The city of Lanka was built by Vishvakarma, the architect of Gods. It is a magnificent city situated on top of the Trikuta mountain ranges and was well fortified and protected by moats and the Rakshasa demons all round. Citizens of Lanka lived in tall, rich buildings. Lanka was once Ravana’s step-brother, Kubera’s. Ravana beat his brother to capture it and also took the Pushpaka, an aerial vehicle with unlimited seating capacity and driven by the will of the pilot!
Hanuman decides to enter the city at night in a different guise – in a miniature form like a cat – to evade detection by guards protecting the gates of Lanka. He at night sees under moon light the richness of Lanka’s tall, golden buildings and walls, studded with precious gems, beautiful archways and windows, storage depots, arm caches, and many more. It’s not an ordinary city. Hanuman first wonders at its military preparedness, its appeal and aesthetics and feels depressed if it can be conquered at all. But his unshaken faith in the abilities of Rama and Lakshmana gives him hope.
Then the guardian angel and protectress of Lanka (her name too is Lankaa) stops Hanuman and disallows him to proceed further. Hanuman’s request to see Lanka and return is denied. She strikes Hanuman and in return Hanuman gently hits her head with folded fingers on left hand! She realizes him and is relieved of her duty and recalls Brahma’s boon given her to the effect that a mighty Vanara who beats her would be her liberator. She lets him in and knows the city’s ruin is near and certain as retribution for Ravana’s abduction of Seeta.
Hanuman enters the inner city with his left foot stamping in first, meaning a wish for its eventual destruction. It’s all for him to explore.
He hears musical scores, tinkling noises made my danseuses, Vedic chants from some quarters and men and women indulging in the night life of Lanka. He sees ritual performers, army men, sentinels protecting Lanka. He enters and inspects houses of various Rakshasa heroes. He sees Ravana’s golden palace with diamond and pearl studded courtyard and enters it. It is a majestic palace with all riches, gardens with flowering trees, well carved pillars and special mansions devoted for various royal needs. He inspects the interiors of the wonder vehicle Pushpaka – an aerial vehicle architected by Vishvakarma – well designed and crafted with various images carved in precious stones of elephants in lotus ponds, fanciful winged birds and sculpted horses.
Hanuman was not happy as Seeta is not found yet!
He continues to explore the inner chambers of Ravana’s palace. He sees tired and sleeping women – all Ravana’s concubines; some abducted and some came on choice, all well decorated with sandal pastes and various perfumes smeared on their bodies, some players of various musical instruments – leaning against one another; their clothes not properly covering them. He sees Ravana asleep in his bed – like a large, dark cloud, like a mountain, wearing golden clothes, his shoulders bearing scars of wounds inflicted by Airavata’s tusks, and those caused by the strike of Indra’s Vajra weapon and Vishnu’s disc, the Sudarshana Chakra. He sees Mandodari, Ravana’s queen, and mistakes her for Seeta for a moment, for she looked beautiful and young. The description of Seeta he had fit this person. He dances with joy, claps and sits down. He immediately realizes she can’t be Seeta for Seeta wouldn’t be sleeping there peacefully without Rama. Despaired Hanuman continues to explore. He feels ashamed for watching what he did in the inner chambers of Ravana and steps out. “Where is Seeta?” That is his question. See how he despairs:
dRshTam antaHpuram sarvam dRshTvaa raavaNa yoshitaH |
na seetaa dRshyate saadhvee vRthaa jaato mama shramaH ||
(I saw the entire palace, I saw Ravana’s women. Devout Seeta is unseen. All my efforts are in vain!)
Let us note that for a person committed to a goal and proceeding in a mission, even amazing and rich (or even tempting) sights are distractions. Mind doesn’t rest until goal is realized. The prospect of facing one’s peers and masters with failure is demoralizing and being resolute to continue to explore is the only hope left!
Various doubts trouble him. He doesn’t give up hope and continues house-to-house search, undergrounds and cellars, any place or palace in sight. Various women are seen, but Seeta is not seen. Seeta is not seen. It’s painful. He thinks to himself: “What became of Seeta? Did she fall down into sea while being abducted? Was she killed or devoured by demons? But Sampati saw her here. Shall I kill Ravana? Shall I take him by force to Rama?”
Hanuman analyzes the consequences of going back with a sorry face and continues to explore with new found hope after offering prayers to heavenly gods. He enters the Ashoka grove, one place still unsearched.
Ashoka grove is a beautiful place carved around nature beaming with flower ponds, streams and flowering trees. Hanuman finds a Shimshupa tree and climbs it and looks around. He sights: (Valmiki’s verses in this context are just superb, too sweet, a real treat to those who love poetry. Read the verses and don’t focus much on my translation in parentheses)
tato malina samveetaam raakshaseebhissamaavRtaam |
upavaasa kRshaam deenaam niHshvasanteem punaH punaH |
dadarsha shuklapakshaadau candrarekhaamivaamalaam ||
(He saw her – surrounded by female demons – her cloth soiled, looking emaciated due to fasting, pitiable, sobbing in grief again and again. She is still brilliant like crescent moon in the waxing phase.)
manda prakhyaayamaanena roopeNa rucira prabhaam |
pinaddhaam dhooma jaalena shikhaamiva vibhaavasoH ||
(Like a radiant tongue of flame rising from ritual fire obscured by twirling smoke, her bright appearance is subtle to beholder)
peetenaikena samveetaam klishTenottama vaasasaa |
sapankaam analamkaaraam vipadmaamiva padmineem ||
(Wearing a fine but wrinkled and soiled yellow cloth, she – without ornaments appeared like a mud-smeared lotus stalk without lotuses)
ashrupoorNamukheem deenaam kRshaam ananashena ca |
shokadhyaanaparaam deenaam nityam duHkha paraayaNaam|
(Face full with tears, miserable and withered and weak, deep in never-ending sorrow and grief)
priyam janamapashyanteem pashyanteem raakshasee gaNam|
svagaNena mRgeem heenaam shvagaNaabhivRtaamiva ||
(Around her – that is whom she sees – are not her loved ones, but demons, she is like a deer lost to hounds)
Hanuman reasoned it out now (you can’t make the same mistake twice!). He saw her in a state where only the hope of re-uniting with Rama could’ve kept her alive. He recalled the descriptions he had and they scored a hit, the condition she is in being expected; her upper garment dropped at Vanaras is of same color!. She has no jewels on her, only some scars or marks where they were previously worn.
Rama went through all trials and tribulations clearly for her sake. And for her, only the hope of re-uniting with Rama remained. It should be and is Seeta! He now is sure he saw Seeta (as described by Valmiki below):
poorNa candraananaam subhroom caaru vRtta payodharaam |
kurvanteem prabhayaa deveem sarvaa vitimiraa dishaH ||
taam neelakesheem bimboshTheem sumadhyaam supratishThitaam |
seetaam padma palaashaaksheem manmathasya ratim yathaa ||
(Her face shining like full moon, her eyebrows well-shaped, her breasts graceful and round, the blazing radiance from her lights up all corners around , shining blue-black hair, bright red-fruit like lips, slender-waist, firmly seated, eyes like lotus petals, she is like Rati, the consort of Manmatha, the love god.)
Hanuman did it! He can now cry “dRshTaa seetaa”, objective given him.