Last Moments of King Dasaratha | RAMAYAN

  

23. LAST MOMENTS 


Dasaratha continued: "Listen, I shall tell you what followed. Having committed a sin and seeing the young ascetic die, I stood wondering what-to do next. Finally I decided that it was my duty and my interest to do what he advised me. I cleaned the pitcher, and filling it with fresh water, took it and went along the footpath he had pointed out. I reached his cottage and there I saw the old couple waiting for the return of their son. They sat there like two birds with broken wings shrivelled in body and unable to move. Both were blind. They were speaking to each other about the long delay of their son in fetching water from the stream. I was filled with terror as I slowly approached them. The old man, hearing my footsteps, mumbled: 'Why this long delay, my son? Quickly give me some water to drink. Your mother too is athirst. Were you making your pleasure in the stream? Was this the cause of your delay, son? Why are you silent? Even if your mother or I have offended you in any manner, you should not take it to heart. You are a perfect son and our only prop. We have lost our eyesight and you serve as our eyes. Indeed you are more than our life to us. Why are you still silent? Are you still angry. I trembled in fear when I heard the toothless old man talking thus. Gathering courage I began: 'O, holy one, I am Dasaratha by name, a Kshatriya, bound to obey and serve you, though not your son. Driven by my former karma, I have committed a terrible sin and stand in abject humility before you. I went to the riverbank for sport, hoping to shoot wild beasts. I thought I heard in the darkness an elephant drinking water. I aimed my arrow, as I am a marksman that can aim by sound as well as by sight. It was my misfortune and his fate that my arrow struck your son as he was filling his pitcher, with the gurgling I had mistaken for that of an elephant drinking. Thus, without intending it, I fatally wounded your beloved son. When I went to the spot and saw him rolling in blood with my arrow stuck in his breast, I cursed myself. I was filled with horror and stood not knowing what to do. At his request I pulled the arrow out to release him from the mortal pain. He is dead. I have told you the horrible sin I have committed. I throw myself at your mercy. I await your judgment.' The miserable couples were struck dumb by my dreadful tale about their son. Tears poured from their sightless eyes, and the old man said: 'King, your sin is indeed great. But it was done in ignorance. And you have come yourself to tell me your crime. So you shall live. Now take us both to the spot. Let us touch our beloved son with our hands and send him into Yama's keeping.' 

I carried them to the river bank where their son lay dead. They felt his body all over, cried and blessed his soul and performed the cremation. Then before ascending the funeral pyre and giving them selves up to the fire, they turned to me and said: 'This great grief you have brought about for us, you too, will endure in good time. You will die of grief parted from your son.' Saying this, they burnt themselves and their souls joined the gods. My sin has pursued me and I am now in its grip. My old crime is killing me now. As food prohibited by they doctors foolishly consumed by a sick man kills him, what that old father uttered in unbearable grief has now come true. I have sent my innocent son to the forest and, unable to bear the grief, I now enter Yama's abode. How else could these unnatural events occur? How else could I be thus deceived and betrayed? Even if I ordered Rama to go to forest, why should he obey my unjust command? Why should he insist on being exiled? It is the curse of that old blind couple, nothing else. Kausalya, I do not see you. My sight is gone. Death is fast approaching. Come nearer and let me feel you. All is over. The messengers of Yama are calling me. Will Rama come? Shall I see him before I die? Oh, I am dying. The oil is all consumed and my light is going out! Ah Kausalya! Oh Sumitra!" 

His life slowly ebbed away and that night at some time unobserved by any, the King breathed his last. 

As described by Valmiki in the early pages of the epic, Dasaratha was one who had mastered all the Vedas and Shastras, was a farsighted person, the hero of many battles, the performer of many sacrifices, follower of dharma, a far-famed king with many friends and no foes, and one who had conquered his senses. His power was like Indra's. His wealth was like Kubera's. In statesmanship, he was like Manu. Fate had ordered that such a one should exile his beloved son and die of a broken heart, with none by him in his last moments but two faithful women stricken by himself with a common sorrow. 

Since the King had so often fainted and recovered, his death was not immediately noticed by Kausalya or Sumitra. They were weary, too, with grief and watching, and fell into a sleep of fatigue in a corner of the apartment. At dawn, the musicians and singers, whose duty it was to rouse the King from slumber, came to his bedchamber and played on instruments and sang the usual hymns. 

But they saw no sign of the King waking. The royal servants who attended to the King's morning needs waited long and wondered why he slept till so late. Then they made bold to enter the apartment and saw him lying dead. 

Soon the news spread and filled the palace with grief. The widows of the great Dasaratha cried like orphaned children, embracing one another in unavailing lamentation.





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