To explain what’s going on here – this is a Ramayana episode of particular significance to us in relation to #NavRatri and its apex. Although the occurrence in question is drawn from other sources than the familiar Valmiki Ramayana.
It illustrates a particular ritual observance hailed within the realm of Myth (and which I believe to be ‘resonant’ of a particular Vedic template) – which continues to find its ‘echo’ even amidst the customs of the modern day.
But first, let us properly consider what the Ramayana represents at this juncture. For it is not simply a tale of a moustache-twirling villain stealing the Wife of the Hero (although, of course, it is also that) – nor is it a conventional ‘War Epic’. It is a story deeply laden in metaphysical significance and ritual conceptry. Both because these suites have been drawn from by the great Poets in order to evocate their narrative(s) – but also because, as with any Hindu text, hidden (or not-so-hidden .. just rarely read or perceived) elements are right there for the guidance of the properly minded Devotee in earnest.
Ravana, as I have said – is not simply a moustache-twirling villain.
He is also prominently regarded for one major feature: being a pious Devotee with strong potency precisely due to this fact. This is how he is able to do as much as he does.
However, he is also an imperfect Devotee – and as becomes apparent … well, there have been some ‘tests’ encoded into his circumstance, as well, that he is in the process of failing. More upon this some other time.
The point here is – in order to overcome Ravana, Lord Ram must also undertake considerable pious exercise. It is a ‘battle of faith’ in that regard. One in which the previous ritualistic (and other) undertakings of Ravan must be ‘outdone’ by Lord Rama in order to have any hope of victory – whether on the battlefield in ‘conventional’ terms, or in terms of the actual victory worth having that flows semi-inevitably from there.
The latter is, interestingly, something we might almost phrase in terms of ‘post-modernism’ – insofar as this is a narrative that knows it’s a narrative. And is quite pointedly congealed and directed with that precise fact in mind. Certain actions are done, certain deeds are undertaken – not only for their own sake, but because they are consciously known to fulfil particular requisite points to the grand, sweeping story … indeed The grand, sweeping story, that of the Divine Play and our perception thereof.
In this, we might observe that the conflict’s true dimension, therefore, is rather correlated also with what the Norse termed Iðavöllr [Bellows rendered this, somewhat poetically, as ‘Field of Deeds’; a more literal meaning would be ‘Space for [Ceaseless] Motion’; in Sanskrit, we might suggest Divya Abhinaya-Mantapa. The Divine (Divya) Theatrical-Performance/Expression (Abhinaya) Hall or Pavillion (Mantapa).] But we digress.
To return, then, to the image –
The figure in green is Lord Ram – and as you can see, Rama is pointing a Arrow at His Own Eye, as elements for a sacral rite are arrayed in front of Him and already in progress.
The green complexion, the Devi Puran Mahabhagwat Ramayan phrases as His being “who was dark complexioned like the dark green Durba grass (Agrostis linearis grass.)” [X 44 27, Ajai Kumar Chhawchharia translation]
We would consider this pointedly ritualistic element of comparison to be .. pertinent. He is also frequently described in the same source (inter alia) as having Eyes that are akin to Blue Lotuses.
Devi Durga looks on from above and upon the edge of the Ocean; and this is heavily significant, too – the Ocean, after all, liminal space and sphere, is where Her Home is (this being the Astral Ocean). This notion of ‘liminal space’ is perhaps most familiar from the mainstream Ramayana where it is a supreme obstacle – that must be traversed not only by Hanuman (requiring a most ingenious deployment of both faculties and Siddhis in an Honourable fashion), but also by Lord Ram and His Army.
But why is Rama looking to put His Eye out, in the course of a rite? And what has this to do with Devi?
In order to explain that, there are two dimensions to be considered. The first one is the most straightforward.
Per various accountings (the most prominent of which is surely the Ramayana famous in Bengal produced by Krittivasa), Lord Rama had sought to conduct a rite in order to win Devi’s favour in the course of His War against Ravana. This necessitates the sacrifice of 108 of the flowers in question, brought by Hanuman from a distant lake. Which causes a bit of a problem when, toward the final stage of the ritual’s offering, it is discovered that there are only 107 such flowers there – one has gone ‘missing’. Hence – Lord Rama makes ready to put out His Own Eye (which is so said to resemble a Blue Lotus flower) in order to make up the missing bloom.
As one may, perhaps, have anticipated – no sooner is Ram about to pierce His Eye with the arrow than Devi has appeared in order to tell Him the deed is unnecessary, and that She is satisfied.
Devi can therefore take to the battlefield and lay waste to the forces of the foe. Ultimate victory is, as it should be, Sri Ram’s. By Her Divine Grace – and Martial Prowess as its tangible manifestation.
This is pretty straightforward – and one could construct quite the pointed ‘morality play’ from even this alone.
Yet we shall go further and Deepa.
There are two key elements as to why this act is held to be necessary.
The first (and more straightforward) concerns the situation of Devi (at least, the relevant Forms and Potency thereof) being ‘Asleep’ at this time of the year – and so Rama having to awake Her ‘out of Season’ through some rather drastic measures in order to win Her Favour.
To quote once more from the Devi Puran Mahabhagwat Ramayan:
“The Lord (Sri Ram) decided that in order to get victory over Lanka, He must worship and invoke the great Goddess known as Sureshwari (literally, the Goddess of Gods), but this was not the proper time for this purpose (13).
