Aranyakanda: The Hub of the Wheel of Srimad Ramayana

This article is part 9 of 12 in the series DVG's Essays on the Ramayana

maharṣiśuśrūśāsaktam tadvairidhvaṃsanodyatam |
j
ānakīvihārtam śrīrāmaṃ naumi salakṣmaṇaṃ ||

Always intent on serving the Maharshis, the destroyer of wicked enemies
One who sports with Janaki, I bow down to that Sri Rama who is always accompanied by Lakshmana. 

The Ayodhyakanda is often described as the heart of Srimad Ramayana. To extend the same metaphor, it is even more appropriate to term the Aryanakanda as the inner life of the heart of the Ramayana poem. The circumference of the wheel of this heart is the story of the Ayodhyakanda. The hub of this wheel is the story of the Aranyakanda.

Both these Kandas are truly heart-wrenching. In the Ayodhyakanda, if Sri Ramachandra becomes the cause for melting our hearts, in the Aranyakanda, the episodes that occur with both Rama and Sita pierces our heart. Some people might feel that the difficulty faced by Sita is more painful. However, I am not one of them.

In both Kandas, both Rama and Sita’s virtue and goodness is tested. The aspect that stands out in the Ayodhyakanda is Sri Rama’s fidelity to truth and his preparation for sacrifice. Unwilling to accept the kingdom that came to him rightfully, he departs for the forest owing to his conviction in truth. This renunciation is really magnanimous. In the Aranyakanda, the element that stands out is Sita’s discharge of vows and her ability to withstand hardship. The tribulation she faced was far crueler than that of Sri Rama.

The Ramayana story cannot begin without the mention of the Ayodhyakanda. If there was no Aranyakanda, the story would have been crippled right there. Sri Rama who set out for the forest-exile, could have easily embarked on a happy sojourn and visited various rivers, mountains, and jungles for fourteen long years and happily returned to Ayodhya. In that case, that would become a travelogue. The world could have regarded Sri Rama, Sita and Lakshmana as great travelers. There would have been no reason to count them among the greatest warriors of the world. The main story of Srimad Ramayana is the destruction of Ravana or the punishment of the enemy of Dharma. The reason for this destruction lay in Ravana’s abduction of Sita. Therefore, the seed of this story is contained in the Aranyakanda.

In this manner, when we ponder upon the episodes and the tenet, it appears justified that the real name for the poem should have been Sitayana. If Janaki Devi had not faced this calamity or if she was not endowed with such unswerving chastity, the story of Rama would’ve trodden a different path. It was Sita Devi who provided the material for the story’s phenomenal renown in the world.

Because we have analysed it in this form, there is nary an injury to Sri Rama’s greatness. The fact he is endowed with extraordinary courage is clearly evident right in the beginning of the story. If he was not so, if he had behaved in a different manner after being separated from Sita, the chain of the story would not have been the story of Rama. It is well-known that Sri Rama’s fidelity to his wife has been worshipped throughout the world. However, the story of Srimad Ramayana would not have attained fulness only on that account. In this manner, the opportunity for Sri Rama’s grand victory was provided by Sita Devi’s penance. In this saintly couple, I feel that her importance is greater.

The main qualities of Sri Rama are: his conviction in truth and detachment towards sensual enjoyments. Sita Devi’s are: fidelity to vows and self-restraint.

The substance of Sita Devi’s Inner Life becomes clear at the beginning of the Aranyakanda. After Sri Rama visits numerous ashrams of Rishis in the Dandakaranya and visits Sharabhanga Muni’s ashram, the other sages present there confide their problems in him and request him to save them from the incessant troubles of the Rakshasas (Sarga 6). Sri Rama’s nature is revealed in the humility of his speech after he consoles them and promises to protect them.

naivamarhatha māṃ vaktuṃ āgnapto'haṃ tapasvinām |

kevalenātmakāryeṇapraveṣṭavyaṃ mayā vanaṃ || (Sarga 6: Sloka 22)

The words uttered by you to me are not requests but commands. I have come to the forest owing to a personal duty. Punishment of the wicked is also a duty for us.

After Sri Ramachandra took this vow, it became imperative for him to equip himself with weapons. Accordingly, he departed from Sharabhanga’s ashram and proceeded towards the ashram of Rishi Sutikshna. There, as he was getting for the onward journey, when Sri Rama picked up the bow and arrows Sita became a little suspicious. It is impossible for a person who holds weaponry in his hands to not use it. The wealth of arsenal is a motivation for cruelty; cruelty is a sin; thus, Rishis and sages must give up weapons, which are a cause for cruel actions – Sita gives this discourse to Sri Rama and gives an example of a Puranic story (Sarga 9). Among sins, three are most important: (1) Untruth (2) Coveting another person’s wife (3) Unprovoked enmity. Among these, Sri Rama gives no chance for the first two. Her doubt is whether he will incur the third sin. She says:

agnisaṃyogavaddetuḥ śastrasaṃyoga ucyate |
snehāśca bahumānāśca smāraye tvā
ṃ na śikṣaye || (Sarga 9: Slokas 23, 24)

I not preaching to you. I am merely reminding you of what you already know. Friendship with weapons is akin to friendship with fire.

strīcāpalādeśadudāhrutam me dharmaṃ ca vaktuṃ tava kassamarthaḥ |
vicāryabuddhyātusahānujena yadrocate tat kuru mayā cire
ṇa ||  (Sarga 9: Slokas 33)

This is the dignity of Sita’s speech. These lines reveal exactly how delicate and pure her mind was. Purity, simplicity, delicateness along with loyalty, fear of sin and magnanimous outlook – these are the true traits of Sita. We must keep these qualities in mind while examining the story further.

A sentence that Sri Ramachandra utters as he gets ready to depart from Suktikshna’s ashram towards Agastya’s ashram must be remembered by all of us now, in 1968 CE:

amārgeṇāgatām lakṣmīṃ prāpyevānvayavarjitaḥ | (Sarga 4: Sloka 8)

Just like how the world finds it difficult to tolerate the arrogant egotism of a rogue who acquires wealth through illegitimate means, the heat of the Sun in the afternoon is unbearable.

Let the bribe-takers and the black marketeers tap their own shoulders in their own praise!

Later, when Sri Ramachandra goes to the ashram of Agastya, the conversations that ensue there are really splendid.

To be continued

Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

About:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

Prekshaa Publications

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...

Yaugandharam

इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...

Vanitakavitotsavah

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Vaiphalyaphalam

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Nipunapraghunakam

इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।

Bharavatarastavah

अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...

Bharatilochana

ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...

Vagarthavismayasvadah

“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...