Ravana - Part 2

மரபு விக்கி இருந்து

தாவிச் செல்ல: வழிசெலுத்தல், தேடுக


Twenty shoulders Vs. Thousand Shoulders

Rama who was listening to the story of Ravana from sage Agasthya grew curious. 'Your account of Ravana is really informative,' he said. 'But I am surprised that there was not a single soul who could defeat him. Were there none who could emerge victorious in a war against him or have you not yet related such incidents to me?' he asked.

'Yes, there were two in the past who outmatched Ravana,' continued the sage. 'One was Karthaviryarjuna, the thousand shouldered king and the other one is Vali. Ravana was always looking for stronger persons reputed for their might. He would go to them of his own and challenge them for a combat. He heard of Karthaviryarjuna's prowess and went to his city, seeking a battle with him to establish his supremacy. But at that time it so happened that Karthaviryarjuna was relaxing in the banks of Narmada, with the women from his gynaecium.'

Ravana went to the banks of the river Narmada in search of Karthaviryarjuna. When he reached there and was offering puja to Lord Shiva, he was amazed to see that the flow of the water stopped suddenly and in fact even started flowing in the opposite direction. His ministers Suga and Sarana found out that it was Karthaviryarjuna who was stopping the flow of the river with his hands - a thousand of them. Ravana was enraged that his puja was interrupted by this act of Karthaviryarjuna and wanted to go on war with him that very moment. Despite being advised by his ministers that he should be patient and should wait till the next day as Karthaviryarjuna was in the company of women and was relaxing and that that was not right or fair to challenge him for war. He was so blinded by his rage that he persisted and sent word to Karthaviryarjuna of his intention.

The army of Ravana swept in and gained an upper hand in destroying the forces of Karthaviryarjuna, initially. Undaunted, Karthaviryarjuna who was still in the river, walked to the banks, vanquished the deputies of Ravana and engaged him in a single combat. Ravana was hit on his chest with a mace and reeled from the blow. Karthaviryarjuna held him by his thousand valiant arms captured Ravana, took him to his city and imprisoned him.

Vibishana who came to know that Ravana has been imprisoned was overtaken by grief and it was he who went to Brahma with the message and requested his help in securing the release of Ravana. Brahma was once again pushed into the difficult position of having to save Ravana because he had His boons to protect him. He appeared before Karthaviryarjuna and pleaded with him to leave Ravana.

'You have secured an absolute victory over Ravana, who has established his might over all the three worlds. 'Eriya valiyE ini unakku amayum.' You have gained indisputable repute in subduing Ravana. That should hold your name high forever. 'irAvaNan than mEl sIriya sItram thavirndhu avanaich chirai viduga,' requested the Lord.
It was due to the greatness of Karthaviryarjuna that Ravana was released from the prison. He did not demand anything from Brahma in return for the release, as did Indrajit when he was requested Him to release Indra from his hold. As a victor, he could have taken all that Ravana had won earlier. But he did not. It was his sheer respect for Brahma and his magnanimity that were responsible for Ravana's release.

But this inglorious defeat never troubled Ravana. We will see later how he reacts when Vibishana corners him in the war council, quoting this incident, when he brags about his prowess, refusing to send Sita back.

Vali and Ravana - I

Vali sensed Ravana’s presence and his jungle instincts must have warned him of the impending danger, though he was meditating.

Even after being subdued by Karthaviryarjuna, Ravana did not lose his desire to challenge anyone whom he thought would be a match for him. “Having been set free by Arjuna* and thus rendered free from (all) causes of despondency, Ravana, the suzerain lord of ogres, for his part ranged over the entire globe. Approaching whomsoever he heard of as superior in might, irrespective of whether he was an ogre or a human being, Ravana, full of arrogance, challenged him to a duel,” says Valmiki (Uttara Kanda, Canto XXXIV, Sloka 1-2) (*Arjuna – the reference here is to Karthaviryarjuna)
Having heard of Vali, Ravana went to Kishkindha. Vali was on the shores of the Southern Sea for performing his Sandhya puja. Vali was a devotee of Lord Shiva and he used to scale long distances for a peaceful and ideal spot for his worship. Sugriva was amused to see Ravana at their doorsteps, challenging Vali for a duel. ‘Wait here for some more time for his arrival. Or, if you want to breathe your last earlier than that, go to the southern sea,’ Sugriva mocked.

Ravana quickly reached the spot. He alighted from his aerial car and found Vali meditating there. “Alighting from the Pushpaka on seeing Vali, who resembled a mountain of gold and whose countenance shone like the newly risen sun, absorbed in saying the Sandhya prayers, Ravana who had the hue of collyrium, proceeded hastily with silent steps in order to capture him.” (Ibid, Sloka 12-13)

This is one of the chief characteristics of Ravana. Despite being endowed with enormous physical stature and strength and despite having been protected by innumerable boons, the desire to adopt furtive ways was innate in him. ‘He walked without making noise so that he could tie Vali up with ropes, while he was still meditating, when his mind was shut off to what was happening around him.’ ‘idhuvE kaariyam ivanaik kattuvan ennak karudhinan,’ this is the right thing for me to do now. I will tie him up with ropes this moment.

We see this quality of Ravana surfacing again and again in the epic. Instead of adopting a straightforward method of fighting the ‘puny human creatures’ he would indulge in a grand design of the golden-deer to carry Sita away stealthily. He would bring an illusory head of Rama blood still dripping, and would claim that Rama has been killed while he was asleep (another delight – he did not say that Rama was killed in single-combat) and show it to Sita, with the idea of winning her love! What a way to win the love of a woman, and that too Sita! And, when he did so, Rama had just entered Lanka, constructing Sethu from the mainland! He would bring Maya Janaka to ‘recommend’ his hand to her. We will see all of them in detail.

