“Lakshmana” and Sita Episode


Version of Toru Dutt

And Some Developments Till date




Toru Dutt, in her poem, “Lakshmana” chose one of the most controversial themes of the ancient Indian literature. The entire poem brings forth her poetic craft while some of the verses of the poem are comparable to those of Valmiki, the Adi Kavi. The poem under reference is basically an abridgement of the Ramayana III 45. The subject matter of the poem is also found in many other works of Sanskrit literature-such as the Mahabharatam the Raghuvamsam, the Mahaviracaritam the Bhatti-Kavyam the Ramayana Manjari, the Adhyatma Ramayana the Anand Ramayana and the Hanumannatakam. Some other works of modem Indian languages contain the subject matter of this poem. Particularly, the Krittivasi Ramayana of Bangala is very important, because Toru Dutt also belonged to Bengal and the impact of this epic is natural on this poem. Though the version of “Lakshmana” is similar to that of the Ramayana version, yet this poem contains some develop­ments which are very important and hence should be brought forth. It is interesting to know that the concept of Lakshmana Rekha is not an original idea of the Ramayana and the origin of this idea has been located in this work. In the present essay we shall try to go through all the available versions of this episode found in different works to find out the contribution of Toru Dutt. We shall also try to decide whether this poem is a translation or transcreation. First, the background of this poem found in the Ramayana is as follows:


The Background


Sita, being fascinated by the beauty of the golden deer, wants to get its skin for decorating her hut. She requests Rama to fulfil her wish by killing it. Actually, it was a conspiracy of Ravana to send Rama to a distant place, and he sought the services of Maricha, who was expert in transforming himself. Maricha threw off his original giant form and assumed the form of a deer which was exceptionally beautiful. The hair of the deer had a golden look. Its horns were sapphired, resplending like the lunar way and were looking like the rising sun. (Ramayana III 43, 22-24). This spotted deer had the sparkling of jewels and was changing its colour like the rainbow. This friend used to roam about in this attractive form and had tempted many kings whom he killed afterwards (Ram.III 43.6) As Lakshmana know all this, he expressed his doubt about this deer, but Rama was moved by the following wording of Sita: “I wish to sit with you on the golden skin of this deer instead of on the grass-woven mat.” As a princess and queen who was leading a life of heavenly bliss but in these forests she had to live In exile. That is why he considers her request even though he has to ignore a wise counsel of Lakshmana. Sita, on the other hand, does not appreciate her wish, as she says: “Though being impelled by own will, it is not good for pious ladies to assign such duties to their husbands. But the sight of that animal has fascinated me”. Unlike for a lady like Sita who had enjoyed comforts of royal palaces and had left everything of her own will just to enjoy the bliss of the company of her husband. Perhaps, it is to stress the nature of women who long for beautiful things without considering the consequences of their wish.


In the Ramayana, Valmiki creates such circumstances in which Sita could be abducted by Ravana because, it could only be the reason of his enmity against Rama as he must have the idea of declaring Rama’s victory and destruction of all the fiends (The Asuras, The Danavas and the Rakshasas) along with Ravana. The Adi Kavi could be successful only if he is able to make Rama and Ravana enemies. When someone is exiled and particularly living in forest, what could be the cause of enmity except the abduction of Sita. It was a problem, how Sita could be abducted as she was always protected by Rama and Lakshmana and Ravana could not abduct her in their presence as they were very brave. So Valmiki makes first Rama, then Lakshmana go away from the scene and then introduces the occult power (maya) of Marich. The poet (as well as Ravana) needed his services to transform himself into such a beautifull form so that Sita should forget that she had left all the comforts to accompany her husband in the vanavasa. The conspiracy of Ravana bears fruit and Maricha succeeds in removing Rama from hermit. Now Lakshmana was also to be removed from the scene so when he was being killed Maricha cried for Sita and Lakshmana’s help in the voice of Rama. This cry was enough to frighten Sita. Rama was also worried about the plight of Sita and Lakshmana that they could think him to be in dire circumstances. (Ram. III 44, 24-25). Now follows a comparative study of different versions.


