The kings of yore were the ones who
punished the wicked and protected the good. The sages gave them guidance.
These sages lived in hermitages in
the forests and were dressed in cloth of red ochre color. This color indicated
that they did not want anything for themselves. They observed a routine
of bathing, penance, meditation and ritual sacrifices unfailingly. Their
food consisted only of fruits and bulbous roots. They would not eat even
these when they sat for severe penance. They also ate dry leaves, Sometimes
water was their only sustenance. At other times they sat for penance taking
in only air.
And wherefore such a rigorous life?
The sages did not want anything for
themselves. They and their wives did not want any earthy happiness. The
sages always thought of the good of the world. All their penance, meditation
and teaching was for the uplift of the people. In the olden days these
sages ran residential schools called the Gurukulas where deserving pupils
were given free board and lodging, and were educated. They shaped the generation,
which would develop the country. Even great kings, whenever problems arose,
went to these sages for advice to solve those problems. They saluted them,
served them and sought advice. They destroyed the Rakshasas, the demons
who obstructed the meditation of the sages. The other subjects were giving
one sixth of their income to the king. What about the rishis who themselves
had no wealth or property? But even they did give some- thing. The king
received a sixth part of the good result of their penance. Of such rishis
Vasishtha was one of the greatest. His hermitage was in a forest far from
the city of Ayodhya.
The king and the queen were both in
great enthusiasm that they were going to see the
Guru who was the teacher for their
whole royal lineage. As the chariot sped along, the trees, plants and creepers
on both sides appeared to be racing in the opposite direction. There was
a cool breeze carrying the scent of fragrant plants and scattering the
pollen of flowers. The plants waved in the blowing breeze. Dileepa was
explaining the specialties of the Ashrama to queen Sudakshina. And by the
evening they set eyes on the hermitage itself.
Some sages were bringing people twigs
for the sacrificial fire. Some others fetched fruits and the Darbha grass.
The deer, which were brought up like so many children of the sages and
their spouses, were waiting at the doors of the cottages for their food.
Water had just then been poured into the tree-beds and birds were drinking
water from them. A few of the deer were chewing the cud in the leaf- house.
Here was no noise or bustle as in the city. There was no dust or running
about or speed. There was calm every where. The king and the queen felt
a great peace of mind even as they stepped into the hermitage. They seemed
to have entered a New World.