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Dandaka (Sanskrit: दंडक, IAST: Daṃḍaka) is the name of a forest mentioned in the ancient Indian texts, such as Ramayana. It is also known as Dandakaranya, aranya being the Sanskrit word for "forest". It was the location of the Danda Kingdom, a stronghold of the Rakshasa tribes.
Ramayana describes Dandaka-aranya as a vast forest. Some passages represent it as beginning immediately south of the Yamuna. The present-day identification of the Dandaka forest is debated. According to Bimala Chum Law, it covered almost all of Central India, from Bundelkhand to Krishna River. According to John Dowson, it lay between the Godavari and Narmada.
The story of the Dandaka region is found in the Uttara Kanda of the epic Ramayana. The tale is narrated by Sage Agastya to Rama, who is now the Chakravartin Emperor of the World, after finishing his exile.
During the first age, the Satya Yuga, Ikshwaku, the eldest son of Manu and the grandson of the Sun God, Surya, established the city of Ayodhya. Thus, Ikshwaku became the first Suryavanshi King ever. Ikshwaku had no wife, so with the aid of his priest, Vashishtha, he conducted a sacrificial ritual. As a result of this sacrifice, Ikshwaku acquired a hundred biological sons, who rose from the fire, fully grown and without any aid of a woman.
All his sons were well behaved, except for his youngest son, Danda. Danda (meaning punishment), was named such because he was cruel, wrathful and ruthless towards people, though he was righteous and a just person. Danda did not respect his elder brothers. Ikshwaku wasn't pleased with Danda's behaviour and banished his son to the southern regions.
Danda took some of his father's wealth, resources, animals and subjects and went south, where he established a great city and founded the Dandaka Kingdom. Danda took the extremely wise Shukracharya, the Guru of the Asuras, as his priest and preceptor. Under Shukracharya's counsel, Danda ruled wisely for a thousand years.
One day, in the absence of Shukracharya, Danda was wandering in the forest when he came upon the hermitage of the former. In that hermitage, Danda saw the beautiful daughter of Shukracharya (not Devayani), and he lusted after her. Shukracharya's daughter refused his advances, but Danda did not listen and violated her.
In the evening, Shukracharya and his disciples returned to their hermitage. His daughter tearfully related to her father about what happened. On hearing about this wicked incident, Shukracharya became enraged. The sage ordered his pupils to evacuate all the Brahmana families and cattle from the kingdom within a week. Shukracharya's disciples carried out the order and informed their guru. Shukracharya then created a storm which destroyed Danda and the entire kingdom along with its inhabitants and cursed it to remain desolate for many eons, until the future Brahmanas would lift the curse.
In the place of the kingdom, a dense forest grew, destitute of any living beings, and only few renunciates and ascetics dared to go there.
- Surinder Mohan Bhardwaj (1983). Hindu Places of Pilgrimage in India. University of California Press. pp. 54–55.
- Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology