The next morning, Janaka invited Viśvāmitra and the boys to his court. Viśvāmitra requested the king to show the Mighty Bow that he possessed. Janaka then narrated the following – “During the destruction of Dakṣa’s yajña, Rudra bent this bow, declaring that he would chop off the heads of the devas, for they did not offer him a share in the yajña. The distressed devas begged for pardon. Pleased, Śiva gifted them the bow and the devas placed it as a trust with our ancestor, Devarāta.
When I was once ploughing the yajña-bhūmi, I obtained a baby girl, who is known as Sītā. I decided that my daughter, born to the earth, would only wed a man who could show his might in wielding the bow. Many kings tried their hand, but none could lift Śiva’s bow, let alone string it. Their valour was put to shame and so the dejected kings harried the city of Mithilā. I fought them for a year; then exhausted, I performed tapas to the devas. They provided me with a four-fold army, using which I defeated the attackers.”
He continued, “I shall now have the bow shown to the brothers. If Rāma strings the bow, I’ll offer my daughter Sītā in marriage to him.” With the approval of Viśvāmitra, Janaka asked his officials to bring the celestial bow. Five thousand men pulled an eight-wheeled iron casket that contained the bow. Viśvāmitra asked Rāma to take a look at the bow. After taking a look, Rāma sought the ṛṣi’s permission to lift and string it. The king and the seer bade him to proceed. Even as thousands of men looked on, Rāma lifted the bow as if it were a sport—līlā—strung it, and broke it in the middle. Deafening was the sound it made, like a thunder in a cloudless sky. The earth rocked violently. All men, excepting the king, the seer, and the two brothers, fell down because of the din. When the people regained their senses, the king told the seer, “I must offer my daughter Sītā, dearer than my life, to Rāma. With your permission, my men will swiftly convey this to Daśaratha and bring him here.” Upon the seer’s approval, Janaka’s men rushed to Ayodhyā.
The envoys conveyed the message to Daśaratha. Delighted, the king set out with his wives, purohitas, and ministers as well as a huge army to guard the entourage. Janaka graciously welcomed them and also had his brother Kuśadhvaja—the king of Sāṅkāśyā—brought to the Mithilā. Vasiṣṭha, on behalf of Daśaratha, chronicled the history of the Ikṣvāku family and requested Janaka’s daughters in marriage to Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa. Janaka too narrated the history of his family and formally pledged to give his daughters in marriage. Viśvāmitra, with the approval of Vasiṣṭha, proposed that Kuśadhvaja’s daughters, Māṇḍavī and Śrutakīrti, be given in marriage to Bharata and Śatrughna. The kings were overjoyed with the proposal. Yudhājit, Bharata’s maternal uncle, arrived in Mithilā upon the instruction of his father, the king of Kekaya, who wished to see his grandson.
In the divine presence of the purohitas and their loving parents, the four brothers married the princesses as per the prescribed rituals. They went around Agni thrice and thus completed the marriage rite. They retired with their newly-wed wives to their quarters and the king, without ever taking his eyes off the couples followed them.
The next morning, Viśvāmitra left for the northern mountains. Daśaratha offered Janaka large amounts of kanyā-śulka that included gold, silver, gems, thousands of cows, silk garments, carpets, elephants, horses, chariots, and many attendants – male and female. He then set out with his sons back to Ayodhyā, with the ṛṣis leading them. As they proceeded, they observed several evil omens – birds screamed and beasts went around Daśaratha in a pradakṣiṇa. Vasiṣṭha explained – “A voice from the skies speaks through the birds about the imminence of great danger, but these beasts on earth assuage those fears.” As they spoke, a mighty wind arose, the Sun was blotted out by darkness, and the directions went invisible. In that horrid darkness, the terrifying Bhārgava-rāma, the son of Jamadagni was seen – his matted hair was wound in a coil and he looked unapproachable like deadly fire. He carried an axe (paraśu) on one shoulder and a bow with an arrow in the other. The seers welcomed him with arghya.
Paraśurāma told Śrī-rāma, “I have heard about your immense strength and your breaking of the invincible bow. I have here another bow that has come down to me from my father. In the past, a duel between Śiva and Viṣṇu ensued regarding the superiority of each other’s bow. Śiva’s was cracked by Viṣṇu’s power and he offered his bow to Devarāta, the king of Videhas. Viṣṇu’s bow was given to my ancestors. In the past, I killed (Kārtavīrya) Arjuna who inflicted death upon my father and in my wrath, I cleansed the earth of the kṣatriyas. Having won the entire earth, I gave it away as dāna to Kāśyapa and retired to Mount Mahendra. I have come here upon hearing about the breaking of Śiva’s bow. Now, mount an arrow on this bow, draw it, and display your strength. If you can do that, I will then engage with you in a combat.”
Enraged at being slighted by Paraśurāma, Dāśarathi-rāma, snatched the bow and arrow from him, mounted it and said, “This arrow cannot be rendered futile. I cannot shoot it at you, for I deeply respect you. Therefore, I will either destroy the speed of your gait or the divya-lokas that you have gained owing to your tapas. Paraśurāma realised that Rāma was Mahā-viṣṇu and requested him not to destroy his gait. Rāma shot the arrow destroying the divya-lokas that Bhārgava-rāma had acquired. The darkness that had enveloped the directions was now clear. Paraśurāma performed pradakṣiṇa to Rāma and retired to the Mahendra Mountain. Rāma then handed over the bow to Varuṇa.
The four brothers along with their wives entered the city of Ayodhyā amidst delightful celebrations. The city was decked with flags, resounded with the music of trumpets, its streets watered well and strewn with flowers. The citizens greeted and blessed the king and the young couples. The queens welcomed their daughters-in-law and sons. They together performed pūjā in the devatāyatana (temple).
Rāma and Sītā spent many years in each other’s loving company. In Sītā’s heart, her husband occupied a place twice as big as she in his. Each one’s heart revealed to the other what it dearly cherished. Sītā understood Rāma’s heart even better than he did hers.
To be continued...
[The critically constituted text and the critical edition published by the Oriental Institute, Vadodara is the primary source. In addition, the Kannada rendering of the epic by Mahāmahopādhyāya Sri. N. Ranganatha Sharma and the English translation by Sri. N. Raghunathan have been referred.]
 The word ‘sītā’ literally means ‘furrow.’ Because the baby girl was found in a furrow, she was named Sītā.