The Search Begins
Rāma and Lakṣman moved to the nearby Mount Prashravana and sought out a large cave close to its summit. They settled in, spending Their time talking together and performing sacrifice. But Rāma’s mind rarely left Sītā. His only consolation was to describe Her qualities to Lakṣman. He longed for the rainy season to end so that he could search for His beloved wife. Gradually the rains subsided. The sky cleared and the resonant cries of cranes filled the air. Although the monsoons were over, however, Sugrīva still did not prepare his army to search for Sītā. Realizing this, Rāma discussed the situation with Lakṣman.
“It seems the Vanara king has forgotten his debt to Us, noble brother. Why have his messengers not arrived here with news of their search? O Lakṣman, I fear that the gentle Sītā is lost forever. What is She doing now? Surely Her mind dwells on Me, even as Mine never leaves Her. Surely She weeps in agony, even as I weep here.”
Rāma’s grief was as strong as it had been when Sītā was abducted four months ago. Rāma felt powerless. He was still no closer to finding Sītā than the day She was kidnapped, and now Sugrīva, upon whom his hopes were resting, was letting Him down. Rāma sat distracted by sorrow. Lakṣman reassured Him. “This is not the time to grieve, dear brother. We must strenuously exert Ourselves to find Sītā. With You as Her protector, no one can hold the princess for long. Compose Yourself, Rāma! Let Us do what must be done.”
Rāma sighed and looked around. On a plateau beneath His cave, a large pond had been formed by the rains. Swans and cranes sported joyfully in the water among clusters of white and red lotuses. Rāma could hear the croaks of frogs and the cries of peacocks. In the distance He heard the trumpeting sound of elephants in rut. Large black bees droned around the bright forest flowers, intoxicated with nectar. The sky was a deep blue and the wind, which had blown fiercely during the monsoons, had become a gentle breeze. The sights and sounds of autumn were visible everywhere. Rāma was reflective. Where was Sugrīva? Had he forgotten his promise now that his own problem had been solved? How could he so ungrateful? Rāma’s brow furrowed with anger and He turned to Lakṣman.
“These past four months have seemed like a hundred years for Me. I have longed for the end of the rains, O Lakṣman, so that We might find Sītā as We agreed with Sugrīva. Although I have rendered him a great favor, the evil-minded monkey king obviously holds Me in contempt. Seeing Me forlorn and deprived of My kingdom, living helplessly like an ascetic in the forest, the wicked fellow entirely disregards Me.”
Rāma told Lakṣman to go to Kishkindha. He should tell Sugrīva that there is no viler being than one who is ungrateful. Had he forgotten the favor Rāma had done for him, and the promise he had made in return? Did he wish to again see Rāma’s golden bow drawn to its full length? Did he desire to see Rāma angry on the battlefield? Did he long to hear again the crash of Rāma’s bowstring sounding like so many claps of thunder? It was strange that Sugrīva seemed to have forgotten how Vāli was slain by a single arrow from Rāma, although Sugrīva himself could never overcome his brother. Rāma’s eyes were crimson with anger as He spoke.
“It is clear that Sugrīva is lost in sensual pleasures, having regained his kingdom after a long time. Drunk and surrounded by women, he has all but forgotten his pledged word to Me. Tell him, O brother, that the path taken by Vāli still lies open. Along with all his kinsmen, Sugrīva may proceed along that path if he does not care for his promise. He should take heed of this warning. Otherwise he will meet again soon with Vāli.”
Lakṣman Himself became furious as He listened to Rāma. He told Rāma that He would go immediately to Kishkindha. With upraised weapons He would dispatch Sugrīva to Death’s abode. Clearly the licentious and unvirtuous Sugrīva was not fit to rule a kingdom. Aṅgada should be installed as king and he could organize the search for Sītā. Sugrīva should be punished without delay.
Lakṣman stood up and reached for His weapons. Rāma, whose anger had already begun to subside, then checked His brother. “I think it not fitting that You kill Sugrīva. Try at first to pursue a gentler path. Remind him of our friendship and his promise. O Lakṣman, do not use harsh words immediately. After all, Sugrīva is but a monkey. Perhaps You can awaken him to a sense of his duty by conciliatory speech.”
Lakṣman bowed in assent to Rāma’s words, although He could not subdue His anger. He left the cave and began running toward Kishkindha, thinking of what He would say to Sugrīva. He could not disobey Rāma’s order, but He would not tolerate any resistance from Sugrīva. If that lazy monkey did not immediately set about his duty, he would be sorry. How dare he be so negligent of his promise to Rāma! Who did he think he was? Lakṣman bit His lips in fury as He bounded down the mountainside.
