by Carole Losee © 2005-2020


ELIZABETH SEEGER'S

THE RAMAYANA


CHAPTER TWELVE

HÁNUMAN'S LEAP

 

Hánuman climbed to the top of the nearest mountain and the others followed him and stood watching as he chose the best place to start his leap. He began to increase his size until he was as large as a cloud. He paid homage to the gods and turned to the east to salute his father, Vayu. Then he stiffened his arms and legs and crouched down, summoning all his strength and courage. Under the pressure of his limbs the mountain trembled; water gushed forth from its cracks, gold and silver veins split open and glittered in the sun, and the trees tossed and scattered their blossoms on all sides. Looking ahead toward his goal, he drew in his breath, pressed his feet firmly down, flattened his ears, curled his tail up over his back, and sprang into the air, his two arms outstretched before him. He was like a meteor rushing through the sky and his shadow cast on the waves looked like a mighty ship.

Hánuman sped on over the ocean, following the path of the birds. He scattered the clouds before him, sometimes entering them, then hidden by them, then emerging again, as the moon does. All the elements helped and blessed him, for they knew his errand: the sun did not scorch him, the winds favored him, and the water was calm. The gods and their attendant nymphs were watching him; they sang his praises and let fall celestial blossoms on his path.

Not all creatures were favorable to him. As he neared the shore of Lanka, a female demon of enormous size saw him sailing through the air and wished to devour him. She seized his shadow and he felt himself held fast, like a ship becalmed at sea. He looked down and saw her vast, wide-open mouth. "You are destined to be my food, O foremost of monkeys; therefore enter my mouth, for I am about to devour you," she said.

"I have been sent to find Sita, the beloved wife of Rama," answered Hánuman. "When I have found her and told Rama where she is, I will return and enter your mouth; I promise you in good faith."

"None may pass me alive," she said. "Enter my mouth and then go your way, if you can." She opened her mouth still wider and put herself in Hánuman's way.

He was angered by her persistence. "Then open your mouth wide enough to swallow me," he said. She opened it wider and he increased his size, and the wider she opened it the huger he became, hovering over her like a great cloud. Finally, when her jaws were about a mile apart, he changed into a tiny monkey and dashed into her mouth and out again. "I salute you!" he cried, growing big again and speeding on his way. "I have entered your mouth; now I go to seek Sita!"

After that nothing stood in his way. He soon beheld a wooded shore and landed there unseen by anyone. Though he had just crossed the unconquerable sea without pausing for breath, he did not feel at all tired.

"If any demon has seen me in the air and then meets me in this gigantic form, he will suspect and question me," he thought, and took his own shape again, a monkey whom no one would notice. He leaped up on a hill and from there he saw the noble city of Lanka perched on the summit of a mountain, its golden walls gleaming in the sun, its turrets decorated with gay flags and pennants. He passed through woods fragrant with honey and blossoms, through green fields, past ponds and rivers, and came to the city. Its golden walls rose high before him and behind them its palaces appeared like autumn clouds. He looked at it with awe, for it was like a city of the gods, and so it was, for the architect of the gods had built it long ago for Rávana's elder brother. He came to the northern gate, flanked with splendid towers, and saw that it was closely guarded by warriors with dreadful weapons. Hánuman's heart sank.

"Even if Rama could reach this place, what could he do?" he thought, sighing deeply. "There are only three among us who are powerful enough to cross the ocean--Angada, Sugriva and I. But let me first find Sita. I must be very careful, for everything depends on me. If I am caught, all will be lost. I think that I had better wait for the night and make myself very small in order not to be noticed."

So he sat in a tree, eating its fruit, until the sun set. When dusk came, he grew smaller until he was about as large as a cat, and sprang up onto the wall of Lanka. He saw wide streets and fine houses with balconies and archways resting on golden pillars. Each had its garden filled with flowers, and there were groves of trees and pools of clear water in the city's squares. He heard voices and laughter, the sounds of drums and cymbals, the clapping of hands, and the tinkle of women's girdles and anklets. Running along the roofs, leaping from one to another, he looked into the courtyards and the rooms, lit with lamps and torches, and noted the richness and beauty of those mansions, fragrant with flowers and incense. As he went from one to another the moon rose and filled the world with its light. It was at the full and shone like a seashell, like a lotus blossom or a swan resting on a lake; it rose into the sky as a lion comes forth from its cave, as a lord of elephants enters the forest, or as a king sets forth to view his dominion.

