The Exile and the Aftermath

A different version of you exists in the minds of everyone who knows you.

-Coach Lora Lucinda

*** How are exile and abandonment different? May be political and social implications vary but the shattering blow is the same. Both mean ‘away from the sanctity and security of home’. But strangely writers, historians, mythology, epics have categorically distinguished the two ruthlessly in candid words. My attempt is to delve into the virgin realms of these ‘away from the comfort zone’ words and present the versions of those who have suffered, experienced, withstood stoically the impact of these politically correct expressions. *** Agnipariksha Ravana lay huddled, slain by the invincible Rama.  I was surprised when Agraj Rama asked Ravana, who was on his last breath, to mentor me in the art of statecraft. The words of wisdom were like pearls from an oyster. Ravana’s scholarship, his knowledge was astonishingly vast and immense. He immortalised his knowledge by imparting it to me. I felt blessed. Destiny was unpredictable and sometimes cruel too! A learned Brahmin, Ravana, had stooped so low and brought his own downfall.  Irony of fate!  I wondered why Rama had still not approached Ashok Vatika, where his beloved wife was held captive. I knew Sita ma would be waiting ardently to see Lord Rama. Hanuman, the messenger, was all praise for the valiant Rama as he conveyed the message of the battle and the ultimate defeat of the demon king, Ravana.  The cosmic union of the two would mark the end of their tribulations. I prayed with folded hands for the divine moment.  But…. What do I see? His countenance betrays a doubt! Oh! Destiny! Should I still witness this separation? Is it rejection? Non-acceptance?  “It is a blemish on Ikshvaku dynasty. This battle was fought to establish dharma and uproot evil forces. It would be improper for the descendent of Raghuvamsam to accept the woman who has lived away from him under the shelter of another man.” I am devastated. Should the Maryadapurush be uttering such vilifying words for Sita Mata? I knew this was an unalterable verdict of one who stood by values.  Before I could raise a question, Sita ma avowed, “Oh Lord! I shall not refute the allegation but prove my purity, my chastity by self- immolation. Oh, Agni Deva shelter me if I have wronged. Let not my piety be a conflict in his mind. My virtue shall prevail over libel. I pray thee Lakshmana, set the pyre and let the flames consume me.” Oh, the confounded moment! Do I obey the command of my Ma? Should I act on her behest?  I looked at bhrata(brother) Rama. I saw an unintelligible spark in his eyes that urged me to respect the command. The flames engulfed Sita ma and heavens too shuddered at that sight. Was it a cosmic law that we mortals act upon? I felt stabbing numbness in my soul. He is committed to Dharma. He knows not injustice. His wisdom, propriety, his sense of judgement is unequivocal. His conscience is divine. My obeisance to his indomitable spirit.  I looked at the reddish-yellow flames rising, dancing, embracing Sita mata. I could hardly endure the fierceness of the fire that threatened to consume whatever came in its way. How relentless!  It was no less than sacrilege, what I felt! Pardon me O Fire God! I mean no disrespect; it is my restless soul that is unable to contain the agony of seeing Her in fire.  I heaved a sigh of relief as Sita ma emerged from the fire shining like the moon. She exuded cosmic energy that irradiated her chaste being and purged the surroundings. This, I feel is the DHARMA, THE COSMIC LAW that pervades the universe, nothing can alter it. *** Slaying Ravana was redeeming him of the evil that was rooted in him. His greatness lies in accepting to enlighten Lakshmana about the art of Statecraft. His profound knowledge shall be a boon for Ishvaku dynasty.  “Hanuman, let your Mata know that her abductor, the demon king of Lanka has been slain. Her wish to be liberated from the clutches of the evil-doer is fulfilled.” My heart goes out to gentle Sita whose unexpressed grief and anguish only I understand. We have yearned for each other’s company and today at this appointed hour when God has ordained this union, I am hesitant to welcome her with open arms.  Let all celestial forces unite to strengthen my resolve. Let not my voice shake when I pronounce my verdict. Let not anyone refer me as the heartless husband who belied his beloved’s hopes.    Do I hear her gentle footsteps on the rugged Lanka pathway? Will it be appropriate for a royal heir to rush out to meet his beloved? Oh, I have to restrain myself.   How blessed are the pathways to have been touched by her gentle sole! She has graced Lanka with her presence. Lakshman, though enraged initially at the mention of Sita’s Agnipariksha, has to go through this tough phase and arrange the pyre for her to walk through and emerge in her pristine form. How dismayed the Vanaras and the demons looked when Sita stepped into fire! There was such disbelief and anger in their eyes! Unfair, injustice…. The unuttered words cut through me. The truth that I have revealed to Lakshmana can’t be shared with anyone.   The smile in Lakshmana’s eyes must have shaken their faith in him.  Their trust in me, my sense of justice must have received a blow. Sita knows she has to testify against all odds and rise out of it unscathed.  The wrath of Hanuman was justifiable. His Sita ma, epitome of grandeur, grace, purity was still being mortified!  Sita’s countenance was serene and placid, neither a crease on her forehead or question in her eyes.  My tranquil face must have angered Hanuma and the Vanaras, for their glance held unspoken questions may be a curse too. But I know when their beloved Mata steps out in all her brilliance they will forget this ordeal of hers. The Fire God led her out of the rising flames and bestowed his blessings. The rapturous “Hail Lord Rama, Hail Sita Mata” reverberated in the distraught Lanka. Hanuman, Sugreeva and the Vanaras bowed in reverence.  