‘Did Rama eat meat‘ will be a long article in many parts as it will examine the whole Vālmīkīya Rāmāyaṇa (VR), not being speculative to the maximum extent possible, to find out what exactly comes out regarding the oft raised issue of meat eating in general and by Rāma during exile in particular. The article will be a ‘dynamic one’ as I’ll be revising and refining it basis new and relevant findings in other sources and new insights. Meat here should be taken as ‘cooked animal flesh’ taken as food.
A word of caution for them who firmly believe that Vālmīkīya Rāmāyaṇa as originally composed by Vālmīki had 24000 Śloka-s in seven Kānḍa-s and is available to us even today same to same, without any change, addition or interpolations. This article is not for them. There are interpolations in Vālmīkīya Rāmāyaṇa as available to us today and it was amplified in centuries long period – this fact is foundation of my analysis.
This issue has been raised in past and is being raised quite often, many a times with vile motives, not in some honest academic pursuit. Diet should be immaterial for a text like VR but it has relation with numerous sectarian, political and religious aspects as well as agenda-driven din, spiked much of late. Still some genuine interest upfront exists. Let us start.
Let one liberate oneself for some time from firm prejudices, agenda etc. and be ready to consult primary sources alongwith Sanskrit dictionary, Nirukta, Namaliṅgānuśāsana etc. for meanings. One should be familiar with Sanskrit terms to some extent, atleast be ready to search sanskritdictionary.com.
Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata are not myths, they are Itihāsa ‘it happened so’. They are Ākhyāna-s i.e. eye witness account आँखन देखी presented in beautiful and sublime verse form by the poets who do have divine dimensions. The texts are very much ‘alive’ in the sense that proud progenies of the characters of Ākhyāna-s do exist in very phenomenal way, even today.
Being alive for millennia has its own peculiar problems. Time brings in so many waves to the lives of people and they preserve what they cherish to very core of their hearts, in sun and rain, in heat and cold and in grief and bliss. Ākhyāna-s are no exception. We preserved.
They are not like some Greek myths. Sons of Rāma are still with us, Gāṇḍīva of Arjuna still resonates within us and renderings of Kṛṣṇa still inspire us. Vālmīki still sings in our huts and Dwaipāyana Vyāsa still shares his wisdom with us. We are very much ALIVE, not some dead archaeological remains.
Bardic tradition propagated the Itihāsa in Kāvya, simple poetry form easy to memorise, sing and comprehend. The meter was famous श्लोक Śloka, ‘praise-worthy’ form of Vedic Anuṣṭubha meter. The innovator was seer Vālmīki. One may listen to the famous ‘first Śloka’ here —
People related to Rāmāyaṇa very intimately and in a way there lives mingled with characters, events, morals, ideals and happenings of the Itihāsa. They became सीताराममय. Bards, poets, local folk singers, playwrights etc. moulded, added to and narrated it in their own ways.
Taking liberties to make the Ākhyāna more entertaining, dramatic, palatable to local wanting; many ‘stories’ were propagated. Even Buddha was ‘Rāma Paṇḍita’ in his previous birth. That is the truth behind so-called ‘300 Rāmāyaṇa-s’, the twisted modern ‘subaltern’ narrative.
But the Iti-h-āsa i.e. It-Happened-So, was preserved in written form by Vālmīki and the tradition. Fictional adaptation must not be taken as fact. There is only one Rāmāyaṇa Itihāsa by Vālmīki. Others are just literary and sectarian renderings like the film ‘300’ which is not ‘Itihāsa’ of 300 Spartans.
But the Itihāsa of Vālmīki has its own age-related problems of corruption, additions, interpolations etc. There were some strong ulterior motives in background but tradition had its own checks and balances. The core was kept intact, flesh were added in the beginning, in the end and inside too, scattered.
It was a gradual process and it makes the job of analysis easier. With the help of extant old manuscripts of different eras and linguistic analysis, it was possible to have grain from husk. Modern scholars at MS University of Baroda did the same.