In the city of Kishkindha, Hanumān had also noticed the season change and Sugrīva not stirring. The intelligent minister thought carefully about the situation. Rāma would certainly take stern action if Sugrīva failed to fulfill his pledge. Hanumān approached the Vanara king, who was absorbed in sensuality, and spoke to him in a friendly and pleasing manner.
“You have regained sovereignty, fame and prosperity, O Sugrīva. It now remains for you to win the goodwill of your allies. The dominion, fame and glory of a king who acts well toward his allies will always grow. That king who regards equally his exchequer, his army, his allies and his own self, will gain a great kingdom. However, he who fails to take care of any one of these meets with disaster.”
Hanumān then reminded Sugrīva of his promise to Rāma. The time had arrived to begin the search for Sītā. The king should immediately send out monkeys in all directions. Rāma should not need to ask. It would be shameful if Sugrīva did not act quickly to repay a debt to his friend and ally.
Sugrīva thanked Hanumān for his wise and timely advice. The monkey king realized his laxity and he immediately summoned his ministers and counselors. He issued orders. “Let all the Vanara generals be quickly assembled. Swift-footed and energetic monkeys are needed. Ten thousand of my army should immediately depart for every country where the Vanaras dwell. Have them fetch the very best of the monkey warriors here to Kishkindha. Anyone sent out and failing to return within fifteen days should be executed.” Ordering Hanumān and Aṅgada to organize the army, Sugrīva again retired to his rooms.
Within a few days the monkey hordes began to assemble outside the city. Monkeys resembling elephants, mountains and clouds gathered together. Those powerful Vanaras were like mighty tigers and were all heroic. They were dark and terrible and they made one’s hair stand erect just to see them. Some were as strong as a hundred elephants, some ten times stronger than that, and others ten times stronger again. They stood awaiting Sugrīva’s orders.
As the monkeys milled about in their tens of thousands outside Kishkindha, they noticed Lakṣman approaching in the distance. When they saw the prince running toward the city, His face glowing with anger and His bow grasped tightly, they became fearful. Some of them, not recognizing Him, lifted up trees and boulders, ready to defend Kishkindha. Others ran in all directions as Lakṣman arrived near the city gates, holding aloft His bow and calling for Sugrīva. Seeing the monkeys prepared to attack Him, Lakṣman became even more angry. He heaved deep and burning sighs and licked the corners of His mouth.
Aṅgada quickly came out of the city and, checking the monkeys from fleeing, went before Lakṣman. Rāma’s brother appeared to the monkey prince like the blazing fire of universal destruction. In great fear he bowed low at Lakṣman’s feet and greeted Him respectfully. Although furious, Lakṣman contained His anger and spoke kindly to Aṅgada. “Pray tell Sugrīva of My arrival, dear child. I stand here tormented by grief due to Rāma’s plight. Please ask the king to hear from Me Rāma’s advice.”
Aṅgada bowed again and left swiftly, running to Sugrīva. He burst into his chambers and told him to come quickly. But Sugrīva was asleep, groggy from the night’s pleasures. He lay upon his bed with only garlands as his dress. As he slowly stirred, many more monkeys came near his room, raising a great clamor. They were terrified of the wrathful Lakṣman. Sugrīva heard the tumult and came to his senses. He stood up, troubled in mind, and Aṅgada explained the situation.
Sugrīva told Aṅgada to bring Lakṣman immediately. “Why have you left Him standing at the gates?” he demanded. “He should be offered every respect, even as much as myself.” Aṅgada, joined by Hanumān, quickly left to fetch Lakṣman.
Within a few minutes Lakṣman was led into Kishkindha by Aṅgada and Hanumān. Still fuming, the prince surveyed the city. Great mansions and temples lined the wide avenues, each building set with celestial jewels of every description. The city was illuminated by the jewels’ glow. Rivulets flowed by the avenues and groves of trees grew here and there, yielding all kinds of delightful fruits. As he went along the main highway, Lakṣman saw the large white palaces of the chief monkeys. They shone like clouds lit by the sun. Long wreaths of flowers hung from those palaces and the scent of aloe and sandalwood issued from the latticed windows.
Lakṣman was led into Sugrīva’s palace, the most magnificent of all. After passing through seven heavily guarded gates, he entered Sugrīva’s inner chambers. Here and there were numerous gold and silver couches, spread with costly silk covers. Many beautiful Vanara ladies, wearing garlands and gold ornaments, moved about, their anklets tinkling. As they reached Sugrīva’s private chambers Lakṣman heard the strains of celestial music from within. He became even more annoyed with Sugrīva. The insolent monkey was reveling while Rāma suffered agony! Lakṣman twanged His bowstring, and the sound reverberated through the entire palace.
