Land of the Dead

Lord Rama“O Rakshasa, when your Rakshasa army had been killed in Janasthana, turning it into Hatasthana [land of the dead], being powerless you committed this wicked deed.” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.29-30)

janasthāne hatasthāne nihate rakṣasāṃ bale ||
aśaktena tvayā rakṣaḥ kṛtametadasādhu vai |

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If one has a name that is related to a common object, expression or attribute, it is sometimes fun to make a joke at their expense, taking advantage of the specific name. For instance, if a hockey goaltender has the last name of Quick, if they give up a bad goal, the commentator could say something like, “Quick was too slow on that one. Not as fast as he normally is. Quick seems to be slowing down.” Such comments are made in good fun, but in the verse referenced above the humor is meant to insult a fiendish king in the worst possible way. The lady offering the insults was quite clever indeed, giving a new name to an area previously governed by the fiendish king himself. The new name was not very flattering, as it reminded him of an embarrassing defeat.

The name of the area was Janasthana. In Sanskrit, this means “a place of the people,” or taking it more literally, “a place of the living.” Janasthana is in the Dandaka forest. The area still exists to this day in India, and millions of years ago it was the scene of a terrific battle. There was only one army involved. It consisted of 14,000 of the best fighters in the world. They were capable, strong, and not fearful. They also employed black magic as a primary tactic. Using different skills honed through practice and austerity, these creatures, who were manlike but still ogres in behavior, could change their shapes at will. They could disappear from sight and then reappear suddenly. Keep in mind that there were 14,000 of these fighters in the only army on the battlefield.

Lord RamaBy the way, that entire army was slain. They were defeated not by an opposing army, but by a single man. He didn’t use black magic. He didn’t have to hide from the vision. Everyone could see Him. He was right out in the open. He used His single bow and arrow set to defend Himself. He had done nothing wrong. He wasn’t the aggressor. The aggressor sets the rules in a conflict, but for Rama this isn’t a problem. Previously, His step-mother had turned aggressive and changed the rules for how He would live. Instead of ascending the throne of Ayodhya, following the protocol of succession and taking over for His father King Dasharatha, Rama now had to live in the forest as an ascetic. He could take His bow and arrow with Him, but not much else. His wife Sita came too, as did His younger brother Lakshmana. They did so of their own volition; in fact Rama tried to persuade them in the opposite direction.

The three set up camp in Dandaka, and they were minding their own business. The King of Lanka was the head of these 14,000 fighters. His sister started their demise by coming to Dandaka and attacking Sita. Sent away disfigured, she complained to Ravana, who then retaliated by sending his massive army. Rama told Lakshmana to take Sita to a nearby cave so that she would be safe. Rama then proceeded to defeat all of Ravana’s men who came to Janasthana. Thus the land known for living people was soon strewn with the dead. In order to avenge the loss, Ravana came there in secret and took Sita away using a ruse.

Here Sita is rebuking him once again. The scene is the Ashoka grove in Lanka, where Ravana kept Sita in hopes of getting her to change her mind. Her mind is always fixed on Rama. It can never go elsewhere. If it did, she would cease to be. It’s like having a fire that doesn’t burn or an ocean without water. Such things cannot exist, and so Sita can never divert her mind from Rama.

Lord RamaIn this particular verse, she insults Ravana further by reminding him of his cowardice. He took her away in secret, which was a wicked deed, only because he was helpless. He became helpless because his 14,000 men were killed in Janasthana. Here she makes a humorous remark by referring to Janasthana as Hatasthana due to the defeat of the Rakshasas. Hatasthana means the “land of the dead.” The dead refers to Ravana’s army, which implies that Rama is capable of turning a living area into a dead one if He is attacked. It doesn’t matter the strength of the other side. The size of the army is also of no concern. Rama is unconquerable; hence one of His many names is Ajita.

The thief particularly hates anyone who calls out their behavior. As long as you leave the thief alone, if you keep giving them flattering words, they will not be angry with you. But as soon as someone points out their illegal acts, the ire is raised. Sita knew this very well, so she made sure to insult Ravana by pointing out his past defeats. A defeat would come again very soon, where Rama and His monkey army would turn the opulent Lanka into the land of the dead as well. The life of Lanka was soon to be out of season, and it was all due to the disrespect Ravana showed to Rama, the Supreme Lord in His incarnation as a warrior prince.

In Closing:

Defeat at hands of Rama earned,

Janasthana to land of the dead turned.


Rakshasas numbering fourteen thousand despite,

No match for Rama’s bow and arrow’s might.


After defeat towards trickery to resort,

Lust his memory of history to distort.


The same triumph soon again to repeat,

Due punishment fiend Ravana to reap.

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