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RKD: 2.14: Sītā is Found

In the tree Hanumān considered what to do next. He wanted to comfort Sītā and give Her Rāma’s ring, but he was not sure how to approach Her. She would likely think him to be Rāvaṇa in disguise using sorcery to trick her. She might cry out and alert the Rākṣasas. What then? He could be killed or captured. How would Rāma’s purpose be served if that happened? What other monkey could leap across the ocean and return?

Hanumān thought carefully. He decided to remain in the tree and sing praises of Rāma so that Sītā could hear. The Rākṣasīs had moved away to a distance and would not notice. Hanumān started to speak out loud. “In the city of Ayodhya there lived a great ruler named Daśaratha. That lordly king begot a valiant son named Rāma, who possesses every good quality. Going to the forest in obedience to His aged and pious father, Prince Rāma slayed in battle many violent demons.”

Hanumān related in brief Rāma’s history up until the time of Sītā’s abduction. He described what had happened to Rāma in Her absence since then, leading up to his own leap across the ocean and arrival in the ashoka grove.

Sītā was struck with wonder to hear the voice from the tree. She looked up and all around Her, feeling joy upon hearing Rāma’s activities described. As She gazed into the boughs of the tree She saw among the leaves Hanumān’s tawny figure. The small monkey sat humbly with his palms folded. Immediately She became afraid. Who was this creature? What was he doing in the tree? Was this Rāvaṇa’s trick? But remembering the auspicious omens, Sītā became thoughtful. She prayed to the gods that Hanumān’s words might prove true.

Hanumān slipped down from the tree and bowed low before Sītā with his joined palms raised above his head. “I assume You are Sītā, consort of the highly blessed Rāma. I am an envoy dispatched by Rāma to seek You, O noble lady. Along with His brother Lakṣman, Rāma waits in grief for some news of Your whereabouts.”

Sītā felt overjoyed to hear of Rāma, but She was still suspicious. What if this was Rāvaṇa? Nevertheless, upon seeing the monkey She was feeling a strange calm and peace of mind. She looked carefully at Hanumān and asked, “How can I know that you are not Rāvaṇa?”

Hanumān reassured Her. He described the features of both Rāma and Lakṣman in great detail, telling Her everything he knew about the two princes. Hanumān then told Her about himself and how he had come to meet with Rāma. He spoke confidently. “Now that I have found You I will soon return to Rāma. You will see Your lord arrive here before long, marching at the head of an unlimited number of powerful monkeys and bears.”

Hanumān showed Her the ring Rāma had given him. He handed it to Sītā and She immediately recognized it. She was now convinced by Hanumān. Standing up in excitement She felt unlimited joy. Her eyes shed tears of happiness and Her face shone brightly. She praised Hanumān. “You have achieved a great feat in crossing the wide ocean and entering this fortified city. O noble monkey, surely you are the foremost of Rāma’s servants.”

Sītā wondered why Rāma Himself had not come there. Why had He not smashed the city of Lanka and taken Her back? Was He still strong in mind and body? Was Lakṣman well? Sītā questioned Hanumān eagerly and the monkey replied, “Rāma does not know Your exact whereabouts, O godly lady, but He is well and awaiting news of You. As soon as He hears my report He will come here with His army and rid the world of Rākṣasas. There can be no doubt whatsoever.”

Hanumān assured Sītā that Rāma was always thinking of Her. Indeed, His mind was distracted by grief due to Her separation. He could not eat properly and hardly slept. Rāma sat for long periods gazing into the distance, sighing heavily. He would not even brush from His body gnats and mosquitoes, oblivious to everything as He thought of Sītā. From time to time He would call out Her name and shed tears.

