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The birth of Rama, Lakshmana, Shatrugana and Bharata
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The birth of Rama, Lakshmana, Shatrughna and Bharata

In a kingdom quite far away and in a time quite unlike our own, there lived a mighty king, so mighty that he was called Dasharatha — kind of the ten chariots. While Dasharatha had everything and his people loved him, he did not have an heir. So, as all wise men do, Dasharatha performed many sacrifices to appease the gods. During one such sacrifice, as the ghee was poured into the fire and the flames rose higher and higher, almost as high as you can see, a magnificent figure rose up from flames, shining like the noon-day sun, brilliant as a constellation of stars, holding a golden bowl. In a voice as deep as the deepest ocean, he said: “Take this bowl, mighty Dasharatha and let your wives eat the payasa from it. They will be blessed with sons.” Unable to contain his joy, Dasharatha accepted the bowl and distributed the gift between his wives. Some months later, the city of Ayodhya was decorated with the brightest flags and banners and poets and musicians and farmers and cobblers celebrated the birth of their new princes, Rama, Lakshmana, Shatrughna and Bharata.

This image is taken from the Bala Kanda of a manuscript produced in Udaipur, India in 1712.

The Birth of SIta
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The birth of Sita

In the great kingdom of Lanka, there lived a mighty and cruel king. King Ravana ruled over Lanka with an iron fist and ten heads, levying heavy taxes on his people. One day, sages happened to pass through the great kingdom and because they had no money to pay the traveller’s tax, Ravana took their blood instead and stored it away in a pot that he placed deep inside his palace.

Once, Mandodari, the queen of Lanka, was displeased with her husband and decided to kill herself by drinking a pot of blood which she found in hidden in her chambers. As we all know, the blood of sages can produce miracles, so no sooner had Mandodari drunk from the pot than she gave birth to a daughter. Afraid of her husband’s anger, and rightly so, she put the little girl into a casket and had the casket buried in the far away kingdom of Mithila.

King Janaka unearthed the casket when he was plouhing his fields one day. He picked up the little girl and named her Sita because she had been found in a furrow.

This story is popular in the Una region, Himachal Pradesh. Image: http://www.harekrsna.com/sun/editorials/05-10/editorials6124.htm

indra
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Sita’s story

During their days in the forest Sita told Rama a story she had heard. “Many years ago,” she said “an ascetic lived in a forest among birds and animals, perfectly content. This did not please Indra, who wanted to place obstacles in the ascetic’s path and interrupt his practice of austerities. So, Indra appeared in the form of a soldier and gave him his sword for safe-keeping. The ascetic guarded the sword with his life, he even went out into the forest carrying it with him at all times. As time passed, his clear, calm mind became clouded with cruelty. Eventually, the ascetic died and went to hell, only because of the weapon.”

Indra on his elephant (right) was painted in South India (probably Thanjavur or perhaps Tiruchchirapalli) and bears a water-mark on  European paper with ‘W Thomas’, circa 1820.

Crowing of Rama
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Crowning Rama

After having ruled for thousands of years, King Dasharatha decided to make Rama, his eldest son, the next king of Ayodhya. Once the news had spread through the beautiful city, the people were so pleased that they decorated the city with diyas until all of Ayodhya looked like it had been invaded by fireflies.

Manthara, who was Queen Kaikeyi’s maid, was not pleased at the news. She wrung her wizened hands together as she thought of a plan and then she hobbled to her queen’s chambers, her back hunched over her stick. “You seemed unmoved by this sad news, my queen,” Manthara said, as Kaikeyi lay resplendent on her bed, dressed in jewels from the four oceans. “When Rama is made king, you and your precious son will be cast out and you will be no more than the mud that flies off the wheels of a chariot. Queen Kausalya has outsmarted you, my lady!”

“Manthara!  How dare you speak of the future king like this! Rama is like a son to me.”

“But are you like a mother to him?” the cunning Manthara asked. As always, Manthara was able to twist Kaikeyi’s mind and soon the young queen was weeping and tearing her clothes in anger.

This image has been taken from Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues

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  • Kiski Kahani: Personal Journeys with the Ramayana
  • Katha
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    Essays + Articles

    The Foundling Princess of Mithila: KR Srinivasa Iyengar’s Sitayana

    Ahana Lakshmi talks about her grandfather, K R Srinivasa Iyengar’s wonderful book Sitayana… Sitayah Charitham Mahat. The Glorious Tale of Sita. The story of Sita and Rama has been told and retold many times by many people in many forms since it was created. Over the centuries, creative writers have struggled to project Sita in all her purity and nobility and maternal love. The more they write, the more there is to be said. She is one of us, contemporaneous because her story is our story too. The outline of the story is simple. Sita, a babe discovered by a childless king while wielding a plough as part of a ritual, was eventually married to the god-like prince Rama. The prince was exiled and she followed him into the forest where she was kidnapped by a rakshasa and taken away to his country. She was imprisoned there and finally set free by her husband and his army, but had to undergo an ordeal through fire before she was accepted by her husband. They returned victorious to their country and were crowned king and queen. That, unfortunately, was not the end of the story. Pregnant now, she was exiled by her husband, the king, on the strength of mere rumours, thus facing a second terrible rejection, and finally withdrew to Mother Earth from whence she had emerged.  While there are points of jubilation, the sojourn as a captive and her days at … Continue reading