The Battle Begins

The battle between the Vanara and Rakshasa armies was not particularly gory or violent. Although Valmiki writes that there were streams of blood and mounds of flesh strewn around, the battle description never presumes there were personal scores to settle between the combatants. Both were fighting for their masters.

The Vanara army launches attack on Rama’s orders first by breaking the defense walls, filling up the moats and scaling walls and mounds that were protecting Lanka.

Each side has a battle cry. Each attacked the other party with insulting slurs, “Hey, you are a Rakshasa”, “Hey, you are a Vanara”.  The battle continued into night. The initial victories Vanara army enjoyed were beset when Indrajit, the son of Ravana, after losing to Angada in a straight fight, makes a re-appearance in the battle field in invisible form and attacks Rama and Lakshmana and shoots at them the Naga weapon, a barrage of arrows that pierced them so badly, they appeared covered in them. Both Rama and Lakshmana fall to ground. Thinking them to be dead, Indrajit returns to Lanka announces that he killed them both hearing which overjoyed Ravana orders the demons protecting Seeta to take her (Seeta) in the Pushpaka aerial vehicle and show her the battlefield hoping Seeta, after seeing the fallen Rama and Lakshmana, would submit to him.

This recurs throughout the Ramayana. It’s difficult to believe Ravana was fighting for victory over Rama. He was fighting to have Seeta submit to his wishes. And, Seeta would never do that. Ravana was caught in a trap of desire which would never be fulfilled!

Seeta is taken in the vehicle to the battlefield by Trijata, shown the scene, and at the very sight, Seeta sobs and weeps for them. She couldn’t believe that astrologers’ words that she wouldn’t be widowed would turn false. The verses in this context appear rather to give more hope for her than occasion for despair. It’s a technique Valmiki employs often, embedding a suggestion in an account of self-contradiction. Trijata re-assures Seeta that both Rama and Lakshmana were wounded and unconscious, guarded by their troops and are alive. Seeta hopes she would prove true.

Vibhishana doesn’t believe Rama and Lakshmana were dead. He knew better. He re-assures the Vanara troops.

Rama regains his consciousness first and seeing an unconscious Lakshmana, breaks into tears, expresses remorse and blames himself for his brother’s fate. “I would get, if I try, a consort like Seeta, but, would I get a brother like Lakshmana ever?” was his lament.

Jambavan chooses Hanuman to bring herbs that would heal the heroes’ wounds and before any further action is taken, Garuda, the mount of Lord Vishnu and the son of Vinata makes an appearance and heals by his touch both Rama and Lakshmana. Garuda tells Rama that he would realize his friendship after the battle is finished, suggesting the divine purpose behind Rama’s birth. The Nagas – whose poison was applied to the tips of arrows Indrajit used – were Garuda’s cousins and also enemies. Garuda in the past was bestowed upon with power to subjugate them or to provide an antidote to the snake venom.

The confident Vanaras re-group and get ready to counterattack and Ravana learns of the news of regaining of consciousness of Rama and Lakshmana. The battle resumes.


As we will see later, Hanuman is dispatched to bring the Sanjivini and other herbs later too. This passage of Rama and Lakshmana being wounded (with Naga weapon) recurs in the Ramayana text. Ravana doesn’t come out in flying colours as warrior. He set his eyes on Seeta and uses every opportunity to make her believe that Rama was no more with a hope she would submit to her. Valmiki is very clear about this trait of Ravana.


Ravana Spurns Peace Offer


The Vanara army crosses the ocean and is stationed near the Mt. Suvela. Unable to digest the fact, Ravana orders Shuka, Sarana and later Shardula to enter the enemy ranks, to spy on them and report him back. The spies at various times are detected by Vibhishana and caught. Rama, however, sets them free after taunting them, “Did you see enough of my troops? Do you want to know more about us?” He set them free as they came unarmed.

Ravana summons one Vidyujjihva, a magician and conjuror of tricks of illusion and false creations. He orders Vidyujjihva to fashion a severed head of Rama and his bows and quiver. Vidyujjihva complies. Ravana shows those false things to Seeta and announces that Rama is no more, killed by him in the battle. When an inconsolable Seeta – apparently tricked into believing it all – blames herself for her misfortune and wishes to die along with Rama (who she for the moment believed dead), a kind demon lady, Sarama, consoles Seeta, revealing that it was all an optical illusion. Seeta wants to know more from Sarama who overhears Ravana’s conversations with his officials and informs Seeta that Ravana wouldn’t set her free. She also assures Seeta that Rama would win the battle.

Ravana’s spies inform him of the strength of the Vanara army and introduce to him each Vanara hero detailing their individual capabilities. It’s a 33 crore strong army.Vanaras didn’t bring any weapons with them. Their “weapons” are uprooted trees, rocks, boulders and their own fists and nails.Vibhishana sends spies into Lanka and gathers information about the Rakshasa army formations and their strategy. Rama assigns various Vanaras with sizeable armies at each side of Lanka and Sugriva himself in the middle flank. Battle formations are complete.

