Bharata - sublimity incarnate, is a character in the Ramakatha far different from all others, even Rama, his elder brother. A Kshatriya by birth - the illustrious descendent of Ikshvaku and the second son of Ayodhya's legendary king Dasharatha, Bharata is hardly ever seen turning to arms against anyone whoever, not even 'rakshasa' - demons. Mragaya - hunting, Kshatriyas' dharma - religion, was neither his dharma nor pastime. Not that he never raised arms, arms certainly weren't his option. Towards the Ramakatha's end-part he led a massive army against Gandharvas, considered great warriors, and defeated them. In some versions of the Ramakatha Bharata is said to have resorted to arms on two other occasions. However, he seems to have attained his most goals by spiritual energy and perhaps good will. During the fourteen years' period when Rama and Lakshmana were away in far south and Bharata looked after Ayodhya, Ramakatha-narratives - Valmiki's Ramayana, Tulsi's Ramacharita Manasa. do not reveal a single incidence of violence, cruelty or even wickedness - a rakshasa torturing an innocent or an enemy attacking Ayodhya's borders. Bharata's non-use of arms does not define his passiveness or inaction but a different attitude of mind or a different choice of means for attaining a goal. He ruled but as would a saint, a saint-ruler in true sense. Peace and freedom to move fearless apart, he strengthened borders, multiplied state treasury and stores and had wider boundaries, and all without resorting to arms. On Rama's return to Ayodhya after his fourteen years' exile Bharata tells him not only that : 'Etat te sakalam rajyam nyasam niryatite maya' (Yuddhakanda, 127/55) - he is returning to him his entire state he was entrusted with, but also 'Awekshatam bhawan kosham koshthagaram graham balam .' (ibid, 127/57) - pray, check state treasury, stores, house and army; these are now ten times to what he was given.
A Color Symbolic Episode from the Ramayana
Indeed, it is in Bharata's spiritualism that Ramakatha seeks its fullest accomplishment, unique dimensional width and the body of an epic. Without him it would have been a legend of Ravana's annihilation, or with an armed Bharata, a legend of a family of great warriors annihilating Ravana-like ferocious demons. Bharata's character gives it a different dimension. It reveals the power of soul. Though himself Para-Brahma, Rama, in his manifest form or human birth at least, with arms in hands is engaged, and almost always, in annihilating rakshasa, and sometimes running after a hunt.
The Salvation of Ahilya (An Episode from The Ramayana)
Rama's acts like redeeming Ahilya are more or less incidental.
The most generous, wise and invincible Rama is no doubt a Kshatriya's highest model. This, however, does not give to the Ramayana, a term meaning Rama's abode, or to the Ramacharita Manasa - the mind that Rama occupies, such width as should have the abode of him who is Supreme God manifest. Nothing less than the cosmos or cosmic consciousness Rama's abode would reduce to a house of mere warriors, even if great and undefeatable. Sita, representing purity, and Lakshmana, absolute devotion, add to the Ramakatha further width but it is Bharata who, representing the power of soul, adds to it an absolutely new dimension. In him, this house of warriors also has a saint, the brilliance of sword, also the transcendental lustre of soul. And, as should have a sword carrying saint, Bharata's is a monarch's asceticism, not the monk's, which equally assures the attainment of worldly goals as well as liberation from the cycle of birth and death. The epithet of Mahatma - the great soul that Valmiki has used for him aptly defines Bharata's character and intrinsic quality. Sage Valmiki has not used this epithet for anyone else. A Mahatma, he was in the world and as much beyond it. Tulsidasa perceives in Bharata the power to dually redeem : 'Bharata charita kari nemu Tulsi jo sadara sunahi, Siya Rama pada pemu avasi hoi bhava rasa birati', that is, those who listen to Bharata's life regularly and with a respectful mind are bound by ties of love to the feet of Rama and Sita, and are redeemed from worldly desires.
