Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Keechaka and Ravana

‘Ketaki’

Keechaka: You lived in an age far removed from mine, Ravana, but I know you. Do you think you are a personage that will be forgotten by posterity? You lived as one of the gods; as for your death, why, thousands would vie with one another–rivals for the honour of meeting gain death like yours.

Ravana: Yes. I was a great king. But Sita, that incomparable woman, loved a mere man and would not look on me, godly though I was. Sita–Sita–But, Who are you? Are you, by any freak of Fate, a brother of mine?

K: Perhaps. I am Keechaka, the Virata prince.

R: I have heard of you. Draupadi was the evil star, sweeping across your vision, rained havoc on you. Draupadi–Queen of the Pandavas.

K: Yes. She was queenly. Born of Fire and as radiant as Fire. Her form was one huge flame, and her eyes, the sparks leaping out of it! Her hair! Twas the cloud of smoke trying in vain to veil her brightness. Her radiance! She was of the elements; she was one with the elements. There is beggary in the language that tries to describe her. To part her beauty from her and then to describe it, is to part the perfume from the Champaka blossom. One might as easily capture the brilliance of the blood-red ruby, or the cool, green fire of an emerald.

R: When you talk, my thoughts leap across the abyss of Time and take me to the moment when I first saw Janaki. I was clad as a mendicant. When I approached the small hut, I was ill-prepared for such a delightful vision: so beautiful! so unreal! You talk of the brilliance of the ruby and the sparkle of Fire when you talk of Draupadi. But Sita was different, so different. Have you seen the golden turrets of your pleasure-house dream in the moonlight, and so dream all night without a stir? Can you capture the elusive, ethereal charm of it? Can you capture the warm, soft light of pearls, glistering like dew? Have you felt the thrill in the heart of the great earth when Vasanta heralds his approach? Have you heard the throb in the voice of the nightingale when she sings her impassioned songs of love? I think of all these when I think of Sita.

K: They say no woman could resist the arms of mighty Ravana–the arms that could lift up my Lord’s mountain-home. How then came you to be spurned by this one woman?

R: She would not love me. I pleaded with her; I tried in a million ways to teach her love. But it was of no avail.

K: Why would she not listen? Urvasi spurned Pururavas. And then, in a penitent mood, went to him with a heart filled with love.

R: She loved Rama and not me. There was Rama, a man, with a bow and quiver full of arrows: an exiled prince, banished from his kingdom for years together. There was I, the suzerain of all the world, the terror of the Devas. And yet, she would not love me. That was the tragedy.

K: It is indeed pitiful. Was she as beautiful as she is reputed to be?

R: Shall I describe how she looked when I first saw her? She was alone. I had lured Rama and Lakshmana away from her. Dressed in white, she stood leaning against a tree. One fair arm was lifted up, clinging to a bough. The other was pressed against her bosom, as if to still the beating of her heart. It looked as though a streak of lightning were lingering on the earth to brighten my world.

K: You are right. She was lightning: and thunder followed in its wake. Did you know nothing of Rama? Of the great bow of Siva? Of how Rama broke it in two and claimed the fair hand of the Princess of Mithila?

R: There was some talk of it. But know you not that when the heart is lost, all reason is lost? I loved this woman. She had to be mine at any cost. Mandodari was forgotten. Honour was the incense I heaped on this new altar of love....

I lifted her bodily. With one hand I grasped her fragrant hair, and with my right hand I swept her off her feet. I held her in my arms and carried her to my chariot. Poor innocent, her heart stood still for a moment in sheer terror, and then beat wildly, trying in vain to burst its bonds. She called out to her Karnikara flowers. What a picture! A flower appealing to a flower for help!

K: Did not Lanka rise up as one man when you took her there? Did Kumbhakarna approve?

R: Kumbhakarna did not approve. It was in the council chamber. The great war had begun. Rama had already entered Lanka with his army of Vanaras. Akshaya was gone. Vibhishana had left me. Then, my brother Kumbhakarna spoke: “When you brought Sita, did you think of the consequences? When you planned to abduct her, did you call for a council? You did not think ahead. You underrated your foe because he was a man. Death himself goaded you into action. The unforeseen has now become inevitable. Even now, I ask of you, can you not renounce Sita?”

I was angry with him. I accused him of fear. I said he was just Vibhishana again, all over. I spoke a hundred harsh words. But he heeded them not. He was unmoved. He looked on me with pity and contempt in his eyes and said: “Brother, do not be afraid. I am not Vibhishana. As for Death, I am not afraid of Him either. I have ever been a good fighter, and do you think that I will shirk from facing this arch-enemy? No! No! You insult me. I spoke because I love you. And since I love you, my poor unfortunate brother, I want to warn you that you are a doomed man, and with you, all who love you.” He went to his death with a smile on his lips.

K: I have heard of the great battle between Rama and Ravana.

R: Many ages have passed since that great battle. Now I am wondering if it was worthwhile. It was all to no purpose. I lost everything for her and I lost her too. And yet, I am not sorry.

