A fictional rendition of the story of King Dasharatha from the Ramayana
Dasharatha could hear the mynas and macaques above him mixed with the squawking peacocks. The young king could not remember this large pond and was happy to find such a serene spot. Wearing only a dhoti, he kneeled down next to the water and splashed some on his burnt face. “This is a good place to rest for the night,” he sighed, as he placed his bow and things down beside the large tree. He squinted around and between the trees feeling like he was being watched.
In his earliest years Dasharatha was told by the palace’s pundits (priests), “The spirits of the Gods are with you and growing as you grow. They are with you as no man before.” During his coronation, a hawk was seen hovering over him. This cemented their belief (and therefore his) that he was destined to lead his people in conquering and settling new land.
Dasharatha‘s palace guru (teacher), Bhargava, was responsible for his education, which included lessons on governance, philosophy, and religion. Bhargava also taught Dasharatha how to hunt.
There was one thing that the Guru was unwilling to teach his pupil. A skill that few beings that walked the Earth were privileged to have. Bhargava was reluctant to share this special skill with him because Dasharatha was from the warrior caste and might be susceptible to the improper use of this knowledge. After many years of Dasharatha’s begging and promising not to misuse the skill an old Guru Bhargava finally gave in and taught him. The skill was a special type of archery. By just hearing the sound of the target, no matter where it was, the archer could shoot it. He did not need to see the prey or enemy.
Ever obedient to his guru, as the years passed, Dasharatha did not consider using the special skill outside the presence and watchful eye of Bhargava.
The years passed and Dasharatha became King. Times were good in Armagarh under Dasharatha’s reign, and there was finally peace with the other clans after a long history of bloodshed. During these calm times, Dasharatha, being a warrior, fell victim to his restlessness and often went off hunting alone. He often came upon several large and fearsome creatures, and had the opportunity to kill them, but he never did. Each time he was about to release his arrows he suddenly lost the desire to hunt. He felt the targets were too easy and not a challenge to his superior archery skills. Over the years he became increasingly bored and frustrated that he was unable to engage in a real challenge by practicing the secret skill and began to question Guru Bhargava’s cautiousness.
Kneeling by the large pond, Dasharatha again began questioning his guru. “That old Bhargava worries too much,” Dasharatha muttered to himself. The young King sighed, and reminded himself of his promise. Picking up a branch, he scratched a circle in the dirt around the tree up to the edge of the still pond. Tossing the branch aside, he stepped into the circle and uttered a few protective prayers under his breath. He flopped down against the tree. Dasharatha watched the sun set between the hills in the distance when he heard some rustling from the path behind him. A bearded Sadhu (holy man) with grey, matted hair walked by him with a walking stick. He wore a spotted deerskin hide and his bag clanked every time he took a step.
The Sadhu stopped and turned to look back at Dasharatha. “I hope you aren’t going to rob me because the Gods would consider that…inauspicious,” he smiled, showing his yellow teeth.
Dasharatha appreciated the old man’s humor. Gesturing to his bow and quiver, he replied, “No Sadhu, I am hunting. Although you are scaring away my animals with all that noise you are making. You seem a little out of the way though. Where are you off to?”
The Sadhu recognized the hunter as the young King of Armagarh. “I am on my way to your palace from our settlements in the south. We have been attacked while performing our sacred ceremonies.” He looked away from Dasharatha to look at the pond and then looked up at the dusky sky. “Your Highness, you have found a nice spot and if you don’t mind I will also rest here tonight.”
Dasharatha started a small fire between the tree and the pond. The old man watched quietly in the orange glow as the King walked around in the dark picking up some more branches to keep them warm.
“That’s a very nice bow your Highness. I imagine that you don’t want for much. Why would you want to hunt?”
Dasharatha dropped the branches into the pile next to the fire. “It’s in my family’s nature to be spirited and determined.”
“Yes, and courageous, I suppose.” The Sadhu continued, “I imagine that as the King of Armagarh, you can do whatever you please, and can have whatever you wish.”
