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AMA LED THE WAY into the depths of Dandaka Forest. It seemed strangely empty of animals but filled with a dark brooding presence. They saw signs of destruction, such as trees stripped of their branches and the remains of animals brutally mutilated. Suddenly from the shadows emerged a huge deformed creature dressed in tiger skins, dragging behind it several animal carcasses. It pounced on Sita and carried her off.
My name is Viradha,' it roared, 'and I will keep this woman.' Rama hesitated at what to do. The demon saw that they were not ordinary ascetics and demanded to know who they were. Rama told him their names and shot seven arrows into the body of Viradha. In fury the demon released Sita and charged upon the two brothers. They rained arrows upon him, but he merely laughed and shrugged them off.
No weapon can hurt me. I was once a celestial being, but am now cursed to live as a man-eater. Only Rama, the son of Dasaratha, can free me. Now, Rama, you are here, so please kill me and release me from this curse.' He told Rama to bury him alive, as this was the only way he could be killed. So they dug a deep pit and buried Viradha. With his last breath he murmured:
Forgive me, lord, I did not recognize you. This forest is a dangerous place. Go to the sage Sarabhanga on the nearby hill and he will advise where you can safely stay.
Following Viradha's counsel they made their way to the ashram of Sarabhanga. As they approached it they saw a golden chariot, yolked with four green horses, hovering in the air above the place. In it sat Indra. king of heaven, but as soon as he saw them he rose swiftly into the sky. Sarabhanga came out to greet them, saying:
'Indra is here to take me to heaven as a reward for my austerities. Rut first I have waited to see you, my Lord. I must advise you to see Sutikishna. Follow the course of the Mandakini river and you will find his ashram. He will show you your way in the forest. Now, having seen you, I can go to paradise.' Then before their eyes, the old sage was transformed into a dazzling youth and was raised up into the heavens.
They were about to leave when a throng of sages emerged from the forest to petition Rama. 'This region is terrorized by man-eating demons,' they cried. 'Please fight them or we will all be killed.' Rama promised them his protection. Sita, however, was against fighting. She wanted him to live in the forest without violence.
They moved steadily south-west across the Deccan plateau, coming to Sutikishna's ashram, on the peak of a mountain. He advised them to travel through the region visiting the ashrams of saintly hermits. They did this and wherever they went were ample fruits and roots, herds of deer and crystal-clear lakes. Continuing westwards they reached the ashram of the sage Agastya. His strength kept that part of the forest free from demons. He received them with due honour and presented Rama with a set of divine weapons, once used by Vishnu.
Tell us where we should stay,' asked Rama.
'Two days' walk from here is the beautiful forest of Panchavati,' replied the sage, 'always full of blossoms and close beside the river Godaveri. There you must defend the sages from the attack of rakshasas.' Agastya's directions were clear, and resolved any doubts: using Vishnu's weapons, Rama must fight to defend the sages.
So they journeyed to Panchavati, following the path pointed out to them by Agastya until they reached the foot of the mountains of the Western Ghats. As they entered the region they encountered a gigantic and terrifying vulture. At first they took it for another demon ready to devour them, until Rama asked who it was. It replied:
Dear son, I am a friend of your father. My name is Jatayu and I am nephew of' Garuda, the divine carrier of Vishnu. I will protect Sita from the demons who live here.' Rama was grateful for this offer, and together they entered Panchavati.
Lakshmana built a cottage of earth, bamboo and thatch for Sita and Rama, and covered its floor with reed matting. As winter set in, a cold westerly wind blew and the woodlands were wrapped in fog. Mist shrouded the river and elephants shrank from its touch. Still the brothers and the princess bathed each morning in the cold waters and offered prayers through the mists to the rising sun.
One morning they were surprised to see a strange misshapen creature, half' woman, half' monster. Her skin was rough and her face and body ugly. She gazed on Rama, infatuated with his beauty, and spoke with a rasping voice:
Noble creature, who are you and what are you doing here?' 'I am Rama, son of Dasaratha,' said Rama politely. 'This is Lakshmana, my younger brother, and here is Sita my wife. We are here on the command of my father to do penance. But tell me, charming lady of slender limb, who are you and what brings you to our cottage?'
My name is Surpanakha, sister of the demon-king Ravana,' she replied, her passions inflamed by Rama's gallant words. 'I live near here with my two cousins, Khara and Dusana. Ever since I first saw you I have wanted you. I am not feeble like this ugly Sita I have strength and passion equal to yours. Let me devour Sita and Lakshmana so that we can be alone in the forest!'
