by Carole Losee © 2005-2019

ELIZABETH SEEGER'S

THE RAMAYANA


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

THE RETURN TO AYODHYA

 

The next morning Vibíshana came to Rama and said, "Your exile is over, O King of Koshala. Will you not bathe and anoint yourself and put on royal raiment? My servants, skilled in the care and dress of the body, attend you."

"Let the leaders of the forest folk be bathed and dressed, O King," said Rama. "I wish to return to Ayodhya, for my faithful brother Bhárata suffers on my account. I pray you, let us return at once, for the way is long and arduous."

"You can return to Ayodhya in one day, O best of men!" said Vibíshana. "Rávana took from our eldest brother a chariot that flies through the air with the speed of thought; it was made by the god who built Lanka and is as bright as a cloud. But I beg of you, if you have any love for me, to stay here for just one day and to accept the honors and the hospitality that I have prepared for you and your friends and all your valiant army."

"Do not be angry, O my friend, if I cannot grant your request," answered Rama. "My heart compels me to see Bhárata, who came to the forest to offer me the kingdom and whom I refused. I long to see my mothers, my house, the people of Ayodhya, and my country. Give me leave, O Vibíshana, and prepare that chariot at once so that we may depart!"

Vibíshana brought the wonderful car which was like a king's palace, with many charming rooms gilded and adorned with jewels, seats covered with rich stuffs, and wide windows. It was hung with bells that gave sweet music and was drawn by white swans. When he had brought it, Vibíshana bowed before Rama and asked, "What more can I do, O king of men?"

"These rangers of the woods have brought about my victory and given you your kingdom, O lord of Lanka," said Rama. "They did not fear to lose their lives and did not yield in battle. Reward them, O King, as I cannot do, since I have no possessions." Vibíshana took the monkeys into the city and into the palace, where he opened the treasury and gave to all of them jewels and gold and fine raiment. Soon they came leaping and rejoicing out of the battered gates to show their wealth to Rama.

Then Rama mounted the chariot, with Lákshmana beside him and Sita held close to his breast, and he bade them all farewell with love and gratitude. But Sugriva and Vibíshana and a clamor of voices from the monkeys cried out, "Take us all with you to Ayodhya, O Rama! We wish to see you crowned and to pay homage to the noble Bhárata and your mothers. Then we shall hasten back to our homes, O King of men!"

"Nothing could give me more pleasure," answered Rama. "Take your places quickly, O Sugriva, with your counselors, and you. O Vibíshana, with yours." That divine chariot, drawn by its white swans, rose swiftly into the air at Rama's command, carrying them all. Rama, with Sita beside him, looked down on the scenes of his search and his battle.

"Look, beloved, at the battlefield where so many died for your sake," he said. "There Hánuman slew a great brother of Rávana's; in that grove Lákshmana killed Indrajita, who had defeated the lord of heaven. On this field the other sons of Rávana died, struck down by brave monkeys. And there Rávana was slain by me for the wrong he did you. Here we crossed the ocean and spent the first night. Behold the bridge, O lovely one, built by Nala over the restless waves of ocean; there, on the northern shore, was our headquarters while it was built. That is where Vibíshana came to us. O Sita, behold Kishkindha, Sugriva's city, where I slew his brother Bali. Beside it is the cave where Lákshmana and I spent the weary months of the rains, where I should have died of despair without his cheer and courage."

"I wish that Sugriva's queen and all the wives of our friends could come to Ayodhya with us," said Sita shyly. Rama caused the chariot to halt, and it came down gently in front of the great city hollowed out of the rock. Sugriva went to his palace and ordered his queens and the wives of his counselors to adorn themselves hastily and to follow him. They came out, eager to behold Sita, who received them graciously, and the chariot rose again and sped on.

Rama looked down again on that vast country through which he and Lákshmana had traveled on foot, anxious and sorrowful, over which Sita had been carried, crying out in despair, by Rávana. "On that great mountain I first met Sugriva, O Sita, and made the alliance with him," he said. "It is there that you dropped your jewels, O beautiful one, and he picked them up. Do you see that lovely lake? We were there in the spring, and I wept for you because you loved that season so dearly. And there is our hermitage in the clearing of the forest. Now I can see Chitrakuta, where Bhárata came to beg me to return. Behold the shining Jumna and the holy Ganges and the retreat of that sage who gave us shelter! Ah Lákshmana, there is our own river and, far off, are the walls and towers of our father's city. Bow down to Ayodhya, O daughter of Jánaka; we have come home at last!"

