You will perhaps miss Akampana, a needle in the haystack of Valmiki’s Ramayana….but he is the crucial factor that sets the whole clash between Rama and Ravana on course..
When Narayanan uncle comes to our place, the kids are all agog. He is a tall lean man, and has an unlikely voice of great force. He could roar like a lion, thunder like a cloud, and you wouldn’t believe me if I said so, he could hiss like a snake and whisper like the breeze…When he begins to weave his tales, his eyes would have a glint and you would be away to a wonder-world. He really could cast those magical spell on us kids.
So when mouse-like Anu kutti of the first floor came running up the stairs and called me to a session with Naana uncle, I cast aside my homework for a while and followed her swiftly. Uncle’s storytelling was so famous in our block that getting a seat with a good view of uncle’s expressive face was difficult. When I went in, Narayanan uncle had just put away his cup of coffee, and was perked up enough to launch into one of his magical tales…
‘‘Imagine somebody with a wolf’s cunning…a serpent’s viciousness, and an eel’s slipperiness…Imagine Satan’s son…wicked, more wicked and most wicked…and there you have the villain for this day…’’ Uncle Naana was getting into his groove. The children drew nearer, and could feel a chill down their spine.
His name was Akampana…the one without a shiver…and really I tell you, he did not feel the least fear while sowing poison in the world…in making people and kingdoms hurtle to their end because of his hideous ideas. And there he is, Akampana…with a wolf’s cunning, a snake’s poison and an eel’s slipperiness (Uncle really liked to ensure that the character sunk into us.)
From all his criminal acts to this day…let me tell you something that happened thousands and thousands of years ago. (Narayanan Uncle then looked around to see if his words were having their intended effect).
Rama was in the forest with Lakshmana and Seetha. And around them were demons and devils of the wickedest weather.
Khara, the cantankerous, Dhooshana, the despicable, and Thrishira the tyrant… With their band of criminals they got into a fight with Rama. Single-handedly the hero met them in the jungle..and so swift was his strike, so piercing his bows, so superhuman his archery…that a single pointed arrow sent hordes of demons to their well-earned rest!
Akampana was part of this attacking force, but slippery and cunning as he was, he judged rightly that this was no battle he wanted any part of. So he hid behind the rocks and peeked from the crevices. He hid behind the trunks of trees which were thousands of years old, and were large as mountains and as hard as boulders. As he saw Rama striking terror into his rakshasa brethren, he exulted in their terrible death, and was overawed by Rama’s bravery. Hidden, he saw fourteen thousand of his race of demons being razed to the ground. He was happy to be the only one of his fellowmen to be alive.
Then and there he realized that no power on earth could conquer Rama. It was then that the arch villain in him got to work. How could such a great warrior be brought to his knees, he thought and hatched the wickedest plan in the darkest chamber of his hellish heart.
‘If there is one thing equal to the superhuman bravery of Rama, it is the heavenly beauty of his wife Seetha. Kidnap his wife…and Rama will be vanquished’ he thought, and to share his sin with his king, he vanished with the wind, and entered the polluted sphere of Ravana. (Uncle Naana, once again looked round his flock, and satisfied that he was having them at the tip of his magic wand, continued…)
Akampana knew that Ravana was a nasty character, and taking the news of the utter rout of the Rakshasa battalion to him could cost him his life. ‘Mighty King. I have news…if you promise to spare my life I will reveal it.’
Ravana did not like his slaves posing riddles to him…but growled his consent. Akampana unfolded the news. Ravana’s eyes almost popped out. He roared…and unsheathing his sword almost sliced off Akampana’s slippery neck. If Akampana had not dodged, his head might have been severed like butter sliced with a knife and would not have been his. (Uncle dropped in a contemporary simile that all of us could understand…)
‘I will go this very second and slice off the enemy with one swing of my arm’, Ravana roared, making Akampana shiver for the first time in his life.
‘ Mighty King…The Great ten-headed one…I know your power’ said Akampana, feeling the nape of his neck which had just then escaped being unhinged. ‘But believe me…Rama cannot be conquered’. The demon king heard the sentence, and sat back on his throne. That very moment, when he accepted defeat in his mind, he had been already conquered.
‘ But there is one way you can beat Rama’, Akampana continued, and the devils of hell began to smile on his face. ‘Will thy lordship allow me to come closer and say something into your lordly ears…’ he asked. Ravana signed his assent. Akampana carefully got to Ravana (he had to perch himself on a high ladder to get to Ravana’s height!) and whispered into his ear.
Ravana’s cruel features lit up. The prospect of a capturing for himself the beautiful wife of an enemy pleased him greatly. Akampana had successfully sowed an evil idea in the heart of the rakshasa king. The seed for his downfall had been cast.
The wicked design would flower into sinister action. Then the poisonous weed would invade the island kingdom of Lanka, where pleasures and selfishness ruled the land…and it would burn.
His deed done, Akampana vanished for the moment. The whole world thought that it was the wicked Shurpanankha who had made Ravana carry away Sita. But Ravana and Akampana knew better. When the sons of Ravana like Aksha kumar and the mighty Indrajit, and when the brothers of Ravana like Kumbhakarna were all killed brutally, Akampana watched from hidden quarters,his evil idea taking its heavy toll. Akampana grinned.
When Ravana himself, every pore of his mighty body pierced by Rama’s sharp arrows lay breathing his last in the battle field, Akampana was there. And with an evil smile he peered into the face of the defeated emperor. For a moment, Ravana seemed to recognize. There was a flicker of a smile on his face…indicating that he realized what had brought him from the throne to the dust of the earth, but the next moment he was gone.
Akampana escaped unseen from the ruined kingdom of the rakshasas. Actually the Valmiki Ramayana does not record the death of Akampana. For he is indeed deathless. Thousands of years have passed, and he still lives. He devices very evil ideas…and keeps planting them in the minds of men. When they succumb, and do wicked things in the world, they are destroyed by their own actions. Hidden from their eyes, Akampana sees his plans bearing fruit…and derives equal pleasure in seeing his victims undone by their own wickedness.
Uncle Narayanan looked around. The children had the feeling that Akampana was somewhere in their midst and they must somehow avoid. That was uncle’s success. He would narrate a story that was as old as the hills…But he would bring everything to life. All of us felt the wickedness of Akampana and the Rakshasas. How great Rama was that he not only stuck to dharma but also conquered all the demons with his strength and valour!
Illustration : C. V. Hamsa