Volume II number 2 and volume III number 1 of Samyukta carried Act I and Act II of Lanka Lakshmi, Sri C.N. Sreekantan Nair’s dramatic rendering of the war episodes of the Ramayana from the point of view of Ravana and the rakshasas. The play which begins with the departure of Lanka Lakshmi, outlines the history of Lanka and the glory of Ravana. Ravana’s act of abducting Sita is, according to him, due to the fact that he is a connoisseur of beauty, not because he is a womanizer. Vibheeshanan’s advice to avoid the enemity of Rama falls on deaf ears and he leaves Lanka. In Act Two, the gory war, the use of herbs to bring to life the dead monkey warriors and Lakshmana himself, Ravana’s battle with Rama in the wake of Prahastan’s death and the supposed cunning of Sarama are detailed. The conversation between Mandodari and Ravana centers on the chastity of Sita, the advice of Kaikasi, the wrong done to Shoorpanaka and the fire of Lanka. The darkness of the curse of Rambha and Vedavathi hangs like a pall over the minds of Suparswan and Mandodari. Act Two also describes Kumbhakarnan’s awakening and his march to death and ends with Indrajith donning his armour to lead the rakshasa army.
(The court of Ravanan, Ravanan walks about, agitated. After a moment Suparswan enters.)
Ravanan: What is the state of affairs now?
Suparswan: Our boy will keep alive the glory of the rakshasa clan.
Ravanan: I have no doubts regarding that.
Suparswan: Half the monkey army has been annihilated. The rest is fleeing for life. Lakshmanan is confronting our boy now; that kid is worn out, wounded all over.
Ravanan: Then Raman must have taken up the bow!
Suparswan: That is not the news of the day. A battalion of Viroopakshan has appeared in the battlefield.
Ravanan: The veteran grandsire fights!
Suparswan: That grand old man fights! A whole flank of the monkey army has been wiped off. Still he knows no weariness!
Ravanan: Ha! I feel exuberant like a child! Want to leap about and frolic! The arms of old Viroopakshan have gathered much experience! He has inherited the flexibility and dexterity of great grand father. I have heard that Malyavan used to fight in such a way that his hands would become invisible. Viroopakshan has often narrated how once, with an unceasing shower of arrows, Malyavan impeded the pathway of Indra as he was fleeing for life from the battle field. His son more or less has that skill too, but the old man might tire soon.
Suparswan: Kumbhan is also in the field; he is breaking through the rows of enemies.
Ravanan: I do not have any more fears and worries! A suggestion came from Nikumbhan, the Chief Minister that it would be better if I fight before Meghanadan. What could be the thought behind it?
Suparswan: The Chief Minister is foresighted.
Suparswan: Whatever may be the thoughts, whoever fights, now we can celebrate the victory of rakshasas. This is the moment of success.
(A rakshasan enters)
Rakshasan: Mayasuran is not at Hemapuram. It is rumoured that he has hidden himself in Pathala; it is not sure whether he is alive.
Suparswan: Wherever may he be; who cares! Is this the time for making sculptures? Once the war is over, we will consider that.
Ravanan: It is not like that, Suparswan. The sight of that topless dome is a sore to the eyes. Let the sculptors of Lanka start the work. When Mayan comes, he will perfect it. It should be a marvel! With the great height and breadth, the dome must absorb into its form the quintessence of architecture. The very shape should light up ecstasy. Let the three worlds know that the dome of Lanka will tower high. May the cluster of stars at night embrace it like fire flies adorning the Asoka tree. (To the rakshasan) You may go now. Suparswan, architecture has more power to represent the invisible Brahmam in such splendid physical form. Arts like music drift towards the essence. Vastubrahmam, immense creation is more or less perceptible to the senses. It will be popular among the ordinary people.
(Seeing the rakshasan still lingering ) Haven’t you gone?
Rakshasan: Lord, all the sculptors of Lanka have perished in the war. No one remains alive.
