Rama, when duly crowned at Ayodhya, enters upon a life of quiet enjoyment with his wife Sita. The love of Rama and Sita, purified by sorrow during the late exile, is most tender.
After a stay of a few days at Ayodhya, Janaka, the father of Sita, goes back to his country Mithila. Rama consoles his queen for her father's absence. The sage Ashtavakra comes in and delivers a message to Rama from his spiritual preceptors to satisfy the wishes of Sita and please his people. Then the sage goes away.
The family priest Vasishtha, having to leave the capital for a time to assist at a sacrifice, utters a few words of parting advice to Rama, thus:--
"Remember that a king's real glory consists in his people's welfare."
Rama replies: "I am ready to give up everything, happiness, love, pity--even Sita herself--if needful for my subjects' good."
In accordance with this promise, he employs an emissary named Durmukha to ascertain the popular opinion as to his own treatment of his subjects.
Lakshmana now asks Rama and Sita to come out and see their early history drawn on the terrace of the palace. They move about and the different parts of the picture are shown to Sita, when the eyes of Sita turn on the 'yawn-producing' weapons. Rama asks her to salute them so that they would attend also on her children. Sita then feels tired and lays her head on the arm of her husband and sleeps.
Then Durmukha, who, as an old and trusted servant, had free admission to the inner apartments, comes and whispers to him that people condemn his receiving back a queen, abducted by a fiend, after her long residence in a stranger's house. In short, he is told that they still gossip and talk scandal about her and Ravana. The scrupulously correct and over-sensitive Rama, though convinced of his wife's fidelity after her submission to the fiery ordeal, and though she is now likely to become a mother, feels himself quite unable to allow the slightest cause of offence to continue among his subjects.
He has no other resource. People must be satisfied. He orders his dear Sita's exile, and the messenger goes away to deliver the order to Lakshmana to seclude her somewhere in the woods. He is torn by contending feelings. He is overpowered with grief, withdraws his arm from his sleeping wife and pours forth pathetic lamentation. Then he takes up her feet and cries when the announcement of the arrival of frightened Rishis makes him go out to send Satrughna to their succour. The messenger Durmukha then enters and takes Sita unsuspectingly to mount the chariot which is to lead her to exile.
Lakshmana takes Sita to the forest and leaves her there.
She is protected by divine agencies. Her twin sons, Kusa and Lava, are born and entrusted to the care of the sage Valmiki, the author of the Ramayana, who brings them up in his hermitage. The boys have no knowledge of their royal descent.
An incident now occurs which leads Rama to revisit the Dandaka forest, the scene of his former exile. The child of a Brahman dies suddenly and unaccountably. His body is laid at Rama's door. Evidently some national sin is the cause of such a calamity, and an aerial voice informs him that an awful crime is being perpetrated; for a Sudra, named Sambuka, is practising religious austerities, instead of confining himself to his proper vocation of waiting on the twice-born castes. Rama instantly starts for the forest, discovers Sambuka in the sacrilegious act and strikes off his head. But death by Rama's hand confers immortality on the Sudra, who appears as a celestial spirit, and thanks his benefactor for the glory and felicity thus obtained.
Before returning to Ayodhya, Rama is induced to visit the hermitage of the sage Agastya in Panchavati. Sita now reappears. She is herself invisible to Rama through the favour of the Bhagirathi but able to thrill with emotions by her touch. Rama is greatly distracted.
He faints with old remembrances but revives on the touch of Sita. He observes, "What does this mean? Heavenly balm seems poured into my heart; a well-known touch changes my insensibility to life. Is it Sita, or am I dreaming?"
He vainly seeks for her possession, but at last goes away on the advice of his companion Visanti.
The sage Valmiki makes great preparations for receiving Vasishtha, Janaka, Kaushalya, the mother of Rama and other eminent guests. The pupils are delighted because the visit of the guests affords hopes of a feast at which flesh meat is to constitute one of the dishes.
As the boys have got a holiday in honour of the guests, they are playing at some distance from a tree outside the hermitage. Among them, Kaushalya notices a boy with the features of her son, who is called in but whom the guests do not yet know to be a son of Rama.
Soon after, the horse of the horse-sacrifice of Rama comes near and he goes out with other boys to see the fun while the elders go to see the host.
The attendant soldiers cry out that Rama is the only hero of the world. Lava--for such is the boy's name,--cannot brook such vaunts and removes the banner. Soldiers crowd upon him and Lava draws his bow. Lakshmana's son Chandraketu--the general of the army--arrives surprised at the slaughter of his army and asks Lava to leave the incapable army and fight with himself. Lava obeys the call and after some conversation in which he ridicules the powers of Rama and infuriates his antagonist, they go out to fight.
The discharge and repulsion of the divine weapons occur.
The approach of Rama puts an end to the contest. Lava's elder brother Kusa has heard of his fight and comes to "eradicate from the world the name of emperor." But Lava has become calm and asks his brother to pay respects to the hero of the Ramayana.
Rama embraces both of them and is moved with their son-like touch. He notices in them the features of his wife He knows that his children alone could possess the divine weapons. He recollects that his wife was left in that part of the forest and instinctively comes to the conclusion that they are his children. He wishes to ask about their birth in a roundabout way, but before proceeding to the end, is asked to see his spiritual preceptor.
The desertion of Sita is acted by nymphs on the banks of the Ganges before Rama and other high guests invited by Valmiki.
Sita, from behind the stage, cries out "the beasts of prey desire [to devour] me in the forest (left) alone and unprotected. I will throw myself into the Bhagirathi." She enters supported by her mother Prithivi, the Earth and Ganga, each carrying a baby in the lap. Ganga tells her of the birth of the twins and consoles her, but Earth is greatly distressed with the conduct of Rama. Ganga replies "who can close the door of Fate?"
But Earth says, "has it been proper for the good Rama? He disregarded the hand he pressed when a boy. He disregarded me and Janaka. He disregarded Fire (who shewed her purity). He disregarded the children she was about to bring forth."
But Ganga pacifies her and they agree to make over the children to Valmiki, when they become a little old. Earth then asks her daughter to come to the nether world, to which she agrees and with their exit closes the play.
At the close of the play, Rama faints. Then the real Sita enters with Arundhuti, the wife of Rama's preceptor and touches and revives her husband. The people are satisfied with her purity and Rama takes her back with the children who are introduced by Valmiki. The husband and wife are thus re-united after twelve years of grievous solitude, and happiness is restored to the whole family. The re-union is witnessed not only by the people of Ayodhya, but by the congregated deities of earth and heaven.
Rama thus describes his love for his wife:--
"Her presence is ambrosia to my sight; her contact, fragrant sandal; her fond arms, twined round my neck; are a far richer clasp than costliest gems, and in my house she reigns the guardian goddess of my fame and fortune. Oh! I could never bear again to lose her."