Volume 6 - Issue 05
MAY - 2008
The Story of Rama (continued)
Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam. We resume the story of the Rama Avatar. If you recall, last time, I brought you up to the point where Hanuman, when asked to search for Sita’s whereabouts, makes a big leap across the oceans to Lanka. Let us pick up the story from there.
Hanuman Reassures Sita
Once he landed in Lanka, Hanuman reverted to his normal small size and, after a lengthy search, located Sita who was held captive in a garden named Asokavanam. Hiding on a tree, he was contemplating his next move when he saw Ravana accompanied by his entourage approaching Sita and making advances to her. Spurning the demon king's overtures, Sita plucked a blade of grass and placing it between herself and Ravana said:
"You fool, go back to your own wives and covet not that of another. With the power of my chastity, I could reduce you to ashes in a trice, but I shall refrain from doing so because the credit for destroying you should really go to my Husband, Lord Rama. You dare not cross the barrier represented by this blade of grass. Go back where you came from."
Ravana retreated, but not before warning Sita that she had just two more months to think it all over, and if after that she still refused to change her mind, well then she would end up as a meal for him!
Sita was now in a turmoil. How long should she wait for Rama? Would He ever come? Had He forgotten her? Tormented by doubts of all sorts, Sita thought that the best course of action for her was to end her life by hanging. And even as she started making preparations for committing suicide, Hanuman, a silent witness thus far, decided that he must now intervene, and did so by gently singing the story and the glory of Rama. And when he had finished, he jumped from the branch to the ground with chants of "Jai Sri Ram, Jai Sita Ram" and prostrated before Sita.
Sita was perplexed - a monkey chanting the story of Rama? Was that possible? Was it another demonic trick like the golden deer? Is it Ravana himself in disguise trying another ploy? Torn with doubts she started cross examining Maruti (another name of Hanuman) and finally became convinced that he was indeed a messenger sent by Rama. In fact, Rama had quite thoughtfully sent through Hanuman a ring of His so that Sita would have no difficulty in identifying Him and accepting His credentials. (On one Ramanavami day or the birth anniversary of Rama, Swami who was then in Kodaikanal produced this ring to show it to the boys!)
Once Sita saw Rama's ring, all her doubts vanished and the bottled up emotions poured out in a torrent - all of which Hanuman gave a patient hearing. The question now was: "What next?" Hanuman offered to carry Sita on his back, hearing which Sita forgetting her worries laughed. "You are such a tiny fellow," she said, "How can you carry me?" "Mother," replied Hanuman, "I can assume a gigantic form if I wish to," and so saying he grew to enormous proportions.
Absolutely stunned, Sita agreed that Hanuman could indeed carry her and jump across the ocean but now she had a new point: "If I were to escape like this, it would be no credit to my Lord. The proper thing is for Him to come, kill Ravana and rescue me. Right now you should return and convey the news regarding my whereabouts." With this, Hanuman took leave of Sita, but not before accepting from her a jewel of hers as proof of having actually met her.
Hanuman Lights Up Lanka
Mission accomplished, Hanuman was all set to return but a new thought occurred to him: "Now that I am here, why not probe the enemy's strength? That information could prove useful later." With this in mind he started destroying the beautiful garden in which Sita was being held. In the stir that followed, Hanuman allowed himself to be captured, and in this manner he found himself a prisoner tied hand and foot, being produced before Ravana in the latter's court. Once face to face with Ravana, Hanuman advised the demon king to follow the path of righteousness or Dharma and return Sita to Rama.
But, charged as he was with lust, Ravana was in no mood for sane advice; furious, he ordered that the monkey be killed. At this stage, Vibhishana, the younger brother of Ravana, intervened to say that in spite of all the havoc caused by him, Hanuman was an envoy and the canons of Dharma required that envoys should not be killed; they could however be punished. Accepting the suggestion, Ravana ordered that bandages be tied to the tail of Hanuman and then set on fire.
Hanuman allowed the fire to be lit. Breaking loose then, he leapt from building to building setting them all on fire. Soaring high up, he then saw with a smile that the whole of Lanka was burning. Normally when the body comes into contact with fire it gets burnt, but nothing happened to Hanuman because Agni, the deity associated with fire, withheld his burning power as far as Hanuman was concerned.