Sītā felt simultaneous joy and grief as She heard of Her husband and His own grief for Her. She sat lost in thought of Rāma for some time, looking like the bright moon seen through a veil of clouds. The monkey’s words were like nectar mixed with poison. She could not tolerate hearing of Rāma’s sorrow. Her beautiful eyelids with their long black lashes fluttered as She blinked away Her tears. She spoke to Hanumān, who sat with his palms folded and head bowed. “O valiant monkey, you must quickly bring Rāma. Only a short time remains till the merciless Rāvaṇa will have Me killed. The demon will not heed any good advice and is bent on bringing about his own destruction, held as he is in the grip of Death.”

Sītā told Hanumān that She had heard how Rāvaṇa’s brother and minister, Vibhishana, had repeatedly exhorted the demon king to return Sītā. He and other wise Rākṣasas warned Rāvaṇa that keeping Sītā would result in the annihilation of the Rākṣasas. But Rāvaṇa would not listen. Sītā had heard this from Vibhishana’s wife, who had befriended the princess.

When he heard that Sītā’s life was threatened, Hanumān became alarmed. He spoke urgently. “Let me take You from this place immediately, O princess of Mithila. You may climb upon my back and I shall leap across the sea with ease. Do not be fearful. I could easily carry the whole of Lanka, Rāvaṇa and all. Therefore mount upon my back and I shall transport You to Rāma’s presence this very day.”

Sītā looked at Hanumān, who still appeared as a normal monkey less than half her size. She spoke in surprise. “Your proposal is surely quite monkey-like, O gallant one. How shall I even get on your back?”

Hanumān was piqued. This was the first time his strength and power had been questioned. Obviously Sītā was not aware of his abilities. He needed to give Her a demonstration. Hanumān began to expand his body, growing up to a huge size. He looked down at Sītā and said, “I have the capacity to lift up this entire island, with its hills, woodlands, lakes, city, defensive walls and the very lord of Lanka, Rāvaṇa himself. Be done with your hesitation, O princess, and allow me to carry You to Rāma.”

Sītā gazed up in amazement at Hanumān, who stood before Her like a tawny mountain. She was reassured of his ability, but was still doubtful about traveling on his back. She said, “You are like the wind-god himself, dear monkey. When you fly with great speed it will be difficult for Me to hold fast to you. The force of your flight will likely render Me unconscious. I will then fall into the ocean, only to be devoured by fierce aquatics.”

Sītā also feared that Hanumān would not be able to leave Lanka with Her. The Rākṣasas would spot them and give chase. They were capable of fighting in the air with powerful weapons and Hanumān would be hard-pressed to retaliate as he flew with Sītā on his back.

Sītā explained that there were still other reasons why She could not take up Hanumān’s offer. “I have vowed never to touch the body of any man other than Rāma. I am already mortified due to being grasped by the sinful Rāvaṇa. I could not voluntarily touch another man. Nor could I allow anyone other than Rāma to rescue Me, thereby diminishing Rāma’s fame. I therefore prefer to wait for My lord, confident that He will soon arrive.”

Hanumān nodded in assent to Sītā’s words. She was right. It would not be possible for Her to cling to him while he flew swiftly back. And he respected Her chastity, which was without comparison in the world. Resuming his normal size he said, “I shall now go back to Rāma. Please give me some token so that He will know that I have actually met with You.”

Sītā replied to him in a voice choked with tears. “You may give Him this token in the form of a message. Remind Him of the time when We lived together on the Chitrakuta mountain and how I was once attacked by a crow and Rāma gave Me protection.”

Sītā told Hanumān in detail about the incident. The crow in question was Indra’s son and he had wanted to witness Rāma’s prowess. He had attacked Sītā, whereupon Rāma had thrown a blade of grass at him, imbuing it with the power of the brahmāstra. The empowered grass had chased the crow across the universe and finally destroyed one of his eyes. Rāma would remember that incident and know that only Sītā could have recalled it.

Hanumān asked if Sītā had any message for Rāma. The princess replied, “You should report to Rāma My wretched condition. Although I have the invincible Rāma as My protector, I now appear like one forlorn. He should lose no time in rescuing Me. He is capable of advancing against the entire host of gods and demons united together, what to speak of Rāvaṇa.”

