Panic in Lanka
In Lanka, Rāvaṇa had assembled his ministers for a full council meeting. Seeing the terrible carnage and destruction wrought by Hanumān, the demon spoke to his advisors. “This city, which we previously thought unassailable, has been penetrated and wrecked by a mere monkey. My gardens are destroyed, our temple has been outraged and some of the topmost Rākṣasas have been slain, including my own son Prince Aksha. Indeed, that wretched monkey has single-handedly turned the city upside down.”
Rāvaṇa looked around at his advisors. He asked them to carefully deliberate and then decide on their next course of action. The demon king was apprehensive. He was sure that Rāma and His army would somehow cross the ocean before long. And Hanumān’s demonstration of strength and power had been astonishing. If the rest of the monkeys were like him
Rāvaṇa continued, “I am depending upon your advice, O Rākṣasas. It is said that he is a wise person who, before an undertaking, seeks the counsel of learned persons versed in the scripture. However, he who simply acts without due consideration and advice will quickly come to ruin.”
The demon king’s generals were all powerful, but they lacked intelligence and political wisdom. Without understanding the full extent and power of the Vanara forces they spoke of them derisively. The Rākṣasas boasted of their own prowess, dismissing Rāma and His army as being of no consequence. They reminded Rāvaṇa how he had defeated the gods, Gandharvas, Yakṣas, Nāgas, Daityas, Dānavas and other foes in battle. Rāvaṇa had even repulsed Death himself. What fear could he have of an army of humans and animals?
One of the mightiest Rākṣasas, Prahasta, stood up and, with his palms folded toward Rāvaṇa, spoke in a voice that boomed like thunder. “We were caught unawares by Hanumān, who sneaked into Lanka. Had I been prepared for him, then that monkey would not have left this city alive. Indeed, I can sweep the entire globe clean of monkeys in no time at all. Simply command me, O lord.”
Another powerful Rākṣasa named Virupaksha stood up and spoke furiously, holding aloft his frightful iron bludgeon which was stained with flesh and blood. “How can we tolerate this monkey’s affront? Order me and I shall leave this very hour! I will smash Rāma and Lakṣman with my iron club and crush the entire monkey army. Even if they flee into the dread deep or take refuge in the heavens, they shall not escape my wrath.”
One Rākṣasa suggested that they employ trickery, disguising themselves as humans and infiltrating Rāma’s army. They could pretend to be a contingent dispatched by Rāma’s brother Bharata. Once they entered his army, the rest of the Rākṣasas could attack from the air. The Vanara army would then be torn to be pieces by a two-pronged assault both from within and without.
One after another, each of the leading Rākṣasas declared that he alone could defeat Rāma and His troops. Rāvaṇa should remain peacefully in Lanka. The demon forces would swiftly cross the ocean and annihilate the monkeys before they could even approach the city. Standing together, the Rākṣasa generals raised a great tumult in Rāvaṇa’s assembly hall. They grasped their bows, arrows, spears, pikes, javelins and iron maces and asked Rāvaṇa for his order to depart for battle.
Vibhishana, Rāvaṇa’s younger brother, then stood up. As the clamor of the other demons died down he spoke to Rāvaṇa. “The wise declare that force should only be used after other methods of achieving one’s aim have failed. Furthermore, force is said to be likely to succeed only when the enemy is weaker, devoid of virtue or condemned by their own adverse fate. Rāma is ever alert and possesses boundless might. He is virtue incarnate and is assisted by every divine power. No one who knows what is best would counsel an attack upon Rāma.”
Vibhishana was not like the other Rākṣasas. He did not share their inclination for wanton living and violent behavior. Although he was Rāvaṇa’s blood brother, Vibhishana was given to meditation and the practice of virtue. He also realized Rāma’s divine nature. He spoke gravely, intent on his brother’s welfare. “Have you forgotten how Rāma disposed of Khara and his troops? Think carefully about Hanumān’s feat in leaping across the ocean and wrecking Lanka. Do not underestimate the power of Rāma and His servants.”
Vibhishana advised Rāvaṇa to give Sītā back to Rāma. If he did not do so, then before long he would witness the total destruction of Lanka. All the heroic Rākṣasas would perish like moths entering a fire. Rāvaṇa should pursue the path of righteousness if he wanted to see his city and his followers survive.
Rāvaṇa listened to his brother without comment. He did not like Vibhishana’s advice, but it made him somewhat circumspect. The demon king then dismissed his assembly saying he would decide the next day what should be done.
The following day at dawn, Vibhishana again approached Rāvaṇa. As he passed through the long, wide passageways of Rāvaṇa’s palace he heard the sound of Vedic hymns being chanted by the Yatudhanas, blessing the Rākṣasa king that he might attain victory. Vibhishana knew that Rāvaṇa was not going to achieve victory against Rāma. He had to avert the total devastation of his people, which he now saw as imminent.