But I am already married,' laughed Rama. 'Why don't you choose Lakshmana, my younger brother? He is handsome and strong and would make a far better husband for you.' Hearing this, Surpanakha turned her amorous attentions upon Lakshmana.
Come then, Lakshmana, I will be your wife and we will wander through the forest together.'
But why should you want me, 0 beauty of soft complexion,' joked Lakshmana, ‘when, I am merely the servant of Rama? Better that you become Rama's wife, and replace this ugly Sita.
Surpanakha's simple brain was confused. She knew only that Sita stood in her way. With eyes like red-hot coals she rushed at Sita, intent on killing her.
Punish her, Lakshmana!' cried Rama, catching hold of the hideous monster. In an instant Lakshmana had cut off her ears and her nose, making her roar in agony. The unfortunate creature, splattered in blood, fled deep into the jungle.
Surpanakha flew straight to her cousin Khara and threw herself on the ground in Front of him, bleeding and sobbing. He was shocked to see her condition and said, 'My poor cousin, what fool has done this to you, inviting instant death?'
Two handsome princes, Rama and Lakshmana, dressed as ascetics, are in the for-est with a beautiful young girl. Out of jealousy she made them do this to me. I will not be satisfied until you have killed them all and I have drunk the girl's blood.
Khara, in fury, dispatched fourteen rakshasa demons from his personal guard to kill Rama and his companions. Surpanakha led them to the cottage. Seeing them, Rama quickly ordered Lakshmana to take Sita away to a safe distance, leaving him to deal with the intruders alone.
The rakshasas charged at Rama, hurling spears and clubs, but he cut down their projectiles with fourteen gold-tipped arrows. He then shot another fourteen arrows, killing each of the rakshasas. Surpanakha, pale and shaken, escaped and hurried back to her cousin.
I have sent my soldiers to avenge you,' growled Khara, 'so why are you now rolling on the ground like a wounded serpent?
I have seen a terrible thing,' wailed Surpanakha. 'Those brave demons of yours have all been slain by Rama. He killed them as easily as a lion kills jackals, and now I am afraid. This Rama has entered our forest with his sharp arrows and I don't see how you can stand up to him. We will all be killed. What are you going to do?'
Stop your tears, cousin,' assured Khara, biting his lip in rage. 'Today I will send Rama to the abode of death.
Khara ordered his brother Dusana to bring an army of fourteen-thousand rakshasas. He ascended his golden chariot, engraved with alligators, moons and stars, with wheels encrusted with jewels, and hung about with bells. Looking like Death personified, he rode through the jungle with his dreaded army, bristling with clubs, spears, javelins, swords, axes and scimitars. On his way his left arm throbbed and his eyes dimmed with tears. He saw a red halo around the sun, and darkness enveloped him even though it was daytime. His horses slipped on the road, and a vulture perched upon his flagpole.
What do I care for these bad omens'?' shrieked Khara. 'Nothing can stand in my way.' He encouraged his army to go forward with a great battle roar.
Rama, meanwhile, experienced good omens: his right arm throbbed, favorable birds perched on nearby branches and Lakshmana's face shone brightly. At the approach of the demon army he ordered Lakshmana to take Sita to a safe place. Divine beings gathered anxiously in the sky to watch.
The ensigns of the demons came into view with much shouting and clashing of swords on shields. Rama stood alone, holding his bow tightly before him, his knuckles white, eyes pin-pointed on the approaching enemy, his arrows at the ready. His usually gentle face was suffused with anger, and he shone like a white-hot flame.
Khara surrounded Rama with his troops. Thousands of weapons of all description rained down on the solitary hero. Rama was besieged like a mountain peak enveloped in storm clouds, but he stood firm and poured arrows from his bow, intercepting the incoming weapons and absorbing their fury as the ocean absorbs a river in flood. His bow seemed permanently bent in a great arc as his arrows struck the hearts of the demons. He split their bows, cut their ensigns and destroyed their chariots, driving them back to Khara for protection.
