by Carole Losee © 2005-2020

ELIZABETH SEEGER'S

THE RAMAYANA


CHAPTER NINE

THE ABDUCTION OF SITA

 

Maricha took the form of a little deer, wonderful to behold. Its hide was of gold, dappled with silver, its horns were tipped with jewels that caught the sunlight, and its delicate legs ended in hoofs of emerald. It strayed into the clearing before the hermitage, lifting its delicate head to nibble at leaves, or bending it to taste a flower. It pranced across the grass, sometimes disappearing among the trees, then leaping forth again. It joined the other fawns but they, drawing near with outstretched necks to catch its scent, fled from it in all directions.

Sita was gathering flowers, and her eyes opened wide in wonder and delight as she saw this charming creature. She called to Rama and Lákshmana to come quickly and see it. "O Rama, I have set my heart on this little fawn," she said, laughing with joy. "What grace and beauty! Catch it for me, I pray you, so that I may have it as a pet. We shall take it back to Ayodhya with us and it will delight my mothers, the queens. Even if you cannot catch it, bring me its golden hide, O lion among men!"

"This is a demon who has taken a deer's shape," said Lákshmana. "It is too beautiful to be real. Beware, my brother!"

Rama himself was delighted and wanted to please Sita. "Who would not be charmed by such a fawn?" he said to Lákshmana. "Sita shall have it, alive or dead. If it is a demon, as you believe, I will destroy it. Stay here and guard Sita carefully until I return, O Lákshmana. Do not leave her for a moment."

Rama girded on his sword, took up his bow and his arrows and strode off toward the little fawn. It leaped away into the woods, then lingered until he came close; but as soon as he drew near it bounded lightly away, drawing him ever farther from the hermitage. He saw at last that he could never reach it to capture it: so he fixed an arrow on his bowstring and loosed it at the creature's heart. It leaped into the air as high as a palm tree, then fell to the earth and, as it fell, took Rama's voice and cried out in anguish, "O Lákshmana, save me!" As it spoke, Maricha became himself again and Rama beheld a demon dying at his feet.

"Lákshmana was right," he thought. "I have slain a demon. O, what will Sita do when she hears that cry, 'O Lákshmana, save me!'" A great dread came upon him, and he ran toward the hermitage.

Maricha's cry of distress, in Rama's voice, rang through the forest; Sita and Lákshmana heard it and Sita was terrified. "That is Rama's voice," she said. "Don't you recognize it? He must be in great danger to call out thus. O Lákshmana, go to him at once; he needs you!"

"I dare not leave you alone, Sita," answered Lákshmana. "Rama left you in my care. Do not fear! No god or demon can make him call for help. That cry is a trick. These fiends can imitate other voices and often do so to carry out their wicked plans."

But Sita was frantic with fear and could only think that Rama was in danger of his life. She spoke cruel and unjust words to Lákshmana, her eyes flashing with anger. "Are you your brother's enemy that you do not go at once to help him? Do you want him to die? Have you set your heart on me and wish to marry me when he is dead, or are you the servant of Bhárata? Do you care nothing for his life?"

"Your words pierce my ears like flaming darts, O daughter of Jánaka; I cannot hear them," said Lákshmana. "May all who dwell in the forest bear witness to the bitterness of your answer, when all I desire is to obey my elder brother. I will go, but you may repent this day for having scorned me. May the gods protect you and may you be safe when I return!"

Before he went he drew a circle around the hut with one end of his bow. "Stay within this circle, O Sita, and you will be safe," he said to her. "Do not go beyond it." Then he ran into the forest toward the place whence the cry had come.

Rávana had heard all that had been said and now he came out from among the trees in the guise of a Brahman, dressed in a saffron robe, carrying a begging bowl and leaning on a staff. The breeze stopped and the leaves hung motionless; even the river flowed quietly and no birds sang as he drew near the hermitage. Sita, clad in a yellow sari, her beautiful hair loose on her shoulders, sat weeping on a carpet of leaves before the hut. He stood and looked at her and was smitten by the shafts of the God of Love,

"O lovely damsel, why are you here alone in this forest where terrible demons roam?" he said in a gentle voice. "A sumptuous palace in a pleasant city would suit you better, for I have never seen anyone so beautiful. Are you not afraid to be here? Who are you and to whom do you belong?"

