Chapter 4: Wood –Apple episode

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Synopsis in prose form :
(SUMMARY: A highlight of the anthology is this Wood-Apple episode in which Sita gets the wisdom from nature in a dramatized fashion. A creeper, the humble green grass, a
wayside rock, the mighty Sun, a mountain, and the Wood- Apple tree give Sita the delicate tenets of ‘naari-jeevan’, that is, a woman’s life. The husband’s duty to his wife is also strongly emphasized in the anthology. Story of this is narrated here.)

Sita is seated in the hermitage of Rishi Valmiki with her Sakhis (lady friends). 

One of them asks her:
“What is the duty of a wife?”

Sita replies:
“Husband is everything for a wife. He is her Lord,
Guru (teacher) , Friend, Consort. A wife’s duty is to
do auspicious acts as per her husband’s wish.”

“Then, how should we know, what is his wish?” asks
the sakhi.

This question of the sakhi brings back nostalgic memories of the incident of the Wood-Apple episode to Sita. She narrates this episode to her sakhis.

Sita:
It was within a few days of the banishment of the Lord from Ayodhya to the forests. His brother, Laxman, had accompanied us to the forest. Both the brothers made a hermitage for us to stay. I would clean and maintain it. The brothers would collect forest fruits and roots. I would
prepare them for a meal. Even in the forest, we lived happily. 

One day in the afternoon, my Lord came into the hermitage and smiled and said:
'Sita, at a distance of some four miles from our hermitage, on a mountain top, I saw a Wood–Apple tree laden with beautiful fruits. I feel like eating the fruits.’

I asked the Lord: 
‘Then why did you not bring the fruits?’

The Lord said : 
‘Oh! Sita, the road that leads to the wood-apple tree is fraught with danger. There are thorny bushes and trees along the way, which will bruise you badly. Poisonous snakes and ferocious wild animals of the forest roam about everywhere. The whole place is uninhabited and hence not safe to tread.’

On hearing the wish of my husband that he wanted to eat the wood-apple fruit, I decided that I must arrange for the fruit. The question that bothered me was ,
’How will I cross the dangerous forest that leads to the wood-apple tree?’ 

But I knew that ‘No job is impossible, if it be done with a true heart.’

Early next morning, when Rama and Laxmana were still asleep, I woke up. The light of dawn had not yet struck. Only one small oil wick lamp in my hand gave me company. With the lamp, I stepped into the dark forest very nimbly, and started walking in the direction that my husband had indicated. But soon, I ran into thick thorny undergrowth of the forest and I almost shrieked as pointed thorns painfully pierced the soles of my soft feet. There were tears in my eyes. ‘I cannot go further anymore and I cannot get the wood-apple fruits that my husband wants’, was my sorrowful feeling. I kept peering into the darkness again and again, and just then, through my misty eyes, I saw a path by the side of the thorny bushes. I was surprised to see the path, since it did not seem to have any thorns on it. I rapidly stepped onto this path and walked with brisk steps.

Suddenly, I froze in my path. In the dim light of dawn, I saw a huge serpent entwining an equally huge and tall tree- trunk. Only on closer look and with the light of daybreak, did I realise that it is a creeper. The creeper seemed to talk to me thus….

CREEPER:
Oh! Sita,
Ignorance leads to fear,
It is the light of knowledge
That brings home the Truth,
crystal clear.

I thanked the creeper for this nectar of wisdom and resumed my journey towards the mountain that bore the wood-apple tree.

It was the beginning of the monsoon season. Showers of rain made the ground wet and tiny blades of grass were peering out of the soil. As my feet fell on the green grass, I wondered to myself: ’How come there is no grass on the ground during the harsh summers and all of a sudden, with the first spell of rains, greenery starts sprouting all over?’

I felt as if the green grass spoke to me thus:

GREEN GRASS:
Oh! Raghuvansh Vadhu (daughter-in-law of the
great family of Raghu to which Rama belongs)
Listen to me,
Even if you are faced with difficult times
Keep the seeds of Truth safe and secure,
Like how I keep mine in dry summers.
For, when the time is favorable and good,
And there are auspicious showers,
The seedlings of Truth shall sprout
To enhance the beauty of the World with flowers.

I was transfixed with joy on hearing this message. But then, I was drawn further by my mission of wanting to reach the wood-apple tree. Just then, I encountered a rapidly flowing mountain stream.

A rock was lying in the center of the vigorous flowing stream. It was bearing with quietude and composure, the hammering of the water, for the past several centuries. I felt as if the rock was trying to talk to me. 

It taught me as follows:

ROCK:
Oh! beloved of Rama
In life you shall encounter, I say,
Extreme difficulties in every way;
Never be perturbed by these,
Never lose good courage please,
One who deliberates peacefully,
She alone can take decisions precisely.

I offered obeisance to the rock and was wondering how to cross the stream, when I saw a neat row of stepping-stones laid across it. I quickly, crossed the stream and resumed my journey through the thick forest.

