Four stories by Ashutosh Vardhana:
© 2001 Ashutosh Vardhana
Ashutosh Vardhana: Lord Rama and the Demons:
A Hindu story as told in a Hindu family in a northern English town.
Lord Rama and the Demons:
"Uncle-ji", said little Yamuna, who lives in Blackburn, to the Pandit who had come to visit her family to celebrate the festival of Diwali, the great festival of lights, with them, "when you have eaten and rested, will you tell me the story of Shri Rama and his battle against the demon Ravana?"
"Of course, I will, but surely you know that story, you must have heard it dozens of times already", said the Pandit.
"I have," cried Yamuna and I know it well, but I like it so much that I cannot hear it often enough."
"And, anyway," butted in her pious Grandfather, it is such an important story for our religion that each year at Diwali time it should be told again in every Híndu family."
When it got dark, the family sat down for Diwali dinner. Yamuna and her mother had drawn a beautiful rangóli pattern with coloured chalk on the pavement outside the house, and they had lit díyas, cotton wicks soaked in ghee (which is clarified butter) and sitting in little earthenware pots, on every window sill and in all the rooms of the house. All the electric lights were on and the curtains had been drawn so that Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Good Fortune, might come in and the burglars, who are particularly keen to steal something at Diwali, don't dare come near the house.
When dinner was over and Pandit-ji was sitting on the settee, Yamuna sat down cross-legged on the floor, looked up at him and asked: "Will you now tell me the story?"
And the Pandit began:
"Once upon a time, there lived on the island of Lanka, a Rakshasa, or a demon as the English would say. His name was Ravana. He was a king, the ruler of the island, and he commanded millions of smaller demons, who flew all over the world in order to do mischief and commit crimes. They looked so ugly that people fainted when they only saw them, they never washed", (Yamuna was aghast when she heard this, for she had never come across anyone who never washed), "they did not brush their yellow rotting teeth, they did not only have stinky feet but they stank all over the body and when they opened their mouth, such a filthy wind came out of it that it spread disease not only all over this world but on the moon and the stars as well."
"Why were they so ugly, and why did they stink so much?" asked Yamuna.
"Because they were so wicked. They never went to temple to pray, but they hated God with all their hearts.
Unfortunately you could not easily recognise them because they used a magic perfume to cover up their stench and they could change their shape at will.
They could make themselves big or small, turn themselves into a deer or a tiger or an eagle or a sparrow. An ugly old demon could look like a beautiful damsel, and an ugly witch could look like a handsome young prince. Ravana's agents roamed all over the world and where there was mischief to be done, it was probably a Rakshasa who did it. Hitler was one of them, I am sure, he made himself look charming and talked nicely to little children, people trusted him and then he went and killed millions of innocent Jews. Other Rakshasas were ordinary murderers. Others made bombs, blew up houses and killed innocent people, others again became ministers and started wars, others abducted little children, others ... but I must get on with the story. You look horrified, Yamuna, are you frightened?"
"No, I am never frightened," brave Yamuna beamed at her Uncle. "I'm enjoying your story."
"All right. The gods decided that enough was enough and the demons had to be brought under control. The only way to do this was to kill their king and appoint a good king who would ensure that they behaved themselves and became god-fearing monsters. But Ravana was incredibly strong and had magic powers, so that no human being could kill him."
"Did he have many many body-guards like Saddam Hussein?", asked Yamuna, and her eyes gleamed in expectation.
"Ten times as many", said Panditji.
"Not a million times?", said Yamuna.
"Yes, you are right, I remember now, it was a million and one times".
Yamuna was content.
"No woman was strong enough to kill Ravana, to say nothing of men, who, as you know, are even more useless. The gods decided that one of them would have to be born as a human being, fight Ravana, and kill him to put an end to evil in this world."
"Once and for all?" asked Yamuna.
"No, not quite, you are right. God does not get rid of evil altogether, he just makes sure there is not too much of it. We always need a little, of course, otherwise there is no work for glaziers, locksmiths, policemen, judges and prison officers, and their wives and children would starve, and that would be most unfair. We need a few crooks, but not too many, and they must not be too bad.
