[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Ramayana unit. Story source: Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913).
The Golden Deer
Of all the Rakshasa host only Surpanakha escaped alive. She hastened to Lanka, and informed the ten-headed King Ravana of the death of his brothers, and said: "Thou canst not defeat Rama in battle. But he may be overcome by guile. He hath a beautiful spouse, whose name is Sita, and she is dearer to him than life. If thou wilt take her captive, Rama can be slain, because he is unable to exist without her."
Said Ravana: "I will bring Sita hither in my chariot."
On the morrow Ravana and his brother Maricha, whom Rama had aforetime driven far across the ocean with a celestial weapon, went towards the hermitage of the royal exiles in a resplendent chariot which went through the air like a great bird; it was drawn by asses which had the heads of Rakshasas.
The Golden Deer
Maricha assumed the shape of a golden deer with silvern spots; its horns were tipped with sapphire and its eyes were like to blue lotus blooms. This beautiful animal of gentle seeming grazed below the trees until Sita beheld it with wondering eyes as she came forth to pluck wild flowers.
She called to Rama, saying: "A deer of wondrous beauty is wandering through the grove. I long to rest at ease on its golden skin."
Said Rama: "O Lakshmana, I must fulfil the desire of Sita. Tarry with her until I obtain this animal for her."
So speaking, he lifted his bow and hastened away through the trees.
Lakshmana spoke to Sita and said: "My heart is full of misgiving. Sages have told that Rakshasas are wont to assume the forms of deer. Ofttimes have monarchs been waylaid in the forest by artful demons who came to lure them away."
Rama chased the deer a long time hither and thither through the forest, and at length he shot an arrow which pierced its heart. In his agony, Maricha sprang out of the deer's body and cried out in imitation of Rama's voice: "Sita, Sita, save me! O save me, Lakshmana!"
Then he died, and Rama perceived that he had slain the Rakshasa Maricha, brother of Ravana.
Sita's heart was filled with alarm when she heard the voice of the Rakshasa calling in imitation of her husband. She spake to Lakshmana, saying: "Hasten and help my Rama; he calls for help."
Said Lakshmana: "Do not fear for Rama, O fair one. No Rakshasa can injure him. I must obey his command and remain beside thee. The cry thou hast heard is an illusion wrought by demons."
Sita was wroth; her eyes sparkled and her voice shook as she spake, saying: "Hath thine heart grown callous? Art thou thy brother's enemy? Rama is in peril, and yet thou dost not hasten to succour him. Hast thou followed him to the forest desiring that he should die, so as to obtain his widow by force? If so, thy hope is a delusion, because I will not live one moment after he dies. It is useless, therefore, for thee to tarry here."
Said Lakshmana, whose eyes were filled with tears: "I do not fear for Rama. . . . O Sita! Thy words scald me, for thou art as a mother unto me. I cannot answer thee. My heart is free from sin. . . . Alas! that fickle women with poisonous tongues should endeavour to set brother against brother."
Sita wept, and Lakshmana, repenting that he had spoken harshly, said: "I will obey thee and hasten unto Rama. May the spirits of the forest protect thee against hidden enemies. I am troubled because I behold evil omens. When I return, may I behold Rama by thy side."
Said Sita: "If Rama is slain I will die by drowning, or by poison, or else by the noose. I cannot live without Rama."
Ravana and Sita
Ravana kept watch the while, and when he saw Lakshmana leaving the hermitage, he assumed the guise of a forest sage and went towards the lonely and sad-hearted Sita. The jungle had grown silent. Ravana saw that Sita was beautiful as the solitary moon at midnight when it illumines the gloomy forest.
He spake, saying: "O woman of golden beauty, O shy one in full bloom, robed in silk and adorned with flowers, art thou Sri, or Gauri, or the goddess of love, or a nymph of the forest? Red as coral are thy lips; thy teeth shine like to jasmine; love dwelleth in thine eyes so soft and lustrous. Slender art thou and tall, with shapely limbs, and a bosom like to ripe fruit. . . . Wherefore, O fair one, with long shining tresses, dost thou linger here in the lonesome jungle? More seemly it were if thou didst adorn a stately palace. Choose thee a royal suitor; be the bride of a king. What god is thy sire, O beautiful one?"
Sita honoured Ravana, believing that he was a Brahman. She told him the story of Rama's exile and said: "Rest thyself here until the jungle-ranging brethren return to greet thee."
Then Ravana said: "No Brahman am I, but the ruler of the vengeful Rakshasas. I am Ravana, King of Lanka, dreaded by even the gods. Thy beauty, O fair one, clad in yellow silk, has taken captive my heart. Be my chief queen, O Sita, and five thousand handmaidens will wait upon thee. Share mine empire and my fame."
Said Sita, whose eyes flashed fiery anger: "Knowest thou Rama, the god-like hero who is ever victorious in strife? I am his wedded wife. Knowest thou Rama, the sinless and saintly one, who is strongly armed and full of valour and virtue? I am his wedded wife. What madness hath prompted thee to woo the wife of so mighty a warrior? I follow Rama as a lioness follows a lion. Canst thou, a prowling jackal, hope to obtain a lioness? Snatch from the jaws of a lion the calf which it is devouring, touch the fang of a cobra when it seizeth a fallen victim, or tear up a mountain by the roots, or seize the sun in heaven before thou dost seek to win or capture the wife of Rama, the avenger."
Ravana boasted his prowess, saying: "I have power to slay even Yama. I can torture the sun and shoot arrows through the earth. Little dost thou know of my glory and my heroism."
Then he changed his shape and stood up in gigantic demon form with vast body and ten heads and twenty arms. . . . Seizing Sita, he soared through the air with her as Garuda carries off the queen of serpents; he placed her in his chariot and went away swifter than the wind.
The unseen spirits of the jungle looked on, and they heard the cries of Sita as she called in vain for Rama and Lakshmana. Jatayus, Monarch of Vultures, who lay asleep on a mountain top, heard her and awoke; he darted upon Ravana like to the thunderbolt of Indra. A fierce battle was fought in mid air. Jatayus destroyed the chariot and killed the Rakshasa asses, but Ravana took Sita in his arms, and, soaring higher than the Vulture king, disabled him with his sword.
Image source: Ravana fights Jatayu
Then Ravana continued his journey towards Lanka, floating in the air. As he passed over the Mountain of Apes, Sita contrived to cast off her ornaments, and they dropped through the air like falling stars. . . . The five apes found them and said: "Ravana is carrying away some beautiful woman who calls upon Rama and Lakshmana."
When Ravana reached his palace he delivered Sita to a band of Rakshasa women, commanding them to guard her by day and by night.
Long and loudly did Rama lament when he returned to the forest hut and found that it was empty. He knew that, Sita had been carried away, but whither he knew not.
Next: Rama's Quest for Sita