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Chapter 7

Rāvaṇa Enters the Fray

Rāvaṇa saw his bedraggled troops returning defeated. His eyes were crimson with rage and he breathed heavily. He ordered the next of his powerful commanders, Durdharsha, to march out for battle. The demon had faced the gods and Dānavas in battle and he feared nothing. Mounting his jewel-encrusted chariot, which had eight iron wheels that stood as tall as two men, he raced out of the city. His voice resounded like thunderclaps as he rallied the Rākṣasa forces who followed him in the hundreds of thousands. Like the other Rākṣasa chiefs before him he observed numerous ill omens, but he too ignored the portents and rushed toward the monkeys.

Another terrible carnage ensued. Rains of sharp arrows and weapons from the Rākṣasas were met with volleys of rocks and trees from the monkeys. The combatants fell upon one another in a frenzy, each seeking to violently kill his adversary. No mercy was shown in the furious fight. A great dust cloud rose above the battlefield which screened the sky and enveloped the fighters. They could hardly perceive one another, and monkeys struck monkeys, while demons cut down other demons. Soon hundreds of thousands of Vanaras and Rākṣasas lay stretched out on the ground, prey for vultures and jackals.

Durdharsha exhibited a wild rage. Standing on his chariot he loosed venomous shafts that tore the monkeys apart, breaking and routing the ranks of Rāma’s army. Seeing this, Hanumān advanced toward him. Durdharsha immediately showered him with innumerable sharp arrows, but Hanumān received the shafts like a mountain receiving rainfall. Laughing heartily, Hanumān ran at the Rākṣasa, causing the earth to shake. With one hand he took up a great boulder and raised it above his head.

As Hanumān stood with the uplifted rock, Durdharsha shot crescent-headed arrows that smashed it to pieces. Hanumān laughed again and uprooted an ashwakarna tree as big as a mountain. He whirled it around and ran at the demon who was stationed some distance from him. As Hanumān bounded with the tree spinning, he struck down dozens of Rākṣasas mounted upon elephants and chariots. Durdharsha saw him approach like a furious tempest, and full of trepidation, began to work his massive bow more furiously. The demon shot hundreds of fierce-looking arrows into Hanumān’s body. As the valiant monkey bled, he appeared like a mountain overgrown with trees full of red blossoms.

Determining to kill Durdharsha, Hanumān shouted, “Victory to Rāma!” and rushed at the Rākṣasa with the tree raised aloft. The demon hardly had time to place another arrow upon his bow before Hanumān reached him. The furious monkey brought the tree down onto the Rākṣasa’s head with his full force. Durdharsha fell from his chariot dead. The other Rākṣasas wailed in despair. They dropped their weapons and fled in all directions, falling over each other in their panic.

The monkeys cheered Hanumān and taunted the defeated demons. Rāma and Lakṣman then personally honored the victorious monkey. In the sky the gods assembled and chanted auspicious hymns in Hanumān’s praise. Hanumān enjoyed the glory even as Viṣṇu had upon killing the demons in days gone by.

In Lanka, Rāvaṇa was becoming more and more exasperated. He looked at Prahasta, the mightiest of his Rākṣasa commanders. “I do not see many who are capable of saving Lanka at this critical juncture, O courageous one. Apart from you, Indrajit, Kumbhakarna and myself, there are none who can undertake such a burden. Rāma and His troops are indeed formidable, but the fickle-minded monkeys will be put to flight when they hear your roar on the battlefield. O Prahasta, not even the mightiest gods could stand before you.”

Although resolute to fight to the end the demon king was beginning to feel misgivings. There was something exceptional about these monkeys and bears. Some divine force was empowering them. Rāvaṇa thought of Rāma. No doubt the final battle would be between himself and that human prince. The demon reflected upon his boon. Only a human could kill him. Would it be Rāma? He recoiled from the thought. This was not the time for fear. The battle must continue.