Dusana, Khara's brother and general, rallied the demons and led a fresh assault. Arrows, clubs, uprooted trees and boulders fell on Rama from all sides. He invoked a celestial weapon which threw back the entire host. His hands did not appear to move, only to rest on his bowstring, yet thousands of' razor-sharp arrows streamed from his bow, hiding the sun. Rama gradually reduced the demons until the ground was strewn thickly with helmets, broken weapons and broken bodies. Out of this carnage rushed Dusana, armed with an enormous gold-plated club spiked with iron, capable of flattening a whole army, but Rama's arrows cut off his arms and killed him.
Trisira, Khara's greatest champion, terrible to look upon with three heads, advanced like a black storm-cloud emitting torrents of arrows and roaring like thunder. He clashed with Rama as a lion clashes with an elephant, wounding him on the forehead. Enraged, Rama released arrows, destroying his chariot and cutting off his three heads. Blood spurted from his severed trunk as he fell dead, and his cohorts fled terrified into the forest.
Now it was Khara's turn. With fear in his heart he discharged magical weapons into the sky and charged at Rama as a moth is drawn into a fire. He pierced Rama with many arrows and split his bow, but Rama felt the arrows as an elephant feels the striking of' a goad. He took up the diamond-studded bow of Vishnu given to him by Agastya and released nineteen deadly shafts. Six pierced Khara's head, arms and chest, twelve shattered his chariot and killed his chariot driver and horses, and one struck him in the heart, knocking him to the ground.
You have persecuted holy men of the forest for mere sport,' said Rama. 'Now reap the reward of your sinful deeds. The sages you killed are watching this fight from the sky. Now they will see you dispatched to hell.
But Khara stood firm with his huge mace.
What is the use of your boastful words, when I am about to kill you?' he retorted. 'I believe in action, not boastful words. You have killed all my soldiers, but now I will wipe away the tears of their relatives.' Then he hurled his mace, which blazed with fire and burned the surrounding forest to ashes. As it flew through the air towards him, Rama shattered it into a thousand fragments with his arrows. The demon uproot-ed a big tree, whirled it above his head and threw it at Rama, but Rama's arrows cut the tree to pieces. Filled with anger, he pierced Khara with countless arrow shafts. Maddened by the smell of' his own blood, the demon summoned his last strength to run headlong at Rama. Using a special arrow given to him by Agastya and the bow of Vishnu, Rama struck Khara in the chest. The smoking arrow entered the demon's heart with a sound like thunder, killing him instantly.
The divine beings in the sky praised Rama and showered him with flowers. Sita emerged from hiding with Lakshmana to embrace him in relief and joy. The forest was safe once more.
Ten-headed Ravana shifted uneasily on his throne. His twenty arms and broad chest were covered with scars from countless battles with the gods, any one of which would have killed a lesser being. He listened as Akampana, the sole survivor of Khara's army, told him how a mere man had single-handedly killed his entire garrison in Dandaka forest. His eyes burned blood-red and he hissed like a cobra.
Who is this man to risk my wrath?' asked Ravana.
He is the glorious Rama, son of Dasaratha,' replied Akampana.
Then I shall go myself and destroy him.' replied Ravana.
I would not advise it, 0 mighty king, said Akampana. 'Rama is invincible; his arrows can bring down the very stars from the sky. But he has one weakness: his beautiful wife Sita. Without her he will lose his will to live.
Then I shall carry her off in my chariot,' retorted Ravana. Mounting his golden chariot inlaid with jewels and drawn by mules, Ravana flew to his magician friend Maricha's distant hermitage. But when Maricha heard Ravana's intention he advised him against it.
'What fool has advised you to kidnap Sita?' he asked.
It would be better to drink poison.' So for a while Ravana swallowed his anger and desisted from his plan.
Then his sister Surpanakha, her face scarred, came to him eager for revenge.
I have been disfigured, your territory has been usurped and fourteen thousand of your soldiers killed while you idly enjoy yourself. What kind of ruler are you?' she taunted, and again Ravana's anger was stirred.
Tell me of this Rama,' he said. 'What is his strength? How does he fight? Is it he who has disfigured you'?'
Rama is handsome like the god of love, but his arrows bite like serpents,' replied Surpanakha. 'I could not see when he took arrows from his quiver, when he bent his bow or when he released them. I could only see our soldiers fall like a field of corn before a hailstorm. In an hour and a half' he killed fourteen thousand of' them. His brother Lakshmana did this atrocity to me on account of' Sita, his beautiful wife. She presides over the forest like a goddess, and her beauty surpasses the whole creation. She is a worthy consort for you. Take her for your own, and be avenged on Rama!'
