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RKD: 2.7: The Rākṣasī Shurpanakha

The time passed quickly for Rāma and His companions. They lived in almost complete solitude, seeing only an occasional ascetic. Although Rāma wanted to face the Rākṣasas, no opportunity presented itself.

One day, just as Their tenth winter in exile was ending, a powerful Rākṣasī named Shurpanakha, a sister of Rāvaṇa, came to the Panchavati region. While she was roaming about looking for food, she saw Rāma’s footprints and followed them. Soon she arrived at Rāma’s cottage. As she came near the hermitage she saw Rāma seated outside His hut. She was immediately attracted to the handsome Rāma, with His powerful frame and majestic bearing. Her mind filled with lust, she assumed the form of a beautiful woman and walked slowly before Him.

“Who are You, dressed in ascetic garb yet wielding weapons?” the Rākṣasī asked. “Why have You come to this forest which is frequented by Rākṣasas? Be pleased to tell me.”

Rāma looked guilelessly at the Rākṣasī. “There was a powerful king named Daśaratha,” He replied. “I am his son Rāma and this is My brother Lakṣman. There is the princess of Videha, My wife Sītā. On My father’s command I am sojourning here in the forest. Now tell Me, who are you, O beautiful maiden? Who is your husband? You seem to Me to be a Rākṣasī capable of assuming various guises. Tell Me truly why you have approached Me.”

Shurpanakha moved her hips and glanced down coyly. “Know me to be Shurpanakha, sister of the unconquerable Rāvaṇa. Living here with my other brothers, Khara and Dushana, I range these woods devouring ascetics and causing fear to all. However, upon seeing You I long to embrace You as my husband.”

Shurpanakha hoped that, even if Rāma was not attracted to her, out of fear of her He might accede to her request. Hearing that she was a Rakshashi, Rāma and Lakṣman looked at her in surprise. In her fine silks and ornaments she appeared exactly like a celestial maiden. She moved closer to Rāma and smiled. “O Rāma, of what use to You is this skinny and deformed woman?” she asked, throwing a disdainful glance at Sītā. “Accept me as Your wife. I am possessed of great power. After devouring this wife and brother of Yours, I will carry You to high mountain reaches where we can sport together in joy.”

Rāma laughed heartily. He decided to joke with the infatuated Rākṣasī. “O beautiful woman, I am already married. For ladies like you it is always painful to have a co-wife. Here though is My younger brother. He is handsome and highly qualified and is as yet unmarried. Why not take Him as your worthy husband?”

Shurpanakha turned quickly toward Lakṣman, who stood smiling with His hand resting on His bow. The Rākṣasī moved toward Him. “See my alluring form,” she said. “I am certainly worthy of becoming Your wife, O handsome one. Let us range together happily through these woods.”

Lakṣman caught Rāma’s joking mood. “Why do you seek to become a maidservant, foolish woman?” He asked with a laugh. “I am dependent on My older brother. As My wife you will be Sītā’s servant. You should seek only Rāma as your husband. Who could actually refuse you in favor of a human lady? Surely Rāma will soon abandon the weak and worn-out Sītā once you are his wife.”

Shurpanakha was too simple to catch the joke. She took Lakṣman’s words to be true and turned again toward Rāma, who sat next to Sītā. “Why do you cling to this hideous wife of Yours?” she asked, growing impatient. “If it is her who stands between You and me, I shall now devour Her, even as You watch. We shall then roam together at ease.”

Shurpanakha rushed furiously toward Sītā, even as a large meteor would fall toward the earth. She assumed her natural form as a Rākṣasī, appearing like a black cloud. Rāma immediately roared and checked her by the sound alone. As she fell back Rāma said angrily to Lakṣman, “It is clear that jests should not be had with cruel, low-class people. See how We have placed Sītā in danger. O mighty brother! Take Your sword and quickly disable this ugly, vile and wanton being. Do not slay her, as she is a woman.”

Lakṣman drew His sword. He moved swiftly and sliced off the demon’s long nose and pointed ears. Shurpanakha screamed in pain. She realized the brothers were formidable and quickly ran off into the woods. Her dissonant and horrible cries could be heard disappearing into the distance as she retreated. She bled profusely and raised her arms as she ran, roaring like a monsoon cloud.

