The Ramayana

The Ramayana 12. Rama and Ravana in Battle Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator says again that every person who Ravana sent into battle didn't return. Ravana stands in a tower and watches the battle for a while. The carnage makes him exceptionally angry. He performs ritual prayers, dresses in his armor, and when he's dressed, he looks very heroic. Ravana summons his chariot and vows that at the end of the day, either Sita or Ravana's own wife will be a widow.
The narration creates a sense of dread by making it extremely clear that Ravana is fighting a losing battle. Though Ravana is described as looking heroic, the story has already shown that looking heroic isn't at all the same as acting heroic. This connects to Ravana's love of show and display, however.
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Ravana's resolve attracts the attention of the gods, and they send down Indra's chariot to help Rama. The charioteer introduces himself as Matali, and explains that the gods Indra, Brahma, and Shiva sent him to help Rama, and he lists the chariot's special powers. Rama wonders aloud if the rakshasas sent Matali as a trap, but both Hanuman and Lakshmana insist that the chariot is real. Rama gathers his weapons and climbs into the chariot.
Finally, the gods involve themselves in this fight to make sure that their champion wins. In doing so, the gods cement the idea that Rama is destined to win, but also suggest that destiny doesn't mean it isn't going to be a close call. Rama is quick to spot potential ill will, but Hanuman is again able to convince him to accept help.
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On the battlefield, Ravana aims his chariot to charge Rama at full speed, while Rama tells Matali to drive calmly. One of Ravana's supporters tries to attack Lakshmana, but Rama blocks his way and quickly kills him. This makes Ravana even angrier and he urges his charioteer to go faster towards Rama. Though Ravana notices the "ominous signs" (snapping bows, thunder, crying horses), he decides he doesn't care about anything but killing Rama.
Now that the hero and the villain are both on the battlefield, the narrator asks the reader to compare the two: Rama appears composed and self-assured, while Ravana is driven by anger. Further, Ravana ignores fate and allows his emotions to govern his actions. This suggests that he's not going to make it out of this battle alive.
Themes
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Rama pauses and decides that if he kills Ravana's army, Ravana himself might experience a change of heart. This strategy proves unsuccessful, however, as Ravana continues to chase Rama. Ravana blows a conch shell as a challenge, and out of the universe Vishnu's conch answers with its own call. Matali follows this by blowing Indra's conch, and the battle begins. Ravana shoots arrows at Rama, but Rama's arrows stop Ravana's from hitting him.
Rama approaches the battle from a logical standpoint and seeks to give Ravana every possible opportunity to make the decision to concede (and live). Rama seeks to spread goodness whenever possible, even to those who wish to kill him. Rama's bow and arrows are again his weapon of choice, and their power enforces Rama's own heroism.
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Ravana notices that Rama is riding in Indra's chariot, which makes him angry that the gods are supporting Rama. He shoots more arrows at Rama and again, Rama's arrows neutralize Ravana's attack. Even when Ravana uses all 20 arms to shoot arrows, none of them reach Rama.
Notably, Ravana hypocritically believes that the gods don't have a right to help Rama, when he himself used the gods' boons for his own evil gains. Ravana's strength is no match for Rama's divinely supported goodness and morality.
Themes
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Ravana orders his charioteer to fly into the sky and Rama pursues him. Ravana destroys some of Rama's army from there, but Rama's arrows deflect most of Ravana's advances. Ravana shoots Rama's horses and Matali, and Rama pauses in grief and indecision. When he recovers, a divine eagle perches on his chariot's flagpost, which the gods take as an auspicious sign. The two chariots circle the world several times and finally return to the sky above Lanka. Rama's arrows begin to pierce Ravana's armor.
Because of Rama's goodness and willingness to reflect on his actions, he's afforded the time here to consider what to do after Ravana shoots Matali. He's rewarded for being introspective and considerate with the auspicious arrival of the divine eagle, and then is rewarded even more by beginning to truly succeed in taking out Ravana.
