Valmiki Ramayana - Aranya Kanda in Prose
Sarga 68

Jataayu names Ravana as the abductor of Seetha while breathing his last. Though he struggles hard to say what all has happened, the Time called death takes him away, at such a time when the important information is about to be said to Rama. Receiving that much information at least, Rama consigns Jataayu to funeral fire, like his own relative and performs other rites, and then proceeds for searching Seetha.


Rama on seeing that eagle felled to ground by the atrocious Ravana, said this sentence to Soumitri who is an asset for good companionability.

"While this bird is venturing in my concern the demon felled him in combat and he is leaving off his lives owing to me, definitely... Obviously, lives in his body are very feeble, oh, Lakshmana, it is natural, isn't it, and he looks highly anguished with a dulled voice..." Thus on saying to Lakshmana, Rama then spoke to Jataayu.

"Oh, Jataayu, if you are in fine fettle to further reiterate words, relate about Seetha, let safe betide you, and recount how you are murdered, too... What is the reason for Ravana in stealing that noblewoman, and even what is the wrong I have committed in his respect, keeping which in view that Ravana stole my ladylove... How was that moon similar heart-stealing face of hers at that time of abduction, oh, best bird, and even what are the words she uttered when being abducted... What is his stamina of that demon? What is his form? And what are his strategies? And where is his stronghold? Oh, sire, tell me while I ask you inquisitively..." Rama urged Jataayu thus for information.

Then that warm-hearted Jataayu with his eyes rolling upwards saw Rama and with a fluttery voice said this sentence to Rama who is wailing like an orphan.

"Resorting to his illusionistic devices like creating an immense and tumultuous windstorm and cloud-cover, the flagitious chief of demons Ravana abducted Seetha...

Annex: 'he created such illusion only to render me unsteady in my flight combat... and for his escape in the dark of the day...'

"That night walker hacked both my wings when I was overtired, and went southward taking the princess of Videha, Seetha, along with him... My sight is spinning and my lives are stifled, oh, Raghava, I am now seeing golden trees with cuscus grass as their treetops...

The cuscus grass is the aromatic fibrous root of an Indian grass, Vetiveria zizanaoides, used for making fans, screens, etc., Urdu kaskas. This odd combination of trees of gold, instead of wood, and grass instead of leaves, is an omen of death.

"In which spell of time Ravana has gone taking away Seetha, that spell is named as Vinda... if any riches are lost during that spell, the original possessor of those riches will repossess them very quickly... oh, Kakutstha, he that Ravana is unmindful of that fact and stole Seetha only to loose her...

The daytime has fifteen spells of time that have their own effects on humans. The fifteen are: raudraH svetaH maitraH ca tathaa saarabhaTaH smR^itaH | saavitro vaishvadevaH ca gaandharva kutapaH tathaa | rauhiNaH tilaka caiva vijato naiR^iitiH tathaa | shambaro vaaruNaH ca eva bhagaH pa~nca dasha smR^itaH || and the Vijaya said above is also called as 'Vinda,' the eleventh spell of the day. bindo naama bindu gulikaH | tasmin samaye aarabdham kaaryam kartuH vipariitem bhavati iti suucitam | tathaa ca - utpala parimale gau¹ii prakaraNe - manvarka digdantirasaabdhi netraa suuryasya vaara aadi viShaa muhuurtaaH | gargamarendraadi muniidraadibR^indaiH te ninditaaH karmasu bindasa~nj~naaH || - iti - dk Any action initiated in this spell of the day entails adverse effects, in so far as that aim and action of the initiator. Ravana, though an eminent astrologer, and though he is said to have written an astrological treatise called raavaNa samhita, did not care about it.

"On stealing your ladylove Janaki, that chief of demons, Ravana, will ruin himself, as with a fish which swallows a baited fishhook... Impractical is your anguishing for the daughter of Janaka, as you will delight yourself with Vaidehi in no time, on killing that Ravana in the vanguard of a war..." Thus saying Jataayu paused for a while.

Though Jataayu is speaking on to Rama with an alert mind, blood freely flowed from his mouth with shreds of flesh as death verged on him, even then he struggled to say.

"That demon is the son of Vishravasa... literally... the brother of Kubera..." on saying thus, that lord of birds released his lives, which are unobtainable for oneself.

Information about Ravana is given here in the first stanza of the verse, in a half-way-through manner. And the character of Jataayu itself is evanished by a jump cut of the couplet, only to be filled by his brother Sampaati in the later parts of Kishkindha Kanda. In between these two stanzas of one verse, where one brother says one stanza, the other by another, the episodes of Kishkindha come to take part. The second foot just contains the name of Lanka where Ravana dwells. But it is not said here for dramatic effect and for the flow of epic through its own course. Further, Jataayu is not 'dead' but he released his lives. And he is safeguarding his lives so far, only to tell Rama. For this Skanda Puraana says that Seetha blesses Jataayu to live until Rama comes to him, and listens form Jataayu. But she did not stipulate as to how much Rama has to listen or how much Jataayu has to report. devii maa~N praahaH raajendra yaavat sambhaaShaNam mama | bhavataH taavat aasan me praaNaa iti aaha jaanakii || Maheshvara Tiirtha. So, the bird called life flew away for bird Jataayu...

