Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
Reactions of aggrieved people differ: when one is insulted by others, the natural tendency is to fling back words of venom, infinitely more insulting. There are some who react more violently, with blows aimed at the offender.
Other, more mature people just don”t react, taking the insult in their stride. This is so even if the accusation or insult is unjustified. However, paradoxically, we find that the truer the insult, the stronger the reaction thereto, indicating people”s intolerance for unpalatable truths, especially about themselves.
While the height of tolerance one may display towards an aggressor is to keep quiet, it is almost impossible to find an aggrieved person bursting into song and dance about the offender. In fact, it appears to be an extremely inappropriate reaction, even from one who is Tolerance personified. We are surprised to find in Srimad Ramayana one of the characters, a Rakshasi at that, displaying the improbable reaction indicated above.
Shoorpanaka develops infatuation for Sri Rama at first sight, and resolves to get Him at any cost. She assumes the appearance of a delightful damsel, and tries to persuade Chakravartthi Tirumagan to abandon the “unseemly” Sita and to cohort with herself. Unwilling to hurt even the murderous Shoorpanaka, Sri Rama tries to fob her off, and when she is insistent, asks her to approach Sri Lakshmana, who is equally handsome and without the inhibiting company of a wife. And when she does that, Lakshmana, not having the compunctions of his brother, and perceiving the threat she poses to Sri Mythili, cuts off Shoorpanaka”s nose and ears.
From the way poets wax eloquent about nasal beauty (we hear that Cleopatra”s nose launched a thousand ships), it is evident that the worst insult a woman could suffer is disfigurement of her nose. When additionally the ears were also cut off, we can imagine Shoorpanaka”s feelings in the matter. Enraged beyond imagination, she rushes to her beloved brother, Khara, for redressal.
Startled and pained at the insult to his sister, Khara enquires of her as to who was foolish enough to cause her harm, knowing full well what awaited the offender.
It is to this question that Shoorpanaka gives a reply, which is fit to be included in our daily parayanam. Given her nature and the indignity and injury she had just then suffered, we would expect her to have burst into a stream of invective, not fit for the ears of gentlemen. We are extremely surprised therefore, when she starts singing Sri Rama”s praises, especially of His handsomeness. In Srimad Ramayanam, Chakravartthi Tirumagan”s beauty has been extolled by many (Sri Sita, Tiruvadi,Sri VibhIshaNa, etc.) in differing contexts. However, Shoorpanaka”s description is unique both from the points of view of the author and the context. Here are the beautiful slokas:
“TaruNou roopa sampannou sukumArou mahAbalou
PundarIka visAlAkshou cheera krishnAjina ambarou”
“TaruNou”- despite her agony, Shoorpanaka recalls vividly the bewitching youthfulness of Sri Rama and Sri Lakshmana.
“Roopa sampannou”- the sons of Dasaratha are blessed with a beauty that is unparalleled. This is beauty beyond compare, which enthrals not only women but men too-(“pumsAm drishti chitta apahAriNam”). This beauty comes from symmetrical limbs and body parts (“sama:sama vibhaktAnga:), and pleasing complexion (“snigdha varNa:).
High shoulders, long arms reaching down to the knees (“AjAnubAhu:”), chubby cheeks, broad chest, beautiful forehead (“sulAlata:”), broad eyes (“VisAlAksha:”), majestic demeanour and gait (“suvikrama:”)- all these combine to make Sri Rama the perfectly proportioned male and the personification of beauty. And, more relevant, it is beauty that floors even His sworn foes and those who have suffered at His hands.
“SukumArou MahAbalou”- despite their formidable strength, the brothers are delicate. Their figure is not gross, which often accompanies strength, but looks as if sculpted out of some fine material. Their appearance makes one wonder what such delicate youth, who so obviously belong to the palace with all its creature comforts, are doing in such inhospitable and dangerous forests. Lest Khara be misled by the appearance of delicacy, Shoorpanaka hastens to caution him about their redoubtable might-“MahAbalou”. “PundarIka VisAlAkshou”- more than anything else, it is the Lord”s broad lotus eyes that captivate everybody, right from Rishis hardened by years of penance, to the ordinary citizens of Ayodhya, to RAkshasa prakritis. And Shoorpanaka is no exception- she too is floored (“JitamtE PundarIkAksha!”, “tOtrOm mada nenjam emperumAn NAranarku”). These are eyes, which can drive one crazy with their beauty and depth of expression, as Sri PAN PerumAl attests_”KarivAgi pudai parandu milirndu sevvariOdi neenda ap periavAya KaNgaL ennai pEdmai seidanavE”.
It is indeed extraordinary that Shoorpanaka says not a single word denouncing the brothers instrumental for her indignity. If it were an isolated instance of such conduct (praising the aggressor), we may dismiss it as an aberration. However, we find Shoorpanaka repeating herself before Ravana, to whom she rushes for redressal, after Khara, Dooshana, Trisiras and fourteen thousand of their ilk are destroyed single-handedly by Sri Rama. In Ravana”s court too, before even apprising him of what happened, she waxes eloquent about Sri Rama”s handsomeness: “Deergha bAhu: VisAlAksha: cheera krishNAjina ambara: Kandarpa sama roopascha RamO DasaratAtmaja:” Unable to forget those bewitching eyes, Shoorpanaka mentions them again with fascination, and, admitting failure to describe Sri Raghava”s beauty adequately, concludes lamely that He equals Manmata, the personification of all beauty. And she pays an implied compliment to Sri Dasarata too, as the father of such a striking son could have been of no ordinary handsomeness himself. The repetition of the words “Cheera KrishnAjina ambarou” is significant, for they embody the RAkshasi”s sorrow that such compelling beauty was clothed not in the finery it deserved, but only in tree bark and deerskin.
It would appear that Sri Rama’s beauty is better described by His detractors than by those close to Him. Shoorpanaka is not alone in this regard, and another Rakshasa, MarIcha, shares her feelings about Raghunandana. When his assistance is sought by Ravana in the abduction of Sri Mythili, MarIchA does his best to dissuade Ravana from the foolhardy endeavour, and in the process, showers the choicest words of praise on Chakravartthi Tirumagan, encompassing not only His handsomeness, but also His kalyANa guNAs.
“na noonam budhyasE RAmam mahAveeryam guNOnnatam
ayukta chAra: chapala: mahEndra varuNOpamam”
Propelled further by the enjoyment occasioned by the auspicious attributes of the Lord, MArIchA launches into a detailed account of Sri Rama”s sterling qualities, comparing Ravana unfavourably with his foe, in the process:
“RamO vigrahavAn dharma: sAdhu: satya parAkrama:
RAjA sarvasya lOkasya dEvAnAm MaghavAn iva”.
For those with an unvetted appetite for Bhagavat gunAnubhavam, adiyen would recommend the thirtyseventh sarga of Aranyakanda, incorporating MarIchA”s detailed and eloquent portrayal of the Lord, His strength, bravery, righteousness, etc.
In the great epic, it is the foes of Chakravarti Tirumagan, rather than His friends, who are more effusive in their depiction of His auspicious attributes. Shorn of their undesirable qualities, the characters of Shoorpanaka, MarIchA, KumbhakarNa,etc, are outstanding for their fairness and truth, especially when it comes to praising the Lord and His greatness, despite their animosity.
The greatness of Sri Valmiki’s work is such that each word of it is pregnant with meaning, and even an uninitiated and ignorant explorer like adiyen is tempted to delve deeper and deeper in search of greater bliss. While in search of a particular pearl, one is often distracted by numerous other scintillating gems, which has in fact led to the considerable digression in this piece.
Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore