Reflections on Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa – XL: Rescuing Sītā, the Battle at Laṅkā – Part V
February 16, 2022
Introducing the character of Sugrīva in Rāmāyaṇa is strategic for Vālmīki than a mere convenience! As a teacher, Vālmīki apparently wants to show the unified front of the monkeys to their aggressor. The monkeys were against Rāvaṇa and his troops because the latter had been encroaching into forests that were their habitat. To prevent Rāvaṇa from these incursions, they wanted him to be eliminated. They accepted help from Rāma in building the bridge to Laṅkā. While Rāma’s focus was to rescue Sītā, it can be surmised that the monkeys had assembled with the goal of destroying Rāvaṇa and Laṅkā! Vālmīki also wants to show that all forest creatures were united in this cause. The human efforts get divided easily when demanded for such causes.!
Sāraṇa continued – “That massive monkey with a coppery brown radiant skin, who is followed by hundreds of thousands of troops, is the mighty Hara. On this side you see ferocious dark bears with dreadful eyes that reside in high mountains and river valleys. Among them is their leader Dhūmra, and near him is his younger brother, the agile and powerful Jāmbavāna. The latter has received boons from mighty Indra in the heavens. On the other side, you see the great monkey Dambha, the Commander of the troops. The monkeys are waiting on him for their orders. That old monkey in the distance, who is larger than any other quadruped on earth, is Saṁnādana, the Grandfather of the clan. He is able to stretch his arms many miles easily to obtain any object he desires!”
“The other commander is Krathana, who has a divine origin. He roams in the abode of your brother Kubera in the Himalayas. He wants to destroy Laṅkā, with millions of monkeys-. And that one who travels like a massive dust typhoon followed by his umpteen followers is the Chief Pramāthī. On that side is a herd of the massive dark-faced round-tailed monkeys led by Gavākṣa – they are also eager to destroy Laṅkā. Special caliber monkeys havecome from the golden mountains in the north. They are four-toothed, as are the lions, and cruel as tigers. They look like elephants, roar as they travel and are led by the Chief S’atavalī along with the great commanders Gaja, Gavākṣa, Gavaya, Nala and Nīla. Each has indomitable strength and is surrounded by myriads of monkeys capable of crushing large mountains in a moment!”
S’uka followed when Sāraṇa rested. “Also present are monkeys from Kiṣkindhā - these belong to the clan of Sugrīva. Being of divine origin, these monkeys can change shapes arbitrarily. Mainda and Dvivinda on this side are the most powerful, they are eager to vanquish Laṅkā. By their side stands the massive Hanūmān, who has returned a second time. His movements are like that of the wind itself and he also aspires to destroy Laṅkā. He stands by the valiant Ikṣvāku prince Rāma, the most powerful warrior. You kidnapped his wife from Janasthāna!”
“The radiant warrior with coppery eyes standing next to Rāma is Lakṣmaṇa. He is totally committed to protecting his brother. He can exterminate all rākṣasas in a battle. On the other side is your brother Vibhīṣaṇa. Consecrated as the King of Laṅkā, he is ready to take revenge on you. And then we see the mountain-like Sugrīva, who was installed as the monkey-Chief after Rāma killed his brother Vālī. Let me give you a count of the monkeys: A hundred times hundred thousand is a koṭi , a hundred thousand koṭis is a śaṅku, a hundred thousand s’ankus is a mahāśaṅku, a hundred thousand mahāśaṅkus is a vṛnda, a hundred thousand vṛndas is a mahāvṛnda, a hundred thousand mahāvṛndas is a padma, a hundred thousand padmas is a mahāpadma, a hundred thousand mahāpadmas is a kharva, a hundred thousand kharvas is a mahākharva, a hundred thousand mahākharvas is a samudra, a hundred thousand samudras is an ogha and a hundred thousand oghas make a mahaugha. The monkeys are a koṭi mahaugha in number, assembled to wage war against you. I submit this so you may plan accordingly to assure yourvictory!”
Rāvaṇa was perturbed and irritated. He admonished the messengers for giving him unfavorable messages. He ordered them to be immediately banished from the court. He shouted - “Disloyal fools! You don’t know how to talk to the King! Courtiers don’t praise the enemy! Get out of my sight now!” He requested more spies to be brought, and ordered them: “Go and check on Rāma. Note his habits, his daily routine. Note when does he sleep and how does he move!” He consoled himself – “Vanquishing is easy once you know your enemy’s conduct!”
Charged with the mission, the new spies went to the monkey troops. They were immediately detected by Vibhīṣaṇa. They were caught and assaulted by the monkeys, but Vibhīṣaṇa rescued them and presented them to Rāma. The compassionate Rāma took pity on them and set them free. They returned to Laṅkā, bloody and scared, and met Rāvaṇa. The leader S’ārdula submitted “Forget about spying on the monkey troops. Mighty animals are watching everywhere! Rāma and the monkeys are already stationed at the Subela mountains. Nobody can enter their camps. Please return Sītā to him or surrender yourself to Rāma for your own safety!” Rāvaṇa did not like what he heard. He was stuck in his bravado – “No way! Come what may, I will never give Sītā back!! Let the heavens fall!” Then more calmly, he said “Please tell me the lineage of the monkeys, so that I can estimate their strength!”
S’ārdula narrated – “Sudurjaya is the son of the great Rkṣarāja; Jāmbavāna is the son of Gadgada; there is another son Guruputra, whose son has killed many rākṣasas earlier; the virtuous Suṣeṇa is the son of the Dharma-god; the handsome Dadhimukha is the son of Moon; Sumukha, Durmukha and Vegadarśī have self-evolved as the personification of Death; Nīla is the son of the Fire-god; Hanūmān is the son of the Wind-god; Aṅgada is the son of Indra; Mainda and Dvivinda are sons of the Aśvins; Gaja, Gavākṣa, Gavaya, S’arabha and Gandhamādana are sons of the Sun-god. There are ten crores of these or more, I am unable to count them! All are totally loyal to Rāma, he is supported by his brother, the virtuous Lakṣmaṇa, and by your brother Vibhīṣaṇa!”
Once he realized how massive the build-up of the monkeys was, Rāvaṇa had to create astrategy of deception. Keeping in mind the curse that he should not touch a married woman, he had been trying various ways to appeal to Sītā to accept him as her husband. She was steadfast in her response that she was already married to Rāma. “You are no Rāma!” was the line she used. Rāvaṇa conjured up a trick. He called on the crafty rākṣasa Bidyutjihva to create a realistic head of Rāma using craft material, and to make a replica of Rāma ’s bow. The master craftsman started on the task.
Satisfied with the product, Rāvaṇa went to Sītā to narrate a sensational fake story. “Rāma was killed by Prahasta while he was resting at night after an exhaustive journey! The monkey-troops were destroyed by our spears and javelins. The remaining monkeys were crushed by my elephants and my superior generals.” He called upon Bidyutjihva to place the head of Rāma that he had made up on the ground in front of Sītā. “Let Sītā herself see the condition of her husband!” Throwing the made-up bow on the ground he said “Here lies the bow of your husband. It was procured by Prahasta during the night!”
Sītā was stunned to see her own head-jewel on Rāma’s forehead. She burst into an uncontrolled wail, and started to curse Kaikeyi -“O Kaikeyi, you must be happy now that the Crown of your clan is dead!” Filled with shock and grief she lost consciousness and lumped on the ground. After a while, she continued to lament - “What did Rāma do to deserve this fate? How sinful I am - I caused the death of my own husband! O’ illustrious Rāma, you are a person of noble character, you are resilient through all adversities! How could you die in your sleep? Didn’t you say that you would take me along when you departed for the other world? O’ my lord, please talk to me!” Looking at Rāvaṇa she shouted “O’ Rāvaṇa, please kill me and put my head next to my husband’s. Let me follow my noble husband!”
Seeing that the deception had worked, Rāvaṇa wanted to get down to business to take care of the impending war. He ordered the soft-hearted Saramā to stay with Sītā. A meeting of the generals was quickly convened and they came up with a war strategy. Rāvaṇa commanded “Sound the bugles and beat the drums. Prepare the troops for the fight!” Knowing that the troops might hesitate to fight Rāma, he qualified his order by saying “Don’t tell the troops what the fight is!”
But Providence does help the helpless. Saramā turned out to be sympathetic to Sītā. She told Sita about Rāvaṇa’s deception and the fake head of Rāma. “Rāma is ever capable of defending himself! Nobody can kill him, he is ever alert. The monkeys are protected by Rāma, they are unbeatable! O’ Sītā! Good days are ahead for you! Soon you will be united with your husband! You can hear the noise and the battle-cry in the town! Soon you will rejoice like the green earth loaded with crops after good rains. Relax! I will go incognito to deliver your message to Rāma!”
Sītā was pleased. She said “But I have a request. I have been living under constant threats all these months. I remain perturbed, I am apprehensive. Can we find out what Rāvaṇa and his family are planning for my future?” Saramā went over to the palace to gather information. Returning, she said to Sītā “I overheard Rāvaṇa’s mother advising him to release you! But Rāvaṇa does not listen to anyone. The only course I see is Rāvaṇa ’s annihilation in securing your release!”
Their conversation was interrupted by the massive noise of the monkeys approaching Laṅkā. Rāvaṇa’s troops were becoming aware of their impending doom. Their “leader” was leading them to total annihilation!
Let Sai bless all!