Sugriva, when he saw from a distance Ravana in his palace, flies at him with uncontrolled rage and fights a long duel beating him to pulp and flies back. When Rama speaks disapprovingly of it, for such acts put his (and he is a king) life at risk, Sugriva replies that an abductor deserves such treatment.

Rama wants to give peace one last chance, and sends Angada to Ravana’s court. The terms were simple. Restore Seeta to avert war. Angada gives the message to Ravana and Ravana not only spurns the peace offer, but makes a devious plan to sieze Angada and Angada breaks the ceiling of the court and escapes back to his troops. Peace efforts failed.


Ravana progressively became suicidal. Right under his nose, Rama had a bridge built, stormed into Lanka and gave him a chance to avert war. Ravana set his eyes on Seeta, and refused to believe Vanaras had a chance. The tricks of Vidyujjihva tell us more about Ravana’s mind. He wanted Seeta to believe that Rama is no more and accept him and that would obviate the war! The first display of Ravana’s cowardice was when he abducted a lonely, unguarded Seeta. The second instance is when he used Vidyujjihva’s skills at creating optical illusions. The kind demons like Trijata and Sarama represent disunity among their ranks. You don’t see absolute unity among a people when such great questions of ethics and morality face them. It interests me to see how one’s own words hit one back in the face with full force. Ravana offered Seeta a choice between death and him. It now turned out that the choice for Ravana is death as Seeta is beyond his reach, only a captive in his premises. Ravana is speaking his mind throughout. One only needs to listen to him, pause and think. Ravana was clear about his death wish. Some commentators portray Ravana as a devotee of Goddess Lakshmi with a slightly different interpretation of some verses he speaks and establish that he welcomed his end in Rama’s hands! This too makes some sense.


Battle Preparations Begin


A delighted Rama embraces Hanuman for his great service and accomplishment. Sugriva speaks to Rama words of encouragement and pushes for immediate action. Rama asks Hanuman to describe Lanka in all details, its military strength, preparedness, defenses, fortifications and all. Hanuman tells Rama all he saw, that Lanka is well-fortified and protected with innumerable demons guarding all sides of the inaccessible Lanka. Demons are well-armed and well-trained. Ravana himself is prepared and is supervising all efforts anticipating a war with Rama. Hanuman also assures that a handful of Vanara heroes – Angada, Dvivida, Mainda, Nila – can finish the job. If the army crosses the ocean, they as good as beat Ravana. Rama is sure he can somehow cross the ocean, by constructing abridge or by drying it up with his fiery arrows! Rama then fixes an auspicious moment (#muhurta#) for the journey, the day Uttara Phalguni is in conjunction with Hasta, which happened to be the following day.

Nila, the Vanara general – as per Rama’s master plan – leads the army, Rama is carried on the back of Hanuman and Lakshmana by Angada and they all march forward with prominent Vanara heroes – Gaja, Gavaya, Gavaksha, Gandhamadana, Jambavan et al – protecting it as they proceed and march past the Sahya, Malaya and Mahendra mountain ranges. Lakshmana observes good, propitious omens in the sky which forebode Rama’s victory.

The army reaches the southern shore and halts there for a strategy to cross it has to be found yet.


They say an army marches on its belly. Valmiki writes that Rama ordered Nila to choose a way among places that abound in honey, tubers and fruits!

Back in Lanka, Ravana summoned his officials and held court. He wants to hear from them what they think about the imminent threat from Rama and his Vanara army. They all well remembered what Hanuman did and left. Most in his court eulogize Ravana’s might, recounting his past victories in battles against various celestials and others. All believe that Vanara army is no match to theirs. Indeed, Indrajit, Ravana’s son, alone can defeat the Vanara army. All major battle-hardened Rakshasa heroes volunteer to finish the job individually!

But notVibhishana, Ravana’s younger (step) brother. With a refrain “pradeeyataam daasharathaaya maithilee” (May Seeta – or Maithili – Be Restored To Rama, son of Dasharatha), Vibhishana gives a reasoned advice to Ravana cautioning him that the Vanara army is mightier than they think (Hanuman has demonstrated it!) and citing the past military achievements of Rama. Vibhishana believes that war should be the very last resort, and a chance to avoid it is still a Ravana’s choice and that underestimating the enemy against all compelling evidence is fool-hardy! When an unwilling Ravana silently walks into his palace, Vibhishana follows him and repeats his words of good advice. Vibhishana took note of inauspicious omens around since Seeta was forcibly brought there. The omens he observed were that the sacrificial fires don’t come up in full force despite generous offerings (like clarified butter and curds) being made, some serpents seen coiled near fireplaces, fresh cow milk is curdled in no time, war elephants displaying strange timidity, vultures are flocking and crows are assembling on house-tops! He believes Seeta be restored to Rama for various good reasons and the well-being of Lanka is one of them. But the proud and fearless Ravana dismisses Vibhishana.


The theme in these verses is more on the safety of Lanka and how Seeta’s “presence” there is inimical to their interests, rather on morality! Some stories from other sources tell us that baby Seeta was indeed found first in Lanka and abandoned on Mandodari’s insistence for she knew Seeta would bring Lanka to ruin. Self-interest precedes morality! Seeta should be restored to Rama NOT because the abduction was an immoral and cowardly act, but because Seeta’s very stay there bodes ill for Lanka!

