The sun started to dip down into the fathoms of the ocean. As the crimson rays bathed over the ruined palace shrines of Lanka, the setting sun was lost somewhere in the rising smoke and flames. The palace was now surrounded by the army of Sugriva, wiping out anything and everything that moved. The monkey army started off their victory march into the palace courtyard, their indistinct cacophony embellished with victory. Looking at them from the largest window of the tallest spire was Hanuman, his eyes intense and aching. There in the exact middle of the palace courtyard, in a small shrine built for the king, decorated with exquisite flowers and exotic lamps, occurring was an encounter, rather an execution.
Upon one of its steps was a human form, that of Srirama, the guardian of peace, the saviour of the good standing tall with his sword drawn out, still thirsty for blood. And on the floor, bathed in blood was the king to his kingdom, the ruler to his land, now burdened and broken down by defeat, Raavan, the demon king of Lanka. The palace rooms were being plundered, the final takeaway from the losing side. Since snatching was what they did best, the Vaanaras found it leisure to plunder all that glittered and gleamed. Raavancould make out through the corner of his eye, the palace women being hunt down, grabbed and dragged to oblivion. Women, whom he swore to guard by his own life, were now being tramapled upon like vermin. There was no civilization. There was no Dharma anymore. As their helpless shrieks dissolved in the lustful war cries of the apes, Raavan could do nothing but wriggle, moan and sigh.
“Raavan, your tears can never save you. You brought this war upon yourself. Where is your much boasted valour? Where is that coldblooded arrogance of yours with which you abducted my wife, Sita? Now don’t shed tears and bring shame upon yourself.” Rama hauled his blade over Raavan’s face, now glowing in a crimson shroud.
“Now look at me Raavan. I want you to look into my eyes. See the fire lit vengeance and vengeance alone. By sunset today, you and your Lanka will be perished. Down to ashes. The price you are going to pay for the biggest mistake you made. Look around you. Your heads, nine of them which I severed from your trunk are rolling on the floor beside you. I guess you have run out of all your petty little magic tricks” Rama smiled maliciously at his enemy.
In fact he was the only one smiling.
Bali, King of Kishkintha, the mightier than the mightiest, was enjoying a summer evening on his balcony, right beside his wife Thara when the war cry came from the royal gates. It was Sugriv, his brother, who thrashed the guards, smashed open the gates and was now standing at the stepping stone to the castle and challenging Bali to come and wage combat.
The sight of Sugriv itself made Bali tremble with rage, as no sin equalled the betrayal Sugriv posed upon him. It was not long ago that he defeated Sugriv and drove him off the country. If only he have not hidden himself in the Rishimukh Mountains, that Bali would have torn him into pieces.
“Oh… Bali, Coward. You were so eager to rip my guts and drink my blood. Well, here I am. Come and fight me. Let the winner decide the future of this land” Sugriv’s voice had the arrogance of a champion, which he was certainly not.
“Why? Are you afraid, Bali? Where is your much boasted chivalry?”
“Sugriv, don’t be a fool. Retreat to your tiny little den at once. Or else I will tear you into pieces”
“To hell with your arrogance, Bali. Come and fight me. I am here to reclaim my kingdom, and whatever you have stolen from me”
“I am not the one who stole. Looks like you haven’t learned your lesson. So be it. I accept this duel.
Sugriv, you insolent scum, here I come”
Thara was trying desperately to hold Bali back. But his mind heeded to no more words. His arms and legs waited for no other spoken word. He snatched his bludgeon and rushed down to his foe, his only brother.
What happened next was one of the fiercest duels man or beast ever witnessed. With each and every blow that downed Sugriv, he was retreating few steps back into the jungle. Enraged by his act of falling back, Bali was furiously advancing on Sugriv. The sun was now gleaming hot over their heads, when they reached the outskirts of Kishkintha. Sugriv was badly battered up and was struggling to stay upright on his hind limbs, while exhaustion had not much effect on Bali. They were now fighting in a clearing in the wilderness of Kishkintha. While blood was fighting own blood, two pairs of eyes were watching keenly from among the bushes.
Little did Bali know that he was being set up for the battle, while, at a distance was waiting a fateful arrow from an unwavering bow of Srirama, standing by to pierce through his heart.
Rama was now sweating in dilemma, as his vision entwined itself between two impeccably similar brothers. At one moment he would be quiet sure that the one at his arrow point is Bali. By the very next moment, that person would be tossed to the ground, becoming Sugriv. His eyes could not ascertain the one to die and the one to live.
