Tuesday, 13 August 2013

68. The King is dead. Long live the King.

          The morning chores started at dawn. The first one, in those days was the awakening the king. Accordingly highly cultured and excellently learned bards as well as singers and panegyrists uttering recitations in different styles arrived to awaken the king. Their sounds of praises, uttering benedictions in a loud voice and pronouncing accolades of the king pervaded in full the interior area of the palace. While the bards are uttering praises eulogizing the glorious acts of Dasharatha, others who make a bang of claps, patted the claps. The birds dwelling in royal palaces perched on the branches of the trees and others in cages were awakened by that sound and began to twitter. The auspicious words uttered by the bards, the chirps of parrots etc. and the notes of Vina as well as the blissfully melodious songs filled that palace. Those who were skilled in the various personal services to the king, most of whom were women and eunuchs, also arrived there to serve the king. Those who took care of royal ablutions brought water sprinkled with yellow sandal in golden pitchers in accordance with the set procedures. Young women, most of whom were virgins, in the employment of the king for similar purpose brought all that were pleasing to the eyes, eatables, decorative clothing and ornaments.
            All that was brought near the king was endowed with all the auspicious characteristics stipulated in the prescribed scriptures. All that was extremely graceful. On that day all the retinue felt that something was amiss and as such without coming near the king and with an anxiety as to what it was , stayed outside. The women who were empowered to go near the bed of Dasharatha went in close proximity of him and tried to wake him up. Those modest and prudent women with proper conduct, touched Dasharatha and could not detect any sign of life whatsoever in him. Those women knew the condition of a body in sleep, by its gestures, movements etc. They became certain that the king was NOT asleep. Overpowered by grief for their sons, the slumbering Kausalya and Sumitra did not wake up, as though they were completely overtaken by death. Kausalya bereft of luster, pale faced, emaciated with grief and dispirited, did not shine her usual brightness. The queen Kausalya, immediately close to the king and with Sumitra on her side, was not having her usual shining, but a face ruffled by tears of grief. The persons in the gynaecium, having seen those distinguished queens in slumber and also the king in that manner, guessed that the king had passed away in sleep. Then, those pretty women started crying.  Kausalya and Sumitra woke up by the noise of their cries. Then they on seeing and touching king Dasharatha, cried 'O, Lord!' and fell on the ground. Kaikeyi and all other wives of the king Dasharatha, on hearing the cries, rushed in and seeing the king without life started crying.  
           Kausalya could not bear the sudden demise of her husband which followed the exile of her dear son. To vent her anger and grief, she started to rile Kaikey, the root cause for her twin misery by "Oh! Kaikeyi the cruel and evil shrew! Are you happy now, as all your desires are fulfilled? Without the king, you can enjoy the kingdom undisturbed and without any hindrance. Rama has left me and gone to the forest. My husband, too has left for heaven. I do not wish to live. Which woman would wish to survive, leaving her husband who was divine, except Kaikeyi who kicked off righteousness? Instigated by that hunchbacked witch you have ruined the prestigious name of the Raghu dynasty. On hearing that Rama along with his wife has been sent to exile by the king who was coerced by you to do this unworthy act, Janaka will profusely lament as I do. Oh! My dear son Rama who is acclaimed as the most pious man, and who has disappeared from here even though living, now does not know that I have become a supportless widow. Seetha, the daughter of the king of Videha, will get frightened with grief in the forest as and when she comes to know about the sad demise of the king and the condition to which I have been pushed thereby. Greatly alarmed to hear the fearful cries of wild animals and birds making their noises in nights, surely she will cling herself to Rama. Janaka too is aged, and  is not having any son, will be thinking of Seetha, overwhelmed with grief and will surely abandon his life. Today itself, I too in devotion to my husband, will meet my appointed end. I shall enter the fire, duly embracing this body of my husband."
          The chamberlains reverently removed from that place the unfortunate Kausalya, who was in excess grief and was closely embracing her dead husband. The ministers got the body of the king in an oil trough and got done all the acts that were to be done thereafter. The ministers who were knowing all such matters were not willing to do the cremation of the king in the absence of any of his sons and that is why preserved the king's body in an oil trough. The friends and relatives of the king, too did not like the cremation in the absence of his sons. Seeing that the king was laid down in an oil through all women in the gynaacium cried "Alas! He is dead!" and followed it by series of lamentations.
          Brahmins Markandeya, Moudgalya, Vamadeva, Kasyapa, Katyayana, Goutama and the greatly famous Jabali together with the ministers addressed the royal priest Vasishta "Sir,The King Dasharatha departed to heaven. Rama, his eldest son took retreat in a forest. Lakshmana followed suit. Both Bharata and Shatrughna are encamped in Bharata's maternal uncle's place in the city of Rajagriha in the kingdom of Kekaya. Hence, we suggest that any one here from the Ikshvaku dynasty be made the king today itself so that our nation is not without a king for obvious reasons." 
         Vasistha did not agree to their suggestion. He said
"Bharata, who was given the kingdom by Dasharatha is staying very happily in his maternal uncle's home, along with Shatrughna. Hence messengers in fast running horses are to be sent to bring back quickly those brothers. Have you any better suggestion?"
        All of them totally agreed with the proposed course of action. Vasishtha then called the messengers and told them "Hear very carefully what I am telling you. Take the best horses available and reach the city of Rajagriha very, very quickly. Without showing your grief, convey Bharata my orders that 'The royal priest and the ministers are inquiring about your welfare. Come forth, by starting pronto. There is a very urgent work with you.'  After going there, do not tell him that Rama has gone to exile or that his father is dead. Go quickly, taking silk clothes and excellent ornaments etc. to the king and his son."
        The messengers, as ordered by Vasishtha started very quickly and reached safely and as quickly as possible, the city of Rajagriha
        The night before the messengers were approaching the city, Bharata had a very unpleasant dream which made him highly perturbed. Seeing Bharata in such a bad mood, his friends there arranged recitation of stories in the palace to cheer him up. Some played musical instruments for bringing about peacefulness. Likewise some others arranged for exhibition of dramas and some others told various types of jokes. But none of the efforts yielded the desired effect; Bharata continued to be apprehensive thinking about the nightmare he had.

