Skip to main content

Chapter 5

The War Begins

Outside Lanka, Rāma held counsel with His chiefs. They discussed how to assail the city. Vibhishana reported that his four ministers had entered the city in the form of birds. They had carefully surveyed everything. Vibhishana described the defensive arrangements. “At the eastern gate stands Prahasta, the commander-in-chief. At the southern gate is Mahaparshwa and Mahodara, two almost invincible Rākṣasas. Stationed at the western gate is Rāvaṇa’s cunning and fearful son Indrajit, who is highly dangerous in battle. At the northern gate is Rāvaṇa himself.”

Vibhishana told Rāma how many Rākṣasas they faced. They numbered tens of millions, all of them equipped with fierce weapons of every description. It was not going to be an easy fight.

Rāma smiled. He issued orders detailing different monkeys to attack each gate. Sugrīva, Jambavan and Vibhishana should remain at the center of the army. Nīla would assault the eastern side, Aṅgada the south, Hanumān the west, and Rāma Himself would attack the northern gate. He wanted to waste no time in confronting Rāvaṇa directly. Rāma ordered that the monkeys should fight in their natural forms only. This would be their distinguishing mark. Rāma expected that the demons would try trickery and assume different forms. The monkeys would have the best chance of recognizing each other if they remained in their own forms.

Evening was approaching. The battle would commence the next day. Rāma decided to ascend the Suvela mountain and spend the night there. As He climbed the mountain He spoke with Lakṣman. “We shall be able to survey Lanka from this vantage point. I long now for the battle to begin. My anger toward Rāvaṇa is growing at every moment. The whole Rākṣasa race will perish on account of their mean-minded and stubborn king.”

Rāma reached the top of Mount Suvela along with hundreds of the foremost monkey warriors. They gazed at Lanka, which glowed red in the light of the setting sun. Along its defensive wall, which appeared like a sheer cliff face, there seemed to be another dark wall in the shape of a compact row of Rākṣasas. No gap could be seen anywhere in the lines of heavily armed demons. The monkeys roared in anticipation. As they stared at their enemy, the sun set and a full moon rose. Rāma and the monkeys alertly watched for any signs of a treacherous night assault by the Rākṣasas.

After sunrise the following day the monkeys closely surveyed Lanka again. Atop the Trikuta mountain the city appeared charming with its towering white gates and gold and silver fortifications. Mansions and palaces and tall, golden-domed temples crowded the city. The monkeys saw various devices lined up along the outer wall ready for the battle. As the Rākṣasas readied themselves for battle the thunder of drums and the blowing of conches and trumpets was tumultuous.

As Rāma and the monkeys looked across at Lanka they saw in the distance Rāvaṇa himself. The demon appeared at the top of the city gate, clad in red robes and adorned with shining scarlet gems. He was being fanned on all sides and a large white parasol was held over his head.

Seeing him there, Sugrīva became impetuous. He immediately sprang from the mountaintop and with one mighty bound landed near the demon king. He rushed up to him and said, “I am a friend and servant of Rāma, ruler of this world. Display your power, O Rākṣasa, for I shall not spare you today.”

With that, Sugrīva leapt upon Rāvaṇa and dashed his shining diadem to the ground. The Rākṣasa shook him off and stood for the fight. He spoke harshly. “Today I will break your beautiful neck, O monkey.”

Rāvaṇa caught hold of Sugrīva and threw him forcefully to the ground, but the monkey bounced up like a ball. He closed on Rāvaṇa and grasped him tightly. As they pummeled, kneed and scratched one another they appeared like two tall trees intertwined together and shaken by a gale. Their limbs were bathed in blood and perspiration as they locked together, grunting furiously. Both were endowed with extraordinary might and they fought with tremendous power. They fell to the ground and rolled over, dropping from the flat roof of the gate to the ground below, still violently belaboring each other. As both were experts at wrestling, they employed various maneuvers with great skill. They appeared like a lion and a tiger engaged in a furious fight to the death. Breaking apart, they moved around in a circle, each rebuking the other with harsh words.

