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RKD: 2.9: The Kidnapping of Sītā

Again arriving at Maricha’s hermitage, Rāvaṇa quickly sought him out. Maricha, clad in black deerskins and seated in meditation, spoke in surprise when he saw Rāvaṇa. “Why have you returned so soon, O king? I trust all is well in Lanka.”

Maricha sat the Rākṣasa king on a grass mat. He offered him food and drink, but Rāvaṇa waved it aside and said, “No doubt you recall my earlier request, O Maricha. I am here now to insist that you comply. Not only has Rāma annihilated my army in the forest, but He has attacked and mutilated my sister Shurpanakha. He must by all means be punished. Prepare to leave. You will assist me in Sītā’s abduction.”

Rāvaṇa had made up his mind. He told Maricha to come with him to Rāma’s hermitage. Once there he should use magic to assume the form of an enchanting deer. Rāvaṇa calculated that Sītā, due to Her womanly nature, would become captivated by the deer. She would then send Rāma to capture it. As soon as Maricha had taken Rāma to a distance, he should further use his magical powers to allure Lakṣman. Imitating Rāma’s voice, the Rākṣasa should cry out in distress. When Lakṣman heard the cry He would come after Rāma, leaving Rāvaṇa to abduct the unprotected Sītā. Rāvaṇa spoke derisively of Rāma, knowing that Maricha considered the prince formidable.

“This worthless human has been exiled by His father. Abandoning virtue, He caused my sister to be violently assaulted. He is a disgrace to the royal class and a threat to all beings. His time is now all but run out. Once he has lost His wife, His strength will be gone. I shall then make short work of Him.”

Maricha’s face whitened. This was his worst fear. Rāvaṇa was bent on a purpose which would surely end in both their deaths. He stared at Rāvaṇa with unblinking eyes. His mouth felt dry and his limbs weak. He folded his palms and addressed the Rākṣasa king in a trembling voice. “People speaking agreeable words are easy to find, O lord. On the other hand, rare are those who will speak words for one’s good which are nevertheless unpalatable. O Rāvaṇa, you have clearly not heeded my earlier advice. You have not sought to establish for yourself Rāma’s actual power. This dereliction of your duty will lead to the extinction of the race of Rākṣasas, there is no doubt.”

Rāvaṇa’s expression hardened. He was not interested in Maricha’s advice. He listened impatiently as Maricha went on. “Rāma has not been abandoned by His father nor is He devoid of virtue. Indeed, He is devoted to piety and truth. Listen as I tell you His history.”

He told Rāvaṇa how the prince had gone to the forest to prove His father truthful. Both Maricha and Rāvaṇa understood that warriors derived power from virtuous behavior. Maricha made it clear that Rāma was virtue incarnate. He again described Rāma’s power and the consequences of facing Him in battle.

“Do not cast yourself headlong into the fierce fire of Rāma blazing on the battlefield,” Maricha beseeched the Rākṣasa king. “Upon encountering, Rāma you will relinquish for good your throne, your happiness and your very life. Rāma’s glory is immeasurable. You will no more prove able to remove Sītā from Rāma than you could take from the sun its brilliance. O Rāvaṇa, remain peacefully in Lanka. Do not bring about your own destruction, along with that of your relatives, friends and entire kingdom.”

Rāvaṇa blazed up with anger. He cared nothing for Maricha’s well-intended advice. Rising, he spoke harshly to the fearful demon. “Your words, like seeds sown in barren soil, are entirely fruitless. I cannot be deterred from my aim of kidnapping Sītā. O ignoble Rākṣasa, I did not ask you about the merits or demerits of my intentions. Indeed, a king should never be advised except when he requests such advice. I have told you what I require. All that remains for you to do is to carry out my order.”

Rāvaṇa reiterated his idea. He knew that Maricha could, by his unique magical abilities, transform himself into the most wonderful-looking creature. He felt sure his plan would work. Speaking slowly and deliberately he told Maricha the consequences of non-cooperation. “Perhaps upon approaching Rāma you will face some danger, but if you reject my request then death at my hands will be certain and immediate. Carefully weigh things in the balance of reason, O Maricha, and do what you feel is best.”

Maricha tried one last time to sway Rāvaṇa from his plan. “Whoever advised you to confront Rāma should be executed, O king, not me. That sinful person obviously desires only your imminent ruin. The minister who counsels violent measures against a powerful enemy is himself the enemy. Such advice will lead to the destruction of the counseled along with the counselor, and indeed the state itself.”