Coming back to our scene. Vali sensed Ravana’s presence and his jungle instincts must have warned him of the impending danger, though he was meditating. ‘Both were conceited’ says Valmiki. “Each seeking to lay his hands on the other, the two warriors, the king of monkeys and the lord of ogres, both conceited by reason of their might, strove diligently to accomplish that end.” (Ibid, Sloka 19)

“(Vali said to himself:) ‘Pressing in my arm-pit the sinful-minded Ravana as soon as he approaches with intent to catch hold of me and leaving him hanging there, I shall visit the three (remaining oceans) (too). People will see my enemy, Ravana (the ten-headed monster), hanging from my arm-pit with his thighs, hands and raiment dangling, like a serpent in the claws of Garuda.” (Ibid, Sloka, 16 and 17)

Here are two warriors, each trying to outwit the other, and both resorting to stealthy ways. But Vali at least seems to be the better of the two, as he is only retaliating and not initiating!

Vali and Ravana - II

From this point onwards Ravana was quite another soul, at least as far as his desire for women was concerned…

Vali bundled up Ravana in his tail and tucked him under his armpit, bathed in all the other three oceans and jumped back to Kishkindha, with Ravana hanging from his tail all the way. On reaching Kishkindha, Vali released him from his hold. ‘I was so absorbed in worshipping my Lord and did not have time to enquire the purpose of your visit. Now tell me, what do you seek of you me?’
The answer of Ravana takes us by surprise. This is the only passage in the entire epic where Ravana sounds humble. “I am Ravana, the ruler of ogres, O king of monkeys, a compeer of the mighty Indra, come here seeking an encounter with you and I was (consequently) captured by you today. Astounding is the strength, marvellous is the prowess and wonderful is the profundity too in you, by whom, after seizing me I was taken like an animal round the four seas! What other hero would carry me so unweariedly and fast (as you did), O valiant monkey? Such (a marvellous) speed exists in three created entities alone – the mind, the wind-god and Garuda as well as in you; there is no doubt about it O monkey!” (Valmiki Ramayana, Uttara Kanda, Canto XXXIV, Sloka 36-39)
Ravana then sought the friendship of Vali. Sloka 44 of the above canto states that he ‘stayed with Vali for one full month, like Sugriva.’

What I have compiled till now is a short sketch of what the Uttara Kanda details of Ravana. I have skipped many a scene that is not directly related to our study and now we are all set to get into the main story and study him, his fortes and foibles. Despite everything, Ravana is a grand character. The Poets take extra efforts to depict the city that Lanka was and how it flourished under his rule. It was not without reason that an entire race – with the exception of Vibishana and a few others – happily gave their lives up in his service, though there was no common, right or just cause for them to do so.
From this point onwards till Surpanakha reaches Lanka, with her ears and nose severed by Lakshmana and describes the beauty that Sita is, Ravana was quite another soul, at least as far as his desire for women was concerned. This is testified by Hanuman in his soliloquy in the Sundara Kanda when he was scouring Lanka for Sita.

“Fallen a prey to lust, unmarried daughters of royal sages, Brahmanas and demons, as well as of Gandharvas (celestial musicians) and ogres had (chosen to) to become his wives. Many other women had been borne away by him because he was fond of war (since he through that their relatives would offer resistance); while (yet) others, who were drunk with passion, had come (of their own accord), infatuated as they were through love.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kanda, Canto 9, Sloka 68 and 69)

And once again, Hanuman is very much impressed with Ravana when he is taken to his court by Indrajit. “What charm, what presence of mind, what courage, what splendour and what combination of all auspicious bodily marks is present in the king of ogres! Had this mighty lord of ogres not been antagonistic to virtue, he would have proved to be a protector of the realm of gods including Indra (the ruler of gods). Due to his cruel and ruthless deeds condemned by the world all people including gods and demons remain actually afraid of him. If enraged he can turn the world into one ocean.” (Ibid, Canto XLIX, Sloka 17 – 20 {Part})

Charm, presence of mind, courage, valour and handsomeness that impressed even the wisest of his foes, Hanuman for instance. But. An enormous storehouse of power, penance and the fruits of penance. But. ‘One who subdued in early life all the senses and conquered all passions and did not yield to any temptation, stored up tapas and obtained boons,’ as Mandodari mentions when she laments over his body. But.

Here we go.

Off the beaten track

There are not many alternatives available. Valmiki developed the story in a particular way. He struck the flint stone and generated sparks of temptation and developed these sparks…

There is a little bit of a tricky situation, I would even say a challenge thrown to the Poets to describe to us as to what made Ravana fall head over heels in love with Sita before he could even see her. Ravana had changed from his old ways and was not given to thieving women that belonged to other men. He had a harem full of enchanting women who were indeed in love with him. The curses on him must have mellowed him somewhat. In addition to all the curses on him that we saw in detail, the one from Nalakubara stopping his mad spree, Ravana himself narrates to Mahaparswa in the war council, the curse of Brahma on him, which really made him afraid of the consequences.

“Hear you, O Mahaparswa, of a certain secret of mine, of an incident which took place long ago, of a fruit which was gathered by me in the past. I shall (presently) confide it to (to you). (Once) I beheld (a celestial nymph) Punjikasthala (by name), flashing like a flame and sneaking away (for fear of me) through the heavens to the abode of Brahma (the grandfather of the entire creation, which was evolved by his mind-born sons, Marïcä and others). She was stripped of her garment and ravished by me. She then reached the abode of Brahma (the self-born creator) like a lotus plant violently shaken (by an elephant). The aforesaid incident I presume came to be known (precisely) as it had occurred to that exalted soul. Highly enraged, the creator forthwith addressed the following words to me: - ‘If you (happen to) violate any other woman henceforward, your head will be forthwith split into a hundred pieces; there is no doubt about it. Hence, afraid (as I am) of his curse, I do not violently put Sita, a princess of the Videha territory, on my charming bed by force.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kanda, Canto XIII, Sloka 10-15)

And that gives us an idea of the extent to which Ravana must have gone. It was Brahma who was too ready to save him from Yama when he raised his kala-dhanda on Ravana and it was he who requested Karthaviryarjuna to release Ravana from his prison. As admitted by Ravana himself, this curse (along with the curse of Nalakubara) had struck terror in him.
When such being so, the task of making Ravana fall in love with Sita is extremely difficult indeed, a love so strong and maddening that he decides that this misadventure is worth all the trouble considering the excitement and thrill that was in store for him, as perceived by him and takes a chance despite the curses on him, makes him fly over to the mainland in search of her, and device a scheme too to take her away in the absence of her protectors. And think of it, Ravana’s passions should be worked up even before he sets his eyes on Sita, even before he has seen her and even before he has one valid reason for falling in love with her.

