The Ramayana: A "Telling" of the Ancient Indian Epic IV

"Lakshmana was right," cried Rama. His heart was filled with fear. He ran as fast as he could. Then he heard a voice that sounded exactly like his own cry out, "Lakshmana! Help me!" Rama knew he had been tricked. He hoped his brother would ignore these cries. "Lakshmana," sighed Sita. "That is your brother, my husband. He is crying for help. You must go to him." "But Rama told me not to leave your side."

Sita insisted, "You must help him." "I cannot," replied Lakshmana. "You cannot? Are you not worried for my husband's safety? How can you just stand there? Do you not help him because he is only your half-brother? Or because he is my husband?" "Then I shall find him," said Sita. "No!" said Lakshmana. "If you do not go after him, Lakshmana, I shall kill myself." Finally Lakshmana made his decision. Before he left, he drew a circle around the entrance to the hut. "Sita," he said, "do not step beyond this magical circle. Inside of it you will be safe."

Lakshmana grasped his quiver and ran in the direction of Rama's voice. From behind a tree, Ravana watched his plan unfold perfectly. In an instant, he changed himself into a sanyasi, an old wise man, clutching a begging bowl. Seeing this common sight, and knowing it was her duty to feed the poor, Sita offered the man fruit. Then Ravana noticed the magical circle. He knew that as long she remained within the circle, he could not get her. He had to get Sita outside of it. "Take this offering," said Sita.

"I am a sanyasi. I cannot enter your home. To accept your gracious offering you must leave your home." Sita hesitated. She had always helped the poor. How could she ignore this man? Disregarding Lakshmana's warning, Sita stepped beyond the circle. Then like a tiger springing from high grass, Ravana grabbed Sita and placed her in his chariot. Sita screamed, but it was too late. The chariot rose into the sky and sped off to Lanka. As Ravana headed south, Jatayu, the great eagle, saw Sita. Jatayu spread his huge wings and flew up to the chariot. "Free Sita," Jatayu declared "or I shall kill you."

Ravana ignored the threat. Jatayu tore off one of the chariot's railings. He gently removed Sita from the chariot and set her on the earth. In blind fury, Jatayu attacked tearing off Ravana's arms and heads. Blood spurted from Ravana's mutilated body. As fast as Ravana lost an arm or head, it grew back. Jatayu was growing tired from the fight. Sensing this, Ravana drew his sword and cut off both of Jatayu's wings. The brave bird fell to the ground dying. Sita caressed Jatayu. She thanked him for trying to save her. In an instant, Ravana pulled Sita back into the chariot and staggered back to Lanka.

Once in the city, Ravana tried to convince Sita to stay in Lanka and be his queen. But Sita would not listen. She loved only Rama. Hearing this Ravana led Sita out of the palace and into a garden. He guarded her with a hundred demons. Back in the forest, Lakshmana found Rama unharmed. Terror filled Lakshmana's heart. He, too, had been tricked. Upon returning to the hut, Rama cried out,"Sita is gone. What will I do?" Rama knelt down and cried uncontrollably. "What must she be suffering?" he wondered. Rama gathered his strength. He said, "This act shall not go unpunished. I will slay Ravana and his entire family."

Rama's Stay in Kiskindha

Rama and Lakshmana began their search for Sita. They entered Kiskindha, the kingdom of the monkeys. Kiskindha was located south of Kosala. Soon they came to a mountain where Sugriva lived. He was the ruler of the monkey kingdom. Hanuman, a devoted follower of Sugriva, guarded the entrance to the kingdom. Seeing the brothers approach, he ordered them to halt. "Who are you?" Hanuman asked. "I am Rama, the exiled prince of Ayodhya. This is my brother, Lakshmana. We wish to see your king. I am hoping he can help us find my wife, Sita. She was taken by Ravana."

