Episode 141 – Agasthya Maharishi blesses Rama with invincible “Manthras” & “Asthras”!!!

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In the previous episode we witnessed that Sita reminds Rama of the promise that he had given to all the Maharishis. It should be remembered by the readers that Rama had pledged to the Maharishis in the Dhandakaaranya forest that he would destroy all the “Raakshasaas” (Demons) and restore peace and Dharma in the area. Once Sita reminds Rama, he assures her that he hasn’t forgotten the promise but it was just that he was waiting for the right time to fulfill it!

With this episode, Rama, Lakshmana and Sita have completed around ten and a half years of their life in the forest! They’ve visited all the Maharishis in the “Ashrama Mandalam” as shown by Sutheekshna Maharishi and after this big round, the three of them once again knock at Sutheekshna Maharishi’s ashram! Sage Sutheekshna again welcomes them and Rama pays his due respects to him and requests him, “Oh great Sage! As per your instruction, I’ve visited the entire ‘Ashrama Mandalam’ and now I would like to visit the great Agasthya Maharishi and seek his blessings! I request you to guide me on this!”

Upon hearing this, Sage Sutheekshna is extremely happy and replies, “Oh Rama! I was also thinking of sending you to worship Agasthya Maharishi once you come back! Now I shall show you the way – From this location, you need to travel a distance of around four yojanas towards the west! You’ll reach the ashram of Sage Agasthya’s brother. You can worship him and with his guidance you need to again walk for a distance of one yojana towards the west. At that point you would find the ashram of Sage Agasthya Maharishi and thus you can worship him!”

“Sutheekshnascha aashrama padham punareva aajagaamaha!

Shathamaashramam aagamya munibhihi paripoojithaha!!

Yojanaan aashramaan tathra yaahichathvaari vai tathaa!

Dakshinena mahaan shreemaan agasthya bhraathuraashramaha!!”

Thus, through the above slokas, Valmiki Maharishi gives a note on the way to reach the ashram of Sage Agasthya’s brother, and from which Rama, Lakshmana and Sita finally reach Agasthya Maharishi’s ashram. The three of them were delighted to meet the great Agasthya Maharishi and they pay their respects to him! Agasthya Maharishi happily welcomes them into his ashram. It is during this time that Rama obtained innumerable “Manthras” and “Asthraas” (Missiles) that were extremely powerful! Agasthya Maharishi blesses Rama that with the help of all these important “Manthras” and “Asthraas” he would be totally invincible and no force can defeat him ever in this world!

After this was done, Rama along with Sita and Lakshmana bid farewell to Agasthya Maharishi and finally requests him to suggest a good place for them to spend the rest of their years in this forest. It should be noted here that by the time Rama bids farewell to Agasthya Maharishi, almost twelve out of the fourteen years of the exile period is completed! Thus, the remaining period was just a little under two years.

Thus, Agasthya Maharishi guides Rama to a place called “Panchavati”, which is a beautiful and a picturesque place and suggests that Rama should stay here till the exile period is over, before he goes back to Ayodhya!

“Tatho abhraveeth muni shreshtaha shruthvaa raamasya bhaashitham!

Jaapthvaa muhurtham dharmaathmaa tatho vaacha cachashrutham!!

Ithothvi yojane thaathva bahumoona phalotathaha!

Desho bahumrughaha shreemaan panchavtya abhivishruthaha!!”

Thus, Agashtya Maharishi guides Rama, Lakshmana and Sita to reside at a place called Panchavati. We can worship this exact place even today, near the town of Nashik in the Central Indian State of Maharashtra. I had already spoken about the geographical location of the “Dhandakaaranya” forest, and the readers must be familiar with this town called Nashik. This place called Panchavati is situated on the banks of the river Godaavari and even to this date, we can worship the small hamlet where Rama, Lakshmana and Sita resided!

Thus Rama, Lakshmana and Sita commence their journey towards the western direction to reach Panchavati. On their way to Panchavati, Rama meets a very important person. Whom did Rama meet? What did that person say? Let’s wait to find out in the next episode! 🙂

Episode 140 – Sita “jokingly” reminds Rama of His promise!!!

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In the previous episode we witnessed that as Rama visits each of the ashrams of Maharishis in the Dhandakaaranya forest, all the rishis request Rama to protect them from the evil activities of the Raakshasaas (Demons) in that area. They explain to Rama about how these Raakshasaas have harmed and killed numerous innocent people in this forest area and they request Rama to destroy them and protect them from their atrocities. Accordingly Rama gives his word to the Maharishis that he would soon put an end to all the demons in this beautiful forest and restore peace.

However, as years rolled by, Rama seemingly never took any action to fulfill his promise! Sita was watching and observing Rama for all this time and at one point of time she thinks to herself, “Oh! I think Rama is so much carried away with my love and affection that he has forgotten his promise to the Maharishis! I think it’s time now that I remind him about it!” Thinking thus, one fine day, Sita slowly asks Rama, “Oh Rama! Why do you always hold this big bow in your hand? Why don’t you keep it down for some time?”