Different versions


Rama’s fear comes out to be true because when Sita listens to this cry, she loses her patience, she starts insisting on Lakshmana to leave her alone and go to help her husband. She fears that foes must have surrounded him on all sides, which can be the only reason for what he is calling on him for his help. When Lakshmana does not move, she asks him why he is standing spell-bound. Then Sita says that she will run alone as it is difficult to stay there because of the echo of that cry. Moreover, if they cannot extend any timely help, at least they can share his death. As Lakshmana is still calm and compose, she wants to know why he is behaving like blind and dumb stone and asks for the reason of inordinate delay. This theme of the poem “Lakshmana” is also found in the Ramayana.


Besides Sita, Lakshmana too heard that cry, but he remained calm and patient. There can be two reasons for this. First, he knew the might of Rama, second he was in such a condition in which neither he could express his fear nor could be impatient. If he did so, how could he pacify Sita? Moreover, she must have seen Rama’s daring deeds, and there is not even a single being in the world who can face his mighty arms. No creature on this earth can do any harm to him. The lion and the grisly bear tremble when they see his royal looks and sun staring eagles cannot bear his glance of anger. When Rama would walk, pythons, cobras and serpents bowed their heads to the dust which they erected in pride. The Rakshasa, the Danavas, the demons and ghosts would acknowledge his might in their hearts and slink to their remotest coasts in terror at his very sight because any enemy rises against him banishes forever. There­fore, he requests her to free herself from fear and be bold, great and wise (Vide, ‘Indian Poetry in English,’ Ed. By A. N. Dwivedi, New Delhi, 1983 pp. 69-70).


Ramayana Version


A translation of the Ramayana version is as follows:


Sita tells Lakshmana that Rama is asking for protection being in the grip of the Rakshasas formidable as lions. But Lakshmana, rememberiIng the directions of Rama, is reluctant to go, and to remove her fear he explains the valour of Rama. ‘Vaidehi I believe me, the Nagas, the Gandharvas, the Asuras, the Danavas and Rakshasas all together cannot defeat your lord. There is no doubt in this saying. There is no doubt in this saying. There is none among the gods, the human beings, the Gandharvas, the Kinnaras, the birds, the Rakshasa, the Pisachas, the beasts (mrigeshu) and dreadful Danavas, who can face Rama in the battlefield who is like Indra in valour. He cannot be killed in the battle field, you should not speak such words. (Vide Ramayana of Valmiki, Ed. Gita press, Gorakhpur. pp, 592-595 III 45, 2, 3, 11-13)


In the following two passages, Toru Dutt shows how Lakshmana is trying to make Sita understand the circumstances in which that cry could have been created. He says that Rama is not a child that he will shriek and cry for help and pray for respite, he is not made of such a stuff. Therefore, that piercing cry was delusive and surely a trick of magic by the foe. Moreover, he has got some work and hence cannot die without the accomplishment of that. So do not insist on my leaving this place. He further makes it clear that Rama commanded him to stay beside her to protect her. If dangers come across her way, he should put his life on stake in order to protect her. She must not send him, because there are many bands of giants (who have become their foes as Rama has killed many giants (Khara etc.) in these forests and can try to avenge upon her. These fiends wait for a proper time to fulfil their wish. (vide A.N. Dwivedi, pp.70-71)


The subject matter of both these passages found in the Ramayana is as follows: “I cannot dare to leave you here (alone) without Raghava. Even great kings with their combined forces cannot with stand him. Not only this all the three worlds allied with immortal gods and their chiefs, cannot harm him. Your lord will soon come back after killing the best of deer. The mournful cry was neither of Rama nor of any other god but surely a giant’s maya (Maya tasya ca rakshasah) which is as false as the Gandharvanagara (or castle based on air). Also, you are a precious pledge consigned to me by that noblest man. How can I leave you alone? When we killed Khara along with other fiends of Janasthana, they have become our foes. These demons create various voices and wander in these forests to prey, which is their hobby. (Ram. III. 45, 14-20)


