Mahābhārata – Episode 40 – Rāmopākhyāna (Part 3)

This article is part 40 of 44 in the series Mahābhārata

Just as Śani approaches Rohiṇī for pleasure, Rāvaṇa decked himself up in expensive clothes and ornaments and went to Sītā. He described his achievements and wealth to her and persuaded her to be his wife. She, however, held a blade of grass before her and spoke to it with tears in her eyes, “I’ve heard these words several times from you already. I’m the wife of another and I’m committed to my husband alone. I’m a pativratā. Give up your thoughts about me! What do you get out of tormenting a helpless lady, O wicked king? Your father was like a Prajāpati, the noble creator and the lord of the worlds. Thus, you are the equivalent of a Lokapālaka, one who cares about the welfare of the worlds. Your elder brother is Rājarāja (Kubera – the deity of riches) and is a dear friend of Maheśvara. When such is your ancestry and family lineage, why do you turn out to be so shameless!” With these words, she hid her face behind the edge of her saree and wept.

Rāvaṇa said, “If you do not desire my company yet, I shall not force myself upon you. You still think about a human, who can be our prey for a meal. What can I do with you?” He tried his best to convince her. Finding his efforts futile, he vanished from the spot.

Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa stayed on the Mālyavanta mountain until the rainy season passed. Once the black clouds had cleared from the sky and the sky had turned spotless, they reminded Sugrīva of his task. Sugrīva had already set his monkeys out in every direction to search for Sītā. He told Rāma this and also said that he had given them a month’s time and that there were about five days left for the completion of that period. Monkeys that were sent in three different directions came back, except for the ones that had headed out towards the South. Rāma was hopeful about them and was anticipating some good news. Two months elapsed and Madhuva, the caretaker of a garden came to Sugrīva and said, “O King! Hanumanta, Aṅgada and other monkeys who had set out in the southern direction are looting your gardens!” Hearing this, Sugrīva thought, “Oh! That means they’ve come back after successfully completing their task! That’s why they have taken to this mischief!” Rāma understood by a mere glance at Hanumānta’s face that he had seen Sītā. Hanumānta narrated everything that had transpired from the time they left in their search for Sītā – They were hosted with affection by Prabhāvati in a big cave. They proceeded further and as they were speaking about Jaṭāyu on the Malaya and Durdara hills, Jaṭāyu’s elder brother Sampāti overheard them and told them about Rāvaṇa kidnapping Sītā. Hanumanta crossed over the ocean with the help of Vāyu, his father and the deity of wind. He saw Sītā, who had given up food and water in Rāvaṇa’s quarters. Her hair was long and unkempt and she was constantly lamenting. Sītā told him the episode of Kākāsura. Hanumanta burned the entire Laṅka. After narrating this, he showed Rāma Sītā’s Cūḍāmaṇi which she had given him as a sign of her recognition.

As per Sugrīva’s command several millions of monkeys assembled before Rāma’s eyes. Hanumān was the leader of the monkey army. Lakṣmaṇa followed the army from behind. They reached the salty ocean and camped in a forest near the shore. They thought about different means to cross over the ocean. Rāma said, “I don’t think all monkeys are capable of taking just one leap to cross over the ocean that is a hundred yojanas across. We do not have enough boats to make a bridge across the ocean. Borrowing boats will affect the merchants. The enemy might wait for the right moment and kill us. Thus, we will need to strategically plan the crossing of this ocean. If I go ahead and request him, the king of oceans may give way. If he does not, I shall burn him with my fiery arrows!” With these words, he laid down on the grass-bed along with Lakṣmaṇa. Sāgara came to Rāma in his dream and said, “O Rāma! If I make way for you now, others too will demand the same from me and scare me with their arrows. Let Naḻa, a monkey in your army build the bridge. He is the son of Tvaṣṭṛ, the creator. Anything that he puts on water will float – a stone, a log or a blade of grass. That will make for a bridge.” As per Sāgara’s suggestion, Naḻa got a bridge built. Once the bridge was built, Vibhīṣaṇa, Rāvaṇa’s brother came with four other ministers from the other shore to meet Rāma. Rāma was happy looking at the humility and good nature of Vibhīṣaṇa. He crowned him as the king of the empire of Rākṣasa.

The entire army reached Laṅka in a month’s time. As soon as they reached, the monkeys started destroying the gardens. Rāvaṇa’s ministers Śuka and Sāraṇa came there in the guise of monkeys. Vibhīṣaṇa spotted them and Rāma threatened the rākṣasa in disguise by pointing at his large monkey army. This scared them away. Laṅka had a natural defence system and Rāvaṇa strengthened it by bolting all the entrance doors and by stationing weapon-bearers at appropriate places.

