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RKD: 2.13: Hanumān Leaps to Lanka

Hanumān flew forcefully into the morning sky. Trees, shrubs and flowers flew behind him in the wind raised by his movement, like relatives following a dear one setting out on a long journey.

Hanumān thought of Rāma. Sampati was right. Simply by remembering Rāma’s name at the end of life, anyone could cross the entire ocean of material suffering. These eight hundred miles were nothing. Hanumān felt confident of success as he soared toward Lanka. Soon he would reach Sītā and reassure Her. If any Rākṣasas tried to stop him, that would be their last act on earth. He would dispense swift justice to the Rākṣasas. Then, returning to Rāma’s presence, he would await further commands.

As the flowers following Hanumān fell into the dark blue ocean, they made the sea appear like the star-spangled firmament. The trees dropped with great splashes like meteors fallen from heaven. Hanumān’s outstretched arms looked like a pair of five-hooded serpents risen from the mountaintop. The great monkey seemed as if he were drinking up the vast ocean and swallowing the sky. His eyes blazed like two sacrificial fires and his coiled tail flew behind him like a flag. His reddish brown face shone like the sun, and the wind rushing past his armpits thundered like a cloud. He seemed like a comet moving through the heavens with its fiery tail.

Hanumān’s reflection in the blue sea appeared like a ship rocking with speed over the large waves that were raised by the wind of his flight. As the sea rose up it revealed whales, sharks and serpents, thrown about in confusion. Hanumān rushed through the sky like a winged mountain, drawing behind him white and red-hued clouds. As he entered and came out again from the clouds, he appeared like the shrouded and visible moon. Gandharvas with their wives rained flowers on him. Even the sun, honoring his service to Rāma, did not scorch him. The wind-god raced with him, fanning him with a gentle breeze. Gods and ṛṣis extolled him, along with Nāgas, Yakṣas and other celestial beings. The god of the ocean observed Hanumān flying above him. He considered how to render him a service, thereby pleasing Rāma Himself. In his depths there was a large mountain named Maināka. The ocean-god approached Maināka and asked him to rise above the waters, offering his peaks to Hanumān as a resting place. The mountain assented and began to grow upwards. It emerged from the sea with a great roar, foaming billows falling with a crash on all sides. The golden-peaked mountain rose swiftly and shone beautifully, with Nāgas and Kinnaras sporting on its slopes.

Hanumān saw the mountain ahead of him filling the whole sky, and he thought it to be an obstruction. He prepared to strike it with his chest. The mountain deity assumed a human form and stood on its peak: “O Hanumān, requested by the god of the seas who wishes to serve Rāma, I am here to offer you shelter. The sea-god was formerly rendered a service by Rāma’s ancestor, Sagara, who filled the ocean when it had been dried up by the angry Agastya Ṛṣi. I too am indebted to your father Vāyu, who once saved me from Indra.”

Maināka told Hanumān that, in a long past age, many mountains flew in the sky. Afraid of the mountains, the ṛṣis asked Indra to cut their wings with his thunderbolt. Vāyu had saved Maināka from Indra. The mountain therefore wished to repay his debt to Vāyu by serving Hanumān. He asked the monkey to alight on his peaks and rest for a while.

But Hanumān was not inclined to stop. He replied to Maināka, “I am grateful and I thank you for your offer, but the time for resting has not yet arrived. My duty is not yet done. Please forgive me. You have already rendered me service by your kind words. Now please allow me to continue.”

Hanumān respectfully touched the peak of the mountain and then rose still higher into the sky. The mountain and the sea-god both looked up at him and offered prayers and benedictions for his success.

Indra and the other gods also watched Hanumān. They were astonished to see his power. Desiring to test him and see more of his prowess they approached Surasa, the mother of the Nāgas. They asked the snake goddess to assume the form of a Rākṣasī and stand before Hanumān. Indra said, “We want to see his power, as well as further expand the fame of this great servant of Rāma. Let us see how he overcomes you, O Nāga lady, for he will be greatly tested when he reaches Lanka.”

Surasa went into the sea and suddenly rose up in front of Hanumān in the form of a vast and terrible Rākṣasī. She boomed out to Hanumān, “The gods have ordained you to be my food. O jewel among monkeys, quickly enter my mouth. Brahmā has granted me a boon that none who come before me can escape being eaten!”

Surasa opened her cavernous mouth, which was set with rows of fierce teeth. Hanumān smiled and said to the Nāga goddess, “I am on a mission to serve Rāma, the lord of creation. You should not impede me. If I must be eaten by you, then pray wait here. Once I have completed my duty I shall doubtlessly return and you may devour me then as you please.”

