by Carole Losee © 2005-2020

ELIZABETH SEEGER'S

THE RAMAYANA


CHAPTER SIXTEEN

THE DEATH OF RAVANA

 

When Rávana was told of the death of Indrajita, he fainted and lay unconscious for a long time, not hearing the loud lamentation that filled his palace. When he came to himself, rage filled his heart, fanned by his grief; flame and smoke came from his mouth and nostrils, and his tears were like drops of boiling oil falling from two burning lamps. He started up and said to his warriors and ministers, "Today I shall take the bow and arrows given to me by Brahma and destroy both Rama and Lákshmana. But first I shall slay Sita, the cause of all our woe!" And he strode from the hall, drawing his great sword.

His friends held him back, and his wisest minister stood before him and dared to say, "Why do you give way to rage, O mighty King, and forget all the laws that you know so well? You have studied the Vedas: how can you think of killing a woman? Spare her and turn your anger upon her lord! This is the last day of the dark fortnight of the moon; tomorrow, when the new crescent arises, go forth to victory, and Sita will be yours!"

The unhappy king let himself be led back to the assembly hall and sat upon his throne in a black mood, breathing like an angry serpent. "Go forth now with all your strength and hurl yourselves only upon Rama!" he said to his warriors. "Wound him and wear him out and tomorrow I shall kill him!"

His warriors summoned all the forces that were left and assembled all the chariots, elephants, and horses that could be found in Lanka. They still had confidence in the power of their king who had never been defeated, and they fell upon their enemy with fury, trying to cut a way through their ranks to where Rama and Lákshmana stood ordering the battle and sending showers of arrows above their soldiers' heads. As they came on, Rama went down amongst them, shooting his deadly arrows right and left. Because they were mounted and he was on foot, they could not see him, and he went through their ranks as a hurricane passes through a forest, unseen except for the devastation that it leaves. "There he is!" cried on. "That is he who is destroying us!" said another, and in their confusion they began to strike at one another. Finally, their horses slain and their chariots overturned, those who escaped took refuge in Lanka.

The next day at dawn Rávana summoned his troops and his own chariot. It blazed with gold and jewels as if it were on fire; it was adorned with rows of bells and filled with darts and spears, bows and quivers, and was drawn by four black horses. Rávana mounted it, his face so furious that none dared to look at him. "Today I shall send Rama and his brother to the abode of Yama, King of the Dead," he said. "When that strong tree falls, Sita, who is its blossom, and all those friends who are its branches, will also fall. I shall avenge my sons and brothers and dry the tears of those who weep for the dead. I shall cover the earth's surface with the bodies of monkeys, and the crows and vultures will be sated with their flesh!"

He rode forth into battle, followed by his troops, and with his divine weapons he scattered the brave monkeys as the wind drives away the clouds, for they could not bear the shafts that had defeated the gods. Amid the dust of battle Rávana drove on to where Rama stood waiting with Lákshmana at his side. "How splendid is this lord of demons!" said Rama to his brother. "One can hardly look upon him, as one cannot look at the sun. Never have I seen such power and brilliance."

Lákshmana wished to be the first to fight and stepped forward, loosing a flight of flaming arrows, but Rávana cut these to pieces with his own shafts. Then he took up a terrible spear, hung with eight loud bells, and hurled it with all his power at Lákshmana, who fell to the ground, struck full in the breast by that great weapon. Rama's heart was stricken as he saw his brother fall, but he thought to himself, "This is not the time for lamentation. Take care of Lákshmana!" he called to the monkeys. "The time for which I have longed has come. Today all my sorrows shall be wiped out when I slay Rávana. Seat yourselves on the mountainside, O unconquerable ones, and watch with peaceful hearts this fight which men will tell about as long as the world lasts!" And he entered fiercely into combat with his foe.

There followed such a struggle as had never been seen on earth, when those two warriors tried to kill one another. Both were skilled archers, both knew all the science of warfare, both had weapons made by the high gods, and neither had ever known defeat. Each sent forth a cloud of arrows as they circled about one another, each had impenetrable armor, and stood unwounded. The monkeys gathered in a half circle behind Rama, and the demons stood behind their king, watching one terrific missile after another destroyed or turned aside in midair. Each side shouted with joy as their champion seemed to prevail.

