RKD: 2.8: Rāvaṇa’s Lust is Incited

There was one Rākṣasa named Akampana who escaped from Rāma. After seeing all his companions killed, Akampana fled to Lanka to inform Rāvaṇa of the news. Going before the lord of the Rākṣasas, who was the scourge of all created beings and who took pleasure in giving pain to others, Akampana fell at his feet and said, “O great king, your entire army which was stationed in the Janasthana forest is now no more. Even the mighty Khara and Dushana are dead. Only I have somehow survived.”

Rāvaṇa shook with anger when he heard this news. He gazed with his ten heads at the disheveled and fearful Rākṣasa lying at his feet. The demon king rose up quickly from his golden throne. He was pitiless and rough, and he felt no compassion for the trembling Akampana. As he spoke he appeared about to consume Akampana in his rage. “Who, with his life all but ended, is responsible for this rash act?” he demanded. “O weak Rākṣasa, what fool would dare antagonize Rāvaṇa? Even Indra, Kuvera or the great Yamarāja would not be safe if they offended me. I can burn fire and kill even Death himself!”

Under the protection of Brahmā’s boon Rāvaṇa had become utterly conceited and arrogant. He considered himself unconquerable. Even the principal gods had been forced to retreat in battle against him. None of them could contradict Brahmā’s order. They would therefore not kill Rāvaṇa, even if capable. He had thus ranged the universe creating havoc and fearing nothing. He grabbed hold of Akampana. “Tell me the name of the wicked wretch who has slain my followers. You need not fear, for whoever it is will certainly die at my hands today.”

Akampana was reassured by Rāvaṇa’s words. At least the demon king was not going to vent his anger on him. He replied, “It was a man who carried out this astonishing feat of killing the Rākṣasa army. He is a son of Daśaratha named Rāma. Tall and powerfully built, the prince possesses matchless strength. He alone annihilated the entire host of Rākṣasas.”

Rāvaṇa listened in disbelief. How was it possible? One Rākṣasa against a large number of men was easy to believe, but a single man killing fourteen thousand Rākṣasas was incredible. Rāvaṇa hissed like an angry snake. “Was this Rāma accompanied by Indra and all the gods?”

Seeing Rāvaṇa’s incredulity, Akampana went on describing Rāma’s power. “It is difficult to even look upon Rāma as He stands on the battlefield. His golden-winged arrows fall in thousands with the force of a tempest. He has mastered the celestial weapons and looks like Death incarnate while fighting. Whichever way the Rākṣasas ran, stricken with fear, they saw Rāma standing in their front. No gods assisted Him, O great one; He alone devastated your army.”

Rāvaṇa snorted derisively. He would not be humiliated by any mere man. He thought of his own power. Thousands of years ago he had gone to the Himālayas, intent on performing austerities in order to gain unmatched material opulence. It was then that he approached Brahmā. Surviving on air alone, he took only one breath a day. When he failed after a long time to propitiate Brahmā, he began a sacrifice. He cut off his twenty arms one by one and offered them into the fire to please Brahmā. When Brahmā still did not appear, the demon began to cut off each of his ten heads and place them in the fire. At last Brahmā appeared before him. Rāvaṇa then secured his boon, which he now recalled. He had not asked for immunity to humans, but how could any human even look at him, never mind fight with him? Even the gods fled in fear when he mounted his chariot for battle. This Rāma sounded most unusual but, nevertheless, Rāvaṇa was proud of his hard-won strength and felt sure he could kill Rāma without difficulty. Standing with his back to Akampana, he said, “I shall go immediately and finish this Rāma.”

Akampana was intelligent. He had already realized Rāma’s irresistible strength when he saw Him fighting. The Rākṣasa had thus stood back from the fight and made his escape. He considered that Rāvaṇa’s chances of defeating Rāma were slight. Therefore he advised his king. “When Rāma is enraged, He cannot be tamed by any warrior. In my opinion he could, by the force of His arrows, tear down the very heavens with the sun, moon and constellations. He could stem the current of a flooded river or break down the shores of the ocean and deluge the entire world. With His arrows Rāma could lift the earth itself. Indeed, that illustrious man could dissolve all the worlds and then create them again.”

