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Chapter 4

Rāvaṇa’s Evil Trickery

In Lanka, Rāvaṇa received reports from his spies that the monkeys were amassed outside the city. The terrified Suka told him that Rāma’s army was inestimable in size and power. He recommended that Rāvaṇa immediately return Sītā to Rāma. Suka’s suggestion infuriated Rāvaṇa. “I would not give back Sītā even if the entire host of gods now stood outside Lanka!” he bellowed. “Oh, when shall my arrows dart toward Rāma like bees toward flowers in spring? I shall eclipse His army even as the rising sun obscures the stars.”

Rāvaṇa bragged of his power at length. He had no intention of making peace with Rāma. The demon arrogantly asserted that his power was without compare. It would be a one-sided fight.

The demon king was nevertheless impressed by the fact that the army had crossed the ocean by building a great bridge. He needed to more carefully assess their power and he ordered Suka and another Rākṣasa, Sāraṇa, to enter the enemy ranks. “Disguise yourselves well and ascertain the exact size of this army. Find out who are the generals and who are Rāma’s counselors. Tell me who is their commander-in-chief.”

Suka and Sāraṇa disguised themselves as monkeys and penetrated deep into Rāma’s army, but they could not find the end of his troops. The monkey forces occupied woods, mountains, rivers and flatland for as far as could be seen. It stretched back across the bridge all the way to the opposite shore, still moving toward Lanka. The sound of Rāma’s army was tumultuous, and it struck fear into the hearts of the Rākṣasas.

As the two spies wandered amid Rāma’s soldiers, Vibhishana detected them. He had them captured and brought before Rāma. The monkeys kicked and pummeled them as they were dragged toward Rāma, and the Rākṣasas were terrified and afraid for their lives. They joined their palms and implored Rāma, “Dear sir, we are two spies sent by Rāvaṇa to find out everything about your army. Please spare us.”

Rāma laughed heartily and replied, “You need have no fear for your lives, O night-rangers. If you have seen the entire army, then return to Rāvaṇa at once. If not, then I shall have Vibhishana show you whatever you wish to see. Then you may deliver the following message to your king.”

Rāma wanted Rāvaṇa to be fully informed of the immensity of the forces that now surrounded his city. Perhaps the foolish demon would see sense. Rāma asked the spies to tell Rāvaṇa to display all his strength. The next day he would see his city with its defensive walls and arches broken down by Rāma’s arrows. At daybreak, Rāma said, He would let loose His terrible anger on the Rākṣasas.

The two spies were released and they sped back into the city. They went trembling before Rāvaṇa and spoke. “It seems to us that Rāma and Lakṣman alone could uproot Lanka with its walls, palaces and the entire host of Rākṣasas. The glory and power of these brothers is limitless. They are united with an army of Vanaras who appear frightful and who are bellowing joyfully at the prospect of war. O lord, abandon your policy of antagonism while there is still time. Return Sītā to Rāma.”

Rāvaṇa roared angrily. Again his weak-hearted followers were suggesting something to which he could never agree. Again he said that Lanka was impenetrable even by the denizens of heaven, never mind a few monkeys. The spies were obviously afraid because they had been beaten by the monkeys, but Rāvaṇa would never give way to fear under any circumstances. Followed by Suka and Sāraṇa he went up to the top of his palace, wanting to see for himself the monkey army.

Standing atop his snow-white palace, which was as high as dozens of tall palm trees, Rāvaṇa gazed around. Near the walls of the city he saw an ocean of dark-colored monkeys and bears. He focused his gaze upon the head of the army and asked Sāraṇa the names of the chief monkeys. Sāraṇa replied, “That colossal monkey who stands facing Lanka and roaring like a furious bull is Sugrīva, their king. The one by his side who looks and thunders like a dark storm cloud is Nīla, his commander. Near him the massive monkey who is pacing about and repeatedly yawning in fury is Aṅgada, the crown prince. And there is Hanumān, who single-handedly laid waste to Lanka. You have already met him.”

Sāraṇa went on to describe all of the powerful monkey generals, pointing them out one by one. The awestruck Rākṣasa praised the power of Rāma’s army, which he felt was unassailable.

Rāvaṇa looked carefully at the foremost monkeys. They were all standing firm with their faces toward the city. Brandishing thick trees and rocks resembling mountain peaks, they shouted and roared, eager for the battle to commence. Behind them stretched the vast army covering every visible part of the island of Lanka. Rāvaṇa saw Rāma with Lakṣman, shining together like the sun and the moon. Near them Vibhishana stood, holding his mace and surrounded by his four ministers.

The demon king, agitated at heart and indignant, spoke harshly and angrily to his two spies, who stood with their heads bent low. “How have you dared to glorify in my presence the enemy forces? No wisdom or good sense exists in either of you. Indeed, the load of ignorance is borne by you both alone. By sheer good luck I have been able to retain the sovereignty of Lanka with stupid ministers like yourselves. I should have you both put to death at once. My anger is hardly abated even when I think of all your past services. Get out of here! I do not want to see your faces again.”