Hánuman could see everything now as clearly as if it were day. He came at last to a great palace which he knew must be Rávana's, for it was encircled by a wall decorated with royal symbols and guarded by fierce, armed demons. The wall surrounded a vast domain: the rooms and courts of the palace seemed endless, and beyond them were storehouses, armories, and stables for great elephants and war horses; besides the lovely gardens, there were groves of trees chosen for their blossoms and fragrance, where rare deer and birds of every kind abounded. It was in this palace that he would find Sita if she were still alive.

No one noticed the slender little monkey who might have wandered in from any garden, and Hánuman went boldly into the heart of the palace, where he beheld a vast and glorious hall. Its roof was held up by delicate columns of crystal and gold, its floor was laid with coral and ivory, partly covered with a wide carpet that showed all the kingdoms of the earth and its rivers and seas. Light stairways led to galleries and rooms above, lost in the haze of incense. The hall was lighted by lamps upheld by the branches of golden trees or hanging by jeweled chains from the galleries. "Is this paradise, or the city of Indra, the lord of heaven?" Hánuman asked himself.

The great hall was lighted and filled with people, but it was silent because they were all asleep, for the night was half spent. It was here that Rávana reveled with his queens and the lovely damsels, musicians, and dancers who waited upon him. All of them now lay on the wide carpet like lotuses and lilies that close their petals at evening. Their wreaths had fallen from their heads, their hair was unbound, and their silken garments, of every lovely hue, were in disarray. The limbs of the dancers were as beautiful in sleep as they were in the dance; the musicians still held their instruments in their hands as if they were beloved companions. One had her arms about her lute; another pressed her tambourine to her breast; the fingers of a third, in her sleep, still gently touched her drum. Rávana's queens slept on rich couches, and all were tired out with feasting and dancing and singing.

Then Hánuman shrank back with sudden fear; he ran up a stairway and stood on a landing, his body pressed against the wall. For he saw a splendid dais covered with rich rugs, and on it a couch under a white canopy that shone like the moon. There lay the king of the demons himself, Rávana, like a purple thundercloud, while the light playing on his diadem, his flashing earrings and jeweled ornaments made them look like lightning issuing from that cloud. His vast arms, scarred by the weapons of the gods, lay relaxed on the beautiful couch like two angry serpents asleep in a cave; a string of pearls lay across his mighty chest, and he breathed with a hissing sound. The damsels who served him lay at the foot of the couch and on the dais, clad in lovely garments and adorned with jewels and garlands.

"Sita could never be here," Hánuman thought to himself. "Apart from Rama she could not feast or adorn herself, nor would she ever yield to another lover." He left the banqueting hall and explored every room in the palace, going up and down, to and fro, opening some doors and closing others, till there was not the space of four fingers that he had left unseen. He was in despair, fearing that Sita must be dead and that Rama would also die if he brought no news of her. Then he came out from the palace into a beautiful grove of ashoka trees, and hope sprang up in his heart again.

"Here, surely, I shall find her," he thought. "She loved the forest, and she will have come here because it reminds her of her happy years with Rama."

He leaped into the branches and looked about him. All at once he saw a woman sitting under a neighboring tree, awake and weeping. Her yellow robe was faded and dusty, her thick hair was bound in one long braid down her back; she wore no jewels and was thin and weary. Around her, demon women lay asleep, and as she looked about her with eyes wide with fear, she was like a gazelle surrounded by a pack of hounds.

Hánuman sat in the tree, wondering if this were truly Sita and if so how he could speak to her without frightening her. While he sat there the sky lightened and dawn came; within the palace he heard music and the chanting of the Vedas. Then he saw Rávana striding into the grove in gorgeous raiment, followed by a crowd of women, some carrying lighted lamps, some with fans, some with cups filled with wine. They were still sleepy and heavy-eyed and had not yet bathed or put on fresh clothes, because Rávana was impatient to see Sita. Hánuman hid himself deeper among the leaves, for, brave as he was, he was struck with awe when he beheld Rávana.

