August 4, 2020
The story of the divine flying chariot or palace (vimāna) called Puṣpaka, “little flower”, is well-known from the Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa. Created by Brahmā for the god of riches Kubera, the wonderful vimāna is then taken by force by the demon Rāvaṇa. Subsequently, it becomes the property of Rāma, who has defeated Rāvaṇa in the war and who uses the chariot to fly back within a day from Laṅkā to Ayodhyā. Puṣpaka has three main functions in the text: narrative – it allows the poet to wind up his story and achieve a quick change of scene, once the war description is over; psychological – Puṣpaka is an object of envy, especially for Rāvaṇa and his rākṣasa family; theological – the possession of the divine flying palace is the visible token that its owner has obtained divine status, or that he has become the master of the world. Puṣpaka itself undergoes a striking metamorphosis in book 7 of the Rāmāyaṇa: whereas it was previously described as an inanimate object, the flying palace appears suddenly as an intelligent being endowed with speech, and even as a deity, thereby contributing to Rāma’s own prestige. Puṣpaka’s three successive owners clearly stand for the three puruṣārthas, or aims of human life: Kubera represents prosperity, Rāvaṇa pleasure and Rāma duty. This leads us to the final question: after going from artha, to kāma and then on to dharma, will Puṣpaka ultimately attain mokṣa?