Sītā took from Her cloth a brilliant celestial gem which She had used to decorate Her hair. Handing the yellow jewel to Hanumān She said, “Give this gem to Rāma and say to Him, ‘Even as Viṣṇu rescued the Goddess Earth from the depths of the ocean, You should descend into the midst of the Rākṣasas and save Me.’ O monkey, deliver this message to My lord.”

Hanumān took the jewel and bowed low to Sītā. It was time to leave. But he wanted first to test the Rākṣasas’ strength. Now that he had actually penetrated into Lanka he saw his opportunity. If he could incite the Rākṣasas to fight with him, it would give him some idea of their force and power. And besides that, Hanumān wanted to do some damage to the demon forces before he left.

Thinking in this way, Hanumān, still in a vast form, began ripping up the trees and bushes in the gardens. He tore down the walls and archways and hurled them into the ponds. Moving like a tempest and roaring all the while, the Vanara created havoc in the grove. He took up a huge iron bar and stood at the entrance to the garden, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Rākṣasa troops.

The inhabitants of Rāvaṇa’s palace were terrified to hear Hanumān’s roar, along with the crash of trees and the cries of frightened animals. The Rākṣasīs, who had been buried in sleep, woke with a start. They saw Hanumān standing at the gate of the garden like a towering hill. Some of them had already noticed that Sītā was speaking to a monkey and they questioned Her about his identity.

“How should I know anything about this wonderful being?” She replied. “You are the ones skilled in sorcery and magic. Why then can you not ascertain for yourselves the nature of this creature?”

Some of the Rākṣasīs ran in fear to Rāvaṇa. They reported to him that the monkey had entirely destroyed the beautiful gardens, leaving only the large simshapa tree under which Sītā lay.

Rāvaṇa flared up. His eyes blazed and hot tears fell from them like drops of burning oil from a lamp. He thought for a moment. This attacker was probably a powerful emissary of the gods or even Viṣṇu. No one else would dare assail Lanka. Rāvaṇa ordered a select band of Rākṣasa warriors, the Kiṅkarās, to capture Hanumān. Eighty thousand of them immediately gathered and left for the garden. The massive Rākṣasas were endowed with extraordinary might, had large teeth and held fierce weapons. They rushed in a body toward the ashoka grove, keen to lay hold of Hanumān.

Seeing the colossal monkey they darted at him like moths toward a flame. They attacked Hanumān with their sharp-edged spears, maces, clubs, iron pikes and scimitars, surrounding him and shouting loudly. Waves of arrows sped toward Hanumān, rushing through the air and sounding like a roaring gale.

Hanumān assumed an even larger form. He lashed the ground with his tail and uttered a great cry. “Victory to Rāma and Lakṣman! I am Hanumān, the son of the wind-god, and I am here as Rāma’s servant. Not even a thousand Rāvaṇas can withstand me. I shall destroy Lanka and then return to my master.”

The Kiṅkarās were struck with fear upon seeing Hanumān’s size and hearing his booming voice, which shook the earth. They closed in on him in thousands. Hanumān whirled the iron bar and began striking the demons down. Bounding into the air and tearing through the Rākṣasa ranks, Hanumān swiftly annihilated them. He moved like the wind and could hardly be seen by the Rākṣasas. In a short time they were virtually wiped out. A few of them survived and ran back to Rāvaṇa.

The demon king became even more furious. He ordered one of his great generals, Jambumali, to attack Hanumān. The Rākṣasa bowed to Rāvaṇa and went out for battle clutching his golden bow. Jambumali mounted a chariot drawn by a hundred tall steeds with the heads of fiends. He twanged his bowstring, making a sound like thunder and, roaring with anger, raced toward the palace gardens.