Themes
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Ravana begins using asthras in addition to his arrows, turning the fight into a battle of supernatural powers rather than simple military strength. Rama's arrows neutralize Ravana's first attempt, and Ravana decides to use an asthra that causes confusing illusions. It creates the illusion that Ravana's soldiers rise from the dead, making it look as though Ravana's army is once again huge. Matali, who is now revived after his injury, explains to Rama how to counter this, and Rama invokes a weapon that grants him wisdom and perception. The phantom armies disappear.
Ravana continues to utilize manipulation and deception, while Rama conquers Ravana's attempts by asking for wisdom and self-knowledge. This continues to develop the idea that the ideal hero is willing to better himself and use his knowledge to win battles; the ideal hero isn't entirely dependent on his physical means of fighting.
Themes
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Ravana uses an asthra that creates darkness and horrible weather, but Rama again counters Ravana's attack with the appropriate asthra. Finally, Ravana shoots his deadliest asthra towards Rama. Rama's arrows are useless against this weapon, but Rama mutters a mantra and the weapon collapses. This stuns Ravana, who begins to wonder if Rama is actually divine and not just human. He thinks that Rama can't possibly be Vishnu, but resolves again to kill Rama regardless. Ravana sends more flaming weapons at Rama, but Rama stops them in midair and sends them back towards Ravana.
The mantra that Rama uses again shows that Rama possesses knowledge, and particularly divine knowledge. Ravana still remains driven by emotions and rage and refuses to accept the logical conclusion that Rama is divine and he himself is going to die. The fact that Ravana does ask these questions, however, shows that he's capable of choosing to do the right thing, even though he doesn’t end up making that decision.
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Facing all this destruction, Ravana begins to feel hopeless. Rama, however, feels better and better, and begins to send arrows to cut off Ravana's many heads. Ravana's heads, however, begin to regenerate, as do his arms. Devils and demons eat Ravana's severed heads and arms. Finally, Ravana faints. Instead of attacking Ravana in this moment of weakness, Rama pulls aside to let Ravana recover.
Here, Rama shows how honorable he is. This is again a time that Rama could choose to take the quick route of killing Ravana while he's an easy target, but because he's the perfect hero, Rama must remain moral and honorable to a fault.
Themes
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When Ravana comes to he berates his charioteer, and the charioteer explains that Rama backed off while Ravana was unconscious. Ravana accepts this explanation and begins hurling all sorts of heavy things in Rama's direction. Rama pauses for a moment and then decides to end the fight with a special asthra. Rama prays and invokes the power of the asthra and sends it at Ravana's heart—Ravana had only prayed for his heads and arms to be indestructible, not his heart. The asthra kills Ravana, and Rama watches his adversary fall from the sky.
The people that surround Ravana continue to demonstrate that they're not all as bad as Ravana is. This charioteer is fully aware of what's going on and is able to make Ravana see that Rama is acting honorably. The way that Rama kills Ravana shows that being honorable, loving others, and being devout to the gods can allow one to overcome incredible challenges. Though Ravana was at an advantage physically, Rama's goodness allowed him to triumph.
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In death, Ravana's face is cleansed of evil and instead looks devout and capable, as though his meditation on Rama had given him some peace. Rama instructs Matali to land the chariot. After Rama exits the chariot, he thanks Matali and sends him back to the heavens.
Rama's goodness allows him to create positive change even in his worse adversaries. The narration implies that Ravana will possibly have a more peaceful death because of his meditation on Rama.
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Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman gather around Ravana's body. Rama notices a huge scar on Ravana's back and begins to worry that he dishonorably killed Ravana as he was trying to escape. Vibishana explains that Ravana acquired the scar years ago trying to attack divine elephants. Rama instructs Vibishana to bury Ravana properly.
Rama's honorable nature is very nearly a fault here, as Rama would surely insist that he give up whatever he might gain from this win if he won it improperly. However, Vibishana again proves himself loyal and a good addition to Rama's advisors.
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