The avarice of the brāhmaṇas
It seems as though when Brahma created the brāhmaṇas he also gave them the gift of poverty! We have heard a number of stories which starts like, ‘There lived a poor brāhmaṇa in a town…’ the word ‘baḍava’ in Kannada which means poor might have come from the word ‘vāḍava’ which is a synonym of brāhmaṇa in Sanskrit. The vāḍavas are typically the purohitas. Their nature is longing for materialistic things. Desire is inbuilt in every living being. But these vāḍavas tend to make it very evident! Others just conceal it well and get their desires satisfied nevertheless. This avarice of the vāḍavas are showcased in Śrīmad-rāmāyaṇam as well.
It is well known that Daśaratha performed Aśvamedha. As part of it, anna-santarpaṇa had been carried out in a grand scale. The rice heaps were comparable to the mountains. When such food is served, who would resist? Not just the women and children but even old and diseased people ate to their heart’s content. Still they weren’t satisfied!
वृद्धाश्च व्याधिताश्चैव स्त्रियो बालस्तथैव च।
अनिशं भुञ्जमानानां न तृप्तिरुपजायते ॥
अन्नकूटाश्च बहवो दृश्यन्ते पर्वतोपमाः ॥
[Old and diseased, women and children ate day and night and still were unsatiated.
…heaps of rice looked like mountains.]
The king gave the brāhmaṇas lot of clothes and crores and crores of gold coins as dāna. Even then one poor brāhmaṇa waited for the right opportunity and asked the king to give his golden bracelet! The king happily gave it away.
The story of Trijaṭa
Another situation which is similar to the one discussed above. Śrī-rāma is about to leave Ayodhyā to go to the forest. He is giving away all his assets. The news spread all over the city. There was a poor brāhmaṇa called Trijaṭa. The news first reached his wife! She said to him, “How many days shall we live on alms? How many days can we take care of our children in this manner? Throw those pickaxes away and listen to me! It seems Śrī-rāma is giving away everything in charity. He is a noble man. Go to him, he might give you something.” How can one violate the words of one’s wife? Trijaṭa wore torn clothes and walked straight to the royal palace! None stopped him. He approached Śrī-rāma and asked him, “O noble prince! I’m a poor brāhmaṇa; I’ve a lot of children. I’m living on alms. Show some compassion!”
Śrī-rāmā is fond of humour. Even though he was in such a dire situation, seeing Trijaṭa he wanted to play a prank. He said, “Viprottama! Behold! Thousands of cows can be seen. Throw your staff in that direction. However far it lands, all the cows within it will be yours!” What an awe inspiring sight it was! Trijaṭa tied up his torn clothes, gathered all the strength his thin frame could lend, rotated the staff and threw it with all his might! The staff crossed the Sarayū river and covered thousands of cows within its range.
स शाटीं त्वरितः कट्यां सम्भ्रान्तः परिवेष्ट्य ताम् ।
आविध्य दण्डं चिक्षेप सर्वप्राणेन वेगितः ॥
स तीर्त्वा सरयूपारं दण्दस्तस्य कराच्च्युतः ।
गोव्रजे बहुसाहस्रे पपातोक्षाणसन्निधौ ॥
[He fastened his clothes around his waist properly, rotated the staff, and threw it with all his might.
It crossed the Sarayū river, covered thousands of cows and landed near a bull.]
Śrī-rāmā on his part kept his word and sent all those cows to his house. Then he said to the brāhmaṇa, “Venerable brāhmaṇa, please don’t be angry. It was all in jest.”
मन्युर्न खलु कर्तव्यः परिहासो ह्ययं मम ॥
[Please don’t be angry, it was just a prank.]
Thus asking for forgiveness.
As a Kulapati (head of the Gurukula), maharṣi Vālmīki would be well acquainted with the ways of the brahmacārins, i.e. the students. Learning Vedas by rote, gluttony, laziness - he knows all these too well. He has Śrī-rāma speak about it on his behalf. In the city of Ayodhyā there lived many such brahmacārins learning the kaṭhakālāpaśākhās. They are named as daṇdamāṇavas, i.e. young brahmacārins carrying a staff, engrossed in committing Vedas to memory and gluttonous. “अलसाः स्वादुकामाश्च” lazy and always desiring gourmet food. Śrī-rāma instructs his brother Lakṣmaṇa to send, eighty carts filled with grains, a thousand filled with paddy, two hundred filled with dal and other requirements, and a thousand cows to cater the needs of milk products such as curds etc.
ये चेमे कठकालपाः
बहवो दण्डमाणवाः ।
नान्यत् कुर्वन्ति किंचन ॥
[Those from the kaṭhakālāpaśākhā, numerous daṇdamāṇavas, those due to their continuous study do not do anything else.
Lazy and desirous of delicacies…]
Daśaratha’s sense of humour
Daśaratha declared in his court that Śrī-rāma would be crowned as the heir apparent on the next day. All the subjects were happy and welcomed this decision. They declared that they are delighted to have someone as noble as Śrī-rāma as the crown prince. Though Daśaratha was aware of the reason for their joy, still he acted as though he was ignorant and asked them thus, “My subjects. As soon as I declared that Śrī-rāmā would be crowned you were all delighted and agreed. What is this? Haven't I been a good king following dharma?”
कथं नु मयि धर्मेण पृथिवीमनुशसति ।
भवन्तो द्रष्टुमिच्छन्ति युवराजं ममात्मजम् ॥
[When I’m still ruling this earth adhering to dharma, how come you are all so eager to see my son as the crown prince?]
The old fellow just wanted to derive happiness in hearing his son’s noble qualities praised by his subjects.
Śrī-rāma’s sense of humour
There is no doubt that Śrī-rāma, while being the very embodiment of dharma and adherent of satya, still had a great sense of humour. Adhering to dharma is never at loggerheads to being a humorous person. Śrī-rāma’s character is one that would appreciate natural beauty and be mesmerized by profundity. When he sees Citrakūṭa for the first time, when he enters the forest, when he sees the rivers, or the Pampā lake, when the rainy season arrives, if we observe how his emotions go, we can understand why maharṣi Vālmīki has portrayed him as a connoisseur par excellence. When he was separated from devī Sītā we understand how intensely he experienced śṛṅgāra. If Śrī-rāma wasn’t a connoisseur, Śrīmad-rāmāyaṇam would indeed be boring.
This is the fifth part of the multi-part translation of the Kannada book "Valmiki Munigala Hasya Pravrtti" by Mahamahopadhyaya Vidwan Dr. N Ranganatha Sharma. Thanks to Dr. Sharada Chaitra for granting us permission to translate this wonderful work. The original in Kannada can be read here