Thursday, June 14, 2018

Urmila, the unsung heroine of Ramayana

Not much is known of Urmila the wife of Lakshmana. I am trying here to throw some light on this unsung heroine of the Ramayana. There is a good online reference about her:

I am reproducing the story here:

When Rama, the Prince of Ayodhya, was exiled to the forest for 14 years as per the wishes of Kaikeyi, his father’s youngest queen, Sita, his wife, insisted that she accompany him to the forest.

“A woman’s place is with her husband and I shall go wherever you go. Please do not stop me. If it’s your duty to follow the orders of your father, it is mine to follow you to the ends of the earth.” The young princess was stubborn and Rama had no choice but to let her have her way.

As for Lakshmana, his younger brother, there was no question that he would let his brother go into exile on his own. From their days in the cradle, they were always together.

“Dear Rama, you know you have no choice but to let me come with you. All I want to do is to take care of you and Devi Sita,” said Lakshmana when his brother tried to dissuade him. 

Lakshmana was married to Urmila, Sita’s younger sister. He hurried to her chambers to break the news to her. Gently, Lakshmana, gently, he told himself. He knew that Urmila was a spirited princess too. After all, she was a princess of Sita's stature and of course, he was being a bit unfair to her.

Urmila had heard from her sister that she was accompanying her husband and when Lakshmana announced that he was going too, she was least perturbed. “Oh, we must go with them...” she began cheerfully, her beautiful eyes lighting up at the thought them all going off into the great unknown. 

“Not we, Urmila, just me,” said Lakshmana gently. “You must stay behind and take care of our old parents, when we are away.”

“But a wife’s place is beside her husband. Isn’t sister Sita going? She has told me herself. If you are going, I come too.”

“I know you are right, dear Urmila. It is just that if I were to take you along, it would be a huge responsibility for me. The forest is a dangerous place with evil asuras and wild animals lurking in unknown corners. I will need all my wits about me to focus on protecting my dear brother and his wife. Please understand and make this sacrifice for me.” 

Lakshmana knew he was being unfair but his life was dedicated to his brother and Urmila knew that too.

“As you wish...” whispered the princess tearfully and bid adieu to her husband.

Rama, Sita and Lakshmana left for their exile. When the night fell and all the world was asleep, Lakshmana stayed awake watching over his beloved brother and his wife. One night as he sat outside his brother’s dwelling, a luminous form appeared before him. When his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw before him a resplendent goddess. She smiled at him. “How are you going to do this, Lakshmana?” asked she.

“Do what?” Lakshmana was puzzled for he knew not who she was and what she was getting at. 

“Sleep… everybody needs to sleep. I’m Nidra Devi, the goddess of sleep. Are you going to spend 14 years of your brother’s exile without sleep? It will be impossible!”

“But I will not and I cannot sleep, for I intend to watch over my brother day and night,” said Lakshmana.

“I know your devotion, Lakshmana. But no living creature can survive without sleep. That is the universal law! Unless…” the goddess paused.

“Unless... what?” Lakshmana seized upon that pause.

“Unless there is someone else who will do that for you,” smiled the goddess. “Someone who will have all the sleep you need for the 14 years while you are here in exile! Is there someone who will do that for you?”

Lakshmana smiled in relief. He knew he could count on someone, his wife! “My wife, Urmila... she will surely take my place for me.”

“I will go at once to the palace of Ayodhya and ask her,” said the Goddess and disappeared as she had come.

And of course Urmila did offer to take Lakshmana’s share of sleep and went into a deep slumber for all the 14 years he was away. Which is one of the main reasons why, no one speaks of Urmila throughout The Ramayana.

Because of this ability of not sleeping for years, Lakshmana was eventually able to vanquish Meghnad or Indrajit, the son of Ravana. At the end of the exile when Lakshmana comes back to Ayodhya, the sleep cycle is restored for both of them. 

There is also something called 'Uttara Ramayana', the story of what happened after Rama was coronated as King. This section of the Ramayana talks about Lakshmana and Urmila being blessed with two sons - Angada and Chandraketu. 

Angada ruled a place called Karupath or Angadiya, that is part of current day Orissa. Chandraketu ruled a place specially carved out for him in the Malla kingdom, which is in modern day Nepal. This same Malla kingdom as well as Ayodhya were later brought under Hastinapura rule by Bheema while they went on military campaign for Rajasuya yagna (part of Mahabharat story). 

So, there is a pretty long legacy for many places in our country. Will be back soon with some more interesting tidbits ..

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