Aug 18, 2011

Birth and youth

[Valmiki Sarga 18 -23, Kamban 5 (contd.) and 6 ]


Not many surprises in the birth of Rama and his brothers - except that twelve months pass between the ritual and the birth. Naturally he is of sarva lakshana,  lohita aksham [1.18.20],- the lotus eyed and long limbed.

Events unfold in quick succession and before we know it the princes are growing up. Rama is not as nerdy as I imagined and is portrayed to be quite athletic, riding chariots and elephants, champion in archery etc.

gaja skandhe ashwa pR^iSTe cha ratha charyaasu sammataH || 
dhanur.hvede cha nirataH pituH shushR^ISaNe rataH | [1.18.27]

We also see a bond developing between Rama/Lakshmana and Barata/Shatrugna.

Vishwamitra arrives [almost a Kamban like poem] like rain on a drought affected land , like regaining a lost treasure. I was quite intrigued about this verse since Vishwamitra seems to have arrived with unreasonable demands. Sanjay felt that it is appropriate since this arrival gives way to the momentous actions later on.

athaa amR^itasya sa.mpraaptiH yathaa varSam anuudake || [1.18.50]
yathaa sadR^isha daareSu putra janma aprajasya vai |
praNaSTasya yathaa laabho yathaa harSo mahodaye || [1.18.51]
tathaa eva aagamanam manye svaagatam te mahaamune 

Vishwamitra quite boldly suggests Dasharatha send his darling sons to battle. Poor Dasharatha promptly swoons.

sa tan nishamya rAjendro vishvAmitra vacaH shubham || [1.19.20]
shokena mahataa aaviSTaH cacaala ca mumoha ca |

labdha sa.nj~naH tato utathaaya vyaSiidata bhayaanvitaH || [1.19.21]

Despite the gravity of the situation and being a thoroughly distraught parent being asked to send his twelve year old boy to battle,  Dasharatha is not comfortable rejecting Vishwamitra's demand for fear.  I found that the emperor of a powerful state, who has incidentally done a ashwamedha few years ago is still afraid of Vishwamitra. The part where he negotiates offering his army, himself, asking questions about the demons, explaining how young Rama and his brothers are are nice details that plays like a modern novel.  'He is just a boy, what does he know - he has to assess the enemy, he has no expertise in warfare,' reasons the distraught parent. Sanjay was particularly impressed how despite knowing the circumstances of Rama's birth, Dasharatha still lets his parental concerns overwhelm him.

baalo hi akR^ita vidyaH ca na ca vetti balaabalam |
na ca astra bala sa.myuk{}to na ca yuddha vishaaradaH || 
na ca asau rakSasaa yogyaH kuuTa yuddhaa hi raakshasaa | [1.20.7]

'Its not like the demons would play fair,' he bemoans. Here is where I felt Dasharatha is true to his character as a loving parent. 

prati shrutya kariSye iti uk{}tam vaakyam akurvataH |
iSTaapuurta vadho bhuuyaat tasmaat raamam visarjaya || [1.21.8]

is a precursor to what is going to happen later. If you promise something you must keep it at all costs - this message is going to haunt Dasharatha again.  Dasharatha is duly consoled and reassured and he sends Rama and Lakshamana with him. Vishwamitra does teach them some clever skills on the first day itself. I liked the final poem of sarga 22, though they slept on grass beds  tR^iNa shayane, they were quite happy - sukham iva vibabhau. 

They get ready the next morning -samhR^iSTau- with a great deal of enthusiasm which I felt was so true to the character of two barely teen-age boys out for an adventure. 


Except for a mention of possible anemia - mathiyamodoppa [1.5.100] during the pregnancy, the detail oriented Kamban too glosses over the pregnancy and childbirth.  The poets were male and this was clearly a female domain.  Odinar Arasan maattu [1.5.108] the nursemaids rushed to the emperor to tell the news and the emperor after a ritual bath, went with Vashishta to see his sons Komagarthirumugam kurugi nokkinan  [1.5.111]. Pregnancy and childbirth are reduced to a message through the maids and then the subsequent show of joy. The story is told, at least so far in a very male point of view. I wonder if it will change after Sita or remain the same.

Kamban attributes praise-worthy deeds to Dasharatha - upon hearing the good news of the birth, he decrees many measures - no tax for seven years, release of political prisoners, renovations of temples etc.

Alayam pudukkuga vanthanaalartham
salaiyum chathukkamunchamaikka santhiyum
kalaiyum malaiyun kadavularkani
malaiyum theepamum vazhangugaendranan [1.5.114]

I felt Kamban's more inclusive and socialist leanings are quite apparent in this series of poems. It reflects a more complex governance.

The citizens of the country are in equal celebratory mood. Already Dasharatha's great affection - body and soul - for Rama is articulated -
Kaviyamolirtharu kamalamumenave
Oviya eliludai oruvanaialathu or 
avaiyum udalum ilathena varulin
mevinanulagudai venthartham venthan [1.5.124]

This verse also briefly touches upon the dark beauty of Rama. After presumably their studies with the sages, Rama and his brothers spent the evenings with the citizens. Adding this to their rigorous athletic activities, they are the ideal princes. Kamban spares a couple of lines of details - 'What do you do? Are you well? And your family?" asks Rama to the citizens he meets and they praise his stewardship. It is an interesting line in Kamban when they say  Ninai ematharasanena udaiyem [1.5.135] - he  is not really their king yet, but they say how could we not be well when you are our king.

The episode with Vishwamitra is a separate padalam in Kamban titled 'Kaiyadai padalam' - the hand-over chapter. This chapter is one of the closest between the two versions.  The title itself portends things to come. When Vishwamitra arrives, the mighty king - kadithezhunthu adi thozhuthan [1.6.2] - stood up immediately, clearly telling who is important. There is a small side story about Sambasuran that was new to me. Killing asuras and helping Indra is something not new to Dasharatha. Vishwamitra recounts this perhaps with ulterior motives. Vishwamitra asks for Rama and here comes  most  poignant words describing Dasharatha's feelings. Kannilan petrilandhan [1.6.11] Like his life was in balance, like fire in a battle wound and then the most drastic - like a  man blind from birth gaining vision and then losing it. Vishwamitra's anger is very dramatic in Kamban. Vashista calms both of them down and persuades the king to send his son.

1.6.17 is a poem with beautiful sounds -
Vantha nambiyai thambi thannodummunthai
nanmarai munikku kaatti nalthanthai nee, 
thanithayunee ivarkkuenthai 
thanthananiyaintha seigendran

'I am handing them over to you, you are their mother, father, do what you can,' says Dasharatha. Did he say this with complete faith thanks to Vashishta's counsel or with a lot of worry. Kamban doesn't say.Off they go past picturesque scenes to a grove. The padalam finishes with Rama asking whose grove it was.

August 18, 2011