Maricha saw that Rāvaṇa was silent, fixed in his purpose. Obviously his counsel was useless. Maricha then realized that his death was near. Understanding the inevitability of his fate, he spoke fearlessly to Rāvaṇa. “Being a slave to your senses, cruel and evil-minded, you have adopted this course of action. People with leaders who are not self-controlled cannot prosper any more than sheep protected by a jackal. A terrible and unforeseen calamity has arrived at Lanka’s door, O king, which will bring an end to the city as well as to you. Therefore I simply pity you. I shall fulfill your order. It is better to be killed by the enemy than executed by the king. Take me as already slain at the very sight of Rāma, and consider yourself dead with all your followers the moment you bear away Sītā. Those on the verge of death cannot understand right from wrong. No advice can help them.”

Maricha rose slowly and prepared to go with Rāvaṇa, saying, “Let us now depart.” Rāvaṇa became joyous. He had heard little of what Maricha had said. The Rākṣasa king was thinking only of Rāma and, more particularly, of Sītā. When he saw Maricha ready to follow his command, Rāvaṇa embraced him and said, “Here is my real Maricha. Before now, some other demon must have possessed you, robbing you of your valor. We shall proceed fearlessly on my chariot. Once you have bewitched Sītā with your magic, you may go wherever you please. I shall do the rest.”

The two Rākṣasas got aboard the great chariot; the goblin-headed asses bore it away into the skies. Moving swiftly they soon arrived at the Dandaka forest. As they circled overhead, they saw below Rāma’s hermitage. They landed nearby and Rāvaṇa instructed Maricha, “Now work your wonderful magic, my friend. I shall wait here.”

Rāvaṇa had no intention of immediately encountering the two brothers. He wanted first to steal and enjoy Sītā, anticipating that this would weaken Rāma. Rāvaṇa knew that Rāma would soon come after him, but that would give him the opportunity to gauge the strength and weakness of Rāma and His forces. The Rākṣasa felt confident that he could confront Rāma from the security of Lanka, surrounded by his powerful troops. After transforming himself into a human ascetic wearing matted locks and simple dress, he waited in the woods near Rāma’s hermitage.

Meanwhile, Maricha turned himself into a magical deer. His head was partly white and partly dark with horns like bright sapphires. The upper part of his snout had the hue of a red lotus, while the lower part had that of a blue lotus. His perfectly formed body had slender white legs, with hoofs like glossy black gems. The deer’s belly was dark blue and its flanks golden. All over its shining skin were a number of jewel-like spots. Its tail resembled a rainbow and it glanced about with eyes that shone like diamonds.

In that deer form Maricha wandered slowly about. Other deer approached him but quickly ran in all directions, sensing that this was not actually a deer. Maricha strenuously controlled his Rākṣasa nature, which was impelling him to kill and eat the deer which came near to him. Nibbling at leaves here and there, he went into the region of Rāma’s hermitage. Sītā was outside the hut plucking flowers. She immediately saw the wonderful-looking deer.

Seeing that he had caught Her attention, Maricha playfully came near to Sītā and then moved away again. As the deer gamboled about, Sītā’s mind became enchanted. Her eyes opened wide in wonder as She surveyed the stunning form of that magical animal. It seemed to illumine the forest on all sides as it moved around with grace and elegance, making delightful sounds. Sītā called out to Rāma, “Come quickly, My lord, and bring Lakṣman! Here is a sight to behold.”

Hearing Sītā calling out again and again, the two princes came to Her and saw the deer for themselves. Lakṣman was immediately suspicious. “This animal cannot actually be a deer. Never has such a deer, looking like a bright jewel, been seen anywhere upon the earth. This must surely be a Rākṣasa come in disguise. I suspect it is probably Maricha.”

Lakṣman recalled how Rāma had spared Maricha’s life previously. He knew the demon was capable of great mysticism and strongly suspected that some evil plan was afoot. But Sītā was captivated. She interrupted Lakṣman. “O Rāma, this wonderful animal has stolen My mind. Please fetch it to Me. I would love to show it to My mothers-in-law and Your brothers. When We return to Ayodhya We can keep it in the palace as a pet. I do not think that such a beautiful creature can be a Rākṣasa. My lord, I must possess this gentle animal.”

Sītā repeatedly beseeched Rāma to capture the deer, which remained close by. Rāma felt obliged to satisfy His wife. He turned to Lakṣman. “Dear brother, see how this deer has created such a burning desire in Sītā. I must try to catch it for Her. I have never seen a deer like this anywhere before. It defies description. If, as you say, it is a Rākṣasa in disguise, then it must be put to death. Therefore I shall chase it through these woods. Either I will bring it alive or, having determined it to be a Rākṣasa, slay it with My sharp arrows. Perhaps then I may take its superb skin for Sītā.”