Rama and Lakshmana met Sugriva. They told their story. Sugriva said, "I, too, am in exile. My brother seized my kingdom and my queen." Sugriva paused. He thought about Rama's story. Then said. "Help me regain my throne and I will help you find your wife. One of my people saw Sita being carried off to Lanka. As she passed overhead, she dropped this." Rama reached out his hand. It was one of Sita's ornaments. Tears filled Rama's eyes. Rama and Lakshmana did as they were asked. They defeated Sugriva's brother and won back the throne.

It was now the rainy season. Rama and Lakshmana returned to the forest. They could not begin their search for Sita until the rains stopped in autumn. Rama grew more depressed. The rain seemed to Rama like tears from the gods. Then when the sun shone upon the land again, Hanuman arrived. Sugriva had fulfilled his promise. The monkey warrior was accompanied by a great monkey army. Hanuman divided his troops into four divisions. Each division would go in search of Sita for one month. At the end of the month, three of the four divisions returned with no word of Sita's whereabouts. Only Hanuman's division had yet to return. Hanuman's Prank

One day as Hanuman and his men searched for Sita, they saw a great bird on a mountainside. This bird was the brother of Jatayu. Hanuman told the bird about his search. Then he asked, "Do you know where Sita is?" "Yes," the bird said, "She is in the Asoka garden near Ravana's palace." "How do I get to her?" asked Hanuman. "You must cross a great ocean," the bird said. Hanuman's army marched to the mighty ocean. There was no way they could cross this great body of water. "We must return," said one of the monkey warriors. "How can we get to the other side?"

In a loud voice, Hanuman declared, "I will cross this ocean and rescue Sita." Hanuman prayed for strength. He saw the unhappy image of Rama. Hanuman prayed to Rama. Then incredibly, he began to grow. He grew so huge that the ground began to shake. With a great cry, "Victory to Rama," Hanuman leapt into the sky. The monkey army cheered as their leader flew across the great ocean. The gods smiled down on Hanuman as they admired his courage and devotion. Nothing could stop Hanuman. On the horizon, he could see Lanka. As he approached the city, he changed back to his normal size. Once in Lanka, he set out to find Sita.

Soon he came upon Ravana's palace. He looked in each of the palace gardens, but he could not find Sita. How could he return without Sita or some word of her whereabouts. Then he saw a grove of trees. Beneath one of the trees was the most beautiful woman Hanuman had ever seen. She was crying and repeating, "Rama, Rama." "I have found her," Hanuman declared. "Lord Rama will be so happy." Hanuman looked around. He noticed that Sita was surrounded by many she-demons. Just as Hanuman was about approach her, he saw Ravana coming. The king of Lanka was sat on the ground next to Sita. He was saying, "Sita, come with me. Come live in my palace. I will make you my queen. You can have anything you wish."

Hanuman hid from view. Sita spoke: "How dare you speak to me this way. You have kidnapped me. I am Rama's wife, King Janaka's daughter. Rama will come for me. He will rescue me and kill you and all you demons. If you let me go, I will try to spare your life." Ravana seemed hurt by Sita's words. Anger and sorrow filled Ravana's heart. He knew at that moment he would never have Sita. "Then you shall remain here," he said as he turned away. Hanuman did not move a muscle. He waited and waited. The she-demons guarding Sita were getting tired. One by one they fell asleep.

Here was his chance to speak to Sita. Hanuman approached her and knelt at her feet. "Do not fear. I am Hanuman, Rama's servant and messenger. He has sent me to find you. He cries for your return." "How do I know you are telling me the truth? You may be just another demon in disguise." Sita said. Hanuman reached into his pocket and removed Rama's ring. "Here," he said, "This should prove that Rama has sent me." Sita pressed her hands to her face and cried. "I am sorry I doubted you. Go to Rama and tell him where I am. Tell him I will wait for him to save me." Sita gave Hanuman a jewel. "Here. Take this to my lord as proof of my love."

