ACCOMPANIED by the fourteen generals of Khara, Surpanakha came back to Rama's ashrama, determined to avenge herself and drink the blood of the princes.
Pointing to the two young men, she told her escort, "Look, there stand the men who insulted and mutilated me. Slay them immediately."
Rama understood the situation at once and told Lakshmana: "Take care of Sita for a while, while I deal with those fellows."
Saying this, he took up his bow.
Following the prevailing rules of war, Rama announced himself to Khara's generals and said, "Tell us the reason that you come here. Know that we are here in the forest at the bidding of the rishis for the purpose of destroying their enemies. If you wish to escape with life, leave us alone."
But the Rakshasas wanted not peace, but war. And the battle began. It did not take long for Rama's arrows to annihilate the Rakshasa generals.
Once again, lamenting loudly, Surpanakha went to Khara. The destruction of the powerful detachment he had sent was inconceivable. He could not believe it. He sought to soothe his disturbed sister with soft words.
"I have sent warriors unconquerable, each one like Yama. They must have by now fulfilled their mission. Why do you weep'? Why need you bewail while I am here?"
Surpanakha rose, and wiping the tears from her eyes, said: "True, you sent your fourteen warriors with me. But the fourteen now lie stiff and cold in death, slain by Rama, whose skill with weapons baffles description. If you have a spark of pride in you, start at once, fight with Rama and save the Rakshasa race. If you do not, the destruction of our people is certain. But if you are afraid, tell me so and I shall understand. These young men who have entered your satrapy are determined to destroy your race, unless you first meet and destroy them."
These words, spoken by his sister in a loud voice before all his courtiers, pierced Khara's heart.
"Why do you speak thus terrified by a puny human being? Hold yourself in patience for a moment and you will have his blood to drink." So saying, Khara rose.
"Do not go alone!" she said. "Take your army with you."
Khara gave orders accordingly. A great army, fully armed, went in advance under the leadership of Dushana. Behind the army Khara proceeded majestically in a chariot. On the way he met with many bad omens which affected the spirits of his host. He laughed and reassured his army, saying:
"Never have I been so far defeated in battle. Do not mind these portents. We shall soon crush these two little men and return in triumph."
The army took heart at these bold words of their leader.
Hearing the tumultuous noise of the approaching army, Rama and Lakshmana prepared for battle. Rama told Lakshmana: "Do you see the signs? It is certain that the Rakshasas of Janasthana are coming here to their death! I see in your face the glory of the victory that awaits us. Arm yourself and take Sita with you to a cave in the hill and look after her. I shall encounter the Rakshasa hordes and destroy them. Go at once. I do not require any help." Saying this, Rama put on his armor and strung his bow.
Lakshmana did as Rama bade and took Sita to a mountain cave.
A great battle was to follow. So the Devas and Gandharvas hovered in the heavens to watch the fight. They uttered benedictions and prayed for Rama's victory. The rishis had misgivings. How was Rama, standing single, to meet and quell this huge army? As Rama stood there, bow in hand, the radiance of his face was like that of Rudra himself when he bent his great bow Pinaka.
The Rakshasa force advanced in proud array, with drums and trumpets and the clanking pageantry of war filling the quarters with clamor and causing the denizens of the forest to stampede in all directions. Rama stood holding his bow with his band on the string. Like great black clouds disturbing the sun the Rakshasa hordes surrounded him.
The battle began. But while even the Devas wondered how he could withstand the yelling masses which rushed on him, a constant stream of deadly arrows sped from his bow before which the Rakshasa ranks withered and fell like moths before a blazing fire.
Dushana himself now stood in front of Rama. Rama bent his bow and sent his shafts in all directions in an unceasing stream. Like rays from the sun, and with the speed of light, arrows shot out from the spot where Rama stood, spread out in all directions and brought down warriors, chariots, elephants and horses.
The shafts pierced the bodies of the Rakshasas and came out, covered with their blood shining like fire. The army was utterly destroyed and Rama stood still, like Siva at the end of Time.
