But that does not mean one should be disheartened or driven to despair or helplessness. For:
The sky may seem o’ercast, and lightning and
thunder may split it apart,
but patience, faith and a trustful waiting,
and the earth will smile once more. (2:119)
At the end of the book – Ayodhya, we see Prince Rama exiled. He tries to dissuade Sita from following him but she says that she is Earth-born and hence quite cut out for life in the forest. Women are not weaklings or without ability to reason. She says:
No cheap juvenile enthusiasm, this,
nor female obstinacy:
I’ve been schooled in Mithila’s famed Retreats
in seasoned austerities. (2:424)
Lakshmana joins them in their journey to the forest in Aranya. They visit various hermitages and forests and find peace amidst sylvan beauty. Their sojourn is full of learning especially their encounters with the inmates of the hermitages. Meeting a great yogi, Sita understood how that the serenity exuded by a benign saint whose bright eyes seem to convey a nectarean message brought inner peace to those in his presence.
Was it the Light of transcendental Truth
that filled everything and made
the spectacle of multiplicity
a splendorous unity?
Sita could see how the disprivileged
of the world- the blind, the mute,
the waifs, the possessed – found in that silence
the solvent of their problems. (3: 209 & 210)
Very much true, especially in our turbulent times, when the need for inner comfort despite the abundance of consumer goods all around drives people in large numbers to seek solace from gurus and godmen; apart from a renewal in religion as seen from the rush to places of worship.
They reach Panchavati where on the banks of the Godavari and find peace amidst nature’s bountiful munificence. Alas, the peace is soon shattered with Surpanakha’s appearance followed by the episode where Lakshmana chops off her nose. Sita is shaken for it appears to be an ill omen. Surpanakha complains to her brother Khara who waged war on Rama. In the battle Khara’s army and Khara himself are routed. It is now Ravana’s turn to appear on the scene. The golden deer appears, fascinating Sita. She sends Rama after the deer and stings Lakshmana into going in search of Rama, after hearing a cry, ostensibly in Rama’s voice. Now alone in the hermitage, she is easy prey for Ravana in an ascetic’s disguise. Everyone knows what happened next. Sita was forcibly taken away to Lanka by Ravana and thus we come to the next book: Asoka.
Asoka, the forest where Sita was imprisoned, teased and terrified by ogresses, was a beautiful forest, in modern parlance one would probably refer to it as a biodiversity hotspot. As she walked, benumbed, all that she registered were the variety of trees, birds and animals. She pulled herself up to offer evening prayers.
A divine calm descended upon her,
the creeping terror withdrew,
she could gather her native strength once more,
she was wide awake within. (3:86)
Sita remembers her old nurse in Mithila:
And she used to say: “Let the worst happen,
my child, let the nether depths
chill your being, but the Grace is around,
the redemption is decreed. (3:369)
The time in Asoka is a time for introspection. Thirteen years had passed like so many days, since they had left Ayodhya. She was in a dream-like state, thinking of events past – advice and warning that she had ignored, the impulsiveness in her reactions that had led her to this folly. Was there going to be a way out from here? In Asoka, she is befriended by Trijata, daughter of Vibhishana, who assures her that she has friends in Lanka. From her and Anala, her sister, she learnt about what happened in the Royal Council and was also told by them to beware as ruthless measures would be tried to make her compliant. Even Ravana’s angry tirade when he visited Asoka in all his grandeur refused to cow her down. Tormented by memories but calmed by remembering past happiness, she bided her time. The canto ends with Hanuman finding his way to Lanka, spoking to Sita and speeding back with the information to Rama. So begins Yuddha: the book of war. An army, the vanarasena, is assembled. The battle is fought and the Rakhshasa is sent on his way to Yama’s world. Trijata tells Sita:
I see Rama release the fateful dart;
it is now beyond recall:
it speeds with the wild wind’s velocity
and pierces Ravana’s heart.
And from the Rakshasa King’s inert hand
his bow and arrow fall down,
and his massive body, now tenantless,
lies spread out on the bare ground. (4:1047 & 1048)
Sita is set free and looks forward to being united as we come to Rajya. But even as the cup of happiness is filling up, Trijata had a premonition and ‘gave out a sepulchral moan’. Sita is shaken too and wonders:
“Tirjata, Anala, what does it mean?
my mind misgives, my right eye
throbs, my right arm twitches, birds fly above,
and lack-lustre is the Sun.
Why, oh why doesn’t Rama come to claim me,
clasp me, carry me away?
Are these miserable months of waiting
and languishing not enough? (5:110 & 111)
Rama has doubts, chilling thoughts. Could such a beautiful person be untarnished after the rakshasa’s touch, after spending time in his world?
When you had perforce to live in his place,
Ravana couldn’t have left you
undefiled, since you are so beautiful
and hence so desirable. (5: 146)
Sita has to prove that she is unblemished. A sudden ice age, freezing all to immobility. A solar flare, a sudden outburst from the sun bathing the earth with rays, destructive for the nonce, may be a prime requisite to restore order. She commands Lakshmana to prepare the funeral pyre and walks into it. But her walk through fire only enhances her radiance:
For Rama, as for the astonished throng