Bala. SVP

Book 1: Bāla Kāṇḍam (UVS Tamil Text)
Chapter 7: “Slaying Tataka,” 47-59
Translated by Shiv Subramanian. This is a draft and may not be reproduced without prior written consent.

The description of Tataka


Her anklets had hills for bells.

When she took a step, the earth sank

and an ocean formed in her footprint.

Even brave, fiery Death

was terrified and hid in a cave

when she kicked up mountains in her trail. 


The ends of her eyebrows throbbed.

Two fangs, crescent moons, sprang

crooked from her cavernous mouth.

When her eyes blinked open, twin flames,

it seemed the ocean-fire had split

in two and risen from the deep. [1]


Her breasts heaved under

a garland of rutting elephants

linked by their trunks.

Creatures from here to heaven

trembled, and thunder

panicked when she roared.


She laughed at them

filling them with dread.

She looked at her sharp iron

spear of death, gnashed her teeth,

opened her cave-mouth

and boomed like a thundering cloud: 


“My strength can’t be overcome,

I’ve killed all who pass through here.

Were you worried I couldn’t find good meat?

Has fate brought you here to die?

Tell me why you have come.


Clouds dispersed under her gaze.

Mountains tall as the sky scattered

when she kicked them in a huff.

She gnashed her teeth, strong crescents,

grabbed her spear and raged at them:

“I’ll hurl this right through your chest!” 


Great Rama knew what the sage wanted.

Even so, he didn’t release his sharp arrow,

didn’t command it to take life.

She was set on a deed that made them tremble.

Still the perfect one hesitated a moment,

because she was a woman.


Her hair was wild and red, her teeth white.

“I’ll kill you with my spear!”

she said, charging at them.

But Rama didn’t stir. Reading his mind,

the Vedic scholar spoke: 


“She’s done all the terrible things

there are to do. It’s because sages

are bland as chaff that she hasn’t

eaten us. What is left to decide?

Rama, do you really consider

this cruel rakshasi a woman?


Only harming those with modesty

brings reproach. Strong swordsmen

hear her name and their courage

flags. If not in them, where would

the thing called manliness live?


Indra lost to her; the gods

and their enemies scattered

and fled, their troops routed.

Her shoulders are two mount Mandaras.

How is she any different from a man?


Radiant heir of kings who held

the spinning discus, she has made

enemies with sages, killed earth’s

creatures and destroyed the good.

Need she also be a man? 


I know of Death that heeds the law,

sending creatures to heaven

when their days are up. But a death like her,

deadly spearman, one that craves

food the instant it catches a whiff

of life—does such a death exist?


[1] “Ocean fire” translates vaṭavaikkaṉal (in Sanskrit, vaḍavāgni; literally “horse-fire”). As the Mahābhārata tells it, the sage Aurva emitted a wrathful fire meant to destroy the sons of Kṛtavīrya. When the fire threatened to consume the world, Aurva hid it in the ocean, where it took shape as a horse that shall feed on water till the end of time.