by Carole Losee © 2005-2020


ELIZABETH SEEGER'S

THE RAMAYANA


CHAPTER FOURTEEN

THE ADVANCE ON LANKA

 

The two brothers, Sugriva, and that whole assemblage of monkeys listened spellbound while Hánuman told his story. "No one but Hánuman could have carried out so hard and dangerous a task," said Rama when he finished. "What courage and what power! I wish that I had any fitting reward to give him! This is all that I can do." And he clasped the monkey to him in a close embrace.

"Now let us depart, O Sugriva," he said, turning to the great king. "All the favorable stars are rising and we shall be victorious. Let a guard of the strongest and bravest of your troops go ahead to explore the way and to lead us through woods where fruit, honey, and fresh water may be found. Let them send scouts into ravines and thickets to see that there is no enemy ambush. I myself, mounted upon the shoulders of Hánuman, and Lákshmana, riding on those of Angada, like the gods on their celestial elephants, will march in the center, while the wise and mighty elders protect the rear."

Sugriva called to all the monkeys, and they came leaping and shouting from the caves and mountainsides. Those who had searched for Sita in the north, east, and west had all returned within the month's time with nothing accomplished; now, with their purpose made clear and a glorious battle ahead of them, they assembled in a moment and were ready to start, while those who had gone with Hánuman considered themselves the leaders and went bounding on ahead. All of them were in high spirits, turning handsprings and playing leapfrog as they went. They avoided cities and public roads, keeping to the woods where they always found their favorite food and plenty of water. They surged ahead, a very ocean of monkeys, raising a great cloud of dust and covering the earth. They rested by lakes and rivers, passed over forested mountains and across plains, full of joy and running like the wind. Rama and Lákshmana rode high and swiftly on the shoulders of their friends, happy to be off at last, after the long months of waiting.

"When you have slain Rávana and freed Sita, we shall return to Ayodhya, for the years of our exile will be over," said Lákshmana. "Everywhere I see favorable omens, O King of men: a fresh wind follows us, the sun shines clear, the star of our dynasty gleams brightly while that of the demons is in a bad position, there is plenty of fruit and sweet water and the trees are flowering out of season. How splendid is this army of monkeys!"

"When I have put those demons to flight and my shafts have pierced the breast of Rávana, Sita will live anew as the autumn moon shines forth again after the rain clouds have gone," answered Rama.

At last they reached the shore of the ocean and Sugriva ordered the whole army to encamp there, where it looked like another, tawny-colored ocean. Their chatter as they gazed and wondered at those limitless waters was louder than the thunder of the waves. The leaders of the army with Rama and Lákshmana met to take counsel together.

"How shall we and this mighty army cross the ocean, O chief of the forest rangers?" asked Rama. "Only Hánuman, Angada and you are able to leap across it. Unless there is a bridge to carry us, Lanka can never be reached."

"There stands Nala, O my friend," answered Sugriva. "He is the son of the architect of the gods who built Lanka itself; he has his father's skill and power. He will build a bridge for us." Nala came forward with joined hands. "I have not spoken of my powers, since no one asked me concerning them," he said. "I can build a causeway over the Sea-God's domain, if all the army will help me."

Rama rejoiced and ordered the monkeys to do whatever Nala desired. Under his orders they dashed up the mountainside and began to tear down mighty trees and rocks, rolling or pushing them down the hill or flinging them into the sea with a mighty splash. Hundred and thousands of them rushed hither and thither, some uprooting the trees and loosing great blocks of stone, others moving them in the shore where hundreds more put them in place just as Nala told them to do. The great causeway, on the second day, began to stretch out across the sea.