Rama was taken aback by this sudden question from his beloved wife! He was surprised as to who is she to ask me to keep my bow down! Thus Rama asks Sita, “Why do you say so?” Upon which, Sita says, “Oh Rama! I’ll now narrate few small stories, which I’ve heard from my father during my childhood days, to substantiate the validity of my question!”

Rama was amused by these words from Sita! He thinks to himself, “Oh my goodness! Thank God that I had married her at the age of six itself! Within just six years of age, if she has learnt so much and is able to narrate this many stories, if I would have married her at a later age of maybe 12-13, she herself would have composed another Ramayana!” 🙂

Thus, Rama laughs within himself as Sita starts narrating the first story! I’ll explain just this story in brief – It seems that there was a Rishi (Saint) who was doing deep penance. There was a hunter who passed by this rishi who wanted to go on a “Sacred Yaathra” (Spiritual journey). This hunter had a big sword in his hand. Since he cannot take this sword along with him for this spiritual journey, he requested this rishi to take care of his sword till he comes back! However, the rishi initially denied his request, but since the hunter persuaded him repeatedly, he accepted it. Thus, the sword was lying in one corner of his ashram as he was continuing his penance! Five minutes passed by! The rishi had a fear within him that what if someone steals the sword! Hence, he took the sword and placed it beside him and restarted his penance! 🙂 However, the rishi wasn’t very convinced! What if someone takes the sword away again? He again takes it and keeps it on his lap! 🙂 Again the rishi wasn’t convinced! What if someone takes the sword away from his lap? Hence, he holds the sword in his hand as he does the penance! 🙂 Normally if the sword is in the hands of a person, it is always alive! It would motivate the person to attack something or somebody! Thus, this rishi too, starts to attack and kill passerby animals and people! 🙂

Thus, Sita says this story to Rama and validates her question now! She asks, “Oh Rama! Just like how this rishi started misusing the sword by killing passerby people, if you are having this bow always in your hands, some day you would also start misusing it! 🙂 Hence, why don’t you keep it down?” Sita is thus wantedly and jokingly provoking Rama to remind him of his duty!

Rama quickly realizes Sita’s words and thinks to himself – “Oh hoo!! This Sita is trying to remind me that I’ve not done anything with this bow so far!” 🙂 He replies to Sita thus,

“Apraham jeevitham jagyaam thaam vaa seethe cha lakshmanaam!

Lalifprathignyaam samshruthya braahmanebhyo visheshathaha!!”

Rama says to Sita, “Oh Sita! Please remember that I would never leave you alone! I’ll never leave Lakshmana too! More than anything else, I shall never leave my promise! I shall definitely fulfil the promise that I’ve given for the Maharishis! Just that, I’m waiting for the right time for it!”

It’s only upon hearing this answer from Rama, did Sita calm down! Thus, Rama, Lakshmana and Sita are waiting for the right opportunity to fulfil the promise given to the Maharishis! We shall also wait till the next episode to find out how did Rama fulfil the promise! 🙂

Episode 139 – Rama vows to free Dhandakaaranya from the Raakshasaas!!!

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Till this point we’ve witnessed that Rama along with Sita and Lakshmana are walking deep inside the Dhandakaaranya forest towards the south-south western direction. They are now at Sutheekshna Maharishi’s ashram wherein they were guided to visit various ashrams of various great Maharishis situated around this particular area. Thus, Rama along with Sita and Lakshmana spend around ten years, visiting each of these ashrams and paying due respects to the great Maharishis who resided in and around this area.

“Pravishtasthu vanam ghoram bahu pushpa phaladhrumam!

Dadarsha aashramamekaanthe ksheera maala parishkrutham!!

Aakhyaatham sharabhangena gauthamena mahaathmanaa!

Imam aashramamaagamya mritha sangaa maheeyasaha!!”

Thus, Valmiki Maharishi explains with the above slokas that Rama spends quality time with each and every Maharishi in Dhandakaaranya, seeking their blessings and advice! Thus while visiting each of the ashrams, all the Maharishi’s bow down to Lord Rama and worship him! All of them put a request to Rama in one voice – “Oh Rama! We are delighted to receive you at our ashrams! However, we are greatly disturbed by the evil activities of the Raakshasaas (Demons) in this are for a while now! Hence we request you to destroy them and free us from the clutches of the Raakshasaas, as early as possible! Oh Rama! Please realize that we are to be protected by you! Thus we request you to take care of us and enable us to continue our regular penance!”

Upon hearing this from the great saints, Rama was moved and he replies back, “Oh Maharishis! I’m so ashamed with myself that till today I’ve failed in my duty to protect you from the clutches of these evil Raakshasaas! Anyway, now I’ll take immediate steps to destroy them and protect all of you!”