Rāma asked His brother to stand close to Sītā and guard Her while He was gone. Like Lakṣman, He also feared an attack from the Rākṣasas. He told Lakṣman that Jatayu was nearby and could assist Him if necessary. Rāma then fastened His sword to His belt and, after tying on His two quivers, He grasped His bow. He then went toward the deer, which bounded away into the woods.

In fear Maricha ran swiftly into the deep forest. Rāma pursued him, moving through the trees with agility and speed. But Maricha kept ahead, sometimes appearing for a moment and then disappearing again. Acting exactly like a deer, he bounded high in the air and glanced about fearfully. In this way Maricha took Rāma a long distance from His hermitage. Rāma felt helpless, seeing the deer maintaining a constant lead over Him. He stopped and leaned on a tree, exhausted and perspiring. He decided that Lakṣman’s assessment was correct. This could not be an ordinary deer. He would have captured it by now if it were. Rāma concluded that the deer was certainly a Rākṣasa.

Spotting it emerging from a distant cluster of trees like the moon appearing from behind clouds, Rāma took out an arrow. He imbued that shaft with celestial power and shot it at the deer. It streaked through the air glowing like fire, seeking out its target. In a moment it struck Maricha and pierced him in the heart. The Rākṣasa bounded as high as a palm tree and screamed in pain. As he crashed to the ground he again assumed his actual form.

Rāma ran toward the dying Rākṣasa. Maricha saw Him approaching and remembered Rāvaṇa’s instruction. With his dying breath he let out a cry that could be heard for miles. Perfectly imitating Rāma’s voice, which he vividly remembered from their previous encounters, Maricha cried, “Lakṣman! Help me! Alas, Sītā!”

With that final cry the Rākṣasa died, his gigantic form covered in blood lying prostrate on the ground. Rāma stood before the dead Rākṣasa, filled with apprehension. This was obviously a plot by the demons. When Lakṣman and Sītā heard that cry, They would become confused. Rāma looked at Maricha’s massive body. The voice of a Rākṣasa was hundreds of times more powerful than that of a man. Rāma had been chasing the deer for an hour at least and was miles from the hermitage. The only thing to do was to run back. Rāma immediately began to retrace His steps. Thinking of Sītā, He feared the worst.

At the hermitage Lakṣman and Sītā had heard the Rākṣasa’s cry. Sītā was struck with anxiety. Turning to Lakṣman, who stood calmly, She said, “Did You not hear Your brother’s cry? Surely He has fallen into the hands of the demons, even as a bull might be seized by a group of lions. O Lakṣman, go quickly to help Rāma! My heart is all but stopping and My breath hardly comes. Please act swiftly!”

Lakṣman did not move. He remembered Rāma’s instruction to guard Sītā. He did not at all fear for Rāma and considered the cry to have been uttered by a demon. Sītā became even more anxious when She saw Lakṣman unperturbed. Bewildered by fear, She spoke angrily. “O son of Sumitra, You are an enemy in the guise of a friend. It seems You are glad to see the plight of Your brother. Surely You desire to possess Me for Yourself. Therefore You do not rush to Rāma’s aid. What is the value of protecting Me when Our leader is in such danger?”

Sītā shook with fear and sobbed loudly. Lakṣman felt pained by Her words and He tried to reassure Her. “Your husband cannot be overcome by the gods or demons assembled in any number, O gentle princess. Rāma cannot be killed in a fight by any created being, of that there is no doubt whatsoever. Be at ease. Rāma will soon return, having slain the Rākṣasa who assumed the form of the deer and who no doubt uttered that cry.”

Lakṣman was certain that Rāma was not in any danger. He could guess that the demon had been killed by Rāma and had imitated Rāma’s voice as he died. After Rāma had annihilated the Rākṣasa army at Janasthana the Rākṣasas must have formulated a plot for revenge. Lakṣman tried to explain this to Sītā, but She became even more angry. She stood blazing like fire, Her eyes red with fury. Because of Her fear for Rāma, She was confused. Despite Her respect for the virtuous and gentle Lakṣman, who had never once looked Her in the face, Her anxiety for Rāma made Her rebuke Him harshly.

“O ignoble and merciless Lakṣman! It is obvious that You care nothing for Your brother. Indeed You are happy to see Him in peril. I can understand that You have been concealing Your true nature. Posing as Rāma’s friend You have all the while been coveting Me. Your sinful desire shall never be fulfilled. I shall give up My life even in Your presence. Having become Rāma’s wife, how could I accept an ordinary and wicked man like You?”

