a faultless woman like Sita. It was this same heat that had earlier terrified Ravana against coming near her. Her trial-by-fire is portrayed in poignant manner in ancient texts . She not only emerges winner, but also manages to scorch the god of fire (Agni) himself, who, according to Kamban, screams out in pain and protest. Lifting Sita in his hands, Agni points out that the beads of perspiration formed on her body due to anger directed at her husband were not dried up by his flames while the flowers she wore in her hair still continued to bloom as freshly as ever. Sita's accumulated spiritual force of concentrated energy (tapas) proved too much for even the fire-god, who emerged saying: “I had to materialize because I could not bear the blazing fire of faithfulness in this woman.” The Fire God also asks Rama: Didn't you hear when the gods and sages and all that moves and is still in the three worlds screamed, as they struck their eyes? Have you abandoned Dharma and resorted to misery instead? He further says “Will rain fall, will the earth bear its burden without splitting in two, will Dharma go the right way, or can this universe survive if she becomes enraged? if she utters a curse, even Brahma on his lotus will die.” More misfortune however was in store for Sita. No sooner had the couple settled down than rumors started in the capital Ayodhya, questioning the propriety of having a queen who had spent a year in a villain's captivity, putting her chastity under doubt. Surprisingly for a clear-headed individual, Rama took these allegations to heart and asked his younger brother Lakshmana to banish Sita (this time alone), to the forests. Rama did this even though he was well aware that his wife was well advanced into the family way. Thus Lakshmana carried Sita the next morning to the forests. The unknowing, innocent lady cheerfully boarded the chariot. Little did she know what travails lay in store for her. Once they reached the wilderness, her brother-in-law informed her thus: You have been forsaken by the king who is afraid of the ill-report circulating among his citizens. You are to be left near this hermitage by me.
Hearing these cruel words the crestfallen Sita fell swooning to the ground. However, it was not long before the valiant lady composed herself and addressed him thus: This mortal frame of mine was indeed composed by the creator for bearing sorrow only. What sin was committed by me, that though being of good conduct, I should be forsaken by the king? I cannot give up my life since I carry within myself the seed which will carry forward the lineage of my lord. Do then as you are ordered O son of Sumitra (Lakshmana's mother), forsake me the miserable one, obey the orders of the king, but do tell him this on my behalf: If to preserve your good name among your people, I must be sacrificed, I am content to let it be so. As you serve your subjects, so I serve you. Thus abandoned, Sita gave birth to twin sons in the wilderness and brought them up all alone, without the protective presence of a father, hence becoming the first single parent in history. When these worthy sons entered their teens, tales of their valor spread far and wide, and it was not long before Rama realized that they were his own offspring. This knowledge prompted him to immediately call his beloved Sita and the two boys to his court. In front of the assembled subjects, tributary kings, ministers and merchants from all parts of his empire. The story goes that he asked her to undertake the fire ordeal again in front of these people. Sita's reaction however was different from that earlier occasion. The emotional scar had obviously not healed. This time she did not ask her brother-in-law to prepare a funeral pyre for her. Nor did she walk around her husband in meek submission. Rather, with folded hands, she merely uttered the following words: If I have remained true to Rama in mind, speech and action, may the Mother Earth embrace me in her bosom.No sooner had she spoken than the ground beneath her feet split wide open, and before anybody had the time to react, she entered the depths. A dejected and helpless Rama was engulfed in grief. Thus did end the exemplary life of Sita, with fate pursuing her to the bitter end. Sita sets a high standard as an ideal wife who stays unswerving in her loyalty and righteousness, no matter how unfavourable her husband's response. Her refusal to perform a second agnipraiksha and her consequent reversion to mother earth is not merely an act of self-annihilation. It is a momentous and dignified rejection. By this act does she emerge supremely triumphant. If the defining scale for quantifying greatness is the amount of suffering one has undergone, it is undoubtedly Sita who is the clear winner. It is her dignified tolerance and self-effacing silence, which may even be termed as weakness by many, that turns out to be her ultimate emotional strength, far bigger than any assertive aggression. Rightly therefore does her name always precede that of Rama as in Sita-Ram or Jai Siya-Ram. There was one character in Ramayana who has not been given her due importance, that was Urmila, Lakshman’s wife. Urmila was younger sister of Sita and daughter of king Janaka. One version stated that Urmila’s personality was so great, her sacrifice so supreme that no level of description or praise could justify it. When Sita went into exile along with Ram, experienced countless challenges, at least she was in the company of her husband, Rama, and had unendillng help from her brother-in-law, Lakshman, who looked upon her as his mother. Urmila, on her part wished to go along with her husband, but remained back in Ayodhya to look after Lakshman’s ageing parents. He also explained that if he took her along, he would struggle to give undivided attention and service to Rama and Sita. Urmila suffered in silence for fourteen long years, never complained about her isolation or anything else for that matter. Veteran Hindi poet, Maithili Sharan Gupt described Urmila’s hurt, pain and loneliness in his epic poem , Urmila. Everyone remembers Sita’s renunciation and devotion towards her husband Ram, but Urmila’s renunciation and sorrow are rarely discussed. Like Urmila, another character in Ramayana , Bharata has not got the recognition he deserved.
