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Chapter 12

Rāvaṇa Exhibits His Prowess

The terrified Rākṣasas ran to Rāvaṇa and informed him of Indrajit’s fall. “Having closed with a greater hero, your powerful son has met his end,” they reported. “The highly glorious Indrajit, after gratifying Lakṣman with innumerable arrows, has gone to the next world.”

Rāvaṇa looked at his ministers for some moments in a state of utter dismay. He then fell to the ground in a swoon and remained unconscious for some time. When he recovered he fell back onto his throne and sat with a downcast face, lamenting loudly. “O my son, where have you gone? You conquered Indra and chased away all the gods; how then have you been overpowered by Lakṣman? When angered you were capable of terrorizing even Death himself. Your arrows could smash down the peaks of Mount Mandara. Time is truly all-powerful, for today you have been thrown down by that unconquerable force, even as you stood on the battlefield, weapons in hand.”

Rāvaṇa was inconsolable. He praised his dead son in many ways. Surely Indrajit had now reached the regions reserved for heroes. Now that he was dead, the gods, ṛṣis and guardians of the worlds would rejoice, their thorn being removed.

Thinking of Mandodari, Rāvaṇa cried out in agony. “Your mother, the blessed queen, will surely lose her life today. Soon I will hear the cries of the Rākṣasa women as they toss about on the ground. What perverse destiny has brought about your end before mine? O my dear Indrajit, how could you leave me here while Rāma and Lakṣman still live?”

Seized by unbearable grief, the demon king fell from his throne and rolled about on the golden floor of his palace. A violent anger then took possession of him and he breathed heavily. Jumping to his feet, he knitted his brows and roared furiously. Flames blazed forth from his wide open mouths. He looked like Time personified about to consume all the worlds.

The demon thought only of revenge. His eyes, red by nature, glowed brilliant red with anger. Tears fell from them like drops of molten metal. He ground his teeth, making a sound like two mountains being rubbed together. Taking up his long razor-edged sword, which shone like the bright blue sky, he held it aloft and thundered in fury. “Pleasing the self-born creator of all the worlds by rigorous austerities, I received from him an infallible boon. Not even the gods and demons combined can kill me in battle, what then of a couple of humans? Bring my bow! Fetch my impenetrable armor! Today I shall march out and make short work of Rāma and His entire army.”

Looking as if he might destroy the universe itself, Rāvaṇa glared all around him. His ministers shrank back in fear, uttering plaintive sounds. The demon king said to them, “My dear son played a hoax upon Rāma by killing an illusory Sītā. That hoax shall now become reality. I shall finish Sītā, who is so dear to Rāma.”

Bent on his evil purpose, Rāvaṇa immediately rushed out of his palace toward the ashoka grove. Seeing the infuriated demon coming out of his palace with upraised sword, the other Rākṣasas felt heartened. Surely now the war would soon be ended. Rāvaṇa had overcome the four guardians of the world. He would certainly have no problem with an army of monkeys and bears.

The demon stormed toward his gardens, but as he moved swiftly along the pathways his ministers ran up to him. They stood before him trying to dissuade him from his intention of killing Sītā. Already a terrible carnage among the Rākṣasas had been wrought simply due to Her being kidnapped. What might happen if Rāvaṇa actually killed Her?

Rāvaṇa would not be swayed. He strode into the gardens. Sītā saw him from a distance and began to tremble. Seeing his furious disposition and uplifted sword, She could understand that he intended to kill Her. The princess wondered about Her husband. Had He been slain? Why was Rāvaṇa so bold? If only She had gone with Hanumān. Why had She decided to stay in Lanka, tormented by this cruel Rākṣasa? This was all the fault of the cruel Manthara. Soon that wicked maid would rejoice with her purpose fulfilled. If not already dead, then Rāma would certainly not survive long when He heard of His beloved wife’s death.