The reason was that it was the time of Dakshinayan (when the Sun goes to the South of the equator), and the Mother of the Three Worlds is usually sleeping (i.e. taking rest) during this period. Thinking so, Lord Ram— Who was an incarnation of the supreme, eternal and infinite Lord Narayan Himself (14)— decided to worship that eternal and truthful Shakti in the Form of a deified Ancestor (i.e. instead of as a Cosmic Mother and Goddess, Sri Ram worshipped Her as a deified spirit of Ancestors). The great Goddess called Maha-maya (literally, the great Maya of the Lord personified as the Goddess) remains in the form of an ancestral Spirit (i.e. spirit of dead Ancestors) during this fortnight (of the waning moon of the month of Bhadra. […]
[Quoth Ram:] ‘The dark lunar fortnight of the month (of Bhado) has commenced, and today is the first day of that fortnight. Hence, starting from today, I shall worship the great Goddess Jayprada (literally, the Goddess that provides victory) in the Form of a deified Forefather Pitr for the next fifteen days till the night of the forthcoming dark moon in the properly sanctified and established tradition of worshipping Her. After that I shall enter into battle so that the enemy can be conquered and killed’
[VI, 40 – Chhawchharia translation]
Now, instantly we are reminded of the fact that immediately prior to the Autumnal NavRatri … is Pitru Paksha – the Fortnight of the Ancestors. And, it should seem, the ‘veil between worlds’ being thinner – so as to facilitate the engagement of one’s (more conventional) Forefathers – also enables the reaching out to Her in similar fashion. Aditi, after all, is Queen of the Pitrs per SBr VIII 4 3 7; and we are well-familiar with Persephone, Hekate … and Freyja viz. Folkvangr also, if we are speaking of a Queen of the Dead in Indo-European terms. A Solar Queen of the Dead, as applies several of these Facings (including that irreducibly ancient Hittite Goddess that may have informed the Hekate of later Greek presentation via Hesiod) – hence … Sureshvari [‘Sura’ as in ‘Divine’, yet also ‘Solar’, ‘Shining’; Ishvari, as in Empress, Controller].
The reason for the necessity of Rama’s invocation of Her in this perhaps somewhat ‘unorthodox’ manner is given later on in the narrative:
[Quoth Brahma:] “When the bright lunar fortnight commences and Ravana begins to worship the Goddess Sureshwari (literally, the Goddess of the Gods) (15),
then he will not die, no matter how hard You try. Hence, oh the two Raghus (i.e. Sri Ram and Laxman), You must begin to worship Her immediately (before Ravana does so), even though it is not the proper time and place for it’ (16-17).
Sri Ram said (to Brahma) — ‘The Goddess is truly eternal, infinite, supreme and transcendental; She is indeed a bestower of Victory, and those desirous of victory in the battle must indeed worship and remember Her (19).
But this is not the proper time to worship Gods. The great Goddess Trideshwari (i.e. the Goddess of the Three Worlds) is presently in a sleeping state (20).
Oh Grand-Father (i.e. Brahma)! This is the dark fortnight and not the bright fortnight of the Moon. How can I worship the sleeping Goddess now?’ (21).
Brahma replied (to Sri Ram) — ‘I shall wake Her up for Your Victory in the War and for the destruction (i.e. defeat and killing) of the king of demons (Ravana) who is a harbinger of inauspiciousness, unrighteousness and misfortunes, collectively called ‘Amangal’, as much
as he is wicked, sinful, pervert and a doer of evil deeds, called a ‘Duratma’ (22).
Oh Raghav (Sri Ram)! You can worship the Great Goddess even when the time and circumstance is not favourable (in order to elimi[n]ate such a[n] unholy creature who is a burden on the earth). As a result of this worship, You would obtain victory over the enemy in the war. You must not worry on this count’
[VIII, 42 – Chhawchharia translation]
Now at this point, there is another element of Comparanda that I wish to draw out.
We have heard Devi spoken of as ‘Trideshvari’ – that is to say, the Empress of the Three Worlds.
To quote Brahma’s advice (and reminder) to Lord Ram from elsewhere in the narrative (it’s … effectively a bit of a ‘flashback’ in a way – Brahma is reminding Ram, the incarnate Vishnu of the plan that the Trimurti had come up with (which involves Vishnu incarnating as a human – and therefore .. not remembering various things), with Devi’s approval (indeed, it’s really Her Plan …), that had been detailed several chapters earlier in the text):
“You should worship Goddess Katyayani Who is the Mother of the Three Worlds (the Celestial, the Terrestrial, the Subterranean Worlds), Who is an embodiment or image of the dynamic powers of the supreme transcendental almighty Brahm[an], and Who is therefore
eternal, infinite, imperishable and truthful. She can eliminate the greatest of fears that haunts anyone from any source whatsoever (13).
She remains unconquerable Herself and gives Victory to all others (who worship Her). Oh the most brave One with strong arms (i.e. Sri Ram)! You must pray to Goddess Durga Who can relieve all distress, troubles, problems and misfortunes (14).
Oh Shatrushudan, the vanquisher of enemies! Without Her Grace, Benevolence and showing of Favour, You shall not to able to get victory over Ravana and other demons in the war (15).
