It was the fortieth day after Vararuchi had left the palace of Vikramaditya in search of an answer for the riddle: what was the best verse in Ramayana? Needless to say, that no satisfactory answer was found to that intriguing question of the king.
Vararuchi had roamed over the breadth and width of the country and even outside, meeting scholars of repute. None could give a good enough answer. If he could not return to the king next day with a proper answer what would happen to him?
That day the poor Brahmin could not find any house where he could satisfy his hunger and get the much needed rest. When night came the poet found himself within a forest. It was too dark to get to the nearest village. He was tired from long walks, and from hunger and thirst. He lied down under a palm tree and tried to get some sleep. But, as was customary, first he prayed to the guardian deities of the forest (vana devata) for protection.
Yet, sleep escaped from the tormented mind of the Brahmin. He lay down with thoughts of his bleak future. He had lost hopes of life itself. Slowly, because of exhaustion, the poor Brahmin drowsed off.
He was woken up in the middle of night by a conversation. The voices came from the top of the tree. “Welcome, friends. What brought you here?” “We are on a visit to the hut of the Paraya (of low birth) family in the next village. The woman is due to give birth. We are on our way, as it is our duty to visit the house and bless the child. Won’t you join us?” “Unfortunately, not. This Brahmin has prayed for our protection before he went to sleep. We cannot move away from this place until he wakes up. Do come this way on your return and tell us about the delivery.”
Vararychi was intrigued by the conversation. Obviously it was between the deities of forests, the hosts being the ones to whom he prayed for protection. His vast learning must have included the language (and sound) of non-human beings as well. Vararuchi, soon got into a light sleep again.
He was woken up later, towards early morning by similar voices coming from up the palm tree. This time the conversation went like this: “Are you already on your way back? What was the baby like?” “The Paraya woman has delivered a pretty little girl.” “That is wonderful. Who is going to marry her?” “This Brahmin, who does not know ’know me (maam viddhi)’ ”.
There was silence from the top of the tree after that . But, those brief words flashed the desperately sought verse in Ramayana in Vararuchi’s mind. “maam viddhi ? Of course, that indicates to the stanza in Ramayana which goes:”
“Think of Rama as (your father,) Dasaratha
Know me to be Seetha (actually, know Seetha to be me, because of the two nouns in the accusative case, me and Seetha)
Think of Ayodhya as the forest
My son! Go well”
(raamam daSaratham viddhi
maam viddhi janakaadmajaam
Ayodhyaam ataveem viddhi
gaccha taata yathaa sukham)
Those were the famous parting words of Sumitra spoken to her son Lakshmana (the brother of Rama) when he went to his mother to bid good bye. Dasaratha was the king and Rama was the eldest brother and the favourite of the king for the throne. He had two step mothers and three brothers. Kaikeyi was the youngest of the three queens and the the most beautiful. Because of her ambition in favour of her own son, Bharata, Rama was asked to go in exile into the forest at the instance of his father, Dasaratha, for fourteen years. Rama’s other brother, Lakshmana, wanted to accompany him and Seetha (Rama’s wife) to the forest. What Sumitra meant was that her son would survive the hardships of life in forest by thinking of Rama and Seetha as his parents and the forest as his palace, Ayodhya.
The clue given by the deities helped the wise Vararuchi to immediately arrive at the long sought answer to the king’s query. Of course, Vararuchi thought, this verse could be treated as the most important one in the entire Ramayana. He wondered why neither he nor any of the other scholars he had approached could think of it earlier.
Soon, it was dawn. Vararuchi could not wait any longer to rush to his king and report his chanced discovery on the very last day of the permitted period.
Meanwhile, Vikramaditya had been spending his days in palace with a heavy heart. There had been no news of his dear friend all those days. Finally, the last day of the time given to find an answer came. Vikramaditya was waiting anxiously in his court. Then he saw his poet friend arriving hurriedly. The king guessed from the beaming face of his friend that he was successful, at last, in his search.
The king asked. “Did you find out which verse is the most important?” Vararuchi recited the verse and explained the meaning and its implication. He further clarified that the most important phrase in the verse was “Think of Seetha as me (your mother)”, indicated by the “Maam Viddhi”. The king was very pleased and showered valuable gifts on the great scholar.
(To be continued)