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An Encounter with Surpanakha

The three exiles soon became accustomed to their life in the forest and even began to enjoy it. Their royal life became a thing of the past, silk cushions and splendid bedchambers were forgotten. Ram, Laxman and Sita slept under the stars on beds of leaves and grass and lived on a diet of fruits and berries. Far from the cares of the material world, they began to take pleasure in the simplicity of forest living. 

And always through their travels a faint shadow followed them, watching out for them, sheltering from the rain and blocking the unrelenting rays of the sun. One day, the shadow identified himself as Jatayu, the vulture king and a friend of King Dashratha. He had promised King Dashratha that he would act as their guardian angel and protect them from harm and help them in times of trouble. 

The hermits and sages that lived in the forests also offered Ram, Laxman and Sita their hospitality. These were holy men that lived deep in the forest where they could be at peace and spend their time in deep meditation. They welcomed the weary threesome into their humble abodes, giving them a chance to take the weight off their tired feet for a little while. But tranquillity did not reign at all times in the forest. There were several demons that lurked in the forest and disturbed the calm existence of the sages. The sages were men of peace and they turned to the two brothers to keep them safe from the demons.

One day, the trio heard a blood-curdling scream and they came face to face with a hideous demon. She had wild bloodshot eyes and tangled hair. Her voice, when she spoke, was like a growl. She introduced herself as Surpanakha, the sister of Ravan, the powerful ruler of Lanka and the king of the demons. She had never seen such handsome young men like Ram and Laxman in her life and she had fallen in love with their beauty at the first glimpse. She invited them to come and spend some time with her so that they could enjoy each other's company. Ram refused her invitation saying that he would not be able to accept as he was with his wife. Enraged, Surpanakha rushed at Sita with bared fangs and outstretched claws saying that she could easily get rid of such a small obstacle. Laxman rushed to intervene and cut off the demon's nose and ears. Screaming in agony, the maimed demon rushed off into the depths of the forest.

Surpanakha went straight to her brother, Ravan, the mighty demon king. She demanded that he avenge her humiliation and the mutilation of her face. She taunted him saying that were he to let Ram and Laxman's actions go unavenged, the other demons would only accord him the respect due to a toothless tiger. 

Ravan promised his sister that he would not rest till Ram and Laxman had been punished. He swore that they would suffer and die a horrible death. He summoned all the cleverest demons for a meeting and together they hatched a cunning plan. They all knew that Sita was Ram's weak spot. They told Ravan that the best plan would be to capture Sita and bring her to Lanka. Ram would surely follow to rescue his beloved wife. Once Ram was in Lanka, he would be in alien territory and at a disadvantage. Thus, Ravan could catch him on the wrong foot and vanquish him easily.

Ravan was pleased with this plan and decided to kidnap Sita himself. He sat in his flying chariot, Pushpak and travelled with amazing speed to the house of his friend, Maricha. Knowing that they would have to employ some means of subterfuge to abduct Sita, the two demons disguised themselves. Maricha took the shape of a beautiful deer and Ravan the guise of a poor ascetic wandering through the forest begging for alms. 

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