CHAPTER 11. LAKSHMANA GOES WITH RAMA
LAKSHMANA ENTERS THE ARGUMENT
Lakshmana watched Kausalya’s anguish and listened. He couldn’t control his emotions. He was bursting with anger. Holding his hands tight over his chest, he said, “O revered Mother! I’ll never accept this. Is Rama to leave the kingdom and betake himself to the forest, yielding to the prattle of a woman? I can’t tolerate it. Father has become too old and his mind is unsteady. He’s entangled in sensual pursuits and has become a slave to Kaika’s enticements; he’s pitiably uxorious and has no sense of discrimination about the consequences of his actions. He’s liable to issue any kind of order in his infatuation.
“Orders of such type should not be obeyed. The king is in a state of feeble-mindedness, unable to distinguish the real from the unreal, the momentary from the momentous. When such rulers give orders out of infatuation, they can well be disobeyed. What crime did Rama commit that he should be sent into the forest? Even Rama’s cruellest enemy (if he has any), or even the most hard-hearted barbarian suffering punishment for his crimes, can’t point his finger at the slightest slur on his behaviour or action. No king on earth has the authority to drive a person of such unquestioned innocence, purity of intentions, and holy sanctity into the forest as an exile. Rama is steady in his straightforward path; he is the master of his senses; he honours and treats with respect enemies of every type. Will any father drive such a son into the jungle?
Moreover, the king is most attached to dharma; he is a hero full of sacred ideals; he is an adherent of the best in all faiths. Can such a king issue this command? Judging from this, it is certain that Dasaratha is either insane or enslaved by passion. Any command from a person who is either of these is unworthy of consideration. The words of a king who behaves like a lunatic or an infant need not be honoured at all. Forgetting the dictates of political morality, giving up the path of worldly wisdom, throwing to the winds the demands of paternal affection, he has become mad, giving free vent to his whims and fancies. Need his command be treated as valid? I won’t agree that it should be respected.”
Lakshmana turned toward Rama, clasping his hands in reverence. “Rama! Pardon me! Assume the rulership of the realm before news of this spreads and becomes known to all. I will be by your side, with my bow. Whoever stands up against you will have to meet arrows from this bow. Of course, there is no such in Ayodhya or elsewhere. But if any opposition develops, this great city will become a desert, with no human inhabitant. My sharp arrows will see to that. Why repeat a thousand things? If Bharatha or anyone on his behalf opposes, I will destroy him, root and branch. I don’t care. Even if Dasaratha stands forth as Kaika’s supporter in this struggle, I’ll capture him and shut him up in prison.”
While Lakshmana was holding forth in this strain, Rama looked at him sternly, intercepting the flow of his feelings, and admonished him. “Lakshmana! Your words are crossing the bounds. No one can deny me what I wish. None can change the march of my will. My exile in the forest cannot be avoided. You talking is prompted by your love toward me and the desire to prevent your separation from me. Forbear! That will save you against all anxiety and fear. Be patient. Don’t get agitated. Don’t entertain ideas of hatred against either father or brother Bharatha. They are pure, holy persons.
“Kaika is also highly venerable and is to be honoured and worshiped. The boons she asked are also blameless. She loved me, caressed me, fondled me, nursed me, played with me, derived more joy from me than her own son, Bharatha. When the mother prays today for such boons from father, boons quite contrary to the ways of the world, surely there must be some hidden significance in the affair. This must be the divine plan, not mere human tactics. Be quiet, give up your fears and hatreds. We will await what happens next.”
Lakshmana fell at Rama’s feet. “Rama! On what basis, under what authority is Bharatha to be given the crown that ought to be yours? Which other son has the right that the eldest has not? You are obeying this absurd, unjust order because of father; but I won’t approve of it, whatever you may say in justification.”
Lakshmana turned to Kausalya. “Revered mother! To tell you the truth, I am devoted to Rama. I speak this on oath; I can’t exist even a single moment apart from Rama. If Rama has no desire for the kingdom and moves into the forest, I will follow him. I will walk in his footsteps, I will be his shadow. If he orders it, I will jump most joyously into the blazing fire. I will heed only his orders, no one else’s. Mother! I cannot bear the sight of your sorrow. He is your son; he is my Ramachandra. How can anyone be away from his own life-breath?”
Listening to Lakshmana, Kausalya was a little comforted. She stroked his head, saying, “Your love gives me much consolation. Your words give me great strength. Brothers of your kind are rare indeed! The world considers the mother who has borne such children as venerable and holy, but we are afflicted now with the feeling that we are great sinners. Rama won’t desist from his resolve. Exile is inevitable for him. I want only this now: Take me also with you,” she wailed.
