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Chapter 15

Back to Ayodhya

The following morning Vibhishana approached Rāma and told Him His bath was ready. The Rākṣasa said, “Hot and cold baths, as well as every sort of cosmetic, unguents and perfume are ready, and we have prepared heavenly garments and garlands. Excellent maidservants, well-versed in the arts of decoration, are at Your service, O Rāma.”

Rāma replied that He had no desire for any kind of pleasure until after He had seen Bharata. He told Vibhishana, “That prince is now living in austerity. He bathes in cold rivers and eats only roots and fruits gleaned from the forest. How can I accept any luxuries?”

Rāma asked Vibhishana to find some means by which He could return quickly to Ayodhya. Vibhishana replied that the heavenly Pushpaka chariot was available. “Rāvaṇa took this chariot, which moves according to one’s will, from Kuvera. It still remains in Lanka, desiring to render You service, O Rāma.”

Vibhishana bowed low before Rāma and repeatedly requested Him to stay for a while in Lanka and accept his hospitality, but Rāma was anxious to depart. He thought of His mother and of Bharata—how they must long to see Him again! His exile was now over. He had promised to return immediately. If He did not return, they would surely be consumed by grief and anxiety. Bharata might even give up His life.

Rāma said, “You have already fully honored Me with your first-class counsel and advice. You have served Me well on the battlefield and I am deeply indebted to you. But now you must grant Me leave, O valiant Rākṣasa. My task is accomplished and I must return quickly to Ayodhya.”

Vibhishana acceded. He at once invoked the Pushpaka, and it appeared in the sky. Rāma gazed with wonder at the glowing golden chariot, with its lofty, jewel-encrusted mansions and countless golden trellises wreathed with garlands of heavenly flowers.

After inviting Rāma to board the chariot, Vibhishana said, “Is there any final service I can render You before You leave?”

Rāma asked the Rākṣasa to bestow riches upon all the monkeys. “Give them abundant gold and jewels to take back with them. The king should always reward his army. They should be well cared for and given everything they desire, for they must lay down their lives for his sake.”

Vibhishana at once made arrangements for profuse wealth to be distributed to the monkeys. Then he helped Rāma and Sītā to ascend the chariot. Rāma again thanked Vibhishana for his service and the Rākṣasa sorrowfully watched Him prepare to leave.

Just as Rāma was about to depart, Sugrīva approached Him. “O Rāma, pray take the monkeys with You,” he begged. “We all desire to see You installed as the emperor. After that we will return to our own lands.”

Rāma smiled and agreed. He invited all the monkeys to mount the celestial chariot, which was like a golden city. Looking at Vibhishana He added, “You too should accompany Me, O noble one. With all your kinsfolk and friends, please mount this chariot and come to Ayodhya.”

Once everyone was on board, the Pushpaka rose high into the air. It flew gracefully, with an image of a great swan at its front seeming to draw it along. As it flew Rāma pointed out to Sītā the sights below. He showed Her the battlefield, telling Her how all the principal Rākṣasas had been slain. While they crossed the sea He explained how Hanumān had leapt to Lanka.

As the chariot reached Kishkindha, Rāma had it stop and He told Sugrīva, “Quickly descend and fetch your wives and kinsfolk, O monkey. They too should be brought to Ayodhya.”

With all the monkeys back aboard, the chariot continued. Soon they passed over the forest where Rāma had spent His exile. When they reached Bharadvāja’s hermitage, Rāma desired to meet with the ṛṣi. He stopped the chariot and went down to see the sage, bowing low before him. Bharadvāja offered his blessings and informed Rāma that Bharata was anxious to see Him. The sage knew of everything in Ayodhya from his disciples, who visited the city frequently. He told Rāma that everyone was expecting His return at any moment.

Rāma replied, “Please exert your power and make all the trees surrounding Ayodhya fill with heavenly fruits. All those who will travel to the city to witness My coronation should be amply fed.”

At once Bharadvāja meditated and, by his mystic power, all the trees for twenty miles around Ayodhya became heavy with fruits. The sage said to Rāma, “You should enter Ayodhya tomorrow after sending ahead a messenger.”

Rāma agreed and turned to Hanumān. He asked the monkey to proceed ahead to the city and inform Bharata that He would soon arrive. On the way the monkey should stop at Sringavera and inform Guha of the news.

Rāma then said to Hanumān, “Closely observe Bharata’s features when you tell Him that I am returning. I wish to know His reaction. A kingdom rich in lands and wealth could surely attract anyone’s mind. If He has developed an attachment for the kingdom, then I shall let Him continue to rule as emperor.”

