Episodes from the Ramayana – Chapter 5

Secret of the Princes

Sumitra had nothing to do now for her children; but, since she loved her twins as her dear life, she spent some of her time with Kausalya and some with Kaika, fondling the children and attending to their needs. She moved from one palace to the other and relished her chore as a maid caring for the comforts of children. “I am not destined to mother them”, she sometimes pined in solitude. Often she wondered how this strange situation arose of her children being happy with those mothers and not with her.

At last, she went to the guru and prayed to him to allay her anxiety. He laid bare the real reason: ‘Mother! Lakshmana is a ‘part’ of Rama; Satrughna is a ‘part’ of Bharatha.” Even as these words fell from his lips, Sumitra exclaimed, “Yes, Yes! I realize it now! I am glad I know from you the truth”, and she fell at the feet of Vasishta and left for the inner apartments.

She said to herself, “When the eagle carried away in its beak the precious payasam (Divine food) given by the Divine Messenger, I was so frightened at the prospect of the King becoming angry at my negligence that I informed Kausalya and Kaika about the calamity; she poured out for me a share from her cup and the other sister poured out another share from her own cup; so, I alone of the queens had twins, as a result of the twin shares I consumed! O, the will of God is mysterious. It is beyond any one to know His might and majesty. Who can alter His decree?”

“Yes”, she consoled herself, “I bore them for nine months; I went through the pangs of delivery. But, their real mothers are Kausalya and Kaika, there is no doubt”. She was confirmed in this belief and she gladly entrusted her children to Kausalya and Kaika, and joined them in fondling and fostering them. 

The maids as well as many kinsmen of the royal family derived great joy watching the children at play. After they left, Kausalya used to insist that rites to ward off the evil eye were performed scrupulously. She was so affectionate and considerate towards the children that she never recognized the passage of day and the arrival of night or the passage of night and the dawn of a new day. She could not leave them out of sight even for the fraction of a second! While taking her bath or when she was engaged in worship inside the shrine, her mind was on them and she would hasten towards them as quick as feasible. All her work she did in a hurry so that she could spend more time on their care.

One day, she bathed Rama and Lakshmana; she applied fragrant smoke to their curls in order to dry them and perfume them; she carried them to the golden cradles; she sang sweet lullabies and rocked them to sleep. When she found that they had slept she asked the maids to keep watch and she went into her rooms, and prepared the daily food offering to God, in order to complete the rites of worship. She took the golden plate of food and offered it to God. Some time later, she went into the shrine in order to bring the plate out and give a small quantity of the offering to the children. What was her surprise, when she found in that room, before the altar, Rama sitting on the floor, with the offering before Him, eating with delight the food she had dedicated to God! She could not believe what her own eyes told her! Kausalya wondered: “What is this I see? Do my eyes deceive me? Is this true? Can it be true? How did this baby which was sleeping in the cradle come to the shrine? Who brought it hither?” She ran towards the cradle and peeped into it, only to find Rama asleep therein! She assured herself that hers was but delusion; she went into the shrine to remove from there the vessel of payasam she had placed before the idols. She found the vessel empty! How could this be, she wondered! Seeing the child in the shrine might well be a trick of the eye; but, what about the vessel being empty? How could that be an optical illusion?

Thus she was torn between amazement and disbelief. She took hold of the vessel with the remnants of the offering and hastening to the cradle, stood watching the two babes. She could see Rama rolling something on his tongue and evidently enjoying its taste; she was amusingly watching his face, when lo, she saw the entire Universe revolving therein. She lost all consciousness of herself and her surroundings; she stood transfixed, staring with dazed eyes, on the unique panorama that was revealed.

The maids were astounded at her behaviour; they cried out in their anxiety, but she did not hear them. One maid held her feet and shook her until she awoke to her surroundings. She came to, in a trice, with a quick shiver. She saw the maids around her and stricken by wonder, she sat on a bedstead. Turning to the maids, she asked, “Did you notice the child?” They replied “Yes; we are here since long. We have not taken our eyes away from him.” “Did you notice any change in him?”, Kausalya enquired in eager haste. “We did not notice any change; the child is fast asleep as you can see” was their reply. Kausalya had her problem: Was her vision a delusion? Or fact? If true, why did not these maids notice it? She thought about it for long and, finally, consoled herself with the argument that since the children were born as products of Divine Grace, Divine manifestation was only to be expected of them. She nursed them and nourished them with deep maternal solicitude. They grew day by day, with greater and greater splendour, as the moon does in the bright half of the month. She derived immeasurable joy in fondling them and fitting clothes and jewels on them.

The childhood of Rama was a simple but sublime part in his life. Very often, forgetting that He was her child, Kausalya fell at His feet, and folded her palms before him, knowing that He was Divine. Immediately, she feared what people would say if they saw her bowing before her own child and touching Its feet in adoration. To cover up her confusion, she looked up and prayed aloud, “Lord! Keep my child away from harm and injury”. She used to close her eyes in contemplation of the Divine Child and begged God that she might not waver in her faith through the vagaries of His Maya (power to delude). She was struck by the halo or light that encircled His face. She was afraid that others might question her sanity if she told them her experiences. Nor could she keep them to herself. She was so upset that she behaved often in a peculiar manner, as if carried away by the thrill of the Divine Sport or her child. Sometimes, she was eager to open her heart to Sumitra or Kaika when they were near her; but, she controlled herself, lest they doubt the authenticity of the experience and attribute it to exaggeration, or her desire to extol her own son.

