At the southern tip of India, among the tall and mighty waves of the Indian Ocean, lay nestled the small island country of Lanka. This beautiful island was blessed with azure skies, green forests and golden beaches. But Lanka’s ruler was Ravana, a terrible demon with ten hideous heads, twenty grasping hands, and a mean and greedy spirit. He also happened to be the grandson of the mighty God of Creation, Lord Brahma.
Not content with his many powers, Ravana prayed to Brahma, insisting, “Make me immortal! Let no god or demon, animal or plant harm me!”
Brahma raised his eyebrows and asked, “What about humans?”
Ravana raised a dozen fists and sneered. “They have only two little arms, Grandfather. I have no fear of them.”
So Brahma did as Ravana requested. And things on Earth went from bad to worse, as Ravana and his fellow demons went on one rampage after another. Desperate cries for help could be heard from all corners of the earth. Finally Brahma had had enough. He called on his fellow deity, Lord Vishnu, God of Preservation. Pointing down at Lanka, he said, “What a mess! Since I granted Ravana eternal protection, there’s nothing I can do to stop his cruelty. But, he was arrogant enough to think he would be safe from men. If you go in human form, you will be able to destroy him once and for all.”
One afternoon there came a desperate pounding at the palace door. It was Sage Viswamitra. “We need help! Our forests are overrun with terrible demons!” he cried.
Dasharatha was reluctant to let his sons go, but Ram accepted the challenge calmly, and he and Lakshman followed Sage Viswamitra into the dense and dangerous wood. As they walked, the path grew darker, and the air grew cold and silent. Ram listened for signs of life, but there were none. “O Sage, what has happened here?” he asked gravely.
“You are in the land of the demon Tataka. She has stripped the forest of all living things. The rivers and streams have dried up. Now she eats anyone who passes by.” Then the sage drew a quick, harsh breath. “Watch out,” he hissed in warning. “Here she comes.”
They turned to see a huge, misshapen demon, her crooked fingers red with blood, her dreadful snout hungrily sniffing the air. Quickly, Ram let fly an arrow straight at her heart. With a long howl, she fell across the path. A sigh of relief rose from the floor of the parched forest as the demon died. In the distance, a bird began to sing.
“Well done,” said the sage, breathing his own sigh of relief. “But beware,” he continued. “There are other demons who use trickery and deceit. You will need sacred weapons.”
On their way back to Ayodhya, Sage Viswamitra said they would stop at King Janak’s palace. The sage told them Janak’s story as they walked along the winding trail through the forest. King Janak, like Dasharatha, had longed for a child for many years, One day, around the same time that Ram and Lakshman were born, the king found a golden pitcher buried in his garden. Lying inside was a beautiful baby girl. With heartfelt thanks to Mother Earth, he named the baby Sita, and raised her as his own. Several years later, Lord Shiva, God of All Gods, paid him a visit. Lord Shiva gave the king his own bow and arrow, and told Janak to keep it safe until Sita was old enough to marry. “Let each suitor try his hand. Only Lord Vishnu can lift up this bow and break it in two,” said Shiva. “Vishnu, and no other, will marry your daughter.”
When Sage Viswamitra and the princes entered King Janak’s court, they found him slumped over in despair. “Will my daughter ever find a husband?” the king groaned, as a host of suitors staggered about, complaining and moaning about their unsuccessful attempts to lift the bow. Viswamitra asked Ram to try. Ram approached and bowed humbly, first to the King, then to the sage, and finally to the sacred weapon. Then, with one easy and fluid motion, he picked up the bow, fitted an arrow, and pulled the string. The arrow sped to the sky, and with a resounding crack the bow snapped into two pieces. The other suitors gaped in dumb surprise. King Janak was delighted and relieved. His daughter Sita blushed quietly with happiness as Ram smiled in her direction.
“Very well done,” said the sage, clapping his hands.