When evil has been subdued, people can live more happily for a long time. After a while evil increases again. God watches it, and when he has had enough, he comes down to earth again, 'to help the good and punish the wicked', as the Gita, our holy book, says.
So the gods decided that Lord Vishnu should be born as the son of a king and get rid of Ravana and his evil cohorts."
Now Yamuna's big brother came and wanted to watch television, but he was not allowed to do this as long as the holy story was being told. He sat there in a corner and sulked, but while he was waiting he had to listen to the story as well. This was a good thing because some of it would rub off on him, and while he was listening he could not do any mischief.
"Now there was a king in the Indian city of Ayodhya, and his name was Dasaratha. He had three wives, as kings were allowed to have in those days, and of course they were all queens. Ayodhya was a beautiful city, full of the most splendid buildings, the king was an ideal king, and there was justice, there were no crimes (or hardly any), and everybody had enough to eat. But he had no children, in spite of having three queens. So they all prayed very hard and held some big sacrifices. One day, each of the three queens had a son (or several), all on the same day. Queen Kaushalya had Rama, and Lord Vishnu was completely present in him, but part of Lord Vishnu was also in his brothers Bharata (Queen Kaikeyi's son) and in Lakshmana and Shatrugna (Queen Sumitra's twins).
Rama was an incarnation of God, God in human form, and the perfect man, he behaved like ordinary people, seemed to suffer like all of us, but deep in his heart he was aware all the time that life with all its joys and sorrows was an illusion compared to the reality of God. He had to behave like an ordinary human being to set an example
Rama grew up much as other children in those days, but being the son of a warrior and a king, he had to learn to distinguish right from wrong and he had to do a lot of sport to develop a strong and healthy body and become skilful in the use of weapons, especially archery. He was beautiful to look at, respectful to his teachers and parents and friendly and kind to everyone around him. Therefore everybody loved him."
"Does everybody love ME?" asked Yamuna.
"How could anyone not love you!" said Uncle Panditji.
"But Betty at school hates me, I think."
"No, she doesn't, she only is upset because she isn't as good at school as you because her parents do not help her as much as we do. But if you help her to get better, she will love you," said Grandfather-ji.
"When Rama was 18 he was very strong and the best archer in the country. One day, a holy man, Sage Vishvamitra, came from the forest and asked the king to let Rama and Lakshmana come to the Dandaka forest with him, be his disciples and clear the demons (Rakshasas) out of the forest because they were attacking the Ríshis (holy men) who were living and praying there and they threw filthy things, such as rotten meat, into their sacrificial fires, which had to be kept absolutely pure to be effective.
So Rama and Lakshmana took Vishvamitra as their Guru, went with him into the forest, killed the worst of the demons, especially the giantess Taraka, who was bigger than a mountain, and the others fled out of the forest in terror of this mighty hero.
One day the Guru said to Rama: 'Tomorrow we will go to Janakpuri, where the beautiful Princess Sita (Seeta) is going to select a husband. Her father has decided that he will give her only to the man who is strong enough to string the famous bow of Lord Shiva, which is so big and heavy that no elephant, and not even a whole army of men can even lift it, to say nothing of bending it to put on its string.'
Rama happily agreed. In Janakpuri there were one thousand kings assembled who wanted to marry Sita. In those days, in royal families, the bride was entitled to chose her husband. They all approached the bow and none of them could as much as lift it. But when Rama came forward, everybody shouted Oh and Ah, because he was so lovely to look at. He lifted the bow, which was ten times as heavy as Tower Bridge in London, and swang it in the air. He took its two ends and bent them so hard that the bow broke into two pieces. All the gods, who had come to witness the spectacle and were floating in the sky, applauded him loudly. They, of course, knew that Rama was one of them, no other than Lord Vishnu himself.
Sita was the most beautiful woman in the world and, as everbody knows, also the best and most faithful wife there could be, the ideal Indian woman. She and Rama loved each other very very much. Rama, of course was really Lord Vishnu in human form (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, as we say). And now, Yamuna, I will let you into a secret. Sita was Lord Vishnu's faithful heavenly wife, the Goddess Lakshmi. She loved him so much and was so lonely in heaven that she decided to become an ordinary woman, and suffer and suffer, as ordinary women do, in order to be with her husband. We do not know how she was born, but one day King Janaka, who was ploughing a field in person in order to bring rain and prosperity to his country, found her in a furrow, adopted her and called her Sita, which means "furrow", because that's where she had been found.