The Nāga replied that he would not be able to pass her by, for such was the boon given by Brahmā. She expanded her mouth even more as Hanumān came closer. Her jaws stretched for eight miles, but Hanumān quickly grew to sixteen miles. She then expanded her mouth to twenty miles and Hanumān again exceeded that size with his body. As the Nāga grew even further Hanumān suddenly contracted himself down to the size of a thumb. Entering her mouth he went inside her throat and quickly came out again. He returned to his normal size and said, “I have honored Brahmā’s boon. Now let me pass and fulfill my mission. I wish you well.”

The Nāga goddess resumed her original form and praised Hanumān, blessing him to be successful in his quest. Hanumān moved on with the speed of Garuḍa. He saw many celestial chariots drawn by lions, tigers, elephants, birds and serpents as he coursed along the heavenly airways. Gandharvas, Yakṣas, Vidhyadharas and other celestial beings were thronging the skys. Great heroes, who had lain down their lives in battle, rose upwards through the lofty region, their ethereal bodies shining like fire.

As Hanumān shot through the sky he was seen from below by a Rākṣasa woman called Simhika. She gazed hungrily upon the monkey’s enormous body. Desiring to devour him, she used her mystic power to suddenly seize his shadow as it sped over the water. Hanumān felt his progress arrested. He looked all around and saw beneath him Simhika’s hideous form rising up from the sea, her terrific mouth open wide to swallow him. She thundered like a mass of clouds. Hanumān fearlessly entered her mouth. As he entered her body the Siddhas and gods cried out, “Alas!”

But Hanumān, whose body was as hard as a diamond, began to tear the demon’s vital parts. He cleft her heart in two and burst out from the side of her body. The Rākṣasī screamed and fell dead into the sea. Seeing Hanumān unscathed and flying onwards, the gods praised him saying, “Your success is certain. He who possesses firmness, vision, understanding and skill never fails in his undertakings.”

Hanumān continued on, adored by the divine beings. Soon he saw in the distance a large island which appeared like a mass of clouds on the horizon. As he came closer he saw the shore of Lanka, skirted by forests and high mountains. Hanumān returned to his normal size in order to avoid being seen. Flying over the island he came upon the city of Lanka, which was perched on the summit of Trikuta mountain. As he climbed down the mountainside he considered how to best enter the city.

Hanumān surveyed the region. It was covered with beautiful woods filled with flowering and fruit-bearing trees of all kinds. There were meadows and lotus ponds and pleasure groves of every description. The aroma of flowers wafted on cool breezes and the sounds of various birds filled the air. Hanumān made his way to the edge of the city, which was encircled by a wide, deep moat. A golden wall ran around the city. Large pennants with small golden bells tied to them blew in the wind atop that wall. Ferocious Rākṣasas ranged on the ramparts that ran along the wall. In their hands they held formidable-looking bows and other fierce weapons.

Behind the wall Hanumān could see lofty mansions and palaces, some golden and others as white as the moon. He climbed a high tree and gazed upon the city. Hundreds of tall and impressive buildings ran along elevated white-tiled roads. In front of them were many wonderful golden archways adorned with flowering creepers. The city gave off a roaring sound and appeared like the capital of the gods. To Hanumān it seemed to be sailing in the air. Lanka, which had been constructed by the celestial architect Viśvakarmā, was inconceivably splendid and it awed Hanumān’s mind.

Reaching the northern gate Hanumān sat in thought. He looked upon Lanka, which was guarded by innumerable gallant and terrible Rākṣasas, as one might view a cave full of venomous serpents. As he gazed up at the high wall Hanumān reflected. How would the monkeys ever overpower this city? For a start, only he, Sugrīva, Aṅgada and Nīla, the monkey general, could even cross the ocean and reach there. Then they would only be four against an uncountable horde of Rākṣasas, headed by the invincible Rāvaṇa himself. What would they do?

Hanumān decided to first find Sītā and ensure that She was safe. After all, those were his instructions. Then he could consider further action. He pondered deeply how to go about searching for the princess and yet not be discovered. Having taken such a great leap over the ocean, he did not want to fail now. It would be best to enter Lanka under the cover of darkness in an inconspicuous form. Hanumān decided to wait until sunset and enter the city as a small monkey. Going from house to house, he would locate Sītā and then decide how to approach Her.

That night the full moon rose in a clear sky, appearing like a swan swimming in a lake. Hanumān stood up, ready to enter the city. As he approached the wall, however, the presiding deity of Lanka came before him. She was fierce and ugly and she gave out a horrible yell. In a discordant voice she asked Hanumān, “Who are you, trying to covertly enter this city? You shall never be allowed to pass by me, O monkey!”

