“Neither the demigods nor any exalted personalities were there helping Rama, for He acted alone. You should not entertain any doubt on this matter. Indeed, Rama shot feathered arrows, plated with gold, which turned into five-headed serpents that devoured all the Rakshasas. The Rakshasas were oppressed with fear, and wherever they went and wherever they turned, they saw Rama in front of them. In this way, O spotless one, have your Rakshasas been destroyed in the forest of Janasthana by Rama.” (Akampana speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 31.18-19)
नैव देवा महात्मानो नात्र कार्या विचारणा।
शरा रामेण तूत्सृष्टा रुक्मपुङ्खाः पतत्रिणः।।
सर्पाः पञ्चानना भूत्वा भक्षयन्ति स्म राक्षसान्।
येन येन च गच्छन्ति राक्षसा भयकर्शिताः।
तेन तेन स्म पश्यन्ति राममेवाग्रतः स्थितम्।
इत्थं विनाशितं तेन जनस्थानं तवानघ।।
naiva devā mahātmāno nātra kāryā vicāraṇā।
śarā rāmeṇa tūtsṛṣṭā rukmapuṅkhāḥ patatriṇaḥ।।
sarpāḥ pañcānanā bhūtvā bhakṣayanti sma rākṣasān।
yena yena ca gacchanti rākṣasā bhayakarśitāḥ।
tena tena sma paśyanti rāmamevāgrataḥ sthitam।
itthaṃ vināśitaṃ tena janasthānaṃ tavānagha।।
“I know I shouldn’t look at things this way, but I can’t help it in this case. I know you often make reference to Akampana’s testimony in the Ramayana, wherein he describes what took place on the battlefield of Janasthana, after Ravana sent a massive army there to deal with a single man.
“These are historical incidents involving an avatara of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but there seem to be elements of symbolism involved. Maybe element is not the right word. Opportunity. A way to teach a complex principle through story. Sort of like explaining something in a picture instead of writing it out.
“Would you say that is accurate? What symbolism can we draw from the incident, where the innocent Shri Rama defended Himself against attacking night-rangers?”
1. One against many
This historical incident is another of countless attempts by the nonbelievers to measure the extent of the potency in the Almighty. This sort of challenge shouldn’t be necessary. One look out the window while aboard an airplane should provide vivid and clear evidence of the extraordinary nature of this creation, over which we have little control.
Nevertheless, the illusion is potent for a reason. It can fool an otherwise intelligent person into believing that there is no God, that the individual can rise to the summit of achievement and influence, and that every kind of opposition can be squashed.
In this case, Ravana applied overwhelming force. Fourteen thousand of his men, who were expert at black magic, who could change their shapes at will, who were accustomed to attacking at night and in the forest area, went to Janasthana to deal with a warrior prince named Rama.
The supposed pretense was the ill-treatment received by Ravana’s sister, who had previously met with Rama and tried to attack Rama’s wife, Sita Devi. Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana disfigured her in the process, and she ran away bloody and screaming.
But a villain like Ravana does not require justification; the senses dictate every move. This should have been a quick encounter. Short and painless, with success guaranteed. It turned out to be true, but the other way around. Rama easily routed the fourteen thousand Rakshasas. For God this is child’s play. He can defend against fourteen million, if needed.
2. Service of the guru
Rama was not alone in the forest. He was living there with Sita and Lakshmana. For this encounter with Ravana’s men, the eldest son of King Dasharatha accepted the battle alone. He directed Lakshmana to take Sita to a nearby cave.
This is striking considering the service attitude within Lakshmana. He certainly would have preferred to fight. He would have defended Sita and Rama by himself, if he had to. He was not afraid. To retreat to a safe area was not his preferred option, but the representative of the Supreme Lord will make sacrifices in this way, serving the best interests.
3. Kala chasing
Akampana described that Ravana’s men could not find relief from Rama’s arrows. Retreating did not work. The arrows, which were plated with gold, chased them, as if heat-seeking missiles had been launched. It was like a computer had locked in on a target and would not let go.
This exchange illustrates how kala operates with the asura class, those who are against God. Kala is a Sanskrit word that means both time and death. Time devours as soon as there is birth. Death is the last blow of time on the individual in their particular body.
The asuras think they can defeat time, but in truth they are merely retreating. They are looking for shelter here and there, but they will never find it. The targets are set, and they will be hit.
4. Oppressed with fear
Who actually welcomes death? Who wants to be forced out of their way of living, to which they have become attached through so many years of association? Who wants to be dragged into the court of justice, with their sinful and pious deeds reviewed by a judge whose word is final? Who wants to take the chance of being sent somewhere in the future that is not enjoyable?
In this way the Rakshasas were oppressed with fear. They had reason to be concerned with the afterlife, which they foolishly denied for so long. They had killed many innocent sages in the tapo-vanas before, and they thought there wouldn’t be negative consequences. They thought wrong.
Kala chases every person, irrespective of their disposition towards dharma, or the path of righteousness. The distinction with the atheist class is that they get a meeting with a gruesome form. The incident described by Akampana is further evidence.
Kala was striking through Rama’s arrows. After chasing their targets, those arrows showed the face of a five-headed serpent. Death was grim for the egregiously sinful, and there was no way to escape.
The sura class, those who acknowledge God and are steadfastly devoted to Him, always sees Him, no matter where they are. They are neither running away nor hoping for additional time in ignorance. They bask in His presence, no matter where they live, and see Him standing tall, ready to protect and defend.
Not into illusion to fall,
Seeing Him standing tall.
Ready always to defend,
With gold-plated arrows to send.
The enemy chasing away,
Mark on the target to stay.
Better with that consciousness leaving,
With blessed image of Rama receiving.