Surpanakha- the tale of a beautiful princess
Have you ever wondered who Surpanakha was? Was she a demoness or a beautiful princess? Why isn’t she mentioned much in Ramayana in spite of being the most important character of the epic? Give this a read to get an insight into who Surpanakha really was. Happy reading!!!
History- Surpanakha was Ravana’s sister and the youngest daughter of great sage Vishrava and Kaikashi. Surpanakha is said to have possessed many supernatural powers. She secretly married Vidyutjiha, the Danava prince of Kalkeya Danava Clan. They were enemies of the Rakshashas and so Ravana was very enraged and wanted to kill them but his wife Mandodari calmed him and requested him to accept his sister’s aspiration. Later Ravana happily accepted them but soon Vishrava’s evil intentions gave way and he secretly attacked Ravana to kill him. Ravana in self defense killed him in return making Surpanakha widowed at a very early age. This earned him the hatred and dislike of Surpanakha. Later she lived in the forests with her brothers Khar and Dushan on Ravana’s orders. She also had a son named Shambhri who was unintentionally killed by Lakshmana.
Her beauty: She is described as having gorgeous brown eyes slightly up skewed. She has thick, long brown hair and a sweet melodious voice. The name ‘Surpanakha’ means sharp nails and it is not due to her cut nose. Her original name at the time of birth was Minaksi meaning fish-eyed and she was also known as Candranakha meaning moon like nails. She was as beautiful as her mother Kaikesi and her grandmother Ketumati. She was having extraordinary powers and could take any form. She was even very obsessed by her beauty and according to some legends; she used her power for the good. She was even a very charming dancer and mastered many such arts.
Stories behind Surpanakha: There are many accounts on Surpanakha among which the Valmiki Ramayana is the most popular. So let’s look into a few texts to have a deeper insight.
Valmiki Ramayana: According to the Valmiki Ramayana Surpanakha met Rama and Lakshmana in the forest while she was on a visit to Panchavati. She was mesmerized by Rama’s looks and wanted to marry him. Rama rejected her because he was already married and would never go for another wife. Then she approached Lakshman who in turn cut her nose in rage. He even made fun of her beauty. Out of anger Surpanakha approached Khar Dushan first who in turn was killed by Rama and later she approached Ravana to seek revenge from Rama and Lakhsmana. Ravana abducted Rama’s wife Sita which led to the battle to Lanka and eventually Ravana’s death. Though Valmiki describes Surpanakha as an ugly demoness, but he also praises her powers. Though after the death of Ravana nothing much is mentioned about her, but in some accounts it is mentioned that she continued to live in Lanka with her brother Vibishana who succeeded after Ravana’s demise. Later she with her half sister Kumbini was found dead at a sea.
Kamban’s Ramayana: Kamban, the Tamil poet describes Surpanakha as a very beautiful woman with elongated, beautiful, fish shaped eyes with a slim shape and a bewitching personality. She posses many magical powers and can take different forms. In this version of Ramayana it is put forward that Surpanakha used her powers for good and she approached Rama and Lakshmana, she was never knew that both of them were married. Both of them played with her for a while and then chopped off her nose. Surpanakha was then middle aged and appeared unattractive to Rama.
Bhramavaivrata Purana: In this it is mentioned that Surpanakha later went to Pushkara which is a sacred lake in Rajasthan and prayed to Brahma so that she can get married to Lord Rama in her next birth. She was reborn as Kubja who then became one of the wives of Lord Krishna. When Krishna cured Kubja of her hunchback, she turned into a beautiful woman whom Krishna later married.
Devdutt Pattanaik’s Sita: In this Sita’s encounter to Surpanakha is mentioned. When Sita was exiled to leave Ayodhya as the people of Ayodhya hurled acquisitions on her, she met Surpanakha underneath a berry tree in the forest. When Surpanakha saw her, she thought to have pleasure in Sita’s pain as she was also abandoned the same way. But Sita was quite calm and offered her a berry. She told that instead of remembering those who hurt her, it’s better to enjoy the sweet berry. Rama and Lakshmana had not got a moment of peace since they messed with Surpanakha. So her revenge is over as Rama was still in pain after Sita’s departure. Then Surpanakha tasted the sweet berry and found peace within her. Then Surpanakha raced towards the river and jumped into its waters. She felt beautiful yet again.
Liberation of Sita: This is a book by Volga. Sita here mentions Surpanakha as a beautiful princess who was obsessed by her looks. When she saw Lakshmana, she was enchanted by his looks unknowing that he was married. When she gave marriage proposal to Laksmana, he in turn cut her nose out of rage making her ugly. After long years of isolation and solitude, Surpanakha found tranquility within herself. Then she created a magical garden with her beauty which she so valued. Later sita comes across garden while she was on exile in Valmiki’s Ashram.
Victim of fate: Surpanakha was nothing but a puppet at the hands of fate. This topic has been put forward by many scholars who believe that the character of Surpanakha is often misjudged and must be more interpreted. She was widowed at an early age by her own brother. Her son was killed with no fault by Lakshmana accidentally. Even her husband Vidyutjiha married her because he wanted to defeat Ravana. Her nose was chopped off. Often it is argued that if Rama and Lakshmana would have tried to reason with her instead of cutting of her senses, this wouldn’t have happened. Besides chopping of the nose is not an act of chivalry according to certain scholars. Moreover Surpanakha did not know that both of them were married. But whatever may be the reason; Surpankha is not totally a negative character and a sheer victim of fate who received no pity from any side whether it’s Rama or Laksmana who never thought before cutting of her nose or Ravana who killed her husband. Her only fault was she wanted to marry Lord Rama. Unlike Sita, she was not submissive and what we call nowadays as a feminist. It is quite thinkable that was she punished for being a unconventional feminist or a victim of destiny?
The most important character of the epic: It is often argued that if there was no Surpanakha, no Ramayana would have taken place. This view is even put up by Valmiki and he goes to the extent of impressing that without Surpanakha and Kaikeyi, Ramayana would have never taken place. If Surpanakha hadn’t come to Rama and proposed him, the whole epic of Ramayana would have been different. She is often considered as the mastermind of the cause of Ramayana war.
A tale of revenge: According to certain accounts, Surpanakha wanted to avenge the death of her husband from Ravana. She knew that Rama is the only one who can kill him and so she plotted all the diplomacies accordingly. Later Rama killed Ravana thus fulfilling the revenge of Surpanakha. It is quite safe to say that the whole epic of Ramayana weaved on the revenge of Surpanakha. Though she is not much mentioned in the epic but she was the driving force behind all. This is a tale of her revenge and her grief which no one understood.
These were the facts unknown about a beautiful princess who was forced to be evil. So this was a tale of her beauty and her sorrow, a tale of her fate which weaved the whole story of Ramayana.
So we hope this gave you an insight into who really Surpanakha was? Whether a beautiful princess who became a victim of fate or a demoness who deserved what she got? We would leave you with these thoughts and we promise to be back soon with more unknown and interesting stories. Till then stay safe and keep brooding!!!