Ramayan: Book 3: Aranya Kanda - Book Of Forest

Canto VI - The Abduction Of Sita



Lakshmana was filled with sorrow and anger at the way he had been forced to leave his post and betray Rama, but he had been unable to bear Sita's harsh words as she knew only too well. In fact, she had repented her action in using such harsh words as soon as she had uttered them but her anxiety and fear for Rama had totally wiped out her reasoning capacity.

Ravana had been hiding close by waiting for Lakshmana to go. He was anxiously watching the proceedings between the two. There was no time to be lost. He had to capture her and leave before Rama returned. He had no desire to have a close encounter with Rama at the moment. As soon as he heard Maricha's voice, he knew that his uncle had died but he felt no compunction at all for having sent him to his death. He had served his purpose and that was all he wanted.

He had a few anxious moments till he saw Lakshmana leave. As soon as Lakshmana left, Ravana donned the garments and make-up of an aged sannyasi. His hair was matted and he wore ochre-coloured robes and wooden sandals. He held an umbrella and a staff in one hand and a water-pot in the other and walked with eager steps towards the ashrama. Sita had gone inside and he could not afford to step inside the magic circle made by Lakshmana. So he stood outside and shouted out, "Biksham dehi" which was the normal call for alms, made by all mendicant sannyasis.

Timidly Sita came to the door of the ashrama and looked out. Ravana gave a gasp of pure delight. He was a real connoisseur of beauty and had captured many of the most beautiful women in the world for his harem but never had he come across any woman as lovely as this one. She stood framed in the doorway, eyes wide open and long black tresses falling almost to the ground. Her complexion was golden, her lips, soft and red and parted in anticipation of her Lord. She was so bewitching that Ravana could not move or speak for a few minutes. He could only stand stock still and devour her with his eyes.

He knew that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and his hunger to possess her became an urgent need. Controlling himself with the greatest difficulty, he announced his status by chanting some Vedic mantras. Ravana was a past master in the art of beguiling women but in this case he did not have to pretend anything which he did not actually feel, for Sita’s alluring looks totally captivated him. His green eyes shooting golden flames of desire he said, "0 beautiful one, who are you, who lives alone in this forest. Your dark eyes hold magic in their depths. Your form is perfectly made. I wonder what divine hands sculpted your tantalising breasts. Your face, your smile, your teeth, are all fascinating and have totally captivated me. Your waist is so slim, that I can span it with one hand. The perfume of lotuses emanates from your lovely hair. I cannot believe that you are a mere mortal. You must be Parvathi, the consort of Shiva, or Sachi, the consort of Indra. I am struck dumb by so much beauty, but tell me how it is possible that you are living alone in this dark forest. This is not a fitting place for you. You should be living in a palace with terrace and beautiful gardens. Who is the cruel one who has abandoned you in this dreadful forest, infested with rakshasas and wild beasts".

Ravana's impassioned words and looks were quite embarrassing to Sita but she took him to be an elderly sannyasi and it was against the code of conduct to be rude to those who wore the ochre robe. She was beside herself with anxiety about Rama and kept watching the little path to see if he was coming, but at the same time she could not afford to neglect this holy man who might curse her, if she did not entertain him.

So she said, "I am the daughter of Janaka, king of Mithila and the wife of Rama, son of Dasaratha. I have come to this forest with my husband who has been banished for fourteen years from his kingdom. His brother, Lakshmana, has also come with him. I cannot bear to live without my husband, neither can he bear to be parted from me and that is why I accompanied him to this forest. At the moment he has gone with his brother to capture a deer, which I desired. If you like, you are welcome to wait for his return. You may sit outside this circle for no one can enter it. However I will bring you some food".

So saying, she went inside to get some edibles for the holy man. Ravana was watching her every gesture and movements with hungry eyes, sparking green fire.

She returned with water to wash his feet as well as a seat for him to sit and have some refreshments. It was the custom to honour a sannyasi in this fashion. She was totally unsuspicious of the character of the person who stood before her, so she innocently came out of the magic circle and kept everything ready for the holy man and respectfully stood beside him and asked him to partake of the repast.

