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Kusa and Lava.

As the story of the banishment of Sítá and the subsequent birth in Válmíki's hermitage of Kusa and Lava the rhapsodists of the Rámáyan, is intimately connected with the account in the introductory cantos of Válmíki's composition of the poem, I shall, I trust, be pardoned for extracting it from my rough translation of Kálidása's Raghuvansa, parts only of which have been offered to the public.

"Then, day by day, the husband's hope grew high,
Gazing with love on Sítá's melting eye:
With anxious care he saw her pallid cheek,
And fondly bade her all her wishes speak.
"Once more I fain would see," the lady cried,
"The sacred groves that rise on Gangá's side,
Where holy grass is ever fresh and green,
And cattle feeding on the rice are seen:
There would I rest awhile, where once I strayed
Linked in sweet friendship to each hermit maid."
And Ráma smiled upon his wife, and sware,
With many a tender oath, to grant her prayer.
It chanced, one evening, from a lofty seat
He viewed Ayodhyá stretched before his feet:
He looked with pride upon the royal road
Lined with gay shops their glittering stores that showed,
He looked on Sarjú's silver waves, that bore
The light barks flying with the sail and oar;
He saw the gardens near the town that lay,
Filled with glad citizens and boys at play.
Then swelled the monarch's bosom with delight,
And his heart triumphed at the happy sight.
He turned to Bhadra, standing by his side,--
Upon whose secret news the king relied.--
And bade him say what people said and thought
Of all the exploits that his arm had wrought.
The spy was silent, but, when questioned still,
Thus spake, obedient to his master's will:
"For all thy deeds in peace and battle done
The people praise thee, King, except for one:
This only act of all thy life they blame,--
Thy welcome home of her, thy ravished dame."
Like iron yielding to the iron's blow,
Sank Ráma, smitten by those words of woe.
His breast, where love and fear for empire vied,
Swayed, like a rapid swing, from side to side.
Shall he this rumour scorn, which blots his life,
Or banish her, his dear and spotless wife?
But rigid Duty left no choice between
His perilled honour and his darling queen.
Called to his side, his brothers wept to trace
The marks of anguish in his altered face.
No longer bright and glorious as of old,
He thus addressed them when the tale was told:
"Alas! my brothers, that my life should blot
The fame of those the Sun himself begot:
As from the labouring cloud the driven rain
Leaves on the mirror's polished face a stain.
E'en as an elephant who loathes the stake
And the strong chain he has no power to break,
I cannot brook this cry on every side,
That spreads like oil upon the moving tide.
I leave the daughter of Videha's King,
And the fair blossom soon from her to spring,
As erst, obedient to my sire's command,
I left the empire of the sea-girt land.
Good is my queen, and spotless; but the blame
Is hard to bear, the mockery and the shame.
Men blame the pure Moon for the darkened ray,
When the black shadow takes the light away.
And, O my brothers, if ye wish to see
Ráma live long from this reproach set free,
Let not your pity labour to control
The firm sad purpose of his changeless soul."

Thus Ráma spake. The sorrowing brothers heard
His stern resolve, without an answering word;
For none among them dared his voice to raise,
That will to question:--and they could not praise.
"Beloved brother," thus the monarch cried
To his dear Lakshman, whom he called aside.--
Lakshman, who knew no will save his alone
Whose hero deeds through all the world were known:--
"My queen has told me that she longs to rove
Beneath the shade of Saint Válmíki's grove:
Now mount thy car, away my lady bear;
Tell all, and leave her in the forest there."

The car was brought, the gentle lady smiled,
As the glad news her trusting heart beguiled.
She mounted up: Sumantra held the reins;
And forth the coursers bounded o'er the plains.
She saw green fields in all their beauty dressed,
And thanked her husband in her loving breast.
Alas! deluded queen! she little knew
How changed was he whom she believed so true;
How one she worshipped like the Heavenly Tree
Could, in a moment's time, so deadly be.
Her right eye throbbed,--ill-omened sign, to tell
The endless loss of him she loved so well,
And to the lady's saddening heart revealed
The woe that Lakshman, in his love, concealed.
Pale grew the bloom of her sweet face,--as fade
The lotus blossoms,--by that sign dismayed.
"Oh, may this omen,"--was her silent prayer,--
"No grief to Ráma or his brothers bear!"

