Ramayana before Kamban in TamilNadu

Did The Ramayana exist in Tamil land, much before the undisputed monarch of tamil poets – Kavichchakravarthy Kambar composed his Ramavatharam. Of course yes – for the sanskrit original of Valmiki must have been quite popular,but was there any references in Tamil and if so would there be any sculptures to support them ? We are going to analyse this a little further in today’s post.

Historians and linguists have been debating the time of the great poet Kamban, for all his 12000 verses, he overcame poetic tradition of those days, by failing to sing one on any major King or clan. He sings of a friend and patron – Sadaiyappa Vallal once every 1000 verses, but then there are no clear pointers to his period as well. So the date of Kambar varies from the 9th C CE to the 12th C CE, with more pointers to 12th C CE>

The work of Kambar, though, based on the original Sanskrit verson of Valmiki, its not a pure translation. The greatness in the man, not only showed in his masterly use of the power of the tamil language, he also used his poetic license to alter a few key scenes, maybe to suit the changed landscape – considering the time elapsed between the original Sanskrit version and also the regional variants and preferences. Today, we are going to see one such variant.

Thanks to Dhivakar sir, HariKrishnan sir, Shankar ( ps egroup), Anna Kannan and Geetha madam for their support / ideas / content. Thanks to Arvind for the photographs.

The Panel is from our favorite – Pullamanagai Brahmapureerswarar, the temple is dated stylistically to the early chola period and has inscriptions of Parantaka Chola I ( 907 to 953 CE).

Before, we go into the details of the panel, lets go to the story and the two versions. The story we are going to see today is that of Ahalya.

Ahalya – wiki

Crux of the plot :Brahma creates a beautiful woman. Indra lusts on her and wants to marry her, he doesn’t succeed and she ends up as the wife of a great sage – Gautama muni. But that doesn’t stop him from trying and finally, he tries deceit, by taking the form of her husband and tries to seduce her. The problem is, Ahalya did see through his disguise, but…

Let’s, see what the Sanskrit version of Valmiki got to say about this episode.

muni veSam sahasraakSam vij~naaya raghuna.ndana |
matim cakaara durmedhaa deva raaja kutuuhalaat

“Oh, Rama, the legatee of Raghu, though knowing him as the Thousand-eyed Indra in the guise of her husband Gautama, she is inclined to have intercourse ill-advisedly, only to satisfy the impassion of the King of Gods

Her thinking is: ‘This is none but Indra in the guise of my husband, for my husband never asks me like this nor he violates times… I heard that Indra is seeking me for a long time… and when King of Gods expresses such a desire, it cannot be refused… let him have it…

mama ruupam samaasthaaya kR^itavaan asi dur.hmate |
akartavyam idam yasmaat viphalaH tvam bhaviSyati ||

‘Oh, dirty-minded Indra, taking hold of my form you have effectuated this unacceptable deed, whereby you shall become infecund.’ Thus, Gautama cursed Indra

tathaa shaptvaa ca vai shakram bhaaryaam api ca shaptavaan |
iha varSa sahasraaNi bahuuni nivaSisyasi || 1-48-29
vaayu bhakSaa niraahaaraa tapyantii bhasma shaayinii |
adR^ishyaa sarva bhuutaanaam aashrame asmin vaSisyasi ||

On cursing Indra thus the sage cursed even his wife saying, ‘you shall tarry here for many thousands of years to come without food and consuming air alone, and unseen by all beings you shall live on in this hermitage while contritely recumbent in dust.

yadaa tu etat vanam ghoram raamo dasharatha aatmajaH |
aagamiSyati durdharSaH tadaa puutaa bhaviSyas

‘When that unassailable son of Dasharatha, namely Rama, arrives at this squalid forest, for it will be henceforth rendered so along with you, then you will be purified.


tasya aatithyena dur.hvR^itte lobha moha vivarjitaa |
mat sakaashe mudaa yuktaa svam vapuH dhaarayiSyasi

‘On your welcoming Rama, oh, ill-behaved woman, you will be divested of your greed and craze in which you lingered so far, and then you will assume your own body and then you can be in my proximity, rejoicingly.’ Thus, Sage Gautama cursed his wife Ahalya

The operative phrases which we need to see here is the actual curse : ‘unseen by all beings’ ,’contritely recumbent in dust’, you will assume your own body

No where is there any mention of her turning into stone !!