Ravana re-convenes his officials and announces his firm resolve to face war and that the very purpose of abducting Seeta should not be defeated! He confesses his passions got the better of him! He instructs his army chief – Prahasta – to defend Lanka. Ravana also informs Kumbhakarna – his brother – of the developments. Kumbhakarna was given to sleep for six months at a stretch before he wakes up for a day or two and relapses into sleep again for six months. It was indeed a curse he suffered in the hands of Brahma for his monstrous conduct harming people and causing menace.  When all the victims of Kumbhakarna’s monstrous and violent acts report to Lord Brahma, he (Brahma) utters a curse that Kumbhakarna would spend the rest of his entire life in sleep. However, Ravana, arguing that that curse is too harsh and not dharmic – negotiates with Brahma and gets it “commuted” – to six months of sleep, awakening to life for a brief period and back to sleep.

I believe our seers knew that the only solution to congenital aggression and wantonly violent behavior lies in psychiatry! Putting a congenitally violent and dangerous person to sleep is indeed a measure of general safety.

Kumbhakarna – now woke up and informed of what is facing Lanka – criticizes Ravana in strong words. Kumbhakarna wonders why Ravana didn’t consult anybody in the court before he decided to abduct Seeta. He blames Ravana for their current plight but declares his allegiance to his brother’s cause and is ready for war against Rama. One minor official, Mahaparsva, goads Ravana to have Seeta by force. Then, Ravana reveals the curse he suffered. Lord Brahma cursed Ravana in the past, following many such abductions by Ravana that his head would break into pieces if he forces himself on a woman against her will.

Vibhishana stands up again and repeats his advice. He says that all in the court are living in a fool’s paradise as the first arrow of Rama has not landed yet in Lanka. He believes if a king is wayward, his courtiers should see reason. He believes none in Lanka can match up to Rama in battle and restoring Seeta to Rama is the only option left to save Lanka from imminent ruin. Prahasta and Indrajit criticize him and accuse him of cowardice. Vibhishana lashes out at them for their foolhardiness; he especially picks Indrajit and rails at him. Ravana now believes Vibhishana crossed the limits of an advisor and assumed the mantle of a harsh critic who no longer wishes his well-being. Ravana cites examples of kinsmen turning against a king out of jealousy and ulterior motives and rails against Vibhishana and that in essence is akin to disowning him. Unable to bear the harsh treatment, Vibhishana – along with his four trusted aides – leaves Lanka. Before setting forth, Vibhishana re-affirms that he indeed is a well-wisher of Ravana, but he has no choice but to leave Lanka.

Vibhishana – along with his four aides – flies to the other end of the shore and approaches Rama seeking asylum.Rama consults his Vanara comrades as to the appropriate action regards Vibhishana and most – including Sugriva – advise Rama not to trust Vibhishana as he is part of the enemy brigade and a potential spy. However when his turn comes, Hanuman certifies Vibhishana’s good character and says that Vibhishana – having heard of the episode of the killing of Vali and Sugriva becoming king of Kishkinhdha – wishes to rule Lanka once Ravana falls. Rama grants Vibhishana asylum as it’s his vow not to disappoint those who seek protection from him, and anoints him king (by sprinkling sea water on him). Thus, Vibhishana is crowned in exile. A looming war changes many equations of power and causes force re-alignments.Future vacancies are filled up before the war’s outcome is known. This happens.Ravana on the advice of his aide, Shardula, sends one Shuka as an emissary to Sugriva with a message that their effort would be futile and Sugriva better go back to Kishkindha. Shuka arrives in the guise of a bird to the shore, gives the message. When some Vanaras catch him and harass him thinking him to be spy, Rama orders his release as he came as a messenger (he was set free after they cross the ocean!). Sugriva rejects Ravana’s advice and in turn sends strong message to him that war is certain and so is Ravana’s doom. Shuka reports it later to Ravana.

Rama has to find a way to cross the ocean now. He believes the sea god would show him a way and lies down at the shore and waits for three days. Nothing happens. Now, enraged Rama, angered at the apathy of sea god, is determined to dry it up and releases several fiery arrows into it causing a great disturbance in the sea and sending tremors across the world. Finally, when threatened with Brahmastra, the sea god appears with joined palms and advises Rama to assign Nala – son of Vishvakarma – to construct a bridge (#setu#). Nala – helped by other Vanaras – builds it using rocks, boulders and wood in a matter of a week.

The Rama’s army is all set to storm Lanka.


Hanuman Back In Kishkindha


Hanuman flies back to the shore where his eager Vanara comrades are waiting for him and lands with a terrific roar of joy. Jambavan realizes it was a cry of jubilation and that Hanuman succeeded in his mission. Hanuman announces “Seeta is seen” to Angada and Jambavan. Then, he narrates in detail all that happened during his flight and in Lanka. He joyfully says he set fire to the city of Lanka. When Hanuman proposes to his Vanara comrades that they can attack Lanka and liberate Seeta, and Angada enthusiastically supports the idea,Jambavan says that they should first inform Rama about it and follow his orders.

