(Continued from Part 2)
In the previous article, we recounted how Lord Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana spent their time in the forest. We described how the demon Surpanakha endeavored to seduce Rama and was punished in the process. We have depicted the terrible war between Rama and the brothers of Surpanakha, Khara, and Dushana. They had attacked Rama with their formidable army of fourteen thousand Rakshasas. We have also described how a lusty Ravana kidnapped Sita and carried her to Lanka.
A mortally wounded Jatayu described to Rama how Ravana, the king of demons, abducted Sita and flew towards the South. Jatayu cried that he attempted his best but being old, he was defeated by Ravana. As Jatayu passed away, Rama and Lakshmana performed his last rites. As the two brothers continued searching for Sita, they encountered a Rakshasa named Kabandha, whose strength lay in his arms. After a brief fight, Rama cut off the arms of the Rakshasa. Kabandha then revealed that he was previously a Gandharva and had been cursed into Rakshasa life as he had made fun of sage Ashtavakra, whose body was bent in eight places. Now that Rama and Lakshmana were killing Kabandha, he would be able to return to his Gandharva life. Regaining his Gandharva form, Kabandha proposed that Rama and Lakshmana form a pact and ally with Sugriva, a leader of the monkeys. Vali, his elder brother, had exiled Sugriva. If Rama helped Sugriva regain his kingdom, he would become obliged to assist Rama in finding Sita. Kabandha also informed Rama that Sugriva could be found near the site of sage Matanga’s hermitage on Lake Pampa.
Rama forms alliance with Sugriva
Accordingly, Rama and Lakshmana set off for sage Matanga’s ashrama where they met with a female ascetic named Sabari. Sabari was a disciple of Late sage Matanga. Sabari devi took the two princes around the hermitage, served them fruits, and expressed how she longed to have darsana of Rama before she left her body. Taking permission from the two princes, she cast herself into the sacrificial fire and ascended to heaven in her bright ethereal form.
Soon, the two princes met with Hanuman, son of wind God Vayu. Hanuman was one of Sugriva’s assistants, and he took Rama and Lakshmana to meet with Sugriva. Rama and Lakshmana related their story to Sugriva who empathized with their condition. Sugriva also conveyed his story and expressed how he was hiding on that Rishyamukha hill, from his brother Vali, who was after his life. Vali was the king of the monkeys. Vali once chased after a demon named Mayavi and entered a tunnel to kill her. Vali did not return for a long time and all feared that he was killed in battle. At that time, Sugriva ascended the throne of Kishkindha, the monkey kingdom, by the consent of Vali’s ministers. However, Vali returned to Kishkindha soon and was enraged at his brother whom he believed had betrayed him. He drove Sugriva out of the kingdom and even took away his wife, Ruma. When Rama wanted Sugriva’s help to find Sita, Sugriva requested Rama’s help to get his revenge on Vali. Rama agreed, and the two allied.
Sugriva kills Vali
Emboldened by Rama’s assurances, Sugriva approached the gates of Kishkindha and challenged Vali to a fight. Vali was surprised as he was much stronger than Sugriva. Hence he could not comprehend the reason behind his brother’s newly found confidence. Anyways, Vali accepted the challenge. Rama was waiting behind the trees with a bow in his hand. He was waiting for an opportune moment to strike Vali. However, when the two started fighting, Rama could not differentiate between Sugriva and Vali whose appearances were very alike. Hence He could not shoot. Sugriva, who was thrashed black and blue by Vali, fled the arena. On his return, Sugriva questioned the intentions of Rama, who clarified that He could not differentiate between Vali and Sugriva. Rama consoled Sugriva. Lakshmana now tied a flowering creeper around his neck. Reassured, Sugriva left for Kishkindha once more.