Now, lets see the tamil version of kamban, we have already seen the story enough,we go to the operative verses – the actual curse.

“vilai magal anaiya neeyum, kal iyal aathi” endraan. karungal aai, marunga veezhvaal.

Meaning, for your acts, you are condemned to become like a stone.

Great saints are blessed with infinite wisdom and love, and so he went on to tell her, when she will be relieved of her curse.

“pizhaithu porutthal endrum periyavar kadane, anbaal
azhaltharung kadavul annaai! mudivu itharkku aruluga!” enna
thazaithu vandu imirum thann thaath dasarathan enbaan,
kazal – thugal kathuva, intha kal uruvath tavirthi “

As Ahalya fell, she asks thus of her husband : its the duty of great souls, to forgive, you became like the lord who burnt with his third eye and by his smile ( reference to the tripurantaka panel !!), now do tell me how this curse will end. To which Gomathi rishi, says, you will stay thus till the one with the radiant garland comes, he Dasaratha Rama will resurrect you, when the dust of his blessed feet fall on you, your stone form will go, and you will become yourself again.

Was this Kamban’s extrapolation or was the legend prevalent much before? Thanks to Harikrishnan sir’s post ( please see the link below)

Rama – Sangam ref

We note a beautiful reference to the curse clearly mentioning that she was turned to stone from the Sangam work Paripadal. Regarding dates of the Sangam works see this link

Paripadal period

Verse 19 of paripAdal, by nappaNNanAr is on Lord Murugan and describes the pilgrimage of devotees from Madurai to that ancient shrine, Thirupparam-kundram. The poet goes on to describe the various activities of the devotees on the way to the temple. A few devotees get into an art gallery on the way and gather around different paintings displayed there and discuss spiritedly among themselves, about what is portrayed in the paintings. A particular painting has the image of a cat, a woman, a sage in rage and a rock. The devotees comment, ‘indhiran pUsai’ ;This cat is Indra. ‘ivaL agaligai,’ This is Ahalyä. ‘ivan sendra kavudhaman,’ This sage is Gautama, who was away (at that time). ‘sinan uRa, kal uru ondriya padi idhu,’ And this rock is (nothing but) Ahalyä transformed by the curse of the sage. This painting shows how she was transformed into a rock

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Now, back to our sculptural panel. Its another miniature master piece for Pullamangai, you can clearly see the three main players in the panel. From left to right ( of the panel) – Lakshmana, Rama and Ahalya.

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Now comes the clincher – in the panel is Rama’s right foot and we are going to see it in mighty closeup after we read this superb composition from Kamban.
…..
mai vannathu arakki poril, mazhai vannathu annale! un
kai vannam anguk kanden, kaal vannam inguk kanden.”

oh, cloud colored one, i saw your hands work when you fought the black ( eye liner) colored demoness, but here i see you foot work !!

This is a clear pointer that Ahalya was resurrected when Rama’s toe hit the rock.

Lets get back to the panel.

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The Pullamangai sculpture is part of the base stones of the Vimana and the latest date for this Vimana is 953 CE, and the portrayal clearly show the curse of Ahalya to turn to stone had taken firm root by then. Was valmiki unclear in the actual wording of the curse, did he mean that she be turned to stone as well. But one thing is clear, that she was turned to stone was part of tamil folkore as early as in the late sangam period as evidenced by the Paripadal verse.

Before we end, the last verse of Kamban – talks of Rama’s hand work. What event does that depict and is there a sculpture for that in pullamangai as well? We should see shortly.

Vaali ambushed by Rama – Cambodia

We had earlier seen Rama aiming at Vali in the amazing miniature from Darasuram. To see the next part of the story we travel to Cambodia. We have seen many panels from the Banteay Srei complex. This is another excellent one.

We see the story progressing left to right ( right to left as you view it)

Watch carefully the pose of Rama – he has just discharged his arrow. The right hand is a definite give away ( look at the delightful detailing of the bow – even to the knot at the bottom)

Lets look at the two fighting brothers – that they are monkeys is obvious, but see the masterly depiction of their feet – monkey feet. The hands are depicted as humans though. See Vaali’s clenched fist ready to deliver a massive blow to Sugreev. The ferociousness of the battle has been superbly caught by the sculptor in the face of the two fighting brothers.

