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Prologue

Coursing through the sky in his celestial chariot, Rāvaṇa appeared like a blazing comet. His dark body shone with a brilliant aura. From his ten heads his reddish eyes darted about, scouring the mountains below. His twenty powerful arms hanging from his huge frame looked like five-hooded serpents. Seated on a throne of gems he directed his golden chariot by thought alone and it moved swiftly over the Himālayan range.

The demon was out on his conquests. All around him flew thousands of Rākṣasas, clutching swords, barbed spears, spiked maces and iron bludgeons, all of those weapons smeared with blood. Some Rākṣasas had the heads of tigers, some of donkeys and some of fierce fiends. Others appeared in their natural forms: large blackish bodies, fearful faces with tall pointed ears and rows of sharp fangs, with a mass of red hair on their heads. They wore iron breastplates studded with gems and were adorned with bright gold earrings and other shining ornaments. Surrounding Rāvaṇa they looked like dark clouds with lightning covering the sun.

Rāvaṇa wished to defeat in battle even the gods themselves. Wanting to establish his supreme power in the universe, he had gone to the higher planets and conquered hosts of Gandharvas and Yakṣas, powerful celestial fighters. Now he was returning from his victorious fight with Kuvera, his own brother and the treasurer of the gods. That lordly deity had been made to retreat by Rāvaṇa, losing to the demon his wonderful chariot, known in all the worlds as the Pushpaka.

The fearless Rāvaṇa, overlord of all the demons, looked down from the Pushpaka at the forests below. It was a picture of tranquility. Amongst the trees were many verdant clearings covered with varieties of wild shrubs and forest flowers. Crystal waterfalls cascaded onto many colored rocks. Lakes filled with lotuses and swans shone from the mountain plateaus as the hordes of Rākṣasas soared overhead.

Sometimes the demons would see groups of ṛṣis, ascetic Brahmins who dwelt in those high mountain ranges, practising austerities and worshipping the gods. They would see the columns of smoke rising up amongst the trees from the sacrificial fires tended by the sages. Using their powers of sorcery the Rākṣasas dropped down volumes of blood, faeces and urine, defiling the sacrifices. They would then hurl huge boulders and blazing coals, crushing and burning the sages where they sat in meditation. Finally the demons would themselves descend, howling and roaring. They tore apart the bodies of the ṛṣis, drinking their blood and devouring their flesh.

Rāvaṇa admired the Pushpaka as it proceeded according to his will. His brother Kuvera would be sorry to lose such a splendid vehicle. It looked more like a city of the gods floating in the air than a chariot. Numerous cat’s-eye and crystal pillars ran along its sides, supporting golden mansions inlaid with coral. Large floors made entirely of gems stood upon gold statues of lions and tigers. Groves of artificial trees, shining with golden leaves and fruits, surrounded large ponds crowded with white lotuses. In those clear ponds stood ivory elephants and silver goddesses. Networks of pearls and wreaths of celestial flowers hung all over that car. It was encrusted with countless precious stones and emblazoned with gold carvings of wolves, sharks, and fierce bears. Sweeping through the skies it emitted the sounds of celestial music and the fragrance of the pārijāta flower, known only to the gods.

As Rāvaṇa sat idly aboard the chariot, gazing around at the magnificent scenery below, he suddenly noticed a lady sitting in meditation. This was most unusual. Women were rarely seen in those mountains. Sometimes the ṛṣis would have their wives with them, but this woman seemed to be entirely alone. Rāvaṇa slowed the chariot and moved down to look more closely. Perhaps there were more ascetics nearby. The Rākṣasas could use a little entertainment. And, if this woman was as beautiful as she seemed at first glance, so could he.

Ordering the Rākṣasas to wait in the sky, Rāvaṇa himself rose up from the chariot and descended to the ground. He saw the young ascetic girl sitting on a flat piece of soft grassland surrounded by wild flowers. She glowed with a golden beauty. Her limbs were exquisitely formed and her full breasts were covered by a black deerskin. Rāvaṇa could see the contours of her tapering thighs through the thin cloth covering her crossed legs. Dark locks of thickly matted hair hung down to her waist, framing her white-complexioned face. Her red lips moved slightly as she intoned the sacred syllable Om. Her smooth golden arms were bared in front of her as she sat with folded palms, her long curling lashes covering half closed eyes.

