« السابقةمتابعة »
whole city was in the midst of the most splendid preparations for the ceremony, when it occurred to Dasaratha that all he lacked was the congratulations of his youngest and favorite wife, Kaikeyi, on this great event. The well-watered streets and the garlanded houses had already aroused the suspicions of Kaikeyi, - suspicions speedily confirmed by the report of her maid. Angered and jealous because the son of Kausalya and not her darling Bharata, at that time absent from the city, was to be made Yuva-Raja, she fled to the “Chamber of Sorrows,” and was there found by the old Raja.
Though Kaikeyi was his youngest and most beautiful wife, her tears, threats, and entreaties would have been of no avail had she not recalled that, months before, the old Raja, in gratitude for her devoted nursing during his illness, had granted her two promises. She now demanded the fulfilment of these before she would consent to smile upon him, and the consent won, she required him, first, to appoint Bharata Yuva-Raja; and, second, to exile Rama for fourteen years to the terrible forest of Dandaka.
The promise of a Hindu, once given, cannot be revoked. In spite of the grief of the old Raja, of Kausalya, his old wife, and of all the people, who were at the point of revolt at the sudden disgrace of their favorite prince, the terrible news was announced to Rama, and he declared himself ready to go, to save his father from dishonor.
He purposed to go alone, but Sita would not suffer herself to be thus deserted. Life without him, she pleaded, was worse than death ; and so eloquent was her grief at the thought of parting that she was at last permitted to don the rough garment of bark provided by the malicious Kaikeyi.
The people of Ayodhya, determined to share the fate of their favorites, accompanied them from the city, their tears laying the dust raised by Rama's chariot wheels. But when sleep overcame them, Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana escaped from them, dismissed their charioteer, and, crossing the Ganges, made their way to the mountain of Citra-kuta, where they took up their abode.
No more beautiful place could be imagined. Flowers of every kind, delicious fruits, and on every side the most pleasing prospects, together with perfect love, made their hermitage a paradise on earth. Here the exiles led an idyllic existence until sought out by Bharata, who, learning from his mother on his return home the ruin she had wrought in the Raj, had indignantly spurned her, and hastened to Dandaka. The old Raja had died from grief soon after the departure of the exiles, and Bharata now demanded that Rama should return to Ayodhya and become Raja, as was his right, as eldest son.
When Rama refused to do this until the end of his fourteen years of exile, Bharata vowed that for fourteen years he would wear the garb of a devotee and live outside the city, committing the management of the Raj to a pair of golden sandals which he took from Rama's feet. All the affairs of state would be transacted under the authority of the sandals, and Bharata, while ruling the Raj, would pay homage to them.
Soon after the departure of Bharata the exiles were warned to depart from their home on Citra-kuta and seek a safer hermitage, for terrible rakshasas filled this part of the forest, They accordingly sought the abode of Atri the hermit, whose wife Anasuya was so pleased with Sita's piety and devotion to her husband that she bestowed upon her the crown of immortal youth and beauty. They soon found a new abode in the forest of Pancarati, on the banks of the river Godavari, where Lakshmana erected a spacious bamboo house.
Their happiness in this elysian spot was destined to be short-lived. Near them dwelt a horrible rakshasa, Surpanakha by name, who fell in love with Rama. When she found that he did not admire the beautiful form she assumed to win him, and that both he and Lakshmana laughed at her advances, she attempted to destroy Sita, only to receive in the attempt a disfiguring wound from the watchful Laksh
Desiring revenge for her disfigured countenance and her scorned love, she hastened to the court of her brother Ravana, in Ceylon, and in order to induce him to avenge her wrongs, dwelt upon the charms of the beautiful wife of Rama.
Some days after, Sita espied a golden fawn, flecked with
silver, among the trees near their home. Its shining body, its jewel-like horns, so captivated her fancy that she implored Rama, if possible, to take it alive for her; if not, at least to bring her its skin for a couch. As Rama departed, he warned Lakshmana not to leave Sita for one moment; he would surely return, since no weapon could harm him. In the depths of the forest the fawn fell by his arrow, crying as it fell, “O Sita ! O Lakshmana!” in Rama's very tones.
When Sita heard the cry she reproached Lakshmana for not going to his brother's aid, until he left her to escape her bitter words. He had no sooner disappeared in the direction of the cry than a hermit appeared and asked her to minister unto his wants.
Sita carried him food, bathed his feet, and conversed with him until, able no longer to conceal his admiration for her, he revealed himself in his true form as the demon god of Ceylon.
