The Ramayana

The Ramayana 5. The Grand Tormentor Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ravana sits in his hall, surrounded by attendants. Kings of the earth stand in perpetual salutation, women dance around him, and enslaved gods attend to his every need. Soorpanaka crashes into the hall, screaming. When Ravana sees her mutilated body, he asks who did this to her. Soorpanaka explains what happened and mentions her admiration for Rama, though she adds that he's cruel. Ravana asks how Rama provoked Soorpanaka, and Soorpanaka says that Ravana should take Rama's beautiful wife, Sita, for himself.
Ravana is evidently extremely powerful, and enjoys performing this power for his subjects. He does seem to care for his sister, however, which suggests that though they're demons, there is a sense of familial loyalty between Ravana and Soorpanaka (it’s also worth noting that Ravana is not always an evil figure in Hindu mythology—he just happens to be the primary antagonist of the Ramayana). Notice also that Soorpanaka tries to tell a story that makes her look better and also transfers Ravana's attention away from Rama.
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Interested, Ravana asks Soorpanaka to describe Sita. He falls instantly in love with her image, and Soorpanaka urges him to capture Sita. Ravana walks out of his hall, ignoring his wives, and shuts himself in his private room. He rages and feels that everything is out to torment him. He moves to the garden, where he finds the late winter cool uncomfortable. Ravana shouts at the weather, which obligingly changes to early summer. Ravana is still unhappy with the weather, so monsoon season arrives. Finally, Ravana banishes all seasons and years disappear. He eventually asks for the moon, but finds it too bright and recalls the sun. This wreaks havoc on the world, as birds wonder where night went and astronomers can't figure out what happened. Finally he orders complete darkness, and hallucinates about Sita.
Ravana's temper tantrum is demonstrative of his extreme power over the world. The reader is reminded that at this point Ravana is selfish and not at all interested in using his powers for good, as the beings subject to his whims and fancies are at least shocked, if not harmed by his changes in the weather. Also, unlike Rama (but like Sita and Soorpanaka), Ravana is completely derailed by falling in love. Though Rama was disturbed and didn't sleep, he still managed to function. Ravana's inability to do so further distances him from Rama's heroism and goodness, and aligns him with the reactions of women and evil.
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Ravana summons Soorpanaka and asks her to confirm that he's hallucinating about Sita. Soorpanaka insists that she sees Rama, and that since he damaged her she can't forget him. She urges Ravana to go fetch Sita, and Ravana calls for his advisers. He only values them for the formality, however, and soon leaves to speak with his uncle, Mareecha. Ravana explains that Rama mutilated Soorpanaka, and Mareecha advises Ravana to stay away from Rama. Ravana asks Mareecha to come along and help him steal Sita, but Mareecha is trying to live a virtuous life and tries to refuse.
Rama continues to behave selfishly. Rather than wanting to truly consult others to formulate the best plan, he only wants to speak to advisors so that he feels important. Here we see Ravana operating essentially as a lone agent and bullying others into following him; the story will later show that behaving like this has disastrous consequences. Mareecha's attempts to refuse, however, continue to suggest that it's possible to choose good over evil and right past wrongs.
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Mareecha begins to feel as though he's coming to the end of his life and his spiritual quest. He tells Ravana that this quest will bring about the end of the rakshasas, angering Ravana. When Mareecha describes Rama's strength, Ravana threatens to kill Mareecha, and Mareecha finally agrees to help. He attempts to convince Ravana of a plan that would save them from destruction, but Ravana won't be convinced. Ravana instead instructs his uncle to take the shape of a golden deer and draw Sita out of the house. Mareecha reflects that this is certainly going to kill him.
Mareecha has evidently learned a lot since Rama shot at him last; his attempts to encourage Ravana to consider the wellbeing of the rakshasas demonstrates an understanding that an individual's actions impact more than that one individual. Mareecha's thought process shows that he's in control of the particulars of his destiny, even though death is inevitable. Ravana continues to behave selfishly, which at this point makes Mareecha look particularly good.