This time, when Sugriva challenged Vali to another fight, Vali’s wife Tara became suspicious and cautioned Vali from accepting the challenge. However, Vali disregarded Tara’s warnings. Vali proved stronger than Sugriva once again. But this time, when he was dealing smashes to Sugriva, Rama released an arrow that struck Vali in the heart, causing him to fall down mortally wounded.
Before passing away Vali accused Rama of betraying His righteousness by interfering in a fair fight and also killing him by shooting from behind. Rama justified that Vali had performed heinous deeds by usurping Ruma, Sugriva’s wife. This deed alone demanded capital punishment. Besides, Vali was a monkey, and Kings were allowed to shoot animals while staying hidden, just as they did while hunting. Rama assured Vali that he had received proper punishment for his actions, thus making him eligible to enter higher planets after death. After Vali’s death, Sugriva assailed the kingdom of Kishkindha and assured Rama of assisting in His search for Sita.
Search for Sita begins
When Rama discovered Sugriva, intoxicated in his kingly pleasures, and displaying no signs of searching for Sita, He dispatched Lakshmana to Kishkindha. Lakshmana warned Sugriva that he would meet the same fate as Vali if he refrained from executing his promise. This threat brought Sugriva to his senses. He summoned powerful monkeys (vanaras) from all over his kingdom. Once the monkeys arrived, Sugriva assigned four parties to search in four directions. He gave them the details of the countries and instructed them to complete their search within one month. Sugriva had asked Hanuman, and Angada (Vali’s son) to lead the search party to the south and he had high hopes from them. Rama gave one of His rings to Hanuman that had His name inscribed. He asked Hanuman to show the ring to Sita on finding her as it would reassure her that Rama had sent Hanuman.
Accordingly, the monkeys dispatched by Sugriva commenced their search. They scanned cities, towns, and villages, scouring woods, forests, mountains, lakes, etc. They searched thoroughly but even after a month, they found no trace of Sita. One by one the parties returned to Kishkindha. The search party led by Angada and Hanuman in the south also could not find Sita. Just as the monkeys were thinking of giving up their life in despair, they met with a giant vulture named Sampati. Sampati introduced himself as the brother of Jatayu. The monkeys described how Jatayu had given up his life trying to protect Sita from Ravana. Sampati then revealed how he had seen Ravana flying with Sita to Lanka. He informed the monkeys that Lanka was located amid the southern ocean eight hundred miles away. Sampati had previously received a boon from sage Chandrama that his broken wings shall be restored once he helped the monkeys find Sita, Rama’s consort. Now that he had assisted the monkeys in their search for Sita, a beautiful pair of wings sprouted from Sampati’s body. As he flew away bidding farewell to the monkeys, he recounted how Chandrama muni had told him that the monkeys would succeed in their mission.
As the monkeys waited on the shore of the southern ocean, they wondered how they could cross over and reach Lanka, to discover the whereabouts of Sita. Angada revealed that he could perhaps leap a distance of eight hundred miles, but was not sure to have enough strength to return. Jambavan, who had grown old, expressed that he could only cover as much as seven hundred miles. But none said that they could leap to Lanka and return. Jambavan then spoke to Hanuman, the son of the wind god. Hanuman was immensely powerful. Jambavan described Hanuman’s birth and power. Soon after his birth, Hanuman had leaped for a thousand miles wanting to catch the sun. At that time, he was struck down by Indra. This angered Vayu (wind god). As a result, the wind ceased to blow in the universe. The demigods sought to appease Vayu, by bringing Hanuman back to life. They also blessed him with wonderful powers. Hanuman became fearless as a young child. He mischievously played at the hermitages of the sages, throwing about their paraphernalia and preventing their sacrifices. Hence the sages cursed Hanuman so that he forgot about his great powers. The sages also granted him the boon that Hanuman would remember his great powers once he heard about them from someone else. Now that Jambavan was describing Hanuman’s powers, the curse was broken.
