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RKD: 3.11: Lakṣman Battles Indrajit

In Lanka, Rāvaṇa was stunned. Twice he had celebrated his seeming victory and twice he had been forced to think again. He sat brooding in his palace. This monkey army was charmed. They had been virtually wiped out by Indrajit, but suddenly they were back on their feet and fighting again. Now Kumbhakarna’s two invincible sons had been killed. Things were becoming desperate. Rāvaṇa looked across at Indrajit. This time he must not fail. Rāvaṇa spoke to his son, who was as powerful as his father in every way.

“O heroic prince, these two mortals must die. Although twice defeated by you, They have somehow miraculously escaped death. Now Their luck must have run out. You are the conqueror of Indra. What then of two humans? Go forth again my son. Use any means whatsoever and kill Them!”

Once again Indrajit went out from Lanka, accompanied by the remaining force of Rākṣasas. After again worshipping the fire on the battlefield he stood up and began to brag of his power. “The two human brothers may be taken as killed. Today I shall secure an eminent victory for my anxious father. This evening he will rest peacefully, experiencing the highest happiness.”

The Rākṣasa prince used his powers of sorcery to create a thick blanket of darkness. Rising into the sky, he rushed toward the Vanara army, who were thrown into confusion. He rained down steel arrows in the hundreds of thousands. Again he targeted Rāma and Lakṣman. The two princes were enraged by his treacherous attack. Rāma blazed up like a huge fire fed with volumes of ghee. He bent His great bow into a full circle and released deadly golden shafts that went toward Indrajit in the sky. Using the Shabda-astra, which sought out an invisible opponent, Rāma grievously pierced the demon. He saw His arrows fall to the ground, soaked in the demon’s blood.

Indrajit drove away from the princes, sending arrows at the monkeys and killing thousands. Seeing this, Lakṣman lost all patience. He fitted an arrow to His bow and spoke to Rāma. “I shall now release the brahmāstra, charging it with the power to kill all the Rākṣasas at once. We need tolerate their insolence no longer.”

Rāma reached out and checked His brother. “We should not slay innocent creatures unnecessarily,” He told Him. “The Rākṣasas in Lanka have been sufficiently punished by our assault on their city. Let Us now simply annihilate the remaining warriors. I shall myself immediately kill this Indrajit if he remains on the battlefield for even a moment.”

Rāma declared that the time for Indrajit’s destruction had come. Even if the Rākṣasa fled for shelter to the farthest reaches of the universe, he would not escape. Rāma raised His bow and looked up to the sky.

Divining Rāma’s intentions, Indrajit quickly withdrew from the battlefield. He entered Lanka and considered what tactic he should use to kill Rāma and His brother. Using his prodigious mystic powers, he conjured an illusory image of Sītā. Placing this false form on his chariot, he again went out onto the battlefield, this time remaining visible in the sky.

Hanumān spotted the chariot of Indrajit drawn by its demonic tigers and he rushed toward it with a mountainous crag in his hands. As he looked up, however, he saw a woman held in the demon’s grasp. Although beautiful, she appeared wretched and sorrowful. She was clad in a single garment, unadorned, with her limbs covered in dust and mud. Gazing at her for a while, Hanumān recognized her as Sītā.

As the monkeys looked on, Indrajit took out his sword and grabbed Sītā by her hair. He began to strike her and she cried out, “Rāma! O Rāma!”

Hanumān was seized with agony upon seeing this and hot tears fell from his eyes. He angrily rebuked Indrajit. “O wicked one, your act is meant only for your own destruction. Although descended from a Brahmin ṛṣi, you are ignoble, mean and sinful. How can you kill a helpless woman, torn from her home and her husband, weak, wretched and crying for protection? Your own death is close. You shall then descend to a dark and condemned region, inhabited by the lowest of creatures.”

Indrajit laughed. Dropping the form of Sītā, he grabbed his bow and loosed off a thousand fierce arrows at Hanumān and the other monkeys. He then took hold of Sītā’s hair again and replied harshly to Hanumān. “She for whom you have all come so far and fought so hard I will now slay. I shall then make short work of Rāma and Lakṣman as well as you, O monkey. I care not for the immorality of my acts, for whatever causes pain to one’s enemy must be achieved by any means.”

