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4-Ashwamedh Parv

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4-Jaimini's Ashwamedh Parv, Uttar Raam Charit-1
Copied from Satya Chaitanya's blog site

Jaaminiya Ashwamedh Parv - Uttar Raam Charit
The context is of the narration of the Ashwamedh battle between Arjun and his son Babhruvaahan. While describing the battle to Janamejaya, the author-narrator Jaimini compares it to the similar battle between Raam and his son Kush. This prompts Janamejaya to ask for the details of the battle between Raam and Kush and Jaimini responds by narrating the story at length, devoting 12 out of the total 68 chapters of the book to it.

After returning from his 14-year exile, says Jaimini, Raam begins ruling Ayodhyaa. Years pass and yet Seetaa does not conceive – the duration mentioned by Jaimini is ten thousand years, whatever he means by it. Eventually she conceives and completes four months of pregnancy. It is when she is in the fifth month that Raam has a terrible dream. In his dream Raam sees that Lakshman has abandoned Seetaa on the banks of the Gangaa and she is weeping there like an orphaned child. Next morning he informs Vashishth of his dream and requests the sage to fix a date for the Punsavan ritual, so that the pregnancy is completed without any trouble. Vashishth fixes a date in the next fortnight. Accordingly Raam gives orders to Lakshman to invite Seetaa's father Janak and sages like Vishwaamitra for the ceremony. They arrive and the Punsavan rites are royally performed. Following the ritual, Janak hands over his kingdom to Raam and retires to the forest for devoting his whole life for spiritual practices.

It is one night following this while Raam and Seetaa are in bed that Raam asks his wife about her Daurhrida [dohada – the pregnant woman’s wish]. Seetaa tells him that by His grace she has no desires, all her desires are fulfilled, but there is one thing she is keen to do: visit the Aashram of ascetics on the banks of the Gangaa.

Raam spontaneously bursts out laughing at this – a thing we cannot imagine Vaalmeeki's Raam doing. Laughing aloud he asks her if fourteen years of life in the jungle hasn’t satisfied her. He then promises her that she shall visit the banks of the Gangaa the very next morning.

We can see clearly here that Jaimini is already taking an independent road in telling the Uttar Kathaa of Raam. Things are quite different in the Vaalmeeki Raamaayan. In the older telling of the story by the Aadi Kavi, the prophetic dream Raam sees about Seetaa being abandoned in the forest is missing, and so is the Punsavan ritual. Naturally, Janak does not come to Ayodhyaa to attend it nor does he hand over Mithilaa to Raam to rule over and retire to the forest for Tapas. Raam asks Seetaa about her Dohada not when they are in bed together, but in entirely different circumstances.

In Vaalmeeki's version, following his return from the exile and coronation as king, we find Raam and Seetaa in each other's company in an atmosphere of love in the Ashok Gardens on the palace grounds, a place filled with all kinds of beautiful trees. There are ponds in the garden, filled with aquatic flowers and abounding in Chakravaak, swans, cranes, storks and all other kinds of birds that flock around water. Seated on a couch in the Ashok Vanikaa, Raam lovingly gives Seetaa with his own hand a beverage called madhu-maireyak to drink, just as Indra gives Shachee drinks. Servants bring varieties of meat and fruits. Naag women, Kinnaree and Apsaraa, all pretty, all adepts at dance, all well adorned, dance around Raam, very close to him. The dancing women are inebriated and Raam enjoys their dances thoroughly. Seated with Seetaa, Raam looks as though Vashishth is sitting with Arundhatee.

Vaalmeeki then tells us that Raam used to spend the first half of his days attending to his religious and royal duties and the second half, in the company of Seetaa like this for a long time, until winter passes. [The commentator Govindaraja explains a statement of the Aadi Kavi here to mean that two winters thus passed after the coronation.] It is then that one day he notices signs of pregnancy on Seetaa. He is delighted and asks her what her Dohada is – a pregnant woman’s desires should be fulfilled; what desire of hers can he fulfill? Seetaa smiles and tells him of her desire to visit the sacred Tapo Van of the great sages on the banks of the Gangaa and to sit at their feet. She wants to spend at least one night in the holy groves where these ascetics practice tapas. Rama happily promises that her desire will be fulfilled the very next day.