There are not many alternatives available. Valmiki developed the story in a particular way. He struck the flint stone and generated sparks of temptation and developed these sparks into an all-engulfing and all-destroying forest fire that blinded Ravana to all logic, reason, advices tendered with anxiety and a fire that turned an entire race into mere ashes. The Telugu Poet Bhaskara and Tulasidas approached the task in the same manner as Valmiki did. They let the sparks assume their form of a flame in two stages. And the flame grew into a forest-fire in the third stage. Kamban develops it in his own way. He eliminates the first stage totally and packs all the power into what is shown as the second stage by other poets in one clean sweep in stage one itself.
Let us first look at how Valmiki develops the scene.

The early seed

It was Akampana who seeded the idea into the mind of Ravana to take Sita away as a matter of punishment, if not for adding the most precious of gems to his gynaecium…

Akampana was one of the very few ogres who escaped death when Rama destroyed Kara and Dusana in Janasthana. He was so overtaken by fear that unlike others who ran away with him, he went to Ravana and reported to him what happened to Kara and Dusana, the brothers of Ravana, and sought refuge in him shaking with fear. In fact, reporting such calamities to Ravana required courage of an extraordinary kind for – as we are going to see soon – Ravana was in the habit of killing the scouts who carry such news to him. Strangely, Ravana did not react in that way on this occasion.

His pride was touched to the quick that his brothers were killed by a mere human being. The insult fell on his heart like burning pieces of coal. And it was an injury indeed added to the insult that he suffered when he learnt that his invincible brothers, along with a vast army of unmatched ogres, fell a prey to a single archer. A single individual, a single human, who faced such a big army and erased it from the face of the earth within a time of three nazhikai or one hour.

‘I will go to Janasthana this moment and puff those two out, stamp on them, tread over them and re-establish the Rakshasa pride,’ was the first reaction of Ravana. He did not know anything about Sita until this moment and his mind was set only on taking revenge and levelling the score and nothing more than that.
It was Akampana who seeded the idea into the mind of Ravana to take Sita away as a matter of punishment, if not for adding the most precious of gems to his gynaecium. ‘You cannot kill him, master,’ Akampana tells Ravana. ‘He is no ordinary person. I do not account him capable of being slain even by all the gods and demons put together. There is however, only one way in which you can maim him; you can put him to suffering and ultimately pave the way for his death.’

“His wife, Sita by name, is the best woman in the world. Marked with a slender waist and well-proportioned limbs and adorned with jewels, she is in the full bloom of youth and the very jewel among women. Certainly no Goddess nor a Gandharva woman nor a celestial nymph nor a Naga woman – in fact, no woman can be compared with her; how then, can a human lady stand comparison with her? Putting him off the scene in the great forest, take you away his wife by force. And bereft of Sita, Rama will no longer survive in any case.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kanda, Canto XXXI, Sloka 29-31)

‘Take her wife by force,’ is the bija or the seed of what Akampana sows in Ravana’s mind. ‘I shall do so the first thing in the morning,’ assured Ravana. ‘Taking by force’ naturally means at least a scuffle with Rama or Lakshmana. The version of Valmiki shows Ravana had not quite made his mind up as yet as to what was the best way of doing this.
He approaches Marïcä. In the version of Valmiki, this meeting with Marïcä takes place on two different occasions. In the first occasion, Ravana is seen to be in a somewhat confused state of mind.

A strange quality displayed

This is something very strange for a person like Ravana to listen to words of wisdom and go back in silence. We cannot see Ravana in such a mood anywhere else…

Ravana approaches Marïcä for the first time. As we have seen elaborately in our study of Marïcä, he had become a reformed soul by now. This son of Tataka, who had always accompanied Ravana in all his ventures – that are described in the Uttara Kanda – turned a hermit after having escaped from the arrows of Rama in the Aranya Kanda, when he attempted to attack Rama, assuming the form of a deer.

‘I need your help,’ Ravana tells Marïcä. “Khara and others (the soldiers guarding my frontiers) have been killed, O dear friend, by Rama of unwearied action; (nay) the entire (colony of) Janasthana which was (hitherto) incapable of being destroyed, has been exterminated in an encounter. Lend your co-operation to me as such in abducting his wife.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kanda, Canto XXXI, Sloka 40)

What Ravana implies to tell Marïcä here is that he wants to take revenge on the humans that played havoc in his army and destroyed a whole army of his led by his brothers. The above statement does not sound like the words of a person struck by the arrows of Cupid. The Sloka lacks force. He does not seem to be suffering the pangs of love that he is shown going through later. As Right Hon’ble Srinivasa Sastriyar observes, “At that time his mind itself was wavering.” Ravana was not too sure about what he wanted. He thought that abducting Sita was a way of punishing Rama but was not bent upon getting her.

Marïcä was taken by surprise. ‘Which enemy of yours put this idea into your head?’ he asked Ravana. ‘What do you think of Rama, my dear boy?’ Though Ravana addresses Marïcä as ‘dear friend’ in the above Sloka, he is actually the maternal uncle of Ravana. I bear testimony to the force of his arrows. I was thrown to this distance when he guarded the sacrificial fires of Viswamitra. And once again, when I saw him enter the forest with his brother and wife on exile, my anger raised its hood in my heart and I tried to attack him in the form of a deer, along with two of my friends. My friends were killed by his arrows and I managed to escape from that spot. I have been leading the life of a hermit now. Look at me and learn from my experience. If a person can turn a fourteen thousand strong army led by none other than Khara, Dusana and Trisira, single-handed in a matter of one hour, Ravana, you should understand that you are playing with fire, if you persist on this venture,’ Marïcä advised him.