A Rare and Early Sculpture of Bharata, from Vijayanagara. Note the Sandals on His Head
It is, however, painful that this noble Bharata has not got his due in theology, literature or art. Rather, theologians, litterateurs, sculptors. often appear to be indifferent to him. A bronze statue of the 14th century from Vijayanagara, no doubt a rare work of art, and some stone reliefs representing him in Rama-durbar apart, the centuries' long tradition of Indian sculptural art rarely has a representation of Bharata.
Except a few lesser known Sanskrit texts like 'Pratima Natika' of which he happens to be one of the main characters, Bharata hasn't any narratives - epical or Puranic, devoted to him. Painfully, even contemporary studies, otherwise exploring the Ramakatha into minutest details, appear to be quite indifferent to Bharata. The Kalyana, Gita Press, Gorakhpur's monthly magazine, had in 1994 its annual number as Rama-bhakti Anka. It contained 217 essays by known scholars covering most aspects of the Ramakatha and almost all characters, even Kekeyi, Bharata's mother, and many of Rama's devotees, but Bharata is not the subject-matter of any of them. Ramakatha is the theme of around a dozen of Jain texts. They talk even of Ravana's sons and many insignificant characters, but references to Bharata are almost casual. Thanks to Tulsi's Ramacharita Manasa that inspired people's sympathy towards Bharata with the result that in late Indian painting, both folk and miniatures, Bharata has some presence.
BHARATA IN THE RAMAKATHA
Marriage of Rama and His Three Brothers, Mandi, ca 1750 A.D.
In Ramakatha, Bharata's life does not have narrative continuity, as entwined with the story of Rama has Lakshmana's. His appearance is in phases. Like his other brothers, Bharata, too, was born with the grace of Agni emerging from Putreshti-yajna. He was born of Kekeyi, Dasharatha's youngest wife and the princess of Kekeya. Though almost on the same time, he was born a little after Rama, and Lakshmana and Shatrughna, after him. Ceremonies to name them and for their yajnopavit were jointly held and to the Gurukula - seat of Guru - teacher Vashishtha they were all sent together. However, in childhood itself Bharata reveals an aptitude different from Rama. While Rama enjoys hunting and takes pride in laying before his father his exploits Bharata does not showcase any interest in it. After Rama and Lakshmana leave with sage Vishvamitra to guard his yajna, the focus of the Ramakatha also shifts from Ayodhya to Vishvamitra's ashram - seat, and from there to Raja Janaka's kingdom Janaka Puri. Bharata is not heard of till, invited by Raja Janaka, king Dasharatha along with him, Shatrughna and others reaches Janaka Puri for Rama's marriage with Sita, Janaka's daughter. As arranged between Raja Janaka and king Dasharatha and approved by Guru Vashishtha, Janaka's other daughter Urmila, and his brother Kushadwaja's, Mandavi and Shrutikirti, are married to Dasharatha's other three sons. Bharata weds Mandavi, Kushadwaja's elder daughter.
In the course of time king Dasharatha decides to crown Rama. But, a day before his coronation, Kekeyi, beguiled by her maid Manthara, lays Bharata's claim to the Ayodhya's throne and seeks Rama's exile for fourteen years. When told, Rama leaves Ayodhya. Sita and Lakshmana also accompany him. Here it reveals that Bharata, along with Shatrughna, is at Kekeya, the kingdom of his maternal uncle. The shock is unbearable and Dasharatha breaks and passes away. The narration never extends to Kekeya, but as is subsequently revealed, simultaneous to events taking place at Ayodhya Bharata at Kekeya witnesses a series of bad omens and horrible dreams disturbing his nights often leaving him sleepless. Dasharatha's dead body is preserved for befitting death-rites for performing which Guru Vashishtha sends messenger to Kekeya for summoning Bharata back. The call was urgent but urgency's cause was not revealed to him. He hurries to Ayodhya and ignorant of all that had taken place enters the town. Bad omens further intensify. Hearing crows cawing, jackals moaning, donkeys wailing and others behaving abnormally his heart seems to sink. He does not fail to see that rivers, ponds, gardens, forests and everything do not have the glow that they usually had, and also that horses, cows, elephants . have stopped grazing, and birds feeding on though around them lay scattered a lot of grass and corn. Markets which always surged with crowds' hustle and bustle lay desolate and barren. People of Ayodhya, while passing across, salute him but without enquiring of his well-being, or uttering a word. Bharata suspects something untoward but not exactly what.