Meanwhile Hanumān had been looking around to see what further destruction he could cause. He saw an enormous temple atop a great hill where the Rākṣasas worshipped their guardian deity. He quickly climbed the hill and scaled the side of the temple, which appeared like the sheer face of a mountain. As he went up the wall of the temple, the effulgent Hanumān resembled the rising sun. Repeatedly crying out, “Victory to Rāma!” he began tearing down the buttresses and large stone arches all around the temple. In minutes he reduced the entire edifice to a pile of rubble.

Hanumān leapt down from the hill and spotted Jambumali coming toward him. The demon was dressed in crimson robes with a garland of bright red flowers round his neck and a chaplet of red jewels on his head. Large gold earrings shone brilliantly from his blackish-blue pointed ears. He roared loudly and fired a hundred long shafts from his bow.

Hanumān also roared when he saw the demon. He stood joyfully in front of the bellowing Rākṣasa. Jambumali pierced the monkey all over with his terrible arrows. With one large crescent-headed shaft he struck Hanumān in the mouth, while with a number of barbed arrows he hit him in his arms and legs. His head stained with blood, Hanumān looked like a large red lotus in the sky. He was infuriated and he took up an immense boulder, hurling it with tremendous force at Jambumali.

The demon laughed and instantly released ten powerful arrows which smashed the flying rock into fragments. Enraged, Hanumān then uprooted a sal tree and whirled it about. Jambumali again shot his razor-sharp arrows and cut the tree to pieces. He continued to pierce Hanumān with more and more arrows.

The monkey lost his patience and again took up the great iron rod with which he had slain the Kiṅkarās. With innumerable arrows sticking from his body he rushed toward the demon. He bounded into the air and came down onto Jambumali’s chariot, bringing the rod down onto his skull. Smashed by Hanumān, the demon’s head was pressed into his body, which itself was crushed into a shapeless mass. The chariot was shattered and the demonic donkeys ran here and there, bellowing in fear.

Rāvaṇa was astounded to hear that Jambumali had been slain. He again ordered seven more of his generals to go out for battle. The Rākṣasa warriors went out to meet Hanumān shouting in joy, each of them eager to excel the others in battle. They mounted large chariots overlaid with golden armor and decked with banners and flags. Rumbling like thunderclouds, the chariots rushed toward Hanumān. The demons were expert in the use of celestial weapons and they began to release all kinds of missiles at the great monkey.

Hanumān leapt into the sky and wheeled about with his arms and legs outstretched. He dodged the arrows and missiles of the Rākṣasas, who themselves rose into the sky to fight him. As he sported with the Rākṣasas, who each held a golden bow, Hanumān looked like the powerful wind-god playing among thunderclouds with streaks of lightning. He swept down upon the demons one by one, striking them with his hands and feet. Hanumān killed all of them, and they fell to the ground like mountains struck down by Indra’s thunderbolt.

Hanumān then descended to earth and stood again at the gateway to the gardens, eager to fight with more demons. The ground was strewn with the bodies of Rākṣasas and smashed chariots. Elephants and horses cried in dissonant tones and blood flowed everywhere. In order to strike terror into the Rākṣasas and create dissension among their ranks, Hanumān shouted, “Send out your best fighters, Rāvaṇa! They will meet the same fate as these here. I am Hanumān, servant of Rāma. Soon millions of monkeys like myself will arrive here, accompanied by Rāma Himself. What use is your fighting? Release Sītā now and restore Her to Rāma!”

Rāvaṇa decided that Hanumān could not possibly be a monkey. Surely he was a divine being created by the gods. The demon had seen some mighty Vanaras, but this one seemed extraordinarily powerful. Still, surely he could be vanquished. Rāvaṇa and his warriors had overcome the gods themselves; it should not be too difficult to overpower this monkey, whoever he may be. Rāvaṇa summoned five more exceptionally powerful leaders of his army. Encouraging them by praising their strength and skill in battle, he sent them out to capture Hanumān. He had to find out who this monkey was and why he had come to Lanka.

