Reading Guide. After Rama defeats Khara and the rakshasas in the forest, Shurpanakha goes to Lanka to tell her brother Ravana, King of Lanka, what has happened.
Image: The depiction of Ravana below is an oleograph from the Raja Ravi Varma Press; you can see a flipbook of other illustrations from Ravi Varma here: Ramayana Oleographs.
Source. The Iliad of the East: The Ramayana, by Frederika Richardson Macdonald (1886). [800 words] This selection is from a new book — Frederika Richardson's Ramayana, a literary English adaptation of Valmiki's Sanskrit poem. As you will see, it is lively and fun to read. You might want to read some more of Richardson's book later in the semester.
Ravana reclined, his numerous eyes half closed, in an ecstasy of voluptuous enjoyment, when he was disturbed by a stir and confusion among his obsequious courtiers. Looking up in angry astonishment, he perceived his sister, the vindictive Shurpanakha, her garments torn and soiled, her tawny hair streaming, wild and disheveled, and her face bespattered with blood. She forced her way through the startled rakshasas and, rushing forward to the monarch's feet ,smote her breast and sought to speak but, choked by her violent emotion, fell on her face and lay there, mouthing and struggling in vain for breath. Then the dreadful Lord of the Rakshasas leapt to his feet and, snatching Shurpanakha up from off the ground, shouted, his eyes flushing crimson with rage, "Speak! Who has dared molest the sister of Ravana, the victor of the deathless gods? Dost hear me? I command thee, speak!"
Then Shurpanakha broke into a hoarse, derisive laugh. "Who has dared?" she said and stood before him, clutching her heart with both her hands as though she feared for very fury it might burst ere she had spoken. "Brother, whilst you stretch your limbs on softly cushioned ottomans like some mawkish saint tasting celestial beatitude, the name of rakshasa is made the laughing-stock of the Three Worlds! In the country of Janasthana, the crows feast on the corpses of our warriors! The anchorites and pious hermits wander at their ease through the wood of Dandaka and laugh at the memory of its terrors. Khara is dead, and Dushana, and Trishiras, the hero with the three heads! They sought to avenge my wrongs and to destroy the audacious warrior who dared to mutilate me thus, and they perished in this just cause — they and fourteen thousand warriors. And now, perchance, you will ask once more, who has dared do this? Oh, not the armies of the deathless gods, not the gandharvas, nor the rishis, nor the danavas, but a man! One Rama, an exiled youth, now dwelling with his brother and his bride, in the vale of Panchavati!"
Ravana dashed his monstrous hand down upon the couch, and the golden frame was shivered, and jewels sprang from it, like glistening tears of pain! "Who is this Rama?" he asked, with intense slowness of utterance, and his low, deep voice was like the mutterings which precede the tempest. "How great is his strength? What weapons has he? To what race does he belong? And why does he dwell in the vale of Panchavati?"
Then Shurpanakha answered, "He is the son of Dasharatha, King of Ayodhya; his arms are long, and his chest is large as the mighty Indra's; in his eyes is a tranquil radiance, which makes one shrink. His garment is of the fibre of bark, and he has a black antelope skin thrown across his shoulders. He has a large bow, chased with gold; one does not see him bend it, nor adjust his arrows, but his shafts rush through the air like winged flames and beat down his enemies, as the hail destroys the harvest. He has with him a young brother, named Lakshmana; the insolence of this youth is unparalleled; he laughs in the thick of the fight and deals out gibes with death. Like Rama, he has one thought, one care, one vulnerable spot where those who loathe him may deal him a more painful blow than death! His honor and his brother's love are bound up in the woman who dwells with them — Sita, the youthful wife of Rama. The loveliness of this Sita... heavens! The execrable loveliness of this Sita! When I think of it — of the little pouting mouth, and smooth dimpled cheeks, and soft appealing eyes — by the Thirteen Gods! My fingers tremble to claw and tear this hateful beauty, and make it more hideous even than my gashed, distorted face. Death? It is over too soon by half! A man may be content to kill his enemy; a rakshasa prefers to torture him! You understand me? Carry off this Sita! For your very lust's sake, carry off this beautiful, accursed Sita!"
Once more the rakshasi flung herself at her brother's feet, but this time he laid his immense hand caressingly on her tangled head and said, "It sufficeth, Shurpanakha," and then he laughed. That was very terrible. Even the rakshasas exchanged appalled glances; the wind caught up the sound and rushed through the wastes of space wailing, "Ravana, the Scourge of the Three Worlds, has laughed! There will be cause of weeping for all living creatures soon!"