With every jab and toss, Sugriv grew weaker. There was a point when he was quiet sure that he will surely die if this duel continued a few more moments.
Another monstrous blow knocked Sugriv down onto the ground. With that, he totally lost his courage. Summoning all his energy he leapt to his feet and fled into the wilderness, never looking back.
“Where are you running, coward. Stop at once. I will make your death less painful. Act like a warrior.” Bali’s words were drenched in exhaustion. Soon I gave up the chase and headed back to his castle.
“Why, my lord? Why did you put my life in such a grave risk? I thought in another minute Bali would mince me into little pieces with that bludgeon of his. Was your aim careless enough to let Bali alive to see the light of another day? ” Sugriv’s voice still had an odd panic, a perpetual fear shaking each and every syllable that exited his mouth.
“Don’t be furious Sugriv. My arrows never miss the aim. Dare not doubt a Kshatriya’s aim. It was your appearances that put me in dilemma. I couldn’t spot out which one of you was Bali. What if my arrow hit the wrong one and instead of Bali, my fellow, my friend Sugriv dies” Rama’s words of sly was coated with an air of affection.
“Next time, when you confront your enemy, wear something as an indicator, a garland maybe, just to distinguish you from your brother” Rama was told Sugriv in a tone as soft as the hand which was resting on his shoulder.
“I will do whatever you say. But if you are going to spare him one more time, then you can kiss your alliance goodbye” Sugrivwas rubbing his shoulder blades, still red and swollen.
“Then you can kiss your life goodbye” Mumbled Lakshmanfrom a corner of that cave.
Later when Sugriv was in the infirmary, far away from their earshot, Lakshman drew closer to Rama.
“What does he think of himself? A weakling fleeing to the woods, defeated and battered and yet blaming us for his mishap. Brother, I can’t stand this sheer arrogance. If he dares to talk like that one more time, I will behead him at once”
“Have patience, little one. I know how you are feeling. But sometimes, strategies can outmatch swords. Which is why we are supposedly lying at mercy of this ignominious army and its impudent and stupid leader. Without an army, we can’t march to Lanka and take our vengeance. Once you are patient enough to stand any maltreatment that you gain the forces to unleash wrath upon your enemy.”
“But, Bali is ten times as powerful as this idiot. We can very well go to Kishkintha and ask him help, can’t we?”
“Bali is as powerful and just a king to his people. Do you think a valiant king like Bali would ever think of sacrificing his army, rather watching them get slaughtered by those demons for an inconspicuous cause like that of ours? Never. More over Bali doesn’t know what fear is. His strength is unmatched. Once, even the mighty Raavan got entangled in his mane and got carried away and Bali didn’t even notice it. Such is his might. So he himself poses as a threat on our way”
“I can’t really understand where you are pointing to, brother” Lakshman shrugged his shoulders.
Rama replied in a cold devious tone.
“In time, you will understand it Lakhsman. In time.”
Hanuman was now standing inside the Asokavan, bowing graciously to the lady to his lord, Sitadevi, informing her that the King Srirama was ready for her, that he will see her in no time. Sita’s eyes were now flooded with affection and devotion to her beloved husband. With each day of war, a strange fear was growing inside her. When Raavan vowed In her presence to murder Rama and avenge his sons’ deaths, after each day of war, she felt a deep pain inside her, as to where this war was going. As the demon maids were telling her stories of war, her mind was drifting towards a sadness rather than hope. She wanted this to be over, that too soon. With each loss Raavan was turning into a wounded beast, ten times as furious as he was before. Now that the war is over, and the demon king is put to rest in peace, she can see her beloved Rama once again; enjoy the warmth of his hands when they wrap around her keep her safe for eternity. Her daydreams of going back to Ayodhya with all flamboyance are going to be true in a matter of hours.