But one after another Hanumān slew the Rākṣasa generals. He struck down the first three with his thunderbolt-like fists. The other two then assailed Hanumān from his two sides, hurling their fierce weapons with great force. Hanumān, who himself looked like a mountain, tore off the top of the nearby hill, complete with its beasts, snakes and trees. Soaring upwards with that great crag, he brought it down upon the two demons and completely crushed them.

Hanumān then began slaying thousands of other Rākṣasas who were gathered there. He killed warriors by striking them with other warriors, elephants with other elephants, and horses with horses. The ground was covered with corpses. Hanumān appeared like the Time Spirit bent upon the destruction of all created beings.

Rāvaṇa considered the situation. This being was formidable. He had wiped out a number of near invincible Rākṣasa chiefs. Nevertheless, how could anyone ever defeat Rāvaṇa? That was impossible. Admittedly the goddess Lanka had previously come screaming to him, speaking of his imminent destruction, but Rāvaṇa was still confident. If necessary he himself would deal with the monkey, but first let him contend with Rāvaṇa’s powerful sons. That should take care of him. Rāvaṇa turned to Prince Aksha, who sat by his side. Spurred on by his father’s glance, Aksha rose from his seat and went out for battle.

He mounted his golden chariot which shone like the sun. It was yoked to eight celestial steeds, all as swift as thought. A large red standard, studded with bright gems, flew from a bejeweled pole. Rows of fierce lances and javelins were arranged alongside numerous quivers of razor-headed arrows. Eight long and terrible-looking swords were fastened to the sides of the chariot in silver scabbards emblazoned with golden moons and stars. Urging on his steeds Aksha rose above the ground and swept toward the gardens, accompanied by thousands of other demons on elephants, horses and chariots.

The Rākṣasa prince arrived before Hanumān in a few moments. He paused for a minute to assess his opponent’s strength. Aksha was awestruck to see the mountainous monkey standing ready for combat. Hanumān looked to him like the blazing fire of universal dissolution. But the prince was accomplished in battle and he felt no fear. He gazed at Hanumān with his large red eyes, which resembled those of a lion. Aksha drew his great bow to its full length and sent three powerful arrows toward the monkey. The arrows struck Hanumān’s head and he bled profusely, giving him the appearance of the newly risen sun.

Hanumān, his eyes bulging in indignation, looked down at the Rākṣasa. Aksha wore a breastplate which seemed to be made entirely from gems, it shone so brilliantly. His golden armlets flashed while he worked his beautiful ornate bow. As he assailed Hanumān, Aksha seemed like a dark cloud covered by a rainbow, pouring a shower of flaming arrows onto a large mountain.

Seeing an opportunity to again display his prowess for Rāma’s cause, Hanumān roared in joy and sprang into the air. He darted about evading Aksha’s arrows with the speed of the wind. Aksha’s chariot followed him through the air like an elephant approaching a large covered well. The prince continuously fired his deadly weapons at Hanumān, who wheeled about like a firebrand.

Witnessing the fearful encounter between the Vanara and the Rākṣasa, the gods were amazed. The sun grew dim, the wind ceased blowing and the sky echoed with loud shrieks. Even the sea convulsed and the Trikuta mountain shook.

Hanumān considered that the prince was a worthy opponent, although only a boy. The Rākṣasa was growing in strength as he fought. He stuck to Hanumān wherever the monkey flew and pierced him with thousands of razor-sharp arrows. Hanumān became more and more infuriated and he made up his mind to kill Aksha. Suddenly turning as he was pursued by the prince, Hanumān struck the eight steeds with his palms and killed them outright. As his chariot descended to the earth, Aksha rose up into the air, holding his bow and sword. He resembled an effulgent ṛṣi who had quit his body through yoga and was ascending to the realm of the gods.

As the prince flew through the sky Hanumān met him and took hold of his two legs. Spinning him around violently, the monkey swiftly descended from the air and dashed him to the ground. With his bones smashed and body bathed in blood Aksha fell dead.

