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RKD: 2.4: ‘We Shall Bring Rāma Back’

The next day as twilight approached Vasiṣṭha came to Bharata and said, “Rise up now, O prince, and shake off this grief! The time has come to perform Your father’s funeral. Come quickly, O Bharata, for the ceremony is long overdue!”

Seeing the sage, Bharata fell prostrate at his feet, saying “So be it.” After quickly bathing and changing His clothes, He went with Vasiṣṭha to the place where His father’s body was lying in its tank of oil. Vasiṣṭha had Daśaratha’s body brought out and laid upon a golden bier studded with numerous bright jewels.

As he gazed at His father, Bharata lamented. “O great king, you always knew right from wrong! After sending Rāma and Lakṣman into exile, what did you intend to do? How shall I act now, my lord? Alas I am lost! Where have you gone, dear father, leaving this servant of yours distressed and forlorn? Where now is that glorious Rāma who performs great deeds with little exertion?”

Bharata stood at His father’s feet. Daśaratha lay covered with white silks and adorned with royal ornaments. Bharata cried to him piteously. “Now that you have left for the heavens, O king, who will protect the people? Deprived of you this earth no longer appears attractive. Indeed, this city of Ayodhya looks like a dark night bereft of the moon.”

Vasiṣṭha came up to Bharata and said, “Gather Yourself together, O prince. You should now carry out the last rites for the king with a cool mind.”

Bharata asked the priests to proceed with the ceremony. The Brahmins brought out from the king’s apartments his sacred fire, which he had maintained throughout his life. Placing the fire at their head they carried the king to the cremation ground, their throats choked with sorrow. As the procession made its way along the road, the citizens came out of their houses and walked ahead, scattering flowers and pieces of new cloth on the road.

At the cremation ground on the bank of the Sarayu, the priests prepared a pyre with various types of fragrant woods. They placed Daśaratha upon the pyre and began to chant the sacred hymns of the Sāma Veda to invoke good fortune. Bharata took a flame from the king’s sacrificial fire and lit the pyre. The king’s wives, along with the princes and priests, then circumambulated the fire, their hearts burning with grief.

The women wailed piteously. Kaushalya and Sumitra fell to the ground, crying like a pair of female cranes. Although they both longed to ascend the pyre and follow their husband, they longed even more to see Rāma and Lakṣman return. As the fire died down, all of the king’s relatives went to the riverbank and offered palmfuls of that holy water to his departed soul. They then returned to the city and spent the following ten days grieving, taking little food and lying upon the bare ground, their eyes filled with tears.

On the eleventh day the final obsequial rites were performed and on the twelfth day Bharata gave to the Brahmins much charity on His father’s behalf. On the following day Bharata and Shatrughna returned to the cremation ground to collect Their father’s ashes. Upon arriving at the funeral pyre, the two princes saw Their father’s remains and They cried out in pain. Remembering again the king’s various affectionate gestures toward Them, They fell to the ground and rolled about.

Shatrughna lamented angrily. “A fierce and formidable sea of grief has been unleashed by Manthara! Kaikeyi’s boons are its great waves and her words its fearful alligators. Alas, this violent ocean has swept over us all! Where have you gone, dear father, leaving behind poor Bharata, who is yet a tender boy?”

Shatrughna stood up with His arms outstretched. “How strange that this earth does not split in two, seeing you gone and Rāma retired to the forest! We two brothers shall also go to the woods for We cannot return to Ayodhya, rendered desolate without Our father and brother.”

All the attendants of Bharata and Shatrughna were distressed to see the princes’ agony. Comforting the royal brothers, the omniscient Vasiṣṭha said, “Your father has surely ascended to the highest regions of bliss. He was ever pious and never committed a sin, even in his mind. You grieve needlessly, for the soul of Your father is eternal and has gone to the Lord’s eternal abode.”

The two princes stood with folded hands, looking at the royal priest. Putting aside Their grief, They listened attentively as the sage continued.

“The body is always dead, being composed of nothing more than lifeless matter. It is born and remains for only a short while, with destruction being its inevitable end. Only a fool grieves for the unavoidable. The wise understand that this entire world will be destroyed along with all its living creatures. It is the soul alone that will survive.”

