Hanuman, I cannot replay you,' said Rama, hugging him. 'I have nothing else to give than this embrace. Now we must consider how we are to cross the ocean, and this puzzles me.'
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Hanuman, I cannot replay you,' said Rama, hugging him. 'I have nothing else to give than this embrace. Now we must consider how we are to cross the ocean, and this puzzles me.'
There is no place now for doubt or sorrow,' said Sugriva. 'We must build a bridge to Lanka, then Ravana stands no chance against us. fransform you grief into anger, Rama, and nothing will stand in your way.
You are right, Sugriva,' agreed Rama. 'One way or another I will find a way across the sea, even if I have to dry it up. Tell me, Hanuman, of the fortifications of Lanka. How many gates are there and how strong is their garrison?
A high wall surrounds the city, though in places I have broken it down. It has four gates, each guarded by massive doors and catapults, and is surrounded by deep moats infested with alligators. The city is built on top of a steep mountain clothed in forests, and defended by millions of heavily armed warriors skilled in warfare.
Now the moon is in conjunction with Hasta,' said Rama. If our army departs this very day we will be sure of success.' He took command and through Sugriva issued orders to his generals. In excitement monkeys streamed out from the valleys and hills surrounding Kiskindha assembling before their leaders. Soon a huge army set off south, spreading out like a tide. Day and night they marched, feasting on wild fruits and honey as they went. Rama rode on Hanuman's back and Lakshmana on Angada's. After several days they had their first sight of the sea, its foam-flecked surface reaching to the horizon and seeming to join the sky in a single limitless expanse.
They camped on the beach and Rama sat with Lakshmana as the sun sank to the horizon. His thoughts turned to Sita. What would she be doing at this moment? Perhaps the same breeze that blew from the sea had touched her.
Sita is weak from fasting,' he said, and I fear that we may arrive too late. We must find a way to cross this ocean soon.' Lakshmana comforted Rama as the sun slid over the horizon.
Across the sea, Ravana sat late in his council chamber. Shifting uncomfortably, he reported to his ministers the extent of' the damage done by Hanuman and asked their advice in the light of' the reports coming in of a vast army of monkeys approaching the opposite shore. 'Rama will find a way to get across. How do you propose we defend ourselves?
Our armies stand at the ready,' one general boasted, 'so what have we to fear? We have crushed the whole universe, even the court of' Indra, king of heaven. What do we fear from mere humans and monkeys?
Hanuman caught us unawares,' said another. 'This time it will be different. I will kill Rama and Lakshmana, and all the monkeys, on my own. The rest of you can stay here drinking wine without worry.' They brandished their swords but Vibbisana, Ravana's younger brother, restrained them.
Rama is not so easily defeated,' he warned. It is dangerous to underestimate your enemy. Do you forget how he killed Khara? Advice that Sita be returned. That way we shall avert disaster.
Disgusted at his brother's words, Ravana dismissed everyone and retired to his palace. But the following morning Vibhisana again sought Ravana.
Brother, ever since you kidnapped Sita ill omens have been seen. Sacred fires are obscured by smoke, cows do not give milk, donkeys shed tears and crows cry from the roofs of the buildings. Everyone blames your sin of abducting Sita, but they dare not tell you. You must return her to Rama.
I am not afraid of Rama,' rejoined Ravana angrily, 'and I will never return Sita.' Ravana had become a slave to his infatuation for Sita. The people of Lanka, even those close to him openly disapproved of his behaviour, increasing his unease. Calling together his ministers and generals, he asked for their advice.
As you know, I have kidnapped Sita, wife of Rama, and am passionately in love with her, though she is not yet inclined to share my bed. Now Rama is on his way with a great army of monkeys. We fear no monkey or human, yet I need your advice. How can we avoid returning Sita?
First to speak was Kumbhakarna, the dangerous brother of Ravana, who slept six months at a time under the spell of Brahma, and had recently awoken.
This act of kidnapping Sita was unworthy of you. You should have consulted us first. Nevertheless, I shall atone for your mistake by killing all your enemies. So rest at ease You will not lose Sita.
Ravish her by force and have done with id' interjected another demon, impatient with Ravana's infatuation.
