Act of Bibhisan in Ramayana – is that justified?
At one stage of the battle between Ram and Ravan, when killing Ravan appeared almost impossible, Bibhishan disclosed to Ram that Ravan had stored the nectar of immorality in his belly where his soul had been preserved as a boon from the Gods. He also divulged that no mortal weapon could demolish Ravan, a magical death arrow kept in custody of Mandodari, was the only weapon to kill Ravan. In addition to this, he also revealed the secret way to the temple of Mother Nikumvila, family deity of the dynasty of Ravan.
During the war Indrajit placed an illusive head of Sita to weaken Ram on a plea that Sita had been killed but Bibhishan, who was aware of this evil trick, disclosed the secret of Indrajit’s conjecture. Being angry Ram sent Laxman to kill Indrajit.
Learning the secrets from Bibhishan, Laxman marched forward with the target to kill Indrajit (who was also known as Meghnad). From Valmiki Ramayan it is known that seeing his guards’ defeat in the hands of Laxman and monkey army Indrajit, leaving his prayer, came out from the temple of Mother Nikumbhila. He himself attacked Laxman’s forces and at one stage he was killed by Laxman but in Meghnadbadh Kabya, a Bengali epic by Michael Madhusudan Datta
(Dutt, as he himself spelled) the incident of Indrajit’s death has been narrated in a different way. When unarmed Indrajit, with an intention to get invincibility, was worshipping Agni (God of Fire) in the temple of Nikumvila, Laxman entered there through the secret passage with the help of Bibhishan. Finding them there Indrajit could easily understand the treachery (as described in Meghnadbadh Kabya ) of Bibhishan. He prayed to Laxman to allow him an opportunity to enter into his arsenal for collecting arms to fight but his prayer resulted in vain and unarmed Indrajit was killed by Laxman ( Juddha Kanda, chapter 88-92).
Knowing the secrets from Bibhishan and being directed by Ram, Hanuman flew to Ravan’s palace in disguising himself as a saint. Entering secretly into the room of Mandodari, Hanuman played a trick with her and she revealed the location where that magical arrow was stored. Collecting that magical arrow Hanuman slipped away quickly from that room but just when he was about to fly Mandodari realised that she was befooled by Hanuman though then she had nothing more to do.
As a result, Ravan was killed by Ram with the help of that death arrow (Juddha Kanda, chapter 108). When she found the dead body of Ravan, in lament she cursed Hanuman – “For whom you tricked me, shall be taken away from you one day. As I have to live in grief; you too shall live forever in grief.” Distressed Mandodari looked at Ram in anger but realised that he was not an ordinary human being, rather an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
After the death of Ravan, as prescribed in custom, Bibhishan was crowned as king of Lanka. There was also another custom that unless wife of dead king supports or marries her husband’s younger brother (if alive and even he is already married), he would not be considered fit for coronation. So, Bibhishan, as per custom, married Mandodari, the reigning queenm, and thus they became king and queen of Lanka. The marriage between Mandodari and Bibhishan was not for personal pleasure. It was totally an act of statesmanship, to get the right to rule and to maintain the legacy of statecraft. Another practical reason behind this marriage was to prevent Mandodari from committing suicide (as Ram apprehended). Lord Ram advised Bibhishan to rule the county properly, take it forward towards peace and stability, righteousness and prosperity.
From careful analysis of all these incidents it is found that Ravan illegally abducted Sita and without paying any heed to Bibhishan’s appeal to give Sita back to Ram and ignoring the words of morality from Bibhishan he became entangled in war with Ram. As a man of morality this was a main reason for Bibhishan to leave the side of demons. Moreover, Indrajit, though a great warrior, did not have the moral courage to stand against his father.
Rather, he supported the immoral act of his father and insulted Bibhishan in open court calling him a coward which Bibhishan could never forget. For these reasons he disclosed the secrets of killing Ravan and Indrajit to Ram. To be neutral, it must be said that Mandodari was also responsible for the death of Ravan. She was certainly a sincere wife but not intelligent enough because being befooled by the trick of Hanuman she revealed the location of that death arrow.
