Life In Forest and Story of Shurpankha
At Chitrakoot, Rama, Laxmana, and Sita passed their time in prayers, repetition of Lord's name - japa, Yoga and meditation. Laxmana used to collect food items for morning and evening meals. Rama and Sita used to collect fresh flowers for preparing beautiful bouquets and garlands. The hut used to be decorated with these flowers, and at times Sita would be pleased to adore a flower or two in her long and beautiful hairdo.
Sita used to cook the food which consisted of roots, vegetables and milk preparations. In the evening supper consisted of fruits and milk alone. Thus they lived a very simple and peaceful life. Everyone was very happy. Thoughts of dissatisfaction, inconvenience, and longing for palace life never entered their mind anytime.
Many sages and Rishis, engaged in various spiritual practices and austerities, came to Rama for his advice in seeking God. Discussion went on the subjects like devotion - Bhakti, Karma -action, knowledge -Jnana, and meditation etc. Study of Holy Scriptures and Books was added pleasure when Rama used to enlighten them about the nuances and subtleties of the philosophical arguments therein.
Peace and tranquility descended on the land. Nature was equally hospitable to them with plenty of clean and fresh springs, healthy crop, fresh vegetables and fruits. It is believed that for more than twelve years the holy trio lived at Chitrakoot. Later they decided to move southward where the demons were creating lots of difficulties for the common folk to live peacefully. These Rakshasas (demons) used to beat up the sincere spiritual aspirants - sadhus and sanyasins - and used to obstruct their religious rituals. The purpose of Rama to incarnate on the earth was to destroy these selfish and wicked demons and free the land of evil tendencies so that righteous rule of truth, simplicity, love, and worship of God were reestablished again on the earth.
Journey Further Southward
The party thus moved to the forest of Dandakaranya in central India. The place is known as Panchavati near present day Nasik. Two huts known as parnakutis were erected for Rama-Sita and Laxmana respectively. On their way to Panchavati Rama met sage Atri and Agasthi and discussed certain aspects of devotion and karma theory.
Story of Shurpankha
One day Rama and Laxmana were sitting a distance apart near their forest dwelling. As it happened Shurpankha, sister of Ravana, was passing from there. She was ugly looking widow, but was ambitious and powerful because of protection assured by her brother, the mighty King of Lanka, Ravana. She fell in love with Rama at first sight! With her maya power she changed herself in a very beautiful maiden and approached Rama with a lady-in-love like gestures. As she came near, Rama inquired, "O lady, who are you, what can I do for you?" Shurpankha replied, "O handsome, I have fallen in love with you. I am also beautiful, therefore, please marry me."
In those days polygamy was not unusual in common people, and hence such requests were natural. But Rama never dreamt of any other woman as his wife other than Sita. He had vowed to monogamy. Moreover he could very easily see through the plan of Shurpankha. It did not take him more than a second to know the real nature of the beautiful woman in front of him. But he also decided to play some joke on her. Therefore Rama said, "O lady, I am sorry I cannot marry you. I am already wedded to one wife Sita. But my younger brother, Laxmana who is sitting there is still unmarried and he may be pleased to marry you. Why don't you approach him!"
Shurpankha agreed and went to Laxmana with similar request to accept her as his bride. Laxmana also was in a jolly mood. He told her to go again to Rama because at present he did not have any plans to marry. Thus three or four times Shurpankha was shuttled between the two brothers. At last her patience gave way and she came to her original form and threatened to kill Rama and Laxmana. At this folly of her, Laxmana was irritated and as a result cut her nose and ears with the arrow. Bleeding and in rage, she fled to her one of the brothers, in nearby forest. The demon, brother of Ravana and equally powerful as Ravana, marched with huge army to put an end to the tormentors of his sister. A great fight broke out and ultimately the demons were defeated.
Seeing the end of his brother, Shurpankha rushed to her second brother Ravana and narrated the whole story. Ravana was puzzled. He could not understand that a single sanyasin like person could defeat his brother and his army. He thought over the matter and came to the conclusion that Rama must be God incarnate and nobody else. But he promised his sister that he would take revenge of her insult.