“It is not advisable (for you), O king of ogres, to jump into the subterranean fire forming the most dreadful mouth of the fathomless ocean in the form of Rama, which is infested with alligators in the form of his bow, whose bottom contains mire in the form of the might of his arms, which is rough with waves in the form arrows and which contains water in the form of a fierce battle. Be please, O lord of Lanka and ruler of ogres! Remain gratified and return safely to Lanka. Always revel in the midst of your own wives and let Rama revel with his (own) wife in the woods.” (Ibid, Sloka 48 and 49)
Ravana returned to Lanka on that occasion, without saying a word, a word in protest or threatening Marïcä to carry out his order. This is something very strange for a person like Ravana to listen to words of wisdom and go back in silence. We cannot see Ravana in such a mood anywhere else in the entire epic.

But Sri VVS Aiyar is of a different opinion, as far as this incident is concerned. Sri VVS Aiyar, it may be remembered was a close friend of poet Subramania Bharati and one who had mastered more than fifteen languages and had studied the best of literature of each language in its original form.

A flaw in the drama?

The doubts expressed by Sri VVS Aiyar are acknowledged by Right Hon’ble Srinivasa Sastriyar too, though in passing.

Sri VVS Aiyar feels that there is a flaw in the bhavika and feels that this Sarga in question (Canto XXXI) shows so totally a different picture and interferes with the basic architectonics of the epic. “Here also we may note, in passing, Kamban’s just taste in the matter of the architecture of the epic. Those who have finally arranged and revised the Benares and Southern Recensions – which agree with each other very closely – of Valmiki’s Ramayana have not exhibited in this part of the story that apprehension of bhavika which they so generally exhibit in their recensions,” he observes.

The main charge that he levels is that this sounds somewhat laboured and also moves away from the main structure of the character that Ravana was. OK. Ravana listened to Marïcä and returned to Lanka. As he reaches there, his sister Surpanakha comes to him with severed limbs and Ravana is induced by her to abduct Sita, of course detailing her charms. Ravana flies back to Marïcä again, this time taking a totally different stance and threatening Marïcä to either come to his help or die a death at his hands. The two scenes do not gel as naturally.

Sri Aiyar is somewhat carping in his observation here. “This is such an obviously faulty bhavika that we cannot understand how the commentators like Govindaraja and others did not correct the error and remove the incident of Akampana and the first meeting with Marïcä from the story. It is a still greater wonder that Bhaskara* copies even these re-duplications in his rendering of the Ramayana,” he says. (* Bhaskara is the Telugu Poet who wrote the Telugu version of the Ramayana.)

The doubts expressed by Sri VVS Aiyar are acknowledged by Right Hon’ble Srinivasa Sastriyar too, though in passing. “Unfortunately this sarga, where Akampana makes his report to Ravana, is considered to be spurious by most people,” he says. He has a different reason for the Sarga finding a favour with him. “It would be a pity to lose it on account of some academic considerations, because it contains some noble passages. It contains a wonderful account of Rama himself by an impartial witness, and it also brings out in an extraordinary way the attractiveness and the beauty of Sita and the glorious side of her character,” he feels.

But as has been noted and accepted by both these giants, the sarga under discussion seems to be a ‘later contribution’ by unknown hands. Without going into the dispute, one is more appealed by what Sri VVS Aiyar says. Yes. That affects the dramatic element and the way the character of Ravana has been built. If the sarga, as Sastriyar says, merits its retention in the Ramayana because it contains ‘wonderful accounts of Rama by Marïcä,’ it should be remembered that the very same Marïcä once again pays even richer encomium to Rama in Canto XXXVI in much better and flowery words and extols his qualities to Ravana. Therefore, the absence of the Akampana incident would not in any way affect the main story.

I went into all this to show the superiority of Kamban’s art. While others have adopted the version of Valmiki with such duplications and obvious insertions, Kamban takes his own path. He builds the effect in his own way. He eliminates the Akampana incident altogether. His Surpanakha does a better work and blows the baser instincts of her brother to such proportions that one is able to justify the misadventure that Ravana undertook. But why he did not listen to anyone and send Sita back to avoid a war is a totally different question, to answer which we have to study this character threadbare.

A grand plan takes shape

And it is for this reason that Kamban redrafts the conversation that took place between Surpanakha and Ravana. This Surpanakha does not chide her brother in his Court…

The brush of Kamban moves on the canvas very swiftly and ably in this first scene where he introduces Ravana to us. It has all the grandeur and a subtle element of humour running through. He paints an elaborate picture of Ravana’s court. Thousands of kings, celestials, Rishis and others fill the great hall of Ravana’s court. Every single one of them is governed by a single emotion that runs like an uninterrupted and invisible thread throughout the assemblage. Fear. Not a single individual is comfortable with himself and is standing with palms joined over his head.

‘inna pOdhu ivvazhi nOkkum enbadhai unnalar,’ Kamban observes. They were not sure as to when Ravana’s fleeting glances would sweep over them. ‘karadhalam sumandha uchchiyar.’ And therefore they always remained there with their palms joined over their heads. The reverential joining of palms has three different positions. Palms joined close to the chest expresses to greet friends; they are held close to the face for elders to express respect; and are joined over the head, only in places of worship. The third position is adopted only in temples and before the deity. Ravana was celebrated as Ravaneswara. A God on earth. And it was nothing but fear that earned him this stature.

