Shebaba by Renuka Narayanan: A cottage of leaves by the lotus lake
The manner in which Ram, Sita and Lakshman built their home in exile can be a lesson to us all.Updated: Oct 29, 2016 19:30 IST
Happy Dipavali, dear HT readers. Peace, health and happiness to you. This is our calendar cue to celebrate the simple human joys, especially the emotional satisfaction of ‘home’ and ‘family’. Whether we’re wall-to-wall with people or heating a solitary dinner, the Ramayana, which is the primary reason for Dipavali, takes us into a very pretty scene that’s also very heartwarming.
It’s in the Valmiki Ramayana 3:15 (Aranya Kand, Sarga 15) that we get to see the making of a very special home. The Three have arrived in the ‘flowering forest’ of Panchavati in a green valley by the Godavari, with the mountains all around. They’re looking for a place in which to build their little hermitage, as safe as possible from the snakes and wild animals in the forest. Ram notes with satisfaction the ideal location of a woodland glade full of flowering creepers and shrubs. It is conveniently by the banks of the river, on which they see swans and chakravaka birds just as the rishi Agastya had told them they would.
The coppery mineral streaks in the mountains catch the light and gleam like the oval vents in the houses and buildings back in Ayodhya, or like the ceremonially painted hides of the royal elephants in the Ikshvaku stables. There’s a lovely lake near the glade, in which deep pink and pure white lotuses bloom. Thick grass grows handily around for the sandhya vandanam or daily personal prayer.
Sita, who loves gardens and parks, finds the air sweet with golden champaka flowers. Ram is delighted to see many other kinds of trees, too – sal, tamal, jackfruit, mango, date palm, Ashok, shami and kimshuk. He turns to strong, sturdy Lakshman and says, “Will you make a parna-shala, a thatched cottage for us in this pleasant place by the Godavari?”
He doesn’t give Lakshman a single order, nor does Sita tell him to do this or do that; no one micro-manages. Old-style commentators like to remind us here that it’s because Lakshman is Adisesha the cosmic serpent, bound to serve Vishnu in his avatar as Ram. That is so in theological imagery, but story-wise, in their earthly situation, it’s a lovely gesture of trust and delicacy.
Valmiki has Ram and Sita quietly leave it to Lakshman, who’s never made a cottage before. Lakshman gets to work, raising a high clay floor, making strong pillars of bamboo for the clay walls, rafters of shami branches and a snug thatch of kusa and kaasa, grass and leaves. He has independent charge of the project and makes an admirable cottage so tactfully and appropriately built that it thrills Ram and Sita. Ram is so moved that he hugs Lakshman and says, “It’s like father is back”, meaning Lakshman has shown so much love and care in making the parna-shala that Ram, grieving for Raja Dasrath, feels comforted.
As family situations go, it seems to be about giving each other space and, in turn, doing our thoughtful best for each other. Valmiki is subtle like that. He creates touching incidents in which we may appreciate the nuances ourselves, which are satisfyingly modern in this particular case.
First Published: Oct 29, 2016 19:30 IST