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RKD: 3.10: Rāma and Lakṣman Laid Low

Rāvaṇa was becoming increasingly anxious. His fear overpowered the grief of losing his sons and brothers. He sat lost in thought on his golden throne. One after another his most powerful fighters were being slain. Even when the two human princes had been overcome and thrown down by Indrajit’s irresistible weapons, still they somehow recovered. When Rāma had killed even the formidable Kumbhakarna, who was there left who could face the prince and live? Surely He was Viṣṇu Himself, the Rākṣasas’ supreme enemy.

Rāvaṇa’s eyes narrowed. He now faced a great peril. He ordered his ministers to check every defensive post around the city. Extra guards should be posted. Day and night there should be extreme vigilance. Anyone found neglectful of his duty would be immediately executed.

The demon hissed with anger. The thought of surrender did not cross his mind for a moment. Victory or death were the only choices. Brooding on Atikaya’s fall, he went into his chambers and sat disconsolately on a golden couch.

Indrajit then approached him and said, “O lord of the Rākṣasas, why are you held in the grip of sorrow? Do you not see me by your side? How will those two humans survive when I go out again for battle? They were lucky to escape last time, but their luck has now run out. Behold them today lying prostrate on the ground, torn to pieces by my weapons.”

Indrajit consoled his father by vowing that he would kill Rāma and Lakṣman. Rāvaṇa felt heartened. He gave his assent to his son and without delay Indrajit prepared for battle.

The prince donned his impenetrable armor and mounted his great chariot drawn by tigers. Blowing his massive conch he proceeded along Lanka’s main highway. At once many other fierce Rākṣasas began to follow. Some rode horses, some boars and some giant donkeys. Others mounted lions, jackals and even huge scorpions. Other Rākṣasas, who had hideous, twisted faces, mounted crows, vultures and peacocks. Soon an enormous number of Rākṣasas were assembled for battle, headed by Indrajit.

Those demon warriors, equipped with every kind of weapon, marched to the sound of kettledrums and conches, making the earth vibrate. Indrajit sat aboard his chariot, which was covered over with a white parasol. He was being fanned by beautiful golden-handled whisks and worshipped by Yatudhanas chanting sacred hymns. As he proceeded for battle he shone like Indra amid the gods.

Rāvaṇa stood upon a high rampart watching his son. He felt confident. No one in all the worlds could stand against Indrajit, be they gods, Dānavas or Daityas. What then of humans and monkeys? After all, Indrajit had already overpowered the two humans. Surely this time there would be no lucky escapes.

Rāvaṇa shouted a blessing to Indrajit as he reached the northern gate. The demon prince turned to his father with palms joined, then raised his hand, and the army rushed out with a mighty roar.

As the Rākṣasas reached the battlefield, Indrajit halted them and had them surround him. He dismounted from his chariot and lit a fire. While reciting Vedic mantras the demon worshipped the sacred fire. He poured oblations of ghee into the fire and made offerings of lances, spears and swords in place of the traditional reeds and grasses. Clasping the neck of a dark-hued goat, the demon slit its throat and placed it on the fire.

As the fire burst into flames, the fire-god appeared in person. Shining like refined gold he personally accepted the offerings. Indrajit then climbed back aboard his chariot. He sat in meditation and invoked the brahmāstra. While the Rākṣasa was charging all his weapons and his chariot with the force of that celestial missile, the heavens seemed to quake in fear.

Having finished his incantations Indrajit blazed like a smokeless fire. By his own mystic power he became invisible, along with his weapons, chariot and all. He gave the order to charge and the army of Rākṣasas went forward roaring in various dissonant tones. They struck the monkeys from a distance with their ornamented arrows and lances thrown with tremendous velocity. The Rākṣasas then fell upon the monkeys in a fury.

Remaining invisible, Indrajit assailed the monkey army with razor-headed arrows, lances and maces. The monkeys realized the demon was fighting invisibly and surrounded the place from where his weapons flew. They hurled numerous trees and boulders at him, but the demon cut them to pieces. He tore apart the bodies of the monkeys with his irresistible arrows. With a single arrow the Rākṣasa pierced as many as five, seven, or even a dozen monkeys.

Even though they were being exterminated by Indrajit, the monkeys, who had dedicated their lives to Rāma’s cause, stood their ground. They repeatedly surrounded the deadly demon, sending an endless shower of rocks and trees in his direction.

