Reflections on Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa – XXXVIII: Rescuing Sītā, Battle at Laṅkā – Part III
July 27, 2021
Rāmāyaṇa is a story of lust. Success brings power and wealth, and in Vālmīki ’s story it also leads to lust for unrestrained individuals. Success is not achieved easily: it needs determination, sacrifice and adventure. The primitive urge of sexual attraction manifests as a human instinct. Vālmīki is a teacher who alerts the world that lust can ruin all success. King Daśaratha’s own fate was sealed because of lust. Rāvaṇa was waiting on his destruction because of his propensity for lust.
Observing Rāvaṇa’s restlessness, his side-kick Mahāpārśva gave him some advice: “One is a fool who does not partake honey after venturing into the forest! You are the lord of the universe! Why don’t you just pounce over Sītā like the birds do? Who can stop you and what can possibly go wrong? You have stalwarts like Kumbhakarṇa and Indrajit, who can withstand even Indra on the battlefield. All enemies will be reduced to full submission!”
“It’s not so simple!” Rāvaṇa confessed regretfully. “I have been cursed by Brahmā himself for my unseemly conduct! Once I chased a nymph in the heavens, I forced her and stripped her. I did enjoy her, but was punished with a curse that my head would split into a hundred parts if I violate another woman!” His regret turned to anger. He shouted: “Rāma does not know of my power! My rage rings Death to the enemy. My double-forked arrows will vanquish Rāma in no time! I am the conqueror of Laṅkā! Indra or Varuṇa don’t even compare! Ha! Ha! Ha!”
Vibhīṣaṇa was the conscience-keeper in Rāvaṇa’s family. An adult is best evaluated by a younger brother.
Vibhīṣaṇa understood that Rāvaṇa was underestimating the skills and acuity of Rāma. He visualized that Rāvaṇa was creating a trap for his own destruction. Vibhīṣaṇa submitted: “Who has hanged Sītā as a gigantic snake on your neck? She is like poison, her smiles are her sharp fangs, and her five fingers are like five heads that are ready to attack you! Let Sītā be returned to Rāma before the monkeys invade Laṅkā. No Kumbhakarṇa, Indrajit, Mahāpārśva, Mahodara, Nikumbha or Kumbha will be able to stand in combat against Rāma. You should remember that you yourself will not be spared. He will find you wherever you may hide!”
Prahasta retorted with his usual braggadocio: “We have no fear of the gods or the demons! We don’t fear all-pervading Yakṣas, the Gandharvas, the Nagas, the birds, or the reptiles! Why should we fear Rāma, a mere mortal?” Vibhīṣaṇa was calm. Deeply concerned about the welfare of his brother, he said: “O Prahasta, please don’t brag! You are not capable of accomplishing what you suggest! It would be like crossing the ocean without any oars! You would all fall to the rain of arrows from Rāma’s bow! You should not venture out! None of you, however large and valiant, will be able to stand up to Rāma in the battlefield. My brother is unfortunate to have friends like you! Instead of extracting the King from the fangs of the serpent, you are pushing him towards total destruction! A counselor is who gives judicious, practical and beneficial advice to the master!”
Indrajit, Rāvaṇa’s son, was upset to hear the counsel from Vibhīṣaṇa. He had his own bravado. He shouted: “Dear uncle! What is this nonsense you are talking about? This is not befitting to our clan and our heritage! You are the only individual in our family who lacks courage, virility, fortitude and prowess! Why are you so afraid of two mere princes? They can be taken care of by any one of us! I vanquished the most powerful Indra all by myself! Indra’s forces scattered and fled! Why do you think I will not be able to subdue these mere mortals?”
“You are a kid, my boy! Your intellect is not fully developed! You talk incoherent! You are destined for your own destruction!” replied Vibhisana. Then he scolded: “Though you are his son, you are pushing Rāvaṇa into danger because ofyour vanity and ignorance! You certainly deserve death because you are an evil mind! You are dull, uncultured, violent, foolish and wicked! You are unworthy! No wonder, you speak like a child! Rāma in battle is like Death personified! No one can withstand his arrows!” Vibhīṣaṇa submitted to Rāvaṇa: “O’ King, it is best to return Sītā to Rāma! Submit him with gifts, shawls and jewels!”
