Bijoy Misra

November 9, 2020

In Vālmīki’s characterization, Sugrīva is a tough task-master. Why the monkeys of the world would be subservient to him is unclear. Possibly his strength provided the clan with security against the predators. He held the monkey troop together, as a large family. Sugrīva knew how to reward or punish individuals for their performance or misconduct. His older brother Vālī had possibly created the ruling protocol, which he followed, and he drew the respect of clan members for his service to them in times of need.

Leadership among animals is a biological attribute that manifests naturally and is defined by strength and skills in performing tasks. An exemplar leader protects the herd and offers himself in the battle to save others. He knows his strength and must be able to choose those battles that he or she should enter. Animals apparently have better instincts in terms of estimating their own potential than do humans in situations of risk.

Sugrīva had accepted Rāma’s friendship in order to eliminate Vālī and had given Rama his word that he would help locate Sītā. Because monkeys hop around in the forest, he believed – not unreasonably - that he would succeed in this search by dispatching his followers in all directions to accomplish the task. He arbitrarily imposed on them a time limit of a month. Possibly he had alternate ideas in case the monkeys failed in the task. “You must return from your journey within a month. Success will be duly rewarded, and a delay will be punished by death!” Sugrīva thundered.

Such a command sounds shocking but even more stunning is the response of the monkeys in respecting it. The troops that went East, West, and North returned dutifully in a month and reported failure in locating Sītā. “Better to save our skins than delay!” could have been the thought. But the troop that went South included Hanūmān, who was mission-oriented and committed to examining each location in depth. The troop appreciated Hanūmān’s work. Aṅgada, the troop-leader, did not object. Then they set off in search of water, wandered into a dark cave, got lost, and lost track of time.

When they finally exited from the cave, they were shocked to notice that the season had changed. They had left on their search in Autumn, now the trees had changed colors reflecting Spring. Alarmed at this sight Aṅgada exclaimed, “Sugrīva will never forgive us for this delay. He will kill us in order to appease Rāma! It is better to do penance by starving ourselves here than to return to Kiṣkindhā to face certain death!” He concluded: “We must never return without locating Sītā! We must at least have some information where she might be!” The terror of Sugrīva’s orders was palpable. Aṅgada did remember he had lost his father Vālī to Sugrīva’s wrath!

Eventually, the monkeys get clues on Sītā’s possible location from Sampāti, the hawk. The hawk’s eye saw that Sītā was on the island of Laṅkā, the fortress kingdom of Rāvaṇa. Hanūmān succeeded in crossing the ocean, and after an adventurous journey, he located and met with Sītā. The monkeys, scared and anxious, waited for him for days on the Mahendra mountains. Then Hanūmān returned with the happy news. He relished recounting about the burning of Laṅkā. The monkeys were relieved, and jubilant. Aṅgada shouted in joy and in admonition – “You destroyed Laṅkā, but did not come back with Sītā!” He ordered - “Let us now proceed and rescue her!” The wise Jāmbavān knew that it would not be trivial for the group to cross the ocean. He counseled them to stay calm - “We should return to Kiṣkindhā and deliver the good news. Let Rāma decide the next step!”

Monkeys can have only so much discipline! As they neared home, they noticed the magnificent Madhuvana garden, a special enclave of fruit trees that were laden with honey in honeycombs. The garden was guarded and was maintained by Sugrīva for ceremonial occasions. The monkeys were extremely emaciated and very hungry. They were unable to resist the temptation of devouring the honey in the garden. Many gorged themselves until they got dizzy. Maybe they were nervous, in anticipation of the punishment for being late. Fighting ensued when the guards resisted their entry. The outcome was that the supervisor Dadhimukha went over to Kiṣkindhā, to report the mischief to the Chief.

Sugrīva is depicted as a benevolent master through this honey episode. He had been waiting with Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa, anticipating the return of Hanūmān. Dadhimukha prostrated himself at Sugrīva’s feet in a gesture to beg forgiveness; he was scared that he failed to protect the garden. He narrated the story. Sugrīva ignored Dadhimukha’s complaints about the monkeys ransacking the garden. He had confidence in Hanūmān! He had the inner sense that the southern troop was likely successful in their mission.

