Bharata Suspected | RAMAYAN

 

26. BHARATA SUSPECTED 


GAZING across the river Ganga, Guha, the hunter-king, noticed unusual commotion on the bank opposite. A great army had encamped there. He pointed it to his kinsmen standing by his side and said: 

"Who is this and why has he come here with a large army, apparently to cross the river? The flag suggests that it is Kaikeyi's son Bharata and his army. Yes, I see the flag flying on the top of the chariot and I can recognise the tree painted on it. That is the flag of the King of Ayodhya. Is not Rama's enemy, Bharata, the King of Ayodhya too? Having secured the kingdom unjustly through his mother Kaikeyi, it looks as though he has pursued Rama here to slay him. Get together our warriors and kinsmen and friends. Let them stand ready on this bank. Gather all the boats and fill them with armed men ready for battle. Let us wait and see. If the newcomers are well disposed towards Rama, we shall help them to cross the river and come over to this side. But, if their intention is hostile, we shall prevent them from crossing the Ganga." 

And so having made all preparations, Guha, in accordance with rules of courtesy, took some presents, got into a boat and went to meet Bharata. 

On the other bank at the same time Sumantra, was telling Bharata: 

"Look! Guha, the hunter-king, devoted friend of Rama, has come with his people to welcome us. He is the ruler of this region. He and his kinsmen are well acquainted with every nook and corner of this forest. They could tell us where Rama is to found and lead us safely and swiftly to the place." 

Meanwhile Guha crossed the stream and, approaching Bharata, bowed and said: "Though we have been taken by surprise by your unexpected visit, still all that is mine here you may consider as your own and command me. I consider it an honor to be able to welcome and entertain you and your army." 

Bharata answered: "It is very kind of you, O friend of my brother, to offer hospitality to such a large army. I wish to proceed to the hermitage of Bharadwaja. We do not know the way, and, we also need to cross this great river." 

Guha bowed before him with clasped hands and said politely: "My lord, my servants and myself are ready to go with you and act as guides. But you must excuse me for expressing a doubt which occurs to me on seeing this large army you have brought. Surely you have no intentions hostile to Rama?" 

Pained by these words and from a heart clear and pure as the summer sky, Bharata said: "Alas, what greater shame can come to me than this, that men who love Rama should fear and suspect me? Have no misgivings, Guha. Rama is my father now, for he has taken the place of my lost father. I have come here to beg of him to return to Ayodhya. I swear, I have no other purpose in my mind." 

Guha rejoiced to see in Bharata's face his intense love for Rama and his grief at what had happened. He said: "My Lord, who in the world can equal you in sacrifice? Who but you would renounce such wealth and power coming to him unsought? Your glory will shine forever." 

The hunter-king supplied Bharata's army with all it needed. The hosts and the guests retired for the night. 

The meeting with Guha only increased Bharata's sorrow. Bharata was endowed with a heart of utter innocence. He sighed and said: "AIas, that it should come to this," and rolled sleepless on the ground. His whole body burned with thoughts of the infamy that had come as a cloud over him, his father's death and the parting from Rama. Guha spoke words of comfort and tried to console him. This meeting of Bharata and Guha and the way they shared their sorrow is an episode dear to the Vaishnava Alvars and other true Bhaktas. 

Bharat questioned: "What food did Rama take when he was here? Where did he sit? Where did he sleep? What did he say? And what did he do?" 

Guha answered every question lovingly and pointed the spot where Rama had slept. And when he was asked, "Where did Lakshmana sleep?" He replied: "Lakshmana said, 'When Rama and Sita lie stretched on the bare earth, how can I sleep?' and he shed tears and, like me, stood on guard the whole night, bow in hand." 

As Bharata pictured this scene, his grief became unendurable. He saw the spot where Rama and Sita had slept that night and showed it to the weeping queens. 

Asked what Rama ate, Guha answered: "My Lord, they fasted that night. Lakshmana brought some water and Rama drank of it and handed it back to Lakshmana to drink. The food brought was returned untasted. The following morning, they matted their locks and walked into the forest." 

Bharata had found some relief from sorrow in his resolve to seek out Rama and persuade him to return, but his talk with Guha and the sights he saw brought it back in full flood. 

"For my sake, Rama, you slept on the grass. I have seen the spot and still live. And they want me to wear a crown, on top of all this!" Thus he lamented inconsolably. 

Then he told himself: "I shall somehow take Rama back and seat him on the throne. If he wants his vow fulfilled, I shall replace him in the forest for fourteen years. He will agree to this arrangement as it is only right and proper." Thus he calmed himself. 