The group heads back to Kishkindha and first enters the Madhuvana, an orchard and grove very dear to Sugriva. They celebrate there in a wild manner drinking honey and picking fruit, dancing in the air and the orchard is now not in a good shape. The guard of the orchard, one Dadhimukha, tries to reason with them and Vanaras brush him aside. Slightly injured Dadhimukha goes to Sugriva and informs of what Angada and his team are doing there.

Sugriva realizes that it was an act of celebration and that is good news. He summons them all. Sugriva tells a worried Rama that this is indeed good news, they found Seeta and they couldn’t have returned jubilantly after the deadline lapsed! The Vanaras arrive and see Sugriva. Hanuman says “dRshTa seeta”, meaning Seeta is seen! Hanuman shows Rama the jewel Seeta gave him and conveys Seeta’s words to Rama and Rama is touched. The jewel (Chudamani) was Seeta’s bridal ornament presented by Janaka at the time of her wedding. Rama clasps the jewel and weeps again for Seeta. Rama repeatedly asks Hanuman about Seeta and Hanuman narrates everything that happened in Lanka. The message from Seeta was clear. She can bear that all for not more than a month. Rama has one month to rescue her.

Thus ends the Sundara Kanda.



Hanuman’s Heroics In Lanka


Hanuman now decides to teach a lesson to the demons and to test their might. He knows efforts to make peace with them wouldn’t work, and knows that the entire Lanka is in control of the tyrant Ravana who is too obdurate to see reason. Hanuman walks away to a safe distance from where Seeta is, and starts his acts of revenge. He destroys the Ashoka grove, uproots trees, vandalizes structures, breaks down pillars and the entire grove is in shambles.

When the female demons enquire Seeta as to the new Vanara who is creating havoc around, Seeta denies any knowledge of him.

I really liked this bit of denial. Harassed and tormented for months, she is entitled to have a bit of relief. Let there be some fun at Ravana’s cost!

Ravana is informed that a Vanara after meeting and speaking with Seeta is creating havoc and the damage he caused was unacceptable. Ravana sends waves of armed demons who die in Hanuman’s hands. They got their first taste of what is about to come in full force. When several leading Rakshsasa heroes met their ends in the Hanuman’s hands, Ravana sends his son, Indrajit, a powerful one whose might is said to equal that of Indra himself. Indrajit performed various penances in the past and obtained some divine Astras. He strikes Hanuman with Brahmastra and Hanuman – as per the limitation set on his prowess by Brahma – surrenders to it. The jubilant Rakshsas tie him up and take him to Ravana’s court where Hanuman is wonder-struck at the richness and glory of Ravana in the company of his ministers and servants. Ravana was majestic. Prahasta, a minister to Ravana, asks Hanuman who he is and what his motive is. Hanuman replies that he purposely damaged the grove to gain entry into Ravana’s court for a tete-a-tete with him and that he purposely surrendered to Brahmastra despite the fact that tying him with a rope would undo the effect of the Astra on him; that he killed the Rakshasas in self-defense and that was not intentional. Hanuman reveals himself as Rama’s messenger; he narrates the story of Rama to Ravana; cites the example of Vali; advises Ravana to restore Seeta to Rama and make peace or face the wrath of Rama. Ravana doesn’t like his words. When Ravana issues orders to kill Hanuman, Vibhishana, his younger brother, rises up and objects to it. Vibhishana believes a messenger should never be killed. As per him, the ultimate responsibility for Hanuman’s acts lies with his masters (Rama and Sugriva). Vibhishana cites various scriptures and royal code of conduct as regards treatment of emissaries. As Hanuman committed acts of vandalism and had a role (even if it was in self-defense as claimed by him) to play in the death of Ravana’s army men, he may be sentenced to a minor punishment. Also, if set free with a minor punishment, Hanuman may serve their purpose by informing Rama how mighty Lanka is and how futile an attempt to attack it would be. This made some sense to Ravana. Ravana believes that for a Vanara the tail is important and orders that his tail be set ablaze. The Rakshasas apply rags to his tail, douse it with fuel oils and set fire to it and take him around Lanka and display him to all citizens claiming a Rama’s spy was caught! They treated him like a spy! Only, his life was spared for a strategic reason.

Seeta learns of this from her guards and prays Fire god to protect Hanuman. Thus, Hanuman protected by Fire god and Wind god, fights back and sets fire to the entire city of Lanka using his very burning tail which doesn’t harm him!. He spares Vibhishana’s home, though. Hanuman watches in glee the burning Lanka, realizes it could potentially harm Seeta in the grove; rushes back to the grove, sees a safe Seeta, re-assures her again and lands on the hill, Arishta, to fly north back to his Vanara comrades stationed on the other end of the shore.


