SITA in the Asoka Park | RAMAYAN

 

49. SITA IN THE ASOKA PARK 


As HANUMAN stood on the high wall, he did not know why, a thrill of joy passed through his frame. It was the invisible atmosphere which envelopes an accomplished mission and influences subtly the devoted heart. As be had at last reached the spot where Sita was, his whole being throbbed with exulting expectation without any apparent reason. 

It was an early spring night. Trees and plants were in flowers. Hanuman jumped to a place where there was a thick cluster of trees. This disturbed the birds that rested there and they flew out with sweet noises. Deer and other animals moved about. Flowers dropped from the branches and covered the body of Hanuman. 

The creatures in the park, looking at the lovely figure of Hanuman covered all over with flowers, thought that the God of spring was visiting the grove in the early dawn. 

The garden was entrancingly beautiful. Lovely tanks, terraces decorated with gold, silver, ivory, pearl and coral crystal steps, artificial hills and waterfalls, the sight filled Hanuman's heart with joy. Around some trees were platforms overlaid with gold and silver. Little bells suspended from the trees made music in the breeze. 

Hanuman climbed up and sat hidden among the leaves of a tall spreading tree with a golden platform around its stem. "If she be alive and in Lanka " said Hanuman to himself, "Sita would surely visit this garden. She would choose this place above all others for solitude and contemplation of Rama. They said, did they not, that she loved groves and trees? She would surely come here at dawn to offer worship to the Universal Mother." 

He gazed all round, hiding himself among the leaves. He sat on a branch and looked below. He beheld a female figure seated on that platform, blindingly beautiful and divinely pure. 

Thin and pale, she shone like the streak of the moon in the beginning of the bright half of the month. Her beauty glowed fitfully through deepest dejection like flame through enveloping smoke. Wrapped in a soiled upper garment she resembled a lovely lotus obscured by miry moss. Her face was bathed in tears, and she was wan and thin for want of food. She had no thoughts but of sorrow, no glimpse of friends or hope. There were only Rakshasis wherever she turned her eyes, and she felt like a doe which had lost its herd and found itself beset by a pack of wild dogs. 

A single snake-like braid of hair wandered unregarded down to her hip. She seemed to Hanuman at once adorable and pitiful, like the holy word torn from its context by infidels, like prosperity sunk in unmerited ruin, like shattered hope and faith betrayed, like frustrated fulfilment, like intellect muddied by insanity, like blameless purity besmirched by foul slander. 

Hanuman said to himself with conviction: "This image of beautiful despair is surely Sita. For, behold, hanging unregarded on the branches of the tree are the jewels described by Rama as having been on her when she was carried away, all except those which she dropped during the flight and which were picked up by us on the hill. And see the scarf she wears, though soiled and crumpled, is the fellow to the one we found. Surely this sublimely beautiful lady, who seems like one steadfast in true love in a tempesttossed sea of troubles, is Rama's beloved queen. It is for her that Rama is consumed by a three-fold agony, grief for her suffering, wrath for the insult to her and heart-broken pangs at separation from her. Surely he is ever in her heart and she in his, and in truth they are not parted or they could not live." 

And as he continued to see her, his heart leapt back across the ocean and sought Rama's feet in adoration. And again he looked at Sita and said to himself: "It was for the sake of this divine lady that the mighty Vali, the peer of Ravana in prowess, was slain. For her that Kabandha and Viradha met their death, and fourteen thousand fierce Rakshasas with Khara, Dushana and Trisiras crimsoned with their gore the glades of Janasthana. It was for her that the splendid sovereignty of the Vanaras was wrested from the heroic Vali and given to Sugriva. It is to do her service that I crossed the sea, the lord of rivers, and am now here in Lanka. All this seems much, but verily, if for her sake Rama should transform or even destroy the universe, I would say from my soul it is well done! She is worth it all and more!" 

And again Hanuman's heart crossed the sea back and dwelt on Rama far away. 

Just then, as off the clear surface of a lake a swan might glide, so in the blue sky the moon swam into sight and shone brightly as if on purpose to help the son of Vayu. 

Peering between the leaves and not knowing what to do, Hanuman took another long look at the face of Sita, a face that disclosed a sea of care like a heavily-laden ship caught in a storm. The Rakshasis who guarded her were intolerably ugly. One had only one eye, another only one ear. Some were without ears and some without noses. Some had noses turned steeply upward. Some were bald, while some had done their hair in grotesque styles. 

Some had pendant stomachs and some had camel's lips. Some were hunchbacks. Some were dwarfs and some tall like palmyrah trees. Swine-face, tiger-face, buffalo-face, goat-face, all were to be seen. These unsightly creatures were holding spears and other weapons in their hands. 

And in their midst, the pale-faced princess sat trembling, befriended only by her virtue, like an unsupported beautiful creeper fallen on the ground. 

It was still dark and not yet dawn. Ravana was roused from his slumber by the chanting of the Vedas and the morning songs of the court bards. The moment he awoke, he thought of Sita and started towards the park where she was kept. 

With all his retinue, he entered the palace park, accompanied by scented torches and the royal umbrella, surrounded by maidens, covered all over with brilliant ornaments and clad in spotless white clothes. Ravana appeared charming like another Manmatha. 

As the procession entered the gate, Hanuman could hear the noise of the crowd and the tinkling of women's anklets. Soon he saw the Rakshasa king approaching. At once Hanuman hid himself more effectively than before among thick leaves. 

As Ravana came towards Sita, his strength and splendor were wonderful to behold. At this sight Sita's body shrank and trembled like a plantain tree in a storm. 

As one reads or listens to this sacred story, one should form a mental image of Sita in her present state. One can imagine the agony of despair of any good woman who has by misfortune fallen into the power of a lustful man. What must be the state of Sita, daughter of Janaka and wife of Ramachandra, in such a predicament? To appreciate Valmiki's metaphors and similes in this context, one should purify one's heart and fire it with piety. 

One feels unequal to rendering into another language the beautiful similes by which Valmiki illustrates her condition. Only a few are cited here to give some idea of them. 

Ravana approached Sita still in the hope of obtaining her consent. Sita was covered with dust and had no jewels on her person but she shone as if wearing all the jewels that a princess must wear. She looked like a beautiful tree felled down and lying low. 

Her face was covered by light and shadow, like a lotus flower stained by mire. She swayed like a cobra bound by charms. Her state was like one surrounded by raging fires on four sides, like an army which had lost its chief warriors, like a river which had run dry, like a vessel for sacrificial fire that suffered desecration, like a lovely lotus tank destroyed by elephants, like a flowering creeper uprooted and cast aside, like a cow elephant separated from the leader of the herd, captured and tied as a prisoner. 

Sita sat trembling, overwhelmed with grief and fear. When she perceived Ravana's approach, that very instant her heart travelled to Rama like a chariot drawn by swift steeds. With faded face and wasted form, she thought of her protectors far away. "When will they come? Will they ever come?" she asked herself and meditated on God. 

Ravana approached and spoke to her. Hidden in the branches of the tree, Hanuman watched what went on below.





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