“If you were to have a quarrel with them, it is doubtful that you would be able to eclipse the two of them, like the quarrel between Indra of two arms and Vritra of one.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.32-33)
tasya te vigrahe tābhyāṃ yugagrahaṇamasthiram ||
vṛtrasyevendrabāhubhyāṃ bāhorekasya vigrahe |
In professional wrestling, there are different styles of matches to whet the appetite of the attentive spectators. One style of match is called “handicapped” because the rules are not evenly applied. One side either has more men or more leeway in the rules. Thus the other side has less to work with; they are at a disadvantage throughout. In such situations, it is still possible for the handicapped side to emerge victorious. But in a quarrel where the opposing side consists of two formidable foes of superior prowess, victory is impossible, in spite of perseverance of the greatest magnitude. This is the point made here by Sita Devi, the beloved wife of Lord Rama.
In ice hockey, if a team commits a foul, excluding a clear cut scoring chance on the goaltender, the player who committed the offense gets sent to the penalty box. This puts the team at a disadvantage for a period of time. The other team is allowed to keep the maximum number of players on the ice, while the team which took the penalty must subtract one from that number. Thus the offending team is considered “short-handed.” To score a short-handed goal is uncommon, but it still happens. If while short-handed, the team takes another penalty, they go down another man. To score a goal while down two men is indeed very rare. As in the professional ranks the players are of the utmost caliber, it is expected that continuously playing short-handed will not yield victory, no matter how much effort the short-handed players on the ice put in.
In the situation referenced above, at even strength the fiend Ravana did not stand a chance. He had tremendous power. In fighting, he was gifted with wonderful skill. Since he knew that he had these abilities, perseverance wasn’t difficult for him. Just as showing up does so much to increase the odds of success, confidence helps to keep one engaged in a conflict. If going in I think that I have no shot at winning, why will I continue to fight when things get tough? At the first sign of adversity, I will check out. On the other hand, if I know that I am better than the other side, if there is some slight hiccup, it won’t deter me from fighting on.
Ravana had amazing skill, so he would indeed continue to fight if the battle finally began. He was advised to not fight, however. The other side was Shri Ramachandra, the famous bow warrior from Ayodhya. Rama had already won the most handicapped match in history. He fought against 14,000 of Ravana’s best fighters. Rama emerged victorious. He did not even come close to losing. He fights without fear. He fights until the job is done and does not hold a grudge afterwards. He is dispassion personified. Because He is self-satisfied, one of His many names is Atmarama.
In the verse previous to this, Sita tells Ravana that he wouldn’t be able to stand the mere presence of Rama, just as a dog runs away upon getting the aroma of a tiger. In this verse, Sita explains what will happen if Ravana should happen to get over that fear and actually take on Rama in combat. If Ravana were to put up the greatest fight, to continue on despite mounting casualties on his side, his victory would still be doubtful. That is because he would have to go against two great fighters: Rama and Lakshmana.
Ravana’s task is compared to what Vritrasura faced against Indra. The battle between those two is often referenced in the Vedas. It is described in many texts, including the Shrimad Bhagavatam, which was compiled many years after the events of the Ramayana. It is said that Vritrasura, though being a demon, was a devotee of God, and that a series of events led up to his conflict with Indra, the king of heaven. Indra lopped off one of Vritra’s arms, but the demon kept fighting. The conflict went on for many years, until Indra finally one. The two arms of Indra were too much for the one arm of Vritra.
Similarly, Ravana would have to deal with both Rama and Lakshmana, though Rama was enough to defeat Ravana easily. Sita knew her audience, so she purposefully mentioned Vritra, who was similar to Ravana in that he was a demon and had great strength. Ravana considered Indra an enemy, so he would relate better to Vritra. And yet he could take no solace from Vritra, since the demon died despite his great powers and perseverance.
Sita is Rama’s beautiful wife who always serves Him in thought, word and deed. Here she had a struggle with Ravana, who tried to force her to come over to his side. She had Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana protecting her, and so that was enough to conquer any enemy. Similarly, the devoted souls who battle the dark elements of greed, lust, anger, wrath, vengeance and the obstructing forces firmly set against the godly principles take shelter of the same Rama, Lakshmana and Sita through chanting their holy names, such as those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
Strength of husband and brother she knew,
Unbeatable was combined force of the two.
Since Ravana of all demoniac trait,
Story of Indra with Vritra to relate.
By Indra one arm was lopped,
So eventually in battle demon dropped.
Ravana to lose no matter how hard to try,
Victory from Rama and Lakshmana never to pry.