Vasiṣṭha pointed to the king’s remains as he spoke. The king had achieved the perfection of life and would not take another birth. Those devoted to God’s service leave this temporary world forever. For them there is no more suffering. The princes should shed their grief and perform Their duties. Their father now sat in the highest heaven, while the kingdom stood in need of Their protection.

After hearing the sage’s spiritual instructions the brothers gained strength. They took Their father’s ashes and placed them in the sacred Sarayu. Along with all Their attendants, They made Their way back to Ayodhya. As They walked, Shatrughna spoke to Bharata. “How strange it is that the mighty Rāma stands exiled by the words of a woman. I cannot understand why Lakṣman did not forcibly restrain the king, seeing him to be straying from the path of righteousness.”

Shatrughna was mystified that such an injustice could have taken place. How did Rāma allow Himself to be sent away, causing His father’s death? What sin had that powerful and virtuous prince ever committed? Had He been present, Shatrughna would surely have intervened. Kaikeyi and her evil maid would have been checked and severely rebuked for their unforgiveable behavior!

As Shatrughna thought in this way they arrived at the king’s palace and saw Manthara at the gate. She was wearing costly garments and adorned with jeweled ornaments. Seeing the two princes she gasped and shrank back. Immediately the doorkeeper seized her and dragged her to the princes, saying, “Here is the cruel wretch responsible for the exile of our beloved lord! Do with her what you will!”

Shatrughna became inflamed and took hold of Manthara. Pulling her into the palace, He spoke in front of the many other maidservants who were standing there. “This wicked one shall now reap the fruits of her evil deeds! She has brought acute and unbearable pain to all in this house, as well as to all the citizens of Ayodhya. Watch now as I punish her!”

Manthara shrieked loudly, being held tightly by Shatrughna. All her female companions ran away in different directions, fearful that the enraged Shatrughna would also turn on them. The prince dragged Manthara violently across the floor and her ornaments broke and scattered on the blue marble floor like so many stars in the sky.

Kaikeyi heard her servant screaming and came quickly to help her. Seeing her, Shatrughna began rebuking her with harsh words. Kaikeyi was pained by Shatrughna’s sharp words and ran to Bharata for protection. Bharata moved away from His mother and spoke to the furious Shatrughna.

“Even when sinful, women should never be slain. You should therefore forgive this maidservant. Indeed, I would have slain My own mother if the eternal moral law did not forbid it—and certainly such an act would never be pleasing to Rāma. Our pious brother would never speak with Us again if He heard that We killed this woman.”

Hearing Bharata’s admonition, Shatrughna released Manthara and she fell almost unconscious to the floor. Kaikeyi raised her up and she wailed piteously, her clothes and hair in disarray. Kaikeyi looked fearfully at Shatrughna and gently calmed her servant. Although Manthara had brought about a terrible calamity in Kaikeyi’s life, the queen felt no anger toward her. Her son’s severe reaction had made Kaikeyi thoughtful. She remembered her husband’s words when she asked for the boons. He had been right. She had always loved Rāma like her own son. What had possessed her so that she had desired His exile? She considered it the work of all-powerful Providence. Manthara could not be blamed. She was only an instrument in the hands of destiny. Thinking of Rāma and feeling she had done Him a great injustice, Kaikeyi watched in silence as Bharata and Shatrughna left.

* * *

On the fourteenth day after the funeral the king’s counselors conferred and then spoke with Bharata. Wanting to install Him as king, they said, “As Your elder brother has gone to the forest along with Lakṣman, there will be no sin in Your superseding Him and accepting the throne. Therefore, O jewel among men, be consecrated as our ruler and protect us with justice and compassion.”

The counselors showed Bharata the seat and coronation paraphernalia which had been prepared for Rāma’s installation. Exactly as Rāma had done, however, Bharata walked around the seat in respect and said, “I shall never accept the kingdom, passing over the pious Rāma. All of you know well the rule in our race. The kingship is always conferred upon the eldest brother. Therefore, Rāma will be the ruler of this earth. Let a large and powerful army be made ready, for we shall go to the forest to bring back Rāma.”