When Sita could not comprehend Lakshmana’s purpose, she started rebuking him: ‘I understand why are you making a plea to stay here? It would be better if you were a known enemy. You are a cowardly man. Though, I have seen your bearing in the battlefield where death frought arrows are exchanged, yet I have judged you today as a coward. The courage you have shown was because of your leader. When the sun shines, the cloud also dazzles and without its radiance it fades like shapeless mass of vapours dun.” This beautiful simile marks Toru’s power of imagination. In these lines she compares Rama’s power to the sun and Lakshmana’s courage to a dazzling cloud in the sunshine. Confused and deeply grieved, Sita cannot see the real power of Lakshmana who is not less than Rama. It also brings forth Sita’s mental plight. In the ancient Sanskrit literature glory of a man is compared to the shining of the subwhile disreputed man is compared to the black objects. Then she says; “The motive which makes you not to leave this place early is base. That is why you are hiding the purposed of your staying here. If Rama perishes, let him perish, his wife will be mine own. Is this the thought lying imbedded in some secret core of your heart? Search it well. If it is, there seems to be a fair partition between two brothers: one takes his kingdom, the other will take his wife. The thought of such a contract makes me shiver in horror and abhor my life.” Then she accuses Lakshmana to be in secret league with those who snatched the kingdom from Rama so that he may get back the kingdom or a spy from his ignoble foes to trap him in his banishment. You would be rejoicing at his death. I am sure you have been doing so since you heard that well-known voice first, otherwise, you should have run from this place. Confirming her everlasting love in Rama, she says: “Mind it, whatever comes may come, but I shall not survive my lord. This is gift of my consideration and gods in the heaven also witness it. I shall follow him whether to be burnt in the fire or to be drowned in water.” There upon she asks Lakshmana to choose the way either of truth with its everlasting crown or of falsehood treachery and guilt: “Either you go and die in his defence and leave behind a noble name or remain here in vain pretence of shielding me from wrong and shame. Now it depends upon you to choose your way. I will not urge any more as my path is clear. I did not know your mind earlier. It is known to me now and I am without any fear” She proudly spoke these words and turned her face from Lakshmana. Now she did not look like a gentle Sita. Her eyes were burning in anger, it seemed that flames were coming out from them instead of tears. (see Dwivedi, op. cit. pp. 71-72)


In the Ramayana, too a similar situation arises when Sita rebukes Lakshmana by addressing him as Anarya, Nirdayi, Krurakarma and Kulangaram. She says, “I know your wish that Rama should meet a tragedy. That is why you are making such statements when he is in grave danger. O, Lakshman It is not astonishing to find such an ill-will in the mind of people of your kind. You are a rogue and when you saw Rama going alone in exile you accompanied him with a hidden wish to get me. It is also possible that Bharata has sent you (to remove Rama from his way). If it is your treachery or that of Bharata, it cannot be fulfilled. Because after getting a husband like Rama a dark-hued and lotus-eyed women cannot wish for the love of any other person. O, son of Sumitra! there is no doubt, I will die before you but cannot live without Rama on this earth”.


Sita’s reprimand hurt Lakshmana and he became ready to leave her alone in that forest. In the words of Toru Dutt: “O, Queen! now I depart, as no longer I can bear your words which lacerate the innnermost cord of my heart and torture me like poisoned swords. Did I deserve this treatment from you for life long loyalty and truth? Should such be the meed?” He is quite wise in his dealing with Sita as he does not blame her for these words but the circumstances. He speaking ironically that she was less rash in Judgement, but before going he seems to be less careful towards the dangers coming ahead and prays to God for keeping her safe.