They stood in diverse postures and moved about in many ways-now rushing, now wheeling, now leaping high and now crouching. As they struck and dodged one another with blinding speed they appeared graceful, but neither could overpower the other. Becoming tired of the bout, Rāvaṇa decided to exhibit his supernatural power. Sugrīva realized this and immediately sprang high, landing again on the roof of the gate. Taking another great bound he soared across to the Suvela mountain. Rāvaṇa was left standing angrily on the ground. Seeing that he had returned to the side of Rāma and Lakṣman, the demon decided not to pursue the monkey. The battle with the prince would come soon enough.

Rāma embraced Sugrīva and examined the wounds Rāvaṇa had inflicted upon him. Feeling a little annoyed with the monkey, Rāma admonished him out of love. “Kings should not act in such rash ways, O mighty one. If anything had happened to you, then what would have become of Me? If you had been slain, then I surely would not have survived. Please do not be so impetuous again.”

Sugrīva bowed to Rāma and replied, “Seeing that disgusting demon who has borne away Your wife, I lost control of myself. I had to give him a beating. I am sorry.”

Rāma praised Sugrīva’s courage and strength and then turned to Lakṣman. “O valiant brother, the time for battle has arrived. We should array our forces in preparation. Many terrible omens are visible, boding massive destruction and death. The earth will soon be covered with rocks, darts, arrows and swords, hurled by monkeys and Rākṣasas. Soon a thick morass of flesh and blood will spread on all sides. Surrounded by monkeys and bears, We should immediately march on Lanka.”

Rāma rapidly descended the mountain, followed by His brother. Upon reaching the foot of the mountain He reviewed the army. Then, with Sugrīva’s assistance, He marshalled the troops ready for the battle. At an auspicious moment He ordered them to advance. The army moved off sending up a roar which made the earth shake and the walls of Lanka vibrate. The different Vanara commanders soon reached their respective positions at the gates of Lanka. Rāma Himself stood at the northern gate. Sugrīva remained at a distance from the city. Along with Lakṣman and Vibhishana he detailed divisions of troops to support each of the commanders.

Seizing hold of fully grown trees and massive boulders, the monkeys rushed forward. Their long tails raised in anger and their terrible teeth bared. Their eyes were bloodshot and their faces contorted with fury. As they bounded high in the air, they seemed like a swarm of locusts. The growls and roars of the fierce bears led by Jambavan sounded like the rush of a mighty ocean.

The army quickly surrounded the city of Lanka, making it difficult even for the wind to approach. Looking out from the walls, the Rākṣasas were filled with wonder upon seeing the flood of monkeys and bears. They ran about in all directions, making ready to defend their city.

Rāma summoned Aṅgada and asked him to carry a message to Rāvaṇa. This was the demon’s last chance. If he returned Sītā now, then a battle could be averted. Rāma said to Aṅgada, “You should approach the ten-headed monster on My behalf. Tell him that his cup of sins has now overflowed. Fierce retribution will shortly ensue for all his acts of violence against the ṛṣis, gods, Gandharvas, Apsarās, Yakṣas and others-what to speak of his depraved act of stealing Sītā from Me. His arrogance born of Brahmā’s boon will shortly be smashed by Me. Soon he will see his city rent asunder and the Rākṣasas lying lifeless upon the ground. Standing firm in battle, I will soon force him to throw down his body.”

Rāma offered Rāvaṇa the opportunity to surrender. He could return Sītā now and the army would leave peacefully. Otherwise, the world would soon be rid of Rākṣasas, barring those who sought Rāma’s shelter.

Aṅgada leapt high and crossed over the walls of Lanka. Confounding the demons by his speed and movement, he swiftly arrived before Rāvaṇa. He stood a short distance from the Rākṣasa and announced himself to be Rāma’s messenger. He then delivered the message exactly as he had heard it from Rāma.