Hanumān left at once. He bounded swiftly through the forestlands and soon reached Guha’s abode, telling him the happy news. The Niṣadha king was overjoyed and he immediately set about preparing to leave for Ayodhya.

Without delay Hanumān continued on to Ayodhya and he arrived early the following morning. At a distance of two miles from the city he found Bharata’s dwelling. There he saw the prince, clad in black deerskins, emaciated from fasting, His hair matted. He sat by His wooden hut and shone with ascetic glory, and He was surrounded by His ministers and priests, dressed in similar ascetic clothing.

Hanumān approached Bharata and found Him continuously repeating Rāma’s name. The monkey at once lay flat on the ground, offering his obeisances. Then, with folded palms, he stood before the prince and said, “Having completed His exile and slain Rāvaṇa, Rāma will soon arrive, accompanied by Sītā and Lakṣman. He has asked after Your welfare and He longs to be reunited with You.”

Bharata was overwhelmed with joy and sank to the ground in a faint. After regaining consciousness He stood up and embraced Hanumān. The prince shed tears of happiness and He spoke in an exuberant voice. “O monkey, I do not know if you are a god, a ṛṣi or what, but you have told Me the most wonderful news! I shall give you a hundred thousand cows and many beautiful maidens, adorned with gold and jewels.”

Bharata asked Hanumān to tell Him in full what had happened to Rāma since his departure and the monkey recounted the tale. Bharata was delighted. He told Shatrughna to go into the city and spread the news of Rāma’s impending return. Bharata ordered that the city be fully decorated with pennants and garlands, and everyone should come out to greet Rāma.

Hanumān could easily understand Bharata’s heart. Rāma should have no doubt about His brother. His devotion for Rāma was obviously no less than the devotion Hanumān himself felt. The monkey shed tears of joy as he witnessed Bharata’s display of love for Rāma.

Shatrughna, along with Bharata’s ministers, went into the city and began to prepare. They had Kaushalya and Sumitra placed upon palanquins and brought to Nandigram, where Bharata was living. Behind them came thousands of citizens, some walking, some on elephants or horseback, and others in chariots. The blast of conches and the roll of drums was tumultuous. A great roar came from the huge crowds, and it appeared as if the entire population of Ayodhya had come out of the city. The fourteen years of Rāma’s exile had already ended and all the citizens longed only for His return. Many other monarchs were also present in Ayodhya, having been invited by Bharata to be present when Rāma returned.

By the end of day the whole region of Nandigram was completely crowded with people, all hoping for a glimpse of Rāma. Bharata stood gazing to the south. He felt anxious. Had this monkey been telling the truth? Was Rāma really about to return? When would He arrive? He questioned Hanumān again and again, and the monkey repeatedly reassured Him.

Suddenly Bharata saw in the distance the shining Pushpaka. Hanumān then shouted, pointing it out to Bharata. “Here comes the highly glorious Rāma!” he cried.

The shout was echoed by the crowd of citizens and a great clamor arose. They looked with amazement at the celestial vehicle carrying Rāma and Sītā, which appeared above the horizon like the sun and moon joined together. Bharata fell to the ground like a rod, offering His prostrated obeisances with His arms outstretched toward the chariot.

The Pushpaka descended to earth and Rāma dismounted along with Lakṣman and Sītā. Bharata ran over to Them with Shatrughna, and the four brothers embraced each other for a long time. All the principal monkeys, headed by Sugrīva, Aṅgada and Hanumān, assumed human forms and disembarked from the chariot. Along with Vibhishana they were greeted warmly by Bharata, who embraced them all. Bharata said to Sugrīva, “You are like a fifth brother to all of Us, O monkey king!”

Rāma saw Kaushalya nearby and He broke free from the crowd of people who were pressing in around Him. Quickly approaching His mother, He fell before her and clasped her feet. She was pale and emaciated through grief and separation from her son. Next to her was Sumitra, who appeared in a similar condition. Rāma also bowed before her and touched her feet with reverence. As they met Rāma the faces of both of those ladies looked like celestial lotuses in full bloom.

Rāma greeted Kaikeyi and the other royal ladies who had come there. He offered His obeisance to Vasiṣṭha and the Brahmins, who uttered auspicious hymns from the Vedas. Rāma then bowed at the feet of His father-in-law Janaka, who shed tears of joy to see Him returned safe with Sītā. As He stood up and looked around, Rāma smiled at the citizens, bringing joy to their hearts.

Bharata brought Rāma’s sandals, which had been kept upon Ayodhya’s throne. He placed them before Rāma and said, “Here is the entire kingdom, held in trust by Me on Your behalf. Now I render it back to You, O Rāma. My birth has borne fruit today and My deepest desire is fulfilled, for I see You returned as the king of Ayodhya.”

