Story of Child Shravana
Long ago, nobody knows when, in the ancient kingdom of Ayodhya, there ruled a powerful but noble and wise king, King Dasharatha. He belonged to the Raghu dynasty where "keeping promises was cherished as more important than life itself". It was all too well known a fact that his forefathers had sacrificed their lives for upholding the path of righteousness and truth - Dharma.
Once during his youth, this king Dasharatha went for hunting. He was expert in archery. He had also acquired a peculiar gift of hitting the arrow even in the dark or blindfolded at the sound of the movement of the target or the prey.
On the fateful day, as it happened, the king could not hunt any animal. He was tired and was bit dejected and irritated at this failure. Just then, from a distant pond there arose the sound, as if some animal were drinking water. The king could not directly see who was there, but he guessed that it must be some animal- his hunting prey! The usually well balanced mind of the king thought for a while to reach the pond and then hunt down the prey. But the king was so much tired that he decided to use his skill of hitting the arrow at the sound and finish his job. He put the arrow on the bow, waited for the next sound to reach his ear, and hit the target in a flash.
And what a tragedy! The arrow did hit the target, but the cry which tore the peace and tranquility of the jungle was not of an animal, but of a young boy! The kind heart of the king melted like the butter over fire.
Disturbed, he rushed to the pond and saw, as feared, a young boy fatally wounded with his arrow in the chest. Tears flowed down the eyes of the king. He took the boy in his lap, put a few drops of water in his mouth to wet his drying lips, and inquired: "O, young one, what brought you to this lonely place? Are you alone or, are there any co-travelers with you? What a grave mistake I have committed! How can I rectify this now?"
On hearing the king spoke thus, the boy pacified the king and said:
"O, King, I am a Brahmin boy. My name is Shravana. My parents are old and blind. I am taking them to pilgrimage all over this noble land of Bharata (India). I carry them on my shoulders in huge baskets attached to the bamboo with the ropes (kawad in our dialect). My parents are waiting at some distance for me. I was here to fetch water for them. I am their only support. Now I am worried that they may not survive after hearing the news of my death. I am also not sure whether you can help them because sooner or later they would come to know that you are responsible for all this. O, noble king, please take me to them as I am afraid my life-force may leave the body any time now."
With these words of great remorse and pathos, the young Shravana died in the lap of the king.
Confused and with heavy heart, tortured by the thought of the ignoble deed for which his impatience and indiscretion were responsible, the king slowly went to the old parents. He put the body of the Shravana in front of them. The sensitive ears of the father immediately guessed that something was amiss. Said the old man: "Who is there? Surely these heavy steps are not of son."
The king replied, "O, noble Brahmin, you are right. I am king Dasharatha."
"Where is my son, O king. What has happened to him?", inquired the mother.
With great sorrow and heavy heart the king narrated the unfortunate event that led to the sad death of their son. Hearing this tragic news the mother collapsed there only, never to come back to life again. The father, under great agitation and distress, thus cursed the king:
"O King, you have indiscriminately killed a Brahmin boy. Our sorrow cannot be described in words; our son was our only support. You have left us with no choice but to die. You have separated us from our most beloved son. I send a curse to you, O king, that you shall also die experiencing the pain and suffering of separation from your son."Soon the old man also left his body for good.
What could the king do, but shed tears and return back to his palace! Years passed by and the king started forgetting this sad incidence in his life about which he did not mention to anyone including his three wives.
King Dasharatha had three wives, namely Kausalya, Sumitra, and Kaikeyi. The queens were beautiful, royal, graceful, and faithful to the king. Simplicity, selflessness, modesty, and willingness to sacrifice their everything for the king and the kingdom all such virtues, typical of Indian Womanhood, were embodied in them. They never complained about inconvenience, suffering, pain, and deficiencies any time, although such situations were rare in a royal house.
However, despite a long married life, none of the queens was blessed with motherhood. Silently, as is every Indian woman's wont, they longed for their own son or daughter. The king was also aware of the undercurrent of gloom all around the palace and the kingdom. As was customary in those ancient times, the king was advised to perform sacrificial rituals (called Yagna). Accordingly, arrangements were made for the vast resources required for such Yagna. Due invitations were sent to the most learned and expert 'Pandits' and Brahmins who would perform such a Yagna.Many months passed by in these rituals, and at last the Yagna-Devata (The God) was pleased and the rituals and sacrifices bore fruits. Out of the Yagna-Kunda arose one Divine Form who said:
"O king, I am very much pleased with your deep faith and devotion in me. I offer you these four fruits which would fulfill the desires of the royal family. Your queens would bear sons in due course of time after ingesting the fruit."
The king, the queens, and for that matter whole of the kingdom of Ayodhya was agog with pleasure and joy that knew no bounds. Kausalya and Kaikeyi received one fruit each, and remaining two came to the lot of Sumitra.
In due course of time Rama was born to Kausalya, Bharata to Kaikeyi, and Sumitra gave birth to two sons--Laxmana and Shatrughna.
The palace was filled with joy and merriment. The queens were overjoyed with the arrival of these four lovely princes. Rama was born of the eldest queen and hence attracted special attention, as the eldest son always had the first claim to the royal throne.
