Reflections on Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa – XXVIII: Hanūmān, the Messenger - Part V
March 20, 2019
While all success in the world is a function of our labor, reaching a “goal” is not straightforward. All labor is not fully rewarded, many industrious people suffer through unforeseen circumstances. And in some other situations some totally unprepared people are raised up to fame and fortune through pure novelties. This process has been termed “luck” in popular thinking. We don’t know why and when the “luck” would strike, but there is evidence that a clear determination can indeed invite good “luck”.
The immediate goal of Hanūmān was to rescue himself from the trap that he had voluntarily put himself in. He was in Rāvaṇa’s court bound up as an animal, and condemned to a death sentence! He could try to struggle in releasing himself from the ropes, but the forces against him might be too strong! It must have been a moment of fear and scare even for the free-spirited Hanūmān. Vālmīki does not describe the mental perturbations of Hanūmān, but does create a way out.
We observe that some totally unknown people may take pity on us while we are in distress. A fire-fighter comes to our rescue when our building takes fire. Hanūmān himself had taken pity on Rāma by just seeing him! We don’t fully understand how a connection is made, nor do we know how an individual gets blessed through an accidental connection. We cannot bank on it, but we can say that a blessing arrives when we have our absolute commitment in receiving one. We must seek a blessing!
Hanūmān was blessed by a totally unknown resource, who happened to be Rāvaṇa’s step-brother. Vibhīṣaṇa was a scholar. He acted as the Minister in Rāvaṇa’s court. Rāvaṇa, though arrogant and cruel, respected Vibhīṣaṇa for his judgement and calm thinking. Vibhīṣaṇa’s counsel was only at the court, and not at the personal level. He could not counsel Rāvaṇa that kidnapping a married woman was unrighteous, but he could intervene on Hanūmān’s behalf! Vibhīṣaṇa quickly interjected to Rāvaṇa’s order: “It is said by the Wise everywhere that a messenger must not be killed!”
He continued: “There are numerous other punishments that can be prescribed for a messenger. They include mutilation of limbs, flogging, shaving of head or putting a mark on the body!” Then the words of appeasement and flattery to his brother: “How can a person of your righteousness and prosperity act on anger? No one knows more about virtue and justice than you do! You are the greatest among all beings, the gods and the demons!”
Vālmīki does not say when did Vibhīṣaṇa realize that everything was not proper in Rāvaṇa’s conduct. But he had no path for himself. He knew that bad deeds would eventually reap bad results and he was getting increasingly concerned. The incident with Hanūmān was possibly the first time he exhibited his analytic argument against Rāvaṇa’s orders. At the same time, he knew that he had to help pacify Rāvaṇa’s anger since Hanuman had already caused a lot of loss to lives and property.
“I don’t see anything useful in killing this monkey, we should go after the people who have sent the monkey!” – Vibhīṣaṇa made a reasonable argument. “This monkey is the only one who can incite the two princes to wage a war against you. We then send a team of well-skilled soldiers to go and capture the princes to be presented to you!” Unknowingly, Vibhīṣaṇa helped carve a rescue plan for Hanūmān!
The victim has relief only if the attacker gets distracted at the moment of execution. Vibhīṣaṇa’s statement did distract Rāvaṇa. Rāvaṇa changed his order and declared: “The tail is considered the cherished part of a monkey. Let us light a fire on his tail and let him leave with his burned-out tail. Let his friends and well-wishers see him distressed through mutilation. Let him be carried around the city with his tail on fire!”
Rāvaṇa’s servants got immediately engaged in wrapping up Hanūmān’s tail in rags and soaked the rags in oil. The jubilant servants lighted the fire. The event became a spectacle for the onlookers. Hanūmān reflected: “What is the next move? Should I escape?” He decided that it was not right to kill the servants who were following the orders from their Master. “On the other hand, this could be an opportunity to get a tour of the town, which I could not do myself!”
All messengers in the world would not be blessed with the strength and skills that Hanūmān had as narrated by Vālmīki. But the important skill he displayed was in the utter confidence in his mission. Confidence suppresses emotion and makes one face adverse situations with resilience. Hanūmān seems to have validated such concept. Bound in ropes and tail on fire, he quietly followed the rākṣasas in visiting the streets, the lanes, the city squares, the houses and the mansions in the city!
The messenger Hanūmān was in pain and possibly cried out for help. This part of the story like how we communicate our appeal in helplessness that some well-wisher can hear is a mystery in human tradition. Sītā learned of Hanūmān’s distress through the messaging of her guards. She was immediately compassionate and prayed hard for Hanūmān’s welfare. Sītā sent her blessings to Hanūmān by praying to the “Fire God” directly: “If you consider me to be righteous, please cool down the fire burning at Hanūmān! in case I have any luck in surviving, please cool down the fire burning at Hanūmān!”
There is another element in human psychology. A deep positive and determined conviction relaxes the body and helps remove stress. Sometimes we call it willpower, but we don’t know its origin. Hanūmān did feel that the fire indeed had reduced in intensity. It was possibly because the fire burned all the oil and was coming to the rags. In any case, it appeared as a miracle to Hanūmān. “How is that such strong fire burning so brightly does not burn me up?” He reflected – “Does it mean something?”
Hanūmān realized that he was out of danger. We do thank the Providence when we escape danger. Hanūmān self-consoled himself by thanking the grace of Rāma and Sītā. He had time to think through and determine his next move: “I must react to this insult!” - he raged! He broke himself loose by applying force. Springing into air, he reached his old perch and surveyed the scene. The furious Hanūmān got hold of an iron club, and attacked the servants. This time he was accompanied with burning fire!
Fire is peculiar in its spreading. Anything dry can burn. Houses burn easily. Somebody carrying a torch and spreading fire in a city is the most dangerous style of aggression. Possibly such was the method of warfare before the guns came in use. Hanūmān hopped from house to house igniting fire everywhere! Air helped. The whole city was conflagrated. Many were roasted inside, some jumped out through the windows. Buildings were reduced to ashes. The metals and gems melted. “The Fire God has arrived in the form of a monkey!” – people on the street whispered! There arose desperate cries and bellows all around!
After setting the whole city of Laṅkā on fire, Hanūmān remembered Rāma. He proceeded to the ocean to cool down his burning tail. But now came his realization. “What did I do? Did I cause Sītā’s demise in my rage!” He felt utterly concerned and immediately returned to check on Sītā’s condition. To his comfort, he found Sītā sitting under that śiṁśapā tree. She was as worried as before. She was delighted to see him again and eagerly requested: “Won’t you stay back for one more night? Please take rest and leave tomorrow!”
Hanūmān had his final assurance to Sītā. “Sugrīva, the king of the vānaras and the bears, would soon arrive with his thousands of monkeys! Together with him would come the brothers, Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa. They will kill Rāvaṇa with their weapons! They would return home with you! Devi, do relax, everything will be all right soon!”
Hanūmān got ready to depart. He had a long journey home. He got to the top of the tallest mountain in the island. He leaped north to the deep expanse of the ocean. The messenger was returning after a successful mission!
Let Sai bless all!