The gods also watched this conflict, for it had been planned by them long ago and on it depended their own safety, their freedom from the wickedness of Rávana, whom they themselves could not kill because of the boon that had been granted him. As they watched, unseen by any on the battlefield, they said to one another, "This is not a fair fight, for Rama is on foot while the demon rides his chariot." Then Indra called to his charioteer, Mátali, "Yoke my chariot quickly and offer it to Rama!"

Mátali harnessed the bay horses, whose coats gleamed like the sun, and raised the standard of Indra over the beautiful chariot, which he brought to the ground beside Rama. "The lord of a thousand eyes sends this to you so that you may win the victory, O mighty warrior," he said. "Here, too, is the great bow of Indra, his shield and his spear." Rama bowed to the chariot and mounted it, radiant as a god, for he was Vishnu, though he did not know his true nature. Driven by Mátali, that divine charioteer, he assailed Rávana from every side, and that prowler of the night, furious at the favor bestowed on his rival, fought even more fiercely.

He took up a spear as strong as a diamond, hung with loud bells, headed with a spike that flamed and smoked. He lifted it with his powerful arm and cried to Rama, "Now lie beside your brother, O arrogant prince! This lance will end your life." He hurled it, its bells resounding, and Rama flung the lance of Indra, which met the other in the air and shattered it with a sound like thunder.

Then, as he fought, Rama taunted his foe. "What a hero you are, O wicked wretch, to carry off a woman after luring her husband from her by a trick! What a noble deed was that! If I had been there, I would have sent you to join your brother whom I have slain. Now by good fortune you stand before me. Today your head, with its crown and earrings, shall roll in the dust, and vultures will drink the blood that flows from your wounds!" He was so angry that his friends feared to look upon his face, and even Rávana was dismayed. His courage and strength seemed to be redoubled by his rage, and he poured such a rain of arrows on his foe that Rávana's heart fainted within him and he dropped his bow and sank down on the bench of his chariot.

His driver was troubled by the appearance of the king and turned the black horses, driving them from the field, and Rama, mindful of Kshatria honor, did not pursue his enemy while he was unarmed. Rávana soon came to his senses and spoke angrily. "Are you mad or afraid, O charioteer? Why do you drive me from the field against my orders? Have I no courage or power? Am I a coward or a weakling that you take my fate into your hands and shame me before my enemy? Have you been bribed by him, O villain? Have you no loyalty and no remembrance of the gifts you have received from my hands? Turn back at once before my adversary departs!"

"I am not afraid, nor mad, nor careless, nor unfaithful, nor have I forgotten all your gifts, great King," answered the charioteer calmly. "I saw that you were exhausted by the fight and had dropped your weapons. My horses, too, were tired, like cattle lashed by a storm. It is my duty to watch the expressions and the motions of my master and to judge when to advance and when to retreat, as well as to know where the earth is firm for my wheels and where it is treacherous. It was my devotion to you that made me drive away. Now that you have recovered your confidence, O scourge of your foes, I will do whatever you command."

Rávana took a precious ring from his finger and gave it to his servant. "Drive my chariot quickly back to where Rama stands, O faithful one!" he said. "Rávana never turns back till he has slain his foe."

Meanwhile Rama had time to catch his breath, for he, too, was tired by the dreadful conflict. As he stood on Indra's chariot he was aware of the sun's light pouring down upon him out of a cloudless sky, and he worshiped that god who is the giver of life and victory: "All hail, O creator of life, who nourishes all creatures, who subdues darkness and cold and wickedness! O courser in the heavens, O lord of the stars and planets and worlds, giver of wealth and happiness, O maker of the day, bestower of victory and the joy of victory, I salute you! O golden and brilliant one, the friend of waters, who gathers up the showers from the sea, who creates the season, you whose rays behold everything in the three worlds, O you who awaken the lotus, all hail! Bringer of life and death, lord of all actions, I salute you!"

He felt himself filled with new power as he saw the chariot of Rávana bearing down upon him, its black horses at full gallop. He stretched the bow of Indra into the shape of the crescent moon as his skillful driver urged the horses forward and passed Rávana's chariot, covering it with dust. The fearful duel began again, and still neither warrior prevailed, but Rama thought, "I shall win," while Rávana said to himself, "I must die." When it seemed as if every weapon had been exhausted, Rama thought, "These are the same weapons with which I killed Maricha and all the demons in the forest, which pierced the seven trees at Kishkindha and slew Bali. Why is it that they have no power over Rávana?"