He takes pity on himself by disregarding the order of his respect­able brother. He is deeply pained. But the grief and wild language of Sita have compelled him to do so. Act though he seems to be overwhelmed with the sense of crime, he requests her to think better of him from that time. Then he traces a magic circle with an arrow (popularly known as the Lakshmana Rekha) in which no evil thing could enter to harm her. He requests her not to step across the circle whatever she sees or hears; because any enemy can make her cross the circle. Before bidding farewell, he repeats that whatever she has spoken has broken in his heart so he wishes to be dead and requests her to forgive him as that grief and fear haven made her, rash so that they may part as friends. Lakshmana requests the sulvan gods dwelling in those forests to keep a watch over Sita. An appearance of ill omens frightens Sita, but Lakshmana is sure that Rama is safe beneath the sky. After speaking these words, he took his pointed arrows and bow, pooked kind and indulgent without any sign of anger on his face. But there was a sign of dark sorrow on his face which depended his resolve to face all dangers. When he came out, hoarses vultures screamed, which must have filled his mind with a sense of fear (vide Dwivedi pp. 73-74)


The reaction of Lakshmana against that bitter speech which stirred each hair on his body is almost the same in the Adikavya, but with a slight difference. The Ramayana version is as follows: On listening to the speech of Sita, Lakshmana folded his hands in respect, and replied: “O Deity! I cannot make any reply to your words as you are like an adorable goddess for me. O Maithilli! It is not strange for women to make such a senseless and foul speech as they are of a similar nature. Ladies lack virtues, are in constant and do not believe whatever is right. I cannot brook your words any more as these are piercing my ears like arrows of hot Iron.


“All those who are dwelling in this forest are requested to listen to me. Whatever I spoke to her was true but the harsh reply was my need.” “Indeed you have lost your senses and wish to be destroyed as you doubt my motive which is just an accomplishment of my brother’s will. Now I am going to my adorable brother, may bliss attend thee after my departure. The gods abiding in these words may guard your. Dire omens are appearing which are filling my soul with fear I am not sure whether on coming back along with Rama, I will be able to see you safe and sound.” When Lakshmana finished his speech, Sita broke into tears and said; “Lakshmana! I will die by jumping into Godavari or by drinking deadly poison but will not touch anyone except Rama.” After speaking these words she smote her hand on her breast, Lakshmana consoled her in his own heart but Sita did not speak at all. (Ramayana III 45, 28-40)


On comparing both the versions, we find that the previous portion of the poem is about verbatim followed by the poetess. In this description we find some developments and changes which are discussed below. In the Ramayana, Sita directly starts blaming Lakshmana of his ill-will, but Toru waits and gives some more time to express her worries along with some characteristics of Lakshmana. The poetess does not include these verses in which the nature of women is critised by Valmiki. It shows that she has a soft corner for her fellow beings. Further, she does not give Sita’s expression at the end of Lakshmana’s speech whereas Valmiki describes her as weeping and saying that she will die without Rama. Toru Dutt has already given Sita’s state of mind on hearing that cry where she says, “I shall not survive my love”, and also after rebuking Lakshmana her eyes were burning with anger and tears had ceased to flow. This is the reason why Toru Dutt does not describe Sita as weeping any more. Moreover, the idea of the famous Lakshmana Rekha (see supra) is also not found in Ramayana. Keeping in view all these developments and changes, it is essential to ascertain whether there is any treatise which includes a similar version which Toru Dutt should have followed or she has transcreated the available version. Some popular treatises which contain the story of Ramayana are stated above. It is not worthwhile to go in detail because the story and dialogue exchanged by Lakshmana and Sita is similar in all these works. We have tried to concentrate on bringing forth the developments till the poem “Lakshmana” came into being.