Hanumān cared little for the Rākṣasa goddess. He did not reveal his name but rather asked her to first identify herself. She replied in harsh tones that she was Rāvaṇa’s servant. She guarded Lanka and would now kill Hanumān for his insolence in trying to assail the city.

Hanumān stood as firm as a mountain. He replied that he would enter the city no matter who tried to prevent him. The Rākṣasī immediately struck him with her hand. Unmoved by that blow and becoming furious, Hanumān clenched his fist and hit her but without his full force, as she was a woman. Nevertheless, struck by Hanumān, the demon goddess fell prostrate to the ground. After some moments she recovered and begged Hanumān to spare her. She revealed to Hanumān that Brahmā had told her the end of the Rākṣasas would come soon after she was overpowered by a monkey. That time had clearly arrived. The words of Brahmā could never prove false. The time for the destruction of Rāvaṇa and the Rākṣasas was nigh.

The Rākṣasī told Hanumān to proceed into the city and then she disappeared. Hanumān assumed a form no bigger than a cat. Springing up, he climbed over the outer wall and began to penetrate the city. He moved along the main road, which was lit by celestial gems studding the golden archways along its sides. The road was covered with brightly colored flowers. From the houses he heard sounds of laughter and music, as well as the tinkling of ornaments and jewels. Those houses had crystal entrances and verandas of coral and lapis lazuli. They were adorned with golden images of thunderbolts and planets, and lattice windows of gold embedded with diamonds, rubies and emeralds.

Hanumān went quickly from house to house, searching for signs of Sītā. He saw many demons engaged in amorous activities in their houses with damsels resembling Apsarās. In some places there were groups of Rākṣasas praising Rāvaṇa. In other places some Rākṣasas known as Yatudhanas were studying the scriptures and chanting sacred hymns. In public squares Hanumān beheld wrestling matches between Rākṣasas of huge proportions, roaring at each other in anger. Hanumān also saw thousands of Rākṣasa warriors, holding bows, swords and other terrible-looking weapons. As he moved unnoticed along the city streets, Hanumān, himself a military expert, could recognize Rāvaṇa’s many variously disguised spies.

Gradually he approached Rāvaṇa’s palace. In front of it was a garrison of soldiers, one hundred thousand in number. The palace itself stood on the summit of the Trikuta mountain, looking like a great white cloud. It was circled by a number of moats adorned with lotuses and lilies. Hanumān swam across the moats and, in his diminutive form, easily entered through the latticed gates in the gold brick walls. Thousands of exceptionally powerful Rākṣasas stood on guard, but they paid him no heed.

As Hanumān moved through the first courtyard he saw numerous wonderful conveyances such as golden chariots, palanquins and large aerial cars. There were thousands of horses, some as black as night, some red-hued and others as white as snow. Massive elephants bedecked with jewels stood looking like clouds with flashes of lightning.

Within the courtyard were mansions occupied by arrogant and intoxicated demons. Hanumān could hear them laughing and shouting at one another in diverse tones. He silently entered each of the mansions, looking everywhere for Sītā. Within every house he saw many women, some embracing their partners, some adorning themselves with excellent dresses, some sleeping and others, angered out of love, hissing like serpents. All of the women were highly attractive, with countenances like the full moon, and their dark eyes covered by curling lashes. Although Hanumān saw innumerable women, he did not see Sītā anywhere.

Hanumān wandered through dozens of seven-storied mansions and finally entered the inner palace building where Rāvaṇa kept his women. It was embellished everywhere with pearls and gems of great value. The scent of aloe and sandalwood incense wafted and the sound of celestial music could be heard. Hanumān padded over the highly polished marble floor, which was spread with celestial textiles. The walls were made of gold decorated with silver carvings studded with gems. Thousands of exquisitely beautiful maidens moved about, their tinkling gold ornaments sounding together like the gentle waves of the sea. Adding to that delightful sound was the deep vibration of meghas and kettledrums.

Hanumān considered Rāvaṇa’s palace to be the ornament of Lanka. In some rooms he found galleries of heavenly paintings and carvings of every kind. Sometimes the palace opened out to large grassy enclosures with ponds full of swans, surrounded by blossoming trees full of peacocks and other colorful birds. Hanumān saw sacrificial fires attended by ascetic Rākṣasas who chanted Vedic mantras. Here and there were heaps of precious stones and other collected treasures. Couches, seats and beds were all of the most wonderful design and made of gold, coral and celestial woods. With his mind awed, Hanumān moved on without stopping, intent on discovering Sītā.