Indrajit raised his sword and cut the form of Sītā into two parts. Laughing loudly, he called out to the monkeys, “Here is Sītā now killed by me. Your efforts to recover her have all been in vain. Fight on, if you must, but all of you will meet the same end as she.”

The demon rose high into the sky, wheeling about in his golden chariot. Hanumān was seized with grief and anger. Completely infuriated, he fell upon the Rākṣasas in a frenzy. Repeatedly roaring he consumed the Rākṣasa army like the fire of universal dissolution. He took up a massive rock and hurled it straight at Indrajit’s chariot, but the demon rose still higher and the rock fell short. It dropped to the earth, crushing hundreds of demons and opening a chasm in the ground.

Hanumān was filled with despair. Looking around the at monkey army, he shouted to them, “Cease fighting! The object of our battle is now impossible to achieve, for Sītā lies killed. Let us withdraw and ask Rāma what should be done next.”

The monkeys pulled away from the fight and moved back toward Rāma and Lakṣman. Seeing this, Indrajit also withdrew, taking the demons with him. He made his way to a sanctuary in a cavern known as Nikumbhila. There he began to perform a ritual for assuring his victory in the battle. Worshipping the powerful goddess Kali, a fearful form of the personified material energy, he made offerings of blood into a sacrificial fire. The demon knew the final battle would soon be fought. He had been granted a boon by Brahmā that once having performed the ritual at Nikumbhila, he would remain completely invincible in battle until his enemy was defeated. The time for realizing that boon had arrived. Surrounded by other Rākṣasas, Indrajit sat before the fire reciting the sacred mantras.

* * *

On the battlefield, Hanumān came before Rāma and told Him the terrible news. Rāma at once collapsed to the ground and lay there insensible, like a great tree cut at the root. The monkeys quickly brought cool, scented water and sprinkled His face. Lakṣman, tormented by agony, knelt down and lifted Rāma up. He spoke to His brother in a choked voice. “What is the value of a virtuous life? O Rāma, how can one like You suffer such reverses? If righteousness brought any good results, then this calamity could never have occurred. Indeed, if good and bad fruits accrued to the righteous and unrighteous respectively, then Rāvaṇa would have long ago sunk into hell, while You would now be reunited with Your spouse. What can influence all-powerful destiny? It moves only according to its own will. Our acts are all feeble and their results always uncertain.”

Lakṣman cried out in pain. Thinking of the sinful Indrajit, His eyes blazed with fury. He urged Rāma to rise up and avenge Sītā. Together They should at once completely destroy Lanka with all its buildings and citizens.

As Lakṣman spoke to Rāma, Vibhishana arrived. He saw Rāma lying in a swoon with His head on Lakṣman’s lap. All around the monkeys were given over to grief and were lying on the ground and shedding tears. Vibhishana was gripped by despondency upon seeing Rāma’s state. He knelt by Lakṣman and asked Him what had happened. The prince told him about Sītā.

Vibhishana, after reflecting for some moments, began to nod slowly. “The report of Sītā’s death is as absurd as the drying up of the ocean,” he said. “There is no possibility that Rāvaṇa would allow the princess to be killed. He is consumed by desire to possess Her. Even though he was well apprised by me of the consequences of keeping Her, the sinful demon would by no means return Her to You, O Rāma. You have been tricked by the devious Indrajit. Know that woman killed by him to be mere illusion. There is no doubt in my mind.”

Rāma opened His eyes and looked up at Vibhishana. The Rākṣasa explained that Indrajit must have created the illusion in order to weaken Rāma and to buy time. He would now be performing a ritual in the Nikumbhila sanctuary. If allowed to finish his ritual, he would be impossible to overcome. There was no time to lose. The monkeys should go at once to the sanctuary and stop the ritual. Vibhishana recommended that Lakṣman go, while Rāma remained stationed on the battlefield.