Kamban quickly points to the other picture in the hall. Anxiety rules over the audience. Nobody is sure as to when he would face the wrath of the king or when he would be punished. ‘annavan amaicharai nOkki oru nan mozhi pagarinum nadungum sindhayar.’ Their minds would quake with fear whenever Ravana turns to his ministers, even if it is for exchanging pleasantries. And Kamban talks of diamonds that fall from the crowns of kings that rub against each because of the congestion and Vayu, wind-god, rushing to wherever such particles fall and cleaning the place! ‘tharayidai ugadha munnam thaanginan thazhuvi vaangi, thurai thorum thodarndhu nindu samIraNan thudaippa…’ Vayu would swiftly go to the spot whenever diamonds or particles of diamonds fall and would prevent them from falling on the floor and keep the place clean! He must have been the vacuum cleaner of Ravana’s court!

Kamban uses his brush to paint the grand appearance of the hall and at the same time shows us the main element that governs the subjects and the major element in the character of the King. Ravana ruled by the rod. He was very ready and very fond of raising the scourge up for anything and everything.

And it is for this reason that Kamban redrafts the conversation that took place between Surpanakha and Ravana. This Surpanakha does not chide her brother in his Court, heaping abuses on him in the midst of the audience. That would hurt the pride of this person and spoil the whole show. She starts in a totally different manner, different from Valmiki, Bhaskara or Tulsidas, and allows natural emotions to take shape step-by-step by the skilful turning of the narration of events by Surpanakha, working it up to fever-pitch and dropping the bomb at the right time. We see Surpanakha quickly and ably wiping out even the streak of justness that appears in Ravana and turns his attention towards the direction she desires. She knew the strengths and weaknesses of her brother and she knew how to heat this piece of iron and beat it too when it is hot.

A callous brother

That shows Ravana very hard-hearted, callous, uncaring and indifferent, even by asura standards indeed…

In our discussions, we have seen that Ravana had changed his ways to a great extent and as acknowledged by Hanuman, his harem no longer contained any woman who was not willing to remain there. Not a single soul in his gynaecium was unhappy. In such a situation, especially when Ravana’s desires for the forbidden fruit have been dulled by fears of the curses and when he had not even seen the beauty that Sita is, it could not be such an easy task to make him move from his place in search of an unknown beauty, with an element of uncertainty still hanging over his head, unless his passions that remain suppressed – not subdued – are whipped up again and worked up in that direction.

The appearance of Surpanakha in the court of Ravana, and the most disrespectful manner in which she begins to flay him in the very presence of his ministers and servants, appear somewhat odd and shift the focus away from the main theme. ‘You are lost in your sense-enjoyments; you have failed in your duty as a king; you are whiling away your time happily on this part of the world while your brothers and our race have been razed down in Janasthana. What are your spies doing and why are you seated here with so many untutored counsellors surrounding you?’ is how Surpanakha’s address begins in Valmiki Ramayana. After a long, long vituperative attack running to a whole Canto, Ravana finally asks her:

“Who is Rama? What is his strength? What does he look like and what is the measure of his prowess and what for has he penetrated into the forest of Dandaka, which is exceedingly difficult to pass through? And what is the weapon in the possession of Rama, with which those ogres have been killed (by him) as also Khara, Dusana and Trisira in the battlefield?” (Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kanda, Canto XXXIV, Sloka 2 and 3)

The character of Ravana as shown by Valmiki does not care for his sister who is standing before him, maimed and bleeding. He is not at all pained or anxious about her injuries. Instead, he is asking for intelligence on the enemy, and at what an exceedingly excruciating picture of pain his sister presents! It is only as an afterthought Ravana adds another line. “Also tell me in truth, O lady of captivating limbs, by whom you were deformed.” (Ibid, Sloka 4 {Part})

If Surpanakha, the endeared sister of Ravana, was deformed and was bleeding, it was not an ordinary matter! It is an insult on the personal pride of a brother – any ordinary brother, let alone Ravana. Strangely, the emotional drama that is so naturally present in the situation is not at all touched. Ravana sounds very indifferent to what his sister has suffered and what it means to him; and also to the killing of his brothers and a fourteen-thousand strong army of his in Janasthana. All he wants to know is ‘who this Rama was and what his strengths were and also the divine weapons possessed by him.’

That shows Ravana very hard-hearted, callous, uncaring and indifferent, even by asura standards indeed! May be it was due to the impolite ways in which the virago that Surpanakha was, addressed him and blamed him of what is not relevant and what is not at all a point of discussion for the present purpose at hand. Or may be not.
Let’s move over to Kamban’s treatment of the very same scene.

The drama intensifies

Compare this with the entry of Surpanakha as portrayed in the original. The description of Kamban takes a 180 degree turn.

I am giving below extracts from the beautiful English rendering of this scene by Sri VVS Aiyar as portrayed by Kamban, for there is no other way of presenting the high emotional drama that the Poet has packed into this very important moment of the Epic.

“She entered the northern gate of the city with her hands joined over her head as a suppliant. The Rakshasas that looked on her grew red with rage; some spoke words like thunder; some could not speak at all; their eyes rained fire and they bit their lips; some were heard to say, ‘Could Indra have been guilty of this sacrilege? Or could it be Brahma? Or may it be Shiva?’ Others would answer. ‘Where are the foes that we can point to in this universe? It is impossible that any in this triple universe should have attempted this deed; it must be the dome of some from the Worlds beyond.’  While all Lanka was thus immersed in grief as she walked along, she reached the audience-hall of Ravana and fell at his feet as a cloud settling at the foot of a hill.”