He found the Pushpaka chariot lying in the center of Rāvaṇa’s palace. It resembled a large mansion and shone like the midday sun. The chariot was embellished with every kind of celestial jewel and adorned with carvings of gold and silver. Birds made of cat’s-eye, as well as others fashioned of coral and silver, decorated the chariot, along with lovely serpents made of jewels. Horses and elephants made entirely of refined gold stood on the sides of the Pushpaka. There were also large gold and crystal pleasure houses containing many excellent seats. Golden stairways led up to platforms radiant with sapphires and emeralds. Garlands and wreaths of heavenly flowers hung everywhere. Seen on the spacious central floor of the chariot was a lotus pond, in which a number of carved elephants stood, holding golden lotuses in their trunks and offering worship to a breathtakingly beautiful form of Goddess Lakṣmī.

Hanumān was astonished to see the mountain-like chariot, which hung suspended in the air. The monkey moved on quickly, searching Rāvaṇa’s apartments, which covered four miles in width and eight in length. Everywhere were powerful looking Rākṣasas who held terrible weapons and looked alertly in all directions. By his powers of illusion Hanumān kept himself invisible to all the guards. He then entered Rāvaṇa’s personal bedchambers. Its floor was covered with slabs of crystal, inlaid with figures made of ivory, pearls, diamonds, coral, silver and gold. Large pillars of gems rose up to the roof, which was studded with innumerable jewels and looked like the star-spangled sky at night. On the walls were carvings of eagles with huge outspread wings. Murals depicting the heavenly planets hung there on the walls and the floors were covered by large silk carpets embroidered with designs of mountains, forests and rivers.

The odor of celestial foods reached Hanumān’s nostrils, calling him like a loved one beckoning a dear relative. He felt all five senses being simultaneously attracted by the delights in Rāvaṇa’s palace. The monkey considered that he had entered the highest abode of Paradise. He compared it only to Indra’s palace or the abode of Brahmā himself. Fixing his mind upon his purpose, like a consummate yogī meditating on the Supreme, Hanumān continued to search for Sītā.

As he went into each separate chamber Hanumān saw many maidens looking like heavenly nymphs. They were half-dressed and lying asleep, overpowered by intoxication and lovemaking. Adorned with jeweled girdles and anklets, they emitted a fragrance like lotus flowers. Their large lips, red like copper, parted slightly showing rows of teeth that resembled pearls. Crushed garlands lay here and there, along with discarded silk raiments. The delicate-limbed ladies lay with their clothes and necklaces thrown about, and other ornaments fallen to the floor by their beds. With their large, dark-lashed eyes closed, they looked like lotuses with their petals closed at night. To Hanumān they appeared like a number of brilliant meteors fallen from heaven and united there in Rāvaṇa’s chambers.

Although Rāvaṇa’s wives, who were daughters of Gandharvas, ṛṣis and powerful demons, were beautiful beyond compare, Hanumān considered them nothing in comparison to Sītā. His mind did not waver even slightly from his mission upon seeing them. As he went by the sleeping maidens, he came to a prominent dais made of crystal and bedecked with precious stones. It appeared like a celestial structure with a large gold and ivory couch placed on it. Over the top of the brilliant couch a hung a white canopy wreathed with garlands of lotuses and red ashoka flowers.

Lying there fast asleep was Rāvaṇa himself. Hanumān saw he was extremely handsome, with a complexion like a dark cloud. He was adorned with bright flashing earrings and clad in robes of gold and crimson. His limbs were smeared with red sandal-paste and he resembled a cloud reddened by the sunset and lit by flashes of lightning. Decorated with garlands and jewels he seemed like Mount Mandara covered with clusters of trees and flowers.

Hanumān looked with disgust upon the great demon, who lay snoring like an elephant. He shrank back and gazed upon the demon from a distance. Rāvaṇa was only displaying one of his ten heads and two of his arms. To Hanumān those arms appeared to be a couple of large five-hooded serpents lying asleep in a cave on Mount Mandara. They were well-muscled and as thick as tree trunks, scarred from the many battles Rāvaṇa had fought with the gods. On his head Rāvaṇa wore a brilliant diadem, and around his neck hung a string of pearls and gold chains. As the demon breathed out, the odor of liquor mixed with mango and nutmeg filled the room.

At his feet were many youthful women. They had all fallen asleep in various positions, one of them hugging her vīṇā, another seated with a small drum under her arm, and another clutching a pair of tambourines. Next to Rāvaṇa on the couch was a lady of astounding beauty, golden-complexioned with exquisitely formed limbs decorated with the best of jewels. Seeing her lying there, endowed with celestial splendor and the exuberance of youth, Hanumān thought for a moment that she might be Sītā. Filled with delight, he leapt about, waving his arms and kissing his tail. Displaying his monkey nature, he frolicked around, climbing the pillars and dropping to the floor, pacing back and forth and flipping over again and again.

