Saturday, March 19, 2011

Arjuna Becomes a Woman: A Transgender Tale from Padma Purana

The story of Arjuna cursed to spend time as a hermaphrodite is well known. That happens when the apsara Urvashi approaches him desiring sex and Arjuna politely refuses, telling her she is like a mother to him because in one of her lifetimes on earth she was the wife of Pururava, his ancestor. He sticks to his stand even when she tells him those are human rules and they are not applicable to apsaras. A furious Urvashi curses him that he will spend time as a eunuch among women. It is using this curse that Arjuna lives one year in the antahpura of Virata during his life incognito following the dice game.

This story however is different. Here it is not a hermaphoridite that Arjuna becomes, but a beautiful woman called Arjunī and Arjuniyā. The fascinating tale, pregnant with profound mystic teachings, is told by the Padma Purana in its Patala Khanda.

I would like to tell the story with a warning at the beginning: it is a mystic tale told at the mystic level and trying to understand it at the human level will lead to all kinds of misinterpretations – particularly the kind that readers with some knowledge of Freudian psychology are prone to make about eastern wisdom clothed in mystical veils.

Before we go into the story, a few words about the Padma Purana that tells us this story. The Padma Purana is an amazing treasure house of traditional Indian lore and spiritual wisdom. It is the third largest book in Sanskrit literature – after the Mahabharata with its one hundred thousand verses and the Skanda Purana with eighty-four thousand verses. The Padma Purana has fifty-five thousand verses. Traditional Indian scholarship has held that this is a work by Veda Vyasa, as are all other Puranas. Modern scholarship, however, sees this as a much later work. This latter view is probably closer to the truth than the traditional view.

The story we are about to hear begins with Arjuna, seated under a tree on the bank of the Yamuna, expressing a desire to his friend Krishna. He wants to know secrets even Shiva and Brahma do not know. How many gopis are there? What categories do they belong to? What are their names? Where do they live? What do they do? What is their age? How do they dress? And where does Krishna revel with them in seclusion? These are some of the things that Arjuna wants to know.

As usual, Krishna responds more to the real problem that Arjuna’s questions reveal than to the questions themselves. Krishna tells him that place, those women dear to him and his sports with them are impossible to be seen by men even if they are dear to him as his very life [api prāṅasamānānām satyam pumsām agocarah [Padma 5.74.13]. And if he tells them to him, he will be restless to see them. It is not possible even for Brahma to see them. “So give up your keenness to know these things,” Krishna tells Arjuna.

These words pain Arjuna and he falls at Krishna’s feet. Krishna smiles and lifts him up lovingly with both hands. “What is the point in my telling you of those things that you shall see directly?” Krishna asks him with great love. He then instructs Partha to worship with great devotion Goddess Tripurasundari, from whom the entire universe has sprung, in whom the universe remains and unto whom it will merge back. He should surrender to her and make his request to her. Krishna tells Arjuna he cannot give him those experiences except through her.

Arjuna then goes to Mother Tripurasundari. The tantric Goddess is seated on her divine seat in a grove where trees bearing the most wonderful fruits and flowers abound. He hears birds constantly singing the sweetest songs in weather that is always wonderful. The incredibly beautiful Goddess is in her eternal early youth and is surrounded by other Goddesses such as Anima and Mahima. Arjuna pays obeisance to her and introduces himself.

The Goddess sends Arjuna along with another Goddess to her lake called Kulakunda and asks him to take a ritual bath there and come back fast.

The name Kulakunda is rich in tantric significance. Goddess Tripurasundari herself is sometimes called Kulasundari. The tantric word kaula [Kaul] comes from kula. Throughout the rest of the story, there are references to tantric yoga. The Yamuna is, for instance, explained by the Purana as the sushumna nadi [kālindīyam suṣumnākhyā paramāmrtavāhinī – Padma 5.75.11]. A bath in the kulakunda could be understood as performing powerful sadhanas in the tradition of tantric yoga.

Partha does what Tripurasundari asks. When he comes back the Goddess gives him detailed instructions about performing the bālā vidyā that gives immediate results. The vidyā involves, among other things, performing certain poojas, homas and chanting a mantra a hundred thousand times. Arjuna does all this and a pleased Mother Goddess appears before him with a smile on her face. She points out a mansion to him and asks him to enter that mansion. Arjuna prostrates before her repeatedly, his whole being filled with great ecstasy. Following her instruction and guided by a sakhi of the Goddess, Arjuna enters the mansion and finds himself in Vrindavana, the world beyond Goloka, where everything is perfect and the eternal rāsa of the gopis and Krishna goes on.

Such is the ecstasy of love that overpowers Arjuna at the sight of the supreme, secret abode of the essence of perfect love [paramam guhyam pūrṅa-prema-rasātmakam] that he falls down in a faint. The sakhi of Goddess Tripurasundari who is still with him raises him up with her hands and speaks to him. With great difficulty, Arjuna manages to regain mastery over himself.

Arjuna now finds it difficult to hold himself back – such is his eagerness to see the vision he is seeking. He asks the sakhi what more tapas he has to do now and she leads him by hand towards the south and asks him to enter the large body of water they find before themselves, it is very auspicious to bathe there. This is the Southern Lake. After bathing there, the sakhi tells him, he should go to the Eastern Lake, where his desire will be fulfilled.

The sakhi of the goddess disappears while Arjuna takes a dip in the Southern Lake. When he comes out of the water, he is no more Arjuna, but very young woman of indescribable beauty. Her slender limbs shine as though they are made of rays of pure gold, her face is like the winter moon, her curly hair is golden and her eyes dark. Each part of hers is breathtaking in its beauty, the perfection of every one of which the purana describes here at length. She is sarva-lakṣaṅa-sampannā and sarva-alankara-bhūṣitā [endowed with every auspicious sign and wearing all ornaments and articles of makeup]. When Arjuna emerges from the lake and looks at himself, it is this amazing young woman he sees. And he has no memories of the past – they have all been wiped clean from his mind.

As the young woman stands there not knowing what to do, a voice speaking softly from the skies asks her to proceed to the Eastern Lake along the path she sees before her and assures her there she will meet her sakhis and her desire will be fulfilled. This is the Eastern Lake Goddess Tripurasundari;s sakhi had spoken of earlier.

As the young woman who was until recently Arjuna stands on the bank of the Eastern Lake, she hears the sound of anklets approaching her.

Before proceeding further with the narration, I want to observe that the poetry here is superb and the inspired poet climbs to great heights of creativity in giving words to his imagination. The sounds we hear as he narrates the story send raptures through us, so amazing are they. Here are two lines describing the sound of the anklets Arjuna, transformed into a young woman, hears, which I will make no attempt to render into English, for that would be impossible.

tatrāntare kvaṇat-kānci-manju-manjīra-ranjitam
kiṇkiṇīnām jhaṇatkāram śuśrāvotkarṇasampute


The beauty of language here reminds us of Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda.

Arjuna now finds himself in a world bathed in boundless beauty.

Also, it is possible that along with becoming a woman, in his new advanced spiritual state, Arjuna’s sensitivity too has become intensified a hundred times and the smallest thing for him now is endowed with indescribable beauty.

This is a common occurrence in the course of spiritual journey. Spirituality awakens the senses and the mind and we see even ordinary things endowed with incredible beauty. It is as though our doors of perception, to use Huxley’s term, have for the first time been opened. A small touch sends ecstasies through us, a small sound makes raptures course within us. In Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, the boy Siddhartha passes through an experience of awakening and this is how Hesse describes the world he sees around him:

“He looked around, as if he was seeing the world for the first time. Beautiful was the world, colourful was the world, strange and mysterious was the world! Here was blue, here was yellow, here was green, the sky and the river flowed, the forest and the mountains were rigid, all of it was beautiful, all of it was mysterious and magical, and in its midst was he, Siddhartha, the awakening one, on the path to himself. All of this, all this yellow and blue, river and forest, entered Siddhartha for the first time through the eyes.”

He is looking at the same river and the same forest, the same river and the same mountains that he has seen so many times in the past, but they are no more the same because his doors of perception are clean and fresh now.

Tibetans call this drala, the great beauty of ordinary things. The most ordinary things are endowed with incredible beauty; all we need are eyes to see. When the mind is awakened, when the senses are cleansed, then we see breathtaking beauty in a pebble, in a broken twig, in a drop of water, in everything.

