According to the Gond Ramayani, Lakshman is a virtuous man, so virtuous that he wouldn’t pluck grass, wouldn’t look at any woman, etc. His palace was guarded by the sun and moon, tigers and bears and many other dangerous animals and insects. One day, he came saw a musical instrument that he wanted to play. He got one made for himself, hung it on the wall and fell asleep for 12 years. Meanwhile, the musical instrument, frustrated at being hung on the wall, entered Lakshman’s dream and asked to be played.

Lakshman does as requested. He wakes up and starts playing the instrument. The instrument had promised Lakshman that none on earth would be able to hear the music he created since he was a celibate and none ought to hear him play the instrument. But the music was not willing to be confined; it wanted to step out of the palace. So it broke the walls of the palace and wafted right up to the heavens, into Indralok, thereby keeping its promise of not spreading on earth!

The music found its way into the ears of Indra Kamayani, one of Lord Indra’s daughters. She was so enchanted by the music that she turned into an eagle and flew down to earth to see who was playing such a melody. When she reached the palace she found Lakshman fast asleep. She made several attempts to wake him up, but to no avail. Eventually, out of sheer frustration, she tore her clothes, removed her jewels and threw them around Lakshman’s room.

In the morning, when Sita came into the room, she was appalled to see it in such disarray. She suspected her brother-in-law of illicit liaisons. She rushed to Ram, but he was a king after all and extremely busy with matters of the court. Sita accused him of being preoccupied with ruling his kingdom and not caring for his brother. It was time he was married, she told him. Ram was surprised at the suggestion, as he knew that his brother was sworn to celibacy. Where was the question of marriage? Sita told him her worst fears and told him that he ought to go and see for himself all that was going on in Lakshman’s palace. Ram refused to believe her version of events and called for the Pandavs to help him who arrived soon. Bhim was asked to find out the truth. (Pandavas of Mahabharat are a common recurrence in the Gond Ramayani)

Bhim checked out the palace and reported the truth back to Rama. But he was not convinced. He decided to look for himself and along with a retinue of courtiers and the Pandavs proceeded to Lakshman’s palace. When asked to explain the torn garments and ornaments strewn all over the room, Lakshman was unable to say anything at all. He protested his innocence but could not tell them where all the things had appeared from.

Lakshman had to take the agnipariksha, trial by fire, Ram ordered. And the story then goes into a detailed description of the ritual–a palace of iron is made by the ironsmith. It is so elaborate that it takes 12 years to make one. Once made, Lakshman is asked to sit inside. Wood from all over is collected to light a fire and heat the entire palace. The enormous fire heats up the area for miles and there is no chance of Lakshman being alive in it, unless he is virtuous enough to remain unscathed.

Soon when the right amount of time had passed Bhim was asked to extinguish the fire. But the fire refused to go out until Bhim filled large pots of water from a water source nearby and doused it. Predictably, Lakshman emerged unscathed, and the water which flowed out of the large pots, became the River Mahanadi that flows even today.

Another version of the same story says that Indra Kamayani was so besotted by Lakshman’s good looks, that she kidnapped him and turned him into a ram. She tied him in her palace during the day and restored to him his human body at night so that she could enjoy his company. Fed up, Lakshman communicated his plight to Sita by appearing in her dream. He pleaded to be rescued. Rama and his army along with Bhim, went to heaven, disguised as musicians and acrobats. So pleased was Indra with their performance that he granted them a wish. They asked for the ram (Lakshman). While they are bringing him home on their chariots, Indrakamani turned herself into an eagle and attacked their cavalcade. A battle ensued between Sita and Indrakamani. Narada then hatched a plan and told Indrakamani that she would get Lakshman as her husband if she went with them. Lakshman took her to his palace which had 18 doors and under the pretext of performing ancestor worship locked her in and left her there for the rest of her life. It is believed that when diseases like cholera and plague break out, it is because of the angry hissing of Indrakamani!

STORY COLLECTED BY: Utkarsh Patel
LOCATION: Madhya Pradesh
TEXT SOURCE: “Ramayani – Lakshmanji ki sat pariksha” (Hindi) by Dr. Vijay Chaurasiya

IMAGE DETAILS: Gond Ramkatha painting
IMAGE SOURCE: From the ‘Ramkatha’ series of paintings organized by Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (www.ignca.in)