Ramayan: Yuddha Kanda - Book Of War

Canto I - March Of The Monkeys

Now that Sita had been found, Ram's next worry was how best they could invade the island and rescue her. Sugriv told him not to worry about these minor problems since his army was ready to obey his slightest command.

"My dear friend", said Sugriv, "this is not the time for sorrow. Please think of away by which we can bridge the ocean and my vanara army will do the rest. We are all here to help you. Remember there is no one in the whole world who can face you, once you enter the battlefield, with bow in hand. So now, replace your sorrow with anger and then we can destroy the enemy in no time".

Ram listened to Sugriv and said, "If you can't think of a way to bridge the ocean, the fire of my austerity will dry it up and make a path for the monkeys to cross. But first of all, tell me about the city. How is it fortified, what is the strength of its army, how are the gateways guarded and so on? Then, we can plan our attack".

Hanuman bowed low to Ram and recounted every detail of the city and its barricades, which he had been astute enough to discover. He concluded, "Lanka is an exquisite city, built on a hill. It is surrounded by a golden wall, studded with gems. Down below is a moat filled with crocodiles. It has four massive gates with iron bars. Four draw bridges are there, one in front of each gate, all fiercely guarded by the rakshasas. Ravan has fire-spewing machines and catapults, which are capable of hurling enormous rocks to great distances. He is always alert. It is almost impossible to enter, but do not fear, I am sure we can do it".

Ram was pleased with this account and said, "I am sure we can destroy Lanka. The sun has reached its zenith and is entering the constellation called Abhijit. Any activity started at this time is sure of victory. Sugriv! Give orders to march immediately. The time is propitious. Let Neela take a section of the army and advance along a way which has fruits and roots. Let him be on his guard against the rakshasas, who might try to poison the water tanks, and trouble us in many ways. They are sure to do this, when they come to hear of our march. Let Hanuman carry me on his shoulder and Angada carry Lakshman, so that we can move faster. Let the army be divided into sections, each led by one mighty warrior".

Sugriv did as commanded and the army lost no time in advancing. There was great excitement amidst the monkeys who leapt from tree to tree, shouting and waving their tails in glee. They bounded and hopped and swung from branch to branch, plucking trees and waving banners of flowering creepers, sparring and playing pranks on each other and feasting on fruits and honey. They were all in high spirits. Mile after mile they covered effortlessly, the vanara hoard, camping beside lakes and traversing hills and forests, until they reached the southern ocean.

Ram ascended the hill called Mahendra from which Hanuman had jumped and surveyed the broad expanse of water below him. Coming down, he decided to camp in the forest below the hill and plan their campaign. Thousands and thousands of monkeys arrived and camped on the shore. In fact, they appeared like another sea. They stared fascinated at the storm-lashed waves of the ocean and wondered how they could cross it.

Ram sat apart with Lakshman and said, "0 Lakshman! My heart is heavy when I see this ocean. It is said that time assuages all grief. It is not so with me. Every moment that I spend apart from my beloved, increases my sorrow. Moreover, time is running short. She has sent word that she will not be able to live for longer than two months, out of which one month is already over. What shall we do"?

Feeling the wind on his face he said, "0 gentle breeze, please blow over my beloved's face and then return and caress me, while her touch is still warm upon you. She must have called for me, time and time again as she was being carried away, over this ocean. I am tormented by the thought of her helplessness. Now that I know where she is, I am on fire to see her. I long for her smile, her gentle glances, her caressing voice. She has always been slim and now with this continuous fasting, she must be weak and emaciated. I am aching for the day when I can kill that fiend and clasp her to my bosom".

In the meantime, in Lanka, Ravan had called a council of ministers to discuss the events of that catastrophic day, when Lanka had been burnt. He was quite chagrined to find that a mere monkey could have destroyed in a few hours a city which had been built up with years of effort. His spies had informed him about the approach of the monkey contingent. He felt sure that Ram would succeed in crossing the sea. He thought it prudent to ask the opinion of the wise men of his assembly. Unfortunately, he was surrounded by sycophants and toadies. All they knew was to bolster up his already bloated ego.

"Your Majesty", they said, "you have defeated the gods and even Lord Shiva Himself. There is no one in the whole of the three worlds who doesn't tremble at the very mention of your name. Why should you fear Ram? His army is only composed of monkeys and bears. How can it be compared to your army? Your son, Indrajit, has conquered the heavens. He can easily defeat this monkey army of Ram's, singlehanded, without the help of the army". These words of comfort by all his ablest men made Ravan very confident and happy. The only one who spoke against his wishes was his own brother, Vibhishana.

"We should never under-estimate an enemy. How has Ram offended you? You are the one who stole his wife and are keeping her here against her will. Lusting after another man's wife will lead to unhappiness and infamy. Sita will be the cause of untold misery for you and for your subjects. Take my advice and return Sita to Ram. He is a dangerous opponent. If you do not act immediately, great danger will befall us. I have dared to advise you, because you are my brother and I have great love for you. We would all like to live in peace and harmony, so please take my advice".

Ravan did not say a word and dismissed the council. Next morning Vibhishana went to his brother's chamber and bowed before him. He was a gentle and noble soul, totally unlike his ferocious brother. Again he tried to reason with his brother and make him realise the effects of his folly. He spoke to him of the bad omens which were to be seen in the whole city, all boding ill for their clan.

