7. Rama and Ravana

Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana Crossing Sarayu river, Raja Ravi Varma, 1848-1906

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Chapter 7

Rama and Ravana

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Bharata did not wish to be king. He understood what his father wanted for Rama and the kingdom, and he lived according to his father’s wishes. At court, he underscored the fact that he was really just a regent, acting on behalf of Rama, by refusing to sit on the throne. He sent to Rama, asking for a pair of his sandals, which Rama gave him, and these were placed on the throne to take the place of Rama himself. And so Bharata administered his brother’s kingdom.

In time, Rama and Sita moved to a different land somewhat to the south of where they had been. This placed them in about the center of India. There they settled down for what would have been two years, waiting for the end of the exile’s time. Together with Lakshmana and Urmila, they broke the ground and planted their crops. They lived a rustic cottage they had built with their own hands.

It happened that at that time there was in that place a Rakshesha, or demon, in the form of a woman named Shurpanakha. She could be very beautiful, when she had a desire to be beautiful. Shurpanakha had the unusual ability to be able to appear in whatever form she wished, however, and she could also be very ugly, when she felt so inclined.

She had a great deal of skill, to be sure. Her abilities took intense spiritual training over a long time. She was able to change her form to please or horrify anyone she encountered, but her training had no positive value, because it had no moral foundation. It was a type of training that can only lead to a downfall.

Shurpanakha had led a troubled life. She had married a man who took her as part of an attempt to kill her brother, Ravana, the King of Lanka. When the time came for the attack, the brother killed her husband, and though Ravana had acted in self defense in this case, Shurpanakha broke off most relations with him. Having to leave her home, which had depended on him, she traveled through southern India and Ceylon, staying in different places according to the time of year.

During the course of her travels, she came across Rama. She was so struck by his good looks that she could not stop thinking about him. She wanted to possess him, with a feeling that to her way of thinking was love. Adorning herself in the finest gowns and jewelry, she made herself into a woman of astonishing beauty, and in that form she approached him.

Though she had believed that she could seduce any man, Rama would not have her. She asked boldly why not, and he replied that he was married, was in love with his wife, and would have no other. When Shurpanakha tried to press further on the matter, she found that he was quite adamant. He was loyal to Sita, and he would remain so.

Perhaps acting out of frustration, Shurpanakha next tried to seduce Lakshmana. In this, she was no more successful than she had been in trying to win Rama for herself.

Shurpanakha had gone through intense spiritual training, but she did not understand of the nature of real love at all. Not only had she never experienced it herself, she had never even really witnessed it. The closest she could get to it was a base sort of animal desire, untutored, undeveloped, and even unexamined. The deep love that ordinary people had for one another, the devotion that they had to their families, and the sense of belonging that these feelings bring were all unavailable to her. Somewhat cynically, she thought of the ideas people have about love as the fraudulent inventions of impostors.

Feeling scorned, she sought revenge. Shurpanakha decided she would murder Sita.

Her plan was foiled by Lakshmana, who was able to see easily what Shurpanakha was up to. He stopped her.

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“Stopped her?” Justus exclaimed, “He cut off her nose and her ear!”

“I don’t believe it.” It was Gloria Evans speaking. “I think she lied to make her brothers angry. Besides, what good would it do to cut off her nose. She could take any form she chose. She could appear with or without a nose as she chose, and cutting it off would not have changed her.”

“That is not what the scriptures say,” Justus said a bit assertively.

“What they say is that she could change her form to look as she wished. And if that is true, she could appear with or without a nose. Her brothers were taken in simply because they were prone to anger and believed her lies. She told them Lakshmana cut her nose off, and they did not think about whether that was true. And so they acted like fools because she had made them into fools.”

“Nonsense!”

Everyone sat in silence for a moment. A far-off cloud glowed briefly as lightning flashed within it. Overhead, the sky was still clear. A meteor made a quick streak and disappeared.

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Shurpanakha appealed to her brother Khara, who sent seven assassins to kill Rama and Lakshmana. They were all Rakshasas, the same type of demon that he, Shurpanakha, and their brothers were. These were quickly killed by Lakshmana, so Khara went himself to attack Lakshmana. In the end, Khara was defeated and killed in this attack.

Another brother, Dushan, similarly attacked Rama over the insult Shurpanakha claimed he had given her. That brother fared no better, and, like Khara, was defeated and died.

Shurpanakha next appealed to Ravana, the King of Lanka, the brother who had killed her husband. Ravana was willing to fight with Rama, but Shurpanakha had a better idea. Sita, she told him, was a enchantingly lovely woman, and Ravana should carry her away to force her to be one of his wives.

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Owen Evans, who was sitting on the porch next to Gloria, said, “Well, Ravana was not a nice man, and Shurpanakha knew how to move him to action.”

The little gathering was joined by Evan Owens. The fact that Owen Evans and Evan Owens lived in the same tiny city was a source of occasional mirth. “What are the chances?” People would ask. A clue to the answer could be seen in the fact that the local chapel was dedicated to Saint David, the patron saint of Wales. Evan sat and listened.