Leaders have good intuition. Sugrīva could feel that his commitment to friendship to Rāma was about to come to fruition. There is no greater satisfaction to a friend than succeeding in completing a difficult task. “O’ Dadhimukha! Please return to the garden and send Hanūmān and others to me quickly. I want to hear directly from them about their efforts and achievements. Please rush!”

Sugrīva consoled Rāma: “Please relax! I have no doubt that Sītā has been located! The great Madhuvana would not have been destroyed had the monkeys not been successful in their mission! That they drank the honey in the garden tells me that they were successful!” Rāma laughed inside: “The destruction of Madhuvana is a monkeyish act!” Sugrīva ignored the mischief because he needed the monkeys for his future efforts!

Sugrīva heard the sound of the monkey herd descending on Kiṣkindhā. He noticed Aṅgada alighting from the sky, his tail curled in delight. His intuition was about to be vindicated! Hanūmān came along and dropped down in front of Rāma, bending his head down. He offered respects. Hanūmān humbly submitted, briefly and precisely: “The great lady is uninjured in body. I saw her! She is single-minded in her devotion!” Vālmīki is crisp in characterizing Hanūmān as the model messenger in the world! He is a Minister to Sugrīva, communication is his principal skill!

Hanūmān proceeded to describe in detail his leap across the ocean and his meeting with Sītā in Laṅkā. He narrated Sītā’s state of mind and her desperation in the midst of rough and cruel characters. Hanūmān spoke empathizing with Sītā’s unflinching love and devotion to Rāma. He reported how she rebuffed Hanūmān’s offer to carrying her away, because she said this would be an affront to her chastity! “I have assured her that I will carry you and Lakṣmaṇa on my back and bring to Laṅkā. The entire monkey brigade will show up in no time.” I told her: ‘O’ Mother, just be patient!’”

Vālmīki’s characterization of Rāma is complex. A person of valor and inimitable skills, he is lovelorn. He easily fills himself with raw emotions when he hears about Sītā. Vālmīki’s Rāma processes all information as a normal human being and faces all consequences for his errors. He is a normal human being! After complimenting Hanūmān on his success, Rāma laments “How will the monkeys cross the ocean? How will they reach Laṅkā! What can we do?”

Sugrīva understood Rāma’s emotions. He had been in that state. He had lived on an isolated mountaintop for years. He has lamented about his wife. He knew where she was, but didn’t have the means to rescue her. He made friends with Rāma, sought Rāma’s help, succeeded in eliminating Vālī, and was reunited with his wife. Sugrīva was determined to reciprocate. He had the resources to help Rāma with his corps of monkeys. He had heard that the stretch of water from India to Laṅkā was too wide for an average monkey to leap over. He understood that Hanūmān was the only one who could cross this water.

Sugrīva had developed a respect for Rāma because Rāma was a prince and a mighty archer. Sugrīva had tested and witnessed Rāma’s skills and strength and knew they would be able to put up a good fight against Rāvaṇa and eliminate him. But they could not move without properly thinking through the journey over the ocean. He took the events in his stride and tried to console Rāma with sincerity and friendship.

“Why are you reacting as a common man?” Valmiki’s extravaganza - “You must reject negative thoughts, just like an ungrateful person rejects human goodwill!” We know where Sītā is, and we know how to get there. You are bright, learned, and wise. You should cast away these common man’s emotions, which negate your personality! An endowed person fails when he is weak due to stress! Our monkeys are capable, skilled, and loyal. They will risk entering fire in your service! We will cross the seas, scale the walls, and kill Rāvaṇa. I just beg you to help construct a bridge over the ocean so that we can go over it and take a look at the site. Without a bridge we are stuck!”

Sugrīva knew Rāma’s potential and wanted to arouse Rāma from his melancholy. He continued: “A timid man is always a loser! Grief weakens the valor in a man! Heroism alone triumphs! You are a hero and are fully equipped with all the necessary qualities. Nobody in the universe can beat you! Nobody can face you when you have your bow in your hand! Our monkeys are your assets!”

King Sugrīva gave a well-deserved friendly order to Rāma: “Put aside your grief. Now is time for anger and wrath!”

A king knows how to go to battle!


Let Sai bless all!