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Seetha rebukes Lakshmana for he is still here, loitering away even after listening Rama's cry for help. She goes to the extent of slandering him as having intents to woo her, at the cost of Rama's life. Lakshmana tries to pacify her but in vain, as she persists in her rash talk. Lakshmana leaves her alone and starts to reach Rama, broken-heartedly.
This is a much debated chapter in Ramayana because human complexities are involved in its narration. The sublimity of Seetha's characterisation is disputed by her speeches in here. The question is whether Seetha becomes an ideal woman in view of her tongue-lashing, or not. This is as good as asking the nature as to 'why it thunders before a storm, scaring children, birds and calves... cannot it just shower some rains and go...' If anything is not done in accordance with her wish and whim, or which goes against her peculiar way of thinking, it is usual for a shrewd woman to tongue-lash. Here, Seetha is called a woman who is bhart® prema antha - bhart® kÿema arthi 'blinded by the devotement to her husband...' 'a desirer of her husband's welfare...' even at her own risk.
This Ramayana is not the story of Rama. It is raama ayana and becomes raamaayaNa when compounded. Again raama is not the epical hero Rama alone. Seetha is also raamaa as said by Sumantra in Ayodhya, Ch. 60, 10th verse:
b˜l˜ iva ramate sŸt˜ a b˜la candra nibha
'like an young girl Seetha, with not so young moon's face, [i.e., like the full moon,] is delighting herself even in uninhabited forests with Rama...'
Thus this epic is called r˜m˜ r˜mayo× ayanam r˜m˜yaõam 'the peregrination of Seetha and Rama...' where the first word raamaa with elongated end syllable belongs to Seetha and the second raama with shortened end syllable belongs to Rama, and thus this is the peregrination of both Raamaa and Raama. If the course of the legend has to move forward, the characters have to move, and if they were to move, some situations should become turning points, and this is one such situation occasioned through the shrewdness of Seetha. In a legendary perspective, if evil is to be eliminated, good has to peregrinate troublesomely, and that troublesome peregrination of Seetha, as well as that of Rama, is triggered off at this situation, again due to the shrewdness of Seetha. Thus, there is no oddity in the shrewd talk of Seetha. Some more discussion is incorporated in the endnote.
On identifying the grievous voice that is identifiable with her husband's voice, Seetha spoke to Lakshmana, "you go at once, and check up on Raghava. I have heard the loud yelling voice of highly fretful Rama whereby my heart, or my very entity, is not abiding in its place, and it will be apt of you to protect such a brother of yours who is screaming in the forest.
"He might have come under the subjugation of demons as with a bull coming under the seize of lions, hence, you hurry up so as to near such a brother of yours who is seeking protection." So said Seetha toi Lakshmana.
Although she spoke a lot to him in this way, Lakshmana on his part has not moved out remembering his brother's order to stay guard to Seetha, and hence that Janaki, the daughter of Janaka, who is already agitated for Rama further spoke to him in the paradox of his not going out of hermitage.
"You are like a foe of your brother in friend's mien, Soumitri, as you are not making a move towards a brother even if he is in an emergency. Because of me you wish Rama to be completely destroyed, and only because of your cupidity for me you are not following up on Raghava. It is definite.
The 'real' woman in Seetha is coming out. From now on, she goes on talking unhesitatingly, unilaterally and even abusively because her mind is fuddled with the thought 'some damage is being done to her husband.'
" 'Raghava in direst strait' is the most liked thing to you, thus I deem, as you have no heart for that brother, and as you complacently stay behind even when that great-resplendent Rama is unseen. After which helmsman you have come here that Rama is undergoing an uncertainty of life-and-death, as such I indeed wonder what business you have here now in staying with me at this hermitage?" Seetha spoke so to Lakshmana.
Lakshmana spoke to Seetha, the princess from Videha kingdom, who is talking deluged under tears and anguish in that way, as she is fretful like a she-deer.
"Oh, Vaidehi, your husband is an impossible one for vincibility by serpents, asura-s, gandharva-s, gods, fiends, demons, no doubt about it. Oh, auspicious one, unmarked is some combatant who can counterattack Rama from among gods, humans, gandharva-s, birds, ogres, kinnaraa-s, beasts, or oh, lady, even from horrendous demons, as Rama vies with Indra in any given war. It is inapt of you to talk that way as Rama is inextirpable in a given war, and as for me, I do not venture to abandon you in this forest in the absence of Raghava.
"Let the most forceful Crowns with all their military forces, or, all of the gods together with their heads, why they, let all the three worlds put together come mutinously, whether jointly or severally, Rama's prowess is irrestrainable. Hence, let your heart be diverted and anxiety divested, as your husband will be returning soon on killing that extraordinary deer.