When the newly crowned king of Lanka, Vibheeshan, marched into the Asokavanto escort Sita to the palace, to her Rama, Sita’s face lit up with a unique splendour. She was searching for words to tell her beloved, when they finally meet after such a long time, knowing that no word could encompass her devotion to him. It also made her a little awkward, to think of Vibheeshan who was walking in front of her guiding her way. This was the new king of Lanka. She once remembered a sight of him in the shadow of Raavan, when she was dragged to the Asokavan, on the day of her arrival in Lanka. She had once cursed Raavan at the top of her voice, not to touch her, and if he did, then his head would burst into smithereens. But Raavan never touched her. He didn’t even come near her vicinity. All he did was to stand at a distance and appreciated how her presence seemed to enlighten the Castle grounds. She found it hard to think of Raavan as a heartless monster. Whenever he came to the garden gates, the demon maids, would rise to their feet and bow to him with utmost devotion. What she saw in their eyes, was never to be named fear, but a perpetual loyalty and respect towards their king. She herself could feel his courteous manner, whenever he addressed her, or threaten her; he always used the most polite words which never meant any disrespect. After the war was declared even amidst all his hatred towards Rama, he never failed to respect her. Her life in the Asokavanwas as hospitable like that inside a palace. But however hospitable it was, still it had the shadow of that demon hovering over her.
At the end of the corridor, was Rama, walking up and down the length of the hall impatiently. As soon as Sita’s eyes met his, her pace quickened as she ran to him. A meeting so sanctimonious after a long fateful separation. Everybody else in that room bowed their heads in respect. Everybody was happy. Everybody except one.
“Can you tell them to go out of the room? I want to have a word with my wife” Rama whispered into his brother’s ear.
In the moments that followed, one after another, the people assembled inside the room went out, leaving Rama and Sita in the vast emptiness of that room.
“Oh swami, my heart wept day in day out in your absence. I was sure that you would come soon. It was those days of faith that made me survive through this mind numbing toil. Let me come near you swami. Let me savour this moment forever” With that Sita moved closer to him.
Rama turned away from her in silent resentment.
“Why swami? Don’t you want to hold me in your arms? It was like I lost one half of my body all these days.”
“How was your life here in Lanka? Did that insolent Demon hurt you?” Rama’s voice had an overtone of hatred which made Sita’s smile wear off.
“Aaryaputra don’t say such godforsaken things. Nobody was there to hurt me. Well they didn’t dare touch me. Everybody was nice to me.”
“Look Sita. I killed that monster Raavan and destroyed his very own country, Lanka. Everyone, Hanuman, Vibheeshan, Sugriv, Lakshman, every single soldier in my army succeeded in their task to come this far. And whatever I did was never for your sake. Whatever I did was to uphold the name of my pride. The pride of Raghuvamsa, was my first and foremost aim” Rama never looked into her eyes.
Sita was completely baffled. This was never what she hoped to hear. Rama went on.
“I should say something straight to your face. For it has been tormenting me the day I set foot on this cursed land. I don’t trust your fidelity. You may be innocent. You may not have the rational mind to discriminate the good from the ugly. Frankly, I doubt Raavan reined his thoughts with such a beauty residing in his palace garden” He turned to face her. Now she could see the hatred in his face. The very same hatred which was there when he spoke of Raavan, a while ago.
“Aryaputra, where are you going with this?” her voice was on the verge of breaking down.
“I doubt whether you chaste. I doubt whether you fell for his petty magic tricks and lost your virtues as a queen, as a wife. My wife”
Those words echoed in her ears like a thunderclap. She broke down into tears. Her small form collapsed onto that stone floor. It was trembling. Rama could hear her sobs, but his expression didn’t change. Once a mind fell prey to something as venomous as doubt, then it would let go only at the grave.
Rama turned away from her, his words sealed away from her. His face red with anger.
“Tears won’t do you any good, Sita. I have lost faith in you. Not that you have done anything wrong. But since you are hesitating to say what happened. It’s nobody’s fault. I mean, it’s not easy for a woman like you to live in such a place, without a man beside. Human mind craves safety and satisfaction in mysterious ways. What if in a moment of…”
“Enough of this bickering, Aryaputra.These words never gives you any glory. something infernal, something as barbaric as what you said, I beg you that never to utter something like this even to your worst enemy. Such is its venom. I would have killed myself before doing such a heinous crime. I have pledged allegiance with you for the rest of my life, and I have always stayed a virtuous wife. But all that is of no use now, right? For your eyesight is blinded by the thick shroud of doubt.” Rama’s line of sight deflected from her, his anger burning red hot.
“All this time, nothing except Rama-Rama had exited my mouth. Nothing but your thoughts had resided my mind. And you? You are equalling me to a filthy concubine. Shame on you Aaryaputra.Shame on your much boasted dharma.”
