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Chapter 13

The Final Battle

As Rāvaṇa retreated in fear, Rāma went back to Lakṣman. He dropped down by His side and cradled the prince’s head in His hands. Lakṣman seemed dead. The wound in His chest looked terrible and Lakṣman did not appear to be breathing. Choked by tears Rāma spoke aloud, giving vent to His grief. “Oh, how painful it is to see My beloved brother in such a state. My strength is deserting Me as I look upon Him lying here. Even if I win this fight I will feel no joy at all without Lakṣman. Indeed, this prince has followed Me through thick and thin. If He has now departed for the regions of Death, then I too shall follow Him.”

Rāma lamented loudly for some time. What would He say to Sumitra if He returned without Lakṣman? How could He face Bharata and Shatrughna? Surely They would censure Him for failing to protect His younger brother. It would be better to give up His own life than hear the reproaches of those most dear to Him. Rāma fell weeping to the ground.

Hanumān raised Him up and comforted Him. He called for Sushena, the Vanara physician. Perhaps Lakṣman would respond to his treatment of celestial herbs. Sushena approached the fallen prince and examined Him carefully. He looked up at Rāma and said, “Your brother still lives. See how His bodily luster has not departed. And I can detect the movement of His life air and the beat of His heart. But He needs urgent treatment.”

Sushena asked for more of the celestial herbs which Hanumān had fetched from the Himālayas. The herbs were brought quickly and Sushena administered them to Lakṣman. By the divine power of the herb sanjivakarani the prince slowly returned to consciousness. Then Sushena carefully administered the herbs vishalyakarani and sandhani, which together healed Lakṣman’s grievous wound and repaired His bones. Slowly He sat up and looked around. Rāma was overjoyed. He pressed Lakṣman to His bosom with tears in His eyes and said, “By good fortune You have been saved from the jaws of death. If You had died, I would not have been able to carry on this fight.”

Lakṣman, pained to hear His brother speak in that way, replied, “You have taken a solemn vow to kill Rāvaṇa and install Vibhishana on the throne of Lanka. You should not make that false for any reason. O great hero, fulfill Your vow at once! Let us see the evil Rāvaṇa lying dead on the battlefield, cut down by Your arrows.”

Rāma seized His bow. A terrible anger took hold of Him. Lakṣman had spoken well. The time for the arrogant demon’s destruction had arrived. As Rāma looked around He saw Rāvaṇa seated aboard his golden chariot. Having rested, the demon was again rushing at Rāma as the malefic planet Rāhu rushes toward the sun. From where He stood, Rāma immediately shot a steady stream of arrows that shone like fire. They rained down upon the demon, who in turn loosed off torrents of shafts that hissed like serpents as they flew at Rāma.

From the sky the gods observed the combat. Seeing Rāma standing upon the ground, Indra desired to assist Him. He summoned Mātali, his charioteer, and asked him to fetch his chariot. In a moment Indra’s radiant chariot appeared, drawn by its thousand steeds. Indra ordered Mātali to take it to Rāma and the charioteer at once descended onto the battlefield next to the prince. With folded palms he respectfully addressed Rāma. “Here is my Lord Indra’s chariot, O Raghava. Here also is his mighty bow and other infallible weapons, as well as his invincible golden armor. Please use all these to attain victory over Rāvaṇa, the enemy of the gods. I shall act as your charioteer.”

Rāma gazed with amazement at the wonderful vehicle. It was bedecked with glowing gems and wreaths of celestial flowers. A tall pole of cat’s-eye stood in its center bearing a brilliant golden standard. The chariot was suspended a bow length above the ground and a crystal staircase came down to Rāma’s feet. He circumambulated the chariot and then climbed aboard. The prince quickly donned Indra’s armor and took up his bow and celestial arrows. As He stood upon that divine chariot, He looked like the sun illumining all the quarters. At Mātali’s command the heavenly steeds surged forward and the chariot moved off with a rumbling sound that filled the earth and sky.

Rāvaṇa, realizing that Rāma was being assisted by his mortal enemy Indra, became even more enraged. He fired a celestial missile which unleashed hundreds of thousands of dreadful-looking serpents, their wide open mouths vomiting fire. Writhing and hissing they came from all sides and sped toward Rāma.