Vibhishana entered Rāvaṇa’s chambers and greeted his brother with gentle and soothing words. Rāvaṇa glanced over at an ornate golden seat and Vibhishana sat down looking intently upon his brother. Vibhishana had studied all the codes of religion. He knew what was right in every circumstance and he now tendered beneficial advice to Rāvaṇa. “Ever since Sītā was abducted, there have been numerous bad omens in Lanka. The sacrificial fire emits sparks and is enveloped by smoke. The cows’ milk has dried up. Horses neigh dolefully even though well-fed and tended. Crows swarm about, uttering harsh cries. Jackals howl ominously day and night.”
Vibhishana described many other types of evil portents and again asked Rāvaṇa to return Sītā to Rāma. “This action alone will save you, all the other Rākṣasas, and this city from destruction,” Vibhishana said. “Even if you find me in some way self-motivated you should not ignore my advice, for doing so will have terrible consequences.”
Rāvaṇa sat shaking his head. He grunted contemptuously and replied to his brother. “How can Rāma stand before me in battle? Under no circumstances shall I return Sītā. Today in council I shall issue orders for battle.”
Vibhishana shook his head sorrowfully. It was hopeless. Rāvaṇa seemed bent upon his own destruction.
Rāvaṇa dismissed Vibhishana and sat brooding for a while. He had to have Sītā. For the last ten months he had tried everything to win Her over and was not going to give up now. If he could only kill Rāma, then surely She would be won. But this Rāma was no ordinary man; that much was obvious. And if the monkeys were all like Hanumān, then he had a real battle on his hands. No matter. There was no question of an ignominious surrender. A fight to the last was the only thing acceptable. If Rāma were a mere mortal man, then He would certainly succumb to the might of the Rākṣasas. And if He were Viṣṇu Himself? Well, defeat at the hands of a powerful foe was never shameful.
Rāvaṇa would not be cowed by any enemy. He would fight. The demon rose up and swept toward his assembly hall followed by bards who uttered poems in his praise. Coming from his inner chambers he mounted a golden chariot and sped down the wide road that led to the hall. He was surrounded on all sides by Rākṣasas attired in diversely styled robes and adorned with every kind of jewel. These powerful Rākṣasas, capable of contending single-handedly with tens of thousands of warriors, roared loudly. They held upraised weapons of every sort in their hands.
As Rāvaṇa and his generals approached the hall, trumpets blared and conch shells blasted. Innumerable kettledrums were beaten as the demon king went through the great doorway into his hall. Rāvaṇa strode across the golden floor of the hall toward his crystal throne, which was spread with the skins of the priyaka deer. After taking his seat he ordered that a full council of war be assembled.
Immediately swift messengers flew off to every part of the city, calling for all the Rākṣasa leaders. Hearing Rāvaṇa’s order, the mighty Rākṣasas rushed toward the assembly hall from all directions. Some mounted great chariots, some rode elephants, and others ran on foot. They quickly entered the assembly hall as lions might enter a rocky mountain cave. After prostrating themselves before Rāvaṇa, they took their seats, each according to his rank. As they sat gazing on their ruler’s face, they appeared like the Vasus surrounding Indra.
Vibhishana took his seat next to Rāvaṇa on a throne of gold. When Rāvaṇa saw that everyone was present and sitting silently he turned to Prahasta and spoke. “You should issue orders to ensure that Lanka’s defenses are fortified. All four kinds of troops should be made ready, for a great fight is at hand.”
Prahasta immediately rose and gave orders to his key Rākṣasas. Within a short time he returned to Rāvaṇa and said, “It is done.”
Rāvaṇa then addressed the entire assembly. “All of you know well your duty in all circumstances. My undertakings executed through all of you have never proved futile. I wish to enjoy the royal fortune forever, ruling over Lanka with justice and compassion. However, we now stand threatened by Rāma and His army for the sake of Sītā, whom I abducted. I cannot part with that lovely lady, smitten as I am by the shafts of love. Although She has not yet submitted to my advances, She has promised me that after one year has passed She will be mine. Therefore I must by all means repulse Rāma’s attack. O Rākṣasas, tell me if this meets with your approval or not.”
Rāvaṇa lied about Sītā. She had never indicated that She would accept him at any time. He gazed around the assembly with his ten heads, looking for his subjects’ agreement. Except perhaps for Vibhishana, he did not expect that any would argue with him. But suddenly his powerful brother Kumbhakarna stood up in a rage.
“O Rākṣasa, you now seek our counsel, but what advice did you ask when you stole Sītā from Rāma?” he thundered. “Actions taken without due consideration of their righteousness and without recourse to proper counsel lead only to grief. On an impulse alone you abducted Sītā from Rāma, and now you face a severe consequence. Fortunately, however, you have me as your well-wisher. I shall make good your foolish action by standing against Rāma and Lakṣman on the battlefield. Give up your fear and rest at ease. The two human brothers will not return with life once they face me.”
Kumbhakarna was as powerful as Rāvaṇa, but he had once been tricked by the gods into asking a boon from Brahmā that he might enjoy six months of sleep at a time. Brahmā had thus said he would remain awake for only one day every six months. The day of the council happened to be his one day of wakefulness. The following day he would again fall into a deep slumber. He was nevertheless devoted to his brother and was prepared to do whatever he could to help him. Kumbhakarna was wise and he knew Rāma was a formidable foe. He wanted to fight Him and either attain a glorious victory or, as was more likely, die gloriously at Rāma’s hands. But first he would need to be awakened.
