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The Ramayana 2 – The Bow of Shiva

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Rama, Sita Lukshmana

The Ramayana Part Two

Hello, This is Jana, and welcome to Storynory! I am back with the second part of our Indian epic, The Ramayana.

And before I start, I would like to thank Gaius, Clement & Lucia, who support us on Patreon. If you want to help us, you can donate as little as $5 per month at patreon.com forward slash storynory.

[Start Music]

In the first episode we heard how a holy man, Vishvamitra was being harassed by evil demons every time he tried to meditate and pray. He asked King Dashratha for the help of his son, Rama, and his brother, Lakshmana. Rama fought the demons and killed them. It’s important to know that Rama has part of the god Vishnu inside him. He’s a human hero with divine super powers. Now let’s pick up where we left off.

Vishvamitra, led the two boys, Rama and his brother Lakshmana out of the forest.

Rama strode along like a tiger. He had broad shoulders, powerful long arms, and his hands were as strong as diamonds. Most remarkable of all, his skin was sky blue, like the god Vishnu, because of course, part of Vishnu was in him. His loyal brother Lakshmana had a complexion like gold, and head full of curly hair

They were heading for the kingdom of Mithila in the Himalayan Mountains where Janaka was king.

King Janaka owned a remarkable weapon - a bow that had once belonged to the god Shiva. One time, the gods refused to share a sacrifice with Shiva. In anger he picked up the bow and rushed at his fellow gods, meaning to kill them with it. Seeing his anger, the other gods began to sing hymns in praise of Shiva - just in the nick of time because their voices calmed Shiva and soothed his temper.
They persuaded Shiva to lay down the bow, and he gave it to a mortal man who was king of Mithila. He was Janaka’s ancestor, and the bow has come down to Janaka.
The divine weapon was incredibly powerful, and indeed an arrow fired from it could destroy an entire city. But it was so strong that no human had been able to string it, let alone load an arrow and fire it.
King Janaka offered the hand in marriage of his daughter, Princess Sita, to any man who could string the bow. Sita was a remarkable young woman. The earth had given birth to her, and King Janaka had found her in a ploughed field.
Many kings and princes had tried to string the bow, and all had failed. When Vishvamatra had told the story, he said.
“So this is my question to you, Rama, shall we see if you can succeed where others have failed?
“Why not?” replied Rama. “If it is your wish, I shall try my luck.”
And so they walked on, higher and higher into the Himalayan mountains and the city of Mithila, which was in the country we now call Nepal. King Janaka met them at the break of day. He knelt down at the feet of Vishvamitra and pressed his hands together with the fingers pointing upwards.

“Namaste, Vishvamitra, you are famed as one of the wisest rishis on earth, a living saint. I am greatly honoured by your visit. Command me, and I shall obey.”

Vishvamitra / Tom
“Namaste, Your highness, you are known throughout the three worlds as a righteous king who follows the way of the holy law, Dharma. I thank you for your hospitality. The gods have rewarded you with the divine bow of Shiva. We have heard how you have promised the hand in marriage of your daughter, Sita, to the first man who can string the bow. We have come to take up the challenge. Let me introduce you to the noble sons of King Dashratha, the lotus-eyed Prince Rama and the trusty Prince Lakshmana. Let us see if Prince Rama can lift the mighty bow and string it.”
Janaka:
“If that is your wish, Vishvamitra, of course I shall do exactly as you desire. But first I must tell you that many kings and princes have tried their hands at the bow, not one has been able to lift it out of its box, let alone string it. Many of them have been frustrated and angry.”
Vishvamitra:
“That is exactly as I have heard, and I do not doubt that no mortal man has been able to lift the bow, so far. But I am curious to see if Prince Rama can succeed where others have failed. And I assure you, if he may succeed or fail, there will be no anger or frustration.”
Janaka:
“I am a man of my word.I shall do exactly as you have commanded me. It is my honour to obey a man who is so famed for his wisdom and holiness.”

And so King Janaka ordered preparations to be made for the trial of the bow. On the appointed day, crowds of nobles, holy men, and ordinary folk gathered in the fields before the palace. The bow was kept in an iron chest on 8 wheels, garlanded with flowers and scented with perfumes. It was so heavy that it took many men to haul the chest out while musicians played and women danced.

The royal party was seated on a platform.
“Let Rama try his luck. No harm will come of it.”