When Lakshman, faithful to his brother, stood
Prepared to leave her in the distant wood,
The holy Gangá, flowing by the way,
Raised all her hands of waves to bid him stay.
At length with sobs and burning tears that rolled
Down his sad face, the king's command he told;
As when a monstrous cloud, in evil hour,
Rains from its labouring womb a stony shower.
She heard, she swooned, she fell upon the earth,
Fell on that bosom whence she sprang to birth.
As, when the tempest in its fury flies,
Low in the dust the prostrate creeper lies,
So, struck with terror sank she on the ground,
And all her gems, like flowers, lay scattered round.
But Earth, her mother, closed her stony breast,
And, filled with doubt, denied her daughter rest.
She would not think the Chief of Raghu's race
Would thus his own dear guiltless wife disgrace.
Stunned and unconscious, long the lady lay,
And felt no grief, her senses all astray.
But gentle Lakshman, with a brother's care,
Brought back her sense, and with her sense, despair.
But not her wrongs, her shame, her grief, could wring
One angry word against her lord the King:
Upon herself alone the blame she laid,
For tears and sighs that would not yet be stayed.
To soothe her anguish Lakshman gently strove;
He showed the path to Saint Válmíki's grove;
And craved her pardon for the share of ill
He wrought, obedient to his brother's will.
"O, long and happy, dearest brother, live!
I have to praise," she cried, "and not forgive:
To do his will should be thy noblest praise;
As Vishnu ever Indra's will obeys.
Return, dear brother: on each royal dame
Bestow a blessing in poor Sítá's name,
And bid them, in their love, kind pity take
Upon her offspring, for the father's sake.
And speak my message in the monarch's ear,
The last last words of mine that he shall hear:
"Say, was it worthy of thy noble race
Thy guiltless queen thus lightly to disgrace?
For idle tales to spurn thy faithful bride,
Whose constant truth the searching fire had tried?
Or may I hope thy soul refused consent,
And but thy voice decreed my banishment?
Hope that no care could turn, no love could stay
The lightning stroke that falls on me to-day?
That sins committed in the life that's fled
Have brought this evil on my guilty head?
Think not I value now my widowed life,
Worthless to her who once was Ráma's wife.
I only live because I hope to see
The dear dear babe that will resemble thee.
And then my task of penance shall be done,
With eyes uplifted to the scorching sun;
So shall the life that is to come restore
Mine own dear husband, to be lost no more."
And Lakshman swore her every word to tell,
Then turned to go, and bade the queen farewell.
Alone with all her woes, her piteous cries
Rose like a butchered lamb's that struggling dies.
The reverend sage who from his dwelling came
For sacred grass and wood to feed the flame,
Heard her loud shrieks that rent the echoing wood,
And, quickly following, by the mourner stood.
Before the sage the lady bent her low,
Dried her poor eyes, and strove to calm her woe.
With blessings on her hopes the blameless man
In silver tones his soothing speech began:
"First of all faithful wives, O Queen, art thou;
And can I fail to mourn thy sorrows now?
Rest in this holy grove, nor harbour fear
Where dwell in safety e'en the timid deer.
Here shall thine offspring safely see the light,
And be partaker of each holy rite.
Here, near the hermits' dwellings, shall thou lave
Thy limbs in Tonse's sin-destroying wave,
And on her isles, by prayer and worship, gain
Sweet peace of mind, and rest from care and pain.
Each hermit maiden with her sweet soft voice,
Shall soothe thy woe, and bid thy heart rejoice:
With fruit and early flowers thy lap shall fill,
And offer grain that springs for us at will.
And here, with labour light, thy task shall be
To water carefully each tender tree,
And learn how sweet a nursing mother's joy
Ere on thy bosom rest thy darling boy.…"

That very night the banished Sítá bare
Two royal children, most divinely fair.…

The saint Válmíki, with a friend's delight,
Graced Sítá's offspring with each holy rite.
Kusa and Lava--such the names they bore--
Learnt, e'en in childhood, all the Vedas' lore;
And then the bard, their minstrel souls to train,
Taught them to sing his own immortal strain.
And Ráma's deeds her boys so sweetly sang,
That Sítá's breast forgot her bitterest pang.…

Then Sítá's children, by the saint's command,
Sang the Rámáyan, wandering through the land.
How could the glorious poem fail to gain
Each heart, each ear that listened to the strain!
So sweet each minstrel's voice who sang the praise
Of Ráma deathless in Válmíki's lays.
Ráma himself amid the wondering throng
Marked their fair forms, and loved the noble song,
While, still and weeping, round the nobles stood,
As, on a windless morn, a dewy wood.
On the two minstrels all the people gazed,
Praised their fair looks and marvelled as they praised;
For every eye amid the throng could trace
Ráma's own image in each youthful face.
Then spoke the king himself and bade them say
Who was their teacher, whose the wondrous lay.
Soon as Válmíki, mighty saint, he saw,
He bowed his head in reverential awe.
"These are thy children" cried the saint, "recall
Thine own dear Sítá, pure and true through all."
"O holy father," thus the king replied,
"The faithful lady by the fire was tried;
But the foul demon's too successful arts
Raised light suspicions in my people's hearts.
Grant that their breasts may doubt her faith no more,
And thus my Sítá and her sons restore."

Raghuvansa Cantos XIV, XV.