Rama looked at Lakshmana and said, “Brother! I know the extent of your love toward me. I am not unaware of your heroism, your ability and glory. Mother is suffering great grief, since she is unable to understand the true facts and the value of self-control. Besides, since I am the child born of her loins, grief is natural. But consider. For all values of life, dharma, is the very root. And, dharma is secure only on the foundation of truth.
“Truth (sathya) and righteousness (dharma) are interchangeable. One can’t exist without the other. Truth is goodness; goodness is truth. I am now achieving both truth and dharma, while acting in accordance with the command of father. No one dedicated to the good life should break the word plighted to the mother, father, or esteemed preceptor. Therefore, I won’t overstep father’s orders. That is certain.
“Kaika didn’t order me; she only communicated father’s command to me. And she did so in his very presence, so one has to bow in reverence to it. If it wasn’t father’s command when Kaika was telling me that it was, he could have declared that it wasn’t, couldn’t he? He didn’t; he simply bewailed and groaned. For this reason, it is as authentic as his own command. So I won’t deviate from any resolution. There is no possibility of my going back on it. Don’t allow your reason to slide into this terror-creating, warrior (kshatriya) mentality. Give up violence and cruelty and adopt my stand.”
Lakshmana was weighed down by anger and sorrow, and Rama stroked his back and spoke soft loving words to assuage his grief. Then, turning to his mother, Kausalya, Rama said, “Don’t obstruct my resolve and cause breach of my vow. Whatever may happen, my exile to the forest cannot be averted. Send me with your love; bless my vow, my resolution.” He fell at her feet and prayed for permission to leave.
She was shaken by the agony that was torturing her; she placed her hands on Rama’s back and wept aloud. Seeing her plight, Rama was unable to restrain his emotions. He held her feet and said, “Mother! My word is supreme truth. Listen. No hardship will happen to me while in the forest. I’ll spend these fourteen years with the largest measure of happiness and joy. I’ll come back and fall at these feet again. I’ll fulfil all your hopes about me.
Mother! It is Dasaratha’s command! It is a command that not only I but you, Lakshmana, Sumitra, and Bharatha have to carry out to the very letter. This is the ancient and eternal law (sanathana dharma). “Mother! I will make another appeal; pardon me. The arrangements made by you and others for crowning me must be used by you, with equal joy and enthusiasm, for Bharatha’s coronation. Father has entrusted the forest region to me. It is best; it is in accordance with the highest dharma, that each should do the duty allotted to him. Trying to avoid one’s duty, as hard to accomplish, is to entertain the idea of difference between me and Bharatha. You have to bless us both, asking each to carry on successfully the responsibility entrusted to each.”
Listening to Rama, Kausalya couldn’t bear the grief that descended on her. She groaned in great pain. “O my son! Father brought you up and helped you grow and was happy to see you tall and strong. So he deserves reverence and obedience. Am I too not worthy of reverence? And obedience? And consider this! The wife is the husband’s half. The husband is the wife’s right half. Thus, when each is the half of the other, I am half of Dasaratha, am I not? That is why the wife is named half the body of the husband. When you say you have been commanded by Dasaratha, it is only the command of half of him. It did not originate from all of him. It will become authoritative only when this half also agrees. When I do not, it is not valid as a command.
“You know the meaning and significance of dharma in all its varied aspects, so you must be aware of this too. Without the mother’s acceptance, no duty can be binding and nothing deserves the name dharma. More than the father’s command, the mother’s is to be followed. That is the more important duty, for it is the mother who nourished you into childhood and boyhood, not the father!
“Had the mother not borne it for nine months, there would be no child at all! You are now throwing that mother into the flames of grief and proclaiming, ‘O, it is my father’s command. I must obey it at all costs.’ I won’t accept that conduct as correct. No treasure is richer to the mother than her son. And, for mothers such as I, the son is all. When the son looks askance at me and considers the father’s order superior, what benefit is it for me to secure heaven and live on divine nectar there? I would rather be in hell. I deem it heaven wherever my son is with me.
“Rama! What can I do here? I haven’t tasted a moment’s happiness throughout my life! From birth, I was bound by the limitations imposed by mother and father; then, caught in anxiety about what kind of husband I would get and what his character and behaviour would be, I was at last wedded to your father. For years, the agony of childlessness afflicted me. Then I had to suffer from conflict with your father’s other wives. I have had no relief from that battle, from that day to this. As a result, I don’t know what merit in my previous life secured you as son. And now, separation from you is happening to me.
“When have I been happy? My life has become a vast stream of grief; I am struggling in it, unable to swim. I sink in it without any hope of being saved. I had you as a branch that I could hold on to, to save myself. If you deny me that, what will happen to me? Your father won’t suffer any feeling of loss from my absence. He has his bliss in Kaika; none else is needed by him. Therefore, instead of hanging on here, and broiling in agony and finally, giving up breath, I prefer looking at the charming face of my dear son. Though I may not have food and drink in the forest, I will sustain myself on that joy.”