Rāvaṇa was seized by fury. He commanded his ministers to capture and kill Aṅgada. Four huge demons immediately took hold of Aṅgada by his arms. The monkey, who blazed like a fire, allowed the Rākṣasas to hold him. Taking all four of them still clinging to his arms, he leapt up onto a high ledge. He then dashed the demons together and they fell senseless to the ground. The monkey let out a great shout proclaiming his name and roaring, “Victory to Rāma!” With a great leap he returned to Rāma, smashing down the wall from which he jumped. Rāvaṇa’s reply to Rāma was clear enough.

Witnessing this display of power, Rāvaṇa became morose. He foresaw his own destruction. The demon sat sighing amid his ministers, but still he gave no thought to the possibility of surrender.

Rāma affectionately received Aṅgada back. Hearing then of Rāvaṇa’s cruel response, He resolved to fight and immediately gave the order to charge. Mounted upon the back of a monkey, Rāma led the attack Himself. The entire earth around Lanka was rendered brown by the mass of monkeys and bears. They filled the moats and completely covered the defensive walls as they rapidly scaled them. The air was filled with cries of “Victory to Rāma and Sugrīva!” Many mighty monkeys rose quickly to the tops of the walls, screaming ferociously. They poured onto the ramparts and tore into the Rākṣasas with their teeth and nails.

Rāvaṇa ordered his troops to rush against the enemy. A great clamor was raised. Thousands of drums were beaten with golden sticks, creating a terrible din. Rākṣasas of hideous features blew conches and trumpets and rallied Rāvaṇa’s vast forces to the fight. With their dark limbs adorned with brilliant jewels the Rākṣasas seemed like so many clouds lit by lightning. They joyfully rushed forth like the waves of an ocean swollen with the rains of universal destruction. The trumpeting of elephants, the neighing of horses, the clatter of chariots and the shouts of demons made the earth and sky resound.

The Rākṣasas struck the monkeys with their flaming maces, javelins, pikes and axes. The monkeys grasped hold of the demons with their powerful arms and hauled them down from the walls. They aimed terrible blows at the Rākṣasas with their fists and feet. The demons replied with darts and arrows. As they fought, they shouted out their respective names. All around Lanka there were monkeys, bears and Rākṣasas locked in fierce combat. The earth quickly became covered with a mire of flesh and blood.

Great heroes among the Rākṣasas mounted brilliant chariots and came out of the city. With their dazzling coats of mail they shone like fire. Others sallied forth on the backs of gigantic elephants, while others charged out on great steeds. They were supported by tens of thousands of Rākṣasas on foot, their frightening faces twisted in fury. Shouting, “Victory to the king,” the Rākṣasas issued out for battle like a black river gushing out of the city gates. Some of them took to the air and swooped down upon Rāma’s army wheeling huge scimitars. Others fought on foot, raising their frightful weapons and screaming in anger. The Vanaras met them, surging toward them with shouts of joy. The two armies appeared like heaven and earth colliding in the sky.

Great duels took place between the heroes on both sides. Aṅgada fought with Indrajit even as Śiva had contended with the demon Andhaka. Hanumān fought a furious battle with the huge Rākṣasa Sharabha, while Vibhishana battled with a violent Rākṣasa called Suparshwa. Sugrīva closed with Praghasha and Lakṣman with Durmukha. Four of the most powerful Rākṣasas charged Rāma, who stood on the battlefield, shining like a smokeless fire.

A fierce and confused fight raged. All of the combatants sought a quick victory and they fought with tremendous force. A stream of blood flowed across the ground floating dead bodies that looked like logs with hair resembling weeds. Heads, arms, legs and trunks rolled about. The clamor of the fight was deafening. It struck terror in the hearts of all those who were not heroes in battle.

Sharabha hurled at Hanumān a blazing lance which pierced the monkey in the breast. Not tolerating the attack, Hanumān sprang onto the demon’s chariot and with his bare hands smashed it along with the Rākṣasa himself. Sugrīva took up a massive sal tree and brought it down upon Praghasha’s chariot, killing the Rākṣasa outright. A fierce and notorious demon named Pratapana rushed yelling toward Nala and lacerated him with hundreds of sharp arrows. With one of those arrows Nala bounded onto the demon’s chariot and gouged out his eyes. With a hail of arrows Lakṣman overwhelmed Durmukha, and with one swift shaft He pierced the demon in the heart. Rāma quickly lopped off the heads of the four Rākṣasas who surrounded Him.

