Friday, July 30, 2010

PDE Ramayana: Sampati and Jatayu

Reading Guide. The monkeys and bears are curious to learn how Sampati came to the southern tip of India, his wings burnt so that he is unable to fly. Sampati tells them a story of long ago: how he and his brother Jatayu, when they were young birds, flew too high in the sky.

Image: The photo below shows a depiction of Sampati on display at the Sanam Luang in Bangkok, Thailand. The story of Rama, known as Ramakien, is the national epic of Thailand, which is why the kings of Thailand take the name Rama. You can read more about the Thai Ramakien at Wikipedia.

Source. The Iliad of the East: The Ramayana, by Frederika Richardson Macdonald (1870). [800 words] This is another section from Macdonald's vivid and detailed retelling of key scenes from Valmiki's Ramayana.

Sampati | 49. Sampati and Jatayu | Hanuman's Leap

Ah me, the empire of the air is large; the earth is a great place, and I have heard it said by birds who have plunged and dived into it the ocean seems to have no bounds nor limit! Yet, though a nest is of such insignificant size, it fills the heart more than a whole universe! Up among the crags of the old Himalaya, I used to roost beside Jatayu, and as we grew to be large birds, our stony nest could scarcely hold us, and we had to press close, close together, so close that we could hear and feel each other's hearts beat, and they kept time so nearly, it had been hard to say which was Jatayu's, and which mine!

It chanced, one day, that my brother and I being thrilled by the wild air, started to fly a race together, through Indra's world. But when noon came, and the fierce sun looked straight at us, Jatayu fainted and tumbled through the air, head foremost!

Then, full of love and pity, I outspread my large wings between him and the cruel sun, but the hot beams withered them up and, maddened with pain, I staggered earthward and fell on the summit of this Mount Vindhya.

Long I lay there unconscious because my agony had exceeded what life can know; at length I awakened to the loss of death without its restful gain. I had no wings; my sight was dimmed; only the sense of pain was left! For some time I remained there, hoping all would be over soon. But death came not!

Wearied out with suffering, I dragged myself down the rocky slope to the entrance of the cavern of the Saint Nishakara. There, leaning against a tree, I waited till the saint should pass that I might ask him why death refused to give me rest.

Towards even, when the sleepy breeze was hushing the flowers to sleep, Nishakara came walking towards the hermitage, and behind him came a troop of wild animals, lions, tigers, leopards, bears, etc., lovingly escorting the holy man to his abode. The hermit looked at me with mild pity as he passed, but he entered the cavern without speaking to me. Then, very disconsolate, I thought to drag myself back whence I had come.

But, after a time, the good Nishakara came forth to me and said compassionately, "I saw two bold, young vultures, sons of the great Garuda, bound forth, to fly a race through Indra's world. The shape of one of them was like to thine, O poor wingless bird!"

Then, mournfully, I told my story.

"And wherefore hast thou come to me?" asked the saint when I paused.

I looked up into his face with great despair. "I would have thee ask the Lord of Creatures to let me die," I said. "Of what good is life to a bird who has no wings?"

"Of what pleasure, thou wouldest say," answered Nishakara gravely. "Were thy life of no good, the Lord of Creatures had not left it thee! But I understand that it seems hard to thee; thou art but one of the younger sons of Brahm, and even his eldest-born, Man, frets often at the fact that his own happiness is not the object of his being. Know then, for thy comfort, thou shalt have thy wings given back to thee some day. Wait patiently till the chance be given thee of serving a more noble being than thou; afterwards, thy power to float through Indra's world shall return, and thy love of life shall be redoubled."

And so I have lived on patiently. Perchance this noble Rama may be he of whom the saint spoke; for if I do not err, I can give you tiding of his lost queen. But first, I would ask your Highnesses to carry me to the shores of Varuna's world, that I may celebrate the ceremony of lustrous waters in honor of my deceased brother.

So the Simians led the noble Bird to the seashore, and there Sampati offered the funeral honors, which the rites command, to the memory of the magnanimous vulture who perished by Ravana's hand, and he mourned there for the good Jatayu, and the impressionable apes mourned with him. Afterwards, they carried Sampati back again to the mountain, and the princes of their company surrounded the kingly vulture who, having purified himself in the cleansing waters, was resplendent with beauty, as though youth were returning to him. 

Sampati | Sampati and Jatayu | Hanuman's Leap

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