Sugrīva was startled. Realizing at once that Lakṣman had arrived, he spoke urgently to Tara, who sat by his side. “Go quickly and greet Lakṣman. He will never display anger in the presence of a woman. Pacify Him with gentle words. Only then will I be able to face Him.”
Tara rose up and went out of the room. The gold string of her girdle hung loose and she tottered slightly from intoxication. Bending her slender body low, she covered her head with her cloth and respectfully greeted Lakṣman. As soon as He saw Tara, Lakṣman looked down modestly. His anger abated as Tara spoke gently. “My lord, what gives rise to Your angry mood? Who has disobeyed Your order? Who has recklessly gone before a forest fire while it rushed toward a thicket of dried trees?”
Still annoyed, Lakṣman replied, “This husband of yours appears to have forgotten his duty. He seems intent only on pursuing pleasures. Four months have already passed since Rāma left and We still see no signs of Sugrīva keeping his word. He remains drunk here, enjoying with you and unaware of the passage of time. O Tara, drinking is always condemned by the wise as the root of irreligion. Please remind Sugrīva of his religious obligation.”
Tara begged Lakṣman to forgive Sugrīva. After all, he was but a monkey. It was no surprise he had fallen a victim to lust. Even great sages in the forest were sometimes overcome by desire. What then of a monkey living among beautiful women? One under the sway of carnal desire loses all sense of time and place. Forgetting his duty, he casts decorum to the winds and absorbs himself in pleasure. Tara told Lakṣman that Sugrīva was regretful. He was always Rāma’s devoted servant and he longed to fulfill Rāma’s order. Even now he was waiting eagerly to speak with Lakṣman.
Tara led Lakṣman into Sugrīva’s chamber. As the prince entered the apartment He saw Sugrīva seated on a golden couch next to his wife Ruma. He was surrounded by youthful Vanara ladies adorned with shining jewels and heavenly garlands. His eyes were bloodshot and his limbs were smeared with sandal-paste. Sugrīva’s costly silk garment hung loose on his powerful body, and Vāli’s brilliant gold chain shone from his chest.
Seeing Sugrīva absorbed in sensual delights, Lakṣman’s anger was rekindled. His eyes opened wide and His lips set in a firm line. The furious prince breathed heavily and wrung His hands, looking with blood-red eyes at Sugrīva. The monkey king jumped from his couch, like a tall flag suddenly raised in honor of Indra. He went before Lakṣman with folded palms and bowed at his feet.
Lakṣman addressed him in angry tones. “Who is more hard-hearted than he who makes a false promise to a friend, especially when that friend has done him a great favor? O lord of the monkeys, one who ungratefully fails to repay the service of friends deserves to be killed!”
Lakṣman quite forgot Rāma’s request to first speak kindly to Sugrīva. He glared at him. This selfish monkey deserved no pity. He lay here at ease while Rāma was pining away. Lakṣman vented His fury, His voice thundering about Sugrīva’s spacious chamber.
“Ingratitude is the worst of all sins, O thoughtless one! You are lustful and a liar. You have achieved your own ends, made some empty promise, and then simply abandoned yourself to pleasure. Surely you will regret your omission when Rāma’s blazing arrow speeds toward you. Before long you will meet with Vāli again!”
Tara again beseeched Lakṣman to be patient. Sugrīva was an ordinary being subject to the sway of his senses. No one could easily avert the strong urges of the body. Even the great Viśvāmitra had once lost himself in sexual pleasure for a hundred years, thinking it to be a day. Sugrīva had now been awakened to his duty. He had taken action and sent out many monkeys to raise an army to find Sītā.
Tara spoke passionately to the angry Lakṣman. “Vāli told me there are a hundred million powerful Rākṣasas in Lanka. These must be overcome if Rāvaṇa is to be defeated. Therefore Sugrīva is now amassing a force sufficient to encounter all the Rākṣasas. The army will be ready within some days. Do not be angry. The search for Sītā will soon begin.”
Lakṣman was pacified when He heard that Sugrīva had already made arrangements. He nodded His head and relaxed.
Seeing Lakṣman relaxing, Sugrīva said, “Everything I have depends upon Rāma. How can I ever repay Him? Rāma alone is powerful enough to recover Sītā and is merely using me as His instrument. This again is His kindness on me. I only wish to serve Him in whatever way I can. Please forgive any transgression on my part, for there is no servant who is without fault.”
Lakṣman began to feel ashamed of His angry outburst. He spoke kindly to Sugrīva. “With you as His supporter My brother is blessed in every way, O gallant monkey. I feel sure He will soon destroy His enemy with your assistance. Please forgive My harsh words, for I am sorely afflicted by My brother’s plight.”