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Near Rama's cottage, Mareecha assumes the shape of the golden deer and walks past the cottage. Sita notices it and asks Rama to catch it for her. Rama agrees, but Lakshmana insists that the deer is a trick. Rama goes outside to look at the deer himself and promises to get it for Sita, though Lakshmana again tries to deter him. Sita sullenly says that Rama will never get the deer and goes inside. Rama instructs Lakshmana to protect Sita and approaches the deer with his bow. He tracks the deer for miles and miles and finally realizes that it's a trick. He shoots at the deer, and as Mareecha dies, he uses Rama's voice to shout for help from Lakshmana and Sita.
In this exchange, Rama and Lakshmana's roles flip as Lakshmana acts as the voice of reason while Rama refuses to listen. It's important to note, though, that Rama is acting this way in an attempt to show his devotion to Sita; even though he's not fully considering the possible outcomes of chasing the deer, he makes his decision for the right reasons. And even though Rama sees the truth too late to make a difference, the fact that he learns shows another aspect of his heroism: he's willing to learn and admit his mistakes.
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Rama worries that Sita heard Mareecha's false cry, but reasons that Lakshmana will assure her that it was a trick. Sita did hear the cry, and asks Lakshmana to go help Rama. Though Lakshmana insists that it was a trick, Sita becomes more and more agitated and finally panics. She suggests that Lakshmana isn't truly loyal to Rama, and Lakshmana finally agrees to go help Rama. He tells her that Jatayu will protect her.
Suggesting that Lakshmana isn't appropriately loyal to Rama is quite the insult, given the importance the story gives to loyalty. This is a somewhat underhanded blow from Sita, as their domestic unit immediately starts to break down in Rama’s absence.
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Once Lakshmana is out of sight, Ravana assumes the guise of a hermit and calls to Sita from the garden gate. When Sita appears, Ravana is overwhelmed by her beauty. Sita asks Ravana where he came from, and he gives a strange account of his past in the third person. He insists that rakshasas are misunderstood, and are actually good to hermits such as himself. Sita explains that Rama's mission is to destroy the rakshasas, and Ravana asks what Rama will do when faced with Ravana's ten heads and 20 arms. Sita mentions a time when Ravana was indeed bested by a normal man, and Ravana is overcome with rage.
On her own now, Sita does demonstrate that she's exceptionally loyal to Rama in her exchange with Ravana. This situation mirrors what happened to Ahalya in Viswamithra's earlier story, which suggests that Sita is going to suffer for falling for this trick—simply because she’s a woman. Ravana continues to show that he's unable to maintain his composure under pressure, as he can't properly pull off his deceit.
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Ravana abandons his human form and towers over Sita. He says he'd eat her if he weren't in love with her, and asks her to be his queen. Sita tells him to leave before Rama returns and begins to crying for help. Ravana remembers that he's been cursed to die if he touches a woman without her consent, so he digs up the ground under Sita and lifts the earth and Sita with it. They speed away in a chariot.
The curse on Ravana works in much the same way as promises or boons work in the rest of the story; this one is so successful because breaking it results in death. Sita continues to show how loyal she is to her husband when she refuses Ravana's advances.
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Sita faints and when she comes to, tries to jump off the chariot. She yells at the animals to tell Rama what happened. Ravana laughs at Sita as she insults him. Jatayu challenges Ravana, telling him that Rama will destroy all the rakshasas if Ravana doesn't let Sita go. Ravana and Jatayu fight, and Ravana cuts off Jatayu's wing. Ravana picks up Sita and carries her off to Lanka. Jatayu manages to stay alive until Rama and Lakshmana find him. Though he tells them what happened, he dies before he can tell Rama which direction Ravana went.
Jatayu tries to keep his promise to Rama, but is ultimately unsuccessful. The fact that the story doesn't mention any punishment for Jatayu not keeping his promise suggests that death is one of the few ways someone can get out of a promise without consequences (though death itself is also a major consequence, of course). Jatayu's words to Ravana act as a promise: they put into words the fact that Rama must destroy the rakshasas. At the same time, Jatayu’s death taking place at exactly the wrong moment heightens the suspense and “cliffhanger” aspect of the tale.
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