Sita rose and was not afraid, for she had seen many such priests in the forest and he spoke kindly. "Come to the hut, O Brahman," she answered, "And I will give you food, and water to wash your feet."

"I cannot go farther," he said in a feeble voice, "for I am weak from hunger and weariness," and he sank down on the ground. Sita went into the hut and brought a water pot, with fruit and roasted grain laid on a fresh broad leaf. To reach him she had to go outside the circle Lákshmana had drawn, but pity moved her; she hesitated a moment, then stepped across the line and offered the food and water to her guest. All the while she searched the forest with her eyes, longing for the return of Rama.

While the priest refreshed himself, she stood beside him and answered his questions, telling him her story and how Rama had been exiled. "Stay here for a while, O Brahman, for he will return soon from hunting, with fruit and venison. Now tell me your name and family and how you came here."

"I am Rávana, king of the demons, O Sita, before whom gods and men tremble," was the answer. "Beyond the sea, on the summit of a mountain stands my splendid city, Lanka, filled with every delight, O beautiful one, come and live with me there as my chief queen and forget the lot of mortal women. Think no more of Rama who is but human and whose end is near. I, the lord of all the demons, have come to you, pierced by the shafts of love; therefore yield to me, fair princess!"

Sita trembled like a leaf in the wind, but her anger was greater than her fear. "I belong to Rama, who is as steadfast as a rock, as calm as the ocean, who possesses every virtue," she answered. "I belong to him, the greatest of men, and shall ever be faithful to him. O wretch, you can no more win my love than you can grasp the sunlight. You are to Rama as a jackal is to a lion, as iron is to gold, a cat to an elephant, a crow to an eagle! If you should carry me away you would cross the ocean with a stone around your neck, a blazing fire in your robe, for he who insults the wife of Rama, that mighty archer, will never escape death even if he drinks the water of everlasting life!"

"Have you taken leave of your senses?" asked Rávana angrily, striking one fist on the palm of the other hand. "Have you never heard of my power and valor? I can stand in space and lift the earth; I can pierce the sun with my arrows and drink up the ocean. Behold now, you who let yourself be fooled by any trick, how I can change my shape as I wish!" And he appeared to her in his own form, a splendid demon clad in a red robe and ornaments of gold, looking at her with eyes smoldering with anger.

"If you wish a master famed in the three worlds, yield yourself to me! I am a husband worthy of you," he said. "What binds you to Rama, O foolish one, a man banished from his kingdom at the whim of a woman, who has brought you to a forest full of wild beasts and demons? Leave him and turn to me, for I will do you great honor and never displease you!"

Then Rávana seized her in his powerful arms and bore her to his chariot harnessed to the goblin-headed mules. He mounted, holding her tightly, and the chariot rose into the air. She struggled in vain against him and screamed, "Rama! Rama!" but Rama was far away. Still struggling like a serpent in his grasp, she cried in anguish, "O Lákshmana, do you not see what has befallen me? O Rama, can you not save me?" She looked down in terror at the treetops beneath her and appealed to them. "O flowering trees, tell Rama that I am borne away by Rávana! O beloved river, tell Rama quickly where I have gone! I beseech all creatures that dwell in the forest to tell my lord that his tender love, dearer to him than life, has been stolen away by Rávana."

They had not gone far when she saw Jatáya, the great vulture, perched on a branch asleep. "O Jatáyu!" she called piteously and her voice woke him. "See how I am being carried off by this wicked demon! Do not try to stop him, for he is cruel and powerful. But tell Rama and Lákshmana what has befallen me!"

Jatáyu, though he was old, bore down upon Rávana on his powerful wings and a terrible fight took place in the sky. Rávana pierced the great bird with his arrows but Jatáyu closed in on him with his sharp talons and his beak that was like a rock, and wounded him sorely. Then he attacked the mules and drove them to earth, where the chariot was broken and the mules killed. Rávana released Sita and fought the bird on foot, back and forth, until at last he was able to draw his sword. He cut off Jatáyu's wings and that ranger of the skies fell to the earth, mortally wounded. Sita ran to him, embracing him and weeping over him as if he were one of her own family. "O fool," Jatáyu said to Rávana, "you have wound the noose of death round your own neck."

