Love comes in unknown forms. And the stories about them are many. Even in our own myth and legends, there are tales chronicling the love of so many that one could admire the sacrifices they made for each other. Some stories became quite popular while the others fade over time. But if one searched through our epics and mythologies, they could unearth those faded stories, though they might find varied versions. One such version of one such tale is that of the love Urmila bore for Lakshman. The Ramayana is quite popular for showcasing the love story of its protagonists and the main characters – Rama and Sita but little is known about Urmila and Lakshman.
It sings praises of how Rama moved heaven and earth to find Sita when Ravana, the asura King of Lanka, abducted her, which led to the battle of Lanka where the latter was killed. We all know this story. But are we aware of the fact that just like Sita was a feminine figure known for her sacrifices, her sister, Urmila, harboured a similar personality as well?
What is the story of Lakshman and his wife Urmila?
Many people might. Many people might not. Love isn’t perfect, it makes people do things; some of them are called sacrifices. Urmila sacrificed something, too. Before getting on to what her sacrifice was, let us get introduced to her. Urmila was Sita’s sister.
She was daughter of Maharaja Janaka, the then King of Mithila, and Queen Sunaina. Sita and she, along with two other sisters, were very close.
Their bond was unbreakable, it was said. They grew from childhood into adulthood together and the time soon came when Rama won the Swayamvar by breaking the bow of Shiva. When Janaka saw that Rama of Ayodhya had won the hand of his daughter, Sita, and knowing that the King of Ayodhya, Dasharatha, had three more sons, he decided to marry all four of his daughters to all four of the Princes of Ayodhya. Sita married Rama and Urmila married Lakshman.
Related reading: Divine Sita; Illustrious Draupadi & the tale of clever Damayanti
As is well known, Manthara poisoned Kaikeyi against Rama and Sita. This led to Kaikeyi invoking the promises that King Dasharatha owed her and she demanded that Rama and Sita go into the jungle for a 14-year vanvaas (exile). Dasharatha acquiesced to the queen’s demands after a lot of time and tantrums. Rama and Sita convinced him that he should let them go and crown Bharata the King of Ayodhya.
Related reading: Why it was important for Kaikeyi from the Ramayana to be wicked
I will go alone, he said
Lakshman was adamant that he would accompany his brother and Sita into their exile. When he wouldn’t budge, Urmila too asked to come, but Lakshman refused. He wanted her to help take care of the royal household and perhaps help in some other way; he wouldn’t have her in the forest with him. Lakshman told her that he didn’t intend to sleep and would guard Rama and Sita day and night. So Urmila stayed behind and watched her husband leave with Rama and Sita.
Lakshman was a man of his word and watched over his brother and sister-in-law day and night. On one such night, Nidra, the Goddess of Sleep, came to him and asked him to consider sleeping and relieving himself of his self-imposed duty. Lakshman didn’t budge. He asked her to overlook his sleep. Seeing his loyalty towards his elder brother, she granted him the boon, on condition that someone else would have to sleep for the 14 years to make up the balance. Lakshman asked the Goddess to ask Urmila for help.
Urmila slept for Lakshman
Urmila gladly accepted and slept for 14 years without once waking up. She sacrificed 14 years of her life for the love she bore for her husband and to help him carry on with his duty. That proved to be a boon too. Because Urmila agreed to sleep, Lakshmana stayed awake and defeated sleep.
Because Urmila agreed to sleep, Lakshman stayed awake and defeated sleep.
Since he had defeated sleep, he could kill Meghnath, the son of Ravana, who had been granted a boon that he could be killed only by one who has defeated sleep. Lakshman fit the bill.
Love has enormous power and it affects people, their actions, and the events either directly or indirectly. Urmila’s sacrifice enabled Lakshman to remove one of the most formidable warriors in Lanka’s army, who could have otherwise proved a thorn to Rama and his followers.
Even when I first heard the story of Urmila’s sacrifice, I felt sad for her, yet I had some admiration for the lengths she went to, to keep her husband safe. Her story, though, lingers in the background. Yet it is still a strong indicator of a love story that ought to be admired for the sheer faith and loyalty alone. Urmila never found pride of place in Indian mythological stories and remained a forgotten heroine in the epic Ramayana. But the real sacrifice was probably made by Lakshman and Urmila.