The stories, myths, and legends of any culture reflect the values, beliefs, and mindset of its people. These tales not only provide entertainment but also serve as a way to teach and guide future generations on how to live virtuous lives. The Ramayana and Mahabharata, two ancient Indian epics, are particularly noteworthy in this regard. These works remain relevant and meaningful to people of all ages and times, as they explore human nature and behavior through the characters, and provide a moral compass for individuals to follow the path of righteousness and fulfillment of their duties.
The story of Vibhishana, brother of King Ravana, serves as a prime example of dedication, selflessness, loyalty, and adherence to one’s moral duty. It is worth exploring his life and actions in more detail.
Vibhishana, also known as Bibhishan, was a character in Ramayana. He was the younger brother of the king of Lanka, Ravana. Despite being an asura himself, Vibhishana was a noble and virtuous character who was a devout follower of Lord Rama, the central character of the Ramayana and an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Vibhishana tried to persuade his brother not to abduct Rama’s wife, Sita and advocated for peace. When Ravana refused to listen, Vibhishana deserted him and joined Rama’s army, ultimately helping Rama defeat his brother.
In Sinhalese history, Vibhishana is considered one of the Sathara Waram Deviyo, or four guardian deities. This belief gained prominence during the Kotte period. According to the Ravana Katha of Wickramasinghe Adigar, after Ravana was defeated and killed by Rama, Vibhishana became king and moved his Yaksha capital from Alakamandawa to Kelaniya. In the 16th century, he was revered as a god of the four warrants by the goddess Pattini. Vibhishana continues to be worshiped by a small number of devotees, mainly in the Kelaniya area.
Early Life of Vibhisana
Vibhishana is the youngest son of Sage Vishrava and Kaikesi and the brother of Ravana and Kumbhakarna. Despite being born as an asura, he had a pure and sattvic nature and considered himself to be a Brahmin. From a young age, he spent much of his time meditating on the name of Lord Vishnu and was granted the boon of unwavering devotion to the Lord. Vibhishana is also one of the Eight Chiranjivis or the Eight Immortal Beings in Hinduism. His character is similar to that of Yuyutsu in the Mahabharata, who also chose to fight against his own family.
Tales of Ramayana
Vibhishana played a crucial role in the story of Ramayana. He left his family and renounced his wealth and status to support and assist Rama in his conflict with Ravana. To fully understand his character, it is important to go back to the time of Sita’s Swayamvara ceremony.
Ravana had been infatuated with Sita since he first saw her. He was determined to marry her, no matter what. In the Swayambara hosted by King Janaka (father of Sita), suitors would compete to win her hand in marriage, Ravana saw it as an opportunity to make his move. The competition required the suitors to lift and string a massive bow, and King Janaka declared that whoever could accomplish this task would win Sita’s hand in marriage.
Many rulers tried and failed, but Ravana, being overconfident, believed he could easily lift the bow. Despite putting in a lot of effort, he couldn’t manage to lift it off the ground and was left humiliated. Rama, on the other hand, effortlessly lifted and strung the bow, impressing Sita and King Janaka, and ultimately winning Sita’s hand in marriage.
The story of Ramayana continues with Rama and his family forced to leave their palace and live in exile in the forest due to a scheme planned by Kaikeyi, Rama’s stepmother, and her maid Manthara. Dasharatha, Rama’s father, is forced to fulfill a promise he made to Kaikeyi by making her son, Bharata, the king and sending Rama into exile for 14 years. Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana willingly accept this and move to the forest of Panchavati.
Meanwhile, Ravana, still seeking revenge on Rama, sees an opportunity to abduct Sita. He disguised as a golden deer and entices Sita to leave the protection of a line drawn by Lakshmana, and then disguising himself as a beggar, lures Sita out of the protection and abducts her, taking her to his palace in Lanka. Some versions of the Ramayana state that the lady abducted was actually an illusory double of Sita, while the real Sita took refuge with the god of fire, Agni.
On his return, Jatayu (vulture king) heard screams for help and intervened as Ravana was trying to kidnap Sita. Jatayu fought bravely against Ravana but was eventually defeated, his wings chopped off, and seriously wounded. Despite his injuries, Jatayu was able to tell Rama and Lakshmana what happened to Sita before passing away.
Sita was held captive by Ravana for a year, during which time he repeatedly tried to make her his own, but she refused and remained chaste. Rama sent Hanuman to find Sita, who found her at Ashokvan and told her he was sent by Rama. Sita insisted that Rama come to Lanka, fight and kill Ravana before taking her back. She blessed Hanuman and gave him her hair ornament to give to Rama. Hanuman returned to Rama and reported on his journey to Lanka.
Vibhisna Joining Rama Army
Vibhishana, who was opposed to his brother Ravana’s actions, sought advice from his mother Kaikesi regarding the kidnapping of Sita. Following her advice, he decided to leave Lanka and join forces with Rama, who was assembling an army to fight Ravana and rescue Sita. Before leaving, Vibhishana instructed his daughter Trijata to take care of Sita and informed his wife Sarama of his plans. He left secretly, carrying his mace with him and accompanied by two of his favorite demons.
