Reflections on Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa – XXV: Hanūmān, the Messenger - Part II
August 15, 2018
A story builds on coincidences. Vālmīki is a storyteller. The problem may be difficult, but the solution would finally emerge. To the poet, the world runs on positive forces. The Vedic thought is that if a person’s intention is right, darkness will clear. Instability or nervousness is futile. One has to align oneself completely in order that mission be accomplished. Vālmīki paints Hanūmān as a determined character, one who has solid intentionality.
The utmost diligence and focused purposefulness makes Hanūmān unique among the legendary characters of Indian literature. He is not a fully developed human being but is learned in the scriptures and skilled in languages. He is biologically gifted with the ability to assume various shapes and sizes. This enables him to defend himself in complex situations.
Perched on a S’iṁśapā tree, Hanuman surveyed all around in that evening twilight. He saw palaces, gardens and temples. And there, in the corner, indistinctly, he saw an emaciated woman. She seemed to be nervous and was sobbing. She was surrounded by deformed and ugly human-like creatures. Vālmīki labels them as rākṣasī.
Could this woman be Sītā? Hanūmān tried to see more. Yes, she appeared to have the appropriate features and possessed the correct personality but was disheveled. She looked pathetic. The poet in Hanūmān cried out – “a meaningful sentence is distorted by an improper rendering!” His doubts remained: “Could this pitiable person be the cause of the massive destruction of rākṣasa forces in the Daṇḍakāraṇya forest? Was she the reason why Vālī had to be killed? She appears to be homeless and destitute. Her eyes are anxious and searching!” Hanūmān tried to convince himself that the person was be Sītā. He thanked Rāma for giving him the opportunity to search for Sītā!
“How miserable is Sītā’s life? She is surrounded by ugly demon-like creatures? What should I do?” Despite feeling helpless, Hanūmān was pleased to be near the object of his quest. He was pained at witnessing her misery. He thought it prudent to wait until night to get a closer look without being noticed. And then, in the dead of the night, he heard the recitation of the Vedas, and the ringing of temple bells. “What is this?” Hanūmān witnessed a procession of ladies escorting with pomp and grandeur the large-bodied man that he had seen sleeping during the previous night. “Sītā” was scared - she was shivering, thinking about another unwanted advance by the cruel man! Hanūmān chose to remain an onlooker - he had not fully authenticated that she was the real Sītā! The success of a mission needs a lot of patience and calm! Vālmīki’s plot is high drama.
Is it right to intervene immediately if one sees an unjust act? Or does one wait for an opportune moment? What would provoke us to get deflected from our chosen direction? Hanūmān was determined not to deviate from his mission and was not prepared to take any action until he was fully convinced that it was aimed at accomplishing his mission. His mission was “to locate Sītā”, and nothing was more important to him than fulfilling it – there was no compromising on the mission! Hanūmān was a messenger, whose task was dictated by the person who had appointed him: Hanūmān offered his mental prayers to Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa! He was doing Rāma’s work! “Let Rāma be victorious!”
While “Sītā” admonished “Rāvaṇa” for his advances, the latter ordered that she would be executed in two months unless she changed her mind. “The cook would make breakfast of her flesh!” Hanūmān witnessed the threat: he was perplexed. But he was delighted internally to see the woman’s loyal devotion of to her husband. Then he heard the wailing woman call out in desperation “Hā Rāma!”, “Hā Lakṣmaṇa!”, “Hā Kauśalyā!”, “Hā Sumitrā!” Sītā was on the verge of killing herself! What should be Hanūmān’s course of action? “Is it proper for me to return back and report to Rāma that I have found Sītā, or should I make an effort to comfort her, such that she waits for Rāma’s arrival? Will she lose her life while I am gone – if so, then all the efforts on her behalf would be of no value!” Anxiety and contradiction swarmed through his mind.
The solitary messenger has to answer his own questions himself. Hanūmān resolved that Rāma would definitely need be communicated about Sītā’s existence. Also, he determined that Sītā must not be left alone, and that he must make all efforts to provide solace to her. “How do I comfort her? I must look for an opportunity to go close and speak to her!” Then the negative thought: “No way, in case others saw me talking to Sītā, they would kill her!” Vālmīki makes the pun: “a ‘self-assured clever messenger’ spoils the mission if his action is inappropriate to the time and location!”