Ravanan: Has Lanka become so empty? (Stands still and stares at the rakshasa. Rakshasan moves backwards and leaves)
Suparswan: Here comes grandfather.
(Ravanan almost leaps from the throne, advances. Malyavan in his ripe old age walks with strain, supported by Mandodari.
Ravanan holds him by the arm and tries to make him sit on the throne. Suparswan comes forward to help)
Malyavan: I will not sit on this throne; it is for you alone.
Ravanan: You had occupied it for long, great sire!
Malyavan: I lost it or rather let it slip away from me. You, who retrieved it, are the only person worthy of adorning it. (He takes another seat.) I too have sat on that throne for long . . .. Your grand father Sumali on one side and the youngest of us, Mali on the other. The three worlds would shudder on hearing the name of Malyavan. I was not content even with this. We gathered forces and set out. At the end of that heroic journey spotted with massacre, demolition and conquests, total destruction awaited us; a fall so absolute! Sumali, the children and I had to seek refuge in pathalam.
Ravanan: Even the kids know such stories of our clan.
Malyavan: May be I am destined to remain alive even after the deaths of my children, nephews and grandsons, just to remind you once again of all that. To beget offsprings to protect the clan, the daughter of Sumali copulated with your father, the sage, during the twilight hour. Do you know what the seer predicted then? He said, ‘since you came to me at this inauspicious hour, our children will become monstrous.’ The sky reddened and showered blood when you were born. Until you and your brothers amassed strength by penance, we were anxious. You achieved great powers and the blessings of Siva, won back whatever we had lost. You also achieved what we couldn’t. You, my dear boy, became the Master of the three worlds. Children, when that happiness remains, will I be able to breathe my last?
Ravanan: How come that the great grandsire is overcome with anxiety, it is quite unusual.
Malyavan: We were traversing the path paved with victory. Pride made us blind and led us astray, at some juncture. We strayed to the path of total destruction. Have you too lost your way?
Ravanan: If our ancestors were defeated by the Gods, we have overpowered them too.
Malyavan: Your victories outnumber ours. Even then, only Vishnu was able to defeat us. The sages say, Vishnu took a human incarnation to root out the clan of rakshasas.
Ravanan: If it is so, Vishnu who has forgotten his weapon, the chakra, will taste defeat at the threshold of Lanka. Meghanadan is commanding the army today. He is unbeatable, a wonderful warrior. He is unique and has no peer in any clan, including ours.
Malyavan: But only you two remain alive now. The future of the rakshasa clan will be determined once again in a battle field. It is impossible for Gods, demons and yakshas to kill you, but today a human being is fighting with you. The magical tricks of Indrajith are not an innate power. If you are defeated in this battle! Don’t the protectors of the race have the duty to consider that also?
Ravanan: What is your advice, grand father?
Malyavan: You too have violated the dharma, umpteen times. So dharma does not favour you! The three worlds are crammed with your enemies. At this juncture compromise is more advisable than war.
Ravanan: Let there be failure in the battle! Let my body be shattered to smithereens! I am not willing to stoop before another. Neither have I thought of failure so far.
Malyavan: Compromise is not subjugation. You had compromised with Bali of Kishkindha, with Karthaveeryarjuna of Mahishmathi. In the tactics of politics, there is a place for war and compromise. To keep alive the dynasty, to rescue the clan, if war is necessary, fight then. If compromise is better, then let that be the choice. Remember, the aim is not a valiant death, but safeguarding of the clan. If success is not sure, then compromise is appropriate. We had not mastered this tactics, so we fought without a break. Ultimately we struck at the very roots of the race. Should that old folly be repeated?
Ravanan: When victory is uncertain, we will consider a compromise.
Malyavan: Is it not uncertain? In Lanka, how many warriors remain alive?
Ravanan: Why bother about the number of warriors when Ravanan and Meghanadan are still alive! We have no doubts regarding victory.
Malyavan: Can’t you at least think that it is not assured?