Rāvaṇa turned and looked pensively at Akampana. Clearly Rāma was no ordinary man. Akampana was himself a powerful commander of the Rākṣasa forces. He knew how to estimate the strength of the enemy. The Rākṣasa king listened carefully as Akampana continued. “I do not think you will be able to defeat Rāma in battle, any more than a sinful man can attain the regions of heaven. However, there is a way by which you can probably overcome Him. Listen as I tell you.” Rāvaṇa sat on his throne and leaned forward attentively as Akampana went on.

“Rāma has come to the forest with His wife, Sītā. I have heard She is more beautiful than any goddess, female Gandharva or Apsarā. From all accounts She is a stunning jewel among women who cannot be compared to any other. Surely She is dearer to Rāma than His own life, as He has brought Her with Him even to the lonely forest. O king, by means of some trick kidnap Sītā. Rāma will be overcome by grief and either die or be weakened enough for you to defeat Him.”

Rāvaṇa pondered Akampana’s suggestion. He liked the idea. Thanking Akampana, he decided to go the next day to find Sītā. He first needed to seek the help of Maricha, the son of Tataka, who was well known for his magical powers. Rāvaṇa mounted his chariot, which shone like the sun and was drawn by great mules with the heads of fiends. As he sat in his golden chariot, which had a white canopy spread over it, he was fanned by attractive maidens. His strongly built body was the color of glossy black gems. With his ten heads and twenty arms he resembled a ten-peaked mountain. As his chariot rose up to the sky, he cast his splendor like a thundercloud with flashes of lightning.

The mighty Rākṣasa moved swiftly ahead, surveying the scene below. Heading north toward the Himālayas, he saw beneath him the beautiful coastline. It was crowded with hermitages and graced with numerous woods and lakes filled with lotuses. Many Siddhas, Cāraṇas, Gandharvas and other divine beings sported in great joy in and around those lakes. Thousands of Apsarās danced and played with the gods. Rāvaṇa saw in the sky wonderful aerial cars, like white mansions, adorned with celestial garlands and carrying the residents of heaven. From the cars came the sounds of delightful music, which enlivened the heart and mind.

Passing over great forests, Rāvaṇa came at last to the northern mountains. There he found Maricha’s hermitage. Defeated and punished by Rāma, Maricha had retired to the forest and dedicated himself to the practice of penance. He looked up in surprise as Rāvaṇa’s chariot descended from the sky. Maricha rose up quickly and greeted the overlord of all the Rākṣasas. “Welcome, great king,” he said reverentially. “I hope everything is well in Lanka. What has brought you to this lonely forest, inhabited only by ascetics?”

Maricha offered Rāvaṇa celestial foods unknown to humans. He sat him on a mat of kusha grass and served him personally. Rāvaṇa only looked at the food and said to Maricha, “My entire army of Rākṣasas led by the powerful Khara has been destroyed by Rāma, a son of king Daśaratha, contending single-handedly and on foot. I am here to seek your assistance in abducting Rāma’s wife Sītā. By this means only will I be able to overpower Rāma.”

Maricha stood up with a start. “By what enemy in the guise of a friend have you been tendered this advice?” he asked in horror. “Who have you offended so that they should suggest that you kidnap Rāma’s wife? That person clearly seeks to rid the world of the Rākṣasas’ lord. Using you as his tool, he desires to extract a fang from the jaws of a serpent. Who is it, O king, who has dealt you a powerful blow on the head, even as you slept peacefully?”

Maricha paced up and down, shaking his head. He had already been convinced of Rāma’s incomparable power. Hearing that He alone had killed Khara and his army only confirmed it all the more. He trembled as he continued to speak. “O Rāvaṇa, you should not even think of staring at Rāma. That lion among men, whose sharp teeth are His numberless arrows, easily kills small animals in the form of Rākṣasas skilled in battle. Do not hurl yourself into the vast and dreadful ocean of the angry Rāma, whose arms are its alligators and whose weapons are its tossing waves. Remain peacefully in Lanka, enjoying with your wives, and allow Rāma to sport in the woods with His wife Sītā.”