"What splendor, what power, what majesty!" he thought. "If he were not evil, he could protect the three worlds and the gods themselves. Yet instead he is hated by all creatures. "

Rávana looked down upon Sita. Though her beauty was dimmed by sorrow, she was still radiant in her dignity and steadfastness. He flattered her and told her that she need have no fear of him, for he truly loved her and that the world would be hers if she would be his queen. "What can you hope from Rama?" he asked. "Even if he and his brother, on foot and with no army, could come here, what could they do against me?"

Sita had heard all this many times. She picked up a straw and held it between herself and Rávana. "Enjoy your own wives, O prowler of the night," she said. "Do not seek the faithful wife of another. I can no more leave Rama than the sunlight can leave the sun. Send me back to him if you wish to preserve your life and your kingdom, for otherwise you are doomed. Indeed, I believe that you were able to steal me away only because this evil deed would bring about your death. O vilest of demons, how can you escape from the wrath of my lord?"

Rávana looked at her furiously. "Truly, it is only because I love you that I do not slay you here and now," he said, hissing like a snake. "For each harsh word you have spoken, O daughter of Jánaka, you deserve a cruel death. I shall grant you just two months more of life. If you refuse me at their end, you shall be devoured by me." And he strode off, smoldering with wrath, surrounded by his women who tried in vain to win his favor.

When he had gone, the women who guarded Sita crowded round her, asking, "Why do you not wish to be the consort of this great king, who is descended from the gods, whom even the sun and the moon obey? O foolish one, why will you not live happily in the inner apartments, where every luxury will be yours, where a hundred women will wait upon you and this mighty lord will cherish and adore you? We ask this for your own good, O lovely one."

"You ask me to do what I can never do," answered Sita, weeping, her head bowed. "I have but one lord and I live and breathe only because I believe that he will come and rescue me from your hands. If he knew where I am captive, he would destroy Rávana and burn down this great city in his wrath. I may die before he finds me, but I will never yield to Rávana."

Her words infuriated the demon women, who came close to her with angry looks and gestures. "So our great king, Rávana, is not worthy of you?" asked one. "Why do we not kill her at once and be rid of her?" But an older and more prudent demon held them back and said. "Do not lay hands upon the daughter of Jánaka! I had a terrible dream last night that made my hair stand of end, for it foretold the death of the demons and the triumph of Rama, her lord."

"Tell us your dream!" said the others.

"I saw an airy chariot made of ivory, drawn by a hundred white swans," said the old woman. "Rama and Lákshmana stood in it, clad in shining garments. Then I saw Sita, clothed in purest white, standing on a mountain in the midst of the sea, waiting for them; and she was united to her lord, as the sunlight is to the sun. After that I saw her rise from Rama's arms and stroke the faces of the sun and the moon with her hand. Again I saw Rama and his brother seated on a mighty elephant with four tusks, and Sita was mounted on another elephant, led by her lord, and they came and stood over Lanka. Then I beheld Rávana fall headlong on the earth, where a dark woman, clothed in red, put a rope about his neck and dragged him to the realm of death. I beheld the lovely city of Lanka, her gateways and arches shattered, fall into the sea!

"If this comes true and Rama knows how you have tormented his beloved wife, he will kill you all. I find no fault in her; she is virtuous and true to her lord; she does not deserve the misfortunes that have befallen her, and I believe that she will soon be delivered from them. You would do better to console her and beg for her forgiveness."

Sita's heart was comforted by the telling of this dream. She lifted her head and said to the women, "If this proves true, I will protect you all and no harm will come to you."

 

Hánuman had seen and heard all that had occurred and he now knew beyond a doubt that he had found Sita. "How can I show myself to her without frightening her?" he thought. "No matter what shape I take she will think me just another demon. I will speak to her of Rama; that will make her trust me." He jumped into the tree under which she sat and spoke to her in his sweetest voice, from a low branch above her head. He told her the whole story of Rama, praising him and dwelling on all his virtues; he told her about the alliance with Sugriva and said, "I am Surgriva's minister, the monkey Hánuman. I come to you as Rama's messenger and bring you good tidings; he is well and offers salutation to you, O divine Sita. He brother Lákshmana also bows before you and wishes you well. Trust me, O lovely one!"

