By Swami Harshananda
Śurpaṇakhā literally means one whose nails resembled a winnowing basket’.
Śurpaṇakhā is one of the two iniquitous ladies, of the Rāmāyaṇa, the other being Mantharā. But without them the classic Rāmāyaṇa would never have been composed, thereby depriving millions of people for centuries, of the great inspiration for life. She was the daughter of the sage Viśravas and Kaikasī. She was younger than Rāvaṇa and Kumbhakarṇa but older than Vibhīṣaṇa. She had been married to Vidyujihva who was killed by Rāvaṇa since he had joined the enemy camp.
As a result of her pleadings, Rāvaṇa made arrangements for her stay in the Daṇḍaka forest with Khara and Duṣana, with their large army to protect her. Infatuated with Rāmā’s beauty, she pressed him to marry her, abandoning Sītā. When she tried to kill Sītā, Rāma got her punished through Lakṣmaṇa who cut off her nose and ears. Her complaints to Khara and Rāvaṇa resulted in the decimation of Khara and his army by Rāma and the abduction of Sītā by Rāvaṇa.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore