Passing The Test

Lakshmana and Rama slaying Tataka“Rama showed His tremendous knowledge of fighting by killing the demon Tataka. The muni then gave to Him knowledge of secret mantras to be used in fighting.” (Janaki Mangala, 36)

badhī tāḍakā rāma jāni saba lāyaka|
bidyā mantra rahasya die munināyaka||

Sometimes we’re asked to do things that we really don’t want to do. The suggested acts seem to break all the rules of propriety, every standard of decency which we have instinctively followed for many years. But when the request comes from a superior, someone we respect and who we know will not lead us astray, perhaps we will go ahead despite our reluctance. In the Vedic tradition, such requests sometimes come from the spiritual master, and if they are true to their vow to remain devoted to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the acceptance of those instructions and their prosecution with firm faith, attention and honor by the disciple will prove beneficial in every way. This system of acceptance and action is so important that the object of service Himself shows its merits through His behavior.

Case in point the incident with Lord Rama and the female Rakshasa Tataka. Rama is the person most of the world refers to as God. More than just a vague concept of someone who may or may not get angry with us depending on what we do, the Supreme Lord is the person from whom everything emanates. His “personality” is a little different than ours. He is not limited to one manifestation, nor is He bound by the influence of time and space. Intelligence is rooted in Him, for the concept of a person or living creature descends from His very existence.

Lord RamaLord Rama is the Supreme Lord in the spiritual manifestation of a warrior prince, carrying with Him the bow and arrow wherever He goes to slay the wicked elements harassing the saintly class. In a world full of relative good and bad, it’s difficult to say who actually deserves protection and who doesn’t. For instance, the person being attacked by another person may think they are innocent, but perhaps in the past they were not so kind to a helpless creature like an ant or a cow. The person being attacked may also have ill motives to act upon in the future. The person doing the attacking may be acting as a vehicle to deliver the sinful reactions to past work.

“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)

The dualities in the phenomenal world make it a little difficult to understand God’s position and even acknowledge His existence. For instance, is it wise to pray to God for help in a football game? The last second field goal attempt by the kicker will grant victory to his team, but defeat to the opposition. If he should miss, the opposition will be elated, but the kicker will have to deal with the pain of having lost the game for his team. In this scenario, is praying for an outcome one way or another something that God should have to deal with? Is He really interested in trivial things like football games?

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion – at that time I descend Myself.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)

The divine descents give us a slight understanding of what really interests the Lord and where He decides to intervene. It is said in the Bhagavad-gita by the same Shri Rama in His original form of Lord Krishna that whenever there is a decline in religious practice and a rise in irreligion, the Lord descends Himself. This one statement reveals that there is no difference between Rama, Krishna and any other personal incarnation of Godhead. The “myself” indicates that Krishna is personally arriving on the scene, though His outward form may be suited to the current situation in society.

Lord RamaHow do we tell if there is a rise of irreligion? Isn’t this a relative measurement? Is not religion practically nonexistent today? The key is to see how much the pious members of society are being harassed in their daily affairs. If the entire population voluntarily chooses against religious life and instead turns towards temporary material satisfaction, the personal intervention of the Lord isn’t necessarily required. But when the pious elements that do exist all of a sudden can’t carry out their duties because of the intentional interference of the miscreant class, then the attention of the by-default neutral Supreme Lord is caught.

In His descent as Rama, the Lord dealt with many nefarious characters harassing the innocent sages in the forests. Rama appeared in the dynasty of King Raghu, who was a famous ruler known for his piety. Therefore Rama and His three younger brothers were taught from an early age about chivalry and how to respect and honor the most honorable members of society. Vishvamitra, one of the sages facing harassment in the forest, approached King Dasharatha of Ayodhya and asked to have the king’s eldest son Rama escort him through the forest. Rama was ready to carry out the request, and He took the younger brother Lakshmana with Him. The boys were still very young at the time, but Vishvamitra knew that Rama was capable of providing full protection.

Capability and implementation are two different things. You can say that you’re capable of performing the job responsibilities during an interview for the position, but once you get the job you have to deliver. Otherwise you will prove to be a failure and also show that the people who hired you made a mistake. Rama’s initial test came with the female demon Tataka. She was a ghoulish looking creature who had a vendetta against the saintly class. She was previously a beautiful woman but was then later cursed by Agastya Rishi through a series of events. She became a hideous looking Rakshasi that would eat whoever would come near her. She loved to harass the sages living in the forest, including Vishvamitra.