Indrajit moved off invisibly and searched for the chief monkey warriors. One after another he pierced Nīla, Jambavan, Sugrīva, Aṅgada, Rishabha, Dwivida and many other monkey heroes. He rendered all of them virtually unconscious with his terrible shafts. With great joy the Rākṣasa beheld the Vanara army being overwhelmed on all sides by his cruel weapons. He rose into the sky above the monkeys and continued to rain down countless arrows, like a dark cloud in the monsoon season.

With their bodies ripped apart, the monkeys fell shrieking like mountains thrown down by Indra’s thunderbolt. They could not see the demon or his chariot, but saw only an endless stream of sharp-pointed shafts falling from the heavens. Indrajit sent forth a shower of violent weapons which gave off sparks and incandescent flames. He covered the monkeys with axes, swords, lances and pikes, all of those weapons charged with mystic power.

Indrajit then sought out Rāma and Lakṣman, covering Them with torrents of arrows. Not minding the arrows any more than a mountain would mind a shower of rain, Rāma said to His brother, “This demon Indrajit has engaged the invincible weapon of Brahmā. Behold, our entire army has been virtually overpowered. We too will have to succumb to Brahmā’s weapon, I fear.”

Rāma knew that no being in the universe could resist the brahmāstra, except by invoking the same weapon to counter it. But the meeting of two brahmāstras was highly dangerous. It could bring about the destruction of the whole cosmos and would likely cause the death of millions of innocent creatures. Rāma did not want that to happen. He and Lakṣman sent hundreds and thousands of powerful shafts toward the Rākṣasa, but Indrajit shrugged off Their arrows and continued aiming his weapons at the two brothers.

The demon again and again recited the incantations sacred to Brahmā and sent fierce arrows at Rāma and Lakṣman. The princes were completely covered by Indrajit’s arrows. They bled all over and appeared like a couple of kinshuka trees covered in red blossoms. Grievously wounded by Indrajit’s assault, They both fell to the ground and dropped Their bows.

Indrajit sent up a cry of victory. He considered Rāma and Lakṣman dead. The demon looked around the battlefield and saw that only a few thousand monkeys remained standing. The battle was surely won. Seeing the sun approaching the western horizon, Indrajit decided to return to Lanka and tell his father the good news. If any of the monkey army remained on the battlefield, he could finish them tomorrow. Appearing in the sky like a blazing planet, Indrajit commanded the Rākṣasa troops to withdraw and they quickly entered Lanka, roaring in joy.

On the battlefield Hanumān still remained standing. He looked around at the scene of devastation wrought by Indrajit. Even Rāma and Lakṣman, along with Sugrīva, Aṅgada, Nīla and all the other powerful Vanara commanders, lay prostrate. The monkey ran up to the two princes and knelt by Their side. He was joined by Vibhishana who had also survived Indrajit’s attack. Tears fell from Hanumān’s eyes as he gazed at the unconscious brothers. They appeared to be severely wounded. Placing his hand on Hanumān’s shoulder, Vibhishana reassured him gently.

“Do not give way to despondency, my valiant friend. These two brothers are not killed. Surely They have allowed Themselves to be brought under the power of Brahmā’s weapon in honor of the self-born creator of the universe. Rāma and Lakṣman are always protected by virtue. Indeed, They are virtue personified. We will yet see Them rise to defeat Rāvaṇa and his evil forces.”

Hanumān embraced the Rākṣasa and thanked him for his kind words. But what could he do now? How could the battle continue with only a handful of monkeys and bears still standing? Even Rāma and Lakṣman seemed in no condition to fight.

As Hanumān and Vibhishana looked around they saw Jambavan lying nearby. The wise old leader of the bears was covered with arrows but his head was moving slightly. Vibhishana ran over to him and knelt down calling his name. Jambavan opened his eyes and looked at the Rākṣasa. He spoke barely in a whisper.

“O Vibhishana, I can hardly see you, wounded as I am by Indrajit’s arrows. Our army is now in grave danger, but if Hanumān still survives then there is hope. Tell me, does the son of the wind-god live?”

Vibhishana was surprised that Jambavan had first inquired after Hanumān rather than Rāma or Lakṣman. He called Hanumān over and the monkey came quickly and knelt before Jambavan. Mustering his strength, the old bear began to speak. “My dear Hanumān, it is you alone who can save this army. Only you possess the power to fly from here to the Himālayas. You must go there at once to fetch the celestial healing herbs.”

Jambavan explained that there was a mountain standing near Mount Kailāsa on which grew four precious herbs, placed there by the gods themselves. Jambavan described the four plants. “First there is sanjivakarani, capable of bringing a dead person back to life. Then you must find vishalyakarani, which can completely heal all weapon wounds. The other two herbs are sandhani and suvarnakarani, which together can restore a broken body back to its pristine state. They all grow together atop this mountain. O Hanumān, leave at once and bring them here.”

Hanumān immediately stood up. He bounded across to the Trikuta mountain and quickly climbed to its summit. From there he leapt over to the Malaya mountain on Lanka’s coast. Standing there the monkey expanded his body till he appeared like a second mountain on top of the Malaya. He thought of Rāma and Lakṣman, and of Sugrīva and all the other monkeys and bears lying mortally wounded. There was no time to lose. He crouched down and with a great shout of “Victory to Rāma!” leapt toward the north.

As he jumped he pushed down the mountain and made the whole island of Lanka shake. The city seemed to be dancing at night as its lights shook with the force of Hanumān’s leap. The Rākṣasas were seized with fear, thinking that Lanka was about to be consumed by an earthquake.

Hanumān soared through the heavens. Being followed by the wind, he felt no resistance and sped faster and faster toward the Himālayas. In a short time he saw the great range appearing ahead of him. From a distance the mountains appeared like masses of white clouds. As Hanumān came closer he saw the golden Rishabha mountain with the gods’ numerous residences atop it. Passing beyond Rishabha he saw Mount Kailāsa in the distance.

Between Rishabha and Kailāsa, Hanumān saw the mountain where the celestial herbs grew. It shone brightly and the herbs growing upon its sides appeared like flashing lights. Hanumān came down upon the mountain and began to search for the four herbs Jambavan had described. As he moved among the lush foliage, however, the herbs, perceiving that someone had come to take them, hid themselves from view. Only the gods were able to use those divine medicines; no one else could find them.

Hanumān ran about looking for the herbs. Where were they? What if he could not find them? What would happen to Rāma and Lakṣman? Could it be possible that the two brothers would die? No. He could not let that happen. He had to fetch the herbs even if it meant bringing the entire mountain.

The monkey realized that the herbs had concealed themselves from his view. He became furious and roared loudly, thundering at the mountain, “O lord of mountains, as you have not shown any compassion even to Rāma and Lakṣman, you shall pay the price today. Watch now as I tear away your shining peak. I shall not return without the herbs.”

Hanumān plunged his hands into the side of the mountain and broke off the entire section containing all the herbs. Lifting the huge mountain summit above his head, the monkey sprang into the air. Hanumān soared high into the sky, bearing aloft the mountain with its trees, elephants, tigers, deer and herbs. He blazed with his own splendor and, with the effulgent mountain held in his hands, he looked like the sun coursing through the sky.

Once again, his father Vāyu raced behind him and he soon arrived near Lanka. Having accomplished such an inconceivable feat in Rāma’s service, Hanumān descended near the Trikuta and set down the celestial hill of herbs. Vibhishana rushed over and embraced the monkey. The Rākṣasa then set about finding the medicinal herbs, perceiving them by virtue of his occult vision.

Taking a handful of the herbs from Vibhishana, Hanumān went quickly to Rāma and Lakṣman. Both he and Vibhishana looked anxiously at the two princes, who appeared like the sun and the moon fallen to earth. They were hardly breathing. Hanumān dropped to his knees by their side. Was he in time to save them? Would the herbs work? His hand shook as he placed a bunch of herbs under Rāma’s nostrils.

For some time Rāma showed no signs of movement. Hanumān was beside himself with anxiety. Then slowly, the prince began to stir. He breathed deeply, inhaling the celestial fragrance. Gradually His eyes opened. He looked up at Hanumān and smiled. The monkey breathed a deep sigh of relief. Quickly he began administering the herbs to Lakṣman. Slowly, He too returned to consciousness.

Sugrīva then had Sushena, a monkey expert in healing, come and tend to the princes. Using the other herbs brought by Hanumān, Sushena healed Their arrow wounds. In a short time the arrows fell from Their bodies and Their wounds closed up and healed. Both brothers sprang to Their feet, Their bodies renewed and invigorated. With tears in His eyes, Rāma embraced Hanumān and thanked him for his service.

The surviving monkeys moved swiftly among the wounded troops, administering the herbs to them. They crushed the herbs and allowed the wind to carry the pungent fragrance. No demons lay on the battlefield, as Rāvaṇa had ordered that they be tossed into the sea when they were slain. The demon did not want the monkeys to gain strength from seeing how many Rākṣasas were killed.

