The Epic of Rama, Prince of India
Book IX. Ravana-Sabha
(The Council of War)
All but Bibhishan. He was the youngest brother of Ravan, and condemned the folly and the crime by which Ravan was seeking a war with the righteous and unoffending Rama. He advised that Sita should be restored to her lord and peace made with Rama. His voice was drowned in the cries of more violent advisers.
It is noticeable that Ravan’s second brother, Kumbha-karna, also had the courage to censure his elder’s action. But unlike Bibhishan he was determined to fight for his king whether he was right or wrong. There is a touch of sublimity in this blind and devoted loyalty of Kumbha-karna to the cause of his king and his country.
Bibhishan was driven from the court with indignity, and joined the forces of Rama, to whom he gave much valuable information about Lanka and its warriors.
The passages translated in this Book form Sections vi., viii., ix., portions of Sections xii., and xv., and the whole of Section xvi. of Book vi. of the original text.
I. Ravan Seeks Advice
Spake to gallant chiefs and princes gathered in his Council Hall:
“Listen, Princes Chiefs and Warriors! Hanuman our land hath seen,
Stealing through the woods of Lanka unto Rama’s prisoned queen,
And audacious in his purpose and resistless in his ire,
Burnt our turret tower and temple, wasted Lanka’s town with fire!
Speak your counsel, gallant leaders, Ravan is intent to hear,
Triumph waits on fearless wisdom, speak your thoughts without a fear,
Wisest monarchs act on counsel from his men for wisdom known,
Next are they who in their wisdom and their daring act alone,
Last, unwisest are the monarchs who nor death nor danger weigh,
Think not, ask not friendly counsel, by their passions borne away!
Wisest counsel comes from courtiers who in holy lore unite,
Next, when varying plans and reasons blending lead unto the right,
Last and worst, when stormy passions mark the hapless king’s debate,
And his friends are disunited when his foe is at the gate!
Therefore freely speak your counsel and your monarch’s task shall be
But to shape in deed and action what your wisest thoughts decree,
Speak with minds and hearts united, shape your willing monarch’s deed,
Counsel peace, or Ravan’s forces to a war of vengeance lead,
Ere Sugriva’s countless forces cross the vast and boundless main,
Ere the wrathful Rama girdles Lanka with a living chain!”
II. Prahasta’s Speech
Spake in fierce and fiery accents hurling challenge on his foes:
“Wherefore, Ravan, quails thy bosom, gods against thee stride in vain,
Wherefore fear the feeble mortals, homeless hermits, helpless men?
Hanuman approached in secret, stealing like a craven spy,
Not from me in open combat would alive the Vanar fly,
Let him come with all his forces, to the confines of the sea
I will chase the scattered army and thy town from foemen free!
Not in fear and hesitation Ravan should repent his deed,
While his gallant Raksha forces stand beside him in his need,
Not in tears and vain repentance Sita to his consort yield,
While his chieftains guard his empire in the battle’s gory field!”
III. Durmukha’s Speech
Durmukha of cruel visage and of fierce and angry word,
Rose within the Council Chamber, spake to Lanka’s mighty lord:
“Never shall the wily foeman boast of insult on us flung,
Hanuman shall die a victim for the outrage and the wrong!
Stealing in unguarded Lanka through thy city’s virgin gate,
He hath courted deep disaster and a dark untimely fate,
Stealing in the inner mansions where our dames and damsels dwell,
Hanuman shall die a victim, – tale of shame he shall not tell!
If he hides in sky or ocean or in nether regions thrown,
Need is none of gathered forces, Ravan’s mandate I obey,
I will smite the bold intruder and his Vanar forces slay!”
IV. Vajra-danshtra’s Speech
Iron toothéd Vajra-danshtra then arose in wrath and pride,
And his blood-stained mace of battle held in fury by his side,
“Wherefore, Ravan, waste thy forces on the foemen poor and vile,
Hermit Rama and his brother, Hanuman of impious wile,
Bid me, – with this mace of battle proud Sugriva I will slay,
Chase the helpless hermit brothers to the forests far away!