The next scene in the storyboard is also shown – Vaali is felled by the arrow, mortally wonded, he is shown grabbing the arrow. Who is holding him up – he seems to have fallen down and is held up protectively – is it his Tara. ( see the slight differentiation between the two facial features). A standing Sugreev is shown looking over at his slain brother.

Vali is shown with a questioning look – he seems shocked and very angry. To understand what transpired, we need to look back at the text of the Ramayana. The southern version ( tamil) says that Vaali was very angry with Rama for having shot him from an ambush position, which doesn’t quite befit a noble warrior. He has a heated argument with Rama and Lakshmana, questioning the disgraceful act. Rama then goes on to explain to him his need to uphold righteousness and how Vaali has turned against the right path and banished his own brother and usurped his wedded wife!

The slaying of Vaali – a delightful miniature from Darasuram

Today thanks to some amazing captures by Satheesh, we are being treated to a spectacular miniature from Darasuram.

We had earlier seen Vaali humbling Ravana in a previous post. He was famous for the boon that he had received, according to which anyone who came before him lost half his/her strength to him, thereby making Vali invulnerable to any frontal attack.

Vali had been known as a good and pious vanara-king, but once when he was challenged to a duel by a wicked demon Mayavi – the battle raged on for a long time inside a dark and ravenous cave. Vaali left instructions with his brother to wait for him at the entrance….when vaali did not come out for a long time,Sugreev spotted blood oosing out of the mouth of the cave, he also heard a shrill voice like that of his brother. Fearing that his brother may be dead, he blocked the entrance to cave with a huge boulder and returned to Kishkinda.

Vali emerged and found the cave mouth blocked, in a fit of rage he suspected his brother of plotting against him. HIs anger was multiplied when he came to his capital and noticed that Sugreev was ruling in his place.

Sugriva tried to explain the situation to Vali, but Vali would not listen. Vali banished Sugreev from the kingdom, and held the latter’s wife captive in his own palace. Sugreev fled into the forest, where he met and formed an alliance with Rama. He sought Rama’s help in return for his help in defeating Ravana and rescuing Sita.

The act of Rama killing Vaali, from an ambush attack ( attack from behind) is a subject of many debates. Here we are seeing a superb miniature of the scene just prior to the attack.

Cant see it, lets go closer


Sadly the people don’t even notice the beautiful sculptures.


Check out this for a sense of size.

What happened next and what happened before this – some more interesting sculptures coming our way shortly.

Images courtesy : Satheesh and the last one from http://www.kumbakonam.info

Origins of the Srirangam Vimana – story in sculpture

Today, we are going to see a very rare and unique sculpture. It gives me great pleasure to present this post, since it brings out the true essence of our blog site. We had earlier seen the amazing pillar sculptures of Sesharaya Mandabam, while i was posting about this in mintamil forum, Sir Srirangam Mohanarangan, asked me about a unique sculpture in one of those pillars. I did not have it then and hence requested my ever resourceful friend Mr. Ashok to source it for me. Being such an ardent enthusiast, Ashok made the trip and ensured that i get the correct pictures ( he did get many more – and we will see this in subsequent posts). Writing about the foremost of shrines of Vishnu and one of the most revered of holy places gives me great joy, i thank the will of God for making this possible.

Rudra expounds to Narada the origin, growth and greatness of Srirangam thus:

When God created Brahma from his navel and deputed him to create the earth the latter was at his wit’s end when he saw a sheer expanse of a water. When he was thus perplexed God came to him in the form of a swan (hamsa) and saying ‘Om’ disappeared. Then Brahma worshipped God saying ‘Om’. Once again God appeared to him as a swan and preached the Vedas, which were stolen away by the two asuras, Madhu and Kaitabha. Brahma, unable to trace them even after an elaborate search, appealed to God, who appeared to him in the form of a fish, killed the asuras in His manifestation of a horse (hayagriva) and disappeared after restoring the Vedas. Then Brahma created the universe.

