He is described as ‘smitapūrvābhibhāṣī’, someone who always has a smile before he talks. There are many instances which proves that he had a great sense of humour. We see that he had said, ‘ परिहासो ह्ययं मम (it was just a prank)’, to Trijaṭa.
During their stay in the forest Śrī-rāma, Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa were all very happy. The beauty of nature and their casual conversations made them happy and they never thought of their stay as an ordeal. Till Sītā was kidnapped there is no inkling of any complaints about their stay or difficulties. Śrī-rāma took utmost care to make Sītā, who was tenderness personified, as comfortable as possible. He says to Sītā.
दर्शनं चित्रकूटस्य मन्दाकिन्याश्च शोभने ।
अधिकं पुरवासाच्च मन्ये च तव दर्शनात् ॥
लक्ष्मणश्चापि धर्मात्मा मन्निदेशे व्यवस्थितः ।
त्वं चानुकूला वैदेहि प्रीतिं जनयतो मम ॥
नायोध्यायै न राज्याय स्प्रुहयेऽद्य त्वया सह ॥
[My dear! I feel happier seeing the river Mandākinī and Citrakūṭa than being in Ayodhyā. The noble Lakṣmaṇa, has always been favourable and has followed my words to the dot. Vaidehi! If I’m with you and Lakṣmaṇa, then I neither need Ayodhyā nor the throne.]
Later after she was kidnapped, Śrī-rāma, heartbroken, says this to Lakṣmaṇa.
अस्मिन् मया सार्धमुदारशीला शिलातले पूर्वमुपोपविष्ट ।
कान्तस्मिता लक्ष्मण जातहासा त्वामाह सीता बहुवाक्यजातम् ॥
[Lakṣmaṇa, this is the rock upon which my beloved, the one of the flawless character, would sit beside me with a wonderful smile. Didn’t she spend many a day chatting with you in jest here?]
The sense of humour of the trio.
Śrī-rāma, Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa have arrived at the banks of Gaṅgā. Guha is waiting to take them across the river with his boat. Śrī-rāma wants to have some fun at the expense of Sītā. He addresses Lakṣmaṇa thus, “Lakṣmaṇa! Get into the boat first, then help this courageous woman get into the boat by holding her hand!” Śrī-rāma seems to suggest that “Sītā is indeed brave, except when it comes to getting into a boat!” “Let her get into the boat if she is indeed daring”, is his opinion. Lakṣmaṇa understood his intent and said, “Yes she is indeed brave” and helped her get into the boat first and then he followed (Ayodhyākāṇḍa 52.75,76).
The episode of Śūrpaṇakhā
Śrī-rāma’s sense of humour is evident in the episode of Śūrpaṇakhā. Seems like maharṣi Vālmīki has deliberately brought in hāsya in this episode. The old woman she was, its comical to see Śūrpaṇakhā being overcome by lust. And she had the gall to express it in public in the presence of Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa, rather than in privacy is something to be ashamed about. Śrī-rāma, the mind reader he was, was able to see through her facade and machinations in the first glance itself. He declared, “राक्षसी प्रतिभासि मे (You seem like a Rākṣasī to me).”
How inappropriate her lust was, has been portrayed wonderfully by maharṣi Vālmīki.
सुमुखम् दुर्मुखी रामं वृत्तमध्यं महोदरी ।
विशालाक्षं विरूपक्षी सुकेशं ताम्रमूर्धजा ॥
प्रीतिरूपं विरूपा सा सुस्वरं भैरवस्वरा ।
तरुणं दारुणा वृद्धा दक्षिणं वामभाषिणी ॥
न्यायवृत्तम् सुदुर्वृत्ता प्रियमप्रियदर्शना ॥
[Śrī-rāma’s handsome face vs Śūrpaṇakhā’s ugly one, his thin waist vs her pot belly, charming lotus like eyes vs crooked eyes, thick black hair vs copper hair, pleasant form vs terrifying form, melodious voice vs frightening voice, youth vs terminal old age, straight talk vs crooked speech, noble vs base, endearing vs endangering]
What a match indeed! If they’d marry it would be a model pair worthy of emulation!
See how Śūrpaṇakhā conducts herself in lust while speaking to him: he directly goes and asks him, “Who are you? Why do you pretend to be a tapasvin with matted locks? Yet you take a wife and carry bows and arrows. Why have you come here? Tell me the truth!”. Śrī-rāma told everything as it is. She replied, “I’ve come to take you as my husband. Be my husband for eternity!” Looks like till then she didn’t have a husband with whom she lasted long! But seeing Sītā with him she had doubts about what would Śrī-rāma do. She proposed a ready solution. She said, “Don’t worry, I’ll eat her.” What if Lakṣmaṇa poses a problem to her carefree behaviour? She would eat him too. Seeing that Sītā is beautiful and Śrī-rāma might not abandon her, she said, “What is the use of this woman? She looks ugly. She isn’t befitting to your charms! I’m the one. She is disgusting, ignoble! Her waist has just depleted. What ugliness!”
‘Go to Lakṣmaṇa…’
Seeing her shamelessness he wanted to play a prank. He said, “Ārye, I’m already married. As you say she might be ugly, but still she is my beloved! For a woman like you it would be difficult to live with cowives! Behold, there is my younger brother. An impeccable character. Handsome. Resplendent. He is unmarried. His name is Lakṣmaṇa. Valourous man, still not acquainted with the conjugal pleasures. He is in search of a wife! You are indeed a great match! Marry him. You won’t have to bother about co-wives.” he said, “It would be like the union of the sun rays with the golden Meru!”
Already drowned in lust, Śūrpaṇakhā didn’t understand this prank. She immediately approached Lakṣmaṇa, “O Lakṣmaṇa! See my lustrous skin! I’m your match!” He also found it funny. He couldn’t help but laugh. He had heard what Śrī-rāma told her. He too played along and said, “Indeed your complexion resembles the lotus! But I’m a servant to my elder brother. Being a wife of a servant would you like to be one? Would it be appropriate to be the servant of a servant? It's better to be my brother’s wife instead. O lotus eyed one. What a great complexion! Be the younger wife of my brother. As you have already observed his wife is thin, pale, ugly, of emaciated waist and old. My brother would abandon her and marry you. Who in the right mind would refuse a beauty like you!”
This is the sixth 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