Rāvaṇa’s mind was overpowered by lust. Who was this youthful lady? What was she doing here in such a lonely place? Did she have a protector? Never mind. He would soon deal with that. The forest was no place for such a maiden. She would make an excellent addition to his other consorts.

By his mystic power Rāvaṇa assumed a human form and approached the girl. He spoke loudly, disturbing her reverie. “O most beautiful maiden, who are you? Why are you practising asceticism in this lonely region? To whom do you belong? What fortunate man has you for his wife?”

The demon was unable to resist the charms of women. As he gazed upon the alluring form of the girl he was possessed by increasing desire. He laughed and waited for her to reply.

The girl fully opened her black eyes and looked at Rāvaṇa. Seeing him as a guest in her hermitage she spoke respectfully, telling him her name. She was Vedavati, the daughter of a powerful sage, who was himself a son of the gods’ preceptor, Bṛhaspati. Looking down in shyness she said, “I was born as an incarnation of the holy Vedas. My father was sought by numerous gods and other celestial beings who wished to have my hand in marriage. However, none but Viṣṇu, the Lord of all the worlds, can be my spouse. Thus I am seated here, absorbed in thought of the Lord and awaiting His favour.”

Vedavati had meditated for thousands of years. Her body, like that of the gods, neither aged nor required any sustenance. She could understand by her own inner vision who Rāvaṇa was and what was his intention. In gentle tones she said that only Viṣṇu could be her husband. That inconceivable Lord was all powerful and all seeing and she had chosen Him alone. She could not belong to anyone else. Rāvaṇa should continue on his way as before.

Rāvaṇa laughed again. He was not going to leave behind this jewel of a woman. Hearing the name of Viṣṇu, his sworn enemy, only made him all the more determined. The demon’s voice boomed like thunder. “Your resolution to practice austerity befits only old women, O lady of shapely limbs. Why do you waste your fleeting youth in this way? I am Rāvaṇa, lord of the Rākṣasas, the very mighty race of demons. Become my wife and live with me in my capital, Lanka, the golden city I forcibly seized from the gods. Who is this Viṣṇu anyway?”

Rāvaṇa spoke derisively of Viṣṇu, whom he knew to be the Lord of all the gods. The arrogant demon cared nothing for any universal authority. He had been granted boons by Brahmā, the creator of the universe, who had so blessed the Rākṣasa that he could not be killed by practically any created being, neither god nor demon. Rāvaṇa could assume forms at will. Vedavati’s mention of Viṣṇu did not bother him in the least. He stood smiling before the maiden, his eyes full of lust.

Hearing Rāvaṇa deride Viṣṇu, Vedavati flared up with anger and rebuked the demon. She told him to leave immediately for his own good, lest he incite the powerful anger of that Supreme Deity.

Rāvaṇa smiled. This high-spirited woman would make a perfect consort for him. He stepped forward and grabbed hold of her long locks. Vedavati at once uttered a powerful Sanskrit mantra which momentarily checked the demon’s advance. She lifted a hand and by her mystic power cut through her hair. The Rākṣasa fell back in surprise as she spoke furiously.

“O evil one, I shall now quit this body defiled by your touch! As I have been insulted by you I shall take birth again only for your destruction. Appearing from the earth, I shall become the pious daughter of a virtuous man. You and your entire race will be destroyed as a result of that birth.”

Vedavati closed her eyes and meditated on Viṣṇu, seeing Him within her heart. Before Rāvaṇa’s eyes she invoked fire from within herself. Her body was immediately consumed by flames and in a few moments Rāvaṇa stood looking at her ashes. Baffled by her words, the disappointed demon rose again to his chariot and continued on his way.

The demon and his Rākṣasa followers spent some time in the Himālayan mountains, wreaking havoc amongst the many ascetics living there. Gradually they approached the far northern region where there lay Mount Kailāsa, the abode of Śiva. As the Pushpaka began crossing that mountain, it was suddenly brought to a halt. Rāvaṇa was surprised and he descended to the ground, surrounded by his ministers who accompanied him on the chariot. As he gazed around at the brilliant scenery on the mountainside, he saw a strange being with a monkey’s head.

The creature appeared dreadful, with a dark yellowish complexion and misshapen features. Although his body was large, he had a dwarfish stature. He was clean shaven and muscular and he stood holding a large glowing pike. As he gazed at Rāvaṇa, the demon called out to him. “Who are you and where is this region? Why have I been impeded?”

