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Soorpanaka or Surpanakha (Sanskrit for "sharp, long nails") is one of the most important characters in the Ramayana. Indeed, Valmiki comes close to claiming that if there had been no Kaikeyi and no Soorpanaka, then there would have been no Ramayana and no war with Ravana. In fact, Soorpanaka was the arrow that set in motion the chain of events leading directly to the destruction of Ravana. Soorpanaka, therefore, like Kaikeyi before her, often gets the blame from Hindus as being the evil genius behind, and the sole cause of the Ramayana war. She could thus be linked with Aphrodite, who in Greek legend was the originator of the Trojan War.

The youngest child of Rishi Vishrava and his second wife, Kaikesi, Soorpanaka was given the name of "Meenakshi" (the fish-eyed one) at birth. As beautiful as her mother Kaikesi and her grandmother Thataka had been before her, Soorpanaka grew up to marry the Asura Dushtabuddhi. Initially, Soorpanaka's husband enjoyed high favor with her brother Ravana, the King of Lanka, and they were previleged members of Ravana's court, but the three fell out eventually due to Dushtabuddhi's scheming for more power. Ravana had Dushtabuddhi killed, an act which earned Ravana his sister's great displeasure.

The widowed Soorpanaka spent her time between Lanka and the forests of Southern India, visiting her Asura, forest-dwelling relatives, from time to time. According to the Valmiki Ramayana, during one such visit, she met the exiled Rama, the young Prince of Ayodhya, and was immediately smitten by his youthful good looks. Rama, however, spurned her advances, telling her that he was devoted to his wife, Sita, and that he would never take another wife. Rama then slyly suggested that she approach his younger brother, Lakshmana, with her proposition. Lakshmana reacted in a similar manner, deriding Soorpanaka and telling her that she was not what he desired in a wife. Realizing eventually that the brothers were making fun of her, the humiliated and jealous Soorpanaka attacked Sita but was thwarted by Lakshmana, who cut off her nose and sent her back to Lanka.

Soorpanaka reacted by going straight to Ravana's court and extolling Sita's virtues and beauty, praising Sita as a worthy wife for Ravana, and inciting him to abduct her by force and marry her. Ravana, despite advices to the contrary from his brother, Vibhishana, kidnapped Sita resulting in the Ramayana war.

There are a few versions of the Ramayana that claim that Soorpanaka had no real romantic interest in the brothers and that she had orchestrated the war for no reason other than to seek revenge against Ravana for her husband's murder. After many years of scheming for his downfall, she realized that Ravana had more than a match in Rama, the young Prince of Ayodhyamarker. Rama had killed both her grandmother, the ferocious Thataka, and her uncle, Subahu. Her cousins were terrified of the young Prince and Soorpanaka decided to pit her brother against Rama, knowing that no one else was powerful enough to slay Ravana. Accordingly, she orchestrated her encounter with Rama, the kidnapping of Sita by Ravana and the resulting war between Ravana and Rama, all with the sole intention of having her brother killed.

Although Soorpanaka is not mentioned in the Ramayana again and Valmiki does not comment on her eventual fate, it has been suggested that she continued to live at her brother Vibhishana's court, when he succeeded Ravana as King of Lanka. She, and her half-sister, Kumbini, are supposed to have both perished at sea a few years later.

Valmiki's description of Soorpanaka:
  • An ugly woman (gora mukhi), pot bellied and cross-eyed.
  • Thinning, brown hair.
  • A grating voice that is harsh on the ears.
  • Oversized breasts—which can be translated to mean a heart full of wickedness.

Kamban's description of Soorpanaka:

The Tamil poet, Kamban, however differs in his description of Soorpanaka from Valmiki, describing Soorpanaka instead as a very beautiful woman with long, beautiful, fish-shaped eyes (validating her given name of "Meenakshi" at birth), a slender shape and a bewitching personality. In addition, she possessed magical powers and could assume any shape or form and his version of the Ramayana asserts that she put these powers to good use when she first approached Rama with her marriage proposal. Rama, however, divined the real Soorpanaka and decided to play with her for a while before letting her down and declining her proposal. In any case, Soorpanaka was at least middle-aged at the time she met the young Rama and would have appeared as "old" and "haggardly" to the prince.


  • Valmiki. "Ramayana: Aranya Kandha".

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