It is interesting to take a look at some of the changes introduced by Jaimini in his narration. Both Vaalmeeki and Jaimini are portraying Raam’s great love and care for Seetaa. Vaalmeeki speaks of their evenings together when Raama gives her drinks, meat is served and beautiful inebriated women dance around the couple. This is characteristic of Vaalmeeki who is not shy of speaking of such things. Speaking of the scene of Raavan’s Antahpur, for instance, the sage-poet unabashedly paints the picture of a post-orgasmic scene there, where only few things are left to the imagination. Similarly in the Aranya Kaand he speaks of Raam giving a piece of cooked meat to Seeitaa and asking her to try it, telling her it is good to eat, it is tasty and it is well-roasted – "idam medhyam, idam swaadu, nishaptam idam agninaa". Sage Bharadwaaj too offers the soldiers of Bharat passing through his Aashram both meat and drinks, along with other kinds of food and drinks. However, by the time of Jaimini perhaps these things had become unacceptable in the case of holy men and women like Raam and Seetaa, and the poet omits these details. There is no meat eating mentioned in this context, no intoxicating drinks, and no dance. He chooses other incidents to portray their intimacy. For instance, Raam's spontaneous laughter at Seetaa's desire to visit the forest again. That is a very intimate action. Raam also has the precognitive dream of Seetaa being abandoned – the kind of dream a loving person deeply concerned with another is likely to have. His interpretation of it is that something evil is going to happen to her pregnancy and he does what he thinks is appropriate – conducting a Vedic ritual to safeguard the pregnancy and Seetaa.

Following the promise he makes to Seetaa that She shall visit the Aashram the next day, later that night, Jaimini tells us, Raam receives His spies and listens to the reports of each separately. The reports are all good. When Raam presses them, though, one of them admits that he has heard something negative too. The wife of a washerman had left her husband and gone away to her father’s place where she stayed for four days. The father then realizes that it is wrong for him to keep his married daughter at home for such a long period and, accompanied by his brothers, he takes her back to her husband. The furious washerman shouts at them, "Do you think I am Raam? He can accept back Seetaa who stayed in the house of the Raakshas, but I will not."

Raam sends the spy away and starts reflecting on his words. He ponders over what he should do. How can he abandon Seetaa whose purity has been proved by fire? No, he cannot, just as an educated Braahman cannot give up good conduct. Or maybe he should give her up, like Braahman in the Kali age who give up the Ved. By the morning, he makes up his mind to abandon Seetaa.

Early next morning his brothers meet Raam. Raam tells him all that happened in the night and informs them of his decision to abandon Seetaa out of fear for the censure of the world - Lok Bhaya.

The brothers are shocked. It is Bharat who speaks first. He reminds Raam of Seetaa's purity which she has proved by entering fire. He also reminds Raam of Dasharath's words on that occasion. Dasharath had appeared in the skies and told Raam not only that Seetaa is pure but also that She is capable of purifying others by Her presence. In fact, Dasharath had said then, he should not have been admitted into Heaven because he had died grieving for his son, but it was because of his daughter-in-law Seetaa's purity that he was admitted into the Heaven. Bharat reminds Raam that the gods too had vouched for Seetaa's purity.

Raam admits that it is all true; Seetaa's purity is beyond doubt. But what is He to do with this evil talk that is going on? How can He put an end to it? For a king, there is nothing worse than ill fame and nothing more desirable than Keerti, Yash – righteous fame. One should give up those who cause ill fame – be it a son, a brother, or a wife.

Here Raam quotes a few examples from the past, of people who had made great sacrifices for the sake of righteous fame. One of them is the highly anachronistic example of Karn ‘long ago’ giving away his armor and ear rings to Indra. "tathaiva kavacham karno vaasavaaya dadau puraa" - Jaimini 27.23.

Lakshman has difficulty in controlling his anger now. Waving his arms in fury, he tells Raam that his action is like giving up one's own mother, like saving a cow from Mlechcha and then abandoning it saying it has been touched by Mlechcha and has hence become impure.

Shatrughn is equally furious at what Raam has said. He tells Raam he should carry out what he says and kill himself – that will make him immortal. And Seetaa is such, and her love for Raam is such, that she will bring him back from death. But, he asks Raam, how will He bring a dead Seetaa back to life? He implies that Raam is not capable of doing that, his love for her is not so powerful.

Raam's only response is to say that his fear for ill-fame is such that if necessary He will give up himself and them, his brothers, what to speak of Seetaa.

Finding Raam bent on giving up Seetaa, Bharat and Shatrughn do not wish to stay with him anymore and go to their own palaces. Lakshman however is not able to do so, seeing Raam'’s grief. Raam tells him either to chop off His, Raam's, head or to carry out his order and abandon Seetaa in the jungle. “I touch your feet and beg you,” Raam tells Lakshman. "Abandon Seetaa on the bank of the river in the jungle. That sin will come to me."

These words of Raam shames Lakshman. He remembers the injunction of the scriptures that one should always obey the orders of one’s elders. He remembers how Parashuraam had cut off his mother’s head obeying the orders of his father Jamadagni. He orders his driver to get his chariot ready and goes by it to Seetaa's house, his head hung heavy in pain.

Here Jaimini adds something beautiful: the horse collapses on the way and has to be brutally whipped to get up and proceed.

