Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

The Journey of the Princes

Ramayana


From [Rama:1.22-1.26].

Convinced by the counsel of his perceptor Vasishta, King Dasharatha gladly consented to send his sons Rama and Laxmana to guard the sacrifice to be conducted by sage Vishwamitra. He sent a messenger to fetch the two princes to the court. Once the princes arrived, they saluted their parents, and all the elders. Queen Kausalya then conferred her blessings on them and uttered a prayer to the Gods to keep her children safe.

King Dasharatha said, "Dear children, you are indeed fortunate, for the great sage Vishwamitra has requested that you go along with him to protect his Vedic rituals from the ravages of demons. Obey him as you would obey me, or our perceptor Vasishta. He will be your teacher, revere him and take his slightest wish as a command."

The princes then sought the blessings of their Guru Vasishta and then prostrated themselves at the feet of sage Vishwamitra and after obtaining the blessing of these sages, set out on their journey. As the princes headed out of the city, many good omens were seen, that promised a successful journey. Trees shed their fragrant flowers at their feet, birds burst into melodious songs and a refreshing breeze began to blow from the east.

Just sixteen years of age, both princes carried two huge quivers on their back and a strong bow each in their arms. Indeed, their weapons towered over them, for the weapons were meant for adults, and they were but children. However, their cheerful faces, and manly stride reminded all onlookers of the twin Ashwinis, ever youthful, and endued with great vigor.

After traveling for a distance of one and half Yojanas (about 15 miles), the party reached the southern bank of the river Sarayu. Vishwamitra said, "O princes, please purify yourself in this water. I shall impart you the incantations known as the 'bala atibala' (बाल अतिबाल) hymns, that shall protect you henceforth. Those that know these hymns, cannot be attacked by demons, even if they are asleep, or otherwise unvigilant. It shall also protect you from diseases and pestilence."

Rama and Laxmana purified themselves in the river as instructed by the sage, and took the instruction for those hymns from him. After that, they performed the duties that students must perform, such as, cooking food, setting up camp, making sure the teacher was comfortable etc. and then went to sleep on a bed of Kusa grass.

At dawn next day, Vishwamitra awoke first and sang the following verse to wake up Rama.

कौसल्या सुप्रजा राम पूर्वा संध्या प्रवर्तते ।
उत्तिष्ठ नर शार्दूल कर्तव्यम् दैवमाह्निकम् ।

[Note: This verse [Rama:1.23.2] is still sung in Vaishnavaite temples to ceremonially awaken Lord Vishnu at dawn.

Meaning: O Rama! Fortunate is Kausalya to beget you. Arise, for the eastern aurora is emerging, and the daytime duties to the Gods are to be performed.]

Rama and Laxmana woke up and performed their morning ablutions. After offering worship to the Devas and to their ancestors, they presented themselves before the sage, ready for the journey ahead. They traveled some more distance and encountered the river Ganga, near its confluence with the river Sarayu. Upon beholding a beautiful hermitage there, Rama asked Vishwamitra, "Sir, To whom does this wonderful Ashram belong? Who are the great sages who have made this the place for their ascetic devotions?"

The sage smiled at the inquisitive prince and said, "Long ago, it was at this place that Lord Shiva performed a great penance after he lost his wife Sati. The Devas then sent Kama, the God of love to make him fall in love with Parvati. He succeeded, but Shiva was angered, and burnt the corporeal body of Kama. From that day, the God of Love is also called 'Ananga' (one without form), and the kingdom of Anga, where he gave up his body, is named after him. This famed hermitage, belonged to Lord Shiva, and is now inhabited by the descendants of his direct disciples. Those sinless Rishis are indulging in excellent penances at this place. We will spend the night here. First, we must purify our body by baths and prayer before entering this sacred place."

Accordingly, the three of them performed their evening rituals. The Rishis who resided in that hermitage, perceived by the Yogic sight that guests had arrived, and they came out to welcome them. They offered proper worship to sage Vishwamitra and bade the princes welcome. All three were fed on a simple diet of roots and fruits. After dinner, the Rishis narrated many interesting stories to the Princes. Sage Vishwamitra also narrated stories from various scriptures, about various heroes of yore.

In the morning, after performing ablutions and offering oblations, the sage and the princes took leave of Rishis in Shivas hermitage, and took a ferry ride along the river Ganga as it coursed towards the ocean. On the way, Rama heard a loud sound and enquired his perceptor as to its cause.

Vishwamitra said, "There is a great lake known as Manasa (मानस) created by Lord Brahma near Mt. Kailasa. Since it rises from that lake, the river flowing near Ayodhya is known as Sarayu (Sanskrit: SaraH = Lake). The noise that you are hearing, is from its confluence with the sacred river Ganga. Worship this spot, for it is twice sacred."

Rama and Laxmana then offered worship to the confluence of the two sacred rivers. Soon, they reached the southern bank of the river. The scenery had changed abruptly. Instead of a pleasant woodland teeming with wildlife, there was a dark and brooding forest. There was no sign of life for miles around.