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Ravana went to the little farmstead where Rama, his brother, and their wives lived in a cottage and grew their food. He found that Sita was every bit as beautiful as Shurpanakha had said. He was suddenly overcome with lust. He felt an overwhelming need to possess her, and he was filled with compulsive desire to punish her husband by doing so.

To achieve his ends, he enlisted the aid of Maricha, another demon. Maricha loved nothing more than to terrorize the royal and noble human families. He had run afoul of Rama twice previously, however, and did badly both times. He tried to persuade Ravana not to run such a risk. He told Ravana that nothing good would come of the project, and that those undertaking it would almost certainly die. He said he would not take part in it.

Nevertheless, Ravana was not to be put off. His blood hot with anger and desire, he threatened to kill Maricha if he did not help with the task. And so, knowing Ravana could do this, Maricha complied. He expected to die, but he may have reflected that dying at the hand of Rama would be a much more merciful end than being killed by Ravana.

Like Shurpanakha, Maricha could take whatever form he chose. He made himself appear as a glistening gold-colored stag, and he walked near to Sita. When she saw him, she called Rama and Lakshmana to capture him, so she could have him as a pet. Lakshmana went after the stag, leaving Rama with Sita.

Not much time passed before Rama and Sita heard what sounded like Lakshmana calling for assistance. But it was not Lakshmana. It was Maricha. And when Rama was only gone an instant, Ravana, disguised as a beggar-monk, approached Sita. As he came close, he suddenly snatched her, with one hand covering her mouth so she could not call. And he took her away.

Sometimes, when things go terribly wrong in the affairs of human beings, nature itself revolts. And so it was when Ravana kidnapped Sita. Horrified by his actions, much of nature stood against Ravana. Streams swelled unnaturally, rain poured down unexpectedly, and the earth shook.

The birds and beasts, stood in the way of their progress also. In one case, a vulture named Jatayu attacked, only to have his wings cut off by Ravana’s sword. His wounds were mortal, and he fell to the Earth.

Rama and Lakshmana returned to their cottage and found that Sita was missing. As students of nature, they were easily able to see Sita’s tracks on the ground, and they could see that a man had carried her off. They realized in an instant that Sita had been kidnapped, and they went after her frantically.

Not very far off, they found Jatayu dying. Jatayu was able to tell them that a demon had taken Sita and had headed south with her. And with that, Jatayu died.

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“I love these fanciful Hindu stories,” Justus said. “A talking vulture! The gods need to know which way to go, and they are given guidance by a talking vulture!”

“Don’t forget, Hanuman, the monkey,” Gloria reminded him. “He did really important service, carrying messages.”

“There must be a meteor shower tonight,” Gus said absently, as he looked up at the sky. “That is the third I have seen this evening.”

“Well, you won’t be able to watch them much longer. It looks like a storm is coming,” Evan told him. The distant clouds continued to glow from time to time.

Gus looked off toward the west. “Somehow, I don’t think that storm will hit us,” he said. “I think it will pass to the north.” And then he continued, “Hanuman – yes, we will get to him soon. In fact, we get to him next.”

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While nature did not give much aid to Ravana, it aided Rama and Lakshmana. Ravana, who was a king in Ceylon, had an army at his disposal. Rama, however, had armies from nature.

Early on in his search, Rama became aware of the fact that someone was spreading a story that Sita had run off with Ravana willingly. This was, of course, a lie intended to discourage him and turn his followers against her. He came across Hanuman, a monkey, who was willing to enter Ravana’s compound and discover whatever he could about Sita.

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“Well, Hanuman was a monkey,” Justus said. “Who could you trust more to find the truth?”

“I think he was an avatar of Shiva,” Gloria said.

“And the fact that he was a monkey made it really easy for him to get to Sita without being noticed,” Dora Snyder added.

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Hanuman found Sita and asked her about her treatment by Ravana. She told him that she wanted nothing more than to be able to get back to Rama. She also told him that Ravana, while he had kidnapped her and held her prisoner, had otherwise not harmed her.

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“If Ravana was so evil, why didn’t he just do despoil her has he wished? I think you have him wrong. He was not as bad as you think,” Justus said.

“It was not good intentions that saved Sita from being attacked physically by that rascal,” Dora replied. There was a note of vehemence in her voice as she continued. “He was hoping to win her affection for himself, so he could triumph all the more over Rama. He was just evil.”

“How could you possibly know that?” Justus demanded.

“He told Queen Mandodari. And she didn’t like it one bit! You can bet your last dime on that!” Dora sounded angry.

Those looking at Justus could see his head shake in surprise, even in the dark.

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Knowing that Sita wanted him to rescue her, Rama put together armies of human beings, birds, monkeys, bears, and other natural and supernatural creatures. Together, they invaded Ceylon, destroyed Ravana’s army, killed Ravana, and rescued Sita.

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“Wait a minute!” Justus exclaimed. “Is that all you have to say about the war? You are dismissing great struggles of both Rama and Ravana as though they were worthless! There were brave and courageous deeds to be retold! What way to tell a story is that?”

“I am not telling this story to extol the fighting abilities of a demon,” Gus replied.

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