“Ethannimithham vachanam dhandakaayithi vishrutham!

Nahime rochathe veera gamanam dhandakaandathi!!

Kaaranam tathra vakshyaami vadamthaa suuyathaam mama!

Puraakila mahaabaaho tapasvi sathyavaan suchihi!!”

Saying thus, the great saints seek protection under Rama’s invincibility and in turn, Rama assures them relief from the cruel Raakshasaas very soon!

Hearing this from Rama, all the Maharishis were happy that atlast the time has come for the “Adharma” to be destroyed and the “Dharma” to be restored! They were contented with Rama’s reply and waited for the divine happening.

Now, what did Rama do? Did he fulfil the promise given to the Maharishis immediately? What was the next course of action that Rama undertook? Let’s wait till the next episode to witness a very interesting event! 🙂

Episode 138 – Rama at Sutheekshna Maharishi’s Ashram – An interesting geographical specification!!

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In the previous episode we witnessed that Rama along with Sita and Lakshmana visited Sarabhanga Maharishi in his ashram in the Dhandakaaranya forest. Before Rama enters the ashram, we also witnessed that Indra, the leader of the Devas had come down to meet Sarabhanga Maharishi. Since Rama was in a human form, he didn’t want to meet celestial beings and thus wasn’t interested to meet Indra. Once Indra leaves, Rama goes inside to meet Sarabhanga Maharishi, upon whose guidance, the three of them are going to continue their journey towards the western direction. Valmiki Maharishi beautifully describes this journey towards Sutheekshna Maharishi’s ashram, however he restricts it to just one sloka.

“Imaam mandaahinim raama prathistrothaam anugraja!”

Here, Valmiki Maharishi interestingly says, “Prathistrothaam Anugraja!” “Prathistrothas” means “Going in the direction opposite to the flow of river Mandaahini”. Thus, Valmiki Maharishi says to Rama, “If you go along this river Mandaahini, in the direction opposite to it’s flow, you’ll reach Sutheekshna Maharishi’s ashram!” Now, if we’ve to trace this location to the modern day Indian Geography, it’s very interesting to note that the river Mandaahini flows from the west to east. Now according to the above sloka, if we have to go in the opposite direction of it’s flow, we’ve to ideally proceed towards the western direction. However, after a certain distance, the river turns and flows in the opposite (western) direction for a while. This might be confusing to follow closely. However, if we now look closely at the sloka, Valmiki Maharishi doesn’t exactly say that we should go towards the western direction. He says that we should go to the place where the river changes its direction towards the west! Thus, the exact location of Sutheekshna Maharishi’s ashram is where the river Mandaahini changes it’s course towards the western direction and from this place, we’ve travel a distance of four “Yojanas”, (Yojana is a kind of measure that is used very frequently in the Ramayana text. I shall explain this measure in detail in a later episode when a different context comes!)

Thus, Rama along with Sita and Lakshmana walk according to the instructions and reach Sutheekshna Maharishi’s ashram.

“Tathasthvaam sharanaarthaancha sharanyam samupasthithaaha!

Paripaalayano raama vardhyamaanaam nishaacharaihi!!”

Thus, Rama pays his respects to Sutheekshna Maharishi and interacts with him for some time. During the course of the interaction Rama asks Sutheekshna Maharishi if there is a good place for him to stay with his wife and brother. Sutheekshna Maharishi replies, “Oh Rama! Around this place there are numerous wild animals that would harm you! If you would like to stay here, you need to hunt down and kill them regularly!” Rama was not very convinced with the idea of staying in this place since he wasn’t interested in killing innocent animals just for the sake of living here. Hence, Rama asks for an alternative solution and upon which, Sutheekshna Maharishi with his power of penance, shows a huge “Ashrama Mandalam” (A group of various ashrams of various Maharishis) around this place, and asks Rama to spend time at each of these ashrams till his tenure of fourteen years is completed!

Thus, Rama along with Sita and Lakshmana starts to go to each of the ashrams around this area and spends around ten years like this! We shall also witness in the next and the subsequent episodes, the important ashrams visited by Rama and the events that unfolded! Lets’ stay tuned! 🙂

Episode 137 – Rama, Sita & Lakshmana enter Sarabhanga Maharishi’s Ashram!!!

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In the previous episode we witnessed that Rama, Lakshmana and Sita continue their treacherous journey in their forest towards the southern direction wherein they confront the demon by name Viraadha. Rama & Lakshmana take him on and defeat him as they move on further south. In the meanwhile we also witnessed the geographical location of the “Dhandakaaranya” forest area. We saw that this forest area is located in Central India between the present day Indian states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Now moving on, Rama, Lakshmana and Sita move further south and reach the ashram of Sarabhanga Maharishi. Rama is about to enter the ashram and at this time, a unique incident takes place – Just before Rama, Sita and Lakshmana reach Sarabhanga Maharishi’s ashram, someone had just passed by and enteredThat someone was none other than Indra himself! All of us might know that Indra is the leader of the “Devas” or the “Celestial beings”.