"Evidently it is not the voice of Rama, nor that of any other god, but someone mimicked that voice for chicanery, and that must be the illusory voice of that demon Maareecha, similar in effect to the magical city of gandharva-s usually created by magicians in general.
Lakshmana has repeated the word gandharva nagara which he said to Rama. This magic is said as: gandharva nagaram proktam indraj˜lam manŸÿibhi× 'magic show of showing celestial cities by magicians.'
"And you are an entrustment, oh, best lady Vaidehi, as the great-souled Rama has entrusted you in my security, as such I do not dare to leave you off now. Oh, gracious lady, we have become the adversaries of these night-walkers insofar as the elimination of Khara and others, and concerning the eradication of Janasthaana. The demons are the swaggerers in violence in great forests and they will be employing various voices. Therefore Vaidehi, just do not bother about it." Thus Lakshmana advised Seetha.
As for Seetha, she became furious on hearing Lakshmana's words of advice, and while her eyes are becoming bloodshot she spoke these rude sentences to that veracious Lakshmana. You are a debased one devoid of mercy, thus a dreadful one, and a degrader of your dynasty, and I deem that you derive pleasure from fatal hardship to Rama.
The wording anaaryaH akararuNaarambha= dayaa prasakti rahitaH is as per the text of Govindaraja, while other mms have it as akaarya karaNa aarambha; a kaarya kaaraNa aarambha 'starter for doing an untoward deed.' From Seetha's viewpoint it is 'in wooing brother's wife you are the starter of an untoward deed.'
"You are haranguing all these sermons only on noticing hardship to Rama. It is unsurprising that the pitiless ones and rivals of your kind, who always behave in a cloak-and dagger way, will tend to commit deadly sins, Lakshmana, and it is not uncommon. You are verily maleficent for you have singly and covertly followed Rama, who started to forests all alone, or instigated by Bharata, only because of me.
The covert operation of Lakshmana as instantly surmised by Seetha is that, 'when one half-brother Bharata can snatch the kingdom from Rama, you, the other half-brother, can snatch away his wife, hence you have come with covert intentions, on your own, leaving all your kinsfolk. Or, Bharata wanted me too along with the kingdom, so he might have instigated you to fetch me for him, after Rama's death, thus he covertly sent 'you' alone.'
"Whether this is an intrigue of yours or that of Bharata it is unachievable, Saumitri. How can I long for another commoner when I have put my faith only in the lotus-blue-complexioned and lotus-bright-eyed husband of mine, Rama?
For how shall I, the chosen bride / Of dark-hued Rama, lotus-eyed, / The queen who once called Rama mine, To love of other men decline? - Griffith.
"If that comes to that, I will just discard my life in your presence, Soumitri do not mistake it. I do not eke out an existence on this earth even for a moment without Rama." Thus Seetha threatened Lakshmana. When that self-mortified Lakshmana is addressed in this way with hair-raising and acerbic words by Seetha, he spoke to her suppliantly adjoining his palm-fold.
"I do not venture to reply you Maithili, as you are like a deity to me. Women using words that are in a class by themselves is not at all surprising. This sort of bringing stilted words into play is the nature of women and it is obvious in the world. Women by their nature are unbound by the etiquette of decency, whimsical, cantankerous and they tend to become the artificers of vicissitudes, and oh, Vaidehi, the daughter of Janaka, indeed unbearable are this kind of words that are much the same as burnt iron arrows thrust in between my two ears.
The role of women in bringing alterations in joint families, peaceful histories or even in transcending legends is evident in every culture. mah˜nto api hi bhidyante strŸbhi× adbhi× iva acal˜× | k˜mandaka - lavaõa jal˜nt˜ nadya× strŸ bhed˜nt˜ni bandhu h®day˜ni | pr˜cŸna sm®ti - dk - 'They, the women, may be great beings but they tear asunder hearts, like oceans tearing great mountains.' Lakshmana is not eye-to-eye with Seetha and he is going on listening all her accusations with his two ears. And in between his two ears his conscience is there which is not permitting him to tolerate these words, yet he is tolerating.
"Let all of the forest-itinerants indeed listen as to how you are addressing me with bitter words, though I am reasoning with you conscientiously, and let them become my corroborators for the sake of justice. Fie upon you, you are acrimoniously tempered owing to your faminality, and by which impulsive reason you mistrust me who am presently abiding in my brother's order, may God damn you for that crotchety. I am going there where Rama is, oh, lady with best visage, you be blest, and oh, broad-eyed one, let all of the forest deities protect you.
"Gauging by those dangerous forebodings that are now bidding fair, can I to see you again along with Rama on my return, or not? That I do not know." Thus Lakshmana spoke to Seetha.
