Worried that the citizens of Ayodhya may yet again come to the forest, Rāma left the great forest, went to the banks of the beautiful Godāvarī river, and began residing near the āśrama of Sage Śarabhaṅga. Owing to Śūrpaṇakha, Rāma makes an enemy out of Khara, who was residing at Janasthāna. Rāma killed Khara, Dūṣaṇa, and thousands of other rākṣasas, thus making that dhārmic forest safe for everyone. Śūrpaṇakha, with her lips and nose chopped off, went to Laṅkā, fell at the feet of her brother Rāvaṇa, and narrated her tale of woe. Rāvaṇa was enraged looking at the way her face had been attacked and asked her how it all happened; in response, she told him about Rāma’s valour and his killing of Khara, Dūṣaṇa, and all the other rākṣasas. He consoled his sister, arranged for the security of the city, crossed the Trikūṭa and Kālaparvata mountains as well as the great ocean, and reached Gokarṇa. His erstwhile minister, Mārīca was deep in meditation, fearing Rāma. When Rāvaṇa told him about Rāma’s recent activities, he said, “Don’t get in Rāma’s way; I know his valour well. Who can be an obstacle to the speedy arrows that fly out of his bow? He is the reason for my asceticism. Which evil one has suggested this path of destruction to you?” Rāvaṇa was angered and roared, “If you don’t listen to my words, then death is certain for you!”
Mārīca thought, “If I have to die then let me die at the hands of a great soul! I will obey his command.” Then he asked Rāvaṇa, “What help do you need from me?”
“Assume the guise of a deer with horns made of precious gems and hair shining like jewellery and go entice Sītā! She will compel Rāma to catch you and bring you to her. If he leaves the hut and sets out to catch you, I will be free to capture Sītā and she will become mine. If I abduct her and take her away, he will pine and die, unable to bear the separation from his wife. This is the help that you must do for me!” said Rāvaṇa.
Mārīca performed his last rites, lamented, and followed Rāvaṇa. Donning ochre robes and carrying a sacred tridaṇḍa and kamaṇḍalu, Rāvaṇa transformed himself into an ascetic; Mārīca became an attractive deer and made himself seen by Sītā. By the game of fate, Sītā fell for the deer and asked Rāma to bring it for her. To make her happy, Rāma quickly took his bow in hand, instructed Lakṣmaṇa to stay on guard and went chasing the deer just as Rudra had chased after the celestial deer (tārāmṛga). Alternately appearing and disappearing, the deer dragged Rāma away to a distant location. Learning that it was a rākṣasa in disguise, Rāma shot an arrow. Mimicking the voice of Rāma, the creature called out with a groan, “O Sītā! O Lakṣmaṇa!” Hearing that sound, Sītā ran in the direction of the voice. Lakṣmaṇa looked at this and said, “Why do you fear this? Who is capable of facing Rāma in combat? You will see Rāma in less than fifteen minutes, wait!”
Sītā began weeping; she was blinded with feminine emotion; grossly misunderstanding the words of Lakṣmaṇa of pure character, she began scolding him. “O fool! It appears to me that you have evil designs on me. I will wound myself with weapons, or jump off a cliff, or fall into a fire and give up my life but I will never become yours; was a tiger ever under the grasp of a deer?” Upon hearing these words, Lakṣmaṇa covered his ears and walked in the direction of the voice, holding his bow in hand. Rāvaṇa came there in the disguise of an ascetic, like an ash-covered ember. Ever-conscious of dharma, Sītā welcomed him with fruits and roots, offering her respects. He ignored all that, returned to his normal form, and said, “Sītā! I’m Rāvaṇa, the king of rākṣasas. Laṅkā, which lies on the shores of the great ocean is my kingdom. You will be my wife and shine bright among all the other women there. Abandon this ascetic Rāma!” Sītā closed her ears and said, “That will never happen, it’s never meant to happen; if I forsake Rāma, the sky along with all the stars will fall down; the earth would split into countless pieces; fire will become cold! Will an elephant leave its fold and touch a pig?” Saying these words, she went inside the āśrama. Rāvaṇa went inside, roared and made a ruckus, and Sītā fainted; holding the unconscious Sītā by her tresses, he flew away in the sky. Upon seeing her crying out “Rāma! Rāma!” the bird Jaṭāyu, a friend of Daśaratha, who was perched atop a mountain peak, fell upon Rāvaṇa and attacked him. Using its nails and its beak, Jaṭāyu wounded Rāvaṇa. Pulling out a sword and chopping off its wings, Rāvaṇa flew ahead. During their flight, Sītā saw various āśramas, rivers, and lakes; whenever Sītā saw such sights, she removed her ornaments one by one and threw them there. Further ahead, seeing five monkeys at the foot of a mountain, she threw a large piece of cloth at them.
