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Chapter 3

Rāma Confronts the Ocean

Vibhishana had decided to join Rāma. He crossed the ocean and arrived at Rāma’s camp in less than an hour. The intelligent Rākṣasa stayed in the air and asked to see the leader of the monkeys. Sugrīva quickly appeared. Seeing the five huge Rākṣasas in the sky wearing armor and adorned with celestial jewels, he was apprehensive. He thought carefully. Had the Rākṣasas come to attack the monkeys? Perhaps this was some kind of cunning trick, of which Rākṣasas were so fond. Sugrīva looked closely at Vibhishana. The Rākṣasa looked like a mountain or a cloud and vied with Indra in splendor. All five Rākṣasas were holding various weapons.

Sugrīva spoke to Hanumān. “Surely these Rākṣasas have some malicious intentions at heart. Let us take up rocks and trees. Leaping into the air we shall quickly finish them before they can execute their plan.”

As Sugrīva spoke, Vibhishana addressed him from the sky. “There is an evil Rākṣasa by the name of Rāvaṇa. I am his brother Vibhishana. He has carried away Rāma’s consort by using trickery and deceit. Although I repeatedly advised him to return the princess, the demon would not listen. I have thus come here to seek Rāma’s shelter.”

Vibhishana asked the monkeys to inform Rāma of his presence. Sugrīva was still highly suspicious. He ran up to Rāma and said, “One of the enemy has suddenly made his appearance here. No doubt he seeks an opportunity to kill us when we are unaware. Perhaps he is a spy. There may be other invisible Rākṣasas around. No trust should ever be reposed in these demons. Please tell us how we should deal with this one.”

Sugrīva told Rāma Vibhishana’s name and who he was, as well as what he said. The monkey king was sure that Vibhishana had evil intentions and had been sent there by Rāvaṇa himself. He suggested that the Rākṣasa and his followers be killed immediately. Rāma listened carefully. He looked around at the other monkey chiefs who sat with him. “You have heard Sugrīva’s suggestion. What do the rest of you think?”

Each of them gave their opinion. They all felt that Vibhishana was to be treated with the utmost caution and suspicion, that he should be interrogated and tested before they placed any trust in him.

Rāma then turned to Hanumān and asked his opinion. The monkey had studied all the scriptures, and bowing to Rāma he replied, “Although You are well able to ascertain for Yourself this Rākṣasa’s intentions, You nevertheless seek our opinion out of humility and kindness. I shall therefore speak my feelings in this regard. In my view we should accept Vibhishana as our own. I do not think he has any devious purpose.”

Hanumān said that he had not detected any deceit in the speech or expression of Vibhishana. If a person has ill motives, then it is always revealed in their expression. Hanumān felt that Vibhishana had wisely decided that Rāma’s cause was superior to Rāvaṇa’s. It appeared that the Rākṣasa was moral and desired to assist Rāma.

Having given his opinion, which differed from that of his companions, Hanumān asked Rāma for His view. Rāma thanked all of them for their suggestions and then said, “I cannot refuse to receive a person who has sought My shelter. Whatever his intentions I must accept a supplicant. This is never condemned in the eyes of good people.”

Sugrīva was alarmed by Rāma’s statement. He was still convinced that Vibhishana was inimical. The monkey king tried again to convince Rāma. “What does it matter whether his intentions are good or bad?” Sugrīva argued. “After all, he is a Rākṣasa and will always revert to his own nature. Furthermore, if he can abandon even his own brother, then how can we ever trust him as our friend?”

Sugrīva wanted Vibhishana to be taken captive and perhaps even killed. The Rākṣasa was Rāvaṇa’s brother. His allegiance to Rāma would never exceed his deeper attachment to his own people. Sugrīva looked anxiously at Rāma, who smiled and replied gently, “Your concerns are well-founded, O noble Vanara, but I have given it careful thought. Even if this demon is malevolent, what harm can he do? I can annihilate the entire horde of Rākṣasas with My fingertip. We should not have any fear. And we should always abide by the instructions of the Vedas.”