Ravanan: The tactics that great grand father advised is not unknown to me. I have listened to it with due respect, but how can I change my innate nature? In my thoughts, that same innate nature reflects. Not only you, but my uncle Suparswan and beloved Mandodari should also hear what I have to say…these moments are very critical. Meghanadan will not accept defeat and retreat from the field. If he wins, we have won the battle. If he fails, it only means that he is no more. If Meghanadan is killed, whether victory is sure or uncertain, Ravanan will not compromise with anyone.
Malyavan: Let everything happen according to the divine will. When we set out to challenge Indra, the sky turned dark red and showered drops of blood. Vultures and foxes made horrifying noises. The birds shrieked in queer ways. Those ill omens are seen in Lanka even now, as some sort of recurrence; like the change in seasons, the eclipse of the sun or the journey of comets along the sky! May be these are sheer hallucinations of a senile mind. Let everything be according to your will. In knowledge, skill and bravery, you are matchless; unique like the great mountain, Mahameru. Let things be as you decide. (Leaves with the aid of Mandodari).
Ravanan: Is the victory uncertain, Suparswan?
Suparswan: If the enemy is equally powerful, then we cannot consider victory as assured.
Ravanan: Can Raman and Lakshmanan combat with matchless Meghanadan?
Suparswan: That is being decided in these moments.
Ravanan: Yes; being decided….Omens — Anyway, I have never trusted these omens…. The birds give out a scary shriek; the rain has an unusual tinge — these are the magical tricks of the accomplices of Yaman, the God of death, to chill our valorous enthusiasm. How would we reach to the very end if disillusionment overcomes us on the way? I have always been a man of adventure. Battle field is my foster mother. Mount Mahendra, Vindhyan, the enormous ranges of Himalaya and peaks of Kailas looked after this gallant man with extreme concern. How would this son of immense heights be conquered in these lowly shorelines? (The lament of women is heard) Is it not the lament of the harem? What happened? Somebody there?
(No one turns up)
What; no one there to obey my orders! Suparswan!
Suparswan: I will enquire and be back in a moment.
(Leaves in a hurry)
Ravanan: (walks around the stage; calling aloud) Kumbhan! Nikumbhan! Where are they? Makarakshan! Is the court of the king of Lanka so undefended? ( very loudly) Somebody there? No guards around?
( Suparswan enters, stands still. Ravanan approaches Suparswan slowly…. The lament of women becomes louder.)
What happened? Suparswan, who always utters the truth, tell me!
Suparswan: No one dares to come before you.
Ravanan: I have become forlorn; haven’t I? (Slowly returns to the throne, sits)
I cannot believe it. Tell me clearly, what happened really…
Suparswan: The beloved son of Lanka…
Ravanan: My beloved son?
Suparswan: Fought gallantly, with no one to defend him from the flanks and died at the hands of Lakshmanan…
Ravanan: If it is true, repeat it once again more clearly.
Suparswan: I am not strong enough to repeat it…the king has to overcome this moment…
(Ravanan closes his eyes; sits leaning against the throne. Suparswan walks slowly and leaves the stage. Mandodari enters, as if in a trance. She sits near Ravanan, placing her head on his lap. Ravanan gently pats her head.)
Ravanan: This must be our fate, beloved! We should not cry at this moment.
Mandodari: I am not crying… but preparing myself to pour into my beloved all the strength that is left in me.
Ravanan: We are seeing many hitherto unseen shores. Let’s perform the duties first. Our son wished to kill Sita…. I will fulfill it with my own hands. Perhaps it will be an apt redemption for everything.
Mandodari: (rises) To demean yourself like those princes who severed the breast of Soorpanakha! You should not do such a wicked act. Our son must have felt so in the vigour of his youth…. That is not your duty…. Liberate yourself from all such worries.
Ravanan: I was worried. You knew it, didn’t you?
Mandodari: Though you didn’t tell me, I knew it. Had you told me, I would have consoled you as best as I could. The passionate desire for Sita and the fearful curse that your head would shatter if you attempted to touch an unwilling woman were tormenting you. You were unable to sleep, forgot your daily routine and duties, and lost the strength of your spirit.
