The Right-thinking Rakshasa


Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

RAkshasAs, as a race, are demoniacal. All one tends to associate with them are cruelty, torture and all sorts of murder and mayhem. They have always been a clan of marauders, with more brawn than brain and making a profession out of opposing the divine dispensation. They are always against the Lord and His devotees, always on the look out for opportunities of causing


harm to the latter, in any and all ways. The very word “RAkshasa” brings to our mind a RAvaNA, a HiranyAksha, a Hiranyakasipu and others of their ilk. At the mere mention of the word, our mind’s eye picturises a meaty hulk with bulging, blood-red
eyes, a tangled mane of hair falling over the shoulders, long and sharp protruding teeth resembling those of a predator and a body which is a veritable moving mountain of flesh, invariably dark in complexion, with a terrifying and blood-curdling roar passing for a voice. And, somewhat inexplicably, all the pictures of Rakshasas that I have seen, either on TV or in films, were with stripes of VibhUti on their foreheads.

It is easy to conclude from the aforesaid that RakshasAs, without exception, were a gang of rogues and murderers, who couldn’t bear the sight or thought of good things happening. However, when we peruse the VAlmIki Ramayana, we find several exceptions to the aforesaid stereotype picture that is painted of a RAkshasa. We are told that there were several Rakshasas in Lanka who were well-versed in the Vedas and were constantly reciting the same-“SvAdhyAya niratAnschaiva yAtudhAnAn dadarsa sa:”. The houses of some of these worthies were reverberating with the sound of Mantras—“sushrAva japatAm tatra mantrAn rakshO grihEshuvai”. Several were engaged in the performance of YagyAs and were attired accordingly—“dIkshitAn jatilAn mundAn gO anijAmbara vAsasa:” Sri Hanuman is also able to find among the residents of Lanka, those with beauty of physique and character—“nananda drishtvA sa cha tAn surUpAn nAnA guNAn Atma guNAnuroopAn”. Their wives too impress the Vanara VIrA so much with their good hearts that he describes them as “mahAnubhAvA:”, “vishuddha bhAvA:” etc. They are also extremely attached to righteous conduct, finds Sri Maruti—“dharmaparA:”. Many of the inhabitants of Lanka performed appropriate hOmAs during amAvAsya, PourNamAsya etc. (like Darsam, PoorNamAsam etc.). These Rakshasas were profound patrons of the arts and Lanka was filled with bewtitching music emanating from various instruments as also from the sweet shAreerams of their women.

Having said enough to establish that RAkshasAs were not entirely beyond redemption and that there were indeed exceptions to the general rule of their being bad, I should now do justice to the caption of this piece by dwelling on a Right-thinking Rakshasa. Readers would invariably except me to write here about the most obvious specimen of decency and Dharma that was to be found in Lanka—Sri VibhIshaNa. Indeed, it appears difficult to think of anyone else as rooted firmly in righteousness as this brother of Ravana, with his fearless espousal of the right path despite very real threats to his life and limb and his bold decision to leave all his earthly possessions, his princedom and all his loved ones, to cross the seas and surrender at the Lord’s lotus feet—“tyaktvA putrAmscha dArAmshca Raghavam sharaNam gata:”.

However, I would not be obliging readers by doing the obvious and writing about Vibhishana. The Hero of this piece is quite different. Though it is difficult to picturise him as a right-thinking person, he is indeed one, as Sri Valmiki demonstrates through his own words. The amount of adulatory references to Sri Rama, emanating from this Rakshasa, exceed the tributes paid by many of His admirers. Indeed, this worthy uses so many imaginative similies to describe the Prince of Ayodhya, that even the Lord’s regular devotees would have to hang their heads in shame. The encomiums heaped upon the distinguished son of Dasarata, emanating from this unusual source, make one wonder as to whether he was indeed a Rakshasa, or born in the clan due to some mix-up at BrahmA’s creative factory.

“RAmO vigrahavAn dharma: sAdhu: satya parAkrama:”—Sri Rama is indeed righteousness personified and is the best of people, with proven prowess. Whom do you think is the author of these eloquent words of tribute to the Prince of Ayodhya? None other than MArIchA, who is the centerpiece of this article.

Enraged by the indignity meted out to sister ShoorpanakhA, Ravana seeks the help of MarIchA for the abduction of Sri Mythili, to wreak revenge on Sri Rama. The elder Rakshasa’s elaborate reply and homilies to Ravana have been chronicled by Sri Valmiki in considerable detail and each individual word of Maricha is worth its weight in gold.

From Maricha’s accounts, it would appear as though he is the fittest person to tell us about Sri Raghava’s bravery, prowess in war, tolerance and mercy, of all of which he (Maricha) has been either a target or a beneficiary. In fact, the Prince of Ayodhya’s very first encounter with enemies involves Maricha, SubAhu and a host of others, when they arrive in force to create hurdles to Visvamitra’s yagyA. Mistaking the Prince to be a mere toddler playing with a bow and arrow, when Maricha attacks, all that the Lord does is to let loose a single sharp arrow, which not only renders the rakhsasa senseless, but the momentum of which also carries him hundreds of miles afar, flinging him deep into the ocean. Readers must appreciate the strategy behind the RamabANA’s sparing this rakshasa, when all the others accompanying him are annihilated. Keeping in mind the important role the rakshasa was to play later on, Sri Rama spares him with a warning shot, so to say.