The Rākṣasī sought her brother Khara, who was the leader of the Rākṣasas in the forest. Going before him drenched in blood and crying

loudly, she dropped upon the ground like a bolt from the blue. Khara sat surrounded by numerous powerful Rākṣasas. He was holding a massive club. When he saw his sister’s state, he frowned.

“What fool has done this to you?” the Rākṣasa snarled. “Who has ignorantly goaded a poisonous serpent with his finger? Whoever has assailed you has fastened around his neck the noose of death. Tell me explicitly, O sister, who will today meet with his end at my hands?”

Khara stood up. He was proud and arrogant. He took the offense to his sister as a personal insult. “Who could possibly have been so bold as to provoke me?” he thundered. “Whose foaming blood will soak the earth today? Whose flesh will the vultures delightedly tear from his body when he lies slain by me on the battlefield? Quickly tell me the name and whereabouts of the wretch. I do not see a being in the three worlds of heaven, earth and hell who would dare challenge me, including Indra himself!”

Shurpanakha gathered her senses and answered her furious brother. She told him how she had seen Rāma and Lakṣman in the forest, appearing young and tender yet obviously possessed of terrific strength. “These two brothers look like Gandharva kings,” she said. “They are dressed like ascetics and seem to be in perfect control of Their senses. I could not ascertain if They were humans, gods or some other divine beings. In their midst I saw a young lady of faultless form and beauty who shone like the moon. On account of that lady I was reduced to this state by those two brothers.”

Shurpanakha asked Khara to kill them immediately. Holding a cloth to her wounded face she said, “I long to drink the blood of that slender woman as well as of those two brothers. Quickly accomplish my desire, dear brother. Go now to where they are staying and slay them in an encounter.”

Khara at once ordered fourteen powerful Rākṣasas to go and attack the two princes. He told his sister to accompany them. “Once these Rākṣasas have made short work of those three, you may drink Their gushing blood. Dragging Their corpses on the field of battle, pierce Their soft flesh with your long teeth.”

Like clouds driven in a storm, the fourteen Rākṣasas along with Shurpanakha sped toward Rāma’s hermitage. As they arrived they saw Rāma seated at ease with Sītā in front of Their hut. Lakṣman was nearby chopping firewood. Rāma saw the Rākṣasas entering the area of His hermitage and He said to Lakṣman, “Wait here by Sītā’s side, O son of Sumitra. I shall quickly dispatch these evil marauders of the forest. Indeed, I have long awaited just such an opportunity.”

Rāma stood up and strung His bow in an instant. He called out to the Rākṣasas, “Halt! Why do you seek to injure Us? We live here peacefully, harming no one. Armed with My bow I aim to make this forest free from the likes of you. If you have any love of life, then flee now and never return. Otherwise stand on the battlefield and witness My show of strength.”

The Rākṣasas looked at Rāma and laughed. Each of them was twice as tall as Rāma. Their bodies were hugely powerful and they were equipped with fierce weapons. They considered Rāma’s threat comical. It was a rare human who could face even one Rākṣasa in battle, and they were fourteen. Their leader replied harshly to Rāma.

“Foolish human! What power do You have to face us in battle?” he said, his voice resounding around Rāma’s hermitage like a great drum. “You have angered our master Khara and thereby brought death upon Your head. Hit by our iron clubs and swords, You will soon succumb to our might. Boast while You can, for in a moment You will give up Your valor and indeed Your life.”

All fourteen Rākṣasas rushed at Rāma. They roared loudly and hurled large iron darts. Rāma stood His ground. Releasing fourteen arrows He cut down the darts as they flew at Him. The Rākṣasas raised their swords and closed on Rāma, their mouths open and their eyes bloodshot. Rāma, moving more quickly than the eye could see, at once fired fourteen arrows one after another at each of the demons. His long, straight shafts were made wholly of iron with points sharpened on stone. They screamed through the air and hit each demon in the chest. Their hearts ripped apart, the Rākṣasas fell to the earth, soaked in blood, like fourteen great trees felled by a storm.

Shurpanakha was astonished to see Rāma’s prowess. Surely He was not an ordinary man, nor His weapons those of an ordinary warrior. She ran away in fear and disappointment and fell again before Khara.