Suddenly the demons awoke. They attacked Hanuman. He killed them with ease. Hanuman was finally taken to the palace. Ravana ordered him killed. One of Ravana's wise men reminded the king, "It is not permitted to kill a messenger." "Then we shall punish him. Set his tail on fire. Let him return home that way," Ravana declared. As the king's men wrapped Hanuman's tail in cloth to set it on fire he grew it longer and longer. The more they wrapped, the longer Hanuman grew his tail. Finally, Ravana ordered, "Set it on fire!" cried Ravana.

With his long tail on fire, Hanuman flew into the sky. He decided to set the city of Lanka ablaze to punish Ravana. He flew low over the city and set each building, temple, palace and garden on fire. Flames shot high into the sky. As he flew over Asoka garden he made sure Sita was safe. Then before he headed home, he put his tail in the ocean to put out the fire.

The Great War

 Hanuman received a great welcome from his warriors. They hurried back to tell Rama the good news. By now Rama had given up all hope of ever seeing Sita alive again. When Rama saw Hanuman returning, he ran to him. "I pray you have word of Sita." Without saying a word, Hanuman gave Rama Sita's jewel.

Rama praised Hanuman for his bravery and said, "You have given me reason to live again." Meanwhile back at Lanka palace, Vibhishana, Ravana's brother, tried to save Sita's life. "Let her go," he said, "so we can save our kingdom from Rama's anger." Ravana responded angrily, "If I return Sita, I will be ridiculed by all the gods and demons." warned again, "Do not underestimate Rama's strength. It is said that Rama is an incarnation of Vishnu sent to earth to destroy all that is unholy. With his powers he will destroy Lanka. Why do you tempt such a fate?" "I fear no one," Ravana roared. "Then," Vibhishana said, "I can no longer remain in Lanka. Save yourself brother."

"Then go," shouted Ravana. "I have no place in my kingdom for the weak and timid." Vibhishana left the palace and magically flew to Rama. Arriving at his camp, Vibhishana declared, "I am the brother of Ravana. I tried to convince my brother to return your wife. But he refused and I left Lanka. I wish to join you and fight at your side." Rama responded, "Vibhishana, you have rejected evil for good. You are welcomed here." Now Rama had to make a battle plan. Vibhishana told him that Ravana and his evil son, Indrajit, had great magical powers. His army was made up of millions of demons.

For his honesty and bravery, Rama promised Vibhishana that he would become the new king of Lanka. Rama stood on the shoreline of the great ocean and spoke to the ocean god. "Hear me," he called. "I am Rama. I have weapons that are beyond imagination. In an instant I can dry your ocean. If you wish to avoid this fate, show me how to reach Lanka." The ocean said, "Rama, here is Nala, son of the great builder. He will build you a bridge across these waters. I shall support that bridge." With the help of the monkey army, Nala put up a bridge made of wood, rocks, and stones. Every creature helped in its own way. It took five days to complete the bridge to Lanka.

Rama, Hanuman, and the monkey army crossed the bridge by nightfall. As they crossed into Lanka they shouted, "Victory to Rama!" Hanuman's army surrounded the city. Rama knew that Sita would soon be safe. Ravana called for two of his demons. "Change yourselves into monkeys. Move among the monkey army and find out what you can." The demons entered The camp and Vibhishana recognized them. They were brought to Rama. He decided not to punish them. He said, "Send a message to your king. Tell him that I have come to save my wife and kill him." Ravana was angered by his inability to learn about Rama's plans. Enraged he called upon one of his demons. "Make me an exact copy of Rama's head. Then bring it to me," he said.

Ravana took the head to Sita. "O, Sita," he said, "Rama has failed in his attempt to rescue you. His army has been destroyed. That is the end of your hope. The time has come to change your mind and become my queen." Sita looked at Ravana and said, "I do not believe any of this." Ravana responded: "I thought you might say that. So I brought the head of your husband, soaked in blood and sand, to prove my words." Sita collapsed wailing, "Alas, O Rama, you have followed your dharma. But I have been widowed. Widowhood is a terrible tragedy in the life of a woman devoted to dharma. You came to save me, but you gave your own life. O Rama you are happy now. You have rejoined your beloved father in heaven. But what shall I do?