“I am Nandi, the servant of Śiva,” replied the unusual being. “You have arrived at Śiva’s abode, which is inaccessible to all created beings. You will not be able to pass this mountain. Therefore turn back and go the way you have come.”

Rāvaṇa looked at the strange body of Nandi and laughed out loud. He spoke in a derisory voice. “Why should I heed you, O monkey-faced one? Who is this Śiva anyway?”

Hearing his master insulted infuriated Nandi. Raising his pike, which shot forth tongues of fire, he exclaimed, “O Rākṣasa, I should kill you at once but I will not do so, as you already stand killed by your own sins. But I say this, as you disregard me in my monkey form, there shall be born on earth many monkeys of terrible strength who will annihilate your race.”

As Nandi spoke the sound of heavenly drums reverberated in the sky and a shower of flowers fell. Rāvaṇa’s eyes flamed in anger. Disregarding the curse, he roared, “I shall remove this hill from my path. What do I care for you and your master?”

The Rākṣasa immediately plunged his twenty massive arms deep into the side of the hill. He began tearing it up and it slowly rose above the earth, shaking violently. As the hill shook, Śiva’s consort, Parvati, slipped from her position and clung to her husband. Śiva reassured her, “Do not be afraid. This is the action of the vain demon Rāvaṇa. I shall deal with him shortly. He cannot harm you.”

Parvati’s eyes turned red as she replied to her powerful husband. “As this wretch has frightened a woman by his violence, his death shall be caused by a woman.”

Śiva stood up and pressed down upon the hill with his toe. Rāvaṇa at once felt an unbearable pressure. His arms, which resembled huge pillars holding the hill, were crushed. He let out a tremendous cry that resounded throughout the three worlds of heaven, earth and hell, terrifying all beings. He was trapped by the weight of the mountain and could not move.

The Rākṣasa’s ministers at once surrounded him and advised him to appease Śiva. “We have heard how that all-powerful one is easily pleased. Offer him prayers and seek his compassion at once. Surely he will be gracious to you.”

Rāvaṇa, who had made a study of all the scriptures, began reciting hymns from the Sāmaveda in glorification of Śiva. But even after a hundred years had passed the Rākṣasa still remained trapped. Although in great pain, he continued offering prayers to Śiva. Finally Śiva relented and relieved Rāvaṇa of the pressure. He appeared before the demon and spoke kindly. “O ten-headed one, your prayers have pleased me. Do not be so rash again. Leave now and go wherever you like.”

Rāvaṇa bowed to the god, who stood holding his famous trident. The crescent moon shone from his head and a large serpent was coiled around his blue neck. He gazed at Rāvaṇa with his three eyes as the demon folded his palms to address him. “My lord, if you are actually pleased with me then please give me your weapon.”

Śiva smiled. Rāvaṇa’s lust for battle would prove to be his destruction before long. Saying, “So be it”, Śiva raised his palm in benediction and immediately vanished from that spot. Rāvaṇa felt the mantras for invoking Śiva’s powerful Pāśupāta weapon appear within his mind. He smiled. Who could resist such power? Even he had been unable to overcome Śiva. The great deity was surely worthy of his worship.

Rāvaṇa mounted the Pushpaka, which had waited in the sky all the time he was trapped. Being unable to proceed further to the north he turned back southwards, still accompanied by his numerous Rākṣasa forces. As he moved across the Earth, seeking further martial engagements, he came upon the city of Ayodhya. This was the capital of the world of humans. The emperor of the earth dwelt there and Rāvaṇa considered him as fit for a fight. If he conquered this king then the whole earth would be subjugated.

Rāvaṇa had little interest in human affairs-the Rākṣasas were a superior race of beings more on a level with the gods-but the demon wanted to establish his supremacy over all beings. His army of Rākṣasas surrounded the city, challenging the emperor to battle.

A fierce fight ensued between the two armies of Rāvaṇa and the Ayodhya king, Anaranya. Tens of thousands of chariots and elephants came onto the battlefield, along with hundreds of thousands of foot soldiers. Showers of arrows, like swarms of black bees, fell upon the demons. Anaranya’s army threw lances, darts, steel bullets and iron maces by the million. They swept towards the enemy, shouting courageously with their weapons raised.