The powerful Mainda, a commander among the monkeys, leapt into the sky and fought the Rākṣasas who flew overhead. Catching hold of the powerful demon named Vajramusti he smashed him to the ground along with his chariot and four great steeds. Nikhumbha, the son of Kumbhakarna, shot a hundred swift arrows at Nīla. The monkey took up a chariot wheel and rushed toward the Rākṣasa who stood laughing in his chariot. Nikhumbha loosed another hundred fierce shafts at the advancing Nīla. Not minding the arrows, Nīla whirled the iron wheel and jumped onto the Rākṣasa’s chariot. Even as Viṣṇu severs the heads of demons with His Chakra, Nīla cut off the head of Nikhumbha, as well as that of his charioteer.

Vidyunmali, a leader among the Rākṣasas, attacked Sushena with his gold-encrusted arrows. Roaring again and again he pierced the monkey with hundreds of sharp arrows. In a rage Sushena took up a mountainous boulder and hurled it at the demon. Vidyunmali hastily leapt from his chariot as the boulder descended and smashed it to pieces. The demon stood on the ground, mace in hand. Sushena seized a huge rock and darted toward the Rākṣasa, who swung his fierce mace at the monkey and caught him on the breast. Unmoved by the blow Sushena brought the rock down upon the demon’s head with the force of a thunderbolt. Vidyunmali fell lifeless to the ground like a tree smashed in a storm.

Many valiant Rākṣasas were crushed in this way by mighty heroes among the monkeys and bears. The battlefield was strewn with spears and maces, as well as javelins, lances and arrows. Smashed chariots lay amid the carcasses of horses and elephants. The headless trunks of Rākṣasas and monkeys bounded here and there, spurting blood and finally falling to the ground. Vultures and jackals moved about the field, feasting on flesh and blood.

As night fell, the Rākṣasas felt their strength and enthusiasm increase. The fight continued into the night with the combatants hardly able to recognize one another. Voices were heard to call out, “Are you a monkey or a Rākṣasa?” Shouts of “Stand and fight!” and “Why do you flee?” mixed with the cries of wounded and dying soldiers. The monkeys could see the golden armor of the Rākṣasas glinting in the moonlight, and they sprang upon them, tearing them with their sharp teeth and pounding them with their fists. Powerful monkeys dragged down the elephants and horses mounted by demons. Monkey heroes picked up Rākṣasas, crushed them in their embrace and then dropped them lifeless to the ground to be devoured by jackals.

Rāma and Lakṣman stood together like two brilliant gods. They killed numerous Rākṣasas with swift arrows, including those who ranged invisible through the sky. Not even the heroes among the Rākṣasas could approach the two princes as They fought in the midst of the battle.

A terrible sound arose as the Rākṣasas beat countless kettledrums and large wooden tom-toms and blew thousands of conches and trumpets. This sound, mixed with roars of pain and the clash of weapons, created a horrifying uproar. It was difficult to move across the ground due to the countless corpses lying there. Monkeys and Rākṣasas lay on the battlefield with lances and arrows protruding from their lifeless bodies. That first night of battle was like the night of universal dissolution. Millions of warriors were slain. Ghosts and nocturnal fiends ranged about the battlefield, reveling in the scenes of carnage and death.

The Rākṣasas rallied, and headed by six of their mighty chiefs riding in a line, they rushed in a body toward Rāma and Lakṣman. Rāma released thousands of flaming arrows which lit up the ground like flares. Almost instantaneously He struck down the six foremost Rākṣasas with six straight-flying arrows. With other golden-feathered arrows He tore to pieces hundreds of other Rākṣasas who came near Him. Lakṣman stood behind Him and fended off the treacherous demons who attacked Rāma from His rear. The demons that approached the princes perished like moths entering a fire.