 

At this same time Rávana was holding a council in Lanka. He sat on his splendid throne, surrounded by his warriors, his ministers, his brothers, and his sons. He had many brothers, some of whom joined him in his evil deeds, as Khara did, whom Rama had slain in the Dándaka forest. Others held aloof or tried to hold him back, for all of them were learned in the Vedas and knew the path of virtue, whether or not they followed it. Rávana's eldest brother, whom he had driven out of Lanka, had mounted his airy chariot, fashioned by the same divine architect who had built his city, and had traveled far to the north and taken up his abode in the Himalayan mountains. The gods had made him guardian of all the treasure of the earth; he was Kúvera, God of Wealth. Yet Rávana had pursued him even there and had robbed him of the marvelous chariot, which he coveted.

Now, in his council hall, a younger brother sat next to him; his name was Kumbhakarna and he was of immense size and terrifying to behold. He ate so much that the gods feared that he might devour every living thing; therefore they had condemned him to sleep his life away, waking only twice a year for a single day, to keep himself alive. This was one of his waking moments. Next to him sat Vibíshana, who had saved Hánuman's life and was deeply troubled because of his brother's wickedness, especially the carrying away of Sita. Near them were other brothers and Rávana's sons, foremost among them Indrajita, powerful and arrogant.

Although he blazed with glory and was surrounded by these mighty warriors and counselors, Rávana's heart was heavy. "Our great fortified city has been set on fire and turned upside down by a mere monkey," he said to them, "And now my spies tell me that Rama, surrounded by a host of heroic apes, has reached the northern shore of the ocean. What should I do now? Tell me what you think the best plan for me to adopt?"

The leaders of his army gave him bad advice, for they were very proud. "Have you not defeated all your enemies, O King--gods, demons, and those great serpents, the Nagas?"said one. "Have you not mounted into the sky and descended into the depths of the ocean and always come forth victorious? It is not worthy of you to fear a crowd of apes led by a mere man. Send forth your son Indrajita and he will destroy them all!"

"We had been feasting and most of us were drunk when that impudent monkey took us by surprise and deceived us with his tricks," said another. "As long as I live that ranger of the woods shall never return here alive." "What does that puny and miserable monkey matter?" cried another, brandishing his great mace. "It is Rama, his brother, and Sugriva whom we must destroy. Give me leave, my lord, to kill them all today, singlehanded, with my mace!" So they boasted, one after another, until they were all on their feet, shouting and brandishing their weapons.

Then Vibíshana rose and begged them to be seated. He spoke quietly to his brother: "It is foolish to belittle Rama, O vanquisher of your foes. He has tremendous forces at his disposal; he is in the right, for he always follows the path of virtue, and you will not be able to defeat him. What wrong has he done to you, O prowler of the night, that you should go to his retreat and carry off his wife? If he slew our brother and his host in the forest, he did so in self-defense. It is because you stole Sita away that we are now in great danger. Give her back to him before he destroys this city with all its defenders; give her back to him at once and let us live here happily with our wives and children! Everyone in your court knows that you are in the wrong, O lord of demons, but they dare not speak truly to you. I alone, your brother, dare to speak for your own good!"

"I shall never give her up!" answered Rávana angrily. "I brought her here from the Dándaka forest and here she will stay until she yields to my desire. I have never seen anyone to compare with her in beauty; when I look upon her I am no longer master of myself. It is not for us to return her to her lord, but to kill Rama and his brother, and then she will yield to me. Even if they were upheld by the gods, how could they stand against me?"

"Ever since you first saw Sita your mind has been possessed by her as a lake is filled by the waters of a river," said Kumbhakarna scornfully. "This is not worthy of you, O great King. You should have asked our advice at the beginning of the affair, not at the end. You did this evil deed without forethought and are lucky that Rama did not slay you as you did it. Nevertheless, O unconquerable one, now that it is done I shall stand by you. I shall destroy Rama, his brother, and all those monkeys, and drink their blood."

"Why are you so fearful, O youngest of my uncles?" said Indrajita to Vibíshana. "No other demon would speak as you have spoken. Are you alone lacking in courage and strength and daring? Who are these two sons of a mortal king? Have I not humbled the pride of the gods themselves; am I not able to slay these two, who are but men?"

