The Golden Stag | RAMAYAN

 

35. THE GOLDEN STAG 


MARICHA told Ravana, "I have listened, my king, to all that you have said and I am filled with boundless sorrow. It is easy to flatter. Flattery is ever pleasant to the ears. Those who utter good though unpalatable advice are few; and fewer still are those who welcome it when given. Yet it is my duty to speak to you the harsh truth. Sweet words might please you now, but will surely lead you to danger and ruin. Your informants have not told you the truth about Rama. Do not be deceived by what you have heard from others about this Rama. He is neither a renegade nor a criminal, but a dutiful son who is in the forest to honor his father's word. Far from being a weakling or coward, he is a mighty warrior, whose equal in arms does not exist. Do not make him your implacable enemy and bring ruin on your people and your kingdom. From what you are bent upon, it looks as though Sita was born only to compass your ruin. The race of Rakshasas and Lanka itself will soon be destroyed on your account. Who is the enemy that has put this disastrous thought into your head? Who has given you this bad advice to take you, your kingdom and your race to danger and destruction? Who told you that he was a lover of pleasure and falsehood? Rama is the embodiment of dharma. He employs his strength and courage in the service of dharma. As Indra is surely the first among the gods, Rama is first among mortal men. How dare you, how could you, cast longing eyes on Sita? Will Sita ever yield to you? Take her from Rama indeed! Can one deceive the sun and steal from him his light? You will be reduced to ashes if you approach the blazing fire of Janaka's daughter. Do not fall a prey to Rama's shafts. Do not seek your own death. Do not approach the fire guarded by Rama. One should not launch on a course of action without full thought. You can never vanquish Rama in battle. O, Ruler of the Rakshasas, do not turn a deaf ear to my words. Do you remember how, in olden days, proud of my strength, I disturbed the rites and sacrifice of the sage Viswamitra. In those days Rama was but a boy; yet Viswamitra had, with Dasaratha's permission, taken young Rama to protect his sacrifice. That sage knew Rama's prowess. I approached the place to put out the sacrificial fire with contaminating blood and flesh and then I came up against the boy Rama. What do you think happened? He let loose an arrow which killed Subahu on the spot and with another he swept me off my feet and hurled me into the sea. Rama the boy is now a man, immeasurably stronger and more skillful in arms! Do not incur his wrath. Do not bring ruin on your people who are now enjoying wealth and pleasure. Do not harbor thoughts about Sita and bring down destruction on your rich and beautiful city and certain death on yourself. If your persist in your foolish project, O Ravana, I see before my eyes the ruin that awaits you. I see Lanka in flames and her streets littered with death, and her widows and orphans loud in lamentation. Avoid this great sin. If you are angry with Rama fight him face to face and meet your death like a hero. Do not follow a fraudulent path and drag me into it. Go back and be happy with your numerous wives. Do not invite Yama to your land and race!" 

Thus Maricha earnestly pleaded for the good of Ravana who, however, was far from pleased or convinced. How could good advice prevail on a victim of lust? Like a sick man rejecting medicine, Ravana refused to listen to Maricha's counsel. 

"If a king" said Ravana, "wants to know whether a thing should or should not be done, it is open to his adviser to examine its advantages and disadvantages, but I have not come to you for such advice. I am king and I have come to tell you that I have decided to do this. I expect and want your help to carry it out. You forget the loyalty due from you and dare tell me that what I contemplate is wrong. On this matter, I have considered everything and reached a decision. This insignificant creature whom you extol is unworthy of the honor of a formal challenge to battle from me. What more is he than a man driven out of his own country, a fool who has allowed himself to be cheated by a woman and has been deprived of his rights? The proper treatment or such a fellow is to disgrace him by carrying off his wife. This is a matter determined and concluded. Your remarks are therefore irrelevant. You should do what I want you to do and that is not much. Transform yourself into a strange and beautiful stag and appear before Sita and attract her attention. Sita will send Rama to pursue and capture you. You should draw Rama away to a distance and simulate Rama's voice and cry 'Ah, Sita, Ah, Lakshmana!' Hearing this Sita will conclude that Rama is in danger and she will force Lakshmana to go to his help. When thus she is alone, I shall carry her off to Lanka. Once you have rendered me this help, you will be at liberty to do what you like. But if you will not help me now, understand, your life shall be forfeit." 

Maricha thought within himself. "My frenzied Ravana who is already under the shadow of doom will not listen to advice. Sinful desire is driving him to Yama. It is better for me to be killed by Rama than by Ravana. At least then I would yield my life to a foe." 

And so be agreed to the proposal. 

He said: "I have given you good advice, but you will not listen. If I carry out your wishes, I am sure to die. But not more sure than that you will also perish, not long after with all that is yours. So will our race. Some enemy of ours wishing our destruction has set you on this course, someone who envies you. I would rather be killed by a foe whom I respect than by you. Come, let us go to Dandaka." 

Ravana was overjoyed and embraced Maricha saying: "Now you are again my dear old Maricha." 

The two ascended the chariot and proceeded towards the Dandaka forest. They flew over cities, mountains, rivers and kingdoms. Reaching Dandaka, they espied Rama's ashrama in a banana garden. 

They alighted at a distance and Ravana took Maricha by the hand and, pointing to the ashrama, told him to do his part according to their plan. 

