Kamban's Surpanakha | RAMAYAN



RAMA and Lakshmana drove out Surpanakha, as one takes a stick and drives out a donkey straying into a garden. Such is the brief and simple treatment of this incident by Valmiki. 

Kamban, the Tamil poet, however, deals with it more elaborately and has made a number of changes in the story. 

Sitting on the riverbank, Rama watched a swan walking and then looked at Sita, also walking. Noting the similarity in the gait, Rama was pleased and smiled. Sita, for her part, observed an elephant returning from the river and, reminded of Rama's gait, smiled. Thus in Panchavati, beside the river Godavari, love flowed smoothly between the banks of dharma. Just then fate conspired with lust to drag Surpanakha to the presence of Rama. The Lord Vishnu had left the Ocean of Milk and taken birth as Dasaratha's son, to rid the earth of the enemies of the gods. But how was Surpanakha to know this? 

Beholding the beauty of his person, she wondered: "Is this Manmatha or Indra or Siva or Vishnu? But Manmatha has no body. Indra has a thousand eyes and Siva has third eye in the forehead, and Vishnu has four arms; so he cannot be Indra, Siva or Vishnu. Perhaps, after all, this is Manmatha who has recovered his body through penance, after it had been reduced to ashes by Siva's wrath. If it be Manmatha, why should this handsome hero still perform penance? Why should this lotus-eyed youth waste his time in tapas?" 

So she stood there wondering, watching, unable to turn her eyes away. She thought, "My own form would fill him with disgust. I shall change my appearance and then approach him." 

She transformed herself into a beautiful young woman and appeared before him like the full moon. Her slender frame was like a golden creeper climbing up the Kalpaka tree in Heaven. Her lovely lips and teeth were matched by her fawn-like eyes. 

Her gait was that of a peacock. Her anklets made music as she came near. Rama looked up and his eyes beheld this creature of ravishing beauty. She bowed low and touched his feet. Then she withdrew a little with modesty shading her eyes. 

Rama welcomed her, imagining that she was a visitor from some distant place and inquired: "Which is your place? What is your name? Who are your kinsfolk?" 

She answered: "I am the daughter of the grandson of Brahma. Kubera is a brother of mine. Another is Ravana, conqueror of Kailasa. I am a maiden and my name is Kamavalli. And what is your purpose in coming here? It is not proper for a woman to speak out the trouble in her mind. And yet I suppose I must speak it out. The God of Love has invaded my heart. You can and should save me." 

She paused. Rama remained silent. And she went on. 

"You may wed me with Gandharva rites. You know it is permitted for lovers to come together in this manner. Once we are joined in this way, not only will happiness be ours, but friendship between you and my brother, the great Ravana, will follow. You are alone in this forest and the Rakshasas will molest you. Even if you do not provoke them, they will give you trouble because you are dressed as an ascetic. If you marry me, you will be free from all this danger. Not only that, my powerful people will be ready to serve you in all ways. Consider this well." 

Thus she pleaded for the fulfilment of her desire, citing authority and appealing to Rama's self-interest also. 

Rama laughed revealing his beautiful pearly teeth. Just then, Sita was coming towards them through the plants and creepers, herself looking like another creeper. Surpanakha saw and marvelled at her loveliness. 

Not knowing whom she was, Surpanakha angered by lust, told Rama: "This girl is a Rakshasi in human form. She has come to deceive you. Beware of her. Demonic is not her real form. She is a Rakshasi that eats raw meat. Throw her out. Have nothing to do with her." 

Rama laughed again. "You are indeed wise," said he. "You have found out the truth about her." 

Meanwhile, Sita had come and stood by Rama. Surpanakha could not understand what Rama was laughing for. In her lust, she had quite lost her wits. She hissed at Sita: "Why do you approach this hero of mine, oh Rakshasi? Go away from here." 

Sita, bewildered and afraid, hung on the prince's shoulder, and she then seemed like a lightning flash hugging a rainbearing cloud. 

Rama now saw that the joke had gone too far and said: "Dear lady, please stop, lest my brother should hear you. He is quick-tempered and terrible when angry. I advise you to go back quickly the way you came." Saying this, Rama took Sita with him and went into the hermitage. 

The fire of her desire unquenched, the Rakshasi spent the night somewhere, somehow. In the morning, she thought: "I shall die if I do not get this man. So long as this girl is with him, he will never come near me. I must contrive to carry her off and put her away somewhere and then I may secure his love." Thus resolved, she came again to the ashrama. 

Rama had gone to the river for his morning ablutions and prayer and Sita was alone in the ashrama. Surpanakha reckoned this was her chance to carry her off. She did not notice that Lakshmana was in the wood nearby. She rushed towards Sita. Lakshmana shouted and sprang on the Rakshasi. Catching hold of her hair, he kicked her and drew his sword. 

Surpanakha when attacked resumed her own shape and at tacked Lakshmana. Lakshmana easily caught hold of her and mutilated her and drove her off. Surpanakha ran into the forest, bleeding and loudly appealing to her kinsfolk: "Oh, brother Khara! Oh, brother Ravana! Oh, Indrajit! Oh, kings of the Rakshasa race! Are you all asleep? A mere man has insulted me and cut off my nose. Do you not hear my lamentations?" 

This is Kamban's version of the episode. Surpanakha approaches and tries to attract Rama, hiding her true form and appearing like a beautiful human girl. This variation is supported in a way by Valmiki's description of Surpanakha as Kamarupini, that is, one able to assume what form she liked. 

The Tamil poet appears to have felt something wrong or wanting in Valmiki's story and has woven an episode showing how bestial passion works.



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