Upon realizing that Indra is in the vicinity, Rama stops mid way and doesn’t proceed further! Rama being the incarnation of Lord Vishnu thinks to himself, “I’m currently in the human form and it’s not appropriate to meet celestial beings with this human body!” Thinking thus, he conveys to Sita and Lakshmana, “Let us wait outside till Indra leaves the ashram and then we can enter!”

After sometime, Indra comes out of the ashram and he too realizes that Rama is in the vicinity! However, he also realized that Rama is not interested in meeting him and hence he left back to the “Swarga Lokha”! Thus, Rama was very straightforward and true to his way of incarnation! However, during the time of the Krishna Avatara, all the Devas used to come down and happily meet Lord Krishna! It is also to be noted that the Devas conveniently come and meet Lord Krishna and also get beaten and bruised by him! 🙂 For instance, Indra himself got into a tangle with Lord Krishna! Lord Brahma too wasn’t an exception in this! All of them wanted to test the power of little Krishna and they were rightly shown their place by him! However, Rama is an embodiment of truth and honesty! He never crosses the line on anything! That’s why even today when we go to Ayodhya or any temple in North India, people address Rama as “Mariyaadhaa Purushottham Raam” which means, “Lord Rama who commands respect amongst all his devotees!”

Thus, after Indra leaves the place, Rama along with Sita and Lakshmana are going to enter the ashram of Sarabhanga Maharishi. The moment when they are about to enter, Rama said to Lakshmana, “Oh Lakshmana! We are now entering a Brahmana Maharishi’s ashram and it is not fair on our part to carry this big bow inside! Hence, let us keep our bows and arrows here and enter inside!” Thus we can again see how straightforward and respectful Rama was! He knows how to respect great Maharishis although he is a great and an invincible Kshatrya prince! This is what we need to learn here – Whomever so we may be, we must learn to respect elders and obey their words!

Thus, as Rama arrives, Sarabhanga Maharishi welcomes him and accepts the due respects that Rama & Lakshmana offer to him. While interacting with him, Rama asks if there is a nice place around this area for him to reside with Lakshmana and Sita.

“Aashramam sarabhangasya raaghavo vidhikaamaha!

Sameebhe sarabhangasya darharsha mahathatbhutham!!

Asamprusantham bahudhaan dadqrsha vibudeshwaraam!”

Thus, Valmiki Maharishi through the above slokas describe Rama’s entry into Sarabhanga Maharishi’s ashram and Rama asks him for a nice place to stay. Upon which Sarabhanga Maharishi replies, “Oh Rama! I’m in the process of preparing myself to attain ‘Moksha’ and go to “Vaikunta” after our meeting is over! How can I show you a place? However I’ll tell you one thing – In this direction, go towards the west! You’ll reach Sutheekshna Maharishi’s ashram. You may consult Sutheekshna Maharishi and according to his guidance, you may find a good place to reside!”

Thus, Rama, Lakshmana and Sita acknowledge Sarabhanga Maharishi’s words and thank him for his guidance. With his blessings, the three of them proceed westwards towards Sutheekshna Maharishi’s ashram. We shall also proceed westwards with Rama, Lakshmana and Sita for the whole of today and wait till tomorrow as they reach their next destination! We shall wait till the next episode to find out what Sutheekshna Maharishi is going to say! 🙂

Episode 136 – Entering the “Dhandakaaranya” Forest – Rama & Lakshmana confront Viraadha!!!

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In the previous episode we witnessed that Rama, Lakshmana and Sita were at Athri-Anasuya Ashram, wherein Athri Bhagawan was interacting with Rama and Anasuya was interacting with Sita. We also witnessed that Anasuya brought some natural flowers and ornaments and decorated Sita with them! Sita was so happy to receive all this from her.

Thus after a few days, they bid farewell to Athri Maharishi and Anasuya and the journey commences again! Rama, along with his wife Sita and Lakshmana start walking towards the southern direction and on the way, they had to confront the first enemy – Viraadha! While walking through their way in the dense forest, Viraadha suddenly appears in front of them with all his might and with a fearful appearance! Within a split of a second, he captures Sita and takes her away, even as Rama and Lashmana look on!

Rama and Lakshmana now muster up their courage and decide to take on Viraadha! A fierce battle followed and eventually Rama and Lakshmana cut off Viraadha’s legs and hands with their sharp and swift arrows! Thus, Viraadha was rendered powerless and Sita is freed from his clutches. Rama and Lakshmana were relieved to a great extent!