He did not go to Ayodhya, however, but turned the chariot back to the hermitage of the sage who had welcomed them in the first days of their exile. There they all descended, and Rama bowed before the holy one and asked him, "Are all well and happy in the city, O blessed one? Are my mothers still living? Does Bhárata always tread the path of duty?"

"Bhárata rules the kingdom wisely, in hermit's garb, with your sandals on the throne beside him, my son," said the sage. "Your mothers are well and all long for your return. Now, O victorious one, stay here and refresh yourselves; enter Ayodhya tomorrow and ask of me whatever boon you desire."

"I ask this boon of you, O fount of wisdom," answered Rama, bowing his head. "Let all the trees bear honeyed fruit in abundance, even though their season is past, for these friends of mine!"

The boon was granted immediately, and the monkeys thought themselves in heaven as they fell upon those fruitful, blossoming trees that fairly dripped with honey, while Rama and Sita, Lákshmana and Vibíshana sat with the sage and shared his frugal meal. Because of his holy life he knew all that had befallen them and all that had happened in Ayodhya, and they listened eagerly to him, for they had had no news of all those whom they loved since Bhárata left them fourteen years ago.

While it was still day, Rama took Hánuman aside and said to him, "Go with all speed to Ayodhya, O best of monkeys! On the way, seek out Guha, who dwells by the Ganges; salute him in my name and tell him that we are safe and well. He will be glad, for he is my friend. Then go to Bhárata in Nandigrama, where he dwells, and tell him all that has happened and that I am returning with Sugriva and Vibíshana. Notice carefully, my friend, Bharata's expression, his gestures, and his looks; they will tell you how he receives the news. Who would not be tempted by an ancestral throne and a rich kingdom? I know his heart; he is without fault and would give his life for me; yet, if he shows by the slightest sign that he wishes to keep the kingdom, it shall be his and he shall reign over it for many happy years. When you know his thought, return to me before we have gone farther."

Hánuman took on a human form since he was meeting strangers who might understand him more easily in that guise. He traveled by the path of the wind and stopped at the bank of the Ganges to give Guha the happy news of Rama's return. Flying on, he saw the towers and the gates of Ayodhya, but another city lay between him and the capital, and this one he took to be Nandigrama, where Bhárata lived and held his court. Many people had gathered about him there, and the village had grown into a large town, handsome and prosperous. It was not hard for Hánuman to mingle with the crowd and to discover the dwelling of Bhárata. He found the king sitting at the entrance of a small hermitage, dressed in deerskins, his hair knotted on his head, as Rama's was.

Hánuman bowed to him, his joined hands at his brow, and said, "I bring you good news, O King. Your brother Rama, for whom you grieve, salutes you and asks if you are well. He is returning from exile, his purpose accomplished. The mighty Lákshmana and the illustrious Sita, his devoted companions, are coming with him and you shall soon behold them."

Bhárata fainted with the sudden joy of this news. He recovered immediately, rose up and embraced Hánuman with tears of happiness. "Are you a man or a god, O my friend, who come to me with such good tidings?" he asked. "Accept from me a hundred cows, a hundred prosperous villages, a hundred lovely serving maidens, skilled in all the arts, and anything else you may desire that I can give you! What joy you have brought to me! All my longings are satisfied, for I shall see Rama again. Now tell me all that has befallen him since I left him in the forest fourteen years ago!"

Hánuman told him the whole story, ending with the words, "He is spending this night in the hermitage of the sage who dwells at the meeting place of the Ganges and the Jumna. You may behold him at sunrise tomorrow, O wise prince, when all the stars will be favorable." Then Hánuman sped back to Rama to tell him that Bhárata, overcome with joy, was preparing to welcome him the next day.

Meanwhile Bhárata called his brother Shátrughna, who rejoiced with him, and they planned for the morrow. Shátrughna summoned workmen together and ordered them to widen and sweep the road between Nandigrama and Ayodhya, to sprinkle it with water and flowers, and to set up banners along the main highways of the capital. Bhárata sent heralds to announce in the public squares, "Let all righteous men purify themselves and worship the gods and the sacred altars of the city with fragrant garlands and music. Let the queens, the ministers, the army, the court, the Brahmans, and the foremost merchants and artisans of the city, led by bands and musicians, form in companies at dawn tomorrow; for Rama is returning and we shall all go forth to meet him." The news flew from street to street, from house to house, "Rama is coming! Rama is coming!"

