War brings death and destruction. Countless lives are lost in the process and the fallen are remembered for their valiance and determination. In the history of wars, we seldom come across individuals or troops who, despite all odds, commit themselves to the war cause and take the last stand. These men are eulogised for their deeds and leave their marks in history.
The great epic Ramayana also has one incident of the last stand taken by a bird named Jatayu. Jatayu and his elder brother Sampati were the sons of Aruna, and nephew of Garuda. Aruna is said to be the personification of the reddish glow of the rising sun. Jatayu, the king of vultures, was a demigod and a close friend of King Dashratha of Ayodhya. He had the body of a vulture. Jatayu and Sampati had many adventures together when they were young. Once both brothers had a competition to determine who could fly higher. Jatayu, being stronger, flew so high that he was about to be burned by the sun’s heat but Sampati came to his rescue and saved him by spreading his wings across and shielding Jatayu. In the process Sampati lost his wings.
In the Aranya Kanda of Valmiki’s Ramayana, when Ravana abducted Sita and tried to take her to Lanka, Jatayu fought with him. He tried his best to stop Ravana and even managed to injure him in the process. He attacked him with his sharp beak and talons but he was no match for the King of Lanka. Ravana sliced off Jatayu’s wings with his sword and escaped; Jatayu was mortally wounded and fell to the ground.
While searching frantically for Sita, Rama and Lakshmana found a bloodied Jatayu lying on the ground. Jatayu told them the entire incident and also pointed towards the direction in which Ravana had escaped. Jatayu later died of his wounds and his last rights were done by Lord Rama and Lakshmana. It is said that the place where Jatayu fell after his fight with Ravana is Lepakshi in Andhra Pradesh. The place where his last rights were performed is at Ramarkal Mettu. The town got its name when Lord Rama wished for the bird to rise and said the words Le Pakshi (“Rise, Bird”).
Sampati also played a major role in Ramayana. He was instrumental in helping Lord Rama and his army locate Sita. In Kishkindha Kanda, when Hanuman, Angad and Jambhvanth, tired and exhausted in their search for Sita, reach the southernmost end of the land with their battalion of monkeys, they are approached by Sampati. Jambhavanth tells Sampati about the sacrifice of Jatayu and how he fought against the mighty Ravana, in his attempt to save Sita.
Hearing this, Sampati, with moist eyes, remembers Jatayu and tells them about the whereabouts of Sita and points towards Ravana’s Lanka. The information about Sita’s whereabouts are relayed back to Lord Rama and plans are made for her release from the clutches of Ravana.
This small side story shows us how Rama had not lost his temper. He was neither angry nor sad. He was not wallowing in self pity. He was calm, steadfast and focussed on planning the next steps.
In the epic Ramayana, Jatayu made an important contribution by fighting Ravana even though his chances of survival in such a showdown were minimal. He took the Last Stand by trying to save Sita and fighting the evil Ravana. If it were not for him and his brother Sampati, it would have become impossible for Lord Rama to trace Sita and bring her back.