Mátali, the wise charioteer, divined his thought and said to him, "Have you forgotten the most powerful one of all, O lord of men? Loose Brahma's shaft upon him, for the hour of his doom has come!" Rama summoned that weapon that was like a winged snake, that hissed like a viper; he looked upon it with delight and fixed it on his bow, speaking the incantation. Then with his whole strength he pulled the bowstring to his ear and loosed that deadly shaft, which pierced the breast of Rávana and, passing through his body, returned to Rama's hand. The great fiend, scourge of the three worlds, fell from his chariot and the earth shook with his fall.

When they saw their lord stretched upon the ground, his warriors fled, pursued by the victorious monkeys, who shouted with triumph. Vibíshana and Sugriva, Angada and Hánuman paid homage to Rama, and Lákshmana, restored to life by the healing herbs, came and stood beside him with joined palms and a radiant face. Rama embraced him joyfully saying, "If I had regained Sita and my kingdom and even the whole world, they would be as nothing if I had lost you." As they stood there in the joy of victory and the army returned from its pursuit and crowded around, acclaiming Rama, flowers fell upon them from the sky, and all about them resounded the music of the gods and the throbbing of celestial drums.

The monkeys went to gaze upon the great body of Rávana and looked with awe at his mighty arms and weapons. He was mortally wounded but still breathing. Rama and Lákshmana drew near and the monkeys made way for them. "You have been a mighty warrior and a great king, O Rávana," said Rama. "You have lived for a thousand years and traversed the three worlds. What counsel can you give me, O mighty one?"

"You are no mortal man, O Rama," answered the dying fiend, gasping for his breath. "No mortal could have slain me. I salute you! This is my counsel: if you wish to do a good deed, do it at once; but if you plan an evil deed, think carefully before doing it!"

His breath failed him and he suffered from his wound. "Once I was sorry for all those creatures who longed to go to the dwelling of the gods and found it so hard to reach. I wished to have a stairway built by the gods' own architect from earth to heaven to make the journey easier. Each day I put it off, and it was never done. But when my sister came to me and told me of the death of Khara in the forest and the beauty of Sita, I resolved to steal her away and did so at once. Thus I brought about my death." His body shuddered and he yielded up his life.

Vibíshana came and stood beside Rama. He looked at his brother's body and remembered his former greatness, his generosity to his friends and kinsmen, and their long life together; he began to lament for him, with tears, but Rama said, "No one should mourn a warrior slain in battle. He had great courage and fell without yielding; he met a Kshatria's death. Now with all honor perform his funeral rites."

Then Vibíshana remembered his brother's sins and said, "How can I honor one who failed to fulfill his vows, who was ruthless and cruel, who killed holy sages and stole the wives of others? He deserves no honor."

"Death ends all enmity," answered Rama. "This prowler of the night was always brave, though he was wicked. We have accomplished our purpose; he is no longer our enemy. It is right for me as well as for you to perform his funeral rites, for he is your brother and therefore mine."

Vibíshana returned to Lanka and came back followed by a crowd of citizens and many carts carrying all that was needed for the ceremony. They built a great pyre and covered it with rich cloths and garlands and perfumes and laid upon it the body of their king. All his queens came forth with weeping and lamentation; all his ministers and the chief citizens of Lanka came and took their places according to their ages and honors. The sacred rites were performed, and Vibíshana kindled the flame. When the pyre was consumed to ashes, the weeping women returned to their homes.

Then Rama turned to his brother and said, "Now let us make Vibíshana the King of Lanka!" Lákshmana sent monkeys to the ocean to bring its water for the ceremony and ordered others to raise a high seat on the battlefield, and there, according to the sacred rites, Vibíshana was crowned the king of all the demons. The counselors and citizens paid homage to him with great joy, for they loved and honored him.

When these two ceremonies were accomplished, Rama turned to Hánuman. "Now enter the city, O my friend," he said, "and find Sita. Tell her that Rávana is dead and that Lákshmana and I are well. Give her these good tidings, O prince of monkeys, and ask her what she wishes to do!"

 

Seeger, The Ramayana, Print edition, op. cit., pp. 209-218.


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