As the venomous snakes descended upon Him, Rāma at once invoked a weapon presided over by Garuḍa. A shower of arrows shot from his bow, turning as they flew into golden eagles with fierce talons and sharply curved beaks. The mystical eagles intercepted and destroyed all of Rāvaṇa’s serpents.

The demon roared furiously. He struck Mātali and all of his steeds with a forcible torrent of shafts with glowing steel heads. The Rākṣasa then sent a crescent-headed arrow which tore down the chariot’s golden standard. He followed this with countless other straight-flying arrows that struck Rāma on every part of His body. In seconds Indra’s great chariot was completely covered by Rāvaṇa’s arrows, so that no part of it was visible.

With his ten heads and massive bow Rāvaṇa stood in his chariot looking like the Maināka mountain risen from the ocean. Observing the demon overwhelming Rāma with his arrows, the gods and ṛṣis felt despondent. The monkeys became fearful and they observed grim-looking omens. The sun became dim and the sea tossed with waves that seemed to rise up to the sky. Jackals howled and ghosts and wraiths darted about on the battlefield.

So intense was Rāvaṇa’s assault that Rāma was unable to lift His bow and fit His arrows. Rāma’s eyes turned crimson with rage. He began to think of the destruction of the entire Rākṣasa race. With great expertise Mātali drove the chariot upwards and away from the hail of Rāvaṇa’s arrows. It burst forth like the sun emerging from a cloud. The gods showered blessings on Rāma while the Daityas and Dānavas uttered benedictions upon Rāvaṇa.

When the king of the Rākṣasas saw his adversary again stationed before him, he took up a fearful looking dart. That terrific weapon had spikes resembling mountain peaks. It had a flaming point which glowed with a brilliance that could not be looked upon. That dart was dear to Rāvaṇa and had been carefully kept and worshipped by him, reserved for a time when he faced a deadly enemy. It was irresistible to gods and demons alike. Rāvaṇa raised it with his serpent-like arm and roared with full force. The earth shook and the mountains trembled, sending their lions and elephants fleeing in fear. Looking at Rāma, the Rākṣasa thundered, “This dart, powerful like a thunderbolt, will now take Your life. Hurled by me it will strike both You and Your brother, leveling You with all the Rākṣasas You have slain. Guard Yourself if you can!”

The demon at once threw the dart. It flashed through the air, covered by a circle of lightning and emitting a deafening scream. Rāma instantly sent a hundred arrows at the dart but they were deflected and fell useless to the ground. Without losing a moment, Rāma took up Indra’s celestial javelin. He forcefully hurled it and it flew like a blazing meteor straight at the dart. Struck by the divine lance, Rāvaṇa’s weapon was split apart and dropped to the earth. The javelin, giving off a delightful sound from the many bells tied around it, returned again to Indra’s chariot.

Rāma immediately followed that astonishing feat by sending a fierce volley of arrows at the demon. They struck Rāvaṇa in all his limbs and pierced his ten heads. The demon blazed with anger and replied with an equal number of his own arrows. Rāma intercepted Rāvaṇa’s arrows while simultaneously continuing to strike him. The Rākṣasa then released an even greater number of shafts which penetrated Rāma’s defense and pierced through His armor. With blood shining on His breast Rāma looked like a great kinshuka tree in full blossom.

Neither opponent could easily see the other, so great was the number of arrows filling the air. Rāma pulled clear of Rāvaṇa’s attack and laughed heartily. He rebuked the demon. “You are proud of your strength, O Rākṣasa, but it will not save you now. Indeed, since you stole away My consort while I was not present, you cannot be considered heroic. You are a shameless coward given over to vanity alone, vaunting yourself as a hero. Had you tried taking Sītā from My presence you would not be alive today. By good fortune I see you now on the battlefield. Prepare to receive the results of your despicable and evil acts, O vile one! Carnivorous birds and beasts will soon feast upon your flesh and blood.”

With redoubled strength Rāma then sent wave upon wave of arrows straight at Rāvaṇa. The prince felt increased enthusiasm for the fight. He invoked all the celestial missiles and they immediately appeared before Him on the battlefield. In great joy, Rāma fired the weapons at the demon one after another. He recited the incantations with full concentration as He released His arrows. Charged with the mystic power of the divine astras the arrows tore into Rāvaṇa and sent him reeling. As he staggered about on his chariot, the Rākṣasa was showered with rocks and trees by the monkeys. The demon was reduced to a sorry plight, being unable to lift his bow or do anything in his defense. He sank down on the floor of his chariot. Seeing this, his charioteer veered away from the fight and retreated.

Rāvaṇa remained stunned for some time. Gradually returning to his senses, he saw that his charioteer had taken him away from the battlefield. He immediately chastised the charioteer with harsh words. “How have you disdained me in this way, O evil-minded one? Obviously considering me to be bereft of power, heroism and prowess, you have covered me with shame. Today you have nullified my valor, dignity and fame. While my enemy stood expectantly before me, deserving to be gratified by my arrows, you have made me into a coward.”

Rāvaṇa was beside himself with fury. He accused the charioteer of siding with the enemy and ordered him to return immediately to Rāma’s presence. The charioteer replied that he had only done what he felt was his proper duty. Rāvaṇa had been completely overpowered by Rāma’s weapons. Out of affection he had desired to save his master’s life. Citing verses from scripture supporting his actions, the charioteer begged Rāvaṇa’s forgiveness. The demon king was appeased. He nodded at his charioteer and commanded him to return with all speed to the fight. Urged on by Rāvaṇa, the charioteer lashed his horses and within a few moments the chariot stood again before Rāma.

On the battlefield, Rāma was Himself expressing His exhaustion from the fight. In the heavens the great Ṛṣi Agastya saw this and desired to assist Him. Agastya had been observing the battle from the sky along with the gods. He now descended to Rāma’s chariot and spoke to Him. “O mighty-armed Rāma, please listen as I tell You the secret of a highly confidential prayer, the Aditya-Hridaya. This prayer will invoke the powerful spiritual energy from the heart of the sun. This is the very effulgence of the Supreme Viṣṇu Himself. With this power one can overcome any obstacle and destroy to the roots all one’s enemies.”

Agastya instructed Rāma how to recite the prayer, which would summon the combined power of all the gods, emanating from the bodily rays of Viṣṇu. With that power Rāma would be able to quickly overcome Rāvaṇa before nightfall, when the demon’s own power would be doubled.

The ṛṣi returned to the heavens and Rāma turned toward the sun. After sipping water for purification He recited the Aditya-Hridaya. At once He felt extreme happiness, and His mind became highly enlivened. All His fatigue vanished and He took up His bow. He stood firmly on Indra’s chariot. Fixing His gaze upon Rāvaṇa, who had again appeared before Him, He urged Mātali forward toward the demon.

In the heavens the sun-god stood in person amid the other gods and uttered benedictions upon Rāma, saying, “May victory attend You!”

Rāma saw Rāvaṇa’s chariot flying toward him, filling all quarters with its thunderous rumbling. That chariot was drawn by huge black steeds with the heads of hideous fiends. It shone with a dreadful luster and was adorned all over with brilliant rubies and celestial sapphires, with rows of pennants flying from its sides. Moving rapidly through space it looked like a cloud containing streams of shining water and issuing forth torrents in the form of arrows.

Rāma said to Mātali, “From the way in which he is darting back into the fray it appears that this Rākṣasa is bent upon his own destruction. Close upon him with care. I shall destroy his chariot even as the wind would blow away a cloud.”

Grasping Indra’s bow, Rāma tempered His anger with patience as He awaited His opportunity to attack the demon, who was maneuvering on the battlefield. Mātali skillfully drove the chariot in circles and gradually closed on Rāvaṇa, the two opponents releasing streams of arrows and appearing like two proud lions intent on killing each other.

Suddenly many frightful omens appeared. Blood rained down on Rāvaṇa’s chariot while violent whirlwinds tossed it about. A flock of vultures circled over the demon. In the distance Lanka was shrouded in a red glow. Great meteors fell from the sky and the earth shook. The sky became darkened even while the sun shone. Terrible thunderbolts and flashes of lightning fell upon the Rākṣasa army. Rāvaṇa’s steeds shed hot tears and emitted sparks from their mouths.