Still overcome by grief, Rāma did not fully comprehend Vibhishana’s words. He asked the Rākṣasa to repeat what he had said. Vibhishana told Him everything again and then said, “Rise up and take courage. Sītā will yet be recovered. Marshal the troops and send them with Lakṣman. Surely Lakṣman will be able to bring about Indrajit’s end with His deadly arrows.”

Vibhishana explained to Rāma about the boon granted by Brahmā. There was a condition that if Indrajit was disturbed during the course of the ritual, he could be killed. That was why he had created the illusion of Sītā’s death. He obviously considered that this would throw Rāma and His army into total confusion for long enough. Vibhishana urged Lakṣman on. “Go now, O valiant one. When Indrajit is killed, Rāvaṇa and his army will be finished for sure.”

Rāma stood up and spoke to Vibhishana. “What you say is true, O night-ranger. Indrajit’s prowess in sorcery and in battle is formidable. He cannot be discerned even by the gods when he rides on his chariot in the sky. This one must be slain at once.”

Rāma turned to Lakṣman and ordered Him to leave for Nikumbhila. Vibhishana would show Him the way and the foremost monkeys, headed by Sugrīva and Hanumān, would accompany him.

Lakṣman felt delighted in mind. He bent down and touched Rāma’s feet. Taking up His bow and sword, He stood ready for battle and said in a thunderous voice, “Today My swift-coursing arrows will pierce through Indrajit’s body and tear him to pieces. That Rākṣasa is now as good as dead.”

Rāma uttered benedictory Vedic mantras and the monkeys cheered. Followed by the vast monkey army, Lakṣman set off for the Nikumbhila sanctuary. After they had covered many miles Vibhishana pointed to the Rākṣasa army laying ahead. Indrajit had placed them all around the sanctuary, in the distance they appeared like a great black cloud descended to earth.

The monkeys and bears took up trees and rocks and charged straight at the Rākṣasa army. The Rākṣasas replied with all kinds of weapons and the sky between the two armies became filled with missiles of various shapes. The monkey army pressed forward and began to overrun the Rākṣasas, who had been caught by surprise. The Rākṣasas ran about crying in fear. They called for Indrajit to help them. Indrajit became indignant upon realizing that he was being disturbed. Who had been so insolent as to attack him during his sacrifice? With the ritual still unfinished he stood up and went out of the sanctuary. Seeing the battle raging, he quickly mounted his chariot and went out amid the Rākṣasas.

Hanumān had taken the lead in the battle and was wreaking havoc among the demons. With an enormous tree he battered innumerable Rākṣasas to death. The Rākṣasas surrounded him and rained down a shower of arrows, spears, swords and javelins. Hanumān laughed off those weapons and continued thrashing the demons with trees and boulders. Indrajit, seeing Hanumān destroying the Rākṣasa army, ordered his charioteer to go quickly before the monkey.

As Indrajit appeared before Hanumān, the monkey challenged him to a duel. “Stand here before me and display your strength of arms, O evil one. You shall not return with your life today.” Indrajit took up his bow and prepared to shoot arrows at Hanumān. Seeing this, Vibhishana urged Lakṣman to engage with Indrajit immediately. Lakṣman twanged His bow, making a terrific sound. Indrajit turned and saw the prince who called out to him, “I challenge you to battle. Stay before My vision and fight fairly, if you dare. Death now awaits you, O vile Rākṣasa.”

Indrajit spotted Vibhishana next to Lakṣman and began to rebuke him with harsh words. “You are the disgrace of our race, O uncle. How can you display enmity toward me, who am as good as your own son? What do you know of virtue? You have abandoned your own people and sided with the enemy. Pointing out my vulnerability, O degraded one, you have rendered great harm to your own brother. Surely you do not know right from wrong.”

Vibhishana replied that he did not share Rākṣasa disposition. Although born in their race he did not take pleasure in the sinful acts they enjoyed. Citing texts from the Vedas, Vibhishana said to his nephew, “One should always abandon an unrighteous relative, even as one should quickly abandon a burning house. There is no greater sin than stealing another’s wife. By killing eminent ṛṣis and waging war on the gods, Rāvaṇa has lost all sense of propriety. Now, having stolen Rāma’s wife, he has filled his cup of sins to overflowing. Along with all his kinsmen he will soon die. But first, you shall die today at Lakṣman’s hands.”

