Closely Guarded | RAMAYAN

 

37. CLOSELY GUARDED 


SITA opened her eyes red with anger and grief, and facing Ravana cried: "Base fellow! You boasted of your fame and your great origin and your warlike qualities, but have you behaved like a brave warrior? Are you not ashamed of yourself? What sort of warrior is he who waits for the husband's absence to steal his wife and carries off a lonely helpless woman when no one is nearer to prevent it? What heroic deed to kill the old bird that tried to save me! How brave was your talk in the ashrama! The world will no doubt remember and praise this great hero who dares not fight but is prepared to steal! If indeed you come of a noble family, what a shame you have brought upon it! And what do you hope by thus carrying me off? How long do you hope to live? Very soon Rama's arrows will seek you out and end your life. Know that the moment Rama sets eyes on you, you are dead. Do not hope to escape. Your death is certain at his hands. What then do you gain by this cheating? I will never be yours. I shall die before I yield to you and you cannot escape my lord, having incurred his wrath. Very soon you will see the river Vaitarani in hell. The red-hot image is awaiting you there for your embrace. So is the tree with iron spikes. Rama within an hour slew your army of myriad Rakshasas in Janasthana. Will he let you escape? Soon will he send you to Yama." 

While Sita was speaking words of contempt and warning, Ravana, chariotless, sped like an arrow across the sky towards Lanka. They went over many mountains and rivers and Sita saw some people below standing on a hilltop. She took off her sash and tying up her jewels in it threw the bundle down. 

She did this hoping that the ornaments thus dropped may be seen by Rama and give him a clue of the direction in which she was carried away. 

Crossing the Pampa and then the sea, Ravana entered the city of Lanka. He went to his apartments with the griefstricken Sita. The fool thought that he had secured the prize, but he was taking home his own death in a woman's form. Then, summoning some demon-like Rakshasis, he ordered them to keep watch over Sita, specially commanding them to let none approach her without his permission. 

"Give her whatever she wants, clothes or gold or jewels. Serve her and do her honor as you would serve and honor me," he enjoined them. 

And he added the warning: "Anyone who utters a word which might offend her will be punished with death. No one, knowingly or unknowingly, should cause her anger or grief." 

Having thus installed Sita in the inner apartment, he considered what should be done next. He sent for some clever spies and gave them this mandate: 

"Go at once to Janasthana where Khara lived. Watch carefully and bring me word what Rama is doing. So long as that Rama is alive I cannot sleep. He is my greatest foe. Somehow, he should be killed. Go boldly now and do your job and return." 

Imprisoned within a fortress in a seagirt island, Sita did not know where she was or how far from Rama. She expected that her lord would somehow arrive, kill Ravana and redeem her. 

Though full of grief, thinking of the strength and prowess of her lord she was bold and steady in mind. It was also some consolation that the Rakshasa king did not behave like a beast with her. 

Having despatched his men to Janasthana, Ravana returned to Sita's presence. He saw her overwhelmed by grief and shedding tears. The Rakshasis were watching her with care. 

He thought that if she saw his wealth and power she would yield to him. She was therefore taken round in the great palace and shown the wealth and grandeur there displayed. No king on earth had ever possessed such wealth and means of enjoyment. 

Sita was shown gold and jewels and silks in plenty; curiously wrought platforms, vehicles and towers; thousands of maid servants and every symbol of wealth and royal power. But her thoughts were elsewhere. 

Ravana tried to convince her also of the vastness of his army. But then she had already formed her opinion of his prowess and had described it to him in scathing terms. 

Yet, Ravana argued: "All this you can count and enjoy as your own. You shall be my queen, dearer to me than life itself. I have many wives but you shall be mistress of them all. Hereafter my love shall be for you and you alone. Listen to me. Do my desire. For hundreds of miles the sea surrounds this island which is guarded by thousands of mighty soldiers. No one can enter this city. No one among the gods or asuras can match me in might; and they know it. What pleasure or honor is it for you to stick to a poor human creature banished from his kingdom, a destitute wandering in the forest? To match your beauty, you need my wealth. Do not waste the years of our youth. You are never again going to set eyes on Rama. Be certain of that. Rama cannot approach this city. Treat this kingdom as yours. Treat me and all the obedient gods as slaves. Till now, because of your sins in some previous birth, you have suffered hardship. Here after you will enjoy with me the fruits of your former merits. You will be the queen of Lanka and the wife of the Lord of Lanka, the conqueror of Kubera. Let us take our pleasure floating about the world in the Pushpaka vimana. Let the cloud of sorrow disappear from your face and let the moon of joy appear." 