Around Rāma were seen many favorable signs that portended His imminent victory. The sun illuminated Him brilliantly and a gentle breeze blew behind Him. He felt His right eye and arm throb and His mind felt joyful.

As Rāma and Rāvaṇa met in fearful combat, the two armies stood motionless with their weapons held fast in their hands. Observing the man and demon engaged in a desperate duel, all the warriors, along with the gods, Gandharvas and ṛṣis, watched in wonderment. The two belligerent opponents each exhibited their full prowess on the battlefield as they hurled blazing weapons at each other.

Rāma fitted a highly-sharpened shaft to his bow, as irresistible as a thunderbolt and shining with splendor. Drawing back his bow to a full circle, He released the arrow at Rāvaṇa’s standard. It severed the tall pole and the demon’s ensign fluttered to the ground.

Rāvaṇa burned with indignation. He sent a hail of flaming steel arrows at Rāma’s steeds. Struck by the arrows the celestial horses neither flinched nor shook but continued to draw the great chariot, describing various circles and movements and baffling Rāvaṇa’s arrows. The demon fired a tremendous shower of maces, iron clubs, discuses and mallets, as well as mountain peaks, trees, pikes and double-headed axes. At the same time he released tremendous volleys of arrows which fell toward Rāma’s chariot like streaks of golden lightning.

By Mātali’s expert handling, Indra’s chariot constantly foiled Rāvaṇa’s weapons. The Rākṣasa became more and more infuriated and he directed his mystic missiles upon the army of monkeys. Seeing this, Rāma fitted celestial weapons to His bow which sent innumerable arrows into the sky. Those arrows fell upon Rāvaṇa’s weapons and smashed them to pieces. No arrow shot by Rāma failed to find its mark. The sky was completely filled with his golden-plumed shafts. The missiles of the two fighters met together in hundreds and thousands. They created explosions of fire and billows of smoke across the whole battlefield.

Rāma and Rāvaṇa fought vehemently for hours without interruption. Exchanging blow for blow, neither felt wearied nor inclined to give an inch to the other. Those observing the fight felt their hairs standing on end. No one could take their eyes off the furious fighters as they battled on, relentlessly seeking victory. Rāvaṇa sent twenty, then sixty, then a hundred and then a thousand arrows at Rāma, aiming at His vital parts, or seeking to kill the charioteer and His horses. Rāma responded with twice that number, digging shafts into Rāvaṇa’s steeds and charioteer, while at the same time constantly covering the demon.

Even after fighting for half a day, neither seemed to have the upper hand. Rāvaṇa then composed himself and once again invoked the Rākṣasa-astra, imbuing it with all his mystic potency. Immediately the air was filled with a thick shower of every kind of weapon. The entire globe seemed to shake and the ocean became agitated. Serpents and devils appeared screaming in the sky and emitting fire from their mouths. The sun lost its brilliance and the wind ceased to blow.

In the heavens the gods themselves became fearful and cried out, “May all be well with the worlds.”

With full concentration, Rāma again invoked the Gandharva-astra, which caused hundreds of thousands of arrows to appear and counter Rāvaṇa’s weapons. Those awful and demoniac missiles fell to the ground and burned up, being pierced by Rāma’s fiery shafts.

The battle between Rāma and Rāvaṇa could only be compared to itself. Such a fight had never been seen at any time even by the gods. They watched anxiously as Rāma came under repeated ferocious attacks from the lord of the Rākṣasas. Rāma remained calm. He took from His bow a great razor-headed arrow that resembled a venomous serpent. In an instant He fitted and fired the arrow at Rāvaṇa. That arrow, imbued with mystic power, divided into ten and tore off the demon’s heads. But they immediately grew again. Rāma sent another weapon which again severed the Rākṣasa’s heads and again they grew back.

Rāma struck down one hundred heads, but the demon remained standing. Without slowing His attack for even a moment Rāma contemplated this wonderful phenomenon. How was this demon to be killed? No weapon seemed able to take his life. It looked like the fight might go on forever.