“Your anger is giving me nothing but more room for doubt. If you could just prove that you were chaste, nothing of this sort can ever happen again” Rama said that with a cold and malevolent tone, which did enough to break her into tiny shreds.
“So be it. I will prove my innocence. I will do what any noble self-respecting woman would do when the faith entrusted upon them is broken. I will offer myself to the Agni. I will undergo the Agni-pariksha, the trial by fire. If I am corrupt in any sense, let me burn to death in the fire. If I am virtuous enough, then Agni will spare me.” Sita turned away from Rama, whose face now reflected a sudden angst.
“Sita…” Words ran dry inside Rama’s throat, as Sita called out to Lakshman. Rama’s heart sank into an ocean of regret.
There was a huge bonfire lit in the courtyard, which leapt into the sky riding giant flames. Around it was a huge crowd of man, monkey and monster. All eyes were wet with tears, as Sita encircled the fire, with tears streaming down her cheeks, her hands outstretched in prayer. She looked at the skies saluting all the deities, who sat among the clouds and said nothing. Then she looked around and saluted all those assembled.
“If I am a sinner, let this fire absolve whatever sin I committed.” Saying that she leapt into the fire.Rama jumped to his feet from his throne. Along with her, it was his pride, his valour and all that he stood for till that day was tossed into those flames. He felt as if the fire stripped him of his robes and was crawling through his body. It was he who was burning. The fire was absolving his sins.
“Look, there she is, coming out of the fire unharmed” some monkey cried out. The crowd burst into applause. As a female form slowly emerged out of the flames, untouched by the fierce heat, the people gathered around were clapping and thudding in joy and devotion. The air was saturated with hymns and anthems of the king and his devoted queen.
Rama gazed at the fire with indignation as Sita walked out, unharmed. There was nothing left of him. He was completely burned to ashes.
Before the next full moon itself, Sugriv was back at the castle gates, uttering bitter words at Bali, challenging him for a duel. But this time, ornamenting himself with a flower garland.
“Bali, where are you. Come fight me. I am here to rip your pride off. Where is your valour?”
“What does he want now? Infidel. I should not have left him alive last time.” Bali quickly seized his bludgeon and started down to the gates. But not long after, he was stopped by his wife who showed signs of anxiety and panic, something Bali had never seen before.
“Please, Vanarajan. Please don’t go. I am quite sure that this is some plot to harm you. Sugriv has surely set up some trap for you. Please don’t go”
“Thara, don’t you dare come in my path for such a silly reason. He challenged me. Called me for a duel, which as the king of this country, I must accept. It’s my honour, that is put to question. There is no further question to it. I will go. But this time, I will teach him a lesson, which he will never forget. “With that Bali disappeared beyond the palace doors.
Bali’s roar echoed like a thunder clap, as his body fell onto the ground like an uprooted tree. Sugriv drew one more laborious breath so as to clear his view of the dust and to have a closer look at the downed enemy. There, on the ground was the mighty Bali, still puzzled of not knowing what struck him. Sugriv looked at his brother and found himself in a pointless juncture. “My god, what have I done to Bali, my own blood?” purely out of his brotherly instincts he ran to Bali and knelt beside him. an arrowhead was sprouting out of his chest, bearing blood red flowers.
“Brother, Bali, forgive me. Forgive me for the ill fate I have brought on you. Oh god, what have I done?” Sugriv was looking at the skies and crying. His tears had the salt of a long gone loyalty.
By this time, two princely figures surfaced out of the wilderness and started walking towards the clearing where the brothers were made to fight. Everything worked as per the plan.
Srirama was walking with contempt in his face, which got wiped out as soon as he saw Bali’s face. It was serene. Tranquil, like the untouched waterbed of Manassasarovargettingkissed by the mist of the Himalayas. There was no fury. There was no remorse. As if he accepted what has befell him. Yet there was something which made Rama uncomfortable.
There was no fear. Not even a tiny speck of it. Even when the elegant silhouette of Rama came into his field of vision, the eyes gleamed with devotion, but no fear.
“Oh lord Srirama. Now I know…. How silly of me… lord… please forgive if this minion has disobeyed your will. Maybe I deserve this.” Bali staggered to finish his words.
“You have fought valiantly today Bali. But there can be only one winner, and that necessarily shouldn’t be you. It’s the will of god. I am terribly ashamed for what I did. But I was just performing god’s will” Rama’s words were filled with the unambiguous syllables magical enough to redeem any crime.