Infatuation blinds a man. Rāvaṇa was enraged. “The worst enemy of a man is his kinsman who turns his back!” Rāvaṇa continued ranting: “One’s relatives are the first to rejoice when a man faces a difficulty! They are known to plot power-grabbing strategies in secrecy and with cruelty.” He teased: “It certainly makes you uncomfortable seeing me respected by the world, with my feet resting on my enemies! One has to be worthy of the love in order to receive it!! The Earth does not sink in water from the autumn rains!” He paused and then continued: “Had it been somebody else he would cease to exist by now! For you I curse you, O’ betrayer!”
Vibhīṣaṇa had decided to quit Rāvaṇa’s camp. With his special magical skills, he ascended to the sky. Four of his assistants were with him. From high up, he said: “O King, you are confused. You may rebuke me as you please. You are my eldest brother so equal to my father! But you are unrighteous in your conduct. I do not condone these unkind words to me. When the forces of Death appear in our lives, we refuse to pay attention to the wisdom of our well-wishers. I don’t want you to be killed through the sharp arrows of Rāma. When the time comes, even mighty men fall like sand embankments! Do take care of yourself. Let all be well with you. Please live happily without me!” Vibhīṣaṇa flew up.
Vibhīṣaṇa and his attendants were noticed in the sky by the ever-watchful Sugrīva. He called out to Hanūmān and other monkey-chiefs: “Look at this Rākṣasa . Equipped with ammunitions and accompanied by his assistants, he is out to kill us!” The monkeys went into action right away. Holding large trees and massive stones, they shouted in unison: “Command us. Let us take care of the evil-minded in the sky itself. Once wounded, he will fall. Then he will be finished!”
Going further in sky towards them, Vibhīṣaṇa responded: “I am the younger brother of the evil Rākṣasa Rāvaṇa. My name is Vibhīṣaṇa. Rāvaṇa kidnapped Sītā from Janasthāna and has kept her helpless under the watch of the Rākṣasīs. I counseled my brother in many ways to return Sītā to Rāma, he rebuffed my requests. I was scolded harshly by him. He insulted me! A man destined to die does not take medicine! I have left my wife and children in Laṅkā. I have come here to beg refuge from Rāma. Please let the noble Rāma know about my arrival.”
Sugrīva did not feel good about the situation. He reported to Rāma: “Be alert. A part of the enemy’s forces is about to enter our ranks in disguise. We could accept messengers from our allies, the forest-dwellers or those offered by our own hired servants. But we must never accept someone connected to the enemy. Rāvaṇa’s younger brother Vibhīṣaṇa is seeking refuge. We should arrest him. We must kill him!” Rāma stayed calm, he approached Hanūmān and other monkey chiefs for their opinion.
The monkeys were effusive in praise. “Nothing is unknown to you, Sir! We are honored that you ask us for our opinion! We have deep respect for your gallantry, prowess, piety and discretion. Let the chiefs argue it over!”
Aṅgada chimed in: “Vibhīṣaṇa should not be considered trustworthy. We have to be careful in our decision. There are merits and demerits on both sides.” Sharabha said “It is best to assign a spy to follow him. We can test him and then we may accept him!” The wise Jāmbavān pitched in; “Vibhīṣaṇa is coming out from Rāvaṇa ’s camp. He has to be viewed with suspicion in every way!” Mainda was ambivalent: “We should read his mind clearly. Then we decide!”
Hanūmān undertook a lengthy analysis. He argued that each of the observations was inconsistent. “His intentions would not be known until he is given a task, but that is too much too soon. The facial expression of a person does reflect his inner feelings. I read it. Vibhīṣaṇa wanted to be the King of Laṅkā and has come here on his own will. He appears sincere and it would be to our advantage to accept him. My Lord! you are the best judge!”
Rāma had decided to accept Vibhīṣaṇa: “Righteousness demands that a person, even if an enemy, seeking refuge with folded hands should never be denied. There is sin in not protecting a person begging refuge. I follow the teachings of the sage Kundu: any living being seeking protection must always be accepted. Let Vibhīṣaṇa be brought in!” Rāma said.
Let Sai bless all!