“Neither the demigods nor any exalted personalities were there helping Rama, for He acted alone. You should not entertain any doubt on this matter. Indeed, Rama shot feathered arrows, plated with gold, which turned into five-headed serpents that devoured all the Rakshasas. The Rakshasas were oppressed with fear, and wherever they went and wherever they turned, they saw Rama in front of them. In this way, O spotless one, have your Rakshasas been destroyed in the forest of Janasthana by Rama.” (Akampana speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 31.18-19)
Gross materialists and atheists have a hard time believing there is anyone superior to the demigods or other exalted living entities. Taking their current life and body to be the beginning and end of everything, they think the sum total of existence is made up of fallible living entities. They don’t believe in a Creator or a higher power. Believing there is no one capable of stopping them, these demons take to sinful life. To remind everyone of His existence and strength, God personally appears on earth from time to time, and torments the minds of such fools.
The Vedas, the ancient scriptures emanating from India, tell us that there is only one God. Though He is capable of assuming various guises and expanding Himself into innumerable forms, His original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna. Krishna is known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. His direct expansions are known as vishnu-tattva, meaning they are equal to Him in potency. We living entities are spirit souls at our core, part and parcel of Krishna. Though we are not God, we are similar to Him in quality, but not in quantity. To facilitate the desire of the spirit souls to lord over nature and pretend to be God themselves, Krishna created this material world. This world is a temporary place full of miseries, thus it is completely opposite in nature to the spiritual world. Since Krishna Himself never comes in contact with maya, or the presiding energy of the material world, He deputes elevated living entities known as demigods to manage the affairs here. Gods like Lord Shiva, Brahma, Ganesha, etc. all manage different departments of the creation. By rule, they are required to bestow a variety of material benedictions to anyone who pleases them, regardless of the motives of the worshiper.
The difference between demigods and God Himself is that the demigods are living entities just like us. They may have extraordinary powers and a longer duration of life, but they are nevertheless subject to birth and death. God, on the other hand, never takes birth nor does He die. He never assumes a material body. Even when He personally appears on earth, His body remains unaffected by material nature. This illustrates another difference between God and the living entities. For God, there is no difference between His soul and His body. He is completely spirit. We, on the other hand, are spiritual in nature, but remain conditioned inside of a body that is subject to birth and death. The gross material body is composed of the three gunas of goodness, passion, and ignorance. Krishna possesses no material qualities; hence He is often described as nirguna.
Since the beginning of time, there has been an ongoing war between the suras and the asuras. Suras are devotees of God and asuras are demons. Asuras don’t believe in the existence of God. They wage war with the demigods because they view them as competitors. Material life means competition. People often wonder why there are so many tragedies and other calamities that take place. The answer is quite simple. The material world is a sort of playing field for the living entities, of which God has no direct interest in. He creates the playground but then stands back and views as an impartial witness. This is because there really is no winning or losing on this playing field. As mentioned before, we are all here because we want to pretend to be God. Since everyone has this desire, competition will naturally ensue. Some people will be more religious than others, thus they will put limits on their pursuit of dharma, artha, and kama, but the asuras will never hold back. They will stop at nothing to acquire wealth, fame, and power.
For this reason, the asuras have no problems going to war with the demigods. They see great personalities like Indra, Brahma, and Kuvera and think, “Who are these people to think they are more powerful than me? Let me worship them so that I can receive great benedictions. They will be foolish enough to grant my wishes, and I will then use my acquired strength to defeat them. Then I can rule the world and everyone will worship me.” This is precisely how the great Rakshasa demon Ravana thought during his time on earth during the Treta Yuga. He performed rigid austerities to please Brahma and Shiva. He was rewarded with great boons which he then used to battle and defeat the demigods. Everyone in the world was afraid of him.
“Those penances and austerities which are performed foolishly by means of obstinate self-torture, or to destroy or injure others, are said to be in the mode of ignorance.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.19)
One may wonder why the demigods granted all of Ravana’s requests. As mentioned before, the material body is composed of three gunas: goodness, passion, and ignorance. In a similar manner, every material activity, religious activity included, can also be qualified as being in one of these three modes. Ravana’s worship of the demigods was in the mode of ignorance. It is categorized as such because his worship served no functional purpose. Worship in the mode of goodness gives some sort of advancement in spiritual life. Worship in the mode of passion bestows some fruitive reward, but worship in the mode of ignorance only leads to destruction.
This is indeed what resulted for Ravana. He used his acquired powers to battle the suras, or the demigods and the saintly class of men. In fact, his Rakshasa associates would regularly terrorize the quiet and humble sages living in the forests. These great men were living peacefully in the wilderness, not bothering anyone. Ravana’s men would approach the sages in disguise and then pounce on their sacrifices. They would kill the sages and then eat their flesh.
The remedy the situation, Krishna Himself came to earth in the form of a human being. Born as the eldest son of King Dashratha of Ayodhya, Lord Rama quickly became famous throughout the world for His fighting ability. While staying in the forest of Janasthana, He, His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana, were harassed by Ravana’s sister, Shurpanakha. A conflict resulted between her and Lakshmana, which then led to Ravana sending 14,000 Rakshasas to Janasthana to attack Rama and His family. To teach Ravana a lesson, Rama instructed Lakshmana to take Sita away and to protect her. Rama then proceeded to kill all 14,000 Rakshasas by Himself.
One of Ravana’s associates, Akampana, managed to escape Rama’s attack and return to Lanka. In the above referenced statement, Akampana is describing Rama’s prowess. Ravana was dumbfounded that all the Rakshasas were killed. He wanted to know who was helping Rama. This is the mindset of a foolish person. Since he had defeated all the demigods, Ravana thought there was no one in the world more powerful than himself. Upon hearing what Rama had done, Ravana thought for sure that the demigods must have helped Him. Akampana told Ravana to immediately get this thought out of his mind.
The name Rama means one who gives pleasure to others. This pleasure is directed towards the devotees. Just hearing of Rama’s prowess and fighting ability brings great bliss to His adherents. Rama is anything but pleasurable to the enemies of His devotees. Rama’s arrows tormented all the Rakshasas, for wherever they turned, they saw one of Rama’s shafts headed their way, similar to how a heat-seeking missile acts. The Rakshasas were actually greatly benefited by Rama’s attacks. The Lord openly declares that anyone who thinks of Him at the time of death is automatically awarded liberation from material life.
“Those who have achieved liberation from material contamination, and those who are demons and are killed by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, become absorbed in the Brahman concept of life and reside in the spiritual sky of the brahma-jyoti.” (Brahmanda Purana)
The Rakshasas in Janasthana were all thinking of Rama at the time of death, so they were immediately granted liberation. Though the material world is generally a place full of miseries due to the competitive nature of man, if one decides to take up devotional service, he can make his life successful. There are different kinds of liberation, and if God’s greatest enemies are rewarded in such a way, one can only imagine what is in store for the devotees.
“Lord Krishna is the bestower of five kinds of liberation, of which sayujya-mukti, or the liberation of becoming one with the Supreme, was given to the demons like Kamsa, whereas the gopis were given the chance to associate with Him personally.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 35)
Sadly, not all demons are as lucky as Ravana and the Rakshasas of Janasthana. Death is the great equalizer. All of one’s material strength, acquisitions and relationships are relinquished at the time of death. If one still has material desires at the end of life, they are forced to take birth again. The true mission of life is to abandon our futile attempt to be God. Spiritual life is the antithesis of karmic life. Rama’s exhibition of strength serves as a reminder to all of us that there is only one God, and that we can never become Him. However, we can associate with Him eternally in a loving way if we choose to.