Finally Viraadha realizes whom was he fighting with all this long – It was Lord Vishnu Himself! At this moment, Viraadha is grateful to Lord Rama and says, “Oh Rama! A great saint cursed me long back that I would be a demon! Now that you’ve destroyed the demon in me! Thank you for relieving me of my curse of being a demon! Here is your wife Sita! Have a happy time in the forest and I wouldn’t be of any disturbance to you anymore!”

Rama acknowledges Viraadha’s surrender and words and blesses him! From this episode we can know that Lord Rama is compassionate not only towards his Bhaktas (devotees) but also towards his enemies! We’re going to see many more examples like this as we progress further!

We can visit this place of Viraadha even today – When we proceed towards the southern direction and enter the “Dhandakaaranya” forest area, the first stop would be “Viraadha Kundam”! It is even today a complete forest area with lot of wild animals roaming around and is very difficult for human beings like us to access that area!

Now you might all ask me, what is this “Dhandakaaranya”? Where is it located? We shall see the detailed location of this beautiful forest – Imagine the map of India and let us start from “Chitrakoota”. I had already mentioned that “Chitrakoota is located in the state of Madhya Pradesh, the central part of the country. Let’s keep a dot at this place. Now, let’s move further southwards from Chitrakoota towards the state of Maharashtra – Many of us would be knowing the place called Nagpur. There is a place by name “Raamthek” which is around 60 kilometers north of Nagpur. Let’s keep another dot at this place. All of us know Mumbai, which is the capital of Maharashtra. There is a place called Nashik, around 200 kilometers east of Mumbai. Let’s keep the third dot here.

Now, we have three dots – One at Chtrakoota, the second at “Raamthek”near Nagpur and the third one at Nashik. If we join these three dots, we can form a triangleThe area within this triangle is the “Dhandakaaranya” forest area! The main significance of this “Dhandakaaranya forest” is that, numerous great Maharishis resided here and were doing immense penance! Hence it is a divine area!

Thus after defeating Viraadha, Rama, Lakshmana and Sita continue their journey towards the southern direction and enter inside this “Dhandakaaranya forest”. What did Rama do in this place? Whom did Rama meet next? We shall wait till the next episode to find out! 🙂

Episode 135 – Athri Maharishi & Anasuya interact with Rama & Sita!!!

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In the previous episode, we had the divine opportunity to commence the “Aaranya Kaanda”, which is the third out of the seven “Kaandaas” (Parts) of the Ramayana text. We started to witness Lord Rama’s long journey in the forest with his beloved wife Sita Devi and his brother Lakshmana. All three of them set to walk towards the southern direction from Chithrakoota and their first destination is the ashram of Athri Maharishi. Rama pays his respect to Athri Maharrishi as he weclomes the three of them inside his hamlet. Thus for the next thirteen years, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana spend their time in the hamlets of numerous great Rishis (Saints), interacting with them and seeking their valuable advice. This is thus a beautiful phase in the life of Sita and Rama! Let us witness the next series of events one by one.

Now, Rama along with Sita and Lakshmana are at the Athri-Anasuya Ashram, wherein Athri Bhagawan is talking with Rama and his wife Anasuya is talking with Sita. It is very interesting to note that at this point, Valmiki Maharishi has described the Sita-Rama wedding in more detail! In this context, Anasuya asks Sita to describe the marriage event in detail and Sita explains to her in intricate detail, the entire event of the auspicious wedding ceremony.

“Pathneemcha kalaf praarthaam vruddha maamanthri tatvruthaam!

Anasuyaam mahaabhaagaam thaapaseem dharmachaarineem!!”

Here, Valmiki Maharishi describes the significance of Anasuya – The wife of Athri Maharishi. In Sanskrit, “Asuya” means jealousy, and “Anasuya” means, “Nobody can feel jealous about her!” Such an embodiment of chastity and noble character was Anasuya! Thus, while her talking with Sita was going on, Anasuya was so impressed with the beauty of Sita and she wanted to decorate her beautiful face with a few ornaments. Anasuya says to Sita, “Oh my dear Sita! Here are some natural flowers from this forest area. I’m going to decorate you with these flowers! Keep these as valuable ornaments! I’m going to decorate you with some natural jewelry! Keep them as precious ornaments! You know something? When you wear these ornaments in your body, even if you do not bathe for ten months continuously, you’ll always be shining and fresh!”

Sita was surprised to hear this from Anasuya as she received those precious ornaments. However, as Anasuya rightly said, during her ten months of stay at Sri Lanka under the siege of Ravana, Sita was wearing exactly the same ornaments that Anasuya had given her! Thus, Sita never felt dull and she was shining as bright as ever! It is to be noted that Sita had never taken bath even once, during those ten months of imprisonment at Lanka! Such is the significance of the ornaments offered by Anasuya to Sita!