Lakṣman was deeply hurt. Sītā was as worshipable to Him as Rāma. He could not even imagine what She was suggesting. His mind raced, confounded by agony. He could not remain with Sītā while She was in this mood. Her words were unbearable. How could She make such accusations? He had to look for Rāma. But what would happen to Sītā? Fearful and angered by Sītā’s castigation, Lakṣman controlled His mind and replied, “Your words pierce Me like a heated steel arrow. I cannot argue with You since You are a deity to Me, O princess. Alas, it seems that the nature of women is to be fickle and given to sentimentality. Although I feel sure I am right, I must nevertheless follow a dangerous course, driven by Your sharp words. I shall depart and search for Rāma, but I fear I may not find You here when I return.”

Sītā continued to cry out, saying to Lakṣman, “I shall never remain with another man in Rāma’s absence! I would sooner drown Myself in the river, fall from a high precipice or enter blazing fire.”

Lakṣman was enraged by Sītā’s insinuations. He tried consoling Her, but She would not say anything. He prayed to the forest deities to protect Her. Then, bowing to Her with folded hands, He left to look for Rāma, Sītā’s words still ringing in His ears.

As soon as Lakṣman had gone Rāvaṇa came out of hiding. In a human form he approached Sītā, who was without Rāma and Lakṣman, even as thick darkness overtakes dusk when devoid of the sun and moon. He saw the youthful princess sitting and weeping in front of Her hut. As he came near, all the animals fled in all directions. Even the breeze did not blow and the river slowed her swift current till she almost stopped flowing. Appearing like a holy man, Rāvaṇa was like a deep well covered by grass. He looked intently at Sītā, marveling at Her beauty. As he gazed at Her the demon was pierced by Cupid’s arrow. Continuously chanting Vedic mantras he moved close to Rāma’s beautiful consort. In his guise as a Brahmin ascetic he stood before Sītā and praised Her in various ways.

“O most beautiful lady, You possess the splendor of gold and silver adorned with celestial gems.” Rāvaṇa spoke poetically, his deep voice resonating around the forest grove. “Your form is radiant and Your face, eyes and delicate limbs are like so many blooming lotuses. Are you a goddess or an Apsarā descended from heaven? Your body is perfectly formed and Your face resembles the full moon. With Your dark eyes and full lips playing over teeth resembling rows of pearls You have captured my heart. My mind is stolen away by Your beauty, which is surely unmatched anywhere in the three worlds.”

Rāvaṇa thought that by praising Sītā he would attract Her to him. His mind was full of lust. With wide opened eyes he continued, “Why are You residing in a dark forest, frequented by wild beasts and haunted by Rākṣasas? You deserve to live at the top of a magnificent palace of gold. Sweet-smelling gardens should be Your playground, not fearful forests. Tell me, O charming lady, who are You and who is Your protector? Are You the consort of some powerful deity? Why are You alone in this dangerous region?”

Sītā looked up and saw Rāvaṇa dressed as an ascetic. She had encountered numerous Brahmins during Her stay in the forest and She was not surprised to see this one. The pious and open-hearted princess offered Rāvaṇa a seat and water to wash his feet. Acting perfectly in accord with religious codes, She fetched food from the hut and placed it before him, saying, “You are welcome.”

Rāvaṇa watched Her closely. He was stunned by Her grace and elegance. He made up his mind to carry Her away by force if necessary. As She tended to Her unexpected guest, Sītā looked around for signs of Rāma returning, but She saw only the vast green forest. She began to reply to Rāvaṇa’s questions. “I am the daughter of Janaka, the king of Mithila, and My name is Sītā. I am the consort of the high-souled Rāma, a prince of Ayodhya. With Him and His powerful brother Lakṣman I reside here peacefully.”

With a guileless mind Sītā told him how She and Rāma came to be living in the forest. She explained everything in brief and then said, “Soon My husband and His brother will return, bringing with Them varieties of forest produce. Rest here awhile and They will no doubt sumptuously entertain you. But tell Me, O sage, who are you and how do you come to be wandering this lonely forest?”

Rāvaṇa decided to reveal his true identity. He stood up and replied proudly to Sītā, “I am Rāvaṇa, the celebrated ruler of all the Rākṣasas. The gods, demons and human beings are struck with terror upon hearing my name, O Sītā. Now that I have seen You, O most beautiful woman, I can no longer find delight in my own consorts. Become my foremost queen! Roam with me at ease in my golden city, Lanka. You will live in a splendid palace adorned with jewels, and five thousand handmaidens will wait upon You.”