Hosts of ṛṣis, Yakṣas and Nāgas who ranged the stellar sphere had gathered in a body in the canopy of the sky to watch the conflict. Observing Hanumān’s stupendous feat in killing Aksha, they applauded and rained down celestial flowers.

Rāvaṇa was filled with grief and rage. He turned to his eldest son, Indrajit. This prince had earned his name, ‘the conqueror of Indra,’ by once taking captive the mighty king of the gods. He had command of all the mystic missiles, including even the infallible brahmāstra, presided over by Brahmā himself. Rāvaṇa extolled his son at length. He ordered him to go out and take Hanumān captive. The Rākṣasa king felt confident that Indrajit would succeed and he watched with affection as the obedient prince marched out for combat.

Indrajit rushed out like the sea on a full moon day. He mounted a chariot drawn by four sabre-tooth tigers of immense size. With an arrow fitted to his bow he swiftly arrived before Hanumān. Upon seeing the banner Indrajit had seized from Indra, Hanumān roared loudly in joy, realizing that he faced the famous conqueror of Indra. The crash of the wooden tom-toms and war drums which accompanied Indrajit increased Hanumān’s martial ardor. He grew even further in size and again leapt into the sky.

Indrajit fired his long-shafted arrows, which were covered in gold and had beautifully feathered ends. They screamed through the air with their steel points glowing bright red. Hanumān moved rapidly in all directions and skillfully avoided them. The Rākṣasa released more and more deadly shafts and they traveled in long lines, like streaks of lightning, but the Rākṣasa could not hit the swiftly moving monkey. Nor could Hanumān find any opportunity to take hold of Indrajit. The gods and ṛṣis were struck with wonder as they watched the two accomplished warriors wheeling about in the sky.

The Rākṣasa realized that Hanumān was formidable. But if he was a created being then he would surely succumb to the might of the creator’s weapon, the brahmāstra. Indrajit fitted to his bow the special arrow he reserved for the brahmāstra. He chanted the mantras sacred to Brahmā and released the missile. Hanumān, instantly bound by the divine force of the irresistible weapon, fell to the earth with his limbs stunned. He understood that the brahmāstra had overpowered him and considered the situation.

Hanumān had been given a boon by Brahmā that the brahmāstra would only be effective upon him for a short while. He knew he would soon be released. But this was an opportunity for him to be taken before Rāvaṇa himself. That would be useful. He could deliver a stern ultimatum to the Rākṣasa on Rāma’s behalf and then make his escape.

Having reduced his body to its normal size, Hanumān was surrounded by a large number of fierce Rākṣasas who quickly bound him with large ropes. Hitting and kicking Hanumān, they began dragging him toward Rāvaṇa’s palace on Indrajit’s order. Hanumān feigned fear and, even as the effect of the brahmāstra wore off, allowed himself to be taken to Rāvaṇa. Within his mind the monkey thought only of Rāma and how he could best serve Him now.

The demons dragged Hanumān into Rāvaṇa’s great assembly hall and threw him before the Rākṣasa king. Rāvaṇa’s fierce-looking ministers reviled Hanumān. Some said, “Let him be thrashed, roasted alive and devoured.” But Rāvaṇa was inquisitive. Who was this being? Why had he caused so much havoc in Lanka? The demon turned to his chief minister and ordered him to interrogate Hanumān. The monkey immediately said, “I am a messenger arrived from Sugrīva, king of the Vanaras. Both he and I are the servants of Rāma, the Lord of this world.”

Hanumān looked up at Rāvaṇa. He was awestruck by the demon’s opulence. Rāvaṇa sat upon a vast crystal throne studded with gems and raised on a platform of gold. On his head he wore a brilliant diadem set with priceless jewels and encircled by strings of pearls. His limbs were decorated with numerous gold ornaments inlaid with diamonds. He wore valuable silk robes and was adorned with crimson sandal-paste, painted with peculiar designs. His ruddy eyes were at once terrible and yet as attractive as large lotus petals. With his twenty powerful arms he looked like a mountain infested by five-hooded serpents. On both sides he was being fanned by elegantly adorned young women. Next to him sat his four principal advisors, who leaned across to him offering advice and reassurance.