It took around a quarter of century. Hundreds of manuscripts were collected from entire globe and cores of scholars got themselves engaged to come out with what is called ‘critical text’. They were able to finalise the most possible text of Rāmāyaṇa, free from corruption post-most-old-extant manuscript.
It was done following so-called ‘lower criticism’ approach i.e. not even a single syllable of correction was done that was not available in an extant manuscript duly examined from different angles. Even grammatical problems and not so clear portions were accepted.
Next was M R Yardi. He did statistical analysis of Ślokas of critical edition and identified an original core with many additions by redactors of Mahābhārata. That was a real discovery that proved existence of very strong common bardic tradition of both Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata.
So, we have two most important texts of Rāmāyaṇa. One is so-called vulgate form, represented by say Gita Press edition and another the Baroda critical edition. Many others also are available- NW text, Eastern Gorresio text etc. but let us focus on these two to begin with.
With this preliminary, we come to the topic. First, let us know the meaning of the word मांस mānsa, translated as meat or flesh. It is derived as मांसम् [मन्-स दीर्घश्च Uṇ.3.64], used for pulpy or fleshy parts, of both plants and animals. So, pulpy fruits and animals, both are called as मांसल.
Rāmāyaṇa is not a kitchen manual. Nothing is known what used to be cooked in रसोई Rasoi of Kausalyā or Sītā Devī. We can’t get any inference from Rāmāyaṇa what Raghava-s used to eat in Ayodhyā. Vālmīki had more important subjects to deal with than dining table of king Daśarata.
Only when Rāma, the eldest prince to be coronated, is exiled to दण्डकारण्य forest, the issue of food during forest days comes, not as a central theme but an auxiliary one related to the future life of a Rājanya or Kșhattriya Rāma as an ascetic in forest. The contrast provides platform for Kāvya Rasa.
A prince fondly revered by people was exiled on the very proposed day of his coronation! Possibilities of many Rasa-s were there – शांत, वात्सल्य, करुण, शांत, वीर and even शृङ्गार, as he was a married man too. Bards used the plot to add poetry and Drama नाट्य for जनरञ्जन recreaion. Text kept on swelling.
As said in a later poem – वाल्मीकिगिरिसम्भूता रामसागरगामिनी। पुनातु भुवनं पुण्या रामायण महानदी॥ Rāmāyaṇa is a great river having source in the mountain Vālmīki and flows into ocean-like Rāma, the लोक people benefitted from it and the text was prospered by the very people it benefitted.
The text was used by teachers to impart arts of theatre, Āyurveda, polity, flora, fauna, art of conversation, geography, history etc. etc. They never thought that it should be kept intact in its original form and at the same time they preserved the core of the very so-called Ādikāvya.
It continued for centuries. What can be a better way of teaching about forest animal kingdom than linking it to a Kșhatriya, a prince who was exiled with his wife and brother? The scope is so vast! Kșhatriya-s used to be in hunting sports too. The first mention of hunting i.e. मृगया by adolescent prince brothers is in Bālakānḍa – यदा हि हयमारूढो ‘मृगयां याति राघवः (१-१८-३१) तदैनं पृष्ठतोऽभ्येति स धनुः परिपालयन्। It is 1-017-018 in critical edition. There is no mention of cooking or eating of the hunt. We’ll talk on possibilities later on.
How are princes? सर्वे वेदविदः शूरास्सर्वे लोकहितेरताः,सर्वे ज्ञानोपसंपन्नाः सर्वेसमुदिता गुणैः – well versed in Veda-s, with the whole knowledge system and all the desired qualities without any faults. This is not merely an exaltation, it does have bearing on their future conduct. Speculation should be avoided when primary textual evidence is available with continuity.
Strict discipline and very high standards of conduct were part of princely lives. We have elaborate dealing in as late a text as Arthashastra of Kautalya too.
So, if being vegetarian during exile was part of a vow, as a prince of most venerated royal family, Rāma could have never broken it during his exile. The same Sarga 17 mentions मृष्टमन्नमुपानीतमश्नाति न हि तं विना, मृष्टम् अन्नम् means delicious food grains.