In contrast, Bharata, when he enters the palace, finds at the gate his mother Kekeyi all prepared for giving him a customary welcome. Before he meets anyone else she takes him and Shatrughna direct to her chamber. She asks him about the state of affairs at Kekeya. Bharata tells her everything and then asks her about his father, brothers Rama and Lakshmana, and Sita. Kekeyi, miscalculating him, reveals how on Manthara's counsel she has managed for him the Ayodhya's crown, though before it could take effect his father passed away. Bewailing for him the miserable Bharata falls on ground. While crying pitiably 'father ! father !' he asks her the cause of his death. Still confident that Ayodhya's throne would pacify him Kekeyi narrates to him everything from the first to the last. Hearing that Rama has been exiled from Ayodhya to pass fourteen years in forest, and all due to him, Bharata, as if in coma, not only forgets his father's death but even his words. With wide open eyes he gazes at her but does not utter a word. Kekeyi tries to console him but it only adds fuel to fire. His anger bursts. He even forgets that she is his mother and abuses her as sinner, destroyer of the clan, one who waters the leaves after she has felled the tree, and what not ! In a gust of self-condemnation he asks her why she did not kill him when born - 'Janamate kahe na mare mohi', and questions the Creator why He gave him a mother like her when He gave him a noble father like Dasharatha and brother like Rama. Alike enraged Shatrughna kicks Manthara with his foot and dragging by hair brings her to Bharata who asks him to free her. He then rushes to the chamber of Kausalya, Rama's mother, who hearing of his arrival is herself coming towards him. He meets her midway and penitent he falls at her feet imploring that he has no hand in what has taken place. Initially suspicious and annoyed Kausalya raises him to her bosom and both weep. Bharata declares that he will not accept Ayodhya's crown and will first go to forest and bring Rama back. However, persuaded by Guru Vashishtha and others he agrees to accomplish his father's death-rites extending over thirteen days before he goes in search of Rama.
SUBLIMATION OF FRAILTIES : KATHA'S EPICAL DIMENSION
Otherwise a simple narration, this phase of Bharata's life adds some essential epical dimensions to the Ramakatha. As in early Greek epics, or even dramas, and in ancient Indian theory of Rasas, this part seeks sublimation of frailties and universalises a personal or particular emotion. Here divinity bows to human weaknesses, which with their massive volume rise to divine heights, and individual conscience transforms into the all-pervading cosmic conscience. As is Ramakatha, an epic is not a legend of the unborn. It is essentially the story of one born with weaknesses, and indeed, it is in sublimation of such weaknesses that an epic's heroic character emerges and an epic is born. The Ramakatha does not conceal that Rama's exile is a divine arrangement for an errand. However, Dasharatha's love for him, a human weakness, seeks in his death on his separation from Rama such width that divinity falls short of it. It is the same weakness which with its massive volume makes Bharata forget his father's death, shift his priority from his father's death-rites to bringing Rama back, and forget his grace and manners and that Kekeyi is his mother and hence not the object of words that he is using for her. It is what makes Shatrughna to kick a woman and drag her - not an act apt to a prince of Ikshvaku clan, and Kausalya, motherhood's epitome, to doubt a saintly son like Bharata.