Ravanan: I lost my strength?
Mandodari: This is the moment to win back all the lost assets. You have to save yourself, salvage Lanka and rescue the clan of rakshasas.
Ravanan: I will not compromise now.
Mandodari: Your Mandodari will not demand that. You should fight valiantly and triumph in the battle; but before that gain enough strength to win.
Ravanan: I sense the broken links joining and some scary meaning echoing in that….In my pride, I violated the chastity of Vedavathy who was observing tapas in the Himalayas to win Vishnu as her husband. Is Sita her reincarnation? The sages say so. That saintly woman cursed that I will plunge into peril because of a woman. She said so before leaping into the fire to kill herself.
Mandodari: When you regain that blessed might, each curse will dissolve like fog at the hour of dawn….Your upasana ceased on the day of Sita’s arrival. The sacred Phallus of Siva lies neglected in the holy chamber, covered in dust. You should commence the utmost penance of fire ritual, the homam, without any delay.
Ravanan: There is none to lead the rakshasa army. I shall not delay anymore.
Mandodari: Let anything happen. You should commence the homam at Nikumbhila, the cave for prayer. I do not have the power to see your fall. If you complete the homam , no one will be able to triumph over you. If it is not done, you will be defeated. Mandodari will not remain alive to see your downfall. Mayan, my father, Ravanan, my husband and Indrajith my son. No other woman has such an exalted status. I am not willing to lead the life of a forlorn woman, deprived of that lofty status.
Ravanan: Will I be condemned as the destroyer of my clan?
Mandodari: Gone too far, it is impossible to retrace our steps. However, let’s see whether at this eleventh hour, we can restore the old glory; return to the majesty of past victories and rekindle the strength that made everything possible.
Ravanan: Where is Suparswan?
( Enters Suparswan)
I am commencing the homam. Let the defence be strong.
Suparswan: The enemy has invaded the fort through the secret passage that only the king traverses. They are fighting a ferocious battle. Kumbhan combated single-handed for seven long hours.
Ravanan: He was safeguarding me. Do you mean to say that we lost his avid protection?
Mandodari: No one can safeguard another. You have to be your own guard; you yourself should be your strength.
Ravanan: Suparswan should situate himself outside the door, with as many sentinels as possible….How many chieftains are left?
Suparwan: The son of Kharan, Makarakshan.
Ravanan: Till I set out for war, let Makarakshan defend the fort.
( Suparswan leaves)
I am ready for a new beginning. I feel the freshness of dawn. Not only the freshness, but the purity, peace and divinity. What can it be; something beyond definition! Anyway; it is a blessed sensation peculiar to the twilight hour. Don’t you too feel it? Even I don’t feel it unceasingly; it is ephemeral; fleeting…. There are fissures in that feeling of placidity. Your face emanates a queer serene glow. My companion, you are not only my rightful consort, but a guru also.
(Viroopakshan enters with a lighted torch. He is wounded all over and is bleeding profusely. Stands motionless)
Viroopakshan: I am coming from the battlefield. It is vacant. Is it not time for the King to come?
Ravanan: I will start in no time.
Mandodari: The King will delay his departure a while….
Viroopakshan : You too are late. I will be at the battle field; awaiting you.
Ravanan: To see Death face to face, just gaze at the countenance of a battle… when the foxes and vultures lick away the blood on the wrecked chariots, you will glimpse Death. Then the earth spreads with disfigured corpses and the firmament fluttering its dark wings transforms into Death. Death is everything. far removed, we celebrate life in the surging intoxication of success and the anguish of defeat; but wasn’t what we celebrated as success and defeat, the ultimate and absolute truth, namely, Death? My companion! We cannot escape this battle now….We will fight for the dead; but this is my very last battle. I am going to wear armours that cannot be smashed….At this moment, may I ask my beloved — perhaps to soothe my heart — was the life of Ravanan a futile endeavour?
