R is for Rishyashringa mentioned both in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata

The sage Vibhandaka had been performing great penance and observing great austerities for thousands of years. His practices were of the kind, that brought great power in their wake; power to control men, nature and yes even the minor gods. Indra the king of gods and the god of thunder and rain was threatened and played his usual game. He sent the beautiful damsel Urvashi from his court to distract the sage, which would result in the sage losing his powers.

Urvashi comes down to earth, does her usual ‘wind blowing her clothes’ thing, Vibhandaka is filled with lust, loses all concentration and soon Urvashi is with child. As soon as the child is born, Urvashi hands him over to the sage and without as much as a thank you or a sorry, leaves for her heavenly abode. The child thus born is Rishyashringa.

The old sage is bitter for he has been tricked of all his powers by a woman. He decides, that his son will succeed, where he has failed. His son will know nothing of the treacherous female gender and the pleasures that they bring with them. So the child Rishyashringa is brought up in a lonely hermitage deep in the forest. The old sage draws a circle around the hermitage, a circle of protection for his son. No woman, no doe, no cow, no peahen could enter here. For if they did, they would spontaneously self combust. And Rishyashringa is given strict instructions to never step out of the circle. Rishyashringa thus grows up into a young man spending his time in deep meditation and penance and innocent to the wonders of woman, life and love.

Indra is now threatened by the son, but this time, he can do nothing, because of the circle of protection around Rishyashringa. This makes Indra angry and he decides to withhold the rains from the kingdom of Anga where Rishyashringa is protected.

The Kingdom of Anga thus faces severe drought for many years. The king of Anga, Lompada tries to appease Indra. On learning that the innocent austerities of Rishyashringa are the cause of Indra’s anger, he decides to take matters in his hand. He asks the women of his kingdom to help in the seduction of young Rishyashringa. But no one fancies a fried version of themselves and so they all refuse to go anywhere near Rishyashringa and his circle of protection.

In the mean time, in neighbouring Ayodhya, the king Dasharatha has troubles of his own. He pines for a son and an heir, but he has none. All he has is a beautiful and intelligent daughter called Shantha, but that obviously didn’t count for anything!

King Lompada visits king Dasharatha and convinces him, that the answer to both their problems lie in the seduction of Rishyashringa and turning him into a householder, and who better to do this then Dasharatha’s beautiful and intelligent daughter Shantha.

And so Shantha is sent off to the forest where Rishyashringa is meditating. The princess sits just outside the circle. She speaks to Rishyashringa, sings to him and tells him stories of life and love. Rishyashringa has never seen or heard any body like her. He is curious, he is interested, he feels strange stirrings within himself. And so one day when the old sage is away, Rishyashringa steps out of the circle and walks right into Shantha’s welcoming arms. They are married. They make passionate love. I am not sure about the order in which the last two happened.

Indra, sighs and purrs like a kitten. The rains pour over Anga and king Lompada and his subjects let out a collective sigh of relief.

Later Rishyashringa goes to Ayodhya with Shantha, and performs rituals and yagnas to ensure that a male heir is born to his father in law. And thus the great Rama of the Ramayana was born, as the son of Dasharatha and heir to Ayodhya.

This story could end here. But I am reminded of another father. A king by the name of Suddhodana, who tried his best to keep his son from becoming a sage. He ordered that all the poor, the old, the sick and dying be shifted and dumped in the far ends of the kingdom. He ramped up the walls of his palace and surrounded his son with every pleasure known to man. King Suddhodana thinks, that seeped in pleasure, and ignorant of suffering, his son will never leave the palace and become a sage. How does this story end? The young prince Siddhartha goes off and becomes the Buddha!

We as parents, try to bring up our children with our own values, even our own unfulfilled dreams, our fears, our hopes; we try and confine them in our hermitages, enchanted circles, palaces…. but life has a way of finding them! And thank God for that!

As the quoted to death, but forever relevant lines of Kahlil Gibran say:

‘Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.’

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