Indrajit replied harshly to his uncle. Lifting his ornate bow he derided Lakṣman, who was mounted upon Hanumān’s back. “How will You withstand my arrows loosed with the force of a thunderbolt? It is clear that You have already embarked upon the road to Yamarāja’s abode. I shall send You there at once, along with all these monkeys.”

Lakṣman was enraged to hear Indrajit’s bragging. He thundered back at him. “You are strong only with your words, O Rākṣasa! Those possessed of actual prowess show it with deeds, not boasts. Heroes never need to fight invisibly. You are simply a thief and a coward. If you have any prowess, then show it today! Here I am within the range of your arrows.”

Indrajit at once released dozens of arrows that hissed through the air like serpents. They struck Lakṣman and pierced through His armor. The prince began to bleed and, swelling with fury, He appeared like a smokeless fire. Without the least hesitation, He took out five steel arrows worked with gold and fitted with eagle feathers. Pulling His bowstring back to His ear, He shot them at Indrajit. They flew like the rays of the sun, penetrating the Rākṣasa’s breast. The demon replied with three more arrows of his own, which sped through the air in flames.

The two combatants fought furiously, each seeking a quick victory. They appeared like two lions as they stood firmly on the battlefield hurling their weapons at each other. Fighting from Hanumān’s back, Lakṣman displayed great dexterity. His arrows fell upon Indrajit from all sides, striking him like thunderbolts.

The Rākṣasa was stunned by Lakṣman’s attack, and he reeled in his chariot. Regaining his senses, the demon shouted at Lakṣman, trying to create fear in the prince. Indrajit reminded Him how He had been overcome by the Rākṣasa’s weapons on two former occasions. Surely Lakṣman had forgotten that or else how could He be so foolish as to stand before him again?

The Rākṣasa at once pierced Lakṣman, Hanumān and Vibhishana, each with a dozen fierce arrows. Lakṣman laughed and derided the demon’s strength. “These arrows are nothing. They strike Me like so many flowers and simply increase My desire to fight.” Lakṣman covered the Rākṣasa with swift-coursing arrows that tore off his heavy golden armor, which dropped from the demon like stars falling from heaven. He was covered in blood and he shone like the morning sun.

In reply, Indrajit sent a thousand arrows at Lakṣman and shattered His armor. The two warriors, lacerated with arrows, battled strenuously for some hours. Neither of them retreated nor felt any fatigue. Hails of arrows sped through the sky like showers falling from autumnal clouds. Both were expert in mystic missiles and they fired and countered those weapons again and again. Networks of arrows clashed together in the heavens, emitting fire and sparks. Huge fireballs were countered by sheets of water, while weapons producing roaring gales were checked by others which created immovable mountains.

A vehement and terrible struggle ensued for a long time. The earth was covered with a mass of arrows that looked like a carpet of sacred kusha grass. The two princes, arrows sticking from every part of their bodies, bled profusely, appearing like mountains covered with trees and giving forth shining red oxides.

As they fought, Vibhishana exhorted the monkeys to engage with the other Rākṣasas. He told them that Indrajit was accompanied by all that was left of the Rākṣasa army. Vibhishana named all the Rākṣasa heroes who had been slain, thereby giving joy to the monkeys and increasing their enthusiasm. They lashed the ground with their tails and bared their terrible teeth. The monkeys stood gazing intently at the Rākṣasas. Vibhishana himself then took up his bow and began sending his deadly shafts toward the Rākṣasas. Roaring like lions, the monkeys leapt toward the Rākṣasas and a fearful battle took place.

Lakṣman dismounted from Hanumān’s back, and the monkey dashed into the fray, whirling a great tree trunk and mowing down the Rākṣasas in hundreds. Jambavan led his army of fierce bears straight into the battle and a melee spread in all directions, as monkeys, bears and Rākṣasas tore and struck each other wildly.

