REFLECTIONS ON VĀLMĪKI RĀMĀYAṆA – XXXIX: RESCUING SĪTĀ, THE BATTLE AT LAṄKĀ – PART IV

Bijoy Misra

November 25, 2021

Rāma had two reasons for finding a local person to help him: The first was to be able to estimate Rāvaṇa’s strength and to get an idea about his forces and the skills of his generals. The second reason was to find someone to guide his own forces across the ocean. It was imperative that he build a bridge! Rāma lost no time in arranging to meet Vibhīṣaṇa.

While in this book, Vālmīki describes contrivances that transport people in the air, it is not clear whether this represents engineering or science fiction. This mode of transportation is occasionally described as “men in flight”, as was the case with Vibhīṣaṇa, who did not descend to the ground until he was invited by Rāma. Vibhīṣaṇa and his accompanying assistants then prostrated themselves at Rāma’s feet. Vibhīṣaṇa said - “I am the younger brother of Rāvaṇa. Having been insulted by him I have come to beg refuge with you. I have renounced my wealth and friends in Laṅkā. My life and my futures now rest with you!”

Rāma asked Vibhīṣaṇa the question that had been lingering in his mind. He said, “Please tell me about the strength of the rākṣasas”. Vibhīṣaṇa described Rāvaṇa’s forces with sincerity.

 “Because of a special boon granted by Brahmā, Rāvaṇa cannot be killed by any earthly creature, including snakes, birds, or the celestial gandharvas. His brother Kumbhakarṇa is endowed with extraordinary power, matching only that of Indra in the heavens. And you might have heard of Rāvaṇa’s commander-in-chief Prahasta, who is reputed to have vanquished the mighty Maṇibhadra, the general of King Kubera, over on the mountains. Rāvaṇa’s oldest son Indrajit is a trickster: with coverings and armor, he remains invisible on the battlefield, and he strikes the enemy with fire! And then Rāvaṇa has Mahodara, Mahāpārśva and Akampana, the stout generals who can equal any defender in the world. Millions of rākṣasas also inhabit the city of Laṅkā. Supported by these, my evil-minded brother has successfully routed every king in the world!”

Rāma said in a confident voice: “I had heard about the dangers that you have enumerated. But Rāvaṇa cannot hide from me, whether he enters the deep subterranean or seeks out Brahmā ’s shelter! I will kill Rāvaṇa, Prahasta, and all their relatives, wherever they are! I will crown you as the ruler of Laṅkā. I swear in the name of my three brothers that I will not return to Ayodhyā without eliminating Rāvaṇa, his children, and all his folks!”

Vibhīṣaṇa bowed down in gratitude and expressed his full support. Rāma requested Lakṣmaṇa to get some water from the sea. He consecrated Vibhīṣaṇa as the new leader of the rākṣasas. “Let Vibhisana be the new ruler. I am pleased with him” Rāma said with gravity. The monkeys were delighted to observe the kindness of their valiant Rāma. They shouted in chorus “Excellent!”

Hanūmān was perceptive. He was preoccupied with figuring out how to get Rāma across the ocean. He was interested in learning about the nature of the ocean, its depth, where there were shallow channels, and the like. “How do we cross the ocean?” he asked.

Vibhīṣaṇa knew that occasionally the water receded in certain areas, making the ground visible; legend said that such receding occurred at the whim of the “ocean god.” Vibhīṣaṇa said to Hanūmān “Rāma should seek the blessings of the Ocean god. After all, the oceans were dug out by King Sagara, who is a member of Rāma’s clan.” Rāma sought Lakṣmaṇa and Sugrīva’s counsel. He laid himself down on a bed of kuśa grass on the ocean shore. He vowed not to get up “until the ocean god clears a path!”

Rāma waited for three days and no ocean god showed up! “How is it that the ocean does not reveal itself after three days! The ocean seems not to respect my calmness and forgiveness.” Rāma thought. “I must rough it up. I will wage a war against the ocean. I will dry it up by churning it with my arrows!” Rāma shouted to Lakṣmaṇa.

Rāma was angry. He started shooting arrows of various types towards the ocean. High waves rolled and large aquatic creatures were lifted up in the air. The sky trembled. Darkness covered the earth. There was a massive commotion and a roaring sound. Lakṣmaṇa stepped forward to restrain Rama “People like you cannot fall under the spell of anger. There are possible other calmer ways of crossing the sea!”