Rama Lovingly Receives His Servant
After an event-free leap back to the mainland, Hanuman was able to report to Rama the success of his mission and also convey the message from Sita. Rama was overwhelmed. Stretching out His arms, He said, "O Hanuman there is so much I would like to give you, but at the moment all I can do is to embrace you. Come!" So saying He held Maruti in close embrace for a long time.
It is said that is how Hanuman himself became Divine. Incidentally, it is noteworthy that at the Hill View stadium in Prasanthi Nilayam where there are many statues - Jesus, Krishna, Buddha and so forth - the biggest statue is that of Hanuman; also, it is at the very top of the hill, a reminder to all of us to emulate this great servant of the Lord. The next item of business for Rama was the invasion of Lanka, for which purpose, Rama and Lakshmana, accompanied by Sugriva and his army of monkeys (Vanarasena) headed for the southern tip of the peninsula.
Ravana Ignores Wise Counsel
Meanwhile, back in Lanka, Ravana held a council of war in which the only sane voice to be heard was that of Vibhishana. While all others advised war, Vibhishana said: "My dear brother, please don't listen to the advice given by your ministers and others. It will harm you. They are your true enemies, and not Rama. You have no idea of Rama's might and capability. Prudence is the better part of valour. Quietly return Sita to Rama and make peace with Him. Then Lanka and all of us would survive. Otherwise we are all doomed."
This was hardly the kind of counsel that Ravana wanted to hear. Flying into a rage, he screamed: "Traitor! I am ashamed you are my brother. Indeed if you were not, I would have had you executed this very minute. You are lucky, and I shall restrain myself to merely banishing you. Now get out of my sight this very minute." For Vibhishana, this was no punishment but a great liberation. Delighted and relieved, he at once headed for Rama's camp, but the reception at the other end was far from what he would have liked! Taken by the guards to be a spy of Ravana, he was promptly apprehended; eventually after a lot of persuasion by him, he was brought before Rama. Many views were expressed about how Vibhishana should be dealt with and all except that of Hanuman were unfavourable; some even said that Vibhishana should straightaway be executed.
This scene known as Vibhishana Saranagathi (Vibhishana's surrender) is one of the glorious episodes in the story of Rama, revealing as it does the towering magnanimity of the Lord. After listening to the diverse viewpoints, Rama smiles and says:
"I have heard all of you. I am aware that you all mean well. Now please listen to what I have to say. Vibhishana has surrendered to Me and it is My duty to offer him protection under all circumstances. It does not matter if he has feigned surrender; the very fact he said: 'I have surrendered to You', is enough for Me.
"He need not have come here physically; even if he had surrendered wherever he was, I would still be obliged to protect him. Indeed, even a mere thought of surrender on his part would put Me under obligation - there is no need to express the surrender in words."
Is it any wonder then that the Lord is described as Saranagathavatksala (One who loves those who surrender)? Thus, it was that Vibhishana was admitted to Rama's camp as a friend.
The Vibhishana affair having been settled, the question arose regarding how to cross the ocean. Clearly everyone could not leap across like Hanuman and some other solution was needed. Eventually it was decided to build a causeway by piling boulders and rocks. Everyone pitched in with great gusto, including a tiny squirrel, which, with great effort, rolled a small pebble to the site and pushed it into the general pile. Rama who was watching was deeply touched and in a loving gesture stroked its back - and that is how the squirrel won its stripes! As Swami repeatedly emphasises, the Lord never cares for quantity; all He is interested in is the quality.
Another touching causeway story is that Hanuman was in the process of lifting a hillock when the announcement was made that the causeway had been completed and that no more stones would be required. Hanuman then promptly placed the hillock down whereupon the hill burst into tears because it could not be of service to Rama. The Lord consoled the hill by saying, "Don't worry. In the next Yuga, I shall use you in an important mission and you will thereafter be remembered for ever." Indeed, in the DwaparaYuga, this very same hill achieved fame as Govardhanagiri lifted by Krishna to protect people from a torrential downpour (that story comes soon).
The Invasion of Lanka Begins
Once the causeway was completed, Rama and party crossed over to Lanka in a trice. Lanka, which Ravana always boasted was impenetrable, had now been actually invaded! At first, Ravana treated the matter lightly and sent his junior warriors to deal with the invaders. None of them returned and soon Ravana found that he was running out of soldiers as well as chiefs. The senior warriors and ministers were then pressed into battle, but they too were promptly annihilated. Ravana was getting increasingly worried and decided that his brother, the mighty Kumbhakarna, had now to be fielded to clinch the battle.
