Reflections on Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa – XXVII: Hanūmān, the Messenger - Part IV
December 26, 2018
Hanūmān was Minister to the Vānara King Sugrīva. In the search for Sītā, Sugrīva sent Hanūmān in a southerly direction, since Sugrīva had less control in the south and assumed that the occupants of the south would be tougher. Although Hanūmān’s mission was to locate Sītā, he was also responsible for apprising Sugrīva about the strength and fortitude of the southern inhabitants. Having accomplished his mission of locating Sītā, Hanūmān next set about to check out Rāvaṇa’s might and his organization.
By definition, every royal messenger is a spy. A King must eliminate all who might object to him assuming the royalty, and after gaining the throne the King tries to expand the boundaries of his own power with the goal of retaining the throne as long as possible. A good King survives with the help of a good Minister who keeps watch on the people and keeps tabs on the world. Hanūmān was a trusted Minister to Sugrīva, and his goal was to protect Sugrīva from any challenges to his dominion.
“Is Rāvaṇa a threat to Sugrīva? Can Sugrīva and his monkeys withstand combat with Rāvaṇa’s Army? How powerful is this Army? How strong is Rāvaṇa’s will? None of these questions is answerable unless I can see Rāvaṇa face to face! How do I create such an opportunity?” Hanūmān reflected hard on this point. “There are four techniques to gauge someone’s strength: negotiation, charity, creating dissension in his people, and direct combat. What should I do?”
He quickly discarded the path of negotiation – “such conduct is strange in the Rākṣasa world!” Then he thought - “Charity would not work, either; these people seem to be richly endowed!” He continued - “Neither would dissension among the people work, because the leaders appear ruthless and arrogant!” So, he decided: “Combat is the only way out! I should engage in combat without losing what I have already accomplished!”
How does a monkey engage an Army in combat? As a monkey, Hanuman had seen individuals challenge each other in a duel, but in Lanka he did not see any one worth challenging directly. Having already vanquished the woman guard at the city gate, he inferred that the guards did not have much strength. But Rāvaṇa’s prowess must not be underestimated! He thought that one alternative was to create some damage, and see the reaction. “In the meantime, I should have an escape plan!”
Thinking through his strategy, Hanūmān gazed at the well-kept gardens ahead of him. “Let me destroy this garden, like fire burns up deadwood! Then Rāvaṇa will show up in anger with his horses, chariots and elephants, and a huge fight will ensue! At that point, I could vanquish them all but my own strength and energy will remain intact. I will then return to Sugrīva with flair!” The messenger was hopeful! Hanūmān had conviction in himself, a necessary attribute that had been developed through various tests in life.
He got into action. It did not take much to break the trees and damage the made-up structures. “The gorgeous pleasure garden of Aśoka trees was turned into a disheveled jumble of creepers that looked sorrowful!” The Rākṣasīs asked Sītā if she knew who “this monkey” was. Sītā pretended innocence – “How do I know what the Rākṣasas do!” The Rākṣasīs reported the event to Rāvaṇa.
Rāvaṇa had difficulty in estimating the magnitude of the problem. “A monkey is breaking trees” could be merely a nuisance message – but it turned out to be more than a nuisance. Rāvaṇa however had confidence that he had enough disposable manpower to handle such problems. He dispatched his garden guards to hound away the monkey and protect the garden. Hanūmān, in turn, readily vanquished them. When Rāvaṇa still did not appear, he thought - “it is necessary to break some buildings to gain more attention!”
Hanūmān destroyed various structures, houses, pandals, and gates. He shouted out the names of Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa and Sugrīva. “I have come to destroy Laṅkā. I will return home after all is destroyed, as you would simply be looking!” He thought this would draw Rāvaṇa’s attention, but only succeeded in alerting the building guards. He killed them all. He again shouted “Thousands of monkeys are roving around the globe. They have enormous strength! They will flock into Lanka soon! No Rāvaṇa will be able to protect you!” The messenger was trying to use the harassment technique.
Rāvaṇa dispatched Jambumālī, the son of Prahasta. Jambumālī came with horses and chariots. Hanūmān disposed him of with use of rocks and trees. Rāvaṇa ordered the seven sons of his Chief Minister to go capture Hanūmān. Hanūmān disposed of them and their entire Army. Rāvaṇa then sent five more generals, with their horses and chariots. Hanūmān tricked them by jumping high into the sky.
A monkey can escape an attack with bows and arrows by hiding in trees or jumping from branch to branch. Hanūmān landed on the chariots from above and broke them using his fist. This kind of uneven warfare totally disoriented Rāvaṇa’s forces. Hanūmān could destroy them, some easily, some with a little tack. Then came Aska, the younger son of Rāvaṇa. Hanūmān delighted himself by witnessing the young lad’s valor and determination, but finally chose to destroy him, too. He now waited for Rāvaṇa to show up!
A veteran general knows his control, and when he himself must confront the enemy. Rāvaṇa had many layers of defense. Hanūmān was clearing them one by one, but additional ones kept showing up. He was inferring the diktat of Rāvaṇa’s orders. Now came Indrajita, the eldest son of Rāvaṇa, with his custom weapons and his enormous battalion. Hanūmān again used his tricks to escape the notorious marksman’s arrows.
Desperate to trap Hanūmān, Indrajita dispatched the solitary tranquilizer dart that disables a target. Hanūmān fell to the ground, and Indrajita’s warriors bound him up with ropes. The tranquilizer did not affect Hanūmān for long, but by then he was fully arrested. They dragged him to Rāvaṇa’s court. Hanūmān thought to himself - “this will be an opportunity to see Rāvaṇa directly and speak with him!” The messenger must think positively under all circumstances!
Rāvaṇa’s court was opulent. Hanūmān admired the wealth, and enjoyed the beauty of the shining decor all around. Then he saw Rāvaṇa. The ten-headed man was clad in the best of dresses and the best of jewels. “Had his mind not gone astray, this man could rule the heavens!” - Hanūmān said to himself. He took stock of his adversary’s power and strength, and realized that any future combat could be formidable!
Rāvaṇa thundered – “O’ Prahasta, ask this fellow who he is, what his purpose is, and why he destroyed my gardens? Why did he enter my remote kingdom in the first place?” Prahasta in turn said “O’ Monkey, relax! Are you sent by Indra, Kubera, Varuṇa or Yama? Are you sent by Viṣṇu?” Prahasta enumerated the traditional enemies of Rāvaṇa. “Don’t lie - you will be released by telling the truth!” Prahasta did not think that Hanūmān was doing the mischief of his own accord.
The messenger was listening to all of this, while tied up with the ropes! “I have no relationship with Indra, Yama, Varuṇa, Kubera or Viṣṇu. I am a monkey. I have come to meet His Highness the King of the Rākṣasa clan. In order to succeed in getting the meeting, I destroyed the gardens. I was then confronted by the guards and I fought back in self-defense. Although I could have released myself from this noose, I chose to be dragged here so that I could see you! Please recognize me as the messenger of that heroic man Rāma! And please listen to my advice to you!”
Hanūmān had to introduce himself skillfully. He wanted to negotiate a peaceful resolution, by restoring Sītā to Rāma. He had to be relaxed and normal. “I have come here with instructions from the Vānara King Sugrīva. O’ King, your brother sends you greetings, and he inquires after your welfare.” Hanūmān enumerated the entire story of Rāma up until the meeting with Sugrīva. “I am Hanūmān, born out of the body of Maruta. I have crossed the hundred yojana sea to come to look for Sītā. While wandering around here, I indeed saw Sītā in your house!”
“You are knowledgeable about righteousness. You have earned your wealth through discipline. It is not right for you to keep another person’s wife in your home! Wise people like you do not engage in such unrighteous activity!” He used superlatives to describe the battle skills of Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa. “I came just to locate Sītā - the rest will be handled by Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa.” Then he warned - “Sītā is like a five-hooded snake. She is like poison. Her grief will take down all of your wealth and this kingdom of Laṅkā!”
Hanūmān alerted - “You have received the boon that you would not be destroyed by the gods nor the demons. Sugrīva is a monkey and Rāma is a human. How would you protect yourself from their might?” Then he bloated – “I am capable of destroying everything here, but Rāma has vowed that he will undertake the task himself! Sītā is the Kālarātri (the fatal night!), and it is best for you not to play with her!”
Now the final statement. “Nobody in the entire universe can withstand a fight with Rāma. He can destroy and recreate all beings over and over again! No God of any kind is capable of fighting with Rāma! How dare you?”
Hanuman was relentless and bold in his words and in his delivery. He was not a meek messenger!
But it had little effect on Rāvaṇa. Eyes rolling, Rāvaṇa ordered the death sentence!
Is the messenger trapped? Is there an escape plan? We check next time.
Let Sai bless all!