Recollecting his great strength and abilities, Hanuman expanded to fifty times his normal height and assured the monkeys that he could easily leap across the ocean to Lanka. As instructed by Angada, Hanuman agreed to only find Sita and report back, instead of trying to rescue her on his own. Pressing Mount Mandara deep into the earth, and letting out a great cry of ‘Victory to Rama’, Hanuman leaped from its peak towards Lanka. The monkeys gazed up in wonder and awe at Hanuman’s magnificent flight.
Hanuman leaps to Lanka
The great monkey seemed as if he were drinking up the vast ocean and devouring the sky. Hanuman’s outstretched arms appeared like a pair of five hooded serpents rising from the mountaintop. His reflection in the blue sea appeared like a ship rocking with speed over the large waves raised by the current of his flight. The wind generated by Hanuman’s flight tossed up whales, sharks, and serpents from within the ocean. The demigods, Gandharvas, and celestial sages showered flowers on Hanuman and prayed for his success. The ocean God, desiring to render service unto Rama, approached Mainaka, a submerged mountain, to rise and provide a resting place for Hanuman as he might be tired from his long flight. When Mainaka approached Hanuman, he humbly refused to take rest until his mission was achieved. Touching the peak of the mountain respectfully, Hanuman soared higher in the sky.
Desiring to test Hanuman’s prowess, Indra sent Surasa, the mother of Nagas. Surasa assumed the form of a terrible Rakshasi who threatened to swallow Hanuman. Hanuman requested her not to hinder his mission. But Surasa insisted on swallowing Hanuman. Hanuman grew to a length of sixteen miles. Surasa also expanded her mouth accordingly. Hanuman grew lengthier and as Surasa expanded to match Hanuman’s length, Hanuman quickly contracted to a size of a thumb. He entered her body through her mouth and came out quickly. Surasa revealed her original form as the mother of Nagas and blessed Hanuman with all success.
As Hanuman continued his flight, he was attacked by a demon named Simhika. Desiring to devour him, Simhika seized Hanuman’s shadow, with her mystic powers. This checked Hanuman’s flight. As the demon attacked Hanuman with her wide gaping mouth, a fearless Hanuman entered her mouth, and tore open her heart and vital organs from inside the body, before bursting out from the other side. The rakshasi fell dead.
Hanuman continued, adored by the divine beings. Soon he could see the shores of Lanka, skirted by forests and high mountains. Hanuman assumed his normal size to avoid being detected. The city of Lanka was built by Viswakarma on the peak of the Trikuta mountain. As Hanuman stepped on the land, he began mulling on how to best enter the city.
Hanuman finds Sita
Hanuman saw lofty mansions and palaces scattered all over Lanka. Hundreds of tall impressive buildings embellished the sides of white tiled roads. The city appeared like the capital of Gods. The splendor of the city awed Hanuman’s mind. The city was guarded by terrible Rakshasas. Hanuman waited for sunset to enter Lanka. When Hanuman attempted to enter the city, he was stopped by the presiding deity of Lanka, who challenged Hanuman. She revealed that she was Ravana’s servant. When she attacked Hanuman, he clenched his fists and hit her. Although Hanuman did not use his full strength, as she was a lady, the deity was overpowered and she surrendered. She exclaimed that Brahma had previously warned her that the end of Rakshasas would occur when she would be defeated by a monkey. She understood that the destruction of Ravana was imminent.
Hanuman assumed the shape of a small monkey and entered the city of Lanka, surveying every house in search of Sita. He saw many demons engaged in amorous pastimes with their damsels who resembled the apsaras of heaven. At other places, he found demons who engaged themselves in glorifying Ravana. Some other rakshasas known as Yatudhanas were busy studying scriptures and chanting sacred hymns. Hanuman also witnessed fierce-looking Rakshasas engaged in wrestling with one another.