Suddenly he paused and thought, “This surely could not be Sītā. Separated from Rāma, the princess would never be able to sleep or eat or even adorn Herself. Nor would She consort with another man even in Her mind, even if he be the lord of the celestials himself. None could equal Rāma, that divine lady’s beloved husband.”

Hanumān examined the sleeping maiden by Rāvaṇa’s side closely. Her face showed no signs of grieving or sorrow. There was no doubt; this could not be Sītā. He moved on quickly, keener than ever to locate the princess.

He continued searching Rāvaṇa’s vast bedchamber. There were thousands of women lying everywhere. All of them were beautiful and adorned with blazing golden ornaments. Hanumān saw tables spread with every kind of food and drink placed in gold and crystal vessels. The floor was strewn with celestial flowers and looked most charming, shedding a bright luster into that great hall. But although he scrupulously examined every part of the room, he did not see Sītā anywhere.

As Hanumān looked upon the many semi-clad women, he felt a grave misgiving. Was this not sinful? To look upon the wives of others, especially in such a condition, was always condemned by scripture. Even looking upon the sinful Rāvaṇa, who had stolen other’s wives, was itself sinful. Hanumān felt disturbed, but he considered his mission. Where else could he find Sītā? He had to look for her among Rāvaṇa’s women. And he had not looked at them with even a slight tinge of lust. His mind was steady, firmly fixed on Rāma’s service. It was not possible that sin could overcome him in such circumstances.

Feeling reassured but simultaneously despondent at not finding Sītā, Hanumān came out of the bed chamber. Where should he look now? How could he return without finding Sītā? What would he say to Sugrīva and Rāma when they asked him, “What did you accomplish upon reaching Lanka?” Maybe that sorrowful lady had died of grief. Or perhaps the Rākṣasas had devoured Her. Hanumān could not bear such thoughts. He had to keep looking. If he could not find Sītā, then he would fast until death.

Thinking in this way he went along the paths outside the palace. As he walked he saw ahead of him the palace gardens. They had not yet been searched. Hanumān prayed to the gods that he might at last succeed in finding Sītā. He paused as he reached the gardens and thought of Rāma. Thrilled at the prospect of finding the princess, he leapt up onto the top of the surrounding wall.

From his vantage point Hanumān surveyed the lovely grove, which was lit by the moon. A sweet fragrance reached his nostrils as he looked over the large enclosure. He saw blossoming trees of every kind, as well as silvery creepers and golden shrubs. Flowers grew everywhere along the sides of immaculate lawns. Peacocks and parrots perched on the trees, along with many other varieties of colorful birds. Hanumān ran quickly along the wall, carefully examining the garden. He jumped from tree to tree and they shed their flowers, making the earth appear like a richly adorned woman. As he leapt he awoke flocks of birds who flew upwards, shaking the branches of the trees and showering Hanumān with blossoms.

Hanumān moved impetuously, anxious to find Sītā. He saw ponds of different shapes full of lotuses and sleeping swans. There were bathing pools with golden steps leading down to them and banks of fine sand made entirely of crushed pearls. Rivulets ran between silver trees covered over by flowers of gold. Fruits such as Hanumān had never seen hung from the boughs of the trees. Everywhere the monkey looked he was wonderstruck at the opulence. In the center of the garden he came upon a large simshapa tree. He climbed to its top and gazed around in all directions, eager to catch sight of Sītā. At a distance away he saw a temple situated in a large grove of ashoka trees. Those trees, with their thousands of bright red blossoms appearing in every season, seemed as though made entirely of flowers. Simply by looking upon those splendid trees, a man would feel his grief dispelled. The lofty temple amid the trees was standing on a thousand marble pillars. It looked like Mount Kailāsa, Śiva’s glorious abode. Steps of coral rose up to a large terrace of refined gold.

Hanumān spotted a woman lying near the temple. She was surrounded by Rākṣasīs and tossing about on the ground. Hanumān leapt through the trees to take a closer look. The woman was clad in soiled garments, but She was beautiful, like a diamond covered in dust. Her slender body was smeared with dirt. She lay repeatedly sighing and seemed distraught, Her face streaked with tears.

This was surely Sītā. Hanumān felt his heart leap with joy, but it was agony to see Her in such a wretched condition, appearing in every way like the eclipsed moon. Although fallen to the ground and weeping, She spread about Her a golden luster. Enmeshed in a mighty web of grief, She seemed like a flame intertwined by smoke. Her dark eyes, with their long black lashes, darted about helplessly, like those of a fawn snared by a hunter.