The Rakshasa has a second encounter with the Prince, when he runs into Sri Rama, Lakshmana and Sri Mythily during their initial sojourn in the DandakAraNya. Misled again by appearances and failing to recognise in the deer-skin-clad Sri Rama the Prince at whose hands he had almost met his nemesis, Maricha attacks again, in the form of a deadly deer with lethal horns, intent on his habitual pursuit of killing and consuming RishIs and dharmAtmAs. Again, the RAmabANa, while putting paid to his equally blood-thirsty accomplices, spares Maricha, with a sound thrashing.

Thankful to the Lord for having spared his life twice, Maricha turns over a new leaf and leads a life of penance and renunciation, adhering to the right path atleast towards the sunset of his life—

“sharENa muktO Ramasya kathanchit prApya jIvitam
iha pravrAjtO yukta: tApasOham samAhita:”

It is at this juncture that Ravana seeks out Maricha, for abetting the abduction of Mythili. And Maricha, trying hard to dissuade DasagrIva from the foolhardy endeavour, uses the opportunity to sing the praises of Sri Rama in delightful detail. He tells the ill-fated Ravana that the one the latter was mistaking to be a puny mortal to be easily triumphed over, was in fact a warrior of matchless magnificence and peerless prowess. The similes employed by Maricha are choice ones, portraying vividly the various and glorious aspects of the Prince of Ayodhya.

“Rama is verily the Master of all these worlds, just as Indra is for the dEvAs”, begins Maricha, recounting the fame of the Prince of Ayodhya.

“He is verily the Furious Fire (“RAmAgni:”), having unfailing arrows as its leaping tongues, fed by the magnificent bow and sceptre, which form the fuel, and totally unappraochable to opponents intent on attack.”

“Sri Rama is indeed the God of Death personified, with a terrifyingly gaping mouth represented by His splendorous bow Kodandam, sharp and lethal arrows forming the deadly tongue, weilding a sceptre that verily is a lasso capturing resisting victims and spelling death with every action of His”.

Maricha uses several beautiful adjectives to describe Sri Ramachandra’s glorius attributes, uttering each syllable with apparent relish—“MahAveeryam, guNOnnatam, MahEndra VaruNOpamam, DharmAtmA., Narasimha:, Padmapatra nibhEkshaNa:. SrImAn, BAlachandra:, aklishta karmaNa:,” etc. If the complimentary references made by Maricha are strung into a verse, they would indeed form a fitting accolade to the illustrious son of Kousalya.

Maricha is also aware of the glory of SitA PirAtti and tells Ravana that one who has Her at His side could never be won over, for His glory would be immeasurable—“apramEyO hi tat tEjO yasya sA JanakAtmajA”. She is like the blazing fire, unapproachable by others—“deeptasyEva hutAsanasya Sita sumadhyamA”. The rakshasa is aware too of the inseparability of the Divine Duo, likening Piratti to the brilliance of the Sun, which can never be separated from its possessor—“PrabhAm iva Vivasvata:”.

Sri Rama is in Maricha’s constant contemplation and forms the unvarying subject matter of his thoughts, both due to the terror occasioned by the former’s deadly arrows, as well as the pleasure it affords the Rakshasa to think about the splendorous divine form with the matchless attributes. Like the seasoned BrahmagnAni, he is able to see the Lord in everything that he sets his eyes on—

“Rama bhootam idam sarvam araNym pratibhAti mE”. He sees not one Rama, but thousands of Him, filling all directions, the earth and the skies above—

“api Rama sahasrANi bheeta: pasyAmi Ravana!”.

He sees Sri Raghava in every tree and shrub of the forest he lives in—

“VrikshE vrikshE cha pasyAmi cheera krishNAjinAmbaram
girheeta dhanusham Ramam pAsa hastam ivAntakam”

Maricha is blessed to see the Lord not only while awake, but even in his sleep—

“Ramam Eva hi pasyAmi RakshasEsvara!
DrishtvA svapna gatam Ramam udbhavAmi vichEtana:”

So much obsessed is the rakshasa with Sri Rama that all words beginning with “Ra” remind him only of the Prince of Ayodhya—

“RakAra AdIni nAmAni Rama trastasya Ravana!
RatnAni cha rathAschaiva trAsam sanjanayanti mE”

What an exalted state, which every aspiring seeker would covet! To see the Lord in anything and everything one sets sight on, to hear the Lord’s sonorous and stentorian voice in all sounds that fall on one’s ears, to have Him inhabit one’s thoughts constantly and without intermission, in waking and in sleep, to have each and every word in the lexicon remind one only of Emperuman, to know His prowess in all its glory and to think, breathe, hear and do everything with the Lord as constant companion!