King Ravana of Lanka
Ravana was the king of Lanka. His prosperity could be judged by the fact that his Lanka - capital city - was built in gold. Everyone had enough of food and shelter. Except for his brother Vibhishana, and to some extent his (Ravana's) wife Mandodari, rest of the people in his kingdom followed Ravana's path of material enjoyment as the goal in life. He had a huge army to defend his kingdom which was rarely threatened and nobody even imagined in dream that it would be. Moreover, the location of his capital was such that outsiders could not venture to reach there, as a sprawling sea separated it from the far off land.
Ravana was the mightiest king on the earth at his time. He was very learned and accomplished person. He was great devotee of Lord Shiva, and had obtained the boon that he would not be killed by anyone other than the Lord Himself! He was well versed in Vedas, and other scriptures. He used to worship Lord Shiva daily. His bravery, courage, and expertise in use of all types of instruments of war like bow and arrow, mace, sword, so on was acknowledged by everyone.
Moreover, he was gifted with special supernatural powers known as Mayawi-Shakti. With its help he could fly in the air, become invisible, could throw rain, fire, or thousands of arrows in a war encounter. He had many other powers granted to him by Brahma God as well. Then, still, why call him wicked or evil? This was because he was selfish! He was interested in using all these powers for himself only, and that too to gratify his senses alone. He did not believe that all spiritual disciplines and worship are meant to seek refuge at the Holy Feet of his Chosen Ideal, but wanted to make use of all such powers to rule over the world as unconquerable King.
Thus he was full of lust, pride, anger, covetousness, infatuation, hatred, and jealousy. These tendencies, according to our scriptures, cause downfall of a man and hence such persons are called Demons. They are engrossed in a life style where they are blind to the values of compassion, kindness, and service. They practice unrighteousness, and do not allow the devotees or sadhakas to pursue their spiritual practices to seek God (or Self or Truth, or Atman or Brahman). Religion takes a downhill course.
And hence God incarnates to destroy them to establish means and ways of righteousness - Rama as Avatara.
Ravana Becomes Furious
As Shurpanakha, his sister, narrated the insulting treatment meted out to her by the two brothers Rama and Laxmana, the anger rose high in the heart and head of Ravana. Fuel was added to fire when Ravana heard that Sita, wife of Rama, laughed at the cutting of the ears and nose of his sister. He decided to avenge this insult. Pacifying her sister, he decided to reach the Dandakaranya to kidnap Sita as a way of revenge!
Ravana Plans Abduction of Sita
The Story of Golden Deer
Ravana made all the arrangements to start for his mission. Meanwhile, his minister, Marich, offered his help to accomplish his mission. Near the Panchavati, Marich changed himself in the form of a beautiful golden deer! Jumping here and there, it caught sight of Sita. Rama and Laxmana were also present in the hut. Pleadingly, Sita said, "O honorable Rama, look what a wonderful golden deer is roaming around our hut. I am very much desirous of having his skin for my use. Will you not bring it for me?"
Rama tried to dissuade her from such disturbing thought, but Sita did not desist. She insisted to have the skin of golden deer. Ultimately Rama acceded to her request. Calling attention of brother Laxmana, Rama said, "O brother, I am going after the deer to fetch its skin. Be vigilant and protect Sita in case of any difficulty or predicament. I do not know why I have this premonition of calamity befalling us."
Laxmana promised to look after Sita. As soon as the deer - demon Marich - got the hint of Rama coming after him, he fled with the speed unheard of. It went far away. Rama ran after the deer in great speed but could not shoot his arrow as the distance between the two was always great. At last Rama shot his arrow which mortally wounded the deer. On falling to the ground, deer Marich shouted, mimicking the voice of Rama,
"O brother Laxmana, rush to help me, I am wounded." This he repeated thrice in a very loud voice that would reach the ears of Sita and Laxmana. On hearing the cry of her husband, Sita asked Laxmana to rush to help Rama.