Arjuna is now passing through the stages that great meditators pass through. Meditation fills you with overflowing love, along with awakening sensitivity. As a great master puts it, “If you meditate, sooner or later you will come upon love. If you meditate deeply, sooner or later you will start feeling a tremendous love arising in you that you have never known before – a new quality to your being, a new door opening.” [Osho: The Psychology of the Esoteric]

What the young woman hears is the sound of a bunch of beautiful women approaching and there is only one word to describe them – āścarya, wonderful, amazing. Their youth is āścarya, their makeup and ornaments are āścarya, their shapes are āścarya a, their speech is āścarya... I counted: the poet uses the word āścarya ten times here within a short space, and when he needs a change, he uses adbhuta and citra, which too mean more or less the same.

The awakening of wonder has taken place in Arjuna.

The woman Arjuna has been transformed into is standing coyly, her head bent, scratching the earth at her feet with her toes. The girls approach her, amazed at the sight of her there, and one of them, Priyamudā, asks her who she is and where she has come from.

When Arjunī – the female Arjuna – speaks, her voice is intoxicating. She tells the young women she has no idea who she is, whose daughter she is, whose wife she is, why she has come there – no idea of anything. All she remembers is coming for a bath in the lake to the south of this place and standing there having bathed. And then of an amazing voice from the skies speaking to her and guiding her to this place. “I was told not to worry, my sakhis would be here and they would fulfil my desire. I know nothing more than this,” she tells them.

When Arjuni asks Priyamudā who they are, she introduces them as gopis and the beloveds of Krishna. They are the Śrutis, the great sages and cowherd girls, all born as women, to enjoy the bliss that is Krishna. They have interesting names: Rasālayā, Rasavallarī, Rasavāpikā, Anangasenā, Anangamālinī, Anangakusumā, Madayantī, Lalitā, Lalitayauvanā, Madanamanjarī, Ratikalā, Ratilolā, Ratotsukā, Ratisarvasvā, Kāmakalā, Kāmadāyinī, to mention just a few – names that remind us of the names in works like the Kathasaritsagara. Priyamudā tells Arjunī they will be all friends now and sport together. They give her a ritual bath in the Eastern Lake and initiating her into more rituals and meditations, give her a mantra of Radha along with the bijamantras of Varuna and Vahni and their vidhis [ways of practicing these].

Arjuni performs the rituals and meditations and Goddess Radha appears before him in all her brilliant glory making the whole universe shine with her effulgence. The goddess tells her:

matsakhīnām vacah satyam tena tvam me priyā sakhī
samuttiṣtha samāgaccha kāmam te sādhayāmyaham


The words of my sakhis are true,
You are now a sakhi dear to me.
Get up, come near,
I shall fulfil the desire in your heart.

Goosebumps appear all over Arjunī’s body at these words of Radha. Her entire body grows tender and tears of bliss start coursing down from her eyes. Intoxicated by love, shaken by it, she falls at the feet of the Goddess. Ordered by Radha, Goddess Priyamvadā, one of Radha’s sakhis, herself flushed by the order of the Goddess, picks up Arjunī and leads her by hand to the Goddess.

Arjunī is given another ritual bath in the Northern Lake and Goddess Radha now gives her a Krishna mantra with the vidhis and meditations. Radha also asks Priyamvadā and her friends to look after Arjunī until her rituals and meditations are over. Giving these instructions, Radha goes back to Krishna.

Arjunī now worships Krishna following the detailed instructions given to her, at the end of which Krishna is pleased and asks Radha to quickly bring Arjunī to him. Radha sends one of her sakhis, Śāradā, to fetch Arjunī to Krishna. Arjunī comes before Krishna and such is her ecstasy, perspiration breaks out all over her body, and she is overpowered by powerful waves of bliss.

In the yogic parlance, this breaking out of perspiration and being overpowered by bliss are occurrences immediately preceding the highest spiritual experience.

Arjunī looks around the amazing world she sees herself in now. There are kamadhenus wandering about everywhere, all trees are full of flowers, there is a beautiful breeze blowing all the time, the bumble bees are intoxicated with honey, birds sing on shrubs and trees and everything is perfect beyond the wildest imagination. Under a kalpataru standing in all its glory is the jewelled throne of Krishna.

She looks at Krishna and sees the very embodiment of beauty, love and bliss, his intoxicating smile inflaming hearts, his dark body glowing, a peacock feather in his hair. He is wearing a floral garland around which humming bees hover, the Kaustubha and the Śrīvatsa add to his boundless glory. He wins easily over a hundred million Kamadeva’s in beauty and is surrounded by every object that adds to the headiness of the rāsa. A smiling Radha is on his left, worshipping him.

As the beautiful Arjunī looks at Krishna, she is overcome with powerful longing for him. Krishna, the glorious lord, the great master of yoga, the mahāyogeśwara who indwells every heart and knows everything, the lord of Vaikunṭha, the world where nothing but bliss exists, takes Arjunī by her hand and leads her to the solitude of the forest of revelry. There Arjunī discovers the joy that passeth all understanding, the bliss that is easily available to every gopi of Vrindavan but evades great ascetics, the bliss seeking which they long for birth as cowherd girls, the ecstasy thirsting for which the shrutis themselves take birth on the banks of the Yamuna as daughters of cowherds – the joy of union with Krishna, the self of the universe, whose nature is sat-chid-ananda, existence-consciousness-bliss.

Arjunī understands through her personal experience the bliss that Krishna is, a knowledge that is denied, according to the Padma Purana, to the great Gods themselves.

A smile lingers on Arjunī ’s face as she comes back from the pleasure forest with Krishna’s arm on her shoulder. She is exhausted by the experience. Preparatory to the experience, she had done powerful mystical sadhanas after taking baths in the Southern, Eastern and Northern Lakes. Krishna now calls Sharada and asks the Goddess to take Arjunī for a bath in the Western Lake. Arjuni takes a dip in the mystic waters and emerges from it as Arjuna.

0o0

This is clearly no ordinary story of gender transformation, but a mystic tale, told in the highest mystic language. Arjuna’s desire to know the bliss that the cowherd girls experience is the longing of a man who has come to the doors of the highest experience but has been denied entrance into its sacred portals. Arjuna, lifelong friend of Krishna, for whom Krishna says he would tear out his flesh and give it if necessary, is yet not one with Krishna. Nara, born of the blood from Narayana’s right arm, is yet different from Narayana and not one with him. Whereas the gopis of Vrindavan have lost themselves in Krishna, are one with him, do not exist as different from him. They have become Krishna’s atma, Krishna has become their atma.

The Upanishads repeatedly tell us there is only one thing that separates us from God, from the bliss that God is, from the boundless ecstasy that we are – our mind, our ego, our will, all of which are, in the final analysis, the same. So long as we have an ego, we have a will as different from the universal will. So long as we have a will, we have an ego that separates us from the universal being. And so long as we have a will and an ego, we have a mind too, and conversely, so long as we have a mind, we have an ego and a will. When we achieve the state Zen calls the no-mind, then there is no ego and no will. Then the universal self becomes our self and the universal will becomes our will. This is the state of self-transcendence, the goal of all spirituality.

And the easiest way to achieve it is through bhakti, devotion, which Narada discusses as parama-prema-rūpā – of the nature of supreme love – in his Bhakti Sutras and Shandilya explains as parānuraktir-īshware in his Bhakti Sutras.

Arjuna’s ego stands in the way of attaining that bhakti. So long as the ego is there, the long as his individual will is there, so long as surrender is not total and complete, that bhakti is not possible.

And what stands blocking such surrender is Arjuna’s masculinity. The masculine cannot surrender. The masculine has a need to be in control. The masculine has the need to assert its will, its individuality, its ego. To surrender, one needs the qualities that are traditionally described as feminine in spiritual literature.

Several traditions hold that the highest spiritual experience is possible only for the female and not for the male. That is to say, so long as we have the male qualities of territoriality, aggression and power seeking, we cannot have the highest spiritual experience. For that experience to be available to us, we need to have the feminine qualities: surrender, acceptance, emptiness, receptivity.

Arjuna, the great archer, can be a friend of Krishna, but he cannot lose himself in Krishna. He will always be there as a separate individual. But the gopis can effortlessly lose themselves in Krishna, be completely empty of themselves and have the highest bliss that losing makes possible. It is for this reason that Arjuna has to transform himself into a woman to experience the true nature of Krishna, to become one with him.