Had hunt flesh been a food practice, the poet would have certainly talked about मृगया मांसम् in the episode where he is mentioning everything with much detail. He talks about food grains instead. Interestingly, in Yardi’s analysis later part of Sarga 17 was found as added by Sūta, the Mahābhārata redactor. Yardi considers the initial part as original VR. This is clear case of transition and looking at the degree of accuracy not being 100% in R-Analysis, can also be taken as added by Sūta in continuity who also added Sarga-s 14 to 16.
So, in all probability, all these talks of मृगया and मृष्टम् अन्नम् are later additions in Mahabharata-redactor Sūta’s style. Where is the next instance of ‘food-talk’?
But before that let us first look at this. Viśwāmitra informs Daśaratha मांसरुधिरौघेण वेदिं तामभ्यवर्षताम्, the Rākṣasa-s spoil his व्रत-नियम by throwing meat and blood upon the altar. Since रुधिर blood is used, मांस will be taken as animal flesh only, not fruit pulp here. Clearly, animal flesh is unwelcome.
Four princes and princesses got married but to the disappointment of our modern ‘foodies’, NO TALK of a grand feast or even an ordinary party! Utter disappointment, no sumptuous non-vegetarian dishes as is expected in a royal marriage. As already told, Vālmīki had no specific interest in food business.
Everywhere in महोत्सव, यज्ञ etc., the word अन्न (grain) has been used for food, nowhere मांस is used.
Sarga-s 4 to 9 of Ayodhyākāṇḍa (Cr. Ed.) were added by a poet (or group) of unknown identity. He is the person responsible for all sorts of interpolations, often notorious ones, spread across the text – 8 Sarga-s in Balakāṇḍa, 57 in Ayodhyākāṇḍa, 21 in Kiṣkindhākāṇḍa! He added 60 Sarga-s as Uttarakāṇḍa too, 60%!
Probably he was a Rāvaṇa sympathiser who took the rein of corruption in a big way, taking ‘inspiration’ from Sūta, Sauti and editor of Harivanśa who were primarily benign and non-corrosive in their approach while adding their own poetry to Vālmīkīya Rāmāyaṇa, mainly with educational purpose. He alone added almost all instances of meat-eating.
एवं प्रव्राजितश्चैव रामोऽरामो भविष्यति, भरतश्च हतामित्रस्तव राजा भविष्यति ।
येन कालेन रामश्च वनात्प्रत्यागमिष्यति, तेन कालेन पुत्रस्ते कृतमूलो भविष्यति ॥
Purpose of Rāma’s fourteen years exile is expressed by Mantharā – To make Rāma ‘rootless’ and ensure perpetual kingship for his step-brother Bharata.
Rāma even in exile might have enterprise to take back the throne after passing of fourteen years. Discipline of an ascetic was mandated so that he didn’t engage in military and diplomatic activities during those fourteen years. But, Rāma and Bharata chose otherwise, Rāma to annihilate Rākṣasa-s and Bharata to wait for his return, living as an ascetic, same way as his beloved brother Rāma.
What they chose for themselves shows their very high standards of character, indicated some paras back here. No question of breaking the vow of asceticism by Rāma arises by eating animal flesh during fourteen years of exile.
The interpolator/s chose to add such episodes even at the cost of making the text self-contradictory and absurd, shows his/their malice. Obviously it was more a work of ‘school of thought’, of a ‘style’ rather than a single individual’s job and was wrapped in innocuous packing.
अवलिप्ते न जानासि त्वत्तः प्रियतरो मम, मनुजो मनुजव्याघ्रात् रामात् अन्यो न विद्यते । Daśaratha told Kaikeyī that no human being was dearer to him than her except Rāma, the tiger among men.
यं मुहूर्तमपश्यंस्तु न जीवेयमहं ध्रुवम्, तेन रामेण कैकेयि शपे ते वचनक्रियाम् – Oh, Kaikeyī! I can’t live even for a moment without seeing Rāma. This is certain. By that Rāma, I am taking my oath and promising to fulfill your words. He didn’t know what was coming! And the poisonous arrows of two boons hit him —
नव पञ्च च वर्षाणि दण्डकारण्यमाश्रितः,चीराजिनजटाधारी रामो भवतु तापसः Kaikeyī was specific- Rāma be exiled for 9+5 i.e. forteen years as an ‘ascetic तापस’ चीराजिनजटाधारी having matted hair, bark and antelope’s hide as clothes. It was a code of conduct, specific SOP for specific discipline.
