“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।।
“One of my favorite incidents from Rama-lila is the attack in the Dandaka forest from Ravana, the king of Lanka. Not that I am particularly fond of reading or hearing about military conflict. Sure, the Rakshasas do make for an interesting case study. They change appearance at will. They appear and disappear from the vision.
“They attack the vulnerable. They have nefarious motives. They range the night, nishachara. In other words, they hardly do anything that is fair or just. In the case of the attack in Dandaka, Ravana sent fourteen thousand of his men. Was this a war, you ask. Was this a battle within a larger military conflict, aimed at securing land or reversing occupation of a neutral territory?
“No, Ravana was just upset based on what his sister had told him. Shurpanakha had recently visited Dandaka, where she found Rama living with His wife Sita and His younger brother Lakshmana. She tried to approach Rama for intimate affairs, but Rama denied her. She ended up charging after Sita, viewing her as competition. As a matter of protection, Lakshmana interfered and in the process disfigured Shurpanakha’s face.
“Ravana thought he was the king of the world, that no one would defeat him in a fight. Yet he wasn’t brave enough to defend his sister’s honor on his own. He also sent overwhelming force to deal with Rama. Since He is an avatara of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sita’s husband easily swatted aside that attack.
“My question relates to the aftermath. Any smart person would take notice. They would not mess with Rama again. Why would Ravana stoke the beast, so to speak? Why didn’t he just leave well enough alone? Why did he have to then steal Sita in secret, which invited eventual total destruction in Lanka?”
Many people did try to warn him. There is the exchange between Maricha and Ravana. A Rakshasa himself, cursed to live as one through a previous interaction with the venerable Agastya Rishi, Maricha tried to warn Ravana against raising hostilities with Rama.
Maricha had personal experience to use as justification. He one time had attacked the yajna of Vishvamitra in the forest. This had been a regular occurrence; the sages were being harassed during the nighttime in areas that were otherwise conducive to austerity and penance.
On this occasion Vishvamitra had a bodyguard. It was the same Rama, but much younger. He was supposedly in training in the military arts, but God is always God. Rama did not hesitate at the moment of the attack. He fitted arrow to bow and released a perfect strike against Maricha.
The Rakshasa was spared; he was fortunate to live through the ordeal. He tried to warn Ravana against fighting with someone who is so skilled. Later on, many others tried to warn Ravana with a similar appeal. Ravana’s brother Vibhishana got so frustrated that he ended up leaving Lanka and joining Rama’s side.
The historical incidents are also highly symbolic. When kama takes control of a person, their better judgment goes out the window. Think of the man who seriously pursues a woman, no matter how strongly she rejects him. Think of the person who knows that the way they eat and drink carries severe negative health implications, but continues along that path anyway.
There is also the strong illusion that since I have yet to experience the total destruction myself, perhaps it will not occur for me. Maharaja Yudhishthira remarks that the most amazing thing in life is that people try to create a permanent situation in a world where they witness friends and family being forced to leave on a repeating basis, day after day.
Only a fool would continue hostilities with the eldest son of King Dasharatha, but Ravana’s intelligence was stolen a long time before. He was fortunate to meet the ultimate end directly through Rama’s arrows, which are transcendental in nature. Devotees still celebrate those triumphs, which represent more than just the victory of good over evil. They show that God is always good and that His devotees will always be protected in their devotional life.
Looking pure evil in the face,
Through arrows shedding His grace.
That massive army defeated,
And Akampana retreated.
Ravana should have learned,
The mighty lesson earned.
But kama holding him back,
Proceeding on kala’s track.