BREAKING MISCONCEPTIONS: Ravana – an Honorable Man, Never Violated Sita, Abducted Her Only to Avenge Surpanakha?

There are a number of different notions in the popular perception of Ravana amongst the public, ranging from him being a great devotee, a good brother, a acharya. Some respect him from keeping Sita untouched and unharmed and fighting just for his sister’s honour. Like this there are a variety of popular notions about him. But how much of it is textually authentic? Let’s find out.

Ravana kidnapped Sita For Shurpanakha’s honour?

Valmiki Ramayana says something else. Sarga 34 of Book 3, AranyaKanda mentions How Shurpanakha allures Ravana to marry Sita by describing her beauty and suggests to abduct her.

सा सुशीला वपुः श्लाघ्या रूपेण अप्रतिमा भुवि|
तव अनुरूपा भार्या सा त्वम् च तस्याः पतिः वरः||
ताम् तु दृष्ट्वा अद्य वैदेहीम् पूर्ण चन्द्र निभ आननाम्|
मन्मथस्य शराणाम् च त्वम् विधेयो भविष्यसि||

“You too will become a groveller at the arrows Lover-god in case you now see Vaidehi with a face shining like full-moon.

यदि तस्याम् अभिप्रायो भार्या अर्थे तव जायते|
शीघ्रम् उद् ध्रियताम् पादो जयार्थम् इह दक्षिणः||

“Hence, if you hatch an opinion to make her as your wife, and if you aspire success, now itself quickly put your best foot, namely your right foot, forward.

रोचते यदि ते वाक्यम् मम एतत् राक्षसेश्वर|
क्रियताम् निर्विशंकेन वचनम् मम रावण||

“Oh, the king of demons Ravana, if this advise of mine is pleasing to you, let this idea be actualised without any shilly-shallying in your mind.

विज्ञाय इह आत्म शक्तिम् च क्रियताम् च महाबल|
सीता तव अनवद्यांगी भार्यत्वे राक्षसेश्वर||

“Oh, king of the demons, realise your stout-heartedness, and oh, great mighty one, let that immaculately limbed Seetha be abducted to become your wife.

Next sarga mentions Ravana deciding to act upon Shurpanakha’s advice.

ततः शूर्पणखा वाक्यम् तत् श्रुत्वा रोम हर्षणम्|
सचिवान् अभ्यनुज्ञाय कार्यम् बुद्ध्वा जगाम ह||

On hearing the exciting advise of Shurpanakha then Ravana bade adieu to ministers, and indeed on resolving his further task he proceeded to his personal palace chambers.

तत् कार्यम् अनुगम्यांतर् यथावत् उपलभ्य च|
दोषाणाम् च गुणानाम् च सम्प्रधार्य बल अबलम्||
इति कर्तव्यम् इति एव कृत्वा निश्चयम् आत्मनः|
स्थिर बुद्धिः ततो रम्याम् यान शालाम् जगाम ह||

While following up his thinking about that task he got a pertinent thought, and on deliberating about the credits and discredits, strengths and weaknesses of that thought he decided that ‘this is to be done in this method only.’ On taking a decision in that way and with a firm mind he indeed proceeded to his excellent vehicle-garage.

So as here it is explicitly stated that the sole purpose abducting Sita was his lust only. And this was nothing unusual for Ravana. He used to abduct any women he fancied, and molest them. This has been mentioned numerous times in the ValmikiRamayana; Once by Ravana himself, While trying to convince Sita to marry him(VR 5.20.5), that forcefully abducting women is nothing wrong for him. He even raped his daughter-in-law.

Why didn’t Ravana molest Sita?

This question has led to a variety of notions, speculations about Ravana. Lets see what the Valmiki Ramayana says on it. Sarga 26 of the book 7, UttaraKanda mentions the incident when Ravana raped his nephew’s wife.

अन्येभ्योऽपि त्वया रक्ष्या प्राप्नुयां धर्षणं यदि|
धर्मतश्च स्नुषा तेऽहं तत्त्वमेतद्ब्रवीमि ते||

Indeed, if anyone else seeks to oppress me, you should protect me. Following dharma, I am your daughter-in-law. I am telling you the truth.”

सद्भिराचरितं मार्गं गच्छ राक्षसपुङ्गव|
माननीयो मया हि त्वं लालनीया तथास्मि ते||
एवं ब्रुवाणं रम्भां तां धर्मार्थसहितं वचः|

Follow the path pursued by the virtuous. You should be respected by me. In that way, I should be protected by you.” Rambha spoke these words and they were full of dharma.

निर्भर्त्स्य राक्षसो मोहात्प्रतिगृह्य बलाद्बली|
काममोहाभिसंरब्धो मैथुनायोपचक्रमे||

The rakshasa was reprimanded in this way. However, the strongest of the strong was overcome by confusion and seized her. He was angry and confounded by desire. He thus started to have intercourse with her.

सा विमुक्ता ततो रम्भा भ्रष्टमाल्यविभूषणा|
गजेन्द्राक्रीडमथिता नदीवाकुलतां गता||

Rambha was deprived of her ornaments. Her garlands were cast aside. She was like the bank of a river, when it had been destroyed by a sporting elephant. She was trembling and ashamed.

Then when Ravana’s Nephew, NalaKubara, arrived later

तस्य तत्कर्म विज्ञाय तदा वैश्रवणात्मजः|
मुहूर्ताद्रोषताम्राक्षस्तोयं जग्राह पाणिना||

In this way, Vaishravana’s son got to know everything about that deed. His eyes became coppery red with rage and he instantly took some water in his hand.

गृहीत्वा सलिलं दिव्यमुपस्पृश्य यथाविधि|
उत्ससर्ज तदा शापं राक्षसेन्द्राय दारुणम्||

Having touched water, he followed the rituals and flung it up into the sky. He then pronounced a terrible curse on the Indra among the rakshasas.

अकामा तेन यस्मात्त्वं बलाद्भद्रे प्रधर्षिता|
तस्मात्स युवतीमन्यां नाकामामुपयास्यति||

“She did not desire it, yet you forcibly raped her. Therefore, you will not be able to approach any other maiden who does not desire it.

यदा त्वकामां कामार्तो धरयिष्यति योषितम्|
मूर्धा तु सप्तधा तस्य शकलीभविता तदा||

If a woman does not desire it and you rape her because of your desire, your head will shatter into seven fragments.”

As everyone can see here that Ravana was cursed by NalaKubara. This curse is also hinted in Sarga60, YuddhaKanda & also reiterated in briefed narration of Ramayana in the VanaParva of the Mahaharata.

Ravana’s intention to abduct Sita was solely driven by his lust. He couldn’t do anything physical because of the curse, but he left no stone unturned in psychologically tormenting her. He threatened to eat her(VR3.54.22&5.20.9), if she doesn’t agree to do his bidding; showed her an illusory decapitated head of Rama with his bow to weaken her mentally; Tried to entice her with ornaments, Gems, demonstrating various luxuries, etc. Molestation is not necessarily physical only.

So there was nothing noble in this endeavor of Ravana. If Ravana actually was a good brother then Shurpanakha wouldn’t need to lie to him in waging a war against Rama. Ravana was a character which lacked any sense of morality. There are several other misconceptions about him, which I will address some other time.

Ref: Valmiki Ramayana Translation by DH Rao & KMK Murthy, MSU CE Translation by Bibek Debroy, BORI CE.

Compiled by Abhitulya Debnath

ALSO READ: BREAKING MISCONCEPTIONS: Was Ram a Misogynist who Forced Sita into Agnipariksha?

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