          Bharata told his friends "Friends! I had a very dreadful dream in which my father with his soiled body and with his hair disheveled, was falling from the top of a mountain into a polluted pond defiled with cow dung. I saw him floating in that pond, drinking something looking like oil, through his hollowed palms and laughing again and again. Thereafter, having eaten cooked rice mixed with sesame seeds repeatedly, with his head bent down and with his whole body smeared with oil, he plunged into the oil itself. I saw in the dream, the ocean dry up, the moon fall on the ground, the earth molested as if covered by darkness, a tusk of an elephant (on which the monarch rode) broken to pieces, a blazing fire suddenly extinguished, the earth riven, trees dry up, and the mountains whirl up into a mist. I saw my father in the dream, wearing black clothes, sitting on a stool made of iron and women with black and reddish brown complexion deriding the king. My father, the virtuous man, adorned with red garlands and his body besmeared with sandal paste and seated in a chariot drawn by asses, proceeded hurriedly towards the south. I saw an ugly faced female demon, wearing red colored clothes, laughingly dragging away the king. I wonder whether the dream means that I myself or the king or Lakshmana would die. If, in a dream, a person sees a man going in a chariot, yoked with donkeys, the smoke of a funeral pyre will soon be seen ascending from him. For this reason, I have become apprehensive. Hence, I am not able to respond to your efforts to cheer me up. My throat seems to be drying up. My mind is not at ease. I do not see the root cause of this fear. But I am experiencing a fear indeed.  My voice is choked. My luster is affected.  I abhor myself and I do not see a reason for it. That great fear is not going away from my heart, having seen such a bad dream in varied forms and I never had such kind of dream earlier and also reflecting on that inconceivable sight of the king."