Everyone poured out of the houses, the shops, and the markets, chattering and laughing and asking questions. Those who had watched Rama's departure with so much sorrow thanked the gods that they were alive to see him return. Children who had never seen him asked a hundred questions, and the story of his banishment to keep his father's word, the faithfulness of Sita and of Lákshmana, was told again and again. Then everyone was busy decorating both Nandigrama and Ayodhya and no one slept that night. While it was yet light, flowers were gathered from every garden and woven into garlands; flags were hung from every house; perfumes were prepared to sprinkle the streets, and pots of incense were set up, to be lighted at dawn. Sweetmeats and cooling drinks were made ready and in the royal palaces cooks and servingmen and women, dancers and musicians, armorers and stablemen worked in a fever of joy and excitement to make everything ready. Many of them remembered how they had prepared for Rama's coronation so many years before; now they were sure that no evil thing could happen.

When dawn came the company set forth, some on foot, some on elephants, some in chariots or on horseback; the queens and all the ladies of the court rode in their liters, led by Kaushalya, Rama's mother, and Sumitra, the mother of Lákshmana. All marched in orderly groups, as Bhárata had commanded, and he led them with Shátrughna, both of them clad in rough cloth and deerskins. Bhárata bore the sandals of Rama, and Shátrughna held over them the royal canopy, white as the moon, and carried the white yaks' tails with golden handles. Drums and goings beat, conch shells blared above the noise of hoofs and wheels, and the earth trembled as the city went forth to meet Rama.

When they had gone a short way Bhárata looked at Hánuman, who had returned and walked near him in a man's shape. "You told me that we should behold Rama at sunrise." said Bhárata. "Have you indulged your monkey nature and played a trick on us, O friend?"

"I fear that it is the monkeys that have delayed his coming," answered Hánuman, somewhat abashed, "for I see a great cloud of dust over the woods by the river and I hear their shouts of joy. The holy sages gave them a boon, at Rama's request, that all the trees should bear fruits and honey, and they are surely shaking those trees and plundering them. But behold, O noble prince, there is the chariot of Rama, bright as the moon, glittering in the sunlight, rising above the trees!"

A shout arose from all that crowd of people, "He is come!" And they alighted from their vehicles, horses and elephants, and all pressed forward on foot as the chariot came to earth and they saw Rama standing within it, looking as radiant as Indra.

Bhárata entered the chariot and prostrated himself at the feet of Rama, who raised him and held him close in his arms. Then he reverently saluted Sita and embraced Lákshmana, and Shátrughna followed him and greeted them all with joy. Bhárata had heard from Hánuman all that Sugriva and his army of monkeys had done; he clasped each one of them in his arms and said to Sugriva, "We are four brothers; you shall be the fifth, O ranger of the woods." And to Vibíshana he said, "May you be blessed! Because of your help, a mighty deed was done."

Rama left his chariot and went to his mother's litter, where he knelt and touched her feet, while she gazed upon him, weeping with joy. Sumitra welcomed her son, and both queens took Sita to their hearts. Kaikeyi remained in her curtained litter and thought bitterly to herself, "If Rama comes to me and calls me 'Mother' as he used to do, then I shall live; if he does not, I shall take this poison" ; for she had brought a small vial of poison with her. Rama came to her and parted the curtains, bowing to her feet. "I have come home at last, Mother," he said. "Do not grieve; it was destiny, the will of the gods, that caused all our sorrow, and much good has come of it."

"Destiny has treated me cruelly, for it made me speak words that I never wished to speak," answered Kaikeyi, "and I shall always be hated because of them. But truly, in my heart, O Rama, I loved you even better than I loved Bhárata."

Rama paid obeisance to the high priest and greeted all the citizens, who stood with joined hands and acclaimed him, crying, "All hail! Welcome, O protector of the worlds!" Their hands raised in greeting made them look like a great lake covered with lotuses.