Now you know why Rama and Sita loved each other so much the moment they met again. They did not recognise each other's body but somehow they recognised each other's soul and instantly knew that they belonged together for eternity.
"Will I be like Sita when I grow up and will a Rama come and marry me?" asked Yamuna.
"I am sure you will be like Sita, and we will try to find somebody for you who loves Rama as much as you love Sita," said Grandfather-ji.
"Rama and Sita celebrated their wedding and returned to Ayodhya in a big procession. All the people of Ayodhya loved their crown prince dearly and looked forward to the day when he would become their king, even though Dasaratha was the best of kings already.
Dasaratha was tired of being king. He was getting old. He saw how well his people loved Rama and that Rama had acquired all the virtues and skills needed for being a good king. He called Rama and told him that he would resign his throne next week and Rama would become king. Rama, who was an obedient son, immediately agreed.
The people of Ayodhya were jubilant when they heard the news, and so was Rama's mother Kaushalya and the other two queens, the mothers of Rama's brothers. They all knew that Rama was superior in every respect to his brothers, even though they too were models of virtue and achievement.
But there was one wicked woman in the town. She was Manthara, the hump-backed servant of Queen Kaikeyi. When Kaikeyi told her how happy she was that Rama should become king, Manthara argued: 'How can you be so unfair to Bharata, your own son! What has he done to be deprived of the chance of being king? What about his children? Is it right for them to be cheated of their rights? Once Rama is king, he will chase you out of the kingdom because he is afraid of his brother and he will make him his slave. You must stop Rama's coronation and demand that your son Bharata is crowned king instead. Then you will be the first lady in the country.'
At first Kaikeyi did not believe her servant. But the wicked woman persisted and repeated her warnings incessantly. In the end Kaikeyi called the king and accused him of doing a great injustice. She reminded him that a long time ago she had saved his life on the battlefield and that he had granted her a boon: he had promised to fulfil her one wish, to give her whatever she would ask for. She had saved the boon for a later date. Now her time had come.
She demanded that the king should banish Rama from the kingdom and force him to live in the forest for fourteen years, and that his brother Bharata, her son, should be crowned king.
The king resisted with all his might, but Kaikeyi was adamant. A king must keep his promises and give a good example to his people. If the king is unjust, then soon crime and wickedness will enter his land, unhappiness will spread and ultimately the kingdom will perish, as we have seen with so many countries and empires.
The king called Rama and told him about his dilemma. Rama agreed immediately: 'Father', he said, 'you have given me my life, therefore my life belongs to you and you can do with it what you like. If you have promised Mother Kaikeyi to fulfil her wish, then you must keep your promise and I will go to the forest immediately. Bharata is a good man. He will be as good a king as I.'
Sita followed Rama voluntarily into the forest because she knew that a wife's place is by the side of her husband, even though life in the forest is much harder than in the city, because in the forest there are no soft beds, there is no central heating, there are no cinemas and no supermarkets, there is no television, no electricity, no cars, you cannot buy any smarties, and there are not even any hot-water bottles, and who would like to live without hot-water bottles!"
"I could", said Yamuna, "no, you couldn't" said her brother to annoy her, "yes, I could", she insisted.
"But there are elephants, and tigers, and snakes in the jungle", said her Uncle, the Pandit.
"I don't mind them," said Yamuna, "because I like elephants and I will ride on them, and I will talk nicely to the tiger, perhaps then I can ride on him like Goddess Amba Mata does, and I will give milk to the snakes and offer them my arm so that they can warm themselves, and they will be my living bracelets. Then they will be content and they will not bite me."
"Well, it's a good thing we don't have any tigers and snakes here in Blackburn", said Panditji and continued his story.
"Bharata refused to be crowned king because he did not want to be king at the expense of Rama. But Rama convinced him that he had to go to the forest and in the end Bharata agreed to rule the country as a temporary king, for fourteen years, on Rama's behalf.
