Maricha: The Golden Deer of Ramayana

Maricha the golden deer

Maricha was the son of the Sunda and Yakshini named Tataka. Tataka was the daughter of the Yaksha king Suketu, who had received her as a blessing from the god Brahma. The siblings, Maricha and Subahu, were known for their striking looks and noble character with great skills in sorcery.

Maricha as deer spotted by Sita

How did Maricha transform into Rakshasa?

One day, Sunda, in a drunken state, attacked the hermitage (ashram) of the sage Agastya. The angry sage burnt him to ashes using his meditative powers. Upon learning of Sunda’s death, Tataka and her sons were consumed with rage and sought vengeance against the sage Agastya. However, the sage cursed them, transforming them into wicked and hideous demonic Rakshasas.

Tataka and her sons, now transformed into Rakshasas, sought aid from Sumali, the patriarch of the Rakshasas, in the underworld realm of Patala. Sumali took them to his grandson, Ravana, the Rakshasa king of Lanka.

Ravana helped Tataka and her sons capture the states of Malada and Karusha, which were situated on the banks of the river Sarayu near its confluence with the Ganges. The trio destroyed these states and turned them into a dense forest, which came to be known as the Forest of Tataka.

They terrorized the people, devouring anyone who dared venture into the forest. Even the gods, demons, and men, as well as the sun and the clouds, were afraid to enter the territory of Tataka and her sons.

Maricha and Subahu took pleasure in harassing the sages (rishis) in the region and destroying their yajna sacrifices. They would throw blood, flesh, and bones on the sacrificial altars, thus desecrating the sanctity of the sages’ rituals.

Encounter with Lord Rama

When Ravana went to Maricha to make plans to kidnap Sita Maa. These encounters with Lord Rama are described in Aranyakanda, Sarga 38, 39, and 40 of Valmiki Ramayana.

Meet 1: Lord Rama protecting Sage Vishwamitra’s Yajna

Rama and Lakshmana battle with Maricha Army (Source)

सङ्गृह्यास्त्रं ततो रामो दिव्यमाग्नेयमद्भुतम्।
सुबाहूरसि चिक्षेप सविद्ध: प्रापतद्भुवि।।

Then Rama took hold of the celestial, marvelous Agneya weapon and hurled it into the chest of Subahu. Struck, Subahuhe fell down on the ground.

Balkanda 1.30.21

In the area near the forest of Tadaka, the great sage Vishwamitra was engaged in penance and yajna along with his disciples. However, he and his disciples were constantly tormented by Tadaka and her sons.

Unable to bear the menace any longer, Vishvamitra sought help from Dasharatha, the King of Ayodhya. Despite initial reluctance, Dasharatha finally agreed to send his eldest son, Rama, along with his younger brother Lakshmana, to protect Vishvamitra’s yajna, as advised by the royal guru Vashishtha. Vishvamitra trained young boys, Rama and Lakshmana, in warfare and imparted various mantras to them.

As Vishvamitra and the princes were passing through the forest of Tadaka, they were attacked by Tadaka. With the aid of Lakshmana, Rama slew her with his arrow, much to the joy of the gods. Vishvamitra blessed Rama and rewarded him with divine weapons. The sage then commenced his six-day yajna, with Rama and Lakshmana standing guard.

The first five days of the yajna passed without any trouble, but on the sixth day, the sacrificial fire faltered, indicating impending danger. Maricha and his brother Subahu, along with a horde of rakshasas, appeared from the treetops, roaring and causing mayhem.

They tried to destroy the yajna fire by showering it with blood and flesh. The 13-year-old Rama used his Manavastra, a powerful weapon that could hit a target miles away, and struck Maricha’s chest, throwing him into the ocean, that too with a single arrow.

In another version, Maricha fled to the ocean upon hearing the sound of Rama’s bow. Rama also defeated Subahu and the other demons using various other weapons, and the yajna was successfully completed with Vishvamitra’s guidance.

Meet 2: Havoc at Dandakaranya

Rama, Lakhsmana and Sita at Dandakarnaya forest

पराक्रमज्ञो रामस्य शठो दृष्टभयः पुरा।
समुद्भान्तस्ततोमुक्तस्तावुभौ राक्षसौ हतौ।।

Having known Rama’s prowess earlier and experienced tremendous fear, I ran away in a bewildered state as I was deceitful. The other two demons (who had accompanied me) succumbed.

Aryanakanda 3.39.12

Due to the schemes of Rama’s stepmother Kaikeyi and maid Manthara, Rama, along with Lakshmana and Sita, was exiled for fourteen years and they traveled to the Dandakaranya, where they built a hermitage at Panchavati on the banks of the Godavari River.

Maricha, in his conversations with Ravana, recalled an incident where he disguised himself as a beast with a flaming tongue and two sharp horns, accompanied by two rakshasa companions in the form of animals.

These animal-eating rakshasa terrorized ascetics by feasting on human flesh and creating havoc at pilgrimage sites. When Maricha saw Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita in Dandakaranya, he attacked them in his ferocious beast form seeking vengeance.

But Rama shot three arrows simultaneously, killing Maricha’s allies. Maricha narrowly escaped the third arrow and fled in fear.

The spared Maricha underwent a transformation and turned into a saintly person. He gave up his demonic qualities, adopted the life of an ascetic, set up an ashram, grew matted hair, and wore tree bark. He realized his mistakes and became a devotee of Rama but fate had different plans for him.

