The Death of Rāvaṇa

Bijoy Misra

April 23, 2023

People have two ways of looking at themselves. They either create their own universe keeping themselves at the center, or they see themselves as part of a universe in which they live. Rāvaṇa was highly successful in whatever he did: he was a learned man and had acquired prized objects and skills. However, misled by the belief that he had to make the most beautiful woman his wife, he kidnapped Sītā. Although Sītā was in his custody, she was not available as a wife until her husband Rāma died. But instead of killing Rāma, Rāvaṇa himself died at Rāma’s hands. So is the story in Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa.

I must kill that damned Sītā right now!” Rāvaṇa shouted. His son had just died. “O my valiant son, how could you be done so merely by Lakṣmaṇa?” Then he consoled himself“ Noble warriors will find their place in heaven!” He jumped to boasting - “I am invincible! My long practice of austerities has merited me such that I will not be killed by a god or a demon! I have the bow and arrows bestowed upon me by Lord S’iva! First, I must get rid of the damned Sītā!” Rāvaṇa rushed towards Sītā’s dwelling in the Aśoka groves.

Wait! What are you trying to do?” came a shout of restraint from Supārśva, a sympathetic rākṣasa. “You are a Vedic scholar, and are proficient as a high priest! How can you think about killing a woman? Today is the auspicious fourteenth day in the dark fortnight – if you wait until tomorrow, you will succeed in getting rid of Rāma. And then you can come back to Sītā!” Rāvaṇa pondered and retreated to his gilded throne. He thundered: “Surround Rāma tomorrow with elephants and horses and finish him off. If that does not work, I myself will enter the battle.”

A massive number of rākṣasas were slain by Rāma in this misadventure. Laments from the wives of the rākṣasa reverberated day and night. “What business had Sūrpaṇakhā to solicit Rāma? Rāvaṇa should have been aware of Rāma’s valor knowing their previous encounters. My son, my brother, and my husband - all were slain today! What a bad luck! There is no place for us here like there is no place for elephants in a forest fire! It is good that Vibhīṣaṇa sought shelter with the opposing side. We are finished!” Loud sobbing and wailings were heard through Laṅkā.

Rāvaṇa overheard the cries. He was enraged and called upon his three generals Virūpākṣa, Mahodara, and Mahāpārśva. He boasted: “Today Rāma will meet his end, as I avenge the deaths of Khara, Kumbhakarṇṇa, Prahasta, and Indrajit. The ground will become a carpet of dead monkeys. I will offer their flesh to the vultures. Do follow me to the battlefield!” Thousands of chariots, horses, and elephants were readied for the battle: the generals rode on their own chariots. Rāvaṇa rode his gem-studded chariot. Bugles and trumpets blared. Cries of “There goes Rāvaṇa! There goes the king of Laṅkā!” echoed throughout the island. The tumultuous noise crushed the earth.

Sugrīva witnessed the massacre of monkeys, he took charge. Virūpākṣa’s arrows and shafts were answered with rocks and trees. Sugrīva attacked Virūpākṣa’s elephant and threw him to the ground. He crushed Virūpākṣa’s chest and killed him. The next fight was with the more agile Mahodara. Sugrīva got hold of a sword and severed Mahodara’s head. Mahāpārśva shot arrows and engaged Aṅgada. The monkey prince dispatched iron rods. Mahāpārśva was hit by a rod. He collapsed to the ground and perished. 

Rāvaṇa witnessed the deaths of his generals. Undaunted, he ordered his charioteer: “Take me immediately to where Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa are - I must eliminate them! ” Rāvaṇa fired magic arrows with various animal heads - lions, tigers, wolves, foxes, falcons, and snakes. Rāma countered these missiles with his own arrows ignited in a fire. Large numbers of monkeys perished in this exchange. Rāvaṇa attacked Vibhīṣaṇa, and Lakṣmaṇa jumped to protect him. As Lakṣmaṇa attended to Vibhīṣaṇa, Rāvaṇa attacked him with a flood of javelins. One penetrated Lakshmana’s body causing profuse bleeding. Rāma was heartbroken. He nursed Lakṣmaṇa. He carefully removed the shaft head from his chest. Loudly sobbing, Rāma shouted: “My brother is dearest to me. Today the world will witness who the real Rāma is! Either Rāvaṇa or Rāma must perish today!” 