Finally, on reaching Ravana’s palace, Hanuman found that it was heavily fortified. The guards did not care about Hanuman, however, as they considered him to be a mere monkey. Inside the palace, Hanuman discovered golden chariots, palanquins, aerial cars, thousands of horses of various colors, ornamented elephants, pushpaka chariot, etc. He found intoxicated demons, attractive women, heavenly paintings, golden stairways, a mountain-like chariot suspended in air, floors studded with precious gems, etc. He quickly surveyed several seven-storied mansions and finally reached the inner palace building where Ravana kept his women. As Hanuman surveyed various chambers, he found half-dressed maidens, resembling heavenly nymphs, lying half asleep being overpowered by intoxication and romance. Although Hanuman came across such beautiful women, who were daughters of Gandharvas, sages, or powerful demons, his mind was never swayed by lust. He remained steady in his mission of finding Sita. He found a sleeping Ravana, who appeared handsome, having a dark cloud complexion. Ravana was adorned with bright flashing earrings and was clad in robes of gold and crimson. Hanuman looked at Ravana with disgust as he lay snoring like an elephant. At Ravana’s feet were several young women all of whom lay asleep. Hanuman surveyed all of these women but could not find Sita anywhere. Not finding Sita anywhere in the palace, Hanuman came out of the palace.
Finally, Hanuman saw the palace gardens ahead of him. He climbed to the top of the garden and gazed around in all directions. Hanuman saw a beautiful woman, clad in soiled garments, lying near the garden temple. She seemed aggrieved and tearful. She was tormented by Rakshasis who surrounded and teased her. This woman was undoubtedly Sita, Hanuman thought, as his heart leaped with joy. Hanuman watched as he stayed hidden among the branches of a tree. Meanwhile, Ravana had woken up and he was eager to meet with Sita. Composing poems in his mind that glorified Sita’s beauty, Ravana approached the palace garden. Ravana tried to seduce Sita and put forward various arguments why Sita should give up Rama and become Ravana’s queen. Ravana even thought of forcing Sita but stopped thinking of Nalakuvara’s curse. Sita rebuked Ravana asking him to abandon his false hopes. She warned that Ravana should immediately release her and beg forgiveness from Rama as this was his only hope of surviving. She added that even if Ravana sought shelter on the peak of Mount Meru or Varuna’s abode, he would not be spared from Rama’s arrows. Sita’s sharp words made Ravana furious. He reminded Sita that she did not have much time to change her decision. As soon as a year of her stay in Lanka was over, she would be killed and served as Ravana’s morning meal. Threatening Sita and instructing the Rakshasis, Ravana stormed off.
As soon as Ravana left, the Rakshasis guarding Sita began teasing and tormenting her. Sita embraced the trees calling out Rama’s name. Hanuman waited for the opportune moment to approach Sita and introduce himself. As soon as the demons had taken a break, Hanuman started singing praises of Rama and Sita. He narrated how they ended up in the forest and how Hanuman has now come to Lanka searching for Sita. He reassured Sita of his allegiance to Rama by showing her the ring Rama had previously given him. Sita felt joyful. Hanuman assured Sita that Rama was always thinking of her. And now that Sita’s location was known, Rama would soon come to her rescue. Seeing that Sita’s life was threatened, Hanuman asked if he could carry Sita on his back and reunite her with Rama on that very day. Sita refused the offer citing that it would be difficult for her to hold onto him when he flies at great speed. It would render her unconscious and cause her to fall into the ocean. Secondly, the Rakshasas would chase after them. It would then be difficult for Hanuman to retaliate if Sita was with him. Thirdly, she had vowed never to touch the body of any man other than Rama. And lastly, she could not allow anyone else to rescue her and reduce Rama’s fame. Therefore, she preferred to wait for Rama to rescue her. Hanuman nodded in assent and took Sita’s leave to return to Rama.