Chronologically, the Ramayana is followed by the Mahabharatam which is great treatise compose by Vedavyasa. The Mahabharata (Ed. by and published by Gita Press, Gorakhpur, Vol. II pp. 1726-28 III 278, 17-30) includes a precise version of the Ramayana, and it does not help us. Then comes the age of Bhasa and two plays of this poet are based on the legend of Rama. In his play the Pratima Bhasa tells how Sita was abducted, but he gives a completely changed episode. Here we see that Rama is shocked at the bad news of his father’s demise and he wishes to perform Sradha rite for Dasaratha’s eternal peace. In the Pratima, Ravana comes to Rama in the guise of a Brahmin who is a master of scriptures and memorial rites. The former tells the latter the best way of satisfying the manes which is by offering a deer called Kancanaparsva. At the same time the deer appears, and Rama wishes to send Lakshmana to kill it. But Lakshmana was sent to receive the Kulapati of that Ashrama, so he himself decides to go after that dear (Vide Pratima V pp. 296-298, Bhasantakacakram, ed. C. R. Devadhara.)


From this discussion it is clear that Bhasa does not like to present Sita as a simple heroine who could be fascinated even by the beauty of a deer. To perform memorial rite is the topmost duty of an Indian son. The poet also avoid, this dialogue by sending Lakshmana to receive Kulapati. Like Bhasa, Kalidasa has also avoided this portion, and summed up the entire subject matter of this episode in two slokas of the Raghuvamsa (vide Raghuvamsam, Ed. by M. R. Kale, XII 52-53). Similarly, Bhavabhuti has also excluded this portion from his play Mahaaviracaritam.


Bhatti, in his famous epic Bhattikavyam, has included this episode. But this treatise does not contribute anything new (vide Bhattikavyam, Canton V 53-60). Kshemendra in his famous work the Ramayana Manjari has given the dialogue in detail. This version seems to be a shorter version of the Ramayana portion. Here we find two developments: one is based on the Vedic legend of Vritra which says that once Vritra swal­lowed Indra, which shows how much Sita was worried about Rama. Here Lakshmana addresses her as Mother (Matah). (vide Ramayana Manjari, Ed. Pt. Bhavadatta Shastri pp. 139-141)


Similarly, the Champu Ramayana of Bhojaraja does not help us except one Sloka which says, “Till now you were like my mother Sumitra but the changing fortune has made you mother Kaikeyi.” This poet has also avoided the rough and wild language used by Sita. (Vide Champu Ramayana, Ed. Rama Chandra Mishra, Bhanaras, Aranyakanda, 26-27). The Adhyatma Ramayana also contains a precise story of the Ramay­ana but it does not help us at all. (Adhyatma Ramayana, published by Gita Press, Gorakpur, 7) The Ananda Ramayana contains a reference to the magic circle traced by I.akshmana with the help of his bow. Here Lakshmana says “Now I have trace this circle around you with the bow. Please do not step our. (Vide Ananda Ramayana, pub. by Gopal Narayana, Bombay, 7th Canto or Sara Kanda, 98) The Hanuman Nataka also speaks of the famous Lakshmana Rekha. (Vide Hanuman Nataka pub. Venkateshvar Press, Bombay, Act. III, 27 and Act IV 6) It is clear from these references that in the Sanskrit literature itself the story of this episode had undergone many Changes and the later poets who chose the Ramayana story has adopted those changes. It shows the story of Rama has been highly popular in India since it came into existence.


The Krittivasi Ramayana of Bangala contains the dialogue in reference. As Toru Dutt belongs to Bengal, an impact of this treatise is natural on her poem. Moreover, ideas found in the Krittivasi Ramayana are almost the same as are found in the Valmikiya Ramayana. Some portions of this poem contain almost similar words as is found in the Bangala Ramayana. As the following expression shows: ‘O Lakshmana! you have developed love for me as Bharata has snatched his (Rama’s) kingdom, you are going to take his wife. Bharata has appointed you for spying. The idea of a fair partition of kingdom and wife is found in all the concerned works, but it is not directly said anywhere except in the work of Krittivasa. The main difference in the Adikavya and the Bangala Ramayana is that Lakshmana rebukes Sita when she blames him in the former but he keeps quite in the latter. The poem of Toru bears a similar Idea. Here Lakshmana does not crticise Sita or the nature of women as is done by the Adikavi. In this treatise (of Krittivasa), he simply asks her to allow him to part, saying ‘O Queen, I cannot bear your wild language anymore’. A similar expression is also found in the poem. Moreover, the popular idea of Lakshmana Rekha is also found in the Bangala Ramayana. (Vide Krittivasi Ramayana. Ed. by Ramananda Chattopadhyaya, Aranya , Kanda pp. 150-151).