Bharata pointed to the paraphernalia. “Taking all these items, we shall perform Rāma’s coronation even in the forest. You may then bring Him back in honor as the king. I Myself shall remain there in His place for fourteen years. I shall never allow My mother to realize her wicked ambition!”

Bharata became enlivened as He contemplated the possibility of bringing Rāma home. He felt sure that Rāma could be convinced to return when He saw Bharata coming to get Him with all the people of Ayodhya. He ordered that expert architects and engineers construct a road to the forest. The work should begin immediately and they would leave as soon as possible.

All the Brahmin counselors applauded Bharata, saying, “Very good! It shall be done!” They blessed Bharata and He felt delighted in mind. His face lit up with joy and tears flowed from His eyes. Thinking of Rāma and His imminent return, everyone found their grief dispelled.

Thousands of skilled men were employed in the task of building the road. Absorbed in thoughts of Rāma they worked swiftly, leveling the land to lay out a broad road paved with great slabs of red stone. The work was carried out as quickly as possible. Wells were dug and large ponds excavated. Trees were planted along the edge of the road to provide shade, and fragrant gardens were laid out at intervals. The great highway was decorated with festoons and sprinkled with scented water mixed with sandalwood paste. Along the way tent encampments, enclosed by wide moats, were erected for the army. Temples were constructed and images of Viṣṇu and the gods were installed and worshipped. In some places wealthy men had mansions built and villages grew up around these houses. The road extended from Ayodhya all the way to the Ganges. Strewn with various forest flowers, it appeared like a pathway made by the gods and leading to the heavens.

Within less than a month the road was complete. Bharata summoned Sumantra and ordered him to have the army prepare to leave. In great eagerness the army chiefs prepared everything for the journey to the forest. Mounting upon His own golden car drawn by six pairs of horses, Bharata set out from the city. He was followed by nine thousand elephants, sixty thousand chariots and a hundred thousand infantry. All the royal counselors and priests accompanied Him, as well as Daśaratha’s three wives.

The procession from Ayodhya consisted of thousands of citizens of all classes. It made its way slowly toward the forest. Merchants set out shops and artisans and craftsmen of all kinds plied their trade along the road. Thousands of Brahmins, their minds absorbed in meditation, followed the procession on bullock carts, uttering benedictions and prayers.

After some days Bharata arrived near Sringavera, where Rāma’s friend Guha lived. Halting on the bank of the Ganges, the prince set up camp. Bharata descended from His chariot along with Shatrughna and went down to the riverbank, where He lay down in prostrated obeisance. Along with His brother and Daśaratha’s wives, He offered Ganges water to the king’s departed soul.

Guha had seen Bharata’s approach and said to his counselors, “This huge army appears like a sea without any shore. I see in the distance a towering banner bearing the emblem of Bharata. Surely He has come here wishing harm to Rāma.”

Guha thought Bharata intended to kill Rāma in order to establish His unchallenged right to the kingdom. Seeing the tremendous number of people accompanying Bharata, he felt fearful.

“I think this prince will either bind us with chains or kill us, finding us entirely devoted to Rāma,” Guha continued. “Have our men stand ready with weapons and clothed in mail. The boats should each be filled with one hundred warriors and should wait on the other side of the river. Rāma is our lord and master and we should do whatever is in our power to assist Him.”

Guha decided to go personally to Bharata and discover His purpose. Taking various sweetmeats and fruits as an offering, he went with his chief ministers toward the prince’s tent. As he approached nearby, Sumantra saw him and informed Bharata, “Here comes the Niṣadha king, Guha, accompanied by a thousand of his men. He is Rāma’s friend and he knows well everything about the forest. O noble prince, You should allow him to see You, for he will surely know Rāma’s whereabouts.”

Bharata immediately gave orders that Guha be shown into His tent. He came before Bharata and humbly bowed down saying, “This kingdom is Yours, O prince. As Rāma’s friend You are my friend and indeed my lord. Be pleased to accept these foodstuffs and please also stay in my house. Allow my men to entertain Your army tonight, and tomorrow You may leave refreshed to accomplish Your purpose.”