O Rama, I am the terrible woman who has brought all this upon you. I pray take me too. Take me with you, my love." Angered by Sita's devotion to Rama, Ravana stormed from the garden. When he returned to the palace, he ordered all his troops to march toward the city gates. For four days both armies stood poised. On the morning of the fifth day, the great battle began. Each side suffered terrible losses. Blood filled the streets of Lanka. Bodies of fallen warriors were everywhere. Rama and Lakshmana fought gallantly. Hanuman was injured in a duel. Vibhishana showed great valor.

Indrajit, Ravana's son, rained poison arrows upon Rama and Lakshmana. So overwhelming was this attack, that the two brothers suffered many wounds. "I shall send both of you to the house of death," cried Indrajit. Rama and Lakshmana were bleeding heavily, but they fought on. Indrajit hurled even more powerful weapons at them. Each weapon took a new toll. Rama and Lakshmana fell to the ground unconscious. Vibhishana prayed to the gods for their safety. "Protect Rama and Lakshmana while they are hurt." While the monkey warriors stood by grief-stricken, the battle raged on without Rama and Lakshmana. Ravana's demons made themselves invisible and attacked the heart of the monkey army. Ravana's forces were merciless. Thousands were killed by unseen attackers. Seeing his forces in retreat, Hanuman charged on with a great cry. "Victory to Rama! Death to Ravana!"

With his remarkable strength, Hanuman smashed the skull of every visible enemy. He challenged any of Ravana's men to advance. Seeing Hanuman's great courage, the monkey-army rallied behind their leader and fought harder. Ravana's army was losing its advantage. Angered by this news, he decided to join the battle. He climbed in his chariot and soared above Lanka in search of Rama. By now Rama and Lakshmana, having regained consciousness but still dazed, returned to the fight. Ravana viewed the battle scene from the clouds. Then he spotted Lakshmana. He aimed his magic bow and fired. The arrow cut through the air and struck Rama's brother in the chest. He collapsed. Hanuman rushed to Lakshmana's side. He gently lifted the wounded prince and carried him to safety.

Just when things were starting to look up for Rama's warriors, Indrajit returned to the battle. He was now invisible. All the monkey soldiers could hear was the mocking laughter of Indrajit as he soared over them. Indrajit's weapons took an enormous toll on the monkeys. By the time he returned to the palace, every monkey was either wounded or killed. Only Rama, Hanuman, and Vibhishana remained standing. Rama looked upon around and said, "The battle has been lost." Then in a weakened voice, Jambuvan, one of the leaders of the army, said, "No, Rama. There is still a way we can regain the advantage and defeat Ravana. Tell Hanuman to go to Kailasa Mountain. There he will see a blazing hill of medicinal herbs. Have him bring these herbs back before sunrise and our army will be saved."

Hanuman rose above the earth and flew off with great speed. When he reached the mountain, he saw the hill that Jambuvan described. But he could not find the herbs. Realizing time was short, he uprooted the entire hill and carried it back to Lanka. Hanuman flew off balancing the hill in one hand. When he returned to Lanka, the monkey warriors began inhaling the healing air of the herbs. One-by-one, they rose to their feet and regained their strength. Even Lakshmana recovered from his near-mortal wound. Hanuman returned the hill to its original place.

Rama embraced Hanuman and said, "I know no one who shows your valor and devotion." With that, Hanuman cried out, "Victory to Rama!" Using all their weapons, Rama, Lakshmana, Vibhishana, and Hanuman finally overpowered Indrajit. Ravana's son had fought long and hard, but now he was dead. Hearing of his son's death, Ravana decided now was the time to kill Rama and put an end to this bloodshed. Arming himself with his most powerful weapons, Ravana left Lanka palace. He spotted Rama leading the monkey army toward the city gates. Ravana fired a magic arrow at Rama. Seeing the arrow, Rama split it with his own arrow.

