Ráma went foremost of the three,
Next Sítá, followed, fair to see,
And Lakshman with his bow in hand
Walked hindmost of the little band.
As onward through the wood they went,
With great delight their eyes were bent
On rocky heights beside the way
And lofty trees with blossoms gay;
And streamlets running fair and fast
The royal youths with Sítá passed.
They watched the sáras and the drake
On islets of the stream and lake,
And gazed delighted on the floods
Bright with gay birds and lotus buds.
They saw in startled herds the roes,
The passion-frenzied buffaloes,
Wild elephants who fiercely tore
The tender trees, and many a boar.
A length of woodland way they passed,
And when the sun was low at last
A lovely stream-fed lake they spied,
Two leagues across from side to side.
Tall elephants fresh beauty gave
To grassy bank and lilied wave,
By many a swan and sáras stirred,
Mallard, and gay-winged water-bird.
From those sweet waters, loud and long,
Though none was seen to wake the song,
Swelled high the singer's music blent
With each melodious instrument.
Ráma and car-borne Lakshman heard
The charming strain, with wonder stirred,
Turned on the margent of the lake
To Dharmabhrit(424) the sage, and spake:
"Our longing souls, O hermit, burn
This music of the lake to learn:
We pray thee, noblest sage, explain
The cause of the mysterious strain."
He, as the son of Raghu prayed,
With swift accord his answer made,
And thus the hermit, virtuous-souled,
The story of the fair lake told:
"Through every age 'tis known to fame,
Panchápsaras(425) its glorious name,
By holy Mándakarni wrought
With power his rites austere had bought.
For he, great votarist, intent
On strictest rule his stern life spent.
Ten thousand years the stream his bed,
Ten thousand years on air he fed.
Then on the blessed Gods who dwell
In heavenly homes great terror fell:
They gathered all, by Agni led,
And counselled thus disquieted:
"The hermit by ascetic pain
The seat of one of us would gain."
Thus with their hearts by fear oppressed
In full assembly spoke the Blest,
And bade five loveliest nymphs, as fair
As lightning in the evening air,
Armed with their winning wiles, seduce
From his stern vows the great recluse.
Though lore of earth and heaven he knew,
The hermit from his task they drew,
And made the great ascetic slave
To conquering love, the Gods to save.
Each of the heavenly five became,
Bound to the sage, his wedded dame;
And he, for his beloved's sake,
Formed a fair palace neath the lake.
Under the flood the ladies live,
To joy and ease their days they give,
And lap in bliss the hermit wooed
From penance rites to youth renewed.
So when the sportive nymphs within
Those secret bowers their play begin,
You hear the singers' dulcet tones
Blend sweetly with their tinkling zones."
"How wondrous are these words of thine!"
Cried the famed chiefs of Raghu's line,
As thus they heard the sage unfold
The marvels of the tale he told.
As Ráma spake, his eyes were bent
Upon a hermit settlement
With light of heavenly lore endued,
With sacred grass and vesture strewed.
His wife and brother by his side,
Within the holy bounds he hied,
And there, with honour entertained
By all the saints, a while remained.
In time, by due succession led,
Each votary's cot he visited,
And then the lord of martial lore,
Returned where he had lodged before.
Here for the months, content, he stayed,
There for a year his visit paid:
Here for four months his home would fix,
There, as it chanced, for five or six.
Here for eight months and there for three
The son of Raghu's stay would be:
Here weeks, there fortnights, more or less,
He spent in tranquil happiness.
As there the hero dwelt at ease
Among those holy devotees,
In days untroubled o'er his head
Ten circling years of pleasure fled.
So Raghu's son in duty trained
A while in every cot remained,
Then with his dame retraced the road
To good Sutíkshna's calm abode.
Hailed by the saints with honours due
Near to the hermit's home he drew,
And there the tamer of his foes
Dwelt for a time in sweet repose.
One day within that holy wood
By saint Sutíkshna Ráma stood,
And thus the prince with reverence meek
To that high sage began to speak:
"In the wide woodlands that extend
Around us, lord most reverend,
As frequent voice of rumour tells,
Agastya, saintliest hermit, dwells.
So vast the wood, I cannot trace
The path to reach his dwelling place,
Nor, searching unassisted, find
That hermit of the thoughtful mind.
I with my wife and brother fain
Would go, his favour to obtain,
Would seek him in his lone retreat
And the great saint with reverence greet.
