Recently, I was listening to Ramayana being chanted in a temple near my home. The priests were narrating the part where Seeta was arguing with Ram, regarding accompanying Him to the forest during the exile. Finally Ram had to give in. When Seeta and Ram come out, ready to leave for the forest, they find Lakshman waiting outside. He says he would also accompany Him and Ram agrees reluctantly.
That was when it occurred to me that a very important character has been forgotten. Ramayana speaks greatly of how ideal a wife, Sita is. But it never mentions much about Urmila, Lakshman’s wife. Ramayana probably devotes only a stanza or so to her. Seeta atleast got to stay with her husband, and fulfill her duties of staying with her husband during difficult times. But Urmila did not get that privilege. What happens to her, back in the palace is not mentioned in the epic.
When Ram and Seeta decide to go to the forest, despite Lakshman pleading with Him to not take Kaikeyi’s words seriously, Lakshman becomes upset. He decides to accompany them to the forest, and comes to his chamber to inform Urmila about this. Urmila does not insist that she would come to the forest along with him, like Seeta did. Instead, she asks him to take good care of Ram and Seeta and not to think about her. She foresaw that if she went along with Him, He would not be able to devote himself completely to the service of Ram and Seeta. Such is the great sacrifice of Urmila. Lakshman could become the ideal brother only because of Urmila’s sacrifices.
So what did Urmila do during those fourteen years ?
One version says that Urmila slept during the fourteen years that she was away from her husband. Before you misinterpret her, here is what happened. Lakshman was guarding Ram and Seeta at night, lest somebody attack them. Thus, when the Goddess of sleep, Nidra devi approached Him, He asked her to leave Him alone for the next fourteen years so that He could take care of His brother and sister in law, day and night. But as per the rules of nature, someone would have to bear the consequences of His sleepless. Lakshman asked her to inform this to His wife who was in the palace of Ayodhya. When Urmila was told this, she willingly asked that all her husband’s sleep for the next fourteen years be given to her. Hence, she was asleep for the fourteen years that Lakshman was away and during those fourteen years of exile Lakshman did not sleep at all. It was primarily due to this very reason that Lakshman was able to defeat Meganadh, the son of Ravan. Only one who had not slept, eaten or looked at a women’s face for fourteen years could defeat him. Lakshman could do this only due to Urmila’s sacrifice.
There are many other equally noble characters who have not been given the importance that they should have gotten, for example, Sumitra, Mandavi, Sruthakirthi, Mandothari, etc.. But then again, Ramayana is filled with noble characters. If each character were to be described in detail, the epic would be endless and this would also take the focus away from the main moral, which is the victory of good over evil.