Lakshmana is repeatedly addressing Seetha as 'a broad-eyed-lady,' suggesting that 'though you have broad-eyes, but your mental perception is not that broad' 'as your eyes are belying your faculties.' 'And as 'the daughter of Janaka,' that is the 'daughter of a judicious person, yet unable to discriminate.' And as Vaidehi that is, one 'coming from Videha province.' Videha also means 'without body.' You are some supernatural, yet that demon beguiled you,' so on.
Lakshmana said Seetha 'be lost in desolation...' in the first instance and further said that she 'be blest...' and seeks the help of pastoral divinities to protect Seetha in his absence. This appears self-contradictory on the part of Lakshmana. But it is held correct, for he uttered derogatory words in the first instance as a vexed person and then, on knowing what that is suddenly uttered by him, he is correcting himself in saying that 'she be blest...' He wished her to prosper as she belongs to Rama. Whatever belongs to Rama that cannot be ridiculed, especially his mother-like elder sister-in-law.
When Lakshmana spoke to that wailful daughter of Janaka, she on her part spoke this curt sentence to him, while tears whelmed her to a fault. Without Rama I plunge myself in River Godavari, or else I string up myself, or discard this body of mine from heights..." Thus Seetha started to vent out her feelings. I drink deadly poison, or I enter a flaring fire, but I will never touch another man other than Raghava.
With regard to touching another man, some texts say the word kadaapi 'never' and some padaa api 'by foot, even.' 'I do not touch any other man even with my foot.' This signifies 'marriage.' In marriages there is a custom for the newly weds, like handshake and pressing toes of one another, in order to acclimatise one with the other's body touch. Here, if this paadaa api is taken as that custom in marriages. Thus she says that 'in the process of marriages such foot-pressing of bride and bridegroom occurs, hence I do not wish to undergo such situations.' As such, this is not mere touching someone with her foot.
These intimidations of Seetha that she will commit suicide by consuming poison, hanging, plunging in river, self-immolation etc., are not new to Seetha or to any woman, under these irksome situations. She is giving many alternatives for suicide and the last one is self-immolation. If she is not going to die by hanging herself, or by consuming poison, or by drowning in river, then the question of self-immolation comes up. But she lists all of them in her anguish for Rama. With the same impetuosity she jumps into fire in the episode of agni praveshanam after war, when Rama belittles her. There also, she orders the very same Lakshmana to arrange pyre for her, disregarding her own accusations made at Lakshmana, at this situation.
Seetha on declaring to Lakshmana in this way, she who is anguished and weeping bitterly, then started to smite her belly with both of her palms in a heightened agony. Observing the agonised aspect of Seetha that cheerless Saumitri started to cheer her up by repeatedly informing that her husband Rama will come soon. Even then Seetha has not spoken in the least to the brother of her husband, and maintained a silence of antipathy.
But then, holding Seetha in usual reverence that self-respectful Lakshmana briefly came to her fore making a reverential palm-fold that briefly, and then he proceeded to the proximity of Rama, while repeatedly looking back at that lonely lady in the thick of forest.
Till now Lakshmana is at her behind or at her sideways, as he usually stands a foot behind Rama or Seetha, and now came to her fore to revere her vis-à-vis and made a semi-salute, i.e., briefly and briskly adjoined and disjoined his palms, without bringing the joined palms up to his heart or his face. Bringing the folded palms up to one's own heart is suggestive of 'pouring forth one's own heart' at the other, which is known in prayers as iungo manus ante pectus and if it is lifted up to forehead, it is suggestive of 'concentrating with whole of the mind,' and if hands are totally lifted into air it is for the god unknown. But here this iungere manus is neither ante pectus, infra pectus, nor supra abdomen but a quick gesture. He is performing an iSTa namaskaara 'un, interested, greeting...' 'a half-hearted gesture' like a 'cold-handshake' rather than a 'warm' one because he is now sent by her compulsively and compulsorily.
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Indian woman is no sacred cow. For that matter, no woman is of that kind, unless compulsorily conditioned to be like that. A woman can be said as cow-faced-tigress, as: go mukha vy˜ghra, [not in dissent.] She prowls, growls and howls at others if her interests are contradicted. Thus, Seetha’s is not only a sacred cow but also a shrewd lioness-princess, and her rash talking is not new or instantaneous at this place alone. She said something against Kaikeyi with Sumantra, which, Sumantra does not report to Kausalya in Ayodhya Kanda, chapter 60, and verse 14. One full chapter, Aranya Kanda of 9th is catered to Seetha’s haranguing Rama, when Rama wanted to wage an unprovoked war. She does not spare even her own husband, if the contemplated deed is contrary to her thinking, and because she is countering her own husband she includes a saving clause, ‘I have spoken in all my womanliness... it is up to you to decide....’ otherwise it will be a straight tongue-lashing. Thus talking riff-raff with Lakshmana is no great surprise.