But the great Kumbhakarna was, like always, in deep slumber, and it required a Herculean effort to first wake him up, and then get him worked up for battle. Eventually the mighty one did go to war, and as expected wrought much havoc, but in the end he fell to Rama's arrows. When the news of Kumbhakarna's death reached Ravana, he could not believe his ears. Was there a person alive who could kill his mighty brother? Ravana was now greatly worried and there was no alternative, but to send his favourite son, the invincible Indrajit. Alas, Indrajit too fell and finally Ravana was all alone. At last, it was his turn to face Rama and this was in a sense what the Lord had incarnated for. A fierce battle ensued and finally, Ravana was killed.
Rama then advised Vibhishana the only surviving brother of Ravana to perform all the due last rites. He said, "When he was alive, he was your enemy. He is now dead and you must remember more than anything else that he was your brother. And your duty requires that you do what is due to the dead." Again that supreme magnanimity that only the Lord can show!
Sita’s Fiery Test
Ravana having been exterminated, Sita was released from captivity and brought to Rama. Instead of the thrilling and joyful reunion that all were looking forward to, all that Sita received was a cold reception from Rama. Curtly Rama told Sita: "I belong to a royal family, and your abduction was a slur cast on our noble family. I have now avenged that insult. As for you, you have lived for nearly a year in the territory of another man. I therefore cannot take you back as My wife. You may go wherever you wish."
Sita felt as if she had been struck by a thunderbolt. Was it for this that she was holding on to dear life in the face of atrocious behaviour by Ravana? Deeply hurt, she ordered Lakshmana to light a fire and when that was done she said: "It is unfortunate that even my Husband is not convinced about my purity. Under the circumstances, I see no reason to continue living." So saying, she entered the fire. But lo and behold, such was her purity that the fire refused to burn her and she emerged unscathed, much to the joy of all present, Rama included. Rama then remarked, "Not for a moment did I suspect Sita. I only wanted the world to know about her purity, which is why I had to subject her to this ordeal by fire."
The mission to Lanka having been successfully concluded, Rama now became anxious to return to Bharath. Vibhishana, the newly-crowned King of Lanka, placed at Rama's disposal the flying chariot that earlier belonged to Ravana. The entire party boarded the chariot and flew back to the mainland. On the way, Rama and Sita saw familiar places from the air and exchanged fond memories. Back in Bharath, the party landed at the Ashram of Sage Bharadwaja and were given a fitting welcome. Ever conscious of dear Bharatha pining in Nandigram for Rama's return, the Lord thoughtfully sent Hanuman as an advance messenger to alert Bharatha that Rama and party would soon be there. Hanuman arriving at Nandigram discovered that Bharatha was getting rather anxious, since Rama was almost overdue. Hanuman quickly conveyed the good tidings, much to the relief of Bharatha. Soon the long-awaited reunion between Bharatha and Rama took place, and the entire party returned to Ayodhya for a tumultuous welcome by the citizens.
Rama Crowned Triumphant
Shortly after this, on an auspicious day selected by Sage Vasishta, Rama was finally crowned the Emperor, a ceremony that had to wait fourteen years because the Lord had a play to stage. As Emperor, Rama reigned for a very long period. Rama's reign was synonymous with the reign of Dharma for Rama was none other than Dharma personified. There was unprecedented joy, happiness and prosperity in the kingdom, and even to this day people in India use the word Ramarajya to describe a regime where there is righteousness, perfect harmony and joy.
Rama was God, but He lived like man and showed man how he should really live. Never for a moment did Rama reveal His Divinity, nor did He make use of His Divine powers. There would no doubt be a time and place for that in later Avatars, but not in this one.
The above is but a brief narrative of the story of Rama. For a more detailed account, see Swami's Rama Katha Rasa Vahini and Summer Showers in Brindavan, 1996. As has been said, these are autobiographical accounts!
The Magnificent Story of the Krishna Avatar
The Krishna Avatar is a glorious finale to the sequence of incarnations made necessary (in part) by the indiscretions of Jayan and Vijayan. In the DwaparaYuga, these gatekeepers of the Lord were born as the demon cousins Sishupala and Dantavakra respectively, and when the time was ripe for their destruction, the Lord as usual descended down to earth.
