RAVANA calls a council again | RAMAYAN

 


62. RAVANA CALLS A COUNCIL AGAIN 


AS soon as the day dawned, Vibhishana went to the king. He had thought deeply over the matter and had come to a decision. His brother's welfare demanded that he should seek somehow to convert and save him. 

Vibhishana entered the royal palace and stood with folded hands before the king. Ravana sent away all but the principal Ministers and asked his brother to speak. 

"My brother and my lord," began Vibhishana, "forgive me if what I say is not pleasing to your ears. My desire is not to flatter but to save you from a great danger while there is yet time. I beg of you to listen to me, consider well what I say and then decide on your course of action. 

"Ever since you brought Sita to Lanka we see only evil omens. Even when the libation is poured with the correct mantra, the flame does not spring to receive it. One finds snakes in places of worship. Ants infest food offerings. The udders of cows are dry and yield no milk. Elephants, horses, camels and monkeys fall sick, reject food and behave strangely. Medicines have lost their efficacy. Crows perch in numbers on the housetops making hideous noises. Vultures circling overhead fill the augurs with anxiety. Foxes boldly enter the city and howl at unusual hours. Wild beasts haunt the streets. These portents should not be disregarded. I beg of you, restore Sita to her husband. It is only since her coming here that these omens are noticed as you can verify by asking others. Why should we, who have so much to lose, needlessly incur any one's enmity? Let us restore Sita to her people and live happily." Thus did Vibhishana plead earnestly with his brother. 

"Never, never!" exclaimed Ravana. "Let there be no talk here of Sita being returned to her people. I do not think much of this enemy. I see nothing to be afraid of. Now, you may go." 

Though he spoke thus and was obstinate, Ravana had no peace of mind. Sita had not yielded to him and his own near kinsmen disapproved of his conduct. He was agitated, but putting on an air of confidence and unconcern he summoned the Council again. Lust and injured vanity kept him from the straight path, but he found some consolation in taking counsel from others. 

From the palace to the Hall of Council he drove through the street in a golden chariot drawn by noble steeds. Warriors, holding swords and shields and wearing brilliant uniforms, marched in front, behind and on the sides. Others mounted on elephants and horses and armed with axes, spears and other terrible weapons, followed the chariot. Trumpets were blown and drums beaten. 

As the Lord of Lanka, accompanied by his retinue, passed majestically through the royal street, his people bent low their heads and folded their hands and invoked victory for him. As he entered the hall, drums and trumpets sounded loudly and filled the eight quarters. 

Ravana took his seat on an agate throne in the great hall constructed by Maya which shone in all the splendor of gold and silver and precious carpets. 

Hundreds of demons stood sentry without. Obedient to the call of the King, thousands of Rakshasa warriors had assembled in the chamber. Long rows of vehicles stood in the streets. Within the chamber each was assigned a seat appropriate to his rank. 

Priests and chanters of the Vedas came in hundreds and after receiving tokens of respect from the king were seated in the hall. 

Vibhishana, Suka, Prahasta and others bowed before the king and sat in their respective places. Devoted officers thronged the hall, all brave and efficient and waiting to fulfil the commands of their king. 

The air was heavy with rich perfume. The assembly equalled Indra's in splendor and everyone felt that momentous decisions were to be taken. Ravana broke the hushed expectant silence of the great assembly in a voice deep and resonant as thunder. 

He said: "You are strong, brave and skilled in the arts of peace and war. You can find a way out of every difficulty. Never so far has your advice miscarried. And so, once again, I seek your counsel. You know well what I have done. I have brought here Sita who was living in the Dandaka forest. My desire for her so entirely possesses me that sending her back is to me unthinkable. She has not so far submitted to my wishes and entertains a foolish hope that Rama will come here and redeem her. I have told her that it is an impossible wish and a vain hope. Finally, she asked for a year's time and I gave it to her. I now seek your counsel. My desire is unfulfilled. I can never agree to sending Sita back and begging forgiveness from Rama. Till now neither you, my great warriors, nor I have known defeat in battle. True, a big monkey somehow contrived to cross the sea and wrought some mischief here. But hard indeed will it be for Rama and the Vanara army to cross the sea and come here. And even if they did come, what need we fear? What chance have they against us? On the other side of the sea, Rama, Lakshmana, Sugriva and the Vanaras are encamped. Think how we can slay Rama and Lakshmana. I should have summoned the Council earlier. But Kumbhakarna was in his period of sleep and I waited till he woke up." 

Thus spoke Ravana, blinded by lust, hiding his real anxiety and mixing a little falsehood with truth. For Sita had not asked for a year's time. She had absolutely rejected his advances, but he asked her to reconsider and gave her a year's time.





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