The news of sage Vishvamitra’s sudden and unexpected arrival at the palace gate enthralled kind Dasaratha. Setting everything aside he sprang up from the royal chair and proceeded towards the palace gate with his ministers, priests and preceptor Vasishta. Dasaratha prostrated before Vishvamitra, received him with utmost respect and awe; washed his feet and adorned the Theertha (the sacred water after washing the feet) in his centre head. Vasishta hugged Vishvamitra with smile of friendship, love and respect. All the four ministers of the king touched the feet of Vishvamitra and saluted him. After exchanging pleasantries Vishvamitra was escorted to the palace.
Everyone at the palace was overwhelmed with joy at the arrival of the worthiest of guests.
Offering the king’s regal throne itself, Dasaratha addressed him: “Sage divine, my country, kingdom and my very life are blessed with the setting of your foot. I can never get a greater boon than serving you.”
Vishvamitra gave a smile and blessed him with his raised right hand. Dasaratha continued: “Venerable Sire, what is your errand? No hesitation. Ask me anything. Land, gold, money, cows or even the whole country…”
He was very eager to know the saint’s purpose of arrival and to serve him.
With a flash of smile and a spark in his glowing eyes Vishvamitra ran his fingers on his beard and said:
“O king Dasaratha, I use to conduct a yagna during all lunar conjuncts to please the ancestors. The Asuras would then come in groups to thwart and pollute it. They throw bones, flesh and blood in the sacrificial pyre and run away…”
As Vishvamitra gazed slightly; Dasaratha ,Vasishta and others were in rapt attention.
The sage continued: “I could have killed them. That would diminish my power of accumulated Thapa. Therefore, send Rama with me to protect the yagna.”
Although it seemed a genuine and reasonable request, it was a peremptory order. Dasaratha was shocked. Blood clotted in his spine. He began to shiver.
He replied in haste and as if in delirium: “O sage, no…no…” He cried out almost in tears.
“Rama… Sir… Rama…I can’t send. He is a mere boy. He has never engaged himself in any war so far. And should his first battle be with the dread demons who keep no etiquettes in fights? I shall come with you; I shall follow your orders and quell all the enemies single-hand. Though a bit old now, I am still fit for a battle or a war. Why, Indra had himself sought my assistance several times in fierce battles with the Asuras. And I had finished them all root and branch. May I come? May I come, Sir? Please allow me to serve you. Pray, please don’t ask for Rama…”
Thus went on his entreaties and lamentations.Taking note of Dasaratha’s withdrawal from the first promise, the sage’s face became gloomy and angry. He decided to get up and go. Rama or nobody. That was his stand. Pro qua non.
Vasishta observed the development with angst. He took Dasaratha aside and infused courage and confidence. If Vishvamitra curses, it will be a formidable disaster. The entire clan of Dasaratha will perish in the wrath of Vishvamitra. Vasishta also gave a brief discourse of Vishvamitra’s greatness to Dasaratha. No reasons to worry about sending Rama with the saint. It will only be good to Rama. Under Vishvamitra’s tutelage Rama will acquire more strength and knowledge. The great sage will take care of Rama, sure.
Counseled thus by the family preceptor, reluctantly though, Dasaratha agreed to send Rama with the sage. Rama means Lakshmana as well. With their weapons, blessings of Vasishta and parents, the boys were in great enthusiasm in the company of Vishvamitra.
The entire assembly of Dasaratha looked on the gentle movement forward and disappearance of the three.
-KK Shanmukhan ( To be concluded)