But the lives of Jataayu departing from his body went into thin air before the very eyes of Rama who is still speaking to him with folded-palms, "tell... tell more..."

Jataayu flopped his head on earth, sprawled his feet on ground, and then his body collapsed onto the surface of earth writhing jerkily.

He who is worsened by very many mishaps that Rama, on seeing the mountainous eagle whose eyes are bloodshot and whose lives have gone, said this way to Soumitri...

"This bird which for years together lived fearlessly in Dandaka forest, a habitat of demons, that bird wilted to death, because of me... He who has longevity over many years, who actively strived for a long for rectitude, he is now killed and prostrating before the Time, because of me... alas... it is indeed impossible to infringe the Time... Lakshmana, this eagle which has dashed to rescue Seetha in order to render help to me is slain by that brute-forced Ravana, only because of me, you see... On abandoning great empire of eagles belonging to his father and forefathers this lord of bird has now abandoned his lives too, only for my sake...

"Universally noticeable are the protective, prepotent, principled ones that are the followers of probity, oh, Soumitri, even though their births are avian or bestial... To me, oh, enemy-inflamer, oh, gentle Lakshmana, anguish caused by Seetha's abduction is not that much, when compared with the anguish caused by the perish of this eagle, that too, because of me...

"As to how the celebrated and highly renowned king Dasharatha is venerable and honourable for me, likewise this lord of birds is also a venerable and honourable one to me... Oh, Soumitri, get the firewood and I will produce fire by friction of two sticks, as I wish to cremate this lord of birds who expired because of me...

The fire produced in ritual acts is called araNi where a small concavity is made on one stick, and a pointed end to the other, and this pointed end is rubbed in churning mode in the concavity of the other stick, and then both the dry wood-sticks give out a small fire, which then is taken on cotton, to lit a huge pyre.

"Oh, Soumitri, I will mount this lord of realm of birds onto the pyre and cremate him who is killed by a feral demon..." Thus saying to Lakshmana, Rama said this to dead eagle Jataayu.

"Oh, greatly mighty king of eagles, by me cremated ritually and by me aptly consented to, you depart to the unexcelled heavenly worlds... you depart to those worlds that are destined for the virtuosos of Vedic-rituals, and to those worlds that are destined for the practisers of ascesis amid Five-Ritual-fires, and to those that are destined for un-retreating combatants, and to those worlds that destined for the donors of lands..." So said Rama to the departed Jataayu.

'When a Vedic-ritual is performed the resultant factor is undoubtedly puNya 'merit' for those, yaj~naaH shiilam sadvR^ittam yeSaam te and the worlds yaa gatiH gamyata iti gatiH - lokaH. And this is different to that of practising ascesis amid Five-Fires. ahita agne, ahitaaH paristhaapitaaH agnayaH yaH pancaagnayoH yasya saH... 'But animals or birds have no faculty to perform those rituals and they have their own course of lifecycle after their demise. Then where is the question of a bird going to heaven, which heaven is scheduled to some specialists...' is the objection. But Jataayu acquired all those 'merits' when he combated without any retreat a paraa vartinaam and he is getting a short cut without undergoing too many other kinds of births, and he is given mukti 'emancipation' from lifecycles, for his action on behalf of a godlike Rama is justifiable and befitting to get a final release, by word of Rama by me cremated ritually and by me aptly consented to... where He alone can transcend the manmade rules.

'Then the cremation, that too ritualistic one, is unavailable for birds and animals, how then can Rama perform funerals for birds, or get them performed for monkeys, as in the case of Vali...' For this it is said, 'that's why Rama had to cremate Jataayu and further said by me cremated ritually and by me aptly consented to... as sort of special sanction of mukti, because the animality has no authority in scriptures or its rites. Taking some action, endeavouring to protect dharma, or obstructing a dharma, itself is superior to mere reverencing a god, or performing a daily rot of yaj~na, yaaga-s,, etc., which in itself is a subjective performance. Here Jataayu did not attack Ravana keeping Rama or Seetha in view, but attacked Ravana only to play his part in stalling a dharma, which is not that easy, like purchasing some temple tickets to perform some ritual, for and on behalf of ticket holders and their families.

 For this it is said in nR^simha puraaNa says that mat kR^ite nidhan yasmaat tvayaa praaptaa tam dvijottama | tasmaat mama prasaadena viShNu lokam avaapyasi || 'because of me you attained your demise, thereby you get the realms of Vishnu...' where 'because of me' is to be taken not as an individual godhood, but as dharma, 'because of dharma...' itself. Hence the special sanctions to Jataayu, where such sanctions are absent in the case of Vali, as he followed the course of a dharma and there are many scripts that say Rama gave this emancipation to Jataayu, in chorus uvaaca gaccha bhadram te mama viShNo paramam padam - aadhyaatma raamaayana - raaghavasya prasaadena sa gR^idhraH paramam padam - padma puraaNa - sugrivo hanumaan R^ikSho gajo grdhrio vaNik patha - tilaka -teShu bhagavad a~NsheShu anuraagiNaH kosala nagara janapadaaH te api tan manasaaH satsaalokyataam aapuH || viShnu puraaNa