There is a very significant sentence that Krishna tells Arjuna at the beginning of the story. When Arjuna seeks to know what even Brahma and Shiva have not known, Krishna says:

tat sthānam vallabhās tā me
vihāras tādrśo mama
api prāṇasamānānām
satyam pumsām agocarah

[Padma 5.70.7]

I would like to translate this statement as: “That dimension of mine, those darlings and those revelries of mine are truly beyond the perceptions of men, even if they are as dear to me as my life’s breath.”

Pumsām agocarah – men cannot see it. Men just cannot see those, even if those men are as dear to Krishna as his life.

To be able to see them, you have to become a woman. To become a woman, in the spiritual sense, is to be receptive, to be empty, to be open, not to resist, not to have an individual will and, instead, surrender to the universal will, float with it. All the sadhanas Arjuna does, beginning with the first ones under the guidance of Goddess Tripurasundari, are for his transformation into the receptive, the empty, the open being – transformation from the male into the female, gender transformation in the truest sense, in the deepest sense, in the spiritual sense. Once we achieve that receptivity, that emptiness, that openness of being, there is nothing standing between that experience and us. Then that is the only experience possible. Then we are that experience.

Arjuna has never had the kind of bhakti the gopis had for Krishna. What we see through this story is Arjuna’s journey into the world of such bhakti. Into Vrindavana, which is the land of such bhakti. Into Vrindavana, where only one male exists during the rāsalīlā – Krishna – and all others are female – the gopis. Into Vrindavana where, as the Padma Purana says at the beginning of this story, the rāsalīlā goes on eternally.

0o0

Spiritual bliss is frequently expressed in terms of erotic love, in the language of sexual union. Tantra does it all the time, as does Taoism which speaks of the union of the yin and the yang. Bhakti does it frequently, as in the case of Jayadeva and innumerable other Indian poets. The Sufis do that all the time. Christian mystics have done it. And so have mystics from numerous other traditions. And that is precisely what the Padma Purana is doing here. To read the story as anything else would be a great error and the sign of the sickness much of humanity is suffering from today.

Which does not mean mystic stories should not be told. They should be told, and sometimes the only language open to mystics to tell those stories is the language of erotic love. After all, they are trying to communicate the incommunicable, about which the Upanishads say ‘yato vāco nivartante, aprāpya manasā saha’ – that from which words return, unattained, along with the mind. Even the erotic language fails, but it can at times give us a glimpse of the beyond. It is what Indian culture calls the śākhācandra nyāya – like pointing out the moon as what we see beyond the branch of a tree. It has nothing to do with the tree or its branch, but it helps.


The sakhi sampradaya that existed in India for a long time was an attempt to put what thid story says into practice at a large scale. Sri Ramakrishna, the greatest mystic the world has seen in recent times, practiced it for a while and had powerful experiences from the practice.

0o0

Immediately following the tale of Arjuna, the Padma Purana tells another tale of gender transformation leading to the highest spiritual experience, using Narada as the central character. In this story, Muni Narada has a desire to understand the mystery of Vrindavana, the eternal abode of Krishna that cannot be seen by the fleshy eyes, which is beyond the understanding of even the great Gods. He approaches his father Brahma and expresses his desire and Brahma takes him to Vishnu. Vishnu asks Brahma to take Muni Narada to Lake Amrita for a bath in its waters. When Narada comes out of the water, he finds he is an amazingly beautiful young woman, the very embodiment of every female perfection [sarvalakṣaṇa-sampannā].

Looking up, he finds other equally beautiful women in front of him. When they see her, they approach her and ask her who she is and where she has come from. The young woman expresses her ignorance of it all – she has no idea. It all appears like a dream to her. The leader of the group of damsels then introduces the place to her as Vrindavana, the place dear to Krishna. She introduces herself as Goddess Lalita, who is beyond the turīya state [turīyātītā] and is without parts [niṣkalā].

Turīya is the state behind and beyond all other states of consciousness.

Lalita asks the young woman to follow her, along with the other women. Lalita now gives her the fourteen-syllable mantra of Krishna, a mantra that qualifies her entry into Krishna’s presence.

The woman Narada has become is now taken to the presence of Krishna, who is described here as pure existence-conscience-bliss [kevalam saccidānandah]. Narada’s desire is fulfilled now – the woman experiences union with pure existence-conscience-bliss. Later, after she has spent a whole year in Vrindavana, the land that is beyond ordinary perception, Krishna asks Radha to take her to Lake Amrita again for a bath. After a bath there, Narada regains his original gender.

Once again what we find in the story is the need to be spiritually female in order to experience the highest. Narada with all his love and devotion is not able to experience the highest truth, sat-chid-ananda, which is his own true nature, until he is transformed into a woman.

In Krishna’s world, there are no men. In the language of devotional mysticism, men stand for beings with ego and will, and women stand for surrender and openness. It is in that surrender and openness that the highest flowers.

We have to be empty of ourselves for the highest to take over us. The feminine represents that emptiness. When we achieve it, our true self takes over us.

Krishna is described by the Padma Purana as our true self and our eternal beloved.

0o0

Note: All translations from Sanskrit are by the author.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Uttara Ramayana: How Jaimini Tells It – Part 2

[An analysis of how Jaiminiya Ashwamedha Parva differs from Valmiki Ramayana in telling the Uttara Katha of Rama. Continued from part 1.]

As we proceed further, the changes Jaimini introduces become more fascinating.

When Valmiki sees Sita who is wailing aloud in the hair-raisingly terrible jungle filled with fearsome animals, Jaimini tells us, he approaches her and asks her who she is, whose daughter and whose wife she is and why she has come to the uninhabited jungle. She introduces herself as Janaka’s daughter, Dasharatha’s daughter-in-law and Rama’s wife. She also tells him she has been abandoned by Rama for reasons she does not know. Valmiki consoles her telling her not to worry and introduces himself. He then takes her with him to his ashram and Sita goes with him quietly.

Valmiki

In Valmiki Ramayana these scenes are different. While Jaimini’s Valmiki has to ask her who she is, in the Ramayana, Valmiki knows everything about her without asking. In fact, he consoles her by addressing her as Janaka’s daughter, Dasharatha’s daughter-in-law, and Rama’s wife and tells her not to worry, the ashram is like a home to her. He tells her he knows everything about her with the power of his asceticism, knows why she has been abandoned, and knows she is pure.

Later, Valmiki Ramayana tells us in what is perhaps a later interpolation that Sita gives birth to the twins the same night as Shatrughna reaches the Ashram on his way to slay Lavanasura. Hearing of the birth of Sita’s children, Shatrughna goes and meets Sita and speaks of the grace of God. Next morning he leaves the ashram. It is twelve years later that Shatrughna comes back to Ayodhya and this time again he pays a visit to the Ashram and listens to the Ramayana composed by Valmiki. We are not told who sings it, but we are told that both the text and the narration is so realistic and powerful that Shatrughna faints while listening to it because of the emotions it awakens in him. The soldiers with Shatrughna pass through the same emotions.

One surprising thing here is that Shatrughna does not enquire about Sita or her children – there is no mention of them. It is this that first makes us wonder if the chapter in which we are told that Sita gave birth to the twins on the night Shatrughna reaches Valmiki Ashram is not a later interpolation. Otherwise it is impossible that Shatrughna does not ask any question about Sita and her children. Also, there is another thing suggests this chapter might be an interpolation. In the chapter describing the birth of the twins and Shatrughna visiting Sita and them, we are told this happened around midnight – other ashramites come and tell Valmiki about the birth at midnight. But the next chapter begins by saying that as night appeared, Shatrughna asked Chyavana about Lavana. The narration here is chronological and it is impossible that after the midnight events of such importance are mentioned, you suddenly start talking about be beginning of the night and a conversation like this. It is also indicated that the conversation with Chyavana went on the whole morning. Shatrughna does not say a word to Rama when he meets him in Ayodhya about meeting Sita in the ashram, either on his way to Lavana or on his way back.

Soon Rama performs the ashwamedha in Naimisharanya. It is done so that Rama is freed from the sin of brahmahatya, which he had accrued by slaying Ravana, a brahmana. And it is from here that we find some of the most amazing changes Jaimini introduces in telling the Uttara Rama Katha. He adds some dramatically powerful scenes to the story and drops other equally, if not more, powerful scenes.