Manthara's evil mind, Kekeyi's blind love for her son, Bharata's wrath, self-condemnation, condemnation of his mother, humility, Kausalya's suspicion, all - good or bad, sublimate to befit a divine drama and the structure of an epic. Manthara's evil mind transmits into Kekeyi, and Bharata's wrath, into Shatrughna making him kick a woman, an act so unlike him. Bharata's self-condemnation, the remorse for a wrong which he did not do but is nonetheless its cause, not only breeds in him humility and a kind of passive submission to everything alleged but also deep anguish of which he alone is the object. Kausalya's doubt in him melts into the air and then onwards Bharata becomes the object of everyone's suspicion. Dasharatha's death is a personal tragedy but the emotion of grief that it breeds does not remain confined to persons, place or time. It transforms into bad omens and Bharata's disturbed nights at Kekeya. It echoes in the air of desolate markets, Ayodhya's lanes and everywhere. It transmits into rivers, ponds, forests and makes them relinquish their glow. It infuses into all beings, elephants, cows, horses. and makes them give up grazing, into birds and makes them stop feeding on, and into crows, jackals, donkeys, and makes them pitiably lament. Of all emotions - frailties of human mind, Bharata is the refuge, as it is in him that they transpire, sublimate and universalise.
BHARATA'S TRAGEDY : A SAINT WRONGED
Bharata's is a tragedy of a well-meaning noble soul who does no wrong but is always seen standing in witness-box giving clarification for things which, not only he did not do but weren't ever even in his perception. Kausalya's doubt apart, when after his father's death-rites had been accomplished, he along with all three mothers, Shatrughna, Guru Vashishtha, Sumanta and a large army, sets out in search of Rama, he faces eyes doubting his intentions again and again. He reaches Shrangaverapura, the capital of Nishadaraj Guha who not only doubts his intention but also alerts his army to keep ready for a battle to stop him from proceeding any further. Once again in witness-box, Bharata is required to certify his love for Rama. It is repeated at the Ashram of sage Bharadwaj who duly receives him but lets him know Rama's whereabouts and route to Chitrakuta only after he is satisfied that Bharata is not intending any harm to Rama. Bharata orders his army to camp outside Chitrakuta behind a hill lest its presence disturb the quietude of the holy place where Rama resides. The dust that rises from the hoofs of his horses alerts Rama. He asks Lakshmana to ascend a tree and discover what it is. Lakshmana not only finds out that it is Bharata camping outside Chitrakuta with a huge army but also concludes that he has come with an intention to kill them and usurp Ayodhya's throne for ever. Enraged Lakshmana pulls his arrows to shoot at him but Rama intervenes. He convinces Lakshmana that a state like Ayodhya's, or any, is too insignificant a thing to corrupt Bharata's mind.
Bharata is ever the same saintly soul, but later even Rama's confidence in him shakes and Bharata is required to prove his loyalty. A little before the fourteen years' period of his exile completes Rama wins his war against Ravana, enthrones Vibhishana as Lanka's sovereign and proceeds to Ayodhya with Sita, Lakshmana, Sugriva, Vibhishana, Hanuman, Jambavan and others. When around the Ashram of sage Bharadwaj, he asks Hanuman to go to Ayodhya in disguise as a Brahmin, meet Bharata and after enquiring of his welfare narrate to him his conquest over Ravana and other exploits. He tells him to especially watch his reaction from his face, gestures etc. and assess the true state of his mind for, Rama feels, once someone is in possession of his forefathers' state abounding in riches, horses, elephants, chariots. for fourteen years, he will not easily relinquish it for anyone whoever (V.R. Yuddhakand, 125/3-18).
AT CHITRAKUTA AND AFTER
Bharata Meets Rama in Chitrakuta, ca. 1740-50 A.D.
His meeting with Rama at Chitrakuta is one of the most emotional moments in the Ramakatha. The cause of all that has taken place - father's death, his exile., Bharata once again condemns himself and prostrating at his feet entreats him to return to Ayodhya, which Rama declines.
Bharata Worships the Sandals of His Beloved Rama, Guler, ca. 1780 A.D.