The brief given to Hanuman was to sight Seeta and report it back. Hanuman himself believed he was a spy. There are verses to that effect. Hanuman – being a Vanara – couldn’t have gained entry to Ravana’s court using standard diplomatic processes and by presenting credentials or whatever was the then norm. So, he indulged in an act of vandalism. He didn’t accept the punishment meted out to him. He returned “fire”. It’s not so much of diplomacy as an act of espionage that got a bit out of hand. Only, gods and Vibhishana were on his side. In another aspect, it’s not much of messenger-or-spy debate. He was denied entry by protectress of Lanka even to see the city. There was no way he could have entered Lanka as a recognized and revealed emissary of Rama. He acted on his own. Ravana never recognized Rama as a king in exile. He believed Rama was banished to forests and devoid of all luck. Ravana never expected or fore-saw any “diplomatic communication” between him and Rama. Hanuman cannot be understood using the lens of “spy-or-messenger”. He was probably a spy as far as detection of Seeta goes, a messenger as he advised Ravana and lastly, of course a commando. One title doesn’t do justice to what he accomplished. I call him a trusted soldier of Rama.



Hanuman Meets Seeta


Hanuman is thinking. When is the right time to present himself before Seeta, to console, assure and show her hope? He has various thoughts. “Should I, a Vanara, speak to her? If so, will she not mistake me for Ravana in a false guise? Will she cry out if she sees me? How can I gain her trust? How can I approach her without alerting the guards?” After much thinking, Hanuman decides to sing Rama’s praise which would be sweet music to Seeta’s ears.

Hanuman, now sitting on a Shimshupa tree branch, starts singing Rama’s praise, chants his story from his birth narrating all events in his life ending in Rama’s search for Seeta and his (Hanuman’s) own arrival in Lanka.

Seeta is overjoyed at what she heard, looked up at Hanuman, a bit surprised that a Vanara chanted it all and prays gods that it is indeed true and she is not day-dreaming. Hanuman steps down, walks toward her, and asks, “Are you not Seeta, the devout wife of Rama?” Seeta replies in the affirmative and narrates her story of abduction to Hanuman. Seeta always answers people, out-spoken, forthcoming and frank!

Hanuman reveals himself as Rama’s messenger (and Sugriva’ minister) and says he is on duty to search for her. Seeta initially disbelieves him – since he drew close to her while speaking – suspecting it was another false-guise trick of Ravana. Hanuman implores her to trust him, gives on her demand a description of Rama and tells her that the entire Vanara army of Sugriva is committed to Rama’s cause. He finally shows the signet ring of Rama.

vaanaroham mahaabhaage dooto raamasya dheemataH |
raamanaamaankitam cedam pashya devi anguleeyakam ||

(I am Vanara, O noble lady, and am a messenger of Rama, the great and here is the signet ring bearing Rama’s name. See it for yourself)

She sees it. She is convinced, she is happy Rama and Lakshmana are safe (That is her first concern!). She knows Rama wouldn’t assign such a great task to ordinary persons. She praises Hanuman, she believes him and for the first time in the ten months of captivity, she saw hope for she established a “contact” with her dear ones, ones who sent her greetings and are making preparations to rescue her. She then gets very curious of Rama and asks Hanuman a hundred other questions about him. Hanuman narrates how frustrated and grief-struck Rama is. Rama’s heart is heavy with thoughts about Seeta, doubts over her well-being, distressed but alert enough to make common cause with Sugriva to get his help. Rama since long ceased to be drawn toward worldly comforts and pleasures. His single goal is to rescue Seeta. Seeta trusts Hanuman. Seeta feels a mix of emotions of relief and grief for Rama for what he is going through.

Hanuman then proposes that he could carry her on her back and fly to the Mt. Prasravana (where Rama is). He increases his size and shows his giant form to convince her he is capable of the task. Seeta cites some reasons for her unwillingness to co-opt with Hanuman (that she might fall off his back as Ravana’s demons would chase him while carrying, that she would be an additional burden for him to protect, that Rama’s efforts to eliminate Ravana would be halted and she doesn’t like the idea of mounting his back, she’d rather see Rama beat Ravana). Hanuman understands.

Hanuman asks Seeta to give him a token of remembrance to show to Rama and for words to carry back to Rama. She narrates two anecdotes – moments with Rama – to Hanuman. While in Chitrakuta, a son of Indra appearing in the guise of a crow pecks at Seeta and injures her. Rama, then resting in her lap, is awakened by her blood-drops, becomes enraged at the crow and shoots at it a Kusha grass after imparting on it the power of Brahamstra. The crow thus haunted by unassailable Brahmastra runs to all worlds, but forsaken by even Indra himself, finally begs Rama to forgive and Rama spares its life but the weapon destroys the crow’s right eye. The second anecdote is that Rama, once seeing Seeta’s mark of vermillion on forehead wiped while bathing in river, paints a beauty mark on her cheek. Seeta presents Hanuman with her jewel worn on or across head (Chudamani) as a token of remembrance. She sends greetings to Sugriva and Lakshmana, too.

When Seeta expresses her doubt regarding Rama and his army’s ability to cross the ocean, Hanuman again assures her that they can, and if nothing else works, he can carry Rama and Lakshmana on his back and fly to Lanka. And they (Rama and Lakshmana) can beat Ravana.

At the end, Seeta tells him that she can’t suffer in Lanka for any longer, at most a month more. Rama and others have one month to liberate her defeating Ravana. Hanuman takes a circumambulation around her and proceeds to go back as Seeta wishes him a happy flight.

