WHEN Maricha was struck by Rama's arrow and was about to die, he resumed his own Rakshasa shape and cried aloud in a voice which was an exact imitation of Rama's: "Ah Lakshmana. Ah Sita!"
Rama now realised how the Rakshasa had beguiled them and how be had been drawn away a long distance by the crafty Maricha and he was full of anxiety as to what it all could mean.
"Alas, we have been badly deceived. It would be terrible if Lakshmana is also deceived by this cry and leaves Sita alone to come to my succour. It looks as though the Rakshasas have planned this ruse to carry off Sita and eat her. When Sita hears what she will take as my cry of distress she is sure to insist on Lakshmana leaving her and rushing to my help. The howling of jackals and the behavior of birds do portend disaster. There is trepidation in my heart and it is a portent in itself of some danger close at hand."
Saying thus to himself, Rama hurried back to the ashrama. On the way, he saw Lakshmana running towards him. "Alas, the worst I fear has happened," exclaimed Rama.
He held Lakshmana's hands and cried in sorrow: "Why did you leave Sita alone in the forest, Lakshmana? You may be sure the Rakshasas have killed and eaten her. It was not right for you to leave her and come away. It is now all over with Sita!"
Fatigued and thirsty with the futile chase, and now overwhelmed with anger and unbearable anxiety, Rama cried again: "If I do not see Sita in the ashrama when we return, I shall surely die, Lakshmana. You will return to Ayodhya, the survivor of us three, and tell them what has happened. O, how will Kausalya bear her grief? Lakshmana, you have more than fulfilled Kaikeyi's wishes. The Rakshasas will by now have visited on Sita, poor unprotected Sita, all their pent-up hatred against us. They must have killed and eaten her up by now. How could you leave her alone and come away? How could you be deceived by Maricha's false cry? What shall I do now? I shall see Sita no more. The Rakshasas' plan has succeeded. My trust in you was misplaced and I shall never see Sita. How could you leave her and come away, how could you, Lakshmana?"
Lakshmana answered with tears in his eyes: "What else, brother, could I do? When Sita heard the cry, 'Alas Sita! Alas Lakshmana!' she was frightened. Quivering with fear she urged me to go to you at once and would tolerate no delay. She persisted, whatever I said to the contrary. I told her again and again not to be afraid and assured her that no foe was strong enough to do you harm, and that the cry of distress was not yours, but she would not listen. She charged me with having turned traitor to you and with having come to the forest with treasonable intentions. And, O brother, she found it possible in her anguish to say I would be glad of your death out of sinful intentions towards herself! I was half-dead with horror on hearing those words of hers and then she announced that she would kill herself if I did not go on the instant. Mad herself, she maddened me with her words of reproach and I ran towards you not knowing what else to do."
But Rama was not satisfied. "Whatever a foolish woman might have said in her fright, you should have stayed and not left her unprotected. How could you do such a foolish thing? You have brought calamity on me. I shall never see Sita again."
The two hurried to the ashrama. Many bad omens appeared on their way. And Rama repeated, as he saw them one by one: "I fear, I fear we shall never see Sita again!"
Reaching the ashrama, they found it, as they had feared, empty. Sita was not there. The deerskin, the kusa grass, the mat spread as a seat, all lay scattered on the ground.
Rama wept and ran hither and thither in the grove round the cottage. The leaves and flowers on the trees had faded. Sita was nowhere to be seen.
He wandered about like one mad. His eyes were bloodshot. He cried, "Alas, have they eaten her up? Have they carried her away? O, bow she must have trembled in terror! I cannot bear the thought of it. Could it be that she has gone to the river to fetch water? Could it be that she has gone out to cull flowers? Let us see."
And he went searching among the trees, hoping that perhaps she was hiding and playing a practical joke on him. His sorrow swelled like the sea and seemed to have drowned his reason. He called the trees one by one by their names and beseeched them for help.
"Oh Asoka tree! Be true to your name, remove my sorrow you must know the truth. Tell me where Sita is now. Oh tall palm tree! You must be able to see where Sita is. Tell me where she is."
He talked to the animals too. "Oh tiger!" he said, "the elephant and the deer are afraid to tell me the truth. But you know no fear. You can tell me what has happened. You know everything. Tell me then the truth."
He cried: "Oh Sita, you are biding somewhere. There! There! I see you there! Stop this fooling. I can stand it no longer."
After wandering and weeping in vain for a long time he fell on the ground, moaning, "Ha Lakshmana! Ha Sita!" He cried like an elephant trapped in a pit.
"Lakshmana, Sita is nowhere. The Rakshasas have captured her and torn her to pieces and eaten her up. How can I live any more? My end is near. But when my father sees me in the other world, he will say, 'Why have you come here, my son, before fulfilling my command?' I have failed. In everything, I have failed."
Lakshmana could bear this sight no longer. "Brother, it is not right that you should cry like this," he said. "Let us search through the forest. You know how fond Sita is of entering caves and thickets. She may be bathing in the river or playing somewhere or culling flowers. Let us search again. She is only testing us. Come let us search again. Do not cry."
The two searched again all over the place on hills, by pools and on the river bank. But they did not find her. "Sita is not to be seen, Lakshmana," said Rama. "What shall I do now?"
Lakshmana tried to encourage him with words of hope, but Rama was inconsolable. "No, no, my brother. There is no hope," he said, "Sita is nowhere. I have lost her forever. I shall live no more."
He lay unconscious for a time. Then he came to himself and lifted his voice and wept. Nothing that Lakshmana said could comfort him.
"Lakshmana, how can I go back to Ayodhya?" he cried. "Won't they laugh at me for returning alone after allowing Sita to be killed and eaten by Rakshasas? Having brought her to the forest and having failed to protect her, what shall I tell Janaka? No, you should go alone to Ayodhya. Go and look after our mothers. Greet Bharata from me and tell him it was my dying wish that he should continue to rule as king."
All Lakshmana's efforts to console him were in vain. He was convinced that the Rakshasas had carried away Sita and torn her to pieces and eaten her up. He pictured to himself in detail the horror of her suffering and cried in his grief: "I must have committed terrible sins. How else could such suffering come to me? Sita who accompanied me, thinking I could protect her, has been eaten by the Rakshasas and I can do nothing about it. Is there another sinner like me in the world?"
Lakshmana said: "Do not lose heart. You must be bold and energetic. A resolute mind can conquer fate. But you must first conquer your weakness. Let us make a more thorough search of the forest. Instead of yielding to unavailing sorrow, let us be manly and active." But Rama would not listen.
Rama behaved as a human being, not an avatar of Vishnu. Though elsewhere his words and actions give room for a different view, here Valmiki describes Rama as a mere man enveloped in the gloom of a supreme misfortune.
His feeling and behavior are exactly those of any noble and virtuous man who has lost his beloved wife, dearer to him than life itself, and that in a forest infested with Rakshasas. We see that all the efforts of Lakshmana to console him had no effect.
Our common human dharma is illustrated by the sorrow of Rama. We see here the picture of true and equal love between a virtuous man and woman and the anguish of loss.
The episode may also be interpreted allegorically. Rama's sense of privation, when he misses Sita, is a measure and image of the mind of God when a single human soul is lost through sin.
One may ask whether God can lose, or can suffer pain of mind. If one realises that all life is divine leela, the play of God, no further exegesis is needed. Sin, merit, devotion, all are aspects of that sport.
Each one of us is beloved of the Lord. If for any reason we are swept away from the right path, He suffers like a lover who has lost his love. And His sorrow too is a part of His great play.