“Just as getting you as their leader, Lanka, though filled with an abundance of the best jewels, will be soon destroyed due to your single offense.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.12-13)
tatheyam tvām samāsādya laṅkā ratnaughasamkulā ||
aparādhāttavaikasya vacirādvinaśiṣyati |
An aparadha is an offense, something to be avoided by someone who is serious about spiritual life. There are ten offenses to chanting the holy name, and one of them is blaspheming the devotees. Here is an instance of that offense, and it is of the worst kind. More than just speaking words aimed to harm someone else who is innocent, the offender here has snatched her away from the side of her husband without just cause. Though she refused him over and over again, he would not budge. He tried further attempts at persuasion, using even coercive techniques, but nothing worked. Because of his single offense, his entire city would soon be destroyed.
The cause and effect here should not be difficult to understand. An offense is just doing something the wrong way. The worse the offense, the more egregious the violation from the rules of propriety. Imagine preparing to run a marathon. You start running short distances and then gradually build your way up to running several miles without a problem. In the weeks leading up to the race, you keep an eye out for bad foods. You want to keep your blood pumping smoothly. Thus you don’t want to clog your arteries with saturated fats. You want to keep your blood pressure in check and get a nice routine of exercise going.
With all this being done, you’re ready to run the race. Oh, but the night before the race you decide to get plastered by going out to a bar. While intoxicated, you decide to eat an entire pizza. After that, you grab a pint of ice cream and finish off the whole thing. You are in so much discomfort then that you can’t even sleep well. The race is the next morning. In such bad shape, you can’t run more than a mile.
All that hard work was destroyed by a single night of offenses. Here the objective was to run a long-distance race. Your prior training built up your strength. Your fitness in this area was a kind of opulence. It was something of value; something which not every person possesses. It also was not very easy to acquire; it took hard work. From one night, however, all of that got erased.
Ravana had an opulence too, but on a larger scale. His city of Lanka was filled with an abundance of wonderful jewels. In the opening sections of the Sundara-kanda of the Ramayana, we get descriptions of Lanka’s opulence based on the observations of Shri Hanuman. He was a messenger sent to find the missing wife of Lord Rama, Sita Devi. He infiltrated Lanka when he heard that she might be there. While in the city, he couldn’t help but notice its opulence.
“He [Hanuman] saw in that great city seven and eight story buildings inlaid with crystal and decorated with gold. Those houses of the Rakshasas shone brightly with their surfaces studded with vaidurya gems and decorated with strings of pearls.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.52-53)
The amount of gold alone was mind-boggling. Crystals were found in the floor tiles and along the walls. The arches in the city were made of gold. The opulence was beyond anything one could imagine. Ravana was very powerful too. He had tremendous physical strength. Kings around the world feared him. He had taken over Lanka by threat of this physical force. His half-brother Kuvera had lived there previously, but when he heard of Ravana’s dreadful prowess, he fled the city.
Despite so much opulence, through a single offense Lanka would be destroyed. Sita’s prediction here would prove to be true. Ravana did not have to take this route. He could have avoided the offense by worshiping Sita, honoring her as the mother of the universe. He could have returned her to Rama, who is her husband for all of eternity. He could have invited Rama to come to the Ashoka grove in his kingdom and enjoy the pristine environment there with Sita. He could have immediately sent his ministers out to find Rama and let Him know that His wife was safe.
The offense here is particular to a devotee. Though Rama was also offended since it was His wife, because He is God no one can offend Him. What does He care if someone doesn’t like Him? What’s it to Him if He’s not shown the proper respect? The offender is the loser in these instances. They miss out on associating with the only person who has all bliss and all knowledge for all of eternity. They miss out on rekindling the lost relationship with the one person who can accept an endless amount of affection, lifetime after lifetime.
The offense here was against Sita, as she was prevented from serving her husband, which was her lone desire. Previously, Rama’s step-mother Kaikeyi had banished Him from the kingdom for fourteen years. This almost prevented Sita from serving Rama, but it didn’t. Prior to that, there was the heavy bow of Lord Shiva in the assembly in Janakpur that served as an obstacle. Sita’s father, King Janaka, had made the bow the issue of the contest. Whichever prince could lift it first would win Sita’s hand in marriage. If Rama couldn’t lift the bow, Sita couldn’t marry Him. Thus she would be prevented from serving Him in the manner she desired.
If the motives are pure, the servant gets to carry out their service. Whatever is in the way, especially an obstacle created by someone who is against such service, will eventually get destroyed. Whether the obstacle is a nagging cold or a fiendish king who lives in an opulent city, the destruction is sure to arrive all the same. Sita, and particularly the offense committed against her, did Ravana in. If he had left her alone, perhaps he could have ruled over Lanka for a long time and then continued in his passionate pursuits later on. Since he was so offensive, the entire kingdom was destroyed.
Sita made mention of this because the jewels in the city were important to Ravana. He had used his opulence as a way to support his ego. He thought that maybe Sita would be impressed by his tremendous wealth. If he didn’t have it anymore due to offending Sita, no other princess would be impressed by him either. So in this way Sita knew just what to say to try to cut at the heart of the miscreant.
Through envy, insecurity, wrath, false pride and other negative attributes we are prone to offending others, including those who work tirelessly to chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” and distribute them to others. Such saints are very dear to Sita, and so offending them is like offending her. And from her statement above, we know how destructive such a mistake can be.
In strength he stood tall,
With opulent city he had it all.
Or so that is what he thought,
Desired princess to Lanka he brought.
Her heart away from Rama not to win,
Offense against her the greatest sin.
When pleased all opulence to devotees she gives,
When offended miscreant in total destruction to live.
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