I cannot,' replied Ravana, 'because Brahma has cursed inc that if ever I molest a woman against her will my head will burst into a hundred pieces. In fear of this I will not violate Sita. No matter. I will destroy Rama as I destroy all who oppose me.
Vibhisana could no longer remain silent. 'Give up this folly. Sita is like a poisonous snake around your neck. Return her to Rama. Kumbhakarna cannot defeat Rama; he boasts because he has never actually faced him in battle, so he does not realize how powerful he is.
I have defeated Indra himself,' protested Indrajit, 'so why do you think I cannot defeat a mere prince of humans? You are a coward, frightening us for no good reason.
Child, you speak nonsense,' retorted Vibhisana. You are the enemy of your father because you counsel him to seek his own death, and yours too. No doubt death is what you both deserve, but you must give back Sita and let us live in peace.
These words made Ravana furious. 'I would rather live with a snake than a supposed friend devoted to my enemy,' he roared. 'Although you are my brother you cannot be trusted because you scheme for your own self-interest.' Vibhisana blazed with anger as he rose into the air and hovered above Ravana. I am your friend and servant, older brother, who does not wish to see you killed by Rama. However, you ignore my advice. Therefore protect yourself and your subjects as best you can. I am leaving you. I wish you well. So saying, Vibhisana flew from Lanka in the direction of Rama.
Within an hour Vibhisana and four companions were over Rama's encampment, having flown across the sea. He called to Sugriva from the sky.
'I am Vibhisana, brother of Ravana. come in peace to serve Rama.'
Sugriva sounded the alert, thinking them spies, and urged Rama to kill them. But Rama disagreed. Hanuman also was in favour of befriending Vibhisana, because he had saved his life. '
He has asked me for shelter. I am bound to give protection to all who surrender to me. That is my vow,' declared Rama.
Vibhisana descended from the air and fell at Rama's feet with his followers, pledging his allegiance. Rama asked him the strengths and weaknesses of the demons.
Kumbhakarna, my older brother, is to be feared,' said Vibhisana. 'Indrajit can make himself invisible on the battlefield, which makes him invincible, and Ravana has routed the chief gods of' heaven.' He described other leading (lemons and estimated their numbers at many millions.
'I know of Ravana's exploits,' responded Rama, 'but I do not fear him. I will not return to Ayodhya until I have killed him and all his followers. Then I shall install you as king of Lanka.'
'You can rely on my help,' assured Vibhisana. Rama embraced him and consecrated him there and then as king of Lanka before a crowd of monkeys on the beach. Then Rama withdrew to contemplate the problem of how to cross the ocean. He lay down on his side on the beach, resting his head on his arm, and gazed intently out to sea.
That night a spy sent by Ravana surveyed the beach encampments and hastened back.
'Their army is as vast as the ocean. It is time for you to take decisive action.' In fear Ravana sent Suka, a demon who could transform himself into a bird, as a winged messenger to Sugriva. The bird reached Sugriva's camp.
'Ravana sends his greetings with these words: "I have never harmed you, Sugriva. You are like a brother to me. Why do you oppose me? Go back to Kiskindha, for you will never conquer Lanka".' Monkeys seized the bird-demon to tear off its wings but Rama stopped them. He would not allow a messenger to be harmed.
'Tell Ravana that he is not my brother,' Sugriva told the bird. 'He is an enemy of Rama and therefore my enemy, and he deserves death. Lanka will be burned to ashes and Rama will slay him and his brother.'
Rama waited beside the ocean in deep concentration, determined that the Sea god would allow him passage or perish at his hands. Three days and nights passed but the sea god did not appear. Rama's eyes glowed red with anger.
'It seems this world respects anger, not patience. Therefore today I will split apart the ocean and dry up its waters, destroying all that live within it.' He took up his bow and released a flaming arrow that seared across the waves, threatening the lives of all aquatics and making the ocean boil. Rama fitted a second arrow to his bow. The skies darkened and the wind roared. Oceans, rivers and lakes trembled as the heavens thun-dered and lightning flashed. (From the waters arose the figure of the Sea god, sparkling with gems and entwined by serpents, in the company of' hosts of river gods. He spoke to Rama with joined hands.
‘I will allow your monkeys passage. Tell the monkey named Nila, who was born of' the universal architect Visvakarma, to build upon my surface a causeway of rocks and trees and I will support it.' The Sea god then descended into the waves.
