Reflections on Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa – XXVI: Hanūmān, the Messenger - Part III
November 14, 2018
A messenger delivers a message. But the addressee had to be authenticated in order to make the delivery to the correct person. In such a special situation, proper identification needed care and attention. Hanuman thought that he had located the right person but wanted to reassure himself before passing on the ring that Rāma had sent as a token of gaining trust. The messenger had to analyze the receiver’s response carefully, to convince himself that the object and the message were not misdelivered!
Locating an abducted woman and delivering a message to her is technically challenging. By default, the abductee is expected to be confused and scared, and is often experiencing a sense of rejection and remorse, along with guilt. Sītā had accepted that her future was uncertain, since she had been moved to a very difficult and inaccessible location. Ten months had already passed, with little hope that her luck would change in the remaining two months. And then suddenly here was this monkey, with his questions. But the monkey seemed to know the right context, and to a drowning person, anything would be a resource. Sītā was hopeful. Or then, could it be a trick by the enemy?
Hanūmān had to be patient, kind and sympathetic. “Are you Sītā, who was abducted from Janasthāna by Rāvaṇa through deceit and force?” Hanūmān had asked a direct contextual question. Sītā had heard him earlier sing the virtues of her husband. She thus felt soothed and was inclined to respond. She told him her own story. Hanūmān’s careful study of the situation, and then proceeding to talk to Sītā, was an intelligent strategy. Sītā narrated the events of her life with emotion.
Sītā’s narration prompted Hanūmān to offer her consolation. “I am the messenger of Rāma and have come with his instructions. The skillful Rāma has sent a message of well-being to you.” To reinforce Rāma’s name, he repeated: “That skillful Rāma, the master of weapons and the scholar of the Vedas, has sent a message of wellbeing to you!” Then the follow up: “The aggrieved Lakṣmaṇa, the close follower of Rāma, has sent his respectful greetings by bowing down his head!” His delivery of these words was sincere, and his sentiment was truthful. Vālmīki had indeed studied psychology! Hanūmān’s words of consolation made Sītā happy.
However, the abductee’s life was shrouded in fear. “How can I trust a monkey? Am I in a dream? Is this an illusion?” - Sītā wondered. Then she blurted out: “If you indeed are a messenger from Rāma, tell me his stories! Tell me his qualities, relate to me his activities!” Hanūmān responded by describing Rāma in glowing terms. He recounted the abduction and made a statement of conviction that soon there would be an avenging - “I am the Minister to the great monkey king named Sugrīva, who is a friend to Rāma. Millions of monkeys will invade Lanka soon!” Then he reassured her: “I am not what you suspect! I have come by my own strength to visit you. Please discard your misgivings and trust me!”
Although Sītā wanted to believe him, the story did not fit. The intelligent and analytic Sītā peppered him with questions- “How did you associate with Rāma? What is this strange friendship of a man and a monkey?” To verify his authenticity, Sītā demanded that Hanūmān describe to her the physical appearance of the two brothers. Hanūmān patiently enumerated the full description of Rāma: his eyes, face, lips, nose, neck, chest, arms, thighs and voice. Then he talked about Lakṣmaṇa, as a duplicate to Rāma.
Hanūmān continued to relate the events about how they met Sugrīva on the Rṣyamūka mountains,
and how Rāma wept to see the ornaments that had fallen from a vehicle in the sky! Hanūmān continued to recount the complete story of Sugrīva. He closed the narration by telling her about the search efforts mounted by the monkeys and how he crossed the ocean to look for her!
He reassured Sītā: “I am here under orders from Sugrīva.” Then with an air of confidence: “I have already gained a reputation by having succeeded in reaching here. Rāma will arrive here soon. He will get rid of Rāvaṇa and his cohorts. He will rescue you!” Continuing, Hanūmān explained how he had the features of a monkey. “Because my father Kesarī killed a demon named śambasādana who was harassing the forest hermits, one of the hermits there blessed him to father a son, born through the wind-god. I possess the might and the potential of the power of wind!”
With both having patiently completed the process of identification and authentication, Hanūmān thought it was opportune to pass on the signature ring that he had carried from Rāma. “I am a monkey, but because of my intelligence Rāma chose me as his messenger. Please look at this ring with the name of Rāma inscribed on it!” Sītā was in a state of shock and jubilation. She accepted the ring with delight. Her face glowed with sweet recollections. She praised Hanūmān profusely: “You are heroic, you are capable, you indeed are learned! I knew Rāma would not send someone without testing him!”
To create the proper psychological state such that Sītā could sustain herself in the agony of despair and loneliness was a lofty goal. A messenger can succeed only if the message has the desired effect. Hanūmān appears to have succeeded. But then there were quick lamentations: “If Rāma can reduce the earth to ashes when he is angry, why does he then not throw his wrath at this little island! When will I be rescued?”
Sītā started to treat Hanūmān as a friend. Sītā reminisced affectionately about her home and family. Hanūmān was delighted to be accepted, and in having succeeded in gaining her trust. He continued to console her, saying that her release was imminent. “Rāma remains awake while in sleep, and is always in grief. He utters your name whenever he wakes up!” These were reassuring words to a distressed woman. But Sītā then quickly returned to her state of distress. She would remind him: “I have only two months to live! Rāma must act fast.”
Then Sītā expressed her inner sentiment. “Will my husband doubt my fidelity because I have been abducted? No, it cannot be! My heart is clean and Rāma has the virtues to accept me back! He killed fourteen thousand rakshasas on his own to protect me! He is valiant, he is like a sun that can dry up the ocean of Rakshasas!”
Hanūmān was stunned to witness Sītā’s inner agony. Hearing her words of pain, the messenger in Hanuman cried out to be a rescuer and he underwent a transformation from the role of a messenger to an assumed role of a close acquaintance. Now, he had to work as Rāma would. Hanūmān knew his limitations but the despair of Sītā’s condition had to be relieved. Under normal conditions, this would sound audacious. But Hanūmān was confident. He boasted: “I will rescue you from this place today. Please ride on my back. I can swim across the ocean with you on my back. I can carry all of Laṅkā, including Rāvaṇa, on my back if I need to!”
Would a stranded person believe in such a massive boast? Sītā politely declined to go along. She chided: “Your monkey nature is showing!” Hanūmān would not give up. He thought, “This lady does not know my real strength!” Hanūmān alighted on the ground and expanded his body until he became extremely large, with massive jaws, weapon-like teeth, protruding nails, and enormous limbs. A large monkey ready for action! Hanūmān spoke in persuasively: “Look at me! I can carry all of Laṅkā on my back!”
A desperate person knows the risks between life and death. Sītā saw the inadequacy of Hanūmān’s apparent engineering. She tried to find excuses and finally went around by saying, “Please excuse me. I do not wish to touch another body. Please don’t misunderstand!” Upon further she said: “I had to touch Rāvaṇa’s body because he forced himself on to me! I was helpless!” To make her point she continued: “It would be appropriate for Rāma to come and carry me back!”
It is not clear if Hanūmān’s plan of carrying Sītā on his back was designed to prove to his monkey friends and to Rāma that his mission had been successful. He had to think of how he could demonstrate that he had indeed located Sītā, and that she could be rescued. He came up with a plan.
We continue next time.
Let Sai bless all!