The citizens who had slept on the bank of the Tamasa woke up in the morning and looked round. They were surprised to see that Rama and the chariot had disappeared. They followed the track of the chariot-wheels but were disappointed to find that it was lost in the main road to the capital.
They returned home to their own houses and sought satisfaction in reviling Kaikeyi. Without Rama, the city was bereft of beauty and wrapt in gloom.
Sumantra and the princes had crossed the Tamasa long before dawn and travelled far into the forest. Crossing several streams, they approached the southern boundary of the Kosala country. As they journeyed on, Rama said to
Sumantra: "I wonder when I shall hunt again in the forest of Sarayu. Is hunting good for princes? Perhaps, it is, in moderation."
Thus conversing on many matters, they went forward. When they reached the southern boundary of the kingdom, Rama stopped the chariot and facing north towards Ayodhya, bent his head in a prayer, saying: "O, jewel among cities! O ancient capital of the Ikshwakus! Shall I finishing my penance in the forest, live to see my father and mother and you? Grant me that supreme joy."
The chariot reached the bank of the Ganga. They proceeded along the bank, admiring the beauty of the river. Finding a spot of surpassing charm, Rama said: "We shall spend the night here."
Untying the horses, they sat under a tree. Guha, the chief of the region, having learnt already from his men that Rama would be coming there, came forward with his retinue to greet Rama and Lakshmana.
He had unbounded love for the royal family and for Rama. Being the chieftain of the tribes who dwelt on the banks of Ganga, he was a man of great prestige and power. Rama and Lakshmana rose to greet Guha, even while the latter was still at some distance from them. Guha welcomed them with a hearty embrace, saying: "Regard this land as your own. This place is as much yours as is Ayodhya. Who can hope to have a guest like you? It is indeed my good fortune."
Guha had prepared a lavish entertainment. He said, "Feel perfectly at home and happy in my kingdom. You may spend all the fourteen years with us here. You will not lack anything I assure you. Looking after you will be a pleasure and privilege to me. Be gracious enough to accept my hospitality."
Warmly embracing Guha again, Rama said: "Brother, I know how deep is your love for me. Your wish is itself as good as hospitality rendered. I am bound by my vows and must refuse anything more. I have come to dwell in the forest and not to enjoy life as a chieftain's guest. These horses are my dear father's favorites. Pray feed them well. We shall be content with simple food and rest for the night."
They lay under the tree for the night. Guha and Lakshmana kept awake, conversing with Sumantra.
Said Guha to Lakshmana: "Brother, do go and rest. There is a bed made ready for you. My men will keep careful watch. None dare do anything in the forest unknown to me. Have no anxiety regarding Rama. Do sleep."
Lakshmana replied: "How can I find sleep, Guha? Here, lying on the bare ground, is Sita, daughter of the great Janaka and daughter-in-law of the great Dasaratha. The great Purushottama himself who could subdue the three worlds lies stretched on the grass. How can I sleep who sees this? I wonder how Ayodhya is bearing it. He queens' apartments must be loud with wailing. I even doubt if at this moment Kausalya and my mother are alive. My father indeed found strength somehow to say to Rama, 'Go to the forest,' but I doubt if he has strength enough left to survive Rama's actual departure. And if he has passed away, our mothers too will have given up their lives. And here we are, deprived even of the privilege of doing the last offices to the dead. In any case it is hardly possible that our father and mothers will be alive to greet us, when we return to Ayodhya after our term in the forest."
Thus spoke Lakshmana in sorrow. Guha was in tears. The night was spent in such sad conversation.
Early next morning, Rama told Lakshmana: "We must now cross the river. Ask Guha to make ready a boat big enough for crossing this broad river." Guha ordered his men to get this done and informed Rama.
Sumantra bowed low and stood before Rama seeking his further commands.
Rama understood Sumantra's unuttered grief and, laying his hand on Sumantra's shoulders, said: "Sumantra, return to Ayodhya with all speed and be at the side of the King. Your duty is now to look after him."
