“You are indeed the Ravana I saw in Janasthana, who gave up his real form and took the form of a wandering religious mendicant.” (Sita Devi speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 34.15)
स्वम् परित्यज्य रूपम् यः परिव्राजक रूपधृत् ||
जन स्थाने मया दृष्टः त्वम् स एव असि रावणः |
svam parityajya rūpam yaḥ parivrājaka rūpadhṛt ||
jana sthāne mayā dṛṣṭaḥ tvam sa eva asi rāvaṇaḥ |
The acharyas warn us. Don’t be fooled. Man is godly. He is divine, atma, due to the relationship to deva, the real God. But this does not mean that we are God. Nor can we ever become so.
This is only logical. If I have to work to become the Supreme, it means that at some point in time I was not in that status. If at any point in the infinite timeline of existence I am not the Supreme, my high status gets invalidated.
One of the easy ways to be fooled is to see a magical display, but Vedic literature gives the proper perspective. We get accounts of wicked characters doing amazing things, and they were anything but God. In fact, they were completely against Him.
1. Change their shapes at will
These characters were of the Rakshasa species. This is both a kind of body and a mindset. The Rakshasas of ancient times were known for man-eating. They were night-rangers, and thus another name to identify them is Nishachara.
The Rakshasas exhibited what is known as the kama-rupa-siddhi. This is the perfection of mystic yoga whereby a person can take any form they desire. We know that forms do change, such as from boyhood to youth to old age.
देहिनो ऽस्मिन् यथा देहे
कौमारं यौवनं जरा
धीरस् तत्र न मुह्यति
dehino ‘smin yathā dehe
kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā
dhīras tatra na muhyati
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
The body can also change significantly through disease or exercise. Sometimes the star athlete looks completely different a decade or so after they retired from competition. The same person, but a different visual.
With the kama-rupa-siddhi, you can change your form instantly. One time the leader named Ravana took the shape of a parivrajaka mendicant. This is a kind of spiritually inclined person who begs for a living. They travel from door to door to sustain life, and at the same time they disseminate spiritual wisdom.
Ravana was a fake parivrajaka, but the change in shape was so convincing that Sita Devi mistook him for an innocent visitor in the forest of Dandaka. Later on, when the messenger sent by her husband Rama came to visit, Sita suspected him of also being Ravana, since the Rakshasas could easily change shapes. Hanuman displayed the visual of a monkey, but perhaps that was not real.
2. Appear and disappear on the battlefield
Sita’s husband was so skilled in the military arts that He could defeat enemies without seeing them. Not some magic trick or an ability used to show off, this skill was necessary. When facing the female demon named Tataka, Rama had to use sound to defeat her, as she appeared and disappeared at will.
Later on, when Rama and His army of friends from the Vanara community marched to Lanka to rescue Sita, the same problem was there. The Rakshasas from Lanka, led by Ravana, could appear and disappear at will. How can you shoot arrows at someone you can’t see?
The Rakshasas could also display false visions. Similar to how modern media can create a societal panic by keeping a death tally on the screen for victims of an illness, the Rakshasas could show Shri Rama being defeated. This was a false vision, meant to dispirit the people fighting for the side of good.
3. Rise to great prominence in the material world
This is another trick of the Rakshasas. We typically wouldn’t expect bad people to rise to the top. Cheaters never win. You can’t become wealthy by confiscating what belongs to others. Yet this is what Ravana did. He was so feared throughout the world because of boons of protection he previously received.
Despite these tricks, we see that the illusion soon dissipated. Rama could snuff out their false forms, such as when He shot Maricha with an arrow. This occurred two different times, with the last instance ending the life of illusion.
Rama defeated Tataka and others who cowardly disappeared on the battlefield, and He ended the reign of terror in Lanka. This means that the side of good does eventually emerge victorious. The real God does not require such tricks, and He can be discovered through genuine religious practices, which are based on service, like the appealing prayer of the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
To be made aware,
Through appealing prayer.
Shri Rama easily found,
Via sacred sound.
Not like Rakshasas hiding so,
Changing forms a deadly foe.
Despite their powerful rise to the top,
From Lord’s arrows a deadly drop.
Categories: the three