“I…I agree with your words, lord.” Bali gasped. “But I don’t know why you saw me as your enemy. Why you feared your greatest devotee… so that you had to forge a plot to kill me... If it was my country that you needed, I could have given you that without a second’s hesitation. If you wanted me dead… then I wouldn’t have hesitated to take my life with my own life. Why this treachery… lord? Why?”
Rama had already framed his reply. “Because, there is a way by which things are destined to happen. There is a natural course of the fabric of life. And gods have worked in mysterious ways to make is as complex and confusing for legitimate lives like that of ours. Fear not you fate, Bali, for your destiny will always be fulfilled by heralding your mighty name in the great history of Kishkintha. You can rest in peace.” Sugriv bowed with all grace before the Lord.
“One more word… Lord, if i….may” slowly very slowly, earth was letting go of the soul of the great warrior.
“What is it that you wish to say, Bali?”
“My wife, Thara… my progenies and my soldiers are… unaware of what has happened here. They are anxiously waiting for their king to return victoriously. They will never be able to face the fact that Bali, the king of Kishkintha was defeated not by a noble blow, but by a treacherous arrow. Please do not tell them how I died. Please do not let them weep for their king, in contempt. Please tell that their king died with dignity” There were words still unfinished somewhere in that limp throat. They were never uttered, nor will be.
Rama gazed with regret upon the motionless form, while Sugriv was kneeling forward with his tears cleansing Bali’s feet. Nobody moved. Nobody spoke.
Hanuman stood motionless in the spire, his eyes fixed at the central courtyard, at the sight he was witnessing.
“To hell with your bickering, Rama. You came to my country, you murdered my sons, your army orphaned my children, raped my women… Take a look at yourself murderer. Take a good long look at yourself. And then dare to think of giving me sermons on Dharma. To hell with such Dharma”
“I am Rama, you fool. The king of kings.The guardian of Raghuvamsa. And you are just another demonic scum which is threatening the peace and sanctity of this world.
Raavan shuffled for one moment in the bloody mess he was in. the next moment he propped his weak body onto the stone pillar and grabbed his sword. He drew another mouthful of air and hovered himself over the sword to unleash one final blow. Summoning all the fury and wrath that was left inside him, Raavan designed his move inside his head. The very next moment he channelled his energy into the invincible Chandrahaasa and unleashed it onto the mortal who was standing on the penumbra of his shadow and laughing at him. But alas, his thrust dug a hole in the still air instead of ripping his enemy apart, as Rama skilfully dodged to one side, twisting his trunk and shaping his move. If only Raavan had the physical strength to deliver his fury. The very next moment, Rama’s blade slashed Through Raavan’s arm, mutilating it. Now a few paces from the demon king lay an arm, with a mighty sword clutched firmly in its crimson grip. One more demonic scream shook the palace of Lanka. The battle hardened face of Hanuman, who was witnessing all this, stood motionless, his eyes downed with an unspeakable guilt. A war born out of vengeance was now slowly drifting towards genocide.
Ramaa swung to his left with the air of an acrobat, hovering over the knelt figure of Raavan.
“Raaam… Someday, you will pay for this…” Raavan’s words still had the sharpness of his blade, his eyes fixed at his enemy. Those bloodshot eyes had many feelings, except that of guilt. A king who lost his kingdom, his sons, his beloved brother and his loyal troops, but still his eyes never showered a single drop of tear. They were burning like the sun, red hot, even on its way down to the depths of the ocean.
“I will be avenged…” He screamed out summoning all his strength.
With a meticulous action his wrist, Rama’s blade came slithering through the air to graze through Raavan’s neck. Without a single jerk, it went through making an ominous thud. While the blade was obeying its master, Rama managed to emit a smile of satisfaction as to his life’s aim was solely this.
“Die…” Rama’s thunderous voice shook every stone in that castle.
“Let the monuments burn…
Let the castle be crushed to rubble…
Let it soak red with the blood of the demons…
Lanka should go down with its king…” Rama screamed aloud to the skies.
A tiny drop of tear escaped from the corner of Hanuman’s eye and vanished into the salt tinged sea breeze of Lanka.
This is a work of fiction, although the characters are taken from the epic Ramayana. It is not a spoof intended to disturb or mock any religious beliefs, and please don’t treat it as one. If it disturbs any of your personal beliefs, let me beg your pardon with all my heart.