Lakṣman asked Sugrīva to come with Him to see Rāma. Sugrīva immediately had a large palanquin fetched and he mounted it along with Lakṣman. Accompanied by Sugrīva’s ministers, they departed toward Prashravana.
The golden palanquin, covered by a white canopy, was carried swiftly toward the mountain where Rāma waited. Conches and kettledrums were sounded as the procession of monkeys moved in state. Sugrīva was surrounded by many warlike monkeys bearing weapons in their hands. He was fanned on both sides by his servants and eulogized by bards as they traveled.
They soon arrived at Rāma’s cave. Sugrīva jumped from the palanquin and prostrated himself at Rāma’s feet, who lifted the monkey and embraced him with love. Rāma seated Sugrīva on the ground and, sitting next to him, spoke in a gentle voice. “A wise king is he who pursues in their proper order religion, wealth and pleasure, allotting proper time to each. He who pursues only pleasure, neglecting the other two, wakes up after falling, like one asleep on a treetop. The king who wins pious allies and destroys sinful foes gains great religious merit, O Sugrīva. The time has come for you to make an effort for merit. What then has been done, O King?”
Sugrīva replied that he was ever indebted to Rāma for His kindness and favor. The Vanara king explained how he had dispatched thousands of monkeys to gather an army. Soon there would be millions of fierce monkeys, bears and baboons gathering at Kishkindha. All of them were sprung from the loins of gods and Gandharvas and all were terrible warriors capable of changing their forms at will. Sugrīva would have at his command a vast army, countless in number. They would quickly find Rāvaṇa, completely uproot him, and recover Sītā.
Rāma was delighted and He looked like a blue lotus in full bloom. He embraced Sugrīva tightly. “It is no surprise that one of your caliber renders such good to his friends. With you by My side I shall easily conquer My enemies. O Sugrīva, you are My greatest well-wisher and are fit to help Me in every way.”
Rāma and Sugrīva discussed for some time, planning how to make their search. Sugrīva then left to meet with his emissaries who were returning with the troops they had gathered.
As millions of fierce monkey warriors came to Kishkindha the earth vibrated. A massive dust cloud rose up and veiled the sun. The trees shook, sending down showers of leaves and blossoms. The entire region for miles around became thickly populated by monkeys who looked like mountains. Some were golden-hued like the rising sun, some were as red as copper and some blue as the sky. Others were as white as the moon and still others as blackish as thunderclouds. All of them, like great mountain lions, had frightening teeth and claws.
The troop leaders approached Sugrīva and asked for his command. Sugrīva took all of them and went again into Rāma’s presence. One by one he introduced the Vanara chiefs, and they all bowed low at Rāma’s feet. Sugrīva concluded, “These warriors are righteous, brave and powerful. They can move on land, water and through the air. They have conquered fatigue and are famous for their exploits. All of them have arrived bringing thousands and millions of followers. O Rāma, these Vanaras are ready to do Your bidding. Please give Your command.”
Rāma stood up and embraced Sugrīva. “It must be ascertained whether or not Sītā still lives. O noble one, find out where Rāvaṇa’s land is located. Once we have this information we shall then do what is necessary.”
Sugrīva then assigned four parties to search the four directions. He gave detailed descriptions of the countries where they should look and then added, “This search should be conducted only over the next month. Then you should return. Anyone returning after a month will be subject to death. Rāma and His great purpose should be constantly remembered by all of you. May success be yours!”
Sugrīva had asked Hanumān to assist Aṅgada in leading the search party to the south. This was the direction where Rāvaṇa would most likely be found, as he had been seen flying that way with Sītā. Sugrīva spoke with Hanumān just before he left. “There is nothing on earth or in the heavens that can obstruct your movement, O valiant son of the wind-god. You are no less than your great father in prowess. There is no created being on earth equal to you in strength and vigor. On you rests my main hope of finding Sītā.”
Rāma heard Sugrīva speaking with Hanumān and He saw his eager expression. It was clear he was confident of success, as much as Sugrīva was sure that his minister would find Sītā. Rāma was overjoyed. He went to Hanumān and gave the monkey a ring inscribed with His name. “Take this token, O jewel among monkeys, and show it to Sītā. This will reassure Her that I sent you. I feel sure you will soon see the princess.”
Hanumān took the ring and touched it to his head. He prostrated himself at Rāma’s feet and prayed for His blessings. Then, looking like the full moon surrounded by a galaxy of stars, he left with his party.
The Vanaras and bears all left with great haste. Shouting and howling, thundering and roaring, growling and shrieking, they ran in the four directions. The monkey chiefs cried out in different ways. “I shall destroy Rāvaṇa and bring back Sītā!”
