Ramayana: The Rakshasas

The second half of this story will be dominated by Rama's conflict with the rakshasas, or demons. The ten-headed Ravana was king of the rakshasas, and here you will meet his sister, Surpanakha. You can read more about the rakshasas at Wikipedia.

As you will see, Ravana's kingdom was located far to the south, off the coast of India, in what is now called Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). You can read more about ancient Lanka at Wikipedia.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Ramayana unit. Story source: Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913).




The Rakshasas

The Demon Surpanakha Approaches Rama

Meanwhile Rama with Sita and Lakshmana went southward towards deeper jungles, visiting various holy sages, and, having crossed the Vindhya mountains, they wandered together in the Deccan and Southern India. At Panchavati, nigh to the sources of the river Godavari, the royal exiles built a hut with four rooms and lived peaceful and pious lives. Thirteen years and a half went over their heads.

It came to pass that one day there came to the quiet hermitage a Rakshasa woman, named Surpanakha, the sister of Ravana, the demon King of Lanka, Ceylon. She was misshapen and ugly and her voice was harsh and unpleasant. When she beheld Rama, who was comely as a lotus, and of lofty and loyal bearing, her heart was filled with love for him. Made bold with this love, she resolved to assume another form so as to induce him to leave the faithful Sita. . . . In time she stood before the prince in the guise of a young and beautiful woman and said: "Who art thou who hast come hither with thy bride to dwell in this lone jungle which is haunted by Rakshasas?"

Said Rama: "I am Rama, the elder son of a Maharajah named Dasaratha. I dwell here in exile in fulfilment of my sire's vow, with Sita, my spouse, and Lakshmana, my brother. Why dost thou, O fair one, who art as beautiful as the bride of Vishnu, wander about here all alone?"

Surpanakha said: "I am a Rakshasa woman, the sister of Ravana, and have come hither because I love thee. I have chosen thee for my husband, and thou shalt rule over my great empire. Thy Sita is pale and deformed and unworthy of thee, but I am of surpassing beauty and have power to assume any form at will. I must devour Sita and thy brother so that we may range the jungle together and visit the lofty hills."

Said Rama: "Sita is my beloved bride, nor would I leave her. But Lakshmana hath no consort and is a fit husband for thee."

Surpanakha and Lakshmana

Surpanakha at once departed from Rama, and went and found Lakshmana, who jested with her.

Then the enraged Rakshasa woman sprang towards Sita in jealous anger, but Rama thrust her back. Like to lightning Lakshmana leapt forward with his sword and cut off the ears and nose of the evil-hearted Surpanakha, whereat she shrieked and fled away, wailing like to the storm wind. The rocks answered back her awesome cries.

Surpanakha hastened to one of her brothers who was named Khara, and when he saw her disfigured and bleeding, he cried: "None but a Celestial could have done this deed. This day will I drink the blood of Indra as a crane drinks milk and water."

Then Surpanakha related what had taken place, and said: "Rama and Lakshmana attacked me to protect the woman Sita, whose life-blood I desired to drink. I entreat thee to bring her to me now."

The Demons Attack Rama

Khara called upon fourteen Rakshasas and commanded them to capture the three royal hermits who dwelt in Dandaka jungle. They hastened away, and Surpanakha went with them, but soon she returned wailing, because Rama had slain the Rakshasas with Celestial arrows.

Khara immediately called upon his brother Dushana, saying: "Assemble an army of fourteen thousand Rakshasa, and bring my weapons and my chariot with white horses, for, verily, this day I must kill the hateful Rama."

Evil were the omens as the army marched to battle. Jackals howled and birds screamed at dawn; the sky was blood-red, and Rahu endeavoured to swallow the sun and caused an awesome eclipse: a headless horror appeared in mid air. The arrows of Rama emitted smoke, and he said to Lakshmana: "Hasten with Sita to a secret cave in the mountains and protect her there. I will battle with the demons alone."

Lakshmana did as his brother commanded. Then Rama girt on his glowing armour, and, armed with a celestial bow and many arrows, he awaited the coming of his enemies. When the Rakshasas appeared, they quailed before him because he appeared like to Yama at a Yuga end, but Khara drove on in his chariot, urging his followers to attack; they followed him roaring like a tempest, and they appeared like to black tremendous clouds rushing towards the rising sun.

Thousands of weapons were showered against Rama, who began to discharge flaming arrows which swept among the Rakshasas like fire in a sun-dried forest, so that many were mangled and slain. Still Khara and his brother continued to attack, but Rama seized a great celestial weapon and slew Dushana and scattered the demon army in flight. Khara sought to avenge his brother's death, but Rama drew his bow and shot a blazing arrow which consumed him instantly. So was the battle won, and Sita came forth from the cave and embraced her heroic husband and kissed him.


(800 words)




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