Friday, January 7, 2011

PDE Ramayana: Shurpanakha and Rama

Reading Guide. This next encounter with a rakshasa (or, rather, a rakshasi - female) will set in motion a chain of events that drive the rest of the epic. Ravana's own sister, Shurpanakha, falls in love with Rama. He obviously does not return her feelings, but in jest he suggests she try seducing his brother instead. You can compare the two versions — prose and verse — to see how they create different effects.

Image: This is an illustration from a western source; the artist is Warwick Goble, a famous illustration who specialized in Asian and Indian topics. You can read more about his career at Wikipedia.

Source. The prose portion comes from Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913), and the verse portion comes from Ramayana, The Epic of Rama, Prince of India, condensed into English verse by Romesh Dutt (1899). [500 words]

Agastya | 28. Shurpanakha and Rama | Lakshmana

It came to pass that one day there came to the quiet hermitage a rakshasa woman named Shurpanakha, the sister of Ravana, the demon King of Lanka, Ceylon. She was misshapen and ugly, and her voice was harsh and unpleasant. When she beheld Rama, who was comely as a lotus, and of lofty and loyal bearing, her heart was filled with love for him. Made bold with this love, she resolved to assume another form so as to induce him to leave the faithful Sita.

In time she stood before the prince in the guise of a young and beautiful woman and said, “Who art thou who hast come hither with thy bride to dwell in this lone jungle which is haunted by rakshasas?”

Said Rama, “I am Rama, the elder son of a Maharajah named Dasharatha. I dwell here in exile in fulfilment of my sire's vow, with Sita, my spouse, and Lakshmana, my brother. Why dost thou, O fair one, who art as beautiful as the bride of Vishnu, wander about here all alone?”

Shurpanakha said, “I am a rakshasa woman, the sister of Ravana, and have come hither because I love thee. I have chosen thee for my husband, and thou shalt rule over my great empire. Thy Sita is pale and deformed and unworthy of thee, but I am of surpassing beauty and have power to assume any form at will. I must devour Sita and thy brother, so that we may range the jungle together and visit the lofty hills.”

Said Rama, “Sita is my beloved bride, nor would I leave her. But Lakshmana hath no consort and is a fit husband for thee.”

~ ~ ~

"Listen," so spake Shurpanakha, "if my purpose thou wouldst know,
I am raksha, Shurpanakha, wearing various shapes below.

Know my brothers, royal Ravan, Lanka's lord from days of old,
Kumbhakarna dread and dauntless, and Vibhishan true and bold;

Khara and the doughty Dushan with me in these forests stray,
But by Rama's love emboldened I have left them on the way!

Broad and boundless is my empire and I wander in my pride,
Thee I choose as lord and husband — cast thy human wife aside.

Pale is Sita and misshapen, scarce a warrior's worthy wife;
To a nobler, lordlier female consecrate thy gallant life!

Human flesh is food of rakshas! Weakling Sita I will slay,
Slay that boy thy stripling brother —thee as husband I obey,

On the peaks of lofty mountains, in the forests dark and lone,
We shall range the boundless woodlands and the joys of dalliance prove!"

Rama heard her impious purpose and a gentle smile repressed,
To the foul and forward female thus his mocking words addressed.

"List, O passion-smitten maiden! Sita is my honored wife;
With a rival loved and cherished, cruel were thy wedded life!

But no consort follows Lakshman: peerless is his comely face,
Dauntless is his warlike valour, matchless is his courtly grace,

And he leads no wife or consort to this darksome woodland grove,
With no rival to thy passion seek his ample-hearted love!"

Agastya | Shurpanakha and Rama | Lakshmana

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