Compare this with the entry of Surpanakha as portrayed in the original. “Displaying her disfiguration, Surpanakha who stood bewildered with fear and covetousness (for Sri Rama) and who formerly roamed about fearlessly and had been mutilated by the high-souled Lakshmana, addressed to Ravana, who was possessed of large burning eyes, the following exceptionally harsh words.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kanda, Canto XXXII, Sloka 25)

The quote from English rendition of Kamban by Sri VVS Aiyar continues:

“Darkness fell over the universe as pall. Adisesha, who is bearing the earth on his shoulders, was terrified as to what would happen when Ravana’s anger was roused and bent down his head. The mountains of the earth shook. The Sun was beside himself with fear. The mammoths that bear aloft the universe fled, and the Devas concealed themselves in nooks and corners.  With smoke rushing through his mouths even as he bit his lips with his teeth, his very moustaches trembling and smelling with the fire of his breath, with his teeth giving out the sheen of lightning while he ground them in his anger, he thundered out, ‘Whose deed is this?’

She replied, ‘There are two men who are like him whose standard is the fish.* They are protecting the earth from ills and live in the forest; it is they that cut at me with their swords!’
When she said it was men that did this injury to her, he laughed a laugh that resounded to the very ends of the earth, his eyes radiated fire, and he asked, ‘Is this all that these feeble hermits have done or have they done anything more? Fear not thou and speak thou without concealing all that befell.”  (* Manmadha)

The description of Kamban takes a 180 degree turn. Observe the major deviation. Surpanakha falls at the feet of Ravana whereas she speaks the harshest of words in the original. Notice the firework of emotions and pains of suffering that Ravana goes through, which would be the first and just reaction of any brother on earth. And also notice the tenderness and warmth with which she refers to Rama, still retaining her passion for him. Ravana does not stop. ‘What were Khara and Dushana doing when you were injured thus, slighting the rakshasa pride?’ he asks. Surpanakha lets the next grenade fall. Beating her breasts and falling on the ground, she enacts an elaborate drama. ‘As soon as they heard my complaint, Khara and the rest of the bull-like heroes rose with their troops and marched against them, but all of them fell within a space of four hours, struck by the arrow of the lotus-faced prince called Rama,’ she laments.

The venom has its way

'I tried to take her from there in order to offer her to you, for you are the only person in all the three worlds to own her. I wanted to gift her to you.'

Ravana was swept off his feet when he heard that his valiant brothers and his army were extirpated by a man, a mere human being, that too a single individual. Stung by grief, indignation and humiliation and tears rolling from his eyes out of uncontrollable anger, he put this question to Surpanakha. ‘nee idai izhaiththa kutram ennai kol,’ What did you do, in what way did you offend them ‘ninnai innE vaayidai idhazhum mUkkum valindhu avar koyaa?’ that they sliced your nose, ears and other limbs?

Kamban’s Ravana appears in an entirely different shade now. ‘If they harmed you and killed our brothers and an entire army, you must have offended them in some way. What did you do?’ The question is really stunning. A streak of goodness and a sense of strong reasoning and logic surface for once but Surpanakha knew how to turn the peculiar circumstance to her advantage. ‘I chanced to see a woman of most unusual and enrapturing comeliness in Janasthana. ‘paar avaL paadham thIndap baakiyam padaiththadhu amma!’ The earth is blessed indeed as to be touched by her feet and to bear them over it.

Surpanakha does not mention anything about her advances to Rama, her jealousy for Sita, her attempt to harm her and the consequent punishment she suffered. She paints an excellent picture of the beauty of Sita, the beauty that the Poet is not tired of adoring, extolling and worshipping whenever he finds the least little reason for doing so. He flies high up in the skies on the ‘viewless wings of poesy’ as Keats would put it just at the thought of finding an opportunity to sing of her beauty. He does so first when Rama walks in the streets of Mithila and chances to see her for the first time. Rama describes her to Hanuman when the Vanara army is sent on a mission to spot her and Hanuman comes back from Lanka and pours his heart out so very reverently on the beauty of his ‘mother’. As though these are not sufficient, the Poet puts wonderful verses into the mouth of Surpanakha, though with an ulterior motive, delivered very dexterously to turn the mind of Ravana on her. Of course, Surpanakha has her own reason and purpose for doing so. We will come to that presently. The picture is continued to be painted throughout the rest of the epic by Ravana till Indrajit breathes his last.

‘I tried to take her from there in order to offer her to you, for you are the only person in all the three worlds to own her. I wanted to gift her to you. Who else has the right to own the very best on earth? Who else can even be thought of to own and enjoy such beauty, excepting the most valiant of all? ‘mILavum thigaippadhallaal thanith thani viLambal aatrEn.’ I am incapable of describing her beauty to you limb by limb. My mind is perplexed and boggled whenever I attempt to do so. ‘naaLayE kaaNdi andrE, naan unakku uraippadhu ennE!’ Why should I be wasting my energy on such an impossible task? See for yourself, going over there tomorrow!’ You are the fittest person my brother, to own her, to love her and to live with her.

‘baagaththil oruvan vaiththan.’ Shiva placed his consort as his own left half. ‘pangayathth irundha ponnai aagaththil oruvan vaiththan.’ Narayana placed Mahalakshmi on his chest. ‘andhaNan naavil vaiththan.’ Brahma enthroned Saraswati on his own tongue. ‘mEgaththil pirandha ponnai vendra nuN idayinaaLai, maagath thOL vIra, petraal,’ If at all you are able to capture her, whose waist is subtler than lightning, ‘enganam vaiththu vaazhdhi?’ where would you put her, preserve her, place her and what would be the heights of joy that you would be blessed with?
The scene takes an entirely different shape in the hands of the master craftsman.

The venom has its way II

She builds up the sequence so well that Ravana asks for the information on Khara, Dusana and others and she stokes the fire up at the right time…

As we have seen, Kamban’s Surpanakha does not speak impolitely and heap abuses on Ravana in his court hall. Instead, she falls at his feet and pays her obeisance to him and captures his heart first. She very skilfully makes her moves and drives Ravana towards falling head over heels in love with the unseen beauty that Sita was. Notice the manner in which she whips up emotions by kindling the rakshasa pride of Ravana by first letting out only that portion of the whole incident that would slight him, namely, her being maimed by humans. She builds up the sequence so well that Ravana asks for the information on Khara, Dusana and others and she stokes the fire up at the right time and with the right fuel. She intended to bring Sita to him as a present and that was why she suffered at the hands of Rama and their brothers were effaced.