As Ravana went on speaking thus, tears flowed from Sita's eyes. She covered her face with the end of her sari as she did not want her enemies too think that she was afraid. 

Ravana begged and importuned her: "Do not be shy. There is nothing wrong in accepting me, nothing to be ashamed of. It is laid down that one should accept the gifts of God. O beautiful one! I bow my head at your feet and beg you for your grace. I am your slave. Forgetting my greatness and power, I thus beg for your favor. Never in my life have I bowed in this way before anyone." 

He really thought he could persuade her and gain her affection. 

If one's mind is clear, one can courageously face any situation. In spite of her grief, therefore, Sita spoke boldly to the Rakshasa. She placed a little bit of grass between Ravana and herself before answering him. 

Boastful words were uttered by Ravana in sanyasi garb, sitting in front of the fruit served by her in Panchavati. Imprisoned Sita now spoke as if in echo of those words. 

"Know who I am. Dasaratha was famed in all the three worlds and reigned long years and stood as a bulwark of dharma and defender of truth. His son Rama, of godlike presence and lion-like valor, is my husband. He and his brother Lakshmana will surely take your life. You know how Khara and his army were destroyed in Janasthana by my lord. As easily as an eagle carries a venomous serpent, he destroyed your huge army in Janasthana. Because you have secured a boon that no god or Asura can kill you, you have dared to make Rama your enemy. You think your boon will save you. But I tell you, you cannot escape. You will surely meet your death at his hands. You are, like the goat tied to the altar-post for sacrifice, doomed to death. The moment Rama sets his angry eyes on you, you will meet your fate. My lord will dry up the sea or bring down the moon, if necessary, to kill you and redeem me. It is certain. Your evil deed will bring destruction on yourself and your kingdom. My noble lord lived unafraid in the midst of the Rakshasas in the forest. Like a hero, he fought and killed the Rakshasas who encountered him. Like a thief, you stole me in his absence. But you cannot escape. Your fate impelled you to this sin because the hour of your ruin and the destruction of your race are near. You ask me to accept you. How foolish! Can the craw approach the swan? Can a heinous sinner be allowed near the sacrificial fire? I do not value life or body. Do you imagine I would wish to live despised by the world? Do not dream that out of fear or for saving my life I shall yield to you." 

Having spoken those words, she was silent. 

"Is that so?" said Ravana. "Very well then, I shall give you twelve months' time. If you agree to accept me, well and good. If at the end of that period, you refuse, my cooks will make meat of your body for my breakfast." 

After warning Sita thus, he gave orders to the attendant Rakshasis: "You should break her pride and obstinacy by some means or other. Put her alone in the Asoka garden and skillfully use fear and temptation to bring her to her senses. As we tame a wild she elephant, you should train her to submission." And angrily he went to his palace. 

The Rakshasis took Sita to the Asoka garden. It was a beautiful park attached to the women's apartments. The trees were full of flowers and fruits, and beautiful birds played among them. Here, surrounded and guarded by terribly ugly Rakshasis, Sita was kept prisoner. 

Though overwhelmed by grief, she had the faith that Rama and Lakshmana would somehow discover where she was and rescue her, that her lord would destroy Ravana and take her back to a happy life with him. 

Sustained by this faith, she was neither frightened by threats nor deceived by temptations. Not for one day, or two, but for months, Sita suffered thus a close prisoner in the Asoka garden. 

The day was yet far off when the mighty Hanuman, crossing the sea, would visit Sita in her sorrow and bring her the message of hope and love and the assurance of relief: "Rama loves you infinitely. He will be here soon. Be not afraid." 

All the women in our land who suffer sorrow in any way are so many replicas of Sita. May all the men be like Hanuman, pure and heroic helpers of such suffering women! We shall now go to Rama and Lakshmana.





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