THE two brothers searched every mountain, forest and riverbank calling Sita's name aloud. But all in vain, and they did not so much as find a clue anywhere. Baffled and grief-stricken, Rama cried out against the river Godavari, against the gods and against the five elements.
The poet sage ascribes the silence of the rivers and the gods and elements to their fear of the powerful Rakshasa king. A herd of deer, however, moving southwards seemed to indicate to Rama and Lakshmana that they too should travel in the same direction. They did so and, after a time, found some flowers scattered on the way.
Rama at once recognised the flowers and cried excitedly: "These are the very flowers I gave her. They must have fallen from her hair."
His grief and anxiety grew greater and he sobbed aloud fearing the worst for Sita.
They searched the forest all around the spot where they found the flowers. They noticed the marks of a Rakshasa's big feet and little footprints that they knew were Sita's.
They found some gold beads spilt from Sita's jewels. Rama cried again: "Look! The Rakshasa has been chasing her like a beast of prey to tear her tender flesh!"
Then they saw several fragments of a chariot and great clots of blood, as also royal headgear and jewels scattered on the ground. They wondered what these things could mean.
Soon they came upon a large bow broken, flag torn and armor crushed. A little later they saw the dead bodies of a charioteer and of mules. It was clear that a vehement battle had been fought on that spot.
"Two powerful Rakshasas must have struggled here," groaned Rama, "each claiming the sole right to eat Sita."
Conjecturing and lamenting in this way, Rama went on: "Dharma could not save Sita! No god came to her rescue! It will be right to destroy this wicked world." Rama was beside himself and talked wildly.
Lakshmana did his best to calm the distracted Rama. "Great sorrow unbalances all minds, even the strongest," he said. "Else why should you thus lose self-control? Why should you hate and curse the whole world for the evil deed of one person? How often have you, my brother, calmed my anger and led me on the right path! But now a great grief has upset your mind and it is the turn of the younger brother to give courage and counsel patience to the elder and restore him to his natural heroism. Let us find out who our enemy is and deal with him."
With such loving words Lakshmana sought to give courage and consolation and both walked on. They had not proceeded far when they came on Jatayu, bloody and mutilated, unrecognisable, lying on the ground.
At first Rama thought it was some Rakshasa disguising himself to deceive them and, wild with anger, cried: "Look! Here is a Rakshasa who has eaten Sita!" and rushed towards him, bow in hand.
Then raising his ruffled and gory head with great pain, Jatayu spoke in a feeble voice that seemed struggling with death. "Do not kill me, dear Rama, who has but a few moments more to live! The dear princess you are searching for has been carried off by Ravana and he could do so only by first robbing me of my life! Seeing Sita in his flying chariot in the air, I intercepted it and gave him battle. I struck down his bow and smashed his chariot. His charioteer I slew. The marks of my last great fight you can see all round this place. I did my best. How I wish it were better for your sake! At last as, weary with toil, I was still waging a hopeless combat. Age against youth, beak and talons against keen weapons and panoply of steel, he cut off my wings and legs. And as I fell wounded to death, he lifted Sita and flew with her into the sky in a southern direction. Though racked with the pangs of death, I have clung to life for love of you to tell you what I know. Now that I have done this, bless me and let me die." Tears flowed from Rama's eyes as he listened to Jatayu's tale. He flung aside his bow and embraced the bird. The princes' sorrow knew no bounds. They lamented loudly, rolling on the ground.
"I am the most unhappy man alive, Lakshmana," said Rama. "Giving up the kingdom, I came to the forest, and here I have lost my Sita. This Jatayu, who was a second father to us, has, laid down his life for my sake. Why, if I fell into the fire, I fear my bad luck will put even the fire out. If I fell into the sea, I fear it would dry up. What a terrible sinner I am, Lakshmana! Who knows, one day I might lose you too, Lakshmana."
Embracing Jatayu, he said: "O, my father! Really, did you see Sita?" But Jatayu lay speechless on the ground.
After a few moments Jatayu spoke again in a low voice: "Be not afraid, Rama. You will surely find Sita. No harm will come to her. Regaining the treasure you have lost, you will greatly rejoice." With these words, he spat out blood and gave up life.
They were foolish and committed errors of omission and commission and lost Sita. Trying to save Sita from the calamity that their carelessness had brought upon her, Jatayu, old, unarmed, had fought with wing and beak and talon and given up his life. When their father died in Ayodhya, his obsequies were performed by Bharata and Satrughna.
Rama and Lakshmana. were denied this privilege because they were away in the forest. They regarded Jatayu as their own father and in performing his obsequies derived some consolation for not being by Dasaratha's side and performing the last offices to him. What other help or honor could they accord to heroic Jatayu?
The bhaktas worship Jatayu as the best of bhaktas. Exercising our imagination, we should behold with Sita's eyes the poor old bird's hard struggle against the Rakshasa king. Then we would realise the love and gratitude and sorrow that must have surged in her heart as she watched his sufferings. Thus we shall be purified by the grace of the Mother. What wonder is there in the rank assigned to Jatayu among the bhaktas?
Later, when Rama fights and is victorious in Lanka, Sita does not see it; she is a prisoner in the Asoka forest. She has to be content with listening to reports of the battle and of the prowess of her lord. But Jatayu's devotion and heroism Sita saw with her own eyes in the Dandaka forest. Unarmed, he opposed the Rakshasa who had all his weapons and armor, and humbled his pride at the cost of his own life.
Jatayu's battle with Ravana is more important than the battles in Lanka. Hence the pious revere Jatayu along with Bharata and look upon him as an Alvar, a guide in the spritual path.
"Lakshmana," said Rama, "gather dry faggots. I shall churn the fire. We failed to perform our father's obsequies, let us do it for the eagle-father who gave up his life for us."
The princes chanted holy invocations as they poured libations to the departed spirit: "O king of birds, may you enjoy all the bliss of the virtuous who perform great sacrifices! May you enjoy the bliss of Vanaprasthas who have performed great penance! May you enjoy the bliss of those who have made great gifts of land! May you enjoy the bliss of those who fight heroically in the field of battle! May the bliss of all good people be yours!" After the ceremony Rama became steadier and stronger in mind.
To millions of men, women and children in India, the Ramayana is not a mere tale. It has more truth and meaning than the events in one's own life. Just as plants grow under the influence of sunlight, the people of India grow in mental strength and culture by absorbing the glowing inspiration of the Ramayana.
When we see any helpless person in danger or difficulty, let us think of Jatayu and with firm mind try to help regardless of circumstance.
Rama's losing health and lamenting in sorrow may be compared to the behavior of another incarnation honored by another faith. It is said in the Bible that Jesus, nailed to the cross and about to give up his ghost, cried with a loud voice: "Eloi! Eloi! lama sabachthani!" which is Hebrew for "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
The mystery of incarnations is ever the same. They are weighed with the dust and tears of the body they have taken and suffer and grieve like mortals.