Bharata hasn’t got the stardom he should have in the majority of different versions of Ramayana. As the title ‘Ramayana’ itself suggests, Ramayana= ‘Rama’ + ‘Ayana’, i.e., the journey of Rama . So it is obvious that the authors of Ramayana are always bound to portray the character of Rama as much more glorious, great and gigantic in comparison to the other characters . But Bharata stands apart and evokes respect and admiration. Bharata was away from Ayodhya when his elder brother was exiled . When he returns to the capital, from the very moment Bharata got to know about Kaikeyi’s doings from her own mouth, he started to detest her very existence. She tells him, through boons I had obtained long ago, I sent Rama to the forest for fourteen years.
And by doing so, I got the kingdom for you. Unable to bear this shock, the king gave up his life. Any normal son would be delighted to get kingdom on a platter. But not Bharata. He gets furious and curses his own mother. He straightaway leaves for forest to persuade his brother to return to Ayodhya and sit on the throne. Bharata argued with Rama to return to Ayodhya as emperor, but the latter declined on the grounds that such a deed would be unrighteous. Though heavily disappointed, he came back to Ayodhya after receiving a promise from Rama that he would return after the 14 years of exile and ascend the throne. He He agreed to govern Ayodhya, not as its ruler, but as Ram’s representative. The folks supported Bharata, as he became the ‘king’ of Kosala and Ayodhya, but he himself placed Ram’s sandals at the foot of the royal throne, and never sat upon the throne nor crowned himself. Bharata’s reign was righteous, and the kingdom was safe and prosperous, but he continuously longed for Rama’s return. During this period he failed to forgive his mother Kaikeyi and faithfully served Rama’s mother Kausalya and Lakshmana’s mother , Sumitra. I think ,Bharata deserved much better treatment in all versions of Ramayana. In most parts of India and Asia Ramayana is performed every year, culminating in Dussehra , when effigies of Ravana, Kumbhkaran and Meghnatha are burnt. Dussehra is celebration of victory of good over evil. Even Deepavali, Festival of Lights was celebrated to mark return of Rama, to Ayodhya after completing his 14 year exile term. The festival is celebrated every year . Ramayana is part of every Hindu household and is way of life for them. It is so deeply effects their psyche that even when two people meet any where, one of their common greeting with folded hands is either Ram Ram or Jai SIA Ram. Lord Rama is considered ultimate moral authority.
Ramayan reciting is part of most house holds and this scripture is venerated with as much devotion and respect as deferent Gods. Ramayana path is held where shlokas from the holy book are chanted day and night. Ramayana is high voltage drama where destiny plays a big role. Otherwise, why should Kaikeyi , favourite queen of Dhasratha , become cause of his death. Why should Kaikeyi ,who loved Rama more than Bharata , should demand his exile for fourteen years. Another question which bothers you is why did Lakshmana cut nose of Sarupnakha . Why did Sita cross Lakshman Rekha despite strict instructions from Lakshmana. Every one is aware that there is nothing like a golden deer.
Still Rama went to get it on Sita’s persistence. Why should Ravana, a learnt man abduct Sita knowing pretty well it’s consequences. Looks like all this was predestined and no one could stop it.
As poet Omar Khayyam says ; The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.