Episodes from the Ramayana – Chapter 2

No Progeny from his Loins

The King consulted priests, pundits and ministers and when he knew that their desire confirmed the earnest prayer of Kausalya, he married another wife, Sumithra. Sumithra lived up to her name, for she was indeed full of companionable virtues. Kausalya and Sumithra were bound to each other by ties of affection, far stronger than those between a mother and child. Each yearned to give joy to the other; each had deep fortitude, detachment and sympathy. But, in spite of the lapse of many years, no signs of the King securing a successor to the throne were evident. Moved by despair, the King married a third wife, at the instance of the two queens. She was Kaika, the exquisitely charming daughter of the King or Kekaya in Kashmir.

The King of Kekaya, however, laid down certain conditions, before agreeing to give his daughter away in marriage! He insisted that the son born of Kaika should have the right of accession to the throne; if the King of Ayodhya could not agree to this, he declared, he would not consent. Garga. the Court Priest, brought back the message to Ayodhya. Kausalya and Sumithra recognized the ardour of the King to wed the princess of Kekaya, whose beauty was being extolled highly by all; they felt that the duty of a true wife is to obey the least wish of the husband and do her best to help the realization of that wish; they also knew full well that the Imperial Line of Ayodhya can never be polluted by a son who would transgress Dharma. Though Dasaratha might promise that the son of the third wife could succeed to the throne, the son of Kaika born in the dynasty would certainly be an embodiment of righteousness, free from such blemish: so, they pleaded with him, with palms meeting in prayer, “Lord! What greater happiness have we than yours? Accept the conditions laid by the King of Kekaya and wed his daughter and ensure the continuity of this dynasty of Raghu. There is no need to spend even a minute’s thought upon this”.

The words of the queens fanned his native ardour to an even brighter flame; therefore, the King sent Garga back with many presents agreeing to the terms and informing the King that he was following fast for the wedding ceremony. The ceremony itself was celebrated with lavish magnificence.

Dasaratha returned to his capital, shining like the moon amidst the stars, when he passed through the streets in procession, accompanied by the three queens. The King treated each of them with equal consideration; they too, evinced equal love and respect towards each other and the King. They adored him and were afraid to displease him. They endeavoured their best to carry out his wishes and not to hinder his desire, for they revered him as their God, in the tradition of the true wife. They lived with such intimate mutual love that it appeared as if all three had but one breath, though they moved about as three bodies!

Years passed. The King and the queens crossed the bounds of youth and middle age and approached the realm of old age; there were no signs of a son. Therefore, though the women’s apartments of the palace had all the comforts and accessories needed for happy existence, the hearts of the queens were torn by unrest, anxiety and despair.

One evening, the four (the King and his queens) sat in a room or the palace spending hours of anxiety over the future of Ayodhya, and the prospects of its prosperity and safety; and each attempted to answer intelligently and pleasantly. At last, unable to resolve the problem, they rose, heavily dejected and decided that they should consult the family Preceptor, Vasishta, and accept his advice.

At break of dawn, Vasishta was respectfully invited to grant his Presence; many Pundits and Counselors were also called for consultation. The King placed before them the problem of finding a successor to rule the vast realm between the two seas, the Imperial domain under the sway of the Raghu dynasty. Overcome by despair, Dasaratha prayed to the elders in plaintive terms for beneficial suggestions.

Vasishta dwelt long in thought; at last, he opened his eyes and spoke thus: “King! You need not grieve thus. Ayodhya will not be rendered masterless. She will not suffer widowhood. This domain will be happy and prosperous, in unbroken festivity and evergreen with festoonery. She will be the guardian of right living, reverberating with music and joy. I will not agree to the raising of a prince from some other dynasty to the throne of Ayodhya. The Grace of God is a gift inscrutable. The Vow of Righteousness which you are fulfilling will surely bring you the supreme joy of having a son. Do not delay any further! Invite the sage Rshyasrnga and perform, with him as the High Priest, the sacred Yaga (Sacrifice) called Puthrakameshti (the Yaga prescribed for those desirous of begetting a son). Make all the necessary ceremonial and ritual arrangements for the Yaga forthwith. Your desire will be achieved without fail”.

The queens listened to these reassuring words, spoken so emphatically by Vasishta. They were filled with joy! The bud of hope bloomed anew in their hearts. They retired into their apartments, praying most earnestly.

Meanwhile, arrangements for the Yaga were put through, on the bank of the sacred Sarayu river. Attractive sacrificial altars were constructed, in conformity with sacred injunctions. The City was decorated with flags and festoons.

As was anticipated, the great sage Rshyasrnga entered the city of Ayodhya, to the great delight of all, with his consort Santha.

Emperor Dasaratha welcomed the sage at the main gate of the Palace; he ceremonially washed the feet of the distinguished saint; he placed on his own head a few drops of the water sanctified by his feet; he then fell at the feet of Vasishta and prayed to him to enquire from Rshyasrnga the proper procedure for the contemplated Yaga.

Rshyasrnga wanted that the ministers and scholars be seated in appointed order; he directed the King also to sit on his throne. Then he described the various processes of the ceremony, so that the court priests could note them for their guidance. He gave them in such detail that every one even knew where exactly he was to sit in the sacrificial hall!

The sage decided that the Yaga shall begin on the stroke of seven, the very next day. The news spread all over the City in a trice. Before dawn every street was decorated with green festoons, every road was packed with people pressing forward to the vast open space on the bank of the Sarayu, where the Yaga was to be performed. The river bank was thick with the eager populace.

Rshyasrnga, with his consort Santha, entered the specially built Yaga Mantap, with the King and Queens, while Vedic chanting and the music of bugle, trumpet and clarinet and the cheers of the people resounded from the sky. Rshyasrnga was installed as the ‘Brahma’, or the Chief Organizer for the Yaga; he assigned various tasks like worship, recitation, chanting, propitiation, etc. to scholars, in consideration of their qualifications. The offerings were placed in the sacred fire with the prescribed formulae by Rshyasrnga himself, with scrupulous exactitude, deep devotion and faith.

From the fire that was scripturally fed, there arose before all eyes, a Divine Person who shone with the blinding splendour of a sudden stroke of lightning! He held a bright vessel in his hands. At this, the vast concourse including the priests were petrified with wonder, awe, fear and joy. They were overwhelmed by the sudden onrush of bliss and mystery. The King and Queens shed tears of joy; they cast their looks upon the Divine Person and prayed to Him, with folded palms. Rshyasrnga continued the formulae with undisturbed equanimity, as the texts prescribe, offering oblations in the fire. Suddenly, a Voice resounded from the dome of the sky. Rshyasrnga sat aghast and sought to listen to the Message from above. “Maharaja! Accept this Vessel, and give the sacred ‘payasam’ food brought therein in appropriate shares to your three queens”, the Voice announced. Placing the vessel in the hands of the King the mysterious Person who had emerged from the flames disappeared into them.

The joy of the people, princes, pundits and priests who witnessed this great manifestation knew no bounds. Soon, the final rituals were completed and the Maharaja returned in procession to the Palace, with the sacred vessel gifted by the Gods in his hands.

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