The battle continued. Trijata, my sole companion from the demon kingdom, assured me that Rama would be victorious and she had dreamt the fall and destruction of Lankeswar and the kingdom. The demonesses guarding me have been harassing me to accept their King that would bring an end to my miseries in Ashok Vatika. My union with Lord Rama is divine. Not even in the wildest dreams can I think of …….  The fierce battle stories reach me every day and I wait for the battle to conclude. I yearn to see the tranquil, peaceful face of my lord. When will my wish be fulfilled? Time seems to stand still. It has been an eternity since we parted. Ah! This poignant pain, this pining is consuming me. Oh, I long for a glimpse of his serene face! *** I hear the heart -breaking wails of the women. Does it herald the victory of my lord? Does it bring my lord to me?  Is it Hanuma in the vatika?  “Mate, hail you. Blessed are we that our lord has slain the demon king of Swarna Lanka. No more shackles, no more miseries. We rejoice the victory of virtue over vice.” “Hanuman, my son, your words are like nectar to me. The tears streaming is proof of my deep joy. Where is my lord? When will I have the holy darshan of my lord?” Am I to long for a glimpse of the holy countenance of my beloved? My heart ache continues. I can’t express my distress to Hanuma, it would be inappropriate. “Mate, the pain of separation has ended. Lord too longs to see you. Here is the palanquin.” I felt a tug at my heart. If my lord had come to the vatika…… but the joy of seeing him was greater than the ache of his absence. It was as though time stood still when our eyes met. The distance did not shrink; neither could we conquer the distance. Neither he made a move to decrease the distance not I took a step forward to reach him. There still seemed to be a veil separating us. No. It can’t be. The lack of warmth in his eyes, said it all.  “Seete, the pyre is set, this distance you need to cover by walking through the fire. Agnipariksha will bring us closer and eliminate any evil that may have passed by you.” I looked at Lakshmana. He stood there, hands folded, eyes betraying a strange gleam.  Am I unworthy of Rama? Not even a whiff of breeze coming from Ravana’s palace has touched me, then why this tormenting pariksha? The one who ought to have consoled me is asking me to prove my chastity? How I wish the flames would consume! My piety questioned? Lakshmana, Hanuma, Sugreeva, vanara, how do I face any of you? Or am I so agitated that I have misconstrued his command?  I shall neither defy nor question his authority. I shall abide by it. My virtue is my guard, my purity is my protector. I walked in to the fire. The fire seemed to scorch away the torment of the pariksha, the agony of separation.  The Fire God shall quell the questions in the raised eyebrows. He shall resolve the conflict agonizing my Lord. The pain shall be alleviated and love shall reign supreme. *** Abandoned The exile was the most trying period in our lives. Yet I nurture those moments fondly. Chitrakoot on the banks of river Mandakini, Panchvati kuteer and the Godavari river, the flora and fauna of the forest, such rich and varied experiences dotted with Lakshmana’s affectionate companionship, his never tiring service! How fortunate to have a brother whose selflessness shall remain etched in our memory.  The turning point in our lives- Sita’s abduction, battle with Ravana, his defeat, the Agnipariksha and our return to Ayodhya in Pushpaka vimana…… the recollections are many and the scars still nagging in the background.  Today I stand in this palace as the king of Ayodhya with my queen Sita beside me. The ever -loving brothers, who would willingly sacrifice their comforts and joys for their elder brother and Sita ma. Prosperity and welfare of my people in my kingdom is my utmost priority. My informers go around the kingdom in disguise to know their wellbeing. Any issue, is brought to my notice immediately so that I can resolve it without delay. Life has been sailing smoothly till that ominous day. And then…. Everything turned upside down, shattering the gentle flow of life.  Why has destiny snatched away even the small pleasures of life? Why are we put to this pariksha again and again?  If closing my ears could repudiate the allegation hurled at me and Sita by a washerman, I would have made myself deaf for the rest of my life. The informer hesitatingly said, “O Lord, forgive me for saying this, but I am only discharging my duty as a messenger. The washerman had an argument with his wife who took shelter in a stranger’s house for a night. He questioned her chastity and said ‘I am not Rama to accept Sita who had lived in another man’s kingdom. None of the onlookers could convince him.”  I lost all sense of my surroundings. A calamity had befallen me again. An ethical dilemma again. Do I renounce her or renounce my kingdom and live an ordinary life with Sita?  I know my brothers shall resolve this dilemma. I shall enthrone my brother and leave the kingdom. I can either justify my duty as a husband or as a king, but not both.  “Hey Lakshman, Hey Bharata, Sita’s suffering has no end. How can I banish her, abandon her? She is my ardhangini and as her soul mate isn’t it my duty to be with her? I beseech you, Lakshmana, Bharata, relieve me of the crown.” Nay, neither has agreed to rule the kingdom. I have to suffer separation for ever.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                O Sita, you are my strength but my duty beckons me and I am compelled to renounce you.  May our separation immortalise our togetherness. Why have Gods conspired against me? Will she ever absolve me for doubting her purity?  Oh, Sita, the joy of reunion is so short-lived! Our togetherness is not to be. Our separation is perpetuated by the societal norms.  Oh! This vacillation is tearing me apart. I have to discharge my duties; no matter what, I shall act on the behest of my conscience and supress my feelings.                                                                                                                                         