At once Maricha transformed himself into a wonderful deer. Every part of the animal had its own different hue and exquisite beauty. Like a rainbow in the sky, it charmed the eye of the beholder. Gold, silver, diamonds, gems and flowers seemed to appear in succession on its beautiful skin. It was like a living stream of jewels flowing on a beautiful golden body. 

With such surpassing beauty the magic deer wandered here and there, now resting for a while and now pursuing its graceful gambols. It would sometimes bend and nibble the grass on the ground, again lift its head up to eat the tender leaves of plants. Sometimes walk slowly near the ashrama and again jump away and disappear and reappear at a distance. Sometimes it would join a herd of deer; then it would part from it and walk alone. The other deer would smell him and move away in sudden terror. 

Sita, who was then gathering flowers in the forest, looked at the stag and stared spell-bound at its wondrous beauty. The deer, too, stared back at her and ran here and there in front of her, shedding a new beauty on the landscape. 

"Do come and look! Do come and look!" cried Sita, eager that Rama and Lakshmana too should see that wonderful stag. 

"Come quickly, quickly!" she cried. Rama and Lakshmana came out of the cottage and saw the exquisite creature and marvelled at its beauty. 

Lakshmana grew suspicious. It seemed to him it was no ordinary deer, but a Rakshasa in disguise. Both Rama and Lakshmana had heard about Maricha and had been told how, assuming the form of a deer, he would often beguile and destroy those who came for hunting deer in the forest. 

Lakshmana said, "This is no ordinary animal. This is a trick of the Rakshasas." 

But Sita said: "Do catch this deer for me. We shall bring it up as a pet in the ashrama. This is the most beautiful creature I have so far seen in this forest. Look! Do look at it. What color! What playfulness!" 

And so she went on, talking of the deer and desiring to possess it. And she pleaded: "Do somehow catch it for me." 

She begged Rama: "Soon we shall have to return to the city. Should we not take some rare thing from the forest to Ayodhya? How beautiful it will be, this exquisite creature moving in the inner apartments of our palace? Bharata would be so pleased. I should love to give it to him. Do my beloved, catch it for me. Somehow catch it for me." 

Sita saw that Lakshmana did not seem to like her importunity. This only made her more determined to persuade Rama to get it for her. If a strong desire creeps into our heart and someone stands in the way of it, we are angry with him no matter how dear he may be to us. 

This unfortunate truth about the way that desire works in the human mind is explained clearly by the Lord in the Gita. It was demonstrated by what happened in Sita's heart now. 

"Look!" she exclaimed, "it is all gold! Look now! It is all silver! If you cannot capture the creature alive, at least bring it down with an arrow and let us take the skin home. We shall never again see such a beautiful skin. It would be a lovely thing to sit on. Look. It is going away. Do go and catch it alive. Or else, let me have at least the skin." 

Again she said, "Look, look again. All these long years, I never saw such a beautiful thing in these forests. It is like a cluster of shining stars!" 

Rama could no longer resist her entreaties. 

He said to himself: "Even if Lakshmana be right and the creature is a Rakshasa so much the better reason for killing it. What is there to be afraid of? If I cannot catch it alive, I can bring it down with an arrow and give the skin to Sita. When she is so keen on having it, is it not my duty to get it for her?" 

And he told Lakshmana to bring him his bow and arrows. Lakshmana's heart was not in it, but he obeyed. 

And Rama set out saying: "Mind, Lakshmana, remain by Sita's side and guard her vigilantly. I shall come back soon with this stag alive or killed. Do not be anxious. Even if this is a Rakshasa, what does it matter? It will share the fate of Vatapi. If this has come here to cheat me, as Vatapi tried to cheat Agastya, why then, it will be the victim of its own deceit. What can this animal do to me? Stag or Rakshasa, it is all the same." 

Again he said, "Be careful. Mind Sita. Anything might happen at any time. Be vigilant." 

Destiny had set the stage for misfortune. Strangely enough Lakshmana, who was by nature hasty and quick to act, was suspicious on this occasion and Rama, who was usually circumspect now yielded to Sita's foolish wish, and disregarding Lakshmana's warning, went in pursuit of the Maricha-stag. 

In order to give Ravana plenty of time and opportunity, Maricha kept within sight of Rama, but beyond his reach, and drew him on and on like fate. The deer would take a few steps, then stop and turn and stare at the pursuer. Then suddenly it would start as if in fear. Pricking its ears, it would spring drawing up its hooves to its breast. It would disappear for a while among the trees. Emerging soon on some tall mound, it would display its lovely outline framed against a passing cloud. Sometimes it allowed near approach as though tired and so easy of capture but presently it would spring up and bound far away. 

This went on until Maricha took Rama far out. Then the Rakshasa realised this game would not go on forever and that his end was near. Rama, tired of the pursuit, bent his bow and sent forth an arrow. It pierced the stag. Maricha resumed his natural form and simulating Rama's voice called out, "Ah Sita, Ah Lakshmana!" and fell dead. 

"Lakshmana was right," said Rama to himself. "This deer was indeed a Rakshasa." 

He thought further: "Hearing his last cry, maybe, Sita will be deceived. She is likely to be overwhelmed by fear." 

He then said to himself again: "What if Sita entertains false fears? Lakshmana is there by her side." 

His heart then swelled with pride and joy, that he had a brother like Lakshmana, so loving and so steadfast. How could Rama guess what was happening at that very instant in the ashrama, and what painful words Lakshmana had to bear from Sita? Truly, the way of destiny is cruel.




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