Lord Shiva had remembered (invoked) Her Divine Name and had drunk the most potent and corrosive poison to conquer death, and had survived. That is why He is called ‘Mritunjai’ (literally, the One Who has conquered Death) (16).
Oh the best in the clan of Raghu (i.e. Sri Ram)! Oh the great and wise one! You should please Her and, thereafter, conquer Lanka. Oh Lord! She is a slayer of wicked and evil fellows, and her companions also provide similar victory (17).
You must certainly worship and invoke Her to win the war as well to protect the world from the torments of the demons (18).
Oh Lord! Ravana is greatly devoted to Goddess Chandika (who is the Great Goddess of War and one of the Fiercest Forms of the Cosmic Goddess). Without obtaining the blessings and favours (literally, a favourable and benign View or Glance) of that Great Goddess, who can ever win him in war? (19).
Oh the wise one! She had advised You this very thing in front of Me and the Lord of Gods (i.e. Shiva) (20).
[VII, 41 – Chhawchharia translation]
Now we shall leave aside the situation of just which planes those Three Worlds should be referring to – as we have covered voluminously elsewhere, there has been a bit of a ‘development’ in various Indo-European cosmologies from the likely PIE structure … and, for that matter, what is conventionally interpreted as the ‘Three Worlds’ in the actual texts of the Vedas slightly later on. The major detail is the development (or, rather, ‘Descent’) of an ‘Underworld’ – something we can demonstrate to have been a ‘later’ occurrence and a ‘shifting’ in both Hindu – and, for that matter, Hellenic cosmology.
Yet the fundamental (indeed, Foundational) ‘Tripartite’ or ‘Triplanar’ situation of the Indo-European cosmological structure remains. As cited, perhaps most prominently, in Hesiod – whose Theogony, we shall now quote from:
“And She conceived and bare Hecate Whom Zeus the Son of Cronos honoured above all. He gave Her splendid gifts, to have a share of the Earth and the unfruitful Sea. She received honour also in starry Heaven, and is honoured exceedingly by the Deathless Gods. For to this day, whenever any one of men on earth offers rich sacrifices and prays for favour according to custom, he calls upon Hecate. Great honour comes full easily to him whose prayers the Goddess receives favourably, and She bestows wealth upon him; for the power surely is with Her. For as many as were born of Earth and Ocean amongst all these She has Her due portion. The Son of Cronos did Her no wrong nor took anything away of all that was Her portion among the former Titan gods: but She holds, as the division was at the first from the beginning, privilege both in Earth, and in Heaven, and in Sea. Also, because She is an only child, the Goddess receives not less honour, but much more still, for Zeus honours Her. Whom She will She greatly aids and advances: She sits by worshipful kings in judgement, and in the assembly whom She will is distinguished among the people. And when men arm themselves for the battle that destroys men, then the Goddess is at hand to give Victory and grant glory readily to whom She will. Good is She also when men contend at the games, for there too the Goddess is with them and profits them: and he who by might and strength gets the victory wins the rich prize easily with joy, and brings glory to his parents. And She is good to stand by horsemen, whom She will: and to those whose business is in the grey discomfortable sea, and who pray to Hecate and the loud-crashing Earth-Shaker, easily the Glorious Goddess gives great catch, and easily She takes it away as soon as seen, if so She will. She is good in the byre with Hermes to increase the stock. The droves of kine and wide herds of goats and flocks of fleecy sheep, if She will, she increases from a few, or makes many to be less. So, then. albeit Her Mother’s only child, She is honoured amongst All the Deathless Gods. And the Son of Cronos made Her a nurse of the young who after that day saw with their eyes the light of all-seeing Dawn. So from the beginning She is a nurse of the young, and these are Her Honours.”
Why did I quote that passage in particular? Because it is the section speaking of Hekate – the famed ‘Diva Triformis’, ‘Trivia’, Herself. Whom we have elsewhere fairly comprehensively linked to the Wife of Rudra (see our recent ‘Crossroads’ piece, for instance). That is to say – Devi.
And just as we find Devi extolled in the course of the Devi Puran Mahabhagwat Ramayan (inter many, many alia) as Great and Powerful amidst the Three Worlds … so, too, do we behold exactly this here in Hesiod for Her. It is certainly true that the Hellenic text is rather less forthright in proclaiming Her Supremacy – yet reading ‘between the lines’, we are nevertheless left with a most distinct impression. This is a Goddess that is exalted and has Birthright in each of the Three Planes – One (quite directly – One) Who is ‘Sui Generis’, and the only member of Her Kin (μουνογενής), for surely there can never be another like Her. One Whose eminence and regality of dominion in amidst all the Worlds was the archaic situation “from the beginning”, left undisturbed by Zeus. Indeed, Who is actively Honoured (we might suggest a correlate concept to Worship, Prayer) even by the rest of the Gods – and Zeus Himself!
It is not hard, in these lights, to be reminded of the circumstance of Brahma and Vishnu going before Shiva and Devi at Kailash and petitioning for aid in the circumstance They felt the Worlds confronted by. Nor, given the express statements pertaining to Hekate’s provision of success upon the battlefield (repeated express statements, even!) do we find it difficult to seek to link this back to the circumstance of Lord Rama being strongly urged to worship Goddess Chandi / Chandika / Katyayani – via invocation, as well, of that ‘Light of the Gods and Light of the Three Worlds’ that is She. Indeed, the situation of Her being invoked as an Ancestor, in the context of the final phase of Pitru Paksha, directly resonates – as mentioned above – with the (sepulchral) circumstances of Hekate in what we might, perhaps, term to be the more ‘familiar’ facing for Her that has remained prominent into more recent times.