By the potency of the healing herbs hundreds of thousands of the Vanara warriors were restored to consciousness and they jumped up shouting with joy. Even some monkeys who had been killed, but whose bodies were not destroyed, were brought back to life by the herbs’ potency. They felt as if they had awakened from a restful night of sleep. Soon the monkey army stood again in their millions, ready and eager for the fight.

The night was drawing to a close and Sugrīva, after consulting with Rāma and Lakṣman, decided to attack Lanka before the Rākṣasas were aware of the situation. The monkeys took up flaming torches and moved like a surging ocean toward the city walls. Shocked and amazed to find so many monkeys clambering over the ramparts, the Rākṣasa guards fled in fear. The monkeys set fire to the gates, houses and mansions in Lanka. Rāma and Lakṣman sent innumerable flaming arrows into the city and a great fire raged.

Panic-stricken demons ran in all directions with their clothes and hair ablaze. Great mansions and palaces were completely consumed by flames. Golden archways and walls melted and crumbled to the ground. In less than an hour the city gave the appearance of the earth being consumed by the dread fire of annihilation. Searing red flames rose up to the sky and were reflected upon the ocean, making it appear like a charming sea of red waters. As the monkeys ran about setting fire to anything and everything, the Rākṣasas’ screams were heard everywhere. They dashed out of their houses and were immediately assailed by the monkeys.

Rāvaṇa was aroused from his intoxicated slumber by the clamor. He sat up in shock. What was happening? Surely this could not be the monkeys. There were only a few of them left. How could they attack Lanka while their leaders were both prostrate on the battlefield?

Pulling his silk garment around his waist, the demon ran out of his chamber and called for his ministers. Seized with fear they ran to Rāvaṇa and told him that Rāma and Lakṣman had somehow risen up and attacked the city. The demon king was amazed. He immediately issued orders for the Rākṣasa chiefs to march out. Tens of thousands of demons clad in golden armor came onto the city streets. They were led by Kumbha and Nikumbha, Kumbhakarna’s two powerful sons. The Rākṣasas rushed roaring toward the monkeys, attacking them with swords, pikes, maces, javelins and countless arrows that screamed through the air.

Numerous garlands, broken wine casks and burning incenses made the city fragrant as the bellicose opponents tore at each other in a frenzy. Monkeys picked up Rākṣasas and whirled them about, striking down other Rākṣasas, while the Rākṣasas lanced five or seven monkeys at once with their terrible spears. Infuriated monkeys bit off the ears and crushed the skulls of the demons, pummeling them to a pulp with their fists and feet. Powerful Rākṣasas tore off the heads of the Vanaras and lopped off their limbs with great scimitars. Everywhere there were shouts of “Stay!” “Give battle!” and “You are killed!”

Gradually the battle spilled out of the city. Great duels were fought between the principal fighters on both sides. The Rākṣasa Kampana challenged Aṅgada and was slain by him with a blow from a mountain peak. Along with the two powerful Vanaras, Mainda and Dwivida, Aṅgada also made short work of Sonitaksha, Yupaksha and Prajangha, three of the mightiest Rākṣasas.

Seeing his comrades killed, Kumbha roared with fury. Kumbhakarna’s son appeared awful and unassailable. He took up his tremendous bow, in no way inferior to Indra’s, and loosed venomous shafts by the thousand. Monkeys fell on all sides, screaming in pain. Mainda and Dwivida rushed toward the Rākṣasa and challenged him to fight. Those monkey brothers looked like a couple of moving mountains approaching a third.

As they neared Kumbha, the demon fitted a fierce arrow onto his bow and shot it at Dwivida’s chest. Hit by the arrow, Dwivida fell to the ground and lay there wriggling and gasping for breath. Mainda at once took up an enormous crag and hurled it with force at the Rākṣasa. Kumbha shot five arrows that shattered the rock and it fell in pieces at his feet. Taking another long shaft, he struck Mainda on the breast and the monkey fell unconscious.

Aṅgada saw his two uncles laid low by Kumbha and he dashed across to challenge the Rākṣasa. Kumbha laughed, making an ass-like sound which reverberated all over the battlefield. His eyes blazed like two red fires and he stood in his chariot looking like Death personified. As Aṅgada ran toward him, Kumbha shot dozens of deadly arrows which penetrated the monkey’s body. Not shaken, Aṅgada sent a shower of rocks and trees at the demon. Kumbha easily smashed the missiles with his arrows, laughing all the while.

