The spies returned to Laṅkā and informed Rāvaṇa that Rāma and his army had camped in the vicinity of Mount Suvela. Rāvaṇa was displeased that the spies had been discovered by his enemies. One of the spies named Śārdūla explained to Rāvaṇa the power of Rāma’s prowess and the power of his army. Agitated, Rāvaṇa summoned his counsellor Vidyujjihva, the master of illusions and instructed him, “Let us delude Sītā with a deceit. Bring me an imitation of Rāma’s head as well as his bow and arrows.” Vidyujjihva immediately agreed and the king rewarded him with a piece of jewellery.
Rāvaṇa entered the aśoka-vana, where Sītā sat amidst the disgusting rākṣasīs, constantly thinking of her husband. He approached Sītā and spoke to her in feigned delight. He said, “I have just slain your husband, the object of your pride and adoration. Now, you will have to become my wife. You have exhausted your puṇya and you consider yourself clever! Let me narrate to you how your husband died. Rāghava and his army of monkeys surrounded my city in their futile effort to kill me. In the middle of the night, my spies went through their camps where warriors slept peacefully. My army led by Prahasta slaughtered them all as they slept. Prahasta chopped off Rāma’s head with his huge sword. Though Vibhīṣaṇa tried to flee, my men captured him. Lakṣmaṇa and the money were chased away in different directions. Sugrīva, the lord of the monkeys lies there with his neck broken. Hanūmān is slain as well. Jāmbavān’s knees are broken and Aṅgada lies in the battlefield pierced with arrows and vomiting blood. Some monkeys that were scattered like clouds driven by winds are now being trampled upon by my elephants and are being crushed by our chariots. A few monkeys dived into the sea, while others leaped into the sky. Many others took refuge in mountains and forests, but my rākṣasas pursued and killed them. Thus was your husband and his army vanquished by my men. Look, my rākṣasas have brought you this head, dripping with blood and covered with dust!”
Rāvaṇa commanded a rākṣasīs to inform Vidyujjihva to bring Rāghava’s head; he did so ensuring that Sītā hears his command. Vidyujjihva appeared there; the rākṣasa and Rāvaṇa flung Rāma’s head and his bow upon the ground. Rāvaṇa then commanded Vaidehī, “You must obey me!”
Sītā gazed at the head and the magnificent bow; she recollected the words of Hanūmān, who had told her about the alliance between Rāma and Sugrīva. She looked at those eyes, the facial complexion, the hair, and the forehead – she recognised them all, the features of her beloved. She shrieked in agony and cursed Kaikeyī, “I guess your dream is now realised, Kaikeyī! The delight of our family is now dead. You vicious creature! You have destroyed our entire family. How did Rāma wrong you for you to exile him to the forest?” She collapsed on the ground trembling. She regained consciousness after a moment, picked up the head, kissed it, and cried out loud, “I am as good as dead, great warrior! I am now a widow and should share this final state with you. It is said that a woman, who lacks virtue, loses her husband even when she is alive. I have travelled from one sorrowful state to another and now am drowned in an ocean of grief. My mother-in-law, Kausalyā is now like a cow that is bereft of her calf. Your valour was unsurpassed, Rāghava! How could you, who was so wise and skilled, fall prey to untimely death? You probably died because you fell into my clutches, a fierce Kālarātrī. You have abandoned me to misery and lie in the embrace of the earth, as if she were a beautiful and beloved woman. And this is your bow, which you and I worshipped! You are now reunited with your father and ancestors in svarga. You are now a shining star in the sky. But, why aren’t you looking at me or speaking to me? It is me, your companion for life, who you married in your youth! Your body, which was accustomed to the finest things and embraced only by me, is probably now being devoured by wild animals. You ritualistically performed agniṣṭoma when you were alive, but why did you not get the privilege of being cremated by agni? Lakṣmaṇa will be the only one to return home and he will have to narrate to Kausalyā all the ghastly deeds that took place here. But Rāvaṇa! Give me a chance to throw myself upon my beloved’s body at once. Please reunite this wife with her husband. Join my head with his head and my body with his body! I will not live for another moment!”
Even as Sītā was lamenting thus, a rākṣasa approached Rāvaṇa and told him that Prahasta and other ministers wanted to meet him urgently. He at once headed to meet his ministers and counsellors. He, who knew Rāma’s strength very well, commanded his men to assemble his troops.
In the meantime, a rākṣasī named Saramā, who as appointed by Rāvaṇa to protect Sītā, saw her bewildered. Due to her compassionate nature, she had become Sītā’s friend. She approached Sītā in order to console her. She said, “I overheard everything Rāvaṇa spoke to you by concealing myself behind bushes. I also followed him and got to know the reason behind his agitation. My friend, I will die for you. Listen. No one can slay the ever-vigilant Rāma, even in his sleep. Nor can anyone slay his vānaras, because they are always protected by him. This was an illusion perpetrated upon you by the vicious rākṣasa, whose every thought and deed are evil. Now listen to the good news. Rāma has crossed the ocean along with his army and right now stands with Lakṣmaṇa on the southern shore. Rāvaṇa heard this news from his men and thus rushed to seek counsel with his ministers.” Even as Saramā spoke thus, Sītā heard the dreadful sound of the army as well as the beating of the bherīs. Saramā continued, “Those beats of the bherī are calls for the army to get ready. Look at the blazing light emerging from the rākṣasas’ weapons, shields, armours, chariots, horses, elephants, and ornaments; it looks like a fire that rages through the forest in summer. You can hear the neighing of warhorses and rumbling of chariots. There are hurried preparations for the battle. Your husband, once he has subdued the rākṣasas, will surely take you back. Rāma will soon undo your braid, that is now grown until your waist. Take refuge in Sūrya, the bringer of light. All will be well!”
