ARANYA KĀNDA

        Along with Sita and Lakshmana, the invincible Rāma, nothing daunted, entered the impenetrable Dandaka forest. There appeared before them a splendid penance-grove, darling like the mid-day sun in the sky, at which the Rākshasās dared not even look at and with all the radiance of high spirituality. It gave shelter to various beings. The celestial dancers frequently used to come there to worship the Rishis and dance as part of their worship, so holy a place was it. Every tree yielded plenty of fruits and flowers. It was full of various and sweet-throated birds. All the forest-animals roamed about freely, without their natural enmity between them. Every hermitage looked pure and clean, was full of every article for yagnās and other rites. The Lakes were beautiful being full of lotuses. The aged Rishis with their spiritual aura looked like fire for Sun and there were also seen even far superior Rishis, worshipped by lesser Rishis. With the resounding recitation of the Vēdic Hymns and the yagnās and the Holy ancillary rites, being performed constantly, the whole penance-grove appeared like the great heaven of the great God Brahma.

        Milton, in “Paradise Lost” speaks of “hymns and halleluiahs” “heaven rung with jubilee and loud hosannas filled the eternal regions” and there was “beatitude past utterance”.

        Yagnās in this penance-grove have a special significance. On the physical plane, the holy vēdic mantrās are chanted (vocal sound known by ears called Vaikhāri) and the herbs with purificatory and mystic powers, move so when placed in a fire and a sacred fire at that-serving a sacred purpose and Lord Rudra being the presiding deity of herbs (ओषधेणाम् पतिः) - such herbs supplementing the powers of vēdic chantings. This yagna form goes deeper into the subtle, psychical state, when the subtle sound of the hymns becomes a more powerful and more mystical thought process (the physical form of the yagna disappearing or wonderfully combined by long discipline and wisdom of the votary). This sound in yōgic parlance is called madhyama. It may appear as mere figment of imagination to skeptics, when it is said that with Rishis, this yagna goes deeper into the transcendental stage or plane, when the sound is a visible sound (called पस्यन्ति) for instance Ra is red in colour, said to be located in a psychic colour, said to be located in a psychic center in human body. In the next stage, meta-phenomenal stage, the final stage, the yagna reaches the supreme God, the sound being called Para (परा). This is the reason why the vēdic hymns chanted by all, is called Apoūrushēya, not written by men, not even by saints, but realized by saints and given to mankind. It is common to all great religions that the whole creation proceeded out of the great word, the word of God, the most holy word, ॐ, (प्रनव), then came out of Pranava, the holy Gāyatri and then all other creation, - Bhoo creating the Earth, Bhuvaha creating the world above and Suvaha the heavens above Bhuvaha since the Vēdās are so sacred and powerful only the one, who can maintain Its sanctity in thought word and deed and habits, especially food, (its breach or misuse resulting in the ruin of the society even, in addition to his and his Guru’s ruin) is initiated into this esoteric discipline. The real test for the selection of the disciple is unshakable faith and devotion and a firm determination to keep pure his discipline. Any other rules are merely rough-and-ready rules and mostly misused. All this is not idol-worship. It (idol worship) was invented for common men.

        As regards the celestial dancers, there is absolutely no sensuality about them. Only the court-poets created that atmosphere. They act as mere temptations and act as mere catalysts, to test the persons aiming at heaven. They are not harlots of Heaven, but are votaries of the divine art. They can curse, which is impossible for a harlot.

        Having to enter such a sacred place, where the Rākshasās fear to tread Rāma unstrung his bow and proceeded. The holy inmates, some of them having divine vision, waiting for his arrival, seeing Rāma like the rising Moon and the celebrities Dēvi Sita and Lakshmana - the inmates, in a body came out to welcome them and took them inside, chanting hymns of blessings. They were struck with wonder at the beauty and splendor of the royal trio and stared at them without winking and likewise, even the birds and beasts there. All the Rishis looked upon Rāma as the savior of all beings and worshipped the three accordingly, offering them fruits and flowers and water and enquired about their welfare. With folded hands they all prayed to Rāma thus, “Royal Sir! You are like God to us. You are the refuge for all of us and the protector of Dharmās for all classes of people and for the four stages of the life of man. A King is Guru and also punishes the guilty. A King is said to have the aspects of Indra and other Gods and is worshipped by all and is entitled to all the Royal pleasures. Being in your kingdom, we all crave your protection. In our discipline, we should give up anger as it destroys our tapās, our wealth. Hence we cannot punish our wrongdoers by our curses. We are your children, so you should even protect us. You are our king even though you are in our midst”. Thus the holy inmates of the penance-grove and also those from the neighboring ones - all great Rishis and those doing strictly vēdic austerities praised the royal trio and gave them fruits etc.

        Rāma stayed there for the night and by the early morning, after finishing his sacred duties took worshipful leave of the sages and entered the terrible interior of the great Dandaka Forest. After walking for some distance, they (Rāma, Sita, Lakshmana) observed that all animals, including the terrible wild beasts, were fleeing in panic and trying to hide themselves anywhere. Even the birds were silent. Only the small unseen insects, by their chirping sounds, were breaking this sudden silence of that grim forest, the haunt of terrible wild animals, the Lakes being dirty and the forest-creepers being crushed. Soon the forest was reverberating with the thunderous cries of a giant, (whose approach was the cause of the panic of even the mighty wild animals). Soon the princes saw the giant, appearing high as a mountain-cliff, with deep-set eyes, huge mouth, huge belly, huge dirty body and smeared all over with flesh and highly disgusting to look at. He was terror itself and with wide open mouth was like Yama, the God of Death. He had on his body a tiger’s skin oozing blood. He had a terrible spear, which pierced through and carrying three lions, four tigers, two wolves, ten deers, the head of a huge elephant, oozing brain matter- all for his horrid meal.

        Kamba says - He wore a wreath, as it were, of great wild animals around his huge neck using a huge python as a rope.

        Seeing the royal trio, he rushed at them in great fury and in a thundering voice and catching hold of the near-fainting Dēvi and keeping her on his shoulder ran for some distance. Turning back he roared at the brothers (according to his absurd jungle dharma) thus, “with all the dress and appearance of hermits, but with your bows and arrows and swords and further accompanied by a woman, you are acting contrary to the order of hermits and are sinners. You have reached the end of your life and so you have entered this great forest. Who are you? I am Virādha, by name. I freely roam about this forest, killing the Rishis and eating them. I will make this woman my wife and in the duel I will kill you, the sinners and drink your blood”. The poor Dēvi was quaking with fear on the giants shoulder like the plantain tree in the strong wind. Seeing this, the grief-stricken Rāma cried “Dear Brother! See how this very virtuous woman, the most royal daughter of the great king Janaka, the great comforter of my life, is in contact with the Rākshasa being caught on his shoulders (all her virtues could not save her from this pollution). What my step-mother had in her mind, when she asked the boons has come to pass now, by this tragedy. Not satisfied with the kingdom, she wanted this also for me. Neither loss of the throne, nor the death of my father has caused so much grief as this tragedy of pollution of Sita from contact with a stranger, (and a Rākshasa at that)”. At this (apparently) helpless posture of Rāma, Lakshmana became furious with the giant and furiously sighing like a snake under spell, spoke, “Brother! In might you are equal to God Indra. When I am by your side ready to do your bidding, why you despond like this? I will turn all my fury towards Bharata, on this Demon and with just one arrow drawn at full length and aimed at this fellows chest, like Indra with his special weapon (Vajrāyudha) breaking the mountains, I will bring down this fellow and make the earth drink fully his blood.