“Then I, resembling a cloud and having molten-golden earrings, made my way into Vishvamitra’s ashrama, for I was very proud of my strength due to the boon given to me by Lord Brahma. As soon as I entered, Rama quickly noticed me and raised His weapon. Though He saw me, Rama strung His bow without any fear.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.16-17)
बली दत्तवरोदर्पादाजगाम तदाश्रमम्।।
तेन दृष्टः प्रविष्टोऽहं सहसैवोद्यतायुधः।
मां तु दृष्ट्वा धनुस्सज्यमसम्भ्रान्तश्चकार सः।।
balī dattavarodarpādājagāma tadāśramam।।
tena dṛṣṭaḥ praviṣṭo’haṃ sahasaivodyatāyudhaḥ।
māṃ tu dṛṣṭvā dhanussajyamasambhrāntaścakāra saḥ।।
“I know that one of the reasons for the advent of the Shri Rama avatara was to protect the saintly class who were living in the Dandaka forest and similar areas. This aligns with the principle presented in Bhagavad-gita, wherein the same Supreme Personality of Godhead lists some of the reasons for His personal appearances in the manifest world.
विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम्
सम्भवामि युगे युगे
vināśāya ca duṣkṛtām
sambhavāmi yuge yuge
“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.8)
“In the Ramayana, we find the conversation between Sita and Rama, wife and husband, about the potential harm that can come from carrying weapons through an area otherwise not known for military conflict. Sita is concerned that Rama’s patrolling the area will invite violence instead of suppressing it.
“Rama responds that He has been directly asked for help. The saintly people are being attacked and then eaten away by the intruding night-rangers from Lanka. These are Rakshasas, so the behavior should not surprise anyone. In this material world there is potential for acting in every possible direction: good, bad, or indifferent.
“The Rakshasas are the embodiment of bad, but we’ve never really covered the other side. Why were the saintly people in the Dandaka forest to begin with? Why not remain someplace that has a strong leader? Ayodhya had King Dasharatha to defend the people. Why wouldn’t the saintly people conduct their yajnas over there?”
We can look to a modern-day practice known as a weekend retreat. This is often a strategic move in the corporate office. The team gets bored arriving at the same location every day, following the same routine and schedule, and then leaving for home at the end, only to repeat everything subsequently.
The boss has an idea. Let’s everyone travel to a different location for a few days. It might be on a weekend or also within the week. A remote area, with few distractions. Friends and family will stay back. Barely any signs of civilization to get in the way.
Writers are known to follow similar behavior. They retreat to a log cabin so that they can concentrate on their task at hand. Be compelled to produce written words based on the circumstances. Nothing else to do. No one knowing where you are. The telephone won’t ring since there isn’t any phone coverage to begin with. No television to distract from the top priority.
As saintly people are the equivalent of the intelligentsia in a civilized society, they are constantly bothered. Everyone looks to them for guidance. There are so many questions on how to live properly, what to do in this situation and that. The people approaching are seeking ashirvad, or blessings, often without changing anything about their consciousness.
Dandaka-aranya was known as a tapo-vana. This is a forest area conducive to austerity and penance. Being compelled to focus on spiritual life. Almost nothing around to serve as a distraction. Little chance for the senses to be engaged and thus attached in a harmful way.
Well-wishers and knowledge seekers would still approach, but less frequently. If they were really serious about making advancement in spiritual life, they would intentionally go out of their way to travel to a remote area in order to meet a saintly person. The hosts would welcome their guests in a proper manner, such as those who were fortunate to see Shri Rama directly.
A tapo-vana should be free of distractions. You should not expect man-eating ogres to attack in secret, without being seen. Who are you really bothering, anyway? Why not leave well enough alone? The most sinful in society certainly will never sit still and watch as dharma rises to prominence, as the people become more and more pious and dedicated to the path of righteousness.
Those firmly entrenched in adharma will feel compelled to interfere, to stop the regular yajnas that give satisfaction to the demigods and the source of their strength, the Supreme Lord. From the incidents described in the Ramayana, we can take comfort knowing that Bhagavan keeps a watchful eye, that He is aware of harassment of His most trusted friends.
Sages in forest quiet life making,
But villains advantage taking.
Of their harassment aware,
So Rama sometimes there.
With bow and arrow at the ready,
Maintaining vigilance steady.
Because Rakshasas not to relent,
Of behavior never to repent.