Ravana Abducts Sita
The Laxman Rekha
Laxmana was in a fix. He knew that Rama could never get hurt, and secondly he was specifically asked by his elder brother to remain by the side of Sita. If he leaves Sita he disobeys Rama which might bring some misfortune, and if he does not proceed to help Rama Sita is displeased!
Still, as per the voice of his conscience, he requested Sita to remain calm as no difficulty can come Rama's way. She might have imagined the voice as of her husband's. However, Sita was persistent in her demand that Laxmana must go to Rama's rescue. At last with heavy heart, Laxmana decided to go in search of Rama. But before leaving Sita alone, he drew a line - Laxmana Rekha - that Sita should never cross. (In the event of any one including Sita crossed that Laxmana Rekha the person was suure to get burnt.) Sita promised not to cross the same and after that Laxmana went in search of Rama and the deer.
Ravana Lifts Sita
Here near the hut, Ravana made his appearance as he was sure Rama and Laxmana could/would not come back soon. He also through his Mayawi Power changed himself into a monk - Sanyasin and as the custom went, came to the hut of Sita begging for food. "Bhiksham dehi mai", said Ravana to Sita. (Give me food, O mother.) [In India, today also, it is customary to give alms and food to the begging sanyasin.]
With a tray of some fruits and food Sita came out of the hut at the call of the 'guest' at her door. However, she did not dare to cross the line drawn by Laxmana lest she should get burnt, and hence, she offered the bhiksha from well within the limits of Laxmana Rekha.
Sanyasin Ravana was also equally well aware of the power of that line, crossing of which was sure to see his end! Therefore, pretending to be unhappy at Sita's reservation in serving a 'holy person' from a distance, he shouted, "O noble lady, have you forgotten the lofty and honoured tradition of your clan? How can I accept the alms given with reservation and insult! Please come out and give the offerings with propriety and decorum befitting your Aryan tradition."
Thus influenced, no sooner did Sita cross the line than the mighty Ravana took his chance and lifted Sita on his shoulders and fled away. The terrified lady shouted for help, but of no avail. Soon Ravana was flying high in the sky to take aerial route towards his capital city of Lanka. The cry of her help could not reach distant Rama and Laxmana.
Story of Jatayu
But a vulture named Jatayu staying on the nearby tree, and a great devotee of Rama, was quick to respond. He could not keep quiet at the plight of helpless Sita although he knew that he was no match for the mighty Ravana. He was not afraid of him even though it was clear that he would get killed by obstructing the path of Ravana. But he decided to save Sita from the clutches of Ravana at any cost. Taking the name of Rama, he attacked the escaping Ravana within his whole might. His sharp nails and the beak tore flesh from the body of Ravana. Ravana also attacked Jatayu with his sword. The fight went on for quite some time. Jatayu was bleeding from the wounds all over his body. He was exhausted with energy drained out of his wings. At last Ravana cut off his wings and Jatayu fell to the ground.
His mission was not yet complete though. He wanted to meet Rama in his last moments and also tell him about Sita. Therefore, although on his death bed, Jatayu went on repeating the name of Rama -- Rama, Rama, Rama.
Laxmana reached the spot where Rama had just killed the demon Marich. Laxmana found Rama unharmed as he expected. He told Rama how Sita forced him to rush for his (Rama's) help on hearing the cry. It did not take long for Rama to put together all the demonic tricks played by Ravana and Marich. He feared that Sita might have landed in great difficulty. Therefore, the brothers rushed to the hut at Panchavati. They were very much apprehensive at the errie silence surrounding the hut.
"O Sita, come out; where are you", they shouted. But how can Sita respond! She was not there. The brothers began their search near and around the hut, in the nearby forest, and went on and on. With tears in his eyes, Rama asked the shrubs and the creepers if they had seen his Sita. He inquired of animals and the trees whether they had any knowledge about Sita.