Dasharatha squatted across the fire from the old man. He snapped a few twigs before tossing them into the fire. “That is not the case. I have learned an amazing skill from my guru that I am still not allowed to use.” Dasharatha explained his archery skill and how his guru made him promise to never use it outside of his Guru’s presence.
The old man got up suddenly and exclaimed, “I am so impressed and blessed to have found you! It is a powerful skill not only for hunting but for protecting our rights to these lands that our tribes have fought so hard for. King Dasharatha, we need you to lead your armies with this great Gods given skill!”
Dasharatha looked steadily at the excited old man. It bothered him how the Sadhu did not avert his eyes. It annoyed him that he put this thought into his mind, he knew that he could easily do this. After many centuries of his people wandering and then arriving in this land, they had finally started to mix and live peacefully with the ancient inhabitants. He could not understand why there were all these sudden attacks by them.
His spies had told him that Ravana, the old King of Lanka was busy with the internal affairs and building of the infrastructure of his own kingdom. He had also heard about the great things that King Ravana did, like the amount of time he spent time in the mountains with yogis learning meditations. Dasharatha did not agree with many of his pundits who insisted that it was their people’s duty, coming from their Gods, to continue on and conquer Lanka along with their Gods.
Leaving these thoughts, he looked away and laughed. “I may be King, but I must always follow my gurus.”
“Your skill would make you a greater king and it is going to waste.”
Waving his hand, Dasharatha replied to the Sadhu, “My greatness will not come from this power alone, but by respecting my role. Besides, there is nothing lost or wasted in this life.”
The old man became quiet and stared into the embers of the fire as if annoyed about how the conversation was going. The pot of water on the fire started to boil and a breeze made the night feel colder.
“We are going to need a bigger fire. I will collect some more wood.” Dasharatha got up and started looking around the large tree. When he had his back to the fire, the Sadhu sprinkled some brown powder into the water from the tip of his fingers. The old man then poured some of the hot water for himself and Dasharatha.
“You probably don’t even know how to perform this special archery skill without your guru with you.”
Dasharatha came back to fire and dropped a few more branches into the pile. He was growing tired and ignored the obviously baiting comment. He took the hot water from the Sadhu and chuckled, “Either way, I am glad to have your company Sadhu. I did not get your name…?”
The old man’s black eyes went from the pot back to fire and he watched the embers glow. “I am also pleased to meet you. I hope you guess my name.”
“What a strange person,” Dasharatha thought to himself. He leaned his head back against the tree and closed his eyes.
The glow of the fire formed an orange halo in the blackness of forest that surrounded them. The holy man was asleep on his side with the flames lapping against his back. Dasharatha’s head started to nod when he heard the deafening sound of what seemed like hundreds of elephants in the distance. The sounds were then followed by the shouting and marching steps of soldiers, their rattling swords and the beating of drums. His throat tightened. They were the sounds of King Ravana’s army. The fire went out, and the pond’s surface and the top of the large tree caught on fire as streaking torch tipped arrows rained down on them. Dasharatha and the old man both quickly scattered behind the trunk of the large tree.
The Sadhu frantically looked to Dasharatha and nudged the bow and quiver towards him, “Now is your chance to prove that your power works! Show me! Save us and I will tell all the people how a great King cut down King Ravana and his army!”
Dasharatha’s body was drenched from his sweat and his blood boiled with anger. He slowly reached for his bow and felt it at the tip of his fingers. “How could I be such a fool thinking that there was peace?!” he exclaimed.
“It is okay if you do this! Seek refuge in the knowledge of Brahman and perform this action with your heart fixed on the Supreme Lord!”
Arrows continued to rain down all around them and the ground shook harder from the approaching army each second. Dasharatha closed his eyes and forced his hand away from the bow. The old man’s eyes widened, “No! What at are you doing? You are going to doom us all!”
It somehow became very evident to Dasharatha that this was a test. He drew on his teachings and quoted, “Should even my enemy arrive at my doorstep, he should be attended upon with respect. A tree does not withdraw its cooling shade even from the one who has come to cut it.”