Rāvaṇa’s forces used sorcery to appear and disappear at will, flying in the sky and hurling down rocks and sharp weapons. The king’s army replied with showers of swift and deadly arrows. Using powerful catapults the warriors threw at the Rākṣasas large iron darts which whistled through the air. But Anaranya’s fighters could not easily engage with the elusive demons. Although they rushed forward, slashing at the enemy with their blue steel swords, the soldiers found themselves cleaving the air as the Rākṣasas rose into the sky. The Rākṣasas, who towered over their human foes, would then suddenly descend behind the soldiers, cutting them down with razor-sharp scimitars.

Gradually the demons overpowered the king’s army. The battlefield became strewn with the mangled bodies of Anaranya’s troops. Blood flowed in waves upon the ground. Heads rolled on the earth with their golden earrings flashing and their teeth clenched in fury. Large and well-muscled arms, still clutching broad swords and lances, lay severed amidst the entrails of slain warriors. The demons sent up great shouts as they hacked down the king’s army.

Anaranya himself exhibited great prowess. He knew the secrets of the celestial weapons and by invoking those divine missiles he killed innumerable Rākṣasas. When the demons hid using their sorcery, he released the Shabda weapon of sound, which found them wherever they were. As hordes of Rākṣasas rushed at the emperor, he let go the wind weapon which lifted the demons and hurled them far away. Anaranya was difficult to look upon as he stood in his chariot releasing his weapons. They fell upon the Rākṣasa forces like blazing meteors. But the demons far outnumbered the humans. Although hard pressed by the king, the Rākṣasas responded with more and more sorcery, vanishing into the sky and entering the earth. Eventually Rāvaṇa’s hordes completely annihilated their enemies and Anaranya stood alone against the demons.

Seeing all his forces consumed like so many moths entering a fire, the emperor became infuriated. He went towards Rāvaṇa, who had stood by in a war chariot as his Rākṣasas fought with the soldiers. Anaranya took up his great bow and let loose eight hundred fierce arrows, which sped like flames of fire towards Rāvaṇa. By the incantations of Anaranya those arrows were imbued with the power of thunderbolts. The king fired them so swiftly that they flew in a long line, almost end to end. They struck Rāvaṇa furiously on his heads and chest, sounding like claps of thunder. But the demon did not flinch in the least.

Angered by the king’s sudden attack, Rāvaṇa took up a terrible looking mace. He whirled it above his head with such force that it glowed bright orange and threw off tongues of fire. He flew with the speed of a tempest towards the emperor and struck him a great blow on the forehead. The king fell from his chariot and lay bleeding on the ground. The Rākṣasa began laughing and deriding the fallen monarch.

“What is the use of fighting with Rāvaṇa? There is none who can face me in battle and remain alive. Clearly you are a foolish man, too much addicted to wine and women. Thus you have not heard of my unassailable power.”

Rāvaṇa continued insulting the dying king, mocking his ancestral line in which the earth’s emperors had appeared for thousands of years. Anaranya looked up at the demon with eyes red from anger. Gasping for breath as his life slipped away, he spoke with difficulty. “I have not been killed by you, O vile Rākṣasa. Death is certain and comes to all beings according to their destiny. None can be killed before their fate decrees, nor can any be saved when their time has arrived. I am thus killed by my own fate. Do not indulge in self-praise, Rāvaṇa, for your own death will soon come.”

The emperor possessed mystic power, gained by his long practise of austerity. He was loath to waste that accumulated power on Rāvaṇa, but the demon had to be checked. The dying king could at least do something before he departed. Anaranya fixed his fading gaze on the lord of Rākṣasas and, concentrating his mind, he uttered a curse. “In the very line you now deride, O Rāvaṇa, there will soon appear a king who will kill you and all your race!”

As Anaranya spoke the sound of kettledrums was heard resounding in the sky, and a shower of celestial flowers fell upon him. Heavenly voices were heard to say, “It shall be so.” Having delivered his curse the emperor slumped to the ground, his life spent. Before the eyes of the demon, Anaranya left his body and rose upwards to the heavens, his ethereal form glowing like fire.

Rāvaṇa snorted derisively. Who cared for the curse of some puny being? What human could ever kill him? He only bothered fighting with them by way of idle sport. Anaranya’s curse was simply the insane words of a dying man. It could never come to pass. If any kings dared challenge him they would meet the same end as this one here. As for the celestial voices, well, he would soon deal with those arrogant deities.

