Book 2: Ayodhyā Kāṇḍam (UVS Tamil Text)
Chapter 8: Entering the forest, 35-45
Translated by David Shulman. This is a draft and may not be reproduced without prior written consent.

Rama, Lakshmaṇa, and Sita arrive at Citrakuta Mountain after crossing the Yamuna River.


The sight of the river brought joy and reverence

to their hearts; they knew her greatness.  Caked in dust

from the journey, they plunged into the deep water,

ate a meal of ripe fruit and roots and drank, wondering

how to cross to the other shore.


The young brother[1] to the lord of Ayodhya’s land, where raw sugar

flows from the sugar-press through the fields, cut bamboo stalks

and lashed them together with manai vines to make a raft.

Seating the princess and the lord with arms tough as boulders,

he pushed off into deep water, swimming at first, then steering

with strong strokes, his arms like Mount Mandara at the time

of churning,[2] and on one side the water rushed down

to the Eastern Ocean, and the rest, on the other side, flowed 

upstream to the Western Sea.


Clad in bark fiber, they alighted on the shore. Before them

stretched a scorched desert: branches, roots,

the heaven above, the thinking mind,

all were seared and charred.


The prince thought: “She’ll never make it.”

At that very moment the fierce sun spread rays

of moonlight, withered branches burst into green,

and the lotus bloomed in patches of burnt sand.


Jagged, burning stones scattered on the path

were now cool, supple flowers, and vines baked

and broken put out new buds. Sweet nectar dripped

from the fangs of fierce snakes.


Clouds gathered, rumbling, sprinkling cool drops.

Archers with heavy bows lost their taste for killing,

as if they’d become serene sages. No living being

was left with hatred or hunger. Fawns nursed

at the tigress’ breast.


Snakes lurking in stony caves, their stomachs aflame,

shed their sorrow and were at rest, as if washed

by gentle waves. Thickets of bamboo so dry they could easily

catch fire with their glowing anthills were like the soft arms

of young girls with coral lips and tiny teeth.[3]


Grasses spread for miles like blankets of green.

At every point peacocks were dancing,

showing off their feathers, like women on a stage,

as bees hummed a sleepy drone.


Fruits ripened out of season. The earth burst out

in buds as if there were no hidden roots.

Bare branches blossomed like

radiant young women. In this world,

good nature—not self-mastery—works magic.


Bandits’ haunts had turned tranquil as an ashram.

The Indragopa beetle glowed red as ruby

at every turn. You could hear the cuckoo calling

to his mate from branch to branch.[4] The lemon tree

burst out in buds soft as the down at the root

of a peacock’s wing.


Like the heart of a woman

with long, fragrant braids whose husband

is leaving for war, or for money, promising

to come back, and she hangs on to him for dear life,

this wilderness was on fire, but it turned cool

like that woman’s heart when her man

comes home, a hero’s anklets on his feet.

[1] Lakshmana.

[2] The gods and the demons used Mount Mandara as the churning rod when together they churned the Ocean of Milk.

[3] Women’s arms are often compared to bamboo. Termite hills are home to snakes; here, perhaps, they are “glowing” with the precious stones snakes are said to have in their hoods.

[4] A: pirintaṉa (the male cuckoo calls to the female who has left the nest).