– Ramayan: Book 3: Aranya Kanda – Book Of Forest Canto IV – The Demon King

The only one who managed to escape from the fray at Janasthana was a rakshasa called Akampana. Seeing that it was a lost cause, he had hidden himself behind a tree and watched all his friends falling. At last he returned post haste to Ravana’s capital, on the island of Lanka and reported the whole matter. The rakshasa king could not believe that his best commanders had been killed and his entire army wiped out by one single individual.

Ravana glared at him and roared, “Who is the foolish person who has dared to meddle with my outpost at Janasthana. It is obvious that his end is near. Even Indra, the king of gods, is afraid of me, so also Kubera, the god of wealth, and Yama, the god of death. I spell death, to Death himself, and my wrath can burn up even agni, the god of fire. Name the person who has dared to defy me”.

Akampana shivered with fear and stammered, “My Lord, it was a man who did it”.
“A man! A human being! I cannot believe it. I have not heard any report of an army marching to Janasthana, so how can this have happened”.

“There was no army, Your Majesty. It was one single individual, who routed the entire army and his name is Rama. He is the son of king Dasaratha, of the clan of Ikshvaku, the ruler of Ayodhya. He and his wife and brother have been exiled and are now living in the forest at Panchavati. He is dark and handsome and is as strong as a lion. He is an amazing archer and he decimated the entire army, single-handed”.

Ravana could not believe this story. He said, “I’ll go immediately to Jansthana and kill this man, Akampana said, “I would not advise you to do so, my Lord. Rama is invincible. He can destroy this universe and create a new one if he wants. He has command of all astras and weapons. You will never be able to beat him in a fair combat. But I can tell you of a means by which you can defeat him. He has a wife called Sita whom he loves dearly. She is his weak point. Her beauty is unparalleled in all the three worlds. Even the gods are bewitched by her charm. She is the daughter of King Janaka of Mithila. You will never be able to withstand her beauty. I suggest that you go to Dandaka and abduct her. If she is lost, Rama will not be able to live. He will pine away and die. This is the only way you can destroy him”.

Ravana’s eyes gleamed with green fire at the thought of another conquest to his harem. “Your idea is very good, 0 Akampana”, he said, “I will go to the forest of Dandaka tomorrow and capture this beauty for myself. As you know I am a connoisseur of women’s beauty so let me add another jewel to my collection”.

Ravana called for his golden, aerial, chariot, yoked to magic asses, with the faces of fiends and went to the ashrama of Maricha, the son of Tataka, whom Rama had sent hurtling off, for a few hundred miles, in his very first battle, when he went to save the yaga of sage Vishvamitra. Maricha had now become an ascetic and was living a simple life at a place called Gokarna. He was honoured that the king had come to visit him and paid him all respect.

Ravana did not waste time in idle talk. He came straight to the point. “My dear uncle”, he said, “did you hear that the entire rakshasa encampment at Janasthana, has been totally wiped out”?
Maricha was amazed that such a thing could have happened and wanted to know how it took place.
“It was wiped out by a mere mortal – a man called Rama”! At the name of Rama, Maricha trembled like a leaf and began to perspire.

Ravana pretended not to notice and said, “Evidently Rama seems to possess some sort of extraordinary powers or else this could not have happened. I hear that his wife Sita is amazingly beautiful. I wish to capture her and for that, I need your help. That is the only way to punish Rama”.

Maricha said, “My Lord, have you offended or insulted someone, for it is clear that someone wishes to see your downfall. The person who has suggested this to you is indeed your great enemy. Trying to steal Sita from Rama, is like trying to extract a poisonous tooth from the mouth of a cobra. He is like a wild elephant who will crush you if you taunt him. Please do not attempt this foolish thing. I have had personal experience of his great strength and that, too, at the age of sixteen. What will he be like now? That is why I took to a life of sannyasa. I am old enough to give you advice and I have nothing to gain or lose from you, so listen to me and leave Sita alone. Let them live happily in the forest and be content with your own harem of wives. Do not lust after another man’s wife”.

Though Ravana was not put off by the tales of Rama’s valour, he valued the advice of Maricha and decided to give up his plan and returned to Lanka.

The next day when Ravana was sitting resplendent on his golden throne and holding court, Shurpanekha rushed in with her tale of woe. Ravana was extremely noble looking – the hero of many wars. There was no end to his glories. He and his son, Meghanatha had even defeated Indra, the king of the gods. Ravana was the son of Vaishravas and the half-brother of Kubera, whom he had defeated and from whom he had stolen the beautiful flying machine called Pushpaka, made out of flowers. He had obtained a boon from Brahma that he could not be killed by demons, gods, celestial beings or beasts. In his arrogance he did not ask for immunity from humans, since he thought they were not worthy of his might. His atrocities and inequities had become so great that at last the gods were forced to approach Brahma and ask for protection. Vishnu had appeared before the gods and agreed to incarnate as a human being in order to kill Ravana. This had happened just at the time when king Dasaratha was holding his great yaga for the sake of progeny and Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu, had been born as his son.

Shurpanekha now stood before Ravana and started howling like a mad dog about her bad luck. The story she told was totally different from the actual fact. She began with a burst of vituperative insults hurled at her brother.

“What sort of a king are you”? she shrieked. “You sit here indulging in wine and women, totally oblivious of your duties. Don’t you know that your outpost at Janasthana has been totally wiped out by a mere mortal, called Rama”?

Ravana let her rant and rave for some time. Then he interrupted her, “Who is this Rama? What does he look like? What are his weapons”?

