Sita banished to the forest

Swastwam prabhaate Soumitre

Sumantra-adhishtittam ratham,

Aaruhya Seetaam-aaropya

vishayaante samut-srija (U. Kan. Sar 45; Sl. 16)

At the height of sorrow, Sri Rama said:

“Lakshmana! As the day dawns tomorrow, take Sita in the chariot driven by Sumantra and leave her outside the border of our kingdom. On the other side of the river Ganga, there is the sacred ashram of great Valmiki . In a lonely place in the sharma, leave her there and return soon.”

Rama’s mental anguish was so much that he warned Lakshmana against any utterance on his part in defence of Sita:

“If you oppose this command”, said he, “it will cause great dissatisfaction to me. You are forbidden from saying anything in defence of Sita. Without any kind of vacillation, you must carry this out. I tell you swearing on my very life that if any of you try to dissuade me from embarking on this punitive expedition to expel Sita from our midst and say anything, you will be going against my will and therefore become my enemies only. If you are all inclined to respect my words and implicitly obey my command, take Sita to the forest. Lakshmana! Fulfil my wish.”

 

Tears had walled up in Rama’s eyes as he went on to give directions to Lakshmana. As he could not muster any further speech, he left his brothers and went into the palace. Torn by intense sorrow, he looked a picture of misery, breathing heavily like a chained elephant!

 

Sita hoodwinked

Lakshmana was left with no alternative. Soon after spending the time in disillusionment, he called Sumantra the charioteer and said.

“Sarathi Sumantra! Bring a good chariot driven by horses that can move fast. Make a special seat for Sita. On Maharaja’s command, I have to take her to the ashram of Valmiki of the holy order. So bring it at once.”

Sumantra acted accordingly and brought a beautiful chariot specially containing a soft seat for Sita. He said to Lakshmana with courtesies befitting a friend that it was ready for departure.

Lakshmana went to the palace and met Sita.

“Devi!” he said to her, “you remember you had asked the Maharaja for fulfillment of a wish. He had also consented to send you to a Rishi’s ashram. I am now under order to take you to the ashram. Accordingly, I have to escort you to the sacred ashram on the banks of river Ganga where the forest area is being served by the Munis. I shall leave you there.”

The chariot left for its destination. He remembered Sri Rama during the journey and proceeded towards the forest.

 

Ill omen on the way

On their journey, Sita said to Lakshmana:

“Raghunandana! Ever since we embarked on this journey I have been witnessing only ill omen on the way. My right eye is shaking. My body is in jitters. My heart appears to be afflicted. Although the enthusiasm to visit ashrams is intense along with it there is an unusual apprehension that seems to be on the increase.”

“Lakshmana!” she continued, “I do not know why the whole world appears to be blank to me today. One wedded to brotherly love! Your elder brother is fine, isn’t he? My three mothers-in-law are also fine, aren’t they? In towns and provinces, our citizens are also safe and fine, aren’t they?”

 

With folded hands, she offered prayers to the well-being of all. In response to her enquiries, Lakshmana nodded his head in the affirmative pretending a very joyful exterior:

“Devi!” he said, “Shivam! Everything is fine!” But his heart was completely broken.

 

In an ashram on the banks of the river Gomathi, Sita, Lakshmana and Sumantra spent the night. After a dip in the river next morning they continued their journey and reached the banks of river Ganga. It was about midday.

 

Lakshmana unable to contain himself

As soon as he saw the Gangetic plain and the waters of Ganga, Lakshmana started crying loudly.

Unable to understand an emotionally upset Lakshmana, Sita asked him, “Lakshmana! What is this? Why are you so emotional? You have fulfilled my long cherished desire by bringing me to the banks of the river Ganga. Instead of rejoicing at this time, why are you showing displeasure? Great among men! You used to spend everyday in the presence of Sri Rama. Are you grieving because you have not been able to spend these two nights with him?