Kumbha then fired arrows, which hit Aṅgada on the forehead and made a stream of blood flow down the monkey’s face. Pressing his wounds with one hand, Aṅgada seized hold of a massive tree with the other. He whirled around and tossed that tree at the Rākṣasa. It flew with the speed of the wind. Kumbha dropped to one knee and instantly shot seven steel arrows which sliced the flying tree to pieces. Without pausing for a moment Kumbha released seven more shafts, which struck Aṅgada on the chest and sent him reeling.

Rāma saw that Aṅgada was sinking to the ground under the force of Kumbha’s arrows. He immediately ordered Jambavan and a number of powerful monkeys to go to Aṅgada’s assistance. They bounded toward Kumbha, throwing trees and boulders at the bellowing demon. Kumbha spun round and shot his fierce arrows, hitting all of the monkey warriors as they approached him. No one could get near the Rākṣasa as he stood with his uplifted bow, any more than one could approach the orb of the sun.

Sugrīva then came forward to challenge the Rākṣasa. He hurled huge rocks one after another at the demon’s chariot, advancing continually toward him. Kumbha smashed all the rocks thrown at him with arrows shot in a solid line. He moved with astonishing speed, striking down the rocks and simultaneously sending arrows at Sugrīva. The monkey king was pierced all over, but he did not flinch. He suddenly sprang onto Kumbha’s chariot and snatched his bow, even as the Rākṣasa fired arrows at him. Sugrīva broke the bow in two and hurled it away. The monkey then leapt to the ground and addressed the Rākṣasa.

“O Kumbha, you are the equal of Indra, Kuvera and even the mighty Bali. Indeed, you are no less powerful than your uncle Rāvaṇa or your cousin Indrajit. You have struck down many powerful monkeys today, O demon, and this is most wonderful. But now your exploits will end. Fight with me, if you dare. I shall make short work of you.”

Kumbha was flattered by Sugrīva, and his martial enthusiasm increased like a fire fed with oil. Without a word, he leapt down from his chariot and rushed toward the monkey, who stood with his arms outstretched. The two heroes clasped each other and grappled together. The earth shook with their heavy steps. Sugrīva leaned backwards and lifted the demon above his head. Spinning around, he tossed Kumbha into the sea. The Rākṣasa sank down to the seabed, but soon swam upwards again.

Suddenly emerging from the ocean, the demon flew up and struck Sugrīva on the chest with his fist, with a blow that sounded like a peal of thunder and which emitted a brilliant flash. Sugrīva did not budge and at once clenched his own fist, which was as hard as adamant. He swung around and brought his fist down upon Kumbha’s breast like one planet striking another. The demon’s heart was split by the blow, and he fell dead to the ground as Mars would drop from the heavens.

Nikumbha saw his brother slain and his anger flared. He took up his terrific mace and gazed at Sugrīva as if about to consume him with his wrath. His club was fitted with iron plates and steel spikes, inlaid with gold and bedecked with diamonds and other gems. The demon wore black iron armor studded with jewels, as well as brilliant golden armlets and earrings. With a garland of celestial flowers on his breast, he looked like a cloud flashing with numerous lightning bolts. He brandished his weapon, whirling it around above his head. His mace shot forth tongues of fire and it seemed to cause the very atmosphere to spin around. The monkey warriors fell back in terror, unable to even look at Nikumbha.

Hanumān came forward and stood directly before the Rākṣasa. He pulled back his arms and bared his massive chest. “Strike me at once, O demon,” he challenged.

With all his strength Nikumbha brought down the mace upon Hanumān’s chest. The club splintered into a hundred fragments and fell to the ground like so many blazing meteors. Hanumān stood unmoved and he smashed Nikumbha on the breast with his fist. The Rākṣasa’s armor was shattered and blood shot from his breast. He reeled but quickly recovered and seized hold of Hanumān, lifting him from the ground. Seeing this the other Rākṣasas roared in joy.

Taking hold of Hanumān, Nikumbha ran toward Lanka. The monkey struck Nikumbha on the head and disengaged himself from the Rākṣasa’s grip. He landed on the ground in front of the demon. Hanumān struck Nikumbha down and then hurled himself onto the Rākṣasa’s body. Pressing down all of Nikumbha’s limbs, Hanumān took hold of his neck and twisted it ferociously. He tore off the Rākṣasa’s screaming head and hurled it into the ocean. Observing this incredible feat, the Rākṣasa army fled pell-mell in all directions, some rushing into the city, some jumping into the sea, and others flying into the sky. Hanumān raised a great roar of victory and the monkeys surrounding him shouted for joy.