Once again He came in a fully human form and with His Divinity in its entirety i.e., as a Poorna Avatar. Although the ostensible purpose of the incarnation was the extermination of the two Asuras, the Blessed Lord had a grander objective. Not only did Krishna reveal Himself as God personified, but He also told man that he (i.e., man) too was God and that in fact, man should endeavour to realise in full measure his Divine nature. As Swami says:
“The Gita is the real purpose for which the Avatar of Krishna was taken.”
Skirting the banks of the River Yamuna (Jamuna these days), was the kingdom of Mathura. A famous king named Yadu once ruled the land, and from him descended many tribes, an important one being the Yadavas. One of the Yadava rulers of Mathura was Aahakura who had two sons named Ugrasena and Devaka. Ugrasena's eldest son was Kamsa while Devaka's youngest daughter was Devaki. As he had no sister of his own, Kamsa was very fond of his cousin Devaki. Apart from this streak of affection, Kamsa was otherwise very cruel.
Kamsa Tries to Kill the Infant Krishna
When Devaki came of age, she was duly married with pomp and fanfare to a Yadava named Vasudeva (who belonged to the sub-clan Vrishni). At the conclusion of the wedding ceremonies, an elaborate procession had been arranged to take the newly-married bride to her groom's house. Kamsa himself drove the gaily decorated chariot carrying Vasudeva and Devaki. All of a sudden, an ethereal voice sounded in the sky which said: "Kamsa, your days are numbered. This woman whom you are taking to her husband's place is going to be responsible for your death because her eighth-born son will kill you".
Kamsa was stunned to hear his death warrant being pronounced from heaven. Instantly his affection for Devaki evaporated, and dragging her down by her tresses, he drew his sword to cut her head off. Deeply agitated, Vasudeva fell on his knees and begged Kamsa: "O Kamsa, you belong to a noble race. How is it that your affection for Devaki has vanished in a flash? Devaki is not going to kill you; only her eighth son is supposed to. I promise to surrender to you all her children as soon as they are born. Please do not kill her." Kamsa accepted Vasudeva's offer and spared Devaki her life, but placed her and her husband under house arrest; thus what was to be their home became instead a fortified prison.
In due course, Devaki delivered a child and true to his promise, Vasudeva, though full of anguish, handed the infant over to Kamsa. For a moment, Kamsa was deeply touched and was about to spare the child (as his death was due to come only from the eighth-born) when Sage Narada appeared on the scene. To Kamsa he said: "Kamsa, how could you be so naive? True, the heavenly voice said that you would meet your end from the eighth child. But what does eighth mean? If you count backwards from the number eight, then number one becomes the eighth! If you count backwards from number seven, then number two becomes the eighth and so on. Don't be complacent and take chances!"
Once the seeds of doubt were sown, Kamsa became his usual cruel self. Snatching the baby from Vasudeva's hand, he mercilessly smashed it to the ground. Devaki and Vasudeva both felt shattered, but were absolutely helpless. The senseless destruction of the new-born continued and in due course the count rose to six. Sensing that the time had come for Him to descend to earth, Lord Narayana summoned His Mayashakti and said: "Devi, Adisehsa, who is My Amsa (an aspect of Me) has just entered the womb of Devaki as her seventh child. Now Vasudeva has another wife named Rohini. She lives in Gokulam with her brother Nanda, a small chieftain there. Remove the child now in Devaki's womb and place it in the womb of Rohini.
The child born to Rohini would, because of his beauty be named Rama and called Balarama on account of his strength. Later, when it is realised that his birth was preceded by a womb-to-womb transfer, people would call him Sankarshana. Having completed the womb-to-womb transfer, you shall yourself enter the womb of Nanda's wife, Yasoda and be born to her as her daughter. Around the same time, I shall be born as the eighth son of Devaki. As soon as I take birth, I shall arrange for us to switch places, and you will end up near Devaki and I near Yasoda. Kamsa will try to kill you and you know what you should do then." The wheel had been set in motion for the advent of the Krishna Avatar.
With six children gone, Kamsa was getting more and more jittery. Meanwhile, news reached him that Devaki had conceived for the seventh time and impatiently he waited for the child to be born so that he could kill it. But that was not to be and to his dismay he heard that amazingly and in a most mysterious manner, Devaki's womb had suddenly become empty! Kamsa suspected a trick but there was precious little he could do. Meanwhile, Devaki's seventh child grew safely in the womb of Rohini.
