VIBHISHANA was crowned King of Lanka in a magnificent ceremony. The new Lord of Lanka came out to the Vanara camp and bowed low before Rama.
Then Rama said to Hanuman: "With the King's permission, enter Lanka and tell Sita what has happened." Hanuman accordingly took permission from Vibhishana and went to Asoka Vana to convey the news to Sita.
Sita's joy was beyond words. She was silent.
"Why, mother," asked Hanuman, "why do you not speak?"
"What is there to say, my son?" she answered. "How can I repay my debt to you? Your wisdom, your valor, your prowess, your patience, your humility are all your own. None in the world can equal you." As she said this, her eyes filled with tears of gratitude and affection.
Hanuman looked at the Rakshasi women who had guarded Sita and turning to Sita said: "I wish to slay these cruel women who troubled you. Do give me leave!"
"No, my son," she answered. "Who in the world is blameless? It is the part of noble souls to be compassionate towards all sinners as well as good people."
These words of Sita are treasured like nectar by generations of pious men. The worst of sinners, clinging to the golden feet of the Mother, can gain forgiveness.
"These Rakshasis," she continued "but carried out their master's orders. How are they to blame? Their king is dead and has paid for his crime. It is unjust to punish these Rakshasis now."
All that Hanuman could find to say in reverent admiration was that what she said was only what was worthy of Rama's wife.
"What message am I to carry to Rama?" he asked.
"I am eager to be in his presence," she answered. "That is all."
Hanuman returned to Rama and gave an account of his visit. For some reason Rama's face now darkened and with lack-lustre eyes he fell into a frown study. A little later he turned to Vibhishana and said:
"Ask Sita to bathe and bedeck herself and bring her here."
When the message reached Sita in the Asoka Vana, she said: "I would rather go as I am."
"Not so, my lady," said Vibhishana, "the prince's orders should be obeyed."
So, after a bath and bedecked with jewels and seated in a palanquin, Sita went to the camp.
When he heard that Sita was coming, Rama woke up from his meditation. Events of the past rose like waves and battering against his mind threw it into a wild commotion of shame, grief and joy.
As Sita's palanquin was taken through the great concourse of Vanaras, they thronged round the princess and caused confusion. It was made worse by the
Vanara leaders trying to push them aside and make way for the palanquin.
"Let no one be kept away," said Rama. "These dear Vanaras have stood and suffered for me. Sita will be pleased to see me surrounded by such friends. Let no one be pushed away."
Rama's face showed a strange transformation of mind. None of those around him, not even Lakshmana could understand.
Alighting from the palanquin, Sita, with downcast eyes, proceeded towards Rama. "Aryaputra," she said and sobbed, unable to speak more.
Aryaputra in Sanskrit means beloved and noble one and is an intimate form of address of wife to husband.
"I have slain the enemy," said Rama. I have recovered you. I have done my duty as a Kshatriya. My vow is now fulfilled."
Incomprehensible and wholly unexpected were these words that he uttered. His face darkened for some reason. Then he spoke even harsher words.
"It was not for mere attachment to you that I waged this grim battle but in the discharge of duty as a Kshatriya. It gives me no joy now to get you back, for doubtfulness envelopes you like a dark cloud of smoke."
"What do you wish to do now?" he continued. "You must live alone, for we cannot live together. You can stay under the protection of any of our kinsmen or friends. How can a Kshatriya take back a wife who has lived so long in a stranger's house?"
Sita looked at Rama. Her eyes flashed fire.
"Unworthy words have you spoken!" she said. "My ears have heard them and my heart is broken. The uncultured may speak such words but not one nobly born and brought up like you. Your anger, it seems, has destroyed your understanding. My lord does not remember the family from which I come. Janaka, the great seer, was my father and he brought me up. Is it my fault that the wicked Rakshasa seized me by force and imprisoned me? But since this is how you look at it, there is but one course open to me."