Bharata could understand Guha’s mind. He was pleased by his reception and by his devotion to Rāma. He spoke gently to the Niṣadha ruler. “It is a pleasure to meet you, dear friend of My brother. We are satisfied by your kind hospitality.”

Bharata pointed across the Ganges. “I heard Rāma went that way, O king, toward Bharadvāja’s hermitage. By which route should we proceed in order to find Him, O king? Should we cross this river or go along its bank?”

Guha was apprehensive. He looked down as he replied to Bharata. “Seeing Your vast army, my mind was filled with fear. I trust that You wish no harm to Rāma. If that is the case, then my ferrymen can take You across the river and show You the way.”

Bharata reassured Guha. “May the time never come when any wickedness toward Rāma enters My heart. Do not have any doubts about Me, O Guha. I am here to bring back Rāma to Ayodhya. My glorious brother is as good as My father, and I long to see Him again. Pray point out His whereabouts to Me and I shall go and press His feet to My head.”

Tears sprang to Guha’s eyes as he replied. “There can be none equal to You on this globe, O jewel among men! Who else could renounce the rulership of the world? Surely Your fame will be everlasting. Rest now for the night and tomorrow I shall make all arrangements.”

Guha took his leave from Bharata and the prince laid down to sleep. Thinking of Rāma, He was seized with sorrow. Perhaps He would not be able to find Him. Many months had passed since Rāma had left. Who knows where He might be now? Bharata was unable to sleep. He was oppressed with an agony which weighed upon Him like a heap of rocks. Heaving sighs Bharata tossed around, immersed in thoughts of Rāma. Gradually the dawn approached, and as the sun rose Guha returned.

The forest king spoke again to Bharata. He described how Rāma had spent a night there and then, after matting His hair, had left for the deep forest with Lakṣman and Sītā. Guha indicated the way They had gone.

Hearing how Rāma had matted His hair, Bharata became apprehensive. Surely Rāma would not now return. His resolve to remain as an ascetic for fourteen years must be firm. Seized with such thoughts Bharata all of a sudden fell to the ground, saddened at heart. Shatrughna raised His brother, who sat shedding tears. Kaushalya and Sumitra quickly approached Him and spoke comforting words. Bharata recovered His composure and said to Guha, “Tell me everything about Rāma. What foods did He eat? Where did He sleep? What did He say?”

Guha told Bharata how he had offered Rāma many excellent cooked foods, but Rāma had refused them, saying “It is never the duty of rulers to accept charity. Indeed, we should always give charity to others.”

Guha explained how Rāma had drunk only water and then had slept upon a bed of grass laid out by Lakṣman. Bharata asked to be shown the place where Rāma slept and Guha took Him to the foot of the tree where the bed still lay. Seeing it Bharata loudly exclaimed, “Alas, how could it be that one such as Rāma should lay down on a bed of grass? He was ever accustomed to sleep at the top of high palaces, in rooms with golden floors spread with the finest rugs. Having always been awoken by the sweet strains of music and song, how is He now roused by the roar of wild beasts?”

Bharata lamented at length as the reality of Rāma’s exile and ascetic life struck Him. The injustice was insufferable to Bharata and it was made even more excruciating by the thought that He was the cause. His voice was filled with pain. “This is truly incredible! It cannot be real. Surely I am dreaming. See here the strands of gold left by Sītā where She lay on these grasses, Her delicate limbs pressed to the hard ground. I am ruined indeed, for it is on My account that all this has happened!”

Images of Rāma and Sītā dressed in forest attire, emaciated due to eating only fruits and roots, filled Bharata’s mind. Beating His head He cried out. “From this day I shall wear matted locks and tree bark! I shall lay upon the bare earth to sleep and shall eat only simple forest fare.”

Bharata became even more determined to find Rāma and bring Him back to Ayodhya, staying Himself in the forest in Rāma’s place. After spending another night sleeping on the spot where Rāma had lain, Bharata had the army prepare to leave. Guha brought five hundred large boats equipped with oarsmen and sails. He offered his own personal boat to Bharata and His relatives. Some boats were filled with women, some with horses and others with chariots. As the boats plied across the river the elephants swam with the flags on their backs waving in the breeze. Many of the soldiers also swam while their equipment was carried in the boats.

