Ram was gaining the upper hand in his battle against Ravan. It had been just a few days since Ravan’s army had rejoiced at the fall of Lakshman, but then to their great dismay, Hanuman uprooted an entire mountain and brought the precious life-giving Sanjeevani herb and revived him. This had given a huge morale boost to the entire monkey army and they had become invincible on the battlefield.
Lakshman’s revival had the opposite effect on Ravan’s army. And Ravana was feeling the heat as everyone, everywhere was raising chants to the greatness of Rama. He sent two of his best generals to fight but they were vanquished and killed by Hanuman and his aides. Angry and pained at the loss of his generals, Ravan decided to lead his army on the battlefield and take Ram on directly.
But before he went in to combat, he went to Sukra, the guru/preceptor of the Rakshasas. He asked Sukra for help and his blessings. ‘Let me not be defeated by Ram and let his death be in my hands’, he said. Sukra said that this was going to be the toughest battle Ravan had ever fought and to emerge victorious he would need to perform an intense yagna. For that he needed to isolate himself, not speak to anyone and recite a set of mantras that Sukracharya would teach him, without a break. If he could do this successfully, weapons would emerge from the fire of his yagna which would make him all powerful and even Ram would not be able to defeat him. If, however, for any reason, Ravan did not maintain these conditions–if he spoke or got up from his seat during the yagna or stopped chanting the mantras, Sukracharaya would not be able to help him. Ravana learnt the mantras and shut himself up in his chambers where he dug a large hole in the middle of the room and began the yagna.
Soon however word about the entire exercise reached the Ram camp. And Ram sent Angad and Hanuman with a large army to thwart the sacrifice. The monkey army trashed the city of Lanka looking for Ravan. They broke down forests and overturned mountains but they could not find him anywhere. Finally they reached his palace and realised that Ravan had holed himself up in his room. Angad thought of a way to draw him out; he went into the inner chambers where Mandodari was resting and dragged her out by her hair. When Ravana still would not get up from his yagna, Mandodari shouted out in anger. ‘Look’, she said, ‘how Ram has crossed the sea and fought such a hard battle because you have abducted Sita, but you, the great king who is known for his bravery, courage and goodness, have no sympathy for your own wife. I am being abused by these monkeys in your palace and you do not even get up!’
At this Ravan could not keep himself from breaking the yagna and he got up and and assaulted Angad with his sword. The penance was broken. And the monkeys fled, leaving a distraught Mandodari behind and an even angrier Ravan behind.
This story has many versions and is popularly told and performed in Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia. In the Thai version Hanuman leads the army to Ravan’s palace and rapes Mandodari.