“I am in everyone's heart as the Supersoul. As soon as one desires to worship the demigods, I make his faith steady so that he can devote himself to some particular deity.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.21)
Ravana was the leader of the Rakshasas during a brief period of time in the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. Since every living entity has different desires and karma, we see up 8,400,000 varieties of species. Rakshasas are notable for being expert in black magic and having a penchant for sinful activity. Ravana was an appropriate leader for them since he was an avowed enemy of the suras, or demigods. Initially, he had performed great austerities for pleasing the demigods. The devatas, or demigods, are elevated living entities who possess the power to grant material boons. They have been so deputed by God Himself, Lord Krishna. Any good government requires advisors and ministers in order for there to be law and order. The material creation is no different in this regard. God Himself has no interest in our day-to-day affairs in karmic life, so He appoints demigods to act as the Cabinet, so to speak, of universal affairs. They are required to grant boons to whoever pleases them properly.
Due to the curse of his father Vishrava, Ravana was born with ten heads. While performing austerities, Ravana cut off his heads, one by one, as a sacrifice to the demigods. With only one head remaining, Lord Brahma appeared on the scene to stop Ravana’s sacrifice and to let the demon know that he was pleased with his efforts. Lord Brahma then granted Ravana invincibility in battle against any celestial being and also restored all his of his heads. Immediately after acquiring his power, Ravana went on the attack. He terrorized the associates of the same demigods whom he had previously worshiped.
While ruling over his island kingdom of Lanka, Ravana once sent 14,000 Rakshasas to the forest of Janasthana to deal with a prince named Rama who had set up camp there. Rama was the son of the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha, and He had been banished from the kingdom by His father. Ravana’s sister, Shurpanakha, requested Ravana to attack Rama as a means of retaliation for Rama’s brother, Lakshmana, having disfigured her. To Ravana’s surprise, Rama easily routed all 14,000 Rakshasas single-handedly. After hearing what had happened, Ravana was intent on getting revenge. He wanted to kidnap Rama’s beautiful wife, Sita. He went to his advisor Maricha to see if he could come up with a plan. Maricha immediately advised him against such a plan. To show Ravana the error of his ways, Maricha narrated a story relating to a prior encounter he had with Rama.
What Ravana didn’t know was that Rama was God Himself appearing on earth in human form. Dasharatha was very pious but had no son to whom he could pass his kingdom down to. He performed a great sacrifice and was duly rewarded with four beautiful sons, with Rama being the eldest. At the time, the great sage Vishvamitra Muni was living in the forest. During the Treta Yuga, elaborate religious sacrifices were commonly performed, for that was the recommended method of self-realization. The brahmanas, the priestly class of men, had taken to forest life since it was more conducive to the performance of sacrifice and austerity. However, the Rakshasas at the time would regularly attack the sages and their sacrifices. Vishvamitra knew that God had come to earth as Rama, so he immediately went to Dasharatha and asked to have Rama accompany him in the forest. Dasharatha was against the idea, for Rama was still under the age of twelve. The king eventually acquiesced, as he knew that the requests of pure devotees of God should never be denied.
Vishvamitra was thus accompanied by Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, while roaming the forest. Vishvamitra was protected by Rama and Lakshmana, and in return, the sage imparted sacred mantras unto the two brothers. This is how the guru-disciple relationship works. The disciples follow the direction of the spiritual master, and the guru in turn teaches the students how to be successful in spiritual life. Since Rama and Lakshmana were of the kshatriya order, their dharma in life was to provide protection. To that end, Vishvamitra taught them sacred mantras to be used specifically for fighting. The Treta Yuga seems like a primitive time to us, for all fighting was done with bow and arrow. However, with the aid of these mantras, the arrows fired from Rama’s bow would have the same potency as a modern day nuclear weapon.