This one desire, O Master, long
Cherished within my heart, is strong,
That I may pay of free accord
My duty to that hermit lord."
As thus the prince whose heart was bent
On virtue told his firm intent,
The good Sutíkshna's joy rose high,
And thus in turn he made reply:
"The very thing, O Prince, which thou
Hast sought, I wished to urge but now,
Bid thee with wife and brother see
Agastya, glorious devotee.
I count this thing an omen fair
That thou shouldst thus thy wish declare,
And I, my Prince, will gladly teach
The way Agastya's home to reach.
Southward, dear son, direct thy feet
Eight leagues beyond this still retreat:
Agastya's hermit brother there
Dwells in a home most bright and fair.
'Tis on a knoll of woody ground,
With many a branching Pippal(426) crowned:
There sweet birds' voices ne'er are mute,
And trees are gay with flower and fruit.
There many a lake gleams bright and cool,
And lilies deck each pleasant pool,
While swan, and crane, and mallard's wings
Are lovely in the water-springs.
There for one night, O Ráma, stay,
And with the dawn pursue thy way.
Still farther, bending southward, by
The thicket's edge the course must lie,
And thou wilt see, two leagues from thence
Agastya's lovely residence,
Set in the woodland's fairest spot,
All varied foliage decks the cot:
There Sítá, Lakshman thou, at ease
May spend sweet hours neath shady trees,
For all of noblest growth are found
Luxuriant on that bosky ground.
If it be still thy firm intent
To see that saint preëminent,
O mighty counsellor, this day
Depart upon thine onward way."
The hermit spake, and Ráma bent
His head, with Lakshman, reverent,
And then with him and Janak's child
Set out to trace the forest wild.
He saw dark woods that fringed the road,
And distant hills like clouds that showed,
And, as the way he followed, met
With many a lake and rivulet.
So passing on with ease where led
The path Sutíkshna bade him tread,
The hero with exulting breast
His brother in these words addressed:
"Here, surely, is the home, in sight,
Of that illustrious anchorite:
Here great Agastya's brother leads
A life intent on holy deeds.
Warned of each guiding mark and sign,
I see them all herein combine:
I see the branches bending low
Beneath the flowers and fruit they show.
A soft air from the forest springs,
Fresh from the odorous grass, and brings
A spicy fragrance as it flees
O'er the ripe fruit of Pippal trees.
See, here and there around us high
Piled up in heaps cleft billets lie,
And holy grass is gathered, bright
As strips of shining lazulite.
Full in the centre of the shade
The hermits' holy fire is laid:
I see its smoke the pure heaven streak
Dense as a big cloud's dusky peak.
The twice-born men their steps retrace
From each sequestered bathing-place,
And each his sacred gift has brought
Of blossoms which his hands have sought.
Of all these signs, dear brother, each
Agrees with good Sutíkshna's speech,
And doubtless in this holy bound
Agastya's brother will be found.
Agastya once, the worlds who viewed
With love, a Deathlike fiend subdued,
And armed with mighty power, obtained
By holy works, this grove ordained
To be a refuge and defence
From all oppressors' violence.
In days of yore within this place
Two brothers fierce of demon race,
Vátápi dire and Ilval, dwelt,
And slaughter mid the Bráhmans dealt.
A Bráhman's form, the fiend to cloak,
Fierce Ilval wore, and Sanskrit spoke,
And twice-born sages would invite
To solemnize some funeral rite.
His brother's flesh, concealed within
A ram's false shape and borrowed skin,--
As men are wont at funeral feasts,--
He dressed and fed those gathered priests.
The holy men, unweeting ill,
Took of the food and ate their fill.
Then Ilval with a mighty shout
Exclaimed "Vátápi, issue out."
Soon as his brother's voice he heard,
The fiend with ram-like bleating stirred:
Rending in pieces every frame,
Forth from the dying priests he came.
So they who changed their forms at will
Thousands of Bráhmans dared to kill,--
Fierce fiends who loved each cruel deed,
And joyed on bleeding flesh to feed.
Agastya, mighty hermit, pressed
To funeral banquet like the rest,
Obedient to the Gods' appeal
Ate up the monster at a meal.
"'Tis done, 'tis done," fierce Ilval cried,
And water for his hands supplied:
Then lifting up his voice he spake:
"Forth, brother, from thy prison break."
