Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 5:07 AM
In the Krita-yuga, Mandhata bestowed upon kshatriyas the power to defend law and land.
But as time passed, corruption seeped into society. Kings and warriors, motivated by desire, not duty, began abusing their military might to oppress society and plunder its wealth.
Kartaviryarjuna, the king of Haihaiyas, acquired a thousand arms from Vishnu himself, ostensibly to protect the earth. But he used them to steal cows.
With that, the age of perfection came to an end and Treta-yuga, the less-than-ideal second quarter of the world-cycle, dawned.
Kartaviryarjuna once raided the hermitage of the Bhargava brahmanas and stole their cows. Sage Chyavana, leader of the Bhargayas, tried to make peace but was killed by the Haihaiya king.
Chyavana's son Urva was still in his mother's womb when he learnt of his father's death. The rage of this unborn child took the form of a blazing fire that threatened to destroy the whole world.
Vishnu said to the vengeful infant, "Do not punish the whole world for the crime of one king."
Hearing Vishnu, Urva flung the flames of his fury into the sea where it turned into Badavagni, the mare of destruction. "It will remain under the sea till the end of Kali-yuga when the world becomes totally corrupt, beyond redemption," said Urva.
Vishnu promised to avenge Chyavana's death and punish every kshatriya who had strayed from the path of dharma.
He took birth in the Bhargava clan as Rama, the youngest son of sage Jamadagni and his wife Renuka.
Though born in a family of priests, Rama had the disposition of a warrior. He learnt the art of war from Shiva himself and became an expert in the use of the axe earning the title Parashurama, Rama-who-wields-the-axe.
Jamadagni was the guardian of Kamadhenu, the celestial cow which provided enough milk to feed an army a day.
When Kartaviryarjuna learnt about this miraculous co he came to Jamadagni's hermitage and forcibly dragged Kamadhenu to his palace.
"If kings of the earth act like thieves, who will protect weak?" asked Parashurama. Kartaviryarjuna did not reply. So the lord picked up his axe and hacked the greedy king to death.
Having soiled his hands with blood, Parashurama went on a pilgrimage to purify himself.
While Parashurama was away, Kartaviryarjuna's sons decided to avenge their father's death. They raided the Bhargava hermitage and beheaded jamadagni.
As he watched his mother cry during his father's cremation, Parashurama took an oath, "Twenty one times did my mother beat her chest as she mourned for my father; twenty one times shall I make the kshatriya-women of the world weep for their husbands."
He swore to kill every warrior and king on the face of the earth who had subverted the law of the land for personal gain.
Parashurama fulfilled his vow with a ferocity that shocked the world. He slaughtered hundreds and thousands of kshatriyas, filling ten great lakes with their blood. He became known as the scourge of the warrior caste.
After the twenty first carnage, Parashurama became a teacher: he instructed many brahmanas in the art of war to check the rising domination of the warrior community.
"It is easy for an impoverished brahmana like Parashurama to contain his desire for power than it is for a rich kshatriya," said many a cynic.
To prove them wrong, the lord descended upon earth as a prince who was willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of dharma. Rama — noble warrior, just ruler, dutiful son, loving brother, faithful husband — was the personification of virtue and rectitude, mar yada purushotta ma, the lord's most august incarnation.
Dashratha, king of Ayodhya, scion of the Raghava dynasty, had three wives but no children. When he propitiated the gods, they gave him a sacred potion containing the essence of Vishnu.
After consuming this divine drink, the queens gave birth to four sons. Rama was the eldest, born to the noble Kaushalya. Next came Bharata, the son of the beautiful Kaikeyi. The youngest queen Sumitra gave birth to twins, Lakshmana and Shatrughna.
Rama radiated a divine aura from an early age. His noble bearing and caring nature earned him the respect of young and old alike. Sages and scholars who visited the crt of Dashratha were touched by his humility, dignity and grace. They spoke highly of this gentle prince of Ayodhya, of his respect for the laws of the land and his sense of duty.