Sītā was shocked. She became enraged and said to the Rākṣasa, “I have taken a vow to follow Rāma, who is as unshakeable as a great mountain, as powerful as Indra and as wise as Bṛhaspati. I cannot be swerved from Rāma’s service. He is virtuous and always true to His word. I am dedicated to Rāma, who will never abandon His devoted servant. I belong to that Rāma who is like a mighty lion and destroys His enemies with ease and speed. How have you, O Rāvaṇa, a jackal, been so brazen as to covet Me?”

Sītā looked disdainfully at Rāvaṇa, who stared at Her lustfully. She felt sickened. What a disgusting creature! How could he even imagine that She would go with him? How disgraceful that he should pretend to be a Brahmin ascetic, the holiest of men. She spoke with fury. “You could no more touch Me than you could the sun’s fiery orb. Your desire is sure to bring about your death, O vile Rākṣasa. You seek to extract a tooth from the jaws of a powerful and hungry lion. You wish to carry in one hand the massive Mount Mandara. You desire to swim across the ocean, having tied around your neck a stone slab. You who would steal the beloved consort of Rāma are trying to snatch away the sun and moon with your bare hands.”

Sītā reproached Rāvaṇa again and again. She scorned and derided him with sharp words, warning him against his evil intentions. “After stealing Me away, where will you go? How will you retain Me while Rāma stands on the battlefield, bow in hand? Your pathetic might is nothing against that of Rāma’s. Next to Rāma you are like a crow compared to Garuḍa.”

Sītā shook like a sapling caught in a storm. She turned away from Rāvaṇa and prayed for Rāma to return quickly. The Rākṣasa was provoked by Her harsh words and he began to boast about his own strength. “I have won from Kuvera the celestial city of Lanka, chasing him away by my own power. Why, I have even taken from him the Pushpaka, his celebrated and beautiful airplane which can range anywhere according to one’s will. Wherever I stand, the sun withholds its fierce rays, the wind blows gently and the rivers become still and calm.”

Rāvaṇa tried to intimidate Sītā. He was annoyed that She was not interested in him. How could She remain attached to Rāma, an insignificant human, when Rāvaṇa, the immensely powerful king of the Rākṣasas, sought Her favor? Surely She did not know of his strength and exploits. Even the gods feared his angry gaze. And as well as power, what about his unlimited opulence? Rāvaṇa described the city of Lanka, with its innumerable gold palaces.

“Come with me to Lanka, O princess. There You will enjoy human and celestial delights You have never even imagined. You will soon forget the mortal Rāma, whose life is well-nigh ended. Rāma has lost everything and, having no power, lives in fear in the forest. I can dispose of Him with a single finger. By Your good fortune Rāvaṇa is here in person to beseech Your love. Accept me, O Sītā, and abandon the worthless Rāma.”

Sītā could not even look at Rāvaṇa. She clenched Her fists and flushed a deep crimson, sharply rebuking the demon. She told him that once he had laid hands on Her, he would soon die at Rāma’s hands. Crying and calling for Rāma, She moved away from the Rākṣasa. Rāvaṇa became furious. He struck one hand against another and roared. The Rākṣasa then assumed his original form with its ten heads and twenty arms. He moved closer to Sītā. “Look at me, O proud lady! I can lift up the earth, drink the ocean and kill even Death himself.”

Rāvaṇa’s red eyes burned like fire. Wearing a red robe and bedecked with fine gold ornaments, he looked like a dark cloud lit up by lightning. He had lost all patience and he spoke angrily to the trembling Sītā. “Here is a husband fit for You, O charming one. I shall take good care of You and never do anything You dislike. Leave aside the useless Rāma and serve me. You do not deserve a life in the forest. Give up Your affection for the soon-to-die human and become the queen of Lanka.”

Rāvaṇa had no intention of leaving Her behind, but Sītā was clearly not going to go with him willingly. He would have to force Her. The demon grasped hold of the delicate Sītā, taking Her hair in one hand and Her legs in another. Seeing him looking like Death, with mighty arms and sharp teeth, the forest deities all ran away. At that moment Rāvaṇa’s chariot appeared close by, drawn by its ugly mules. Rāvaṇa took Sītā in his arms, scolding Her sharply, and he placed Her in the chariot. Sītā writhed in Rāvaṇa’s grasp. As the chariot rose up She called for Rāma at the top of Her voice. Distracted with grief and anguish, Sītā wailed like a mad woman.

“O Lakṣman, where are You? I am being seized by a vile Rākṣasa. O Rāma, Your life has been sacrificed for virtue. How then do You not see Me being unrighteously carried away? You always chastise the wicked. Why then do You not punish the evil Rāvaṇa?”