The Ashwamedha begins in Naimisharanya on the banks of the Gomati, with a golden statue of Sita taking the place of Sita. While the Ashwamedha is in progress, Valmiki arrives there accompanied by his disciples Kusha and Lava. Valmiki orders Kusha and Lava to go around the whole place, singing the Ramayana – at the hermitages of the rishis, the dwellings of the brahmanas, royal palaces, highways and byways, everywhere. If Rama asks them to sing the Ramayana in front of him, Valmiki tells his disciples, they must do so to the best of their ability. “If Rama asks you whose sons you are, tell him you are disciples of Valmiki,” the sage instructs them.

As expected, Rama hears their singing and is fascinated. He invites them into the assembly and asks them to sing it there. At the end of the day, by which time they have chanted twenty cantos, they are offered a reward and but they refuse it, as Valmiki had instructed them, saying that they do not need money since they live in the forest. To Rama’s enquiry about the author of the poem, they say it is composed by Valmiki and consists of twenty-four thousand verses. It is arranged that on subsequent days the singing of Ramayana will continue in between the Ashwamedha.

It is through the song [Ramayana] that they sing, that Rama learns Kusha and Lava are Sita’s sons. He sends messengers to Valmiki, telling him that if Sita is pure and if there is no sin in her, with the sage’s permission she should take an oath to that effect in the assembly the next morning. The messengers go to the sage and give Rama’s message to him and he tells them to inform the king that Sita will do as desired by Rama because to a woman, her husband is her God. A pleased Rama sends out messages to the sages, brahmanas, kings and all others to be present in the assembly in Naimisharanya the next morning.

The next morning Rama himself goes and invites the great sages present in Naimisharanya and everyone else available to the assembly to witness Sita taking the oath of purity.

What follows is one of the most powerful scenes in world literature, modern and ancient. Maybe there are other scenes equal to it in power and emotional intensity, but none surpasses it. And one of the most amazing things about it is that, it is achieved with a minimum use of words and devoting very little space

While the assembly and invited guests are waiting, Valmiki walks in, followed by Sita quietly walking behind him. Her eyes are overflowing with tears, her palms are joined as in prayer, and her heart is on Rama. The Ramayana sees it as the beautiful picture of Shruti following Brahma. Great sorrow rises up in the assembly at her sight and people give expression that their grief.

Addressing Rama, the great sage says, “Oh son of Dasharatha, here is Sita, pious and practicing religious vows. Because of censure, you had abandoned her near my ashram. To you who fear the censure of the world, she will give proof [of her purity]; permit her to do so. These two are Sita’s children, born twins. These are your children – I vouch for the truth of it.”

“I am the tenth son of Pracheta, of scion of the Raghus. I do not remember ever speaking a word of untruth and I tell you, these are your children. I have done ages of tapas, and if Sita is evil, let me know attain the results of that tapas. I have not once in my entire life committed a sin in thoughts, words or actions. And let good results of that not come to me only if Sita is sinless. Every element that forms Sita is pure and so is her mind. I meditated upon this and saw the truth of it before I accepted her on the banks of the river in the forest. She is pure in conduct; she is sinless; to her, her husband is God. And now she shall give the proof of it to you who fear the censure of the world.”

A sage does not take oaths lightly. The greatest sage of the age vouches for Sita’s purity in the name of everything sacred to him. He speaks words I am sure he has never uttered in the past, but for her sake he speaks them.

Rama assures the sage he knows Sita is pure – she has proved it before the gods themselves. And he knows the twins are his sons. But, says he, the censure of the world is powerful and for that reason he will accept her when she proves it again there, in the assembly. And he asks the sage’s forgiveness for saying this.

The Ramayana says all the gods in heaven appeared there to witness Sita taking the oath of purity.

All this while, Sita has been standing behind Rama silently, her hands folded, her face cast down. As a sacred breeze starts blowing through the assembly, Sita, dressed in ochre, steps forward. She does not look at Rama once, though she hasn’t seen him after that evening in Ashoka Vatika years ago. She does not look at the men in the assembly. She does not look at Valmiki. Her eyes remain on the ground at her feet.

And then her soft spoken words ring out in the silent assembly. “If I have not once thought of a man other than Rama in my mind, then, Mother Earth, open up for me. If I have always worshipped Rama by thoughts, words and actions, then, Mother Earth, open up for me. I know no man other than Rama – if these my words are true, Mother Earth, open up for me.”

There is no begging for acceptance here. There is no hesitation. There are no more any longings in her heart. She wants to rest now – rest in the lap of Mother Earth.

Her words stun the assembly. They stun the sages and brahmanas. They stun the ministers and common men. They stun Rama.

With unbelieving eyes they see the earth splits open before them. From the opening rises up a divine throne adorned with divine ornaments, borne on the head of powerful serpents. On the throne is seated Goddess Earth. The Goddess stretches out her arms and speaks words of welcome to her daughter. She seats Sita beside her and the throne descends into the earth.

The heavens and the gods shower flowers upon Sita. The sky and the earth are filled with the sounds of approval. And in the middle of all that, while a stunned audience watches, Sita disappears into the earth.

She gives proof of her purity in a way no one will ever again question.

Rama will no more have to worry about the censure of the world because of her.

Jaimini

That is how Sita’s story ends in Valmiki Ramayana.

In Jaimini’s story, there is no mention of Shatrughna reaching Valmiki Ashram on the night Kusha and Lava are born. The children are of course taught the Ramayana by Valmiki, but it is as warriors that they grow up in the ashram and it is as warriors that we see them in the story. Valmiki gives them two bows and his friend Rishi Raibhya gives them two quivers that never go empty. Other sages give them all kinds of weapons empowered by mantras.

In Valmiki Ramayana we do not hear about the wanderings of the sacrificial horse. But in Jaimini, this is described in great detail. The most significant part of the ashwamedha story begins when the sacrificial horse, guarded by an army headed by Shatrughna, reaches Valmiki Ashram.

The sage is away at Patala, invited there by Varuna for a sacrifice. It is Lava who sees the sacrificial horse and captures it. He is challenged by the note tied to its forehead, which says, among other things, that Rama is the only true hero in the world and his mother Kausalya, the sole mother of a true hero. This infuriates Lava who asks: “Is our mother barren then? Hasn’t she given birth to an unsurpassed hero?”

It is refreshing to note here that Jaimini uses highly colloquial language much of the time in his telling. Lava’s speech here is charmingly colloquial.

A fierce battle follows, in which Lava proves himself an amazingly skilled warrior who is no less than Shatrughna in the battlefield. Eventually Shatrughna uses a sacred, infallible arrow. Though Lava breaks the arrow in two, he is wounded by one half of the arrow and faints. Shatrughna had been feeling great compassion for Lava throughout for two reason – for one thing, he is no more than a child, and another, he resembles child Rama in every way. He gathers the wounded, fainted Lava in his arms and carries him to his chariot.

Sita hears from ashram children that Lava has been wounded in the battlefield by some great warrior and wails at the news. It is then that Kusha who was away in the forest returns. She sends him to the battlefield. in the battle that follows, Kusha kills Shatrughna’s commander-in-chief and his bother. Shatrughna faints at the fierceness of Kusha’s attack. The rest of the soldiers run away to Ayodhya to give Rama the news.

By the time Lakshmana, sent by Rama, reaches the battlefield with a fierce army, Lava regains consciousness and joins the battle. Together, the two boys rout Lakshmana’s army. Kusha kills Lakshmana’s commander-in-chief Kalajit and renders Lakshmana unconscious, in battles described in at length by Jaimini in passages that remind us of the Mahabharata battle scenes.

Rama cannot go to the battlefield, since he has taken diksha for the sacrifice. Bharata now volunteers to go. But before he does so, he has a few interesting words to say to Rama.

He tells Rama not to grieve about Lakshmana – what has happened to him is exactly what he wanted to happen. He had no desire to live ever since he took Sita and left her in the jungle. In fact, he did not want to come back to Ayodhya after that but did so only to give Rama the news. But in spite of all that, Rama showed no kindness either to Sita or to Lakshmana. He has ever since been courting death. Lakshmana has voluntarily chosen death along with his brother Shatrughna. Lakshmana has finally freed himself from sin and now it is his turn to do so – he too is a sinner. In fact, he says, he had thought of killing himself when Rama abandoned Sita, but he did not want to do it in Ayodhya. Today his desire to end his life will be fulfilled and Rama should permit him by letting him go to the battle.