As Rāvaṇa came close to Sītā, a minister named Suparshwa got before him, saying, “How are you contemplating such a mean and pointless act, O ten-headed monarch? No good can ever come from killing a woman, for it is condemned by everyone. This lady should be protected. You should vent your wrath on Rāma and Lakṣman, your actual enemies. If you kill Them, this princess will then be yours to enjoy.”

Rāvaṇa considered this advice. Perhaps Suparshwa was right. It would be foolish to needlessly lose the princess now after so much effort to retain Her. And Rāma might yet be overcome. There was no need to kill Sītā now. Better to kill Rāma; then She would surely submit to him.

Overcome by anger and lust as well as a burning grief, the demon turned away from Sītā and made his way to his council chamber. Surrounded by his ministers, he entered the great hall, afflicted by agony. He sank onto his gem-encrusted throne and sat there snorting like a furious lion. With folded hands he addressed the assembly. “I now depend fully on all of you. The time to destroy our arrogant enemy has come. Tomorrow I shall march out to kill Rāma. First, all of you should go out, weapons held high, and weaken the human prince and His army. I shall soon follow you.”

The Rākṣasas roared in joy. They rose up in a body and rushed out of the hall. Mounting horses, chariots, elephants and other carriers, they stormed out of the city. They immediately hurled a massive shower of axes, maces, spears, darts and iron clubs upon the monkeys, who replied with trees and rocks. The two armies again fell upon one another with a tremendous clamor.

Rāma decided it was time He demonstrated His own insurmountable prowess. He immediately penetrated deep into the ranks of the Rākṣasas. He moved like a whirlwind, leaving a trail of slaughtered demons in His wake. The Rākṣasas could hardly look at Him. No one could see His movements as He took out arrows from His inexhaustible quiver and sent them in all directions. By releasing the weapon of the Gandharvas, Rāma made Himself appear in a multitude of forms. To the confused Rākṣasas He seemed to be everywhere at once. They saw the curved golden ends of His bow whirling like a firebrand and seeming to completely surround them. His arrows flew from all directions simultaneously. They sliced the Rākṣasas to pieces. In less than two hours, Rāma had exterminated two hundred thousand Rākṣasas, along with eighteen thousand elephants and fourteen thousand horses.

The Rākṣasas were completely routed and they fled in panic. Their chariots lay smashed and their armor and weapons littered the ground. With the mangled corpses of Rākṣasas and animals lying everywhere, the battlefield appeared ghastly. The surviving Rākṣasas rushed back to Lanka, looking back in fear of Rāma.

The monkeys cheered and surrounded Rāma. Having withdrawn His divine weapons, He stood at ease, blazing with splendor. Sugrīva, Hanumān and Vibhishana looked in awe at Rāma who said to them, “Only the glorious Śiva and I can exhibit such ability with the celestial missiles.”

As the monkeys walked around Rāma with folded palms, the gods and ṛṣis praised him from the skies and a shower of flowers dropped down.

Rāvaṇa sat sighing in his palace. All around him he could hear the woeful laments of Rākṣasa women who had lost their husbands and sons. He was at his wit’s end. How had all this happened? What kind of humans were Rāma and Lakṣman? This was unimaginable. There were only a few powerful heroes left in the Rākṣasa army. Even the gods could not have reduced him to such a plight. What then of an army of monkeys and bears led by a human?

Rāvaṇa bit his lips and clenched his fists. His eyes were crimson, and he snorted loudly. Like a losing gambler impelled to stake his all, the demon summoned the last of his commanders and ordered them to again march out for battle. This time he would accompany them. Reluctantly, the Rākṣasas accepted Rāvaṇa’s command. They were stricken with terror as they thought of Rāma.