“Then I, resembling a cloud and having molten-golden earrings, made my way into Vishvamitra's asharma, for I was very proud of my strength due to the boon given to me by Lord Brahma. As soon as I entered, Rama quickly noticed me and raised His weapon. Though He saw me, Rama strung His bow without any fear.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.16-17)
Maricha was one of the Rakshasas who would regularly attack the sages. On one particular occasion, he had the good fortune of plotting an attack on Vishvamitra’s ashrama, while Rama was there. It was good fortune for Maricha because he had the opportunity to see God face-to-face, which is something that doesn’t happen every day. From the above referenced passage, we see that prior to entering, Maricha was very proud of the boons that had been given to him by Lord Brahma. This pride represented a great folly on Maricha’s part. Demigods are certainly powerful, but they are not God.
We see that among followers of the Hindu faith, many take to demigod worship as a way of life. On the surface, this isn’t a bad thing, for even Shrimati Radharani, Lord Rama, Sita Devi, and other expansions of God regularly adhered to demigod worship during their time on earth. However, one should never take the demigods to be equal to God Himself. Demigod worship is meant to be a regulative activity which elevates one’s thinking. Human beings inherit a faulty mindset at the time of birth. This mindset causes them to associate with their gross material body and to think that they are responsible for their material fortunes, good and bad. Demigod worship helps us break out of this mold, for it reminds us that there are elevated living entities who sustain our life. The demigods provide rain, which is used to produce crops, without which we certainly couldn’t survive.
“Endowed with such a faith, he seeks favors of a particular demigod and obtains his desires. But in actuality these benefits are bestowed by Me alone.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.22)
Above the demigods, however, is Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If one doesn’t realize that there is a God higher than the demigods, their religious efforts don’t yield the highest results. This is precisely what happened with Maricha. He worshiped Lord Brahma and received great boons from him, yet he was still so foolish that he thought himself to be the cause of his strength. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna specifically states that the demigods are not capable of bestowing any rewards without His sanction. This may seem strange at first. If Krishna sanctions all the rewards given by the demigods, then He must have allowed Lord Brahma to give boons to Maricha. Why would He do that?
The answer is that God gives people what they want and deserve, especially if they are engaged in material activities. Maricha was a gross materialist and a pure atheist. He was so demonic that he used the powers given to him by Lord Brahma to attack the sages, who are pure devotees of God. Lord Brahma himself is a devotee of Krishna. He is the author of the wonderful prayers offered to Govinda, or Krishna, which appear in the Brahma-samhita. If we analyze this logically, we see that Maricha’s strength came from a devotee of Krishna, and at the same time, Maricha used his strength to attack devotees of Krishna. This mindset is laughable in a sense. It represents the epitome of foolish pride. Maricha had no personal affection for Lord Brahma; he only used him for personal aggrandizement.
“God has given independence to everyone; therefore, if a person desires to have material enjoyment and wants very sincerely to have such facilities from the material demigods, the Supreme Lord, as Supersoul in everyone's heart, understands and gives facilities to such persons. As the supreme father of all living entities, He does not interfere with their independence, but gives all facilities so that they can fulfill their material desires.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg. 7.21 Purport)
Nevertheless, Maricha was greatly rewarded for his hubris since he got to meet Lord Rama face-to-face. As soon as he tried to attack, Rama strung His bow and came to Vishvamitra’s aid. In this passage, Maricha is unintentionally pleasing future generations of devotees by describing the beautiful scene. Rama means one who gives pleasure. His devotees not only derive pleasure by seeing Him in pictures or in His deity form, but also from hearing descriptions of His activities. The vision of Lord Rama stringing His bow brings a lifetime of bliss and happiness to His devotees.
The lesson here is that we should never be too puffed up with pride. All our material powers, riches, and good fortune come from God, even if we don’t realize it. The demigods are certainly very powerful, but it is foolish to think they are God or equal to Him in power. Lord Krishna, or one His vishnu-tattva expansions such as Lord Rama, should be the ultimate object of worship since They represent the original God. Moreover, we should never attack the pure devotees in thought, word, or deed. God protects His servants, so our time would be better spent engaging in devotional service.