The strong guilt the brothers feel about Rama’s abandoning Sita is an additional feature of Jaimini Bharata. They see Rama’s action totally unwarranted and unjustified and their guilt about it is so strong, all three of them want to kill themselves. Though Jaimini does not expressly say it, they feel they too are responsible since they did not stop Rama from doing it.

In the battle with Kusha that follows, Angada, Nala, Jambavan, and Bharata fall into deathlike unconsciousness, seeing which Hanuman attacks Kusha and he too is becomes unconscious in Kusha’s counter attack. When Rama in Ayodhya is informed of this, he too reaches the battlefield, accompanied by Sugriva. Initially Rama refuses to fight with Kusha and Lava, seeing they are mere children, but they force him and Sugriva and a fierce battle ensues between the two sides in which the children become victorious and Rama and Sugriva become unconscious, wounded by their arrows.

Kusha and Lava have an idea now. They will tie up Hanuman and Jambavan and present them to Sita, who, they believe, will be entertained by them. Hanuman and Jambavan come out of their swoon by then, but they pretend to be still unconscious. When Sita seem them, she asks her sons to take them back into the battlefield and release them, fearing their death if they saw her.

Having described the valour of Lava and Kusha and the battle scenes in great detail, Jaimini now, with almost shocking abruptness, ends Rama’s Uttara Katha, which he calls Kusha-Lava-Upakhyana.

As Sita and her sons are talking, Valmiki reaches back from Patala. The children tell their guru all that has happened. He straight away goes to the battlefield, sprinkles empowered water on all and brings back all from death and unconsciousness. “These are your children,” he tells Rama. “Please accept them. And if you consider Sita innocent, please take her too with you.”

An amazed Rama gets up and goes back to Ayodhya to continue his sacrifice. While the sacrifice is in progress, Valmiki reaches there with Sita and her sons. Rama completes the sacrifice with them beside him and they all live ‘happily ever after’, their lives filled with love.

As an afterword to his story, Jaimini adds that Valmiki did not describe the tale of the battle between the father and his sons because he did not want the world to drown in an ocean of sorrow.

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Jaimini’s telling of the Kusha-Lava-Upakhyana caught the imagination of India. Ever since he told it, it became an integral part of the Uttara Ramayana story. I remember watching scenes of the battles of Kusha and Lava with their uncles and with Hanuman. I watched them holding my breath as a child in second and third rate reproductions of them in movies. Five decades later, I can still recall the scenes with vivid intensity, in spite of the movies being of very poor quality; such is the power of Jaimini’s narration.

It is interesting to consider why Jaimini gives so much importance to these battle scenes which do not exist in Valmiki Ramayana.

Perhaps Jaimini was writing for a different audience than Valmiki [and Vyasa] did. There are several strong indications that Jaimini’s is a much later composition than the Adi Kavi’s and Vyasa’s. For instance, in both Valmiki and Vyasa, all messages are sent verbally, suggesting the absence of writing at the time of the composition of their works. Whereas in Jaimini we clearly see that writing exists. The ashwamedha horse carries a written message, probably on a plaque, on its forehead, which people read. In the story of Chadrahasa, the girl Vishaya changes the word visha [poison] in a written message to vishaya [her name]. [A very interesting episode! Chandrahasa who was supposed to be given visha on arrival is given Vishaya instead.] The social milieu and the customs described are very different too. Perhaps Jaimini’s audience relished the details of the ashwamedha – both in the case of Rama Ashwamedha and Yudhishthira Ashwamedha – more than the audience of Valmiki and Vyasa did. Perhaps he was writing in, and for, a medieval India that was torn by constant wars.

Also, perhaps poetic and literary conventions had undergone great changes and people expected happy endings to stories. In the case of Jaimini, he very obviously had in mind a happy ending for the Ramayana, even if it forces him to drop one of the most powerful scenes in the Ramayana and in world literature. He therefore drops the dramatically awesome scene of Sita’s rejection of Rama and entering the earth. Instead, he makes Sita tamely go with Valmiki to Rama and live with him ‘happily ever after’.

I do not see the Uttara Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana as a later composition than Jaiminiya Ashwamedha Parva. To me, it has to be that Jaimini chose to omit Sita’s entering the earth, a story he was familiar with.

But it must be said that while Jaimini’s ending of the story comes as a big disappointment, his war scenes in the Kusha-Lava-Upakhyana are thrilling. He transforms two young boys who are really just talented singers in the Valmiki Ramayana into awesome warriors who defeat between themselves such a mighty line of warriors as Shatrughna, Lakshmana, Bharata and Rama, apart from Hanuman, Jambavan, Sugriva, Angada, Nala and numerous others, each a legend in his own right as a warrior.

While in the earlier part of his telling of the Uttara Rama Katha, Jaimini focus on pathos and succeeds in moving us to great depths of karuna, in the later part of the story what he wants is to thrill us with veera rasa – with the valour of his heroes – and he succeeds admirably in it too.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Osho on Krishna and Egoism

Here is something beautiful from Osho on Krishna’s words in the Gita about his being the best in everything.

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QUESTIONER: KRISHNA, IN CHAPTER TEN OF THE GEETA DESCRIBES HIMSELF TO BE THE GANGES AMONG THE RIVERS, THE SPRING AMONG THE SEASONS, THE LION AMONG THE BEASTS, THE GARUDA OR EAGLE AMONG THE BIRDS, THE AIRAVAT AMONG THE ELEPHANTS, THE KAMDHENU AMONG THE COWS, VASUKI AMONG THE SNAKES, AND SO ON. DOES IT MEAN THAT HE IS TRYING TO DECLARE HIMSELF TO BE THE BEST AND THE GREATEST IN ALL CREATION? DOES IT ALSO MEAN THAT HE REFUSES TO REPRESENT ALL THAT IS LOWLY AND BASE? WHY DOES HE EXCLUDE THE MEANEST OF US ALL? AND WHERE DOES THE MEANEST BELONG?

It is a significant question. And there are two beautiful aspects to it.

Firstly, Krishna declares himself to be the best among all things – of all the seasons he is the spring, of all the cows he is the Kamdhenu, of all the elephants he is the Airavat. And secondly – and this is more significant – he finds his peers even among the lowliest of creatures like cows and horses.

Both things should be taken together. While he declares himself to be the best among different classes of creatures, he does not distinguish between one class and another. Even when he claims to be the Airavat among elephants, he remains nonetheless an elephant. Even when he claims to be the best among the cows he remains a cow. Similarly he is quite at home among snakes and reptiles. He does not exclude the meanest categories as you think. He chooses to be the best even among the meanest creatures of this universe. And there is a reason. But why does he declare himself to be the best and the greatest among us all?

On the surface it seems to us to be an egoistic declaration, because we are so much involved with our egos that everything we see appears egoistic. But if we go deep into it we will know what a great message is enshrined in Krishna’s declaration. When he says that he is the Airavat among the elephants, he means to say every elephant is destined to be an Airavat, and if one fails to be Airavat he fails to actualize his best and highest potential. Similarly every season has the potential to grow into a spring, and if one fails to attain to the highest in its nature, it fails its nature. And if a cow fails to be the kamdhenu, it means she has gone astray from her nature. In all these declarations, Krishna says only one thing: that he is the culmination, the perfection of nature in everything. Whoever and whatever attains to the sublime reflects godliness. This is the central message of this declaration.

Please understand its deeper significance.

It is not that an elephant who does not become the Airavat is not a Krishna, he too is a Krishna, but a backward Krishna; he has failed to be the Airavat which is his potential. Krishna says he reflects the innate potentiality of each being come to its completion, that each being can grow into Krishnahood, god-hood. Krishna symbolizes the actualized form at its best, the highest of each one’s possibility.

Every being, everything is capable of attaining to Krishna-hood. And if one fails to realize himself fully, it simply means that he has betrayed his innate nature, he has deviated from it. There is not even a trace of egoism in Krishna’s declaration. This is his way of saying that one cannot attain to godliness unless he becomes like the lion among animals, like the spring among the seasons, like the Ganges among the rivers. One comes to God only when one attains to one’s own fullest flowering, not otherwise.