Seeing his commanders trembling in fear, Rāvaṇa laughed and began to speak. “With an endless shower of arrows resembling the rays of the sun, I shall dispatch Rāma and Lakṣman to Yamarāja’s abode. Today I shall avenge my kinsmen and followers. I will wipe out the monkey battalions with waves of weapons surging like a violent ocean. Heads transfixed on arrows will appear on the battlefield like so many lotuses upon golden stalks. Each of my arrows will pierce one hundred monkeys. The vultures and jackals will be fully sated with the flesh of my enemies today. Fetch my chariot and weapons! I shall immediately march at the head of my army.”

Rāvaṇa stood bellowing out his war cry. The demons felt heartened that their king was coming out to fight. That lordly Rākṣasa had never been defeated in battle. Surely this spelled the end of Rāma, Lakṣman and all the monkeys.

Quickly Rāvaṇa’s charioteer brought his golden war chariot. It was equipped with all the divine weapons and adorned with celestial gems. Around its sides were thousands of bright golden pinnacles. Rows of bejeweled pillars held its great canopy and a standard of cat’s-eye rose from its center like a massive palm tree. As it moved off, it thundered like a number of clouds, and it produced a beautiful ringing sound from thousands of small golden bells hanging around its sides.

The Rākṣasas were struck with wonder to see Rāvaṇa mounted on the chariot, which shone like the sun. The charioteer urged on the eight celestial steeds and the chariot sped along Lanka’s central highway. Right behind him came the last of his generals, Mahaparshwa, Virupaksha and Surantaka. Following them were the remainder of the Rākṣasa forces: three hundred thousand elephants, a hundred thousand chariots, six hundred thousand horsemen and the same number of infantry. Rāvaṇa led his force through Lanka’s northern gate and they rushed toward Rāma’s army, sending up loud shouts.

Even as Rāvaṇa charged, the sun became dim and the four quarters were enveloped in gloom. Birds shrieked hideously and the earth shook. Clouds rained blood and a meteor fell from the sky with a crash. Rāvaṇa felt his left eye twitching and his face became pale. A large vulture perched upon his standard and crows circled above him.

Not minding these fearful omens, Rāvaṇa careered madly toward the massed ranks of the monkey army. He plunged into them, immediately creating havoc. With arrows decked with gold he severed the heads of thousands of monkeys. Others were pierced in the heart and still others had their limbs lopped off. Some were crushed by his chariot and some smashed by his mace. Wherever his chariot moved, the monkeys could not stand and face him. An irresistible hail of arrows flew in all directions from Rāvaṇa’s chariot. He was as hard to approach as the scorching sun.

Soon the battlefield was strewn with the corpses of slain monkeys. As Rāvaṇa ploughed into the Vanara forces they fled, tortured by his weapons. The demon king dispersed the simian ranks like the wind dissipating clouds. Having cut through the monkeys, Rāvaṇa searched for Rāma.

Sugrīva became maddened upon seeing the destruction of his army. He threw himself into the battle and began annihilating the Rākṣasas on all sides. Roaring at a high pitch, the Vanara king rushed at the Rākṣasas, whirling a massive tree. He killed them even as the wind of destruction would knock down trees at the end of an age. Sugrīva hurled upon the Rākṣasas a formidable number of huge rocks in rapid succession, like a shower of hailstones falling upon a flock of birds. The Rākṣasas fell by the hundreds, their heads smashed. They appeared like so many crumbling mountains hit by thunderbolts.

Virupaksha leapt down from his chariot and challenged Sugrīva. He shot a hundred fierce arrows at the monkey. The Rākṣasa then mounted upon a great elephant and roared. Sugrīva turned toward the demon and seized hold of a huge tree. He bounded into the air and brought the tree down upon the elephant’s head. The colossal beast staggered backwards and sank to its knees. Virupaksha leapt down and took out his sword. He rushed at Sugrīva, who hurled a heavy crag at the demon. Dodging the rock, Virupaksha bounded forward and struck Sugrīva a terrible blow with his sword. The monkey flew back and fell to the ground, breathing heavily.