Ravana did not have much time to waste on civilities, so he immediately stated his purpose in coming there. "0 princess!” he said, "you must have heard of the king of the rakshasas, called Ravana. His very name strikes terror in the hearts of all. Well, I am he. Ever since I heard about your beauty from my sister Shurpanekha, I have not been able to think of anything else. Now that I have seen you, I am filled with delight. If anything, her description did not do full justice to you. You are far more charming than what she said. You have totally captivated me and I do now want any other woman but you. Come with me and I'll make you my foremost queen. My city is called Lanka and it is situated on an island. It is the most beautiful city in the world. You can have the most wonderful palace for your own and wander about in lovely gardens instead of this terrible forest. Cast away this miserable life and come away with me and be my queen".

Sita was furious when she heard these despicable words coming from the lips of a man, whom she thought was holy. It did not occur to her to be frightened.

With flaming eyes and scornful look, she said scathingly, "Lister. to me 0 wretch! I am the wife of the noblest man in the world and you are the most despicable person. Do you really think I will leave my husband and go with you? How dare you talk to me like this? What do I care for your name and fame and health? My husband is the home of all virtues and I would never look at another man. Give up these sinful thoughts and go away fast before my noble husband returns and kills you".

Though she spoke boldly, her mind was suddenly filled with fear for she realised her state of utter helplessness. She was alone and at the mercy of this man who appeared to be a veritable devil.

Ravana saw her trembling but he was loathe to use violence and thus make her hate him. Though time was running short, he tried to beguile her with stories of his glory. "Ah Sita", he said, "You do not realise what a great personage I am. There is nothing that I cannot do. I have conquered all the three worlds. Even the gods bow to me. I have a fantastic chariot which can fly in the air. I can take you over land and sea and show you wonders you have never dreamt of. What can that puny mortal, Rama, do? He was banished to the forest by his father and did not have the guts to go against his stepmother. You are too beautiful to be wasted on such a coward. Come with me and live a life of pleasure in my city. I will shower you with whatever you desire".

Sita replied hotly, "You say you are born in a noble family, yet not even the lowest of the low will behave like you. If you touch me you will not be able to live. Rama's arrows will split your chest. You are unnecessarily putting your head into a noose. Depart from here this instant, if you value your life".

Ravana was slowly losing his temper. He had never been thwarted before, especially by a woman! He had thought to make an easy conquest but time was running out. He made one last attempt to convince her of his worth.

'For the last time I am pleading with you. Listen to me and be my wife. I promise I will never displease you. Rama is far inferior to me. He is only a wandering mendicant, without even a kingdom. Forget him and come with me" Speaking thus, he shed his disguise and stood in all his rakshasa glory before her eyes, ten heads and all!

Sita was terrified to see him in his rakshasa form but she did her best to hide her fear. She knew that if she could only get back into the magic circle she would be safe. Slowly she started backing her way towards it. She cursed herself for not having listened to Lakshmana and stayed within the circle. If she tried to turn and run, he would surely catch her, so slowly she tried to inch her way back.

Suddenly Ravana realised what she was up to and before she could reach the edge and save herself, he lunged at her and dragged her back. Catching her long hair with his left hand, he placed his right hand under her thighs and lifted her up and put her on his shoulders. His aerial vehicle which had been well camouflaged by the trees, now appeared like magic on the lawn. He got into it and placed Sita on his lap. The entire forest held its breath in fear. It was as if the whole of nature was appalled by the immensity of the crime which was being committed. The trees moaned and writhed in agony. The birds shrieked and flew hither and thither. The deer on the ground were affected by their cries and they also moaned and fled into the depths of the forest as if in an effort to call Rama.

Sita struggled and tried her best to wriggle out of his grasp but he only tightened his hold. She screamed, "Rama! Rama! Save me! Save me"! But Rama did not hear. She was like one demented. Again and again she cried out, "0 Rama! 0 Lakshmana! 0 noble brother of Rama. This evil rakshasa is carrying me away by force. Save me! Save me"!

