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Chapter 1

The Army Sets Off

Hanumān sailed across the firmament feeling overjoyed at his success. He would soon see Sugrīva and Rāma and give them the good news that Sītā had been found. Leaving Lanka in a state of confusion, he moved with the speed of the wind. No Rākṣasas gave chase, as they were all engaged in trying to save their afflicted city.

Out of fear of Rāvaṇa, the fire-god had not burned his palace. The Rākṣasa king fumed as he gazed out at his blazing city. He should have killed the monkey when he had the chance. Without doubt Rāma and His troops would soon arrive in Lanka, and there would be a great battle. Rāvaṇa thought of his boon from Brahmā. The demon had no immunity from humans. Would this human king Rāma be the cause of his death? Was He Viṣṇu incarnate? He would need to be, mused Rāvaṇa. Let the fight go ahead. We will soon see Rāma’s power. Rāvaṇa would not cower before anyone. Death would be preferable. Indeed, death at Viṣṇu’s hands was no shame. Some even said that such a death awarded one the highest regions of bliss. But under no conditions would he surrender Sītā. Rāma would have to take Her by force or not at all. The demon stood lost in reverie.

Hanumān sped through the sky like an arrow loosed from a mighty bow. Within an hour, he again saw Mount Mahendra looming large in the distance. The monkey roared again and again, filling the sky with the thunder of his voice. Aṅgada and the others heard his roar and stood on the seashore gazing up at the sky, relieved to realize that Hanumān’s roar indicated success. Overpowered by happiness, they leapt and sprang about on the beach, shouting with joy.

Within a few minutes they saw Hanumān bursting through the clouds, appearing like Garuḍa in full flight. The Vanaras stood with joined palms in respect and appreciation of their compatriot as he descended upon the Mahendra mountain, which shook with the force of his landing. Hanumān quickly descended from the mountain and, again assuming his normal size, ran toward his friends. The monkeys surrounded him, raising cries of joy. They offered Hanumān roots and fruits and laughingly embraced him with tearful eyes.

Taking Aṅgada by the hand, Hanumān sat down in a wooded grove near the beach to tell him everything that had happened. “I have seen the godly Sītā. She sits pining for Her lord, surrounded by fierce Rākṣasīs and constantly harassed by Rāvaṇa. We should lose no time in rescuing the princess.”

Hearing of Hanumān’s success the monkeys sent up great shouts. Some roared like lions and others bellowed like bulls. Some raised ululations while dancing around and waving their long curly tails. In the midst of the foremost monkeys, Aṅgada said to Hanumān, “Your feat is without compare. You have saved our lives and rendered a great service to Rāma, who will soon be freed of His grief. What marvelous determination and valor you have displayed, dear Hanumān!”

Aṅgada and Hanumān sat encircled by powerful Vanaras, even as Indra and Sūrya are surrounded by the other gods. As Aṅgada questioned him, Hanumān described in detail all the events that had occurred since he left. The monkeys were delighted to hear how he had killed so many powerful Rākṣasas and wrought havoc in Lanka, but they were horrified to learn of Rāvaṇa’s terrible threat to Sītā. Aṅgada decided that immediate action was required. “How can we report to Rāma that Sītā lies in such a sorry state? We must recover Her from Lanka. Here are monkeys as powerful as the gods. We shall all of us proceed swiftly to Lanka. Let us destroy that city, kill the evil Rāvaṇa and rescue Sītā. Then we can return to Sugrīva and Rāma.”

Jambavan did not agree with Aṅgada. “Your suggestion is not wise, O mighty monkey. We were not enjoined to kill Rāvaṇa or bring back Sītā; we have been asked only to locate Her and report to Rāma of Her whereabouts. That prince has vowed to rescue Her Himself. Even if we should somehow succeed without Rāma, we would falsify His vow.”

The monkeys accepted Jambavan’s advice. The old king of the bears was always wise and he considered everything carefully. He was right. It was better to report back to Kishkindha. Then they could go to Lanka united with all the other monkeys, headed by Rāma and Lakṣman. There would be plenty of opportunities for fighting at that time.

The monkeys got up and immediately set out toward Kishkindha. With Hanumān at their head they bounded back as fast as they could. Within a few days they reached the Madhuvan forest, which lay not far from Kishkindha. The forest was extensive and filled with trees loaded with fruits and honeycombs. The monkeys took Aṅgada’s permission to drink the honey, which was actually meant for Sugrīva, and they consumed it in large quantities. They became intoxicated and danced merrily here and there. Some of them sang loudly while others laughed hysterically. Some leaned unsteadily upon one another and still others lay flat on the ground. They rolled about and slapped their sides. Rolling the beeswax into balls they pelted one another in sport. They ripped down boughs from the trees and whirled them around in mock fights. Leaping from tree to tree they raised a great tumult in the forest.