Some Observations:

What gains a person’s trust? Even before he could show Rama’s ring, Hanuman at first has to get an audience for which some priming conversation is needed. Hanuman swears on the staple diet of Vanaras – tubers and fruits – to gain Seeta’s trust (and that worked just fine) to have an audience with her. Indian tradition believes “annam parabrahma swaroopam”.

Seeta remembered all happy moments she had with Rama in the forests. She is conveying a message to him – her protector and companion – of hope, happiness and re-union suggesting her desire to have a life of simple charms with him!



Seeta In The Ashoka Grove

Hanuman is heart-broken at the plight of Seeta – surrounded by terrible looking female demons employed to torment her into yielding to Ravana – and he also sheds tears of joy for she is surviving on hope. As he notices Ravana entering the grove with his wives following him, he covers himself with leaves under the Shimshupa tree and observers the proceedings.

A bashful and grieving Seeta covers herself upon Seeing Ravana and is shaken with fright. She is like frustrated hope, ruined treasure of knowledge and stolen fruit of penance. She is not where she should be. Ravana comes to woo her and if she doesn’t fall in line, he is resolved to kill her. Ravana expresses some pity for her, asks her to accept him, justifies the abduction as natural to his clan (of demons) and confesses her beauty has stolen his heart and that he can’t let go of her. He also gives his word that he would be civil and decent toward her. Ravana, although a lustful and knavish demon, has some civility left in him. His refrain is: “Seeta, accept me. Forget Rama, the unfortunate one banished to forests. Rama can never set foot in Lanka or defeat me. Be my empress and everything I own will be yours!”

Seeta gently replies to him she is a devout and righteous wife of Rama. She advises Ravana to make friends with Rama by restoring her to him and warns of dire consequences if Ravana doesn’t see reason. She says she deserves protection as Ravana’s wives did. She assures him that righteous Rama doesn’t turn down offer of friendship and would protect those who seek refuge in him. Ravana can ignore her advice at his own peril. She did not like idea of enmity. She wished peace.

Ravana replies that she has two months of time left to make up her mid. For Seeta, the choice is between accepting him and dying in his hands. Ravana made the final decision!

Seeta scolds him in return for his lustfulness, his stupidity and his unrighteous conduct. She again foretells his death is near. She says she won’t burn him to ashes as she doesn’t have Rama’s mandate to act on her own!

Ravana orders the demons guarding Seeta to torment her into accepting him. Then, a wife of his, Dhanyamalini, takes his arm and pulls him away from Ashoka grove.

The demons (Ekajata, Harijata, Vikata, Durmukhi and Praghasa are the names Valmiki drops) praise Ravana’s lineage (He was Vishravasa’s son, Pulastya’s grand-son, Brahma’s great grandson) and appeal to Seeta she better accept his terms. Seeta in turn drops the names of virtuous ladies like Shachi, Arundhati etc and remains firm. They continue to harass her.

Then an old and kind demon, Trijata by name, intercedes on Seeta’ behalf and narrates a dream she had. She dreamt that Rama and Lakshmana came to Lanka attired in fine, white clothes in a chariot drawn by swans and rescued Seeta. Seeta was seen in the dream in white clothes. Trijata saw in her dream Ravana fall off the Pushpaka. In the dream, he and other demons barring Vibhishana – a virtuous brother of Ravana – were seen bathed in oil and mounting base animals like donkeys etc., being dragged by a terrible looking demon toward southerly direction, the abode of Yama, the god of death. Rama, Lakshmana and Seeta fly north. It’s to be noted that white clothes symbolize auspiciousness, being bathed in oil and being dragged by a black demon-like lady wearing red clothes suggest a gruesome end in the battle.

Trijata advises her fellow demons not to torment Seeta. Now lonely Seeta, blaming herself for her misfortune, remembers her dear ones, decides she can’t take more of the suffering and tries to take her life using her braid as rope to hang herself to a tree branch. Then a set of good omens – quivering of the left eye and the left shoulder etc. – occurs to her and she regains hope.


There is this sixth sense. Trijata’s narration has sown the seed. The good omens added to it. A secret message sent before by Vibhishana through his daughter – Nala – suggests that Lanka is not united in this issue. All hope is not lost for her. Hanuman, the faithful messenger of Rama – is observing it all and is waiting for the right time to approach her.



Hanuman Sees Seeta


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.



Hanuman Leaps The Southern Sea


Whoever translated even a single verse of the Sundara Kanda did a disservice to the original in some sense. Tradition has it that the study of the Ramayana opens with this Kanda (book). Valmiki achieved here the peak of poetic beauty and rhythm, textual integrity and attention to detail. The verses are as breath-taking and awe-inspiring as the feat of leaping itself is. Nowhere do we see this sublime match between a great deed of accomplishment and its verbal picture mirroring it. At the outset, I apologize to Valmiki fans (and I am one such), to Sanskrit lovers (I am one such) who may wince at any translation of Sanskrit (I am one such).

One of my aims in writing these articles is to encourage people to read the Sanskrit original, preferably with an interpretation. I can’t cite all the Shlokas in my articles.