Mandodari: No, never! I who am the creation and destruction, proclaim; it will never be so. Put on that unbreakable armour without delay…. Beseech tearfully to the Divine Power of Destruction. Samhara, to pour into you the energies of creation and sustenance. Sadasivan will provide your spirit with immense power…. Let the strength and radiance of the flames soar from the fumes of Nikumbhila. May my eyes witness once again the blissful spectacle of your triumphant procession! I will stay here to smear your forehead with vermilion, till the homam is over.
( Ravanan enters the Nikumbhila cave; prays, in devout contemplation)
Oh! The Infinite Light! The Brilliance Divine! Will not Thee, with thousand arms outstretched, split through this black night to enfold Lanka? The seared tree stumps and severed bodies cry out to feel that touch of life and go ablaze, to melt and merge into that boundless flash of rapture. Soar in the sky; transcend the Southern Ocean and Thrikooda Mountain. Rise ! O radiance from the eye of the sun! Rise showering the immortal rays from a thousand vessels. Aha! O torrent, gush forth, the torrent surge . . ..
(Within a few moments, panchachamaram, the hymn of siva composed by Ravanan reverberates from Nikumbhila, very loudly).
vilolaveechivallari virajamana moordhani
kisorachandrasekhare rati: pratikshanam mama.
Chakarachandathandavam thanothu na siva sivam.
Smarachidam purachidam bhavachidam maghachidam
Gajachidandakachidam thamandhakachidam bhaje
Rasapravahamadhuri vijrumbhana madhuvratham
Smarantharam puranthakam bhavanthakam makhandhakam
Gajandakandhakandakam tamandakandakam bhaje
(Fragrant fumes emerge from the mouth of the cave. After a while, there is a shower of huge stones and logs on the stage. Suparswan enters, unsheathed sword in hand.)
Suparswan: The enemies have come near. Go to the harem. I will stand here to protect Nikumbhila. Perhaps, the end….
Mandodari: It is an attempt to interrupt the homam. Oh! God Almighty! Sambhaveesambho!
(Suparswan leaves, the noise of clashing swords is heard. Mandodari calls out loudly commanding the women in the harem to take up arms and then listens to the voices of struggle outside. The pathetic groan of Suparswan is heard-it evokes the impression that he has fallen dead. Angadan rushes in and grabs Mandodari forcibly. (She evades him, calling out)
(Angadan stands perplexed for a moment)
Who are you?
Angadan: The destroyer of rakshasas, Angadan, the son of Bali….You?
Mandodari: You better go, child. You will be terrified if you see the king.
Angadan: I have not come to leave. (Advances)
Mandodari: (Resisting) Child! Has Raman of Ayodhya asked you to insult me?
Angadan: This is war… not attacking a defenseless woman without any reason.
Mandodari: What are you going to do?
Angadan: If any chastity remains in Lanka, violate that.
(Angadan tries to grab Mandodari, Mandodari draws a dagger. Angadan stands perplexed for a moment)
Mandodari: Only the son of Thara will dare to do this.
(Angadan does not hesitate any more. Catches hold of Mandodari, tosses the dagger away. He embraces her. Mandodari screams aloud and the recital of panchachamara stops instantly. Runs away. Angadan peeps into the cave, recoils at once and flees out of sight. Ravanan enters furiously)
(Nobody answers) Suparswan, Suparswan! (Nobody answers; Loudly) Somebody there?
(A wounded rakshasan enters)
Is the fort secure?
Rakshasan: They have not crossed the fort. Makarakshan is still fighting with the remaining left arm. A small group managed to penetrate through the secret passage. They saw the King and fled in horror.
Ravanan: Get the chariot ready at the western entrance of the fort.
(The rakshasan leaves)
The armour of Brahma.
(A rakshasan enters with the armour, helps Ravanan to wear it.)
(Another rakshasan enters with the Chandrahasam. Ravanan unsheathes his sword and holds it in his hand. The rakshasan goes back. All the rakshasas are wounded.)