Or to deeper counsel listen! Varied shapes the Rakshas wear,
Let them, wearing human visage, dressed as Bharat’s troops appear,
Succour from his ruling brother Rama will in gladness greet,
Then with mace and blood-stained sabre we shall lay them at our feet,
Rock and javelin and arrow we shall on our foemen hail,
Till no poor surviving Vanar lives to tell the tragic tale!”
V. Speech of Nikumbha and Vajra-hanu
Then arose the brave Nikumbha, – Kumbha-karna’s son was he, –
Spake his young heart’s mighty passion in his accents bold and free:
“Need is none, O mighty monarch, for a battle or a war,
Bid me meet the homeless Rama and his brother wand’ring far,
I will rid thee of thy foemen and of Vanars poor and vile!”
Rose the chief with jaw of iron, Vajra-hanu fierce and young,
Licked his lips like hungry tiger with his red and lolling tongue:
“Wherefore, monarch, dream of battle? Rakshas feed on human gore,
Let me feast upon thy foemen by the ocean’s lonely shore,
Rama and his hermit brother, Hanuman who hides in wood,
Angad and the proud Sugriya soon shall be my welcome food!”
VI. Bibhishan’s Warning
Twenty warriors armed and girded in the Council Hall arose,
Thirsting for a war of vengeance, hurling challenge on the foes,
But Bibhishan deep in wisdom, – Ravan’s youngest brother he, –
Spake the word of solemn warning for his eye could farthest see:
“Pardon, king and honoured elder, if Bibhishan lifts his voice
’Gainst the wishes of the warriors and the monarch’s fatal choice,
Firm in faith and strong in forces Rama comes with conqu’ring might,
Vain against a righteous warrior would unrighteous Ravan fight!
Think him not a common Vanar who transpassed the ocean wave,
Wrecked thy city tower and temple and a sign and warning gave,
Think him not a common hermit who Ayodhya ruled of yore,
Crossing India’s streams and mountains, thunders now on Lanka’s shore!
What dark deed of crime or folly hath the righteous Rama done,
That you stole his faithful consort unprotected and alone,
She who chained in Lanka’s prison pleads in piteous tears to Heaven?
Take my counsel, king and elder, Sita to her lord restore,
Wipe this deed of wrong and outrage, Rama’s righteous grace implore,
Take my counsel, Raksha monarch, vain against him is thy might,
Doubly arméd is the hero, – he who battles for the right!
Render Sita to her Rama ere with vengeance swift and dire,
He despoils our peopled Lanka with his bow and brand and fire,
Render wife unto her husband ere in battle’s dread array,
Rama swoops upon thy empire like a falcon on its prey,
Render to the lord his consort ere with blood of Rakshas slain,
Rama soaks the land of Lanka to the margin of the main!
Listen to my friendly counsel, – though it be I stand alone, –
Faithful friend but fiery foeman is this Dasa-ratha’s son,
Listen to my voice of warning, – Rama’s shafts are true and keen,
Flaming like the with’ring sunbeams on the summer’s parchéd green,
Listen to my soft entreaty, – righteousness becomes the brave,
Cherish peace and cherish virtue and thy sons and daughters save!”
VII. Kumbha-karna’s Determination
Ravan’s brother Kumbha-karna, from his wonted slumber woke,
Mightiest he of all the Rakshas, thus in solemn accents spoke:
“Truly speaks the wise Bibhishan: ere he stole a hermit’s wife,
Ravan should have thought and pondered, courted not a causeless strife,
Tardy is the vain repentance when the work of shame is wrought!
Word of wisdom timely spoken saves from death and dangers dire,
Vain is grief for crime committed, – offerings to unholy fire,
Vain is hero’s worth or valour if by foolish counsel led,
Toil and labour fail and perish save when unto wisdom wed,
And the foeman speeds in triumph o’er a heedless monarch’s might,
As through gaps of Krauncha mountains hansas speed their southern flight!
Ravan, thou hast sought unwisely Sita in her calm retreat,
As the wild and heedless hunter feeds upon the poisoned meat,
Nathless, faithful Kumbha-karna will his loyal duty know,
He shall fight his monarch’s battle, he shall face his brother’s foe!
True to brother and to monarch, be he right or be he wrong,
Kumbha-karna fights for Lanka ’gainst her foemen fierce and strong,
Recks not if the mighty Indra and Vivasvat cross his path,
Or the wild and stormy Maruts, Agni in his fiery wrath!