In his fury, Ravana again approached Maricha for help in kidnapping Sita. But Maricha had his own reasons to fear Rama and tried to dissuade him.
You underestimate Rama's strength,' he replied, full of dread. 'You will never succeed in taking Sita, any more than you could steal the brilliance from the sun, but if some-how you do Rama will surely kill you in battle and lay waste to the city of Lanka.
I did not ask your opinion,' Ravana replied sharply, 'I merely asked your help. Go to Dandaka Forest and use your magical art to take the shape of a golden deer. Show yourself to Sita, who will surely ask Rama to catch you, then while he is away mimic his voice to call Lakshmana. While Sita is unprotected I will capture her.
Forget Sita, or you condemn us both to death with this perilous plan,' Maricha rasped, his mouth dry with fear.
Do as I ask, or fail me and your life is worth nothing. I do not keep traitors. Risk death from Rama, or face certain death from me. The choice is yours.'
Very well. I will accept death from Rama, which will be better than death from you. But I warn you, when he has killed me he will come for you and destroy your kingdom. But you will not heed my words a person who is destined to die does not accept advice from friends.' '
Then let us leave,' pronounced Ravana, and together they boarded his chariot and sped to Dandaka Forest.
Sita had gone a little way from the cottage to collect flowers, when she caught sight of a beautiful golden deer among the trees. It was unlike any she had seen before, with horns glinting like sapphire, hoofs like gems and golden flanks spotted with silver. It pranced and spun in circles, then cocked its head to gaze at her.)She was captivated. 'Rama, Lakshmana, do look !'
The brothers saw the deer, but Lakshmana, ever vigilant, was suspicious. 'Beware, Rama, this is no real deer it is an illusion of the demon Maricha, who practices this deception to lure his prey. He has killed and eaten many this way.
But it is so beautiful Said Sita. `Do catch it for me, my lord, and we can keep it as a pet. Or you could kill it and we will sit on its golden skin.
You will have this deer, alive or dead,' promised Rama. 'If, as Lakshmana says, it turns out to be Maricha I will slay him just as he has slain so many.
Rama made Lakshmana stay with Sita to protect her, then took up his bow in pursuit of the deer. He tried to capture it but it fled deep into the forest, luring him far from the cottage. Growing uneasy he decided to kill it, and sent a flaming arrow into its heart. Struck to the core and on the point of dying, Maricha shed the illusory shape of the golden deer and revealed his true monstrous form) In agony he cried out, mimicking Rama's voice, 'Alas Sita! Lakshmana, help me!' and gave up his life.
The forest fell silent. Rama felt his heart grow cold with fear for Sita. He sped back in the direction of the cottage.
Sita and Lakshmana had heard the plaintive cry, and Sita appealed to him to go and help Rama, but he did not stir.
Why don't you go?
Princess, there is no need. Your husband is invincible and no one, demon or god, can harm him. What you heard was not Rama's voice, but a trick of Maricha. Rama has ordered me to protect you and I cannot leave you here alone.
Are you Rama's enemy, that you want him to die so t hat you can possess me?' cried Sita in outrage. 'Is it me you have wanted all this time'? You deceitful and cruel man!' Her words cut Lakshmana to the quick.
Very well, I will go to Rama,' he spoke in anger and hurt, 'but you are in grave danger. May the woodland deities protectyou!' And he was gone, leaving Sita streaming tears and beating her breast.
As night follows day, the coming of Ravana followed Lakshmana's departure. Disguised in the saffron robes of an ascetic, he advanced through the trees towards the cottage. As he did so the birds fell silent and the air went still. He saw Sita on the ground in front of her cottage, her moonlike face bathed in tears, and he was smitten by the arrow of love.
0 delicate lady, I am enchanted by your slender waist, broad hips and round breasts. I have never seen such loveliness. Who are you and why are you alone in this dangerous forest?')
Confused and afraid, Sita did her best to receive the mendicant with due respect, offering him a seat and giving him food and water. As she did so she looked around nervously for Rama or Lakshmana, but saw only the dense green forest spread in all directions. She introduced herself, then asked who he was. His answer terrified her.
I am ten-headed Ravana, feared by all the gods. My capital, across the sea, is Lanka, the most beautiful and best fortified city in the universe. Come and live there with me, where five thousand maids will serve you. Forget Rama. He is not even equal to my little finger.