Early next morning, Bharata woke up Satrughna: "What are you still sleeping? The day has already dawned. The army has to cross the river. We should send quickly for Guha and arrange for the journey." 

Satrughna answered: "I am not asleep, brother. Like you I spent the whole night thinking of Rama." 

While they were speaking, Guha arrived and after courteous greetings announced that he had a fleet of many boats ready. All the baggage and the whole army were put on boats. The loaded vessels crossed the great river. The transport across raised a joyous clamor like some great festival. 

The people did not see the sorrow in Bharata's heart for they had concluded, even when Bharata set out, that Rama would surely return. They went forward rejoicing that soon Rama would be in their midst as crowned king and all their recent sorrows would pass like a bad dream. 

Valmiki describes the scene on the bank of the Ganga in a way that recalls to one a crowded railway station during a popular festival. When the whole army had crossed the river, Bharata followed it in a boat specially fitted up for him. 

They reached the ashrama of Bharadwaja. 

The story of Bharata in the Ramayana portraying a character of unrivalled purity and sublime selflessness is something, more than an episode, and stands out by itself even in that noble epic, as holy shrines do on the banks of the Ganga. 

It uplifts the heart, and gives one a glimpse of the heights to which human nature can rise when cleansed by love and devotion. Whether Rama and Bharata were incarnations of the Deity or merely supreme creations of a nation's imagination this episode is among the masterpieces of the world's literature. 

Jnana and bhakti will automatically grow by a contemplation of the personality of Bharata. In order to recreate the scene and the person in his own mind the reader must bring into play his reverent imagination. We bring with us into this world as our inborn gift some wisdom and reverence. This gift is always in us and though sometimes obscured by prejudice or passion it keeps alive the divine in man which prevents him from reeling back into the beast. 

Bharata and his retinue went on towards Bharadawaja's ashrama. When they reached the Prayaga wood, they saw at a distance a beautiful grove with a cottage in its midst. Learning that this was Bharadwaja's ashrama, Bharata left his retinue behind and, accompanied only by Vasishtha and a few other elders, walked towards it with due humility. 

Divesting himself of his silk garments and his weapons and accompanied only by the ministers he went on foot behind Vasishtha. A little further on, he left behind even the ministers, and he and Vasishtha alone went forward. 

When Bharadwaja saw Vasishtha, he rose from his seat and went to meet the illustrious visitor and bade his disciples to bring the customary water for the feet of the guests. 

Bharata offered humble salutations to Bharadwaja. Learning who he was, the rishi received him with the respect due to a king and made inquiries concerning his welfare. He thoughtfully refrained from making any mention of the sad fate of Dasaratha. 

The narration that follows is as told in Valmiki's epic. A few words by way of explanation may be useful. Bharadwaja suspected and questioned Bharata, just as Guha had done earlier. This is, however, not so put in the Tulasidas Ramayana which is a poem of pure bhakti. There is nothing that was not within the knowledge of rishis. How then could Bharadwaja (in the Tulasidas Ramayana) entertain any doubt about Bharata? 

Kamban, the Tamil poet of the Ramayana, follows Valmiki closely not only here but in many other places where Tulasidas differs. Although Kamban carefully follows Valmiki, he adds many beautiful passages out of his own imagination. With a touch here and a touch there, Kamban manages skilfully to disentangle many knots. The changes he makes are very few, while Tulasidas deals freely with the story, taking such liberties as he likes with the story as a great bhakta may who has made his god his own by self-forgetting surrender. 

Following Valmiki, Kamban reports the conversation between Bharadwaja and Bharata and very beautifully expresses Bharata's indignation. 

We may not, reading it all today, appreciate Bharadwaja's doubts about innocent Bharata. Such suspicion was perfectly natural to Guha, but not so in a wise rishi. Valmiki makes the rishi justify himself saying: "Don't I know you, young prince? I put you these questions only the more clearly to reveal your innocence." 

Valmiki pictures rishis not as omniscient sages, but as very human wise men and seekers after truth, liable to love and fear somewhat like the rest of us. Just as Valmiki delineates Rama as a hero rather than as an avatar, so he makes Bharadwaja doubt Bharata because of his tender affection for Rama. Bound by his attachment to Rama, he hurts Bharata. Seeing the latter suffer, he at once consoles him with an explanation. 

All Valmiki's characters are human beings with heightened human qualities. It is only under great stress or in exceptional circumstances that divinity shines faintly through the human nature. In the time of Tulasidas, bhakti had reached its noonday height. It shone dispelling every shade. Though bhakti predominates in Kamban's picture also, he contrives to retain the humanity of Valmiki's characters and in places makes them even more beautiful. 