Sītā began calling to the trees. She cried to the river and forest deities, to the animals and the birds, asking them all to tell Rāma what had happened. Turning to Rāvaṇa she said, “The fruits of sinful deeds are not immediately received, O Rākṣasa, but in time they destroy the perpetrator to his very roots. O Rāvaṇa, your time is all but over. Rāma will certainly recover Me and end your life.”

As the chariot rose higher, Sītā looked down and saw Jatayu perched on a large tree. She called out to him. “O bird, help Me! I am being seized by an evil Rākṣasa! Don’t try to stop him. He is too powerful. Quickly find Rāma.”

Jatayu heard Sītā and looked up. He saw the chariot with Rāvaṇa and Sītā on board. From the tree he called out to the Rākṣasa, whom he immediately recognized. “O Rāvaṇa, I am the king of the vultures, Jatayu. I possess might and am devoted to virtue. I shall not allow you to carry away Sītā in my presence. You who are also a king should not bear away another’s wife against the eternal codes of morality.”

Jatayu flew up from his perch, continuously reproaching Rāvaṇa and reminding him of what had happened to Khara and Dushana. Soaring upwards, he kept pace with Rāvaṇa’s chariot. He spoke in a loud voice, disturbing the demon’s mind. “Release Sītā now, O evil-minded one! You have placed the noose of Death around your neck. You have tied a poisonous snake in your cloth. O fool, your act will bring you nothing but suffering. If Rāma were here, you would no more be able to carry away Sītā by force than one could alter a Vedic text by the force of logic.”

Jatayu was infuriated. He challenged Rāvaṇa. “I am here to stop you, O night-ranger! Stand and fight. Although I am old and weak I cannot watch you take away this princess. Struck by my bill you will fall from your chariot like a ripe fruit from a tree.”

When Rāvaṇa heard Jatayu’s challenge he veered his chariot toward him and rushed angrily at the king of birds, raining him with blows from his twenty arms. But Jatayu swooped and avoided Rāvaṇa’s attack. Then he assailed Rāvaṇa with his sharp talons. As the great bird screamed, Rāvaṇa roared. The clash between the two combatants was tumultuous and frightening to witness. It resembled an encounter between two winged mountains. Rāvaṇa fired terrible-looking arrows that sped through the air like streaks of fire. Jatayu was suddenly struck all over with hundreds of sharp arrows. Ignoring his wounds, he rushed at Rāvaṇa, inflicting many wounds on him with his beak and claws. Jatayu then broke Rāvaṇa’s large jewel-encrusted bow, which fell glittering from the sky. Rāvaṇa swiftly strung another bow and shot thousands of arrows at Jatayu, entirely covering his body. The king of birds looked as if he had found shelter in a nest. He shook off the network of arrows with his wings and again flew at Rāvaṇa’s chariot. The great bird tore off the heads of Rāvaṇa’s mules. With a blow from his bill he killed the charioteer. Swooping again and again, Jatayu then smashed Rāvaṇa’s chariot. As his chariot fell in pieces, the Rākṣasa grabbed hold of Sītā and dropped to the ground.

The gods, witnessing the battle from above, applauded Jatayu. Then Rāvaṇa again rose into the air. In two of his arms he held Sītā, while in another hand he clutched his fierce-looking sword. He faced Jatayu, who again rebuked the demon.

“Your act is condemned by all virtuous men,” thundered Jatayu. “It is not even heroic. You are simply a thief, and like a thief you will be caught and punished by Rāma. O cowardly one, how do you hope to survive? Surely it is only for the annihilation of the Rākṣasas that you have stolen Sītā. Wait a short while and Rāma will return. Or fight me now, Rāvaṇa, for I shall never allow you to leave with Sītā.”

Jatayu flew at Rāvaṇa. He tore the demon’s back with his talons and struck his heads with his beak. The fearless bird pulled the Rākṣasa’s hair and dragged him about. Rāvaṇa shook with anger. His eyes blazed and his lips twitched with indignation. Tormented by Jatayu he decided to kill him. He rushed at the bird and struck him violently with his fists. Jatayu then tore off Rāvaṇa’s ten left arms. Even as the arms fell to the ground, ten more grew immediately in their place, like serpents coming out of an ant hill. The Rākṣasa then placed Sītā on the ground. He darted toward Jatayu and began striking him with his fists and feet. Taking his razor-sharp sword, he lopped off Jatayu’s wings. The great vulture fell on the ground, dying. With his white breast reddened with blood, he resembled a large cloud tinged by the setting sun. Sītā cried out and ran toward him. Gently stroking his head, She called out to Rāma.