Rama and Sita lived in the forest contentedly for many years. Rama's brother Lakshmana also stayed with him to keep him company. They ate wild fruit, like mangoes which we only see in the supermarket and which cost a lot of money. But in the Indian forest they were free. Their only company were holy men, who were there to pray and to meditate in peace and quiet, but since Rama came from a family of kings and warriors, he was allowed to go hunting, which the holy men were not allowed to do because like us they must not kill any living creature.
One day Ravana's demon sister came to the forest and saw how beautiful Sita was. She told her brother Ravana about her and went on about her for so long that Ravana wanted to have her for himself. Of course, Sita, the perfect wife, would not go with him voluntarily, so Ravana had to abduct her.
That was difficult because Rama and Lakshmana were suspicious of the demons and guarded her carefully. Sita loved beautiful things and the Rakshasas knew that.
Ravana's uncle took on the shape of a golden deer and ran past Sita's hut in the forest. Sita immediately wanted the beautiful deer and asked Rama to go and catch it for her. Rama guessed that the deer was really a demon in disguise and did not want to leave her unprotected, but Sita started crying and begging: 'If you do not catch the deer for me, I know that you do not love me.' Rama had no choice, he loved Sita more than anything else in the world. He did not want to see her sad and did not want her to think badly of him. Therefore he told his brother Lakshmana to guard Sita, stay with her inside the hut, and on no account, yes, he said 'on no account', leave her before Rama's return.
The golden deer lured Rama far away from the cottage but after a long chase Rama managed to shoot it with his arrow. This did not really kill the demon but only made him return to his original shape. The demon then imitated Rama's voice and shouted, as if Rama were in danger: "Lakshmana! Lakshmana! Come and help me!"
When Lakshmana heard his beloved brother's voice, he forgot his earlier command not to leave Sita and followed the voice, which lured him further and further away from the hut.
Ravana now came to the cottage in which Sita was alone. Nobody could see that he was a demon. He was dressed like a Brahmin, that means he looked very respectable, and all Híndus are obliged to respect a Brahmin and to be hospitable to him. So Sita touched the Brahmin's feet to show her respect for him. But when she refused to follow him, he grabbed her and dragged her into his chariot Pushpaka which was like an aeroplane and could fly.
Sita cried and lamented but Ravana had no mercy on her. They were flying from the North of India to the South faster than British Airways and ultimately to the island of Lanka. On the way, Sita from time to time dropped some of her jewellery out of the aerial chariot so that Rama should be able to follow and find her.
The king of vultures, Jatayu, heard Sita's lament and attacked Ravana in the air in order to rescue her. But Ravana was stronger and killed him. Jatayu was a good friend of Sita's father-in-law, King Dasaratha, and she cried terribly when she saw that he had sacrificed his life for her.
Vultures are wonderful birds, they do not only keep themselves meticulously clean, as we are taught to do, but they also keep the environment tidy and give a decent burial to men and animals who have been been killed on the road and have no-one to conduct their funeral rites. That's why we all love Jatayu, that valiant bird who tried to defend Sita against the demon who was so much stronger than him. But he did his duty even though he must have known that he could not win.
When Ravana reached his kingdom of Lanka, he installed Sita in a beautiful grove, the Ashoka Grove, which means "The Grove of Happiness", and did what he could to spoil Sita and please her, because he wanted her to marry him. She, however, would not listen to him and demanded that he should return her to her beloved husband, Rama. That must have gone on for a year or two at least.
When Rama returned to the forest hut, he knew immediately that Sita had been abducted and he cried bitterly. Even though he was a god, and did know that everything would work out all right and that this life is really only an illusion, he cried like an ordinary human being and called on the birds and the animals, on the trees and the plants and on the whole of nature to weep with him. He had to express his pain to show to the world that he really cared about his wife. For him as a King it was not enough to act right, he also had to be seen to be acting right.
Rama now searched for Sita for a long long time. He found the jewels she had dropped. He found allies in a tribe of monkeys, who also were not really ordinary monkeys but something special, and one of them was definitely a god. Do you know his name, Dinesh?" the Pandit asked Yamuna's brother.