Laxmana asked Vishwamitra, "Sir, Why does this forest appear so forbidding? Why do I not hear the pleasant song of birds, nor do I see any wild animals here?"

The sage replied, "This forest is near two provinces called Malada and Karusha. Long ago, when Indra slew Vritra, he incurred the sin of Brahminicide. His body became filled with filth and he became unfit for heaven. He came to these provinces and was purified by great sages, who separated the filth from his body. Since the land had absorbed the excreta from him, Indra granted a boon that these two provinces will be rich and prosperous. Indeed, the people who settled here, found the soil fertile, and found ample wealth in agriculture and in their cattle. However, it all came to an end, when a fearsome Yakshi (female Yaksha) named Tataka took up her abode here. Possessed of the strength of ten thousand elephants, she has ravaged these provinces. As a result, all the people have fled from here. This forest is known as Tataka's forest after her. If you see her, you must slay her, for she is the root of all evil that infests this place. She has a son named Maricha, also of a vicious nature, who seeks to obstruct my sacrifice with his friend Subahu. If you see either of them, they must also be slain forthwith."

Rama said, "O Rishi, I have heard that the Yakshas are not much stronger than man. How is it that a mere Yakshi has the strength of ten thousand elephants? I have also heard that Yakshis are exceedingly beautiful, how is it that Tataka possesses a frightening form?"

The sage said, "Long ago, there was a Yaksha named Suketu, who was childless for a long time. He performed many penances and as a result, Lord Brahma appeared before him. Suketu wanted a son who would be as strong as a thousand elephants combined, but the Grandsire instead blessed him with a daughter who had the requisite strength. The Yaksha named her Tataka, and when she reached puberty, he gave her in marriage to another Yaksha named Sunanda. A son named Maricha was born to them. Once, Sunanda angered the sage Agastya and was slain by his curse. Greatly angered, Tataka and Maricha attacked the sage. The sage then cursed both of them to be turned into Rakshasas. Tataka then came to this forest and took up her abode here. She is evil, and must be slain. I am confident that you have the requisite strength for that task."

Rama was in a quandary, on one hand, the code of conduct for Kshatriyas said to protect and honor women. On the other hand, Vishwamitra, whom his father had asked him to obey implicitly, was asking him to kill Tataka.

Seeing the young prince's confusion, the sage said, "The duty of a King is clear. He is the protector of his subjects. He has to be ruthless in enforcing the rule of the law. Evil has no gender. If a woman does such vile deeds, she should be punished the same as any man. In days of yore, when the wife of Bhrigu tried to destroy the world, Lord Vishnu slew her, even though she was a woman. Personal preferences should not affect a king in discharging his burden. This Rakshasi has slain a large number of innocent people and has caused others to flee from their home. She deserves death. Do not let your compassion overrule your judgment. Hold firm to your duty."

His confusion cleared up, Rama clenched his bow with his hands and made a thunderous sound with the bowstring. All the inhabitants of the forest were startled. The noise reached the ears of Tataka, who was greatly angered. She rushed to investigate the source of the noise.

Rama said to his brother, "O Laxmana, see the grisly visage of this Rakshasi, seeing whom the hearts of cowards are liable to burst. I shall not slay her, but instead incapacitate her from doing further evil."

Having spotted the intruders in her forest, Tataka rushed towards the party, with arms upraised and let out a mighty roar. She baffled the princes by raising a thick cloud of dust by magic, blinding them temporarily. She then used witchcraft and caused a shower of stones to fall on them. Undaunted, Rama broke the stones to pieces with a his own shower of arrows. He then sent two sharp arrows and cut off both her arms. For his part, Laxmana cut off her ears and nose with his arrows.

Roaring in pain, the demoness then used her shape shifting powers and assumed various fearsome forms. She continued to rain a shower of stones on Rama and Laxmana by her magical powers.

Seeing the princes hard pressed to defend against the black magic employed by the Rakshasi, sage Vishwamitra said, "You have shown her enough compassion. She is pure evil. If you try to merely stop her and spare her life, she will have no compunction in killing you. The longer you delay, the stronger she will get. The sun will set soon, and when darkness envelopes the world, the power of such malevolent beings is increased manifold."

Encouraged by the words of the sage, Rama thwarted the raining stones with his unerring arrows. He then selected a sharp arrow and aimed it at the chest of the demoness. It struck home and the powerful Tataka fell down dead. The Devas led by Indra, who had assembled in the skies to observe this combat, applauded this event. Meanwhile, Tataka was liberated from the curse of Agastya, and her soul ascended to the region inhabited by the Yakshas, having regained her original, beautiful form.

Vishwamitra praised the courage and skill of the princes. Since it had gotten dark, he decided to set up camp there for the night, and proceed to his hermitage on the morrow.

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Last Modified At: Fri Nov 26 17:16:31 2004