Known Epic, Unknown Story! A Sudaama in Ramayana!
I cannot vouch for the authenticity of this story but it seems to be inspired by this couplet in Thulasidas's Ramacharitmanas
भए कुमार जबहिं सब भ्राता। दीन्ह जनेऊ गुरु पितु माता॥
गुरगृहँ गए पढ़न रघुराई। अलप काल बिद्या सब आई॥2॥
As soon as all the brothers reached the appropriate age, they were blessed by Guru and Parents. Shri Raghunathji (including brothers) went to the Guru's house to study, and within a short time, all his teachings came to him.
Most of us are familiar with the story of Lord Krishnaa’s childhood friend Sudaama (known as Kuchelaa in South India) whose poverty was erased by Lord Krishnaa’s Grace. What is less known is that Sudaama was present during the earlier Raamavaatar too? Is it not amazing?
The Sudaama of Ramayana was called Ananth (infinite). As per practise of those days, Sri Raam stayed at Sage Vasishta’s Gurukul along with Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughan to learn the various life skills as well as other skills essential to develop intelligence and critical thinking. During this time, one of their contemporaries in the ashram was a poor boy called Ananth, who served Sage Vasisht. Ananth had a very special affection for Sri Raam and derived great pleasure in helping the Raam-Laxman brothers. Sri Raam also had immense affection for him. Ananth was very happy to assist Sri Raam by doing little chores for him like cleaning His weapons, sharpening His quills, serving food and so on. Ananth would feel bereft and gloomy if he could not see Sri Raam even for a single day. They were as close as Krishnaa and Sudaama in Sage Sandeepani’s Aashram. Since they were inseparable and the residents of the Aashram referred to them as Anantharaam (Infinitely charming or pleasing).
It was Ananth’s special duty to collect the sacred Darbha or Kusha Grass for the Aashram from deep inside the forest and this necessitated his stay in the forest for a few days every month. Once while Ananth was in the forest, Sri Raam’s education at the Gurukul was completed. He had to leave for Ayodhya without getting a chance to bid farewell. When Ananth returned from the forest, he was very sad and distressed. He wanted to meet Sri Raam one more time and so left the Aashram for Ayodhya searching for Sri Raam.
When he reached Ayodhya, he was shocked to hear that Sage Viswamitra had taken away Raam and Lakshman to guard his yagna in the forest. His heart filled with sorrow and eyes brimmed with tears when he thought of the innocent Sri Raam being away in the dangerous forest and he silently upbraided Dasarth Maharaj for having agreed to send young Sri Raam to the forest. He also mentally raged at Sage Viswamitra and worried incessantly, “Poor Sri Raam what will he do in the forest? Who will serve him? Who will collect darbhaa grass and sacrificial fuel sticks for his daily rituals?” Ananth decided to find Sri Raam so that he could serve Him.
Without even getting permission from his guru Sage Vasisht, Ananth went straight to the Tataka forest. In the wild and thick forest, Ananth kept searching for Sri Raam calling out his name “Raama” again and again; he lost his way and being unable to see Sri Raam, he was in despair. He did not want to return to the Gurukul without seeing Sri Raam so he just sat down, chanting Raam’s name. He was covered by anthill but his chanting did not stop.
As the wheels of time rolled on inexorably, the various events of Ramayana transpired – after completing Sage Viswamitra’s yagna Sri Raam had married Sita; gone to the jungle in obedience to his father’s words; been separated from Sita and had rescued her with Hanuman’s help after vanquishing Raavan and had finally returned to Ayodhya after fourteen years. Arrangements were on for Sri Raam’s coronation but Ananth was still inside the anthill chanting Raama’s name, naively unaware of the relentless passage of time.
To attend Sri Raam’s coronation, all - sages, kings and common men and women- were proceeding towards Ayodhya. One such group of sages while passing the anthill tripped over it and disturbed Ananth’s got up and started wailing for Sri Raam. He was so immersed in the thought of his friend that he neither realized that he was dishevelled with matted hair and neither tattered clothes nor that had he grown older. He continued to call out piteously to Raam. After understanding what had happened, one of the kind sages pacified and consoled him. The kindly sage told him about Sri Raam’s coronation in Ayodhya. Ananth was shocked to hear of Sri Raam’s sorrows and tears flowed anew from his eyes but he was happy to hear of the coronation and joined the sages to reach Ayodhya.
Ayodhya was decked up for the Coronation. The city resonated with the chanting of sacred Vedas and auspicious music. Gurus Vasisht and Viswamitra were busy supervising the preparations for the Coronation. After an early morning bath and greeting His mother and praying at the temple of Sun God, when the resplendently dressed Sri Raam was regally proceeding towards the audience chamber, the august gathering was shocked to hear a loud voice say, ”Arey Raama! Where were you all these days? Do you know how long I have been searching for you?”
Ananth came running towards Sri Raam and embraced him. Everyone was shocked to see a man with matted hair and in rags calling Raam in the singular without the honorific salutation. The guards thinking him to be a mad man rushed forward to drag him away.
Sri Raam embraced him back and wiping his tears and said in an affectionate voice, “Forgive me, Ananth!”
All were stunned to hear Sri Raam say, “I knew how sad you would feel if I left the Gurukul without bidding you farewell and yet I did, forgive my mistake!”
A tearful Hanuman was overjoyed that there was another devotee, who loved Sri Raam like himself. Seeing that Sage Vasisht was puzzled, Sri Raam said, “Don’t you recognize him - my classmate Ananth, who served in your Gurukul? In this big assemblage while everyone was addressing me as ‘My Lord’ my heart was missing my father’s affectionate call of ‘Arey Raam’. Ananth has become equal to my father by appeasing that longing”. Sage Vasisht also embraced Ananth.
Sri Raam then said, “All these days Ananth has been chanting my name and waiting for me; he has at found me last, I want to honour him before the assembly for his devotion.” He turned to Hanuman and said. “How should I honour him, who loves me as much as you love me?”
“My Lord! You have said that he is like your father so before you ascend the throne you should seat him on that throne. That homage and honour to him will be apt and appropriate not only for you but for all of us,” said Hanuman and everyone agreed to his suggestion
Ananth cringed saying that he was not fit for such an honour but others disagreed and ignoring his nays, they seated him on the throne, Sri Raam paid obeisance at his feet and after that only ascended to the throne.
It appears that Ananth was so captivated by the love of the Lord that he reappeared as Sudaama in His next incarnation as Krishna.
Sri Raam! Jai Sri Raam! Jai jai Raam!
Original: Vijayaraghavan on FB