Khara looked at her in surprise. “Why are you still crying?” he asked. “I have already sent fourteen brave fighters to oblige you. Those Rākṣasas are unassailable and devoted to pleasing me. Without doubt they will satisfy your desire. With me and my army as your protector why do you wail?”

Shurpanakha told her brother what had happened. She sat before him trembling, with blood encrusted on her face and clothes. Khara listened in amazement as she spoke.

“Although your fourteen fighters were angry and impetuous, they were quickly slain by Rāma. He exhibited fearsome energy and power. His arrows were like rods of death. All fourteen Rākṣasas are now prostrate upon the ground, killed easily by Rāma. O Khara, my mind is possessed by terror when I think of Rāma. Be my protector!”

Shurpanakha rolled about on the ground, beating her chest and shedding tears. She mocked her astonished brother, trying to goad him into battle with Rāma. “What is the use of your idle boasts? Go out and face Rāma in a fight. You will soon see your energy and pride humbled. Or if you actually do have any power, then let it be proved. Slay the two brothers today and avenge me and your fourteen servants.”

Khara rose up like a serpent that had just been kicked. He screamed in anger. In the midst of the other demons he roared, “My fury is immeasurable! It cannot be held in check any more than a mighty ocean wave. By virtue of my strength I hold this human Rāma of no account whatsoever. His life is already ended. Dry your tears, sister. Today you will see Rāma sent to Yamarāja’s abode. After I sever His head with my axe, you will drink His hot blood.”

Shurpanakha was delighted. She praised her brother as a giant among the Rākṣasas. Despite his boasts, however, Khara considered Rāma a formidable opponent. He gave instructions to his brother and general, Dushana. “O valiant one, prepare my chariot. Fill it with every kind of weapon. Order all of the fourteen thousand Rākṣasas under my command to prepare themselves for battle. I myself will march at the head of the high-souled Rākṣasas to destroy the arrogant Rāma.”

Dushana fetched Khara’s huge golden chariot, which shone like the sun and was drawn by a hundred spotted horses. It resembled a peak of the golden Mount Meru. In its center it had a large ensign pole made of cat’s-eye jewels. The chariot was bedecked with small gold bells and its sides were studded with red and blue gems and embellished with carvings of alligators, flowers, trees, mountains, lions, tigers and flocks of birds. Many flags flew from tall poles and it had eight golden wheels. Khara indignantly ascended the chariot and, raising his sword, ordered the army to advance. With a great clamor the vast army sallied forth from the Janasthana forest. Holding clubs, darts, razor-sharp axes, javelins, maces, swords, scimitars, bows and sharpened discuses, they moved off, all shouting their battle cries.

Khara urged his charioteer to spur on the horses. The sound of the swift moving chariot filled the four quarters. The army followed behind Khara, some running on foot, some coursing through the air, others riding horses and still others on the backs of elephants. They were all seized with a desire to kill the enemy.

As they drove forward, however, they saw various evil omens. The sky above them was covered with a huge grey cloud which poured down blood-red water. Khara’s horses stumbled and fell even on level ground. The sun appeared to be surrounded by a dark, red-edged halo. A gigantic, frightful vulture settled on Khara’s ensign pole. Carnivorous beasts and birds cried in discordant notes and jackals yelled. The wind blew violently and thick darkness covered the four quarters. Stars flashed in the sky and meteors descended with roaring sounds.

Khara felt his left arm throbbing violently. His voice grew faint and his eyes were filled with tears. A sharp pain filled his head and he heard a loud ringing in his ears. Even though he saw these omens, however, out of folly Khara did not return. He laughed loudly and said to his followers, “Disregard these evil portents, O Rākṣasas. They do not bother me in the least, although they are terrible and inauspicious. I am able to stand before Death himself. With my sharp arrows I can shoot the stars from the sky.”

Khara railed foolishly, considering the omens to be sent by the gods, for whom he cared little. He raised his battle-ax and bellowed, making the earth shake. “How can I return without slaying Rāma and Lakṣman, who are so proud of Their strength? Today my sister will be gratified with the blood of those humans. I have never been defeated in battle and am unafraid even of Indra when he stands with the whole heavenly host.”

The demons felt joy upon hearing Khara’s valiant speech. As if bound and dragged by the noose of death they raced toward Rāma’s hermitage.