Saramā thus consoled Sītā and brought her a new lease of life. She even said to Sītā that she would happily go to Rāma unseen and inform him of his beloved’s well-being. But Sītā requested Saramā to spy on Rāvaṇa instead and report to her everything he discusses and decides. Accordingly Saramā went to Rāvaṇa’s palace, eavesdropped on his discussions and soon came back to Sītā. She said, “Rāvaṇa was advised by his mother and his senior counsellor Aviddha to send you back to your husband. Although they tried hard to convince him, Rāvaṇa did not budge, just as a miser does not wish to spare his money. He will not give you up, Maithilī, until he dies in the battle. He will not release you out of fear alone. Rāma will kill Rāvaṇa and destroy his city with his arrows and take you back to Ayodhyā.”
Back in Rāvaṇa’s court, Mālyavān, who was a relative of Rāvaṇa’s mother’s paternal grandfather spoke to him. He said, “O king, only a ruler who governs as per the precepts of dharma will fare well. It is said that our pitāmaha created the suras and asuras, who were dhārmic and adhārmic, respectively. When dharma eclipses adharma, the Kṛta-yuga starts; but when adharma overshadows dharma, the Tiṣya-yuga begins. As you raged through the worlds, you have trampled upon dharma and embraced adharma. Thus, your enemies have grown more powerful than you. Now adharma, like a poisonous snake, is waiting to sting us. Due to your addiction to sensual pleasures, you have made the great munis suffer. The chanting of the vedas by the brāhmaṇas and their ritual of yajña scatters rākṣasas in different directions. The smoke that emanates from the agnihotra performed by ṛṣis saps the energy of the rākṣasas. I now see terrible omens suggesting the destruction of rākṣasas. Clouds are pouring hot blood over the city of Laṅkā. Jackals and vultures are constantly entering the city shrieking horrendously. We see dark women with deadly teeth in our dreams; they laugh hysterically and speak menacingly. Dogs are disrupting the balis offered in front of the houses. Kāla, in the form of a terrifying bald, dark man, peeks into all houses at all hours. I sincerely believe that Rāma is a manifestation of Viṣṇu in human form; he is no ordinary man. Make peace with Rāma, who did the impossible by building a bridge across the ocean!”
Rāvaṇa grew angry listening to Mālyavān’s words. He said, “You are siding with my enemies through your words! What makes you think that Rāma is a powerful man, when he has been exiled by his father and relies on monkeys for support? I suspect that you spoke these harsh words to me because you hate my power or have sympathy for my enemies; or, perhaps, you have been bribed by my foes to speak against me. You will soon see me slay Rāma along with his troops! What makes you admire Rāma’s act of building a bridge? Now that he has crossed the ocean, he will not return alive.” Thus humiliated by Rāvaṇa, Mālyavān uttered customary words of praise for the king and returned to his abode. Rāvaṇa then assigned to his ministers and his son the responsibility of protecting a gate each, and assured them that he will be there to battle himself.
Back in Rāma’s camp, all the prominent vānaras as well as Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa sat in discussion to come up with a plan of action. Vibhīṣaṇa spoke to them words, which were well-meaning and free of all crookedness. He said, “My counsellors, Anala, Śarabha, Saṃpāti, and Praghasa went into the city of Laṅkā disguised as birds. They went into the enemy army and have gathered information about all defensive arrangements. Prahasta is situated at the eastern gate, while Mahāpārśva and Mahodara are at the southern one. Indrajit guards the western gate and Rāvaṇa himself is at the northern gate. They are all in the company of innumerable rākṣasas and are well-armed. Virūpākṣa is stationed at the central encampments. The city has one thousand elephants, ten thousand chariots, twenty thousand horses, and a thousand crore infantry. When Rāvaṇa attacked Kubera, he was followed by sixty lakh rākṣasas. I am saying this only to rouse the valour in you and not to intimidate you; please don’t be angry with me!”
Upon listening to Vibhīṣaṇa’s words, Rāma instructed his forces, “Let Nīla with his army attack Prahasta at Laṅkā’s eastern gate. Similarly, let Aṅgada head towards the southern gate and Hanūmān towards the western gate. I am determined to kill the lord of the rākṣasas myself. Thus, with Saumitri, I will head towards the northern gate, which Rāvaṇa guards and break it open in no time! Let Sugrīva, Jāmbavān, and Vibhīṣaṇa guard the central encampments. Let no vānara assume a human form in the battle; this will be our sign of recognition for the army of the vānaras. Only seven of us – Vibhīṣaṇa and his four companions, Lakṣṃaṇa, and myself will remain in the human form.” With these instructions, Rāma climbed up the Mount Suvela followed by his large army that was determined to conquer Laṅkā.
From the top of the Mount Suvela, Rāma and his army spied upon the splendid city of Laṅkā, which appeared to be suspended in the sky.