Then him who called the fiend, who long
Had wrought the suffering Bráhmans wrong,
Thus thoughtful-souled Agastya, best
Of hermits, with a smile addressed:
"How, Rákshas, is the fiend empowered
To issue forth whom I devoured?
Thy brother in a ram's disguise
Is gone where Yáma's kingdom lies."
When from the words Agastya said
He knew his brother fiend was dead,
His soul on fire with vengeful rage,
Rushed the night-rover at the sage.
One lightning glance of fury, hot
As fire, the glorious hermit shot,
As the fiend neared him in his stride,
And straight, consumed to dust, he died.
In pity for the Bráhmans' plight
Agastya wrought this deed of might:
This grove which lakes and fair trees grace
In his great brother's dwelling place."
As Ráma thus the tale rehearsed,
And with Sumitrá's son conversed,
The setting sun his last rays shed,
And evening o'er the land was spread.
A while the princely brothers stayed
And even rites in order paid,
Then to the holy grove they drew
And hailed the saint with honour due.
With courtesy was Ráma met
By that illustrious anchoret,
And for one night he rested there
Regaled with fruit and hermit fare.
But when the night had reached its close,
And the sun's glorious circle rose,
The son of Raghu left his bed
And to the hermit's brother said:
"Well rested in thy hermit cell,
I stand, O saint, to bid farewell;
For with thy leave I journey hence
Thy brother saint to reverence."
"Go, Ráma go," the sage replied:
Then from the cot the chieftain hied.
And while the pleasant grove he viewed,
The path the hermit showed, pursued.
Of every leaf, of changing hue.
Plants, trees by hundreds round him grew,
With joyous eyes he looked on all,
Then Jak,(427) the wild rice, and Sál;(428)
He saw the red Hibiscus glow,
He saw the flower-tipped creeper throw
The glory of her clusters o'er
Tall trees that loads of blossom bore.
Some, elephants had prostrate laid,
In some the monkeys leapt and played,
And through the whole wide forest rang
The charm of gay birds as they sang.
Then Ráma of the lotus eye
To Lakshman turned who followed nigh,
And thus the hero youth impressed
With Fortune's favouring signs, addressed:
"How soft the leaves of every tree,
How tame each bird and beast we see!
Soon the fair home shall we behold
Of that great hermit tranquil-souled.
The deed the good Agastya wrought
High fame throughout the world has bought:
I see, I see his calm retreat
That balms the pain of weary feet.
Where white clouds rise from flames beneath,
Where bark-coats lie with many a wreath,
Where silvan things, made gentle, throng,
And every bird is loud in song.
With ruth for suffering creatures filled,
A deathlike fiend with might he killed,
And gave this southern realm to be
A refuge, from oppression free.
There stands his home, whose dreaded might
Has put the giant crew to flight,
Who view with envious eyes afar
The peaceful shades they cannot mar.
Since that most holy saint has made
His dwelling in this lovely shade,
Checked by his might the giant brood
Have dwelt in peace with souls subdued.
And all this southern realm, within
Whose bounds no fiend may entrance win,
Now bears a name which naught may dim,
Made glorious through the worlds by him.
When Vindhya, best of hills, would stay
The journey of the Lord of Day,
Obedient to the saint's behest
He bowed for aye his humbled crest.
That hoary hermit, world-renowned
For holy deeds, within this ground
Has set his pure and blessed home,
Where gentle silvan creatures roam.
Agastya, whom the worlds revere,
Pure saint to whom the good are dear,
To us his guests all grace will show,
Enriched with blessings ere we go.
I to this aim each thought will turn,
The favour of the saint to earn,
That here in comfort may be spent
The last years of our banishment.
Here sanctities and high saints stand,
Gods, minstrels of the heavenly band;
Upon Agastya's will they wait,
And serve him, pure and temperate.
The liar's tongue, the tyrant's mind
Within these bounds no home may find:
No cheat, no sinner here can be:
So holy and so good is he.
Here birds and lords of serpent race,
Spirits and Gods who haunt the place,
Content with scanty fare remain,
As merit's meed they strive to gain.
Made perfect here, the saints supreme,
On cars that mock the Day-God's gleam,--
Their mortal bodies cast aside,--
Sought heaven transformed and glorified,
Here Gods to living things, who win
Their favour, pure from cruel sin,
Give royal rule and many a good,
Immortal life and spirithood.
Now, Lakshman, we are near the place:
Do thou precede a little space,
And tell the mighty saint that I
With Sítá at my side am nigh."