In the sky many ṛṣis assembled to witness the encounter. Gods, Gandharvas, Siddhas and Cāraṇas came in their aerial cars. The celestial beings, who were friendly to all, spoke together. “May all be well with the Brahmins,” they said. “Even as Viṣṇu conquered the foremost demons with his discus weapon, may Rāma annihilate the Rākṣasas.”

While the gods looked on, Khara, surrounded by his powerful generals, rushed forward, eagerly seeking combat. The Rākṣasas suddenly approached the two princes, even as a group of planets might rush toward the sun and the moon.

From his hermitage Rāma had also seen the evil omens. “Behold these portents, O brother, foreboding the imminent destruction of the Rākṣasas. These grey clouds are raining blood, while My arrows are shaking in Their quivers. This undoubtedly means death will soon overtake the entire Rākṣasa horde.”

Rāma felt His right arm throb and His mind becoming enlivened. Such favorable omens indicated His victory, although all around Him He saw evil portents. He concluded that there would shortly be an encounter between Himself and the Rākṣasas, from which He would emerge victorious.

As Rāma contemplated in this way He heard the distant crash of Khara’s advancing army. The sound of beating drums and roaring Rākṣasas filled the air. Quickly taking Sītā by the hand, Rāma said to Lakṣman, “Take this delicate princess to some safe cave on the mountain. Please don’t hesitate.”

Rāma knew His brother was longing to confront the Rākṣasas, but Sītā had to be protected. Lakṣman obeyed Rāma’s order immediately and took Sītā to a concealed cave which was difficult to reach. After placing Her inside He stood at the entrance holding His bow.

Rāma put on the golden coat of mail Agastya had given Him. He strapped on the two inexhaustible quivers of arrows and tied His sword to His belt. Standing rooted to the spot Rāma looked like a brilliant flame suddenly appearing in darkness. He twanged His bow, which filled the quarters with its terrifying sound.

The gods looked on, eager for the Rākṣasas to be destroyed. They gazed at Rāma, who stood fearlessly before the charging Rākṣasas. He resembled the invincible Śiva seized with fury, but He was single-handedly facing fourteen thousand terrible demons. Curious to see the outcome, the gods watched in anticipation.

As the Rākṣasa army rushed toward Rāma they seemed like a mass of dark blue clouds. The forest animals fled, terrified by the sound of the approaching army. Rāma suddenly saw the Rākṣasas coming at Him from all sides. They screamed in fury and hurled their spears, darts and clubs. From his chariot Khara released a thousand flaming arrows and roared loudly.

Rāma stood firm. He was pierced with numerous arrows and His limbs were smeared with blood. With His own arrows He cut down the rain of weapons. Axes, swords, lances and spiked maces were thrown at Him with the force of a tempest. Rāma whirled around and parried the weapons with His straight-flying arrows. As the foremost Rākṣasas closed in on Him, mounted on elephants, Rāma seemed like Mount Sumeru assailed by thunderclouds. He did not feel afflicted even though struck again and again. Fully hemmed in on all sides, Rāma looked like the sun screened by evening clouds.

The gods felt dejected and fearful, beholding Rāma standing alone amid thousands of Rākṣasas. They cried out, “Victory to Rāma!” Understanding their fear, Rāma resolved to kill the Rākṣasas. He began shooting His gold-tipped arrows, three or four at a time, in all directions. With His bow drawn constantly into a circle, Rāma moved with the speed of a hawk. An unbroken line of deadly shafts left his bow. Those arrows passed right through the bodies of a dozen Rākṣasas before falling to the earth. Rāma’s arrows smashed the Rākṣasas’ weapons and chariots and tore apart their golden armors.

With their arms, legs and heads severed, countless Rākṣasas fell lifeless to the ground. Rāma was enraged. He shot innumerable shafts that could not be intercepted or endured and which killed the demons by the thousands. Horses, elephants and Rākṣasas lay mangled on the ground. Crushed by Rāma, the Rākṣasas sent up a piteous wail.

Some fierce and brave Rākṣasas, who were leaders of the army and possessed of terrible might, rushed at Rāma, hurling their barbed missiles and iron pikes. But Rāma smashed their weapons to pieces even as they flew at Him. With razor-headed arrows He cut off the Rākṣasas’ heads. They toppled over like trees knocked down by a blast from Garuḍa’s wings. The surviving Rākṣasas, wounded and dispirited, ran to Khara for protection. Khara consoled them and ordered Dushana to attack Rāma.

