In the Bala Kanda of the Valmiki Ramayana, there is a chapter wherein Rishi Vishwamitra convinces Lord Rama, the best of men and most resplendent, that it is his duty to slay the dreadful yakshini Taraka. This chapter as well as the following chapter dealing with how the yakshini Taraka was slain contain very powerful insights whose relevance is as prominent today as it was back then.
Unlike most yakshini-s, the dreadful Taraka was very powerful, and her power manifested in her ravaging the land, tearing asunder its sacredness. Therefore, Rishi Vishwamitra beckons Lord Rama to slay the wicked Taraka:
“O Rama, thou must slay this wicked and impious demon Taraka, who ravages the land. For the good of the Brahmins and the king, O Raghava, accomplish this; do not hesitate to destroy this vile yakshini. It is the duty of a warrior to protect those of the four castes. A prince must not eschew deeds that are painful and difficult, for the preservation of his people. It is according to the law of eternal Dharma, O Rama, that even deeds that appear ruthless are permitted to those appointed to protect their subjects. O Raghava, Taraka is wholly evil, and therefore must be destroyed…fulfill thy duty and slay this yakshini without delay.”
Rishi Vishwamitra’s beseeching of Lord Rama to fulfill his duty makes up a considerable portion of this chapter. A few statements pop up, perhaps brighter than the full moon. The first is the specification of what exactly characterizes that which needs to be destroyed: wickedness and impiety. The second specification is wickedness and impiety that go on to ravage the land. And not just any land, but a sacred land whose sacredness is under attack, this being the third specification.
Granted that Lord Rama is a warrior, and moreover a hero of Dharma of limitless renown, and understandably that is why Rishi Vishwamitra makes clear Lord Rama’s duty as a prince. However, this imparting is rightfully overshadowed by the fourth specification: committing acts that may appear ruthless either to the doer or the one being reproached, as well as to those who may sympathize with the latter, in order to protect one’s subjects and for the preservation of the people.
In addition is the repeating of a common refrain: fulfill your duty and slay without any delay. The more one delays in fulfilling such a duty, the more that wickedness and impiety grow. And the more that wickedness and impiety grow, the worse that a land that is supposed to be sacred becomes. This refrain is made clearer in the next chapter.
The point of concern in this next chapter is that Lord Rama has great forbearance, a kindness that is exemplary of such eternal heroes. Even when readying himself to take on the dreadful yakshini Taraka, he still shows a somewhat hesitant attitude, relaying to Lakshmana:
“She is horrible, versed in black magic and hard to subdue, but it is not proper to deprive a woman of her life. A woman is worthy of protection, therefore, I shall incapacitate her, by depriving her of the power of motion thus preventing her from doing further mischief.”
Understandably, Lord Rama is still in his “development” phase. After all, this is just from the Bala Kanda. He mistakes a manifestation of wickedness and impiety that ravages sacredness for a human being, someone still worthy of protection instead of something in need of being destroyed. This is where Rishi Vishwamitra comes in, with some potent and eye-opening defenses of why Lord Rama must rid himself of such a perspective:
“Enough, she does not deserve further mercy; should you spare her, she will gain strength through her magic powers and will again break up our holy rites. The evening is approaching and in the evening rakshasas are overcome with difficulty; slay her, therefore, without delay.”
While most may not make much of this second attempt of Rishi Vishwamitra beseeching Lord Rama, it is way too important to gloss over without reading into just the sheer amount of symbolism at play. For example, take the notice on gaining strength through magic powers: wickedness and impiety grow stronger upon being spared for they are only bound to manifest furthermore and elsewhere, a “magic” of its own kind in and of itself.
The second symbolism alluded to is that of sparing such wickedness and impiety only for it to end up in the destruction of holy rites. A once-sacred land now devoid of ritual. But where there are yajna-s, there the praises of the deva-s are sung; and there, sacredness wraps itself as a protective sheath. Therefore, the efficacy of Dharma largely rests on the efficacy of sacred conduct, that of conducting sacred and holy rites. In conjunction, important perhaps more so is that of defending the conduction of those rites. In this sense, Rishi Vishwamitra is highlighting the glorious interplay of sacred action that protects in order to preserve sacred action that continues sacred belief.
Take a closer look, however, at the mentioning of the coming of the evening. The coming of the evening is that of the coming of the darkness. Not the coming of evil per se since a dark night is not where there are automatically bound to be malignant forces but rather the point of the coming of a darkness upon a land whose sacredness is already under attack, making the destruction of that evil under that darkness much harder. And wickedness and impiety are more difficult to overcome in such “environmental” conditions, so to speak. Which is why Rishi Vishwamitra again employs that common refrain: fulfill your duty and slay without any delay.
But does the action stop here? Far from it—in fact, what comes next is just as important, if not more:
“Seeing the terrible yakshini slain, Indra and other celestial beings worshipped Shri Rama, crying: ‘Well done, well done, O Holy Rama!’…Indra and the gods are gratified with Shri Ramachandra’s feat of arms…these two princes [Rama and Lakshmana] are destined to achieve great things.”
Herein, again one may notice relevant symbolism. For example, it is not just Taraka as a yakshini that has been slain but more importantly a manifestation of wickedness and impiety. Furthermore, slaying such manifestations of wickedness and impiety result in the gratification of the deva-s. And finally, those who slay wickedness and impiety that encroach upon sacred land are destined to achieve great things.
This goes back to a point made earlier: the glorious interplay of sacred action that protects in order to preserve sacred action that continues sacred belief. The former devoid of the latter and vice versa amount to the erosion of the traditional Hindu way of life, but where the two are yoked is where greatness truly lies because they genuinely embody natural law: the continuation of the traditional order of cooperative association and prudent-but-firm sociality.
This now brings us to the main concerns upon which this post was made: The first is whether the pious-in-Dharma ought to become like their enemies and the second is the descriptive sentiment that one ought to be wary of becoming like their enemies. Both of these concerns are misplaced. And here is why:
“Confronting us is the Dasyu: riteless, void of sense, non-man, whose commandments are alien.” –Rgveda
This quote from the Rgveda provides the grim background against which Hindus find themselves, and have found themselves for quite some time. The Dasyu that is “riteless, void of sense, non-man, whose commandments are alien,” is not something that Hindus need to become, as the common refrain of Rishi Vishwamitra makes clear, regardless of any efficiency of Dasyu metholodogy to be gained from its incorporation.
Furthtermore, some profoundly mistake a Vishwamitra-like approach to addressing the maladies that ail Hindus as becoming like their enemies, which they see as a victory for the Adharmic and a defeat for Hindus. To them it is advised numerous re-readings of the Rgvedic verse quoted above until it sinks in that the Taraka-s of the world are not those whom one dines with through ideological, sedentary, and reposed battles but instead through courage that is unyielding and never concessional. This is far from employing a tactic wherein Hindus become their own foemen. Again, it is simply the pramanic employment of the interplay made clear by Rishi Vishwamitra to Lord Rama: sacred action that protects in order to preserve sacred action that continues sacred belief.
He that employs this interplay, as the Rgveda reveals, “will win against those who seek to win just as he who is devoted to the gods will dominate the one not devoted to the gods.” And “with his people, with his clan, with his race, and with his sons he will carry away the prize of victory.”