Hanuman sets Lanka ablaze
Hanuman wanted to incur some damage before leaving Lanka. He screamed and began creating havoc. Tearing down the walls and archways, he took up a huge iron bar and stood at the entrance of the garden, eagerly waiting for the demons. When Ravana was informed about this, he immediately sent eighty thousand Rakshasas to capture Hanuman. Chanting the glories of Rama, Hanuman assumed an even bigger form and started killing the demons in thousands. When these Rakshasas failed, Ravana sent Jambumali, one of his generals, to fight Hanuman. Jambumali struck Hanuman with several powerful arrows that caused him to bleed. An enraged Hanuman came down heavily upon Jambumali’s chariot, bringing the iron rod that he was carrying, down on his skull. The demon’s head was pressed into his body which was crushed into a shapeless mass. Jambumali’s death struck fear in the Rakshasa camp. Ravana sent more of his generals but they were all killed effortlessly by Hanuman. Ravana understood that Hanuman cannot be a mere monkey. He must be an empowered being.
Finally, Ravana turned to his sons. He sent prince Aksha to fight Hanuman. Aksa rose from his seat and mounted his golden chariot. It was yoked by celestial steeds, all as swift as thought. Arriving before Hanuman, Aksa fired powerful arrows that struck Hanuman, causing him to bleed. Witnessing the fearful encounter between Hanuman and Aksha, the demigods were astonished. Seeing an opportune moment, Hanuman attacked all of a sudden, killing the eight steeds of Aksha’s chariot. As his chariot descended to the ground, Aksha rose up in the air holding his bow and sword. Hanuman suddenly caught hold of his two legs and after spinning violently, dashed him to the ground. With his bones smashed, Aksha fell down dead.
Ravana was filled with grief and fury. He turned to Indrajit, his eldest son who had previously defeated and even captured Indra in a battle. The battle between Indrajit and Hanuman was fierce. The demon could not strike the rapidly moving monkey. Indrajit realized that hanuman was a formidable opponent. Neither Indrajit nor Hanuman could get hold of each other. Finally, not finding any other means, Indrajit struck Hanuman with the infallible Brahmastra, a weapon presided over by Lord Brahma himself. Hanuman had previously received a boon that he could not be overpowered by Brahmastra except for a brief period of time. When Hanuman was struck, he willingly agreed to be captive, as this would present him with the opportunity of meeting Ravana. Hanuman was dragged to the palace on Indrajit’s order. Hanuman feigned fear even as the effect of Brahmastra wore off. Hanuman identified himself as a servant of Lord Rama and a messenger of Sugriva. He immediately demanded the release of Sita and asked Ravana to beg Rama for mercy. Rama became furious and wanted to kill Hanuman but Vibhishana warned against killing Hanuman as he was merely a messenger. Hence it was decided that Hanuman’s tail would be set alight and then he would be paraded around the streets of Lanka. If Hanuman endured that punishment, he would be allowed to return home in his wretched state.
Accordingly, Hanuman’s tail was set on fire. When Sita learned of this, she prayed to Agni, the god of fire, so that the fire did not hurt Hanuman. Agni heeded her prayers and Hanuman felt the fire on his tail go cold. Hanuman decided that he had had enough. He reduced his size and escaped from the thick ropes that tied him. With chants of ‘Victory to Rama’ he leaped across, setting fire to the mansions of Lanka with his flaming tail. Several buildings of Lanka fell, blazing to the ground. Fear struck the hearts of Rakshasas. Hanuman, the servant of Rama, has turned adversity into an opportunity. The fire that was meant to destroy Hanuman, was now being used to burn down the Rakshasas. A fearless Hanuman cared little about himself. He only wanted to punish the Rakshasas on behalf of his master. All glories to Hanuman ! All Glories to Rama!
It seemed that the whole of Trikuta mountain was ablaze. When Rakshasas attacked Hanuman, he killed them in thousands. Hanuman had set the entire Lanka on fire except where Sita was being held captive. After delivering enough punishment to the Rakshasas, Hanuman decided to return. Shouting Rama’s name, Hanuman leaped across the mountains, to return and deliver the whereabouts of Sita to his beloved master.