The first light of dawn was filtering through the thick foliage overhead. Morning fog had reduced the visibility considerably. Just then, through the fog, I saw at a distance a hazy image of a man. I could not recognise him, but I could make out what he was upto. That stranger was clearing the forest path of thorns and stones, and subsequently plucking the leaves and flowers from the bushes and spreading them on the path which I was walking. I froze in terror. My heart started pounding wildly:

Who is this stranger? Will he harm me if he sees me in this uninhabited part of the forest? But before I could think further, the image of the stranger had vanished into the fog. I was in a fix, whether to proceed further or return to the hermitage. Finally, my determination to fulfill my husband’s wish overpowered me and I gingerly stepped forth on the same path on which I had seen the hazy stranger. My heart guessed that, the stranger had unknowingly worked to my benefit by clearing the path through the forest, just before I was due to traverse it. 

With the first blush of the morning, the youthful Sun was peeping over the eastern horizon. I felt as if the Sun smiled to me and said:

SUN:
Oh! Sita, listen to me with care
Be there, rain, hail or storms mighty
Whatsoever be the events in life,
Never leave your path of duty.

I folded my hands in Namaskar (salutation) to the Sun and offered my thankful prayers to Him. As I moved ahead, I could now see the mighty mountain looming ahead of me. 

My heart missed a beat, for the mountain was huge and tall, way beyond my imagination. It was standing with its head held up high through the clouds that engulfed its peak. I felt very impressed by the majesty of the mountain and heard it say:

MOUNTAIN :
Janaki ! (daughter of King Janaka)
One who abides by
Truth, persistence and industriousness
She alone
Shall deserve the love of God,
One who adopts these virtues
She alone
Shall walk with the head held up high.

I humbly prayed to the mighty mountain: “There is a wood-apple tree on your peak. Please give me the strength to reach it, so that I can accomplish my duty of fulfilling my husband’s wish. I am determined to complete this mission of mine. Please help me.“

I started climbing the mountain with a fresh enthusiasm and eventually reached its peak. I was completely tired by the time I reached there, but when I saw what I saw there, I felt rejuvenated. There, in all its glory was the Wood-Apple Tree. With a huge trunk, rising high into the sky, and a rich green canopy of branches and leaves, casting their shadow over a large circumference of over ten thousand paces on the
ground, the tree was laden with thousands of full grown lush green wood-apples. Each fruit appeared to be dancing in the gentle sunrays that fell on it. 

I approached the wood-apple tree and humbly prostrated myself to it with prayer: ”Please give me some of your fruits to fulfill my husband’s wish.”

The magnificent tree gently smiled and said:

WOOD-APPLE TREE :
Oh! daughter of Mother Earth,
A Woman is the embodiment of motherhood
She showers love from her soul,
Like a tree she is indeed,
Offering affection to one and all.

I stored this message of wisdom in my heart and attempted to reach the fruits. But those tasty fruits were much beyond my reach. I remembered my Lord Rama in my heart and prayed to Him to let me get some of the fruits for Him. As if my Lord heard my prayers, a bough of the tree bent down towards me, by itself. I quickly plucked the wood-apple fruits from it to my hearts content and tied them up in my garment. I
felt as if I was really blessed to have received the fruits.

But just then, I felt I saw a looming vision of the same stranger – the stranger I had encountered in the morning fog, the stranger who had unknowingly cleared the forest path for me— sitting on the bough of the tree and bending it down helpfully towards me. But I had no time to verify the illusion. Turning on my heels, I started rapidly descending the mountain. I was worried now that my Lord Rama must be awake and he must be getting anxious about me.

Lord Rama was already seated outside the hermitage, expectantly waiting for me. I immediately bent to touch His feet. The moment I did so, an element of doubt rose in my heart. Many questions rose in front of me:

Why are Lord’s feet smeared with wet mud?
Why are they cut and bruised all over?

I removed the wood-apple fruits from my garments and tried to hand them over to my Lord. Immediately he hid his hands behind his back. I started understanding the matter dimly. My eyes moistened. Forcefully I brought my Lord’s hands in front of me and examined them thoroughly. Yes! I had guessed right. His hands too were badly cut and bruised by thorns and stones.

The whole puzzle fell into place. Who was the stranger in the distant fog? His image now became clear to me. Who cleared the forest path of thorns and stones and spread on it leaves and flowers, so that I could walk safely over the path? Who placed the stepping stones across the ferocious stream to help me cross? Who bent the bough helpfully towards me? Indeed, it was my own husband Lord Rama!!

I was emotionally overcome now and fell at His feet sobbing.

“My Lord! What have you done to yourself? Why did you take all this trouble for me?“, I asked.

The Lord gently held my shoulders and lifting me up made me sit by His side. In a very soft understanding tone, He said:

RAMA:
My dearest of dear Sita,
It is the highest form of duty for the wife to be unified with her husband and fulfill his wish. Do keep this in mind.

But I too have not done anything extraordinary. I have only co-operated with your mission. Both of us have heard the thoughts in each other’s heart. The immense effort you made to fulfill your husband’s wish is indeed a striking example of Infinite
love.

But then, there is an equally important responsibility of a husband to his wife. He must closely understand the aspirations of his wife and help her fulfill them. Also, he must be always by her side throughout the life, in times of happiness as well as sorrow.

For, indeed, a husband and wife are like two wheels of the same chariot ;
they should traverse life together 
they should traverse life together in a harmonious manner.

End of Chapter 4
Om Shanti! Om Shanti! Om Shanti!