Then Bhárata asked his elder brother to be seated again in the chariot. He brought the sandals and, kneeling, placed them on Rama's feet, saying to him, "The kingdom that you entrusted to me I now return to you. The purpose of my life and all my desires are fulfilled now that you have come back to reign in Ayodhya. Examine, O King, your treasury, your storehouses, and your granaries; for your sake I have increased them tenfold." There were tears in the eyes of Vibíshana and the monkeys as they heard these noble words, and Rama embraced his brother again and seated him at his side, holding him close. Then, followed by the ministers and all the people, they went on to Nandigrama. When they arrived there, Rama dismissed the glorious chariot, saying to it, "Now go and serve your rightful owner, the God of Wealth, who lives in the northern mountains." And that brilliant vehicle rose like a bubble into the air and vanished in the northern sky.

Shátrughna summoned barbers and other servants, and the four brothers bathed; their knotted hair was cut and washed and brushed with fragrant oils; their bodies, too, were rubbed by skillful attendants and anointed with attar of roses and sandalwood powder. Bhárata brought the royal robes and jewels and put them on his elder brother, while Shátrughna brought fine raiment for his twin, Lákshmana. What eager and joyful talk there was among the brothers, as Bhárata and Shátrughna listened to the story of Sita's abduction, the campaign against Lanka, and the victory, for Hánuman had told it briefly! Rama and Lákshmana, also, had much to hear from the two who had so faithfully ruled the kingdom.

In another palace the three queens bathed and dressed Sita and heard her story with deep sympathy and love, praising her bravery and her steadfastness. They also dressed the wives of the monkey leaders in lovely garments and jewels, and those charming creatures thought themselves in heaven.

 

When all was done, Bhárata said to Rama, "Let all the world behold your coronation tomorrow at sunrise, O lord of the earth! We have been too long without a master. Henceforth you shall wake and fall asleep to the sound of sweet music and the tinkling of anklets and of girdles. May you rule the world as long as the sun rises and sets and the earth endures!"

"So be it!" answered Rama.

Sumantra, that faithful minister who had driven Rama away from the city on the day of his exile, brought the royal chariot to Nandigrama and Rama seated himself in it. Bhárata took the reins, Shátrughna held the shining canopy and Lákshmana the fan, while Sugriva and Vibíshana stood behind that lord of earth, waving the snow-white yaks' tails over his head. Behind him Hánuman, Angada, and the other monkey leaders, splendidly attired, rode on great elephants; and then came the litters, carried on men's shoulders, that bore Sita and the queens and the ladies of Sugriva's court.

The people of Nandigrama streamed after the procession, and the people of Ayodhya came forth to meet it. Ah, what joy there was in that city when Rama appeared, sitting among his brothers like the moon among the stars, all of them clad again in princely garments and as beautiful as gods! That royal city had not had a king for fourteen years, for Bhárata and Shátrughna had kept their hermit's vows and had never entered it. Now it was one great festival; every house was decorated, flags waved in the bright sun, incense rose from great pots, and the streets were crowded with happy people raising their hands in salutation and praising Rama and Sita and his brothers. Musicians and poets walked before him, drums and cymbals resounded.

They came to the royal palace and entered it, where all was ready for them. Sugriva, Vibíshana, and Hánuman were given splendid palaces, and all the monkeys were entertained with great honor, for Rama had told his ministers what they had done and that he could never have regained Sita and taken Lanka without their help and Vibíshana's.

Preparations were made for the coronation, which was to be at dawn the next day. Sugriva said to Shátrughna, "Water should be brought from all the oceans to consecrate his lord of earth. My valiant monkeys can bring it if you give them leave, O noble prince." Shátrughna gave him four golden urns, and Sugriva called the four most powerful of his leaders, sending each one in a different direction, and giving the hardest task to Hánuman, who was to bring the water of the icy northern sea. They all returned before dawn, their urns filled, and the ceremony began, led by the high priest and the chief Brahmans.

Rama was seated on the royal throne and beside him was Sita, his equal in beauty and majesty. His brothers stood on each side, and in the hall the Brahmans, the chief warriors, and merchants witnessed the rites. The high priest consecrated him with the pure waters of the oceans, placed the crown of his ancestors on his head and the royal robe on his shoulders.

