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Chapter 6

Garuḍa to the Rescue

Indrajit entered Lanka surrounded by the chief Rākṣasas, all of them bellowing in joy. The Rākṣasa prince went quickly to his father’s palace and told him the news. “Your two mortal enemies lie killed on the battlefield, struck down by my sharp arrows. Dispel your fear, O king. Victory is now ours.”

Rāvaṇa sprang to his feet and embraced his son. He was elated and immediately called for the Rākṣasīs guarding Sītā. He instructed them to take the princess in the Pushpaka chariot and show her Rāma and Lakṣman. He felt sure that Sītā would now accept him as Her husband.

The Rākṣasīs left at once and brought Sītā. They placed Her on the chariot along with Trijata, who was friendly with the princess. Ordered by Rāvaṇa, the chariot rose high above Lanka and went over the battlefield. Sītā then saw Rāma and Lakṣman lying in a pool of blood and covered all over with arrows. She was stricken with agony. Suspecting Their death, She held on to Trijata and cried vehemently, “How has this happened? Learned astrologers foretold that I would never be widowed. They predicted that I would be the wife of a pious ruler of the world and would have powerful sons by Him. Today they have all been proven false.”

Sītā was completely bewildered. Her body shook as She grieved, comforted by Trijata. She thought of Kaushalya and Sumitra. How would those godly ladies live after hearing that their sons had been killed? Indeed, the whole of Ayodhya would be plunged into despair. Surely destiny was unfathomable and all-powerful. If Rāma and Lakṣman could be struck down in battle, then even Death itself could be killed.

Trijata carefully surveyed the scene below. She spoke gently to Sītā. “From the appearance of the monkeys I deduce that Your husband still lives. An army whose leader is slain is cast about like a rudderless boat on a high sea. These monkeys are standing firm in their battle array. Clearly they expect Rāma to recover. I also see that Rāma and Lakṣman are still possessed of bodily luster. They are surely still living. Do not lament, O princess.”

Sītā embraced Trijata saying, “May your words prove true.” She felt a little reassured and prayed that the princes would soon be restored to strength. The chariot returned to Lanka carrying the mournful princess back to the ashoka grove.

The monkeys surrounding Rāma softly called out His name, trying to awaken Him. Slowly Rāma opened His eyes and looked around. He saw Lakṣman lying unconscious by His side, His face streaked with blood. Rāma spoke in a voice choked with sobs. “What purpose of mine will be served by recovering Sītā when My gallant brother lies slain in battle. I might find another wife like Sītā, but I could never find a companion like Lakṣman anywhere in this world. This prince followed Me to the forest, sharing with Me every happiness and distress. I shall now follow Him to Yamarāja’s abode.”

Rāma condemned Himself. It was His fault that Lakṣman had been killed. What was the use of His vain boasting that Rāvaṇa would be slain and Vibhishana installed as the ruler of Lanka? Now everything was finished. Rāma told Sugrīva to return to Kishkindha. He thanked him and all the other monkeys and bears for their service. Now they could go home.

The monkeys stood with tears falling from their eyes. Sugrīva burned with fury. He looked toward Lanka. The Rākṣasas would pay for this outrage. He would personally annihilate every last one of them, including Rāvaṇa and Indrajit. Then he would recover Sītā and bring Her back to Rāma. Clenching his fists he said to Aṅgada, “Take Rāma and Lakṣman back to Kishkindha. Expert physicians may heal Them with celestial herbs. For my part I shall remain here until the business is finished. No Rākṣasa will survive today.”

As Sugrīva spoke, there suddenly arose a fierce wind. Dark clouds appeared with flashes of lightning. The ground shook and trees toppled over. A sound like the steady beat of some gigantic drum was heard. The monkeys gazed around and saw in the sky Garuḍa, Viṣṇu’s great eagle carrier. The powerful bird glided down, landing near Rāma. As he descended the serpent bonds of the brothers immediately fell away. The ethereal snakes that had wrapped themselves around the princes quickly disappeared into the sky.

Garuḍa, who appeared in a half-human form with two arms, bowed before Rāma with folded palms. He knelt by the brothers and gently wiped Their faces. At once Their wounds were healed and Their bodies became brilliant. Lakṣman opened His eyes and sat up. All of the monkeys cheered loudly and leapt about with screeches of joy. Garuḍa raised the two brothers. Rāma embraced him with affection, saying, “It is fortunate indeed that you have appeared here, O gallant bird. We have been saved from a great calamity at the hands of Indrajit. Pray tell us, who are you, glowing with celestial brilliance and adorned with heavenly jewels and garlands?”

Garuḍa told Rāma his name. “Surely you know me, O Rāma, as I am always Your servant. Consider me Your own breath moving outside of Your body. I heard that Indrajit had employed the Nāga sons of Kadru. He converted those powerful serpents into arrows by means of sorcery. I came here quickly with a desire to dispatch my venomous prey, but they fled away simply upon seeing me. Grant me leave to pursue them.”