Bharata told Rāma that everything in the kingdom, its exchequer, storehouses, army and crops, had increased tenfold while He was gone. “All this is due to Your influence alone, O Rāma, for I ruled the kingdom thinking only of Your example.”

Rāma embraced Bharata again and again, and the two brothers shed tears of joy. Seeing the display of affection between Them, the monkeys and Vibhishana wept.

Rāma then looked up at the Pushpaka and said, “O Pushpaka, you may now return to your master, Kuvera. I thank you for your service.” The heavenly chariot then rose into the sky and disappeared.

When everyone was seated, Bharata addressed Rāma. “Please assume the rulership of this world. Although I have officiated in Your absence, I can no more rule in Your presence than a candle can give light in the presence of the sun. Let the world see You shining with dazzling splendor after being consecrated upon the throne of Ayodhya. We all long only for this, O Raghava.”

Rāma replied, “Let it be so,” and a great cheer went up from the assembly. Rāma then had the royal barbers cut His hair which was still in a mass of matted locks. He took His bath and dressed in costly silks and brilliant gold ornaments. Many garlands of celestial flowers were hung around His neck and He was daubed with sandal-paste of various colors.

Emperor Daśaratha’s widows dressed and decorated Sītā. Her splendid beauty captivated the soul of whoever looked upon Her. When Rāma and His three brothers were all prepared, Bharata summoned Sumantra and the royal chariot. He personally took the reins and Rāma climbed aboard with Sītā. As the chariot proceeded toward the city, Lakṣman and Vibhishana fanned Rāma on either side with white whisks, while Shatrughna held the royal parasol over His head.

Hundreds of sages walked in front of the chariot chanting mantras and hymns. Behind the chariot came Sugrīva, still in human semblance, riding upon a great elephant and followed by nine thousand other elephants bearing other monkeys. The procession moved in state through Ayodhya accompanied by the blast of countless conches and the roll of thousands of drums. They were followed by crowds of citizens all anxious to see Rāma’s coronation.

The city streets were beautifully decorated with flags and garlands. From the balconies of the mansions women threw handfuls of flower petals and parched rice. Rāma looked around at everyone and smiled, raising His hand in blessing.

Rāma entered His father’s palace and ordered Bharata to take Sugrīva to his own palace. Bharata left Rāma to rest for the night and, after arranging for all the monkey’s accommodations, He told Sugrīva, “The coronation will take place tomorrow. Please arrange to fetch water from the ocean and rivers.”

Sugrīva agreed and summoned Hanumān, Jambavan, Rishabha and Gavaya. He gave each of them a golden pail encrusted with gems and told them to bring water from each of the four oceans in the north, south, east and west. The monkeys bounded away and swiftly carried out the order. Another five hundred monkeys fetched water from different sacred rivers all over the country. By morning all this water had been given to Vasiṣṭha for the ceremony.

The coronation began early in the morning and Rāma was ritualistically bathed by the Brahmins. Sixteen beautiful virgin girls consecrated Him, in accordance with the scriptural procedure. Following this, Rāma was bathed by His ministers and chief warriors, and then by the leaders of the trading community.

From the air the four guardians of the worlds sprinkled Rāma with celestial nectar. When the bathing was over Vasiṣṭha had the crown placed on Rāma’s head. This crown had been created by Brahmā and was first worn by Manu himself. It shone with the brilliance of the sun. Wearing that golden crown and seated upon a throne made of precious stones, Rāma was radiant and difficult to behold. Seated next to Him was the exquisitely adorned Sītā, enhancing Rāma’s grandeur and magnificence.

Vāyu came in person and presented to Rāma an unfading garland of a hundred celestial lotuses, which imbued its wearer with unfailing vigor and energy. At the urging of Indra he also gave Rāma a priceless necklace of pearls interspersed with heavenly jewels of every variety. Taking that necklace, Rāma turned and placed it on Sītā’s breast. She immediately lifted it in her two delicate hands and glanced over at Hanumān. Understanding her desire, Hanumān knelt before the princess and she placed the necklace over his head. Rising up again with that celestial ornament on his chest, Hanumān appeared like a dark thundercloud decorated with lightning bolts.

Gandharvas sang while the Apsarās danced their mind-stealing dances, filled with movements and gestures deep with meaning. The huge crowds cried out “Victory to Rāma!” and “All glories to Sītā and Rāma!”

The earth itself seemed to rejoice and gave forth abundant crops and fruits, as well as flowers which released a delightful fragrance carried on gentle breezes. The gods filled the canopy of the sky, and all the divine beings experienced the highest ecstasy upon seeing Rāma united with Sītā.

Rāma turned to Sītā and smiled. His purpose was fulfilled.