Ravana retreated in fear; and Rama went back to Lakshmana.

Rama was overcome with grief. There would be no point in vanquishing Ravana if Lakshmana were to leave His body. What would he tell his relatives? How would he face his brothers, Satrughna and Bharata? Rama fell weeping to the ground.

Hanuman raised Him up, and comforted Him. He called on Sushena, the vanara physician. And Sushena administered herbs from the Himalayas called sanjivakarani, vishalyakarani and sandhani. These herbs healed Lakshmana’s grievous wound and repaired His bones. Lakshmana urged Rama to fulfill his vow that he would kill Ravana and install Vibhishana on the throne of Lanka.

Rama was angry. He was now bent on destroying Ravana. He immediately shot a steady stream of arrows at Ravana.

Seeing Rama without a chariot, Indra sent his charioteer, Matali, to Rama. He also gave him armour and weapons. Seeing Rama being assisted by his mortal enemy, Indra, he became totally enraged. Then Ravana unleashed his serpent-missile on Rama. These venemous serpent arrows were countered by Rama’s Garuda weapon, comprising mystical eagles. Ravana attacked fiercely, striking Matali, his steeds and covering the chariot with arrows. There were bad omens. The sun dimmed. Waves rose high in the sea. Jackals howled. And ghosts and wraiths darted about the battlefield.

Rama was rendered immobile as Ravana summoned his most powerful arrow, with spikes resembling mountain peaks. He reserved this arrow for an especially deadly enemy. The demon exclaimed, ‘This arrow, as powerful as a thunderbolt, will destroy You!’. Rama fired hundreds of arrows at the dart, but they were deflected. Rama, however, deflected the arrow with Indra’s javelin. Rama countered by striking Ravana’s ten heads. But Ravana responded with a vicious attack. Rama insulted Ravana, saying that he would not be in there if he had kidnapped Sita in Rama’s presence. Soon he would be food for dogs and vultures. Rama attacked Ravan with great force. Assisted by the vanaras, Ravana reeled on his chariot. Begging forgiveness, Ravana’s charioteer veered from the battlefield. Ravana disapproved of this cowardice and insisted he take him back to Rama.

Rama was also fatigued. Agastya Muni came to his assistance. He informed him of a highly confidential prayer, the aditya-hridaya, which invoked spiritual energy from the heart of the sun. This energy would help Rama defeat Ravana before nightfall (when the demon’s power increased). The prayer gave Rama a second-wind of energy. Ravana drove his chariot towards Rama. Matali carefully manouevred his chariot as the two foes released arrows at each other.

Ravana was surrounded by bad omens, while favourable signs manifested around Lord Rama. Ravana fired various weapons at Rama. These, however, were avoided by Matali’s expert charioteering. Even after half a day, no one seemed to have the upper hand. Ravana composed himself and hurled the rakshasa-astra at Rama again. The sun lost its brilliance and the wind dropped. Rama burned up Ravana’s serpent-weapons with his gandharva-astra.

This battle could only be compared to itself. There had never been such a battle before, even amongst the devas. Rama severed Ravana’s heads over and over again, but they would grow back each time. How would he kill him? Weapons seemed ineffective against Ravana.

Vibhishana explained to Rama that Ravana had been granted a boon by lord Brahma that his heads and arms could never be destroyed. Ravana’s heart, however, contained a store of celestial nectar which renewed life in his body. If this were to dry up, Ravana would be killed. Matali also reminded Rama of an arrow which Agastya Muni had given him in the forest. This arrow, imbued with the force of the brahmastra, had the power to kill the demon.

Rama summoned the arrow and again chanted the aditya-hridaya prayer. He shot the arrow at Ravana. The arrow lit up the sky and earth and made a sound like a raging ocean. The arrow pierced Ravana’s heart. Ravana’s body was soaked in blood. The arrow entered the earth. Ravana slumped to the ground, like a mountain slewn by Indra’s thunderbolt. Rakshasas fled in all directions as the celestial denizens celebrated Rama’s victory. Vibhishana lamented over his brother’s misfortune and ignorance. He had always wished his brother well and cried as he fell by his side. Rama assured him that all heroes must all. There was no need to mourn for Ravana. He died a heroic death. Lakshmana offered spiritual counsel. There was no need to lament over a coprse once the soul has departed. Ravana’s wives cried like female elephants. Mandodari mourned the loss of Rama for some time.

Mandodari lamented, ‘O Ravana, even though you conquered your senses and won great boons, you were eventually conquered by those senses. Overcome by lust, you wanted to enjoy the sinless Sita. By kidnapping Sita – who is the emblem of chastity and nobility – you brought destruction on yourself and your people’. Mandodari cried piteously. She exclaimed that Vibhishana would enjoy the kingdom now that Ravana had ignored his good advice. Eventually she was taken away, supported by ladies on both sides. Rama encouraged Vibhishana to perform last rites for his brother, even though he was reluctant to do so. After the funeral rites, Ravana’s body was burnt to ashes on a funeral pyre.

(This is a summary of Krishna Dharma’s ‘Ramayana’ chapter entitled, ‘The Final Battle’)