Rama stepped down from the platform and strolled over to the iron chest. He peered inside and saw the magnificent bow of Shiva with its many wonderful carvings and decorations. He reached inside the chest with one arm and lifted up the bow as if it was as light as a reed. Then, holding it with his foot, he bent the bow to string it. The crowd fell silent and gazed as he steadily pulled the top of the bow towards him until all of sudden it snapped in two with a crack as loud as thunder and the whole palace and the pavilions shook.

People ducked and hid, some fainted, and others ran away - only Visvamitra, King Janakar, Lakshmana, and of course Rama himself did not flinch. After some time, the earth stopped trembling and people had a chance to come to their senses. King Janaka sent ambassadors in swift charriots to Rama’s father, King Dashratha in Ayodhya, to ask his permission for the marriage, and to invite him to come as soon as possible to Mithila. The ambassadors arrived, with their horses exhausted by the great rush. The chief ambassador knelt before king Dasharatha with his hands pressed together and said:

Tom / Ambassador
“King Janaka of Mithila, delight of his people, sends you greetings and asks after your health. He wishes you to know that your son, the lotus eyed Prince Rama, has succeeded in breaking the divine bow of Shiva and has won the hand of his daughter, Princess Sita. He asks for your permission for your son to marry Sita.”

King Dasharatha knew that King Janaka was famed as a just king, who devoted his life to the Dharma or holy law. He came from a long line of noble kings. Knowing this, he readily agreed for Rama to marry Sita.

King Dasharatha immediately made preparations to travel to Mithila for the wedding. He sent priests ahead of him, escorted by soldiers with rich gifts of treasure. He himself set off with his army. Soldiers carried the king in a golden palanquin.

When they arrived they were greeted by King Janaka, and preparations were made for the magnificent wedding.

The streets are filled with
sweet-sung songs that charm the ears,
and joyful tears
And cheers of delight

Clattering of hooves
trumpets of elephants’ might.
Flowers are strewn across the way
And merchants put out their rich displays
Women dance
And Rishis trance
Soldiers drill
And spectators thrill
All are ready for the great celebration.
All await holy vows of affirmation
Rama readies himself by fasting
And fixing his soul on the ever-lasting
His head is shaved according to the way
That the gods decreed for this wedding day
His brother Lakshmana is to be married too
To Sita’s sister who
Is beautiful, kind and true.

And then the ceremony begins

Janaka
“Rama, This is my daughter Sita, take her hand.”
Rama
“Sita, I hold your hand according to Dharma, we are husband and wife.”
Janaka
“Lakshamana, this is my daughter, Urmila, take her hand.”

Three times Rama and Sita circle the sacred flame
And Lakshmana and his bride do the same
Then celestial drums sound out on high
And blossoms fall down from the cloudless sky
Joyous cheers sound across the land
Mingled with music from the wedding bands!

After the celebrations had finally come to a close, Visvamitra announced that he had accomplished all he wished for, and took his leave, heading for the higher up slopes of the Himalayan mountains where he could contemplate in solitude.

It was also time for King Dasharatha to return to Ayodhya with his sons and their new wives. Before they departed, King Janaka gave the newly-weds many rich gifts, including horses, chariots, and many of the finest cows. Finally they set out on the way, but the journey home was not uneventful. Along the road out of Mithila, they heard birds shrieking terribly, and the sun went dark. King Dasharatha asked his family priest, Vasistha, what was the meaning of the dreadful sounds. And the priest replied:

“My Lord, something terrible is about to happen, but do not trouble yourself, because it will end well.”

And his wise words were soon proven to be correct. The road ahead caught fire, and a huge mountain of a man stepped out of the flames, with an axe slung over his shoulder, and his hands holding a bow very like the one that Rama had broken. King Dasaratha’s men fell to the ground unconscious. Only the king, his family, and his priests were left standing.

The family priest, Vasistha, recognised the terrifying figure as Parashurama, or the Rama with an Axe. Like Rama, he was an avatar of the god Vishnu. An avatar has the form of a human being, and at the same time represents a god on earth. As you may recall, King Dasharatha’s three wives ate some of the sacred nectar, which meant that their sons had part of the god Vishnu within them. Rama’s mother ate the most nectar, and so Rama was the most godlike of the brothers.

The god Shiva had taught Parashurama the art of war, and had given him an axe and a bow which he always carried with him. He was not shy to use his weapons of war. He caused so much death and destruction, that the god Indra made him vow to put down his weapons and lead a life of peace. It seemed that he had forgotten his promise

King Dasharatha’s son Rama stepped forward and spoke to Rama with an Axe. He chose his words carefully, so as to soothe the fierce warrior. As he spoke he held his hands together in a respectful greeting.

