“We sages are constantly harassed in the forest of Dandaka by the Rakshasa demons who wear different shapes at will. Only You can protect us, O Rama.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.10-11)
राक्षसैर्दण्डकारण्ये बहुभिः कामरूपिभिः।
अर्दितास्स्म दृढं राम भवान्नस्तत्र रक्षतु।।
rākṣasairdaṇḍakāraṇye bahubhiḥ kāmarūpibhiḥ।
arditāssma dṛḍhaṃ rāma bhavānnastatra rakṣatu।।
While travelling in the forest during their time spent in exile, a wife asked her husband about the weapons He was carrying. She was concerned that the presence of arms would invite hostility rather than prevent it.
With a moonlike face and a cloud-like complexion, the attractiveness of Rama is normally inviting. It is a welcome sight. Why, then, the need for the bow and arrow? Especially in a place not considered a standard battlefield – this was the forest of Dandaka. It was known as a tapo-vana, and so the only human beings found in the area were sages.
Rama explained that there was a need for arms. There were these attacks taking place. The perpetrators were known as nishachara. They ranged the night, and with a specific purpose in mind.
The Sanskrit is kama-rupa-siddhi. This refers to the ability to change your shape at will. In many parts of the world there is the annual celebration known as Halloween. Enjoyed by adults and children alike, the central aspect is wearing costumes, preferably on the scary side.
One child goes to a party as a ghost. They put a white sheet over their head, with openings for the eyes. Vigilant parents make sure the costume is not mistaken for another practice associated with wearing white sheets.
Another person dresses as a witch, carrying broomstick and all. An adult might play the devil in the literal sense, while someone might opt to look like a character from a television show or movie.
These night-rangers were not wearing costumes. They could literally change shapes at will. This meant that you could not be sure who they were. It is not like they were wearing a specific uniform that identified to which side they were aligned.
The night-rangers used the deception to their advantage. There was a purpose. The straightforward route would be to attack. That is how military conflicts have taken place since time immemorial. A formal declaration of war followed by hostilities.
The night-rangers wanted to attack with surprise. They did not want to be identified, until mere moments before striking the blow. They did not want to fight fairly.
The opposing fighters, if you will, were not fighters at all. They were sages renounced from the world. They lived in the forest to get away from it all. They wanted to focus on austerity and penance. They were following the Vedic principles of a simple life dedicated to sacrifice, charity, and austerity.
The night-rangers were there to disrupt the sacrifices. They were against yajna. Yajna is another name for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vishnu. Yajna is always dedicated to Him, in the final step. Even if the people participating are unaware, it is Vishnu who must approve for a yajna to bear fruit.
कर्म ब्रह्मोद्भवं विद्धि ब्रह्माक्षरसमुद्भवम् ।
तस्मात्सर्वगतं ब्रह्म नित्यं यज्ञे प्रतिष्ठितम् ॥
karma brahmodbhavaṁ viddhi
tasmāt sarva-gataṁ brahma
nityaṁ yajñe pratiṣṭhitam
“Regulated activities are prescribed in the Vedas, and the Vedas are directly manifested from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Consequently the all-pervading Transcendence is eternally situated in acts of sacrifice.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.15)
The night-rangers would attack right as the yajna was about to complete. Some of the sacrifices required vigilance extending over several days. It would be like taking years to put up a new building, with one final piece left. The night-rangers attacked in a way that spoiled the whole affair, at the worst possible time.
To make matters worse, these night-rangers were also Rakshasas. This means that they ate human beings. They were cannibals as a way of life. The worst of the worst. The lowest of the low. They killed their victims and then ate them.
Who could imagine such horror? The sages could fight back in one way. They could release curses on the attackers. The problem is that this would diminish the accumulated spiritual credits. It would be like using up your remaining matchsticks to fend off insects instead of lighting a fire for cooking or to provide heat.
It was within this situation that Rama found Himself. Unknown to the Rakshasas was that Rama is the Supreme Lord. He is the same Vishnu. He is the enjoyer of those sacrifices. In this case, He would protect them personally.
Rama had done the same on a previous occasion, when He was younger. He and His brother Lakshmana had been called upon by Vishvamitra Muni to protect against the night-rangers. Rama defended successfully, which was witnessed by one of the ringleaders of the attacks.
Though the night-rangers had so many advantages in their favor, they were no match for Rama. A single man could defend the sages perfectly. A single man releasing arrows could identify the hidden enemy, who thought their powers protected them. That is until they came up against the source of all potency.
Previously successful in course,
Until finally against the source.
Who the bow and arrow to command,
Roaming Dandaka land.
In protective posture to stand,
For yajna to go as planned.
By sages dedicated who,
The principles of dharma knew.
Categories: the five