At last, one day, she made hold to relate to Emperor Dasaratha the entire story of wonder and thrill. He listened intently and said, “Lady! This is just the creation of your fancy; you are over fond of the child; you imagine he is Divine and watch his every movement and action in that light and so, he appears strange and wonderful. That is all”. This reply gave her no satisfaction; so, the Emperor consoled her with some specious arguments and sent her to her apartments. In spite of what Dasaratha affirmed, the Queen who had witnessed the miraculous incidents with her own eyes remained unconvinced. She was not convinced by his words.

Therefore, she approached the guru Vasishta and consulted him on the genuineness of her experiences. He heard her account and said: “Queen! What you have seen is unalloyed Truth. They are not creations of your imagination. Your son is no ordinary human child! He is Divine. You got him as your son, as the fruit of many meritorious lives. That the Saviour of Humanity should be born as the son of Kausalya is the unique good fortune of the citizens of Ayodhya”. He blessed the Queen profusely and departed. Kausalya realised the truth of Vasishta’s statement! She knew that her son was Divinity itself; she derived great joy watching the child.

Months rolled by. The children, Rama, Lakshmana, Bharatha and Satrughna learnt to crawl on all fours, sit on the floor, and move about. Special arrangements were made to keep watch over them at all times, lest they fall and hurt themselves. Many varieties of toys were procured and placed before them. The mothers with the children, the children with the mothers and nursemaids, spent the days, with no sense of the passage of time, in one continuous round of joy. The children could raise themselves up and stand, holding fast the fingers of mother or maid. They could hold on to the wall, and get up. They could toddle forward a few steps on their feet. Their efforts and achievements gave merriment to their mothers. They lisped in sweet parrot voice a few indistinct words and made them burst into laughter. They taught them to say, Ma and Bap and were happy when they pronounced the words correctly.

Every day at dawn they rubbed medicated fragrant oil over their bodies; then they applied detergent powder and bathed them in the holy waters of the Sarayu. Then, they dried curls in perfumed incense, applied collyrium [eye ointment] to their eyes, placed dots on their cheeks to ward off the evil eye, and put ritual marks on their foreheads. They dressed them in attractive soft silk and helped them to recline in swings, where they slept soundly to the tune or melodious lullabies. Engaged in this pleasant task, the mothers felt that heaven was not far off in space and time; it was there all around them.

And what of the jewels for them! They were newer and more brilliant, each new day! Anklets, tinkling waist strings of gold and precious stones, necklaces of the nine gems! For fear that these might hurt by their hardness the tender body, they were set on soft velvet tapes and ribbons.

The plays and pastimes of the little boys defied description. When they were able to walk, boys of the same age were brought from the city and together they played games. The city children were given tasty dishes to eat and toys to play with. They were also loaded with gift articles. The maids who brought them to the palace were also fed sumptuously. Kausalya, Kaika and Sumitra had no care for their own health and comfort while bringing up their children; so happy were they with them.

After this period of nourishment and growth in the interior of the palace, when they reached the age of three, the children were taken by their governesses to the playground, where they ran and rollicked to their hearts’ content. When they returned, the mothers welcomed them and fostered them with great love and vigilance. One day, Dasaratha while conversing with his queens, mentioned that the children will not learn much that is worth while if they moved about with the maids; their intelligence and skills cannot be developed that way. So, an auspicious hour was fixed to initiate them into letters; gurus were called in to inaugurate the studies.

From that day, the charming little kids took residence in their teacher’s home; they gave up the costly royal accoutrements and wore a simple cloth wound round their waists, and another thrown over their shoulders. Since education cannot progress well if children are in the atmosphere of parental love and care, they had to live with the teacher, imbibing lessons all through the day and night; for more is learnt by service to the teacher, by observing him and following his example. They had to live on whatever was given to them as food by the teacher. They shone like embodiments of the Brahmachari ideal (the Seekers of Truth). When the mothers felt the anguish of separation and desired to see them, they went to the house of the teacher and made themselves happy, noting the progress of the children.

The teacher was also quite happy when he observed the steadfastness and enthusiasm of his wards; he was surprised at their intelligence and powerful memory, and he was filled with wonder and joy. Among all the four, he noticed that Rama had outstanding interest in his studies. He grasped things so quickly that he could repeat any lesson correctly, when he had heard it just once. The teacher was amazed at the sharp intelligence of Rama; he resolved that his advance should not be slowed down by the need to bring the others to his level. So he grouped the other three separately, and paid individual attention to Rama who learnt very fast.

Lakshmana, Bharatha and Satrughna too learnt their lessons admirably well, but they pined for the company and comradeship of Rama so much that, as soon as Rama was out of sight, they lost interest in study and in their duties towards their teacher. As a result, they could not catch up with Rama; they were following him a session or two behind.

Lakshmana dared tell his teacher once or twice that they had no need for any lessons or learning; they would be happy if they could but get the company of Rama! Rama was the very life of Lakshmana. The teacher observed this strange relationship between the two and drew much inspiration contemplating on it. He reminded himself of the statement of the sage Vasishta that they were no other than Nara and Narayana, the inseparable Divine Forces.

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