"I know," shouted Yamuna excitedly, "it was Hanuman-ji, and we pray to him on Saturdays and we chant the Hanuman Chalisa, and he loves oil and urhad dhal (black lentils), that's why we eat urhad on Saturdays, and he is the son of the Wind-god Vayu and he is Lord Shiva himself, and he is the perfect servant because he loved Rama so much, and he can make himself very small and very big, and he can jump very very far, and when he was still a baby monkey and saw the sun, he thought it was only an apple and jumped into the sky and swallowed it whole and the earth became pitch-dark, and when Lakshmana was wounded in battle and needed a magic herb from a special mountain, he did not know which was the right herb, so he brought the whole mountain, and he searched for Sita everywhere, all over India and couldn't find her and he jumped from India to Lanka in one big leap and he found her, and he told her Rama loved her and would come for her, and she was happy, and he gave her Rama's ring, and the Rakshasas caught him and thought he was a stupid monkey but he wasn't, he was a god, and I like him, because he is strong and nice and cuddly, and when Sita asked him: 'Where is Rama?', he tore open his chest and showed his heart, and Rama and Sita and Lakshmana were right there, but he didn't die and he could close his chest again and everything healed, and the Rakshasas laughed at him and tied a torch to his tail and set fire to it, and Hanuman got away and made himself as big as a mountain and ran over the rooftops of Lanka and waved his burning tail and all the houses of the demons were burnt down, and he went back to Rama and told him where Sita was and that she was waiting for him, hhhhhhhh!"
And Yamuna took a deep breath and her brother looked to the ceiling and her Grandfather smiled and said: "What a performance!", and her Uncle, the Pandit, said: "Who do you mean, Yamuna or Hanuman?" And everybody laughed.
"Sorry, Uncle-ji," said Yamuna, I didn't want to show off but I like this story sooooo much. Please, you tell me the rest of it."
"Well, there is not much left to tell. You have done most of the telling, and I like that, because everybody who tells the story of Rama or of Hanuman or listens to it will be blessed by God.
Rama by now had a whole army of monkeys and bears and there were some mighty warriors among them. Hanuman led them to the southernmost tip of India but how could they get across the wide wide sea? No other monkey could jump like Hanuman.
So they took rocks from the shore and threw them into the sea and built a causeway on which they could march to Lanka. Ravana was furious now, and he still refused to return Sita to her husband Rama.
Now a terrible battle ensued. It was one of the big battles of good against evil. It lasted for several days. Almost all of Ravana's ministers and brothers were killed. He had a huge army and millions of his soldiers died, even though they fought bravely.
In the end Ravana himself had to fight in the battle since there was nobody left he could send to fight for him.
He hated Rama with all his might. Day and night he had thought of nothing but how to destroy Rama. And Rama rather liked that because he likes people who think of him, and he does not care much whether they love him or hate him or make fun of him - as long as they think of him intensively.
So Rama was rather fond of Ravana, his great enemy, the demon whom he had been born to kill. It was his duty to kill him, but he was still fond of him because Ravana did not forget him for a single second. You see, God does not think and behave like human beings.
Now this Ravana had ten heads. Do you know what he did with these heads?"
"I haven't got a clue," said Yamuna, "well, I suppose he ate with them and he thought with them."
"Not bad, but it was worse. With the first head he cursed, with the second head he told lies, with third head he was rude to his mother and his father, with the fourth head he ate filthy things, like rotten meat, and maggots, and, well I cannot really say this word in your Grandfather's house, but it was AWWWWWful!"
Yamuna begged: "Please tell me, I want to know, I don't mind, please tell me."
But Panditji did not say it, and therefore neither can I. But that other stuff that he ate, it was TERRRRRRible.
"With the fifth head he belched, with the sixth head he puked, with the seventh head he spat at his brothers and sisters, with the eighth head he did not brush his teeth, with the ninth head he did not wash his face, and with the tenth head, well, it does not matter."
"Please, please, I want to know," whimpered Yamuna, her beautiful brown eyes beaming with joy. But her uncle did not continue, perhaps he did not know it himself, and Yamuna could not think of anything naughty for his tenth head - then she had it: "And with the tenth head, he got drunk - or he smoked I am sure he did - or he ate drugs and became terribly ill."