Late in the afternoon the whole party assembled again on the other side of the river. Ordering them to camp at that spot, Bharata went with Vasiṣṭha and other Brahmins to look for Bharadvāja’s hermitage.

Out of deference to the great sage Bharadvāja, whose only wealth was asceticism, Bharata approached him wearing only simple cloth, leaving His armor and weapons behind. With Vasiṣṭha at their head, the prince and His counselors went on foot and soon arrived at the sage’s hermitage.

As soon as he saw them at his door, the sage hurriedly rose and had his disciples fetch water to wash their feet. He embraced Vasiṣṭha and offered blessings to Bharata, who had fallen prostrate at his feet.

Bharadvāja gazed at Bharata, whom he recognized as Rāma’s brother. The sage knew by his own mystic vision that Daśaratha was dead. After inquiring about the situation in Ayodhya the sage asked Bharata, “What brings You all this way, leaving aside the onerous business of managing the state? Because of Your mother’s words, You are ruling the world as its undisputed monarch. I trust that You have not come here with some dark intention toward the sinless and perfect Rāma?”

The sage’s words cut into Bharata. Tears flowed from His eyes as He replied in a hurt voice, “If even you impute such motives to Me, then I am truly ruined. I never approved My mother’s aims! I cannot even imagine doing harm to Rāma, nor will I ever accept the kingdom!”

Feeling that no one would believe His innocence, Bharata felt despair. He folded His hands and spoke imploringly. “The powerful Rāma is the true ruler of this earth. I have come here to bring Him back to Ayodhya. Falling at His feet I shall make Him return and then remain here in His place. O all-knowing sage, please be gracious to Me and show Me where Rāma is staying.”

Bharata’s sincerity was obvious. The all-knowing Bharadvāja smiled. He placed his hand upon Bharata’s head, who sat before him weeping, and said, “I surely knew of Your intention and spoke only to heighten Your resolve and indeed Your fame. You are a worthy member of Your royal line, O prince, and are always dedicated to the service of Your elders. Your devotion to Rāma is beyond doubt.”

The sage assured Bharata that he would point out Rāma’s whereabouts. He asked the prince to stay the night at his hermitage and leave the following morning. Bharata agreed and the sage then offered to feed the entire army. Astonished, Bharata said, “We have already received sufficient hospitality from you, kind sir. As a forest dweller you need only offer simple fruits and this you have done. My army is vast and occupies a huge area of land. If I brought them here, they would all but wreck this holy site.”

Bharadvāja laughed and replied, “Have Your army brought here forthwith. You should not doubt my ability to receive them, nor will they be any trouble at all.”

Commanded by the sage, Bharata assented. Sending back one of His men, He had the army approach the hermitage. As they moved slowly through the forest Bharadvāja sat in meditation. By uttering Vedic mantras he invoked the presence of the principal gods. He then requested them to provide hospitality for the divine prince and His army.

Seated in trance, the sage said within himself, “Let the sacred rivers bear to this region all kinds of celestial beverages. Let the moon-god bring every sort of excellent cooked food. May the heavenly architect Viśvakarmā create a suitable site for receiving the army. May Indra send all his Apsarās along with the Gandharva clans to entertain these troops.”

As Bharadvāja invoked various divine beings with perfectly pronounced Sanskrit hymns, they all appeared before him. A cool and delightfully fragrant breeze began to blow. Thick showers of flowers fell from the heavens and the sound of celestial music was heard. As the Gandharvas sang and played upon vīṇās, hosts of Apsarās danced. All of Bharata’s entourage, who had assembled at the hermitage, felt their hearts moved by the exquisite sights and sounds seen and heard everywhere.

Before everyone’s eyes the entire area around the hermitage changed wonderfully. For a radius of forty miles the ground became even, carpeted with soft blue grass. Numerous types of fruit trees sprang up, full of ripe fruits. Mangos, guavas, peaches, melons and innumerable other soft and hard fruits were seen. Alongside streams of crystal clear water stood large white mansions furnished with seats and couches. A great palace appeared that looked like a white cloud and had a large arched doorway. Delicious food and drink were laid out in these spacious buildings.