The chariot was swiftly rising from the ground. She saw the trees she loved and the forest where she had roamed with her beloved. She made piteous appeals to the, flowers and the birds to save her and cursed Ravana for his folly. Ravana paid no heed and the chariot sped through the air to the south. He was jubilant because his plan had succeeded. As the chariot was speeding on its way, Sita suddenly saw their good friend Jatayu perched on a tree. Unfortunately he had not witnessed all that took place, for he had tucked his head into his feathers and gone to sleep.

As soon as Sita saw him she cried out, "0 revered Sir, this rakshasa is carrying me away by force. Please tell Rama". Sobs stopped her from speaking further.

Jatayu woke up from his slumbers at her cry. He flew beside the chariot and tried to reason with the rakshasa king. "0 Ravana", he said, "what you are doing, is a despicable thing. Rama has not wronged you in any way. Give up this madness or else you will regret it. Even though I am old and unarmed, rest assured that I will not let you take her away. If you persist in this stupidity, you will have to fight with me first".

Ravana had hardly expected an obstacle from this direction. He was furious with the bird for trying to bar the flight of the chariot with its huge wings. Jatayu fought with his talons, beak and wings and mauled Ravana in quite a few places, so that blood started oozing from his wounds. Ravana tried to pierce him with his arrows but Jatayu resisted manfully and slashed his. bow and armour with his talons. Blind with fury, Jatayu ripped apart the magic asses which were yoked to the chariot and the chariot itself fell to the ground and was smashed. Jatayu shrieked the war cry of the eagles and swooped down on Ravana and ripped the chariot fell to the ground, Ravana kept a firm grip on Sita.

The rakshasas had the power to fly and the demon king rose up in the air with Sita in his arms. Jatayu followed him but by now the old bird was tired and weak. Still he went after him and valiantly pierced him with his beak again and again till he was forced to land on the ground. Ravana was amazed at the bird's prowess but he was also getting desperate. At last he took up his sword and sliced off both the wings of the bird. Jatayu fell to the ground with a shriek. Sita wept in pain at the gory fate of her one friend who had also been her father-in-law's friend. She shook off Ravana's loosened hold and ran to the bird and gathered him up in her arms and wept for him. Ravana lulled her up roughly, and placing her on his thigh, he rose up into the sky once again.

Again and again Sita called out, "Rama! 0 Rama! Where are you? Can you not hear me"?

Far away in the forest, Rama felt his left eye throb. The vibrations of her piteous call were felt by him and he hastened his steps and almost ran down the tiny forest track.

As Ravana rose into the sky, the sun hid behind clouds, as if he did not want to be a witness to this outrage, the wind moaned and groaned and there was a hush of sadness in the air.

Draped in yellow silk and decked in the ornaments which Anasuya had given her, Sita looked like a streak of lightning against the dark, broad chest of the rakshasa king. The lotus flowers which Rama had placed lovingly in her hair, just that morning, started to wilt and fall to the ground, as if they could not bear to be touched by that cruel hand. One of her anklets fell and lay forlornly on the ground, loathe to be parted from its partner. The shadow cast by the demon king as he carried Sita through the air, was black and menacing.

The wild beasts which came under the shadow growled menacingly, they knew not why and tried to claw at it. The fish in the rivers appeared to leap out of the waters as if to help her. Again and again Sita begged Ravana to let her go, but he only tightened his hold. He was feeling very happy that at last he had got her in his arms. He did not realise that he was holding his death in his arms. He was sure that it was only a question of time before she succumbed to his charms. Sita spoke scornfully sometimes, and threateningly sometimes, but it was all in vain. He moved swiftly through the skies.

Suddenly when she looked down, she saw five monkeys sitting on top of a mountain. Though she did not know it, this was her first glimpse of Hanuman, who was destined to play such a vital role in her life. She was struck by an idea. Tearing off a piece of her upper garment, she took off a few of her ornaments and tied them up in the little piece of cloth and threw it towards the monkeys, hoping that some day Rama would pass by and recognise the jewels. Ravana who was sailing along happily did not notice what was going on. The monkeys looked up to see a beautiful woman bepg carried in the arms of the rakshasa. She was crying out, "0 Rama, 0 Lakshmana"! in a desperate voice.