By way of these illustrations Krishna persuades Arjuna that if he flowers to the maximum as a warrior which is his innate nature – he will become a Krishna in his own right. Had Krishna been born two thousand years later he would have said, “I am Arjuna among the warriors.”

When Krishna declares his being, he is not claiming greatness. To claim greatness he need not compare himself with beasts and birds, snakes and reptiles. Claims to greatness can be made directly, but Krishna really does not claim any greatness for himself. He Is speaking about a law of growth, a universal law which is that when you draw out the best in you, when you actualize your highest potential you become God.

One of the Sanskrit names of God Is Ishwar, which is derived from aishwarya, meaning affluence.

It means when you attain to the peak of affluence as a being, you become God. But we never pay attention to this aspect of godliness, which is affluence in every respect. So to be the lion among the animals, the kamdhenu among the cows, and the spring among the seasons is to attain to godliness, to God. When there is no difference whatsoever between your potentiality and actuality, you become God. When the highest possibility of your life is actualized you attain to Godhood.

If there is a distance between your potential and actual states of being, it means you are yet on the way to your destiny. And godliness is everybody’s destiny; it is really everyone’s birthright. When that which is hidden in you becomes manifest, you are God. Right now you are part hidden and part manifest, you are on the way to flowering. You have yet to burst into a full spring, you have yet to become God. If Krishna happens to visit our garden here and says that he is the most blossomed one among all the flowers of this garden, what does he mean by it? He means to say that other flowers have the potential to achieve this flowering, and they are on the way to it.

It is right that Krishna does not relate himself with flowers yet hidden in their buds or in their seeds.

He connects himself only with those that have fully flowered. And there is a reason for it. He is speaking to Arjuna who is depressed and confused, and he is not only trying to revive him but also to inspire him to blossom fully as a warrior, to actualize his potential as a warrior. Then alone, Krishna says, can he attain to God, to the utmost peak.

Here Krishna is having to play a double role. Because Arjuna is his friend, he cannot be too hard with him. He has to speak as a friend but all the time he is aware that he has to help Arjuna come to the same flowering of being which he embodies in himself. Therefore, from time to time he gives glimpses of his own flowering, of his own fullness, so that these glimpses gently seep into Arjuna’s awareness.

Krishna will be of no use to Arjuna if he remains only his friend, but if he reveals his godliness indiscriminately, Arjuna may be so frightened that he runs away. So all the time he has to strike a balance between the two roles he is playing. While he continues to be Arjuna’s friend he also declares his godliness from time to time. Whenever he finds Arjuna is relaxed, he declares his godliness. And when Arjuna is assailed with doubt and confusion he returns to his friendly approach.

His task is very delicate, and very few Buddhas have had to deal with such a situation as Krishna faces in the war of the Mahabharata.

Buddha does not have to deal with such a delicate situation. He knows his people clearly; he knows who is who and what they want. His people have come to sit at his feet to learn truth from him, so communication with them is easy and straight. Mahavira too, has no such difficulties with his listeners. Krishna’s difficulty with Arjuna is real, he has to play a double role.

It is really difficult to teach a friend, to be his teacher. It is difficult even to be an advisor to an intimate friend. If you try he will say, “Shut up, don’t show off your wisdom.” Arjuna can say to Krishna, “Keep your sage advices to yourself, I know how much you know, since we grew up together from childhood.” Arjuna can run away in such a situation. So Krishna on the one hand placates him with phrases like “O great warrior,” and on the other he tells him ”You are an ignoramus, you don’t know the reality.”

If you bear in mind this aspect of the GEETA, you will have no difficulty understanding it.

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From: Krishna: The Man and His Philosophy, by Osho

Monday, March 7, 2011

Uttara Ramayana: How Jaimini Tells It

In an earlier article of mine available online [Retelling the Ramayana: How Padma Purana Does It], I discussed how differently the author of Padma Purana tells the story of Rama from how Valmiki does it. Reading the Jaiminiya Ashwamedha Parva recently, I was fascinated by the changes its author makes when he tells the Uttara Ramayana story.

The context is of the narration of the Ashwamedha battle between Arjuna and his son Babhruvahana. While describing the battle to Janamejaya, the author-narrator Jaimini compares it to the similar battle between Rama and his son Kusha. This prompts Janamejaya to ask for the details of the battle between Rama and Kusha and Jaimini responds by narrating the story at length, devoting twelve of the total sixty-eight chapters of the book to it.

Jaimini
After returning from his fourteen year exile, says Jaimini, Rama begins ruling Ayodhya. Years pass and yet Sita does not conceive – the duration mentioned by Jaimini is ten thousand years, whatever he means by it. Eventually she conceives and completes four months of pregnancy. It is when she is in the fifth month that Rama has a terrible dream. In his dream Rama sees that Lakshmana has abandoned Sita on the banks of the Ganga and she is weeping there like an orphaned child. Next morning he informs Vasishtha of his dream and requests the sage to fix a date for the pumsavana ritual, so that the pregnancy is completed without any trouble. Vasishtha fixes a date in the next fortnight. Accordingly Rama gives orders to Lakshmana to invite Sita’s father Janaka and sages like Vishwamitra for the ceremony. They arrive and the pumsavana is royally performed. Following the ritual, Janaka hands over his kingdom to Rama and retires to the forest for devoting his whole life for spiritual practices.

It is one night following this while Rama and Sita are in bed that Rama asks his wife about her daurhrida [dohada – the pregnant woman’s wish]. Sita tells him that by his grace she has no desires, all her desires are fulfilled, but there is one thing she is keen to do: visit the ashrams of ascetics on the banks of the Ganga.

Rama spontaneously bursts out laughing at this – a thing we cannot imagine Valmiki’s Rama doing. Laughing aloud he asks her if fourteen years of life in the jungle hasn’t satisfied her. He then promises her that she shall visit the banks of the Ganga the very next morning.

We can see clearly here that Jaimini is already taking an independent road in telling the Uttara Katha of Rama. Things are quite different in the Valmiki Ramayana. In the older telling of the story by the Adikavi, the prophetic dream Rama sees about Sita being abandoned in the forest is missing, and so is the pumsavana ritual. Naturally, Janaka does not come to Ayodhya to attend it nor does he hand over Mithila to Rama to rule over and retire to the forest for tapas. Rama asks Sita about her dohada not when they are in bed together, but in entirely different circumstances.

Valmiki
In Valmiki’s version, following his return from the exile and coronation as king, we find Rama and Sita in each other’s company in an atmosphere of love in the Ashoka Gardens on the palace grounds, a place filled with all kinds of beautiful trees. There are ponds in the garden, filled with acquatic flowers and abounding in chakravakas, swans, cranes, storks and all other kinds of birds that flock around water. Seated on a couch in the Ashoka Vanika, Rama lovingly gives Sita with his own hand a beverage called madhu-maireyaka to drink, just as Indra gives Shachi drinks. Servants bring varieties of meat and fruits. Naga women, Kinnaris and Apsaras, all pretty, all adepts at dance, all well adorned, dance around Rama, very close to him. The dancing women are inebriated and Rama enjoys their dances thoroughly. Seated with Sita, Rama looks as though Vasishtha is sitting with Arundhati.

Valmiki then tells us that Rama used to spend the first half of his days attending to his religious and royal duties and the second half, in the company of Sita like this for a long time, until winter passes. [The commentator Govindaraja explains a statement of the Advikavi here to mean that two winters thus passed after the coronation.] It is then that one day he notices signs of pregnancy on Sita. He is delighted and asks her what her dohada is – a pregnant woman’s desires should be fulfilled; what desire of hers can he fulfill? Sita smiles and tells him of her desire to visit the sacred tapovanas of the great sages on the banks of the Ganga and to sit at their feet. She wants to spend at least one night in the holy groves where these ascetics practice tapas. Rama happily promises that her desire will be fulfilled the very next day.