“Single-handed I shall kill that demon and rescue Janaka’s daughter, even from the fires of hell.”
“I shall smash down trees, cleave great mountains and churn up the oceans. I will certainly find the princess!”
“I can leap across the sea a distance of eight hundred miles.”
“I will bound up Mount Meru and enter the bowels of the earth until Sītā is found!”
While boasting of their power in this and other ways, the monkeys gradually disappeared.
After the monkeys had left, Rāma spoke to Sugrīva. “I was surprised to hear your extensive descriptions of this earth. How do you know it so well?”
Sugrīva replied that he had seen every part of the world while running away from Vāli. “My angry brother chased me in all directions,” he said. “As I dashed away in fear I saw every part of the wide earth as if it were the impression of a calf’s hoof. With Vāli always behind me I ran with tremendous speed. Finally I remembered Matanga’s curse and came to the Rishyamukha, whereupon Vāli left me alone.”
Rāma laughed to hear Sugrīva. The two friends sat speaking together for some time, then Sugrīva left for Kishkindha to await the return of the search parties.
The monkeys dispatched by Sugrīva began their search. They scanned cities, towns and villages. Scouring woods and forests, they climbed mountains and dived into lakes and rivers. They explored deep caverns and entered holes in the earth. Going as far as possible in the directions they were assigned, they scrupulously searched everywhere for Rāvaṇa and Sītā. Even after searching for a month, however, they were not successful. One by one the parties returned, fearful, to Sugrīva.
From the north came Satabali, disappointedly reporting his failure. Vinata returned from the east, also without success. From the west came Sushena, again without having discovered Sītā’s whereabouts.
In the south Hanumān and Aṅgada and their party had traveled a great distance. The month had almost passed and still there were no signs of Sītā. They reached the plains surrounding the Vindhya mountains. It was a desolate region, full of caves and thick forests, waterless and uninhabited. The whole area had been rendered a wilderness by the curse of a sage many years previous who had been angered by his young son’s death.
Thousands of monkeys combed the entire terrain. Penetrating more and more into the frightful area, they suddenly came upon a huge Rākṣasa. Seeing the demon, who looked like a hill, the monkeys stood with their loins tightly girded, ready to fight. The demon saw the monkeys and bellowed out, “You are gone!”
Aṅgada thought the demon to be Rāvaṇa. He became enraged and rushed straight toward the roaring Rākṣasa, who raised his massive hand to strike the monkey. Aṅgada leapt high and dodged the blow. Swinging his powerful arm as he flew, the Vanara hit the Rākṣasa on the head with his outstretched palm. The blow was tremendous and the demon vomited blood and fell to the ground. After examining the dead Rākṣasa and realizing that it he was not Rāvaṇa, the monkeys continued their search.
The vast Vindhyan range was filled with innumerable caves. The monkeys systematically entered each and every one. They climbed every mountain and scoured all woods and groves. Gradually they moved further and further south. Not finding Rāvaṇa or Sītā anywhere, they became more and more fatigued and disappointed. The month allotted by Sugrīva passed and still they had no clue as to where Sītā had been taken.
One day when they were exhausted and wracked by thirst, they came upon the entrance to a huge cavern. They saw birds emerging from it with their wings dripping with water. The monkeys decided to enter the dark cave. They formed a long, eight mile chain to avoid getting lost. Bats shrieked and birds flew past them. Occasionally the growl of a lion or tiger was heard.
As they went deeper into the cave they saw ahead of them a bright light. They moved quickly toward the light and came upon a huge open area, brilliantly lit by thousands of shining golden trees. The trees were adorned with brightly colored flowers and leaves, and they bore fruits which shone like rubies and emeralds. The trees hemmed in large lotus ponds of clear water, filled with golden fish. The monkeys saw palaces of gold and silver, set with cat’s-eye gems and covered with lattices of pearls.
On all sides were spacious couches and seats studded with various kinds of gems. Mounds of gold and silver vessels lay here and there, as well as piles of colored jewels. There were collections of sandalwood and aloe-wood carvings, as well as many first class palanquins lying about. Piles of costly ethereal textiles of indescribable beauty lay on the floor. Celestial food and drink of every kind was spread on gold tables, and there were dazzling heaps of gold everywhere.
The monkeys were stunned by the sight and they stood looking all around, their mouths hanging open. Then they saw an ascetic lady clad in black deerskins sitting some distance from them. She shone with yogic power as she sat in meditation. Hanumān approached her and respectfully inquired who she was and in whose cave they now found themselves.