Now, at this point, we shall consider another element which ought be woven into our understanding. One of greater antiquity than the main Classical understandings of Hekate – and located within the ‘convection zone’ of Myth and Ritual Conceptry that is the Brahmana corpus.
Within the Shatapatha Brahmana, at several points we encounter a rather intriguing narrative. It comes in several forms – and it is there to ‘encode’ particular ritual steps and understandings. The Ritualist thus undertakes the relevant actions, fully aware that he is playing his part in emulation of the grand and supernal sweep of deeds of Gods and Heroes that had gone afore. These are ‘patterns in reality’ – he harnesses himself to them, just as his rite is harnessed to them, in order to give them potency in earnest.
The narrative in question – that is particularly pertinent as to our purposes here today – concerns the Goddess Vak … and a ‘ritual contest’ of sorts between a Priest (of the Gods), and a Priest of Demons, over the ‘possession’ of Her.
A good exemplar for this (insofar as it is a succinct one), comes to us from SBr III 5 1:
“21 Now Vâk was angry with Them: ‘In what respect, forsooth, is that one better than I,–wherefore is it, that They should have accepted Him and not Me ?’ So saying She went away from Them. Having become a lioness She went on seizing upon (everything) between those two contending parties, the Gods and the Asuras. The Gods called Her to Them, and so did the Asuras. Agni was the Messenger [Priest] of the Gods, and one Saharakshas for the Asura-Rakshas.
22 Being willing to go over to the Gods, She said, ‘What would be Mine, if I were to come over to You?’ — ‘The offering shall reach Thee even before (it reaches) Agni.’ She then said to the Gods, ‘Whatsoever blessing Ye will invoke through Me, all that shall be accomplished unto You!’ So She went over to the Gods.
23 And, accordingly, when he pours ghee on the high altar, while the fire is held (over it) — since the Gods said to Her on that occasion, ‘The offering shall reach Thee even before Agni’ — then that offering does reach Her even before (it reaches) Agni; for this (high altar) is in reality Vâk. And when he raises the high altar, it is for the completeness of the sacrifice, for the sacrifice is Vâk (speech) and that (high altar) is Vâk.”
We note that here, Devi is offered a higher ‘bid’, so to speak – implicitly than that from the side of the Demons. This might also be thought of in relation to Ram’s preparedness to offer up even His Own Eye in the course of His Sacrifice to Her in this subsequent scripture.
We are also interested to note, from further into the same Brahmana:
“33 Thereupon he shifts (the Earth) asunder, with the text (Vâg. S. V, 10), ‘Thou art a Lioness, overcoming the enemies; be Thou meet for the gods!’ Inasmuch as, on that occasion, She became a Lioness and roamed about unappeased, therefore he says to Her, ‘Thou art a Lioness;’ and by ‘overcoming the enemies’ he means to say, ‘Through Thee may we worst our enemies.’ ‘Be Thou meet for the Gods’ he says, because the high altar is a Woman: Her he thus renders meet for the Gods.”
We have earlier and elsewhere pondered this Vak as Lioness conceptry to be resonant with what we view viz. Kali – namely, a Wrathful Destroyer (indeed – Devourer) Form of the Goddess. That Roars. This is a situation which becomes more readily apparent elsewhere [viz. SBr III 5 1 25], when it is a breach of propriety and that is what leads to the Lioness appearing to “Destroy” those party to the wrongful action.
We have also commented in some somewhat grander depth (in the ‘Wolves of Rudra’ piece) upon the scenario outlined earlier in the next relevant Brahmana [SBr III 5 2 8], wherein Vak as this raging lioness is invoked to ‘exorcise’ against Enemies of the Ritualist (the context in the Taittiriya Samhita would suggest Demons and Demon-Worshippers (Yatudhanas) – however, whilst Rakshasas must be expurgated from the sacral space, per other Brahmana verses surrounding this one, no precise restriction is found within the verse itself herein …).
One rather prominent ‘variation’ upon the theme comes to us from SBr III 2 1 (as a point of interest, also the first recorded instance of ‘Mleccha’ being attested – wherein, we may surmise, part of the reason for the demonic failure in their endeavour is their flawed pronunciation of the Sacred Speech (i.e. Vak) being unable to ‘call’, much less to ‘bind’ Vak Devi effectively). There, we hear the Ritualist, stepping into the stead of the aforementioned Agni (or other such Divine Priest amongst the Gods), is to induce Vak to ‘come over’ from the opposing side (the Asuras), must ‘beckon’ to Vak in order to call Her into the Rite. The precise fashion for this ‘beckoning’ is phrased in terms that are ‘romantic’ – the effective notion is something perhaps more akin to the modern notion of ‘flirting’ or ‘courtship’ than what one might at first presume. We have looked at the metaphysics at play here elsewhere and so shall not repeat that analysis herein. It is, however, relevant to make a note of this framework for reasons that shall shortly become apparent.
Another variation – and one that fascinates me in various ways – is to be found in SBr III 2 4. This deviates from the formula in certain key aspects, and instead presents the situation as one wherein the Gandharvas have taken an unwholesome interest in Vak, and mean to exert possession rights (or ‘rites’) over Her – effectively much the same as the demons might do elsewhere.
