There is one character in Ramayana who has not been given her due importance. This character is that of Urmila, Laxman’s wife. One version says that Urmila’s character is so great, her sacrifice so supreme that no amount of description or praise can justify it. When Sita went into exile along with Rama, faced innumerable hardships, had to conceive in the most difficult circumstances, at least she was in the company of her husband, Lord Rama, and had unending help from her brother-in-law, Laxman., who looked upon her as his mother. Urmila, on her part wanted to accompany her husband, but remained back in Ayodhya to look after Laxman’s ageing parents on his bidding. Laxman also explained that if he took her (Urmila) along, he would not be able to give undivided attention and service to Sri Rama and Ma Sita. Urmila suffered in silence for fourteen long years, never complained about her loneliness or anything else for that matter.
There is a little tale I heard somewhere, but is not in many versions of the epic which tells us how great her dedication to Rama, Sita, Laxman and Laxman’s purpose was. While in exile, Laxman had taken a vow to keep awake through out the exile period of fourteen years in order to better serve and protect Sri Rama and Ma Sita. Days, weeks, months and years passed. After a while, the goddess of Sleep became aware of Laxman’s penance. Pleased with his unwavering dedication and attention to Rama and Sita, she appeared in front of Laxman. She said that she was impressed by his sense of devotion to his purpose and was there to bless Laxman so that he would not get tired by those sleepless nights. Laxman responded by saying that he could never get tired of serving his Lord and his Mother. To accept her blessings for the purpose she mentioned, would amount to self doubt. And Laxman begged the goddess’ forgiveness.
The goddess of sleep was silent and thoughtful for a while. Finally, she said: “Now that I am here, I cannot go away without giving you some kind of boon. Ask for anything.”
Laxman folded his hands and replied: “Devi, I am here under protection (chhatrachhaya) of my Lord Sri Rama and Mother Sita. In Ayodhya, Urmila is fighting a lone battle looking after my parents. So please visit her and bless her so that she does not suffer.” So great was Laxman’s dedication Sri Rama and Sita that he remembered Urmila for the first time in years.
The goddess was pleased and promised Laxman that she would fulfill his wish. She visited Ayodhya, met Urmila and told her about her visit to Laxman and about Laxman’s wish for the goddess to bless her. Urmila’s reply was a typical one that only Urmila could give: “Hey Devi, I am honored. But, I am not tired. I can not get tired of looking after my near and dear ones. Moreover, it was my husband’s wish that I stay back and it is my solemn duty to obey him. Again, he had not compelled me. He had merely stated his wish. I am happy. Still, if you want to fulfill my wish and bless me, please see to it that Laxman doesn’t remember me even once during rest of the remaining exile period, otherwise he will worry about me and that will hinder his dedication to Sri Rama and Ma Sita, which I do not want. So remove me from his memory till then so that he can concentrate and serve them without his mind wavering.”
How can any description justify Urmila’s character? Suffice to say that even Valmiki has mentioned that Urmila’s sacrifice was unparalleled. That says it all.