Ravana tried everything to overpower his foe. But each time, Rama had an answer. The fight lasted two days. Rama could feel his strength leaving him. He turned to one of his sages and said, "My spirit is nearly gone. My arms and legs ache. My heart wants to go on, but my body can no longer respond." The sage said to Rama: "Listen carefully to this secret. It is the heart of the sun that will bring you victory and the auspiciousness to destroy Ravana. Worship the sun, O Rama. He alone protects all beings. Pray to him." As Ravana was reloading his weapons, Rama knelt to pray to the sun.

Then the sage said, "Rama, you will this very moment conquer Ravana." After looking at the sun, Rama felt his strength return. His heart was filled with joy. Ravana attacked again. Both armies stood by and watched. Rama reached for his most powerful weapon, the Brahma-missile, to be used only when all else had failed. He took it to his hands. As he did so, the earth shook. All the warriors covered their eyes and fell to the earth.

Rama stood poised. He aimed the weapon at the on-rushing Ravana. He fired. The missile struck Ravana's chest and exploded. Ravana fell dead. "Victory to Rama!" shouted his men. The gods praised Rama. The earth became steady once more. The wind blew softly. The sun shone brighter than ever. Vibhishana knelt at the body of his dead brother and burst into tears. "Why didn't you listen to my words? Why were you so overcome with Sita and power?" Rama touched Vibhishana's shoulder and said, "Our ancients say that you should not mourn a mighty fallen warrior on the battlefield. Victory is the monopoly of none. Weep not for one who is no more. Rise, for we still have work to do."

Vibhishana prepared the funeral rites for his brother. "My brother was so evil, people will try to keep me from giving him an honorable funeral." Rama replied, "No one will stop this rite. Hostility ends with death. He is your brother and he is mine too. You must honor him with this rite." Following the funeral rite, Rama made Vibhishana the new king of Lanka. Vibhishana's wife and maidens took Sita from the garden. A beautiful sari was placed around her. Jewels made her sparkle. A scarlet spot adorned her forehead. Sita could not wait to see her victorious husband. Rama entered the palace and Sita bowed at his feet. He felt both love and sorrow for his wife. "We shall return to Ayodhya," he said.

Period After Coronation Once back in Ayodhya, Rama seemed troubled. Many people in the city expressed doubt about Sita's faithfulness while in Lanka. One day a messenger came to Rama and said, "I fear that the people of our kingdom have lost faith in your wife's virtue. Ravana, they say, made her unfit to be your queen. Even the lowest men whisper, 'How can Rama forget that Sita lived with another man?" Rama stood at the window of his room and looked out upon Ayodhya. Sorrow filled his heart. Lakshmana came to see his brother. Rama turned to him and asked, "What is a king? Kings cannot be blamed or ridiculed. They are above all other men. They are beyond doubt."

"I know of what you speak of, " his brother replied. "I have heard the ugly rumors and lies." "I have tried to think of a way to deal with this problem. I cannot rule Ayodhya and not have my people respect my queen. Therefore, with great sorrow and resolve, I have made a decision. Before dawn tomorrow you and Sumantra will take Sita back to the forest. Leave her there and return." "But she will die." "This is the nature of the world," Rama said. "This is what I must do." Lakshmana said sadly, "The dharma law is difficult to know and sometimes more difficult to follow. This act is wrong. There is no way that Sita would ever have disobeyed you or done what the people say. I know this in my heart."

"Do as I say, my brother." Before sunrise, Ayodhya was shroudded in dense fog. It semed as if the sun refused to show itself this fateful day. Sumantra, Lakshmana and Sita crossed the river in a small fishing boat. Lakshmana sat at Sita's side. Sita could see him crying. "What is wrong?" she asked. "My brother, your husband has listened too long and too well to the words of the people of Ayodhya. They say you were unfaithful to Rama. And to avoid any more disgrace, our king has ask me to escort you back to the forest." Sita turned to Sumantra. "Do not look for reason here," he said. "This act is beyond men's knowing. Rama will live alone from this day forth."