Reaction of Daśaratha was equally clear —
तिष्ठेल्लोको विना सूर्यम् सस्यम् वा सलिलम् विना, न तु रामम् विना देहे तिष्ठेत्तु मम जीवितम्।
The world may exist without sun, crops without water, but life cannot continue in my body, without Rāma.
King Daśaratha briefed about Rāma’s qualities —
सत्यम् दानम् तपस्त्यागो मित्रता शौचमार्जवम्, विद्या च गुरुशुश्रूषा ध्रुवाण्येतानि राघवे।
The qualities सत्यम् दानम् तपस्त्यागो … शौचमार्जवम् are enough testimony that Rāma would have never broken his vow to eat animal flesh during exile.
Daśaratha kept on recounting Rāma’s qualities —
क्षमा यस्मिन्दमस्त्याग सत्यं धर्मः कृतज्ञता, अप्यहिंसा च भूतानां तमृते का गतिर्मम।
Rāma will say on command of exile – Be it so! He will not resist – स वनम् प्रव्रजे त्युक्तोबाढ वित्येव वक्ष्यति!
Daśaratha lamented – कथन्नु कषायाणि तिक्तानि कटुकानि च, भक्षयन्वन्यमाहारं.
Had animal flesh been permitted, forest was an ideal place. But he says how Rāma will subsist on astringent, pungent, bitter wild fruits and roots? It is clear that Rāma would have never braken the vow or violated the code of conduct to eat animal flesh during exile.
And there is no such mention during his Ayodhyā stay. So, as far as core of the text is concerned, there is no possibility of any conclusion about him being non-vegetarian during exile. Infact, the text is very vocal for the meal of fruits and roots, all from plant sources.
Rāma says – अकुर्वन्वा पितुर्वच: … रामो द्विर्नाभिभाषते। I can’t live even a moment disobeying my father and Rāma doesn’t do ‘double-talk’ i.e. saying X, doing Y. It was his father’s command(via mother) to live as an ascetic on fruits and roots . Exiled Rāma could have never eaten meat.
And how confident was Rāma about himself? विद्धिमामृषिभिस्तुल्यं केवलं धर्ममास्थितम् . He said so- Know me as one with the sages who are devoted only to righteousness केवलं धर्मम्. It was Dharma, an unbreakable code of conduct to follow parents order, to live as तापस. The greatness of पुरुषोत्तम has kept him near and dear one to people for millennia not only just for the sake of it. It has backing of his conduct.
Agenda driven polluted minds can’t even touch the sublimity of Rāma, leave alone fathoming the Dharma Rāma is talking about! They can’t even think that some mortal can be so!
Rāma is the stumbling block in the way of their mission to destroy the Sānatana society, धर्म-समाज. That is the reason they indulge in such things more often as a fly in search of faecal matter. It is not for some honest academic enquiry they raise such non-issues.
This is an aggression and should be dealt as such. We must respond. Rāma said न ह्यतो धर्मचरणं किञ्चिदस्ति महत्तरम्, यथा पितरिशुश्रूषा तस्य वा वचनक्रिया -There is no greater observance of Dharma than doing service to one’s father or carrying out his orders.
अभिषेचनिकं भाण्डं कृत्वा रामः प्रदक्षिणम्, शनैर्जगाम सापेक्षो दृष्टिं तत्राविचालयन् – Rāma circumambulated the vessels meant for the consecration ceremony and steadily glancing at them with attention slowly moved away.
न चास्य महतीं लक्ष्मीं राज्यनाशोऽपकर्षति, लोककान्तस्य कान्तत्वाच्छीतरश्मेरिव क्षपा – Rāma was the beloved of the people. Loss of kingdom did not diminish his splendour just like night cannot diminish the splendour of the cool-rayed Moon.