K: You mean, if you were to live your life over, once again, you would commit the same mistake?

R: Yes. You see, I love Sita. That is the pivot on which my thoughts swing. You loved Draupadi. Surely, you know the bitter-sweet ache which men call love.

K: I know. Memory is a very strange woman. There are so many happenings in the brief span of a man’s lifetime. Memory does not linger with the same loving touch on all of them. The rosary of Time slips from her fingers incessantly. Many pearls pass by unnoticed by her: all on a sudden, a pearl lit up by a strange light catches her eye, and her fingers caress it lovingly, loth to let it pass. Such a lovelit moment it was, when I saw Sairandhri.

Why should it have happened? I went to the palace of my sister, the Queen of Virata. When I returned, I entered the garden. Why? What made me enter? A whiff of perfume, perhaps. A flower-laden branch called me, Perhaps. I do not know. To me it was Fate.

Even now, I cannot think of that moment without a quickening of breath. She was there,–Sairandhri. She looked on me, and all was light. She was beautiful. And yet, I have seen many beautiful women. Charm? Grace? Dignity? Other women have all these qualities. And yet, Sairandhri held me in thrall.

R: She spurned you, did she not?

K: Yes.

R: And yet, you went to the forest on that fatal night to meet her. How?

K: I saw her first in the garden. She looked at my lovelit eyes and fled away. In vain, I went in search of her. You must have heard how my sister chid me and sent me away….It was the next day that she came to know how much I was suffering. I was in love with this woman. I was pining for her, dying for her. Sudeshna heard of my condition and was greatly alarmed. She sent Sairandhri to me, with flowers and honey. She came. As she stood before me, her frame trembled like Life in the presence of Death. Her hands, like aspen leaves, held the flowers quiveringly, while her tender lips, paler than the palest Asoka sprout, faltered: “May it please your Highness, your worthy sister has sent these gifts to you.” I tried to hold her in my arms and she fled away.

R: Did you meet her then, again? After this?

K: Yes. It was the next day. I was passing through the garden, and there was Sairandhri, gathering flowers. I tried to talk to her and, instead of hatred flashing from those twin pools of fire, a shy smile hovered round her sweet mouth, like a bee round a flower; and a look as of love, met my hungry eyes. Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

R: Why! Never a cobra caresses ere it strikes!

K: She said she loved me. She spoke words so steeped in sweetness that they maddened me. She promised to meet me in the mango-grove. She talked of the peacocks and the nightingales–of the dark night and the arbour where she would wait.

R: Then?

K: When I think of that night in the mango-grove! It was a dark night. The very stars were ashamed to look on such a vile crime: they veiled themselves in a mantle of clouds. Sairandhri was there. She stood, twining against a pillar. I took her hand in mine. My hand was hot with desire, and I thought her lovely palm would melt in mine…..But it was Bhima’s hand.

Why dwell on all that happened? It is known to all. But I can never forget that one moment when I was shocked into realising that I was duped. All the past events came : vivid, clear like a landscape mirror’d in a drop of dew.

She was a sati. She is classed with Sita. She was insulted by me. So her husband killed me. All this is clear to me like snow on the crest of Himavan. But what clouds the pearl is this doubt. Why should she have smiled on me?

R: You forget this. The Pandava princes were in exile. They were in the Court of Virata, disguised. Bhima would have been recognised if you had fought in the palace. Hence this subterfuge.

K: I know. I know all that. And yet–her love-making in the garden her lovelit glances that coursed through my blood like liquid fire and set my heart aflame: her halting, whispering words of love that sounded like the drowsy murmur of summer bees: the lilt of her figure, the caress in her voice. Why all these? Why so much perfection in the art of pretence? Why that smile?

R: Sairandhri was Death incarnate. She was distilled from death. Do you not know that when she was born, the earth was doomed? When the gods went in search of nectar, they first met with poison. As for you, you found the nectar first, only to find it turn into poison.

K: Poison? Nectar? I do not understand.

R: Poor, ill-used lover, Draupadi loved you not. She hated you. Or else, why should she come to the mango-grove on that fatal night? She wanted to see you die! Do you understand the depth of her hatred for you? It was deeper than even your love. You see, you had insulted her.

K: Was it, then, such a sin to have loved her? Sita did not lose her womanliness! She did not hate you. And yet you insulted her as much!

R: Sita was a goddess. She was born of Mother Earth. Patience was her heritage. But think of Yagnaseni! She was born of Fire. She was born to kill. She spelt destruction. How could she love you? To dare to look on her! At that moment when you looked on her, was born the hour of your death. You said she was a flame. You spoke the truth. She was a devouring flame. How could you escape it?

K: So! A snake’s grace in her limbs and a snake’s venom in her heart! The tinge of a flame in her eyes, and the dread fire itself in her heart! That was Yagnaseni!

R: Yes. That was Yagnaseni, the daughter of Fire!

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