Then a faint voice of Rama, Rama, Rama was discernible from a short distance. They turn towards the voice and found to their dismay Jatayu lying on the ground reciting the name of Rama. Rama took the wounded bird in his arms and inquired as to who had injured him so ruthlessly. Jatayu told them about Ravana, how he had kidnapped Mother Sita, and had fled to the South. He exhorted Rama to follow the wicked demon and rescue the holy Sita.
At last the pious Jatayu bowed down at the holy feet of Rama and breathed his last in the lap of his chosen ideal. After performing the last rites of Jatayu, Rama and Laxmana started southwards in search of Sita.
Story of Shabari
On their way southwards Rama and Laxmana passed through many difficult terrain. The forests were sparsely populated. Occasionally one encountered an ashrama of a sage with a small village around it. One such ashrama belonged to rishi Matang whose heart grieved for the lowly and downtrodden.
In his ashrama, one tribal devotee of Rama, named SHABARI, used to stay. She used to keep the place clean and tidy, and along with that she also performed her japa -repeating the holy name of GOD, did her ritualistic worship by offering flowers etc., and sang many songs in the glory of the Lord. Her chosen ideal was Rama for whose meeting she was waiting for long time.
Years passed by; Rishi Matang became old. When he was on his death-bed, he called Shabari near him and said, "Look, O devotee of Rama, your tapasya -austerities - and spiritual longing for Rama would not go in vain. Sri Rama is sure to visit this ashrama, this I can say on the basis of my spiritual power. Therefore, after my departure, I plead you to wait for Rama's arrival. Hence take charge of this ashrama and live in peace and as a devotee of Rama. Your efforts would be rewarded in due course of time." So saying the rishi passed away.
Simple hearted, poor, and belonging to lower caste, Shabari did not know much about running the ashrama. Soon everyone left her. The birds, the flowers, the shrubs and occasional domesticated animal became her friends. But she had full faith in the words of her Guru Matang. When he had said Sri Rama would come to that ashrama, she could not disbelieve those words.
Hence Shabari used to clean the place early in the morning, collect fruits, and would wait looking at the distant road for her Rama to come. Every day this was her routine. Every day she thought "Rama would definitely come today!" In these days of eager wait and expectation of seeing her Rama, she forgot all about her rituals, worship, japa or songs! She forgot about day and night, month and year as well as the seasons. Rains were replaced by the winter, winter turned into summer of scorching heat, but Shabari had lost her interest in everything. For her the sun rose with the definite hope that her Rama would come that day and she would be able to serve him.
These long years of wait turned Shabari into an old woman. Her eye sight became dim and the hearing was affected. She had no remorse. She continued to keep her tiring body busy in her routine of cleaning the ashrama and collecting fruits for Rama.
One day, at last, Sri Rama arrived in the ashrama. Pleasure of Shabari knew no bounds. The long awaited desire was fulfilled. Falling at the feet of Rama she said, "O Rama, I cannot describe your kindness in words. When so many great sadhakas (rishis and munis and yogis), cannot seek your Grace even in many births, you have come to me so soon."
So saying she washed the holy feet of her chosen ideal and offered him berries which she had collected from the forest that morning. And the beauty of the relation between the true Bhakta and the Lord was such that Rama was happy in eating the same fruit that had been tasted by Shabari herself, lest the fruit should be bitter!
Laxmana, with tears rolling down his cheeks, was silently observing the pure love between God and the devotee. Until now he used to think that there was nobody on the earth or heaven who loved Rama as dearly as he did. But today Shabari proved him wrong. When tears dried down in the eyes of Shabari, when her voice was not choking, when she lifted her eyes from the holy feet of Rama then Laxmana bowed down at the feet of Shabari and said, "O mother, your love for Rama will be remembered for ever in this world. I bow down in reverence to the great devotee of Sri Rama."
Then Shabari inquires about the purpose of their such hard journey. Rama recounts the sad tell of kidnapping of Sita, etc. Reflecting upon the facts, Shabari directs them to go further southwards to Pampa lake and to Kishkindha where the monkey king Sugreeva and the great Rama-devotee monkey Hanuman would be of great help in their search of Sita.