"Now Ravana fought with Rama for many hours. But it was not easy to kill Ravana. When you cut off one of his heads, another one would immediately grow. Rama knew how to kill Ravana immediately, the only way to kill him. But he enjoyed the sport, like English people enjoy themselves at a dartboard and therefore he was happy to have such a valiant opponent. For Ravana may have been a bad demon, but he also was very brave. (Nobody is completely bad.) He kept shouting (with whatever head was in working order at the time): "Kill Rama, kill Rama" - and some worse things I think.
Rama had a weapon which was called Agnivana, Fire-Arrow, it was like a machine gun and could fire ten arrows per second, and each of them was like a knife and cut off one of Ravana's heads.
Rama fired his Agnivana so fast and cut off so many heads that they did not have time to fall to the ground and the sun was darkened because there were so many of Ravana's heads floating in the sky.
Every second Rama fired his Agnivana ten times, ten heads were chopped off, joined those already in the sky and were instantly replaced by new ones on Ravana's ten throats.
In the end Rama had had enough, he shot Ravana in the stomach because that's where the demon's soul resided. Ravana had known that all along, and I also know a few people here in Blackburn whose soul is in their stomach, but I won't tell you their names. I will only say that much: They go to restaurants more often than most other people, they sit at table longer, they eat more chocolates than other people. That is because their soul is in their stomach and makes them do that.
Ravana died instantly, and people saw his soul come out of his stomach. Rama opened his mouth and breathed it in, and forgave his great enemy. In this way Ravana was united with God, forever, he had been given moksha, liberation, which is better than paradise because it lasts forever and is the end of all suffering.
But, of course, it is better to join God not by being a demon but by being a good girl, and then you do not have to be shot before you are forgiven. All right?"
"Yes, I will be good," said Yamuna. "I do not want to be a monster with ten heads, one is enough for me and I will use it only for good things. What happened then?"
"The great battle of Lanka was over, Rama had Sita fetched from her Ashoka Grove, Sita cried and cried and cried, with happiness. Rama appointed a new king for Lanka, Vibhishana (stress: Vibhíshana), a Rakshasa, Ravana's brother, but he was a gooddie and had fought on Rama's side.
Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman got into Pushpaka, Ravana's aerial chariot, and flew back to Ayodhya. Bharata gave Rama back his kingdom, Rama was crowned king, at long last, after fourteen years, and all the people were terribly, terribly happy.
The trees started bearing fruit, even though it was not the season, people washed the streets and cleaned their houses and painted them. The painters, decorators and cleaning contractors earned a lot of money.
The people put on their best clothes, especially beautiful saris, and new ones if they could afford them. They gave each other presents, money, toys, books and sweets which are made of milk, flour and sugar. They went to visit their relatives and friends and had lunch and dinner with them to enjoy the tasty food together.
They knew that their king Rama, who was God, and his wife Sita, who was a Goddess and who was the same as Lakshmi, wife of Vishnu, and goddess of wealth and good fortune, had come with him. Just as we hope both will come to us today.
He had come to bring justice and peace, and she had come to bring money and happiness. The people did not want the day to end, therefore they put diyas, little lights in earthenware pots, into their windows. The whole city was brightly illuminated.
That is the reason why every year on a new moon day in October or November, on the darkest day of the month, we celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights, just as the people of Ayodhya did so many thousands of years ago. We open our houses and our hearts so that Rama and Lakshmi can enter.
Ayodhya is really our heart, and that has to be clean and open to receive them. On each Diwali day we tell the story so that the great battle of good against evil is not forgotten and will be remembered for another five thousand years. You must learn it now so that, when you are big, you can tell it to your children.
The battleground is not really Lanka but our heart. That's where the battle between good and evil is fought, when we have to decide whether to do good things or bad things, and sometimes it is difficult to know which is which.
Thank you, Yamuna, for listening to the story, and for helping me to tell it to make it faster and shorter, and may Rama and Sita bless your heart and that of your brothers and sisters and everybody in this house, in your family, in Blackburn and in the whole world (which is almost the same), and not forgetting the animals, the birds and insects, the trees and plants, the fields, the mountains and the stars. Good night, happy Diwali and Happy New Year.
Victory to Shri Rama: