Reflections on Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa – XXX: Hanūmān, the Messenger - Part VII

Bijoy Misra
August 6 ,2019


Vālmīki includes an interesting discussion about the role of the individual in a group. A group is a collective
body, and many tasks are accomplished with the help and assistance of members in the group. But other
tasks may be distinctively difficult and may need special skills for tackling them. How much credit should
go to the group when a member in the group is commissioned to do the task and he or she is successful?


According to Vālmīki, it is the group that succeeds or fails. The individual belongs to a group and operates
with the consent of the group. Hanūmān carried goodwill from the group and is beholden to the group
for the activities he undertakes. Though he distinguishes himself in the special task of crossing the ocean
and locating Sītā, Vālmīki places him back in the group as far as reporting to Sugrīva and Rāma was
concerned.


Together, the group decided that they should complete the task of recovering Sītā from Laṅkā. Jāmbavān,
the elder, advised them against thinking about a recovery and told them that they should act on the task
that they were asked to accomplish. “We were asked to go in the southern direction to search for Sītā.
Rāma had taken a vow in front of all that he himself would recover Sītā once we have located her! It is
only appropriate that we report back to Rāma and Lakṣhmaṇa that we met Sītā and that she is located in
Laṅkā, guarded by the Rākṣasīs!”


Vālmīki thus establishes the foundation of Indian culture, in which the group is more viable than the
individual. Cooperation among group members is essential, in order to maintain the identity of the group.
Although the group consists of only a fraction of the Vānaras that are under Sugrīva’s command, Vālmīki
underscores that the group’s wishes be paramount in all decision-making. This could be a reflection of
the old-style Indian empiricism that the Chief is merely part of a group, and draws his power through the
group!


The Vānarasthus decided to go as a herd to Kiṣkindhā, to report their message that “Sītā has been found”.
On their way, they come across the well-kept “honey orchard,” one of the prize orchards inherited by
Sugrīva from his ancestors. The entire area was blessed with fruit trees and excellent roots with
honeycombs and bee nests. It was loaded with beehives and honey. The orchard was guarded and
maintained by Dadhimukha, the maternal uncle of Sugrīva.
The splendor of the beautiful fruit orchard was too tempting for the monkeys: they were starving, and
operated as a mob. They descended on the orchard and asked their elders - Aṅgada and Jāmbavān - if
they could partake of the honey in the lovely food-bank. The mirth and mischief of the monkeys, having
been repressed for several months, were unleashed! They started plundering the well-kept orchard with
beastly merriment!


Vālmīki gives a full description of the nature of the monkeys in a quarter of good food presented as a
palette. “Some sang, some danced, some bounced, some roared and some wept!” They had no respect
for the sanctity of the orchard, nor for the care with which it had been maintained. When Dadhimukha
came to warn them about their misconduct, the monkeys assaulted him and kicked him around! The 
starving monkeys had experienced a sudden infusion of sugar, and most were inebriated with too high an
intake of honey!


And then along came Hanūmān: “Don’t worry, go ahead and help yourself to the honey! I will protect you
against anybody who comes in your way!” Aṅgada thought Hanūmān should know what he was talking
about. He continued with the rampage. Dadhimukha brought his own wards to maintain order, but
Hanūmān’s troupe was more powerful. “The guards were picked up by their hips and thrown towards the
sky.” The intoxicated Aṅgada beat up Dadhimukha and injured him, causing him to faint!
Desperate, Dadhimukha went to report the incident to Sugrīva, and to seek his intervention. Dadhimukha
was scared, since he had failed in his duty to protect the orchard. However, Vālmīki characterizes Sugrīva
as a King who understands statecraft: Sugrīva listens to the full report and then explains the event to
Lakṣmaṇa: “I believe the Devī Sītā has been found by Hanūmān! As a result, the monkeys are engaged in
feasting and merry-making!” He then turned to Dadhimukha and said “I am happy that the food in the
orchard was consumed by the monkeys! We can be tolerant of some mischief from those who have been
successful!” – a kingly statement, indeed!


Sugrīva ordered Dadhimukha to “return to the orchard and request the monkeys to report to him
(Sugrīva), along with Hanūmān and the other leaders. I wish to get the full report.” Sugrīva’s concerning
in Hanūmān’s workmanship is typical of Vālmīki’s narrative. In other words, based on his past experience,
Sugrīva knew that Hanūmān would not fail in the task he was assigned to complete, but he was curious as
to whether Hanūmān could fulfill his own commitment to Rāma in terms of restoring Sītā to Rāma!
When we read Vālmīki, the question arises as to why he chose monkeys as Rāma’s soldiers, to deal with
Rāvaṇa. Vālmīki categorizes them as Vānaras who exhibit human-like intelligence and activities, but are
monkey-like in their habitat and skills. Among their important skills is the ability to jump arbitrary
distances; also their strong defensive reflexes when physically attacked by men, or other larger creatures.
In addition, the quality that Vālmīki champions is their coherence as well as adherence to the group.
Possibly, the last quality of their single-minded devotion to work was Vālmīki’s major message in
Rāmāyaṇa .


As a dutiful servant, Dadhimukha came back and apologized to the group for his actions! “You have come
a long distance! Aṅgada is the Crown Prince! Please pardon me for my foolishness in not recognizing the
meritorious work you have done! Your uncle believes in your success and wants you to report to him as
soon as possible!”
Through Aṅgada, Vālmīki elevates the group honor to another level. Hanūmān remains a loyal follower,
and follows Aṅgada’s orders, while Aṅgada on his part asks his monkey brigade: “Though I am the Prince,
I should not issue orders to you regarding what you should do: please advise me on our next steps, if you
are fully content with your consumption!” These words worked like magic on the troupe. There was the
chorus: “There is no leader like Aṅgada! May you be bestowed with fame and fortune!” Vālmīki’s leader
thrived on the group’s blessing!


Aṅgada, Hanūmān, Jāmbavān and the monkeys arrived at the Kiṣkindhā Mountains. The monkey in
Sugrīva was delighted,and showed his pleasure by “curling his tail.” Hanūmān paid obeisance to Rāma by
bowing his head in reverence. “Devī was seen by me”, “She is maintaining herself with steadfast
devotion!” Thus, the much-anticipated message was delivered: the messenger eventually communicated
- no pain, no grief, no mention of the toil!


Rāma was mesmerized upon hearing this sweet message. Lakṣmaṇa was also stunned, and internally
acknowledged the feat with deep respect. Rāma was eager to hear the full story. Hanūmān described his
full ordeal. He narrated how he was able to have Sītā confide in him by relating the old stories of the clan
of Ikṣvāku. He delivered the head ornament that Sītā had given him, with her exact words: “I will only live
for another month! It is not possible for me to survive more than a month under these conditions!”


Finding Rāma overwhelmed with grief, Hanūmān tried to soften his emotion by narrating the story of the
crow that Sītā had told him in confidence. Hanūmān reinforced Sītā’s assertion: “If Rāma’s weapons could
go around the planet to take revenge on a crow, what prevents him from taking the necessary steps to
rescue me from this Rāvaṇa dungeon!”


With this we conclude the story of Hanūmān as a messenger between Rāma and his distressed wife. The
diligence, mindfulness and the attention that Hanūmān devotes to the task assigned to him makes him
one of the most lovable characters in Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa. He is strong, wise, and intelligent, but at the
same time he knows his group members and respects them as equals in the group. His faith in Rāma and
his belief that he himself can succeed in the tasks he undertakes, make Hanūmān a unique character in
world literature!


Let Sai bless all!