Suddenly the ground was visible in the middle of the ocean, and the ocean god appeared! He said: “By eternal law, the Earth, air, sky, water, and fire are bound not to change. The ocean water has to flow, for creatures to survive. But I will let Nala, the great engineer, build a bridge over me. I will hold on to the bridge!” Nala endorsed the proposal “I will build the bridge over the ocean. Let the monkey generals collect the necessary materials right away!”

At Rāma’s command, the monkeys immediately sprang into action. Thousands of them ran joyfully in various directions and tore up whatever rocks and trees were in the way. The sea was filled with sāla, aśvakarṇa, dhava, bamboo, kūṭaja, arjuna, palmyra, tilaka, inisa, bilva, saptaparṇa, mango, aśoka as well as coconut, bakula and nimba trees – some with blossoms, some bare-root. Then large monkeys of exceptional might hauled huge rocks hauled towards the sea by mechanical conveyances!

Enterprising monkeys held up strings to align the rocks and the logs. Fourteen yojanas were built up during the first day, twenty more the next day, twenty-one the third day, twenty-two the fourth day, and the final twenty-three yojanas were completed on the fifth day. The splendid ocean bridge that was ten yojanas wide looked like the Milky Way in the sky! The siddhas, the cāraṇas, the gandharvas, and the other celestials, cheerful onlookers in the sky, marveled at the efforts! Vibhīṣaṇa and his assistants were guarding the bridge at the far end.

With the completion of the bridge, Sugrīva spoke to Rāma: “Please ride on Hanūmān’s back and let Aṅgada carry Lakṣmaṇa. Let’s cross this dangerous sea. It is the home of large alligators!” The monkey brigade followed the leaders. Some walked in the middle, while a good number strode on the flanks. Several simply swam in the sea, and some leaped in the air. All of them reached the other side. They loved the greenery, plentiful roots, bounty of fruits, and sweet water. All were joyful. The noise of the monkeys drowned out the roar of the ocean. Applauding their achievement, the celestials blessed them - ”O King! Conquer your enemies. May you rule over the land and the seas for unlimited years!”

Meanwhile, Rāvaṇa dispatched two spies, S’uka and Sāraṇa, to get an estimate of the strength of the monkeys. These two were disguised and penetrated the monkey horde. While estimating the numbers on the mountain top, they were seen by Vibhīṣaṇa. Vibhīṣaṇa arrested them and brought them over to Rāma. Shivering with fear, they confessed their mission. “Sir, we came here to estimate your strength. We were dispatched by Rāvaṇa!” Rāma was in a playful mood. “If you have accomplished your mission, you can return to Rāvaṇa! Vibhīṣaṇa can show you more if you like! You don’t merit dying, since you are only two messengers!” The spies acknowledged Rāma by extolling “Victory to you!”

The two spies returned to Laṅkā and were effusive in their praise of Rāma. They submitted to Rāvaṇa: “We were captured by Vibhīṣaṇa, but were lucky enough to be set free by Rāma. It is rare that four glorious persons, Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa, Sugrīva, and Vibhīṣaṇa, would be gathered in one place. They are capable of destroying Laṅkā, even without the help of the monkeys. The myriads of large monkeys themselves are in high spirits.”

The spies then appealed to Rāvaṇa: “You should make peace with Rāma and return Sītā to him!” Rāvaṇa was furious upon hearing this. He erupted. “No way! I would never give back Sita under any circumstance.” Boastfully he continued “You have been intimidated by the monkeys and have become scared! Who can beat me in a war!” Rāvaṇa then climbed up to the top of his tall palace to view the assembly of the monkey troop. He asked Sāraṇa “Please point to me which are the most valiant monkeys, and which are the strongest. Who do you think has the most zeal? Please point out to me those that Sugriva listens to.”

“The roaring one who stands facing Laṅkā, and is surrounded by thousands of monkeys, is the gallant Nīla. And there, the massive one who walks two-legged, yawning repeatedly and lashing his tail, is Vali’s son Aṅgada. He is Sugrīva’s favorite, because of his strength. He wants to engage you in combat. On the other side, surrounded by a large army, is Nala, the builder of the bridge. The one who is organizing the troops is Sweta, known for his terror. Then they have Kumuda, the king of the mountains, and the ever-ready copper-colored frightful and resolute Caṇḍa.”

“Coming from the Vindhya mountains is Rambha, and from the Salveya mountains is Sarabha. From the Pariyātra mountains comes Panasa. Each of them commands hundreds of thousands of monkeys under his command. That massive mountain-like monkey is Vinata, who commands his sea of troops. And the powerful troops of Krodhana are challenging you to combat right now! The proud and haughty Gavaya is right behind him with his troops. All aspire to destroy Laṅkā when commanded!”

 

Let Sai bless all!

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