With Bharadvāja’s permission, Bharata entered the palace, which was adorned with countless flower garlands and sprinkled with scents. Seeing a golden throne, Bharata simply walked around it and sat on the seat next to it, surrounded by His chief ministers.

Streams of sweetened milk and cream flowed past the palace. By Bharadvāja’s mystic power, many trees in the hermitage came to life and began playing upon different musical instruments. Some of them assumed the form of dwarfs and began to move about in haste, serving Bharata and His army. All around there appeared thousands of golden vessels containing food of every description. Heaps of steaming white rice were seen, along with tanks filled with milk drinks and yogurt. Pots of honey and large jars filled with intoxicating drinks stood next to platters containing delicious sweetmeats.

Beautiful young maidens attended upon the soldiers, washing them and massaging their feet and bodies with fragrant oils. These celestial damsels, all adorned in pure silk garments, served the men food on golden plates. Being maddened with pleasure, the troops laughed loudly and ran about in all directions. They praised Bharata and Rāma again and again as they partook of every kind of enjoyable thing. Although they ate and drank huge amounts they found that they were still not sated. Their senses and minds became more and more enlivened and they felt renewed and refreshed. Even the army’s animals were carefully tended and given all kinds of food and drink by the celestial beings invoked by Bharadvāja.

As the night ended, the troops saw before them numerous items of toiletry. Pots of hot water along with soaps and unguents in silver and wooden cases appeared. Combs, brushes, talcs and shining mirrors were in abundance, as well as fresh clothes, shoes and all kinds of ornaments. As the men bathed and put on their clothes and armor, the gods and Apsarās left the hermitage and returned to the heavens. The army was astonished by the night’s events, which seemed like a dream. They looked around at the hermitage, which had returned to its normal appearance. Everything had disappeared except for the celestial garlands strewn about, which, although crushed, were as fresh then as they had been at the beginning of the night.

As the sun rose Bharata went to Bharadvāja after the sage’s morning prayers. The prince bowed before him and asked his permission to leave. Bharadvāja blessed Him and said, “I trust You and Your followers spent an enjoyable night. Please tell me if there is anything else I can do for You.”

Bharata thanked him for his hospitality and asked to be shown the way toward Rāma’s hut in the woods. The sage smiled and said, “There is a mountain some twenty miles from here named Chitrakuta, full of lovely caves and groves. On the northern side of that mountain, shaded by blossoming trees, flows the Mandakini River. There, by that river, You will find Your two brothers.”

As the sage spoke Kaushalya and Sumitra got down from their chariot and clasped his feet. They thanked him profusely as they anticipated seeing Rāma. Kaikeyi also came to the sage and shamefully bowed before him, feeling guilty at heart. Looking at her with compassion the sage asked Bharata, “Please tell me, who are these noble ladies?”

Bharata indicated Kaushalya saying, “This godly lady is the mother of the lion-like Rāma. Afflicted with grief, she is emaciated with fasting. Clinging to her arm is the celebrated Sumitra, the mother of Lakṣman and Shatrughna, those two great heroes.”

Becoming angry, hissing like a cobra as He spoke, Bharata indicated Kaikeyi. “This one here is My own mother, the wicked and vulgar Kaikeyi. It was by her intrigues that the great emperor Daśaratha died from anguish and the mighty Rāma now resides in a lonely mountain reach.”

Bharadvāja, who knew the plans of the gods and the divine arrangements of the Supreme Lord, said to Bharata, “You should not censure Your mother, O great prince. Do not think her guilty, for Rāma’s banishment will result in good to the entire universe. Indeed, it will bring happiness to the gods, demons and ṛṣis, along with the whole of the creation.”

Bharata blushed deeply. He had been piercing His mother with angry looks and He felt rebuked by the sage. Unable to immediately subdue His anger, He averted His gaze and tried to assimilate Bharadvāja’s instructions. He stood up and walked respectfully around the sage. Receiving his permission to leave, Bharata ordered the army to depart and mounted upon His chariot. Guha accompanied the two princes. As the huge mass of men moved off through the woods they made a great noise, terrifying the deer and birds dwelling there. Slowly approaching the Chitrakuta mountain they all thought only of Rāma, longing to see Him again.