Seeing him bowing to her in her palace, Seetaa is delighted. He praises Raam's generosity: he is fulfilling what she had asked for in the night, though she had said it in a light mood. She tells Lakshman she will take gifts for the sages and their wives. Her words torment Lakshman, but he remembers his duty to Raam and silently responds by saying all right, his head bent, tears flowing from his eyes.

Seetaa takes leave of Kaushalyaa as well as Kaikeyee and Sumitraa and happily boards the chariot. With a choked voice Lakshman orders the charioteer to drive fast.

In Vaalmeeki's Raamaayan, it is not from his spies that Raam hears of the evil talk about Seetaa, but from his friends. As usual he was sitting with his friends in his chamber that night listening to all kinds of humorous stories told by them. After a while he asks Bhadra, a friend, to tell him what the citizens are saying about him and his family. Initially Bhadra tells him of the wonderful things they say, but when Raam insists he tells him of what they are saying about Sieetaa – or more precisely, about his continuing to keep Seetaa as his wife. "What joy can Raam's heart have from enjoying Seetaa who was forcibly taken into his lap by Raavan? Raavan had taken her with him to Lankaa and kept her there in his Ashok Gardens. Why does he not reject her? Now we too will have to tolerate such behavior from our wives.” Such is the talk going on in the towns and in all the villages, Bhadra tells Raam. Raam asks his other friends if this is true, and they all admit it is so.

So in Vaalmeeki's version, it is not just one washerman who talks maliciously of Seetaa, but there is wide talk of that nature in all towns and villages. As I point out in my article on the Padm Puraan version of the Raamaayan, there the author goes further and gives a reason for that washerman. In his previous lifetime, he was a parrot and Seetaa had separated him and his wife, and caged her. The female parrot had killed herself in the cage when Seetaa refused to release her, and the male parrot had jumped into the Gangaa and killed himself, cursing Seetaa that she too will later be separated from her husband. Thus to the Padm Puraan it is Seetaa's past Karm haunting Her now. We all have to pay the price of what we do, whoever we are. Karm is inviolable.

To continue the story as Valmeeki tells it, after dismissing his friends, Raam sends for his brothers in the night itself. When they come, he talks to them about how nothing is more important than one’s good name and how nothing in the world is worse than ill fame. He asks Lakshman to take Seetaa and leave her in the jungle beyond the Gangaa near the Aashram and tells his brothers if anyone spoke against his decision, he would treat him as his enemy forever.

Vaalmeeki's Raam does not allow his brothers to speak a word against him. He gives them no choice. Jaimini's Raam is equally determined about abandoning Seetaa, but he at least listens to his brothers' angry talk. Jaimini's Raam shames Lakshman into obedience by saying that he is requesting his younger brother by touching his feet. The emotional force used by Jaimini's Raam is different too – He asks Lakshman to chop his head off, if he will not obey Him. Valmeeki's Raam appears more hard-hearted when he says whoever speaks a word against his decision will become his enemy forever.

Vaalmeeki's Lakshman goes to Seetaa the next morning with his chariot to take her and abandon her. But he lies to Seetaa – he specifically tells her he is taking her to the hermitages of the ascetics on the orders of Raam, as desired by her. She picks up gifts for the sages and happily starts her journey.

Let’s now go back to Jaimini.,/font>

As the chariot proceeds, Seetaa sees evil omens everywhere. A female jackal comes before Seetaa and begins howling piteously. Flocks of deer are seen running helter-skelter in large numbers. And Seetaa's right eye begins to flutter continuously. Sieetaa suspects bad things – but not for herself. She prays for the good of Raam, so that no harm comes to him.

When the chariot reaches the Gangaa, the river that destroys sins is in a spate. Lakshman gets down from the chariot and takes her across the river by a ferry. On the other side, both Seetaa and Lakshman take a bath in the Gangaa and then proceed on foot into deeper jungles. Jaimini paints a dark picture of the terrifying jungle here – there are sharp thorns everywhere, there are ancient trees on which are perched crows which are being eaten by snakes that hiss constantly. The place is filled with cheetahs, bison, wild boars and black scorpions with raised tails. Tigers wait still looking for opportunities to pounce upon does. Wild cats are digging mice out of their holes.

Fear makes Seetaa's hairs stand on their ends. "I do not see any Aashram here, Lakshman; nor do I see any sages or their wives," She tells her Devar (brother-in-law). “There are no Aashram children running about either. I do not see smoke rising up from Agnihotra. What I see instead is smoke rising from wild fires burning forest grass and trees. Instead of the sound of Vaidik Mantra, I hear the wild cries of forest birds."

Such is Seetaa's innocence that She puts the blame for it all on Herself. Perhaps this is Her punishment for turning away from Raam by desiring to visit the Aashram. She is indeed an ugly woman who does not deserve to see the sacred Aashram. The auspicious Aashram sounds and sights are not for Her.