Rama was but a boy when he learnt that the sage Vishvamitra was being tormented by the demons of the forest. He rushed to the rishi's defence. With his arrows he kept the trouble-makers at bay while the sage performed his yagna.
When Rama heard how Ahalya had been turned to stone for being unfaithful to her husband, he was moved by compassion to redeem the hapless woman from her miserable fate. Such was the purity of his being that the touch of his foot washed away Ahalya's sin and liberated her to rejoin her husband.
Sita, the Earth-goddess Rama broke a mighty bow that could not even be lifted by the gods and won the hand of Janaka's daughter, Sita, in marnage.
Sita was no ordinary girl. She was Bhoodevi incarnate. She had emerged from the earth when Janaka, king of Mithila, was tilling the sacred fields of the earth-goddess with his golden plough.
When Rama married Sita, Vishnu was reunited with his divine consort Lakshmi on earth.
After Rama's marriage, Dashratha was so happy that he decided to pass on his crown to his eldest son and retire into the forest.
But he was stopped by Kaikeyi, his second queen, who said, "You, once promised me two boons when I saved your life in a battle. I want them now: I want my son Bharata to be made your successor and I want Rama to live like a hermit in the forest for fourteen years."
Rama, on learning this, discarded his royal robes and left Ayodhya dressed in clothes of bark, without regret or resentment.
"Let it not be said that a Raghava king does not keep his word or that a Raghava prince does not obey his father," he told his people who wept as he departed for the forest.
Bharata, the son of Kaikeyi, refused to rule a kingdom procured through deception.
"I shall rule this land as my brother's regent until his return," he said placing Rama's sandals on the throne of Ayodhya.
Bharata, who also contained the spirit of Vishnu, lived like a hermit, outside the city, refusing to partake of the luxuries denied to Rama.
While these two brothers selflessly renounced their claims to the throne of Ayodhya, far away in the south, a battle raged between two brothers for the throne of Lanka: Ravana, ten-headed lord of the rakshasas, finally drove his brother Kubera, lord of the yakshas, out of Lanka and usurped his kingdom and his crown.
Then, mounting Kubera's flying chariot, the Pushpaka-vimana, Ravana rode across the cosmos indulging in an orgy of rape and plunder.
Rama meanwhile wandered deep into the forest, far from Ayodhya, followed by Sita, his dutiful wife. Lakshmana, his brother, joined them, serving Rama as Ananta-Sesha served Vishnu in Vaikuntha.
The forest was no sylvan retreat. Rama, Lakshmana and Sita had to continuously battle the elements, contending with wild beasts and hostile tribes.
In the final year of their exile, while they camped on the banks of the river Godavari, Ravana's sister Surpanakha cast her lustful eyes on Rama.
Rama turned her away. "I have a wife already," he said.
"This is the jungle, you take what you want." So saying Surpanakha attacked Sita intending to kill her and take her place.
"This is the jungle, you defend what is yours." So saying Lakshmana raised his sword and cut off Surpanakha's nose and ears.
To avenge Surpanakha's mutilation, Ravana decided to abduct Sita. "With Sita gone, Rama will forget all about marital fidelity and take you as his wife," he assured his sister.
While Rama and Lakshmana were away on a hunt, Ravana approached Sita in the guise of a rishi with a request for alms.
Sita, too innocent to suspect a sage, welcomed him in keeping with the sacred laws of hospitality only to be dragged away to the island-kingdom of Lanka.
Separation from Sita broke Rama's heart.
As he wept, Nature mourned with him: trees shed leaves, flowers lost their fragrance. The woods, once enlivened by the presence of Rama and Sita, became a gloomy place.
"Take comfort in our company," said the birds and beasts of the forests.
"I cannot. None can replace Sita," said Rama.
Realising he had hurt these innocent creatures by rejecting their affection, the lord said, "I will descend upon earth as Krishna who will be playfulness personified, leela purushottama. Then all of you can be my companions and dance and sing with me in the meadows of Madhubana."