He was displeased, however, with his creation, for he found that everything was transient and disappeared in course of time. He went to Ksirasagar (‘Ocean of milk’) and worshiped God, who appeared to him as a tortoise. Brahma was puzzled and prayed to God to show him His real form. Thereupon God advised him to worship Him by repeating the Astaksara or the eight-lettered mantra (Om Namo Narayanaya). Brahma, so doing, lost himself in penance and contemplation. As a result of his penance the Sriranga Vaimana sprang from the Ksirasagar radiating luster allround.5 (The expression Sriranga Vimana is used to denote the turret as well as the oval shaped sanctum beneath it, containing the image of the reclining Ranganatha. The turret, the sanctum and the image form a single whole and are inseparably associated with one another.) It was borne by Garuda. Sesa, the Serpent God, had spread his hood over it. Visvaksena, with a stick in hand, cleared the way for the God. The sun and moon were fanning the deity with chowries. Narada and Tumburu followed singing. There was the Jayaghosa of Rudra and other gods and the ‘Dundubighosa’. The celestial courtesans danced. Clouds rained flowers. There were great hurrahs and tumult.

Brahma awoke from his penance and prostrated himself before the vimana. He stood up saying the four Vedas through his four mouths and was lost in amazement. Sunanda, a celestial watch at the gate (dwarapalaka), told him that the three lettered Vimana, ‘Sri-ra-nga’ was the result of his penance, that God was resting with His consort inside and that he could see Him and worship Him. Then Brahma worshiped the Almighty for a long time. Finally the God spoke to him thus: “Listen O Brahma! I have appeared as a result of your penance.” Then he explained to him the four types of idols and vimanas, – (1) Svayamvykta – created by God, i.e., God Himself choosing to come down as an idol, (2) Divya – created by the Devas, (3) Saiddha – created by a great seers and (4) Manusya – created by mortals. “The Vimanas of the first class, viz., Svayamvyakta will appear in eight places – Srirangam, Srimusnam, Venkatadri, Saligram, Naimisaranyam, Totadri, Puskara and Badrikasrama. Rangavimana is the first and the earliest of these” Speaking of the second class of idols the God said, “I will come to Kanci as Varadaraja, where my idol will be installed by you. Ananta will instal my idol in the south, Rudra in Kandikapura, Visvakarma at Nanda, Dharma at Vrisabagiri, Asvini at Asvatirtha, Indra at Cakratirtha, etc. So also great seers will install me in certain places and men everywhere.” Then the God explained to Brahma the procedure for conducting the worship and lay down in the characteristic pose at Srirangam and kept silent.

Brahma took the vimana from Ksirasagar to his abode in Satyaloka and established it on the banks of the Vraja. He appointed Viwasvan, the sun god, to do the daily puja of the God. After Viwasvan his son Vaivasvata Manu continued the puja. Iksvaku, a son of Manu, became the king of Ayodhya and found it difficult to worship the vimana at Satyaloka. Hence he did penance, which extended over hundreds of years, and obtained the permission of Brahma to take it to Ayodhya. After Iksvaku his descendants worshiped the God. Rama gave the vimana to Vibhisana, who established it on the banks of the Kaveri.

At this stage Narada asks Rudra to give details of the above account, viz., the coming of the vimana to Srirangam. Rudra replies:

Vasista told Iksvaku, his disciple, the origin of the Sriranga Vimana and added that after being worshiped by him and his generations, it would establish itself in Srirangam and be worshiped by the Cola monarchs. As advised by his guru Iksvaku did penance near the former’s asrama with the object of bringing the vimana to Ayodhya from Satyaloka. Indra, the king of the gods knew the purpose of the penance and consulted Brahma about the possibility of their losing the vimana. Brahma went to Visnu, who told him that it was His intention to go to Ayodhya and thence to Srirangam. Then Brahma brought the vimana to Iksvaku on the back of Garuda. Iksvaku carried the vimana to Ayodhya, established it between the rivers Sarayu and Tamasa, built a shrine and organised worship.

Dasaratha, in the line of Iksvaku, performed the sacrifices of Asvamedha and Putrakamesti for which celebrations he invited monarchs of all India, one of whom was Dharmavarma, the Cola. Dharmavarma saw the Rangavimana, knew its history and wanted to have it in his country. So, when he returned home he began performing penance on the banks of the Candrapuskarani.6 (A tank in the Srirangam temple.) The risis around said to him, “Nearby lies your old city in ruins.7 (The reference is to Uraiyur, the capital of the Colas.) Rudradeva burnt it in anger. Close to it there was a risi-asram, where we had congregated under the leadership of Dalbya risi, who worshipped God. When God appeared to him, he requested Him to stay there and sanctify the place, to which the latter replied that in His avatar as Rama, He would come to that place as Ranganatha, for the sake of Vibhisana. We are expecting the Sriranga Vimana even now. Hence your penance is unnecessary”. On hearing this Dharmavarma stopped his penance and retired to Nisula.