The mighty Dushana was capable of contending with ten thousand warriors at once. With a great roar he urged his chariot forward. The Rākṣasas were encouraged to see their leader advance. Uprooting trees and lifting massive stone slabs, they charged once more at Rāma.

The dreadful encounter between Rāma and the Rākṣasas was fearful to witness. Rāma alone appeared like hundreds of warriors. The demons could not tell when He took out His arrows or placed them on His bow. They only saw Him pulling His bowstring and an endless stream of arrows being fired. The demons rallied themselves and rushed at Rāma all at once from every side. They hurled trees and rocks with great force. A diverse shower of weapons fell upon Rāma, along with volleys of barbed arrows.

Smothered by weapons, Rāma invoked the celestial missile presided over by the Gandharvas. As He released the weapon, all directions became covered by blazing shafts. Under a canopy of arrows, darkness enveloped the battlefield and the demons fell back in fear. Hundreds dropped dead at once. The ground was strewn with heads wrapped in turbans adorned with bright jewels. Severed arms still clutching weapons lay everywhere. Headless trunks spouting forth blood ran about wildly before falling to the ground. Everywhere were bodies of Rākṣasas, horses and elephants, along with broken chariots, shattered weapons, rocks smashed into powder and trees torn to pieces.

The surviving Rākṣasas were unable to face Rāma. They stood frozen with fear. Dushana, seeing his army routed, sent up a great battle cry. He ordered his five thousand personal guards to attack. These Rākṣasas had never known defeat. They were energetic and never turned their backs on the battlefield. With terrible impetuosity they incessantly assailed Rāma on all sides. Fearful showers of scimitars, spiked maces, huge rocks and long swords fell upon Rāma. Rāma, becoming increasingly enraged, intercepted the volley of weapons with His arrows. Some weapons He struck down with His whirling sword as He slayed the Rākṣasas, who fell like so many great oak trees cut at their roots.

Dushana then rushed toward Rāma in his chariot, discharging innumerable arrows like thunderbolts. Rāma released a razor-like arrow which split apart Dushana’s bow. With four more shafts He killed the four horses drawing Dushana’s chariot. He then released a crescent-headed arrow which severed the head of Dushana’s charioteer. With three more arrows Rāma pierced Dushana’s chest.

The demon jumped down from his chariot holding a mace which resembled a mountain peak. The glowing club was studded with sharp iron pikes and belted with gold. It was capable of crushing the celestial army and smashing down the gates of their citadels. Dushana tightly grasped that weapon, which resembled a large serpent and was stained with his enemies’ blood. Raising it above his head, he rushed at Rāma with a huge roar.

As Dushana bore down on Him, Rāma lopped off his arms with a pair of arrows. Along with his bejeweled arms, Dushana’s club fell to the ground. With a third crescent-headed shaft Rāma cut off Dushana’s head. Seeing Dushana slain, the gods exclaimed, “Excellent! Well done!”

Rāma then swiftly dispatched all of Dushana’s five thousand warriors to Death’s abode.

Khara was practically stupefied with anger. Seeing his army all but annihilated he charged Rāma. He sent ahead of him his own guards, a dozen of the mightiest Rākṣasas. As one might greet guests, Rāma greeted each of those demons with His sharp arrows. Those mystical shafts, given by Agastya, were encrusted with gold and diamonds and they blazed like fire. They emitted smoke and sparks as they sped through the air. Tearing into the demons’ bodies, they split their hearts in two.

Khara looked on in astonishment. Who was this human? Besides his personal guard, the three-headed Trishira was the only other demon alive. Khara advanced toward Rāma but Trishira checked him. “Simply command me, O lord, and I shall vanquish this man,” Trishira said, raising his mace. “See him thrown down today by my might. This wicked one deserves death at the hands of all Rākṣasas. I shall kill Him now, or I will lay down my life on the battlefield. Then you may march against Rāma yourself. Therefore, order me to fight.”

