페이지 이미지

inner life-would appear conducive to the intensification of personality in both its narrowest and widest sense. And the Mahabharata is in its essence a poem of action ; ' it depicts the political life of ancient India, with all ' its valour and heroism, ambition, and lofty chivalry.' Staked and lost in an hour of madness to the enemy, Draupadi's undying hatred to her wronger is a clearer note in the epic than her devotion to the husband whom she redeems, while the deaths owed' to her outraged honour constitute the leading motive of one of the finest battle scenes imagination has ever delineated. The Rāmāyana, on the other hand, 'embodies the domestic and religious * life, with all its tenderness and sweetness, its endurance ' and devotion,' and while the element of dramatic and war romance, the political strife and intrigue, the rapid succession of active incident, gives even to Draupadi's character, framed in such surroundings, something of cosmopolitan interest, the record intime of Sita's relationship to Rama, which constitutes the main feature of the story of the Rāmāyana, puts before our eyes an ideal no other race could have conceived, and whose living tradition no other country could have in like fashion perpetuated.

The impress of the ideal it is intended to inculcate is interwoven with the story from the first page to the last. In every event it is the leading thought. As the shadow • to the substance '--the sentence is the epitome of the whole moral scheme of the poem-is the love of the wife to the husband. Sita, born of the earth, sprung from the furrow as the husbandman-king guided the plough across the field, child of human royalty and daughter of the corn-giving deity, is the exemplification of that indivisible uniou of perfect faith. The bride of Rama, prince of the Utopia of the East the kingdom of the Kosalas, by the altar with its flower garlands, its fragrance of swinging censors, its golden vases, its cups of sacramental honey, its kindled lights, its strewn grasses, Sita is given to his hands. Humanity stretching its rasb promise beyond the bounds of mortality, henceforth she is to be partaker in death and in life of Rama's weal, of Rama's woe; to be cherished in

joy and in sorrow; to abide his as shadow to substance.' And greatest of warriors, strongest, gentlest, and truest, Rama lives, in those first scenes of the chronicle, in the Arcadia of her love, compassed and encircled by the love of his father, of the queens, of his brothers, and of a people on the one side righteously ruled, on the other passionately obedient. So the epic opens. Then the peaceful brilliance, the calm dignities of joy are eclipsed. The ill-doing of a jealous queen effects Rama's banishment. An exile from all those whose love amounts to worship, from father, brothers, and people, for fourteen years he must wander, a beggared vagrant, homeless, in the solitudes of the vast forests. And Sita must remain in the safe shelter of her royal home. The first ring of passion is in her swift refusal. Only the food his lips have touched is sweet to her. Only the water which caresses his feet shall be to her refreshment. In the thorn-covered path her feet shall go before. The wild fruits which feed him shall be her only food. Vagrancy, if he be a wanderer, is her only home, the roadway her abidingplace. Rama is her life, her lord, and her god, and his shadow outweighs the whole weight of worlds. Sita is the saint and confessor of love.

So they pass forth together from the thronging crowds who mourn their going; and the sounds and the sights, the splendours and the festivals of the city of palaces give place to the voices of the plains and the mountains, the rush of wide river waters, and the song of the winds amongst the giant palm stems. Yet in all their wanderings there is no prelude note of the tragedy to be. Pain and toil, weariness of long journeying, the desire of rest when rest may not be found all these are theirs, it may be. But with Sita, though the heat and the sun steal the colour from her face and leave it as the faded lotus and the thirsty lily, happiness abides. A child's curiosity in the new strange blossoms, in buds and flowers unseen before, in fruits never before tasted, and unfamiliar berries of wild woodland growth, is hers. Rama's young brother, Lakshman, whom no entreaty can part from the wanderers, brings to her new toys for her bands to handle and her fingers to weave. The beasts, the birds, the music of the endless forest with its voices and with its silences are there for her delight. Bees murmur in their honey-quest. The dew diamonds the golden web upon the leaves. The unaccustomed feet of the palace-bred princess find new pleasure in the touch of trodden grasses. Sleep has a new meaning on freshly gathered fern spread for a couch, with a canopy of star-strewn skies. The lamps of heaven hang above the flaming petals and interlaced foliage of tall-stemmed pipuls and asokhs. Palaces may pass away, kingdoms be lost, cities forgotten; Rama is hers—all is well with the world. Never do we forget that Sita is the child of the furrow of the field. Tree, bird, beast, and flower are her kindred and her fellows, countrymen of her own dear land, children with her of an earth-mother who knows, and loves, and cherishes her own. Fast and penance are duly observed, rites of abstinence and austerity; but her life remains to us a pictured pastoral of forest-cloistered joys, a paradise of serene ascetics to whom wedded love is a

consecrated devomed, the story

outcome of

So, sylvan-framed, the story approaches its catastrophe. Calamity in the East must be the outcome of sin-and Sita sins, sins in the very excess of love. For once, and, so far as she is concerned, for once only, the common grain of human nature comes to the surface of the fair web of the epic of the Ideal. The evil-doer of the story, Ravan, king of the Rakshas, sees and desires Sita for his own. To compass her capture he must induce the two brothers to leave her unguarded. Rama is prevailed upon to set forth in quest of the fair white stag sent by Ravan to roam the forest walks. Sita, left to the wardship of the faithful Lakshman, hearsthe whole episode is one of fairy enchantment-a cry, as if of distress, and the voice is the voice of Rama. Terrorstricken lest some ill had befallen the hunter, she entreats the younger brother to follow the voice and rescue Rama, if so be that he has fallen into peril. And when Lakshman refuses, pleading obedience to Rama's command, to leave her unguarded in her solitude, Sita for one moment falls a prey to unjust suspicion, and upbraids her well-loved companion with fierce accusations of dishonour. Her mistrust works that which her fears for Rama could not effect. Lakshman goes, and in his absence Ravan triumphantly carries Sita a helpless prisoner to his distant kingdom, the island realm of Lanka.

From this point onward wars and the tumult of wars fill the poem as it tells how Rama seeks Sita from land to land till her prison-house is found. Then before the gates and around the walls of beleaguered Lanka the long-drawn contest rages. Episode follows episode. In the early days of battle, before the tide of victory sets for Rama, Rama having fallen wounded almost to death, Sita is brought forth to the very field of slaughter. There, as though dead, Rama lies, surrounded by his band of warriors, and as Sita from her chariot seat, guarded by Rakshas women, beholds him from afar, the mournful faith of the true Oriental finds expression in her lament. The will of Fate is changeless. • Death is mighty. Rama, Lakshman, sleep the sleep that

knows no day.. I weep not for Rama nor for Lakshman

• they have done a warrior's duty and have found a warrior's

grave. I weep not for my sorrow; from my birth sorrow marked me. Child of Earth, I seek in suffering the breast of my mother. ..

Ever was I joyless. Brynhild's cry of bereavement is significantly close to Sita's. And as it is with the one so is it with the other of the two mourners. For both the memory of past happiness is lost in oblivion. For both the dark night of the soul casts its black shadow backwards upon the sunlights and the rainbows of glad dawns. It is the ingratitude sorrow works, and small marvel is it that the angered gods of joy, indignant at that unbelief in their past gifts, take vengeance on the hearts of men and break the lamps which only needed the replenishment of oil. Sita remembers no more the bridal home-coming, remembers no more the first gladness in the palace, the long days and nights of joy of her woodland wanderings. Because the light is eclipsed she cries that no sun ever arose. And maybe, therefore, for Sita of little faith there waits a future sadder than all severance of dying, a parting more sundering than any barrier of the impotent grave. Yet Rama is not dead. He too is to know all the suffering death can inflict on love. The false image of Sita, a counterpart of the living, is borne into battle, and, as it were, slain with the sword before his eyes, and grief so holds him in its grasp that in his anguish he faints. Yet Sita lives. And round these central figures chieftains on either side re-engage in the fierce combat, and women bewail their dead. Ravan's son is slain. Lakshman, whose love to Rama is as the love of David to Jonathan, is wounded, and lies near unto death, and Rama's lamentation is rivalled in the outburst of his sorrow only by the words of the Israelite king. And still the struggle is protracted. There is desolation in Ravan's kingdom, destruction to his kinsmen, until at length as Sita's ravisher falls stricken to the heart, the wife of the dead monarch cries that once more the sentence is verified, “ Nations perish for a righteous woman's woe.'

Rama is indeed victorious, and the fourteen years of his exile are over. The crown of Ayodhya awaits his homecoming; his sandals lie, the symbolic act of a brother's true allegiance, upon the throne. Sita is released. But the end of sorrow is not come. Again for the second time in the story the sin of unjust suspicion is sinned. As Sita doubted Lakshman, so Rama's trust in Sita is overclouded. Have Sita's fetters left no stain ? She has been powerless, a

captive in Ravan's hands. Every allurement of luxury, every temptation of ease, of pleasure, of riches, of ambition had been essayed to estrange her heart from its truth. Had Sita never yielded, never for one hour purchased peace ? After long search, after hard strife, after all pain of separation and heart agony of fear—for consummation-a doubt. To seek with tears and with blood the crown of life, and having found to question if the gold be but some base metal, and the jewels but glass—such (if one may read beneath the surface the bitter philosophy of the poem) is the wont of human nature. Better were death than to live dishonoured. Rama is no Menelaus to take back a Helen. Let Sita prove her innocence, let the gods speak and give judgement! Sita's own lips challenge the ordeal; if Rama doubts, what good abides with her ? The wood is gathered for the burning, the pyre is raised, the fire is kindled, and the flame, the sacred element of marriage altars, leaps up, and the people, with slander still fresh on their tongues, weep at the eleventh hour for Sita, found, saved, and sacrificed. But the gods are kind. In the flames the watching multitude sees a second figure. One, before whom their heads are bowed, stands beside her in the fire; and she comes back as arisen from the dead unscathed, to those unbelievers in love's immutable truth. No flower of her garland is withered, no hair of her head is singed, no fold of her raiment scorched. Two purities bave met, the spirit of the fiery element, the spirit of the woman who has loved, and the flame which consumes has become the fire which protects.

But human joy, for the Oriental, is illusion. The cry, the incessant cry sent forth by Aryan India was that life was

pain-pain from the body, pain from the world, pain from 'the heavens and from the gods.' And the Spirit of Fire has only befriended Sita that she may fall into the hands of fate. Rama reigns, just and righteous, in the kingdom of his fathers. But as the water-drop lies trembling on the • lotus leaf so rests our fleeting life. Unstable as the water-drop, perishable as the leaf, happiness comes but to go; peace is but a tent struck in the desert, where pilgrims tarry but a day. The doubt no miracle can dispel still dogs Sita's steps, and even in her own country ill words are spoken of her. And Rama, the just and the righteous, puts his wife from him. Once again, sad, forsaken, and alone, she lives in the far forest, and Rama's twin sons are born to her in sorrow and pain. In the forest she rears them, and the old poet hermit, “the mighty saint Valmiki,' VOL. CXCVI. NO. CCCCII.


his fatherma reignite that there, and the world, and life was

« 이전계속 »