It is interesting to take a look at some of the changes introduced by Jaimini in his narration. Both Valmiki and Jaimini are portraying Rama’s great love and care for Sita. Valmiki speaks of their evenings together when Rama gives her drinks, meat is served and beautiful inebriated women dance around the couple. This is characteristic of Valmiki who is not shy of speaking of such things. Speaking of the scene of Ravana’s antahpura, for instance, the sage-poet unabashedly paints the picture of a post-orgasmic scene there, where few things are left to the imagination. Similarly in the Aranya Kanda he speaks of Rama giving a piece of cooked meat to Sita and asking her to try it, telling her it is good to eat, it is tasty and it is well-roasted – idam medhyam, idam swādu, nishṭaptam idam agninā. Sage Bharadwaj too offers the soldiers of Bharata passing through his ashram both meat and drinks, along with other kinds of food and drinks. However, by the time of Jaimini perhaps these things had become unacceptable in the case of holy men and women like Rama and Sita, and the poet omits these details. There is no meat eating mentioned in this context, no intoxicating drinks, and no dance. He chooses other incidents to portray their intimacy. For instance, Rama’s spontaneous laughter at Sita’s desire to visit the forest again. That is a very intimate action. Rama also has the precognitive dream of Sita being abandoned – the kind of dream a loving person deeply concerned with another is likely to have. His interpretation of it is that something evil is going to happen to her pregnancy and he does what he thinks is appropriate – conducting a Vedic ritual to safeguard the pregnancy and Sita.

Jaimini
Following the promise he makes to Sita that she shall visit the ashram the next day, later that night, Jaimini tells us, Rama receives his spies and listens to the reports of each separately. The reports are all good. When Rama presses them, though, one of them admits that he has heard something negative too. The wife of a washerman had left her husband and gone away to her father’s place where she stayed for four days. The father then realizes that it is wrong for him to keep his married daughter at home for such a long period and, accompanied by his brothers, he takes her back to her husband. The furious washerman shouts at them, “Do you think I am Rama? He can accept back Sita who stayed in the house of the Rakshasas, but I will not.”

Rama sends the spy away and starts reflecting on his words. He ponders over what he should do. How can he abandon Sita whose purity has been proved by fire? No, he cannot, just as an educated brahmana cannot give up good conduct. Or maybe he should give her up, like brahmanas in the Kali age who give up the Vedas. By the morning, he makes up his mind to abandon Sita.

Early next morning his brothers meet Rama. Rama tells him all that happened in the night and informs them of his decision to abandon Sita out of fear for the censure of the world - lokabhaya.

The brothers are shocked. It is Bharata who speaks first. He reminds Rama of Sita’s purity which she has proved by entering fire. He also reminds Rama of Dasharatha’s words on that occasion. Dasharatha had appeared in the skies and told Rama not only that Sit is pure but also that she is capable of purifying others by her presence. In fact, Dasharatha had said then, he should not have been admitted into heaven because he had died grieving for his son, but it was because of his daughter-in-law Sita’s purity that he was admitted into the heaven. Bharata reminds Rama that the gods too had vouched for Sita’s purity.

Rama admits that it is all true; Sita’s purity is beyond doubt. But what is he to do with this evil talk that is going on? How can he put an end to it? For a king, there is nothing worse than ill fame and nothing more desirable than kirti, yashas – righteous fame. One should give up those who cause ill fame – be it a son, a brother, or a wife.

Here Rama quotes a few examples from the past, of people who had made great sacrifices for the sake of righteous fame. One of them is the highly anachronistic example of Karna ‘long ago’ giving away his armour and ear rings to Indra.

tathaiva kavacam karno vāsavāya dadau purā - Jaimini 27.23

Lakshmana has difficulty in controlling his anger now. Waving his arms in fury, he tells Rama that his action is like giving up one’s own mother, like saving a cow from mlecchas and then abandoning it saying it has been touched by mlecchas and has hence become impure.

Shatrughna is equally furious at what Rama has said. He tells Rama he should carry out what he says and kill himself – that will make him immortal. And Sita is such, and her love for Rama is such, that she will bring him back from death. But, he asks Rama, how will he bring a dead Sita back to life? He implies that Rama is not capable of doing that, his love for her is not so powerful.

Rama’s only response is to say that his fear for ill-fame is such that if necessary he will give up himself and them, his brothers, what to speak of Sita.

Finding Rama bent on giving up Sita, Bharata and Shatrugha do not wish to stay with him anymore and go to their own palaces. Lakshmana however is not able to do so, seeing Rama’s grief. Rama tells him either to chop off his, Rama’s, head or to carry out his order and abandon Sita in the jungle. “I touch your feet and beg you,” Rama tells Lakshmana. “Abandon Sita on the bank of the river in the jungle. That sin will come to me.”

These words of Rama shames Lakshmana. He remembers the injunction of the scriptures that one should always obey the orders of one’s elders. He remembers how Parashurama had cut off his mother’s head obeying the orders of his father Jamadagni. He orders his driver to get his chariot ready and goes by it to Sita’s house, his head hung heavy in pain.

Here Jaimini adds something beautiful: the horse collapses on the way and has to be brutally whipped to get up and proceed.

Seeing him bowing to her in her palace, Sita is delighted. He praises Rama’s generosity: he is fulfilling what she had asked for in the night, though she had said it in a light mood. She tells Lakshmana she will take gifts for the sages and their wives. Her words torment Lakshmana, but he remembers his duty to Rama and silently responds by saying all right, his head bent, tears flowing from his eyes.

Sita takes leave of Kausalya as well as Kaikeyi and Sumitra and happily boards the chariot. With a choked voice Lakshmana orders the charioteer to drive fast.

Valmiki
In Valmiki’s Ramayana, it is not from his spies that Rama hears of the evil talk about Sita, but from his friends. As usual he was sitting with his friends in his chamber that night listening to all kinds of humorous stories told by them. After a while he asks Bhadra, a friend, to tell him what the citizens are saying about him and his family. Initially Bhadra tells him of the wonderful things they say, but when Rama insists he tells him of what they are saying about Sita – or more precisely, about his continuing to keep Sita as his wife. “What joy can Rama’s heart have from enjoying Sita who was forcibly taken into his lap by Ravana? Ravana had taken her with him to Lanka and kept her there in his Ashoka Gardens. Why does he not reject her? Now we too will have to tolerate such behaviour from our wives.” Such is the talk going on in the towns and in all the villages, Bhadra tells Rama. Rama asks his other friends if this is true, and they all admit it is so.

So in Valmiki’s version, it is not just one washerman who talks maliciously of Sita, but there is wide talk of that nature in all towns and villages. As I point out in my article on the Padma Purana version of the Ramayana, there the author goes further and gives a reason for that washerman. In his previous lifetime, he was a parrot and Sita had separated him and his wife, and caged her. The female parrot had killed herself in the cage when Sita refused to release her, and the male parrot had jumped into the Ganga and killed himself, cursing Sita that she too will later be separated from her husband. Thus to the Padma Purana it is Sita’s past karma haunting her now. We all have to pay the price of what we do, whoever we are. Karma is inviolable.

To continue the story as Valmiki tells it, after dismissing his friends, Rama sends for his brothers in the night itself. When they come, he talks to them about how nothing is more important than one’s good name and how nothing in the world is worse than ill fame. He asks Lakshmana to take Sita and leave her in the jungle beyond the Ganga near the ashrams and tells his brothers if anyone spoke against his decision, he would treat him as his enemy forever.

Valmiki’s Rama does not allow his brothers to speak a word against him. He gives them no choice. Jaimini’s Rama is equally determined about abandoning Sita, but he at least listens to his brothers’ angry talk. Jaimini’s Rama shames Lakshmana into obedience by saying that he is requesting his younger brother by touching his feet. The emotional force used by Jaimini’s Rama is different too – he asks Lakshmana to chop his head off, if he will not obey him. Valmiki’s Rama appears more hard-hearted when he says whoever speaks a word against his decision will become his enemy forever.

Valmiki’s Lakshmana goes to Sita the next morning with his chariot to take her and abandon her. But he lies to Sita – he specifically tells her he is taking her to the hermitages of the ascetics on the orders of Rama, as desired by her. She picks up gifts for the sages and happily starts her journey.

Jaimini
Let’s now go back to Jaimini.

As the chariot proceeds, Sita sees evil omens everywhere. A female jackal comes before Sita and begins howling piteously. Flocks of deer are seen running helter-skelter in large numbers. And Sita’s right eye begins to flutter continuously. Sita suspects bad things – but not for herself. She prays for the good of Rama, so that no harm comes to him.