Hanumān gazed upon Her. He recognized the celestial yellow garment he had seen waving in the breeze when Rāvaṇa had passed over the Rishyamukha. This was undoubtedly the lady seized by that demon. The monkey gazed with sorrow at the princess. How powerful and inscrutable was destiny! Sītā was the daughter of a king and the wife of an invincible hero, yet She was now suffering torment. She was gentle, kind and always virtuous, undeserving of any pain. How then had She been placed in such terrible circumstances? It was inconceivable.

Hanumān thought of Rāma. How could he now best fulfill his Lord’s purpose? Sītā was difficult to approach because She was surrounded by hundreds of fierce Rākṣasīs. Hanumān examined them carefully. All of the Rākṣasīs were ugly and grossly misshapen. Some had one eye in their foreheads, others had huge ears that covered their bodies, some had heads like boars, tigers, buffalos, goats, deer or foxes. Some had their head sunk into their chests. They were all sizes, some very tall, others dwarf humpbacks. Some had the legs and feet of elephants, camels or horses. Some had abnormally long and twisted noses, some had large pointed ears or fierce lion-like teeth. Others had hair down to their feet and hands with claws.

The sight of the Rākṣasīs made one’s hair stand on end. They clutched various types of weapons and stood or sat about Sītā, watching in all directions. In their midst the noble princess seemed like the moon besieged by malevolent planets. Hanumān thought carefully. He remained hiding among the boughs of the tree. Dawn was approaching and the sky to the east was beginning to lighten.

Just at that time Rāvaṇa was being awakened. Musical instruments were played and poets sang his glories. The demon rose up with his hair and garments in disarray, still intoxicated by the strong liquors he had drunk the night before. Immediately he thought of Sītā. Quickly arranging his dress and adorning himself with every kind of ornament, Rāvaṇa went out of his rooms toward the gardens and made his way hastily to the ashoka grove. Behind him came one hundred beautiful maidens, their large hips and breasts swaying as they struggled to keep up with him. They carried whisks with golden handles, oil torches, pitchers of wine and pure white umbrellas. Their gold ornaments jangled together and flowers fell from their hair and garlands as they ran. Moving behind the demon they appeared like flashes of lightning following a cloud.

Although he possessed great power, the evil-minded Rāvaṇa was a slave to his lusty desires. With his mind fixed upon Sītā, he passed through the golden, gem-encrusted arches at the entrance to the ashoka grove. In a god-like human form he headed straight for the place where Sītā lay, longing to get another sight of the divine princess. As he walked he composed poetic phrases in his mind to win Sītā over.

Hanumān, concealed in his tree, heard the tinkling of ankle bells approaching. He looked around and saw Rāvaṇa making his way along the path, illumined on all sides by bright torches. The demon moved quickly with his slanted coppery eyes staring straight ahead. He was adjusting his upper garment of pure white silk embellished with flowers and pearls. Preoccupied with his thoughts of Sītā, he got his golden armlet entangled with his necklace of shining jewels, and he struggled to release it as he strode along the path.

Hanumān remained completely still as Rāvaṇa passed by the tree where he was hidden. Once the group of women had passed him, however, Hanumān leapt down and silently followed them toward Sītā. The monkey hid behind the trunk of a large tree close to Sītā and cautiously peered around it to see Rāma’s glorious consort seated on the ground, trembling at the sight of Rāvaṇa approaching Her. Her knees were drawn up to Her chest and She held them tight with Her arms.

Rāvaṇa, who appeared youthful and majestic, and who shone with a brilliant aura, stood before the princess. She looked miserable and stricken, like a rose creeper torn from a tree and thrown to the ground. She appeared like a shattered faith, or a frustrated hope, or an abandoned treasure. She was covered with dirt yet charming as a pure white lotus stained with mud. Weeping incessantly, She tossed about on the bare earth, Her mind absorbed in thoughts of Rāma.

The Rākṣasa king sought to seduce Her, as a fool would walk heedlessly toward a steep precipice. He gazed down at the forlorn Sītā, who did not even glance up at him. With Her palms folded She prayed to Viṣṇu that He might soon bring Rāma to Her presence.

Rāvaṇa said, “O most splendid jewel among women, do not be afraid of me. I am here only to render You service. Why do You lie here in a wretched condition? Rise up and enjoy with me. I shall provide You with pleasures only the gods know.”

Sītā turned Her face away in contempt, Her body wracked by sobs. Rāvaṇa had tried to win Her over each day since taking Her captive, but his attempts sickened Her. She longed for the day when Rāma would come and destroy the demon. Surely that time would soon come. She did not feel that She could take much more of Rāvaṇa’s torment.