The four brothers grew under the loving care of their parents and relatives in the royal comforts of the palace. There was no want nor deficiency of any kind. All the four princes were sharp, intelligent, brave, and healthy. They were obedient and respectful towards their parents and teachers; and the love amongst these four brothers knew no precedence.
As they grew up, the old king made arrangements for their best education in humanities, art, science, and expertise in war-games. They acquired all special skills in archery, etc. at the holy feet of their teachers: Vashishtha and Vishwamitra.
Years passed by and the children grew in lovable, bold, and brave adolescence. Their command over bow and arrow was not to be equaled by anyone on the earth. (Sri Rama was the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the savior of the universe, who had come to the earth to eliminate the evil and restore Dharma - righteousness. But this divine play cannot be known to many. Only a few sages were aware that Divinity had taken birth on this earth. Rest (like us) including the king, the queens, the citizens of Ayodhya took Rama and his brothers as ordinary humans.)
Rama and Laxmana defeat the demons
Meanwhile the forest dwelling rishis and sages encountered great obstacles and difficulties in performing their rituals of Yagnas. The evil tendencies in the form of demons used to interfere in their practice and rites by way of beating up the rishis and their associates. Moreover, the demons used to pour blood and flesh in the sacrificial fire which made the Yagna 'impure'.
Therefore, a delegation of such rishis and sages led by the great sage Vishwamitra requested king Dasharatha to send Rama and Laxmana to their rescue. They convinced the king that although Rama and Laxmana were young and inexperienced, their bravery was unparalleled and unchallenged. These two brothers alone were capable of fighting the mighty demons and teach them a lesson for ever.
The tender heart of the Mother tried to resist this tough request. No mother wants her beloved son to take to such an arduous task at such a tender age. But the noble and dutiful king acceded to the just request of the rishis.
Thus the first encounter was on cards where fight between the good and bad tendencies was to occur. Of course the truth and good always prevails. And as such the young princes defeated the demons and returned to Ayodhya in due course of time. The fame and glory of Sri Rama and his brothers spread all over Ayodhya as well as to far off places.
The mighty demon king Ravana in far off Lanka also learnt about this upcoming force, a challenge to his supremacy.
Rama Marries Sita
Years passed by. The princes reached adulthood, and as was customary, it was felt that they should marry. The search for appropriate brides led King Dasharatha to the state of Mithila where king Janaka had four beautiful daughters of marriageable age. Amongst these Sita was the perfection of purity, grace, modesty, and beauty. King Janaka had arranged for Sita's marriage with the condition that she would marry that brave and powerful prince who would break the Bow of Shiva. This Bow of Lord Shiva was unbreakable for ordinary mortals! For the selfish person it was not approachable. Amongst the poor in spirit and cowards It created fear and terror.
All the four princes of Ayodhya led by Rama decided to participate in this marriage -- Swayamvara -- as is known. With great pomp and show, accompanied by their Guru (Teacher), the foursome left for Mithila on one auspicious day.
[A very beautiful account is given regarding the stay of these princess as the guests of Janaka. How accidental meeting of Rama and Sita leads to blooming of love in their bosoms; how Sita vows in heart of her heart to marry Rama and Rama alone, etc.]
And the day of reckoning dawns! One by one the princes from various states and kingdom try their luck in attempting to lift and break that Bow of Shiva. But was that ever possible! Was that ever destined! Even the most powerful amongst all the kings, all over the world, the great Ravana of Lanka could not even move the bow one inch above the ground! Everyone laughed at this tragic show and defeat of Ravana.
At last it was the turn of Rama. With due humility and respect, Rama saluted the Bow (i.e. Shiva Himself), and prayed to give him strength and courage to attempt and succeed in this almost impossible task. In one attempt Rama lifted and set apart the bow in two! The whole Royal Court was filled with shouts of 'Glory Unto Rama, Victory to Rama', etc. However, this made king Ravana jealous and insulted; he mentally vowed to defeat Rama some day if opportunity arose.
Thus, in most wonderful setting, the auspicious marriage of Rama and Sita took place. Along with Rama, his three brothers also got married to the three sisters of Sita. Four sons of King Dasharatha married four daughters of King Janaka!
Now this Sita, as already mentioned, was pious, obedient, intelligent, simple and sober lady; the perfect embodiment of purity in thoughts, words, and deeds. Other than Rama she could not and did not even think of other male. This faithfulness towards one man -- husband -- is a very special virtue of Indian Womanhood, and Sita is the true representative of this. It is, of course, also imperative that the husband should not think of other woman except his wife. Therefore, it is common in India to look upon and address every woman other than wife as "Mother or Sister".
[At the death of her husband, therefore, it was not unusual to see the widow attempting to immolate herself at the funeral pyre of her husband. Of course, later in medieval India, many instances of widow burning were related to acquisition of ancestral property etc.-- Sati Tradition. But that was an aberration rather than the rule. Today this system is not in vogue any more.]
Coming back to our story, the joyous marriage procession with decorated chariots, bullock carts, horses and elephants reached Ayodhya. The atmosphere was of celebration and merriment, as if the princes had returned after having won a Great War.