Volume 3: Āraṇya Kāṇḍam (UVS Tamil Text)
Paṭalam 5: Shurpanakha, 28-29
Translated by Whitney Cox. Draft translation. May not be reproduced without prior written consent.

The introduction of Shurpanakha, the demoness who falls in love with the hero, Rama.


She stood there.  “He’s here, right here. 

I must make love to him, our two bodies

becoming one.  If I don’t, even if I were to eat nectar,

I’ll die.  There’s nothing for me to do.”

She thought about a way to be near him. 


“He’s sure to reject a crooked-fanged demoness,

her belly stuffed full of every sort of life.

It would be best to have a mouth

red as a young tindora fruit,

words gentle as a cuckoo’s cooing,

and a girl’s long hair – a radiant, natural beauty.”


She said this and in her mind’s eye she imagined

Lakshmi on her lotus, and set her mind on a mantra

she knew. So she appeared as a beautiful woman, her face

more lovely than the moon, bright enough to light up the heavens.


She put one tiny lotus-like foot in front of the other –

each red and soft enough to make

bright cotton fade and fresh shoots wilt.  

Lovely like a peacock, murmuring pretty words,

like a goose, like a bright, luscious creeper,

like poison,

that treacherous woman came.[1]


With a glamor streaming like liquid gold, her beauty

went beyond that of Lakshmi, who dwells in a flower.

She had eyes sharp as swords that quivered and shone.

It seemed as if a jingling, jewel-covered chariot

had taken on a young girl’s beauty;   

a streak of lightning, whose nature is to vanish,

had come down from heaven.[2]


So she came. It was as if a shining creeper nourished

by a spreading heaven-tree somewhere in that forest,

had taken on a woman’s form, a voice like perfumed honey,

which spoke of the ways of love, eyes like a doe’s,

and way that a peacock walks.[3]


Her anklets, her jeweled belt, the string of her necklace,

the humming bees in the flowers of her thick curls:

all these announced her.

“A woman’s approaching,”

thought the prince, as he trained his gaze in her direction.


As she drew near like nectar come down from heaven,

her waist bending from the burden of her two gorgeous breasts,

Rama, who inspires thought, grants the true eye of knowledge,

which vanquishes ignorance, turned his two eyes to meet her.


He kept looking at her. There wasn’t a gorgeous figure like hers

in the fabulous world of serpents, or in heaven,

much less in the spaces of this world. Rama thought,

“Who is she?  Is there no end to her beauty?

What woman could possibly be her rival?”


Right away, her mind filled with desire for him.

Face to face with that handsome man,

she bowed and worshipped his feet, with her perfect red palms.

She cast the lethal spears of her long eyes at him,

then looked away.  Shrinking back like a doe,

she stood there.  She seemed frightened. 


“Welcome, lovely woman – may your arrival

bring with it no evil.  I must have done something good

to have you come here,” The Source of the Veda then asked that woman,

“Where are you from?  What is your name? Who are your kinsmen?”

and she began to speak of her background:


“Brahma had a son, who had a son himself –

I’m his daughter.  Kubera, with his crimson hands, the companion

of Shiva who destroyed the demon’s three cities –

I’m his younger sister.  And my elder brother rules

the three worlds: he once conquered all the elephants of the directions

and seized shining Meru for himself.

My name is Kamavalli and I’m single.” [5.39]

[1] A deservedly celebrated verse.  See H&H, pp. 17-18, 322, and Zvelibil, Smile of Murugan, pp. 214-215 for discussions of its formal program, especially the repeated patterns of motivated palatal nasal conjuncts, slyly suggestive of a range of troubling echoes, “a subconscious association between the palatal cluster -ñc- and things that are bizarre, uncouth, dangerous, deadly” (thus Zvelebil).  This plays out against the typical, even slightly clichéd pattern of comparisons to female beauty, until the masterful final inversion of nañcam ĕṉa vañcamakaḷ vantāḷ (“like poison, the treacherous woman came”).

[2] I understand pūviṉŏṭu as an instrumental.  The verse’s second half seems to give both editors trouble, and my translation is tentative: GKA (and following him, H&H) wish to understand the maṇit ter (‘jewel-chariot’) to be a metaphor for female genitalia; while I have no more definitive solution, I am unaware of this as a convention.

[3] Against UVS (who uncharacteristically leaves it unexplained) and GKA (“superb in its fragrance”, said of the valli-creeper?), I understand kāṉil uyar in its typical sense, with the added implication that a kalpavṛkṣa (kaṟpakam, the wish-granting “heaven-tree”) lay somewhere in the depths of the forest.  This adds an additional level, I find, to the figure presented here.  I understand the creeper to be the subject of the extended trope. UVS offers an alternative interpretation where the peacock is its central figure, while also acknowledging the possibility of understanding it the way I have done; GKA’s interpretation is close to mine.