The woman’s name was Swayamprabha, and she explained that the cave and all its wonders had been created by Maya, the architect of the celestial demons. He had dwelt there for some time, being finally slain by Indra for the sake of an Apsarā whom Indra himself had coveted. The Apsarā had lived in the cave with Swayamprabha as her servant. She had now returned to heaven, leaving Swayamprabha to her meditations.
The ascetic lady gazed at the monkeys. She could understand that they were Rāma’s servants. She had seen Rāma in her meditations and understood His divine identity. She was pleased to have the opportunity to serve Rāma by entertaining His servants. The yogini gave the monkeys delicious food and drinks, which invigorated them. As they ate they told her of their mission.
When they had finished eating the hermitess asked them to close their eyes and she would take them out of the cave. The monkeys complied and in a moment they mysteriously found themselves again standing at the entrance to the cavern. Swayamprabha told them to continue their search and then took her leave, disappearing back inside.
The monkeys stood outside the cave, amazed but refreshed from their celestial repast. They carried on vigorously searching and soon reached the southern ocean. Realizing that they had looked everywhere in the whole southern region without success, they fell prey to anxiety. It was now more than six weeks since they had left. The monkeys were fearful of Sugrīva’s anger when they returned and they sat together discussing what to do.
Aṅgada spoke, “The king will certainly have us all put to death upon our late return, unsuccessful in our mission. Therefore I suggest that rather than return in shame we sit here and fast until life leaves our bodies. How can we go back and face execution in front of our near and dear ones?”
Some of the monkeys agreed and others recommended they continue searching for some time before giving up. One of them suggested they re-enter Swayamprabha’s cave and live out the rest of their days happily. This met with approval from other monkeys, but Hanumān disagreed. “I don’t approve of this course of action, O Vanaras,” he chided. “Forgetting our master’s cause, and actually forming an enmity by abandoning him, is not at all a wise move. Nor will Rāma and Lakṣman tolerate it. Those princes will tear Maya’s cave asunder in no time. Their arrows fall with the force of Indra’s thunderbolt. All of us will be annihilated.”
Hanumān continued to speak, praising Sugrīva’s qualities. “We need not fear the monkey king. He regards all his subjects with love and would certainly not kill Aṅgada, the son of his dear wife Tara. Nor will Sugrīva be harsh toward you others. We have all tried our best to find Sītā and should now return to Kishkindha, reporting to the king for further orders.”
Aṅgada did not appreciate Hanumān’s speech. He especially disliked hearing Sugrīva praised. The monkey prince became angry. “No good qualities are to be found in Sugrīva. Indeed, that worthless monkey has taken to wife his mother in the shape of Tara. He locked up my father in a cave and usurped his kingdom. Although Rāma rendered him a great favor, that ungrateful wretch soon forgot his debt to the prince of Ayodhya. What piety does he possess? He only instigated this search for Sītā out of a fear of Lakṣman.”
Aṅgada still burned within from the killing of his father brought about by Sugrīva. How could Sugrīva ever be kind toward the son of his mortal enemy? Now there would be more than sufficient excuse for him to punish Aṅgada, who had failed in his mission and had committed treason by sowing dissension among the other monkeys. He was sure that Sugrīva would either kill him outright or cast him into chains for the rest of his life.
Aṅgada determined to sit there on the beach and fast until death. He sank to the ground weeping, his mind confounded by grief and despair. With the exception of Hanumān, the other monkeys sat next to him, denouncing Sugrīva and praising Vāli. They all sat on kusha grass with their faces turned to the east. Thinking of Sugrīva’s fury and Rāma’s prowess, they prepared for death.
As they sat there roaring in dismay, they suddenly saw an enormous bird come out of a mountain cave. The bird looked upon the line of monkeys appearing like a row of mountain peaks on the plateau beneath him. Realizing they were observing the praya vow of fasting until death, he said to himself, “Surely this food has been ordained for me by Providence. After a long time I shall eat sumptuously, feasting upon this line of monkeys one by one as they fall dead from starvation.”
The bird dropped down and perched near the monkeys. Seeing him there Aṅgada turned to Hanumān and said, “Surely this is Yamarāja come in person to punish us for failing to serve Rāma’s purpose. This bird reminds me of Jatayu, about whom we have heard from Sugrīva. That glorious bird laid down his life for Rāma in a fierce battle with Rāvaṇa. We shall also now give up our lives in Rāma’s service. Alas, like that heroic vulture we too have failed to save Sītā.”
The great bird heard him speak. He called out to Aṅgada. “Who is this who mentions Jatayu? Where is that younger brother of mine? I have not seen him for so long. My heart trembles as I hear you speak of his death. How did he encounter the king of the Rākṣasas? If it pleases you, O monkey, pray tell me everything you know.”