Ravan abducted Sita in the disguise of a saint with an evil intention but. Hanuman collected the magical arrow in the disguise of a saint for the purpose of killing Ravan. It was a part of the war for which Ravan was solely responsible. In the Nikumbhila Temple depressed Indrajit asked Bibhishan whether it was proper to show the ways of own house to enemy but he forgot that his insulting words to. Bibhishan in open court was also improper. Before calling Bibhishan an enemy inside we must keep in mind that popular belief or public perception is not always justified, a circulated proverb is not always reasonable because more things exist below the surface.
Vibhishana: An Epitome Of Devotion
Vibhishana was an epitome of devotion and selfless service. After ascending the throne of Lanka, he worked toward transforming his subjects and leading them on the path of. Dharma or righteousness. His wife, Sarama, was also a pious lady and helped him in all his efforts.
With the Lord’s grace, he came to be known as one among the Chiranjivis or Immortal Beings of Hinduism. As per Rama’s direction, he continued to remain on Earth, spreading the message of devotion and selfless service to God. He also became an ardent devotee of Lord Ranganatha, the family deity of the Suryavamsha; the Sun Dynasty, to which Rama belonged.
Symbolically, Vibhishana personifies devotion. His story also indicates that, in spite of being a demon, the. Lord does not distinguish between his devotees and showers his grace equally on all beings.
Association With Srirangam
Vibhishana has a deep association with Srirangam and the famous Ranganathaswamy Temple there. This temple is sacrosanct to all Hindus and is considered as the Bhooloka Vaikuntha (Vishnu’s abode on earth). During the coronation of Rama, Vibhishana was presented the sacred Sri Ranga Vimana. Elated to receive this, he prepared to carry it back all the way to his kingdom in Lanka.
Midway, he stopped to rest at the banks of the Kaveri River. After taking a break, he performed his routine pooja and then tried to lift the Vimana. However, the Vimana simply refused to budge from its place. Realizing that this was the act of the divine, Vibhishana prayed to Vishnu.
Lord Sri Maha Vishnu appeared before him and said that he desired to stay on in this place as Lord Ranganatha. This venue went on to become Srirangam. Vishnu also expressed a desire to watch the Brahmotsavam at Tirucherai. Hence, this festival is also considered to be very sacred.
Vibhishana’s Previous Birth
According to Tulsidas’ Ramayana, there is an interesting legend about Ravana’s and Vibhishana’s previous birth. This story narrates that there was once a king called Pratapabhanu. He had a brother called Arimardan and minister called Dharmaruchi. With their help and guidance, the king conquered many neighbouring kingdoms and ably ruled his state for a long time. The kingdom flourished under his rule and all his subjects were very happy.
One day, King Pratapabhanu went on a hunt to the forest. There, he saw a bear and tried to shoot it down with his arrow. However, the bear escaped and, though he went deep into the forest to track it down, he could not find it anywhere. Preparing to return home, he lost his way in the forest. Tired and thirsty, he wandered around, till he spied an ashrama (hermitage).
One of the kings who had earlier fought and been defeated by Pratapabhanu was taking refuge in the same ashrama. He was living in disguise as a sadhu (ascetic). Recognizing the king, he decided that he would take revenge for his humiliating defeat. He approached Pratapabhanu and told him that he could make him immortal, if he would invite all the Brahmins present there and also propitiate all of them.
He offered to cook the meal that the king would have to serve to all Brahmins. Pratapabhanu agreed. What he did not realize was that, the sadhu secretly mixed the flesh of a Brahmin while cooking. Just as everyone was ready to partake of the feast, an akashavani (celestial voice) warned them not to eat the food, as the flesh of a Brahmin was mixed with it.
Enraged, the Brahmins cursed Pratapabhanu that he and his family would be born as demons in their next birth, and that they would eventually be destroyed. Another akashavani filled the sky, saying that the king was innocent and was not party to this crime. However, it was already too late and the curse took effect. Meanwhile, the other king, who was actually responsible for this heinous act, disappeared from the scene.