When unable to persuade him to return he prays him to give him at least his sandals and announces that he will rule the state by them and as Rama's custodian. With Rama's sandals he returns to Ayodhya, some accounts say, carrying them on his head, and some other add, walking bare-footed all the way to Ayodhya. Adhyatma Ramayana says that even from Ayodhya to Chitrakuta he went as an ascetic - bare-footed and clad in bark. At Ayodhya, he abandons palatial comforts and decides to live at Nandigram in a grass-thatched hut like a forest-dweller in self exile exactly as would be the life-mode of Rama. He walks bare-footed, wears bark or deer-skin, has matted hair and sustains on fruits and roots. Installing Rama's sandals on Ayodhya's throne every morning-evening he pays them homage and issues all edicts in their name.
He was in the role of a king but lived like an ascetic. The Padma Purana (Patala-Khanda, 99) quotes Rama as admitting that his exile is not so painful as Bharata's penance as the ruler of Ayodhya, and that he has turned into a skeleton being separated from him.
COMMON MAN'S VISION OF BHARATA
The classical tradition has been almost indifferent to these strange aspects of Bharata's life. Even descriptions in texts are quite dull and formal. Folks, folk art as well as oral narratives, are more enthusiastic about Bharata, especially his stoicism. Many folios of folk paintings have portrayed some of these aspects of his life, though while doing so they, or even miniatures, have often represented him as wearing princely costumes, an ascetic's bark or deer skin only sometimes. The common man has seen in him the man who lived all along on spiritual plane, not material, and has woven around him even some legends. As has a commonplace popular in Central India, once a subject asked Bharata how his life as an ascetic could be true when he commanded armies and ruled a state. Bharata did not answer but asked him instead if he had seen his palace. The man answered in 'no'. Bharata ordered an attendant to take him to a round of his palace. He then placed on his palm a lamp filled with oil to the brim and asked him not to let a drop of oil fall. He ordered his attendant to behead him the moment a drop of oil fell from the lamp. When he returned after the round, Bharata asked him what he saw in the palace. The man answered, only the lamp, nothing beyond. Bharata asked him if he was required to tell him how he was not there where he appeared to be.
BHARATA'S RE-APPEARANCE IN THE RAMAKATHA
Bharata is not heard of for many years in the Ramakatha. As aforesaid, he re-appears, or is re-referred to, when Rama is on his way to Ayodhya after the period of his exile is about to complete. On Rama's instance Hanuman goes to Ayodhya and finds him in the same state as he was on the day he installed Rama's sandals - bare-footed, clothed in bark and deer-skin and with matted hair. He hugs Rama's messenger Hanuman and with friendly persuasions asks him to tell him more and more about Rama, his Lord. When Rama reaches Ayodhya he not only hands him over the kingdom of Ayodhya but also the status report in regard to its treasury, stores, forces and other things. Rama proposes to designate Lakshmana as prince regent but he refuses. Thereupon he designates Bharata with the title. Around the end part of the Ramakatha Bharata once again appears. On the request of Yuddhajita, the ruler of Kekeya and Bharata's maternal uncle, Rama sends Bharata with his two sons and a huge army to Kekeya to help Kekeyaraj against Gandharvas. Bharata remains there for five years, defeats mighty Gandharvas and as Rama wished founds two towns Takshashila and Pushkalavat for his sons Taksha and Pushkala. Takshashila was later a great Buddhist centre with the largest Buddhist monastery of its time and a great seat of Buddhist art. In some versions of the Ramakatha he is also sent against Lava and Kusha after, hurt by their arrows, Shatrughna and Lakshmana fall unconscious, though in the battle against the boys Bharata too does not prove to be any better.