Aṅgada fought a furious battle with Indrajit. With a rock that looked like a mountain peak he smashed the demon’s chariot. Indrajit rose into the air and became invisible. Fatigued from the fight he retreated.

Seeing Aṅgada besting Indrajit, the gods and ṛṣis praised him. Rāma and Lakṣman also praised the valor of the monkey prince. They called out, “Well done! Bravo!”

Hearing his enemy praised, Indrajit fell into a terrible rage. Remaining invisible, the demon loosed sharp arrows which shone like lightning. They seemed to appear out of nowhere and sped toward Rāma and Lakṣman, piercing them all over. The Rākṣasa used his supernatural power to send arrows like venomous snakes which caught and bound Rāma and Lakṣman. The two princes fell to the ground enmeshed in a tight network of writhing serpents with glowing ethereal bodies.

Rāma immediately ordered ten monkeys to search out Indrajit. Hanumān, Aṅgada and eight other Vanara general bounded into the air and darted about, whirling trees and maces, but they could not locate the demon who continuously fired at them his swift iron arrows bedecked with buzzard feathers. Laughing all the while and keeping out of sight, Indrajit shot hundreds of arrows into the bodies of Rāma and Lakṣman. No part of Their bodies remained visible. Blood flowed profusely from Their wounds and They appeared like trees giving forth red blossoms in spring. Indrajit shouted to Them, “Even the ruler of the gods, Indra, could not discern me as I fight invisibly. What then of You two humans? I shall now dispatch You to the abode of Yamarāja with my sharp arrows.”

The demon continued firing his arrows at the two bound brothers who felt distressed and afflicted. They lay upon the ground with Their bows fallen from Their hands. Arrows with the heads of axes, others with razor heads and others with heads shaped like calves’ teeth whistled toward Them from the sky. Seeing Them lying there bathed in blood, the monkeys screeched in agony and fear. They surrounded the fallen princes and shed tears, giving way to despondency.

Indrajit considered his enemy defeated. He joyfully left the battlefield and went toward Lanka to give the happy news to his father.

The monkeys felt hopeless. They stood beating their breasts and crying in anguish. As they gazed around at the sky, fearing further attacks from the invisible Indrajit, they saw Vibhishana coming toward them. Some of the monkeys mistook the Rākṣasa for Indrajit and they fled here and there, but Vibhishana reassured them. Looking around with his occult vision he could discern that Indrajit had left. He told the monkeys not to worry and knelt down by Rāma’s side.

Vibhishana spoke to Sugrīva with pain in his voice. “These two brothers who always depend on virtue have been struck down by Indrajit’s treachery. The wicked demon cannot face Them in a fair fight. Therefore he resorts to sorcery and cowardice.”

Vibhishana told the monkeys that Rāma and Lakṣman had been bound by a mystical weapon which Indrajit had received as a boon from Brahmā. Even the gods would not be able to release Them. This made the monkeys even more anguished. Sugrīva lamented loudly. “All Rāma’s hopes have been dashed today. Our efforts are in vain and everything is lost. What shall we do now?”

Vibhishana took hold of Sugrīva’s arm and reassured him. “Take heart, O monkey king. Conflicts are always of this nature. Victory is never certain. Heroes do not lament when faced with setbacks. Rather, they exert themselves with even more energy. My feeling is that these two princes will recover. Somehow They will shake off these bonds, I am sure. Be strong, for the fear of death should never haunt those devoted to truth and piety.”

Vibhishana dipped his hand in cool water and wiped Sugrīva’s eyes. He told him to look closely at Rāma and Lakṣman. They were still breathing and Their bodies were lustrous. It was clear They were only in a temporary faint. Vibhishana felt sure They would soon return to consciousness and find a way out of Their predicament. He left with Jambavan to reassure and rally the rest of the army, as the news of Rāma’s fall had spread quickly. Sugrīva, along with Hanumān and the other leading monkeys, stood by Rāma’s side waiting for Him to awaken.