Coming back to his senses after some moments, Sugrīva sprang up and aimed a blow at the Rākṣasa with his fist. Virupaksha avoided the blow and again struck the monkey on the chest. Sugrīva, blazing with anger, swung his hand with the speed of the wind. He struck the Rākṣasa on his temple with the force of Indra’s thunderbolt. Virupaksha dropped to the ground with blood streaming from his mouth, nose, eyes and ears. He tossed about, bellowing in pain. Losing consciousness, the Rākṣasa gave up his life.

Headed by Rāma and Lakṣman, the chief monkeys fought in a frenzy. Sugrīva, Aṅgada, Hanumān and other principal Vanaras cut down the Rākṣasa forces like a field of ripe wheat. The demon king Rāvaṇa agonized at seeing his army overwhelmed. He turned to Mahaparshwa and said, “O heroic one, my hopes now rest with you. Repay your debt to your master and destroy this hostile army of monkeys. Do not delay.”

The Rākṣasa folded his palms and bowed slightly to Rāvaṇa. Raising his mighty bow he rushed into the Vanara forces like a moth entering a flame. Endowed with extraordinary strength, he carved a path through the monkeys with his blazing arrows. With deadly accuracy he severed the arms, legs and heads of the monkeys, sending up his fearful war cry. Struck hard and reeling from Mahaparshwa’s attack, the monkeys ran to Sugrīva for protection.

The monkey king rushed at the Rākṣasa and hurled a tremendous crag straight at his chariot. Mahaparshwa saw the rock flying at him and, unperturbed, released swift arrows that broke it to pieces. Shattered into a thousand fragments by a stream of arrows, the rock descended to the ground like a flock of vultures. Sugrīva immediately tore up a tree and threw it at the demon with all his strength. Again Mahaparshwa fired arrows, which sliced the tree into pieces.

Sugrīva then picked up an iron bludgeon that lay on the ground nearby. He leapt forward and killed the team of horses yoked to the demon’s chariot. The Rākṣasa jumped down clutching his dreadful mace. He hurled the spiked mace at Sugrīva and the monkey struck it with his bludgeon. With a great explosion the two weapons shattered and fell to the ground.

The two heroes fell upon each other and wrestled for some time. They struck each other with their fists, knees and heads, roaring and rolling about on the ground. Sugrīva lifted the Rākṣasa and threw him to a distance. Getting up at once, Mahaparshwa took hold of a sword and shield and rushed at Sugrīva. The monkey quickly looked around and found another sword. With upraised weapons, the two powerful combatants met together, shouting in joy.

A fierce sword fight ensued, creating a shower of sparks as the weapons clashed together. Suddenly Mahaparshwa brought down his sword with full force onto Sugrīva’s shoulder. It embedded itself in the monkey’s armor. As the Rākṣasa tried to extract it, Sugrīva quickly swung his own weapon in a short arc and severed the demon’s head from his shoulders.

As the gods and Siddhas looked on, the Rākṣasa fell lifeless to the ground. His head rolled away with its teeth clenched and its golden earrings glittering. Sugrīva stood with his blood-soaked sword, looking like a dark cloud graced by a bright sunbeam. The monkeys, overjoyed, cheered their leader and thronged around him. The Rākṣasas fled toward Rāvaṇa, howling in fear.

In the meantime the other powerful Rākṣasa commander Surantaka had been slain in a duel with Aṅgada. Now Rāvaṇa alone remained among the great Rākṣasa heroes. He was consumed by rage. Looking around at his devastated army, he saw Rāma and Lakṣman fighting in the distance. The demon ordered his charioteer to go toward the princes. As his chariot moved across the earth, it gave off a sound like the rumbling of a thousand thundering clouds. The ground shook and the monkeys fled simply from hearing the terrifying sound.

The demon king took out a brilliant arrow and placed it on his bow. He then invoked a missile presided over by Rāhu, a malevolent and powerful enemy of the gods. Rāvaṇa released the fearful weapon, which then annihilated the monkeys by the hundreds of thousands. Blazing steel shafts sped in all directions, dispersing Rāma’s army as the sun disperses a morning mist. None dared face the Rākṣasa king as he rushed toward Rāma.

