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Ravana Attempting to Lift the Bow to Marry Sita in Mithila

This story is found in the Krittibasi Ramayana, the Bengali version of the Valmiki Ramayana.

Shiva had bestowed a mighty bow upon King Janaka of Mithila, a bow that could only be lifted by Shiva and Vishnu. Parashurama, an avatar of Vishnu, had entrusted this bow to Janaka with a stipulation: only a suitor capable of lifting and stringing this bow would be deemed worthy to marry Mata Sita, Janaka's daughter. Over the years, numerous kings and warriors attempted to lift the bow but to no avail.

Upon hearing of this formidable challenge, Ravana, the powerful demon king of Lanka, decided to test his strength and fortune. Accompanied by his trusted aides Prahasta, Mahodar, Maricha, and Akampan, Ravana set off for Mithila.

King Janaka, aware of Ravana’s notorious reputation and fearing for his daughter’s safety, was anxious about the potential consequences if Ravana failed to lift the bow. He knew Ravana’s immense strength but also his arrogance and impulsiveness.

When Ravana arrived in Mithila, Janaka greeted him with respect. Ravana, with his usual air of arrogance, declared his desire to marry Sita. Janaka, while acknowledging Ravana's unmatched strength, reiterated the conditions set by Parashurama. He said, "You are indeed unparalleled in strength, but I am bound by a promise. This bow, given to me by Parashurama, must be lifted and strung by any suitor who wishes to marry my daughter Sita. Only then can I give her hand in marriage."

Confident in his prowess, Ravana boasted, “I have lifted Mount Kailash itself. This bow is nothing compared to that feat. Bring Sita here. With one hand I will lift the bow, and with the other, I will hold her hand.”

Janaka insisted that the bow must be strung before anything else. Even Prahastha advised Ravana to honor the promise and attempt to lift the bow accordingly.

Ravana, driven by his arrogance, proceeded to the chamber where the bow was kept. Upon seeing the bow, a flicker of doubt crossed his mind. What if he failed to lift it? Determined to prove his might, he tightened his clothes and, using his twenty hands, attempted to lift the bow. Despite his immense effort, the bow remained unmoved. Embarrassed and frustrated, Ravana sought counsel from his uncle Prahastha.

Prahastha, concerned about their reputation after all the boasting, urged Ravana to try again. Ravana made another valiant attempt but failed once more. In a moment of desperation, he suggested that Prahastha help him lift the bow.

Prahastha wisely declined, pointing out the absurdity of both of them lifting the bow together and then debating who should marry Sita. He encouraged Ravana to try yet again. Ravana, however, was unable to move the bow even a fraction.

Defeated and humiliated, Ravana commanded his chariot to be brought forth. As he stood with his hands on his waist, looking skyward, he feared the gods, particularly Indra, mocking his failure. The moment the chariot arrived, Ravana and his entourage fled Mithila, their hopes dashed and their pride wounded.

Thus, the bow remained unlifted by Ravana, and Sita's hand in marriage awaited another, one who would eventually be revealed as Lord Rama.