Rama worsted Ravana in battle, crowned Vibhisana king of Lanka and performed the ‘asvamedha’ sacrifice in Ayodhya. To it all were invited including Dharmavarma. Rama presented the Rangavimana to Vibhisana out of his munificence as the latter was very much helpful to him in his fight against Ravana.

Vibhisana bore the vimana on his head and, on his way to Lanka, stopped at Srirangam and placed the vimana on the banks of the Candrapuskarani. The risis immediately informed Dharmavarma about the arrival of the vimana. The Cola king came to the spot and received Vibhisana with great delight. The latter bathed in the sacred waters of the Kaveri and worshipped the vimana. Dharmavarma also performed puja and requested Vibhisana to stay with him for a few days. To this Vibhisana did not agree and said that an utsava had to be performed in Lanka the next day. The cola replied that the festival might as well be performed in his own country and that he would meet all the expenses. Vibhisana then agreed to stay, and the festival was begun and celebrated for nine days in a grand fashion. After a stay of a fortnight Vibhisana started for Lanka. To his utter amazement and sorrow the vimana had got itself fixed to the spot where he had placed it and had become irremovable.8 (According to the popular local version Vibhisana had been instructed by Rama not to place the vimana on the ground. At Srirangam Vibhisana entrusted it to a Brahmana boy for a short while. The latter placed it on the ground as the former did not return in time, as promised. When he returned Vibhisana found the vimana on the ground and irremovable. He became angry and chased the boy, who ran up the rock on the other side of the Kaveri. He was no other than Ganesa (Uccipillaiyar). See also Parameswara Samhita (10:279-281) ) Vibhisana shed tears. The God then said to him, “This place is good, so also its king and people. I desire to stay here. You may retire to Lanka”. He also related to Vibhisana the sanctity of the river Kaveri. “Visvavasu, a Gandharva of the Vindhyas, met on the hill side a congregation of river goddesses and made his obeisance to them. Immediately a debate arose as to whom it was meant. All except Ganga and Kaveri withdrew from the contest. Both the disputants went to Brahma, who declared that Ganga was superior. Kaveri did penance as a result of which Brahma granted to her a status of equality. Still dissatisfied she is performing penance at Saraksetra. To give her the first place among the rivers I have to raise her sanctity to the utmost by remaining in her midst. I will recline here facing your country. You may go back to Lanka.”

Dharmavarma built a shrine for the vimana, the surrounding prakaras and organised worship.

Long post, but here come the pillar sculpture. You can see Vibhisana in his royal bearings – crown and staff, lovingly carrying the Srirangam Vimanam. Sadly this amazing treasure trove of sculptural beauty – the sesharaya mandabam is currently neglected and used as a …..ok, dont want to end a good post on a sad note, we see that in a subsequent post. Enjoy the sculpture for now.

The vimanam pictures ( for comment of shiv) – images are from the net

source: http://www.thiruvarangam.com/history.html

Waking up Kumbakarna

Well, all of us at one point of time or the other have been shouted at, using the sleeping giant kumbakarna as an example. Its always tough to wake up in the mornings, that too when you are a kid and the evenings are too long and the mornings are too short. But seeing this freeze of the story sculpted into stone in far off Indonesia jolted me wide awake.

Lets brush up our memories of the story from Ramayana, Ravana’s mighty brother, the giant Kumbakarna, sleeps for 6 months at a time. Well, this was actually not a curse but a boon which he himself sought ( ok with some nimble work by Indra).

Having born to mixed parents ( mother was a demon and father a high born), the children are advised by their mother to seek the blessings of Brahma, the creator. So all four, Ravana, kumbakarna, Surpanka and Vibeeshana undertake a stiff penance.

