In the morning, after routine, Ram requested saint Atri to guide them to the dense forest where most of the great rishis had camped. Saint Atri blessed Ram and ordered some of his disciples to escort them. After crossing the River Gautami in a boat, the trio entered the fearful forest and the ascetics returned to the hermitage.
The forest was frightful with all species of dangerous animals, serpents and other wild creatures. With the uproar of lions, leopards, wild elephants, eagles and vultures, it echoed tremour. Inside the forest, it was very cold with thick darkness.
Sri Ram asked his brother: “Lakshmana, be alert and vigilant. Always look around. The rakshasas and demons can disguise in any form and travel freely. Hold your bow and arrow firmly and walk ahead. Sita will be just behind you and I shall walk in the rear.” As they walked a few yards ahead, they could observe a pool with blue lotuses swaying in the gentle wind. They drank the pure water from the pond and rested a while.
Suddenly they could see a terrible monster charging towards them; with thunder-like roar. It was so hefty, sky erect, very dark and fearsome. Eating raw flesh the beast approached them and roared: “Who are you? Why do you wander in this forest? I am Viradha, the demon and no creatures come along my way. Leave the girl here and you both men run away. Otherwise I am going to eat you alive.” Uttering this loud cry it approached Sita who was shivering with fear. Sri Ram severed the hands of the demon with his arrow. The demon charged against Ram with mouth wide open. Ram cut its feet also off and chopped its head. Blood rained from its torso. Sita’s fear disappeared and she embraced Ram.
From the dead body there emerged a demi-God. He worshipped Sri Ram and told him: “I am a Vidyadhara who incurred the wrath of saint Durvasa. You have relieved me of his curse. May your name and fame live long!”
Sri Ram, Sita and Lakshmana visited and paid their tributes to the saints settled around. They included saint Sarabhanga, saint Sutheekshna and saint Agasthya. Eventually they reached Panchavati, a small and beautiful hamlet vibrant with fresh air, wind and bright light, amidst the cluster of mountain peaks. The place was not far away from the camps of other saints but there was no immediate neighbour. “Lakshmana,” addressed Ram: “We have to protect ourselves against heavy rain, strong wind and biting cold. Therefore build a small ethnic cottage hut here with the wild accessories readily available.” Lakshmana, as an obedient servant, without murmuring a word, took his sword and knife in hand and disappeared. Sita placing her head on the laps of Sri Ram took a nap. Lakshmana re-emerged with a bamboo-basket with full of ripe fruits and edible roots. He said casually:
“Brother, I have made a small hutment. Please give a look and bless it with your presence.”
Ram and Sita followed Lakshmana. A stone throw away there it was! A self-contained, all in one, beautiful ethnic cottage! The ground was landscaped so carefully, strictly accordingly to the ‘Vastu’ science. The cottage was strong and sturdy that consisted of a verandah, a living room, a bed-room, a kitchen, store and a bathroom. Ram could not believe what he saw before him. He was inspecting each part separately of the cottage as a unique piece of artistic excellence.
Chocked with various emotions Ram hugged his brother and said:“Brother dear, you are a prince. Grew up in palace. No experience in such menial work. Yet, how fabulously beautiful this is!” They spent a few blissful days in the cottage. Ram entertained Sita with a lot of stories and riddles.
In the thin tree barks and lotus leaves Sita would draw fascinating images that enthused Ram very much. When they slept in the interior bed-room Lakshmana stood guard with drawn up sword.
He collected fruits and roots daily without spending much time in the forest leaving the couple alone. He had a special knack to collect uncommon fruits.
He fetched dry logs and twigs for the kiln. At times, saints from other ashramas called them on and exchanged pleasantries. With these pastimes Sita loved the forest life more than the palace.
KK Shanmukhan (To be concluded)