Tataka’s Fall

ghoratātakā-ghātaka rāma
ghoratātakā-ghātaka rāma

As Sri Ram and Lakshman, accompanied by Sage Vishwamitra, proceed towards his hermitage from Ayodhya, they come across a dark and dreary forest echoing with the screeches of wildfowl. Upon enquiring, the sage revealed to Lord Ram that the harsh forest used to be a well-populated land, which was beautiful and prosperous on account of Indra’s boon. It was now the favourite haunt of an ogress Tataka, who roamed about unleashing terror on the ascetics who practised austerities there.

Tataka was a yaksha, who possessed the might of a thousand elephants by virtue of a boon given by Brahma to her father Suketu. She was married to Sunda, a leader of the demons and they had a son, the notorious demon Maricha. Having angered Sage Agastya, Sunda was in turn killed by him with a curse. This enraged Tataka and Maricha, who then vowed to dismiss the sage. Thereafter, they harassed the dwellers in that region including the sage himself, who cursed them to become monstrous ogres who fed on human carcasses, thereby spelling their doom. Tataka thus became a dreadful ogress having immense power with a colossal body, round arms, a large head and an enormous mouth.

Sage Vishwamitra instructed Sri Ram to slay the impious fiend and rid the region of her atrocities. Sri Ram’s initial reservations in killing a woman were put to rest when Sage Vishwamitra explained to Ram, how women characterised by impiety were killed by many kshatriya princes in the past and also that Tataka was no innocent woman, she was an ogress. When one’s duty is to protect, one must not doubt whether the duty should be performed. Sri Ram could not allow himself to be overcome by compassion for a woman, since the said ogress was a constant threat to residents, including the sages of that region. Further, Sri Ram’s duty demanded that a sage’s words be implicitly obeyed.

Thus, Sri Ram killed Tataka, who impeded sacrificial proceedings, with an arrow possessing power similar to Indra’s thunderbolt. In performing this duty of his, Sri Ram put an end to the cruelty that the sages and rishis had been subjected to in that forest. With the killing of Tataka, Sri Ram’s divinity shone forth for the first time and he thus embarked on his mission of eradicating evil from the face of the earth.

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Chinmaya Udghosh