In his next birth, Pratapabhanu was born as Ravana and his entire family belonged to the asura clan. His brother, Arimardan, was born as his brother, Kumbhakarna. His minister, Dharmaruchi, who always advised him to follow the path of dharma, reincarnated as Ravana’s brother, Vibhishana.
Vibhishana Proposes Marriage To Mandodari
Before returning to Ayodhya with Sita and Lakshmana, Rama advised Vibhishana that he should marry Mandodari, the widow of Ravana and the reigning Queen of Lanka. He also visited the bereaved Mandodari, consoled her and reminded her of her duties to the kingdom.
Mandodari is one of the five Sreshta Naaris (exemplary women) of Hindu mythology. The other four include Ahilya, Draupadi, Kunti and Tara. She was a noble woman and was completely and unflinchingly loyal to her husband. And was against Ravana abducting Sita and begged him to return her to Rama. She knew that Ravana was being adharmic and was well aware of the consequences. However, she knew she had to stay by his side, no matter what.
Given her character, Mandodari was unwilling to marry Vibhishana, who was already married and had a daughter as well. After Rama and his entourage left Lanka, she returned to her own palace and disconnected herself from the outside world. Sometime later, she returned from her palace and decided to wed Vibhishana. This incident seems to be mentioned in passing in Tulsidas’ Ramacharitamanas as well.
There are some reasons as to why Mandodari may have agreed to marry Vibhishana. According to one theory, Ravana’s race may have had matrilineal families and hence, it became necessary for Vibhishana to marry the reigning Queen of the land, so as to bring order in the kingdom.
One other theory suggests that it may be a non-Aryan custom to marry the ruling Queen. In this case, the marriage would have been purely an “act of statesmanship” and nothing else. So, Mandodari would have married her own younger brother-in-law, as this would help her lead her kingdom towards stability and properity. This way, she would also hold power over the kingdom and have a say in governance.
Yet another reason for marrying Vibhishana was that Mandodari had nowhere to go after Ravana’s death. It is believed that she attempted suicide, but it was averted, just in time, by Rama. The latter then advised her to reconsider her options and achieve some stability and purpose in her life, by marrying Vibhishana.
Whatever her reasons for agreeing to wed Vibhishana, Mandodari accepted his proposal and continued to guide the kingdom of Lanka towards the path of good and dharma.
Is Vibhishana Justified In His Behaviour?
Though the character of Vibhishana inspires one to lead a dharmic life, it also continues to receive much criticism from the Indian society. He was the one who betrayed his own brother and joined with a foreign enemy. He then went on to become the ruler of Lanka, also marrying his brother’s wife.
In fact, there is even an idiom in Hindi, which goes as follows: “Ghar ka bhedi, Lanka dhaaye”. This talks about him derogatorily, saying that a betrayer in one’s own house can bring down even a kingdom as mighty as Lanka and can burn it to the ground.
However, it is important to understand that legends and epics are here to make people understand the importance of character, values and dharma. A casual reader tends to view these epics adopting a black-and-white attitude. However, this is never the case in real life. Good and evil exists within all of us and each one of us has shades of grey that define our personality and make us the sort of person we are.
As mentioned earlier, Vibhishana was the personification of Sri Maha Vishnu’s Gada or Mace. He knew deep down that it was divinely destined for him to return to his Lord, in this birth. He also believed that Rama was indeed an avatara of Vishnu, and that he was meant to serve him. To that extent, Vibhishana never once strayed from his own, personal dharmic duties.
Epics such as the Ramayana bring us characters in order to make us understand the practical implications of dharma. In this story, neither Vibhishana nor Kumbhakarna ever strayed from their personal concept of dharma. They were merely pushed into circumstances that created a moral dilemma for them. Kumbhakarna too knew that Ravana was going against dharma, but chose to be loyal to his kin, in spite of Ravana failing to heed his advice. On the other hand, Vibhishana chose to oppose his kin when his advice failed. Hence, this was a matter of choosing and adhering to personal principles; not a matter of right and wrong.
All his life, Vibhishana was devout, pure of heart and dharmic. He never intentionally hurt anyone or caused harm in any way. As a ruler too, he carried out his duties in a wise, just manner, thus bringing peace and prosperity to his land and his subjects.