After having gone through the developments of the theme, we can now proceed with Toru’s contribution. Here main contribution is that the has included all the developments in the episode till her time. Though her poem is nearer to the Bangala Ramayana, yet we cannot say that she has translated the episode found in this work. Because Krittivasa follows Valmiki about verbatim except for some developments, but the poetess has rearranged the material. There is no doubt that the dialogue found in these works is based on the Ramayana and there is no completely changed version. An important contribution of the poetess is that the present poem is completely free from the available English translation of this epic which is by Grifith and is in verse. Though some words can be traced, yet even a single line cannot be found which is fully borrowed. Moreover, she has avoided those words and phrases which are not commonly used. This peculiarity has made the poem easy and enjoy­able.


Another contribution of the poetess is perhaps more important, i.e., inclusion of all the developments till date which has made this poem worthy of a comparative study. She does not include the idea contained in those verses in which Sita uses abusive language while rebuking Lakshmana. Toru does not make Lakshmana “anarya”, “nirdayi”, “Krurakarrna” and “kulangara” as Valmiki does. By using such language Sita seems to be an uncivilized woman. Also at the end of the poem, Sita is not presented as weeping but like a Chandi whose eyes are burning with anger and tears have ceased to flow.


Similarly the verses of the Ramayana in which Lakshmana criticized Sita are also avoided, because Indian people are highly respectful towards their elders. If Lakshmana’s reply in the same coin is included, he will not have appeared as a respectful younger brother-in-law of Sita. It must have brought vulgarity and roughness in his character. Patience and courage are essential for noble heroes. Moreover, when some woman is in such a condition in which Sita is, anyone can understand her mental plight and perhaps forgive her. Lakshmana does so. Not only this, as he was not expecting such a behaviour, he could not decide what to reply. At the time when Lakshmana left that place Toru has described him as calm but worried. Indeed, it has made his character more impressive than in the version of the episode found in the Ramayana.


By including the idea of Lakshmana Rekha, the Indian tradition has made him endowed with supernatural power. Perhaps this idea has been taking place since time immemorial-that those who are brave can also be spiritually blessed. During this period the popularity of the Tantric system had reached its climax and works composed in that period (after 14th century A.D.) could not be free from an impact of the theories contained in those works. Moreover, for the popularity of these works poets had included such imaginative ideas. As Lakshmana had to fight the Asuras who were fully endowed with magic power, people might have been interested in seeing their favourite hero possessing this power. By the time of Toru Dutt, this system had become most popular. And even today if we tell someone that the idea of the Lakshmana Rekha is not found in the Ramayana, no one will believe us.


Only one question remains: whether this poem is a translation or a transcreation. It is certainly a transcreated poem and as is said earlier, is more impressive than the Ramayana portion. It is as interesting as the deeds of Lakshmana are interesting. One more interesting development we find in this poem, not found in the Ramayana, is that Lakshmana, while addressing Sita uses such words which are used for addressing beautiful women, though Toru has not used such words in the same context. The reason is that Sita has been addressed as “mother” in the Champu Ramayana and the Ramayana Manjari, and it is also accepted by the later tradition that the wife of elder brother is like mother. But during the period of Valmiki, “Devara” was said to be the “Dvitiyavara” (second husband). (This etymology is given by Yaska in the Nirukte.) Moreover, in the period of Toru Dutt, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana were considered incarnations of Vishnu, Prithivi (Lakshmi) and Seshanaga, but the Ramayana had not such a notion in the Original.