And then Devaki conceived for the eighth time. Kamsa's nervousness now knew no bounds and impatiently he waited for the delivery. Meanwhile, the prison fortifications were intensified. Finally, in the early hours of the morning of an auspicious day, Devaki delivered a beautiful male child - Krishna had arrived! A short while before that Rohini too delivered a baby boy. While Rohini's son was fair, Devaki's was dark.
Lord Krishna Takes Birth
Babies cry when they are born, but Krishna was born smiling. Immediately after birth, Krishna revealed to Devaki and Vasudeva His form as Narayana, complete with four arms, holding the conch, the Chakra and other paraphernalia, the jewel Kausthuba gleaming around His neck and the mark Srivatsa on His chest. To the one fortunate to be His mother, He said: "Devaki, twice before in your earlier births, I have been born as your Son. This is the last time. At the end of this birth you will gain Liberation." Turning to Vasudeva, He said: "Vasudeva, you will carry My infant form in a basket to Gokulam to the house of Nanda. There you will find a newly-born baby girl by the side of Yasoda. Place Me near Yasoda and bring the baby girl back with you to this prison cell. Do precisely as I say. Have no fear, for now I am here!" So saying, the Lord reverted to His baby form.
Suddenly, miracles began to happen one after another. Firstly, the shackles keeping Vasudeva chained became loose of their own accord. Next a padded-basket appeared from nowhere and the massive prison doors silently swung open. Placing the baby in the basket, Vasudeva cautiously peeped outside but to his amazement, all the guards were deep in slumber! Carrying the basket on his head, Vasudeva carefully stepped out and swiftly moved towards the village of Gokulam. Meanwhile a fearsome storm broke out, perhaps with the intention of making everyone remain indoors and not be a privy to the secret mission ordered by the Lord. But what about the Lord Himself? Would He not get wet? No worry, for Adisesha silently came behind with his huge hood spread out to offer protection from both the wind and the rain (Vasudeva of course knew nothing about this!) En route, Vasudeva had to cross the Yamuna River but due to the heavy rain, the river was in spate; however, for him the river miraculously gave way.
Vasudeva Exchanges the Divine Babies
Soon Vasudeva reached Gokulam with the Divine "load" on his head and entered Nanda's house where both Nanda and his wife Yasoda were deep in slumber. Next to Yasoda was a tiny girl, obviously just given birth to, but Yasoda was totally unaware of the event. Vasudeva quietly placed his son by the side of Yasoda, lifted the baby girl and, after putting her in the basket slowly retraced his steps to the prison. Once he reached there and placed the baby girl next to Devaki, the doors automatically snapped shut and the shackles came back on him just as before.
The baby girl now began to cry, as all new-borns do and hearing the cry, the prison guards woke up. They were aghast to discover that they had been sleeping all along in clear violation of Kamsa's strict orders and springing into action, hastened to the chamber where Devaki and her husband were being held captive. Seeing a new born baby, they then rushed to inform Kamsa of the event. Anxious to destroy his enemy, Kamsa hurried to the prison but when he arrived, he was astonished to see a girl rather than the boy which the ethereal voice had warned him to expect. Puzzled he was, but unwilling to take any chances, he promptly seized the girl and lifted her with a view to smash her. But lo and behold, the baby slipped out of his hands, soared into the sky, assumed the gigantic form of Devi and then said: "Kamsa, you fool, I am not the one who is to kill you. He, who will be your nemesis, is already born and is elsewhere. There is no escape for you, no matter how much you try"; so saying, the form vanished. Kamsa stood petrified, and slowly it began to sink into him that his enemy had not only outwitted him but was secure elsewhere.
Yashoda Becomes Krishna’s ‘Mother’
While this great drama was going on in the prison chambers, Nanda and Yasoda woke up. And when Yasoda saw the worlds most beautiful and charming baby, her joy knew no bounds. "What a wonderful gift the Lord has given me", she thought; little did she know that the "gift" was none other than the Lord Himself! The news that a son had been born to Nanda spread like wild fire and everyone in the village of Gokulam rejoiced.
Meanwhile, Kamsa continued to worry, wondering whatever happened to the son who was supposed to be born after the eighth conception of Devaki. He had been warned that his nemesis was growing up elsewhere; now where would that be? Panicking, he decided that he would forthwith kill all new-borns in his kingdom and for implementing this vile and demonic plan, he sought the help of a number of demons.
What happened next? That story next time! Till then all the best, and may God be with you always! Jai Sai Ram.
(To be Continued...)
– Heart2Heart Team
Vol 6 Issue 05 - MAY 2008
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