Bharadwaja, after making the usual personal inquiries, asked Bharata: "Why did you leave your kingly duties and go over here? Should you not stay in Ayodhya? Listening to his young wife, Dasaratha ordered Rama to live for fourteen years in the forest and the prince accordingly left the city with his brother and Sita. Do you feel that even now the way is not clear for your rule and have you come to complete what Dasaratha began and make assurance doubly sure?" 

Hearing these words, Bharata wept. The tears gushed and he could hardly speak. "Death," he said, "would be better than such a life as this." 

"Do you doubt me, master?" he asked. "Do not blame me for what was done by my mother in my absence without my knowledge or consent. I have come now to do my utmost and persuade Rama to go back with me to Ayodhya, and there to be crowned King. And it is my purpose to be his humble slave all my life. I have come here to ask you where Rama dwells, to go and beg of him to return home. And me, you suspect!" 

Bharadwaja said: "Bharata, I know your real nature. You are a scion of the race of Raghu. I questioned you because I wished to draw out a revelation of your affection and loyalty and thereby establish and spread your glory. Do not grieve. The Prince is dwelling on Chitrakuta hill. Stay here today. Tomorrow, you and your ministers shall go there. You will please me by accepting hospitality for a day in the ashrama." 

Bharata said: "My Lord, your wishes and words of affection are a feast. What more is required?" 

Bharadwaja smilled because he could see that Bharata was unwilling to cast the burden of feeding an army on a poor ascetic. He said: "I am bound to entertain you in a manner worthy of your status and goodness. Why have you left behind your army and retinue?" 

Bharata answered: "I followed the rule that one should not approach a rishi's dwelling with a retinue. There is a big crowd following me. It would be a great disturbance to you if they all come here." 

The rishi said: "Nothing of the sort. Order them all to come up." 

And so Bharata ordered. 

Bharadwaja went to the sacrificial fire and, uttering mantras, sipped water thrice and called on Viswakarma, Maya, Yama, Varuna, Kubera, Agni and other celestial beings and ordered them to produce a great feast for Bharata and his followers. 

Then a miracle happened. The feast that was ready in Bharadwaja's ashrama was like that which Vasishtha gave of old to Viswamitra. The only difference was that here, there was no quarrel or commotion. Everyone had ample accommodation. Sandal paste, flowers, food and drink, music and dance by divine performers were all provided. 

Bharadwaja's feast was more sumptuous than that given by emulous kings to one another. Dwellings, vehicles, servants rose suddenly into being. The guests forgot themselves in the feast. The soldiers in Bharata's army in the ecstasy of present enjoyment exclaimed to one another: "We shall not go to the Dandaka forest. We shall not return to Ayodhya. We shall stay here forever." 

How were they to know that the good things they enjoyed were for a day, and would disappear at dawn, like the stage and the crowd after a village play is over? 

The guests ate fully and soon fell fast asleep. 

The following morning Bharadwaja said to Bharata: "At a distance of two-anda-half yojanas from here runs the river Mandakini. On its banks is an unpeopled forest with Chitrakuta hill to its south. On the slope of the hill, in a hut your brothers and Sita are dwelling." And he explained in detail the way they should follow. 

The three queens were presented to receive the sage's blessings. "This is Queen Kausalya," said Bharata, "the mother of Rama and here, to her right and supporting her, stands the mother of Lakshmana and Satrughna, sorrowstricken and limp like a creeper stricken by summer winds." "And here is my mother, the cause of all our sorrow," said Bharata, pointing to Kaikeyi who along with the other Queens prostrated before the sage. 

"Do not judge your mother harshly," said Bharadwaja casting his gentle eyes on the sorrowing lady. "All that has happened has happened for the good of the world." 

This episode of introducing the mothers is placed by Kamban in the earlier scene with Guha. Guha reverently inquires about the queens and Bharata explains. What Valmiki describes as having taken place in Bharadwaja's ashrama is, with more poetical effect, transferred by Kamban to its proper place. 

Introducing Kausalya to Guha, Bharata says, in the Ramayana of Kamban: "This is the mother of Rama. Her treasure was Rama and she lost it because of me." Of Sumitra he said: "This is the mother of Lakshmana, truer brother to Rama, who has a happiness beyond the reach of poor me." Kaikeyi in Kamban, as in Valmiki, is introduced by Bharata in harsh terms. 

Bharata and his great retinue took the forest path as directed by Bharadwaja. They saw from afar the Chitrakuta hill and as they proceeded eagerly a column of smoke indicated the spot where the prince's dwelling was and shouts of joy arose from the crowd. Leaving his following behind, Bharata went forward accompanied only by Sumantra and Vasishtha.





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