Rāvaṇa ordered that some other spies be quickly brought. He told them to go among Rāma’s army and try to ascertain their exact battle plan. They should discover everything about Rāma: when He slept, when He ate, what were His habits. Equipped with this knowledge, Rāvaṇa felt confident he could repulse his enemy.

The spies, headed by a demon named Sardula, quickly left in obedience to Rāvaṇa’s command. Reaching the top of the Suvala mountain they gazed around at the army of monkeys. The Rākṣasas were beside themselves with fear as they scanned Rāma’s vast forces. As they moved toward the army they were again discovered by Vibhishana, who was constantly on the lookout for Rāvaṇa’s emissaries. The monkeys beat the demons severely and dragged them before Rāma, but the compassionate prince again ordered their release.

The spies returned hastily to Lanka. Panting and stupefied with terror they fell before Rāvaṇa. The demon king said to Sardula, “You appear somewhat off-color, O mighty Rākṣasa. I trust you did not fall into the hands of enraged enemies.”

Sardula replied in a faint voice. “O lord, it is simply not possible to spy upon this army. They are guarded on all sides by monkeys like mountains and are headed by the invincible Rāma. There is no possibility of even asking them a single question. I had hardly penetrated the army before I was arrested and brought before Rāma. The monkeys paraded me about, having me march back and forth in various unusual gaits. They attacked me with knees, fists, palms and teeth, throwing me before Rāma in a wretched state.”

Sardula described to Rāvaṇa the enormous bridge over the sea and how it was filled with monkeys and bears still pouring into Lanka. Like the other spies before him the Rākṣasa recommended that Rāvaṇa hand back Sītā; but the demon king remained resolute. He would not give up Sītā even if threatened by all the worlds joined together.

Rāvaṇa dismissed the spies and went into his rooms thinking of Sītā. Perhaps there was now an opportunity to win Her over. If he could somehow convince Her that Rāma was dead, She might succumb. It was worth a try. And in any event, perhaps, just perhaps, he may end up losing Her to Rāma. Now might be his last chance to gain Her favor. The demon decided to play a trick upon Sītā. He summoned a Rākṣasa named Vidyujiva, an expert magician, and ordered him to create a head that looked exactly like Rāma’s head, and a bow resembling Rāma’s own.

Saying, “So be it,” Vidyujiva soon produced the head and bow, and showed them to Rāvaṇa. The demon king was pleased and he handed the magician a priceless necklace of gems. Rāvaṇa then told Vidyujiva to accompany him to the ashoka grove to see Sītā.

He found Sītā lying beneath a tree, sighing repeatedly, still guarded by numerous Rākṣasīs. With Vidyujiva close behind him Rāvaṇa went before Her and began to speak. “Your husband, on whose account You have rebuked me, now lies killed. O blessed lady, Your roots are torn out and Your vanity is crushed. Of what use to You now is Your dead spouse? Become mine today. I shall be a better protector to you than any other. Let me tell You how Rāma and His army were slain.”

Rāvaṇa fabricated a whole story about how the army of monkeys was annihilated by the Rākṣasas. He told Sītā they had been wiped out during the night as they slept, exhausted from their journey across the sea. All of the principal monkeys, including even Hanumān, were now dead. Rāma’s head had been severed by the commander of the Rākṣasas. Rāvaṇa had Vidyujiva show Her the trick head. The magician placed the head on the ground in front of Sītā. He handed the bow he had created to Rāvaṇa and then promptly vanished from the spot.

Throwing down the bow next to the head, Rāvaṇa said, “Look now upon Your husband. There is His famed bow, fetched here by Prahasta after he had disposed of that mortal being during the night.”

Sītā looked at the head. It resembled Rāma closely with the same large eyes and the same splendid jewel in His hair. The princess burst into a wail and fell to the ground. She cried out, censuring Kaikeyi. “O cruel woman, be now satisfied with your work! See what you have done to the noble house of Raghu. How can I continue to live? Everything is finished. The death of a husband before his wife is declared to be a catastrophe.”

Sītā lamented at length. How had this happened? The royal astrologers had predicted that Rāma would live a long life and rule over the earth. “The Time Spirit is irresistible to all beings,” cried Sītā. “O Rāma! Surely You are now reunited with Your father. But what of Me? Do you not recall the solemn vow You made at Our wedding? You declared You would always protect Me and take Me to the next world with You. How have You deserted Me now?”

The princess was torn apart. She thought of Kaushalya and Sumitra. They would both die immediately upon hearing the terrible news. Considering that She was the cause of Rāma’s death, Sītā condemned Herself. She said to Rāvaṇa, “Kill Me at once, O demon. Lay My dead body on top of Rāma and unite a husband with his wife.”

While Sītā was wailing in this way a messenger came to Rāvaṇa. He called the demon aside and told him that he was needed urgently in the council chamber. Prahasta had arrived and was awaiting orders to commence the battle.