Aṅgada went as a messenger from Rāma’s side and met Rāvaṇa, who was surrounded by rākṣasa and ministers. He told Rāvaṇa, “Rāma, the king of Kosala sends you the following message: You have kidnapped Sītā and brought her here, out of malice. Because of your wicked nature and the mistake that you have committed, several innocent beings will have to lose their lives. In the past, you have troubled sages and insulted the Devas. You’ve also killed saintly kings! You are notorious for abducting pious women and you’ve caused great agony to them. All your bad deeds will bear fruit now. I have come to wage a war with you. Let Sītā go! If you don’t, I’ll cleanse the earth of all rākṣasas.” Rāvaṇa was furious upon listening to Aṅgada’s words. Reading Rāvaṇa’s mind, four rākṣasa came forward to catch hold of Aṅgada. A powerful warrior, Aṅgada flew up to the top of the palace carrying the four rākṣasa with him. He dropped them from great height. They crashed onto the ground and died with their ribcages broken. Aṅgada came back to Rāma and told him what had transpired in its entirety.

Rāma broke open the fortress that surrounded Laṅka. His army of monkeys surrounded the island. The rākṣasas took to magical means of warfare and it was Vibhīṣaṇa who helped Rāma and the others in countering their efforts. Rāvaṇa and Rāma made different formations of their armies and fought as per the guidelines of Śukra-nīti and Bṛhaspati-nīti respectively. The war resembled the mythical war between the Devas and the Asuras. As the assault of the monkey-army was too much to bear, Rāvaṇa had Kumbhakarṇa woken up from his sleep. He sent him out to the battlefield with Pramāthi for assistance. Sugrīva sprung upon him and Kumbhakarṇa caught him with his hands. Lakṣmaṇa hurried to the spot and chopped off Kumbhakarṇa’s arms. To their great surprise, however, the two arms were replaced by four. As those were chopped off, they multiplied in number. Looking at this, Hanumān brought a huge boulder and killed Vajravega with great display of valour. Nīla killed Pramāthi using a huge rock.

After having faced many losses on the battlefield, Rāvaṇa asked his son Indrajit to go and fight the war. He fought a battle of magic and deceit with Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa. He tied them up with the divine arrows he had received and was momentarily victorious. Vibhīṣaṇa came to their rescue and brought them back to consciousness by using suitable arrows which served as antidotes. Sugrīva rid them of all their pain using divine medicines and mantras. Kubera sent sanctified water with a gandharva, which was smeared on the eyes of the princes and the monkeys. With this, Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa, and the monkey army received the ability to see things that were invisible. As soon as Indrajit came back to the battlefield after informing his father of his great deeds, Lakṣmaṇa, with the newly gained ability tactfully killed Indrajit.

When he heard that his son had died on the battlefield, Rāvaṇa was overcome with grief. Due to the excessive attachment he had for Indrajit and to avenge his death, he picked up a sharp sword and rushed towards Sītā with the intention of killing her. Looking at this, Avindhya, an old minister said, “Would the king of such a huge land kill a lonely woman? Imprisoning her here is as good as having killed her. You don’t have to actually break her into pieces. Instead, go, kill her husband – that will be equivalent to killing them both at one stroke. Indra cannot match you in strength and valour. You have scared away Indra and the Devatas several times in battles.” With these words, Avindhya put off Rāvaṇa’s anger and instigated him to face Rāma head on.

Even as Rāvaṇa entered the battlefield, Hanumān, Jāmbavanta and several other chieftains of the monkey and bear army surrounded hum. They attached and defeated the army he had brought with him. Rāvaṇa created several thousands of rākṣasas out of his body and created multiple forms of Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa using his magical skills. Rāma killed them all at one go. Indra sent his chariot along with the charioteer Mātali for Rāma’s use. Rāma sat on the chariot and fought Rāvaṇa. The battle went on for long. As a final shot, Rāma used his Brahmāstra against Rāvaṇa and killed him.   