When she indignantly repulsed him he seized her, and mounting his chariot drove rapidly towards Ceylon.
When Rama and Lakshmana returned home, soon after, they found the house empty. As they searched through the forest for traces of her they found a giant vulture dying from wounds received while endeavoring to rescue the shrieking Sita. Going farther, they encountered the monkey king Sugriva and his chiefs, among whom Sita had dropped from the chariot her scarf and ornaments.
Sugriva had been deposed from his kingdom by his brother Bali, who had also taken his wife from him. Rama agreed to conquer Bali if Sugriva would assist in the search for Sita; and, the agreement made, they at once marched upon Kishkindha, together slew Bali, and gained possession of the wealthy city and the queen Tara. They were now ready to search for the lost Sita.
In his quest through every land, Hanuman, the monkey general, learned from the king of the vultures that she had been carried to Ceylon. He immediately set out for the coast with his army, only to find a bridgeless ocean stretching between them and the island. Commanding his soldiers
to remain where they were, Hanuman expanded his body to enormous proportions, leaped the vast expanse of water, and alighted upon a mountain, from which he could look down upon Lanka, the capital city of Ceylon. Perceiving the city to be closely guarded, he assumed the form of a cat, and thus, unsuspected, crept through the barriers and examined the city. He found the demon god in his apartments, surrounded by beautiful women, but Sita was not among them. Continuing his search, he at last discovered her, her beauty dimmed by grief, seated under a tree in a beautiful asoka grove, guarded by hideous rakshasas with the faces of buffaloes, dogs, and swine.
Assuming the form of a tiny monkey, Hanuman crept down the tree, and giving her the ring of Rama, took one from her. He offered to carry her away with him, but Sita declared that Rama must himself come to her rescue. While they were talking together, the demon god appeared, and, after fruitless wooing, announced that if Sita did not yield herself to him in two months he would have her guards “ mince her limbs with steel” for his morning repast. In his rage, Hanuman destroyed a mango grove and was
a captured by the demon's guards, who were ordered to set his tail on fire. As soon as this was done, Hanuman made himself so small that he slipped from his bonds, and, jumping upon the roofs, spread a conflagration through the city of Lanka.
He leaped back to the mainland, conveyed the news of Sita's captivity to Rama and Sugriva, and was soon engaged in active preparations for the campaign.
As long as the ocean was unbridged it was impossible for any one save Hanuman to cross it. In his anger at being so thwarted, Rama turned his weapons against it, until from the terrified waves rose the god of the ocean, who promised him that if Nala built a bridge, the waves should support the materials as firmly as though it were built on land.
Terror reigned in Lanka at the news of the approach of Rama. Vibishana, Ravana's brother, deserted to Rama, because of the demon's rage when he advised him to make peace with Rama. Fiercely fought battles ensued, in which even the gods took part, Vishnu and Indra taking sides with Rama, and the evil spirits fighting with Ravana.
After the war had been carried on for some time, with varying results, it was decided to determine it by single combat between Ravana and Rama. Then even the gods were terrified at the fierceness of the conflict. At each shot Rama's mighty bow cut off a head of the demon, which at once grew back, and the hero was in despair until he remembered the all-powerful arrow given him by Brahma.
As the demon fell by this weapon, flowers rained from heaven upon the happy victor, and his ears were ravished with celestial music.
Touched by the grief of Ravana's widows, Rama ordered his foe a splendid funeral, and then sought the conquered city.
Sita was led forth, beaming with happiness at finding herself re-united to her husband ; but her happiness was destined to be of short duration. Rama received her with coldness and with downcast eyes, saying that she could no longer be his wife, after having dwelt in the zenana of the demon. Sita assured him of her innocence; but on his continuing to revile her, she ordered her funeral pyre to be built, since she would rather die by fire than live despised by Rama. The sympathy of all the bystanders was with Sita, but Rama saw her enter the flames without a tremor. Soon Agni, the god of fire, appeared, bearing the uninjured Sita in his arms. Her innocence thus publicly proved by the trial by fire, she was welcomed by Rama, whose treatment she tenderly forgave.
The conquest made, the demon destroyed, and Sita restored, Rama returned in triumph to Ayodhya, and assumed the government. The city was prosperous, the people were happy, and for a time all went well. It was not long, however, before whispers concerning Sita's long abode in Ceylon spread abroad, and some one whispered to Rama that a famine in the country was due to the guilt of Sita, who had suffered the caresses of the demon while in