 

“Lakshmana!” continued Sita, “Sri Rama is very dear to me too – dearer than even life! But I am sorrowing like you. You should not behave like a boy. Let us now cross the Ganga. Show me the thapasvis. Thereafter, I shall make over to the Rishis and Munis with the dresses and jewels I have brought. We shall pray our respects to them in the most appropriate way and stay for a night in the ashram before returning to Ayodhya. I am equally eager to meet the lotus-eyed Sri Rama, broad shouldered like a lion but bereft of belly.

 

Lakshmana wiped his tears and as the boat was ready, he got into it with Sita to cross to the Ganga.

The saddened Sumantra was left behind.

 

The revelation

As soon as the boat reached the other side of the river, Lakshmana found himself unable to control his grief any longer. With folded hands and tears rolling down his cheeks he said to Vaidehi:

“Videhanandini! I feel a trident has pierced my heart. My knowledgeable elder brother put me on a task that will expose me to universal criticism:

Asmin-nimitte Vydehi

lokasya vachaneekritaha (U. Kan. Sar: 47, Sl:4)

Death would have been more appropriate to me than disgrace. If there was anything higher then even death, that would have been preferable. Certainly, my elder brother should not have entrusted this disgraceful duty to me.

 

Lakshmana was absolutely sure that Sita was above suspicion. Even Rama was equally certain about it. All the devatas headed by Brahma, Maheshwara and Indra had said so after Sita emerged with Agni from the fire she had entered. She had come back from a raging fire that would have reduced any other mortal to ashes in a matter of minutes. Merely because there were still some skeptics and doubters among citizens who had neither witnessed the fiery crucible of divine test and proof as to Sita’s purity nor were capable of drawing proper conclusions on an intellectual plane or from a spiritual angle, Sri Rama erroneously thought it prudent to banish her to the forest just to save his name; that was how it worked in Lakshmana’s mind How could any body throw away a gem of purity and a jewel of divinity on the strength of public opinion? Lakshmana obviously felt that her irreproachable conduct and innocence were such that the banishment was too unkind and uncharitable an act. His grief was greater as he was the chosen medium to carry out the unjustifiable expulsion of Sita from the kingdom!

 

“Devi!” Be kind to me! Do not find fault with me. I cannot be blamed for bringing you to the forest:

Praseeda cha na me paapam

kartumarhasi shobhane.” (Sar. 47, Sl: 6)

So saying Lakshmana fell down on the ground. He was still crying with folded hands. He welcomed death.

 

Sita found Lakshmana’s words incoherent and incomplete:

“Lakshmana!” said she, “ I am not able to understand what you say, whatever you know tell me the truth. You do not seem to be well at all. Is Maharaja at least fine?”

 

She questioned him further:

“Why are you in such a state of distress? As the Maharani of Ayodhya, I command you to tell me the cause of your distress.”

Impelled by Sita, Lakshmana said, “Vaidehi! In the assembly hall, in the midst of members, Sri Rama, unable to withstand acrimonious criticism levelled against you, left the assembly with a very heavy heart after commanding me to leave you in this forest. I cannot tell you what harsh words were spelt out there that made him impossible to swallow.

 

I have forgotten and left them behind as they were too much for me. I do not like even to enter into a discussion on the subject. Sri Rama has given you up out of fear of public ridicule, after being cleared in my very presence as an irreproachable and taintless one. I do not want you take this amiss. I have brought you here only at the instance of Rama. As a pregnant lady, your desire has also been to go over here. So in the vicinity of the ashram, I shall leave you and go away. Auspicious one!Look yonder there on the banks of river Ganga is the beautiful thapovan of Brahmarshis. In this panoramic place, the universally renowned Valmiki Maharshi, great among Munis and a bosom friend of my father Dasharata has been living in a holy heritage. I would appeal to you to carry on austerities here and seek shelter at the lotus feet of Valmiki Maharshi in order to achieve unwavering concentration and to attain bliss.”

 

“Devi!” said Lakshmana in conclusion, “let your heart ever be in thoughts of Sri Rama, By adherence to your dharma, you will be blessed with glory.”

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