Rāvaṇa urged Prahasta to march out with another enormous contingent. He told the Rākṣasa chief to be firm. Even though victory was never certain, it was always preferable for a warrior to die in battle than in any other way. Rāvaṇa asked Prahasta if there was anything he needed. The demon replied, “I need only your blessings, my lord. Having ever been honored by you with gifts and kind words, how can I not render service to you when the time has come? Neither wife, sons, wealth nor even life itself is dearer to me than your service. Today the vultures will feast heartily on the flesh of monkeys.”

Prahasta walked around Rāvaṇa with folded palms and then left for the battle. He assembled a horde of Rākṣasas, all eager to fight. In less than an hour a force of over five hundred thousand Rākṣasas was ready. They adorned themselves with garlands sanctified by sacred mantras, put on armor and grasped their weapons. They thronged around Prahasta, waiting to depart.

The demon commander had the iron portcullis at the northern gate lifted and the army swarmed out with a great cry. Prahasta rode at their head in his terrific war chariot furnished with every kind of weapon and driven by a hundred steeds. A large standard of brilliant cat’s-eye stones bearing the emblem of a serpent stood in the middle of his bejeweled chariot. Prahasta shone like the sun as he charged laughing toward the enemy.

Dozens of vultures rose up and began circling anticlockwise around Prahasta. A large meteor dropped from the heavens. Clouds rumbled with a sound resembling the braying of a donkey, and showers of blood fell.

Prahasta ignored the omens and pressed ahead with full speed. He met the advancing monkeys and penetrated deeply into their ranks. They immediately surrounded the Rākṣasa and assailed him with rocks and trees. The demon simply shrugged off the missiles without being disturbed. He sent volleys of arrows at the monkeys and roared like a thundercloud. His vast Rākṣasa force fell upon the monkey troops with shouts of joy.

Monkeys and demons were again destroyed in large numbers. Some monkeys were run through with pikes and lances, some cut down with razor-sharp discuses and some hacked to pieces with axes. Still others were clubbed to death with iron mallets, while others were crushed with huge maces. The monkeys smashed thousands of Rākṣasas with mountainous crags and trees. They struck down the Rākṣasas with their bare hands and pounded them to death. A tumultuous clamor arose as heroic fighters roared in exultation or screamed in pain.

Prahasta himself caused terrible havoc among the monkeys. He knew the secrets of all kinds of mystic weapons and sent arrows in such numbers that they resembled dark clouds. All around his chariot waves of monkeys fell to the ground, pierced in their vital parts. The battlefield resembled a swirling river with heaps of slain warriors as its banks, lances and spears its trees and torrents of blood for its vast sheet of water. That river rushed toward the sea of death, sweeping away all in its path.

Seeing Prahasta annihilating his troops, the Vanara commander-in-chief Nīla rushed toward the demon. Prahasta saw Nīla approach and he drew his bow to full length, releasing deadly shafts that pierced the monkey. Not minding his wounds, Nīla took up a tree and struck the Rākṣasa as he stood upon his chariot. Prahasta roared in fury and sent hundreds of arrows at Nīla. The monkey could not check the shafts and he received them with closed eyes. Nīla fell to his knees and braced himself against the arrows’ impact, with his mind absorbed in thought of Rāma. Rallying himself, the Vanara chief took up a sal tree. He brought it down with tremendous force onto Prahasta’s chariot, smashing it to pieces and killing the horses.

Prahasta clutched hold of a fearsome iron mallet and leapt down from his shattered chariot. He ran at Nīla and a fierce fight ensued at close quarters. Prahasta struck Nīla on the forehead with his terrible weapon. Blood flowed in waves from the monkey’s head. He hurled a boulder onto Prahasta’s chest but, unmoved by that rock, the Rākṣasa again lifted his massive iron mallet and rushed at Nīla. Even as the Rākṣasa closed on him, Nīla took up a mountain peak and smashed it onto his head. The demon’s head split apart and he fell to the ground, deprived of his splendor and his life.