The Madhuvan forest was guarded by a Vanara general named Dadhimukha. When he saw that thousands of monkeys were tearing down the trees and taking the honey he became infuriated. He dispatched a number of his guards to stop them. Accosted by the guards, the monkeys in Aṅgada’s party laughed and fought with them. They took hold of the guards by their legs and dragged them about. Others they tossed into the air and slapped around with their palms.

When even Dadhimukha himself was beaten by Aṅgada, he decided to go and inform Sugrīva of the situation. Dadhimukha told the monkey king how Aṅgada and Hanumān, along with thousands of other monkeys, were wrecking the king’s personal orchard and stealing his honey. However, upon hearing this report, the intelligent Sugrīva became joyful. He turned and spoke to Lakṣman, who was by his side. “There can be no doubt that Aṅgada’s party has returned successful. O noble Lakṣman, my guess is that Hanumān has found Sītā. These monkeys would not make so bold with my grove and its honey had they failed in their mission.”

Lakṣman rejoiced and ran to tell Rāma the news. Sugrīva told Dadhimukha that he should tolerate the misbehavior of the search party and send the monkeys into Kishkindha.

Dadhimukha bowed to Sugrīva and left at once. Realizing that Hanumān had accomplished a great service to the king he felt gladdened. As he raced back to the Madhuvan with Sugrīva’s message he forgot all about the beating he had received. Back in the orchard he saw all the monkeys, who by now had become sober, standing about urinating on the trees. He sought out Aṅgada and bowed before him. “Please forgive me, O prince. I should not have tried to restrain you. Sugrīva very much desires to see you and Hanumān. Please go there with all speed.”

Aṅgada spoke kindly to Dadhimukha. Then he raised his arm and shouted to the other monkeys, “All right. Let us now go to Kishkindha! Sugrīva and Rāma are expecting us!”

Sugrīva awaited their arrival eagerly. He was sure that they had succeeded. It had been almost three months since their departure. There was no possibility that Aṅgada would have returned if he had failed. The monkey king reassured Rāma, who was experiencing deep anxiety over Sītā. Rāma looked up with tear-stained eyes at Sugrīva. This was their last chance. All the other parties had returned without success. What if Aṅgada’s group had also failed? Rāma sat by Sugrīva, anxiously waiting Aṅgada’s news.

Suddenly they heard cries in the distance and saw a cloud of dust rising upwards as Aṅgada and his party rushed toward Kishkindha. Sugrīva stretched and curled his tail in joy. He saw Aṅgada and Hanumān at the head of the party, bounding swiftly toward him. They appeared like thundering clouds driven along by the wind. Within a few minutes they had arrived and were prostrating themselves before Sugrīva and Rāma. Hanumān sat before Rāma with folded palms. “My lord, Sītā has been found,” he said.

Tears sprang to Rāma’s eyes. He jumped up and said eagerly, “Tell Me everything about that godly lady, O gallant one. Is She well? Where is She? Where indeed is that wicked wretch Rāvaṇa?”

With Aṅgada’s permission, Hanumān related everything to Rāma and Sugrīva, describing in detail how he had jumped across the ocean and wrought havoc in Lanka. He told them how Sītā was pining for Rāma and would not even look at Rāvaṇa. He then gave Sītā’s message to Rāma, along with Her ornament.

Rāma took Sītā’s yellow jewel from Hanumān. He pressed it to His bosom and wept softly. Comforted by Lakṣman He said, “Even as a cow sheds milk upon seeing its calf, so My heart melts upon seeing this jewel. It originally belonged to Indra and was given to Sītā by King Janaka. By seeing this brilliant gem I have directly gained sight of My noble father-in-law as well as My beloved wife Sītā.”

Rāma asked Hanumān to repeat Sītā’s speech again and again. He was pained to learn of Her sorry plight and felt Her words to be His only consolation. The monkey narrated to Rāma his entire conversation with Sītā. When he stopped speaking Rāma sat silently for some time absorbed in thoughts of Sītā. At last He said to Hanumān, “You have accomplished a great deed, dear Hanumān. None but Garuḍa or the wind-god himself could have achieved this feat. Who could leap across the expansive ocean? Who, having once entered Lanka as an enemy, could ever hope to emerge alive? You are a first-class servant, O monkey. You have achieved all that was asked of you and more.”

Praising Hanumān in various ways, Rāma lamented that He could not repay the monkey for the service he had rendered. All He could offer him was His embrace. “O Hanumān, that is all I can call My own at this time,” Rāma said as He took hold of Hanumān and tightly hugged him.