However, whereas other presentations of the theme have tended to feature Vak already in the custody of the demonic side of the equation, SBr III 2 4 is different. The Contest is proposed by the Gods precisely to avoid the Gandharvas potentially carrying Her off by force, and features the by-now familiar arrangement of both Gods and Opponents performing for Her in order to demonstrate that She ought recognize ‘home’ in one side or the other (the proper liturgy and ritual proceedings are, after all, the Home of Vak – the structure within which She is to be found, and congealed).
Except something rather remarkable then happens. Unlike the hapless (Mleccha) Asuras mentioned in SBr III 2 1, these Gandharvas perform the Vedic liturgies perfectly – triumphantly declaring their competency both by word and deed (as in, both by reciting the liturgies in question, as well as then adding, per the Eggeling translation – “‘See how we know it, see how we know it !'”). Except this doesn’t work. Vak instead disregards the Gandharvas – and turns Her attention to the Gods, Who are engaged in a much more ‘dramatic’ rendition.
I intend to cover this particular most intriuging of occurrences at grander length elsewhere (and am still ‘aligning’ elements in consultation with well-versed figures in anticipation of this), and so cannot go into too much detail as to what has occurred here. But suffice to say, the Gods demonstrate that They have something which the Gandharvas do not. The Gandharvas may have the ‘word-perfect’ recitation , the ‘formulaic’ accuracy to their efforts – but they do not quite grasp the ‘soul’ to proceedings. The Gods, meanwhile, have the essence of the elements, and so therefore They are not restricted to formulaic recitation – They are able to ‘remix’, or ‘innovate’ in the expression. And, so confident in the ‘essence’ of the material, are able to really ‘put on a show’ – a much more ‘three-dimensional’ (indeed, four-dimensional plus) rendition which has a much more obvious and overt placing for Her therein. Much more ‘convincing’, precisely because They are not merely ‘going through the motions’ – but are more authentically ‘in touch’ with the true Her, instead of a ‘photocopy’ or ‘picture’ that has been brought forth in memorialization, as with the Gandharvas. Another perspective would add that ‘other factors’ were also salient – and that, too, we shall see in bearing in a moment.
I could write quite some further points upon all of this, but we ought move back to our Ramayana conceptry.
And, going in something approaching reverse order … the situation of the Gandharvas contra the Gods for the allegiated empowerment by Vak and Her Presence – this reminds one of that scenario aforementioned wherein Rama must carry out rites to propitiate and invoke the Goddess, and outdo Ravana on this front. With Ravana, much like the Gandharvas, able to carry out the relevant operations ‘word-perfect’, and at the proper time etc. and otherwise ‘pro-forma’ unimpeachable. A daunting prospect.
Yet Rama, as with the Gods in SBr III 2 4, doesn’t attempt to beat Ravana in a straight head-to-head contest of this kind – and instead takes advantage of His rather more direct connexion to Her, and its rather express set of permissions, to carry out relevant rites in a rather ‘unorthodox’ fashion (which, as it happens, then ‘sets the template’ for us to follow in later days – it becomes a future ‘orthodoxy’; the ‘out-of-time’ NavRatri and its relevant ritualistic performances, that is, in particular). He beats Ravana by doing something different – and, in so doing, demonstrates the true grace of Devi. Those ‘other factors’ salient we had aforementioned, as applies the Vedic scenario are also relevant here: The Goddess wants to support Ram, and has brought about in Her Own subtle way, further events designed to weigh against Ravana in any such contest as to whom She should support.
One partial explication for this is to be found in the Devi Puran Mahabhagwat Ramayan:
[Quoth Rama:] “I shall worship Goddess Chandi (as advised by You), for I am unable (or incapable) to go on with the war relying solely upon My Own strength, and it is not possible for Me to win it alone (25).
But I certainly can win victory over Ravana by the Kind Grace of the Goddess. But, suppose Ravana worships Her during the bright fortnight of the Moon (26) and the Goddess shows Her benevolence on him and blesses him, then how can I kill that most formidable and strong one in the battle?’ (27).
Brahma replied to Sri Ram’s enquiry— ‘The Goddess had already told Us that his death is destined at Your hands in the battlefield; there is no doubt about it (28).
Oh Sri Ram! Even after Your worshipping Her She blesses Ravana, You[r] victory over him is still assured in the war (29).
When that pervert, sinful and licentious fellow had forcefully brought the image of Sita— Who is an incarnation of Laxmi Herself and is most honourable, virtuous and chaste— with amorous and licentious intentions, then She (Goddess Parvati) became very angry, dismayed, peeved, annoyed and wrathful at his sinful behaviour. She entered Lanka in the disguise of troubles, misfortunes, calamities, disasters and adversities to destroy that pervert and sinful rascal. That is, She entered Lanka to corrupt the wisdom of Ravana, coax him to become reckless, and incite him to do something which is completely unrighteous and beyond the boundary of accepted and established criterion of civilised, moral and ethical behaviour. This would give her an excuse and opportunity to get rid of him..”