“Rama is the son of king Dasaratha of Ayodhya. He looks like the god of love incarnate but he is deadly in combat. He shoots forth arrows which are like cobras. He has a brother called Lakshmana who is as valiant as he and who is completely devoted to him. He also has a wife called Sita who is a woman whose beauty is beyond compare. He loves her very much and she is devoted to him. She has one of the most captivating figures that I have ever seen. Her complexion is that of molten gold, her waist is slender and can be spanned by your hand, her breasts are full and her hair is long and lustrous. Her eyes are like lotus petals and her beautiful hands have rounded, pink-tipped nails. There is no woman to equal her in all the three worlds. Seeing her, I thought that she would make a perfect mate for you.

I tried to capture her and bring her to you as my gift and this is what Lakshmana did to me. Rama was furious when I tried to capture his beloved wife and would have killed me had I not been a woman. As it is, he has maimed me for life. If you have any compassion for me, if you want to avenge the death of your people and Janasthana, if you want to own that beauty for yourself, then go immediately and kill those two and capture her for yourself”.

Ravana dismissed the court and pondered over his sister’s words. He knew that Rama would be no mean match for him but his heart beat fast at the thought of getting Sita for himself. At last, his lust overcame his caution and he went again to Maricha’s ashrama. Maricha saw him coming and was filled with foreboding, but he masked his feelings and welcomed the great personage.

“What has brought you once again to this humble abode, my Lord”, he asked.

Ravana replied, “I told you already about this mean creature Rama, who has killed my general and his forces at Janasthana and mutilated my sister. Obviously he is a wicked fellow or else his father would not have banished him. Uncle, you are the only one who can help me now. My sister has pointed out that Sita is Rama’s weak point. If I capture her, he is as good as dead. Now this is where you come in. I want you to take the form of a golden deer and go near Rama’s ashrama. You should frisk and frolic in front of Sita and beguile her so that she will ask Rama to catch the deer for her. You should then lead him far away from the hermitage so that Sita will be left alone. Then I will go and capture her. What do you think of my plan”?

Maricha shivered at the thought of invoking Rama’s wrath once again. His mouth had gone dry and he could hardly speak. At last he stammered out a few words, “My child, you are a King and you are surrounded by sycophants. They will speak only what is pleasing to your ears and not what is good for you. Rama is full of noble qualities. He is more powerful than Indra and Kubera. His wrath will surely fall on your head if you steal Sita. She is dearer to him than life. She will surely be the cause of your death. You are now, the happy and powerful King of the rakshasas. If you want it to last, let Rama alone. You have many women in your harem all equally beautiful. Why should you lust after another man’s wife”!

Ravana remained silent and Maricha thought he had almost convinced him. So he went on with his story.

“I will tell you of my first encounter with Rama when he was only a boy of sixteen. Once, when sage Vishwamitra was performing a yaga, I was bent on disturbing it, so Vishwamitra brought Rama to protect his yajnashala. I remember him vividly. What a wonderful picture he presented, young and handsome with a huge bow in his hands. But I thought he was only a boy and continued with my act of desecrating the yajnashala. For some reason Rama did not kill me but his arrow pierced me and carried me many miles out and dropped me into the ocean. A few years ago I had my next encounter with him in the Dandaka forest.

You know how we rakshasas love to eat the flesh of the rishis living in the forest. I had gone with two others, taking on the form of a deer and we had killed many rishis before I saw Rama. I thought that I would gore him to death, to punish him for what he had done to me. I went near and charged at him with lowered horns. He shot just three arrows at us and my companions died on the spot. Somehow I managed to escape. Since then, I decided to turn over a new leaf and take to the life of a recluse. I live here alone in this forest and shun all company. I have given up eating flesh and killing people and live only on fruits and roots. I am old and tired and all I want, is to be left in peace and do penance for my sins. The very mention of the name, Rama, frightens me out of my wits. If you persist in this foolish plan, both of us will surely die. As for the tragedy at Janasthana, I am sure Shurpanekha must have instigated Rama’s wrath. By listening to her lies you will also come to a bad end”.

Ravana now gave up all pretence of tying to coax Maricha. He had made up his mind to go on with this suicidal plan. Fate was beckoning him to his approaching doom.

In an angry voice he said, “Maricha! You are overstepping the limits of decorum in talking to your king like this. I do not need any advice from you about what I should do. All I want is implicit obedience. Go immediately to Rama’s ashrama in the form of a golden deer and entice him deep into the forest. If Lakshmana remains behind to guard Sita, you should imitate Rama’s voice and cry in a loud voice, ‘Ha Sita! Ha Lakshmana’. Sita will be frightened and send Lakshmana after Rama. At that time I will enter the hermitage and capture her. After having done this, you can return to your own abode. If however, you refuse to obey me, I will send you straightaway to the abode of Yama”!

Maricha was in a sorry plight but he realised that there was no way out. He knew he was doomed to die either way, so he thought to himself that it was better to die at Rama’s hands than at the hands of this wicked nephew of his. He said sorrowfully, “Ravana, I see that we are both doomed. If you capture Sita, remember, you will be capturing death in your arms. As for me, this will be my third and last encounter with Rama”.

Ravana scarcely heard what he said, “Come! Let be us away”, he said. “I will drop you near the ashrama so that no time will be lost”.

He took Maricha in his vehicle drawn by the magic asses and they soon came to the vicinity of Rama?s ashrama. The chariot landed and Ravana told Maricha to make haste and change his form.

Thus ends the fourth Canto called ?The Demon King? of the Aranya Kanda in the glorious Ramayana of the Sage Valmiki.

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