Rama summoned Nila and instructed him to supervise the construction of the bridge to Lanka. Work began and by the end of the first day the monkeys had progressed many miles out to sea, and the causeway held. After five days they com-pleted the crossing to Lanka. The causeway was wide, straight and level and crossed the deeps as the Milky Way spans the skies. When all was complete Rama and Lakshmana, riding on the backs of' Hanuman and Angada, led the army across. Monkeys leapt through the air or swam alongside them, roaring with excitement.
The great army assembled on the beaches of Lanka, finding ample provisions in the lush coastal forests as the sun sank in a crimson sky. Refreshed, they set off in the morning for the city of Lanka. Outside the city, Rama drew the army into the formation of a man, with Rishabha on its right arm, Gandamadana on its left, Sugriva at its legs, Jambavan at its waist, Nila at its heart and himself and Lakshmana at its head.
Suka the spy, terrified of being caught again, observed the crossing of the monkeys from the sky and flew back to Ravana.
I delivered your message to Sugriva, but was nearly killed in the process. The monkeys are fierce and violent, but Rania protected me. He has already reached Lanka after bridging the ocean.
The monkeys and bears with him number millions and are huge like mountains and clouds, covering the earth. Even now they are at the walls of the city. Restore Sita to Rama or be prepared to give battle immediately.'
'I will never return Sita. When Rama hears the music of my bow be will wish he had never come to Lanka.'
Ravana sent two more demon spies to gather detailed information on the disposition of Rama's army. They left under cover of darkness and in disguise penetrated deep into enemy ranks, bewildered by the size of an army which spread from one horizon to the other and could not be measured. Vibhisana discovered them and brought them before Rama. In fear of' their lives, they confessed to Rama that they had been sent as spies.
'I have no objection,' laughed Rama. `Vibhisana will show you all you wish to know. Then you must go back and tell Ravana that tomorrow at dawn I will loose my anger upon him.' They were released and soon reported all this to Ravana.
'These four Rama, Lakshmana, Sugriva and Vibhisana can tear this city from its foundations,' they reported. 'Do not trifle with them, my lord. Return Sita without delay and sue for peace.'
'Even if the whole universe attacks me I will not return Sita,' stormed Ravana. 'Take me onto the battlements and show me this great army.' They climbed to the top of the highest tower and looked down upon Rama's troops, surging like the sea at the foot of' Lanka's golden cliffs. Suka pointed out to Ravana the leading monkey warriors and described each of their strengths, estimating their numbers at many hundreds of thousands of millions. When he saw their strength Ravana was shaken.
'You should not have praised those brutes in front of me,' he snapped. 'What fools am I surrounded with? Be gone and do not return, both of you, and consider yourselves lucky to keep your lives.'
Ravana sent yet more spies, wanting every detail of Rama's movements. They too were captured and humiliated before being sent back to Ravana. He was now thoroughly alarmed but firmly set against surrender. He went deep into his palace, where he sent for the sorcerer Vidyujiva.
In his deranged mind, Ravana thought he might persuade Sita to marry him if he could convince her that Rama was dead. So he asked Vidyujiva to conjure up a false image of Rama's head and a golden bow similar to Rama's., He entered the ashok grove, eager to see Sita's beautiful face, and found her beneath the surviving tree sitting on the bare ground with her head bent in sorrow.
'I bring you news of your husband,' Ravana began. 'He is dead. Now nothing stands in the way of your union with me. This is what happened: last night Rama camped with his army on the opposite shore. During the night Prahasta infiltrated their camp with soldiers armed with swords, javelins, spears, scimitars, axes, clubs and arrows, and slaughtered them. Rama was found asleep and beheaded. Vibhisana was taken captive, and Sugriva and Hanuman were killed. There is not a warrior left alive who has not fled in panic.' Ravana then produced the false head of Rama, covered in dust and blood, and placed it on the ground in front of Sita, and next to it the bow.
'Here is Rama's severed head and his once mighty bow. Now you will submit to me.'
Sita recognized the head as bearing all the distinctive marks of Rama: his noble brow, his lotus-like eyes and the distinctive jewel he wore in the knot of his hair. She threw herself on the ground.