सर्वलोकातिगस्येव लक्ष्यते चित्तविक्रिया – He was one beyond all worldly affairs. उचितं च महाबाहुर्नजहौहर्षमात्मनः, शारद स्समुदीर्णांशुश्चन्द्रस्तेज इवात्मजम्। The mighty armed (Rāma) did not leave his habitual cheerfulness like the autumnal Moon his own brightness.
देवकार्यनिमित्तं च तत्रापश्यत्समुद्यतम्, दध्यक्षतं घृतं चैव मोदकान्हविषस्तथा ।
लाजान्माल्यानि शुक्लानि पायसं कृसरं तथा, समिध: पूर्णकुम्भांश्च ददर्श रघुनन्दनः ॥
Rāma reached his mother’s abode and saw her doing Vedic Homa. Curd, grains of rice, clarified butter, sweetmeats, oblations, parched grain, white garlands, porridge of cooked rice mixed with sesame seeds, sacrificial faggots, vessels filled with water etc. were kept ready for rites. No meat! Those citing some Sūtra literature to justify meat, will be disappointed.
How should a child be greeted by one’s parents? By giving arms-embrace and smelling the head. Parents know their progenies’ subtler scent. Parents can make out about their well-being by sensing change in smell. Mother Kausalyā did the same – परिष्वक्तश्च बाहुभ्यामुपाघ्रातश्च मूर्धनि.
आघ्रात मूर्धनि – taking smell of मूर्धा, hair area of head. Rāmāyaṇa has many instances of this act. In the first sentence itself to his son Rāma, Kausalyā talks about Dharma. She says राजर्षि, royals like (मंत्रद्रष्टा) ऋषिs, वृद्धानां धर्मशीलानां राजर्षीणां महात्मनाम्, प्राप्नुह्यायुश्च कीर्तिं च धर्मं चोपहितं कुले – May you attain long life and fame like those of the aged, virtuous and great Rājarṣi-s who upheld the righteousness in the family. The code is in-built, even Kaikeyī had cited. Alas! the fans of ‘Godfather’ film can’t understand.
Mother offered seat to his son to take food (no meat-talk here too) and the son disclosed – गमिष्ये दण्डकारण्यं किमनेनासनेन मे, विष्टरासनयोग्यो हि कालोऽयं मामुपस्थितः I am setting forth to Daṇḍaka forest. What is this seat for? A time has come for me when I am fit for a seat of Kuśa.
Kuśa (Desmostachya bipinnata) grass is used in all Hindu कर्मकाण्डs and is a must for तापस. He sits over Kuśa mat and sleeps over that as the sacred grass is linked to austere life. Even Rāma and Sītā slept on ground on Kuśa mat the night before proposed coronation.
The विष्टरासनी is still there in Bhojapuri as बिठई. So, even the process to attainment of royal throne was through austerity. How could Rājanya Rāma who had taken vow of austerity, have taken animal flesh as food during his exile? Impossible.
Now comes the very first Śloka, ‘foodies’ are very fond of – चतुर्दश हि वर्षाणि वत्स्यामि विजने वने, मधुमूलफलैर्जीवन्हित्वा मुनिवदामिषम्. The key word is मुनिवदामिषम् i.e. मुनिवत्+आमिषम् by rules of morphophonemic alternation. The key is to read both the words TOGETHER.
First let us know the plain translation- I am to live in the solitary forest for fourteen years, living on honey, roots and fruits and like मुनिs (translated loosely as hermits), abstaining from pleasures. One meaning of the word आमिष is animal meat and the ‘foodies’ are delighted!
Basis this, they say that animal meat used to be cooked in Kausalyā’s kitchen and Rāma used to eat. That is the reason he is talking about abstaining from meat here! Words are taken out of context or presented with IRRELEVANT meanings, a very favourite tool of so called progressives.
मधु means honey as well as wine. Why the meaning honey is taken here and not wine? Because that is contextually correct. Same should be applied to आमिष but that will not fit in their agenda. We are not on some agenda. So, let us look at the online dictionary, I have cited already.