Vibhishana quickly approached Rāma. He told him that the demon had a boon from Brahmā that his heads and arms could never be destroyed. In Rāvaṇa’s heart was a store of celestial nectar which renewed the life in his body. The only way to kill him was to strike at his heart with a divine weapon that could dry up the nectar.

As Rāma considered his next move, all the while raining arrows upon Rāvaṇa, Mātali turned to Rāma and spoke. “O Rāma, the time for this one’s death has come. Recall now the prayer Agastya told You. Agastya also gave You an arrow when You were in the forest. Imbue that arrow with the force of the brahmāstra and kill the demon by piercing his heart.”

Accepting Mātali’s advice, Rāma remembered the celestial arrow which Agastya had given Him long ago in the forest. At once it appeared in His hand and He fitted it to His bow. Its shaft was made of ether and its weight consisted of the Mandara and Meru mountains. The wind-god presided over its shaft, the fire-god over its plumes, and the sun-god was installed at its point. It looked like the rod of universal destruction wielded by the Time-spirit himself. Rāma again chanted the Aditya-Hridaya prayer and then invoked the infallible brahmāstra.

As Rāma drew back the arrow, He shone so brilliantly that no one could look at Him. He released the weapon and it flew at Rāvaṇa, lighting up the earth and sky and roaring like a tumultuous ocean. It struck the demon on his chest even as he stood firing his own weapons at Rāma. Piercing right through his heart, the arrow emerged from Rāvaṇa’s body soaked in blood and entered the earth. Rāvaṇa whirled around and let out a cry which seemed to shake the entire creation. His bow dropped from his hands and he fell from his chariot like a mountain struck down by Indra’s thunderbolt.

The Rākṣasas fled panic-stricken in every direction. They shed tears of grief on seeing their lord slain. The monkeys leapt about, chasing the fleeing Rākṣasas and shouting with joy. The sound of drums and other celestial instruments sounded from the sky. Delightful breezes blew on the battlefield carrying heavenly odors. A dazzling shower of brilliant flowers fell from the sky and covered Rāma’s chariot. The gods and ṛṣis praised Rāma, who stood blazing with splendor. The battle was over. Rāma climbed down from the chariot and was surrounded by Lakṣman, Sugrīva, Hanumān, Aṅgada, Jambavan and Vibhishana, who all praised and cheered Him for His incredible feat.

As he gazed upon his brother’s dead body, Vibhishana then began to lament. “Alas, O Rāvaṇa, how have you been killed? After displaying your power for a long time you now lie motionless with your brilliant diadem thrown off. The very fate which I predicted has come to pass. Why did you not heed my counsel that was meant always for your good? Overcome by lust, greed and anger, you have met the sure result of harboring these three mortal enemies of the soul. O my brother, now that you have been slain everything seems void; the sun has fallen to earth, the moon has merged in darkness, fire does not emit flames and all energy has become bereft of effort. All of Lanka is lost.”

Although shunned by Rāvaṇa, Vibhishana had loved his brother and had always desired his welfare. He fell by his side and continued to cry out. Rāma approached him and placed an arm around him, consoling him with soft words. “Your brother has died a hero’s death. No hero has ever been known to be always victorious. Sooner or later a warrior will die at the edge of weapons. This is the end sought by all great fighters. O Vibhishana, there is no need to mourn for Rāvaṇa, for his death was glorious.”

Lakṣman also consoled the grief-stricken Vibhishana by telling him spiritual truths. Although Rāvaṇa’s body had fallen, his soul remained alive. Indeed, having been purified by Rāma’s weapons and by his death in battle, he would surely have attained an exalted destination. There was no gain in lamenting over a corpse once the soul has departed. Vibhishana should now perform the last rites for his brother and then assume the rulership of Lanka.

As Lakṣman finished speaking with Vibhishana, Rāvaṇa’s wives suddenly appeared on the battlefield. Crying like female elephants, they fell upon their husband’s body and bathed him with tears. Dozens of Rākṣasīs, their hair and garments in disarray, surrounded the fallen Rākṣasa. They rolled on the ground and wailed in agony. Rāvaṇa’s principal wife, Mandodari was at their head. She swooned upon seeing her husband dead on the battlefield. After regaining her senses, she gazed upon his face and lamented loudly, her voice choked with tears.