It is said that the gods themselves came to the palace; that Vayu, the Wind-God, gave Rama a garland made of golden lotuses, and that Indra, God of Heaven, gave him a necklace of shining jewels. The heavenly musicians sang and struck their instruments, and the nymphs themselves danced there in honor of Rama. The earth also gave forth rich crops; trees and flowers blossomed and yielded their fragrance whether or not it was their season.

Rama gave to Sugriva a golden crown set with precious stones, and two bracelets inlaid with emeralds to Angada. He had given to Sita a necklace of pearls that shone like moonbeams, set with other precious gems. Now she unclasped it from her neck, looking first at those handsome monkeys and then at her lord. Rama understood her and said, "Give it to that warrior who pleases you most, O lovely one, whom you find most courageous, strong, and true." She took it off and placed it round the neck of Hánuman, and that lion among monkeys looked splendid, like a mountain ringed with moonlit clouds. Rama gave hundreds and thousands of cows and horses and much gold to the Brahmans of his realm, and richly rewarded all his friends.

When all the festivities were over, Vibíshana and his counselors returned to Lanka to reign over it justly, harming no creature in the three worlds. Sugriva and his followers took their leave also and returned to Kishkindha, overwhelmed with honors. When Hánuman came to say farewell, Rama said to him. "I have not rewarded you fittingly, O prince of monkeys, for there is no gift that could equal all that you have done for me. Ask for a boon, then, for I will grant you anything in my power."

"I wish to live as long as your name is spoken on earth, O King of men," answered Hánuman.

"So be it!" said Rama. "May you be blessed! You shall live, never ill, never growing old, as long as the earth turns!"

Sita added her boon, "May the gods honor you as an immortal and the celestial nymphs sing and dance for you whenever you desire, O sinless one!" she said. "Wherever you are, may pure streams and luscious fruits appear for love of you!"

Hánuman touched Rama's feet with his forehead and bowed low before Sita, then took his leave sorrowfully and returned with his companions to Kishkindha.

He must be living still in the forest of India; sometimes he may appear in towns and cities, as a simple monkey, to hear the name of Rama spoken and his story told or acted out, as it is every year; sometimes he may watch the athletes as they run and jump and wrestle, for he is the god of all such sports; or visit the many shrines and temples where his image stands and where he is worshiped for his courage, his love and his faithfulness. Rama reigned over the earth for many happy years. Bhárata was his heir and always at his right hand; Lákshmana and Shátrughna were his ministers and the leaders of his armies. He offered the great sacrifices to the gods many times; the Horse Sacrifice and the Rajasuya, for the kings of all the surrounding countries accepted his dominion and gladly paid tribute to him. In the safety of Ayodhya, Sita bore twin sons, and all the brothers had sons to carry on the noble line of Koshala.

There was no danger of disease or snakebite during his reign; no woman lacked a husband; men lived long and no parent lost a child. There was no robbery or violence, for men forgot their enmity when they looked at Rama or remembered his deeds. Each man performed his own work and all prospered, for trade flourished in a land where peace and justice prevailed. Skilled artisans came to its cities; scholars and learned Brahmans came to Ayodhya and blessed it. Rain fell as it was needed and was held by dams and in reservoirs for use in the dry season. Crops and fruits were plentiful, and herds of sleek, round cattle and horses filled the pastures.

Indeed, if men speak of happiness or look forward to a time when peace and plenty prevail in the world, they say, "May it be like the reign of Rama!"

 

This is the story composed by the blessed sage Valmiki. He who hears it constantly is freed from misfortune; he who masters his anger and listens to it with faith overcomes all obstacles: he will return safely from journeys to foreign lands and will rejoice the hearts of his family; he will obtain all his desires and success in all his undertakings; women who hear it will give birth to noble and famous sons, even as Kaushalya gave birth to Rama, Sumitra to Lákshmana and Shátrughna, and Kaikeyi to Bhárata. The hearing of it brings prosperous families, wealth and grain in abundance, lovely wives, brotherly love, wisdom, long life, and peace to those houses where it is known.

Rama is ever pleased with those who listen to this story or who tell the whole of it, and those who do so will attain happiness like unto that of Rama, he whose deeds are imperishable, he who is Vishnu, the Eternal, the Lord.

May prosperity attend you! Recite it with love and may the power of Vishnu increase!

 

Seeger, The Ramayana, Print edition, op. cit., pp. 228-244.


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