आमिष-noun (neuter) a gift, a pleasing or beautiful object, an object of enjoyment, boon, coveting, desire, fee, flesh, food, longing for, lust, meat, prey. Antonyms अनामिष – bootless, profitless, without flesh। निरामिष fleshless, free from sensual desires or covetousness, not striving after any reward, receiving no booty or wages, vegetarian.
So, there are n numbers of other meanings very much fitting into the context, leaving all those why only an ABSURD, out-of-context meaning ‘flesh’ has taken, ignoring the word Muni? That is called agenda with ulterior motives.
Who is Muni? A saint, sage, seer, ascetic, monk, devotee, hermit, a ब्राह्मण of the highest eigth order, one who is the internal monitor or conscience, who controls mind, whose friend is the mighty Indra, the master of senses इंद्रियs. निर्मम, निरहङ्कारी, अनासक्त, मनस्वी मौनी।
Now, connect characteristics of Muni with ante-आमिष, who is not after beautiful objects, objects of enjoyment, desires, fees in return, longings, lust, sensual desires, covetousness, profits, meat and so on… Wow! the meaning of हित्वा मुनिवदामिषम् becomes very clear that when Rāma has already told about the diet of fruits, roots and honey, he summarises everything else required from an ascetic in the words हित्वा मुनिवत् आमिषम्. Brevity is soul of wit. I have already written about easy to sing, easy to convey and easy to memorise properties of Śloka.
Being सर्ववेदविशारद, Rāma was a man of wisdom. Being trained in tradition of Vālmīki, the bards were witty enough to express in simple and concise words. But in absence of study and with plenty of accumulated filth due to faulty education system, the agenda-driven people are not.
As ब्रह्मचर्य does not mean only abstaining from sex, is infact चर्या in ब्रह्म of which being non-indulgent in carnal pleasures is just a discipline out of many, so is हित्वा, ante-आमिष with plethora of meanings.
Due to its richness, brevity and contextual appropriateness, आमिष was used with हित्वा मुनिवत्, not in the sense of flesh. Fruits, roots and honey are already told as food.
In the very next two Ślokas, Rāma repeats that reinforces the meaning – विवासयति ‘तापसम्’…’वन्यानि फलमूलैश्च’ वर्तयन्।
Kausalyā heard this news and fell down all of a sudden like a goddess from heaven, like an axed Sāla (Shorea robusta) tree – सालस्य यष्टिः परशुना वने… देवी देवतेव दिवश्च्युता!
Lakṣmaṇa was angry. He said – गुरोरप्यवलिप्तस्य कार्याकार्यमजानतः, उत्पथं प्रतिपन्नस्य कार्यं भवति शासनम् ॥ Even a preceptor who follows the unrighteous path and is filled with haughtiness and does not know how to discriminate between good and bad, deserves to be disciplined (punished).
Kausalyā said, serving mother is the best Dharma, stay here, for the sake of it. That was धर्मसङ्कट for Rāma —
धर्मज्ञ यदि धर्मिष्ठो धर्मं चरितुमिच्छसि, शुश्रूष मामिहस्थस्त्वं चर धर्ममनुत्तमम्।
शुश्रूषुर्जननीं पुत्र स्वगृहे नियतो वसन्,परेण तपसा युक्तः काश्यपस्त्रिदिवं गतः ॥
But he was clear—
धर्मो हि परमो लोके धर्मे सत्यं प्रतिष्ठितम्, धर्मसंश्रितमेतच्च पितुर्वचनमुत्तमम् ॥
संश्रुत्य च पितुर्वाक्यं मातुर्वा ब्राह्मणस्य वा, न कर्तव्यं वृथा वीरधर्ममाश्रित्यतिष्ठता ॥
A Dharmika should not allow the promise made to father or mother or Brāhmaṇa to go in vain.
यशो ह्यहं केवलराज्यकारणात्, न पृष्ठतः कर्तुमलं महोदयम्।
अदीर्घकाले न तु देवि जीविते, वृणेऽवरामद्य महीमधर्मतः ॥
I’ll not forsake this great glory for the sake of the kingdom. In this transient existence O mother, I don’t wish to acquire this insignificant earth unrighteously.
