Episodes of the Ramayana – Chapter 7

The Guru and the Pupils…Continued

When they were in their eleventh or twelfth year, one day, Dasaratha called to his presence the minister Sumanthra, who was the repository of virtue, and commissioned him to arrange for teaching the princes the spiritual Science of Liberation. He said that however proficient a person may be in secular sciences the Science of Liberation alone can give him the strength to carry out his Dharma (Rightful duties). The highest moral culture must be imparted to them at this tender age itself.

Success or failure in later life was built upon the Impressions and experiences gained in the early stages of life. The early years are the foundations for the mansion of later years. Therefore he said, “Take the princes around the kingdom and let them learn not only the condition of the people but also the holiness of sacred places. Describe to them the sanctity of holy places, the history of the temples and of the saints and sages who have consecrated them, and let them drink deep the springs of divinity that are hallowing those spots. I feel it will be good if they do so. As they grow, they will be prone to sensual desires and urges. Ere they fall a prey to such tendencies, it is best to implant in them reverence and awe, and devotion to the Divine, that is immanent in the Universe. That is the only means to save their human-ness from demeaning itself into animality. And for rulers of kingdoms, it is essential. Consult the Guru and the preceptors and arrange the tour without delay.”

Elated at the prospect of the princes getting this great opportunity Sumanthra had all preparations made to his satisfaction; he got ready himself to accompany them. The Queens came to know of the pilgrimage that the Princes were undertaking. They were delighted that the Princes were going on such a holy venture and they made many things ready to render it as happy and useful as possible. They arranged a few nurses for them and some comrades of their own age to accompany them. The Princes too, were beside themselves with joy at the prospect of visiting the sacred places of the land. They enthused their companions and sought from the King equipment and clothes for them also.

The next day, when the auspicious hour specially selected for the journey was on, the Princes bowed before their parents, touching their feet with their foreheads; they fell at the feet of the Preceptor; the mothers placed holy dots on their foreheads and cheeks to ward off the evil eye and to guard them against evil; they discarded royal robes and put on the habiliments of pilgrims, that is to say, silk dhotis round the waist and silk shawls wrapped round the shoulders and, taking leave of all, they ascended the chariot. The palace resounded with shouts of victory rising from thousands of citizens who had gathered to see them off. The chariot moved on with guards before and behind.

Days, weeks, even months rolled by! They went to every temple and sacred spot; they imbibed the holiness of each place; they worshipped at each shrine with faith and devotion, they learnt after deep enquiry the history of each place and the antecedents of the shrines; they ignored every other thought or activity during all that long period. Sumanthra was describing to them the sanctity of each place so graphically and intimately that their hearts were thrilled. The Princes plied him with questions demanding further and deeper elaboration of his narrations, Sumanthra was overjoyed at the insatiable yearning of the boys, and he gave even more information and inspiration,

Thus they journeyed from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, and from the eastern sea to the western, spending more than three months. They had their eyes open to the sufferings of the people and the discomforts of the pilgrims in every region of the empire, and whenever they observed these, they pleaded with Sumanthra, the Minister, to set things right and to provide the needed amenities.

They were responsible for the repair and improvement of many temples, the provision of drinking water wells, the planting of avenue trees, the opening of centres for the distribution of water to thirsty wayfarers, the building of  caravanserais, and the establishment or health centres. Whenever Rama expressed a desire that such amenities be provided. Sumanthra never hesitated to agree; he saw to it that they were immediately provided to his satisfaction. The Princes derived great comfort that the empire had such a loyal and efficient Minister as Sumanthra; they said to each other that when they had such ministers welfare and progress were assured.

Accounts of the pilgrimage of the Princes were conveyed to Ayodhya by special couriers who ran in relays, forward and backward with news they collected. Whenever delays occurred the Queens were weighed down by anxiety. They prayed to the Preceptor Vasishta to give them correct information regarding them. Vasishta had the yogic attainment to discover what was happening to them; so, he used to tell them the reassuring news that they were happy, healthy and hearty and that they would soon be returning to the capital. The mothers derived courage and confidence therefrom. The Preceptor blessed them and repaired to his hermitage.

Meanwhile, the news-gatherers brought good tidings. They said that the Princes were nearing Ayodhya; they must be reaching the City within two days! Arrangements were therefore made at the main Gateway of the City to welcome into the Imperial Capital the four Princes, who had successfully gone through their long and arduous pilgrimage and earned meritorious renown by their devotion and compassion during their triumphal tour. Rosewater was sprinkled on the roads to make them dust-free. Arches and festoons were put up. On both sides of the road, women stood with plates on which they had placed lamps, with bright flames, which they desired to wave before them as they passed along.

The Princes arrived at the Gate, as announced; lamps were waved before them; they moved along the main high-way, which was strewn with petals of fragrant flowers; parties of musicians and minstrels singing welcome songs proceeded slowly in advance. Brahmins recited hymns invoking the blessings of God upon the distinguished scions of the Imperial family. Sumanthra came alongside the Princes, who were shining with an ethereal glow on their faces.

When they reached the palace gates, many rites were gone through to ward off the effects of the evil eye; they were then led into the inner apartments. The mothers whose eyes were longing to look upon them were awaiting them there; the boys ran towards them and fell at their feet. They were raised up and held fast in close embrace for five or six minutes, during which they lost themselves in the thrill of joy, which enveloped both mother and son in the bliss of Mergence with the Divine! The tears that rolled from the eyes of the mothers out of the surgence of the love bathed the heads of the boys. They took hold of their sari ends and wiped the heads dry with them. They stroked the hair, they fondled the head, they seated them on their laps, and fed them fondly with sweet rice and curd-mixed rice.

Ah! The excitement and thrill of the mothers were indescribable. The pang of separation which they had suffered for three long months could be assuaged a little, only by having the children in their care and custody, day and night, for a few days. They wanted them to relate the story or their pilgrimage, and the boys narrated in sweet, simple, sincere style the sacredness of each holy place, as explained to them by Sumanthra. They listened to these narratives with such ardour and faith that they too seemed to experience the exhilaration each shrine provides for the earnest pilgrims.

Dasaratha celebrated the return of the young Princes from their holy journey by offering oblations to the Gods, and arranging a magnificent banquet for all Brahmins who had successfully completed the pilgrimage to Kasi and Prayaga. He gave the latter monetary gifts too. Thus, since the day when the princes were born, it was one continuous round of festival and feast in the capital city and in the kingdom. The city of Ayodhya shone with uninterrupted rejoicing. Feasting and festive entertainment knit the populace into a family, bound by love and gratitude. Every month, the days on which the children were born (the ninth, tenth and eleventh days of the bright half) were filled with gorgeous ceremony, to mark the happy event. Even when the boys were away on pilgrimage, these days were celebrated as grandly as if they were in the City; except for functions where their physical presence was needed, all else – the feasts, the gifts, the games, the dance – were all gone through with enthusiasm. The parents noticed a change in the boys as a result of the pilgrimage. The transformation was very surprising and they hoped that the strange ways or life they had assumed might weaken with the passage of days. They watched their behaviour and attitudes with great attention. But they continued, with no sign or diminution.

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