Further, she is angering through perplexity caused by the hearing a help cry similar in tone with her husband's voice: bhart® ˜rta svara sad®þam ˜krandanam ˜kraõya vidŸrõa h®day˜ h®daya dayitu premõ˜ kartavyam aj˜nan˜ j˜nakŸ - - - sam utpanna kopay˜ sŸtay˜ - bh˜ÿitam - dk Seetha said mama heto× praticchanna× 'for me you are covertly behaving...' and Lakshmana, who is famous for his rashness also said to Seetha tŸkÿõ˜ bhedakar˜× striya× 'women are the severe wreckers...' of households, kingdoms etc., remembering Sage Agastya's saying in Aranya, Ch. 13 verse 6: 'With the dangling of hundreds of streaks of thunderbolt and also a weapon's incisiveness, and also with the speediness of an eagle and wind's gust, the women are conformable...'
Besides, Seetha vowed to offer many oblations to Ganga, when crossing that river to enter the deep of forests in Ayodhya II, Ch. 52, verses 87-90: sur˜ gha÷a sahasreõa m˜msa bh¨ta odanena ca yakÿy˜mi aham 'I will offer thousand pots of liquor, meaty food, if, my husband and I return safely...' Even though Shiromani Vyaakhya says that these are not liquor pots or it is not the meat food, yet they are some offerings to be made by Seetha to Ganga, if they return. She uses many 'if' clauses while praying thus, for the safety of her husband. What will become of them, if Rama's life itself is at stake?
Here, both Seetha and Lakshmana, are accusing each other. It is not reiterated elsewhere in Ramayana, and hence some say that this episode is an interpolation. 'Can these two go on narrating this scandalous dialogue to somebody, detailing how each accused the other...' is the ensuing question. This episode has happened in between these two and it does not merit a discussion with somebody else, because such a discussion will attract many cha, cha-s, and chi, chi-s s for Seetha, hence this is neither an interpolation nor a repeatable episode.
Then the commentator concludes in saying that each of them is right in his/her way and in emotion, situation and portent. sŸt˜ vacanasya bharti ˜rta þabda þravaõa samj˜ta kheda vaþena ˜padi r˜mo avaþyam samrakÿaõŸya iti etat abhipr˜yakatv˜t | lakÿmaõa vacanam api ayukta tara sŸt˜ vacana þravaõa janita kopa vaþena prav®ttam | agastya vacanam tu svata× saral˜ sŸt˜ iti abhipr˜yakam iti na virodha× - - dk
Later, Seetha repents for her rash talk with Lakshmana in yuddha kaaNDa, Ch. 113, verses 40, 45-46, saying:
bh˜gya vaiÿamya doÿeõa purast˜t duÿk®tena ca |
may˜ etat pr˜pyate sarvam sva k®tam hi upbhujyate ||
p˜p˜n˜m v˜ þubh˜n˜m v˜ vadh˜rh˜õ˜m api v˜ |
k˜ryam k˜ruõyam ˜ryeõa na kaþcit na apar˜dhyate ||
'When my fate is against me, and when my earlier sins [of finding fault with Lakshmana,] have acquired this [incarceration in Lanka...] one has to reap the results of one's own faults... a sinner, or a do-gooder, or one undergoing a capital punishment shall be treated kindly... who is he/she that does not offend...'
These are the very same words of Sugreeva in Kishkindha, Ch. 36, verse 11: "Either in faith or in friendliness if I have overstepped, in the least, that may be pardoned for I am an attendant of yours... for, none is unoffending...' All this culminates into the saying 'to err is human...'
On the other hand, in the perspective of mythology, the time has come for Seetha to go to Lanka, in order to effectuate her curse to Ravana as Vedavati, where Vedavati cursed Ravana, 'I will be the root cause for your total elimination... as Seetha...' For such a transit, Rama shall go away from her, for that she wanted that golden deer and as a good husband Rama ran after it. But this security guard is an obstinate obstacle than Rama and he will not go away from here, because he has to keep custody of his brother's entrustment. Unless such unbearable words are spoken to a self-respectful person like Lakshmana, he doe not stir out. To stop his leeching onto her, she had to talk in an abnormal way, which made him to go away, though reluctantly, and which paved the way for Ravana's entry. If the Golden Deer is not there, Rama will not go, if Rama's voice is not heard Lakshmana cannot be sent, and if Lakshmana does not go, Ravana will not come... then a blemish called anavasth˜ doÿa -- ad infintum... occurs to Ramayana. If we do not mind to end Ramayana in that way, Ravana will be ruling high, even today...
Thus, this is the 45th chapter in Aranya Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana, the First Epic poem of India.
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© Sept, 2002, Desiraju Hanumanta Rao [Revised : August 06]