"It is only because the fierce arrows from Rama's bow have not pierced your limbs that you can boast so," answered Vibíshana. "Neither Rávana nor his brothers nor all his sons can overcome Rama in battle. Yet all of you flatter him and lead him to destruction. Under the guise of a dutiful son you are really your father's enemy, since you support him in his evil doing; you should instead save him, even by dragging him back by the hair of his head from this enterprise. I say again, O my brother, give Sita back to Rama with treasure and jewels and rich attire!"

"It is better to live with a venomous serpent than with an enemy who poses as a friend," said Rávana harshly. "The worst danger we face is from our own kin, as those elephants know who are captured in the forest with the help of tamed elephants. If any other had spoken to me as you have spoken, he would have died where he stood. As for you, a curse upon you, O disgrace of our family!"

Vibíshana rose to his feet, mace in hand, and four of his friends rose with him. "You have lost your reason, my brother," he said. "At the point of death a doomed man refuses medicine. I have spoken because I could not bear to see you caught in the snare of death, but you will not listen. Farewell, O King. You will be happier without me." He left the court and his four friends followed him. When they came out of the palace gate, they rose into the air and proceeded at once to the northern shore of the ocean where Rama and his army were encamped.

Sugriva was standing on the shore with Hánuman and a few other companions when he saw Vibíshana and his friends coming over the ocean, their weapons and jewels flashing in the sun. "Surely these armed demons are coming to kill us," he said.

"Let us slay them at once, O King!" answered the monkeys, and they rushed off to uproot trees and lift up stones as weapons.

Vibíshana alighted at a little distance from them and said, "I am the younger brother of Rávana, that wicked king who carried off Sita; my name is Vibíshana. I have tried to make him return Sita to her lord, but he would not listen and cursed me. So I have left him, my wife and children, and all my possessions, and come hither to take refuge with Rama. Pray tell him that I have come."

Sugriva hastened to Rama, gave him the message and said, "This must be a spy of Rávana, who has sent him here to find out our plans and our weak points. He is a demon and a brother of our enemy. How can we trust him? Let us put him to death!"

Rama asked the advice of the other leaders. "Let us be on our guard against him, said one. "If he has abandoned his brother, whom else might he betray?"

"We should not trust him immediately," said Angada. "Let us examine him carefully before we decide on anything."

"When anyone is questioned, he answers carefully or perhaps will not answer at all, if he is wise," said Hánuman. "The character of another person is known only through much talk and acquaintance. I find no fault in this demon; his face is honest and his speech is clear; he is not embarrassed and does not seem guilty. He knows the wickedness of Rávana and your greatness of heart, Lord Rama. I think that his coming here proves his worth. It is for you to decide, O wisest of men."

"I shall never refuse anyone who presents himself as a friend," said Rama. "Even a villain who comes with joined palms, asking for refuge, should not be turned away, and those who throw themselves on the mercy of their enemy should be protected by him. Bring this stranger to me, O monkeys; he shall be safe even if it is Rávana himself."

Vibíshana came, knelt at Rama's feet and touched them, as did his four friends. "I have come to seek refuge with you, O protector of the world," he said, "I have left Lanka and all I possess to place my life and happiness at your disposal."

Rama looked searchingly at him and said, "Tell me truly, O Vibíshana, what is the strength and what is the weakness of Rávana?" Vibíshana described the whole extent of his brother's power, the number of his forces, the qualities of his foremost warriors. Hánuman had already described the city and its fortifications.

Rama listened carefully and then said, "No matter what his power and that of his generals, I shall slay Rávana and all his sons and kinsmen. If he plunges into the ocean depths or takes refuge in heaven he will not escape me. Then I shall crown you king of Lanka, O Vibíshana. Until this is done I shall not return to Ayodhya; I swear it by my three brothers!"

