The Battle of Panchavati – Part II of VII

Shoorpanakha was the sister of Ravana, the raakshasa King who ruled from Lanka, and she had roamed these lands, free as a bird, safe under the protection of her brothers. She and her group of friends had frolicked in the forests, drinking the ‘madhu’, or liquor made from honey, and roaming the lands, intoxicated, having fun! They came and went as they pleased, hunted, tormented anyone they found in the forests and killed and ate whoever took their fancy. Human meat was not forbidden for the raakshasas and they lived according to a different code than the ascetics that habited these forests. This lead to frequent clashes between the two groups, with the raakshasas killing, maiming, abducting the ‘rishis’ or ascetics and destroying their ‘ashramas’ or camps. This happened frequently enough so as to become a routine or a favorite past time. To bolster the efforts of the raakshasa forces in tormenting the rishis, Ravana, the mighty raakshasa Emperor of Lanka, brother of Shoorpanakha, had permanently stationed a battalion of fourteen thousand mighty raakshasa warriors at Janasthaan, the raakshasa outpost in Dandaka Van. Shoorpanakha lived at Janasthaan and roamed the forests from there, indulging her desires happily, till the day she saw Ram in the forest, returning after a bath in the river.

Well-built, tall, muscular and handsome, dressed in an ascetic’s clothes but carrying divine weapons, Sri Ram looked like a God coming out of the eternal river Vaitarani. His matted hair were tied in a bun on top of his head and decorated with wild flowers. A few truant locks escaped the bun and cascaded down in curls to his strong shoulders over which he had slung a string carrying a quiver. He wore ‘kundala’ or earrings in his ears, made of sandal wood rings but threaded with gold. The ‘kundalas’ jingled softly as he ascended from the river. His broad forehead, smeared with sandalwood paste, shone with an aura of itself, making him look like the Sun God. His long, well shaped arms reached nearly up to his knees. He wore bracelets made of the sacred rudraksha beads on his arms and wrists. He carried a beautiful bow in his left hand, with his long fingers wrapped gracefully around the bow. He had slung a pitambar or yellow cloth over his torso for cover. The water from his wet hair dripped down to his torso and wet his pitambar. His chest was wide, his abdomen taut and his waist narrow. He had long legs with chiseled calf muscles. He wore an anklet of forest flowers in both his ankles. His feet were bare. He shone with the glory of a warrior but had the grace of an ascetic. Shoorpanakha could not understand whether this person was a sage or a warrior or some divine being sent to these enchanted forests to torment her. She was instantly smitten and stood rooted to the same spot long after Ram was gone from there. She and her friends had then scouted the area around to trace this mysterious being and had stumbled upon the clearing where the two brothers had made their humble dwelling.

Shoorpanakha had approached the clearing with a beating heart, accompanied by her small troupe of friends, and had confronted Ram. Tall, dusky, well built and adorned with all sorts of jewels, she had been a beauty herself. She had long and beautiful fingernails, painted with red vermilion paste, which had earned her the love-name of Shoorpanakha,or the one with nails like a seashell. She had applied kohl to her eyes and her limbs were tattooed with henna. Her red lips were made redder still by the sandal-rose paste she applied on them. Her perfume wafted for hundreds of yards and made men delirious with lust. She was young, beautiful and her raging hormones had made her walk up to Ram and propose to him.

‘O beautiful one! Who are you? Are you a celestial being who roams the forests to watch over others? Are you an ascetic or a warrior? Are you Kama Deva, the God of Love himself, come to roam my forests? Whoever you are, I have never seen anyone as handsome as you. You are graceful and tall like the Mahadeva (another name for Shiva) himself. You posses divine weapons, yet you wear an ascetic’s clothes and the rudraksha. O heavenly one! I know not who you are, but I feel totally enamored by you. Please be my consort and roam these forests with me. I am Shoorpanakha, and I command these forests, guarded by my cousins, the great raakshasa warriors Khara and Dushana. I am the daughter of the great sage Vishrava, maternal grandchild of the great raakshasa King Sumali and the sister of the great Raavana, the King of Lanka, the slayer of the Gods, the emperor of all the lands. There is no one in the whole world that can be a better match for you, my love! Tell me who you are and come with me, lets live our lives with love in these forests’, thus Shoorpanakha implored Ram.

Ram had smiled at her and spoken thus, ‘You are welcome here Shoorpanakha. I am Raghunandan Ram Chandra.  I am the son of the King of Ayodhya, Dashratha, and the descendant of the great kings Ikshavaku and Raghu. I am living in the forest with my brother and my wife upon orders from my father and my mother Kaikeyi. I am bound by the vows which I have taken and thus cannot fulfill what you desire.’

This way Ram had tried to gently refuse her advances. Shoorpanakha had been stunned! How could a man refuse such a beauty? She was not used to refusals. From her birth till date, she had been the darling of the whole royal family and had all her desires fulfilled. Even now, when she roamed the forests, she was either given what she asked for, or she bullied people into acceding to her demands. Being the only sister of three valiant brothers she had been a spoilt child and an even more indulged adult. This refusal, of something that she so intensely desired, came as a rude shock to her.

‘You see, I am already married’, Ram had tried to explain again, more explicitly this time, ‘My wife, Sita, is right here with me’.

It was then that Shoorpanakha had seen Sita, and had been instantly jealous of her exquisite beauty and her gentle form. Sita was everything Shoorpanakha wasn’t, Shoorpanakha was voluptuous, Sita was serene, Shoorpanakha had a full frame, Sita was petite, Shoorpanakha was voluble, Sita was demure. Pricked by jealousy and egged on by desire, her anger and disappointment had risen and she had persisted with her request. Pleading and threatening alternately, she had tried to cajole Ram into acceding to her wishes. Her friends had joined along, pleading and then threatening in loud voices together. Though Shoorpanakha had not meant it to happen this way, the scene had turned ugly. Sita, had started to tremble and had retreated to a corner of the hut sensing a brewing trouble. Ram had raised an eyebrow at Lakshman and, reading Ram’s mind, he had positioned himself between the unruly group and Sita.

No one knew how the tussle started, who pushed first, but a light skirmish broke out when Shoorpanakha and her friends tried to attack Sita, sensing her to be the cause of all this trouble. Lakshman had not wanted to hurt this group of rowdy youngsters and had mildly waved his sword to scare them away, slapping one here, nicking another with the point of his blade there. In this push and shove, Shoorpanakha had inserted herself and tried to force her way to Sita. Almost unknowingly, Lakshman’s sword had flashed, and injured Shoorpanakha, cutting off a piece of her beautiful nose. She had screamed wildly, in pain and in shock, and had fled into the forests shrieking. Her troupe of friends had also backtracked slowly, in shock and fear, threatening the brothers with the dire consequences of their actions, informing them of the huge horde of raakshasa warriors stationed at Janasthaan, led by Shoorpanakha’s cousin brothers – Khara and Dushana….(to be continued)