"O Rama," exclaimed Sumantra, "rectitude, learning and culture seem to be of no value. You and your brother and Vaidehi are going to live in the forest. What is going to be our lot? How are we going to fare under Kaikeyi's rule?" He now wept like a child.
Wiping the tears from Sumantra's eyes, Rama said: "Our family has known no nobler friend than you. It will be your task to console my father. His heart is river by grief. Whatever his commands carry them out dutifully. Do not ask yourself whether he wants a thing for himself or with a view to pleasing Kaikeyi. Avoid giving him any pain of mind. Have no anxiety about us. You should say this on my behalf to my aged father who is stricken with a grief he never knew before. Clasp his feet as you have seen me do, and assure him from me that none of us, not I nor Lakshmana, nor Sita, feel injured or sorry at having been sent away from Ayodhya. We look forward to fourteen years of forest life which will speed on happy wings, and then surely we shall return to his feet for blessings. Give our love to my mother Kausalya, and tell her that protected by her blessings we are well and give a like message to my stepmothers, especially to Kaikeyi, lest she should think we have parted in anger.
Tell the Maharaja that it is my earnest prayer that he should hasten with the installation of Bharata, so that he may be a comfort to him in our absence."
But Sumantra, unable to restrain his grief, burst out: "How am I to return and with what words can I give comfort?" And when he looked at the empty chariot, he wept and said: "How shall I drive this chariot that stands desolate without you?"
Once again Rama spoke words of comfort and courage to Sumantra and urged on him the duty of patience, and sent him home.
"Guha", said Rama, "I could indeed spend fourteen years in your kingdom as you desire. But would that be fulfilling my vow? I have left Ayodhya to fulfil my father's pledge. I must therefore lead the life of a tapasvi. I must not touch dishes daintily cooked and served. We have to live only on fruits, roots and permissible kinds of meat such as we offer in the sacrificial fire."
Comforting Guha thus, the brothers got their locks matted with the milk of the banyan. They helped Sita into the boat and then got into it themselves. Guha bade the boatmen to row it across.
The boatmen took them quickly across the river. At midstream Sita offered a prayer to the goddess of the river: "Devi, help us fulfil our vow and return safe to our homeland."
They talked as they went on. They reached the farther bank of Ganga. And there for the first time, the three stood alone, unattended by friends!
"Lakshmana, you are my sole armed guard now," said Rama. "You will go first. Sita will follow. And I shall walk behind you both. We must save Sita as far as possible from the hardships of forest life. Hereafter there will be none to keep us company and no fun or amusement."
Rama's thoughts went to his mother Kausalya.
"Lakshmana," he said, "should you not go back to Ayodhya and look after mother Kausalya and Sumitra Devi? I shall manage my forest stay somehow."
Lakshmana replied: "Forgive me, brother; I am not going back to Ayodhya." Rama indeed expected no other answer.
Thus now and again we shall see the human element come up and the divine prince grieve and talk as common people do. This is the fascination of the Ramayana. If Almighty God remains almighty and does everything Himself, then where is room or need for an avatar and how could the dharma of common men be established?
This is the difference between the earlier avatars and the later. In the Rama avatar, the course of human conduct and the dharma governing it come linked together. This has been made explicit by Valmiki.
On the occasion of Sita's ordeal by fire at the end of the battle, Rama says to Brahma who appeared then among others and deprecated the idea of putting Sita to proof:
"I regard myself only as Rama, son of Dasaratha, an ordinary human being. Who I am in reality, where I belong, why I took birth, are matters on which you must enlighten me, and I do not know."
While Rama was plunged in thinking of the mothers left behind, Lakshmana ministered to him with loving words of courage and hope.
They spent that night under a banyan tree and left early next morning for Bharadwaja's ashrama which they reached at sunset.
Partaking of the hospitality of the sage, they besought him to tell where they could spend the years quietly in the forest and
on his advice and with his blessings left for Chitrakuta.