force of arms v force of penance...
धिग्बलम् क्षत्रियबलम् ब्रह्मतेजोबलम् बलम्।
एकेन ब्रह्मदण्डेन सर्वास्त्राणि हतानि मे॥५६-२२
dhigbalam kṣatriyabalam brahmatejobalam balam|
ekena brahmadaṇḍena sarvāstrāṇi hatāni me||56-22
Rama and Lakshmana are led through a forest by Sage Visvamitra on their way to the place where Visvamitra is conducting a yajana and it is the duty of the princes to protect the sacrifice and to ensure its proper conduct.
They were covering huge distances by foot, and the sage, with a view to keep the boys cheerful was telling them many stories and anecdotes..
This way balakandam in Valmikiramayanam covers many stories including Vishamitras own metamorphosis into a very staunch ascetic from a very ambtious and valorous king.. Visvamitra also recounts many stories,like the birth of the river Ganga, the glory of Uma, the birth of Skanda, and so on..Thus Ramayanam assumes encyclopaedic dimensions at places.
Coming to the sloka quoted above, it comes in the autobiographic narrative of Vishvamitra Himself
Kaushika, Gadheya or Vishvamtira was, in his formative years, a very ambitious and powerful king..
Once in the course of a royal hunt, getting tired and hungry in the recesses of forests, the king and his retinue entered the hermitage of the first among sages, Bhagavan Vasishta.
The hermitage and environs bore a very frugal and poverty ridden look..
But the sage received the king heartily and with all royal honour and entertained him and his soldiers and attendants with all comforts for say and also fed them with food items befitting the royal status of the guest..
The king was puzzled at first, but on subtle observation, came to know that the divine wish yielding cow (Kamadhenu.. called Surabhi and later her daughter Nandini), reared in the precincts of the hermitage was providing all the materials for such heavenly life on earth..
The king was impressed, but then avariciousness took hold of him..
He asked the sage Vasishta to hand over the Divine Cow to him because as the king he alone was entitled such precious treasures..
When Vasishta declined to comply and hand over the cow, the king decided to use force to abduct the cow..
He started attacking the hermitage will all weapons and missiles possessed by him and his huge army,
Sage Vasishta simply continued with his daily rituals and meditations but placed the Brahmadanda.. the bamboo staff carried by the ascetic as a sign of his exalted state of life.. in front of him, and as the king attacked, all the weapons and the strength of the soldiers were all devoured by the extreme power of penance present in that single bamboo stick
Standing disarmed and humbled in front of the Sage, Visvamitra admits the futility of his armed strength in the presence of the power of mind accumulated through penance and austerities.
" Fie upon the strength of the arms and ammunition possessed by me as a warrior, the real strength is the strength arising out of the divine power gained through penance.. With a single stick called brahmadanda, the whole array of my arms and ammunition are annihilated.."
Shallow thinking on our part may tempt us to imply that this was a fight between a brahmin and a kshatriya.. We have to remember that a brahmana could wield weapons and kshatriya could gain spiritual power through mental conditioning.. and caste or creed has nothing to do with the supreme knowledge.
The legend goes on to describe further that Visvamitra gave up his royal office and took to pencance, austerities and deep studies and became a very great stage, perhaps one of the most important sages of India, who had the fortune to be the discoverer of the one and the only one Gayatri Mantram..