“Because God must compete for our affections, this brings us to the next scene that I want to show you.” The courtyard faded and was replaced by an opulent stone-walled dining room, with various immaculately dressed staff in silent attendance. An old man in ornate robes was sat at the head of the table with his head in his hands. “This is Rama’s father, Dasharatha, the king,” said Valmiki quietly. The creaks of a large door opening echoed around the room as Rama and Sita entered.
“As with an earthly marriage, to truly make it work, all other relationships must become secondary. Sita is choosing the spiritual realm of God over earthly pleasures. The higher path is always the more difficult and dangerous, as above so below.”
“Are you alright father?” the young prince asked with polite concern. The old man looked up wearily.
“My son, I have some grave news,” he said at length, “my youngest queen, Kaikeyi has made a request which I am honour bound to accept.” The old king sighed heavily. “It seems her maid has put the idea in her head that you are a threat to her and her son.”
“But father, I would never dream of_”
“I know my son, you are the most decent, gentle, principled man I have ever met. Which makes this even harder.” Dasharatha took a second to compose himself as tears weld in his kindly eyes. “She requests that you be exiled to the wilderness for fourteen years and that her son become king in your place.” Rama smiled faintly.
“There is no honourable way to refuse this request?”
“No, my son.”
“Then let it be so,” the young prince calmly replied.
“You are not angry?” Despite his high opinion of his son, Dasharatha was surprised.
“No father, it is meant to be. I am just sorry that you had to suffer the unpleasantness of giving me this news. I will pack a few essentials and leave the palace this afternoon.” He turned to his immaculately dressed and bejewelled wife. “Sita, I am so sorry but there is nothing to be done. I will draft the legal documents to release you from the marriage as you cannot be expected to wait for me for fourteen years.” Sita smiled tenderly at the young Prince.
“My darling husband. No, it is not my plan to wait fourteen years for you.” Rama smiled his understanding and kissed his wife on the forehead before turning to leave.
“You did not let me finish,” smiled Sita.
“Forgive me, darling wife.”
“I will not be waiting for you, because I will not be parted from you.”
“But my darling, I must_”
“I understand, but I will come with you.”
“Into the wilderness? But Sita, you are a princess, you would be entering a world of hunger, exposure, insect bites, dangerous animals and worse.” Sita placed a slender hand on the young prince’s cheek.
“You are my husband, Rama, you are my palace, the only place in which I wish to dwell.”
“The only hardship I fear is not being with you.” Dasharatha looked politely out of the window as Rama tenderly embraced his wife, thankful tears flowing down his face.
“You see?” said Valmiki, “when Sita the individual soul grows to love God, everything else becomes secondary. As with an earthly marriage, to truly make it work, all other relationships must become secondary. Sita is choosing the spiritual realm of God over earthly pleasures. The higher path is always the more difficult and dangerous, as above so below.” Pete was puzzled.
“But can’t Rama just say ‘sorry Dad, I’m not going anywhere, you’ll have to disappoint Kaikeyi’.”
“Oh… Pete!” snorted Diotima, “the son must always submit to the will of the father, the same way that the sensory world is entirely dependent on the spiritual world. To use a metaphor from your time, the cinema screen can show nothing but the film projected onto it from afar.” Pete looked thoughtful.
“God incarnated as a son, following the wishes of his father who sent him, that really does sound like_”
“Yes, yes, Christianity,” interrupted Diotima impatiently. Valmiki decided to rescue Pete.
“There is only one true reality and only so many good metaphors, but I wrote the Ramayana many centuries before the historical Christ’s time on earth. Let me show you another important scene.” Pete and the old sage now found themselves in the intense humidity of a dense tropical forest. Exotic birds called to each other from lush trees. “Let’s go in there,” said Valmiki pointing to a small hut in a nearby clearing. Stooping to enter the rickety bamboo hut, Pete gasped as he saw the thin but still beautiful Sita sat in the corner busying herself with a small stove on the floor. Her once stately clothes were faded and torn displaying scratches and cuts over much of her body. Apart from a wedding ring, all her jewellery was gone. Her once immaculately braided hair was now hanging in a neat but simple pony tail. She turned to see a figure at the doorway. Long haired and bearded and wearing dirty red robes with begging bowl in hand, he wore the knowing, yet distant expression of the ascetic. “Hello, my child,” he said gently. Fully aware of the etiquette, Sita greeted him, took his bowl and filled it with several ladles of deliciously spicy-smelling stew. The ascetic nodded his sincere thanks.
“Would you like to eat here?” asked Sita.
“Thank you, my child, but I would not like to be an inconvenience to your husband when he returns.” Sita smiled.
“That is most considerate of you, but he is away hunting and will not be back for many hours.” The ascetic gently returned the smile.
“In that case, I would be delighted,” with a wince, he sat next Sita by the stove, “this really is most delicious,” he said sliding himself slightly closer to the young woman, who smiled warmly, until the aesthetic slid his hand up her leg, creasing her dress up before it. “Most delicious,” he said casually, squeezing the young flesh with his leathery hand, pretending not to notice Sita tense from head to toe. Diotima caught Pete’s hand as he leapt forward to assist.
“Please remove your hand, sir,” Sita said in polite but steely tones. The old ascetic’s smile was slowly losing its gentleness as it morphed into an expression of lecherous glee as his hand slowly continued its journey up Sita’s leg. Aware of its final destination, the young woman leapt to her feet. “Perhaps Sir, you would enjoy your stew more in the fresh air?” Even now, Sita’s manners had not fully deserted her. But the ascetic hurled his half eaten meal on the floor. “I’m not here for stew! I’m here for you, Sita. Tearing off his robes he exposed his hideous multi-headed, multi-armed form. Sita cowered before him.
“What… are you?” she managed.
“I am Ravana, demon king,” the words came in a chorus from the many handsome heads, “I have fallen in love with you and wish to take you away to be my queen and live with me in unimaginable splendour in my kingdom of Lanka. Be delighted, my bride your hardship is over.” The demon turned to leave, holding his hand out behind him expectantly as he did so. But he screamed when his fingers closed around a scorching hot tin ladle as opposed to the expected female hand.
“Atta girl!” nodded Diotima approvingly. (continue)