Lakṣman stood on the ground facing Indrajit. The Rākṣasa remained in his chariot and continued to release volumes of arrows at the prince. Becoming enraged, Lakṣman sped four arrows at the four frightful-looking tigers drawing the demon’s chariot. The chariot halted as the beasts were struck by Lakṣman’s shafts. He then took a crescent-tipped arrow and forcefully released it at Indrajit’s charioteer, severing his head from his body. As the charioteer fell to the ground, four heroic monkeys bounded over to Indrajit’s chariot and fell upon the four tigers. Crushing and pounding them, the monkeys reduced them to a lifeless mass and then ran back to Lakṣman’s side.

Indrajit leapt to the ground and retreated back among the other Rākṣasas. He ordered them to hold off the monkeys and keep Lakṣman engaged. Then the Rākṣasa prince rose swiftly into the air and entered Lanka to get another chariot. Within a short while he appeared again on the battlefield, driving a golden chariot equipped with every kind of weapon. Full of vigor for the fight, Indrajit at once assailed Lakṣman and Vibhishana, while simultaneously firing innumerable shafts at the monkey warriors. So swift was his movement that it was impossible to see when he lifted his bow, pulled back the string or took out and fitted his arrows. All that could be perceived was an endless stream of whetted shafts being sent in all directions.

Indrajit tore thousands of monkeys to pieces. They fell down, screaming and crying out to Lakṣman for protection. His eyes blazing in anger, Lakṣman shot five straight-going arrows which smashed Indrajit’s bow. Seeing this wondrous feat, the gods and ṛṣis, assembled in the sky, applauded Lakṣman. The prince then pierced Indrajit with a dozen more arrows, which went right through the Rākṣasa’s body and fell to the ground like red serpents entering the earth.

Vomiting blood, Indrajit grasped another bow and immediately released a hundred arrows at Lakṣman. Those arrows screamed through the air shooting forth bright red flames. Lakṣman remained calm and intercepted the blazing shafts with His own infallible arrows. Indrajit sped innumerable other arrows toward Lakṣman but the prince parried them all. He answered the demon’s attack by again severing his charioteer’s head with another crescent-headed shaft. Although deprived of their controller, however, Indrajit’s steeds continued to pull the chariot, rising into the air and describing various circular movements.

Lakṣman displayed astonishing prowess. He completely covered Indrajit’s chariot with arrows and then pierced all of the other demons surrounding the Rākṣasa prince. Indrajit again descended and shot three arrows which embedded themselves in Lakṣman’s forehead, making Him appear like a three-peaked mountain. Lakṣman at once replied with five searing shafts that thudded into Indrajit’s head. The two opponents, bleeding profusely from their wounds, looked like a couple of kinshuka trees in full blossom.

As Indrajit reeled from his attack, Lakṣman quickly shot four deadly arrows which killed the demon’s four horses. The Rākṣasa leapt down from the chariot. As he jumped, he hurled a golden lance at Vibhishana that resembled a bolt of heaven. Lakṣman instantly shot five arrows at that speeding lance and cut it to pieces. Vibhishana took up his bow and pierced Indrajit in the breast with a number of arrows that struck him with a sound like thunderclaps.

Indrajit bellowed in anger. He took from his quiver a glowing arrow which he had received from Yamarāja. Seeing the Rākṣasa fitting this mystic missile to his bow, Lakṣman quickly invoked a weapon He had obtained in a dream from Kuvera. The two infuriated combatants pulled back their bowstrings with the divine weapons fitted. Both bows emitted a piercing noise like a pair of cranes. When released, the two weapons collided violently in mid-air and lit up the heavens. A great fire appeared in the sky along with billows of smoke. The missiles fell to the ground in hundreds of blazing pieces.