Thus, even today if we happen to visit the Athri – Anasuya ashram, we can see numerous small shops selling similar ornaments! If we go near those shops, the vendors would keep saying, “Please buy these ornaments! These were the exact ornaments that Anasuya gave Sita!” 🙂

It might sound funny for all of us on hearing this and we might start investigating if it is true or false! We should understand an important point here – If we start investigating on all these things, we are never going to realize “Rama Bhakthi”! (Devotion to Lord Rama!) We should firmly believe within ourselves that the place of Athri-Anasuya ashram is divine! Athri Bhagawan is a great Saint! Anasuya is an embodiment of divinity! The river Mandaahini that flows by the side is also divine! All this divinity exists even today! If all these are divine, even the small ornaments that those poor vendors keep selling are also divine! We should develop this firm belief in all of us and only then our devotion towards Rama and Sita would grow! Else, if we start investigating everything, our “Bhakthi” (Devotion) is never going to grow! Hence, the lesson from this episode at “Athri-Anasuya Ashram” is that, let us not waste time in unwanted investigations and engage ourselves in “Rama Bhakthi”!

Also, we should realize that if we want to investigate the truth behind our scriptures, one lifetime is not enough! There are enough and more “Vidwaans”, “Bhaagawathaas” and “Aachaaryaas” to debate with! But at the end of our life, all these debates are not going to help! What did Aadi Shankara Bhagawath Paada say? He says,

“Bhaja Govindam Bhaja Govindam! Govindam Bhaja moodamathe!

Samsaare sannihithe kaale! Nahi nahi rakshathi dukrunkarane!!

Punarapi jananam punarapi maranam! Punarapi janani jathare shayanam!!”

From the above verses, Aadi Shankara says, “Oh Moodamathe! (Senseless human being!) Please chant the ‘Govinda Naamaa’ (Lord Govinda’s divine names)! It is only this Govinda Naamaa that is going to help you attain salvation and nothing else! All these useless investigations and debates are not going to help you to liberate your soul! (“Nahi nahi rakshathi dukrunkarane!”) We are taking numerous births (“Punarapi Jananam”) and experiencing numerous deaths (“Punarapi Maranam”)! If we’ve to free ourselves from this vicious cycle of birth and death, the only solution is to chant Bhagawan’s name and completely surrender at His feet!”

Thus we need to realize this ardent and an important message and try to incorporate it in our daily lives! For today, let us sink into the beauty of the “Athri-Anasuya Ashram” and wait till tomorrow to find out the next series of events! 🙂

Episode 134 – Commencing of “Aaranya Kaanda” – Rama, Lakshmana & Sita reach Athri-Anasuya’s Ashram

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In the previous episode we witnessed the very important event of “Paadhukaa Pattaabisheka” wherein, Bharata receives the “Paadhuka” (divine footwear) of Bhagawan Rama, takes it to Nandigraam, just outside the city of Ayodhya and coronates it to the throne. Thus, Bharata starts to discharge the duties of the kingdom on the behest of the divine “Paadhuka”. It is thus believed that the “Paadhuka” of Rama ruled the kingdom of Ayodhya till Rama returned back after fourteen years.

With this, we came to the end of the “Ayodhya Kaanda” and it is now time to move on to the next important Kaanda – The “Aaranya Kaanda”. The word “Aranyam” means, “Forest”. Hence, this Kaanda is entirely devoted to the events that took place during the “Vana-Vaasa” period of Lord Rama. In fact, this Aaranya Kaanda can be split into two main parts – The first part would deal with the events that happened before Sita’s abduction by Ravana and the second part would deal with the events that took place after Ravana abducts Sita. We shall thus begin with the first part in today’s episode.

Thus, Bharata and the entire group of people who accompanied him were sent back to Ayodhya and Rama decides to move to a new place. He expresses his opinion to Sita and says, “Oh Sita! I think it’s time for us to move out from here because all the citizens of Ayodhya have come to know the whereabouts of us. If we continue to stay here, people would be coming on and off and that would be a disturbance!” Sita accepts Rama’s decision and thus they commence their long journey in the dense forest!

Thus Rama, Lakshmana and Sita start walking towards the southern direction from the banks of river Mandaahini. Their first stop was at the ashram of Athri Maharishi. This is the place wherein Athri Maharishi was living with his wife Anasuya. We can worship this place even today – When we take a detour towards the southern direction from Chithrakoota, the first stop that we would encounter would be Athri-Anasuya Ashram. The three of them reach this place and Rama pays the due respects to Athri Maharishi and in turn, Athri Maharishi and Anasuya welcome Rama, Sita and Lakshmana inside. Thus, the five of them sit and start talking leisurely! Now Rama is completely free of everything – No kingdom, no people, no responsibility! All they need to do is to sit and gossip! 🙂