Trishira, who was wishing only for death, received Khara’s permission. He mounted his glittering chariot and rushed against Rāma. The demon appeared like a moving three-peaked mountain. His volleys of arrows resembled a black cloud. As he charged at Rāma, he roared like the crash of a gigantic drum. Rāma met him with a profuse number of swift arrows. Although the arrows dug into Trishira’s body he simply laughed. He hurled a golden lance, tipped with steel and fastened all over with many small bells. The lance glowed like fire as it sped toward Rāma. Firing three arrows at once, Rāma cut the lance into four pieces. It fell at His feet like four shining stars dropped from the heavens.

Trishira immediately shot three barbed arrows which struck Rāma on the forehead. With blood gushing from His head, Rāma appeared beautiful, like a mountain tipped with red oxide. Provoked by Trishira’s attack, He laughingly shouted, “Just see this demon’s strength and valor. But what will it avail him? His arrows, although fired with all his power, strike Me like so many flowers. O demon, now see My prowess!”

Rāma became excited. He shot fourteen serpent-like arrows into Trishira’s chest. With four more shafts He killed the Rākṣasa’s four horses. Rāma severed the head of his charioteer with a broad-headed arrow. He then struck down the demon’s ensign and shattered his chariot. As Trishira leapt from his broken chariot, Rāma struck him on the chest with an arrow imbued with the force of a thunderbolt. The Rākṣasa stood stunned by that arrow. Rāma quickly fired three razor-headed arrows which lopped off the demon’s three heads, and the heads rolled on the ground with their golden earrings glittering. Trishira’s body fell like an uprooted tree and the ground shook.

Khara felt fear enter his heart. His entire army was slain. Fierce Rākṣasas who could face even the gods now lay dead on the battlefield. He looked at Rāma, who stood as immovable as the Himālayan mountains. Still Khara urged his charioteer forward. He drew his great bow to a full circle and fired innumerable arrows at Rāma. His blood-sucking shafts sped through the air like angry serpents. Khara then displayed his mystic power and filled the four quarters with arrows.

Rāma at once countered Khara’s shafts with His own. The sky was soon covered with arrows and not even the sun was visible. The two warriors fought furiously, the battle resembling a fight between a lion and an elephant. Like a driver striking a lordly elephant with a goad, Khara struck Rāma with a number of fierce arrows. The demon stood firmly rooted in his chariot like Death himself with noose in hand.

Thinking Rāma tired, the Rākṣasa felt the moment opportune for his victory. He stood tall in his chariot and raised his frightful-looking bow. Rāma, however, was no more concerned than a lion would be on seeing a small deer. Khara approached Rāma as a moth approaches a fire. Displaying his dexterity, he split Rāma’s bow in two with a razor-faced arrow. With seven more shafts each resembling Indra’s thunderbolt he pierced Rāma at His vital points. He then covered Rāma with another thousand arrows fired with blinding speed.

Hit hard by Khara’s shafts, Rāma’s bright armor fell in pieces to the ground. With arrows piercing Him all over his body, Rāma became enraged. He shone on the battlefield like a smokeless fire. Rāma raised Viṣṇu’s terrible bow and darted toward Khara. He cut down the demon’s ensign with a dozen gold-winged arrows. That gold ensign descended to earth like the setting sun. Khara continued to rain arrows on Rāma, aiming for the vulnerable parts of His body.

Rāma became more and more furious. Grasping His bow tightly, He fired six carefully aimed arrows. One struck the demon in the head, two in his arms and three in his chest. Rāma then shot thirteen more shafts as if they were one. With one He cut the chariot yoke; with four He killed the horses; with the sixth He cut off the head of Khara’s charioteer; the next four arrows shattered the chariot; the twelfth cut Khara’s bow; and the thirteenth pierced him deeply in the chest. All this happened in a matter of seconds. Screaming in fury Khara leapt clear of his smashed chariot, and he stood on the ground, mace in hand.

Collected together in the sky, the gods and ṛṣis applauded Rāma, encouraging Him to quickly slay Khara.

Rāma then said to the Rākṣasa, “You have pursued a ruthless and wicked course, O Rākṣasa. With your vast army you have inflicted pain on all created beings. Only those who are sinful and hard-hearted perpetrate such acts. Therefore, you deserve to die at the hands of all beings, even as a venomous serpent should be killed.”