Lakṣman invoked the Varuṇastra, the weapon presided over by the god of the waters. Perceiving this, Indrajit countered the weapon with another imbued with the divine energy of Śiva. The Rākṣasa then released the Āgneyastra, but this was countered by Lakṣman with the Sūryastra, the missile charged with the immense potency of the sun-god. Remaining firm on the battlefield, Indrajit placed a long golden arrow on his bow and began reciting sacred incantations. Darts, maces, swords, axes, hammers and other weapons flew from his bow by the hundreds. Not disturbed, Lakṣman invoked a missile presided over by the wind-god and immediately neutralized Indrajit’s weapon.

The battle between man and demon raged furiously. Both of them relentlessly hurled their deadly missiles and filled the sky with volleys of arrows. Neither showed any sign of fatigue and both were worked up with a terrible anger. All around them the monkeys and Rākṣasas clashed violently in a fearful and bloody battle. The gods, headed by Indra and accompanied by the great ṛṣis, stood in the canopy of the sky. They prayed to Viṣṇu and showered blessings upon Lakṣman and the Vanaras, wishing them victory.

Lakṣman saw numerous omens indicative of victory and He considered the time for Indrajit’s destruction to have arrived. After reflecting for a moment the prince invoked a divine arrow He had received from Rāma which had formerly belonged to Indra. That beautiful shining arrow was imbued with inconceivable power. It was worked with gold and gems and fitted with peacock feathers. The arrow had rounded golden joints, its large steel tip was flat and broad, and its razor-sharp edges were inlaid with diamonds. As Lakṣman placed it upon his bow and drew back the string He invoked the divine Aindrastra, presided over by the king of the gods. Within Himself He prayed, “If Rāma is always true to His word and fixed in virtue, and if He possesses unrivaled power, then let this arrow end Indrajit’s life.”

The heroic Lakṣman concentrated His mind and released the arrow. It screamed toward Indrajit with blinding speed. Before the Rākṣasa could make any move to counter the weapon it severed his head from his shoulders. That handsome head with its jeweled helmet and blazing earrings rolled on the ground, bathed in blood and shining like gold. Rāvaṇa’s son dropped to the ground with his bow falling from his hand. All the monkeys and bears, along with Vibhishana, loudly rejoiced; and in the heavens the gods, Gandharvas and ṛṣis raised a shout of victory.

Their leader slain, the Rākṣasas lost all enthusiasm for the fight. Terror-stricken they flung down their weapons and fled in every direction. Some rushed into Lanka, some hid in mountain caves and others dropped into the sea. Seeing Indrajit lying dead, they all vanished from the battlefield, even as the rays of the sun disappear when the sun has set. The Rākṣasa prince lay on the ground like an extinguished fire.

A roll of celestial drums sounded in the skies and the singing of Gandharvas and Apsarās could be heard. The sky became clear and the sea calm. As the dust settled on the battlefield golden flowers rained from the heavens. Siddhas, Cāraṇas and Gandharvas appeared there and gazed upon the dead Rākṣasa. The monkeys leapt for joy, thundering and roaring, and applauding Lakṣman.

Surrounded by Hanumān, Jambavan and Vibhishana, Lakṣman returned to Rāma. After respectfully circumambulating Him, He stood by Rāma’s side with bow in hand, even as Indra might stand by the side of Viṣṇu. Rāma smiled, realizing that Lakṣman had succeeded in His difficult mission. He looked with affection upon His brother. Vibhishana described how Indrajit had been slain. Rāma cheered Lakṣman upon hearing this report and He addressed Him with great delight. “Well done, Lakṣman! You have achieved a great feat today. Without doubt this has assured our victory. You have cut off Rāvaṇa’s right arm and his best hope of success in the battle. Now that the merciless and evil-minded Indrajit is killed, we will see the sinful Rāvaṇa issuing forth for battle. I shall then dispatch him to Death’s abode, along with all his army.”

Rāma thanked all of the warriors who had accompanied Lakṣman. They had fought solidly for three days. All of them were badly wounded. Lakṣman Himself was severely lacerated with arrow wounds, His body covered in blood. He was tormented with pain and breathing heavily. Rāma summoned Sushena, the monkey skilled in healing. He ordered him to treat Lakṣman and the others with the celestial remedies. They then rested on the field of battle, awaiting Rāvaṇa’s next move.