Sunday, 16 July 2017

The tale of Mandodari, the patient and pious wife of Ravana

The story of Mandodari, the chief wife of Ravana has been scarcely told in the Ramayana, save for a few mentions in the Uttara Khanda. There are more mentions of her in the other versions of the Ramayana like the Adbhuta Ramayana and Krittivasi Ramayana and in the Puranas like the Devi Bhagavata Purana.

Valmiki’s Ramayana describes Mandodari as a very beautiful, pious and noble woman whose appearance once led Hanumana to mistake her for Sita. She was known to be extremely patient with Ravana’s attitude towards women, but always questioning his actions and rebuking his choices.

Mandodari’s purpose in the epic is to show how even though she stood behind Ravana because of duty, she did not condone his actions or go along with them. Here are a few anecdotes that reveal an interesting personality.

Born in Mandore (near present day Jodhpur, Rajasthan) to the king of asuras, Mayasura and his wife Hema, Mandodari was the only daughter among three children.

As a child, her brothers– Mayavi and Dundubhi– were always at each other’s throats. Once, over a trivial incident, the two were engaged in a violent argument. Mandodari, peace-loving as ever, calmly separated the brothers by physically stepping in-between them, and clutching both of them by the hair, she said, “You both are a disgrace to the family. Nobody in the world will come to help, save your family, when you really need it. Too many people in the world are evil and out to get you, the one person you can rely on is your brother and you chose to fight with him. Stop fighting and go to your rooms!”

Even as a child of 10, Mandodari spoke eloquently with maturity. So much so, that this happened to be the last time Mayavi and Dundhubi fought.

Of her marriage to Ravana, it so happened, that one day, Ravana visited the kingdom of Mayasura. He saw Mandodari and fell immediately enamoured, as he did with most women.

He approached Mayasura and said, “I am a man of great family riches. My lineage can be traced back for generations, and you will never find a greater devotee of Shiva than I. Would you give me your daughter, Mandodari’s hand in marriage?”

Mayasura, taken in by the many accomplishments listed by Ravana agreed, and Mandodari and Ravana were married under complete Vedic rituals. It was only after their marriage, that Mandodari found out about Ravana’s penchant for women and the size his ego.

When Ravana kidnapped Sita, Mandodari was the first one to tell him that must repent and take Sita back to Rama, or face dire consequences.

Ravana, Mandodari and Sita in Ashoka Vatika

When Hanuman was sent to Lanka to find Sita, he accidentally entered Mandodari’s bedchambers. For a moment, looking at Mandodari praying ardently to Parvati, he mistook her for the virtuous Sita. However, realising his mistake he scurried out quickly.

When he did locate Sita, he observed, from behind the bushes, how Ravana was trying to coerce Sita into marrying him, “You must know how I have fallen in love with you, Sita. You must agree to marry me.”

“That will never happen as long as I and my husband are alive, Ravana. Why don’t you let me leave, and go back to your devoted wife?” declared Sita.

Ravana’s having had enough niceties, finally got annoyed and unsheathed his sword to kill Sita, however as soon as he raised his sword, Mandodari arrived and held him by the wrist.

“Let me go, Mandodari. I will end Rama’s precious wife’s life right here and now,” snarled Ravana.

“Killing of a woman is a heinous sin upon dharma, husband,” replied Mandodari without a trace of fear, “Listen to Sita and let her go.”

Ravana dropped his sword, “Fine. I won’t kill her, but she will be mine,” he said striding out.

Almost toward the end of the war between Rama and Ravana, when all of Ravana’s sons, brothers and warriors had been vanquished by Rama’s army, the Lankan king organised a yajna to assure victory.

Rama sent a troop of vanaras, headed by Hanuman and Angada, to make sure that Ravana’s yajna would fail. The vanaras created complete chaos in Ravana’s palace, but the latter refused to stop and carried on with the fire sacrifice.

Angada had dragged Mandodari by her hair to the court, much like Dushasana had dragged Draupadi in the Mahabharata. Mandodari, begged her husband, “Look at how they’re treating your wife, Ravana. Won’t you set aside your grudge and your ego to even save me?”

Enraged, Ravana had abandoned his yajna and struck Angada with his sword. However, Rama’s purpose of disrupting the yajna had been successful and he immediately left Mandodari and escaped.

Mandodari, having been ill-treated by Sita’s representatives, looked at Ravana with tears in her eyes, “Is it worth it? The fight to claim Sita? I beg you, dear husband. Abandon this madness. Let Sita return. No good can come of this.”

Ravana had disregarded all her requests, and it is said that because Ravana could not complete his yajna to win, it ensured the opposite– Rama’s victory.


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