The birds and beasts of the forest promised to help Rama find Sita. Vultures flew high in the sky and monkeys scoured the earth until they found Rama's beloved on the island of Lanka locked in Ravana's pleasure-gardens.
The monkeys and bears of the forest led by the mighty Hanuman and the wise Jambuvan hurled sticks and stones into the sea to build a bridge to the island of rakshasas. These were kept afloat by fishes, serpents, seals and other sea-creatures.
Thus did Vishnu rouse the forces of Nature to rescue his consort.
Rama strode across the sea on the bridge and launched an attack on Lanka with his monkey army.
They stormed the high walls, brought down the towers and set ablaze the palaces within. The rakshasas with all their diabolical powers were no match for Rama's army of monkeys who had righteousness on their side.
Ravana watched in dismay the defection of his brother Vibhishana, the defeat of his mighty armies, the death of his brother Kumbhakarna and his son Meghanath at the hands of Rama and Lakshmana. But he was too proud to release Sita and make peace.
Finally, when all his resources had been exhausted, he rode into the battlefield himself and confronted Rama.
After a fierce battle, Rama, seated on Hanuman's shoulder, shot an arrow right through Ravana's heart. As the rakshasa-king fell, the monkeys and bears who had fought alongside Rama, yelled out in triumph. Bhoodevi smiled. Her lord had saved her once again.
Rama did not rejoice. He knew that the world had lost its innocence. Faith had been replaced by doubt.
When Sita was liberated from the pleasure-gardens of Lanka, Rama asked her to prove her fidelity. "Show the world that in body, mind and soul, you have been my faithful wife," he said.
Sita, surprised by Rama's order, walked through fire. The flames did not touch her. Agni, the fire-god, said, "I can burn only impure things. Sita is the earth, Bhoodevi herself, eternally pure. Nothing can pollute her."
But even Agni's words could not quell the vulgar suspicions in the hearts of men.
When Rama was crowned king of Ayodhya, his subjects refused to accept Sita as their queen. "How can she, who has lived under another man's roof, sit beside our king?" they asked.
Rama, the dutiful king, in keeping with the wishes of his subjects, abandoned Sita in the forest. But when they asked him to remarry, he refused, "I exiled the woman you did not want as a queen. But she still remains my wife. I will remain eternally faithful to her," he said.
The gods praised Rama. "He is ekam-patni-vrata, true-to-one-wife," they said.
In the forest, away from the complications of worldly life, surrounded by gentle birds and beasts in the hermitage of sage Valmiki, Sita gave birth to Rama's sons: the twins Luva and Kusha.
Rama, meanwhile, performed his duties as a king with a golden image of Sita by his side. Though he had sacrificed personal joy, he made sure there was peace and prosperity in the lives of all his subjects.
Years after his coronation, Rama's royal horse was let loose into the forest as part of the ashwamedha yagna. All the lands it traversed unchallenged came under Rama's suzreignity.
When Rama's horse reached Sita's abode, it was captured by her twin sons. Luva and Kusha said "We will not accept the rule of a king who abandons his wife."
A great battle followed. The armies of Ayodhya tried their best to recover their royal horse but failed. They were no match for Sita's sons. Even Rama had to accept defeat.
"The power of dharma has enabled the sons of Sita to defeat the armies of A yodhya," said the gods who advised the citizens of Ayodhya to accept Sita as their queen.
They agreed on one condition, "She must prove her purity once again."
Tired of having her virtue questioned time and again, Sita said, "If I am pure let me return whence I came." Instantly the earth opened up and Sita descended into its depths.
The citizens of Ayodhya got their proof. But Rama lost his wife and with her went his will to stay on earth.
Rama realised it was time to abandon Ayodhya and return to Vaikuntha. After appointing his sons as his successors, he bid farewell to the world of man, walking into the river Sarayu to free himself from his mortal body.
Mankind mourned Rama's departure for he was the embodiment of the ideal man; his reign, the Rama-ra jya, was the most perfect ever.
Writer – Devdutt Pattanaik