"I will help you with all my power," answered Vibíshana, and they embraced one another, in the presence of the monkeys, who shouted with joy as they beheld that powerful ally who knew all the strength and the secrets of the enemy.

 

The causeway was quickly built under Nala's direction. The whole mountainside was torn down, its trees and rocks forming the foundation, its stones and earth filling in the cracks. The monkeys rushed back and forth along it, carrying the materials, growing more and more excited as it approached the shore of the island. All things helped them: the winds were quiet and the ocean calmed itself and held the bridge steady, its waves lapping gently against the sides. Finally it was done and lay across the quiet water like the parting of a woman's hair. It was so strong and well built that the remains of it and many of the great rocks that the monkeys threw down can still be seen today.

Rama and Lákshmana mounted on the shoulders of their friends, and the whole army began to move across. Some of the monkeys marched along the causeway; others dived into the waves, some sprang into the sky in their joy. When the leaders arrived on the shore of Lanka, they decided to encamp for the night, and they waited there until the rest of that great horde arrived, for it took a long time for them all to cross over.

The next morning all the armies were marshaled and arranged in order, each with its leaders, and they set out at once for Lanka. As they advanced they beheld a mountain with three peaks and the glittering city on its summit. Facing it and nearer to them was another mountain, and Rama decided to camp on its slope, whence he could examine Lanka and its defenses. They all climbed up, the monkeys scrambling and bounding to the top in no time, and from its height they looked at the vast extent of those golden walls, the high gates, the innumerable palaces rising like sunlit clouds above their blossoming groves.

"What a marvelous city!" said Rama to his brother. "It was build by a god and seems to touch the skies. And there my Sita is held captive, thin and pale with grief, lying on the ground! She will be frightened when she hears the clamor of war." The monkeys, too, were amazed but not dismayed. "We shall destroy Lanka with the peaks of its own mountain, or if need be, with our bare fists!" they cried, and roared their defiance.

Meanwhile Rávana had heard of the building of the causeway, which amazed him, and of the great army that was already on his shores. He sent out two trusted spies, ordering them to find out the exact number of the enemy, their strength, and the weapons used by Rama and Lákshmana. The two spies took the shape of monkeys and joined that great host, but they could not begin to count the vast number that swarmed over the hills and plains, white the power and the roars of those great apes made their hair stand on end. They were not noticed by anyone except Vibíshana; he saw through their disguise and had them seized and brought before Rama. They were terrified and joined the palms of their hands in supplication. "O mighty prince, we were sent by Rávana to find out the size and the strength of your army," said one of them.

"If you have already found out all that you want to know, return in peace," answered Rama, smiling. "If there is anything else you wish to investigate, Vibíshana will show it to you. Do not fear: you are envoys and will not be harmed. When you return , say these words to your king in my name: 'Come forth and fight against me, O vilest of demons! Put forth all your strength and valor! You will not escape me though you search the three worlds for refuge. My dreadful wrath will fall upon you at dawn tomorrow, O Rávana!'"

The spies paid obeisance to him and returned in haste to Lanka. They gave Rávana the message and told him that Rama alone could overthrow the city and that it was useless to fight against him.

"What enemy can overthrow me, the lord of the demons, the terror of the gods?" asked Rávana arrogantly. "Show me these monkeys and their leaders!" He led them up into a tower of his palace, and looking forth, he saw the whole earth covered with that enormous and invincible army.

The spies pointed out each leader with his followers. "Each one of them vows that he will destroy this city, O King. They lash their tails and grind their teeth with fury against you; they are brave and ferocious and eager to fight; their roars alone will shatter these walls. We could not count them any more than we could count the sands of the seashore. These warriors, O King, are born of the gods and of the musicians and dancers of heaven and can change their shape at will.