'Now I have no reason to live, for I have seen my husband die before me. 0 Rama! Astrologers predicted that you would have a long life, but now it is cut short. Why don't you speak to me? This girl who you married in your youth has turned out to be the cause of your death. Kill me, Ravana. Do one worthy deed in your life and unite this wife with her husband.'
At this moment Ravana was interrupted by an urgent message from his generals calling for his presence, and hurried off. As soon as he had gone, a curious thing happened: Rama's head and bow vanished into thin air. This was not seen by Sita, but by her friend Sarama, the wife of Vibhisana, one of the demon attendants.
'Dear Sita,' she reassured, 'do not be distressed by what you saw. It was a wicked illusion created by Ravana. Rama is alive and well. I have heard that he has crossed the sea and is this very moment camped outside the city walls with all his forces. Lanka is full of preparations for war: squadrons march on the streets; weapons are polished, elephants decorated, horses yolked; everywhere is the sound of drums and the rattling of chariots. But they will be no match for Rama. Soon your husband will take the city and win you back. If you like I can make myself invisible by my magic art and take a message to him.'
'Dear friend, thank you for your words of encouragement,' replied Sita. 'If you want to make me happy, please find out what Ravana is planning to do with me, for I am mortally afraid that he will soon have me killed.' Sarama left, returning soon with news of Ravana.
'Ravana seeks advice from his ministers,' she reported, 'and all urge him to return you to Rama and make peace. But Ravana is determined to keep you, even if he dies in the attempt. Therefore it is certain that Rama will slay him soon.'
A demon called Malyavan, grandfather of Ravana's wife, tried to advise Ravana.
'A wise ruler does not fight one of greater strength, he makes peace. You should return Sita and make an alliance with Rama that will benefit everyone. The creator brought into this world two orders of beings: the divine and the demoniac. In the great struggle between them the divine has the upper hand, being defended by Lord Vishnu, until the wheel of time turns to Kali Yuga, the iron age, when demoniac forces take control. Until then, us demons are destined to be the losers. You are about to be vanquished by the gods, who are working through the monkeys born from them. Moreover, Rama is Vishnu himself in human form, and he has come to destroy you. Submit to him and bring us all good fortune.'
'I hear nothing you say,' protested Ravana angrily. 'Rama is a mere human being whose father has forsaken him and who relies upon monkeys. What have I to fear from such a wretch? I will kill him and Lakshmana within a few days.'
Hearing these foolish words Malyavan left Ravana to his fate. Ravana then posted his generals at the four gates of the city and prepared to defend Lanka. Satisfied that all was ready, he retired to his private apartments to be with his women.
The Battle Begins
On the eve of battle, Rama called his generals together. They climbed to the summit of Mount Suvela, from where they could clearly see the city of Lanka and what was to be the field of battle. As the sun set in a red sky, they saw the battlements of the city lined with densely packed rows of demons. The full moon rose and they spent their last night before the battle on the mountain top.
In the morning they saw spread below them a landscape of groves, lawns and water-falls alive with the songs of birds. Above this was the peak of Trikuta, on which stood Lanka, floating like a golden cloud. Behind its fortified gates they saw Ravana's golden palace, its turrets touching the heavens. On the battlements of the northern gate they were excited to see Ravana himself wearing a blood-red robe. Sugriva bellowed with rage and leapt from the top of Mount Suvela onto the battlements in front of Ravana.
'Today I will kill you! He cried, and snatched Ravana's crown.
'And I will separate your head from your body,' shouted Ravana.
In a moment the two were locked in combat, wrestling arm to arm, chest to chest and leg to leg. Each was expert in the art of wrestling and strove with equal intensity. As they struggled they fell from the ramparts to the foot of the walls, but still they fought on, crouching, leaping and pressing each other's bodies until they were smeared with blood and dust. Neither had the upper hand and Ravana was on the point of summoning his sorcery, when Sugriva leapt high into the sky and returned to the summit of Mount Suvela, where he was greeted with cheers.
Rama and Lakshmana led the monkey generals down from the mountain and advanced the troops to the walls of Lanka. Armed with trees and rocks the monkeys waited in excitement for battle to commence, setting up a noise like rolling thunder and engulfing the walls of the city. Before ordering the attack, Rama sent Angada with a last message for Ravana. He flew over the battlements into Ravana's presence.