The bird told them that his name was Sampati. He lived high in the mountains, unable to fly because his wings had been burnt by the sun. He had lost touch with his brother Jatayu for many years.
Aṅgada told the bird everything about himself and his companions. He narrated the story of how Jatayu had died protecting Sītā. Now they were searching for the princess and had given up hope. Thus they sat there, fearful of Sugrīva and Rāma, and awaiting only death.
Sampati cried out in anguish. His eyes filled with tears and he said to Aṅgada, “Jatayu was dearer to me than life. Now he is killed by the Rākṣasa and I can do nothing to avenge him. O monkeys, I am old and worn out. What then can I do upon hearing this terrible news?”
Sampati explained how a long time ago he had flown with Jatayu to heaven. “As we soared upwards we perceived the earth with her numerous mountains as if she were covered with pebbles. Her rivers looked like so many threads. Great cities seemed like chariot wheels and forests like grassy plots.”
Tears fell from the bird’s eyes as he recounted how he had lost his brother. “We had wanted to follow the sun as it coursed through the heavens. When we reached the track of that fiery globe, however, we became overpowered by its rays. Jatayu had grown weak from heat and exhaustion. I therefore covered him with my wings to protect him. We then fell back to earth, where we became separated. I fell onto the Vindhya mountain, with my wings completely destroyed by the scorching rays of the sun.”
Aṅgada looked at the wingless bird. He must know all the regions of the universe. Surely he knew where Rāvaṇa lived. Perhaps there was still hope. The Vanara asked Sampati, “Can you tell us where lies the abode of that vilest of all beings, Rāvaṇa?”
Sampati had slumped down in sorrow. But upon hearing Aṅgada’s question he lifted his head and opened wide his eyes. “Although I am an old and useless bird I can still render some service to Rāma, if only with my speech. I do indeed know where Rāvaṇa lives. In fact as I lay upon this mountain some while back I saw him flying by, holding Sītā. The princess was constantly crying out, “Rāma! O Rāma! Lakṣman! Help!”
The bird told Aṅgada that Rāvaṇa dwelt in Lanka, which was situated in the midst of the southern ocean eight hundred miles away. The princess was being held captive in Rāvaṇa’s garden, guarded by fierce Rākṣasīs. Sampati possessed the ability to see Lanka even as he spoke to the monkeys. He said, “Although my wings are broken, my vision is not impaired. We vultures are capable of sighting objects at a great distance. Furthermore, by my intuition I can understand that one of you will soon see Sītā, and then you will return again to Rāma’s presence.”
Requested by Sampati, the monkeys took the bird to the seashore where he offered water to the departed soul of his brother. He then told them more about himself. When he had first fallen to the Vindhya mountain he had spoken with a ṛṣi named Chandrama, who was living there. The bird had fallen at the sage’s feet and related his sad tale. Weeping, Sampati had said that he wished to throw himself from the mountain peak and end his life. The ṛṣi restrained him, telling him that in the future some monkeys would arrive at that spot, searching for Rāma’s divine consort. “Although I am able to give you your wings back, I will not do so, as you are destined to render a service to Rāma through those monkeys. You must remain here and tell them where to find Sītā. At that time your wings will again be restored.”
Sampati said the ṛṣi had then enlightened the bird with spiritual knowledge. He had told him that bodily sufferings must be borne by everyone as a reaction to their own past deeds. One should nevertheless realize that the real self is different from the body. Without being overly attached to the body one should try to fix the mind on the Supreme Lord, with whom all beings have an eternal relationship. Thus Sampati should not lament for his broken body. He should live there patiently, thinking of Rāma and waiting for his chance to render him some service.
Sampati concluded, “That was eight thousand years ago and I have survived here all this time, being brought food by my son. Now at last I have performed my service to Rāma.”
Even as Sampati spoke a beautiful pair of wings sprouted from his body. He rose at once into the air and called down to the monkeys. “O Vanaras, Chandrama Ṛṣi told me you would succeed in your mission. Indeed he said that the servants of Rāma could easily cross the terrible ocean of birth and death; what then of this small sea? Take heart and go to the south. Cross the ocean and you will find Lanka, where Sītā is held. Farewell.”
The bird disappeared into the sky, leaving the monkeys to continue their search. They were overjoyed. Abandoning all thoughts of fasting until death, they leapt into the air, raced down to the beach and roared with glee. Then they saw the billowing waves. How could they possibly cross the ocean? They did not possess the power of flight. The vast sea stretched into the distance looking as insurmountable as the sky.
Aṅgada asked, “Which one among us can leap across this sea? Who shall become the deliverer of the monkeys today? If any among you can jump over the ocean and reach Lanka, speak out and remove our fears.”