The Rākṣasas were thrown into complete confusion. With their commander-in-chief slain, they did not know which way to turn. The jubilant monkeys overran them and put them to flight. Downcast and defeated, the Rākṣasas re-entered their city.

Rāma and Lakṣman warmly applauded Nīla and then the monkeys rested, awaiting the next wave of Rākṣasas.

Rāvaṇa was shocked to hear news of Prahasta’s death; his mind tormented with grief and anger. In an anguished voice he said to his ministers, “Our enemy should be held in the highest regard. They have killed Prahasta, who was capable of exterminating Indra’s army. It seems it is time for me to make my appearance at the battle. With a steady stream of blazing arrows I shall consume the army of monkeys. Today I will throw down Rāma and Lakṣman.”

Rāvaṇa looked around at his ministers. They cheered his decision and felt encouraged. Now the monkeys would surely be crushed.

Without losing time, Rāvaṇa sent for his chariot. Honored with auspicious hymns and conch blasts, and to the accompaniment of beating kettledrums, Rāvaṇa mounted his splendid vehicle. He went out of Lanka surrounded by innumerable dark Rākṣasas, who resembled big mountains. The demon appeared like Śiva in the midst of his ghostly followers. He saw ahead of him the immense monkey army springing up with trees and rocks in readiness to receive them.

As the vast Rākṣasa army poured from the city, Rāma turned to Vibhishana and asked him the names of the principal fighters. Vibhishana named them all and then pointed to Rāvaṇa. “That one who looks like the Himalaya mountain, who is surrounded by terrific demons with the heads of tigers, elephants, camels and deer, who shines like the sun and is adorned with a blazing diadem, he is the sovereign lord of all the Rākṣasas, Rāvaṇa.”

Rāma gazed at Rāvaṇa and exclaimed, “There at last is the evil one I seek. I can hardly perceive his actual form, bathed as it is in a brilliant effulgence. Even the gods are not possessed of such brilliance. This demon is accompanied by warriors who seem entirely unapproachable. Indeed, he looks like Death himself surrounded by fiery and hideous fiends. By good fortune this wicked demon has come within My sight. Today I shall freely vent My anger that was born from Sītā’s abduction.”

Rāma took from His quiver a long arrow with a barbed steel head and placed it on his bow. With Lakṣman by His side He faced the rapidly advancing Rākṣasa hordes.

Rāvaṇa raced at the head of his army. He carved his way through the monkeys like a killer whale dividing the ocean waters. Sugrīva took hold of a great mountain crag and ran toward Rāvaṇa, holding it aloft. As the monkey king approached the demon, he hurled the mountain-top, which was covered in numerous trees, straight at his chariot. Rāvaṇa laughed as the mountain sailed through the air. He tore it apart with a hail of golden arrows that resembled streaks of fire.

The Rākṣasa then took out an arrow resembling a huge serpent and released it for Sugrīva’s destruction. The arrow sped like Indra’s thunderbolt and emitted a stream of sparks. It struck Sugrīva on the chest and the monkey groaned in pain and fell senseless to the ground.

As Sugrīva fell the Rākṣasas shouted exultantly. Other powerful Vanara generals immediately took up crags and rushed at Rāvaṇa. They rained down their rocks and trees, but the demon smashed all of them to pieces with his swift arrows. He pierced all of the monkeys with numbers of golden shafts bedecked with jewels. The monkeys fell down, shrieking and crying out to Rāma for protection.

Rāma heard their cries and He advanced toward the demon, but Lakṣman stood before Him and asked that Rāma permit Him to fight with Rāvaṇa first. Rāma looked at His younger brother, who was eager for battle. He assented to His request, but warned Him to be on guard. Rāvaṇa was no ordinary foe.

Lakṣman folded His palms and bowed to Rāma who tightly embraced Him. The young prince then moved off and surveyed Rāvaṇa fighting the monkeys. As He watched He saw Hanumān approach the ten-headed Rākṣasa. The fearless monkey shouted at Rāvaṇa, “You are proud of your boon, O demon. No fear exists in you of gods, demons, Yakṣas or Gandharvas. But beware. There is danger to you from monkeys. My fist will now expel from your body your very life-breath. Try your best to fight with me for your death is now close.”

