Friday, Dec 09, 2022

Book Excerpt: Ravana Leela

Book Excerpt: Ravana Leela

Then he saw it coming—a strange and immensely powerful missile that Rama released from his bow. Its head seemed as if it was the sun itself rushing at him. Its tail too was different from that of any arrow he had ever seen. Was it the wind propelling the sun, or was it a snake pushing the sun? Whatever it was, Ravana instinctively knew that this missile would take the life out of him.

A man performing the character of Ravan.
A man performing the character of Ravan. Getty Images

"Ravana laughed to himself when Rama’s arrows struck home unfailingly and managed to chop off his head. ‘He can go on doing this till his arms drop from fatigue. He does not know that I cannot be beheaded. A new head will appear every time my head is separated from my body. That is one of the boons I acquired after intense tapasya for long years,’ he thought. At the same time, he was not so sanguine about the tricky vision he seemed to have developed. This was the first time he had come face to face with this enemy. But he seemed strangely familiar; it was as though he was a long-lost friend.

Then he saw it coming—a strange and immensely powerful missile that Rama released from his bow. Its head seemed as if it was the sun itself rushing at him. Its tail too was different from that of any arrow he had ever seen. Was it the wind propelling the sun, or was it a snake pushing the sun? Whatever it was, Ravana instinctively knew that this missile would take the life out of him.

Ravana’s lips parted in a demonic grin as he suddenly recognized the missile. It was the Brahma-astra, Brahma’s most potent weapon that knows no failure. The missile follows its intended target endlessly till it hits and kills. He debated with himself—should he try and duck it or face it squarely and die as a brave soldier? ‘Why should I even attempt avoiding it, when I know its character,’ he asked himself. In fact, being hit by this missile was his victory. It showed his opponent’s admission that there was no other way of getting the better of him. And, he would go down in history as the only being on whom this magical astra had been used. The decision was made—Ravana took the full impact of the missile on his chest. The earth shook and the ocean rose as Ravana collapsed.

Ravana felt himself slipping from his seat onto the floor of his chariot, but he was unable to do anything about it. Then there was someone lifting him out of his chariot and laying him flat on a soft bed of grass, right in the middle of the battlefield. Ravana wondered who it was; it could not be Mahaparshva, as he had been burnt to death by the heat of the missile that had struck Ravana. Then he heard words and voices. They were all crying—crying that he lay there dying. He recognized the voice of Mandodari, his dear and beloved wife. He was sorry that he would be leaving her alone in this world and wanted to tell her so. But he could not utter any words. In fact, it took all his energy just to open his eyes.

Mandodari was weeping inconsolably, her words coming in a torrent on occasion and halting and mumbled at other times. ‘Praneshwara, who would have imagined that you, the mighty Dashakantha Ravana, would fall to a manava! It has to be a game of death itself that played out and placed you in this situation. Death has visited you in the guise of Rama. How else can you explain how a single human being killed thousands of rakshasa veeras in one go? Did I not warn you that this was no mere human? When that monkey came and played havoc in Lanka, did we not know that there was a cosmic conspiracy to wipe you out? Would the curses of all the rishis and Brahmins who suffered at your hands be in vain? Oh nath! I was so proud—proud to be daughter to a danava king; proud to be wife to a rakshasa emperor and proud to be mother to a son who defeated the king of devas! But what is left for me now? What have I to live for? You are the strongest and bravest in the entire universe! What quirk of fate then, made you steal a woman?’

The outpouring of anguish hurt him. Hurt because he had no answer to give her. Then he heard Vibhee...his dear younger brother. It soothed his heart to hear tears in his voice. ‘See, he loves me,’ Ravana thought to himself with happiness. Vibhee led Mandodari away. He could hear the wailing sounds of many others—women from his harem, many of whom loved him dearly, and citizens of Lanka—‘Or those that have survived this war,’ Ravana thought wryly.

Then he heard an unfamiliar voice. Ravana laboured to open his eyes and identify the source of this soothing voice. It was Rama, standing near his feet. Ravana shut his eyes; he did not want to see his killer.

‘Oh, the noble king of rakshasas! Please do not turn away from me. Death is the end of everything, all your bonds on earth, including bonds of enmity and hatred.’ Rama paused and Ravana forced his eyes open again. Rama continued: ‘Ravana, you have been punished for the crimes you committed. I hold no feelings of ill will towards you now.’

Ravana smiled through half-closed eyes, the curl of his lips indicating the pain he was in. ‘Such pious words come easy to the winner,’ he thought to himself, and waited for Rama to continue— for, he knew that Rama was seeking something from him.

‘Noble king! I have great regard for you. Your wisdom is unparalleled! I request you to share that knowledge with me now,’ Rama said, his arms crossed on his chest and head slightly bent in a mark of respect and attention.

Ravana smiled. It hurt to make the effort of talking. But he would not disappoint Rama. ‘Rama, you are a worthy opponent and a noble being. I admire your ability to detach yourself from your emotions. That, believe me, is the secret to a happy life.'

‘I have very little time left before life leaves this body permanently. I will tell you the most important lesson I have learnt in life. Ignorance is one’s worst enemy. It is the ignorant mind that is drawn toward things that cause harm. It is the ignorant mind that again makes one avoid things that are good. It is what we shy away from, what we push away, that can actually help us evolve,’ Ravana signalled that he had finished speaking, and was about to close his eyes once again when Rama’s voice penetrated his consciousness.

‘Do you regret anything, Dashagreeva?’

‘I have prided myself as being the greatest devotee of Shiva. I even managed to secure his atmalinga for myself, remember? My only regret is that I have been unable to internalize even a fraction of his detachment. I am very attached to all things worldly.

‘It is the same trait I admire in you Rama—your detachment. Your self-control is exemplary. You spent the best years of your life in the forest. The forest is where no rules apply, no laws exist. But you did not allow that lawlessness to affect you in any manner. You remained disciplined. I admire that in you.

‘I have lived in Lanka, where there is rule of law. I was the one who was responsible for putting most of those laws in place. Yet I never shied away from a chance to bend the rules if they came in the way of what I wanted, what I desired. I could not accept a situation wherein I could not achieve my purpose.’ Ravana’s voice was becoming feebler with every word he uttered.

His eyes too were drooping shut, when suddenly his body went into a convulsion. His hands and legs started twitching and his voice was barely audible when he whispered the words: ‘Who are you Rama...who are you truly...’ His eyes closed and he heard a voice answer his question.

Ravana knew the voice was not coming from the person standing by him, yet it was definitely his voice. ‘I am -ence... I am eternal... I am endless... Come to me, Jaya... Come to me... Vijaya has already returned...’ Ravana’s face relaxed. He had found his answer and was at peace with himself."

(Radha Vishwanath was born in Andhra Pradesh and spent most of her life in Delhi. Trained as a teacher, Radha entered journalism late in her life. After a distinguished career as a political correspondent spanning three decades, she retired from active journalism. She has the honour of being the first woman journalist to be admitted in the long and distinguished category of Parliamentary journalists, in 2006.

An avid reader with a keen interest in Hindu mythology, she aims to bring the complexities of the Indian political discourse into intricate and rich mythological narratives.)