Though Rama felt that there was some validity in her plea, he was forced by the need to obey his father’s wishes and his promise that he would not fail in that duty.
Lakshmana intervened. “Brother! Mother’s words are the highest truth. The mother deserves even more reverence than the father. The scripture has laid down ‘Let the mother be your God; Let the father be your God (Mathru devo bhava, Pithru devo bhava), thus placing the mother first and the father second. It’s not proper for you to stick so firmly to your resolution and cause so much grief to mother.”
Rama turned to him and interrupted. “Lakshmana, you are supporting the statements of a mother who is suffering from the clouding effect of a strong attachment to progeny. Consider the order of the father, which concerns the welfare of the empire, the world in its entirety, and the human community. You haven’t understood the inner implication and meaning of that order.
“Only dharma can ensure the other three goals: wealth, happiness, and liberation. There is no need to doubt this or argue about its correctness. When activity is merely devoted to the earning of riches, the world hates the individual. When it is devoted entirely to the selfish fulfilment of one’s desire, the world condemns it as contemptible. Therefore, activity has to be in conformity with dharma, Lakshmana! This is not all. Dasaratha is our father, preceptor, and monarch. He might give us a command, through either desire for something, anger against somebody, or attachment with and love toward someone; that is not our concern! We have only to obey; there is no justification for discarding it.
“A son who delights in sin might act against the command; I am not such a son. Whatever father commands, I bow my head in reverential homage. Regarding this, you might have a bit of doubt. Suppose a father, a fool blinded by lust, devoid of intelligence to discriminate between the momentary and the eternal, intent only on his selfish aggrandisement and putting his trust on the stratagems of others, inflicts injuries on his own son. Should the son put his trust in him and obey him? Without fail he ought to! He may be a fool or a cruel tyrant, but aren’t you his son? When that is so, your status is ever lower and his is ever higher. This decides all duties and rights. The son can at best try to clarify and explain according to his light what appears to him confused or complicated. He should not refuse to obey, dismissing it as foolish or absurd.
“Consider this aspect also. Dasaratha is a very talented person, a great warrior, heroic fighter, and a pillar of righteousness. And, he is struggling in agony to keep his plighted word! He wasn’t deluded by Kaika or blinded by lust! No. He was moved by the supreme need to abide by his promise, a promise he had solemnly made. He had told her that he would grant her two boons, whatever they be, even if the grant involved injury to his own life! I can never assent to the view that he is overcome by lust. Father is in misery because he sees no escape from the consequences of that assertion, and his heart does not agree to send me into the forest.
“Lakshmana! Father is a staunch supporter of dharma, more staunch than his predecessors on the throne. His fame has echoed and re-echoed from every corner of the three worlds. Wouldn’t it be a bad example to humanity if his queen, the anointed queen, left him and accompanied her son, deserting the husband? Life is short; its span is limited. To lose one’s reputation forever by resorting to unrighteous acts is not good, either for me or for you.”
Then, turning toward the other, he pleaded pathetically, “Mother!” Before he could continue, Kausalya was numbed into stiffness by sorrow. She realised that her efforts to change Rama’s stand were fruitless. She found that she could not escape the obligation to give him leave to go with her blessings. She felt that the more she lamented, the more Rama was pained.
Lakshmana was greatly moved. His eyes turned red; he lost all awareness of where he was and amidst whom; his lips became dry; his tongue was tied; he had a fixed stare; he bowed his head and looked on the ground; tears flowed without let or hindrance. Rama felt that it would not be proper to leave him in that state. Besides, Lakshmana might do something to himself, if left alone; he might even do injury to others. And, those acts would be deemed to have happened on account of me, he thought.
So, Rama questioned Lakshmana. “Brother! The fumes of anger are as incense to the horde of sins. Suppress them. You might be distressed at the thought that Rama was so grossly insulted and dishonoured. But the path of truth and righteousness (sathya and dharma) heed no honour and dishonour; it does not crave for one and shy away from the other. Be brave. Fill your heart with courage. Remain here and serve father; use your days thus for the fulfilment of the highest purpose of life.”
Lakshmana was startled into speech. “Brother! When Rama, my very breath, proceeds to the forest, whom am I to serve here, with this inert material physical object called the body? This Lakshmana has no desire to serve anyone except Rama. You value your dharma, your sense of duty; I too have my sense of duty, and I value it equally. Therefore, I will come with you. I don’t need to await anyone’s order. I’m not included in the people bound to the boons claimed by Kaika. Even if I am involved with them, I won’t pay heed to her commands or to the directives of her henchmen.