Then turning to Lakshmana, "Fetch the faggots, Lakshmana, and kindle a fire," she said.
Lakshmana, who had been watching Rama's behavior in dismay and indignation turned to look at Rama's face seeking his orders, but Rama did not say 'No' to Sita's request nor show any sign of softening. Obeying Sita, Lakshmana kindled a big fire and the princess, with eyes fixed on the ground, circumambulated her lord and exclaimed:
"Ye Gods, I bow before you. Oh rishis, I bow to you. Oh Agni, you at least know my purity and will take me as your own!"
With these words she jumped into the flames. And wonder of wonders! The lambent flames were crowded with celestial figures, for all the gods came and assembled there. Brahma spoke: "Narayana! Mighty God that took human form to slay Ravana! Is not this your own Lakshmi?"
Agni, God of fire, rose in his own body out of the flames and lifting Sita in his arms with all her clothes and jewels untouched and intact, presented her to Rama.
Rama said to Brahma: "Who am I? All that I know and can tell is that I am Rama, son of Dasaratha. You know who I am and whence I came and more. It is you who must inform me." Saying this to Brahma, Rama accepted Sita fire-proved.
"Think you that I did not know your irreproachable purity? This ordeal was to satisfy the people. Without it, they would say that Rama, blinded by love, behaved with a strange weakness and broke the rule of well-brought-up men." So saying he drew her to his side.
Then Dasaratha descended from above and, placing the prince on his lap blessed him.
"My child!" he said to Sita. "Forgive my son. Forgive him for the wrong he did you to preserve the dharma of the world. God bless you!"
Indra gave his boon, and the Vanaras who died in battle for Rama regained their lives.
Rama and Sita, now reunited, ascended the Pushpaka which carried them swiftly in the air with their friends, the Vanara warriors and Vibhishana, to Ayodhya.
As they travelled in the sky, he said: "Look there! That is the causeway built by Nala." Again, "Look there, that is Kishkindha," he said, "where I met and made friends with Hanuman and Sugriva." And Rama pointed out to Sita the spots where he and Lakshmana had wandered disconsolate and related to her all his unforgettable experiences.
Alighting at Bharadwaja's ashrama, they sent word in advance to Guha and Bharata.
The city of Ayodhya swam in a sea of joy. Rama and Bharata met. Planning for Bharata's sake, ambitious Kaikeyi and her hunchback maid had contrived and concocted plots. But now, as Bharata bowed at the feet of Rama, a joy deeper than what they had planned for him was his. What kingly crown could equal the joy one found at Rama's feet? What sovereignty could bring one the glory that was now Bharata's forever?
The Vaishnava hymns exalt Bharata even above Rama for a spotless mind and unblemished unselfishness. For fourteen years till the return of Rama, Bharata installed Rama's padukas and administered the kingdom as a devotional exercise in the service of his brother. Now that Rama was crowned King as his father had wished, Bharata's penance was at an end and his heart was filled with joy.
The smile of divine grace brightened Sita's face as she cast her merciful glance on Hanuman. What more could Hanuman desire?
I have retold in brief compass the story of the Prince of Ayodhya as sung by Valmiki. Those who read or listen to the tale, it is said, will be saved from sin and sorrow. Sri Sankara, the master of wisdom, has said that, if one keeps in one's heart the son of Dasaratha and meditates on him with reverence, one's sins will all be burnt up as chaff in a fire.
After the avatar of Rama, the lord appeared again among men with greater soulabhya (easy accessibility) as Govinda. He lived among cowherders as one of them and served Arjuna as a chariot driver. At the end of the Gita, the Lord says to Arjuna:
"Believe in me as the sole refuge, cast aside all doubt and come unto me. I shall save you from all sins. This is truth, friend. Cast off your fear."
This promise of Sri Krishna is addressed to all of us. We, like Arjuna, have our doubts and fears in the Kurukshetra of life and this assurance of grace is for all of us, for we are all dear to Him.