Upon arriving at Rameshwaram where Rama, Lakshmana, and the Vanara Sena were located, Vibhishana humbly approached Rama and fell at his feet. Rama warmly welcomed him and embraced him, recognizing that he was meant to serve Rama as his mace in the battle against evil.
Vibhisana’s contribution to the war
Vibhishana played a crucial role in Rama’s army, providing valuable information and tactics about the Lankan army and his brother Ravana. He also revealed the secret path to the temple of Mata Nikumbala, where Ravana’s son, Indrajit, was performing a yagna to defeat Rama. Vibhishana employed counter tricks to nullify the power of Indrajit’s black magic and warned Rama and Lakshmana about the blackberry tree where all the magic rituals were performed.
He informed them that Indrajit’s powers would be magnified when he sat under the tree and advised them to somehow pull him away from that tree. During the final battle, Vibhishana stepped forward and revealed to Rama the secret of Ravana’s death, which was to hit him in the navel and dry out the nectar of immortality stored there. Rama immediately shot an arrow at Ravana’s navel, killing him instantly.
Being a King of SriLanka
Before leaving Lanka, Rama revealed his true identity as Sri Maha Vishnu to Vibhishana and blessed him. He also appointed Vibhishana as the new king of Lanka and instructed him to govern the kingdom with Dharma in mind. He also asked him to rule Lanka wisely.
Vibhisana’s rule of Devotion
Vibhishana was a model of loyalty and selflessness. After becoming the king of Lanka, he worked to lead his people on the path of righteousness and virtue. He was supported in this effort by his wife Sarama, who was also a devout person. Through the favor of the Lord, he became known as one of the “immortals” of Hinduism and continued to spread the message of devotion and selflessness in service to God. He also became a devoted follower of Lord Ranganatha, the family deity of Rama’s dynasty. Vibhishana’s story illustrates that the Lord does not discriminate among his followers and grants his blessings to all equally, regardless of their background.
Vibhisana and Srirangam
Vibhishana has a strong connection to the famous Ranganathaswamy Temple located in Srirangam. This temple is considered sacred by Hindus and is seen as the earthly home of Vishnu. During Rama’s coronation, Vibhishana was given the sacred Sri Ranga Vimana, but as he attempted to take it back to Lanka, the Vimana refused to move from its spot at the banks of the Kaveri River. In response, Vibhishana prayed to Vishnu who then appeared and revealed that he wanted to reside there as Lord Ranganatha and that the Brahmotsavam festival at Tirucherai was also considered sacred.
Previous Life of Vibhisana and his brothers
According to the Ramayana by Tulsidas, which is also known as Ramcharitmas, there is a legend about the past lives of Ravana and Vibhishana. The story tells of a king named Pratapabhanu who, with the help of his brother Arimardan and minister Dharmaruchi, successfully conquered many neighboring kingdoms and ruled his own state well. However, during a hunting trip in the forest, he lost his way and stumbled upon an ashram where a king he had defeated was living in disguise.
This king, seeking revenge, tricked Pratapabhanu into serving the Brahmins a meal made with the flesh of a Brahmin. As a result, the Brahmins cursed Pratapabhanu and his family to be born as demons in their next lives, and eventually be destroyed. In their next lives, Pratapabhanu was born as Ravana, Arimardan as Kumbhakarna, and Dharmaruchi as Vibhishana.
Vibhisana married the wife of Ravana
Before returning to Ayodhya, Rama advised Vibhishana to marry Mandodari, the widow of Ravana and Queen of Lanka. He also visited and consoled her, reminding her of her duties to the kingdom. Mandodari was a noble and loyal woman who was against Ravana’s actions but stayed by his side out of duty. Initially unwilling to marry Vibhishana, who was already married, she eventually agreed to the marriage for various reasons.
One theory suggests it was necessary for Vibhishana to marry the reigning Queen in order to bring order to the kingdom, while another suggests it was a non-Aryan custom and a purely political move. Another reason could be that Mandodari had nowhere to go after Ravana’s death and Rama advised her to marry Vibhishana for stability and purpose in her life. Despite her reasons, Mandodari accepted the proposal and guided the kingdom toward the path of good and dharma.
Was Vibhisana’s action justifiable?
The character of Vibhishana in the Ramayana is one that is both admired for his adherence to dharma and criticized for his betrayal of his brother and joining with a foreign enemy. He is also criticized for marrying his brother’s wife. However, it is important to understand that legends and epics are meant to teach people about the importance of character, values, and dharma. They are not meant to be viewed in a black-and-white manner.
In the story, Vibhishana and other characters are pushed into circumstances that create moral dilemmas for them. Vibhishana chose to adhere to his personal principles and never strayed from his own concept of dharma. Throughout his life, he was devout, pure of heart, and just as a ruler, bringing peace and prosperity to his kingdom.