Sita brushed back the hair that had fallen over her face and looked up, trying to find the speaker. Among the branches over her head she saw a delicate little monkey, clad in white raiment. "This must be a dream," she said to herself, "and yet it cannot be, for I do not sleep, from fear and sorrow. My mind must be distraught and this is an illusion; yet I see this monkey clearly. I do not believe that he is one of my tormentors, because my heart is delighted as I look upon him. Welcome, O gentle monkey," she said aloud, "and tell me all about Rama, how he looks and what he does and also about Lákshmana! If they are well, why do they not deliver me? Why does my lord not burn up the earth with his wrath? Does he care less for me because of my long absence?"

"O glorious princess, Rama does not know where you are," answered Hánuman. "He has searched and sorrowed for you ever since you were carried away. Now, as soon as I have spoken to him, he will come with a mighty army of monkeys and set you free. Take heart, O lovely one; he thinks of nothing but you. Behold this ring which he gave me so that you would trust me and know that I come from him."

She took the ring and gazed at it, overcome by joy. Then she listened eagerly as Hánuman told her all that had happened since Rávana stole her away, the months of anxious search and his own leap across the ocean; she asked a hundred questions and he answered them. "Now I have told you all," said Hánuman. "Your grief will soon be ended, for Rama will come and will rid the city of Lanka of all its demons. But I myself can save you, O daughter of Jánaka. I can bear you on my shoulders across the ocean, and this very day you shall behold Rama and his brother. Do not doubt me; mount upon my shoulders and I will carry you safely to him!"

Sita smiled at the thought. "How could your little body bear me so far, O lion among monkeys?"

Hánuman's pride was touched; he took on the mighty shape in which he had crossed the ocean and stood before Sita like a cloud or a wooded hill. "O mighty one, now I behold your power and know that you could indeed bear me away," she aid. "But I fear that your speed would make me giddy and that I should fall into the ocean and be the prey of monsters. Besides, these wicked ones would see us and pursue us and you could not fight them and protect me at the same time. If they took me from you they would either kill me at once or hide me so that I could never be found by my lord. Furthermore, O most excellent of the forest folk, since my heart is wholly given to Rama, I may not touch the body of anyone but him. When Rávana seized me in his arms and carried me off, I was helpless and had no control of my own body; but I could not touch you willingly. O best of monkeys, return at once and bring Rama and his beloved brother here with all speed!"

"You have spoken truly , O noble one," said Hánuman. "It was my devotion to you and to your lord that made me speak as I did, in order to bring you to him as quickly as possible. Since you cannot come with me, what token will you send to him so that he will know that I have truly seen you and spoken to you?"

"This is the best token that you could carry to my dear lord," said Sita, her eyes full of tears. "Ask him whether he remembers one day when we dwelt at the foot of Mount Chitrakuta. We had bathed and were resting near the river, when a crow came and pecked at the fruit in my hand. I drove it away, but it came back and attacked, me, wounding me with its beak. He was asleep but I woke him with my cry and when he saw that I was hurt he was angry. He plucked a blade of grass and turned it into a fiery weapon which he threw at the crow. It flew hithter and thither, trying to escape, but wherever it went, the shaft followed it until at last, exhausted, it fell at Rama's feet, begging for mercy. Remind him of that time, O Hánuman, and wish him happiness. Then offer obeisance to that noble prince, and brave Lákshmana, who left everything to follow his brother to the forest. Give to Sugriva, his ministers and to all the monkeys my wishes for their happiness. Say again and again to Rama, "I have but two months to live, O destroyer of your foes! Make haste to deliver me!' Tell him of my hard and bitter suffering and all the demons' threats!" She took from her robe a jeweled band that used to bind her hair; in it was set a great pearl that adorned her forehead in happier days. She asked Hánuman to give it to Rama and he slipped it on his finger, since it was too small for his arm.

"Do not be anxious or sorrowful, O noble Queen," he said. "Soon you will see those valiant monkeys, thick as clouds, roaring upon the mountains of Lanka, fighting with their nails and teeth, like lions and tigers. Who can overcome Rama? Who can equal Lákshmana? Have patience until we come!"

Then he took leave of her, and, first bowing low with joined palms, he walked around their thrice, keeping her on his right.

 

Seeger, The Ramayana, Print edition, op. cit., pp. 153-166.


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