First Among the Astute

 

51. FIRST AMONG THE ASTUTE 


THE boldest and most strong-minded woman may, if kept in captivity for a long period, lose heart and become depressed. 

Sita hoped month after month that her lord would discover her whereabouts and come to her rescue. Sick with disappointed hope, alone in the midst of enemies, she clung to life only from an abiding faith in the love of Rama that made her feel that he would surely come. 

The Rakshasis plied her with what from their point of view was well-meant counsel. "Won't you listen to our advice? You are a human and so lack sense. You still hold on to this wretched man-husband of yours. Your proper place is our King's bedchamber. That is the place for every kind of pleasure. But spurning his offer, you are forever thinking of your worthless husband. Why are you still fond of this luckless wretch driven out of his kingdom? You will never see him again. Yield to Ravana and be happy." 

Sita, hearing these words, could only shed tears. 

"What sinful words you utter!" she said. "Never can I do what you say. You tell me that Rama is poor, wretched, and an exiIe from his home. All this I know. But among us of the race of men, no wife would think of giving up her husband on such grounds. It is wicked for the Rakshasa king to desire me for his wife. As the sun's brightness belongs inseparably to the sun so do I belong to Rama. As Sachi is faithful to Indra, or Arundhati to Vasishtha, so am I ever to Rama." 

The Rakshasis gave up all hopes of persuading her and said to one another: "What can one do with a stubborn fool like this? It is best to eat her before she gets too thin with brooding!" 

"I am in the family way," said one. "I have a great longing for human flesh. I shall tear her out and make a meal of her soft body. We shall strangle her and report to Ravana that she died of grief," said another. "The King is lost in unavailing grief because of this obstinate woman. Once he knows that she is dead, he will forget all about her and sleep soundly." 

Another said: "I long to eat her liver. It must be very tasty." 

Another added decisively: "Let us kill her and share her limbs. Fetch some sauce and strong liquor. Let us feast on her and drink and dance in the temple of Nikumbhila." 

Hearing these horrible words and seeing these terrible forms, Sita broke down and cried aloud. Her physical courage failed and nature had its way. She sobbed like a child. But even in her sobs her mind was clear and it was fixed on Rama. 

"In Janasthana Rama destroyed thousands of Rakshasas. Why does not Rama come yet to redeem me? The warrior princes who killed Viradha in Dandaka, why are they still indifferent to my fate? It could only be that they do not yet know where I am! Jatayu, the vulture king, was slain by the Rakshasa. If he at least were alive, he would have told them the news that he saw the Rakshasa carrying me. But he gave up his life in trying to save me. But how long, will Rama remain ignorant of my being here? How long can Lanka and the Rakshasas survive? It is certain that, in every house in this city, Rakshasa widows will soon be lamenting loudly. It is certain that this city of Ravana and the whole Rakshasa race will perish." 

Thus she thought within herself and slowly recovered courage. But soon again other thoughts came to her and filled her with gloom. 

"Could it be that Rama gave up his life, unable to bear my loss? It might well be so. Otherwise, could he neglect me and leave me all alone these so many days? Indeed he is happy now and with the Gods. I must have been guilty of many sins to be thus left to suffer. My heart must be made of stone. How else can I suffer all this and yet survive? Yet something tells me that Rama is alive else I should be dead!" 

Then again another thought occurred to her. "Perhaps he has resolved to spend his life in penance and has laid aside all thought of me. No, no. How could a warrior forsake his duty and, leaving his wife in the hands of his foe, take up the life of sanyasa? How foolish of me even to think of this! The fact is that they do not know where I am. Could it be that Rama has lost his love for me? 'Out of sight, out of mind,' they say. Could it be that he has forgotten me? Fie, fie! What a sinful thought! How can my Rama forget me? He never can. And what wrong have I committed that he should cease to think of me? This cannot be the reason. Perhaps Ravana has played some trick and treacherously slain the prince." 

Thus her mind wandered from one sad thought to another and sank ever deeper in the sea of sorrow. She decided that it was best by hanging herself. She could hang herself with her long braid of hair round her neck and jump down from a branch of the Simsupa tree. 

Having failed in their attempt to persuade Sita, the Rakshasis did not know what to do next. Some went to inform Ravana of their failure. Some stayed behind to look after Sita. 

Appearing among them Trijata, a Rakshasi, reprimanded them, saying: "O foolish ones, you are talking nonsense! Listen to me, I shall tell you of a dream that I dreamt. The time has come when Lanka shall be destroyed." 

Then she proceeded to recount in detail the terrible dream that she had dreamt: 

"I saw in my dream Rama, shining like a sun, come to Lanka to find Sita. I saw Ravana entering the abode of Yama. I saw Rama mounting Sita on his elephant and carrying her home. I saw Ravana and all the Rakshasas, clad in soiled garments and dragged away by Yama." 

Relating this dream to the Rakshasis, Trijata warned them: "Don't persecute this saintly woman. Don't seek your own destruction. Fall at her feet and beg for grace." 

Even as Trijata was speaking to her companions, Sita, who resolved to slay herself, suddenly began to see many good omens. 

Her left eyelids, hand, and foot throbbed auspiciously. A vague courage once again came into her heart. All ideas of self-destruction disappeared. 

Hanuman, sitting hidden above and watching all that happened in the grove, wondered what he should do next. 

One might imagine that, having reached Lanka and seen Sita, Hanuman had nothing more to do. But he was not so easily satisfied. He thought within himself. 

"I have done something which no one else could do. I have crossed the sea and discovered Sita. I have seen the city of the Rakshasas and noted its defences. All that a spy can do without revealing himself to the foe, I have done. But the situation here is fraught with danger. If I go back now to report what I have seen to Rama and my king, who knows what meanwhile will happen here? Before Rama, Lakshmana and the Vanara host arrive here, Sita, unable to bear her suffering, might put an end to her life. All my labors would then be lost. It is not enough to have seen Sita. I must talk to her, give her news of Rama and put hope and courage into her heart, so that she may hold with life in spite of all. How would Rama receive me if I return without speaking to Sita? I must find some way of speaking to Sita." 

In the rosary of Hanuman's name occurs the title, Buddhimatam Varishtham, 'First among the Astute.' It is a true description. 

"In what form should I appear before Sita? In what language should I speak to her? If suddenly a monkey came and spoke to her in this Asoka grove, Sita would surely suspect foul play and imagine that Ravana was playing some new trick on her. If I appeared suddenly before her, she might cry out in fear. In her present condition this is most likely to happen. The Rakshasis guarding her, who have now fallen asleep, will be startled awake and discover me. They would know that I have come from their enemy and in disguise, and they would bring the Rakshasas to attack me. A great battle would ensue. Of course I shall slay most of them. But the task of comforting Sita and bearing news of her to Rama would be jeopardised if I were to be captured and held a prisoner here. This would never do. Even if I escape being caught and come out successful in the struggle, I might be wounded and lose strength and be unable to cross the sea. What then would I have gained having seen Sita? One should never do things in a hurry. One should keep in mind one's main business. King Sugriva and Rama are confidently awaiting my return. Even a little fault on my part now may lead to great disaster. The first thing to do is to speak with Sita and put joy and hope in her heart. I must approach her in such a way that she can never for a moment entertain a doubt about my good faith. Well, I shall recite in a sweet low tone, and for her hearing only, the story and virtues of Rama. Her heart would then be filled with joy and trust, displacing suspicion. Only thus can I proceed." 

So he thought and, still hidden by the branches of the tree, he began to utter in a low voice, the sweet words, "Rama," "Rama."





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