Hanumān gazed intently upon Rāvaṇa, admiring his power and opulence. Surely the demon could have been the leader of the gods and the protector of the universe were he not given to violent and sinful acts. If this demon were enraged, he could doubtlessly turn the entire world into one large ocean.

Prahasta, Rāvaṇa’s chief minister, was doubtful about Hanumān’s identity and he questioned him. “Take heart, O monkey. We will soon release you. But first tell us who you really are. Are you an envoy of Viṣṇu, thirsty as He is for conquest over the demons? Perhaps you are sent by Indra or one of the other gods. Speak the truth! We do not hold you to be a monkey, for your power is very great indeed.”

Hanumān responded that he was indeed a monkey. He again declared himself to be Sugrīva’s messenger. “We are Rāma’s servants. He cannot be conquered by any being in all the worlds. Take heed of the advice I shall now offer you for your own good, O Rāvaṇa.”

Hanumān told Rāvaṇa the history of Rāma and his exile to the forest, leading right up to the assembling of the Vanara hordes at Kishkinda. All these monkeys, Hanumān warned, were as swift and powerful as Hanumān himself. No one could resist them in battle. Seeking to create fear and dissension among the Rākṣasas, Hanumān spoke boldly. “You should immediately release Sītā before it is too late. Otherwise you will soon see an ocean of monkeys and bears descend upon Lanka. Rāma and Lakṣman will stand at their heads, loosing arrows which are as powerful as Indra’s thunderbolt. Not even all the gods united together could keep the princess of Mithila from Rāma. If you value your life, restore Her to Rāma today.”

Hanumān then described Rāma’s prowess. Rāma could dissolve the universe with His arrows and immediately create it anew. Not even Brahmā or Śiva could not stand before Rāma in battle. Lanka and its Rākṣasas would not present even the smallest obstacle to Him. Rāvaṇa had placed the noose of death around his neck when he stole Sītā. His only hope now was to go before Rāma and beg for forgiveness and mercy.

Rāvaṇa was overcome with wrath. Opening his eyes wide he exclaimed, “Kill this insolent monkey!”

Hearing this command, Rāvaṇa’s brother and counselor Vibhishana immediately objected. “It is never acceptable to kill a messenger. No virtuous ruler would even consider such an action. If necessary the monkey can be punished in some other way.”

Rāvaṇa angrily replied that Hanumān had acted sinfully. He had destroyed the ashoka grove and killed many Rākṣasas. But Hanumān replied that he had acted only in self-defense. He was only a monkey. His monkey nature had made him playfully tear down the gardens, and he had then been attacked by many fierce warriors. What could he do but fight back?

When Hanumān stopped speaking, Vibhishana continued to argue against his execution. Rāvaṇa’s eyes blazed with fury. He always found his brother’s advice hard to accept. But Vibhishana was wise; that much Rāvaṇa could accept. The demon king decided to inflict another punishment upon Hanumān. “Monkeys are fond of their tails,” Rāvaṇa said with a smile. “Set his tail alight. Then parade him around the streets of Lanka. After that, if he survives, he can return home in a wretched and mutilated state.”

The Rākṣasas quickly carried out Rāvaṇa’s command. They tied oil-soaked cloths around Hanumān’s tail and set them alight. Hanumān furiously expanded his body and began lashing the demons around him. Cursing, they dragged him from the hall and out into the streets of Lanka. His tail ablaze, the giant monkey marched behind his captors, carefully surveying the city. After all, this was an opportunity for further reconnaissance so he could advise Rāma how the city could best be attacked.