'Rama sends you this message,' he announced. "The time of retribution for your sins has come. For too long you have terrorized the innocent. Now I will punish you. Keep up your courage and I will slay you on the battlefield, thus releasing you from your sins and sending you to heaven. Prepare to die."
'Take this evil monkey and put him to death!' cursed Ravana. Four demons seized Angada, but he soared with them high into the air, then shook them off so that they crashed to the ground. Then he flew back to Rama.
Standing before the walls of Lanka, Rama thought of Sita and ordered battle to begin. Hoards of monkeys began scaling the walls, smashing the defenses with their rocks and trees and beating down the mighty gates. Waves of demons in dazzling golden armour rushed out eager to give battle. They struck the monkeys with maces, axes and swords, and the monkeys struck them with trees and rocks or with their teeth and nails. The fighting was fierce enough to make your hair stand on end. As the day progressed one after another of the leading demons was vanquished, and the battlefield was covered with spears, arrows, shattered chariots and dead elephants.
Darkness fell but the fighting raged on. Rama's arrows shone like tongues of flame. As the night wore on Angada gained the upper hand in his light with Indrajit, smashing his chariot and forcing him to flee. However, Indrajit made himself invisible and returned to the fight, invoking the weapon of Brahma which he had used before against Hanuman. Under the cloak of invisibility he rained down arrows on Rama and Lakshmana. These were no ordinary arrows. They were deadly serpents from the regions of darkness below the earth, transformed into arrows that bit deep into the vital organs of Rama and Lakshmana, binding them as if by cords of steel. Rama was powerless to defend himself against Indrajit's onslaught because he was unable to see where his enemy was. Before long the two brothers fell to the ground immobile. Indrajit intensified his attack, piercing them with more and more arrows until their entire bodies were covered with his shafts.
'Go now to the abode of death!' he shouted in rage. Rama and Lakshmana, trembling in the darkness with pain and weakness, lost consciousness. Indrajit, believing them to be dead, flew in triumph to Ravana.
As the night ended and light returned to the field, Sugriva, Vibhisana and others discovered the two princes, hardly breathing and unable to move, lying on a bed of arrows. Drawing around them in a protective cordon, they gave way to despair. Only Vibhisana was optimistic. '
Rama's lustre has not gone. He and Lakshmana do not have the appearance of dying men. Rama will recover.'
Indrajit went to Ravana and announced that Rama and Lakshmana were dead. Ravana was beside himself with joy and the demons celebrated as if the battle were over. Ravana ordered that Sita be taken aboard the Puspaka airplane and shown the dead princes. She was flown in the Puspaka over the battleground. With her went a demoness named Trijata, who was her friend. When Sita saw the inert bodies of Rama and Lakshmana covered with arrows amid the terrible carnage she was beside herself with grief; but Trijata encouraged her.
'These princes are not dead,' she deduced. 'Their bodies shine with a brilliance which is never seen in those about to die.' But Sita was inconsolable as she was carried back to the ashok grove.
Rama opened his eyes. He looked beside him and saw Lakshmana lying motionless. Thinking him dead, he felt deep despair.
If Lakshmana dies my life is worthless. Perhaps I could find another Sita, but I could never replace a brother like Lakshmana. He always comforted me when I was depressed, now who will encourage me?' He turned to Sugriva and said, 'I thank you for your loyal service. You and your brave companions must now return across the sea to your homes. You have done all you can for me and I am well satisfied. I release you from all further obligation.'
Just then a mighty wind blew and lightning flashed in the sky. All at once there appeared the figure of Garuda, king of the birds and eagle-carrier of Vishnu. He shone like blazing fire and was hard to look upon. In an instant the snake-arrows that bound Rama and Lakshmana were released and the snakes fled in fear, for no snake can stand the presence of Garuda. Bending low, he wiped the faces of Rama and Lakshmana and stroked their bodies. As he did so their wounds healed and their skin shone bright and smooth. He raised them from the ground and embraced them.
'You have saved my life,' Rama said in wonder. 'Who are you?
‘I am Garuda, your friend of old. I heard of your plight and hurried here. Don’t be curious now about our friendship. Go and regain Sita, and when your quest is complete, you will know who I am.’ He circled Rama, spread his wings, and soared into the sky. The Monkeys roared in delight and beat upon their drums, ready once more to face the enemy.
Writer – Ranchor Prime