The demon again mounted the Pushpaka, which was stationed in the sky. Not being interested in pillaging the paltry wealth of a human city, he left and soared up into the heavens. Perhaps there were some gods around who could put up a better fight.

Rāvaṇa went up to the heavenly planets inhabited by the principal gods. But the gods swiftly ran away, unwilling to encounter him in battle. They knew of the inviolable boons of Brahmā. It was pointless fighting the demon. The gods prayed to Viṣṇu, hiding themselves in fear.

Rāvaṇa decided to rest for a while in heaven. He went to Amarāvatī, the city of Indra, king of the gods. As the Rākṣasa was seated in the celestial Nandana gardens, he saw an Apsarā, a heavenly nymph, named Rambha. The face of that celestial girl shone with incomparable beauty and she was adorned with bright garlands and jewels. Her soul-captivating eyes glanced here and there and her fleshy hips swayed as she moved. Rāvaṇa gazed upon her large round breasts and shapely thighs. Her hands, soft like rose petals, pulled her shining blue dress tight around her body as she saw the demon staring at her.

Rāvaṇa assumed a godly form of great splendor, concealing his terrible ten-headed body. He sprang to his feet and quickly went over to Rambha, immediately taking her by the hand. Completely overcome by lust, he smiled at the celestial girl. “Where do you go and whose are you, lovely lady?” he asked. “Who will today enjoy the nectar of your soft, red lips? Who will be blessed by the touch of your tender breasts? Which fortunate man will lie tightly embraced by you, his mind completely captured by carnal delights?”

Rāvaṇa was not at all concerned whether she was married or not. He had stolen the wives of gods, Gandharvas and demons everywhere, taking them to Lanka to join his harem. The Rākṣasa was accustomed to having his way and spoke only in an attempt to win over Rambha. He praised her divine beauty and told her of his own power and glory. What woman would refuse the opportunity to become the consort of the mighty Rāvaṇa?

But the beautiful girl did not reciprocate his advances. She pulled away from him, her bright bracelets falling to the ground as she wrested herself from Rāvaṇa’s grasp. Folding her palms and looking down, she addressed the Rākṣasa reproachfully. “Please do not speak in this way. I am as good as your daughter and I therefore deserve to be protected by you, O Rāvaṇa. Indeed I am the wedded wife of another.”

Rambha told him she was married to a god, Nalakuvara, who was the son of Kuvera, Rāvaṇa’s own brother. She was thus related to Rāvaṇa and he should not make amorous advances towards her.

Rāvaṇa laughed loudly. He had no regard whatsoever for any moral codes. He moved towards Rambha who ran behind a golden bush. Rāvaṇa pursued her, pulling off his red silk robes and revealing his immense, lustrous body. The maiden tried to evade him, dodging here and there with her garland and necklaces swinging, but it was useless. Taking hold of Rambha the Rākṣasa forcibly laid her across a nearby rock. He snatched off her garments and began ravishing her, his eyes expanded in delight. Rambha cried out for help, but seeing the fierce Rākṣasa no one dared intervene. The demon’s powerful hands pinned the white arms of the maiden against the rock. Her dark hair fell in disarray, its golden clasps and flowers dislodged. Rāvaṇa violently molested her in front of his demon followers. Although she begged him to desist, the Rākṣasa took that struggling heavenly girl against her desire.

After Rāvaṇa had sated his lust he stood up, fastening his waist cloth. Shedding tears, Rambha backed away from the demon and fled. Her clothes torn and her garlands crushed, she went before her husband. When he saw her in that condition Nalakuvara became infuriated. But when he heard it was Rāvaṇa who had raped her, he felt helpless. The demon had already defeated Nalakuvara’s powerful father, who was supported by innumerable Yakṣa warriors. There was no possibility of facing Rāvaṇa in a fight. Nalakuvara considered the situation carefully. Although he could not fight the demon, he could at least curse him as a result of his evil act. The righteous curses of the gods invoked the infallible power of Viṣṇu. Considering this the only means of punishing Rāvaṇa, Nalakuvara touched holy water and then uttered his imprecation.

“This evil Rākṣasa has violated a celestial lady. If he ever again rapes another maiden he will immediately fall dead.”

Rāvaṇa soon heard of that curse. He had seen such curses, made by gods and ṛṣis, come to pass many times. Once uttered they could not be retracted. Although he did not like to accept it, Rāvaṇa could understand that some powerful force maintained the universal order and laws. Thinking it possible that Nalakuvera’s words might just be effective, he decided not to again force himself upon another female. Better not to take any chances. After all, there were enough women who would willingly accept him.