[VIII, 42 – Chhawchharia translation]
Or, phrased another way – Devi Herself is wanting to have Ravana ‘seen to’, and is supportive of Lord Rama going and carrying this out for Her … hence, we may assume, the implicit (and now made explicit) ‘permission’ on the part of Rama to engage in an ‘out-of-season’ awakening for Her, as relayed by Brahma. This entire set of affairs is one very large ‘stage-managed’ production by Her – as She relates elsewhere in the narrative, it would not appear proper for Her to simply turn upon a devotee (even one such as Ravana, who is engaged in conquest usurping the regencies of the Gods)… and so She has engineered circumstance via which Ravana may truly show his deplorable character – thus rendering it beyond question and beyond reproach that he ought be deposed (whist also weakening his mind in other fashions, so as to induce the making of trenchant ‘mistake’ on his behalf). With another, unquestionably Righteous champion taking to the field in order to invoke Her and bring about his fall.
The situation recounted by Brahma – of Devi Herself entering Lanka in order to bring Ravana low – is explicated in greater detail earlier on in the narrative, when Vishnu and Brahma are discussing the war-plan to depose Ravana with Maheshvara (Shiva) and Devi, at Kailash. This is prior to Vishnu’s incarnation as Rama – hence why He has forgotten it by the later point in the narrative and must be reminded of this by Brahma’s exposition as quoted above.
[Quoth Devi]: “The Goddess (Parvati) replied— ‘Oh Madhusudan (Vishnu)! Ravana has worshipped Me for a long time. It is also true that I live in Lanka to protect him (56).
That most strong, valiant and brave Ravana has worshipped Me and Shiva most diligently, faithfully, sincerely and devotionally. As a result (or reward), he has acquired all the power, majesty, riches and glories that he currently possesses (57).
Nothing in this world is beyond his reach now. All his wishes and desires have been fulfilled, and he has got the results (rewards) of his doing severe Tapa (i.e. austerities and penances) (58).
Now he (Ravana) is forcibly and cruelly tormenting the whole of the animate as well as the inanimate world because he is very proud of his strength and invincibility. This will be the very cause of his own ruin (59).
I am also thinking of killing him if I can find an excuse. I shall slay him Myself (60),
but it is not proper for Me to kill him without help from anyone else. Brahma is right; You must incarnate Yourself as a human being for this purpose (61).
In that form (as a human), You must make all necessary efforts required to kill him. When You become a man, Laxmi— Who is but One of My other Forms— shall also accompany You to help You (62).
She will also assume a human form and manifest Herself on the Earth. That vile and pervert[ed] Ravana will get passionate and amorous on seeing Her, and shall forcibly steal (kidnap) Her (63) Who will be no one else but Me (in a human form as Sita). As soon as She enters Lanka, I shall take permission of Shiva and most certainly (64) abandon the city, clearing the way for the destruction of that pervert and wicked fellow (65).
When he shall insult My Image in the form of Laxmi (Sita), he shall certainly be ruined by my wrath and curse (66).”
It should not prove difficult to perceive near-instantly where I am going with this. We have a Form of Devi that is found harbouring amongst the Demons (having been kidnapped by the foremost amongst them – a Brahmarakshasa (even if he had ‘patched over’ to become a Kshatriya), no less, quite literally a Priest of the Demons) … and this Form of Devi is, as it should so happen, the Wife of Lord Ram.
We are reminded instantly of the scenario presented in SBr III 2 1, wherein the Priest (of the Gods) is called upon to bring Vak out and away from the clutches of the Demonic – within the context of a marital relationship between Her and He. Bring Vak Home (or Homa), in other words.
And as for why this has all been so absolutely necessary – well, She, as the scriptures say, is Victory. With Her on one’s side, one might accomplish anything. Without Her, even Shiva Himself ‘cannot stir to motion/rulership’ [to somewhat directly reference in translation Adi Shankara’s ‘Waves of Beauty’ as to the nature of Their Divine Relationship].
It is therefore absolutely unsurprising that Ravana had put so much effort over the years into the propitiation of Devi.
And therefore, why the effective ‘linchpin’ ingredient to the undoing of Ravana, per this and other sources, was such a ‘Contest of Piety’ between Ravana and Lord Ram.
Now, at this juncture, it is necessary to note something important. And not least because there is currently, at the time of writing, a bit of a kerfuffle going on on twitter over Ravana’s status as a Devotee (or otherwise) of Lord Shiva, and the seeming difficulties (for some) that a proverbially ‘pious demon’ throws up. One who is both pious in his devotions – and yet also the antagonist, the villain, and observably behaving highly improperly through the broader course of the narrative (indeed, it’s why there is a narrative in the first place).
Except here’s the thing.
Yes, yes various of our texts do present Ravana as being … well, not just a devotee – but possessed of Brahminical knowledge, and carrying out powerful rites pertaining to Devi & Shiva.
However, they also emphasize that he is decidedly imperfect figure, using these for nefarious ends, and resulting in very much iniquitous ends – hence Devi’s purpose in intervening , as directly expounded in one of the verses I had quoted above.
The Gods – in this case, the Goddess – is not blind to Ravana’s excesses and improper conduct. It is exactly why She arranges things to bring about his Doom. Even as he propitiates Her.
Precisely because that propitiation is ‘imperfect’, as we shall shortly see. It is missing the essential ingredient of the true essence of faith.
The whole thing sets up a direct head-to-head contrast (we may suggest ‘combat’) of the two approaches of devotion: that carried out by Ravana, and that carried out by Rama.
It is not hard to see which one of these is superior, and which is the ‘cautionary tale’.