Maricha spoke passionately. He continued to argue against the wisdom of Rāvaṇa’s antagonizing Rāma. Rāvaṇa listened thoughtfully. He again recalled his omission to ask Brahmā for invincibility against humans. The Rākṣasa king asked Maricha why he considered Rāma so powerful. Telling him about the incident of Viśvāmitra’s sacrifice, Maricha replied, “I was ranging the earth, my body appearing like a mountain, with a huge iron club in my hand. My might exceeded that of a thousand elephants. I would roam about in the forest eating the flesh of ṛṣis. Considering me more powerful than even the gods, the sage Viśvāmitra sought only Rāma as his protector. Rāma was a mere boy at that time. When I saw Him in Viśvāmitra’s hermitage, I disregarded Him, thinking Him to be simply a child. However, with a single arrow Rāma hit and threw me eight hundred miles into the ocean, and He slaughtered all of my powerful companions.”

Maricha told Rāvaṇa how he returned to the forest again. He assumed the form of a sharabha, a fierce eight-legged carnivorous beast capable of killing even lions. In that form, accompanied by two other Rākṣasas in similar forms, he continued to terrorize the ṛṣis. One day he again came across Rāma seated in His hermitage. Rākṣasas in the form of sharabhas rushed at Rāma, remembering their previous enmity. In an instant Rāma had lifted and strung His bow, releasing three gold-tipped arrows which sped like thunderbolts. Maricha’s two companions were killed outright. Maricha himself had dodged the arrows and retreated in fear. He then decided to abandon his life of antagonizing ṛṣis and retire to the mountains.

Concluding his speech, Maricha said, “My fear of Rāma has made me adopt this life of asceticism. Indeed, I live in continuous dread of that prince. In every tree I see Rāma, clad in barks and wielding His bow, looking like Death personified standing with noose in hand. I actually see thousands of Rāmas all around me. Indeed this whole forest appears to have turned into Rāma. I see Him everywhere, even in dreams and meditations. If someone speaks out a word beginning with ‘R’, I shake with terror. O king, under no circumstances shall I be convinced to again stand before Rāma.”

Rāvaṇa sat silently after Maricha stopped speaking. Out of pride, the Rākṣasa king still felt capable of dealing with Rāma. He was not going to be afraid of a mere human. However, seeing Maricha’s reluctance to assist him, he decided to return to Lanka and await another opportunity. He felt sure that his path would soon cross with Rāma’s.

Soon after he arrived back at Lanka, Shurpanakha visited him. As he sat atop his seven-storied palace, surrounded by his ministers, his sister came and fell at his feet. Wailing piteously, she rolled about on the ground. She looked up at Rāvaṇa, who sat on his golden throne glowing like a fire fed with abundant fuel. His huge blackish body was covered by celestial robes, adorned with jeweled ornaments taken from the gods. His twenty arms, which could arrest the movement of the planets, looked like great tree trunks. They were marked by scars made by Indra’s thunderbolt and the other weapons of the gods. He stared down at Shurpanakha with his twenty reddish eyes.

Rāvaṇa told his sister to get up and asked her why she was lamenting. Shurpanakha, displaying her mutilated face, answered him harshly. “Do you not see my disfigured face? What kind of protector are you, O king? I am a helpless woman and your sister, but I have been humiliated at the hands of a man. Do you not care for this, O powerful Rākṣasa?”

The Rākṣasī shook with fear and anger as she continued to address the demon king. “Everyone reviles a monarch who is licentious and overly attached to sensual enjoyment. Such a king, who fails to properly attend to his state affairs, is soon ruined. O Rāvaṇa, are you not aware that you are losing control of your territories? Having formed enmity with the gods and the Brahmins, how can you expect to rest here in peace, enjoying the pleasures of life? You are childish and without any intelligence. You do not know what should be done and will therefore lose your kingdom before long.”