Being disappointed that no gods would fight with him, Rāvaṇa left the heavenly planets. He began heading for the southern quarter of the universe, where lived the Dānavas and Daityas, the most powerful celestial demons. Surely they would afford him battle. Who else was there left for him to conquer?

As Rāvaṇa flew in the Pushpaka he suddenly saw ahead of him the celestial seer, Nārada, shining brightly and holding his tamboura. The seer plucked the strings gently, singing the praises of Viṣṇu. Rāvaṇa had met him many times before and was pleased to see him. The Rākṣasa usually had little time for sages, especially devotees of Viṣṇu. He preferred to kill and eat them rather than speak with them. The ṛṣis and seers generally favored the gods, but Nārada was different. He would often give Rāvaṇa good advice and seemed to be his well wisher. Rāvaṇa raised a hand in salute to the sage.

The seer came before Rāvaṇa and greeted him. Nārada could travel freely anywhere in the universe. It was even said that he could leave the material worlds and journey to Vaikuntha, the spiritual abode of the Lord himself, which knows no decay and is free of all suffering. Nārada smiled at Rāvaṇa. His large eyes were like two shining sapphires. On his head his coiled golden hair was held in place by a jeweled silver band. Clad in the soft skin of a black renku deer, Nārada stood in the air in front of Rāvaṇa, who invited him onto the chariot. Sitting cross-legged on a golden seat next to the demon, the seer began to address him in gentle and pleasing tones.

“Why are you harassing this world of humans, O valiant one? It is already in the grip of death. These people do not deserve to be attacked by you, Rāvaṇa, who cannot be overcome by even the entire heavenly host united together. Who would destroy people who are wracked by numerous anxieties, surrounded by endless calamities, and are subject to old age and hundreds of diseases?”

Nārada told Rāvaṇa that everyone in the material world would in time go to the abode of Yamarāja, the great lord of death. There was no need for Rāvaṇa to kill them. Death conquers all. Even the gods would eventually succumb to death. If Rāvaṇa should conquer Yamarāja the entire universe would be conquered.

The sage knew that Rāvaṇa could not overpower Yamarāja. But he wanted to distract the demon from his evil aim of killing more people and overthrowing the gods. He also wanted the Rākṣasa to greatly increase his sinful actions by assailing the god of Death. Rāvaṇa would thus create for himself a karmic destiny which would soon result in his own destruction.

The demon pondered Nārada’s suggestion. This sounded interesting. He liked the idea of fighting with the immensely powerful Yamarāja. Perhaps this would be a battle worthy of him. And if Death himself were slain then the whole universal order would be cast into utter chaos! That appealed to Rāvaṇa, who wanted to assert himself over any and all powers in the universe. He nodded slowly at Nārada, who sat smiling at him. Rāvaṇa told the sage he would leave immediately for Death’s abode. As Nārada rose up into the sky, playing upon his tamboura, Rāvaṇa began heading towards the domain of Yamarāja, the god of justice.

As Rāvaṇa approached the ethereal region known as Yamaloka, he saw everywhere living beings reaping the fruits of their actions. He also saw the millions of soldiers and servants of Yamarāja, known as the Yamadutas. They appeared fierce and unapproachable. Their bodies were powerful but hideously deformed, covered all over with black hairs that stood erect. In their hands they held nooses and terrible weapons. Their faces were contorted into frightful expressions and they yelled and shrieked in dissonant tones. Moving swiftly, they struck and tortured people who were running in all directions.

Fearful screams and cries resounded everywhere in that dark and desolate place. Rāvaṇa saw in hundreds and thousands people being eaten up by fierce dogs, consumed by fires, or being hurled into vats of boiling oil by the Yamadutas. Other unrighteous men and women were running here and there on burning sands, being pursued by Yamadutas holding lances and tridents. Some were being dragged through trees with leaves like steel razors that shredded their bodies. Howling in terrible pain they would fall to the ground, but their bodies would again become whole. They would then leap up and race off, only to be quickly caught by the Yamadutas and put through the same suffering again.