O Sita,when I visualise your radiant countenance, glowing with love and affection, I feel how ruthless I am. This reunion has turned out to be the most abysmal experience for us.  Let not my voice shake while addressing her. Let all the elements join to fortify my will.  Do I hear her gentle footsteps?  Ah! Such purity in her face, such dignity in her bearing, even as she sleeps her innocence radiates. Who can doubt her integrity?  “Lakshmana accompany Sita and leave her at the entrance of the forest. She has always wanted to go back to nature.” “Bhrata, should I leave her at sage Vamiki’s hermitage?” “No, only near the forest.” “I shall abide by your command.” ***  Lakshmana’s Version Sita ma’s exile once again?! What ethical dilemmas is my agraj Rama caught in? How can he deliberately obliterate his happiness? I feel devastated.  I can’t relieve him from kingship nor become the offender by accompanying Sita ma to the forest. Why fate is being so cruel to this couple? What harm have they done to suffer in silence? Rama the king and Rama the husband are in conflict with each other. Lakshmana the obedient brother and Lakshmana the guardian, protector of Sita ma too is in dilemma. How can I face her when she comes to know the reason for this exile? No, she is being abandoned, renounced. What worse calamity can befall an innocent, pure soul? What challenging situations we are drawn into? I can never forgive myself for this brazenly act of mine.  O Sita ma! Punish me for my impudence. I can’t implore you for forgiveness. This is an unforgettable, unpardonable act. It is so disheartening that I happen to be the messenger of all ruinous occurrences. It was me who left you at the mercy of Ravana. It is again me who will leave you to the mercy of the forest. If only I could alter his decision!  My hands are tied; my duty towards the king of Ayodhya renders me powerless and helpless.  Now is the time to reveal to her the purpose of this visit to the forest. How innocently she gazes at the trees and the blossoms, such pure bliss on her face!  “Lakshmana, when will your brother join me here? It is such a bliss to be amidst nature….” “Mate, he will not be accompanying you. It is his command that I am fulfilling…” “I don’t understand you. Oh, so you will come to take me back to your brother. Is it so?” The dreaded moment … “Sita ma, I have to obey the king’s command. He has instructed me to leave you here and go back to Ayodhya. You are no more the ….” I choked. She fainted. *** Sita’s version Abandoned? Has my lord renounced me for the welfare of his kingdom? Which rules of statecraft lay such laws?  Doesn’t it mean that the Agnipariksha was not a justified act?  I shall carry the burden of this accusation, yet I shall live. Should I complain about destiny or the injustice? Should I accept it with the grace of an abandoned queen or wail like a helpless, disowned woman? Time and again I have been put to trial, my tribulations are endless. I shall live for the yet to be born child, who shall be my support, my reason to live. Happiness may nit be even remotely related to me, but I shall strive to live a harmonious life amidst nature. I have withstood many a blow, but now I shall not allow distress to consume me.  Here I come, embrace me life! *** Agni’s version: I sheltered Vaidehi while still in the Panchavati parnakuteer. Rama had beseeched me to protect Sita suspecting Ravana’s evil intentions. She lived a secured life in my shelter. The Sita that Ravana abducted was none other than the Maya/ Chaya Sita. Once Ravana was slain, Sita the guarded one had to appear and merge with the Maya Sita. The act of Agnipariksha was two folded, one to salvage the pristine Sita and to refute any vile talk that may hurt Sita and question her chastity.  When Lakshmana defied Rama’s command to arrane the pyre for Sita’s Agni pravesh, he had to reveal the truth about Maya Sita ma. Sita’s agnipariksha shall remain a mystery to many but truth shall prevail over hearsay.  Author’s note: This story is an attempt to understand Ramanay’s most significant incidents that have been quite controversial. I have googled to know and to get clarity on a few confusing facts about Agni pariksha and Sita’s abandonment. I could have given it a modern touch but did not want to twist and turn the much-revered epic.  I have added Agni’s version to bring out the truth about why she was asked to walk through fire. Regarding Rama abandoning her- Google says, in the original Valmiki Ramayan this episode is not there. Uttarakanda is a later addition in which Sita’s abandonment, her life in Valmiki’s hermitage, birth of Lav- kush are added.  This story does not intend to hurt anyone’s sentiments.


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