“Only Rama has the authority to command me or issue directives about my movements or conduct. So, here and now, I will also don the hermit’s habiliment of bark, tie up my hair into matted locks, and prepare myself to follow you.” With these words, Lakshmana divested himself of the jewels and regal paraphernalia he had burdened himself with while proceeding to the Coronation Hall; he threw the jewels and silken robes in disgust. The ear ornaments and the necklaces fell in the far corners of the room. He was fretting to accompany his brother.
Rama’s heart softened at Lakshmana’s spontaneous devotion and dedicated loyalty. He went close to him and, placing his hand on his shoulder, spoke softly, “Brother! My joy has no bounds, since I have such a brother as you! This is my great good fortune. By your coming with me, mother Kausalya will also gain some peace of mind. She is very much agitated by fear and doubt about how I will spend fourteen years in the forest, and whether I will return after the exile is over. So, tell mother to be free from fear. Go and soothe her .… While we spend the hours like this, Father must be suffering more and more anxiety. Kaika will suffer from the welling doubt that I may not leave at all! Therefore, I will go to Sita and inform her; I will go to Kaika’s palace, to take leave of father. Meanwhile, you go to your mother, Sumitra, and receive her consent to join me.”
Rama went around Kausalya full circle and fell flat at her feet in reverence. At that, the maids and attendants, as well as the other inmates of the women’s quarters, set up a loud wail, as if the deluge had come upon them. Kausalya bravely drew Rama toward her when he stood up awaiting her blessings. She embraced him and caressed his hair. With her hands on his shoulder, she said, “Son! Rama! you are the staunchest adherent of dharma. You are a resolute hero. You can have no cause to fear life in the forest. You have resolved on exile in the forest; it has become impossible for me to dissuade you from that decision. May it be well with you. Fulfil your ideal, your yearning, to respect the wish of your father! Repay the debt that you owe your father by acting according to his command.
“As for me, I wish only one thing: return happy to Ayodhya. I will be happy on that day at least. Rama! The decree of destiny is indeed inscrutable. Its text cannot be reshaped, even by the most powerful. The dharma for whose sake you are now leaving us will certainly guard you and guide you while in exile.
“Rama! How nice it would be if at this very moment the fourteen years would roll by, and I would see your return rather than your departure. Alas! Pardon my madness! Son! How shall I convey to you my blessings? Shall I say, let the fourteen years pass by as fourteen days? No, no, as fourteen winks of the eye! Come safe, come soon. And be crowned emperor, O, jewel of the Raghu dynasty! O, my dearest son! The goddess of dharma will surely shelter you during the years of exile, for it is to propitiate Her that you are entering the forest. She is the strongest and most steadfast of guardians. I will be propitiating the gods here these fourteen years and praying that no harm comes to you.
“The service you have offered to your mother, father, and preceptor will confer long life, health, and happiness on you. Your loyalty to truth will grant you impregnable courage. The mountains, rivers, bushes, anthills, beasts and birds of the forest —these will approach you in kind affection, cater to your needs, and fill you with joy. The sun, the moon, and other heavenly bodies will ward off all evil and protect you. Even the demons of the forest, intent on heinous acts of cruelty, will be drawn toward you, for your heart is full of cool comforting love, and they will surrender at your feet, accepting you as master.”
Blessing Rama, Kausalya, with some effort, gulped down the sorrow that was overwhelming her and put on a calm brave face. She smelled the crown of Rama’s head and she held him hard and close in loving embrace. She kissed his cheeks. Her lips quivered, when she spoke the parting words, “Rama! Proceed in joy and return safe.”
Rama knew the depth of affection that the mother was bestowing on him. He touched her feet many times in reverential gratitude and said, “Mother! Don’t grieve. Don’t reduce sleep or food; Don’t injure your health. Remember me at all moments with a joyful heart. Your thoughts will be reflected in my safety and prosperity. When you grieve here, how can I be happy there? If you want me to be happy there, you have to be happy here. And, with all your heart, you must bless me from here.” Praying thus, he moved out of the place, averse to leave her thus, and yet, anxious to do his duty.
Rama stepped on the royal road and started walking along, barefooted, through the concourse of citizens who had filled it. People were petrified at the sight of that resplendent symbol of truth and virtue. The citizens had heard rumours floating over the streets that Rama was leaving for the forest, and they were unable to believe it. They prayed it might be false. But when they saw him tramp barefooted, their hearts sank; the exaltation they experienced at the news of the coronation plunged into the depths of misery. Faces that bloomed in joy suddenly faded and dropped, wan and withered. Rama didn’t raise his head to look at any of the faces around him. He proceeded to Sita’s apartments.
Jai Sri Sai Rama