            While Bharata was explaining the reason for his concern, the messengers entered the beautiful city Rajagriha and met the king Kekeya and the prince Yudhajit, who received them hospitably. Learning that the messengers had come to convey some urgent message to Bharatha from Vasistha, they were taken to Bharatha. They told Bharata "Vasistha, the Raja guru and all the ministers were asking about your welfare. They want you to return immediately to Ayodhya. There is an urgent work for you. Sir, these very valuable clothes and jewels are for your maternal uncle. In these(other set of boxes) are jewels and clothes that are to be given to the king Kekeya."
          Bharata, who had a great affection for his relatives, took all that, honored the messengers suitably with gifts of their liking and told them "I hope that king Dasharatha, my father is quite safe. I also hope that Rama and Lakshmana are well.  Is Kausalya, the mother of Rama also well?  I hope that Sumitra, the mother of Lakshmana as well as the heroic Shatrughna and our middle mother, is well.  Is Kaikeyi, who loves herself, a forever a fiery lady of wrathful nature, who prides herself to be highly intelligent and my mother, also well?  What did she say?"
         The messengers politely informed Bharatha that all were well and added that the chariot for his journey back to Ayodhya was ready and requested him to start immediately.
         Bharata smiled and told the messengers "I will get permission from the monarch to leave for Ayodhya saying that the messengers are hastening me up."
        Permission was duly granted and Aswapati, the king and grandpa of Bharata sent some dear, reliable etc. attendants to accompany Bharata for his return journey. Yuddhajit, his maternal uncle gave him as gifts, elephants of Airavata race born in Indrasira mountain-range and which were charming to behold as well as mules which could walk quickly and were well trained. He gave as a gift, large bodied dogs, which were well nourished in the gynaeceum  possessing the strength and vitality of a tiger. The wealth of gifts bestowed by the king Kekeya did not rejoice Bharata, who was then in a hurry to go. Due to the goading of the messengers and visualization of the dream, a very big worry was squeezing his heart. Bharata, augmented with men, elephants and horses started and quickly entered the excellent royal high way. More than hundred chariots, boxes variegated with jewels yoked to camels, bullocks, horses and mules and numerous servants followed Bharata.

           The route Bharata and his entourage drove was a different one from the route the messengers had taken from Ayodhya to Rajagriha. This is a longer route and it took one complete week for Bharata to reach Ayodhya. It was dawn when Bharata entered the city of Ayodhya, which was built by the King Manu. Bharata felt something odd while passing through the streets of Ayodhya. Bharata  remarked "O, Charioteer! The famous city of Ayodhya looked like a heap of white clay to me from a distance. I very well remember that it had beautiful gardens. It was filled with performers of sacrifices and with people endowed with good qualities as well as well versed in the Vedas and with abundant brahmins.  It is being ruled by a royal sage. Before I left Ayodhya, big clattering voices of men and women used to be heard all round Ayodhya. Now, I am not hearing that voice. The parks which used to beam with men streaming forth on all sides. These parks look deserted by the lovers now. O, charioteer! To me, the city appears to have changed into a forest. Here, as before, important persons indeed are not seen going into the city or coming out of it in carriages or on horses or on elephants. Earlier parks used to be conspicuously excited with joy and gaiety and were most congenial for love contacts of men.  I am seeing the same parks today with lack of enjoyments on all sides and with trees having their leaves fallen along the road, looking like a picture of dismay. It is now dawn, but the charming sounds with sweet and much melodious tone of animals and birds intoxicated with happiness are not being heard. Why does, as before, pure and auspicious breeze laden with aloes and sandal wood intensified with the fume of burnt incense, not blow today? Why the sounds of kettledrums, clay tomtoms and Vinas played upon with drum-sticks or palms or fingers are not heard? Formerly they never ceased at any time. I perceive various kinds of evil, sinful and silly omens and by this, my mind is dejected. O, charioteer!  It appears that something is amiss with my kinsfolk; and without any apparent reason my spirit is cast down."
          When Bharata entered the city of Ayodhya, he was despondent, distressed in mind, frightened and extremely apprehensive. When he passed through the Vaijayanta gate he was greeted with slogans of victory by the standing gatekeepers. Without any explanation or reason, he was becoming more and more anxious. As he did not know whom to ask, he asked the charioteer "Oh, charioteer! Why have I been brought so hurriedly without any explanation? My mind is apprehending some evil. All my energy seem to be dwindling. Whatever things were heard in respect of ruin of kings, I am seeing here all those signs. I am seeing the family horses whose dirt is not swept away, doors wide open, bereft of splendor on all sides without any offerings being made, and with no incense burned. Families look starving and people look miserable. The temples of gods are deserted and have lost their radiance, with their splendor of floral decorations lost, nor are there any assemblage to perform sacrifices as before. Worships of the deities were placed aside. Assemblage of prayers are also not adorned with salable flowers and garlands today. Even traders seem to have lost interest in trading tie-ups and their minds are tied up in thoughts. They are not being seen here today, as before. Clusters of birds in temples and large trees in the city are looking desolate. The population of men and women in the city look thoughtful, anguished, weak, messy and despondent with their eyes brimming with tears."
           On entering the royal palace, Bharta noticed that the doors and hinges were covered with both dust and rust. Seeing many similar things disenchanted to mind which did not occur at any time before in the city, Bharata was overcome with grief and with his head bent down and with his mind miserable, gloomily entered his father's house.

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