Sītā’s resistance only made Rāvaṇa’s desire for Her the more insistent. He stared at Her incomparably beautiful form. Even though She had been fasting and had not washed since he had kidnapped Her, She was still far more lovely than any of his consorts. Indeed, if it were not for Nalakuvara’s curse. . .

The demon folded his hands in supplication. “What will you gain by lying here grieving? Your youth is passing swiftly and will soon be gone. Enjoy with me now while you can. There are none in the universe who can compare with me in virility and power. You are the finest of all women. I believe that after creating you the celebrated Brahmā must have retired, seeing his work to have reached perfection.”

Rāvaṇa offered Her the position of his principal queen. He would subjugate the entire world and offer it to her father Janaka. He had already conquered the gods in heaven and now stood unchallenged as the most powerful person in the universe. What could Rāma do against him? Sītā should stop thinking of Her puny prince, who was clad in rags and lived in a lonely forest. Perhaps, Rāvaṇa suggested, Rāma had already died. There was no chance that She would ever see Him again. And even if He should somehow find His way to Lanka, He would be immediately destroyed by Rāvaṇa, standing at the head of an unlimited number of invincible Rākṣasas.

The demon went on, his voice rising and falling melodiously as he implored Sītā. “Become my wife, O most beloved one, and enjoy life. Put on the best of garments and gold ornaments. Shake off Your grief and range freely with me in delightful groves along the seashore.”

Sītā shuddered at Rāvaṇa’s sinful suggestion. Without looking at him, and placing a symbolic blade of grass between Herself and the demon, She replied, “Give up your futile hope. You no more deserve Me than a sinful man deserves perfection. How do you expect Me to perform an act condemned by all pious women? How do you imagine that I will rest upon the arm of any other man after I have once rested upon Rāma’s arm? Do you not realize that molesting the wives of others leads only to destruction? Evidently there is no one in Lanka who knows morality. Or perhaps you have become so degraded that you are simply unable to heed good advice.”

Rāvaṇa snorted in anger. He clenched and unclenched his fists. There seemed to be no way of winning this woman. His eyes remained fixed upon Her as She continued without looking at him. “You should know Me to be as inseparable from Rāma as sunlight is inseparable from the sun. Unite Me with Rāma at once if you wish to do good for yourself and your Rākṣasa race. Make friends with Rāma. Otherwise, see your city, yourself and all the demons destroyed for good. If I am kept here, you will soon see well-aimed arrows joined end to end filling the sky. They will rain down upon Lanka like so many fire-mouthed serpents. You were able to steal Me only when Rāma and His brother were not present. Indeed, O weak one, it is not possible for you to stand in the sight of Rāma and Lakṣman any more than a dog can remain under the gaze of a pair of lions.”

Sītā rebuked Rāvaṇa further. Even if he sought shelter on the peak of Mount Meru or descended to Varuṇa’s abode, he would not escape from Rāma. By his wicked act of stealing Sītā he was already killed by his own destiny. Rāma would be the instrument to fulfill that fate. With the evil Rāvaṇa remaining their leader, the Rākṣasa race would be destroyed to their roots.

Sītā spoke harshly. “I would burn you to ashes Myself by the power of My asceticism and chastity, but I do not have My lord’s order. Nor do I wish to waste My ascetic merits on such a wretch as yourself.”

Rāvaṇa was furious. Breathing heavily he spoke slowly, his deep voice barely constraining his rage. “Because of Your insolent words You deserve to be put to death. Only my love for you prevents me from having You immediately killed. You have a few more months left of Your one-year reprieve. If by then You have not submitted to me, then my cooks will mince You up for my morning meal.”

The demon then turned away from Sītā. His eyes flamed and his tongue darted out of his mouth. His shining diadem and his broad, powerful shoulders shook with his anger. His red robes swirled about him as he walked away and his large reddish-gold earrings swung back and forth. With his dark blue waist cloth he appeared like a mountain topped with crimson oxides and lit by lightning bolts. As he left the grove he turned to the Rākṣasīs. “Use whatever means you can to change this princess’s mind. By soft words, coercion and threats, force Her to submit. Dissuade Her from thoughts of Rāma and convince Her to accept me. This will be in your own interests, O Rākṣasīs.”

With a roar of frustration Rāvaṇa left the garden, his heavy footfalls receding into the distance. As Hanumān continued to watch, the fierce Rākṣasīs began to harass Sītā, asking in rasping and grating voices why She was reluctant to accept Rāvaṇa as Her lord. The Rākṣasa king was the son of a great ṛṣi. He had vanquished the thirty-three principal gods in battle. Even Indra could not stand before him. Now that very Rāvaṇa was bowing at Her feet, begging for Her favor. He was prepared to renounce his principal consort, the chaste and beautiful Mandodari for Sītā’s sake.