I am the devoted wife of Rama,' protested Sita, 'who is a lion among men. Beside him you are a jackal, and can never hope to have me.' Her body shook with fear. 'You may think yourself invincible, but if you take me your life is at an end!' t Bristling with anger, Ravana showed his true colossal form, with ten heads, blood-red eyes, and twenty arms, covered in red robes and golden ornaments. Grasping Sita's hair he dragged her to his golden chariot.
O Rama, you do not know what is happening to me!' Sita cried as Ravana's chariot rose into the sky. '0 trees, rivers and spirits of the forest, all you animals and birds, please tell my dearest Rama that Sita was carried away by Ravana.
All this time Jatayu slept in a nearby tree. Now the bird awoke to see a tragedy unfolding. He spread his wings and took to the air, warning Ravana.
Old as I am, I will kill you as Rama killed your brother. Stay and fight with me, prowler of the night!
Ravana turned on Jatayu, like one mountain clashing with an-other, and struck him with hundreds of barbed arrows. Jatayu tore at him with his sharp talons and beak, breaking his bow, killing his mules and chariot driver, and sending his chariot crashing down to the ground. Ravana held Sita tightly as he fell to the ground. Then, leaving her, he rose once more into the sky by mystic power alone. Jatayu swooped upon his back and slashed at his head and, shoulders arms tearing off his twenty But as each arm was lost another one grew in its place. The aged Jatayu grew tired while Ravana's fury intensified. He severed Jatayu's wings, and he fell to the ground, able to rise no more.
Sita cried bitterly and embraced Jatayu as he lay dying. She tried to flee but, laughing, the cruel monster took her by the hair a second time and lifted her up into the darkening sky.
In the heavens the gods watched. 'Our purpose is accomplished,' they said grimly.
His destruction is now certain. Nothing can save him from the wrath of Rama.
Ravana carried Sita through the air to Lanka, like a cloud flashing with lightning. 'You shameless creature!' she cried. 'My lord will pursue you to the ends of the earth, and once he has found you your life will not last one hour. You are caught in the noose of death!
As Ravana's shadow sped over the forests, Sita spied far below five great monkey chiefs seated on a mountain pe4. She tied her jewels in her silk wrapper and threw them down, unnoticed by Ravana. The monkey chiefs received the jewels and looked up with unwinking eyes. They saw Sita, her face wet with tears, coursing through the air in the grip of Ravana. Unaware that he had been seen, the evil monster flew on to Lanka, carrying in his arms his own death in the form of Sita.
Rama had gone further from the cottage than he intended. As he hurried back, deep in the jungle behind him a jackal gave forth a lonely howl, sending a shiver down his spine. He knew the rakshasas would want revenge for the terrible defeat he had inflicted on them. Now, with Maricha's trick unmasked, he feared the worst. How could he have been fooled so easily? His only hope was that Lakshmana had not been taken in by Maricha's false cry for help and had stayed with Sita. Yet his worst fears were confirmed when he met Lakshmana coming alone the other way, his face ashen.
Where is Sita?' Rama called out in dismay. 'I fear that some demon will have carried her away or killed her.' Lakshmana, realizing his mistake, remained silent.
Where is she who shared my sufferings with me all this time?' Rama continued. 'Is she still alive? If not, I shall die.
Racing through the under-growth, scratched and bruised, they came to the cottage. All was empty and silent, mats and eating utensils in disarray. The only sound was the trees creaking in the wind.
Why did you leave her?' cried Rama. Lakshmana sorrow-fully tried to explain what had happened.
You should not have taken a woman's harsh words so seriously,' Rama reproached, then pondered, 'perhaps she has gone to the river to fetch water, or out to gather flowers.' They looked in her favourite places, but could not find her. Running here and there like a madman, Rama scoured the forest calling out to the trees and animals.
Trees, did my dear Sita come to you gathering flowers? Deer, did she pass this way? Tigers, did you see her moonlike face?' He imagined he saw her before him. 'Why are you running away from me, my darling? Wait, come back!' He returned to the empty cottage and called out, 'Come out now, sweetheart, do not jest. I know you are hiding. Please do not leave me I can't live without you.
Don't give in to this madness, brother,' said Lakshmana. 'We must try to find her. She may have wandered off, so we shall search the mountains, caves, rivers and forests.' But although they searched long, no trace of Sita could be found. Lakshmana tried his best to console his brother, but Rama cried bitter tears.