“Alas, my lord! How have you fallen at the hands of a man? You—who struck terror into the hearts of the gods, Gandharvas, Siddhas and even great ṛṣis—now lie killed by a mere mortal who came walking from Ayodhya, a city of humans. I do not consider Rāma to be an ordinary man. He must surely be Viṣṇu, the sustainer of all the worlds, the unborn, inconceivable and all-powerful Supreme Person. None other could have laid you low.

“O Rāvaṇa, although you conquered your senses, winning great boons from your austerities, in the end you have been conquered by those senses. Fallen prey to lust, you desired to enjoy the sinless Sītā. By stealing away that godly lady, the very emblem of chastity and nobility, you brought destruction upon yourself and all your kinsfolk.”

Mandodari could not contain her grief. She slumped over Rāvaṇa’s body and continued to wail in piteous tones.

“O hero, where have you gone now, leaving me forlorn? When I was always your devoted servant, why did you long for Sītā? Alas, my life is useless as I could not satisfy my lord. Although we roamed and sported together in every delightful region of heaven, I am now fallen into a fearful ocean of grief. Woe be to the fleeting fortune of kings.”

Mandodari looked up with tear-filled eyes and saw Rāvaṇa’s brother nearby. “Here stands the pious Vibhishana,” she cried. “Having ignored his wise advice, you now lie slain. Surely a sinner always reaps the results of sin in the end, just as the virtuous also receive their results. Your brother will now enjoy royal fortune while you are sent to the next world.”

Mandodari cried over her husband’s body for a long time. Everyone stood by silently, allowing her to vent her grief. Finally the Rākṣasa king’s other wives gently lifted her up. They supported her on both sides and led her away while she continued to wail.

Rāma spoke again to Vibhishana. “Death has ended all animosity. Rāvaṇa is now the same to Me as you. Please perform the proper rites for his everlasting spiritual good.” In accordance with time-honored custom, Rāma wanted to immediately perform the last rites for His fallen foe.

Vibhishana stood reflecting for some moments. He told Rāma that he felt unable to perform the funeral rites for his brother. Rāvaṇa was cruel, merciless and given to heinous sins. Although his brother, he was not worthy of Vibhishana’s respect. Rāvaṇa’s obsequies were an act of worship he could not honestly perform.

Rāma smiled. “O Vibhishana, no disdain should ever be felt for the soul. Once dead, a person’s soul leaves his body and proceeds to its next life. Rāvaṇa’s sinful body is now dead, but his pure soul continues to live. The soul is always worthy of respect. You should therefore carry out the rites for the eternal good of your brother’s immortal soul.”

Vibhishana looked down at Rāvaṇa’s body. It was a fact. The soul of all beings was a pure part of the Supreme Lord. Ignorance only exists in the external material body, not the soul. Rāvaṇa’s sins, which proceeded from his ignorance, had ended with the end of his body. Especially as he had been slain by the Lord himself. All taints of sin were surely cleansed by such a death.

Vibhishana at once began the necessary rituals. He had his brother’s body brought into Lanka and he lit a sacrificial fire, making offerings of grains and ghee and worshipping Viṣṇu on Rāvaṇa’s behalf. Along with the elderly Rākṣasas and Yatudhanas, headed by Rāvaṇa’s grandfather Malayavan, Vibhishana carried out all the rituals strictly in accord with the instructions of scripture.

Rāvaṇa’s body was placed on a huge bier. He was draped with golden silks and covered with flower garlands. To the sound of various musical instruments, the dead Rākṣasa was borne by a hundred demons to a consecrated spot. Brahmins among the Rākṣasas carried the sacrificial fire in front of Rāvaṇa. They built a pyre out of logs of fragrant sandal and padmaka wood along with ushira roots and bhadrakali grass.

The demons then placed Rāvaṇa upon the pyre and threw handfuls of parched rice, sesame seeds and kusha grass. After uttering sacred mantras and sprinkling the pyre with ghee, Vibhishana set it alight. It quickly blazed up, and within moments the Rākṣasas king’s body was reduced to ashes.