"Why must this be so?" cried Sita. Sumantra continued: "All the universe is a sign to be read rightly. War and peace, love and separation are hidden gateways we must pass to get to other worlds. Let us not grow old thinking that truth is what most people see or say it is. Sita, you will get back to Rama only by entering this forest. This world is like a breath on a mirror. It does not last. Have patience." Sumantra and Lakshmana returned Sita to the forest. Sita smiled and said, "Good-bye, Sumantra. You have touched my heart with your wise words and given me new hope. Good-bye Lakshmana, my borther-in-law. Be well."

Sita stood on the river bank as Sumantra and Lakshmana's boat crossed the glistening river. Then she heard the soft voice of the river goddess say, "Let life go, Sita. Do not outlive life. Come home. Come home. Dive into me." Sita was about to step into the river when she heard the voice of an old man. "Do not enter the river," he said. Sita looked at the shaggy old man and asked, "Who are you?" "I am Valmiki, a poet and a hermit. I live in this forest. Make my home yours." He led Sita to his home in the forest. There Sita gave birth to Rama's twins sons, Kusa and Lava. For the next twelve years she and her sons lived with Valmiki.

During that time, Valmiki composed a poem called the Ramayana. When he finished it, he taught the poem to the boys line-by-line. He taught them how to sing the poem while playing the flute and drum. The boys learned well. In Ayodhya, King Rama decided to hold a great public festival. He invited everyone in the kngdom to take part. There would be music, story-telling and singing. Kusa and Lava came to Ayodhya to recite what Valmiki called the earth's first poem. On the first day of the festival, the boys began singing the story. Rama heard about this wonderful poem and came to see it performed. After hearing only a few lines, Rama asked, "What is this beautiful song called?"

"Ramayana," said Kusa. Rama looked at the twins. His heart ached with emotion. "These are my sons!" he declared. He sent a messenger to find Sita and convince her to return to Ayodhya. The next day Sita returned. She was dressed in bright gold and scarlet. Rama was overjoyed. Sita approached Rama and said, "Let me prove my innocence before you once and for all." "I give you permission," Rama replied. Then Sita took a step back and said, "Mother earth, if I have been faithful to my husband, take me home." The earth rumbled. The ground rolled and moved beneath Sita. With a great noise the ground opened and took Sita back. The earth shook again and closed.

For that moment, everywhere in the whole universe, there was harmony. "I will never see Sita again as long as I live on earth," Rama said. "It is a brief life given to us." Rama ruled Ayodhya for a thousand years. One day Rama he thought, "Where is my life? And where am I? I want to go home now. I was born of the god, Vishnu, and it is time for me to return to him." Rama left the palace and entered the crowded street of Ayodhya. Everyone stood quietly as their king passed. Rama continued walking until he reached the banks of the Sarayu.

He touched its water with his feet. All the gods looked down on him. Even Brahma, the creator, came in person to see Rama. He spoke to Rama: "Come, O Vishnu, join your brothers, Lakshmana, Satrughna, and Bharata. Return to Vishnu. Return to heaven." With Brahma's words, Rama smiled and stepped into the river. All of Rama's followers entered the river after him and all went to heaven. Rama was home.The Ramayana was loved and praised by all. The gods were pleased. Lava and Kusa traveled throughout India singing Valmiki's glorious poem about their father.

Wherever they went they said, "Men who listen to the Ramayana will live a long life. They will be free of sins and will have many sons. Women who listen to the Ramayana will be blessed with children like Rama and his brothers. All those who listen please Rama. Such is the glory of this story. May all who recite it or listen to it regularly find increased love, wisdom, and strength."

    

Copyright 1998-99  USMTA Inc.  All rights reserved. Revised: October 16, 2004