Hanumān raised his fist and moved toward Rāvaṇa who shouted back at him, “Strike me at once without fear, O monkey. Earn for yourself lasting fame. Having seen the limits of your power, I shall immediately destroy you!”

Hanumān laughed and reminded Rāvaṇa of the fight in the ashoka grove, and of Aksha and the other powerful Rākṣasas he had slain. As he spoke he rushed straight at the demon. Rāvaṇa threw a great blow which hit Hanumān on the chest and sent him reeling. But Hanumān regained his balance and whirling round he struck the demon with his outstretched palm.

Rāvaṇa shook like a mountain in an earthquake. In the heavens the ṛṣis and Siddhas, who were observing the battle, shouted with joy. Rāvaṇa recovered his senses and called out to Hanumān. “Well done, monkey! Your strength and valor are worthy of my praise.”

Hanumān replied that his strength was lamentable as Rāvaṇa still lived. Rāvaṇa rushed at Hanumān and dealt him another tremendous blow, which sent the monkey spinning away. The demon then speedily drove his chariot toward Nīla, who was standing nearby. Rāvaṇa shot thousands of arrows at the monkey chief. Hanumān shouted after him to come back and fight, but the demon paid no heed. He continued to engage with Nīla, who took up a mountaintop and hurled it at the Rākṣasa. With seven crescent-headed arrows Rāvaṇa cut the rock to pieces. Nīla threw great trees at the Rākṣasa, one after another. Sal, aswakarna and mango trees in full blossom flew with speed toward Rāvaṇa. The demon loosed sharp arrows that ripped all the trees to shreds. He then covered Nīla with a hail of sharp-pointed shafts.

Nīla sprang clear of Rāvaṇa’s arrows and, reducing himself to a very small size, he leapt onto the top of Rāvaṇa’s standard. The monkey sprang from the standard to the end of Rāvaṇa’s bow, then onto his diadem and back again to the standard. Rāvaṇa blazed with fury upon seeing Nīla’s insolence. He set an arrow on his bow and charged it with the power of the Āgneyastra, the dangerous fire weapon. Being struck with that missile Nīla fell unconscious to the ground. The monkey was burned all over, but by the grace of his father the fire-god, he was not slain.

Rāvaṇa then looked around and saw Lakṣman. He directed his charioteer to go quickly toward the prince. Lakṣman saw him approach and called out to him, “Here I am to do battle with you, O king of the Rākṣasas. Leave aside the monkeys and fight with Me.”

Rāvaṇa shouted back, “It is fortunate indeed that You have fallen within my sight. Today You shall meet Your end at my hands. Fight with all Your strength, O Raghava!” Rāvaṇa addressed Him derisively as a descendent of the powerful King Raghu.

“What is the use of your bragging?” Lakṣman answered. “Those who are actually strong do not engage in such talk. O sinful one, I know your valor and power. Stand firmly now and fight, for the hour of your demise draws near.”

Rāvaṇa immediately shot seven beautifully plumed arrows at Lakṣman. The prince instantly responded with seven of His own arrows, which struck down Rāvaṇa’s shafts from the air. Again and again Rāvaṇa released deadly arrows, but Lakṣman cut them all down. The demon was astonished at Lakṣman’s speed and skill. He became incensed and fired more and more arrows in swift succession. Lakṣman responded with equal numbers. From His fully drawn bow, He shot at Rāvaṇa arrows that shone like fire and flew with the velocity of lightning.

Suddenly seeing an opportunity, Rāvaṇa released a celestial arrow that penetrated Lakṣman’s defenses and struck Him on the forehead. Lakṣman reeled and His grip on His bow loosened. Crouching down for only a moment He recovered His senses and stood up, instantly releasing an arrow which cut Rāvaṇa’s bow in two. The prince then shot three sharp-pointed arrows which hit the demon on the chest and made him swoon.