Hanūmān thought hard. “How should I draw Sītā’s attention? Would she be frightened to hear a voice from a monkey in the dead of the night? Let me adopt human voice and talk about Rāma within her ear-reach! I should be clear and intelligible!” Vālmīki lets Hanūmān debate about what language he might use. Hanūmān settled for Sanskrit though he doubted if Sītā might think him to be spy of Rāvaṇa because of the language. He had to take a chance!
Hanūmān became lyrical. “There existed a mighty king called Dasaratha, most righteous and most noble. He was the Chief of the Ikṣvāku clan, possessed all worldly riches, and had world-wide fame. His eldest son was the handsome Rāma, the best among all archers. Rāma was the protector of all and also of Dharma, the eternal tradition. To protect his father’s word, he went into exile to the forest with his wife and brother. During exile, he slayed many villainous characters. Hearing about these killings, the wicked Rāvaṇa played a trick on him, and kidnapped his wife, Sita. Searching for Sita, Rāma met Sugrīva, who became his friend. Rāma killed Sugrīva’s brother Vālī and made Sugrīva the king of the Vānara clan. When ordered by Sugrīva, the monkeys traveled in all directions looking for Rāma’s wife. Instructed by Sampāti, a hawk, I have come all the way crossing the ocean for Rāma’s cause.” Hanūmān, a poet and a musician finally declared: “One I have found seems to have all the features and qualities as those instructed by Rama!”
The message had to be short and sweet. The message had to be precise. Hanuman did deliver. How would Sītā handle it? She looked up in the direction of the sound. She was happy to hear the story. “Was there someone in this far away land who might be knowing Rāma?” She looked all around. She eventually noticed the monkey sitting on the tree. She tried to focus further and noticed that the monkey had white clothes on him. Though used to reading “omens” because of her solitary confinement, the scene did not make sense. In desperation, she blurted “These monkeys are terrible indeed! I hope nothing untoward has happened to Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa or to my father!” Then the thought: “Was this monkey talking?”
Sītā had always believed in Providence. She had learned to think that everything had a reason. At the same time, she maintained a positive attitude that all difficulties would pass through prayers and sincerity. Vālmīki’s Sītā presents the most natural nobility of all human beings. The poet portrays her as an embodiment of truthfulness and naturalness in human life. Sītā offered prayers to the celestial gods. “Let this monkey be a true messenger!”
Hanūmān determined that this could be an opportunity to directly approach her and present his credentials. He descended from the tree Thinking quickly, it dawned on him to put his hands on his head to appear submissive and respectful. In his gentlest voice, Hanūmān said: “O’, Divine Lady, please tell me who are you. Why is your dress tattered? Why are tears trickling down your cheeks?” Hanūmān knew how to break the ice. He continued: “Are you celestial? Where do you belong? You look like a star that has fallen down on earth! But then angels do not cry! You must be human. From your features and your appearance, I suppose you are a princess!”
Hanūmān took courage and asked directly: “Are you Sītā, who was stolen away by Rāvaṇa from Janasthāna? Your beautiful countenance, your noble ascetic conduct and your pitiable sobs convince me that you are the wife of Rāma! Are you?” Hanūmān had conviction, he asserted.
First the messenger makes all efforts to reach the destination. Hanūmān crossed the ocean. At the destination, the messenger makes determined moves and makes all efforts to locate the person. Hanūmān found the silk-clad emaciated weeping woman, surrounded by ugly guards. The messenger must convince himself that the target is the right one. Hanuman waited for the early morning hours when the guards might be somewhat disoriented. The messenger must gain confidence in the target. Hanūmān dressed himself in white and spoke of Rāma. He succeeded in drawing Sītā’s attention. The messenger must directly interrogate the target to determine her authenticity. Hanūmān respectfully placed his hands over his head and approached Sītā with utter humility. Finally, Hanūmān did interrogate her directly.
Would he succeed? How do we define a good messenger? How innovative should the messenger be? We will check next time.
Let Sai bless all!