Not many of us know about the life story of Ravana’s sister Surpanakha.If there had been no Surpanakha, there would have been no Ramayana. This sentence marks the utmost importance of her character as only after her unreciprocated seduction of both Rama and Lakshman resulting in chopping away of her nose and ears by the later, the battle between Lord Rama and Ravana took place. If asked what else do we know about Surpanakha, we would be rendered speechless as not even a fistful of us have ever tried to go into the depths of her life. So it’s time to know a little more about the Ravana’s sister Surpanakha.
Belonging to the family of Rakshasas, she emitted powers of changing into different skins of different people. From one look to another, she could change many. While some texts speak of her remarkable beauty, Valmiki describes her as an ugly woman.
सुमुखम् दुर्मुखी रामम् वृत्त मध्यम् महोदरी || ३- १७ –९
विशालाक्षम् विरूपाक्षी सुकेशम् ताम्र मूर्धजा
प्रियरूपम् विरूपा सा सुस्वरम् भैरव स्वना || ३- १७- १०
तरुणम् दारुणा वृद्धा दक्षिणम् वाम भाषिणी |
न्याय वृत्तम् सुदुर्वृत्ता प्रियम् अप्रिय दर्शना || ३ –१७ –११
शरीरज समाविष्टा राक्षसी रामम् अब्रवीत
Meaning- She that demoness who is facially unpleasant one with that pleasant-faced one, pot- bellied one with the broad-eyed one, coppery-haired one with the neatly dressed one, ugly featured one with the charming featured one, brassy voiced one with the gentle-voiced one, deplorably oldish one with the youngish one, crooked talker with the pleasant talker, ill-mannered one with the well-mannered one, uncouth one with couth, abominable one with amiable Rama spoke, besieged by Love-god. [3- 17- 9b, 11, 12a] (Source)
Marital Life followed by the life of a widow
As she grew up, she chose to marry the person of her choice. Surpanakha got married to the prince of the Kalkeya Danava clan, Vidyutjihva (some text claim his name to be Dushtabudhi). This act enraged Ravana as Danavas and Asuras shared a bond of enmity. Convinced by Mandodari, he accepted their marriage.
The married life soon came to an end when her husband died in the hands of Ravana. With the growing greed of her husband, he attacked Ravana and in self-defense the latter killed Vidyutjihva. Her brother became the reason of her misery. As a widow, she divided her time of stay between Lanka and South Indian forests. Quite a few times she used to live with her forest dwelling relatives Khara and Dushana.
Growing the seedling of enmity between Lord Rama and Ravana
The victory of good over the evil, as suggested by Ramayana is something everyone knows. Lord Rama killed Ravana for kidnapping the pious wife of the former, Sita. Why did he do so? His doing so is usually seen as an act of revenge which Ravana had put forward in return to the disrespectful behavior of the two brothers towards Surpanakha.
Surpanakha, bewildered by the charm of Lord Rama proposed to him to which Rama refused as he was a follower of Eka- Patini- Vritha. According to this, he could have only one wife. Therefore he apologized and asked her to see Lakshaman. Lord Rama’s younger brother, Lakshman was also the follower of Eka- Patini- Vritha so he sent her back again to Rama. Soon Surpanakha realized that she had become a play tool for them. Buring into fumes she tried attacking Sita which resulted in chopping off her nose and ears in the hands of Lakshman.
This story is what we have been told since our childhood days. Now to spice up things, some versions of Ramayana say that Surpanakha in really did not have any romantic feelings towards the two brothers. Rather, she wanted to avenge Ravana for killing her husband (Source). But as she knew about the great powers of her brother she waited for the cards to turn towards her side. When she heard of Lord Rama killing her grandmother Tataka and uncle Subahu her dreams of taking revenge from Ravana were realized. Following this, she became successful in her motives by sowing the seed of enmity between Lord Rama and Ravana. As a result, the Lankan king kidnapped Sita, and further courses of action ended up in Ravana’s death.
It is believed that after the end of the battle between Rama and Ravana, Ravana’s sister Surpanakha stayed with Vibhishana in Lanka itself. As the years passed by, she and Kumbini, her half sister were found dead in a sea under unfavorable circumstances.