Ravana performs intense penance , lasting several years. Pleased with his austerity, Brahma appears and offers him a boon. Ravana asks for immortality, which Brahma refuses saying everyone has to die someday. Ravana then askes for absolute invulnerability and supremacy before gods and heavenly spirits, other demons, serpents and wild beasts. Contemptuous of mortal men, he did not ask for protection from them. Brahma granted him these boons, and additionally gave him great strength by way of knowledge of divine weapons and sorcery.

Next, its the turn of Kumbakarna, who is already a giant, and Indra the Lord of devas is scared stiff, that any boon would make him invincible. So he seeks the help of the Goddess of Learning, Saraswathi, who at the appropriate moment holds his tongue back. So instead of asking for endless life, he asks for endless sleep. Brahma too glady obliges by granting him this boon. The others are shell shocked and plead with Brahma, that such a boon is akin to death, so he modifies it a bit – saying he will sleep for 6 months and be awake for 6 months. However, he cautions that if he is woken up in the 6 month hibernation, he would become vulnerable.

Ok, now the story spans a few years, the main events of Ramayana are over and we are nearing the climax. Ravana fights Rama – and the brilliance of Rama’s archery makes him loose his divine weapons, chariot and Crowns, and he is left, unarmed, on the battlefield. Rama humbles him more by telling him to go back and come tomorrow with arms.

Smitten by this insult, Ravana commits a blunder by asking his troops to wake up Kumbakarana. Now this is what is depicted on the sculpture. The mountain like colossal figure of the sleeping giant, with soldiers using spears and swords to prod him, one horsemen is riding on him ( see the brilliance of the sculptor – he depicts the previous horse and rider, tired and getting off – towards the left) – we also have an elephant trumpeting into his ear and another demon blowing a conch into his ear.

Guess, my folks didn’t have to go through all this to wake me up.

Image courtesy: http://oldsite.library.upenn.edu/etext/sasia/aiis/architecture/prambanan/

Fatal Attraction – for whom ( A guest post) ?

My friend Mr. Palaniappan Vairam, is a true gem. The right words to describe his work would be unique, being without a like or equal,unusual. I chanced on his initial posts by accident and we chatted up and thus began our almost daily interaction. One look at the subject of his blog is enough to convince you as to why i choose the above lines to describe him and his work – on Tamil Sangam works.

Vairam’s Karka nirka blog

This is not a guest post in the correct sense, for he has already posted this in his blog. But since this style suited mine, i kind of high jacked the post and arm twisted him – for how else do you showcase a key event in Ramayan, sung so beautifully by the king of tamil poetry to be so aptly sculpted in far off Parambanan ( Jog Jakarta – Indonesia) – there are many more lovely Ramayan sculptures in parambanan, which we will see in subsequent posts. Over to Vairam

I choose just a single stanza of Kamban’s Ramavatharam today:

The stags and all the other deer who saw it
came toward it with desire as great as the ocean,
like all those who fall to whores without love,
skilled at elaborately deceiving heart.

Poet: Kamban

Translated by George L. Hart and Hank Heifetz

The Situation:

Marichan, an uncle of Ravana is disguised as a golden deer to woo Rama and Lakshmana out of the way, so that Ravana can capture Sita. So Marichan takes a form of a golden deer.

The Beautiful Simile:

When the golden deer appears, all the stags and other deers around it just flock towards the golden deer with great desire/lust /passion. He employs a brilliant simile here to describe the situation. Men in old times used to visit courtesans who were well versed in all arts. They knew how to satisfy a mans need. The men usually think these women really love them and pour their wealth on them. From the courtesans perspective, they just use their art to deceive the man and earn the riches. Kamban gives this simile to make us understand that the golden deer was too beautiful to believe, a beauty that will attract every one who sees it without any doubt and yet it was deceptive beauty. When some thing seems to be too good , surely something must be suspicious about it, eg. share market, when shares sky rocket in their value suddenly there comes a jolt of a market scandal. But most
people fall for the too good to resist offer. Kamban gives you this stanza to point out that even great mind of Rama had fallen for ‘the too good to resist’.

And some thing in the style of my good friend Mr.Vijay Kumar, a sculpture from Prambanan, Java , to end my post today. Such a loively depiction of the Rama chasing the deer, letting fly his arrow and in his dying moments Maareecha gaining his true demonic form.

dont follow the ‘too good to resist’!

Vairam
(source:http://www.mountainelm.com/in-rama1.JPG)