Valmiki Ramayana is no doubt the most popular version of the Ramayana and is considered as one of the Itihasas in our land. Many sampradayas, though, refer to the existence of a ‘Moola Ramayana’ or the original Ramayana that predates Valmiki Ramayana.
Sri Madhwacharya, in his Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya, has explained that he has used this Moola Ramayana as the basis for his commentary on the Ramayana. The Adhyatma Ramayana and a few Puranas also refer to the Moola Ramayana, which was revealed by Lord Hayagriva to Brahma.
Sri Madhwacharya has explained several incidents of the epic using the Moola Ramayana and they make for an extremely interesting study. One such episode is the destruction of a large portion of Ravana’s army immediately after the death of his son Indrajit.
The Ramayana of Valmiki talks about this episode in a modest manner. Ravana is extremely enraged upon hearing of his son’s death and orders a large army of Rakshasas to attack Rama and the Vanaras. When the Vanaras seem to be going down after a stiff challenge, Sri Rama uses the Gandharva astra and the Rakshasas enter a state of confusion. They see Sri Rama everywhere, as if there were many clones of Rama fighting the battle with them. In about 1.5 hours Sri Rama destroys 10,000 chariots, 18,000 elephants, 14,000 horses and 2,00,000 Rakshasas (Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kanda, Sarga 93, Shlokas 31-33). The effect of the astra then wanes off and Rama is seen as being just one.
Sri Madhwacharya has commented on this incident with many more details of what actually happened. He explains that the army that Ravana sent in this particular case was known as his ‘Moola Bala’ or the core army. It was a massive army that consisted of 36000 Mahougha Akshouhinis!
1 Akshouhini consists of 21,870 elephants, 21,870 chariots, 65,610 horses and 1,09,350 soldiers. 1 mahougha is 10 raised to the power of 60 or a ‘decilion’. Thus Ravana’s Moola Bala consisted of close to 105 * 1060, a number that is so difficult to even imagine and visualize.
त्रिम्शत्सहस्राणि महौघकानामक्षोहिणीनां सहशट्सहस्रं |
श्रमेण संयोजयताषु रामं सज्जीभवानीति दिदेश रावणः || MBTN – 8 – 179 ||
“Ravana instructed his army of 30,000 mahougha akshouhinis and 6,000 thus ‘You go and trouble Rama; I will aid you soon’ and sent them”
The curious minded would immediately question the feasibility of such a large number of Rakshasas staying in a place like Lanka, all at once. Sri Madhwa has clarified this by explaining that this Moola Bala had the boon of Brahma that they would be so miniscule in size that they could all stay in a very small area. Further they had the boon that they could not be defeated by ordinary folks and that they would not even be visible to ordinary folks.
वरो हि दत्तोsस्य पुरा स्वयम्भुवा धरातलेsल्पेsपि निवासशक्तिः |
अजेयता चेत्यत एव सार्कजाः प्लवङ्गमा द्रष्टुमपि स्म नाशकन् || MBTN – 8 – 182 ||
“That army had obtained the boon from Brahma to be able to reside in a very small space and be invisible; Therefore the son of Surya and the other vanaras were not able to even see them”
In today’s terms, it seems like this ‘Moola Bala’ was some sort of a biological army consisting of microbes or viruses that had the (obvious) capability of being invisible to the naked eye and yet capable of inflicting harm.
When such an invisible army attacked, the entire troupe of the Vanaras were distraught. Troubled by the relentless attack, they started running helter-skelter.
It was then that Sri Rama decided to show his true form. Sri Rama showed his ‘Vishwaroopa’ in the battlefield. A Vishwaroopa very different from the one he showed as Krishna in the Mahabharata. Sri Rama, at once, took on millions and millions of forms. He was seen all over the battlefield. The Moola Bala Rakshasas felt as if the entire battleground was occupied by Rama alone. There was one form of Rama for each Rakshasa!
Using his divine bow and arrows, Sri Rama pierced each and every Rakshasa with a fatal shot. In a very short amount of time, the entire Moola Bala of Ravana was decimated.
Sri Narayana Panditacharya, in his ‘Sangraha Ramayana’, describes the battlefield at that moment with great poetic finesse.
रामो धरण्यां गगने च रामो रामोsन्तिके दूरतरे च रामः |
रामो विपक्षे स्वबले च रामः सर्वत्र रामः क्व बभौ न रामः || SR – Yuddha Kanda – 12 – 23 ||
“Rama was on the ground; Rama was in the sky; Rama was nearby; Rama was at far; It was Rama in the enemy camp and it was Rama amidst his own; Rama was thus everywhere; Was there any place where Rama wasn’t present?”
The elimination of this huge army of Rakshasas broke the back of Ravana, while the Vanaras were jubiliant. Ravana had no option but to enter the battlefield for one last time. Rama killed him too and ended the terror reigning Lanka.
Sri Rama and Sita Mata were reunited again and soon Sri Rama and Sita returned to Ayodhya and ruled the world for a very long time.