The Tragedy of Dasharatha

There was a great king named Dasharatha. King Dasharatha was an expert archer, and his teacher, Bhargava, was pleased with his student. There was, however, one particular skill that Bhargava didn’t impart to his student. It was a special type of archery in which it is not necessary to even see the prey. By just-hearing the sound of the animal, no matter where it is, the archer can shoot it. Bhargava did not want to give this secret knowledge to Dasharatha because he was from the warrior caste. Although people from the warrior caste are spirited, courageous and determined, they have one weakness: they lack a disciplined life and sometimes fall victim to restlessness. Therefore, Bhargava was unwilling to give Dasharatha this special skill.

But Dasharatha begged and begged his teacher. Repeatedly he declared, “I won’t misuse it, I promise you.”

Finally, Bhargava acceded to the king’s entreaty. “All right,” he said, “I will teach you. But I’m afraid one day you’ll bring serious calamity to yourself, to the members of your family and to some innocent victims through your improper use of this knowledge.” So reluctantly Bhargava taught the secret skill to Dasharatha.

Dasharatha was delighted and proud, for he knew that he had now mastered all the strategies of archery.

A few years passed and Dasharatha didn’t even consider using the special skill that he had been taught. But one day, a strong desire entered into his mind. He thought, “Let me go into the forest and test the skill Bhargava has given me. Then I’ll know whether I actually have learned how to kill animals without seeing them.”

So Dasharatha went into the forest. When evening came, a sound reached his cars, which he was sure was an elephant trumpeting. Dasharatha immediately pulled back his bow and let the arrow fly. Then lo and behold, a human sound came to him in the night: “Mother, Mother, I am hurt.”

Dasharatha followed the sound to its source and found a young boy, about nine years old, bleeding heavily from the wound the arrow had inflicted in his chest. He had come to fetch water from a pond. 14 body was doubled over in pain, but he was still clutching the water pail in his tiny hand. The little boy’s father, a great sage, was blind. His mother loved her only child dearly. Because his parents were old the son helped them in many ways, even at this early age. This particular evening his parents had been thirsty, so he had come to draw water from a pond near their cottage. As he was approaching the pond, the arrow came flying towards his heart and struck him down.

When Dasharatha came and saw the scene, he was terrified at what he had done. He cried out piteously, “0, Guru Bhargava, you were right! I was not meant for this sacred knowledge.”

The little boy turned his eyes to Dasharatha and said to him, “I am dying. Please do not feel sorry for me. I know that we must all die someday. But do me a favor, please? Will you take this pail of water to my parents? They are thirsty and expect me at home. Please, please do me this small favor. Don’t worry about me. This is my fate, but please go and give water to my parents.” Then the little boy, who said his name was Sindhu, turned his face to Heaven and died.

Dasharatha burst into tears. With one hand he took up the dead body of the little boy and with the other he carried the pail, full to the brim. Slowly, and with a heavy heart, he made his way to the cottage of Sindhu’s parents.

When Sindhu’s father heard the sound of footsteps he said, “Sindhu, Sindhu, my Sindhu, you have come! We’ve been waiting for you. What makes you so late, my child? Both your mother and I are pinched with thirst, and you have come to quench it. You’re our dearest child, our only darling. Please, try always to be prompt. Don’t waste time on errands that take you away from us. We need you every moment.”

Dasharatha could remain silent no longer. He said, “Oh sage, I’m the wretched Dasharatha. Forgive me, forgive me. Your child, Sindhu, is no more. I’ve brought him home. But, alas, he’s without life. Although I’m the king, I’m entirely at your mercy. Do what you want with my life.”

The father and mother could not believe their ears. As soon as the mother saw her son lying dead in Dasharatha’s arms, she fainted and immediately her husband followed her. In an hour’s time, when they had both recovered, they said to Dasharatha, “King, please do us the kindness of building a pyre right away. This is our last request: as soon as the pyre is lit, we wish to join our son on it. When the fire is blazing, we’ll place our son on it, and then we shall enter the climbing flames.”

In great distress, the king said, “No, no! You can’t do that! I am already responsible for one death! I can’t bear two more. Please forgive me, and I’ll do anything in my power to console you, but this thing I can’t do.”

With one voice the parents answered him. “No, king, we can’t stay. We won’t be dissuaded from joining our son. He was dearer to us than life itself. Without him our
lives are meaningless. Let us join him.”

“Then,” Dasharatha said, “what will be my punishment?”

“No punishment,” the mother replied. “Why should we blame you? This is our fate. We forgive you. Our son forgave you and so do we.”

Her husband, the sage, said, “Wait! Our son has forgiven him, and you may forgive him, but I can’t. Although I have practiced yoga and other austerities all my life, I can’t forgive him.

“Dasharatha, you are responsible, totally responsible, for our son’s death and I curse you. You too, will one day lose your son the way I have lost mine. You’ll be obliged to send him into the forest because of your foolish fondness for one of your wives and, as a result, you’ll lose him.”

At the time of these events, Dasharatha didn’t have a son. But when he heard the curse he cried out, “0 God, don’t give me a son. I don’t need one. It is better not to have a son and not to miss him than to send one into the forest. But I cannot conceive how this could take place. How could it happen? Why would it happen? Who among my wives would be so cruel as to compel me to send my son into the forest? impossible, impossible! Yet the curse of the sage might come true. 0 God, I beg You, either give me a son who will escape this curse or give me no son at all. For to lose a son and enjoy the kingdom would be impossible. 0 Lord Supreme, forgive me, forgive my misdeed. Let this curse remain unfulfilled, I pray.”

But, alas, how can the curse of a great sage pass unfulfilled? There came a time when Dasharatha was indeed compelled by his second wife to send his son, who was dearer than the dearest, into the forest. When his son was gone, it was simply impossible for Dasharatha to bear the shock of his son’s exile and, lamenting the loss, he died.


from Garden of the Soul
by Sri Chinmoy

Published by Health Communications