“O sinless one, these irrepressible flesh-eating Rakshasas attack us during our performance of fire sacrifices (homa), or on other auspicious occasions.” (Sages of Dandaka forest speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.11-12)
Nature provided for them sufficiently already. There was no need for the extra effort. No elaborate plans necessary. No sharpening of the physical skills or in-depth use of the intellect. These were a human-like species, after all. Their king had concentrated enormous power in his home city of Lanka. Even the buildings were made of gold.
The higher forces automatically supply sufficient nourishment to the non-moving beings. The thousands of trees that line the highway grow on their own. Rain arrives at periodic times, and there is sufficient sunshine that gets converted to the energy necessary to remain alive. Even the carnivorous moving species get their appropriate allotment.
These Rakshasas had intelligence, and as further evidence of the possible directions resulting from the exercise of free will, that intelligence wasn’t put to the best use. At the personal level the belief was that the decision was proper. The preplanned attacks were both offensive and defensive in nature.
1. Wait until night
They are called Nishacharas for a reason. They prefer to do their work at night. The timing is also symbolic, as the Rakshasas are mostly in the material mode of ignorance. This involves doing work that has no tangible benefit. In the long-term the result is birth in an animal species after quitting the body.
On these nighttime raids, the Rakshasas departed from Lanka and hoped to land in the forest of Dandaka. Why this particular area? It was known as a tapo-vana, or a remote place, away from civilization, conducive to austerity and penance.
The Rakshasas were interested in neither. They were focused on the targets, i.e. the people living in Dandaka. Better to wait until the lights were out. This way it would be more difficult to be spotted; similar to how burglars operate when breaking and entering.
2. Change the shape
Like their leader Ravana, these man-eating ogres had the ability to change their shape at will. It is a kind of mystic perfection, or siddhi. Why would someone want to do that? Why not be satisfied with the rupa from birth? Why look for a different form?
The ability comes in handy when dealing with enemies. The sages in Dandaka were no one’s enemy, but the Rakshasas were so low in character that they particularly picked on the innocent. Ravana was bent on sinful life, and piety is always the enemy to sin. The more the influence of the pious can be diminished, the less threatened the sinful will feel.
3. Attack at the time of sacrifice
At night, in a masked shape, and also when the sages would be distracted. The Rakshasas waited until something important was going on. There was another factor that went into this decision.
It is during sacrifices, yajnas, that the demigods get strength. They literally eat the offerings made into the fire, which look to be only symbolic in nature. The wise person understands that the Divine does not pass down these practices without making them effective. In other words, genuine spiritual life is not a waste of time, even if some of the daily procedures and regulations seem strange, outdated, or odd.
Attack during a sacrifice so that the efforts of the sages go for naught. Nullify their entire reason for living in Dandaka. The practice of the Rakshasas was something like going after churches during the time of a sermon. Strike while the iron is hot, as the saying goes.
4. Enjoy the resulting flesh
The attacks were lethal in nature. That is to say, don’t just disrupt the sacrifice and interfere with the demigods. Take out the brahmanas altogether. The priestly class isn’t physically strong, but they can help to empower others. Specifically, the kshatriya class is meant to protect against aggressors. That class gets its guidance from the brahmanas.
It was in this situation that Shri Rama was called upon for help. He happened to be in Dandaka with His wife Sita and younger brother Lakshmana. Rama carried weapons with Him so that the brahmanas wouldn’t have to. They complained to the prince of Ayodhya about the attacking Rakshasas. The sages were literally being eaten away, so low were the invaders in character.
Rama happily agreed to protect. The brahmanas could have used curses to protect themselves, but with each curse offered some of their pious credits would diminish; in a roundabout way the Rakshasas would have won regardless. With Rama there to protect the nighttime attacks would come to an end.
In a similar manner, the conditioned living entity is struggling with one misery after another. The mind itself can be a great roadblock to success, and so the best way to control it is to get the help of the same Shri Rama. He arrives in the form of the holy name to give protection, allowing for devotion to be practiced without issue, giving bliss to last beyond the current lifetime.
At nighttime waiting to pounce,
So as presence not to announce.
With form difficult to see,
And magical weapons to free.
Target the sages in forest residing,
Who over important sacrifices presiding.
That darkness dissipated by only one,
Whose favor by devotion won.
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