Rāma explained that even an enemy must be received with hospitality according to scriptural rules. If a person comes seeking shelter, then one must offer him protection even at the cost of one’s own life. No consideration should be made of his intentions, good or bad. If a supplicant is turned away and perishes as a result, then he takes all the pious merits of the man who turned him away. Great sin is incurred by such neglect. Rāma concluded, “If a person comes to Me saying, ‘I am Yours’ only once, then I shall give him courage and protection from all danger forever after. This is My solemn vow made here before you all. Even if Rāvaṇa himself came to Me, I would not refuse him shelter. Bring Vibhishana here, for I have already granted him safety.”

Everyone present was moved deeply by Rāma’s speech. With tears flowing from his eyes Sugrīva said, “It is no wonder that You should speak in this way, O Rāma. You are the best knower of what is right and are always devoted to virtue. My doubts are gone. Let Vibhishana enjoy our friendship on an equal level with all of us.”

Sugrīva gave Vibhishana Rāma’s message. Feeling reassured, the Rākṣasa descended to the earth along with his devoted followers. He went before Rāma and lay flat on the ground with his bejeweled hands touching Rāma’s feet. Getting up onto his knees, he addressed Rāma respectfully. “I am Vibhishana, the younger half-brother of Rāvaṇa. Insulted by him, I have come here, abandoning my family, friends and home. O Rāma, You are the only shelter of all beings. My very life now depends upon You.”

Rāma glanced affectionately at Vibhishana. He spoke soothingly to the Rākṣasa, welcoming him. Rāma then asked him about Rāvaṇa’s strengths and weaknesses. “Please tell me in truth all that you know about Rāvaṇa and Lanka.”

Vibhishana told Rāma about Rāvaṇa’s boon. He described the power of Rāvaṇa’s chief warriors—Kumbhakarna, Indrajit, Prahasta, Mahodara and others. All of them were capable of facing the mightiest fighters even among the gods. Accompanied by them, Rāvaṇa had given battle to the four guardians of the universe, all of whom he routed.

Rāma replied to Vibhishana, “I have indeed heard of all these exploits of Rāvaṇa which you have truthfully related. Hear me now! After killing in battle the ten-headed Rāvaṇa along with all his followers, I shall crown you king of Lanka. There need be no doubt whatsoever. I swear by My three brothers that I shall not return to Ayodhya without slaying Rāvaṇa with his sons, kinsfolk and people.”

Vibhishana again bowed to Rāma and promised to render Him every assistance in the upcoming battle. Rāma ordered Lakṣman to go at once and fetch some seawater. With that water Rāma immediately consecrated Vibhishana as the ruler of Lanka. Witnessing this display of grace all the monkeys leapt about joyfully, roaring and shouting, while Vibhishana sat with his head bowed.

Hanumān then approached Vibhishana and asked how the army could possibly cross the ocean. After thinking for some while, Vibhishana suggested that Rāma personally ask the ocean-god to reveal some means of crossing. The ocean had been excavated by a great king in Rāma’s line and thus the deity would no doubt wish to render Him some service in return. Rāma was pleased with Vibhishana’s advice and He spread a seat of kusha grass on the seashore. He sat there and began to pray to the god to reveal himself.

As Rāma sat on the beach Rāvaṇa’s spy flew over the Vanara army. He determined its size and power and returned with all speed to Rāvaṇa. Falling before the demon king the spy submitted, “Like another sea, a deep and immeasurable flood of monkeys and bears is moving toward Lanka. They are spread out for one hundred miles in all directions. At their head are the two powerful princes, Rāma and Lakṣman. Even now they are camped on the seashore, determining some means of crossing over it.”

Rāvaṇa became perturbed. He ordered a demon named Suka to carry a message to Sugrīva. “Tell the monkey that he has nothing to gain by assaulting Lanka,” he ordered. “I have never done him any harm. What does it matter to him if I have carried off Sītā?”

