My mother was the only daughter of her beloved parents. Even though she never attended any regular school, my grandfather made it a point to teach her at home. He ensured that she was well-versed in the epics Ramayana and Mahabharatha. Indeed she had become such an authority on the two great epics that each and every event in them was on her fingertips. Some of the events she used to quote often were such that you could never find them in any of the versions of the two epics!
Mandodari, the wife of Ravana, is actually a much underrated personality in Ramayana. In our childhood we used to often read a novel written in Kannada highlighting her poignant character and the tragedy of her life. The end of the story invariably brought tears to our eyes. If there is one thing that a mother can never withstand, it is the tears in the eyes of her children. My mother was not an exception to the rule! She used to console us by telling us how Mandodari remained a Sumangali even after the death of Ravana. Needless to say we were relieved to a great extent on hearing the same. The story went like this:
Well before the conclusion of the Lanka War in the Ramayana, Mandodari comes to know that Ravana was destined to die at the hands of Shri Rama. However, she remains helpless. One particular night, she visits the war camp and calls on the Lord personally. Shri Rama was well aware of the devotion of Mandodari towards her beloved husband. He treats her with the honour she so much deserved.
Mandodari tells Rama that she had come to him to seek a boon. Without any hesitation Rama assures her that he will oblige. He asks her to spell out her request. Mandodari straight-a-way asks him to ensure that she remained a Sumangali for life! Shri Rama appeared to be in a dilemma. He knew Ravana was destined to be killed by him at the end of the war. However, there was no way he could break his promise to Mandodari!
Shri Rama tells Mandodari that she would remain a Sumangali so long as the head portion of Ravana’s body remained unburnt. Mandodari knew that the words coming from the mouth of the Lord himself were final. She leaves the place only partially satisfied. Indeed, after the death of Ravana his brother Vibheeshana could not ensure the burning of the skull of Ravana, after he performed all the last rites. He finds the head portion unburnt inspite of his best efforts. He leaves the same as it is - little knowing that it was the result of a boon granted by Shri Rama to his sister-in-law. Mandodari remained a Sumangali till she breathed her last.
While we were quite amused and happy with this story, the story did not end here as one would have expected! There was another twist to the story. This part of the story was quite unusual and perhaps no one would have ever heard. Let me record it now as the sole copyright holder (With due apologies to my other members of the family!) of my mother’s stories!
The mighty Hanuman (Anjaneya), the devoted associate of Shri Rama, had faced acute embarrassment at the hands of Ravana. Ravana had ordered the Rakshasas to set fire to the tail of Hanuman. While Hanuman had his revenge by using his burning tail as a weapon to set fire to Sri Lanka, he had not forgotten the insult made to him by Ravana.
Hanuman comes to know that the head portion of Ravana’s skull remained unburnt even after the last rites were completed. He develops a feeling that he has not seen the end of his enemy. He brings a large bundle of firewood from the forest and sets the head on fire once again. But Lo! The skull remains fire-resistant! But Hanuman was a person who would never give up. He keeps repeating the act daily by carrying one bundle of firewood all the way to the site in Sri Lanka – little knowing that it was the boon of Shri Rama to Mandodari that has kept the head unburnt!
According to legends Hanuman is one among the seven eternal, ageless, immortal souls (the others being Ashwatthama, Bali, Vyasa, Vibheeshana, Krupa and Parashurama). He carries on his never-ending ritual till today!
There was another story on Hanuman told by our mother. At the end of the Lanka War, Shri Rama wants to reward the entire monkey-team (Vanarasena) including Hanuman led by Sugreeva. While all other monkeys including Sugreeva received the awards, Hanuman reserves his entitlement. He stays back with Shri Rama even after the entire Vanarasena leaves for Kishkinda.
At an appropriate time Shri Rama asks Hanuman to tell him what exactly was in his mind. Hanuman asks him for a special privilege. He requests Rama to give him an exclusive audience for an hour every day in the morning. Hanuman tells him that he will sing the Rama Bhajan every day morning for one hour and Shri Rama should hear him exclusively and blackout everything else at that particular time. Shri Rama grants him this exclusive privilege. My mother used to tell us that there was absolutely no use in singing the Rama Bhajan in the morning as Shri Rama was simply unavailable! The trouble was - my mother was not sure about the exact time-slot of one hour in the morning!
As regards the epic Mahabharatha, I just remember one particular special feature of the legendary character of Ashwatthama, son of Dronacharya, the royal Guru, as told by our mother. According to her, Ashwatthama had one peculiarity – he was very particular about appropriate dressing for all special occasions. He used to take his own time to dress up.
Ashwatthama was on the side of Kauravas in the Mahabharatha War. On the first day of the war, he enters his camp room in the Kurukshetra to dress up for the war. Believe it or not! According to my mother, by the time Ashwatthama came out of the room fully dressed up, the Mahabharatha War had come to an end! My mother hated delays and used to quote this whenever we took our own time to dress up!
Our mother is not with us today. But the stories and proverbs often quoted by her keep her memories alive for us always. Quite possibly most of other mothers also did the same for their children. But to quote Dr.Shivaram Karanth – “my mother is my mother only and was quite special. Nobody else would take her place!”
A V Krishnamurthy