For the Lord of Sky shall tremble when he sees my stature high,
And he hears his thunders echoed by my loud and answering cry,
Rama armed with ample quiver shall no second arrow send,
Ere I slay him in the battle and his limb from limb I rend!
Wiser heads than Kumbha-karna right and true from wrong may know,
Faithful to his race and monarch he shall face the haughty foe,
Joy thee in thy pleasures, Ravan, rule thy realm in regal pride,
When I slay the hermit Rama, widowed Sita be thy bride!”
VIII. Indrajit’s Assurance
Midst the best and boldest Rakshas none so gallant, none so bold:
“Wherefore, noble king and father, pale Bibhishan’s counsel hear,
Scion of the race of Rakshas speaks not thus in dastard fear,
In this race of valiant Rakshas, known for deeds of glory done,
Feeble-hearted, faint in courage, save Bibhishan, there is none!
Matched with meanest of the Rakshas what are sons of mortal men,
What are homeless human brothers hiding in the hermit’s den,
Shall we yield to weary wand’rers, driven from their distant home,
Chased from throne and father’s kingdom in the desert woods to roam!
Lord of sky and nether regions, Indra ’neath my weapon fell,
Pale Immortals know my valour and my warlike deeds can tell,
Indra’s tusker, huge Airavat, by my prowess overthrown,
Trumpeted its anguished accents, shaking sky and earth with groan,
Mighty Gods and dauntless Daityas fame of Indrajit may know,
And he yields not, king and father, to a homeless human foe!”
IX. Ravan’s Decision
Anger swelled in Ravan’s bosom as he cast his blood-red eye
On Bibhishan calm and fearless, and he spake in accents high:
“Rather dwell with open foemen or in homes where cobras haunt,
Than with faithless friends who falter and whom fears of danger daunt!
How they sorrow at my glory, at my danger how they smile,
How they grieve with secret anguish when my loftier virtues shine,
How they harbour jealous envy when deserts and fame are mine,
How they scan with curious vision every fault that clouds my path,
How they wait with eager longing till I fall in Fortune’s wrath!
Ask the elephants of jungle how their captors catch and bind, –
Not by fire and feeble weapons, but by treason of their kind,
Not by javelin or arrow, – little for these arms they care, –
But their false and fondling females lead them to the hunter’s snare!
Long as nourishment and vigour shall impart the milk of cow,
Long as women shall be changeful, hermits holy in their vow,
Aye, so long shall near relations hate us in their inner mind,
Mark us with a secret envy though their words be ne’er so kind!
Rain-drops fall upon the lotus but unmingling hang apart,
False relations round us gather but they blend not heart with heart,
Winter clouds are big with thunder but they shed no freshening rain,
False relations smile and greet us but their soothing words are vain,
Bees are tempted by the honey but from flower to flower they range,
False relations share our favour but in secret seek a change!
Lying is thy speech, Bibhishan, secret envy lurks within,
Thou wouldst rule thy elder’s empire, thou wouldst wed thy elder’s queen,
Take thy treason to the foemen, – brother’s blood I may not shed, –
Other Raksha craven-hearted by my royal hands had bled!”
X. Bibhishan’s Departure
Rose in arms the wrathful Raksha and in fury rushed before,
“But I spare thee, royal Ravan, angry words thy lips have passed,
False and lying and unfounded is the censure thou hast cast!
True Bibhishan sought thy safety, strove to save his elder’s reign, –
Speed thee now to thy destruction since all counsel is in vain,
Many are thy smiling courtiers who with honeyed speech beguile, –
Few are they with truth and candour speak their purpose void of guile!
Blind to reason and to wisdom, Ravan, seek thy destined fate,
For thy impious lust of woman, for thy dark unrighteous hate,
Blind to danger and destruction, deaf to word of counsel given,
By the flaming shafts of Rama thou shalt die by will of Heaven!
Yet, O! yet, my king and elder, let me plead with latest breath,
’Gainst the death of race and kinsmen, ’gainst my lord and brother’s death,
Ponder yet, O Raksha monarch, save thy race and save thy own,
Ravan, part we now for ever, – guard thy ancient sea-girt throne!”