The Good Bird JATAYU | RAMAYAN

 

36. THE GOOD BIRD JATAYU 


"ALAS, alas! Ah Sita! Ah Lakshmana!" So cried Maricha simulating Rama's voice. And Sita was deceived. Trembling like a plantain tree in a storm, she cried: "There, Lakshmana, do you not hear your brother's voice? Run, run at once to his help!" 

Overwhelmed by fear and seeing Lakshmana unwilling to move, she appealed to Lakshmana again and again in an agony of anxiety: "I hear my Lord's voice in distress. Go, go at once! Do not delay!" she cried. "He is in some great danger. Did you not hear his cry for help? Why do you still stand here? Your brother is no doubt surrounded by Rakshasas and cries for help. Instead of rushing to his rescue, you stand still here!" 

Lakshmana knew the wiles of the Rakshasas and remembered his brother's command. He would not move. 

Sita grew furious in her agony of fear and doubt. She beat her breast with both hands and shouted in uncontrollable fury: "Son of Sumitra! Have you too turned foe? Have you been an imposter all these years? Have you been with us waiting only for Rama to die? Pretending to be his friend, were you hoping all the time for his death to secure me thereafter? Why else do you stand here, wicked wretch, and refuse to go to his rescue when he cries for help? Traitor! Imposter!" 

These cruel words pierced Lakshmana's heart like poisoned arrows. He closed his ears with his hands. He spoke gently to Sita, who was in tears of wrath: "Vaidehi, Rama can encounter and vanquish any foe in the world. There is no need to fear, O more than mother! Calm yourself. None in the universe is strong enough to touch our Rama or do him harm. What you have uttered is unworthy of you, my mother. Do not fear or grieve. You will surely see Rama return with the body of the stag you wanted. The voice we heard was not his. It is a Rakshasa's trick. Do not be deceived and grieve for nothing. My brother has posted me here to watch over you. Do not ask me to leave you alone and go. I cannot disobey my brother. Since we slew the Rakshasas of Janasthana, their people are trying to avenge themselves in various ways. We should not be misled by their false forms and voices. It was not Rama's cry for help. You need not be afraid in the least." 

But Sita's fear grew to a frenzy and with eyes red with anger she uttered terrible words: "Taking advantage of what you call your brother's command, you stand unmoved by his cry of anguish and are prepared to let him perish! Oh, how completely have you been deceiving us, Rama and me, all these years! Base, wicked, selfish wretch calling yourself brother! O, you false friend, do you rejoice that Rama is in dire peril? I now see why you followed us into the forest. Have you been set on by Bharata? Have you all become my lord's enemies? Have you all joined together in a wicked conspiracy? I, who have lived with Rama, shall I ever look at you or another? When Rama dies, I die with him. Know this for certain." 

Sita burst into a rage which completely overwhelmed Lakshmana. Her cruel words pierced and burnt into him like poisoned arrows. His hairs stood on end. He clasped his hands in worship and said: "O Mother! O Goddess! How can such words issue from your mouth? Like redhot iron they burn my ears. Cruel and unjust are these thoughts of yours. With all the gods for witness, I swear, your suspicion is wrong. I see now that after all you are a woman like other women quick to think evil of others. I fear a great tragedy is about to befall you. Otherwise you could not have thought and spoken evil of me." 

And innocent Lakshmana trembled in fear of some dire calamity that was to come over them. 

But Sita said: "Look here, here is plenty of dry fuel. I shall light a fire and fall into it. Or I shall drown myself in the Godavari. Or I shall hang myself dead, unless you run immediately to the help of Rama. Now, once again, I ask, will you not go? Or shall I perish?" 

She beat her breast and cried. Lakshmana could bear this no longer. He raised his hands in solemn worship and said: 

"Very well, sister. I shall obey you and disobey my brother. I shall leave you alone. May you be safe and well! May the gods of the forest protect you! I shall do your bidding. I see bad omens. I fear greatly. I wonder if I shall ever see you with Rama again. Yet I shall go!" 

And he went, unwillingly and looking back every now and then. 

Lakshmana walked with his heart troubled and heavy with anger and sorrow. How could he bear to hear the cruel words of Sita? How could he forget them? Sorely wounded was the heart of the prince who had renounced everything to be with his brother. 

Lakshmana went in the direction that Rama had taken. Ravana, who had been waiting for this, now approached Rama's ashrama. He transformed himself into a mendicant ascetic, clad in clean saffron clothes and his lips uttered beautiful Vedic hymns while in his heart was ugliest evil. 

Sita was standing at the entrance of the cottage, her eyes fixed on the forest, eagerly looking for Rama. Ravana beheld Sita. 

At sight of her, the desire planted in his heart by Surpanakha took good root and grew rapidly irresistible. He was more determined than ever to possess Sita. 

Seeing this wandering ascetic, clad in saffron clothes, carrying his water-pot and staff, Sita greeted him respectfully, according to the courtesy due to holy men. He desired hospitality. As in duty bound, she offered him a seat and placed before him some fruits and roots as was the custom. 

The ascetic sat and looked again at Sita. His desire grew stronger. Sinner and Rakshasa though he was, he had an instinct that made him wish to win her heart; he wished not to ravish but to secure Sita's willing consent and make her his wife. 

The King of Lanka wanted and hoped to persuade Sita. He thought she would yield to him for his wealth and power, turning her back on poverty-stricken Rama. He thought also that this would be the best way of disgracing and punishing Rama. He expected Sita to behave like other women he had known. 

Seated in front of the fruits and roots offered by Sita, the ascetic began to praise Sita's beauty in terms too warm for a genuine ascetic. He dwelt on the charms of her person and asked: "Who are you? Why are you here alone in the forest haunted by Rakshasas and wild beasts?" 

She was astonished but answered his questions. She hoped the prince would return at once and kept her eyes fixed on the doorway. 

Little by little the visitor revealed who he was and described the greatness of his origin and family, his power and wealth. After exalting himself, he proceeded to run down Rama and concluded. 

"Be my wife and live a glorious life with me in Lanka. Come, let us go!" 

In this unexpected situation, Sita's purity gave her courage to defy the powerful monster whom she now knew for what he was. 

"Base and wicked fellow! Your destruction is near. Leave this ashrama if you would escape with life" she said, hissing like an angry cobra. 

The Rakshasa was furious. He completely threw off all pretence of disguise and gentleness and assumed his real imperious wickedness. With one hand he caught hold of her hair and with the other lifted her up and carried her to the chariot which waited for him behind the trees. Forcing her into it, Ravana rose with her into the air. 

Sita cried aloud: "O my lord! Where are you, my Rama? Oh Lakshmana, most faithful of friends, why did I. with obstinate folly, drive you away?" 

The Rakshasa held her firmly down and drove on in the aerial car. Sita addressed the trees and plants down below and begged them to tell Rama of her fate. 

It happened that old Jatayu, half-asleep upon a tree, saw the chariot flying past. Startled by a woman's cry of distress he was wide awake in a moment and recognised Sita by her voice. She also saw him and appealed to him for rescue. 

Jatayu's blood was fired by the sight of her piteous plight and he threw himself in the way of the aerial car crying: "Hold, hold! What is all this?" 

"The King of Lanka is carrying me away by force," wailed Sita, "but what can you do to prevent it, my poor old friend? O fly to Rama and Lakshmana and tell them my helpless plight!" 

But Jatayu's fighting blood, the blood of generations of lordly ancestors who ruled the air and knew not fear, was on fire. He cared not for Ravana and his might. He only saw a princess in distress. He thought of his friend Dasaratha and his promise to Rama and he was resolved that this outrage should not occur while he lived to prevent it. 

Jatayu now addressed Ravana directly: "Oh king, I am Jatayu, king of the eagles, a king like you. Listen to me, brother king! Forbear from this wicked act. How can you call yourself a king and do this shameful wrong? Is it not the rule of kings to protect the honor of women? And Sita is a princess. I warn you, you shall surely perish unless you leave her and go. Her very look will reduce you to ashes. You are carrying a venomous cobra in your bosom. The noose of Yama is round your neck and dragging you to perdition. I am old and unarmed and you are young, fully armed and seated in a chariot. Yet I cannot look on, while you carry off Sita. Why do you do this cowardly act behind Rama's back? If you have any grievance against him, meet him face to face. O, you would fly away from me, would you? You shall not escape while I am alive! I care not for your chariot or your ten heads, or your glittering arms! Your heads shall roll on the ground that you have polluted with your presence. Get down from your car, and fight if you are not a coward as well as a thief!" 

Ravana flared up in a rage. He attacked Jatayu. It was like a clash between a mighty wind and a massive rain-cloud. The battle raged in the sky above the forest. Jatayu fought like a winged mountain. 

Ravana aimed deadly darts at him. But the eagle intercepted them all and with his talons tore Ravana's flesh. The enraged Rakshasa despatched sharp, serpent-like missiles against the bird. 

The bird-hero was desparately wounded, but fought on undauntedly while Sita watched the unequal combat with beating heart and tearful eyes. The sight of her made Jatayu all the fiercer in his attacks on Ravana. But his years were telling on him and he felt he must gather all his strength for a supreme attempt to conquer. Regardless of the wounds, he attacked Ravana fiercely and with his wings broke off and threw down his jewelled crown and deprived him of his bow. He attacked the chariot and killed the demon-faced mules and the charioteer and smashed the vehicle into a thousand pieces. Ravana fell on the ground, still clutching Sita. The elements rejoiced to see Ravana fall. 

The gallant old bird swooped down on Ravana's back and tore great chunks of flesh off it, and tried to wrench off the arms which held Sita. But Ravana had twenty arms, and no sooner was one pulled off than another took its place and Sita was held in writhing helplessness. 

At last Ravana let go Sita and unsheathing his sword cut off the bird's wings and talons. The old bird was now helpless and fell on the ground unable to move. 

Janaki ran and embraced Jatayu and cried: "O my father! You have given away your life for my sake. You are a second father to my Lord! And now you are no more. O our devoted brave friend!" 

Then Ravana turned towards her to take her up again. Helplessly she ran hither and thither, crying. She clung to the trees and cried. "O my Rama, where are you? O Lakshmana, where are you? Won't you, come to my rescue?" The Rakshasa at last caught her and rose in the air. 

As the dark and massive Ravana flew in the sky with her, Sita struggling in his grasp looked like a flash of lightning across a great black cloud. The Rakshasa carrying her appeared like a mountain covered by a forest-fire. The body of Ravana, lit up by Sita, coursed through the sky like a calamitous comet. 

Thus was Sita carried away by the Rakshasa. The sun grew dim and untimely darkness descended on the earth. All beings lamented: "Dharma is destroyed. Righteousness has disappeared. Virtue and pity are no more." 

The dumb creatures of the earth, looking upwards, shed tears. Ravana, cruelly clutching the princess, flew as towards his ruin. As she was carried away, the petals fell down from the flowers she was wearing at that time and as they were strewn along the path below, they seemed to announce the scattering of Ravana's fortune and affluence.





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