Then Rávana turned to Sita to seize her again, but she ran from him, clinging to the trees, screaming for help, calling upon Rama. But she could not escape him; he had no chariot, but he caught her in his arms and rose into the air, for he could travel through it as easily as on the earth. Her yellow silken robe streamed in the wind like a sunset cloud; as she struggled in Rávana's grip the flowers fell from her hair and some of her jewels broke and fell flashing, through the air.

She knew that Rama could no longer hear her cries, but she spoke defiantly to Rávana: "O base wretch, are you not ashamed of what you have done? You did not dare to win me in fair fight, but lured my lord away by magic in the form of a deer. Are you not ashamed to bear away a defenseless woman, the wife of another? You will be forever cursed, O infamous barbarian, for this shameful deed. How do you think you can escape my greathearted lord who alone has destroyed your whole host? You can no more stand against him than a bird can withstand a forest fire. For your own good, set me free at once, O Rávana!"

But Rávana sped on over forests, rivers, mountains, and lakes, carrying his own destruction in his arms. Still looking on all sides for help, Sita saw five great monkeys standing on top of a hill, looking up at the strange sight in the sky. As she passed over them, she took off her jewels, wrapped them in her veil and dropped them, hoping that the monkeys would see them and that in some way they would reach Rama.

Then she saw the ocean beneath her and beyond it a high mountain with a shining city on its summit. Rávana descended there and took her to his palace; he strode into the inner apartments where the women lived. There he set her down and spoke sternly to all the attendants, "Let no one speak harshly to this princess or use her unkindly. Let her have all that she desires of pearls and rubies, robes and ornaments!"

He left her there a while to rest, but soon came back, for he was sorely in love with her and desired to win her. He found her overcome by grief, sitting with bowed head among the demon women, like a doe separated from the herd and beset by hounds. He made her go with him through his palace that was worthy of the gods: through splendid rooms, through courtyards filled with every sort of flower and singing bird; up golden stairways, along galleries upheld by crystal pillars, to windows latticed with gold and jewels, where he showed her the breadth of his kingdom. She saw nothing, for her head was bowed and her eyes downcast and her heart was filled with despair.

"Ten thousand demons, rangers of the night, know me for their lord, O Sita, and each of them has a thousand loyal followers," he said. "My kingdom is surrounded by the ocean and can never be captured, even by the gods. I offer it all to you; rule over it, O lovely one, be happy and live here in eternal delight. Everyone who dwells here and I myself will be your slaves. None can ever take you from my arms. What can you hope from Rama, who has no army and no wealth, not even a chariot? How could he come here even in thought? O Sita, be my queen; my life is yours!"

Sita covered her face with her robe and wept. She plucked a blade of grass and held it between herself and Rávana. "The wise and virtuous king of Koshala had a son who is famed in the three worlds; he is my god and my lord," she said. "It is he and his brother Lákshmana who will rob you of your life. You are like a beast bound to the sacrificial stake; you have but a short time to live. You who cannot be slain by god or demon will not escape alive now that you have wrought upon yourself the wrath of Rama. His wife, faithful to her vows, can never be won by a sinner such as you, O last of the demons! Why should a royal swan, playing among the lotuses with her mate, look at a cormorant standing on the bank? Bind or destroy this body of mine; I do not care for my life, but I will never yield to you."

"Think well, O princess!" answered Rávana furiously. "If you do not yield to me in twelve months, my cooks shall cut you to pieces for my morning meal!" For, even among the demons, if a woman was taken unwillingly from her home, she was given a year in which to accustom herself to her new lord and her new surroundings.

Then he called to the attendants of the inner rooms and said to them, "Take this princess to the ashoka grove and guard her well! Sometimes by threats, sometimes by gentle speech, try in every way to break her will as if she were a female elephant." The women took her and pulled her through the palace to the grove of ashoka trees, where the ladies of the court took their pleasure. There, surrounded by those terrible monsters, like an antelope caught in a snare, she gave way to despair and fell fainting to the ground.

 

Seeger, The Ramayana, Print edition, op. cit., pp. 114-123.


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