A sudden heavy wall of rain poured down for several minutes and put out the fires. Dasharatha sat in the steaming ashes completely puzzled about what was happening and also about why the Sadhu was now nowhere to be seen. Dasharatha looked down at his drenched dhoti and, exhausted, he fell over into the mud asleep.
Dasharatha was awoken by the earth rumbling underneath his body. “Is this another attack?” he asked himself while pulling himself up against the wet tree.
The ground beneath him surged into the air until he was coming to the height of the tallest mountains and could see the Gods’ kingdoms nestled in the clouds. For the first time could see his own kingdom’s settlements and outposts on the tip of the land bordering the island of Lanka. He even had a vision of all the kingdoms of the world including those of the snake, bear and monkey people. Their glory stood before his eyes and his jaw dropped in awe.
The Sadhu stepped forward with his walking stick to stand next to him and paused as if also to appreciate the view. “All these shall be yours; you shall be the king of all the earth if you obey me and use your power.”
Dasharatha was shocked and quickly became aware of the absurdity of his surroundings. He pushed the Sadhu to the ground and stood over him, “Leave me and my kingdom. I am King and will serve my role. Go and perform your rituals and superstition elsewhere!”
Instantly, as if awoken from a dream, they were back next to the tree and the large pond. The old man smirked and became quiet again. The sun was now slowly coming up with the sounds of the morning birds chirping. As Dasharatha watched, the Sadhu got up, dusted himself off, and started to walk, disappearing into the forest. Dasharatha looked down to notice the footprints all over the inside of his protective circle and that the Sadhu had left behind his walking stick. “I still don’t know his stupid name,” he muttered.
After getting some sleep Dasharatha washed himself in the pond and then meditated under the shade of the large tree. The sun was hot again and the macaques of the forest were back to their howling. He smiled as he got up, becoming pleased with himself. He thought about how the Gods probably witnessed his mystical trials with what was probably a demon in disguise. “I can’t wait to tell Guru Bhargava about all this! He might also finally now trust me to use the skill without him.”
Dasharatha bent over to pick up his pot from the ground and drank what was left of the water. He walked up to the pond and started rinsing the pot when he noticed the growing cloudiness within the pond. He took a step back. He started to hear a hum. His reflection remained still as the reflections of the tree and sky transformed behind him into something unworldly. He looked up to see that the sky was still blue. Dasharatha stepped further back, frightened. The entire pond transformed into the deepest darkness, chaos, and what felt like infinite vastness. Knowing this was not his imagination, he felt as though his heart was going to jump out of his chest. The sound of the hum grew louder.
A deep and familiar voice spoke to him, “Oh, so you can see me?” Dasharatha could not tell if the voice was coming from inside him or from inside the pond. As painful as it was he could not turn his eyes away from the churning images. He felt horror and euphoria at the same time. It was sublime. The voice spoke again, “Would you like me to reveal myself to you?”
No words could form in Dasharatha’s head or leave his lips. He felt that he was being pulled apart into pieces the size of grains of sand, as if he kept watching that he would disappear. “Was this…?” he thought. It hurt too much. “Please, no!” he finally cried.
The images disappeared; the pond returned to the reflections of the tree and blue sky. The normal sounds of the forest returned. Dasharatha looked at his hands. He then touched his chest and his legs. Oddly he felt fine, like nothing had happened, and cautiously stepped out of his circle feeling exhilaration. “I can’t wait to get back to my palace and tell my wives about these mystical experiences!” Dasharatha thought. He eagerly grabbed his bow and stopped in his tracks.
Cocking his ear up to listen carefully the young king thought he could hear a small deer several miles away. He looked down at the Sadhu’s walking stick and kicked it into the brushes. “Haven’t I proven myself to the Gods? After these trials, isn’t killing a small deer a harmless enough act?” Dasharatha launched his arrow and pushed on into the forest as a small boy with the darkest blue skin watched intently from a branch of the tree.