Although smarting from his brother’s admonishment, Rāvaṇa thanked Kumbhakarna for his support. Then Mahaparsva, a leader of some of Rāvaṇa’s troops, stood and asked him a question. “My lord, having secured the beautiful Sītā, why do you not simply enjoy Her by force? Who can prevent you or do anything about it?”
Rāvaṇa then told them of the long-past incident with Rambha. “This is a secret I have never revealed,” he said. “Nalakuvara’s curse was reinforced by the words of Brahmā himself. Indeed, the powerful creator, upon whom my own strength rests, said that if I ever again violate a woman, my life will end immediately.”
Rāvaṇa looked around the assembly. The Rākṣasas were dedicated to him and ready to fight with any enemy on his behalf. They sat awaiting his command. The demon king boasted to them of his power. “Surely Rāma has not seen me in battle, as furious as the raging ocean and as swift as the wind. Otherwise, He would not be so foolish as to march on Lanka. He has not seen arrows like flaming serpents with forked tongues loosed in millions from my bow. Rāma wants to face Death himself standing enraged on the battlefield. I shall consume Rāma in no time. I will disperse His army as a the sun disperses a morning mist.”
Rāvaṇa railed on for some time. When he at last became silent, Vibhishana stood up to speak. He knew it was more or less hopeless—Rāvaṇa was already set on battle—but he had to make one last attempt to make his brother see sense. His voice echoed around the silent hall as everyone listened to his words. “By whom has the immense and highly venomous serpent, known as Sītā, been tied around your neck? That serpent has for its sharp fangs Sītā’s sweet smiles. Her bosom is its coils, Her five fingers are its five hoods and Her thoughts of Rāma are its deadly poison. O Rāvaṇa, do not destroy your race. Before we see monkeys like great mountains bounding toward Lanka and arrows like thunderbolts falling on the heads of our warriors, return Sītā to Rāma.”
Vibhishana tried at length to convince Rāvaṇa of his folly. Although he was rebuked by various Rākṣasas he insisted that the only way to save Lanka was to return Sītā. He made it clear that it was his duty as a counselor to tender advice conducive to the interests of his master. He would not neglect that duty out of weakness or fear, nor out of a desire to say something pleasing. Even if advice were distasteful, it should still be given by a counselor who properly understood his duty. And a wise leader was he who was able to hear both palatable and unpalatable advice, giving equal consideration to both.
Indrajit became impatient and agitated upon hearing Vibhishana speak. He retorted. “How do you call yourself a Rākṣasa, O weak uncle? Surely you are devoid of courage, virility, prowess, heroism and spirit. These two men can be slain by any Rākṣasa, even the most insignificant among us. Why then do you tremble in fear?”
Indrajit bragged about his own strength. He had overcome hosts of gods headed by Indra riding upon the celestial elephant Airāvata. He vowed that he would kill Rāma and Lakṣman personally. Vibhishana rebuked him with strong words. “Being a mere boy, your intelligence is not mature. You cannot see what is right or wrong, dear child. Although called a son, you are actually your father’s enemy. You are evil-minded and deserve death, for your counsel will lead only to the death of all those who listen to you. You are indiscriminate, dull-witted, wicked and ignorant. You do not understand Rāma’s power. There are none among the gods, Daityas, Dānavas or Rākṣasas who can withstand the flaming arrows Rāma will loose in combat.”
Rāvaṇa had heard enough. He would not accept Vibhishana’s advice. All he wanted now was to get on with the fight that lay ahead. He spoke furiously. “It is better to live with an enraged serpent than a person who, although pretending to be a friend, is actually in league with the enemy. It is a fact that kinsfolk usually despise their chief even though he may be carrying out all his duties. The greatest danger lies in one’s own relatives, O disgrace of our race, for they may turn on one at any time. Although a brother, you are unworthy of my affection. Indeed, one bestowing love upon the unworthy obtains only grief.”
Rāvaṇa vented his anger, insulting Vibhishana in various ways. He told him that had he not been his brother he would surely have killed him for his words.
Vibhishana realized that there was nothing he could do to help the proud demon king. Along with his four ministers, who were his close followers and friends, he rose up into the air. Stationed in space, with mace in hand, he spoke to Rāvaṇa. “You who have addressed me with harsh words, O king, are deluded. Say what you will, for your intelligence is lost. Those speaking pleasant words can easily be found, O Rāvaṇa, but one who speaks unpalatable truth is rare. One fallen under Death’s Sway does not heed the words of wisdom offered by a well-wisher. I have tried my best, wishing to save you from certain destruction. Now be happy in my absence. I can no longer tolerate your abusive speech, even though you are my elder. Farewell. I shall now depart.”
Vibhishana soared away from the assembly hall, accompanied by his four friends. Rāvaṇa made no attempt to stop him and was glad to see him go. Now there were none who would oppose his desires. He issued orders to prepare for battle.