“My lord! Where are You? Do You not see this terrible calamity? The sky is filled with evil omens. Come quickly. Here lies the brave Jatayu, mortally wounded on My account. O Rāma! O Lakṣman! Save Me!”

Sītā cried bitterly. From the sky, Rāvaṇa saw that his adversary was overcome. He descended swiftly and went toward Sītā. She ran away and embraced a tree, crying out, “Hold Me, trees, hold Me!”

Rāvaṇa grabbed Her forcefully by the hair. In the grip of his own destiny he dragged Sītā away as She cried out, “Rāma! Rāma!” again and again. Pulling Her onto his lap, Rāvaṇa rose up into the sky.

At that time the wind stopped blowing and the sun appeared lusterless and dull. The whole creation seemed out of order and a dense darkness enveloped the four quarters. Brahmā saw by his divine vision that Sītā had been seized violently by Rāvaṇa and he said to the gods, “Our purpose is accomplished!” The great sages in the forest also saw Sītā being taken. Knowing Rāvaṇa’s destruction to be imminent, they felt simultaneously agonized and joyful.

Rāvaṇa held Sītā tightly and flew toward Lanka. With Her body shining like molten gold and adorned with jeweled ornaments, Sītā looked like lightning against a black cloud. Rāvaṇa appeared like a dark mountain illumined by fire as he traveled with haste toward his city. Sītā’s face pressed against Rāvaṇa, resembled the full moon splitting a cloud. She burst into tears again and again and called out for Rāma. Lotus petals fell in showers from Her crushed garland. A bejeweled golden anklet dropped from Her foot like a circular flash of lightning. Her necklace of pearls fell from Her breast, appearing like the Ganges descending from the heavens.

As Rāvaṇa soared over the treetops the leaves shook violently, seeming to say to Sītā, “Don’t be afraid.” Forest ponds, with their faded lotuses and frightened fishes, appeared sorry for the princess. Lions and tigers, along with birds and other beasts, angrily rushed behind, following Rāvaṇa’s shadow. The mountains, their faces bathed in tears in the form of rivulets and with arms upraised in the form of peaks, seemed to scream as the wind from Rāvaṇa’s passage rushed over them. Seeing Sītā held in the grasp of the ten-headed monster, the forest deities wept and their limbs trembled with fear.

Sītā, Her face pale and Her eyes reddened, chastised Rāvaṇa. “Have you no shame at all? Resorting only to stealth and trickery, you have stolen away the chaste wife of another. O coward! You have killed the old and helpless Jatayu and now you flee in fear from Rāma. You are proud of your valor, but people throughout the world will scorn and deride you, O vile demon!”

Sītā struggled in Rāvaṇa’s grip. She preferred to fall to earth and die than be carried away by him. She censured Rāvaṇa continuously, goading him to turn and fight with Rāma and Lakṣman. The tearful princess told him that even if he carried Her to Lanka She would soon die, being unable to see Rāma. Rāvaṇa, ignoring Her sharp words, continued to bear Her away through the skies.

As they flew, Sītā looked down and caught sight of a group of large monkeys sitting on a mountain peak. She pulled off Her silken head covering and quickly bound up Her golden bracelets and other shining jewels, dropping the bundle as Rāvaṇa flew over the monkeys. Sītā hoped they would meet Rāma and show Him the jewels. He would then know which direction Rāvaṇa had taken Her. The Rākṣasa king did not notice Sītā’s cloth falling to earth.

The monkeys caught sight of it as it fell. They looked up and saw Rāvaṇa speeding past with the beautiful princess held in his arms. The Rākṣasa coursed through the air like an arrow shot from a bow. Delighted in mind, he raced toward his own destruction. Crossing over the fearsome ocean, which teemed with sharks and other fierce aquatics, he went in the direction of his celestial city. Even as he flew overhead the wind died and the ocean waves were stilled out of fear of him.

The many Siddhas and Cāraṇas in the sky who witnessed Rāvaṇa’s flight with Sītā said, “This marks Rāvaṇa’s end.”

Soon Rāvaṇa arrived in Lanka and entered his palace, going straight to the inner section where he kept his many wives. There he spoke with the Rākṣasas who were entrusted with guarding his women. “Take good care that no man looks upon Sītā. Give Her every item of enjoyment the moment She asks. Gold, gems, pearls, silks—whatever She may desire should be provided. Those who slight or upset her, knowingly or unknowingly, must not hold life dear.”