'Has this Rama got no other work than weeping for his beloved ones and patiently performing obsequies to all lowborn, lowly subjects like dead monkey, birds, or even each individual demonic soldiers... they are all shuudra-s' is haunted feeling to some. For this it is said na shuudraa bhagavat bhaktaa vipraa bhaagavataa smR^itaa | te shuudraa ye hi a bhaktaa janaardane || 'one who is devotee of Vishnu cannot be called a shuudra... he is to be called vipra, Bhaagavata... but a non-devotee, may he be in any caste, he is a shuudra...' And shuudra is upa lakshaNa to birds or animals, thereby even animals and birds are on an even footing, if it comes to paying deference to god, and god alone is capable to decree emancipation to every or any being. 'Again it is said that Rama is god, but yet he weeps... is it not self-contradictory...' Not so, when a neighbour weeps for the hardships of his neighbour, won't the neighbourly god weep...' that too on incarnating as a human... vyasaneShu manuShyaaNaam bhR^isham bhavati duHkhitaH 'when humans are in difficulties, He wails much...' but waits much also, till those humans can correct or come over their problems on their own, keeping a little faith on Him...' Here also, the sobbing of Rama is comparatively nothing when compared to the sobbing for Seetha, because the action of Jataayu is not that sob-ful, in encountering a dharma... thus Valmiki is aware of 'good' sobbing and 'bad' sobbing in this sob-stuff, called Ramayana.

And for this Dharmaakuutam says: anena mahad anuj~nayaa uttamaa gatiH bhavati it suucitam | tathaa ca adharvaNii shrutiH - yam yam lokam manasaa sa~Nvibhaati vishuddha sattvaH kaamayate yaashca kaamaan | tam tam lokam jayate taam ca kaamaaan tasmaat aatmaj~nam hi arcayet bhuuti kaamaH - bhaaShyam - ukta lakShaNam sarvaatmanam aatmatvena pratipannaH | tasya sarva aatmatvaat eva sarvaa avaapti lakShaNam phalam aaha - - - aatmaj~nam aatmaj~natena vishuddha antaHkaraNam hi arcet puujayet - ataH puujaarha eva asau |

On saying that way, that ethical-souled Rama mounted that lord of birds onto the pyre and he sorrowfully incinerated that eagle in a flaring fire of pyre, as he would do in respect of his own deceased relative. Then that resolute Rama on going into forest along with Soumitri hunted a robust-bodied, big Rohi animal, or, Kesari animal, and then he spread sacred grass on ground to place that offering to the deceased soul of that bird.

On drawing up the flesh of that Rohi animal and lumping it to gobbets, that highly observant Rama placed those gobbets on pleasant greenish pasturelands as obsequial offerings in respect of that bird Jataayu. Rama immediately chanted Vedic hymns that are employed in such funerals of one's own paternal people, as Brahmans say that those hymns are employable in such rites as they lead the soul of the departed to heaven.

Rama chants two Vedic passages yaamya suukta, naaraayaNa suukta - aapastamba sutra-s as they are usually recited by Brahmans in such funeral rites. Here it is 'so imperfectly conducted, because it is for an ineligible bird, that too by an unrelated highborn Kshatriya Rama, reciting unconcerned Vedic hymns...' is the objection. Jataayu is beyond any caste or creed by way his devotion to duty and by his self-sacrifice while on duty. Hence, he is beyond eligibility or opposite of it. Funerals are to be conducted by one's own sons or nearest relatives. If none of the relatives of the dead is present to cremate, they are to be undertaken by the king of that kingdom. When Rama blessed the soul of Jataayu to go to highest realms, which are far beyond the Veda-s of mortals, it is a sacrosanct act to chant those hymns... on human level; hence, Rama's action is clearly pro-Vedic. And in Vaishnavaite tenets everything culminates into one - Vishnu. 'the adherents of Vishnu, may it be an animal, like Gajendra, the elephant, or humans, like Shabari et al., or a bird, like Jataayu, by Him, by Vishnu alone, they are led to the Ultimate course of the realm of Vishnu...'

Then both the sons of that notable man, namely Dasharatha, on going to River Godavari they have oblated waters for that king of eagles, Jataayu. Both of the Raghava-s took funeral baths in the waters of River Godavari and then made water oblations to the king of eagles.

That king of eagle Jataayu, who has performed a creditworthy deed of stalling and combating Ravana, but who is felled by that Ravana, went away to the merited and auspicious heavenly realms of his own, as and when consecrated by sublime sage like Rama.

Even those two, Rama and Lakshmana, on performing water oblations in respect of that best bird Jataayu, and on assertively giving thought to the information given by Jataayu, they like the chiefs of gods, namely Vishnu and Indra, went to southerly woods when their mind is set to search for Seetha.


Thus, this is the 68th chapter in Aranya Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana, the first Epic poem of India

© April, 2003, Desiraju Hanumanta Rao [Revised : January 05]

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