Now she drives Ravana into abducting Sita. ` Surpanakha saw Sita for the first time in Janasthana, when she approached Rama, after the passage of some time in conversation with Rama. ‘Unless she is eliminated,’ she concludes at that moment, ‘this man would not turn his eyes on me.’ It was for this reason that she attempted to carry Janaki away with the intention to gobble her up. And it is with that intention to move her away from her path that she is instigating Ravana to abduct Sita.

That is why, one can observe her remarks on either Rama are Lakshmana come out from her heart, suffused with tender feelings. ‘maarar iruvar uLarE,’ she would say. There are two cupids in Janasthana. ‘el ondru kamalach chengaN iraaman endru isaiththa Endhal,’ she would endearingly utter the name of Rama with chosen adjectives. The unparalleled person named Rama, who is as dark as the night and whose eyes are nothing but petals of lotus. As Sri VVS Aiyar mentions, “Kamban represents Surpanakha as still under the infatuation of her passion for Rama and Lakshmana, and makes her describe their beauty and prowess with extreme warmth, at the end of which description she gives out that their names are Rama and Lakshmana and that they are the sons of Dasaratha.”

She is still under the grips of pangs of love for Rama and strongly believes that unless Sita is removed, she would not be able to get Rama for herself. Love is blind. But lust is brainless. And that is the reason why, the focus of the speech of Kamban’s Surpanakha is always on the beauty of Sita. She does not ask Ravana to avenge for the injuries done to her nor for the killings of Khara and Dusana.

When the baser instincts of Ravana are shaken out of their sleep from the innermost recesses of his heart and his shameless desire for the other man’s wife is stoked up sufficiently, Surpanakha drops the final bomb. ‘seethai ennum mann koNdu Udaadu nee.’ You play with the doe that is walking this earth by the name Sita. ‘yaan koNdu Udaadum vaNNam iraamanaith tharudhi en paal.’ And bring Rama to me, for me to play with to my heart’s content.

You take Sita and give my Rama to me. A nice deal indeed!

Where lies the difference

This has not been the main element that impels Ravana in the original. He is depicted as an indifferent and nonchalant brother who was blind…

What is suggested as a five-sloka long idea in Valmiki –

“I for my part was intent on bringing that lady of broad hips and rounded and prominent breasts in order that she may be a wife to you; but I was deformed by the cruel Lakshmana. O mighty-armed brother! Nay, if you behold today the aforesaid princess of the Videha territory with her face shining brightly as the full moon, you will undoubtedly become a target of the shafts of love. If your mind feels inclined to take her to wife, your right foot may soon be raised at this (very) place to conquer Rama. If this counsel of mine finds favour with you, let my advice be fearlessly followed (by you), O Ravana, the lord of Rakshasas! O ruler of ogres, let Sita of faultless limbs be taken to wife, O brother of extraordinary might!” (Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kanda, Canto XXXIV, Sloka 20-25)

– is worked up to its full potential by Kamban and stretched adequately and convincingly to place the emphasis on the last embers of lust lying deep in his heart are blown to forest-fire proportions, which alone can justify Ravana, the great connoisseur to decide to enrich his gynaecium with a beauty who, he has not seen as yet!

This has not been the main element that impels Ravana in the original. He is depicted as an indifferent and nonchalant brother who was blind to the bleeding wounds of his sister. (See: A callous brother) Ravana is shown as asking for intelligence on Rama, instead of expressing his shock at the way in which his sister is standing before him. He rises above from a robotic stature to a full-blooded, haughty and emotional person that he was in the hands of Kamban.

More. Surpanakha – in the sloka quoted above – is shown as inducing Ravana to abduct Sita only as a matter of revenge, as Akampana did. Kamban, while shifting the emphasis from revenge to lust – which alone can be the strongest of reasons for Ravana so willingly sacrificing his entire race and his own life at the altars of war – has carefully maintained the element of her tender feelings for Rama. If at all she was motivating her brother and pushing him from the precipice down the bottomless pit, it was after all because she had her own axe to grind. ‘You take Sita and bring Rama for me and make him marry me.’

“The passion of Ravana for Sita, being the bija – the seed – from which grow all the subsequent incidents of the story, we should have expected Valmiki to have emphasised and elaborated it at the end of the conversation between Surpanakha and Ravana,” says VVS Aiyar. “But neither in Canto XXXVI where Ravana tried to persuade Marïcä to disguise himself as a deer in order to inveigle Rama and Lakshmana from the side of Sita nor in Canto XI, where he threatens Marïcä with death if he does not obey his direction, does the Sanskrit poet lay emphasis in Ravana’s passion for Sita.”

Lust was only a secondary reason for Ravana abducting Sita in Valmiki's version. It becomes the primary and in fact the only reason in Kamban. This shift vitalises the drama and enriches it while presenting a fuller and rounder character – that of Ravana – before us.

A tender feeling?

“This passion of Ravana for Sita is however the tender and delicate desire of a heart that desires reciprocal affection” notes Sri V V S Aiyar…

Kamban steps on the gas and spends around two hundred verses to describe the pangs of love that Ravana goes through.

‘kObamum maRanum maanak kodhippum endru inaya ellaam,’ His anger, prowess, and his feeling of being slighted ‘paabam nindra idaththu nillaa dhanmam pOl patru vida,’ took leave of him even as naturally as Dharma moves away from the presence of sin. ‘mayiludaich chaayalaaLai vanjiyaa munnam,’ Even before he abducted Sita (and isolated her in prison) ‘nINda eyiludai ilangai vEndhan idhayamam sirayil vaiththaan’ Ravana arrested and imprisoned her in the gaol of his heart.