How will I ever be able to return to Ayodhya without Sita? Lakshmana, you must go back and tell them that without Sita I could not live. Tell Bharata to take the throne and rule the earth. My sinful deeds in past births have now caught up with me. She has been taken by cruel demons who even now drink her blood. To think that she used to sit here on this rock with me. I can hear her laughter still. 0 Wind god, you know everything. Did you see which way she went?
Please take heart,' reassured Lakshmana. 'It's no good crying like this, Rama. We must find Sita, not simply cry for her.' But Rama was lost in an ocean of grief and could not heed him.
Rama asked the deer for news of Sita, whereupon they all looked up to the sky and turned their heads south, walking slowly in that direction, looking first to the sky then to the ground. Lakshmana read their movements and called Rama to follow. Soon they found signs of Sita's abduction: flowers from her hair scattered on the ground, huge rakshasa footprints and beside them Sita's footprints running away, then the shattered remains of a golden chariot, with quivers and a broken bow encrusted with gems lying close by. Then they found evidence of a fierce fight with drops of blood strewn about. Nearby they found the gigantic crushed bodies of mules and a dead charioteer still grasping his reins and whip.
Where is she?' shouted Rama angrily, his eyes burning and his lips trembling. 'If the gods do not return her, I will throw them from heaven and annihilate the world with my arrows.
Unable to bear Rama's agony, Lakshmana stood before him with joined hands.
My lord, you are not yourself. I know you to be mild like the moon and patient like the earth. Come back to your true self. With me as your companion and sages as your helpers, you will rind Sita. We will search the oceans and rivers, forests and mountains until we find her. We will leave no place untouched. If after that we do not find her then you may annihilate the worlds. Take heart everyone in this world must accept sorrow and pain and learn to overcome them. You are strong enough to be steady in the face of this calamity. Show your true qualities and awaken your wisdom. Let us take decisive action!'
Rama accepted his younger brother's good instruction. Controlling his anger and leaning on his mighty bow, he recovered himself. 'What shall we do then, good brother?'
Let us first search the entire region: gorges, chasms, valleys and caves all the places loved by demons then consider what else to do.
They set off, bows in hand. Almost immediately they found Jatayu, lying on the ground like a fallen mountain. Rama took him for a demon and was about to finish him with an arrow, when he heard him murmur: '0 child, the lady you seek was carried off by a great rakshasa, along with my life. I tried to stop him, but he got the best of me. I killed his charioteer and destroyed his chariot, but now he has flown to the south with Sita.'
Who was he,' asked Rama desperately, seeing Jatayu's life ebbing fast, 'and where did he take her?
It was the evil Ravana, the half-brother of Kuvera,' whispered Jatayu, his voice Fading.
Speak more!' begged Rama, but Jatayu had breathed his last.
This king of the birds was a great soul, Lakshmana, who sacrificed his life for my service,' said Rama. 'Souls such as this can be found even among birds and animals. He was my devoted servant and his passing pains me as much as the loss of Sita. Fetch some wood so that we may give him a worthy cremation, and help him attain the reward for his great sacrifice.
They burned Jatayu's remains and chanted prayers over them. After bathing in the river, they offered fruits in his memory and found peace in their minds. They then put that place, and its memories, behind them and set off to the south in search of Sita.
At first Rama and Lakshmana were confronted with densely tangled jungle. With great difficulty they managed to penetrate it and find a way to the west, out of Dandaka Forest. They entered another forest, filled with a threatening presence. Lakshmana's left arm throbbed and he felt a sense of foreboding. They heard from the heart of the forest a terrible roar. With swords drawn they went towards it, and found a strange and horrifying monster of awesome dimensions.
The creature was blue and covered in bristling hairs, without head or legs, but with two enormous arms. In the centre of its body was a large mouth filled with sharp teeth above which blazed a single eye. Rama and Lakshmana surveyed it from a good distance, but without approaching them it suddenly extended its great arms across the intervening space and seized them, squeezing the breath from their bodies.
Caught in its grip, they thought that now, after having survived so many calamities, their end had at last come. But as the monster carried them towards its mouth to swallow them they were able to draw their swords and each sever an arm at the shoulder, rendering it powerless. It spoke to them.
Who are you two heroes that have so fearlessly overcome me?
This is Rama, son of Emperor Dasaratha, and I am Lakshmana his brother. Rama has been exiled to the forest by his father and now seeks Sita, his consort, who was carried away by a rakshasa. But who are you and how did you get this terrible form?