Elsewhere, having killed the deer Rāma was walking back to the hermitage when he met Lakṣmaṇa on the way; he looked at his brother and accused him of deserting Sītā. Lakṣmaṇa told Rāma about the words that Sītā had uttered. As they proceeded further, they saw Jaṭāyu lying on the ground, clinging on to his life; from the dying bird Rāma learnt about the abduction of Sītā and the direction in which Rāvaṇa took her. They went searching for her in a southern direction and there they encountered Kabandha. Rāma chopped off his giant arms and killed him; a gandharva named Viśvāsa appeared from his dead body and thanked Rāma for delivering him from a curse. Then he told Rāma that if he were to proceed to the Ṛṣyamūka mountain, he would meet the king of the vānaras Sugrīva, who knew the way to Rāvaṇa’s kingdom and with whose help he could rescue Jānakī. Saying so, the gandharva disappeared.
Soon after that they went to the Pampā lake, bathed there, drank water, offered tarpaṇa, and proceeded to the Ṛṣyamūka mountain. Sugrīva sent his minister Hanūmanta to meet Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa; they spoke to Hanūmanta and went to meet Sugrīva. When Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa narrated their story, Sugrīva showed them the piece of cloth that Sītā had discarded while in flight. At that point, Rāma believed Sugrīva (and realized that he could help in finding Sītā). He promised Sugrīva that he would anointed him king of the vānaras after killing Vāli. In turn, Sugrīva promised Rāma that he would find Sītā. Thus making mutually beneficial agreements, they came to Kiṣkindhā. Sugrīva gave out a terrible cry that greatly enraged Vāli. Tārā (Vāli’s wife) stopped him from waging a war against Sugrīva. She informed him of the arrival of Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa. But Vāli chided her with a terrible roar and went away. When Sugrīva and Vāli began fighting with each other, nobody could make out one from the other; therefore Hanūmanta made Sugrīva wear a garland. Because of this, Rāma knew for sure which one of the two was Vāli and shot an arrow to his chest. With blood oozing out of his, he stood before Rāma and accused him treachery before he breathed his last. Sugrīva obtained Kiṣkindhā, and Tārā. For four months Rāma resided in Mālyavanta.
Upon reaching Laṅkā, Rāvaṇa held Sītā captive near Aśokavanikā in a beautiful mansion that resembled the Nandanavana of Indra. There she spent her days like an ascetic, surviving merely on fruits and roots, and meditating on Rāma all the time. Day and night she would be guarded by armed rākṣasis, who were ugly and crooked. Among them, a rākṣasi named Trijaṭā had the awareness of dharma and she would give solace to Sītā when the others were away. She told Sītā about the news of the good health of Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa, which she heard from an aged rākṣasa Avindhya. She also told Sītā that because of Naḻakūbara’s curse, Rāvaṇa would not be able to rape her. Further, she shared her good dreams with Sītā and consoled her, assuaging her fears.
To be continued…
This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar published in a serialized form. Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh for his review and astute feedback.