The Brothers Meet | RAMAYAN

 


27. THE BROTHERS MEET 


WHILE Bharata was thus engaged in trying to undo the mischief wrought by others, in the forest hut at Chitrakuta, life went on fairly cheerfully. With Lakshmana and Sita by his side, Rama lacked nothing. The grandeur of the mountain scenery and the forest and the sweet songs and play of the birds pleased his heart. He forgot the sorrow of his exile from kinsfolk and city. 

"Look, Sita, at those birds playing," he would say. "Look at that rock on the hill with the blue, yellow and red veins shining on it. Look at these plants and creepers with their flowers. We feared life in the forest, not knowing how pleasant it would be. I am so happy here. And I have in addition to this pleasure the feeling that I carry out my father's promise. We have the joy of duty done besides leading a happy life here. Over and above all this, I am happy that my brother Bharata is ruling the kingdom." Thus Rama, free from sorrow himself, made Sita happy. Descending from the hill they would sometimes go to the river Mandakini and spend time there. "Look at those sand hillocks," Rama would say. "Look at the swans playing among the lotuses. The stream is as lovely as yourself, beloved. The fords where animals come to drink are beautifully red with new earth. Even the river in Kubera's kingdom cannot be as beautiful as this. Sea the rishis bathing there and standing in supplication and offering hymns to the sun. Look at the flowers falling from the boughs on the water. Look at that pearlscattering cascade. We are indeed lucky to be far away from the crowded city here in the forest. There, we cannot see rishis and pure souls such as we see here bathing everyday. This hill is our Ayodhya. The birds and beasts are our subjects. The Mandakini is our Sarayu. With you and Lakshmana by me, I am so happy and content. How pleasant it is to see the animals drinking water in the stream without any fear! Plunging in the water here, eating fruits and roots, walking about in the forest and climbing the hills, why should I think of kingdom or power?" 

Thus, in the company of Sita and Lakshmana, Rama was spending happy days. 

One day as they were sitting as usual on the slope of the hill in utter peace, suddenly at a distance, they saw a cloud of dust rise in the sky which seemed moving towards them. And soon they heard a great noise as of a big crowd. Rama saw the forest animals stampeding hither and thither in fear. It looked as if an army entered the forest. 

"Do you hear that noise?" Rama said to Lakshmana, "'The elephants, bisons and deer are running helter skelter. What could it be? Could it be some king come here hunting? Or is it that some tiger or other fierce wild beast has come rummaging? Just see and tell me." 

Lakshmana climbed up a tall tree and looked all around. He saw a large army approaching from the north, a complete force of all limbs, chariots, elephants, horses and foot soldiers. 

He shouted to Rama in warning: "Listen, brother. A great army is approaching with flags flying and in complete formation. Let us be careful. Put out the fire. Take Sita into the cave for safety. Let us don our armor and get ready for battle." 

Rama said: "Do not be in such hurry. Look again at the flag on the chariot and tell me which king is leading his army here." 

Lakshmana looked and was filled with anger. "O my brother, it is Bharata. Not satisfied with getting the kingdom, he is pursuing us here. I can see the tree on our flag flying in the breeze. He has come to slay us. But the son of Kaikeyi shall not escape with life from me today. What sin is there in killing this destroyer of dharma? The only question now is, shall we wait for them here, or shall we give them battle on the top of the hill? We will make him pay for all the harm be has done us. It is surely no sin to kill one who comes to slay us. With him will be destroyed the greed of his mother. You will soon see the forest paths running with blood. Like a tree uprooted by an elephant, Bharata will be felled to the ground by me. We shall destroy this army. We shall feed fat the beasts of prey in the forest. " Lakshmana spoke thus, beside himself with rage. 

Rama proceeded to calm him. "I know you can destroy the seven worlds if you are so minded. Listen, you can easily kill Bharata and his army, but there is a thing to consider before you set to work. Disobeying and disgracing our father and killing our brother and earning infinite obloquy, what good shall we gain by battling for and winning the kingdom? What we gain by killing our kinsfolk will be like food with which is mixed poison. Why and for whom do we seek wealth and kingdom? Is it not for the sake of others, whose joy is our own? Who would want to acquire a kingdom by wrong means? And what joy is there in a kingdom which you cannot share with those you love? Truly I tell you, I will never look at wealth and power that you and Bharata and Satrughna cannot enjoy with me. I know why Bharata is coming here now and I will tell you. He knows the way of dharma. He is coming here to give the kingdom to me. If he had been in Ayodhya instead of in the far-away land of his uncle he would have dissuaded Kaikeyi, and saved our father from the great sorrow which has befallen him. I am certain he is coming now to take me back to the city. It is wrong of you to think ill of Bharata and speak such harsh words about him. If it is desire for the kingdom that makes you so cruel in your suspicion, tell me. I have only to tell Bharata to pass it on to you, and I have no doubt he will do it with pleasure." 