The monkeys all remained silent, gazing with unblinking eyes at the roaring sea. Aṅgada spoke again, trying to inspire them with confidence. “I have no doubt any one of you is capable of this feat. As far as I am concerned, I can certainly leap eight hundred miles, but I do not know if I shall be able to return safely.”
Aṅgada looked around at the party. Among them was Jambavan, a great leader of the bears, who replied, “It is not right that you, our Prince Regent, should go on this expedition, although you could leap a thousand or even ten thousand miles if you wished. One of us should go instead.”
Jambavan said that he himself could only cover seven hundred miles, having grown old. Each of the monkeys then stated how far he could leap. Some said one hundred, some two hundred and some five hundred miles. But none said they could leap the full distance and return again.
Jambavan then spoke to Hanumān who was sitting silently. “O valiant monkey, you have not told us of your strength. I know you to be possessed of tremendous ability.”
Jambavan described Hanumān’s birth and power. The monkey was begotten by Vāyu and soon after his birth he had leapt into the sky for thousands of miles, wanting to catch the sun. At that time he had been struck down by Indra. Hanumān’s father, the wind-god, became aggrieved at seeing his son killed and had ceased to blow. All created beings then began to suffocate due to the stoppage of air in the universe. The gods sought to appease Vāyu by bringing Hanumān back to life. They had also blessed the monkey with many wonderful powers.
On the strength of the gods’ blessings Hanumān had become fearless even as a young child. He had played in the hermitages of the ṛṣis, mischievously throwing about their paraphernalia and stopping their sacrifices. To check him the ṛṣis had uttered an imprecation. “You will forget your great power. Only when you hear your powers described by another will you again remember them.”
Jambavan concluded his narration about Hanumān. There was no doubt that he could leap to Lanka. Why then was he sitting there indifferently? Could he not see the monkeys plunged in despair?
Hanumān stood up. Jambavan’s speech had ended the ṛṣis’ curse. He remembered his great prowess and felt encouraged by Jambavan. With a great roar he said, “I shall jump across this mighty ocean!”
He then expanded his body to fifty times his normal height. Stretching his arms and yawning, he spoke in a voice that resounded like thunder. “I claim my descent from the mighty Vāyu, who circulates through all of space and easily smashes down mountain peaks. I could leap to the outer limits of the universe. I am quite able to overtake the blazing sun as it moves from the east across to the western mountain. Today I shall leap from Mount Mahendra, scattering the clouds, shaking the mountains and drying up the sea. I will swiftly and easily reach Lanka in one great bound. Have no fear.”
Hanumān roared again and again, filling the monkeys with joy. Jambavan replied, “Our grief is now dispelled. We are depending on you, O gallant monkey. We shall stand on one foot in yogic meditation here upon the seashore, praying for your success, until you return.”
Hanumān reassured the monkeys further. He asked them what he should do. Should he annihilate the entire Rākṣasa horde and rescue Sītā? Or should he single-handedly kill Rāvaṇa, uproot Lanka and carry it, along with Sītā, back to Rāma?
Aṅgada asked him to first locate Sītā and then report back, for that was Sugrīva’s order. In consultation with Rāma and Sugrīva they could then decide on their next course of action.
Hanumān bowed to that instruction and bounded to Mount Mahendra a few miles away, its peak piercing the clouds. He ranged up the side of the mountain and stood on its summit. As he stood there roaring, gods and Siddhas assembled in the sky above him uttering benedictory hymns. They dropped celestial flowers and beat their drums.
The huge monkey folded his hands to the east and offered respects to Vāyu, his father. He concentrated his mind and gazed south toward Lanka. Hanumān felt honored to have such an opportunity to render Rāma a service. From his first meeting with the prince he knew Rāma to be his eternal master. He felt Rāma’s ring bound in his cloth. Sītā would be overjoyed to receive that token and know that Rāma would soon arrive to rescue Her. With a sense of elation Hanumān contemplated approaching Rāma with news of Sītā. He squatted down and prepared to jump.
With a great cry of “Victory to Rāma!” Hanumān sprang upwards with tremendous force, pressing the mountain deep into the earth. Animals rushed down the mountainside in all directions. The ṛṣis engaged in meditation in the mountain forests were startled and rose into the air. Great serpents moving about on the side of the mountain became furious and bit the rocks, which then glowed red from the serpents’ virulent poison. All the trees shook and shed their blossoms, and the whole mountain appeared covered with flowers. Large fissures appeared in the mountain and different colored streams issued out. As Hanumān leapt upwards, Mount Mahendra presented a beautiful sight and the monkeys gazed up in wonder and awe. Then they went down onto the beach to begin their wait for Hanumān’s return.