When the chariot reaches the Ganga, the river that destroys sins is in a spate. Lakshmana gets down from the chariot and takes her across the river by a ferry. On the other side, both Sita and Lakshmana take a bath in the Ganga and then proceed on foot into deeper jungles. Jaimini paints a dark picture of the terrifying jungle here – there are sharp thorns everywhere, there are ancient trees on which are perched crows which are being eaten by snakes that hiss constantly. The place is filled with cheetahs, bison, wild boars and black scorpions with raised tails. Tigers wait still looking for opportunities to pounce upon does. Wild cats are digging mice out of their holes.

Fear makes Sita’s hairs stand on their ends. “I do not see any ashrams here, Lakshmana; nor do I see any sages or their wives,” she tells her devar. “There are no ashram children running about either. I do not see smoke rising up from agnihotras. What I see instead is smoke rising from wild fires burning forest grass and trees. Instead of the sound of Vedic mantras, I hear the wild cries of forest birds.”

Such is Sita’s innocence that she puts the blame for it all on herself. Perhaps this is her punishment for turning away from Rama by desiring to visit the ashrams. She is indeed an ugly woman who does not deserve to see the sacred ashrams. The auspicious ashram sounds and sights are not for her.

Tears streaming down from his eyes, Lakshmana tells Sita that the ashrams are still far away. He then informs her how she has been abandoned by Rama out of fear for the censure of the world – loka-apavada-bhaya.

Sita hears those words and collapses on the ground like a star falling from the skies. It was as though she has been bitten by a deadly snake. Lakshmana fans her with the end of his cloth and she comes to and sitting up, asks Lakshmana, “Once you had left me alone in Janasthana and went away. How will you again leave me in this terrible forest and go away?”

She tells Lakshmana how he is the dearest of her devars, brothers-in-law, and recalls one by one his acts of love and devotion to her. She does not blame Rama for abandoning her for no fault of hers – it must be her karma from a past life time. She asks Lakshmana to hurry back, or else Rama might get angry with him for being late. As for her, the god who protected her in the womb and protected her in Lanka will protect her in the forest too. She gives messages of love and devotion to her mothers-in-law to Lakshmana.

Sita has only one complaint against Rama – he should not have entrusted the tender hearted Lakshmana with the work of abandoning her in the jungle. He should have asked someone like the hard hearted Sugriva, slayer of his own brother, or Vibhishana who turned against his own brother, to do that job. She gives her blessings to Lakshmana and asks him to leave her and go back. Lakshmana goes round her in reverence and praying to the forest gods and goddesses to protect her, begins walking away and finds his legs are refusing to carry him away from Sita. Sita looks on at the disappearing Lakshmana and hopes perhaps he would return. When she finds that he does not, she swoons again.

The Jaiminiya Ashwamedha Parva turns eloquent here in describing the sympathy of the forest for Sita. It describes how swans give up lotus stalks and start wailing in their harsh voices. The does and their babies give up feeding on grass and raising their heads stall still watching Sita lying in a swoon. Peacocks give up their dances and run towards her. Birds stop searching for food and instead spread their wings and protect Sita lying on the forest floor. Water fowls sprinkle water on her with their wings. The chamaris fan her with their chamara-like hairy tails. The wind takes a dip in the Ganga and then gathering the flowers lying around, showers them on Sita in an act of worship.

Sita wakes up taking Rama’s name. Because of contorting in pain as she lay in swoon, her hair is open now and like the rest of her body, it is covered in dust. Her first impulse is to end her life, but that would be the great sin of bhroonahatya – killing an embryo in the womb. Not knowing what else to do, she runs first in one direction, then in another, falling every now and then in her agony and loneliness. Her feet start to bleed from running in the thorn-filled and rough forest floor and from falling down repeatedly.

It is in this state that Sage Valmiki finds her in the jungle while he is roaming there along with his disciples looking for wood appropriate for a sacrificial pillar.

Valmiki
Jaimini differs from Valmiki in where Sita is left. In Valmiki Ramayana, Rama’s instructions are to leave Sita at some lonely place near Valmiki Ashram and that is precisely what Lakshmana does. In fact it is possible that from where Sita was left the ashram was visible and Sita was visible from the ashram too. For, Lakshmana says to Sita when they reach there:

āśramānteṣu ca mayā tyaktavyā tvam bhaviṣyasi
rājnah śāsanam ājnāya tava evam kila daurhṛdam
tadetajjāhnavī tīre brahmaṛṣīṇām tapovanam
puṇyam ca ramaṇīyam ca mā viṣādam kṛthāh śubhe


“Obeying the order of the king and as per your pregnancy wish, I am to abandon you near the ashram. Here is the sacred and beautiful tapovana of the brahmarshis on the banks of the Ganga. Do not grieve.”


Jaimini changes this and there is no indication that it is near the ashram that she is left. In fact, there are all kinds of contrary indications. Sita complains that she does not see any ashrams there, nor any sages nor their wives. She speaks of seeing no ashram children running about, seeing no smoke rising up from agnihotras. All she sees is smoke rising from wild fires burning forest grass and trees. Instead of Vedic mantras, she points out, all she hears is the wild cries of forest birds.

Jaimini’s forest is also not the gentle forest near ashrams – what we find everywhere is sharp thorns, ancient trees on which are perched crows who are being hunted by hissing snakes, and the forest floor filled with cheetahs, bison, wild boars, black scorpions with raised tails, tigers waiting to pounce upon does, cats digging mice out of their holes.

In Valmiki she is so close to the ashram the young ashram children see and hear her cries and inform the sage of her. Sita here has no consolation of being anywhere near ashrams. And she runs about madly in intolerable agony, first running in one direction and then in another. It is in this state that Valmiki who is looking for wood for making a sacrificial post finds her in Jaimini.

Also, in Jaimini, it is the fear of bhroonahatya – the sin of killing the children in her womb – that prevents Sita from killing herself. In Valmiki it is the fear that with it Rama’s ancient royal line will come to an end.

Summing Up
Summing up the differences so far, Jaimini in spite of being a lover of Rama, is quite critical of his action of abandoning Sita. He makes Rama himself compare his action to that of the brahmanas of Kaliyuga giving up the Vedas – when the brahmanas who are supposed to live for protecting the Vedas give them up, it is always for unholy purposes, for selfish ends. Jaimini does not see Rama’s fear of lokapavada – the censure of the world – as anything noble. Like so many of us today, he perhaps feels Rama took the easy way out. Instead of standing by Sita and fighting for her like a hero and making the people of Ayodhya realize their error, he chose to get rid of her so that he can be in their good books. He definitely was not setting up a good example before the world, just as a brahmana who gives up the Vedas is not, whatever his reason.

Jaimini makes Sita say that the god who protected her in the womb and in Lanka will protect her in the forest too.

yo garbhe rakṣitā devo yo vai lankādhivāsinīm
mām sa vai rakṣitā cādya na duhkham kartumarhasi.


These are the words of a woman who has been given up by the very man who is supposed to protect her. In fact, it is he who has thrown her into the middle of dangers. These words remind us of Draupadi, wagered and lost by Yudhishthira and thus made a slave, turning to God in the form of Krishna for protection, when they fail her.

In one of the most eloquent expressions of kindness and compassion the world has seen, Jesus from the cross asks God to forgive his tormentors and crucifiers. Valmiki’s Sita does the same, a few thousand years before Jesus. And Sita does not ask Rama just to forgive those who have been cruel to her, but going beyond it, to actively love them.

Valmiki’s Sita thus asks Rama to love the people of Ayodhya who have sent her to the jungle; and not love them with the common love of a king for his subjects, but as Rama loves his brothers – he loves no one more than he loves his brothers, not even her. This is loving your enemies in the truest sense of the term. She asks Rama to love her tormentors, her crucifiers, with all his heart.

And when she does not kill herself by jumping into the Ganga, it is because she does not want Rama’s line to come to an end with her.

Valmiki’s Sita is almost superhuman in her compassion and kindness. But Jaimini brings her down to the earth, without reducing her in any way. She is so tormented by her fear and agony – it is not near the ashram that she has been abandoned, but in a terrifying jungle with scorpions and snakes and cheetahs and wild boars all around her – that she has no thoughts for the citizens of Ayodhya. And we can understand Sita if she refuses to kill herself out of the fear for bhroonahatya rather than out of the fear of loss that it will cause Rama. She is just being human there. Perhaps the thought that when she kills herself Rama will lose something does not occur to her at that moment.

~*~

To be continued...