Rāma again embraced Garuḍa and gave him permission to leave. The bird assured Rāma that the Rākṣasas would soon be overcome. Indrajit would not again be able to employ the serpent weapon. Then, after going respectfully around the two princes, he rose into the skies, shining like the sun and filling the whole region with the wind raised by his wings.

Rāma and Lakṣman stood ready for battle. The monkeys and bears roared in joy, uprooting huge trees and brandishing them. They swarmed toward the gates of Lanka, shouting for the Rākṣasas to come out and fight. Beating clay drums and blowing their conches, the army raised a massive tumult, which terrified the Rākṣasas, who gazed from the city walls in amazement.

Rāvaṇa sat in his palace. He had spent the night celebrating, having sent messengers all around Lanka to declare that Rāma and Lakṣman were dead. As dawn approached, he was thinking of Sītā. Now She would surely be his. He straightened his disheveled clothes and prepared to go to the princess. Suddenly from outside the city he heard the crashing of drums and the shouts of Rāma’s army. “What is this?” he exclaimed in surprise. He got up with a start and shouted for his ministers. How could the monkeys rally with their leader slain? Something was wrong.

The demon ordered his ministers to find out what was happening. Spies left at once and went to the top of the city walls. From there they saw Rāma, Lakṣman and Sugrīva at the head of the army, besieging the city. The spies reported to Rāvaṇa. “The two human brothers are standing like a pair of lordly elephants that have broken their fetters. All around Them stand the monkeys and bears roaring for battle.”

Rāvaṇa turned pale. This was a disaster. Surely the Rākṣasas were in danger now. Rāma had escaped from a weapon which had even overpowered Indra. It seemed that some invincible power protected this human.

The Rākṣasa king turned to his commander-in-chief Dhumraksha and ordered him to march at once to fight with Rāma. “Take with you the mightiest of the Rākṣasas,” Rāvaṇa commanded. “Use any means whatsoever. Rāma must be defeated!”

Dhumraksha left Rāvaṇa’s palace roaring exultantly and longing for battle. He was surrounded by demons with fierce features who clutched spiked maces, razor-sharp spears and heavy iron cudgels. Clad in golden mail and mounted upon chariots drawn by fiends, they rushed out of the city gates. They were followed by waves of other Rākṣasas, some riding massive black steeds and others on elephants as large as hills. Laughing loudly, they went out the western gate where Hanumān was stationed.

As the Rākṣasas advanced, they saw numerous terrible omens. Ferocious birds of prey circled screaming over the demons. They descended upon Dhumraksha’s standard and fought together, sending a shower of feathers onto the demon. A headless trunk, wet with blood, rose from the ground and ran across the path of the charging Rākṣasas. The earth shook and blood fell from the heavens. Darkness enveloped the four quarters and the wind blew strongly into the demons’ faces.

Not deterred, Dhumraksha raced on at the head of his troops. He shouted out challenges in a voice resembling the braying of a donkey. The monkeys roared back and charged. The two armies appeared like two oceans surging toward one another and then meeting with a tumultuous crash. Demons and monkeys fell by the hundreds of thousands, pierced and smashed by weapons and trees.

Some monkeys were transfixed by lances and spears. Others were cut to pieces by waves of arrows. Some were hacked down with swords, and still others were trampled by elephants. In response the monkeys crushed the Rākṣasas with great boulders. They reduced some of the demons to pulp by bringing tree trunks down onto them. They leapt upon the chariots and tore at the Rākṣasas with their nails and teeth. Monkeys lifted demons and dashed them to the ground. Enraged, the Rākṣasas fought back throwing punches and kicks that felt like the striking of thunderbolts.

Dhumraksha was possessed by a madness for battle. He wrought havoc among the Vanara troops. He could hardly be seen as he rushed about whirling his various weapons. Arrows loosed from his bow seemed to fly in all directions at once. Monkeys fell on all sides, vomiting blood. Heads, arms and legs flew about. The monkey army was dispersed and put to flight by the enraged Dhumraksha, who thundered like autumnal clouds.

Seeing his troops routed by the Rākṣasa, Hanumān became furious. His eyes turned red and he took hold of an enormous boulder. With a roar he hurled the rock at Dhumraksha’s chariot, but Dhumraksha nimbly leapt clear. The chariot, along with its horses and driver, was reduced to a mangled heap. Hanumān then took up a sal tree and whirled it around, attacking Dhumraksha’s guards. Within moments he pounded hundreds of demons to death. The monkey then grasped a mountain peak and raced toward Dhumraksha, who stood with his mace uplifted. As Hanumān approached him the Rākṣasa brought down his mace, which was bedecked with numerous shining points, upon Hanumān’s head. It sounded like an explosion, but the monkey was not shaken. Hanumān smashed his mountain peak on Dhumraksha’s skull. With his head crushed and all his limbs shattered, Dhumraksha fell dead to the ground.