Personally, I would take the mentions around Ravana being pious in such a sense. There are two meanings to ‘pious’ –
i) the ‘pro forma’ styling, wherein one carries out rites, says mantras, ‘goes through motions’. And these do have potent impacts – especially for an initiated sort.
But there is also ii) the ‘inner’ sense, and that which is supposed to be found ‘in the heart of the flame’ ; the proper essence to piety wherein its purpose , which is opposite to ‘selfish’, and instead is service of Gods and fundamental congruence with Cosmic Order (indeed, its active supporting), is what is tangibly expressed.
I think that anyone with even passing knowledge of the mythic cycle in question would agree that Ravana was seriously deficient as applies the latter.
Handy, then, that we have this ‘Leela’ – this ‘Divine Play’ – as the active demonstration of the situation going forward.
Even those traditions that play up Ravana’s attaining of boons, ascribe authorship of great hymnal (the Shiv Tandav Stotram), etc. – acknowledge that ultimately, Ravana had ‘feet of clay’, and never truly managed to humble himself, take himself out of center of his approach.
We can tell this quite directly – we look at how the Boons that Ravana had attained are utilized.
And, in fact, that was part of the ‘conditional’ imposed upon Ravana when he was given Lord Shiva’s Own Sword, Chandrahas (‘the Glinting Smile/Laughter of the Moon’ – for Shiva always gets The Last Laugh, and the sword was in the shape of the Crescent Moon); that it should serve Ravana well and make him indomitable in his efforts … but were it utilized for evil purposes, then it should fail its wielder and bring about the ruination of all he had struggled (fought) to build. Guess what happened …
In this way, the scenario that the Devi Puran Mahabhagwat Ramayan maintains a pleasing ‘symmetry’ to it.
For, after all – Ravana obtained, elsewhere, the Boons from Mahadev through quite the penance and act of self-sacrifice (self-decapitation, in fact). And so was given the ‘chance’ to demonstrate growth and self-improvement – and to ‘live up’ to his promise as a great devotee. Instead, having been ‘given enough rope’, he hung himself.
Ram, meanwhile, comes along toward the conclusion of Ravana’s narrative (relatively speaking) – and is similarly poised to carry out an act of self-sacrifice (the eye, rather than a full head or suite thereof – after all, unlike Ravana, Ram does not have a surfeit of those ! We might be tempted to suggest that ten heads, and the boon involved in that, is ‘getting a big head, in the sense of arrogance, indeed … ). He comes along as the ‘fulfilment’ of Ravana’s ‘self-sacrifice’ – making it ‘true’, in a way that Ravana’s own effort at ‘self-sacrifice’ had ultimately proven not to be.
Because how were those boons actually utilized by him? Well, as we have seen – for decidedly iniquitous and anti-Divine ends; that necessitated both Goddess (Devi) and God (Mahadeva) taking a rather active interventionist stance to bring about limitations to the evil that had festered within the Worlds as a result.
And so, therefore, when it comes to this ‘contest of piety’, this ‘dueling of Rites’ – Devi Knows Her Own. She does not choose to remain aligned with the figure that has undertaken the ‘pro forma’ piety. She fights on the side of the figure that is fundamentally more aligned to Her Purpose. Indeed, is actively there precisely because / as Her Purpose.
Congruence with Rta is the ‘missing ingredient’ to Ravana’s piety.
Rta, as we all know, is Devi.
Hence, ultimately, Ravana’s piety lacks (in the full sense), Devi Herself.
And without Her – well, even the Universe (Him)Self cannot ‘go through the motions’.
So there you have it – the circumstance of Sri Ram’s willing (if averted) Eye Sacrifice, and the fashion in which it ‘resonates’ with an archaic Vedic ritualine typology.
Something also resonant with quite the broad array of Vedic scripture upon the role of Devi in securing victory in War – as we have considered at quite some length elsewhere.
And which also provides a tangible ‘guide for action’ for the modern devotee, likewise. Even if he (or, for that matter, she), isn’t in the immediate business of seeking to devastate a demon(-worshipping) would-be world-beater who has stolen his wife.
Or if He Is.
And so, as applies Ravana – we would reach across to the ‘other side’ of the Dussehra / Vijayadashami observance (one pertains to Ram’s victory over Ravana – the other to the other ‘Death of the Demon’, the successful conquering of Mahishasura by Devi) by quoting from the Devi Bhagavatam:
“When Fate goes against any one, a grass comes like a thunderbolt; and when fate goes in favour of anyone, a thunderbolt becomes as soft as a bundle of cotton.
What does it avail even when one possesses an extensive army or various weapons in abundance, taking shelter in a wide extending fort? What will his soldiers do [for] him, whose death has come close at hand?
Know this as certain, very certain, that death will come to him in the manner as written by the hands of Fate; it will never be otherwise.
As the birth and death of Brahmā and other gods are ordained, your [the demon’s] death has been similarly ordained; no, there is no need of taking the example further than this.
Those who are tied up by the hands of death are surely fools and of extremely blunt intellect, if they think simply on the strength of their getting some boons “that they would never die.”
[Srimad Devi Bhagavatam, V 10, Vijñanananda translation]
The notion that Divine Boons can avert the Inevitable Consequence (‘Nemesis’ ?) of Death for the defiler against Dharma’s Sway? Well, that is what is happening also in the Ramayana’s narrative apex, yes.