There are a few commentaries of the Ramayana that even mention the reason why Rama and Sita went away to the forest, on a lighter note – It seems that Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi were not very satisfied being in the “Vaikunta” due to the constant disturbance of numerous Devas and other celestial beings who come and visit them regularly! Hence, Goddess Lakshmi suggests to Lord Vishnu that they go down and be born on the earth as ordinary people and live happy and relaxed! Lord Vishnu accepts her suggestion and accordingly they take birth as Sita and Rama! After twelve years of waiting, they get married too and started their life together at Ayodhya. However, Sita had 365 mother-in-laws!! 🙂 How can they be free and relaxed? Hence Sita says to Rama, “Oh Rama! I think we’ve made a mistake somewhere! I thought that we would be happy and relaxed when we’re on the earth! Let’s do one thing! Let’s go to the forest and relax there!” Rama too accepts Sita’s proposal and this is why he had to stage all this drama! 🙂

However, on a serious note, it is believed widely that Rama wanted to meet various great Rishis’ and take their advice before starting to rule Ayodhya and this is the reason he had come to the forest! Thus, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana walk their way and reach Athri-Anasuya Ashram. Let the three of them rest for today after their long walk! We shall wait till tomorrow to see what did they do here and how did they move forward! 🙂

Episode 133 – Bharata requests Rama to return to Ayodhya – Coronation of Rama’s “Paadhuka”

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In the previous episode we witnessed that Rama comes to know of King Dasharata’s death and subsequently he does the divine offerings for his late father on the banks of the river Mandaahini. The four brothers were in uncontrollable grief as they hug each other and cry aloud! The three mothers were in grief too! Sage Vasishtaachaarya was also moved to tears on seeing this situation. Once all of them calm down a bit, Bharata puts up the request to Rama, asking him to return back to Ayodhya and take over the kingdom as per the tradition of the Ikshvaaku Dynasty. Bharata falls on Rama’s feet and begs him to come back and rule Ayodhya.

Rama acknowledges Bharata’s unconditional surrender, lifts him and hugs him with all his love and affection towards his little brother! He consoles him with his ever-beautiful smile and replies, “Oh Bharata! I’ve given a promise to our father and our mother Kaikeyi that I’ll be on exile for the next fourteen years and I shall not take up the kingdom until this period ends!”

Upon hearing this from Rama, Bharata was totally upset! Seeing all this, Jaabaali, one of the revered Maharishis in King Dasharata’s court stood up and spoke, “Oh Rama! What are you blabbering? There is nothing in this world called “promise”! There is nothing in this world called “Naraka” (Hell) or “Swarga” (Heaven)! We’ve to live as we wish and as we please! We can do whatever we feel like! We can eat whatever we desire to! If you don’t have money to eat, borrow money from someone and fulfil your desires! After borrowing money, you needn’t even repay it, because there’s no Naraka and you can do all what you wish to!”

From this, we can understand one thing very clearly – If we borrow money from someone, we never need to repay it back! 🙂 If we borrow some money, there is somebody else who is repaying our money isn’t it? What a “beautiful” situation!!! 🙂 🙂

Upon hearing these stupid words from Jaabaali, Rama got frustrated and scolds him, “Oh! What kind of words are you talking? Being a revered Maharishi in King Dasharata’s court, you should be ashamed to talk such things!” Sage Vasishtaachaarya gets up and consoles Rama and says, “Oh Dear Rama! He is not of this type actually! He is a very kind hearted person by nature! He is talking all these just out of frustration that you’ve left Ayodhya! Now tell him that you’re coming back to Ayodhya and I’ll ask him to prove his good nature!” Rama was more furious in hearing this from Sage Vasishtaachaarya and replies back, “Irrespective of me coming back or not, it is not nice of him to use such words! He is not living up to the reputation of the great Ikshvaaku Dynasty!”

Thus, the gimmicks of Jaabaali too failed to convince Rama to come back to Ayodhya! Thus, after all these deliberations, Bharata finally asks Rama for his “Paadhukka” (Footwear). He tells Rama, “Oh Rama! If you are not coming back now, it’s fine! But atleast bless me with your divine “Paadhuka”! I shall coronate this footwear of yours and rule the kingdom on behalf of you! Please accept this request of mine!”

Rama accepts this request of Bharata, removes his footwear and keeps it on the head of Bharata as a blessing to him. Now Bharata says to Rama, “Oh Rama! This Paadhuka will rule Ayodhya from today! Please note that you have to come back compulsorily after fourteen years for sure! Please keep in mind that If you get late even by one day, you would not see this Bharata alive anymore from that moment!”

Rama acknowledges Bharata’s words, while Bharata carefully takes Rama’s “Paadhuka” in his head and the entire group of people returns back to Ayodhya! Bharata stays back at a place called “Nandigraam” just outside the city of Ayodhya and from there, coronates Rama’s footwear and starts to discharge the duties of the kingdom! Thus, we can see that Bharata is a person who is in service to Bhagawan, but according to Bhagawan’s wish (Bhagawath Paarathanthriyam)! Here, we can see that Rama wanted Bharata to rule the kingdom till he returns to Ayodhya after fourteen years, and Bharata accepts Rama’s instruction as his duty!