जानासि हि यथा सौम्य न मातृषु ममान्तरम्, भूतपूर्वं विशेषो वा तस्या मयि सुतेऽपि वा ।
You know, O gentle Lakṣmaṇa that never in the past had I any feeling of distinction amongst my mothers. And Kaikeyī never differentiated between me and her son.
एतया तत्त्वया बुद्ध्या संस्तभ्यात्मानमात्मना, व्याहतेऽप्यभिषेके मे परितापो न विद्यते।
स्मादपरितापस्संस्त्वमप्यनुविधाय माम् प्रतिसंहारय क्षिप्रमाभिषेचनिकीं क्रियाम् ॥
Even though my consecration was thwarted, I have no feeling of sadness. I controlled my mind by my intellect.
O Lakṣmaṇa! like me, be free from grief and revoke all the arrangements made for the consecration ceremony immediately.
एभिरेव घटै स्सर्वैरभिषेचनसम्भृतैः, मम लक्ष्मण तापस्ये व्रतस्नानं भविष्यति।
With these very pots (of holy water) brought for the purpose of consecration, O Lakṣmaṇa I shall take bath at the time of taking vow for practising penance.
Kausalyā lamented— मयि जातो दशरथात्कथमुञ्छेन वर्तयेत् – How can the son of Daśaratha and me live on उञ्छ? Uñcha is the grain fallen and left on the ground after farmers have taken the harvest. A तापस, if wants to eat grains instead of fruits etc. he has to pickup and eat those ONLY.
Such a strict code, even for grains! how could Rāma have eaten meat during exile? Impossible!
कथं स भोक्ष्यतेऽनाथो वने मूलफलान्ययम्
Mother lamented, having no caring person in service, how will Rāma live on roots and fruits in the forest!
Had meat been an option, there was no reason of worry for the mother.
Finally she agreed … Go my son, take the course of Dharma, as you wish.
आनम्य मूर्ध्नि चाघ्राय परिष्वज्य यशस्विनी
अवदत्पुत्र सिद्धार्थो गच्छ राम यथासुखम्
Many a times Vālmīki has used तपस्विनी for Sītā. So engaged was she in austerities before रामाभिषेक that she didn’t know happenings वैदेही चापि तत्सर्वं न शुश्राव तपस्विनी। Such a deep bonding was there with her that Rāma who was patient before mother, lost that before Sītā.
She was waiting for her prince अभिज्ञा राजधर्माणां राजपुत्रं प्रतीक्षते. Rāma entered, a little embarrassed, his face down ह्रिया किञ्चिदवाङ्मुखः. Sītā got up suddenly, (her limbs) trembling to see her husband distressed अपश्यच्छोकसन्तप्तं चिन्ताव्याकुलितेन्द्रियम्.
तां दृष्ट्वा स हि धर्मात्मा न शशाक मनोगतम् ।
तं शोकं राघवः सोढुं ततोविवृततां गतः ॥
On seeing her, virtuous Rāma couldn’t contain the sorrow in his mind which manifested – विवर्णवदनं दृष्ट्वा तं प्रस्विन्नममर्षणम्आह दुःखाभिसन्तप्ता किमिदानीमिदं प्रभो.
Sītā, consumed with grief, said, My Lord, why are you now like this?
अभिषेको यथा सज्जः किमिदानीमिदं तव।
अपूर्वो मुखवर्णश्च न प्रहर्षश्च लक्ष्यते ॥
How is it that when arrangements are under way for your consecration, complexion of your countenance doesn’t look like what it was before? No joy on your face!
इतीव विलपन्तीं तां प्रोवाच रघुनन्दनः। सीते तत्र भवांस्तातः प्रव्राजयति मां वनम् ॥
O Sītā! my venerable father is banishing me to the forest, said Rāma, the scion of the Raghus, the joy of the Raghu race, seeing her thus lamenting.
कुले महति सम्भूते धर्मज्ञे धर्मचारिणि,
शृणु जानकि। महाकुलीना, धर्मज्ञा, धर्मचारिणी जानकी! Listen.. Rāma told everything.