Rāvaṇa witnessed innumerable kinds of punishment being meted out to sinful souls. Searching for Yamarāja, he coursed on rapidly in the Pushpaka. In other parts of that mystical and indescribable region, Rāvaṇa saw people enjoying celestial delights by virtue of their own good deeds. It seemed as though they were situated in a separate dimension of space and time. Beautiful heavenly landscapes stretched out into the distance. Large shining mansions stood next to clear blue lakes. Young men and women with highly attractive forms were dressed in golden garments and ornaments, embracing one another and laughing. Excellent food and drink was laid out on gold and silver tables. Musicians played and young girls danced. Rāvaṇa saw countless people intoxicated with pleasure and entirely oblivious to the scenes of suffering elsewhere.

Leaving behind that glowing region of happiness, Rāvaṇa continued deeply into Yamaloka. He crossed over the broad Vaitarani river, which flowed with blood and excrement, and came to another dark terrain where countless Yamadutas were relentlessly pursuing wicked persons. The terrible cackles of the Yamadutas echoed there, along with the howls of jackals and wolves. Everywhere stood people who appeared emaciated and pale, seized with unbearable thirst and crying out for water.

Descending from his chariot, Rāvaṇa began to beat back the Yamadutas, freeing the people they were punishing. He felt no compassion for the pain of others, but he calculated that by oppressing the Yamadutas he would cause Yamarāja to appear. As the demon freed many thousands of wretched persons from their tormentors, he was suddenly attacked by a massed force of Yamadutas. They assailed Rāvaṇa with spears, iron bars, steel clubs, pikes, javelins and maces. They rose up and began demolishing the seats, daises, pillars and houses on the Pushpaka. But the indestructible chariot was immediately recreated by the power of Brahmā, by whom it had first been fashioned.

Rāvaṇa’s Rākṣasa forces fought back against the Yamadutas. Millions upon millions of servants of Yamarāja advanced in great waves. They rained down an unlimited number of arrows and other fierce weapons upon Rāvaṇa and his followers. The Rākṣasas engaged with the Yamadutas, sending up their terrible war cries. The clash of weapons and the shouts of the warriors sounded like the roaring ocean tossed by a storm.

Leaving off the other Rākṣasas, the Yamadutas concentrated upon Rāvaṇa. Covered all over with their arrows and bleeding profusely, the demon king appeared like a great mountain giving forth streams of red lava. Using his knowledge of mystical weapons, the Rākṣasa returned volleys of arrows, spears, maces, rocks and huge trees. This fearful and deadly shower fell upon the forces of Yamarāja who stood in front of Rāvaṇa.

By whirling their maces and lances the Yamadutas repelled all Rāvaṇa’s missiles and surrounded him in thousands. They appeared like a mass of carnivorous ants around a large black beetle. Rāvaṇa became completely covered by darts and lances piercing every part of his body. He roared in anger and pain, quickly rising upwards from out of the midst of his assailants.

Descending to the ground he held his bow and placed upon it a blazing arrow. The demon invoked the power of Śiva, imbuing the arrow with the divine force of that immortal god. As the weapon was released a sheet of fire rushed across the ground, consuming Yamarāja’s forces. Enormous orange and white flames leapt in all directions, burning the Yamadutas’ bodies to ashes. The ground itself became molten and the forces of Yamarāja fell back in a confused mass.

In the flames’ wake came innumerable ghostly followers of Śiva, filling the earth and sky with their terrifying forms. They rushed about the battlefield striking fear into the Yamadutas’ hearts. By the power of Śiva’s weapon, waves of fearsome carnivorous beasts sprang up from the ground, howling horribly and tearing at the Yamadutas.

Rāvaṇa sent up a victory cry, making the ground shake. Hearing that shout, Yamarāja, seated in his palace, could understand that Rāvaṇa was overpowering his forces. He ordered his chariot to be fetched and quickly mounted it. Yamarāja stood in his stupendous chariot with a lance and mace in his hands. Angered, the great god burned with a glaring radiance. By his side stood the personified form of Kaladanda, the infallible rod of Death, his body a brilliant black and his eyes blazing like two red fires. On the other side of Yamarāja stood the very Time Spirit himself, the destroyer of the worlds, fearful in appearance. Standing together those three deities could not be countenanced. On all four sides of the chariot, which looked like a dark mountain, hung the frightful nooses of Death.

Drawn by a thousand red and black steeds shining with a bright luster, and having a thousand great wheels, the celestial chariot advanced with a terrible noise. Seeing that god moving off in anger, all the denizens of heaven trembled.

