Rama was a prince of the kingdom of Kosala, which had its capital at Ayodhya. His father, King Dasharath, had three wives. Rama was the son of the eldest wife, Kaushalya. Being the eldest of the brothers, Rama was heir to the throne. At the proper time King Dasharath decided to step down from the throne. He announced the day of Rama's coronation. The announcement was greeted with tremendous joy by the people of Ayodhya because they all loved Rama. But the day before the coronation Dasharath's youngest queen Kaikeyi and her maid Manthara hatched a wicked plot against Rama. As a result, Rama was not only deprived of his throne, he was also banished to the forest for 14 long years. The following is an account of an event that occurred during these fourteen years.
Banished from Ayodhya, Rama left for the forest. His wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana went with him. They made a hut for themselves and began to live in it. The forest was full of wild animals. But even more dangerous than these were the rakshasas (demons) who roamed about freely and killed human beings for sport. These demons could change their shape and appearance at will. One day Rama and Lakshmana were both away and Sita was alone. Ravana, the rakshasa king of Lanka, came to the hut disguised as a sadhu. The moment Sita came out of the hut to give him alms, Ravana caught hold of her, mounted his flying chariot and flew away to his kingdom across the sea. Rama and Lakshmana came back to the hut to find Sita missing.
They hunted for her everywhere but she was nowhere to be found. Rama was overwhelmed by grief. He wandered through the forest, asking every single living being if anyone had seen his beloved Sita. Lakshmana was a great help and support to his brother. But there was little he could do to help Rama, so great was Rama's sorrow.
At length Rama and Lakshmana met Jatayu, king of the eagles. Jatayu told them that Sita had been carried away by the rakshasa king Ravana in his flying chariot. Jatayu was very pious and godfearing. He was also a close friend of Rama's father, King Dasharath. Distressed by Sita's plight, he had fought Ravana with all his might. But Ravana proved too strong for him. Jatayu was mortally wounded. He lived just long enough to tell Rama what he had seen and then succumbed to his injuries.
Rama and Lakshmana set out again in search of Sita. At last they came to Rishyamook hill. The monkey king Sugreev lived on this hill, with a band of his faithful followers. A great friendship developed between Sugreev and Rama. Sugreev told Rama informed that a few days earlier he had seen a beautiful woman being carried away by a dreadful demon. He looked like Ravana, the king of Lanka. As the carriage of the demon tore across the sky the lady saw them and threw her jewels wrapped in a piece of cloth and threw it down. They had preserved the bundle and show the same to Rama and Laskamana. Rama saw the jewels and anguish fills his soul. The jewels did belong to Sita. Rama's eyes filled with tears on thinking about her condition. Sugreev saw Rama's grief. He and his faithful followers vowed to help Rama against Ravana and to bring back Sita.
Sugreev gathered his army under his great general Hanuman. The army consisted of hordes of monkeys and bears, each stronger than the other. They all marched down to the sea, beyond which lay the kingdom of Lanka. They had to cross the sea in order to reach Lanka.
Rama began to shoot arrows into the sea. He wished to control the sea and force it to make way for the army to pass through. The arrows were so powerful and produced so much heat that the water began to hiss. All the creatures who lived in the water began to fear for their lives. And they appealed to the god of the sea to help them.
The sea god appeared before Rama. He appealed to Rama not to shoot arrows across the sea as that would harm the living beings in his kingdom. Instead he suggested Rama to ask Nala to build the bridge, as he was the son of Vishwakarma, the engineer of the gods. He also says that the prince can ask the monkeys to help by bringing boulders and trees and he himself would receive these things and keep them in place on the water. Rama told Sugreev what the sea god had told him and Sugreev in turn ordered Nala to build a bridge.
Soon hundreds and thousands monkeys and bears had spread out all over the mountains and forests. They uprooted trees and rolled down rocks from the mountains. They dragged both the trees and the rocks to the shore and threw these into the sea. The water splashed high. Standing by the seashore, Nala supervised the work. Day after day the work went on, amid great noise and confusion. Rama's heart filled with joy to see the army of monkeys and bears working so willingly to build the massive bridge. One day while the work was in progress, a small brown squirrel came running to the shore. She was carrying little pebbles in her mouth. She placed the pebbles alongside the great boulders and ran back for more.
Back and forth, back and forth she went till some of the monkeys saw her and they mocked her. The bears joined in their merriment. In fact, one of them tried to catch hold of the squirrel but she was too quick for him. Dodging the bears and the monkeys who made fun of her, the little squirrel ran straight to Rama. She found him talking to Nala. He was too tall for her so she stood on her haunches and spoke as loud as she could. She complained to the lord about the mockery she was facing at the hands of the horrid bears and monkeys.
Rama heard the squirrel's voice above the gurgle of the sea and the noise of bridge building. He bent forward and lifted up the squirrel between his two palms. His heart melted to see that she had tears in her eyes. Rama acknowledged her contribution saying that the bridge will be made stronger by the pebbles she has brought. He further added that from then onwards nobody would make of her physical appearance. Rama gently stroked the squirrel's back with his fingers. When he raised his hand, the marks of his fingers were there, white against the brown fur. And ever since then the squirrel has carried three white stripes on her back, as a token of Rama's affection.
In due course the bridge was completed. Rama and Lakshmana crossed over with Sugreev's army led by Hanuman. A great battle followed. Ravana was killed and Sita finally restored to Rama. They came back to Ayodhya and were received with great joy by the people. King Dasharath had died in the meantime so Rama ascended the throne and ruled for many years.
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