Reflections on Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa – XXXVII: Rescuing Sītā, Battle at Laṅkā – Part II

Bijoy Misra

April 2, 2021


Rāma rode up to the top of the Mahendra mountains. He was stunned to see the large expanse of the sea. On one side he wondered about the grandeur and tranquility, and, on the other, he heard the ferocity of the waters with the waves crashing on the rocks. He cautioned Sugrīva: “It is time to think our way through! We have to discover the means of crossing the ocean. Let all be on alert, there could be danger!” Sugriva looked at the grey expanse of the waters and then saw his grey brigade. The forest troops were in festive mood, they were thinking that they were out for an adventure. They had seen the play of air flow in the forests, but watching the new sight of the play of air with water was delightful: “how does the water rise?” The enthusiastic noise from the monkeys shrouded the noise in the sea. Sugrīva was concerned with the danger from the large animals in the sea. Massive creatures were dipping in and out of water: “how deep is the sea?”

On the other side of the sea, in the city of Laṅkā, Rāvaṇa was perplexed and tense. He was upset that the large contingent of the monkeys had gathered on the other side. He convened a meeting of his generals. He admonished them: “This most unreachable kingdom of Laṅkā was ransacked by a mere vānara! We must ponder our path forward. The wise always take counsel from all of his associates: good, mediocre and poor.” He hinted with a word of wisdom: “The good is he who considers all aspects and works in the common interest! The mediocre operates all by himself and sets the goal on himself! The poor is negligent and maintains a poor estimate of himself!”

No one on the payroll would admit of his own mediocrity. The generals of Rāvaṇa were aligned with him, their own survival depended on the Chief’s survival. Arrogance with blind ego is a personality handicap, flattery is another tool to appease a difficult master. There was a chorus: “We have a big Army, we have weapons of many kinds! You have vanquished everyone that has fought with you! You have stolen Kubera’s wealth, you have obtained Mandodarī from Maya, you have subjugated your brother-in-law Madhu! You have won over the snakes and the underworld. You subjugated Time. You have repulsed Death! You have overcome all kings from the entire kṣatriya clan on the earth. This Rāma is nothing! Your son Indrajit can handle him and all his forces by himself! Indrajit has received Lord S’iva’s boon to defeat anyone in battle! Please rest assured, Rāma is an ordinary mortal. He should not concern you!”

Rāvaṇa was not convinced. The generals started thumping chests. The Commander-in-Chief Prahasta went first: “I can handle any one – the devas, the demons, the unseemly, the flying, the crawling, what to talk about a man! We just trusted that Hanūmān. No forest-dweller would go alive as long as I am alive! I will eliminate the vānara clan from the earth!” Following him the angry Durmukha shouted: “No excuses are allowed. We have been assaulted. I go right now to vanquish the vānara clan wherever they are, in the sky, in the sea, or in the deep caves!” Another angry general Vajradaṁṣṭra held tight his blood-stained iron club and chimed in: “Our target is not Hanūmān, but that Rāma and Sugrīva with Lakṣmaṇa! I finish them off today. Let me tell you the trick -we go to Rāma in the guise of men. We tell him that we have been sent by his brother Bharata. He would certainly allow us in! Once inside, we take care of the rest! We trap them!”

Nikumbha, the son of Kumbhakarṇa commanded: “Let you all take care of our King, I alone will go and kill Rāma and all others right now!” The huge Bajrabāhu licked his lips as though in sight of fresh food: “Relax, take some wine and play around. Let me go myself and swallow up Sugrīva, Lakṣmaṇa, Hanūmān and Aṅgada immediately!” All generals - Nikumbha, Rabhasa, Sūryaśatru, Suptaghna, Yajñakopa, Agniketu, Durdharṣa, Rāśiketu, Indrajit, Prahasta, Virūpākṣa, Vajradaṁṣṭra, Dhūmrākṣa, Atikāya , Durmukha - took charge of their weapons and pounded around : “Today we will dispose of Rāma, Sugrīva, Lakṣmaṇa and finally that wretched Hanūmān!”

In the roar of thumping chests Vibhīṣaṇa was a dissenter: “O’ my brother! the methods of conciliation, gifts and dissension should be tried out before considering force. According to the books the force has to be applied only against an unruly enemy. How do you think you can overcome Rāma who is endowed with divine qualities? He is mightily unconquerable. Who can conceive the speed of Hanūmān who came leaping over the sea? One should not underestimate the strength of an enemy. What crime has Rāma committed while you have kidnapped his wife? Sītā in Laṅkā is a liability for us! Let Sītā be given back to Rāma before the vānaras take siege of Laṅkā. I am advising this for your own welfare. Please get rid of anger and follow reason. With such an act, we can all live happily with our families!”

Vibhīṣaṇa was foreseeing the mortal danger that Rāvaṇa was plunging himself into. He could not sleep through the night. Early next morning, he proceeded to the inner chambers of Rāvaṇa. He opened up with his heart-felt thoughts: “Misfortune has plagued us ever since Sītā has come to Laṅkā! The sacrificial fires have turned smoky, reptiles have invaded the kitchens, milk of the cows has dried up, well-cared for animals are getting tired and weak, crows are shirking all around, vultures are swarming, jackals are howling and herds of wolves are waiting at the city gates! It is no good. I strongly believe that you must consider restoring Sītā to Rāma. Though none of your other counselors have advised this way out of fear, they all agree with me in private!”

Infatuated Rāvaṇa had nothing to do with the wise counsel. He was blinded with passion. He showed bravado: “Rāma can never get back Sītā! He is incapable of standing before me in battle even though aided by the mighty Indra!” Rāvaṇa then proceeded to his assembly hall to survey his troop leaders. All lined up and paid respects by touching his feet. Vibhīṣaṇa joined in. Rāvaṇa announced Prahasta to be his troop commander. Prahasta set himself into action immediately and took up steps to direct forces to all gates and alert the rest for the defense of the city. After the city was shielded by the troops, Rāvaṇa went on a long lecture to motivate his troops.

O my friends, you have been together with me in the midst of happiness and misery, in gain and loss! You have joined with me in all my initiatives. We have been successful with our full deliberations. I had been thinking to address you about the current situation, but my brother Kumbhakarṇa had not woken up from his six-month sleep routine. Now since he is awake, I am addressing you! Let me admit my passion. I have brought away the wife of Rāma from the Daṇḍakāraṇya forest, but she does not submit herself to me! She begged for a year for Rāma to come and rescue her. I learn that Rāma is on the other side of the sea along with an army of monkeys, bears and other forest creatures. I see no way they would be capable of crossing the sea except possibly Rāma and his brother Lakṣmaṇa. I plead with you to find a way to kill the brothers such that Sītā would not have to be given back!”

Kumbhakarṇa retorted: “You should have asked us while you engaged yourself in bringing Sītā here. Such action of yours is unworthy of a King. A King righteous in action does not repent. Unrighteous act brings sin. One must reason right and wrong while undertaking an action. You are lucky that Rāma has not killed you already! Now you relax. I commit to wrap up the unworthy action initiated by you. I will eliminate the brothers in direct combat. Before they fire an arrow on me, I will drink up their blood! I will eat up all their forces. Do reduce your tension, O’ Brother! Sītā will eventually submit to you!”

Let Sai bless all!