Kamban has an inimitable style of seeding a few remarkable lines somewhere down the line and very silently and casually using the same phrase, idiom or simile hundreds – some times thousands – of verses later in the most unexpected situation to bring out a beautiful picture, a rare shade of character of one or more characters. The above two lines – referring to Ravana imprisoning Sita in his heart –gain importance in the story in a similar manner. Kamban uses the magic of his master craftsmanship to refer to this ‘prison of Ravana’s heart’ about 7500 verses later, when Ravana is slayed, bringing out the character of Rama and beautifying it. I am calling the attention of the reader to these two lines, as we will see the full impact of them much, much later.
The particular padalam – canto – that we are now examining is extraordinarily long in that about two hundred verses go into the description of Ravana’s pains of love. Going by the strictest standards of aesthetics and holding the balance impartially, the demanding critic would not be convinced with this poetic extravaganza. With his power over the elements, Ravana who is unable to stand the cyclone that is set in motion in his mind, summons the moon and then calls for the sun; commands for cool breeze; asks the season to change from summer to winter; winter to autumn and autumn back to summer. He is so restless and disturbed that he is not satisfied with any of these as the presence or even the absence of anyone of these only serve to fan the fire of his lust.
VVS Aiyar observes. “But even this extravagance, faulty as it is, when taken by itself, serves a very necessary purpose in the scheme of the story. For, what but such an intense and unreasoning passion could make Ravana cling to Sita to the last, in spite of his own terrible defeats, and the loss of Kumbakarna, Atikaya, Indrajit, and even his reserve force?”

“This passion of Ravana for Sita is not, however, the vulgar lust of a depraved heart, but the tender and delicate desire of a heart that desires reciprocal affection,” continues Sri VVS. “He wants to conquer Sita’s heart and win her willing love. He does not desire to force her hand. There is indeed the story and Kamban speaks of it in more than once place, that there is a curse that the moment he tries to unite with a woman against her will, his head would burst to a hundred pieces. But our Poet depicts Ravana as if he genuinely, and not for fear of that curse, desired the willing affection of Sita.”

The feeling was tender no doubt. His love was genuine; that could not be questioned. But the ways he adopted to achieve his purpose were not. Most important. He should have stopped the moment he saw the stubborn love that Sita had for her husband. In the first instance, it so appears that Ravana himself was not convinced that what he was doing was right. Otherwise, why should he choose to be so very stealthy in his approach? He could have very well fought with the mortals and took his prize in war!

Auspicious journey!

Marïcä is not at all impressed. He knew that it was the regular strategy of Ravana to whip up passions and prick personal pride…

We have studied the conversation between Ravana and Marïcä and the way the latter tried to dissuade him, in our study of Marïcä. ‘atra karaththOdu un thalai nIyE anal munnil patrinai uyyththaai.’ You did not get all this so very easily. You severed your hands and heads and you offered them in the sacred fire yourself. The path that you propose to tread is dangerous, Ravana. Restrain yourself. I know who Rama is and have had a taste of his valour. I know his power. Desist from what you propose,’ was the essence of what Marïcä advised.

But Ravana was fond of playing the game of stealth; elaborate planning, scheming, cheating and robbing. He took delight in doing so. This was essentially in the core of his being, the ‘so-called greatness and the genuineness of his tender feelings towards Sits’ that is attributed to him by even great scholars like Sastriyar and VVS Aiyar, notwithstanding. Otherwise, he would not have thought of bringing in Marïcä.

Though Ravana’s baser instincts were lying low, they had not died a complete death. The last embers remained deep in his heart and were skilfully fanned by his sister. It is Ravana who spells out the plan and suggests that Marïcä should assume the form of a golden deer and move about in the presence of Sita. He remarkably foretells the sequence of events that would take place once Marïcä appears before Sita, and instructs him what to do step-by-step.

“Wonder-struck to see you transformed into a golden deer by ding of Maya, (conjuring tricks), Sita, and (a princess of Mithila) will surely speak to Rama at once: ‘(Pray) fetch the deer.’ Also moving to some distance, when Rama (a scion of Kakutstha) is away from his hut, exclaim in a voice similar to Rama’s, ‘Ah Sita, O Lakshmana!’ Hearing the call and importuned by Sita (son of Sumitra) too will follow in the wake of Rama in a flurry out of affection (for his brother). When Rama and Lakshmana too are away (from their cottage) I shall bear way Sita (a princess of Videha territory) with ease as Indra (the thousand-eyed god) would take away Saci (his own consort).” (Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kanda, Canto XL, Sloka 19-22)
‘I am trying to avenge for the death of your mother Tataka and you are turning a deaf-ear to what I propose. I am trying to avenge for the death of my brothers and the insult done to my sister. You are advising me against it,’ Ravana tries to impress on Marïcä. Marïcä is not at all impressed. He knew that it was the regular strategy of Ravana to whip up passions and prick personal pride, even when the issue at hand is not at in any way connected to what is proposed to be achieved.

Not that Ravana did not foresee what would befall Marïcä. He knew what would occur. See how nicely he polishes the effect off and holds the carrot from the stick before this poor animal on whose back he takes a free ride. “Of course, having accomplished this work in this way, go wherever you please, O ogre! I shall confer half of my kingdom on you, O Marïcä of noble vows! Proceed on your auspicious journey, my good friend, for the accomplishment of this object. I shall follow at your heels in a chariot to the Dandaka forest. Having hoodwinked Rama and won Sita without any struggle, I shall for my part return to Lanka with you, my purpose being accomplished.” (Ibid, Sloka 23-25)

Auspicious journey! Assurance to take Marïcä to Lanka along with him! And what did he do? He did not even care to stop to perform the last rites to him! He could have at least picked up the mortal remains of Marïcä for performing such rites at Lanka, or arranged for it through someone else. He forgot Marïcä the moment his purpose was achieved.
Marïcä also knew his fate. But he decided that it was better to die at the hands of Rama than at the hands of Ravana. He had only one question to put to Ravana.

Hari Krishnan


Hariki மற்றும் Dev

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