Rāma then began to consider how to recover Sītā. How could He and millions of monkeys cross the ocean? He again felt despondent and asked Sugrīva if he had any ideas. The monkey replied, “In my opinion, a bridge should be constructed across the ocean. There is no need to lament. We now know Sītā’s whereabouts, and we have amassed an army that is more than capable of annihilating the demons. I am confident, for I perceive many good omens and my mind feels delighted.”

After hearing Sugrīva speak, Rāma became determined. He said to the monkeys, “I am surely able to cross this sea, either by the mystic power I have acquired through asceticism, by throwing a bridge over it, or by drying it up with My fiery arrows. O Hanumān, tell us of Lanka’s fortifications and defenses, for we shall soon arrive there for battle.”

Hanumān described everything he had seen in Lanka. The city was atop a great mountain thickly covered with forests. At the edge of the city was a wide moat infested with alligators. All around Lanka were vast ramparts with steel-barred drawbridges and gates. Hordes of Rākṣasas prowled about the ramparts, holding spiked clubs which could kill a hundred warriors with a single blow. Great catapults were lined along the defensive walls, as well as machines which could fire blazing iron darts to a distance of ten miles. Rāvaṇa’s forces were all but unlimited in number. They were highly trained and could use every kind of weapon, and they remained constantly alert to any danger. They had already had enough time to repair the damage caused by Hanumān and would now be especially vigilant, expecting Rāma’s attack.

When Hanumān finished speaking, Rāma said fearlessly, “Without delay I shall destroy this great city of Lanka. Let us immediately prepare to depart. It is the auspicious midday hour. Favorable constellations augur our success. Having abducted Sītā, the despicable Rāvaṇa shall not escape with his life.”

Sugrīva warmly applauded Rāma, who then began issuing orders. He asked Sugrīva’s commander of troops, Nīla, to lead an advance party out of Kishkindha. They should prepare the way for the whole army, ensuring that no hostile troops lay in ambush. Only the most powerful monkeys should go, as a difficult task lay ahead. Rāma personally named the best monkey warriors: Gaja, Gavaya, Gandhamādana, Rishabha, Dwivida, Mainda and others. Then he said, “Mounting Hanumān’s back, I myself shall go, even as Indra rides upon his elephant Airāvata. I shall march in the center of the army cheering the troops as they rush like a flood. Lakṣman should mount Aṅgada’s back, as Kuvera would ride upon the elephant Sarvabhauma, who guards the eastern quarter of the universe.”

Sugrīva bowed to Rāma and then gave detailed instructions to his monkeys. Gradually, the many millions of powerful monkeys moved off in a southerly direction. Springing and bounding in joy they proceeded swiftly like masses of clouds driven by a gale. They roared and shouted their determination, “We will slaughter Rāvaṇa and the Rākṣasas. Not one shall survive!”

The monkeys sportingly lifted and tossed each other around. They leapt up trees and hills and jumped upon one another’s backs. As they pressed forward they roared like the tumultuous ocean. At the rear of the monkeys came Jambavan and his contingent of bears. In the midst of them all were Rāma and Lakṣman, seated upon the backs of Hanumān and Aṅgada. They looked like the sun and moon conjoined with Jupiter and Venus and surrounded by innumerable stars.

Lakṣman spoke to His elder brother. “The omens are all good, Rāma. A gentle breeze follows us and the sun shines brightly. The beasts and birds run and fly along with us. This army of monkeys and bears are roaring in joy and they are ablaze with splendor. In the night skies I have observed numerous auspicious portents. Undoubtedly Your success is imminent, dear brother.”

Rāma smiled as He rocked about on the back of Hanumān, who was racing ahead with swift steps. The vast party raised an enormous dust cloud which screened the sky. They were like a continuous line of clouds covering the heavens. When they crossed rivers, the currents flowed backwards for many miles. Bounding through lakes, they caused them to overflow and flood the surrounding land. They broke down trees and smashed rocks, haughtily vaunting their prowess to one another. Traveling by day and by night they quickly approached the southern shore of the sea.

When they reached the ocean Rāma spoke to Sugrīva. “Here lies the vast sea, O valiant monkey. This lord of the rivers cannot be crossed easily. Some device is required. Let us camp here and deliberate upon our next course of action.”

When the army came down onto the beach it stretched for miles like a second ocean. It created a noise that drowned out the roar of the sea as the monkeys discussed how to reach Lanka. None was capable of emulating Hanumān’s incredible leap. The Vanaras and bears stared out at the tossing waves, wondering what Rāma and Sugrīva would decide to do next.