Reflections on Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa – XXXII: Sugrīva, the Friend – Part II
February 11, 2020
The sun shines, without asking for anything in return. The ancient sages sent hymns directed to the sun.
The air blows, without asking for anything in return. We conduct rituals to honor the life-giving force.
Trees give fruits, without asking for anything in return; occasionally they need our care and attention, and
we learn not to hurt them. Human beings are different. Here friendship is a relationship, it is strong when
it is complementary. Each of us is deficient to some extent in overcoming the challenges of life: as such,
we seek help, and at times, this help develops into friendship.
Sugrīva’s friendship with Rāma was accidental: both were lonely and desperate. Sugrīva wanted revenge
against the tyranny of his brother, while Rāma wanted to track his kidnapped wife in the forest. Sugrīva
was a vānara, a large monkey with human-like characteristics. He was a forest dweller. Rāma was a prince
who had volunteered to live in the forest to fulfill a vow. He had brought peril onto himself in the forest,
he had lost his wife through a kidnapping.
“I do not know where that evil rākṣasa lives, nor do I know his origins. But please don’t feel any remorse.
I will act in such a way that you will recover your wife: I will devote my full force to killing Rāvaṇa and all
his associates. You will be pleased with me!” Sugrīva tried to console Rāma. Seeing Rāma pensive and
weak, he counseled – “Please set aside any mental weakness and be your normal self! Weakness does
not behoove a person like you!”
Sugrīva knew that a friend is one who helps restore a person’s dignity. A friend supports his friends to
gain confidence, is a cheerleader, is a support to help lift his friend out of depression, and is a voice of
hope and strength. Sugrīva continued – “Look at me, I have also lost my wife, but I am not getting
impatient! I am a common vānara. You are a prince!” Seeing tears in Rāma’s eyes, Sugrīva consoled:
“You should suppress your tears! A dignified man does not break down when faced with life’s challenge!”
Rāma didn’t know whether Sītā was alive or dead, and if alive, what condition she would be in. Yet Rāma’s
state was not totally like Sugrīva’s: Sugrīva knew where his wife was and he was also sure that she could
be rescued by eliminating Vālī. But killing Vālī was a daunting task. To be successful, Rāma had to be fully
mindful of the task; a slight error could be devastating. Rāma must get over his depression, Sugrīva
thought he could help!
Sugrīva pleaded with folded hands: “I beg you to reject your depression. You must restore your
manliness!” Then he counseled: “Happiness does not come to those who live in grief. Grief weakens a
man. You must come out of your grief! Living itself becomes difficult for people who are overwhelmed
by grief. You must reject grief absolutely!” Then in humility he said – “Please do not think that I am
advising you, I am speaking to you as a friend! Please refrain from grief, please respect my friendship!”
Rāma was touched by Sugrīva’s pleading; he had reason to believe that Sugrīva was genuine as a friend.
Rāma was confident that Sugriva could help find some trace of Sītā. He wiped away his tears and tried to
appear normal. “You have been an affectionate and kind friend: your counsel has helped me regain my
composure. A friend like you is rare indeed! It is particularly so at this challenging time!”- Rāma said.
Sugrīva had further counsel for Rāma. “Rich or poor, distressed or happy, faultless or ridden with faults,
a friend is a refuge to a friend! Friends renounce wealth, comforts, even their country for the sake of their
friendship!” Reflecting on his own personality, he said “I am honored by my clansmen that you have
accepted me as a friend, that too with fire as our witness! You would know in time that I am indeed
worthy of your friendship, though I am not able to display all my qualities!”
Rāma was reclining on a seat of sāla leaves while Sugriva took his seat nearby. He narrated his story. “I
am exiled by my brother Vālī, who stole my wife. I move around in the forest grief-stricken and fearful. I
can move around only in these Rṣyamūka mountains. O’ Prince! I beg that your grace would rescue me
from my fear of Vālī!” Rāma responded serenely - “A friend always serves a friend. An enemy betrays a
friend. Look, Vālī would fall like a rock when pierced by my arrows!”
Sugrīva was teary-eyed, and started crying. “I have been deposed from my kingdom. Vālī has been plotting in various ways to kill me. I have killed many of the agents he dispatched to me, which is why I was scared to see you and was reluctant to meet you. I can only live in peace when Vālī is destroyed. I am submitting myself completely to your friendship! In sorrow or in happiness, a friend alone is a refuge!”
Sugriva’s continued appeal to kill his brother did puzzle Rāma. He wanted to know the full story,such that
he could evaluate. “My dislike of your brother increases like the rainwater flooding a river! But I need to
know about why the enmity ensued between you two? Then I can determine the merits and demerits of
what has happened. Please relax and tell me the whole story clearly. My arrows will destroy your
Sugrīva described at length the duel that occurred between Vālī and the demon Dundubhi because of a
woman, and how they entered a cave chasing each other. Sugriva was asked to guard the gate and waited for months, until he saw blood streaming out of the cave. Unable to hear Vālī ’s voice in the cave, Sugriva assumed that Vālī was dead. He left the cave, closing the opening with a big rock, and assumed the charge of the kingdom. Then he encountered Vālī ’s ferocious return. Vālī was wrathful that Sugrīva did not follow the command he was given to attend the gate!
“I begged his forgiveness, but he would not listen. He thought I had worked against him by blocking the
cave entrance with the rock. He threw me out of the kingdom with just a single piece of cloth. He kept
my wife! I have been running over the entire earth, because I was scared of him. I finally took shelter in
these Rṣyamūka mountains. They are off-limits to him due to a curse.” Sugrīva appealed – “O prince, you
can see my battered state! I am innocent! Please take steps to release me from the scare of Vālī!”
Rāma did evaluate the sinful character of Vālī with regard to chasing women, connected his own story
with Sugrīva’s plight, and consoled him – “My unfailing sharp arrows, glittering like the sun, will strike
wrathfully on that sinful Vālī. That evil, immoral being - who steals wives - will only live until my sight falls
on him! Please rest assured, I will rescue you from your grief very quickly, and you will get back your wife
as well as the kingdom!”
Sugrīva wanted to alert Rāma further about Vālī - “Let me explain to something of Vālī’s strength and
valor. Before the sun is up, Vālī surveys the earth searching for any challenger from the western oceans
to the east and then from the southern oceans to the north. He can break mountains and toss down
trees. He can crush anyone who comes to duel with him. Looking for a challenger, he once encountered
the demon Dundubhi, whom he demolished, and kicked his carcass four miles away! That shining
mountain-high heap of bones is what’s left of Dundubhi’s body. And these seven large sāla trees, Vālī can
just shake them to get all branches break! Vālī is mighty! How do you think you will tackle him?”
The description prompted Lakṣmaṇa to quip – “What should Rāma do to convince you that he could kill
Vālī?” Sugrīva was defensive – “I don’t wish to disrespect you, but I am trying to convey that my brother
Vālī is extremely strong and more powerful that you can think of. He has never been defeated by anyone
in a duel, and no one, including the gods, has been able to restrain him from his evil misdeeds.” With a
pause he said - “I am aware of my brother’s strength, but have not witnessed yours! You are praiseworthy
and noble, but could end up like a fire covered with the ashes!”
“In the olden days, Vālī would simply break through these large trees. I expect that Rāma may be able to
split one of the trees with his arrow. He can try to lift that bone pile by one foot and try to kick away a
distance of four hundred yards.” Rāma took up the challenge and kicked the heap of bones ten miles
away! Sugrīva continued to show his analytic mind “When Vālī kicked the carcass, it was in flesh and blood! Now it is dried up and it is lighter, making it easier to be kick!”
“My doubts would cease if your discharged arrow completely pierces through one of these sāla trees. I
am sure you can accomplish this, but I request you to show me now!” Assuming if he was overreaching,
Sugrīva used colorful language – “as the sun is the brightest of the stars, as the Himalayas are the greatest
of the mountains, and as the lion is the strongest of the animals, you are the foremost in valor among all
Rāma’s arrow pierced through all seven sāla trees in sequence, then entered the ground and returned
back to the quiver! Sugrīva was stunned and delighted!
Let Sai bless all!