One is reminded of very frank, very natural bonding between the couple. सोऽहं त्वामागतो द्रष्टुं प्रस्थितो विजनं वनम्। I have come to see you before departing for the desolate Daṇḍaka forest.
You should never praise me in the presence of Bharata because intellectuals can’t tolerate others being praised before them. You should never extol my virtues before him. वनमद्यैव यास्यामि स्थिरा भव मनस्विनी I am leaving for the forest right away O highminded Sītā! be steady.
For the poet, Sītā was तपस्विनी for her husband’s coronation but for the husband she is मनस्विनी too. He appeals to her after telling the anti-climax, to be steady. Suddenly it becomes clear that Rāma acted to give solace to himself and his अर्धांगिनी as well. But Sīta was Sītā.
Rāma requested her to be caring to Kausalyā, all the mothers and his father, treat Bharata and Śatrughna as brother and son and not to act in a way that displeases ‘king’ Bharata.
अहं गमिष्यामि महावनं प्रिये त्वया हि वस्तव्यमिहैव भामिनि।
यथा व्यलीकं कुरुषे न कस्य चित्तथा त्वया कार्यमिदं वचो मम ॥
When Rāma requested her to be obedient to king Bharata, he addressed her as कल्याणी, i.e. who has the vision for welfare of all. But when he bids final words (in his own understanding obviously), he uses wotds प्रिये and भामिनी. Each word has a unique meaning too.
It is said that Sanskrita has no synonyms. Well, what are the meanings of प्रिया and भामिनी? प्रिय is very much prevalent पिय, पिया, पियवा, पी, प्रियतम, प्रीतम, पीतम etc. etc., all have a single source – प्रिय.
Rāmāyaṇa is such a sublime Ākhyānaka poetry of manly beauty and multidimensional meanings that digressions are inevitable while going through it. Let us leave the words for some other occasion and come to the topic. So, where lies the next ‘delight of foodies’?
फलमूलाशना नित्यं भविष्यामि न संशयः। While telling him that she too will accompany to the forest, Sītā said, there should be no doubt that I shall be on the diet of fruits and roots permanently there.
Earlier, we have seen that only grains fallen in fields after harvesting were allowed for ascetics. They had to pick up them and eat after cleaning. When Sītā says नित्य असन food of fruits and roots, she is highlighting that she’d be able to live even without that type of अन्न because in दण्डकारण्य even that will be unavailable. Where is question of meat eating in such a discipline?
If meat eating was a choice as per vow, there was no dearth of ‘edible animals’ in the forest. Why is everybody repeatedly talking about fruits and roots only? Obviously, meat was not an option available to तापस and तपस्विनी couple i.e. Rāma and Sītā.
Rāma while persuading Sītā to desist, tells about hardships there सन्तोषः कर्तव्यो नियतात्मना। फलैर्वृक्षावपतितै – one has to be content with fruits fallen from trees. उपवासश्च कर्तव्यो यथा प्राणेन – according to one’s ability, fasting also, has to be undertaken.यथालब्धेन कर्तव्यः सन्तोषस्तेन..यताहारैर्वनचरै. The wanderers in the jungle, O daughter of Mithilā, have to be satisfied daily with whatever little food is available.
Modern ‘foodies’ who can’t think beyond roasted meat in forest, can’t comprehend such a code.
Sītā said, पत्रं मूलं फलं यत्त्वमल्पं वा यदि वा बहु। दास्यसि स्वयमाहृत्य तन्मेऽमृतरसोपमम्। Whatever leaves or roots or fruits you collect with your own hands for me little or much, they will be nectar to me… भुञ्जाना पुष्पाणि च फलानि च enjoying the seasonal flowers and fruits in the forest.
She did not say that whatever hunt would you bring, I’ll roast the meat of that and enjoy!
Daśaratha, Kaikeyī, Kausalyā, Rāma, Sītā, all were clear about the code of food. Then who were/are those ‘authors of meat’? Who were/are those who wanted/want to put blemish of vow-breaking वचन-भंग on Sītā, Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa? What were/are their motives? – Questions to ponder upon.
We’ll continue with textual survey of VR in the next part.