Mythology 20 Feb 2018
If it wasn’t for the golden deer, the golden kingdom of Lanka wouldn’t have been burnt to a cinder.
And the epic of Ramayana would not have had its spectacular antagonist, Ravana, nor its story of the triumph of good over evil.
Whether the deer that so captivated Sita was in fact golden or a mere spotted golden deer, popularly called a chital, is best left unexplored, for that is what mythology is all about. Belief.
The third book in Valmiki’s Ramayana, the Aranyakanda, describes the deer thus:
A beautiful golden deer with silver spots. A deer that glowed as it moved with the sparkle of a hundred gems. Sapphires, moonstones, black jets and amethysts, studded on its lithe, golden body.
And so, the story goes that this deer was in fact a demon or a rakshas, called Maricha, who was enlisted by the demon king Ravana from the island kingdom of Lanka to avenge his sister Surpanakha’s humiliation at the hands of Ram. Laxman had rebuffed Surpanakha’s enticements by cutting off her nose and ears. Remember what they said about hell hath no fury…
At this point in the Ramayana, Ram, Laxman and Sita were in a forest in Panchvati. They had been banished from Ayodhya for 14 years.
In the dark and dangerous forest, Ram and Laxman built Sita a small but beautiful ashram for rest and refuge from the wild animals, demons and spirits that roamed the woods.
Maricha was tasked with the job of luring Ram and Laxman away from Sita so that Ravana could swoop in and abduct a helpless Sita a thousand miles away to his kingdom, Lanka.
So Maricha assumed the form of the beautiful golden deer, and began grazing near Ram's ashram so that Sita could spot him.
And sure enough, the moment Sita spotted the golden deer, which dazzled like an embodiment of the sun, she asked her husband and her brother-in-law to get it for her -- dead or alive. Valmiki writes that Sita told Ram if the golden deer were caught alive, she would take it back to Ayodhya as a pet and if dead, they would rule the kingdom sitting on its golden hide.
Maricha gamboled far away from the ashram with Ram in hot pursuit and finally after a long chase, killed the deer, with what else, but a golden arrow. The dying Maricha cried out, O Sita! O Lakshman! mimicking Ram's voice.
Far away in the ashram, a panicked Sita fell prey to the ruse and asked Lakshman to go in search for Ram. With no one to guard her, Ravana appeared as a mendicant and kidnapped her and so began Ram’s fight for truth, justice and his beloved wife.
All that glitters may not be gold, but who can resist its lure.