It was now time for Rama to slay her. But the Lord was hesitant. Why should He kill a woman? The chivalrous fighters of the Raghu dynasty never did anything inappropriate. Dasharatha did not want to part with Rama, but since a venerable rishi made the request, the king felt obliged to follow. Now Rama was showing how well His father had raised Him by not desiring to break the standard rules of warfare. In reality, there was no risk of sin, for Tataka had been killing and eating people. In this sense she was more a vicious animal than a woman. She lost her standing as a member of a protected class by the actions she took.

Rama and Lakshmana fighting TatakaVishvamitra tried to dispel Rama’s doubt by telling Him that she needed to be killed and that doing so would not break any rules of conduct. Thus Rama twanged His bow to get the attention of the demon, who then proceeded to attack. But in the back of His mind Rama had decided that He wouldn’t kill her. He would just attack her, rough her up a little bit, but then let her live. Tataka started by releasing an onslaught of crags, and Rama responded by using His arrows to protect Himself. Then Lakshmana stepped in and lopped off the hideous creature’s ears. Rama too started attacking her with His arrows.

The Rakshasas are also masters of illusion, using black magic when necessary. Thus Tataka started disappearing and appearing at will, making it very difficult to attack her. Vishvamitra at this time told Rama not to wait much longer. Nighttime was about to fall, and during that period the Rakshasas become almost unbeatable. Rama should not pay any concern to her gender. He should instead shoot to kill. Following the sage’s words, Rama showed His ability to fight enemies using just sound. Locating the invisible demon, He pierced her in the chest with His arrows, ending her life.

Vishvamitra was so pleased by Rama’s act. The son of Gadhi could have attacked Tataka with a curse, but then he would have lost some of his accumulated spiritual merits. The brahmanas are not meant for fighting. If you have a hired security firm to protect you, why would you want to use your own effort to fend off attackers? If you did that, what need would there be for the hired security? In a similar manner, the entire society is meant to be protected by the kshatriya class. The brahmanas can take to any activity if necessary, but their primary purpose is to worship God and teach others how to carry out that same worship through their occupational duties.

Rama was hesitant to kill Tataka but He followed through because Vishvamitra, the guru, requested it. By pleasing the guru, Rama received so many valuable weapons and secret mantras to chant to invoke those weapons. Just by calling up on the celestial weapons, they would appear to Rama and help Him in fighting off enemies. Lord Indra, the chief of the demigods, watching the slaying of Tataka from above appeared on the scene afterwards and advised Vishvamitra to give to Rama the many weapons that would help Him in the future.

Rama killing TatakaThe irony is that Rama never needs any help from anyone. He simply exhales to create this and many other universes. When He inhales, everything comes back into Him. But just to show how important the guru is, and how respected Vishvamitra was, Rama acted like a servant. He pleased the guru by passing the test placed in front of Him, even though He was not desirous of taking that test. It is impossible to measure the merits of the blessings received from the guru. Vishvamitra was a devotee, so by pleasing him one could get only auspiciousness as a result.

The Vaishnava spiritual masters, those who follow the same devotion as Vishvamitra, advise everyone to regularly chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Always think of the Lord, become His devotee, revel in His many triumphs, and follow the direction of His servants. Even if you are reluctant to chant and don’t see what the benefit in it is, just know that the gurus most enthusiastically recommend the chanting of the holy names, that they beg as many people as possible to at least say the name of Krishna or Rama one time. By obliging their request, we receive secrets that unlock the door to boundless future happiness, which includes the sight of the Supreme Lord’s lotus feet day after day.

In Closing:

At pleasing the Supreme Lord guru is the best,

For their benefit, gives the disciple a test.


Son of Gadhi wanted Rama Tataka to kill,

Hearts of forest’s sages with terror she did fill.


At initial request Rama was hesitant,

To kill woman and break rules reluctant.


Nevertheless, showed that He can kill by sound,

Using nothing else, female demon’s location found.


Dropped to the ground after pierced in the chest,

With His arrows, Rama passed beloved guru’s test.

Categories: janaki mangala

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