Climbing the Mt. Mahendra and offering prayers to Gods, the determined Hanuman – his size a mountain now, his appearance is brilliant like Fire – bends forward, prepares himself for the leap, presses down the mountain – and with it crushing its ranges and causing fear among animals, shattering the trees, and causing a flower rain around, speeds into the sky as various mountain trees, rocks and debris rise with him and are dragged by the force of his flight into following his jolting tail like pets, and later sank into the ocean after what seemed line a send-off. Mt. Mahendra is shortened, compressed and it sheds loads of all it harboured – trees, minerals and water. Celestial beings watch him in wonderment and speak in his praise and wish him well in his task. His arms spread out, eagle like, his eyes emitting fire, the air around him agitating the sea, as he flies with a telling force causing crests and troughs down under, his shadow cast down in the sea appeared like a boat caught amid great, surging waves, the sea creatures pushed up to the surface. Hanuman is flying.

The sea god, seeing Hanuman in flight, thinks it his duty to offer Hanuman some rest and refreshment in the great effort as the sea itself is a creation of Rama’s forefathers (Sagara to Bhagiratha, kings in the Sun dynasty, were Rama’s forefathers). Sea god asks Mainaka, a mount under sea, to rise up and offer Hauman some rest. Too, Mainaka owes it to Hanuman as Vayu – Hanuman’s divine causal father – protected him when Indra struck down the wings of mountains in the past. Hanuman first mistakes it to be an obstacle and brushes it aside; when Mainaka assumes human form and speaks friendly words offering rest, Hanuman acknowledges Mainaka with a polite touch with his hand and proceeds in flight. For him, no rest until goal is reached!

Then a goddess named Surasa, employed by Indra to test Hanuman’s courage and wisdom, stops him in his flight and demands he voluntarily enter her mouth as her food stuff. Both Surasa and Hanuman increase their sizes in a contest of who-can-eat-whom, and finally Hanuman reduces his size to that of a thumb, enters her mouth and exits it in a jiffy. He passed her test. Surasa reveals herself and wishes him all the best.

Valmiki teaches us that backtracking is a reliable strategy to find a solution when “going forward” doesn’t work. That is what I think this metaphor of Surasa story is all about.

Later, a female demon who can catch its prey by shadow, Simhika, attacks Hanuman and he kills her. Hanuman and others were indeed cautioned by Sugriva at the outset of such threats. Forewarned is fore-armed!

Hanuman assumes his original form and lands on a hillock, called Lamba, near Lanka’s edge.



The Search For Seeta Begins

Sugriva, having been crowned king, indulges himself in things that are king’s palatial privileges and pleasures. He leaves all administration to his ministers. Days pass. He is oblivious of his commitment to Rama.

Hanuman, the wise, approaches Sugriva and reminds him of his duty and Sugriva half-heartedly summons Nila, a Vanara commander, and orders him to mobilize all Vanaras from all corners of the earth in fifteen days. Thus, Sugriva again lapses into his sensual indulgences.

Rainy season passes and autumn sets in. Rama waits and doesn’t hear expected words from Sugriva and doesn’t see signs of Sugriva’s committed help. Restless, Rama sends Lakshmana to Kishkindha to read the situation and send a strong message of reminder to Sugriva. That was nearly an ultimatum. Note that Rama, as per his vow, should remain in the forests.

As an angry Lakshmana enters Kishkindha, all living beings there are terrified; he enters the Sugriva’s palace and sends a word. Sugriva is not sure why an angry Lakshmana demands his time. His ministers remind him that he is procrastinating and is oblivious of his commitment to Rama. Sugriva, unable to face an angry Lakshmana who lashes out at him for his procrastination, seeks Tara’s help. Tara invites Lakshmana into their palace and pacifies his anger, promises him that Sugriva is committed to the pact and that he merely is entitled to the brief period of holiday befitting a king. This was really diplomatic of Sugriva to have Tara face Lakshmana in the palace. Such small psychological tricks work. Tara says Rama needs Sugriva’s army to beat Ravana and that Sugriva is only willing to commit all his resources for Rama.

Finally, Sugriva mobilizes Vanara army from all corners of the world, himself meets Rama and promises he would divide his army into four groups and send them in all four directions to launch the exhaustive search for Seeta. Rama is now pacified and happy.

A Vanara commader, Vinata, heads the group that launches the search in the eastern region. Angada, the son of Vali, along with other important Vanaras like Jambavan, Hanuman etc., heads the group that goes southwards, the most probable region to find Seeta. Sushena heads the group that proceeds westward. Shatabali heads the group that explores the northern direction. Sugriva tells them whoever brings the good news first (“dRshTaa seetaa”, meaning “Seeta is seen!”) would be his dearest!

These cantos have detailed descriptions and names of various geographic entities like rivers, lakes and mountains that the search teams encounter in their journey. When Rama, surprised at Sugriva’s detailed knowledge of geography, asks him how he knows so much, Sugriva replies that he went about all places to hide from Vali who was after him. He settled on the Rishyamuka on Hanuman’s advice as Hanuman remembered the curse Vali suffered. Everything serves an ultimate purpose!

The search teams were given one month of time to finish their task.