Tulsi adds a dramatic event, perhaps to cover Bharata's long absence, in the Ramakatha. The incidence also reveals that not merely a saint he was also a soldier and his arrows were as potent as anyone's, and so the magnitude of his devotion to Rama for he too waked nights-long in defense of Rama's Ayodhya as did Lakshmana attending on him. Detecting some being flying across Ayodhya's sky carrying a huge brilliant mass with him Bharata contemplates him to be some demon intending to drop the mass on Ayodhya to destroy it. He instantly shoots an arrow, and hit by it the flying being along with that mass falls on the ground. The semi-conscious being murmurs Rama's name. Hearing it Bharata rushes to him and makes efforts to restore his consciousness. Remorse once again overwhelms Bharata. He again becomes the instrument of harming a Rama's devotee, perhaps on Rama's errand. However, his consciousness returns. He tells his identity as Hanuman and that he was carrying Mount Dron containing herbs that alone could revive Lakshmana to life. Bharata proposes to send him on his arrow to save time but Hanuman politely declines and assures that of his own he would reach in time and leaves.
TULSI'S BHARATA AS AGAINST VALMIKI'S
Sri Ramacaritamanasa :or The Manasa lake brimming over with the exploits of Sri Rama (With Hindi Text and English Translation)
Tulsi's Rama does not doubt Bharata as does Valmiki's, and this aforementioned incidence affords Tulsi its logistics. Rama knew all about Bharata from Hanuman who had met him beforehand. Hence, Rama appreciates Vibhishana's hospitalities but is eager to return to Ayodhya and meet Bharata. In Ramacharita Manasa also Hanuman is asked to reach Ayodhya in advance but here the reason is different. Rama fears that Bharata might even end his life if he fails to reach Ayodhya on the day the period of exile completes. Tulsi's is the vision of a devotional mind, Valmiki's, of a religious biographer. Valmiki unfolds Bharata's life quite objectively. He respects him as prince of Ayodhya and a saintly soul but does not have for him any kind of personal attachment or feeling. On the contrary, Tulsi is quite subjective and becomes even emotional when portraying Bharata. Indeed, he finds Bharata in him, or finds his devotionalism manifest in Bharata. Often, in Bharata's acts and words Tulsi appears to be recording his own devotional crisis.
Men in authority and even those of common lot always doubted or even disapproved Tulsi's devotionalism so much so that it sometimes irritated him : 'Kahu ki beti saun beta na byahan, kahu ki jata bigara no soyi' (Kavitavali) - not wedding his son to anyone's daughter, or spoiling anyone's caste. He was, however, confident that his Lord Rama was with him and knew the genuineness of his devotion. Bharata, manifestation of his devotionalism, was not so fortunate. He suffered both ways. Not merely sage Bharadwaj, representing authority, and Guha, representing common man, doubted Bharata's loyalty but even Rama and mother Kausalya did so. As in his own case, in regard to Bharata too, Tulsi retains the doubtful minds of sage Bharadwaj and Guha but changes Rama's and mother Kausalya's, obviously to correspond to his analogy. Tulsi's Rama has in Bharata same confidence as in Lakshmana and hardly any doubt persists in the mind of mother Kausalya. Tulsi's Bharata is sublimity incarnate. The words : 'Kabanhu ki kanjee seekarani chhirasindhu binasai' (Ayodhya kanda, 231) - 'could the drops of 'kanjee', fermented mustard, ever destroy 'chhirasagara', the ocean of milk', that Rama utters to calm Lakshmana's anger reveal Tulsi's estimation of Bharata. He is not merely the ocean with immeasurable width and depth but the ocean of milk - virtues.
FOR FURTHER STUDIES
- Valmiki's Ramayana
- Tulsi's Ramacharita Manasa
- Adhyatma Ramayana
- Padma Purana
- Harivansha Purana
- Rama-bhakti Anka, Kalyana, Gita Press, Gorakhpur
- Pauma-chariya of Vimala Suri (3rd century A.D.)
- Uttara-Purana of Gunabhadra (9th century)
- Mahapurana of Pushpadanta (10th century)
- Puranic Encyclopedia
- Prachina Charitra Kosha
- Kamil Bulke : Ramakatha
- The Ramayana Tradition in Asia : ed. V. Raghavan
- Dr. Daljeet and P. C. Jain : Ramayana
- Ramayana, A Journey : Ranchor Prime series