Hearing such a searing rebuke in the midst of his ministers enraged Rāvaṇa. Short-tempered and intolerant, he replied angrily, “Tell me who has attacked you, wretched woman? Why are you afraid?”

Shurpanakha told Rāvaṇa what had happened. She also described to him Rāma’s annihilation of the Rākṣasas exactly as Rāvaṇa had already heard it from Akampana. Rāvaṇa’s curiosity about Rāma was aroused. He said, “Tell me more about Rāma. Why is he living in the forest? What is his strength and his weakness? How has he overpowered the unassailable Khara, Dushana and Trishira?”

After telling Rāvaṇa that Rāma had been sent to the forest by His father, Shurpanakha described how she had personally witnessed Rāma’s power. “I could not see when Rāma took up His arrows or bent His bow, which shone brightly like a rainbow. I only saw the Rākṣasa army falling like hewn trees. The demons resembled a wheat field destroyed by a downpour of hailstones. I also saw by Rāma’s side His brother Lakṣman. He too seems exceptionally glorious and is clearly devoted to Rāma. Indeed, He appears like Rāma’s second self. I hold these two brothers to be practically unconquerable in battle.”

Shurpanakha, as a Rākṣasī, possessed celestial intelligence. Like Akampana, she was able to recognize Rāma’s power, although she did not understand His identity. She spoke cunningly, wanting to incite her brother to confront Rāma. “I saw by Rāma’s side His beloved wife Sītā, whose beauty is hard to describe. Her dark eyes and hair contrast vividly with the hue and luster of Her body, which resembles molten gold. Her breasts, hips and thighs are exquisitely shaped and She shines like another Goddess Lakṣmī.”

Shurpanakha knew that her brother was lusty. He had absolutely no regard for moral laws and took pleasure in enjoying other’s wives. The Rākṣasī went on describing Sītā. “Her countenance is like the full moon. With Her thin waist and delicate limbs, Sītā is beyond compare. I have seen no woman like Her on the face of the earth, be she a goddess, Gandharva or Yakṣa. Any man embraced with delight by Sītā will enjoy a happiness greater than that of Indra. Without doubt that peerless female, who is of a gentle disposition, would be a worthy consort for you, O king of demons.”

Rāvaṇa’s mind was captivated by Her description. He considered how he might win Her. Arrogantly he assumed that She would be attracted to him, the great and powerful king of the Rākṣasas. But how could She be taken from Rāma? Rāvaṇa was beginning to think that he needed to exercise caution in his approach to Rāma. He listened as his sister continued.

“I wanted to snatch away Sītā and bring Her to you, O brother. But I was viciously attacked by the wicked and cruel-minded Lakṣman. No one but you, O mighty king, will be capable of taking Sītā from Rāma. Surely She should be your wife. Why not go the forest and see Her wondrous beauty for yourself?”

Shurpanakha longed for revenge. Sītā was the cause of her being mutilated. The Rākṣasa woman wanted the princess to be taken from Rāma so that both Rāma and Sītā would feel intolerable pain. Perhaps then Rāvaṇa would be able to overpower the grief-stricken Rāma. Shurpanakha gazed imploringly at her brother. “Snatch away the incomparable Sītā from Rāma. Then, standing in the forefront of battle, defeat and kill that human along with His evil brother.”

Rāvaṇa was convinced. He was already angered by Rāma’s killing of the Rākṣasa army in Janasthana. Now here was his own sister, disfigured and humiliated by the human brothers. Rāvaṇa took that personally. He especially could not tolerate the sharp and taunting words Shurpanakha delivered in front of his ministers. He had to prove his power. And above all he wanted to have Sītā. Thinking again of Maricha, he called for his chariot. This time he would not be deterred from his purpose. Maricha’s refusal to help him was unacceptable. Rāvaṇa mounted his great chariot and rose up swiftly into the sky.