Rama spent the night in Bharadwaja's ashrama. Getting up in the morning, they paid their respects to the Maharishi and, taking leave of him, set out for the Chitrakuta hill. The muni treated them affectionately as if they were his own children and sent them forth with his blessings after explaining to them the way they should take through the forest.
The three followed his topographical instructions closely and in due course came upon the river Kalindi. They constructed a raft with logs and bamboos and creepers of the forest and on it Lakshmana made a seat for Sita with little twigs and leaves on which she sat. The passage of the river was accomplished in safety.
In midstream Sita offered salutations to the river goddess and prayed that Rama might fulfil his vow and the three be enabled safely to return home.
After crossing a few more streams, they came to a big banyan tree which had been described by Bharadwaja. And under this tree Sita again offered prayers saying: "Grant, O holy tree, that my husband may complete his vow and that I may see again the queens Kausalya and Sumitra."
Rama asked Lakshmana to walk in front with Sita behind him while he himself followed in the rear. "Whatever, flower or fruit she asks for on the way," he said, "get it for her and keep her spirits up."
As Sita went she showed an eager curiosity, asking about forest trees and creepers and was lost in admiration at the many-sided beauty of forest life.
They greatly enjoyed the journey and rested for the night on the bank of a river.
Here and in other places, Valmiki describes how Rama and Lakshmana
secured food by hunting. He makes it quite plain that they had to subsist largely on meat. Some good men are troubled by this. But meat was not prohibited for Kshatriyas. Indeed, it has always been the rule in India to permit any food legitimately obtained and consecrated as a sacrifice. Rama was a Kshatriya and he lived in the forest in the Kshatriya way, though abstemiously.
The following morning Rama woke up Lakshmana and said: "Listen, the birds are singing to the morning sun. It is time for us to start."
The popular story that Lakshmana spent the whole period of forest life without food or sleep is not found in Valmiki. Sometimes, even, through fatigue Lakshmana did not get up quite early in the morning and Rama had to rouse him from slumber!
They performed their ablutions and worship and resumed their journey in the path indicated by Bharadwaja. The season was summer and the trees and plants were ablaze with multi colored flowers. The branches bowed under the weight of fruits and blossoms.
Rama pointed out the beauty of the forest to Sita from time to then, saying as they walked: "How beautiful is the forest unspoilt by human interference! Look at the beehives hanging there! Look at the ground entirely covered with fallen flowers! Listen to the birds! How beautifully they sing to one another and live in joy! Life would indeed be pleasant if we could always enjoy such sights and sounds."
Then they saw at a distance the Chitrakuta hill. They were glad and began to walk briskly towards it. "How beautiful this region is!" exclaimed Rama. "The forest here has fine edible roots and fruits. The water is clear and sweet. Rishis dwell in ashramas in this forest and we may most certainly live happily here in their holy company."
They proceeded to put up an ashrama there for themselves. Lakshmana was a clever workman. He soon constructed a strong hut, which was weather-proof and made it comfortable and convenient. Single-handed, he completed the mud hut with windows and doors all made of bamboos and jungle material.
Kamban and Valmiki vie with each other in their accounts of this episode. Kamban says that when Lakshmana had completed the structure, Rama embraced him weeping and asked him: "When and how did you learn all this?" One can imagine the scene.
Rama, his eyes filled with tears of joy, said, according to Kamban: "The flower- soft feet of the Princess of Mithila have traversed the hard forest floor. If her feet have done a wonder, why, Lakshmana, your hands too have wrought a miracle of house-building! I have seen today the gain that is in misfortune."
Here, beside the lovely Chitrakuta hill, on the bank of the river Malyavati, in that cottage the three young people lived, free from care, performing their daily devotional routine. They forgot that they were in exile and spent the time happily, like Indra in Heaven surrounded by the gods.
The happy life in Chitrakuta is a wonderful background to set off the later sufferings and sorrows of the three.