Friday, November 2, 2012

The setting of the sun


All day the battle went on listlessly. The soldiers on both the Vanara and Asura side were perplexed. Their leaders were facing off each other, but this was hardly the clash of giants that they expected. Rama and Ravana fought like little boys in their school, wary, indecisive and careful not to hurt or to get hurt. Rama's shafts were all aimed at preventing the heavy missiles that Ravana flung. And Ravan's maces and spears if they were spared by Rama's arrows would have landed at least a feet short of his chariot.
The confusion soon spread amongst the ranks. Hanuman having captured the eastern gate of the city, merely camped without pressing forth his advantage. On the other side, Sugriva and Angada were involved in a petty quarrel about who would carry the victory banner, if it came. In a matter of hours, an epic war was decaying into old wive's bickering.
And then it happened. Ravana flung a diamond studded mace at Rama. As it came flying in the air, like a ray of light from the morning sun, Rama drew his bow string as far as his shoulder, calculated to hit the mace precisely.
But a split second before the arrow was released, the chariot ran over a tiny clod of earth on the battle ground. Rama's arm jerked. Before he knew it, his right arm had been drawn as far as his right ear lobe, which caught the faint whistle of his crescent tipped arrow snaking forward hungrily a moment later. The arrow spread with pointed vengeance; impatient and tired of this dispirited war it flew forth, pierced Ravana's golden armour and stayed buried there drinking his blood, like a Yogi buried in Brahman drinking the moonlight.
Ravana staggered forth and clutched his chariot. He might have stood fast and fought against another man despite this arrow, but this was Rama's arrow. He knew this was the end. He put his hand to his navel and felt his blood coursing warm through it.
'Alas! They shall all walk over my beloved Lanka! The beasts, the brutes!'. He gasped for breath which seemed harder every time he breathed.
'She shall be destroyed, ravished. Alas! Alas! My beloved country! I have failed you!' Even as this thought ran in his head, understanding dawned on him. He looked upon and smiled at Rama. He had this sudden inexplicable urge to hold that dark skinned man who had just shot that fatal arrow. He stumbled out of his chariot with his arms stretched towards Rama.
From where he stood, Rama could see Ravana stumble. And as he feel to the ground, he saw the great king's bloodied hands reach out to him. Something changed at that moment. The war, the armies, the songs... even Seetha herself seemed irrelevant. Throwing his bow down Rama ran to that dying king, sat near him, raised his head and put it on his lap. Thus, with Ravana's head on his lap, he cried, this Rama who loved Seetha just like he had a while ago with an unconscious Lakshmana on his lap.
As he saw those tears of love, Ravana felt a great fatigue settle over him. His lungs which drew breath from this world eagerly like a hungry calf suckling his mother die, now seemed cloyed of the very air. Lanka faded before his eyes; so did his carefully built glory, his music, the name of Shiva which was ever on his tongue.
Everything faded.
Everything jaded.
Everything but one.
As breath took reluctant leave of his body in spasms, the king's mouth repeated one word without pause.
'Seetha! Seetha! Seetha! Seetha! Seetha!'
He muttered for what seemed like eternity before dying softly on the lap of Rama; on the lap of the man who was his brother in love.
களத்தே நின்று கடும்போர் செய்து
களங்கமொன்றின்றி காதல் நிறை
மனத்தே நின்ற மாதவள் பெயரோதி
நலமாய் மாண்டான் நல்லிராவணன்
பலர் போற்றும் இராமன் சீதை அனுமன்
எவரும் எய்தில்லை இதுபோல் நல்மரணம்
This king of ours he died
in the battlefield
his chest pierced.
And even as blood poured from that torn chest
her name poured from his lips
till life itself poured out from his heart.
Thus he died, this king of ours
his heart bleeding love, courage and passion.
And a death like this
did not get Rama; nor Seetha
Nor any of them that are praised in life.
- Old Lankan lament for Ravana chronicled by Rama in his journal