“You may be spared by the excellent thunderbolt of Indra when released, and you may escape the god of death for a long time, but someone the likes of you will never be spared by Raghava, the lord of the planet, when He is in great anger.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.23-24)
varjayedvajramutsṛṣṭaṃ varjayedantakaściram ||
tvadvidham tu na sa kruddho lokanāthaḥ sa rāghavaḥ |
In the Vedas the Supreme Lord is described as achyuta, which means infallible. When the word is used as a name, it can’t really be confused for any other person, for there is only one infallible being. Others may have the name Achyuta as well, but in such cases they are named after the person who originally and exclusively has this feature. All aspects of Him are perfect, and anything separated from Him in any way is imperfect.
What are some instances of the imperfection?
Consider weapons. If you throw a knife in a certain direction, the outcome will not always be the same. A knife can’t cut through everything, either. The late-night infomercials try to persuade us to buy a knife. They show what the knife can cut through, comparing it with ordinary knives which aren’t as strong. This means that there are varying levels of ability with respect to knives. If one outdoes the other, it means that the other wasn’t perfect. Soon thereafter another knife will come along that cuts even better.
Still, there is no such thing as the perfect knife. Enhanced ability in cutting also comes at a cost. Sometimes a knife that cuts one thing has a difficult time cutting something else. Sometimes you need a delicate touch in cutting, which the stronger knives are not suited for. The knife is one example, but the principle applies across all spectra.
The thunderbolt is extremely powerful. In the Vedas it is said to originate from the heavenly realm. It is hurled by a demigod known as Indra. His name means “king,” and it references his position in the heavenly realm. He is the leading fighter for the “good guys.” The good people go to heaven and the bad go to hell. But just because you’re in heaven doesn’t mean that you won’t have to fight. In hell too you will be surrounded by those who want to fight against the good. In the clashes between good and evil, each side will need their leading warriors. Indra is the leader of the heavenly population, and his weapon of choice is the thunderbolt.
“Of the Vedas I am the Sama-veda; of the demigods I am Indra; of the senses I am the mind, and in living beings I am the living force [knowledge].” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.22)
Even if you don’t believe that there is a specific personality in charge of hurling thunderbolts, which are discharges of lightning followed by the sound of thunder, you can at least admit that the thunderbolt does not always strike whoever is in the vicinity. It is possible to escape lightning. Many golfers have been struck by lightning, as they are easy targets with their iron clubs. Nevertheless, many golfers have been in the same situations and not been struck by lightning. Many of those that have been struck have managed to survive. This means that one can escape the weapon known as the thunderbolt.
Death is another weapon of sorts. It completely destroys. Though it always meets its objective, it doesn’t always arrive right away. Therefore we hear terms like “cheating death” and “escaping death.” In the Vedas it is said that death is a personality. He is known as Yamaraja, or the king of justice, sort of like a Grim Reaper. Yamaraja is the law enforcement for the world. You can escape the police through a high speed chase, but Yamaraja is there watching your every move. Still, through the course of one’s life, it is possible to avoid death for a while.
One cannot, however, escape the wrath of the Supreme Lord when He is angry. This is the point made here by Sita Devi. Ravana up to this point had done many bad things. He had killed many rival kings. He had eaten the flesh of many sages. He had killed and eaten emissaries. Still, he managed to escape death. He also avoided the thunderbolts hurled by Indra, for Ravana’s son had defeated Indra in a battle. This victory earned Ravana’s son the name Indrajit.
Ravana wouldn’t escape Rama, though. Rama is the same Achyuta in His incarnation specific to a time and circumstance in the Treta Yuga, or second age of creation. Rama was angered because Ravana took away Sita in secret. Sita is Rama’s beloved, and so if someone does harm to her they have some major pain coming their way.
Ravana had a glimpse of this hurt already. He had sent 14,000 of his best fighters to the forest of Dandaka to attack Rama. Rama singlehandedly defeated them all. These same fiends had been cheating death for a long time. They had previously attacked innocent sages and then eaten their flesh. They thought they wouldn’t pay for those heinous crimes, but as Rama reminded them, the ghastly reward for impious deeds arrives at the proper season, like the flowers that blossom on the trees.
“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)
For Ravana, his gift would be wrapped in fiery arrows and would lead to the total destruction of his kingdom. Though he may have been able to escape a thunderbolt and the god of death, he would not be able to escape Rama. Sita gave him the alternative of surrendering to the Lord, who is very affectionate towards the devotees. By rejecting this option, Ravana’s destiny was sealed.
In danger but destruction not to meet,
Thus one foolishly thinks death can cheat.
Thunderbolt hurled by Indra’s wrath,
Still possible to avoid its path.
From Rama’s weapons nowhere to hide,
Hit target since with His intelligence to guide.
Destruction for Ravana at the proper time,
Fiery arrows like bells of death to chime.