Suṣeṇa, the monkey physician, consoled Rāma. He treated Lakṣmaṇa using the herbs brought by Hanūmān from the mountains. Lakṣmaṇa was soon back on his feet, and Rāma was re-energized. Simultaneously, a strange chariot with a charioteer showed up to help Rāma. It came out of nowhere. Rāma had sympathizers in the forest! Rāvaṇa continued to fire snake missiles. Rāma countered with Garuda missiles. Gods and demons lined up in the sky as onlookers. Each side cheered their own. Rāvaṇa then fired a colossal dart roaring at Rāma. “Rāma, this is your end!” Rāvaṇa yelled. The skillful Rāma dodged, he caught hold of the dart. Rāma fired back whetted shafts at Rāvaṇa. Rāvaṇa was severely wounded. In a violent rage, Rāvaṇa fired a barrage of arrows at Rāma. Rāma was bloodied. Valmiki describes “Rāma looked like a huge red flower kiṁśuka tree in a forest.”

Rāma laughed heartily. His youthful command displayed itself. He taunted: “You consider yourself a hero while you kidnapped a helpless woman from the forest? And you consider yourself a hero while you took a woman away by force while she was alone? You pose as a protector and lay your hands on another’s wife, and you think you are a hero? Shame on you! You have no morals; you are a vile character. Had I seen your acts, you would not exist here! I will finish you up here today. Let vultures and birds pluck your body on this battleground!” Rāma showered arrows and missiles. He fired effortlessly and with determination. Rāvaṇa was severely injured. His charioteer pulled the chariot away from the field. 

A sinful man drives himself to his own destruction. Rāvaṇa was mad at his charioteer. “What do you think of yourself?” Rāvaṇa shouted. “I am no impotent fool that needs to run away from a battle! Take me back towards Rāma! I, Rāvaṇa, do not turn back without killing his enemy!” The charioteer turned. The exhausted Rāma was stunned to see Rāvaṇa reappear. Fortunately, the Sage Agastya was nearby - he took it upon himself to teach Rāma the hymn called āditya hṛdaya. The hymn extolls the Sun for his tireless service to the universe. Rāma recited the hymn. The recitation did magic on him. He got refreshed and was rejuvenated. He performed the ritual of offering water to the sun and sipped it three times. He was determined to take away the life of Rāvaṇa. He heard the words “Make haste!” from the sky. 

Then ensued the final battle between Rāma and Rāvaṇa. Everything came to a standstill. It became a spectacle to behold! Rāvaṇa fired and Rāma countered. Chariots were destroyed, and horses were wounded. Rāma was successful in severing Rāvaṇa’s head by firing a venomous arrow. But lo, a miracle of miracles: another head, exactly like the one cut off, propped up on Rāvaṇa’s shoulder. Rāma severed it, one more came up! Rāma was at a loss to make sense of the magic. He continued showering arrows. Newly sprouted heads gave life and continued to return fire. The battle continued day and night. 

Rāma’s charioteer Mātaḻi was smart and skilled. “Why do you simply operate defensively? Lord Brahmā has blessed you with the gift of the ultimate missile - now is the time to use it!” Rāma fitted the missile to his bow. The earth shook as the bowstring was stretched. The missile traveled at lightning speed to pierce Rāvaṇa ’s heart. It returned back to Rāma’s quiver. Rāvaṇa’s bow dropped from his hand. He was dead. 

The nature was calm, a pleasant breeze blew through. There was a shower of flowers from the sky. The celestials rejoiced. Shouts of “Bravo, Bravo, Well Done!” echoed all around. 

Let Sai bless all!