Rama said this laughing, and Lakshmana shrank into himself with shame. 

"Perhaps our father, the King," Lakshmana said. " Is himself coming to see us." 

After listening to Rama, he was convinced that his fear was improper. He wondered then why the army was marching and thought that perhaps Dasaratha was coming to visit them in the forest and a large retinue followed the King. The commentator remarks that Lakshmana, realising his folly in having spoken ill of Bharata, was trying by some explanations to cover up his shame. 

Rama cheered up Lakshmana saying: "Yes, it may be as you say. Thinking that life in the forest was hard, the King might have come to take us, and specially Sita, back to the city. But then, we do not see the King's great white umbrella. But whatever be the case, you should be calm." Lakshmana stood humbly with folded hands by Rama. 

Halting the army at some distance, Bharata sent a few men to observe and report on the place whence the smoke rose. They brought the news that this was the very spot described by Bharadwaja and that the cottage was very probably Rama's forest abode. 

Bharata started forward with Satrughna, Vasishtha and Sumantra. As they advanced, they saw indications that the ashrama was habited. There was a path that led to the river and the trees were blazed on either side of it as though to make it easy to find it in the dusk. Presently they came to a cottage thatched with leaves, near which were stacks of faggots and the dry dung of deer and wild buffaloes heaped for use in winter. 

In the cottage, on the walls were mighty bows and quivers full of deadly arrows, swords which seemed to radiate victory and other weapons all of superlative excellence. They saw also, spread out to dry on the branches of trees, garments of bark. Bharata beheld all these sure signs of his brothers' residence in the hermitage with a swelling heart. 

From inside came smoke from the oblations of daily worship. Entering, Bharata saw the altar with its blazing fire and Rama himself seated by it with matted locks, majestic, though in deer-skin and bark, a ruler of the world, with his mighty arms, breadth of chest and a countenance made to command love and obedience. By him were Sita and Lakshmana. He had been thinking all the time of the infamy that had gathered on his head, and wondering what to say and what to do when he met Rama. 

But now when he saw Rama, he forgot all this in the great love that surged within him and submerged all other thoughts and fears. He sprang forward to the spot where Rama was seated. He could utter no word, beyond "Brother," and fell at his feet, and sobbed. By this time, Sumantra and Guha joined him. 

Rama saw before him lying on the ground Bharata with hands clasped in supplication, with matted locks and in garments of bark. With grief and fasting, his body had grown lean and he was tanned with fatigue and exposure. Rama embraced him, and kissed him on the head, and said: "Brother beloved, why did you leave our father's side and come all this way into the forest? And why have you grown so thin?" 

Bharata was speechless. Rama put to him the formal questions which members of the royal family asked each other when they met after an absence. 

After an interval, Bharata gathered strength and gave answer. "Why do you question me about the kingdom, brother, as though I were its ruler? What connection is there between the kingdom and myself? When you are the rightful king, how could I call myself king or rule over the land? My duty is to do you humble service. It has not been given to me to do it. The eldest son should bear the burden of the kingdom. This is the law and custom. Come with me to Ayodhya, wear the crown and shower your grace on our family and people. The old King's work in the world is over and he has entered Swarga. When you had left Ayodhya for the forest and before I returned from Kekaya the King gave up his life, slain by the grief of separation from you. Do not give way to sorrow. Perform the obsequies of our father. Thinking of you, he gave up his life. The obsequies you perform will alone satisfy his spirit." Thus Bharata steadied himself and spoke. 

When Rama heard that his father was dead, he fell down like a tree felled by an axe. Bharata had no need to repeat before Rama all the apologies and explanations which he had to give to Kausalya, Guha and Bharadwaja. Where was the need for explanations when Rama set his eyes on that grief-stricken body and that ravaged face? Bharata, whose one concern was to take Rama back to Ayodhya, spoke only of this and not at all of himself. 

The princes, with Sita and Sumantra went to the river and offered libations for the peace of the departed soul of the King. After other customary ceremonies, the princes returned to the cottage. They held each other's hands and relieved their sorrow by loud lamentation. 

In this episode, where Bharata meets Rama, we read in Valmiki a long lecture on the art of government, delivered by Rama to his brother. Often in our epics, we come across such long dissertations on politics or morality. Modern fiction gives high priority to narrative vigor, dramatic suspense and surprise. In old works, in addition to plenty of these qualities, there were generous doses of didacticism. 

It may be added here that even old commentators noticed that the chapters of this episode have got mixed up and displaced in Valmiki. Kamban has of course regularised and modernised the narrative. In Tulsidas the meeting of Rama and Bharata is steeped in bhakti and there is no room for any complications. 




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