Seeing the demon approach like an onrushing comet, Lakṣman sped innumerable arrows toward him. Those arrows could hardly be seen as they screamed through the air, but the demon displayed astonishing dexterity and cut them all down. Rāvaṇa went straight past Lakṣman and approached Rāma. He loosed a shower of arrows on Rāma which were like venomous serpents with flaming heads. Rāma stood on the battlefield like an immovable mountain. He immediately countered Rāvaṇa’s arrows with crescent-headed shafts that cut them to pieces.

Rāvaṇa continued to send volleys of arrows at Rāma, and the prince replied with equal numbers of His own. The sky was filled with arrows resembling flocks of golden birds. Rāma and the demon circled each other from left to right, each fixing his gaze on the other. They appeared like Death personified and Yamarāja himself, meeting for a violent encounter. They completely covered the sky with their arrows and caused a shadow to envelop the battlefield. Both kept their bows bent to a full circle and both moved with great speed, keeping their weapons trained on the other.

Rāma’s blazing golden armor deflected Rāvaṇa’s shafts, while the demon’s impenetrable mail rendered Rāma’s arrows ineffective. Seeing his arrows falling uselessly to the ground, Rāvaṇa sent a dozen fierce shafts which pierced Rāma’s brow. With those golden arrows protruding from His head and producing profuse blood, Rāma appeared to be wearing a shining crown decorated with a red garland. Impervious to the pain, Rāma invoked the Rudrastra, presided over by Śiva, and sent a fearful hail of flaming arrows at the demon. They struck Rāvaṇa on every part of his body, seeking out his vulnerable points, but the demon’s celestial armor again repelled the shafts and they entered the earth, hissing like furious snakes.

Rāvaṇa then invoked the fearful Rākṣasa weapon, imbuing it with his own enormous personal power. As he released it all kinds of strange missiles sped toward Rāma. Some had the heads of terrible lions with wide open mouths, and others had the heads of wolves, jackals, donkeys, boars, dogs, alligators and venomous serpents. Rāvaṇa’s mystic weapon produced a frightening and discordant sound. It assailed Rāma from every side.

Unshaken, Rāma moved with great agility and dodged the shafts as they fell. He dropped to one knee and took out a blazing golden arrow. Fitting it to His bow, He invoked the Āgneyastra. With that weapon He produced arrows of every description. Some resembled the radiant sun, others the moon, and others appeared like blazing meteors. Some flew like flashes of lightning and some were flaming crescents. Others rose into the sky like shining planets, descending to the earth like brilliant constellations fallen from heaven. Those divine arrows struck down all of Rāvaṇa’s missiles which were killing the monkeys all over the battlefield.

Rāvaṇa blazed up in anger as he saw his wonderful weapon neutralized. He took out another dreadful missile, which had been fashioned by Maya, the architect of the celestial demons known as Asuras. Rāvaṇa charged the weapon with the potency of Rudra and fired it into the sky. At once there dropped from all sides innumerable flaming pikes and maces, along with massive iron clubs. Mystical nooses and thunderbolts fell upon the monkey army, accompanied by a piercing gale, like the wind which blows at the end of an age. That demoniac weapon began to annihilate the monkeys. A vast number of blazing missiles directed themselves at Rāma, who responded by invoking the Gandharva weapon.

Immediately, countless arrows swept like a sheet across the entire battlefield. Without striking any of the monkeys, the arrows struck and disabled Rāvaṇa’s missiles. All of them were cut to pieces and they fell to the earth. Without a second’s delay Rāvaṇa employed the Sūryastra. It brought into being a stream of large brilliant discuses which flew from Rāvaṇa’s bow. As they rose into view they lit up all directions as if a hundred suns had risen on the battlefield.