Blinded by his lust for Sita, Ravan was in no mood to listen to these well-meant words and replied harshly, "We have nothing to fear from anybody. Even if Ram comes with all the gods in attendance, he will not be able to defeat me. You may go! 0 Vibhishana! I do not need the advice of cowards".

Vibhishana left sadly. Though he had not listened to his brother, Ravan was a little worried. He called a council of war once again. All his ministers including Vibhishana came.

Ravan spoke, "I have called all of you today in order to ask your advice. I was waiting for my brother Kumbhakarnatowake up and give his opinion and now he has also come. I hear that Ram has encamped on the opposite shore of the sea. I would like the opinion of the wise people assembled here as to what our next step should be. The princes of Kosala should be killed and the vanara army vanquished. How should we set about this"?

His brother Kumbhakarna who was noted for his passion for sleep and who had known nothing of Ravan's doings, now bestirred himself from the fog of sleep and said in a thunderous voice, "We should have been consulted before you chose to abduct Sita and bring her here. At that time, you listened only to your own lustful desires. Now that you are in trouble, why do you bother to consult us? The abduction of Sita is an act which has become like food mixed with poison. I am surprised that Ram did not come earlier! You started a chain of events without consulting any of us. Now it is up to you to see that no harm befalls any of us. Of course, I will fight with Ram and kill him and then perhaps Sita will be yours, but remember I do not approve of this at all".

Ravan was silent. He did not care for the frank manner in which his brother spoke. Another minister, then spoke in a conciliatory way to him and pointed out that he had no cause for fear. Then he asked Ravan why he had not taken Sita by force, if he was so anxious to have her.

Ravan said, "I will tell you the reason. Once long ago, I ravished an apsara called Rambha. She became like a wilted lily and went and complained to her husband, Nalakubera. He was very angry with me and cursed me. “Ravan, if ever you rape another woman, your head will burst into a thousand fragments”! This is the only reason why I do not dare take Sita by force. Ram does not know this, neither does Sita. However 1’11 make short work of Ram. How can a mere human being, helped by a pack of monkeys ever hope to beat the might of the rakshasa king"? With these words he roared uproariously with mirth. The rest of the court except for his brothers joined him and the whole court dissolved into laughter at this ridiculous picture of the great Ravan being defeated by some monkeys and bears. But Ravan had forgotten the boon he had received from Brahma. He had asked for immunity from death from all types of heavenly and demonic beings and it had been granted to him. In his arrogance he had refused to consider human beings and monkeys as worthy opponents and now they were the very ones who were advancing purposefully towards him.

Once again Vibhishana tried to convince Ravan, "Can’t you see that Sita is like a veritable serpent round your neck. Your warriors are not powerful enough to withstand the might of Ram. Neither you, nor Kumbhakarna will be able to face him in battle". Turning to the other ministers he said, "It is the duty of a minister to advise a king wisely and save him from the consequences of his own folly, if possible. Why are you all determined to bring about his own downfall and the destruction of our race? You are only hurrying him towards his death".

Indrajit, Ravan's eldest son, now spoke with impatience, "Father! I am amazed at these words coming from your brother. These are the words of a coward. Your name will be in dust, if you listen to him. His nature is quite different from yours. Do not listen to him, if you do not want to be the laughing stock of all people. I have made my name as a formidable warrior. I have made Indra’s valorous elephant hit the dust. Why do you think my valour will be diminished at the sight of these two human beings"!

Vibhishana listened to his nephew's talk without rancour. "My boy, I am afraid you are not able to distinguish between right and wrong. You are not aware of the path of dharma and that is why you speak such words". Turning to Ravan he said, "My Lord, listen to me. Take with you the rarest gems you have. Take also Sita and go to Ram and give her back to him. Then, once and for all, you can shed this burden from your shoulders. I entreat you to do what I say".

Spurred by fate, Ravan bitterly reproached his well-meaning brother, "I can realise the truth of the words which people say. One can live amicably with an enemy and even with a serpent but not with one who pretends to be your friend, yet is always on the lockout for a chance to harm you. Fire and weapons I do not fear, the dangerous ones are the near and dear. Bees fly away after sucking the last drop of honey from a flower, so the unworthy give up a relationship which has ceased to be profitable. If anyone else had spoken to me like this, I would have choked the life out of him, then and there, but because you are my brother, I will spare you but I curse you. You are a shame on our race".

Vibhishana stood up, together with three of his friends and said, "0 king! I tried to save you from the effects of your own folly. Whatever I said, was meant only for your good. It is always easy to find people who will try to please you with honeyed words, but there are very few who will dare to tell a kin the unalloyed truth to his face. You are older than me, so I ask your forgiveness. But I cannot stay here any longer. You can be rid of the thorn in your side. I wanted to help you but when death is approaching, a man will be deaf to the words of well-wishers". So saying Vibhishana departed to the other shore, to Ram's camp, along with his four friends.

It is said that the three brothers Ravan, Kumbhakarna and Vibhishana typified the three types of gunas or modes of nature - sattva, rajas and tamas. Vibhishana, was the example of sattva or the quality of harmony and goodness, Ravan, of rajas or the quality of activity and passion and Kumbhakarna, of tamas or the quality of inertia, sloth and stupor, hence his extreme partiality for sleep.

Thus ends the first Canto called “March of the Monkeys” of the Yuddha Kanda in the glorious Ramyana of the Sage Valmiki.

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