“How can you read such boring philosophy all day ?” asked my niece as I was leafing through the Valmiki Ramayana for my article on Narada’s disciples “You have really grown old”, she said with some disdain.
“Why?” I quizzed her. “Ramayana is not boring .Its such a beautiful story of love , valour , values and …”, I was cut off in the middle .
“You can’t be serious” , she injected in disbelief. These stories have nothing about love . You can find a nice story here — she waved Eric Segal’s Love Story in front of me . This novel, to be honest, was one of my favorites too, as I was growing up . And then she took out an abridged version of Wuthering Heights and Romeo and Juliet which were on her school’s reading list. Surprisingly, our kids know more about western love stories than Indian ones . But I digress . I was at that time engrossed in a very interesting footnote in Ramayana . The footnote summarized the unlikeliest love story I could have come across .
The love story of Ravana’s famous warrior son — Meghnada and Sulochana the daughter of Sheshnaag — the Serpent King who is also Sri Hari’s restful seat and his protector . I was hooked . I had never paid attention to this small footnote earlier .
The story goes that Meghnada was a famous warrior and had even beaten the Deva king Indra, thereby earning the title ,Indrajit . After defeating Indra — Indrajit attacked Naagloka (the serpent kingdom) and defeated the serpent king Vaasuki. Vaasuki warned Meghnada that his elder brother Sheshnaag will never forgive him and will be his end .
But the victorious and triumphant Meghnada ignored the curse and instead basked in the joy of effusive praises from his father — the Asura king — Ravana .The daughter of Sheshnaag- Sulochana however fell in love with him and was totally smitten . One version of the story is also that Meghnada actually attacked Naagloka because Sheshnaag refused to allow Sulochana to marry him . In any case the couple eventually got happily married and stayed in marital bliss and love for several years . Somewhere — it is said Ravana and Meghnada also believed that Sheshnaag would never kill his own son-in-law ( Sons- in-law have a real special treatment across Indian culture . That’s why ‘special treatment’ itself is called being treated like a “damaad”)
When Sri Rama attacked Lanka- and Sulochana heard about Rama Lakshmana and Hanuman — she lost her sleep . She instantly remembered the prediction from Brahma that the killer of Meghnada would not have slept a wink for 14 years (Modern sleep researchers would say its impossible and that much sleep deprivation would have caused Lakshmana to collapse much earlier ) and saw in Lakshmana a glimpse of Sheshnaag’s strength and steely resolve .
In the Sanskrit classic — Meghnada Bodh Kavya — its described beautifully how Sulochana tries to stop Meghnada from going to war against Rama and Lakshmana . She beseeches him to listen to reason , to think of her and their love , to remember the predictions made about his own future and also examine the righteousness of his father’s actions . She reminds him of Vibhishna and pleads with him to not fight . Meghnada loves her deeply. Somewhere deep within he knows — every word of what she is saying is true . Yet he portrays a strong front and tells her that he has to follow his dharma of being a warrior and also the son of Ravana and would do whatever his father commands .
It is with tears in their eyes — that the loving husband and wife part .
While Indrajit -is able to make a first strong attack on Lakshmana — eventually Lakshmana — the incarnation of Sheshnaag kills him with his potent arrows .
Mad with grief — and refusing to marry the conquerors ( unlike Mandodari- Ravana’s wife, who married Vibhishana later)- Sulochana throws herself into the funeral pyre of Indrajit — her one true love.
While this story is relatively unknown in the North — in the South of India it has found expression in several movies . There are 3 movies by the name of Sati Sulochana — the first made in 1921, which was a silent movie directed by GV Sane . and the last made in 1961 in Telugu with NT Rama Rao as starring as Meghnada. The story has the same elements as popular blockbusters- love fostering in the midst of sworn enemity, drama, lots of action and a mega war .
By the way, the foot note added that this story wasn’t there in the original version of Valmiki Ramayana but has been added later and is found in the later versions .There is some debate around Sulochana — for Pramila is also considered Meghnada’s wife but as he had only one wife — it can be assumed that Sulochana and Pramila are same . It is sad that our younger generation identifies more with the dramatic tales of the west than our own — so perhaps I will in subsequent posts — try to share some interesting love stories too, from our past . Jai Sri Hari !