The other demons ran back toward the city howling in fear. Rāvaṇa heard of Dhumraksha’s death and he hissed like an enraged serpent. He spoke at once to Vajradamstra, another of the great Rākṣasa champions. “Sally forth, O hero! Make short work of our enemies.”

Replying “So be it,” Vajradamstra circumambulated Rāvaṇa and left his palace.

Vajradamstra was artistically adorned with gem-encrusted armlets and a shining diadem. He put on a golden coat of mail that blazed like fire. Taking up his bow he mounted his brilliant chariot, which was dressed with hundreds of pennants and decorated with carvings of refined gold. He came out of the southern gate followed by countless troops holding scimitars, strangely-shaped iron clubs, polished maces, bows, javelins, spears, razor-edged discuses, swords and double-headed axes. They raised a great uproar as they rushed toward the monkey army.

Again many evil omens were seen. Dazzling meteors fell and hideous jackals belched tongues of fire. The demon troops stumbled and fell on level ground. Vajradamstra paid no heed to the grim portents foretelling his defeat. He thundered out his war cry, rallying the Rākṣasas to the fight.

The monkeys met them with furious impetuosity. Demons and monkeys collided like mountains clashing together. Warriors fell with their heads and limbs severed. Others dropped down, being sliced in half from head to toe. Some were crushed and some beaten to a pulp. The fighters found their feet sinking in a mire of flesh and blood-soaked earth. From a distance the battle produced a sound that resembled a musical performance, with the clash of weapons for its drums, the twang of bowstrings its vīṇās and the roar of warriors its loud singing.

Vajradamstra created havoc on the battlefield. From his chariot he released tens of thousands of steel arrows with razor-sharp heads. He moved with the speed of the wind, seeming like Death himself come for the destruction of all beings. The formidable Rākṣasa employed mystical weapons of every kind and mowed down the monkey troops like wheat in a field.

Seeing the destruction, Aṅgada became maddened. With his two serpent-like arms he clasped a great tree and whirled it around with blinding speed. The monkey prince danced with the tree on the battlefield and crushed innumerable Rākṣasas. He moved through the demon troops like a lion through a flock of deer. The Rākṣasas fell back in terror as Aṅgada wheeled. Chariots, elephants, horses and Rākṣasas fell on all sides, smashed by the infuriated Vanara.

The earth became decorated with golden poles fallen from chariots, as well as with bejeweled armlets, necklaces and diadems of every sort. A stream of blood flowed on the battlefield carrying the heads and limbs of Rākṣasas slain by Aṅgada, who could not be checked.

Vajradamstra saw his troops being routed and, roaring in fury, he rushed toward Aṅgada and shouted out a challenge. He released arrows that flew with unerring accuracy and pierced eight or nine monkeys at a time. In his wake the demon left heaps of slain monkey warriors, who lay with their teeth clenched and eyes still staring in anger.

Aṅgada stood firm to receive the fast-approaching Rākṣasa. Vajradamstra shot a thousand arrows at Aṅgada and sent up a great shout. The monkey was pierced all over, but he was not shaken. He hurled his tree at the demon and it whirled through the air with a sound like a rushing gale. Without effort, Vajradamstra tore the tree to pieces with his arrows even as it flew toward him. Aṅgada leapt up a nearby hill and tore off a crag. Spinning around several times he threw it with tremendous force at the Rākṣasa. Vajradamstra immediately jumped down from his chariot with his iron mace in his hand.

The rock descended upon the Rākṣasa’s chariot and shattered it into small pieces, crushing the driver and horses. Even as the crag fell Aṅgada had taken up another and hurled it at the Rākṣasa himself. It hit him full on the head and he fell to the earth, vomiting blood. He lay there unconscious for some minutes with his mace clasped to his bosom. Coming again to his senses, he got up and flew at Aṅgada, hitting him in the chest with his mace. The monkey remained steady and the demon began striking him with his fists. Aṅgada returned his blows and the two fought a fierce hand-to-hand battle for some time, both spitting blood and breathing heavily.

Aṅgada uprooted another tree and he stood adorned by its flowers and fruit. The demon seized hold of a shield made of bull hide and a great shining sword decorated with golden bells. The two combatants circled one another, each looking for an opportunity to strike the other. They closed and separated again and again, raining down fierce blows. Both became exhausted and sank to their knees.

Suddenly Aṅgada, who was thinking of Rāma, sprang to his feet. He took up a fierce-looking sword and swung it at Vajradamstra’s neck, lopping off his head. The Rākṣasa dropped to the earth, spurting forth a jet of dark-red blood.

With their leader slain the other Rākṣasas fled in fear, pursued by the monkeys. Hanging their heads in shame they swiftly re-entered Lanka. The monkeys surrounded the overjoyed Aṅgada and praised his wonderful feat in killing Vajradamstra.