When he regained his senses, Rāvaṇa took up from his chariot a huge javelin he had taken from the gods. He hurled it with great force at Lakṣman, and it sped through the air emitting fire and sparks.

Lakṣman struck the javelin with His arrows, but it coursed on and Hit him full in the chest. Stunned by the javelin Lakṣman fell down in a faint. As He lay there burning in agony, Rāvaṇa quickly ran up to Him and attempted to take Him captive. The demon violently caught hold of Lakṣman with his twenty arms and tried to lift Him, but despite exerting himself with all his power, Rāvaṇa was unable to even raise the prince’s arms. He fell back in amazement and quickly leapt back onto his chariot.

Hanumān, who had been observing the battle between Rāvaṇa and Lakṣman, took the opportunity to jump onto Rāvaṇa’s chariot. Whirling his two fists he struck the demon on the chest, making a sound like a great thunderclap which filled the four quarters. Rāvaṇa fell to his knees, blood flowing from his mouths, eyes and ears. He lost consciousness and sank motionless to the floor of his chariot. The gods and ṛṣis, witnessing Hanumān’s incredible feat, shouted in joy.

Feeling anxiety for Lakṣman, Hanumān left aside his dazed foe. He quickly leapt down and gathered up Lakṣman in his arms. The monkey easily lifted the prince although Rāvaṇa, the lifter of Mount Kailāsa, had not been able to budge him. Hanumān carried the unconscious Lakṣman into Rāma’s presence.

Rāma ran His hand over His brother’s face. Slowly Lakṣman came back to consciousness and Rāma said to Him, “The demon tried to take You captive, but that sinful being could not lift You, protected as You are by virtue. I cannot brook this attack upon You, dear brother. I shall immediately go and destroy this demon.”

Hearing this Hanumān folded his palms and asked Rāma, “Please mount upon my back and allow me to carry You to Rāvaṇa. Fight the demon from my back even as Viṣṇu fights upon Garuḍa.”

Rāma at once climbed onto Hanumān’s shoulders and the monkey swiftly went to Rāvaṇa. Twanging His bowstring and making a sharp sound that reverberated like thunder, Rāma called out to the demon, “Stand, O best of the Rākṣasas. You will not escape today. Soon you will follow the path trodden by your fourteen thousand followers in Janasthana.”

Rāvaṇa was seized with anger. He let go hundreds of flaming arrows, which struck Hanumān all over his body. Keeping a tight hold on Rāma, the monkey bore the arrows without flinching. His energy and vigor only grew as Rāvaṇa assailed him.

Rāma was infuriated by Rāvaṇa’s attack on Hanumān. He drew His bow to a circle and fired shafts which tore Rāvaṇa’s chariot to pieces. Its standard, wheels, horses, canopy, shields and driver all fell to the ground. Rāma then struck Rāvaṇa himself on the chest with arrows that flew with blinding speed. The demon, who had withstood Indra’s thunderbolt, was rocked by Rāma’s arrows and he dropped his bow. He swooned and lay gasping. Rāma took up a crescent-headed shaft and tore off Rāvaṇa’s diadem, of which he was so proud. Rāma did not consider the Rākṣasa to be a king in any way. With another arrow He broke apart the demon’s bow. He then spoke to the half-conscious Rāvaṇa.

“You are clearly exhausted from the battle. As you are unable to properly defend yourself, it is not right that I kill you this time. Therefore, O valiant one, return to Lanka. Once you have rested, come out again and you shall witness My strength in battle.”

Rāvaṇa scrambled to his feet. With his chariot shattered, his diadem ripped off and his bow destroyed, the Rākṣasa was a sorry sight. He turned and flew toward Lanka with his vanity crushed. The other Rākṣasas followed him and the battle ceased for the time being. Rāma and Lakṣman comforted the wounded monkeys and they all rested, awaiting the return of Rāvaṇa and his troops.