Rāvaṇa turned away from Sītā. There was no time to lose. Rāma’s formidable forces had to be checked at once. The demon immediately left the ashoka grove and walked swiftly toward his chambers. As soon as he left, a Rākṣasī named Sarama, the wife of Vibhishana, came toward Sītā. Taking Her away from the other Rākṣasī guards, she reassured the distraught princess. “I heard what Rāvaṇa said to you, but You should not believe him. He is a great trickster and a liar. O gentle princess, be fully restored to confidence. Rāma is not dead. Even now the demon king is making plans to defend the city from the monkey forces, headed by Your unconquerable husband and His brother.”

Sarama spoke with affection to Sītā. The Rākṣasī was as pious as her husband and she had often comforted the grieving princess. She assured Sītā that Rāma’s so-called head was an illusion conjured up by Rāvaṇa and his henchman.

As Sarama and Sītā spoke they heard the crash of war drums as well as the clamor of troops and the blare of countless trumpets. It was obvious that a battle was about to commence.

Sarama had heard from her husband all about Rāma. She said to Sītā, “This mighty fight will result in the complete destruction of the demons. Rāvaṇa will undoubtedly be slain by Rāma. No other outcome is possible. Dear Sītā, I am certain You will soon be reunited with Your husband.”

After gladdening Sītā, Sarama asked if there was any service she could do for the princess. She offered to carry a message to Rāma. “If You wish, I can go invisibly through the skies and reassure Rāma of Your safety,” she suggested. But Sītā instead asked to be informed of Rāvaṇa’s plans. She wanted to know if Rāvaṇa had any intention of releasing Her or of even killing Her before Rāma came. If so, then perhaps a message should be taken to Rāma.

Sarama went unobserved into Rāvaṇa’s chambers and listened to the discussions. After some hours she returned again to Sītā and informed Her what was happening. “Rāvaṇa has been exhorted by his own dear mother to return You to Rāma,” Sarama said. “Along with one of his elderly and affectionate counselors, she tried at length to make him see sense. Other wise ministers have also put forward a case for Your return. They warned Rāvaṇa that battle with Rāma and the monkeys will have a disastrous result for the Rākṣasas. But Rāvaṇa will no more let You go than a miser would leave his hold on treasure. He is not prepared to release You until he has laid down his life in combat, O godly one.”

Sītā thanked Sarama for her kindness and friendship. Feeling reassured that Her husband would soon arrive to rescue Her, She sat beneath the simshapa tree, absorbing Herself in thoughts of Rāma.

In his council chamber Rāvaṇa gazed around at his ministers. They all sat mutely looking at one another. Rāma’s feat in crossing the ocean with an unlimited number of bears and monkeys was astonishing. And that was on top of the incredible display by a single monkey in Lanka. Surely battle with Rāma would be foolhardy. Seeing the timidity of his advisors, Rāvaṇa spoke in a voice which rang around the silent chamber. “I have heard everything about Rāma and His prowess. I feel that we will be able to overcome Him in battle. I know the Rākṣasas to be unfailing and resolute. You should entertain no fears.”

An elderly counselor named Malayavan, Rāvaṇa’s maternal grandfather, replied, “O king, there are different ways to deal with a hostile enemy. Battle is only one and it is only recommended in situations where the enemy is clearly weaker or where every other means of diplomacy has failed. You have not explored any other avenues with Rāma. Let us first try to make an alliance. Give Sītā back to Rāma. The outcome of battle is always unsure; there must be a loser. On the other hand, O intelligent Rākṣasa, negotiations can produce a favorable result for both parties.”

Malayavan spoke strongly. Rāvaṇa had abandoned virtue. He would now be swallowed up by evil. Rāma however was devoted to virtue and His cause was just. The gods and ṛṣis whom Rāvaṇa had assaulted were all supporting Rāma. Furthermore, Rāvaṇa had no immunity from humans and animals. Nor was Rāma an ordinary human. He was surely Viṣṇu Himself. Therefore peace should be secured by any means.

Having delivered his sagacious advice, Malayavan fell silent, eyeing the ruler of Lanka and awaiting his response. Rāvaṇa knitted his brows. He breathed heavily in anger. Clenching, his fists he replied furiously, “How have you uttered such harsh and ill-considered words? Surely you have come under the sway of the enemy. On what basis do you hold as powerful the wretched Rāma, a mere human who has been abandoned by His father and has as His support only a band of monkeys? See Him struck down by me in a short while! Having somehow crossed the sea and reached Lanka, He will nevertheless not return with His life. There is no doubt whatsoever.”

Malayavan made no reply. It seemed that Rāvaṇa was bent on his own ruin. After uttering benedictions wishing him victory, the old minister left for his own residence.

Rāvaṇa set about making all arrangements for Lanka’s defense. He posted powerful generals at each of the city’s four gates, all of them equipped with a force of hundreds of thousands of fierce Rākṣasas. Rāvaṇa himself would visit each gate in turn. Satisfied that everything was secure, the demon then retired to his own chambers.