In an instant Yamarāja ‘s chariot arrived at the spot where Rāvaṇa stood roaring. Rāvaṇa’s followers immediately fled in all directions simply upon seeing that awful chariot. Some of them fell unconscious on the spot. But Rāvaṇa himself was not afraid. Seeing his awful adversary he felt overjoyed, anticipating the fight. The demon stood firm as Yamarāja hurled at him many blazing javelins and iron clubs. They struck Rāvaṇa with tremendous force, piercing him and causing streams of blood to flow from his body.

Rāvaṇa raised his bow to counter Yamarāja’s attack. Using sorcery, he fired thousands of straight-flying arrows imbued with the force of a thunderbolt. Those arrows struck Yamarāja all over his body, but the god remained unmoved. Again and again Rāvaṇa fired off his arrows and darts, charging them with celestial power. He struck all three deities with his fiery weapons, but they stood firm. Yamarāja sent back at the demon countless barbed lances which struck him violently on the breast. Stunned by those irresistible weapons, Rāvaṇa fell unconscious to the ground. Yamarāja, observing the rules of fair combat, did not further attack his overpowered enemy.

After some time Rāvaṇa came back to his senses and saw Yamarāja still stationed before him. He contemplated his next move. This was indeed a formidable opponent. Rarely was the demon extended in a fight. Rāvaṇa rallied himself and stretched his bow to full length, releasing celestial arrows which filled the sky. They fell upon Yamarāja like fiery serpents. Being assailed by those arrows, and bleeding profusely, Yamarāja roared in anger. As he opened his mouth, fire covered by billows of smoke issued forth. The whole region was brilliantly illuminated by that fire, as if the sun itself had risen in that ever-dark place.

Witnessing the astonishing battle between Yamarāja and the Rākṣasa, the gods assembled above them. They feared that the dissolution of all the worlds was imminent. Yamarāja’s anger would surely annihilate the entire universe.

Rāvaṇa continuously sent his furious weapons towards the three gods. Death personified, highly enraged by Rāvaṇa, then spoke to Yamarāja. “My lord, do not exert yourself further. Let me remain alone here with this Rākṣasa. I shall make short work of him. None in the past, no matter how powerful, have been able to overcome me. Every god, ṛṣi and demon has succumbed to my power. Indeed, all created beings must surely submit to me. There is no doubt about this, therefore you need not bother yourself with this wretch any longer. Leave him to me.”

Yamarāja had become infuriated by Rāvaṇa’s insolence. He felt insulted and he told Death to stand back, for he personally would destroy the demon. The god lifted up his mace and gazed upon Rāvaṇa. As it was raised, that mace threw off a halo of blazing fire. Yamarāja held it in his hand like the globe of the sun and he fixed his red eyes on the demon. Just as he was about to release the mace to destroy Rāvaṇa, Brahmā appeared before him. He was seen and heard only by Yamarāja as he spoke to the angry god.

“O immeasurably powerful one, this Rākṣasa is not to be killed by you at this time. Indeed I have conferred upon him a boon that he cannot be slain except by a human. This cannot be falsified, lest the order of the universe be cast into chaos. Therefore hold back your mace. Rāvaṇa is not yet destined to die. If you release your infallible mace upon this demon, it will result in the death of all other created beings.”

Long ago Rāvaṇa had pleased Brahmā by performing difficult asceticism and had won from the god a boon. Brahmā had granted Rāvaṇa immunity from being slain by any beings, except for humans or animals, whom Rāvaṇa utterly disregarded.

Hearing that command of Brahmā, the chief of the gods, Yamarāja lowered his mace. Realising that nothing could be accomplished by him in that battle, he then and there disappeared from Rāvaṇa’s sight. When he saw Yamarāja depart, the Rākṣasa considered himself victorious and roared in joy. Now he was surely the most powerful being in the universe. What was there left to prove? Even the great lord of death had run away from him.

Rāvaṇa looked around and saw that the slain Yamadutas had been brought back to life by Yamarāja’s power. Ignoring Rāvaṇa they continued their grisly task of meting out punishment. Rāvaṇa felt he had no further purpose to achieve in Yamaloka. He had established his supremacy and that was all he desired. It was time to return to Lanka, his golden city. Getting aboard the Pushpaka he left that region, followed by his forces, and flew to the north, heading again for the earth planet where Lanka was situated.