“When will my husband see me, after orchestrating the destruction of the Rakshasas, killing Ravana, and destroying Lanka?” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 37.6)
rākṣasānām kṣayam kṛtvā sūdayitvā ca rāvaṇam |
lankām unmūlitām kṛtvā kadā drakṣyati mām patiḥ ||
It is a great responsibility to lead people. Not only are they looking to that person for guidance, but there is a tremendous impact from every decision made. For instance, in the case of a leader for a group travelling to an unknown place, making the wrong turn can take them further away from the destination. It is something like a person driving the car; the decisions influence the passengers, as well.
And so when the leader in a particular land goes in a particular direction with respect to behavior, the people living there see the effects. If the president or king starts a war, the fighting is not reserved to a foreign territory. That is to say the house next door can turn from a residential area into a battlefield, even if not zoned that way.
The leader in Lanka a long time ago made some decisions carrying significant risks. Ravana hadn’t seen any negative consequences for a long time, despite having violated dharma on many occasions. He once killed a messenger and ate him because he didn’t like the message received. He frightened his own brother to the point that the brother fled Lanka and left it for Ravana.
It is understandable for a person to think that by getting away with criminal behavior time and again they will be able to succeed in that path going forward. Ravana saved his biggest violation for last. This one he would not get away with, and the punishment would be threefold.
1. The destruction of the Rakshasas
Ravana was a kind of man-eating ogre. This species is known as Rakshasa in Sanskrit. They are inclined towards adharma, which is sinful behavior. While consulting sacred texts is helpful, identifying sin is not that difficult. Adharma is basically doing things the wrong way. Taking property that doesn’t belong to you. Violating innocent life. Behavior that you wouldn’t want to see in the reverse direction.
While Ravana wouldn’t like it if someone came to his kingdom in disguise and secretly stole one of his wives, he had no problem doing the same in the forest of Dandaka. He took Sita Devi, the wife of Shri Rama. There was force applied. There was trickery. There was cowardice, too, despite Ravana being so proud of his fighting prowess.
The punishment from Shri Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, would involve the destruction of the Rakshasas. These were the people living in Lanka, following the lead of Ravana. They used to attack innocent sages during the time of religious observance. They would then eat the resulting flesh. The sins were great, and the consequences would arrive at the appropriate time, with commensurate intensity.
2. The killing of Ravana
Though he was seemingly invincible in battle, Ravana did not challenge Rama directly to win Sita. He was too afraid. Yet that fight would be brought to Him. A single man, normal in appearance, against a grim-visaged ogre with ten heads and twenty arms. Rama would win, and that victory would bring the death of Ravana.
3. The destruction of Lanka
The threefold punishment is predicted by Sita in a rhetorical question asked to Shri Hanuman, who is Rama’s messenger sent to find her. The city won’t be spared. Despite gold everywhere, even in the construction of the buildings, the opulence will diminish. These are the sinful reactions of the king spreading across the people under him.
In fact, a taste of that destruction would be seen prior to Rama’s arrival. On his way out of Lanka, after meeting Sita, Hanuman would lay waste to the city, using a tail initially set on fire by Ravana. The fire lit inside of Shri Rama, an incarnation of the Supreme Lord, would finish the job later on, proving that God’s eyes are indeed everywhere. He witnesses the bad, and He most certainly sees and remembers every call made to Him in earnest, such as with the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Ravana over Lanka to lead,
Sins over to citizens to bleed.
Like Sita away from Rama taking,
Destruction of Rakshasas making.
After messenger’s tail on fire setting,
Burning city just reward getting.
Adharma in this way rebounding,
Victory for bhakti resounding.