After finishing his studies at the Gurukul, Shri Rama returned to Ayodhya. His father and the three mothers were overjoyed to have the boys back at home.
Sage Vishwamitra came to the court of Dashratha and told Dasharath how Rakshasas (demonic forces) were creating havoc during his Yagna (fire-sacrifice).
He asked him to send Rama and Lakshmana to protect his ashram from their depredations and assaults. King Dashratha intervened, saying that the boys were too young, and offered to go himself with Sage Vishwamitra. But the sage was adamant, and insisted that it was Rama and Lakshman that he needed. After consulting with Vashishtha on the matter, Dashratha let the princes go with him.
On the way, the demoness Tadaka attacked them, but Shri Rama killed her with one well-aimed arrow.
In gratitude, Sage Vishwamitra gifted Rama and Lakshmana with weapons that were blessed and would never miss their mark.
At the site of the Yagna, at the ashram, Shri Rama told the sage to begin the ritual while they would stand guard. Immediately the demons Subahu and Mareech attacked, and began to profane the ritual, laughing raucously and throwing offal into the holy fire. Shri Rama aimed a featherless arrow at Mareech, and fired; Mareech was picked up by it and swept away, falling a hundred yojanas away into the southern sea.
Lakshman took up his guard to protect the yagna from further assaults, while Rama next killed Subahu, who tried to attack them once again.
Thus the havoc caused by these demons in the area of Siddhakshetra finally came to an end, and Sage Vishwamitra was now able to perform his Yagna without any disturbance.
At that moment, a messenger arrived from King Janaka, inviting Vishwamitra Rishi to visit Mithila, and attend the Swayamvar (marriage ceremony) that had been arranged for Janaka’s daughter Sita, with a dhanushyagna, a bow sacrifice. Sage Vishwamitra took Rama and Lakshmana along with him to attend this auspicious event.
On the way, they stopped by the banks of Mother Ganga and spent the night besides the holy river. Vishwamitra told them the story of Ganga’s descent from the heavens and the great achievement of their ancestor King Bhagiratha, who brought the sacred river down to earth with his intense penance. Rama and Lakshman were thrilled to hear the tale.
Next day, on the way, they came across the ashram of Sage Gautama. It was deserted and there was only the petrified form of Ahilya, the wife of Sage Gautama to be found there. Sage Vishwamitra narrated the story of Gautama and Ahilya to them, and then asked Rama to touch the stone figure with his foot.
As soon as Rama’s foot touched it, the stone form of Ahilya became human once again, and singing praises of Rama’s greatness, Ahilya bowed to him, then disappeared to join her husband once again in the heavenly realms.
With the sage, Rama and Lakshmana proceeded to Janakpuri. When the people saw them arriving via the main road into Janakpuri, they thronged en masse to catch a glimpse of the two handsome, enchanting young men. Everybody, men and women, old and young, were all captivated by the sight of Rama and Lakshmana.When he received the news of Sage Vishwamitra’s arrival, King Janaka, ruler of Mithila, hastened to welcome him with due honor. The sage introduced Rama and Lakshmana to him. Rama’s charming face enchanted Janak, and he gazed spell-bound at him.At night, before retiring, Rama and Lakshmana massaged Vishwamitra’s feet, but as the hour was late, the sage bid them stop and go to sleep.
At daybreak, as soon as they heard the cockcrow, the two boys woke up at once. On the guru’s order, they went to gather flowers from the garden for his puja.
The two boys walked around the lovely pushpvatika (garden of flowers). At that time, King Janaka’s daughter, Sita came to the garden with her friends to worship at the temple of Gauri. Their eyes met and Rama and Sita beheld each other for the first time.
Sita was overcome by the glowing, handsome countenance of Rama, and closed her eyes in rapture. Somehow her friends managed to guide her away to the temple for the Gauri puja.
Silently praying to the Goddess, Sita fervently requested to be married to Rama. The Goddess granted her wish. But this secret longing and the granting of the unspoken boon was not revealed to anyone else.
Guru Vishwamitra reached the location where the Swayamvar (marriage ceremony) was to be held. All the kings present in the assembly paled before the radiance of Rama. King Janaka then announced that whoever lifted this mighty bow of Shiva, would receive the garland from Sita, as her chosen husband.
One by one all the kings tried to lift the bow but they could not even move it an inch, let alone lift it. Then some kings tried to lift it together as a team but their combined strength was not enough to even raise the ends of the bow up.
Rishi Janaka then announced that he was grieved to think that there was no man left on earth worthy to meet this challenge. Had he known this, he would not have leveled such a difficult condition to wed his daughter.This enraged Lakshmana. He declared loudly that such a statement should not be made in an assembly where Raghuvanshis are present. “You are asking for the bow to be lifted, but if my guru allows and my elder brother Rama blesses me, I can lift the bow like a branch from a tree!” he said angrily. Sage Vishwamitra pacified Lakshmana and told him to sit down. He then directed Rama when he picked the bow up he should draw it to the breaking point.Shri Rama went towards the bow, and to everyone’s astonishment, lifted it with great ease. He drew back the bowstring until the bow broke in two. The heavens resounded with the crack of the bow breaking asunder. Everyone was shocked into silence.
King Janaka was delighted to see Rama was the one who fulfilled the terms of the Swayamvar (princess’s betrothal ceremony) and asked an overjoyed Sita to come forward. Sita put the bridal garland around Rama’s neck. The Devas rained flowers from heaven in joy.
Moments later, Parshurama arrived, looked in outrage at the pieces of the bow lying on the ground, and demanded in a loud angry tone: “Who has broken the bow belonging to my chosen God Shiva? Tell me so that I can punish him!”
King Janaka was shaken, as the mood of the assembly changed from joy to fear. Lakshmana boldly confronted Parshurama and said, “It was an old bow anyway. So what if it broke? Why make so much fuss over it? We broke countless bows when we were young, and no one ever got upset about it.”
Parshurama said, “You insolent creature! I am sparing you only because you are still a child!” Vishwamitra once again calmed Lakshmana and told him to go sit down. Rama came forward, addressing Parshurama very cordially, admitting with candor: “It is I, your humble servant, who broke the bow. We, the Suryavanshis, have always respected Brahmins.”
Rama’s humble stance and polite tone impressed Parshurama. He looked him over carefully and noticed the brilliant signs of a Divine avatar in Rama. So, picking up his own celestial bow, he handed it to Rama, requesting him to string it, if he could.
As soon as the bow touched Rama’s hand, the bowstring stretched and the bow strung itself. Parshurama bowed low before Rama. “You are Vishnu incarnate, the Lord of the Universe. Forgive me my impertinence!” he said. Then, Parshurama turned away and returned to his dwelling place on Mount Mahendra.