Rāvaṇa told Suka to warn Sugrīva off. It would not be possible for monkeys and bears to defeat Rākṣasas. Not even the gods could overpower Lanka; what then could a few mere mortal creatures do? They had best return peacefully to their own country.

The powerful Suka turned himself into a large bird and flew swiftly across the sea. He swooped over the monkey army and found Sugrīva. From the air the Rākṣasa delivered Rāvaṇa’s message, but even as he was speaking the monkeys suddenly sprang up and dragged him down. They began to beat him violently. Suka cried out to Rāma for mercy. “Only an envoy who has spoken his own view rather than his master’s message deserves death. O Rāma, I have faithfully related Rāvaṇa’s message and should therefore not be slain.”

Rāma ordered the monkeys to let Suka go. The demon again rose into the air and asked for Sugrīva’s reply to Rāvaṇa. The monkey king said to the demon, “Rāvaṇa should be informed that I am neither his friend nor his well-wisher. Indeed, he has formed an enmity with Rāma and is thus my sworn enemy as well. For stealing Sītā from Rāma the demon deserves death at my hands, and that he shall receive in due course.”

Sugrīva sent a message that Rāvaṇa would not escape even if he sought shelter in the furthermost part of the universe. He would certainly be killed along with his entire demon force. The Rākṣasa was no match for Rāma and his army. Rāvaṇa obviously lacked prowess because he stole Sītā when Rāma was absent. He now faced a terrible calamity in the shape of Sugrīva and his army.

After Suka had left, Rāma sat with a concentrated mind at the edge of the sea. He meditated on the sea-god Samudra and waited patiently for him to appear. Three days and nights passed as Rāma sat motionless on the beach, but still the ocean deity did not come. Rāma became enraged and He spoke to Lakṣman. “Just see the vanity of this god. Although I have sat here humbly beseeching his audience, he has not appeared. Alas, forbearance, gentleness and politeness of speech are construed as weaknesses by the wicked. The world regards with respect only those who are arrogant, harsh and given to meting out strong punishments. O Lakṣman, neither fame, nor victory, nor even popularity can be won by conciliation. I shall therefore stand with My bow and flaming arrows. I shall dry up the ocean this very day. The monkeys may go on foot to Lanka. Watch now as I exhibit My prowess.”

Rāma was furious with Samudra. Feeling insulted, He stood firmly on the beach, forcibly stringing His great bow. His eyes were red and He blazed like the fire of universal destruction. He instantaneously released hundreds of fleet arrows toward the sea. The ocean began to roar and rise up in massive billows. Clouds of steam covered its surface as the flaming arrows entered the water. Long, writhing sea serpents and great dark whales were thrown about. Waves resembling the Mandara mountain were seen to rise up one after another. Even far beneath the ocean the Dānavas and Nāgas felt disturbed and cried out in distress.

Lakṣman rushed toward Rāma and held onto His bow. “There is no need for this display, dear brother!” He exclaimed. “Men of Your caliber never give way to anger. Your purpose will surely be achieved without such violence.”

In the sky invisible ṛṣis called out, “O Rāma. Hold! Be at peace!”

But Rāma’s anger did not abate. He placed upon His bow a large golden arrow and began thinking of the mantras to invoke the brahmāstra. Stretching His bow with vehemence He gazed furiously at the raging sea. Suddenly the heavens were enveloped by darkness and fierce winds blew. Large bolts of lightning were seen and the earth itself shook. The ocean surged back a distance of ten miles and rose up to a tremendous height. Rāma stood immovable with his arrow trained on the waters.

Then suddenly before everyone’s sight, Samudra appeared. Rising up from the ocean, he seemed like the bright sun at dawn. He shone like a glossy black gem and was adorned with brilliant gold ornaments. Clad in red robes with a garland of red flowers, he had eyes like large lotuses. A wreath of celestial flowers crowned his head. On his chest was a prominent jewel which shed a white luster all around. Surrounded by many river goddesses he came before Rāma and placed before Him a large heap of shining jewels taken from the ocean depths. He spoke in a sonorous voice.