Let the loud drum beats reverberate. The enemies should know that the Deity of Destruction has set out. It is the day of slaughter…massacre…
I will bejewel the bosom of earth with a garland strung with arrows gashed through the enemies.
(Malyavan enters with a bowl….goes near Ravanan.)
Malyavan: Wear on the forehead the thilakam of your rightful wife Mandodari’s blood. (Dips his finger in the bowl, daubs Ravana’s forehead with the blood). Come back victorious, my boy!
Ravanan: Blood and its hue escort Ravanan, just as they accompany the sunrise and sunset.
(War cries rise. When Ravanan proceeds with an invincible expression, old Malyavan unsheathes his sword and with great effort holds it high. The war drums reverberate in a crescendo).
[The Asoka grove. Sita sits under a tree surrounded by the rakshasis. Hanuman enters, his arms folded in reverence; the sound of conches is heard and rakshasis vanish quietly like fog at the sunrise. Hanuman bows his head as a gesture of devotion. Sita rises with a softly smiling face and shows curtsy. An ethereal sounding instrumental music wafts.]
Sita: The son of Anjana is here, once again. First you came with commotion… it is over now. Everything has changed! Is it not so? This grove, Lanka, Time, perhaps even myself.
Hanuman: Yes, the Great King, Ramachandran has commanded me to find out the news.
Sita: Son of Anjana, even after the winter is over, the body will continue to tremble for a short while. Like that I am shivering at the threshold.
Hanuman: The glum darkness has passed. Here is the dawn!
Sita: Even in the luminous dawn, there is the residue of a shade of blue. Though it was darkness, it was that which had enwrapped me. Even the culmination of darkness has its own anguish. An era fought itself to death before my very eyes. I was the witness, I was the cause too.
Hanuman: I hear the quintessence of the Upanishads in your voice. The benevolence that you extend even to the sinner echoes in your words. Goddess, the sinful Lanka has washed off her sins in a river of blood. Forgive and absolve Lanka!
Sita: I have forgiven even Ravanan. It is instinctive nature to evade sin. Ravanan succumbed to that destiny. Perhaps I too am drifting off somewhere; carried away by fate. So I feel Lanka has become a part of myself and I an element of Lanka. As I watch the towers and enormous structures, now fallen to pieces or burnt down, that dome of gold, which is no more now, flashes across the mind in all its past glory and splendour. When I came here, nothing caught my eye. When the fire that you lighted was spreading with a fearful rage, I saw that red glow. Now memories float back to me. To purify in fire, burning to ashes is necessary.
Hanuman: Mother, The Goddess of Universe! In you I visualize the fall and rise of aeons. The war was a great experience; but this vision I consider, as the ultimate one. I have seen you in several manifestations…. Now, I am discovering you in totality.
(Away, at the back stage, the proclamation ‘Vibheeshanan, the King of Lanka’ is heard. The sound of instruments echoes)
King Vibheeshanan will be here in no time…. King Ramachandran has demanded him to escort you to his presence. Wash the body; smear it with potions of celestial fragrance and adorn yourself with divine ornaments. The King of Lanka might be coming here to accompany you.
Sita: The broken trees have bathed themselves pure in vernal showers and bedecked with blossoms this morning. The rising melody of bees declares the change of season. Haven’t you noticed these Asoka blooms? A torch lighted by the spring! It will embrace the earth like a flame of fire….Nature is like that! You are a scholar, so should be able to perceive everything.
Hanuman: Goddess, now I feel that I am able to perceive everything. Now, my only wish is to pray at your sacred feet in ardent devotion and spend the rest of my life in tranquil serenity.
Sita: I will bid farewell to these flowers and be ready.
(Sita blesses him with a gracious glance, smilingly . The proclamation “Vibheeshanan, The King of Lanka” reverberates from the back stage; Hanuman recedes, reverentially.)
Translated from Malayalam by Bini B.S.
BINI B.S. Doctoral candidate at the Institute of English, University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram. Gifted poet. Has translated both critical and creative writing from Malayalam to English and vice versa.