Some of the Rākṣasīs reported to Sītā that Hanumān was being paraded through the city with his tail alight. Upon hearing this news Sītā felt aggrieved. She prayed mentally to the fire-god, Agni, “If I possess any merit from service to My husband and if I am truly devoted to Rāma, then please prove cool to Hanumān.”

At once Hanumān felt the fire on his tail to be cold. He wondered how that could be possible. Surely it was due to Rāma’s power, or perhaps it was due to Sītā’s mercy. Rāma’s god-like spouse is dear to all beings, Hanumān thought. The fire-god would certainly try to please those devoted to Her service.

As Hanumān went along Lanka’s streets he was derided and abused by the demons. The monkey decided to make his escape. He was tied around his torso with thick ropes that bound his arms to his body. Hanumān suddenly reduced his size and slipped free of those ropes. With a shout of “Victory to Rāma!” he sprang into the air. He bounded across the rooftops and made his way toward the city’s northern gate. As he leapt he set fire to the mansions of the Rākṣasas with his flaming tail. Assisted by his father Vāyu and by Agni himself, Hanumān soon had a large part of Lanka blazing.

Hanumān again assumed his colossal size and roared like the thundercloud that appears at the time of universal dissolution. Many buildings in Lanka cracked and fell, blazing, to the ground. Rākṣasas ran and flew in all directions, shouting in terror. Seeing Hanumān standing like a mountain they considered that Agni himself had come to destroy Lanka. Rākṣasas fell from the high windows of their mansions, their blazing bodies resembling meteors. Molten gold and silver flowed in rivulets carrying sparkling gems of every description. It seemed as if the whole of the Trikuta mountain was ablaze. Huge scarlet and orange flames leapt up and dense palls of black smoke hung like clouds around the mountain.

Some of the powerful Rākṣasas attacked Hanumān. He took up a massive club and smashed them, killing thousands. “Here is the mighty and vengeful Indra!” some cried. “Surely this is Yamarāja meting out his awful punishments!” said others. Still others considered that Śiva had come there blazing with fury. Indeed, it might be any powerful deity, for the sinful Rāvaṇa had angered them all at different times. Perhaps it was even the infallible and unassailable Viṣṇu, Lord of the entire creation.

Hanumān stood on the northern rampart and looked around at the blazing city. Scenes of chaos and turmoil met his eyes on all sides. He felt satisfied with his work and decided that it was time to return to the mainland. In the sky above him the gods and ṛṣis had assembled and were extolling him with choice poems.

But a sudden apprehension seized Hanumān. What about Sītā? Surely the princess had been burned alive in this immense conflagration. How had he been so impetuous? Hanumān cursed himself for falling a victim to anger. Under the impulse of anger a person could kill his elders or rebuke those worthy of worship. He had let himself come fully under the sway of his fury with no thought of the terrible consequences. What would happen now if Sītā were killed? The monkey felt gripped by despondency.

Even as Hanumān thought this, however, he heard from the sky the Cāraṇas saying, “Hanumān has achieved a great and marvelous feat. This city of Lanka, thickly crowded with demons, has been burnt on all sides. It now stands as if shrieking and yet the gentle Sītā has not been harmed in the least.”

Reassured by their words, Hanumān decided then to depart. He leapt across to the Arista mountain on the northern shore of Lanka. As he ascended the mountain, which reached up to the clouds, large rocks broke under his feet and scattered down the mountainside. Deer and lions started and fled in fear. Large trees were crushed beneath Hanumān’s tread, making a loud cracking sound. On the summit of Arista, Hanumān crouched down, ready to leap across the ocean once more.

Shouting Rāma’s name, Hanumān leapt into the air. Again the pressure of his leap pressed the mountain down into the earth. All its trees shook and shed their blossoms. Vidhyadharas, Kinnaras and Gandharvas, who were sporting on the mountain slopes, rose into the air as the mountain vibrated violently. Thousands of lions living in the mountain caves roared together with a terrific noise.

Hanumān rose high into the sky and soared away from Lanka, his mission accomplished.