If this is not what Brahma gnAnam is all about, what else could it be! It is an entirely different story that all this constant contemplation of the Lord was caused in Maricha by his mortal fear of DAsarathi—irrespective of the causative factors, we must admit that the rakshasa attained a state which would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for any devotee to even think of, leave alone achieve.

There are two entities who claim to know the Lord’s glories in all their immeasurable extent- the first is the VEda Purusha, who claims with confidence to know the Lord for what He is—“VEdAham Etam Purusham mahAntam” says the Purusha Sukta. The other is Maharshi Visvamitra, who too employs almost similar words to display his close acquaintance with and knowledge of the Paramapurusha—“aham vEdmi mahAtmAnam Ramam satya parAkramam”. And there is a third too, a totally unlikely entity, none other than our Maricha, who says he knows Sri Raghava in all His glory—“ aham tasya prabhAvagya: na yuddham tEna tE kshamam”. All these three knowers stand on an equal footing, in that they know not the true extent of the Lord’s magnificence, but know it to be immeasurable and beyond description.

The dialogue between Maricha and Ravana can rank very well with other conversations of scriptural renown as those between Sri Bhishma and Sri Yudhistthira (resulting in the Sri Vishnu Sahasranama stotram) and the one the latter had with Sri Vidhura—for, all these serve to bring out the many-faceted splendour of Emperuman and His auspicious attributes.

Maricha’s monologue covers a lot of ground in social, political and personal ethics and is a treat to the discerning reader. Maricha prefaces his long sermon to Ravana with the remark that holds good even today—that quite a lot of friends and relatives could be found, who tell you only what you want to hear, what is pleasing to your ears, irrespective of its being truthful or otherwise. On the other hand, there is none to voice bitter truths or hard options, and even if there were to be some such honest person, he would find no takers or listeners—

“Bahava: purushA RAjan! Satatam priya vAdina:
apriyasya cha pathyasya vaktA shrOtA cha durlabha:”.

One might wonder—if Maricha was indeed a reformed rakshasa, cured of all his bestial nature, why should he consent to assuming the form of the golden deer and enable the abduction of Piratti by Ravana? Does this not prove that one’s essential nature never changes, whatever be the lessons life teaches one? Can a tiger ever change its stripes? And so on.

The truth of the matter is that Maricha was able to discern the inexorable hand of fate pulling him towards his end. He was aware too that if he didn’t oblige Ravana, it would mean immediate death at the hands of the cruel asurA. He knew too that to obey Ravana would mean certain death at the hands of Sri Rama, who would definitely not spare him for a third time. So Maricha found that his fate was sealed, with death a sure end-product of whichever option he chose. And he preferred to die at the hands of one whom he admired most and whom he considered a “vigrahavAn Dharma:”. He says as much to Ravana too—

“MAm nihatya tu Ramascha na chirAt tvAm vadhishyati
anEna krita krityOsmi mriyE yat ariNA hata:”

And when, as expected, Sri Rama’s arrow pierces his heart, Maricha lets out a cry, “HA SItA! HA LakshmaNA!”. Whatever be the motive behind these utterances, the Rakshasa has the Piratti’s tirunAmam on his lips and that of mahA bhAgavata Lakshmana, which must have ensured for him a place in the heavens above, though Sri Valmiki is silent on this. If the parable of ajAmiLa is any indication and it is true that he was taken to the VishnulOka merely for calling out to his son Narayana (and not the Paramapurusha Narayana) while on his death bed, it would appear that the efficacy of Bhagavan nAma is such as to ensure emancipation, irrespective of the intention behind its utterance—as such, Maricha too should have attained the good worlds inhabited by meritorious mortals.

This is not an eulogy to an unendearing asura, but a tribute to the Lord who is able to enthrall and entice even hard-core offenders and die-hard demons like Maricha. Inscrutable indeed are the ways of Emperuman, in bringing habitual offenders to the path of righteousness—He attracts some through His bewitching form, some through His magnificent kalyANa guNAs, some others through His prowess. In the case of Maricha, the Lord did it through the very basic human emotion of fear, making the asura so terror-stricken as to find the Lord anywhere and everywhere, to see Him in every object, while awake as well as when asleep.

Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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  1. Namaskaram:

    There are three versions re: who pacified the Lord Narasimha when he took avatar and killed Prahalat’s father – 1) Lord Siva, 2) Goddess Lakshmi and 3) Prahalat – according to Shrimat Bhagavatam. Can anyone explain which is correct and the source for the authentification. Thanks.

  2. Very nice article. However adiyen would humbly like to point out that HiranyaKasipu and Hiranyaksha were not Rakshasas but Asuras. It is a common misconception, but the two are different. Ravana, Vibhishana etc are Rakshasas as noted.

    Asurasa as one would know are dayadis of Asuras or Devas, Asuras are Diti’s children whereas Suras are Aditi’s children; both of whom were Kashyapa’s wives.


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