I will tell you my story,' said the monster. 'I was once Kabandha, a demigod of the heavens, equal in beauty to the Sun god himself. For my amusement I used to terrorize the rishis of the forest in this monstrous form. One day I assailed a powerful mystic who cursed me to be trapped in this body. I begged him for mercy and he conceded that when Lord Rama would come and cremate me in a lonely forest I would regain my former splendour. Since then I have stayed here in this forest and made it my habit to grab anything that moves in the hope that one day this Rama would fall into my grasp. Now, Lord Rama, you have come to save me and I await your mercy. If you do what must be done by burning this body to ashes, I will regain my godly form as well as the ability to give you good advice for your search.
Rama and Lakshmana readily agreed to help the ogre, and asked for help in return.
We know that Sita was taken by the rakshasa king Ravana, but we do not know what he looks like or where he lives. Help us in this.
They gathered together wood and built a fire and placed the monster upon it. As its ugly body sizzled and melted into the flames, the celestial Kabandha emerged, brilliant and joyful, decorated with gorgeous robes and ornaments and garlanded with unlading flowers. An aerial chariot appeared before him and he seated himself upon it, illuminating all directions with his effulgence, and then turned to Rama.
Listen to my advice,' he said. 'It is said that a person suffering misfortune should make alliance with another suffering similar misfortune. There is a monkey chief called Sugriva, who was cast out of' his kingdom by his brother Vali. He is a great hero, being the son of Surya, the Sun god. He will help you in your quest for Sita. I tell you this: his monkeys will search every corner and whether she is on the pinnacle of heaven or in the depths of the underworld, they will find her, and restore her to you after helping you destroy the demon Ravana and his armies.
You will find Sugriva by the side or Pampa lake. From here you must go westwards passing through forests of' abundant fruit trees. You will see places resembling paradise, with dripping honey and nectar-like fruits. Pass over mountain and hill until you reach the lotus-filled lake of Pampa. There you will find the ashram of the saintly woman Sabari, who even now awaits your arrival. After visiting her, look for Sugriva on Rishyamukha Hill, to the east of' the lake.' Even as he spoke, Kabandha began to glow, rising into the heavens, calling, 'Seek Sugriva!' and was gone.
Following the way pointed out to them, the brothers reached the edge of Pampa and there they saw the hermitage of Sabari. She clasped their feet in joy.
I have kept for you many forest foods, please come to my ashram,' she begged. 'Today my life of penance is at an end. I have seen you, Lord Rama, who are the great-est of the gods and the flower of humanity. I shall now depart this world in peace.' At their request she showed them round the ashram, which had been home to Matanga and other great sadhus who had already departed this world for the supreme destination.
Now, lord, permit me to cast off this aged body, long worn out by practice of penance and prayer. I long to join those great souls who went before me, and whom I served with love.' Before their eyes she entered a mystic fire and was transformed, emerging in an ethereal form which vanished up into the sky.
By the company of' this saintly woman,' said Rama, 'I feel thoroughly purified. Whatever bad karma we have been suffering has been cleansed, and now our good fortune awaits us, beginning with our meeting with Sugriva.
Meanwhile, carrying in his arms his death incarnate, Ravana reached the city of Lanka. He handed Sita to rakshasa women, telling them to serve her every need. Next he sent eight of his most powerful warriors to Dandaka Forest as spies to keep him informed of' Rama's movements. His mind turned to Sita and how to win her love. He showed her his palace housing thousands of women, with pillars of ivory and crystal, stairways of' gold, walls studded with diamonds and floors inlaid with gems.
The city of Lanka covers eight hundred square miles and is impregnable,' he boasted. 'I command two hundred million rakshasas. All this I give, if you will be my queen.'
Further, I give you Puspaka, the magical space-ship I won from my half-brother Kuvera, the treasurer of the gods. It will take us anywhere you wish to go with the speed of' thought. But come, dear lady, why look so miserable?
Sita's face was wet with tears. 'You have unlawfully kidnapped me, you evil monster, and your death is sealed. You can keep me in chains or put me to death I will never give myself' to you.
I will give you one year to surrender to me,' growled Ravana. 'After that, my sweet, I will have you cut into pieces and served for my breakfast.' He called the rakshasa women. 'Take her to the ashok grove and hold her captive there. Give her no rest, but torment her until she agrees to surrender to me.
Sita, thinking only of' her lord, fainted and was carried away.
Writer – Ranchor Prime