Meet 3: Lord Rama Killing golden deer

Suparnakha’s encounter with Rama and Lakshmana

Surpanakha Tries to Devour Sita
Shuparnakha being stopped by Lakshmana from attacking Sita

इत्युक्तो लक्ष्मणस्तस्याः क्रुद्धो रामस्य पार्श्वतः।
उद्धृत्य खङ्गं चिच्छेद कर्णनासं महाबलः।।

Thus instructed (by Rama), powerful Lakshmana took position by the side of Rama, angrily lifted the sword, and cut off her nose and ears.

Aryanakanda 3.18.21

One day, Surpanakha, the rakshasa sister of Ravana, approached Rama disguised as a beautiful maiden and proposed marriage to him. However, Rama politely refused her proposal and directed her to Lakshmana in jest. Lakshmana, in turn, joked that she should marry his brother, Rama.

Enraged by their mockery, Surpanakha returned to Rama and attacked Sita, Rama’s wife. In response, Lakshmana drew his sword and swiftly cut off Surpanakha’s ears and nose, humiliating her. Surpanakha sought revenge and told Ravana about the death of Khara, Dushana, and their 14000 demon army at the hands of Rama, as well as the insult she had suffered.

Surpanakha proposed that Ravana, her maternal uncle and the king of Lanka, should steal Sita, Rama’s beautiful wife. Ravana, brooding over his next course of action, flew in his aerial chariot to meet his ally, Maricha, who lived in a secluded hermitage on the ocean coast.

Maricha’s advice to Ravana

मारीचेन तु तद्वाक्यं क्षमं युक्तं च निशाचरः।
उक्तो न प्रतिजग्राह मर्तुकाम इवौषधम् ।।

तं पथ्यहितवक्तारं मारीचं राक्षसाधिपः।
अब्रवीत्परुषं वाक्यमयुक्तं कालचोदितः।।

The plan of abducting Sita would be the downfall of Ravana. Please Ravana, immediately drop this plan which will lead to the death of us and the destruction of Lanka.

Aryanakanda 3.40.1 and 3.40.2

However, Maricha, who had experienced Rama’s strength firsthand, was horrified by Ravana’s plan. He tried to dissuade Ravana by recalling Rama’s righteousness and valor, warning that the plan would only lead to Ravana’s downfall. But Ravana ignored Maricha’s warnings and threatened him to comply with his plan.

Maricha, fearing Ravana’s wrath, reluctantly agreed, but not before prophesying his own death and the end of Ravana, Lanka, and the Rakshasa race. Ravana was pleased with Maricha’s consent and embraced him.

Ravana’s plan to abduct Sita

Maricha the golden deer
Maricha in the form of Golden deer (Source)

सौवर्णस्त्वं मृगो भूत्वा चित्रो रजतबिन्दुभिः।
आश्रमे तस्य रामस्य सीतायाः प्रमुखे चर।
प्रलोभयित्वा वैदेहीं यथेष्टं गन्तुमर्हसि।।

Transform into golden deer that would captivate Sita Devi and Rama and Lakshmana would go after it, leaving Sita alone.

Aryanakanda 3.40.18

Ravana informed Maricha of his plan to abduct Sita using Maricha’s magical powers. He instructed Maricha to transform into a golden deer with silver spots and graze near Rama’s ashram. Ravana believed that Sita would be captivated by the deer’s beauty and would ask Rama and Lakshmana to catch it. Once the brothers left Sita alone, Ravana could easily abduct her.

Execution of Plan

आर्यपुत्राभिरामोऽसौ मृगो हरति मे मनः।
आनयैनं महाबाहो क्रीडार्थं नो भविष्यति।।

O prince O longarmed one, this deer has captivated my mind. Fetch him for me. This will be our playmate.

Aryanakanda 3.43.9

Ravana and Maricha flew to Panchavati in Ravana’s chariot and stopped near Rama’s ashram. Maricha transformed into a beautiful golden deer with silver spots, adorned with dazzling gems. Sita, who was collecting flowers, spotted the deer and was captivated by its beauty.

She called Rama and Lakshmana to see the marvelous form of deer. Lakshmana, sensing foul play, warned Rama that it could be Maricha in disguise. However, Sita insisted on getting the deer either dead or alive, as she wanted to take it to Ayodhya as a pet.

Rama killing the golden dear

Lord Rama killing deer formed Maricha (Source)

शरीरं मृगरूपस्य विनिर्भिद्य शरोत्तमः।
मारीचस्यैव हृदयं बिभेदाशनिसन्निभः।

The great arrow which was like a thunderbolt first pierced into the body of Maricha who had assumed the form of a deer and then tore his heart.

Aryanakanda 3.44.15

Rama, obliged by Sita’s wish, went after the deer, leaving Lakshmana to care for Sita. Maricha led Rama far away from the hermitage, and when they reached a grassland, Rama seized the opportunity and shot the tired deer down with his golden arrow.

As Maricha was dying, he came back to real form and mimicked Rama’s voice, and cried out, “Oh Sita! Oh, Lakshmana!” Sita, hearing the cry, became anxious and pleaded with Lakshmana to go and help Rama. Reluctantly, Lakshmana left Sita alone, and Ravana, seizing the opportunity, abducted Sita and flew away to Lanka in his chariot, leaving Sita’s abduction as a dreadful outcome of Ravana’s evil plan.

Maricha is definitively a crucial character of the Hindu Epic Ramayana whose assistance resulted in the biggest righteous war of Hindu Itihasa.