Dushana came again with another great army. For a while he seemed indomitable. But soon Rama's arrows laid low his chariot, drivers and horses. He jumped down and sprang towards Rama. Rama's arrows, however, severed his arms from his trunk. And the monster fell dead on the ground like a huge elephant. Other Rakshasas, who saw Dushana falling, rushed against Rama and were also slain by the arrows that sped from his Kodanda bow.
In this way, the whole army of Khara was destroyed. It had come roaring like an ocean and now it lay still, a mass of corpses and severed limbs and derelict weapons and broken chariots.
Only Khara and Trisiras remained. As Khara rushed forward to meet Rama, Trisiras stopped him saying: "I shall go first and kill Rama. Or else, I shall be killed. After I am dead, you may meet him."
The three-headed Rakshasa mounted on his chariot attacked Rama with his arrows. Rama met them with arrows that hissed like deadly serpents. At last Trisiras collapsed and fell spitting blood. His followers fled like deer.
Khara, seeing this, cried: 'Hold' to the fugitives and directed his chariot against Rama. His confident pride was gone but he fought manfully. The shafts sent by the two warriors covered the sky. Khara stood like Yama in his chariot, sending his stream of arrows. For an instant, Rama leaned on his bow. In that interval Rama's armor was pierced by Khara's arrows and showed the prince's body shining like the sun.
Rama now took up the bow of Vishnu and laid low Khara's chariot and cut his bow in twain. Khara then took his mace and approached Rama. The Devas and rishis watching the battle became anxious and renewed their benedictions.
"You have been a terror and a plague to mankind!" exclaimed Rama. "Strength of body is no protection to an evil-doer. You have persecuted and killed rishis engaged in penance in the forest. You will now receive the punishment due for these sins of yours. The spirits of the rishis whose flesh you fed on are now witnessing your punishment from their aerial chariots. I have come to the Dandaka forest to destroy wicked Rakshasas. My arrows will pierce the bodies of all your kinsfolk. Your head will soon roll on the ground like a ripe fruit."
"Human worm!" exclaimed Khara. "Son of Dasaratha! Have done with boasting! You are proud because you have killed a few common Rakshasas. A hero boasts not as you do. Only a Kshatriya banished by his people can talk boasting like this. You have shown you can brag. Let us see now if you can fight! Your words have blazed up like burning straw with little heat or life. Here I stand mace in hand, like Yama to take your life. Evening approaches. Be prepared to lose your life. I am here to avenge the death of these my followers whom you have killed."
So saying, he whirled his mace, and hurled it at Rama. The mace was split by Rama's arrows into splinters which fell harmless on the ground. "Have you finished speaking, Rakshasa? Now you shall die. This forest will be safe hereafter and the rishis will live in peace," said Rama.
Even while Rama was speaking, Khara pulled out by its roots a huge tree, and gnashing his teeth, threw it at Rama. But this too Rama split by his arrows. And fearing further delay, he aimed deadly darts at Khara. The wounded Rakshasa sprang on Rama intending close combat with him. But the latter avoided contact by stepping back and laid him dead with a shaft which clove his breast.
The Devas showered flowers from on high and cried in joy: "Rama has killed the sinful Rakshasa. Men can live in peace in the Dandaka forest hereafter. Within an hour Rama has destroyed Khara, Dushana, Trisiras and their whole army. Indeed he is a hero."
Sita and Lakshmana returned from the cave. Lakshmana embraced Rama and rejoiced that single-handed he had fulfilled the promise of safety he had given to the rishis.
How did Rama all alone perform these feats? If one observes a cow guarding her calf and scattering a whole crowd of men, one can realise the power of love. Love is a supreme quality which according to occasion manifests itself in diverse heroic forms such as valor and self-sacrifice, just like gold which can be changed for silver or goods or other things of value. When God assumes human form and is engaged in fulfilling His promise to save the helpless, His limitless power comes into play.