“Mighty Parashurama, Namaste,” he said. “I am most highly honoured to meet you. Your wish is my command.”

“Prince Rama. I saw how you broke the mighty bow of Shiva. Now you think you’re stronger than anyone else on earth. A real tough guy, aren’t you? Well I’ve got news for you. That bow was ready to snap. It spent a thousand years inside a rusty old box, the rain got in, and rotted it. Well as it happens, I have one just like it - another bow given by mighty Shiva - and now I present this bow to you, for you to use as a replacement.”

“Thank you for this wonderful gift,” said Rama.

“You’re welcome. And here’s what you can do for me in return. . We shall fight a duel to death, and see who is the strongest - you with the bow or me with the Axe. If you are as strong as you think you are, you will be able to string that bow in a second or two and shoot me before I can get near you with my axe … but somehow I don’t feel afraid. I don’t think you have the strength. I think you are a weakling. Now let us both try our luck and see if I am correct.”

“Parashurama, if a duel to the death is what you wish for, then I cannot refuse your request,” said Rama.

But as soon as he spoke these words, King Dashratha was filled with fear for the life of his beloved son. Raising his hands and trembling, he cried:

“Honoured Parashurama, do not think of fighting or killing. I have heard that you made a promise to thousand-eyed Indra to put aside your weapons, so keep to your word, I say. If you were to kill Rama, you would be killing me too, and all of us, because we cannot live without him. There is no need for such a terrible trial of strength. Think of harmony on earth and the gods in heaven and above all, remember your vow of p eace.”

But the Rama with an Axe took no notice of the king, and still addressing Prince Rama, said: “This bow is divine, without equal, and its arrows are powerful enough to destroy cities. How could you not want to try it? Though I doubt that you have the strength to use it.”

But when Parashurama saw Rama pull the impossibly powerful bow back to his head and take aim, he realised that he had made a terrible mistake. He began to tremble and say, “Rama, please do not destroy me altogether. Allow me the freedom to travel to the mountains and live as a hermit. I will never be violent again, I give my word.”

And Rama replied: “I will not kill you with this arrow, though I have the power to do so. This arrow will drive the arrogance out of you once and for all.”

And with a mighty earth-shattering twang the arrow flew from the bow of Shiva, striking Parushurama and sending him flying to the Mahendra Mountains in the East, where he landed with an earth shuddering thud.
He was no longer the Rama with an Axe because he dropped his mighty weapon. He was shaken to core, and heaven was barred to him for breaking his vow of peace. But now at last, he began to lead a blameless life of contemplation.

Then Rama, with the bow of Shiva in his hand, prayed to the gods to thank them for his gift and victory.

When the wedding party reached Ayodhya, Rama and his brothers and their brides were greeted by the three wives of King Dasharatha and welcomed into the family. And all of them lived blissfully, enjoying the beautiful surroundings, friends, and each other. Rama and Sita grew more and more in love. With each passing year, he became more godlike, and she more and more resembled a goddess.

After some time had passed, King Dasharatha summoned Rama’s brother, Prince Bharat. He told him that his uncle had arrived from the Kingdom of Kekeya where his mother had been born. He wished him to visit his relatives at home. Prince Bharat readily agreed to do as his father wished.

Bharat set out with his uncle on his journey. His mother, Queen Kaikeyi was naturally sad to be parted from her son, but she was also happy for him to visit her relatives. She did not think it was anything other than a normal family visit, until one of her servants came to her, and told her to be worried.

And if you would like to find out what the servant told Queen Kaikeyi, tune in soon, to Storynory’s version of the Ramayana.

And I would very much like to thank Gaius, Clement & Lucia for supporting Storynory on Patreon. Their father writes,

Just wanted to thank you all for the wonderful audio stories. My three young children love them. Storynory is just the type of resource I was looking for. Audio stories, like books, require much more active attention than video and I think such active listening is great for children.

You too can support us for as little as $5 per month at patreon.com forward slash Storynory or look for the link in the sidebar of Storynory.com.

The Ramayana is adapted by Storynory’s bertie, and read by me Jana. It features the voices of Bertie and Tom Ferrance.

And just as a reminder, we have another podcast called Relaxivity - it is aimed at teenagers and adults, and features audio of a spiritual and calming nature.

For now, from me Jana, at Storynory.com,see you soon.