Both Sugriva and Rama have confidence in Hanuman, the wise and valorous of them all. Rama gives his signet ring bearing his name (“svanaamaanka anguleeyam”) to Hanuman as a token of remembrance for Seeta to recognize him as his emissary. He also gives Hanuman a description of Seeta.

All teams set forth. The teams from the east, north and west return “empty-handed” in their allotted time. All hopes now are on the team that went south, on Hanuman,

The team starts search in the Vindhya region and go further down. They find life tough and at times go without food and water. Angada exhorts not to despair and they continue the journey and enter a dark, terrible cave. By then, the time deadline set by Sugriva lapses. They are caught in the cave, hungry, thirsty and without even hope. Down the cave as they go, they finally see signs of life and an ascetic lady called Svayamprabha who, on taking pity for them, offers them hospitality and shows them an exit from the cave. They end up near the shores of the southern sea.

Frustrated Vanaras now can neither proceed nor go back. The time limit set is over. Sugriva doesn’t tolerate either failure or violation. Angada proposes they should end up their lives there for it’s no use going back. A discussion ensues among them. It is interesting to note here that Angada speaks words that mean a near revolt against Sugriva and betray a desire to abandon Kishkindha and live separately. Angada even criticizes Sugriva for the death of Vali and for taking Tara – his mother – as wife. In times of distress, one’s thinking changes. The desire to run away from an authority that doesn’t tolerate honest failures is age old! Deep down, Angada never accepted Sugriva. That is what is suggested here.

Hanuman advises Angada not to lose hope or desert Kishkindha. However, Angada prefers not to go back, frustrated anyway, he prefers and proposes they end their lives together (praayopavesha).

As a group, they then sing the story of Rama, his banishment to forests, abduction of Seeta by Ravana and the killing of Jatayu and the pact between Rama and Sugriva and the death of Vali and all. The chain of events that caused their current plight is narrated. Had one link been missing, they wouldn’t be where they are now. That is the theme in their chanting. And the Jatayu’s death is an important link!

The mention of Jatayu’s death in the hands of Ravana catches the attention of Sampati, Jatayu’s elder brother, who is living on a mountain top near-by. Sampati at first was lying in wait for Vanaras to end their lives so that he can feast on them! However, the mention of Jatayu changed all that. Sampati drags himself down slowly. His wings were burned when he and Jatayu in their youth sped into skies so high and so close to the sun, that Jatayu fell unconscious due to heat and to protect him, Sampati covered him with his wings and thus his wings were burned by sun; both fell down to earth, Jatayu in the Dandaka forest and Sampati near the Mt. Mahendra. When they both fell down from great height, they didn’t fall on earth at the same place. Valmiki notes this fine point. Sampati offers oblation for his dead brother, Jatayu. He learns of Vanaras’ plight. Being an eagle, he is gifted with a sharp vision and can see objects even from a large distance. Sampati learned of the abduction of Seeta from his son, Suparshva who was a witness to it. Sampati looks around, spots Seeta, a hundred Yojanas (one Yojana is 2.5 or 6 or 8 miles depending on the source you consult) away in Lanka, an island in the sea, and advises them to leap the sea. Sampati enjoyed in the past a boon from a sage Nishakara that when he helps the Vanara emissaries, his wings would re-grow. Sampati gives them the definite news about Seeta, asks them to proceed to the shore and with his new-fangled wings flies into skies.

Vanaras now discuss among themselves which of them is fit enough to leap the ocean for a length of 100 Yojanas. Angada asks each of them. Various Vanaras can leap about 10 Yojanas to 90 Yojanas. Angada himself can leap about 100 Yojanas but isn’t not sure if he can leap back from Lanka! Hanuman is sitting away from the crowd near a hill top, not part of the discussion. Jambavan then approaches Hanuman and reminds him of his noble birth. (Hanuman is the son of Kesari and Punjikasthala also known as Anjana. But Vayu gifted Anjana with a great, mighty son. He was so mighty and powerful that as a young child, he sped into the skies to catch the sun thinking it to be fruit. Indra, sensing danger, struck him with his Vajra weapon and the boy’s left cheek bone was damaged; thus he came to be known as Hanuma. Then Brahma interfered and blessed Hanuma with unconquerable might and immortality. But boy Hanuman was a bit naughty and teased some sages and one of them put a small curse on him that he would be usually self-unaware and needs words of encouragement to regain his confidence and strength.) Jambavan reminds Hanuman of his hidden powers, praises him as an equal to gods and goads him to realize himself. Only he fits the bill. Thus Hanuman becomes the chosen one to leap the ocean. Hanuman increases his size, resembling a mountain, radiant and brilliant like Fire god, inspiring awe and amazement, climbs the Mt. Mahendra and is all set to go. He is certain he can fulfill the task of taking the giant leap. He says:

maarutasya samo vege garuDasya samo jave |

ayutam yojanaanaam tu gaumishyaameeti me matiH ||

(I equal Vayu in speed and Garuda in strength and endurance, I can leap over countless Yojanas, I am sure!). He realized his full potential. All his Vanara comrades sing his praise.

We all need recognition and words of encouragement to set our bar higher. There is a Hanuman in all of us!

Thus ends the Kishkindha Kanda.