Rāvaṇa then left and went to his own rooms. He called for eight of his most powerful generals. After praising them for their strength and valor, he said, “Armed with various weapons, go at once to the Dandaka. Seek out Rāma and observe Him closely. Be wary, for Rāma has single-handedly destroyed the entire army I had stationed in that forest. Because of that I feel a rage that burns my insides. That rage will only be calmed when Rāma lies dead, slain by me. Therefore you should learn of Rāma’s strengths and weaknesses. Report these to me and I shall then do what is required.”

Rāvaṇa gave them detailed instructions, repeatedly extolling them with pleasant words. The powerful Rākṣasas then made their bodies invisible and set out toward the Dandaka forest. Rāvaṇa, having set up a bitter enmity with Rāma, felt secure and rejoiced within himself. He decided to visit his inner quarters where Sītā was lodged. Stricken with love for the dark-eyed princess, he hurried to see Her.

Rāvaṇa found Sītā bathed in tears and fallen to the floor amid the Rākṣasīs. She resembled a female deer beset by a number of hounds. Even though She was unwilling, Rāvaṇa had Her forcibly brought as he showed Her his palace. It comprised a large number of shining buildings supported by pillars of ivory, gold and crystal. The palace was astonishing to behold and highly pleasing to the mind. Rāvaṇa took Sītā up the magnificent central stairway of gold, showing Her the vast extent of his home. The walls were set thickly with celestial gems, which threw off a brilliant luster, lighting the whole palace. On each level of Rāvaṇa’s palace were differently furnished rooms, meant to evoke different moods. The palace resounded with the delightful music of kettledrums and other instruments. Various scents filled the air. There were fountains and ponds surrounded by flowers of every description.

Hoping to seduce Her, Rāvaṇa spoke to Sītā. “I have under my control millions of Rākṣasas. Ten thousand of them are my personal servants. My city extends for eight hundred miles and is constructed everywhere with gold and gems. Everything I have I now give over to You, O lovely princess. You are more dear to me than life. Become my wife and the queen of all the women who are mine. What is the use of remaining attached to Rāma, who is deprived of His kingdom, given to austerities and travels the earth on foot?”

Rāvaṇa tried at length to impress Sītā. He bragged of his power, telling Her how he could conquer even the gods in heaven. Rāvaṇa also derided Rāma in various ways, saying that He would not be able to reach Lanka even in thought. Indeed, Rāvaṇa boasted, there was not a being anywhere in the three worlds who would now be able to rescue Sītā from Lanka. “Therefore, O delightful lady, share with me all these celestial pleasures. Range freely with me in the Pushpaka. Cast aside any thought of Rāma, whose life is soon to end, for I alone am a husband worthy of You.”

Sītā sat sobbing for some time, not looking at Rāvaṇa. She had no desire to speak to him, but seeing the Rākṣasa’s insistence, She composed Herself and addressed him reproachfully. “O sinful demon, had you dared lay hands upon e in Rāma’s presence, you would now be lying prostrate on the battlefield. Give up your vain boasting! Your life has all but ended. Your royal fortune is gone. Gone too is your strength and intelligence. Soon a shower of arrows will rain down upon Lanka, annihilating the Rākṣasa forces. Thanks to you, O vile Rākṣasa, this city will soon be filled with weeping widows.”

Sītā spoke furiously to Rāvaṇa. How could he even dare to suggest that She abandon Rāma for him? He was like a crow trying to steal a sacrificial offering from amid an assembly of Brahmins. Her mind would not for a single moment contemplate a sinful act. It was only with deep regret that She looked at Rāvaṇa at all. Obviously, virtue was entirely unknown to him. He could imprison Her or kill Her as he liked, for She had no use of life without Rāma.

Hearing Sītā’s stinging words, Rāvaṇa’s bodily hair stood on end. He spoke threateningly. “O most beautiful lady, hear my warning. If You do not yield to me within one year, You shall be killed by my cooks and served to me as my meal.”

Rāvaṇa then stormed away. He instructed the Rākṣasīs to break Her pride. “By fearful threats alternated with soft words, tame this lady as one would tame a wild animal!”

He told them to keep Her in his beautiful gardens, which were filled with trees laden with fruits and flowers. They should guard Her carefully and continue to inform Her of Rāvaṇa’s power and glory. Gradually Her mind would change. Otherwise She would be put to death. Rāvaṇa left in anger, his footsteps causing the earth to vibrate.

Placed in the midst of a grove of trees, Sītā fell weeping to the ground. She felt Her limbs overpowered with grief and could find no peace of mind. Threatened by the Rākṣasa women, who had misshapen faces and deformed figures, She was like a young deer fallen into the clutches of tigresses. With Her mind rapt in thought of Rāma, She fell unconscious, oppressed by fear and sorrow.