“Every element has its natural state, O Rāma. My nature is to be fathomless and unaffordable. I did not wish to deviate from my constitutional position, neither from infatuation nor from fear. Nevertheless, I shall tell You the means by which I may be crossed by Your army. The monkey named Nala is a son of Viśvakarmā, the heavenly architect. He can construct a bridge over me which I will sustain.”

Samudra assured Rāma that He would be able to cross him without fear. The deity would ensure that the fierce creatures inhabiting his depths would not be aggressive. Rāma still stood with His arrow at the ready on His bow. However, He was now pleased with the sea-god and He said, “This unfailing shaft must be released. Tell Me, O abode of Varuṇa, where I should send this arrow?”

Samudra asked Rāma to fire the arrow upon a part of his waters to the north. There were numerous sinful demons inhabiting that region and Samudra did not like his waters being polluted by this touch. Rāma assented and shot His fiery arrow to the north, drying up that whole section of the ocean. Samudra then disappeared from view.

Nala was enlivened by the task that faced him. He informed Rāma that he had been granted a boon by Viśvakarmā, the gods’ engineer, who decreed that Nala’s abilities would equal his own. Nala was confident that he could build the bridge. He ordered the monkeys to fetch the necessary materials. The monkeys leapt about joyfully, applying themselves to the work with great energy.

Soon there were thousands of trees and massive heaps of rocks piled on the beach. Nala had them thrown in the sea and they sent up huge splashes of water. Using lengths of creepers to measure and make straight lines Nala gradually constructed his bridge over the sea. The ocean allowed even great rocks to float on his waters. Binding together tree trunks, rocks and reeds, the monkeys built the bridge toward Lanka. On the first day they covered over one hundred miles. Becoming even more enthusiastic, they built one hundred and fifty miles on the second day and nearly two hundred on the third. In this way the bridge was completed in only five days and reached right across the ocean to the shores of Lanka. On the southern shore of Lanka stood Vibhishana and his ministers, maces in hand, ready to repulse any Rākṣasas who tried to attack the bridge.

The gods and Gandharvas, along with the celestial ṛṣis, all stood in amazement as they gazed upon the bridge. It was eighty miles wide and eight hundred miles long. The monkeys and bears swarmed onto it shouting and roaring in joy. Like a great flood they swept toward Lanka. In their forefront were Rāma and Lakṣman mounted upon the backs of Hanumān and Aṅgada. They soon reached Lanka and ordered the army to encamp on the shore.

Rāma sat with Lakṣman and Sugrīva. He told the monkey king to have his troops ready for battle at any time. He spoke of evil portents he had witnessed. “Winds full of dust are blowing. The earth is quaking and trees are falling. Dark clouds are thundering and giving forth drops of blood. On all sides there are ferocious beasts uttering fierce screams as they face the sun.”

Rāma described many omens and said that they foretold the destruction of both armies. “Eminent heroes among the Vanaras, bears and Rākṣasas will soon be killed,” Rāma said gravely.

Sugrīva had the army arrayed in battle formation. They spread out and surrounded the city of the Rākṣasas from the eastern to the western side. As they approached Lanka they heard a deafening clamor of war drums from within. The monkeys rejoiced at hearing that hair-raising sound and they roared loudly, drowning out the drums. Hearing the terrifying roars, the demons clasped their weapons more tightly.

Rāma looked upon Lanka and felt a pang of separation from Sītā. Here She was at last. The vile Rāvaṇa also lay within this city tormenting the anguished princess. Rāma was anxious to face the demon. He spoke to Lakṣman. “Here is the splendid city of Lanka, built long ago by Viśvakarmā. It looks like the sky filled with white clouds.”

Rāma had the army deployed in a human-shaped formation with its arms reaching around the city. The most powerful monkeys were stationed at the various key points. Rāma Himself, along with His brother, stood at the head of the formation. The monkeys took up gigantic trees and rocks, saying to one another, “Let us dash this city to pieces!”