Very soon they came to the southern straits which separated Ravana's capital from the mainland. It was her first sight of the sea but she was in no mood to enjoy anything. Ravana tightened his hold, for he felt her struggling to get herself free and feared that she would jump into the foaming waters below.

Soon they reached the fabulous city of Lanka where he took her to his own private quarters and kept a number of women to guard her. He gave strict orders to the women that no one should be allowed to approach her without his knowledge. He also told them to give her anything she asked for, whether it was jewels or clothes or delicious food. "Whatever she asks for, should be provided immediately", he said.

He then ordered eight of his vassals to go straightaway to Janasthana and keep an eye on Rama's movements and report to him from time to time. If opportunity arose they were asked to try and kill him. Ravana heaved a sigh of relief and pleasure. He had punished Rama and got for himself the most beautiful woman in all the three worlds. He lay on his silken couch and pictured all the delights which were in store for him, once Sita agreed to be his wife.

Ravana could not lie down for long. Sita's charming face kept flashing in his mind and he decided to go and talk to her once again. He had known many women and though some of them had objected in the beginning, not one had had the guts to refuse him for long and he was sure that Sita would be no exception. Though the idea of capturing Sita had only been a means to punish Rama in the beginning, he realised that once he had met her, he had fallen a prey to her charms and he could not concentrate on anything else. His passion was like a fire burning him up. He strode to the room in which she had been imprisoned. She was sitting on the ground, with rakshasis all around her, looking like a stricken deer surrounded by jackals. Her tear-stained, woebegone face, was cast down and her lovely eyes, veiled by her long lashes. She disdained even to look up as he strode into the room.

He was determined to impress her somehow, so he started by telling her of the beauties of his palace. "Look, 0 beautiful one, at the glories of this city of Lanka. The palaces are made of gold with ornamental pillars. There are terraces and gardens filled with flowers, and lakes in which swans glide about among the lotuses. There is no comparison between my wealth and Rama's. Who is he, but a miserable wretch, clad in bark, living the life of an exile? He will never be able to come here and take you away, for Lanka is impenetrable, surrounded as it is by the sea. Do not waste your youth pining for him. Accept my love and I can take you wherever you wish, give you whatever you want. We will traverse through the skies and I'll show you the sights of all the three worlds. There is no one equal to me in valour in all these worlds and none dare stop me. Be my queen and I'll lay the whole world at your feet".

Sita covered her face with a cloth and cried as if her heart would break. Ravana looked at her with compassion and said, "Do not cry like this. What have you to cry for? Have I not said that I'd give the whole world to you. Not only that, I am ready to lay all my ten heads at your feet. Do you realise what that means. Has anyone ever heard me say that? Ravana has never laid his head at anyone's feet before, and certainly not at the feet of a woman. But your beauty has charmed me. I am your slave. Come, my little dove, accept me and agree to my wishes".

At the end of this declaration of love, Sita looked up with flashing eyes and said scornfully, "You do not know my Rama and that is why you dare to say such things. He is the image of dharma. He is truth incarnate. I love him with my whole life. You have dared to touch me, his wife, and he will never forgive you for that. He will never spare you. He and his noble brother, Lakshmana, will come here and slay you. Have no doubts about that. You call yourself brave, yet to me you are a coward. You stole me away from my husband by luring him into the forest. You were too frightened to come face to face with him. You are not only a coward but also a thief. But beware, your end is nearing or else you would never have done such a dastardly act".

Ravana was furious at these words. His lips were throbbing with anger and humiliation. "Enough of your prattle", he shouted. "I give you twelve months to change your mind. If, within that time you agree to my proposal, you will become queen of the world, otherwise your delicate flesh shall be carved and dressed for my morning meal". With this ultimatum he stormed* out of the room giving orders that Sita should be kept in the grove of Ashoka trees with a strict guard, night and day.

Thus ends the sixth Canto called "The Abduction of Sita" of the Aranya Kanda in the glorious Ramayana of the Sage Valmiki.




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