Tears streaming down from his eyes, Lakshman tells Seetaa that the Aashram are still far away. He then informs her how She has been abandoned by Raam out of fear for the censure of the world – Lok-Apavaad-Bhaya.

Seetaa hears those words and collapses on the ground like a star falling from the skies. It was as though she has been bitten by a deadly snake. Lakshman fans Her with the end of his cloth and She comes to Herself and sitting up, asks Lakshman, "Once you had left me alone in Janasthaan and went away. How will you again leave me in this terrible forest and go away?"

She tells Lakshman how he is the dearest of her Devar, brothers-in-law, and recalls one by one his acts of love and devotion to Her. She does not blame Raam for abandoning Her for no fault of Hers – it must be Her Karm from a past life time. She asks Lakshman to hurry back, or else Raam might get angry with him for being late. As for Her, the god who protected Her in the womb and protected Her in Lankaa will protect Her in the forest too. She gives messages of love and devotion to Her mothers-in-law to Lakshman.

Seetaa has only one complaint against Raam – he should not have entrusted the tender hearted Lakshman with the work of abandoning Her in the jungle. He should have asked someone like the hard hearted Sugreev, slayer of his own brother, or Vibheeshan who turned against his own brother, to do that job. She gives her blessings to Lakshman and asks him to leave her and go back. Lakshman goes round Her in reverence and praying to the forest gods and goddesses to protect her, begins walking away and finds his legs are refusing to carry him away from Seetaa. Seetaa looks on at the disappearing Lakshman and hopes perhaps he would return. When She finds that he does not, she swoons again.

The Jaiminiya Ashwamedh Parv turns eloquent here in describing the sympathy of the forest for Seetaa. It describes how swans give up lotus stalks and start wailing in their harsh voices. The doves and their babies give up feeding on grass and raising their heads stall still watching Seetaa lying in a swoon. Peacocks give up their dances and run towards her. Birds stop searching for food and instead spread their wings and protect Seetaa lying on the forest floor. Water fowls sprinkle water on her with their wings. The Chamar fan Her with their Chamar-like hairy tails. The wind takes a dip in the Gangaa and then gathering the flowers lying around, showers them on Seetaa in an act of worship.

Seetaa wakes up taking Raam's name. Because of contorting in pain as She lays in swoon, Her hair is open now and like the rest of Her body, it is covered in dust. Her first impulse is to end Her life, but that would be the great sin of Bhroon Hatyaa – killing an embryo in the womb. Not knowing what else to do, she runs first in one direction, then in another, falling every now and then in her agony and loneliness. Her feet start to bleed from running in the thorn-filled and rough forest floor and from falling down repeatedly.

It is in this state that Sage Vaalmeeki finds Her in the jungle while he is roaming there along with his disciples looking for wood appropriate for a sacrificial pillar.

Jaimini differs from Vaalmeeki in where Seetaa is left. In Vaalmeeki Raamaayan, Raam'’s instructions are to leave Seetaa at some lonely place near Vaalmeeki Aashram and that is precisely what Lakshman does. In fact it is possible that from where Seetaa was left the Aashram was visible and Seetaa was visible from the Aashram too. For, Lakshman says to Seetaa when they reach there:

"Obeying the order of the king and as per your pregnancy wish, I am to abandon you near the Aashram. Here is the sacred and beautiful Tapo Van of the Brahmarshi on the banks of the Gangaa. Do not grieve."

Jaimini changes this and there is no indication that it is near the Aashram that She is left. In fact, there are all kinds of contrary indications. Seetaa complains that She does not see any Aashram there, nor any sages nor their wives. She speaks of seeing no Aashram children running about, seeing no smoke rising up from Agnihotra. All She sees is smoke rising from wild fires burning forest grass and trees. Instead of Vaidik Mantra, She points out, all She hears is the wild cries of forest birds.

Jaimini's forest is also not the gentle forest near Aashram – what we find everywhere is sharp thorns, ancient trees on which are perched crows who are being hunted by hissing snakes, and the forest floor filled with cheetahs, bison, wild boars, black scorpions with raised tails, tigers waiting to pounce upon does, cats digging mice out of their holes.

In Vaalmeeki she is so close to the Aashram that the young Aashram children see and hear her cries and inform the sage of Her. Seetaa here has no consolation of being anywhere near Aashram. And She runs about madly in intolerable agony, first running in one direction and then in another. It is in this state that Vaalmeeki who is looking for wood for making a sacrificial post finds Her in Jaimini.

Also, in Jaimini, it is the fear of Bhroon Hatyaa – the sin of killing the children in her womb – that prevents Seetaa from killing Herself. In Vaalmeeki it is the fear that with it Raam’s ancient royal line will come to an end.



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Created by Sushma Gupta On 03/09/02
Modified on 12/01/12