Sumitra apathyam bhumaan Soumithri
I've spent the last two three weeks of my summer reading, or rather rereading the Ramayana. The version at home is Ashok Banker's, so it isn't the most classical version, but it holds true to the story very well, and manages some fresh interpretations at the same time.
But that is not the point of this post. The point is the tragedy of my namesake, Lakshman. Lakshman, the most underrated hero of the epic.
Lakshman makes the biggest decision of his life when he decides he will go live in the forest with Rama and Sita. He's been married, depending on what account you read, between four days and a week. Let's say a week. So, having been married a week, his stepmother sends his brother into exile, for fourteen years. Our man, being the supremely devoted brother he is, leaves with Rama and Rama's wife. He never once looks back.
He leaves at the age of sixteen, and comes back at the age of thirty. I mean, that is a long time to be away from your family. He goes to live in the forest, away from his mother, away from his wife, and lives with his brother and his sister-in-law. In the entire fourteen years, he makes only two mistakes. Two mistakes in fourteen years seems very close to no mistakes in fourteen years. But these mistakes aren't normal ones, they form a good part of the story.
First, he cuts off Surpanakha's nose and ears. The reason seems simple. She's a rakshasi. She's obsessed with Rama. She doesn't take the hint when offered to her. So he resorts to force. BIG mistake. She comes back, howling for revenge, with her two brothers and an army fourteen thousand strong. But this being an epic, they are easily dealt with. A few devastras, and the army becomes just so many piles of dust.
But this brings the matter to Ravana's attention. And Ravana takes one look at Sita, and he wants her. So he sends Mareecha in the form of a golden deer, and Rama goes after it, but not before telling Lakshman to stay with Sita. So, when Lakshman hears the asura cry 'Help' in his fake Rama voice, he doesn't want to go. But Sita tells him to go. Mistake number two. Lakshman rekha and everything aside, he still left on a wild deer chase. And Sita gets kidnapped. War starts. Thousands of vanars and bears die. Almost the entire rakshasa race is wiped out.
And what happens in the war? Lakshman gets taken down by Meghnath. He defeats him later, but he didn't get it right first time, did he?
Lakshman's main role in the Ramayana is as an example of unswerving loyalty. He never questions his decision to stay by his brother at all times, regardless of the cost. But on the way, he also serves as a foil to Rama, emphasizing his perfection by being imperfect.
I know that in the story, he doesn't mind. But I, who am named after him, mind.