The Devatas and sages blessed Rāma, giving calls of victory to celebrate his vanquishing of Rāvaṇa. They showered flowers over him. Rāma made Vibhīṣaṇa the ruler of Laṅka. Avindhya, the aged minister of Laṅka brought Sītā to Rāma and said, “O noble one! Please accept the pious Sītā back.” Sītā had lost all her lustre and charm, being subject to immense sorrow. Her body and clothes were tarnished too. Her hair was unkempt and had got entangled. Looking at her, Rāma was unsure of her chastity and said  “Go, Vaidehī! You are now set free. I have done my duty. I killed these deadly rākṣasas to make sure that you don’t spend your old age in their company too. A person like me, who is well-versed in dharma cannot have a lady who has stayed in another’s house for so long. How can I keep you with me even for a moment? It does not matter to me whether you are chaste or not. Just as the havis that is touched by a dog loses its sanctity, I cannot accept you, who have been touched by the rākṣasa!” Listening to these words, Sītā collapsed right then, just as a banana stalk falls down when chopped off with an axe. Her face, which had turned red out of happiness due to the reunion with Rāma lost all its charm and became dull like a moist mirror. All monkeys and Lakṣmaṇa were stunned and looked lifeless. Right at that moment Brahma was seen riding on his swan in the skies. Along with him appeared Indra, Agni, Vāyu, Yama, Varuṇa, Kubera and the seven sages. Daśaratha, the deceased father of Rāma appeared in the skies as well. The sky, which was now full of these great deities and men looked like the autumnal sky filled with stars. Sītā got up and told Rāma, “O Prince! I am not angry with you. I have understood the nature of men and women. Listen to my words – If I have committed a sin, may the wind which flows through the bodies of the living beings take my life away! Let the primordial elements – fire, water, earth and wind come together and take away life from me!” The skies resounded with happy voices, with these divinities speaking to Rāma. 

Vāyu – Rāghava! It is me, Vāyu! Maithilī is sinless. Take her back as your wife.

Agni – O successor of Raghu! I reside in the bodies of the living. Maithilī has not committed even the smallest of the sins.

Varuṇa – Rāghava! I am the cause of the liquid that flows through the bodies of the animals. You may take my word for this – take back Sītā with you

Brahma – Dear child! You live the life of a Rājarṣi – a saintly king and it is not unbecoming of you to utter these words. You have killed Rāvaṇa, who was the common enemy of the Devas, Gandharvas, Yakṣas, Nāgas and the Maharṣis. I had given the boon of invincibility to Rāvaṇa, no one was able to kill him so far. The wicked one abducted Sītā only to see his own end. I protected her through the curse of Naḻa and Kubera. If he had touched an unwilling woman’s body, he would have broken into a hundred pieces. Don’t be unsure about the great act you have performed. Come, accept her as your wife once again! You have done a great favour to the Deities!

Daśaratha – Dear child! May all prosperities befall upon you; I am your father, Daśaratha. I am commanding you this – Go, rule the kingdom.

Rāma – My salutations to you, my revered father! Look here! I am heading back to Ayodhya as per your wish!

With these words Rāma also paid his respects to the deities assembled there. He got congratulated by his friends and reunited with Sītā. The two looked like Indra and his beloved wife Śacī. Brahma offered him a boon. Rāma said “All that I ask for is this – May I never compromise upon Dharma; Let me never get defeated by my enemies. May all the humans who have been killed by the rākṣasa come back to life!” Brahma agreed and blessed him accordingly. Sītā spoke to Hanumān – “You will live as long as Rāma’s name and fame are remembered on earth. You will enjoy divine pleasures all your life!” Indra and the other deities vanished from the place. Mātalī said, “Rāma! You have rid the Devas, Yakṣas, Gandharvas and Mānavas of their sorrow. They will chant your name and think of you as long as the world exists!” Mātalī offered his salutations to Rāma and left to the heavens with his chariot.

Rāma arranged for the safeguarding of Laṅka. He crossed over the ocean in his Puṣpaka-vimāna along with Sītā, Lakṣmaṇa, Vibhīṣaṇa, Sugrīva and other monkey leaders. They landed at the spot where Rāma had spoken to Sāgara, He felicitated the monkeys with precious gems and travelled to Kiṣkinda along with Vibhīṣaṇa, Sugrīva and the others. He anointed Aṅgada as the crown prince and returned to his kingdom of Ayodhya. Hanumān went ahead of them and reached Nandigrāma, where Bharata was worshipping the sandals of Rāma. Bharata had hardly cared for his body while Rāma was away.  Hanumān told him about the homecoming of Rāma. Śatṛghna and Bharata met Sītā, Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa and were thrilled to have them back. Vasiṣṭa and Vāmadeva looked for an auspicious day and coronated Rāma under the auspices of the Vaiṣṇava-nakṣatra. Rāma then thanked Sugrīva and Vibhīṣaṇa with a bounty of precious gems and send them off to their hometowns with a heavy heart. He gave away the Puṣpaka-vimāna to Vaiśravaṇa (Kubera). Later, he performed ten Aśvamedha-yāgas on the banks of the river Gomati and made large donations.

To be continued…

This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar published in a serialized form. Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh for his review and astute feedback.

Author(s)

About:

Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.

Translator(s)

About:

Arjun is a poet, translator, engineer, and musician. He is a polyglot, well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, English, Greek, and German. He is currently serves as Assistant Professor at Amrita Darshanam - International Centre for Spiritual Studies at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Bangalore. He research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.

About:

Hari is an author, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Hindu scriptures, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.