Rāma stood firm and pierced every one of the discuses with His own shafts, charging them with a force equal to that of Rāvaṇa’s weapon. They split apart the flaming missiles and rendered them harmless as soon as they left Rāvaṇa’s bow. As Rāma countered his missile, Rāvaṇa sent ten barbed arrows which pierced the prince all over His body. Enraged, Rāma instantly responded with a hundred of His own arrows which thudded deeply into Rāvaṇa’s limbs.

Lakṣman then came forward and challenged the demon. Raising His bow He sped a number of shafts at Rāvaṇa that cut to pieces the demon’s standard, which bore the emblem of a man’s head. With a single crescent-headed arrow, Lakṣman severed the head of Rāvaṇa’s charioteer. Then with five more well-aimed arrows, He broke apart the Rākṣasa’s gleaming bow. At the same time Vibhishana leapt forward and struck down with his mace the demon’s steeds, which were as tall as hills.

Rāvaṇa quickly leapt from his chariot and gazed at his younger brother with flaming eyes. He hurled a blazing lance at Vibhishana which looked like a thunderbolt, but as it flew toward Vibhishana, Lakṣman cut it to pieces with three razor-headed arrows. That golden lance, which was bedecked with jewels, fell to the earth like a shower of meteors.

Rāvaṇa took up another lance even more terrible than the first. It shone with a lurid glow and emitted bright blue tongues of fire. Rāvaṇa raised his lance and fixed his gaze on Vibhishana. Lakṣman saw His friend in danger and covered the demon king with countless shafts. Rāvaṇa was stunned by the ferocity of Lakṣman’s arrows and he turned to face the prince. He shouted out in anger. “You have saved Vibhishana but now You are Yourself in grave danger. O proud one, stand ready! This lance, made by Maya Dānava for the destruction of the gods, will pierce Your heart, leaving Your body only after taking Your life.”

Rāvaṇa leveled his infallible lance at Lakṣman. It was adorned with eight golden bells and gave off a loud chiming as the demon pulled it back. With his bludgeon-like arm, Rāvaṇa hurled the lance with full force. It sped through the air cracking like thunder and spread a shower of brilliant sparks in its wake. Seeing it approach, Lakṣman uttered an imprecation. “May you prove ineffectual. May your attempt to take My life fail. May all be well with Lakṣman.”

As the prince spoke the lance struck Him full on the chest. Grievously hurt by the weapon, Lakṣman collapsed unconscious to the ground. Rāma was seized with sorrow to see His brother reduced to that state. His eyes filled with tears and His mouth became parched and dry. As furious as the all-devouring fire of universal destruction, He glared at the demon.

Rāma ran over to His brother. The lance had pierced His armor and stuck into His body. Rāma carefully extracted the lance and snapped it in two. He gently lifted Lakṣman and embraced Him. As He held the grievously wounded prince, Rāvaṇa shot serpent-like arrows at Him. Without caring for the arrows Rāma called to Hanumān and Sugrīva. “Guard this prince carefully. The time has come for Me to manifest my strength. I shall make short work of this ten-headed monster. Here is My unfailing promise: the world will soon be devoid of either Rāvaṇa or Myself. Let the three worlds witness My power today in battle. I shall achieve a feat which will be spoken of by all beings for as long as the world exists.”

Rāma stood up and immediately released an endless stream of ferocious shafts at Rāvaṇa. Greatly harassed, the demon replied with a shower of flaming steel arrows and iron clubs. Rāma countered Rāvaṇa’s missiles as they sped through the air, striking each and every one of them down. He fought wildly, sending screaming arrows that struck Rāvaṇa on every part of his body.

The demon fell back as Rāma closed on him. He was entirely covered by Rāma’s golden-plumed shafts. Rāvaṇa could hardly do anything in response as Rāma unleashed His fury. Completely overwhelmed, the Rākṣasa turned and took to his heels.