Numerous Rākṣasīs cajoled Sītā in various ways. They told Her to stop pining foolishly for Rāma, a mere human. Of what consequence was Rāma when compared to Rāvaṇa? She obviously had no idea what was best for Her.

Sītā turned away from the Rākṣasīs. Their advice was useless. She could no more abandon Rāma than heat could abandon fire. She spoke with tear-filled eyes. “Devour Me if you will, I shall never become Rāvaṇa’s wife. As Śacī waits upon Indra, as Arundhati upon Vasiṣṭha and Rohini upon the moon-god, so do I always wait upon My lord.”

The Rākṣasīs were filled with rage when Sītā rejected their counsel. They resorted to harsh and threatening language. Licking their protruding lips with their dart-like tongues, they raised their axes and other weapons at Sītā. Sītā stood up and walked toward the tree were Hanumān was hiding, with a group of Rākṣasīs surrounding and intimidating Her. Seeing Her approach, the monkey quickly climbed up into the branches of the tree. As he looked down from the tree he saw Sītā severely afflicted by Her Rākṣasī guards. They spoke fiercely. “Submit to Rāvaṇa, O princess, or this very day I shall tear out Your heart and eat it!”

Brandishing a huge dart one Rākṣasī said, “For a long time I have wanted to feast on Your liver and spleen, as well as Your swollen breasts and indeed all Your limbs.”

Hanumān burned with anger. He felt the impulse to leap down amid the Rākṣasīs and immediately thrash them, but he restrained himself, intelligently waiting for an opportunity to first speak with Sītā. If he revealed himself now, there would be chaos and the chance to reassure Sītā would be lost.

Continuously tormented, Sītā fell to the ground weeping. She cried out to the Rākṣasīs, “A human woman is not fit to be the wife of the Rākṣasa king. Therefore finish Me now, Rākṣasīs. End My misery!”

Sītā embraced the tree, calling out Rāma’s name. Her face was pale and She shook with sobs. As She tossed Her head about Her long braid of hair writhed like a black snake. She wondered what kind of sin She must have committed in Her past life that She must now endure this suffering. If it were not for Her longing to again see Rāma, She would have ended Her own life. How could She endure another visit from Rāvaṇa?

Sītā turned to the Rākṣasīs, who were still threatening Her as She lay clutching the tree. “O wicked ones, I would not touch Rāvaṇa even with My left foot. That evil one should understand it now. I would not go to him even under threat of being transfixed, hacked to pieces, roasted in fire or hurled down from mountain peaks.”

The princess thought continuously of Rāma. Why had He not come to rescue Her? Surely He had not abandoned Her. Perhaps He did not know where She was. But Jatayu must have told Him. Or maybe the bird died before getting the chance. If Rāma knew Her to be in Lanka, then without doubt He would have reduced the city to ashes by now. The ocean would present no problem. Rāma’s fiery arrows would dry it up in an instant. But what if Rāma had perished from grief, being unable to find Her? Lakṣman would also die, seeing His brother gone. Maybe, after losing Her, Rāma had practiced yoga and become detached from worldy things such as love for His wife. But that could not be possible in one like Rāma; He would never become detached from His duty. Protecting one’s wife was always the duty of pious men.

Sītā lamented, thinking only of Her husband. She envied the perfect mystics who had transcended the dualities of happiness and distress. For them the loss of relatives did not cause any sorrow, nor did they long for any pleasing thing. If only She could experience their peace. As She lay absorbed in such thoughts, a Rākṣasī named Trijata stepped forward and restrained her companions. She had just risen from sleep and told them of a dream she had experienced.

“I saw a shining personality, who was surely Rāma, mounted upon a celestial chariot drawn by a thousand horses and coursing through the air. He was united with Sītā. The couple wore white robes and white garlands and were ablaze with splendor. I also saw Rāvaṇa, robed in black with a red garland and sitting on a chariot drawn by asses.”

Trijata described her dream in detail: Rāvaṇa had entered a fearful darkness, his body smeared with excrement. She saw all of Rāvaṇa’s sons and ministers with their heads shaved and bodies bathed with oil. She saw Lanka being set alight by an agile monkey and all of the Rākṣasas disappearing into a pool of cow dung.

The Rākṣasīs knew the science of interpreting dreams. It seemed from Trijata’s dream that a great calamity was about to befall Rāvaṇa. Sītā was heartened by Trijata. She sat up and as She did so She felt Her left eye throbbing and Her left arm palpitating. This was an auspicious omen. That omen, along with Trijata’s dream, gave Sītā hope. She felt that Rāma must surely be near. The Rākṣasīs fell away from Her, some of them running to report to Rāvaṇa.