Even though challenging the Rākṣasa, Rāma felt no malice toward the demon. As a ruler, He saw it as His duty to punish the wicked to correct them. Like a father correcting an errant son, He apprised Khara of his sins even as He meted out his punishment. He continued to castigate the Rākṣasa in a booming voice that echoed throughout the forest. “One who continuously commits sinful acts soon sees the terrible results, O night-ranger. Just as a man who eats poisoned food soon dies, so one who performs sinful acts is quickly dragged down by his sins. I am here to punish sinners like you, O Khara. Pierced through by My arrows, you will today follow the path of those ascetics whom you have killed. Fight to the best of your ability; I will strike down your head like a ripe fruit!”

Khara laughed. He was impervious to any good instructions. Beside himself with anger, the demon roared back, “Having killed only ordinary Rākṣasas, O human, why are You vainly ranting? Those who are truly brave speak nothing of their valor. Only the vulgar brag as You are doing, O disgrace to the royal class! Just as brass taken for gold reveals its baseness when placed in fire, so You have shown Your baseness now that the hour of Your death has arrived.”

Khara raised his heavy mace. “Obviously You do not see me standing here wielding my mace and holding the earth, with her heavy load of mountains, in balance,” he bellowed. “I am capable of killing You along with all the creatures in the three worlds. But enough talk! You have killed fourteen thousand Rākṣasas. Now I shall wipe away their relatives’ tears by slaying You.”

Khara whirled the mace and released it for Rāma’s destruction. As it coursed swiftly through the air it shot out searing flames which burned the surrounding trees to ashes.

With twenty steel-tipped arrows Rāma shattered Khara’s mace to pieces. It fell to the ground like an angry serpent checked by mantras. Rāma laughed at Khara. “Is that your best effort, O vile demon? It seems you are bold only in speech. Even as Garuḍa snatched nectar from the gods, so I shall snatch away your life. The earth will drink deeply your foaming blood. With your head severed you will lie closely embracing the earth, like a man embracing his lover.”

Rāma continued to taunt Khara, reminding him of the many sages he had killed. Closely watching the demon all the time, Rāma said, “When you are laid low by Me in protracted slumber, this forest will again become a happy abode for ascetics. Your wives and kinsmen will grieve today, as do the kinsmen of those you have slain. Try again, if you will, for your death is near.”

Khara’s anger was again incited by Rāma’s words. He foamed at the mouth. Looking around for another weapon he screamed, “Your mad talk is born of vanity alone. It is said that at the moment of death one cannot discern right from wrong. I see this to be true. Evidently your mind is thrown into confusion as your death approaches.”

Khara saw a large tree nearby. He tore it from the earth and hurled it at Rāma, exclaiming, “You are killed!”

Rāma was unmoved. He met the fast-flying tree with a volley of arrows. It fell in splinters and a shower of leaves. Determining to kill the Rākṣasa at once, Rāma became violently angry. He was covered in perspiration, and His face shone brightly. He pierced Khara with a thousand arrows. Torrents of foaming blood ran from the demon’s wounds like rivulets running down a mountainside. Khara was maddened and ran furiously at Rāma. Taking a few steps backwards, Rāma took out a shaft resembling Yamarāja’s mace. He placed it on His bow and imbued it with the celestial force of Indra’s thunderbolt. When the Rākṣasa was almost upon Him, Rāma released the arrow. It struck Khara full on the breast with a sound like thunder. The demon fell to the ground, a huge burning hole in his chest.

As Khara fell dead, the Cāraṇas sounded their celestial drums as a shower of flowers fell upon Rāma, while the gods applauded, saying, “These violent Rākṣasas, unslayable by any other, have been slain by Rāma in less than two hours. His resolve and power exactly resembles that of Viṣṇu!”

The sage Agastya, standing in the sky at the head of a large group of ṛṣis, also spoke to Rāma, “At Indra’s prompting and for this very purpose of killing the Rākṣasas, Sarabhanga had You sent here. The ṛṣis will now again inhabit this region to practice their austerities.”

Lakṣman then came out of the cave where He had hidden Sītā. Along with the gods and great sages, He praised Rāma’s achievements. Sītā ran to Her husband and embraced Him tightly. She ran Her cool hands over His many wounds, crying tears of joy to see Him victorious over the Rākṣasas. As night fell, thousands of carnivorous animals and birds descended on the battlefield. Rāma and Sītā retired into Their hut and Lakṣman sat nearby, keeping a lonely vigil.