‘Grass comes like a Thunderbolt’ – we are reminded instantly of the Green complexion of the ritual Darbha Grass aforementioned for Lord Ram. And also, perhaps, that statement of Manasataramgini’s:
“The basic spirit of Indra worship is far from gone amidst the lay Hindus. Much of Indra has been transparently transferred to the hero cult of rAma the ikshvAku.”
Certainly, as the sage has pointed out, Rama fights Ravana wielding the Weapons of Indra. To quote from his analysis of the subject within the Ramayana and its presentation as to translations:
“agastyavacanāc caiva jagrāhaindraṃ śarāsanam |
khaḍgaṃ ca paramaprītas tūṇī cākṣaya-sāyakau || R 1.1.34c
At Agastya’s words Rāma verily took up Indra’s bow,
sword and the excellent inexhaustible quiver.
Of course the grand finale of the Yuddhakāṇḍa has Rāma ride the chariot of Indra steered by Mātali himself and using Indra-s weapons:
sahasrākṣeṇa kākutstha ratho ‘yaṃ vijayāya te |
dattas tava mahāsattva śrīmāñ śatrunibarhaṇaḥ ||
O descendant of Kakutstha, the slayer of foes, one of great strength and opulence, the thousand-eyed Indra has given for your victory this chariot.
idam aindraṃ mahaccāpaṃ kavacaṃ cāgni-saṃnibham |
śarāś cādityasaṃkāśāḥ śaktiś ca vimalā śitāḥ ||R 6.90.9-6.90.10
[He has also given] this great bow of Indra and his armor which glow like fire,
as also these arrows blazing like the sun and this bright sharp spear.
sa vajra iva durdharṣo vajrabāhu-visarjitaḥ |
kṛtānta iva cāvāryo nyapatad rāvaṇorasi ||
The missile, difficult to defend against like the vajra hurled by the arm of Indra, unstoppable like the causer of death (Yama), hit Rāvaṇa on his chest.
Thus struck Rāvaṇa fell:
gatāsur bhīmavegas tu nairṛtendro mahādyutiḥ |
papāta syandanād bhūmau vṛtro vajrahato yathā || R 6.97.021
His life-breath having departed the lord of the nairṛta-s of fierce speed and great luster fell from his battle-car to the ground like Vṛtra struck by the vajra.
vikramiṣyati rakṣaḥsu bhartā te saha-lakṣmaṇaḥ|
yathā śatruṣu śatrughno viṣṇunā saha vāsavaḥ || 6.024.029c
Your husband [Rāma] with invade the rakṣas with his brother Lakṣmaṇa even as the foe-killing Indra against his foes along with Viṣṇu.
sa dadarśa tato rāmaṃ tiṣṭhantam aparājitam |
lakṣmaṇena saha bhrātrā viṣṇunā vāsavaṃ yathā || R 6.87.9
He then saw the undefeated Rāma standing with his brother Lakṣmaṇa like Indra with Viṣṇu.”
Why do I mention all of that?
Because we are reminded of the concluding lines (indeed, the pervasive mytheme of the entire hymnal) around RV VIII 100 – the famed ‘Indra Vak’ dedicative eulogy:
“1 I Move before Thee here present in Person, and all the Deities follow behind Me.
When, Indra, Thou securest Me My Portion, with Me Thou shalt perform heroic actions.
2 The Food of Meath in foremost place I give Thee, Thy Soma shall be pressed, Thy share appointed.
Thou on My Right shalt be My Friend and Comrade: then shall We Two Smite Dead full many a foeman.”
RV VIII 100 is a ‘dialogue hymnal’, and whilst there is … some controversy over just which lines are assigned to Whom, it is my position that the first line is likely Devi’s, the second, Indra’s (although I accept that other interpretations are possible).
This certainly would prove concordant with what we observe for Lord Rama in the course of the Devi Puran Mahabhagwat Ramayan.
He secures for Devi, Her (sacrificial) Portion – and thence, indeed, with Her is enabled to ‘perform heroic actions’.
This occurs following, as RV VIII 100 5 puts it:
“5 When the Law’s lovers mounted and approached Me as I [sat] lone upon the dear sky’s summit.
Then spake My Spirit to the Heart within Me, My Friends have cried unto Me with Their Children.”
Which should seem to resonate with the circumstance of the Gods approaching Devi at Kailash in order to beseech Her to do something about Ravana due to the demon’s regime and its impacts upon Their charges (and even fellow Gods).
What does this lead to? Well:
“10 When, uttering words which no one comprehended, Vāk, Queen of Gods, the Gladdener, was seated,
The Heaven’s four regions drew forth drink and vigour: now whither hath Her Noblest Portion vanished?
11 The Deities generated Vāk the Goddess, and animals of every figure speak Her.
May She, the Gladdener, yielding food and vigour, the Milch-cow Vāk, approach us meetly lauded.
12 Step forth with wider stride, My Comrade Viṣṇu; make room, Dyaus, for the Leaping of the Lightning.
Let Us Slay Vṛtra, Let Us Free the Rivers [ : ] Let Them Flow [ , ] Loosed at the Command of Indra.”
There is much, much more that we can (and already have!) express upon pretty much all of this, but for now, I think that it is probably enough.
What else remains to be said?
Other than, of course:
जय माता दी ॥
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