Shurpanakha and Maricha: The Germination of Ravana's Enmity

This article is part 10 of 12 in the series DVG's Essays on the Ramayana

According to Agastya’s instructions, when Sri Rama goes and resides in Panchavati, the major events in the story occur there. Shurpanakha sees Sri Rama, becomes infatuated with him, approaches him and pleads with him, “become my husband.” As Rama rejects her proposal, he makes fun of her.

anujaḥ tu eṣa me bhrātā śīlavān priya darśana
śrīmān ak
ṛta dāraḥ ca lakṣmaṇo nāma vīryavān  (Aranyakanda: Sarga 18:3)

He is my younger brother named Lakshmana, he is with a good conduct, good looking, a promising and valiant one, and he is without a wife.

Here, some commentators have taken enormous trouble to use all sorts of ingenuity to explain the meaning of the word, “akṛta dāraḥ.” The straightforward meaning of the word is “one who is unmarried.” But Lakshmana was already married, right? This is the problem of such commentators. It never occurred to these folks that Sri Rama was indeed mocking and making fun of Shurpanakha. Either that or their intent seems to be that Sri Rama must not be endowed with a sense of humour. Or it could be that Sri Rama must not utter an untruth even in jest. In a different situation – during the Vali episode –

vivāhakāle ratisaṃprayoge prāṇātyaye sarvvadhanāpahāre
viprasya cārthe hyanṛtaṃ vadeta pañcānṛtānyāhurapātakāni ||

If a man speaks an untruth at the time of marriage, during alliance, when his life is in danger, or loss of his whole property (is threatened), and also for the sake of a Brahmana, it has been declared that these untruths are not mortal sins.

These aforementioned commentators who justify all sorts of untruths using this ancient dictum somehow find this sixth untruth uttered in jest intolerable. It is really hilarious. There are numerous untruths which are not sinful. Not just that; they are instruments to attain Dharma as well. Sri Krishna has shown to Arjuna many examples of this. Any word that helps the welfare of all beings is the truth. Those words which cause injustice to others, which injure others, are untruths. When one bears this fundamental tenet in mind, there is absolutely no fault in the aforementioned joke of Sri Rama.

As for Valmiki Maharshi, it is clear that he has a great sense of humour as evidenced by scores of instances in Srimad Ramayana. Is Swarga denied to those who laugh?

svargāyatiṃ na parihāsakathā ruṇaddhi ||

Neither is this restricted only to this circumstance. In numerous poetic episodes, our commentators and critics being incapable of experiencing humour, have written arid commentaries.

Those who laugh at the fate undergone by Shurpanakha at the hands of Sri Rama can easily make a guess as to what her fate would have been had she made the same love proposal to Sri Krishna. A lady named Kubja was really ugly. Although Shurpanakha was ugly in her real form, she had the power to transform herself into any beautiful form according to her will. Kubja too approached Sri Krishna with a similar love proposal. Sri Krishna in turn bestowed her with beauty and fulfilled her desire.

eṣyāmi te gṛhaṁ su-bhru puṁsām ādhi-vikarśanam|

sādhitārtho ’gṛhāṇāṁ naḥ pānthānāṁ tvaṁ parāyaṇam || (Srimad Bhagavatam: 10th Skanda: 12)

O lady with beautiful eyebrows, as soon as I fulfill My purpose I will certainly visit your house, where men can relieve their anxiety. Indeed, you are the best refuge for us homeless travelers.

The outcome of the Shurpanakha episode was the germination of Ravana’s enmity.

In the following story involving the incident with Mārīca, Valmiki’s creative talent touches the sky. The architecture of the Mārīca episode is extremely interesting. The device of bringing a person like Mārīca into Ravana’s evil scheme in itself is a feat of great imagination. This is really not inevitable to the main thread of the story. Any pretext could have been created to isolate Sita in the story—say, taking a bath, cooking, or Puja. However, the introduction of Mārīca feeds and heightens the interestingness.

Mārīca is a Rakshasa by birth. However, by his innate nature, he is not out-and-out evil. He is akin to Vibhishana. Both of them counselled Ravana that his design was opposed to Dharma. This is how Mārīca’s counsel runs:

tvat vidhaḥ kāma vṛtto hi duḥśīlaḥ pāpa maṃtritaḥ
ātmānam sva janam rāṣṭram sa rājā hanti durmatiḥ  (Aranyakanda: Sarga 37: 7)

Any king of your like who is endowed with a self-will, ill-will, ensorcelled by evil, and malicious in intent, that king alone ruins his own country, his own people, even himself, as a matter of actual fact.

However, Marciha’s conviction in Dharma was not as sturdy as that of Vibhishana. In the past, the selfsame Mārīca had had a taste of Sri Rama’s arrows at the ashram of Vishwamitra. Perhaps the fear of Sri Rama was still deeply embedded in his mind. Along with it, he was imbued with jealousy and vengeance as well. Therefore, he submitted to Ravana’s insistence and obligation. The description of how he becomes the illusory golden deer that saunters around and enchants both Sita and Rama counts as one of the incredibly beautiful episodes in Srimad Ramayana.

ropyaiḥ bindu śataiḥ citro bhūtvā ca priya darśanaḥ
viṭapīnām kisalayān bhakśayan vicacāra ha

punar gatvā nivṛttaḥ ca vicacāra mṛgottamaḥ
gatvā muhūrtam tvarayā punaḥ prati nivartate

vikrīḍan ca punar bhūmau punar eva niṣīdati
āśrama dvāram āgamya mṛga yūthāni gacchati (Ayodhyakanda: Sarga 42: 22, 25, 26)

And with hundreds of silvery stipples of body he became an astonishing deer with pleasant looks and indeed moved chewing new grass-blades of trees ||

That excellent deer beats a retreat and again returns, and meanders thus time and again, and turns its tail for some time only to return once again very playfully ||

Again gambolling everywhere it sits somewhere on the ground, then, on coming to the threshold of hermitage it goes towards herds of deer ||

“Mārīca’s disguise,” “Ravana’s sanyasa” – these are every day idioms that still are a part of the common person’s vocabulary. Akin to the “Shakuni Mama” of the Mahabharata and Mir Sadiq of Mysore’s history. Wherever we discern guile, fraud, cheating, and skullduggery, we recall Mārīca.

There is an interesting aspect to his name. The word “Marīca” means sunray. When the sunray touches the sandy expanse of a desert, it appears as a lake or river to people who see it from afar. This is known as the mirage or Marīcaka. It is plainly an illusion or hallucination. Therefore, the meaning of the word “Mārīca” is, that which generates an illusion or is an apparition. Perhaps Valmiki Maharshi kept this meaning of Mārīcikā in his mind while creating this character.

To be continued

Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

About:

Sandeep Balakrishna is a writer, author, translator, and socio-political-cultural analyst. He is the author of "Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore" and "The Madurai Sultanate: A Concise History." He translated Dr. S L Bhyrappa's magnum opus "Avarana" into English.

Prekshaa Publications

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...

Yaugandharam

इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...

Vanitakavitotsavah

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Vaiphalyaphalam

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Nipunapraghunakam

इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।

Bharavatarastavah

अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...

Bharatilochana

ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...

Vagarthavismayasvadah

“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...