Hanuman’s eyes fell on a gorgeous woman sleeping on a couch decorated with garlands. He looked closely at the woman whose beauty was enhanced by the diamonds and pearls clinging on to her body. She was gleaming with self-radiance and looked even more royal than the golden building. She had kohl-black hair that covered most of her face in her sleep.
“Is this Mother Sita?”, Hanuman thought to himself and looked again. The woman was in a tranquil as if she hadn’t slept for weeks. She looked calm and composed.
“It is impossible for Mother Sita to be this undisturbed in the demon’s captivity. Forget sleeping; she wouldn’t even want to dress up and decorate herself. She is probably another beautiful lady”, he thought whilst exiting the place.
Hanuman was right—it was not his Mother Sita; instead, it was the righteous and loyal Queen Mandodari, Ravana’s wife. Her beauty remained unparalleled in the entire nation of Lanka. Mighty Ravana was enamoured when he laid his eyes on Mandodari during his visit to the Mayasura kingdom. He quickly approached her father and asked for her hand in marriage.
Mandodari was the magnanimous wife of the mighty Ravana, despite his misdoings and lust for different women. She loved him and was very proud of his strength and discipline. But she knew his obstinacy towards Sita would be the downfall of her ferocious king. She had tried her best to guide Ravana on the path of righteousness and had warned him against quashing the Navagraha—the nine celestial beings that control one’s fate.
Mandodari felt sick in her stomach—her heart started hammering. She tried breathing regularly to calm her panic. Terror crept on her face as she covered her mouth with her hands. Ravana was furious, and his anger seemed to have hit the roof.
“Why do you not choose to marry me? Me, the mightiest king of all the mighty kings. Me, a wise and learned scholar who is well versed with the six shastras and four Vedas. Me, who has devoted eleven thousand years of life on Mount Gokarana praying to the Brahma to earn a boon. He has endowed me with armaments, chariots, and the ability to shapeshift. What do I lack that your husband possesses?”
“You are a demon, a sinner. You are such a coward that you brought me here by tricking my husband and Laxamana. You abducted me; I am here against my own will. None of the qualities you possess will ever make you a person like my husband Rama. If you want to marry me, you better kill me, because as long as I am alive, I shall never betray my selfless husband!”, Sita spat.
“Then I must kill you”, Ravana’s voice echoed. Ravana drew his sword from his golden scabbard and raised it.
Mandodari didn’t think twice before holding her husband’s hand.
“No, you can’t”, Mandodari looked at him with determination.
“What do you mean, Mandodari?”, Ravana raised his brows.
“I can’t let you commit such a heinous sin of killing a woman who has no arms or no person to shield herself.”
“I am asking you to leave my hand.”
“And I shall not. My dear husband, you pride upon your bravery and discipline. Does your moral compass not ask you to spare this defenceless woman? Her only fault is that she is a loyal wife. But, dear husband, loyalty is a virtue and not a crime. A faithful person is a valuable gem. Do you not pride over your loyal brother, your loyal army and court officials? Her loyalty and her heart belong to her husband, and it always will. She is right; none of your virtues would ever get her to change her sides.”
Mandodari’s words had an effect on the demon king—he lowered his sword.
“I would like to express my gratitude towards you for not letting your temper get the best of you. O, dear husband, her husband Rama is no ordinary living being, he is the Lord of the Universe. His power can trample this planet. Ponder upon it yourself, give up on your stubbornness and return his wife, Sita to him forthwith. You have your other wives to keep you contemplated. I am begging you to do so because I do not want to sob over your corpse any day.
“Mandodari, I will never sin by killing a delicate and harmless woman. But no, I am not returning her to her husband. She shall become my queen someday, and I know it.”
Ravana covered his sword and left after taking a look at Sita who sat motionless under the tree. She didn’t even blink or cry.
“Sita, I promise you, under my watch, no one in Lanka would even lay a finger on you. I respect you and your loyalty towards your husband, Rama. I also understand that Rama is not just an earthly king, but a Supreme Being. I will convince my husband before it’s too late to let you go back to your husband. Your allegiance and love towards Rama remind me of goddess Sachi and Rohini.”
Days passed by, and Mandodari’s words fell deaf on Ravana’s ears. Looking into his eyes, she wishes that he does the right, but the burning lust burns down any possibility of the war that now awaits. Her kin, son, and husband would soon be going to fight with Rama. Knowing that Rama was an avatar of Vishnu, she was skeptical of Ravana’s victory.
Mandodari watched the state of Sita, calm as waves of the ocean before the storm, her aura always left her puzzled. That day, she prayed to goddess Parvati, for the war had begun. Her men’s seemed desperate for good news to arrive. She watched the sky turn grey and the sound warriors filled her heart with despair. That fateful day, she would pray for all. She would pray for fate to create history in the name of Sita.
“Your highness, a brahmin awaits you in the hall.”
“I will meet him right away.” She walked across the hall with an unsteady heartbeat.
“Pranam Gurudev, I am delighted to have you today. Your blessing in these difficult times would work as an elixir.” She bent down and touched his feet.
“Swabhagya Vati Bhava,” the brahmin replied. “Lanka is in a state of despair. With her king at war, I want you to prepare for a havan to Lord Shiva, the destroyer. His blessing shall pull Lanka through these difficult times.”
“Yes, Gurudev, I will quickly prepare for the havan, till then please have a seat,” Mandodari replied and made her way to the temple.
The servants make arrangements and the brahmin took his seat. He looked towards Sita—the sun shone brightly in her presence. The aura of the saint reaching his enlightenment never seemed to leave her.
Sita looked at the preparations and smiled, “No God or Devil can stop my Lord from coming to rescue me. Mandodari, you shall witness the end of lust, greed and despair.”
Mandodari turned her face away and sat for the havan. Her insides were conflicting with her move. As the brahmin began the havan, so began another war of loyalty and righteousness in herself, ever so strong.
“The men of Lanka risk their life at war, as we pray to the Lord, we are at war with fate, and fate demands sacrifice. Whisper the location of your beloved belongings to me as I deliver it to Lord Shiva, himself.” The brahmin turned to Mandodari to begin.
Unsettled and anxious, Mandodari looked around the hall, remembering her beloved belonging—the arrow with her husband’s name, the same arrow that was the mark of his trust in her. Mandodari shivered, uttering those words she never thought she would, filling her with dread.
She looked at the brahmin and said, “A sacrifice will be made.”
The messenger walked through the palace; the silence and the thundering clouds answering Mandodari’s biggest fear. “This cannot be, the havan, only the arrow can-” The world swam around her eyes as the other queens cried out in pain. Mandodari stood still staring at the ground in the chaos of the hall. A deafening silence prevailed. Her heart refused to believe it and she rushed to the battlefield. The Lord cannot take him away from her, she thought.
A shining arrow marked the fatal wound in the naval. Ravana lay there motionless as the trees whistled and the clouds cried. Mandodari could not move. Her eyes wandered the battleground, and Rama stood with Hanuman at his side. She had spotted her husband’s murderer and the trickster who came in disguise.
As blood rushed through her veins, burning her insides, Mandodari yelled, “The one for whom you tricked me shall be taken away from you one day. As I have to live in grief, you too shall live forever in grief.”
The clouds lit up, and the heavens cried.
Written by Aakanksha Mantri and Snehal Srivastava for MTTN
Edited by Pallavi Dutta for MTTN
Featured Image by Susanna Reynold for MTTN