"Behold those that stand there in the center! That one, as tall as an elephant, is he who crossed the ocean and set the city on fire. Do you not recognize him? He believes that he can destroy Lanka singlehanded. Next to him is that warrior, dark-skinned and large-eyed, whose heroism is known in the three worlds, who never swerves from righteousness. That is Rama who has come to war with you, O KIng. On his right, radiant as gold refined in fire, is Lákshmana, his brother and second self. On his left is your own brother, Vibíshana, whom Rama will make king of Lanka; he, too, has come to fight you! That other mighty one, standing near them like a rock, rules over all the monkeys and dwells in Kishkindha, a great citadel hewn from the mountain. He wears a golden chain bestowed by Indra. The chain and the kingdom he owes to Rama and has come hither to repay his debt. Powerful is the army that follows him, O mighty King! Before it attacks, return Sita to her lord!"

"Have you no fear of death that you speak so insolently to me?" asked Rávana furiously. "Begone and leave me!" He called his ministers together and said to them, "Beat the drums, sound the trumpets, and call all my forces together!" Then, with his generals, he planned the defense of the city, setting at each gate an army commanded by a great warrior, and taking the northern gate himself.

Sita was sitting forlornly, her head bowed, in that grove where the demon women guarded her, when she heard the uproar of drums, gongs, and trumpets. She started up in fear, but Vibíshana's wife, Sarama, who was as good as he, had become her friend and hastened to her now to comfort her.

"So not fear, O blessed one," she said. "I have good news for you. Rama has crossed the ocean with a mighty army and is besieging the city. The clamor that you hear is made by the troops that Rávana has called forth. Rama will slay him in battle and take you back to Ayodhya, O lovely one. Soon you will be united to your lord and will be weeping tears of joy. He will loosen your hair from the braid that has bound it for so many months and you will cast off your sorrow as a snake sloughs off its skin. Now tell me what I can do for you, for I can change my shape at will and fly through the air at your behest."

"May happiness attend you!" answered Sita. "I wish to know what Rávana intends to do. I tremble with fear of him, for he threatens and insults me continually. If there is any talk in the assembly of freeing me or keeping me captive, pray let me know it, O kind Sarama!"

Her friend went back into the palace and soon returned to Sita. "Rávana's mother has sent word to him that he must restore you with honor to your lord." she said. "She says that Rama's astonishing deed in the forest, when he slew the demon host, should be a lesson to the king. A wise old counselor has told him the same thing. But that wicked wretch will never give you up any more than a miser will give up his gold. When Rama has slain him you will be free at last, O daughter of Jánaka!"

Rama, Lákshmana, and their friends also heard the clamor that arose in Lanka, and they planned their attack. Vibíshana said, "My four friends have already been to Lanka and have returned. They changed their shapes and examined everything that Rávana is doing. Hear them, O mighty one!" The demons told Rama how Rávana had defended the gates and that he himself was stationed at the north. Then Rama appointed four armies to attack each gate, with great warriors to lead each one.

"It is my right to kill that wicked king; therefore I shall force the northern gate," he said. "Let the monkeys keep their own shapes so that we may not confuse them with the enemy. Only seven of us will be in human form: Lákshmana and I, Vibíshana and his four companions."

Then, the time having come, Rama descended the mountain, inspected his armies, and gave the signal to advance. Joyously and exultantly, bow in hand, he and Lákshmana and their allies set out for Lanka, followed by that great host. The monkeys, though they wore clothes and lived in houses, had no weapons except rocks and the strong branches of trees, as well as their powerful fists, as hard as stones, and their nails and teeth which were like those of tigers. They armed themselves on the mountainside.

Soon they all came beneath the mighty walls of the city, topped with banners and guarded by innumerable soldiers. Each leader took his army to the gate allotted to him and the monkeys awaited eagerly the signal to attack, trembling with excitement, lashing their tails with fury. The demons, looking down upon that sea of hostile apes, were amazed and terrified; their hearts were heavy because they knew of the wicked deed their king had committed.


Seeger, The Ramayana, Print edition, op. cit., pp. 178-193.


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