Thus, Bharata reaches Nandigraam and starts to discharge the duties of the kingdom from there. This marks the end of the “Ayodhya Kaanda” and we shall wait till the next episode to move on with the “Aaranya Kaanda”!

Episode 132 – Rama performs the last duties for King Dasharata!!!

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In the previous episode, we witnessed the arrival of Bharata at Chitrakoota and as he arrives, he straightaway fell on the feet of Lord Rama with all his tears of agony and sorrow! Rama, as magnanimous as ever, lifts Bharata, makes him sit on his lap and comforts him. Meanwhile we also saw that Rama uses this opportunity to teach Lakshmana a lesson! This harsh lesson for Lakshmana is also an important life lesson for all of us – We should behave carefully with Bhagawan’s ardent devotees, else we are going to make ourselves the victims of Bhagawan’s anger! Hence, we should mind our words and language when we interact with Bhaktas and Bhaagawathaas!

Once Bharata is comforted, Rama asks him a slew of questions: “My dearest Bharata! How are you doing? How did your coronation ceremony go? How is Ayodhya? How are the people of Ayodhya? Are you taking care of them properly as a king? Are you collecting all the taxes properly and managing all the accounts correctly?” – For all these questions, Bharata never lifted his head up to answer Rama! It is to be noted here that at this stage Rama doesn’t know that Bharata hasn’t become the king of Ayodhya yet! He just assumes that Bharata is the king and he asks all these above questions. From these questions of Rama to Bharata, we can also understand the important roles and duties of an effective administrator!

With Bharata not answering any of the above questions, (He needn’t answer any of the above questions, because he hasn’t become the king yet – Rather, he doesn’t intend to!) now Rama asks the all-important question – “Oh Bharata! Are you meticulously following the footsteps laid by our great ancestors of the Ikshvaaku Dynasty?” Upon hearing this question, Bharata slowly lifts up his head and looks at Rama and replies, “Oh Rama! Of all the questions that you asked till now, I’ll just answer the last question that you asked! What did you ask just now? Are you following the footsteps laid by our great ancestors of Ikshvaaku Dynasty? Now I shall reply to this question – You’ve tried to act against the footsteps laid by our ancestors and I’ve come here to correct you to the right path!”

Rama didn’t understand what Bharata was trying to say. Now Bharata says, “Oh Rama! The footsteps laid by our ancestors is that, the eldest son of the king should be the successor! Now you’ve disobeyed this important rule and I’ve come here to correct you! Here’s the kingdom of Ayodhya! You’ve to rule Ayodhya and not me! Please come back!”

Rama was so impressed with Bharata’s “Sharanaagathi Dharma” (Complete surrender to the Lord), and at the same time, his eyes fell on the three mothers who were dressed like widows! Rama was concerned and asks Bharata about King Dasharata’s health condition. Upon which, Bharata broke the ice and says, “Oh Rama! Our dear father has passed away!” Hearing this, Rama is totally dejected and shocked beyond words! He is almost going to faint! All the four brothers hug each other and cry aloud, as the three mothers and Sage Vasishtaachaarya look on with grief!

The moment Rama was about to loose himself, Sita runs towards Rama and comforts him! She gives him the courage and says, “Oh my dear husband! You are the eldest son of all and if you are going to get dejected like this, how will you console the other three brothers of yours? Please regain your mental strength! I know it is a tough moment, but my dear, I request you to control your emotions!” Rama acknowledges Sita’s words and tries to console his brothers who were weeping bitterly!

Now Rama, accompanied by the others, walks towards the banks of river Mandaahini, which is not very far from that place. Rama, being the eldest son has to do the “Pinda-Pradhaanam” (A kind of Divine Offering done to his late father). There was a tree called “Ingudha”. Rama plucks the fruits from this tree and offers them to the river Mandaahini as the divine offering to his late father!

Normally we do the “Pinda-Pradhaanam” with rice. But since Rama was in the forest, there was no source of getting rice. Moreover, he had also made a promise to Kaikeyi that he would not consume any food item that contains rice in it and that he would consume only food that is taken by saints and tapasvis’ in the forest! Thus, while giving just these fruits of the “Ingudha” tree, Kaushalya couldn’t control her tears! She laments aloud by saying, “Ohh! What a great King, Dasharata was! And look at the situation right now! He doesn’t even deserve to get even a proper divine offering even after his death! What sin did Dasharata commit to be this unfortunate? Was giving Rama to this world his greatest sin?” Thus, looking at this unfortunate situation, the entire set of people gathered there were crying aloud!

After all this was over, Bharata repeats his request to Rama and asks him to come back to Ayodhya and take over the kingdom! Did Rama accept Bharata’s request? What was Rama’s reply? Let’s wait till the next episode to find out!