The Ramayana by R. K. Narayan

  “Another thing. If your brothers, at any time, blame Sugreeva as one who had engineered the death of his brother, please explain to them that Sugreeva has only engineered my salvation. One more favour. I have not been blessed with a chance to pluck up that archfiend Ravana with the tip of my tail and place him before you. But here is Hanuman who will do it at your command, and also obey you in all matters. Let him serve you. Sugreeva and he will be your invaluable allies.”

  Then he turned to Sugreeva. “Don’t sorrow for my death. He who has struck me is none other than the great God himself; and I realize I am a privileged being at this moment. You will always have the glory of being at his side, and please serve him well.” Then Vali formally handed Sugreeva over to Rama as his choice for succession and advised him as to how to rule.

  This is the saddest part of our great epic. The lamentations of Tara and Angada, Vali’s wife and son, as they came down carrying the dead body of the mighty Vali, make one’s heart grow heavy. But all stories must have a happy ending. Though Tara clung to the inert lifeless Vali’s physical frame, his essential spirit soared to the highest heavens and found a place there, because the great God himself had released his soul. On the command of Rama, arrangements were begun for the coronation of Sugreeva, and Angada was made the yuvaraja or second in command.



  Sugreeva was crowned with elaborate rituals and festivities. Robed royally, and wearing a scintillating crown, Sugreeva approached Rama, who had stayed outside Kiskinda throughout the celebrations, and declared in a mood of deep gratitude, “I am ready to serve you, sir. What is your command?”

  Rama put his arms around his shoulder tenderly and said, “Go back to your palace and to your tasks as a ruler.” Following the custom of a senior, he spoke a few words of advice: “Gather around yourself those that have integrity, courage, and judgement; and with their help govern your subjects. Whatever you do, let it be based on the sanctioned codes of conduct.” He explained how he should guard the interests of his subjects, how important gentleness in speech was: “Even when you realize that the one before you is an enemy and must be treated sternly, do not hurt with words. Even in jest, do not hurt anyone’s feelings, not even the lowliest,” he said—remembering how he used to make fun of Kooni’s deformity when he was young and fling balls of clay at her, and thinking that possibly Kooni had nursed her ill will all her life and found her opportunity for revenge when Dasaratha planned to enthrone him. Rama explained how even a trivial cause might bring disaster in its wake. He then expatiated on how far one should surrender one’s own judgement to another—especially out of love. “Not too far,” he said, referring to his own pursuit of the golden deer in order to please Sita. “Women can lead one to death,” he said, referring to Vali’s infatuation with Sugreeva’s wife. At the conclusion of their meeting, Sugreeva pleaded, “Please do me the honour of residing as our guest in the capital.”

  Rama said, “Not now. If you have me as a guest, all your attention will be on me, while you should devote your energy to your duties as a king. Moreover, I have vowed to live in the forests for fourteen years and I cannot, therefore, come into a city now.”

  Sugreeva was crestfallen, and said, “I want to serve you. . . .”

  “Yes, later. The rainy season is coming. At the end of it, come with an army. There will be time enough.”

  Anjaneya now said stubbornly, “I have no existence separated from you. I want to serve you. I wish to be with you forever.”

  Rama said, “Not now. You will go back to Kiskinda with Sugreeva and help him. He will need your judgement and support, as the responsibilities he has inherited are immense. Your first duty will be to help him. Come to me after four months, after the rains, and I will tell you what you can do for me.” When Sugreeva still pressed his invitation, Rama said, “I have lost my wife; and I should not be said to be enjoying the luxuries of a palace, when perhaps she is undergoing untold suffering somewhere.” After sending away Sugreeva and Hanuman, Rama turned back with Lakshmana, to reside on a hill. At a chosen spot, Lakshmana, displaying again his genius as an architect, constructed an ashram—in which they could spend the coming rainy months and where Rama could serenely contemplate his future course of action.

  The sun began to move southward. Dark clouds, heavily laden, floated along, frequently eclipsing the sun, gradually massing themselves like an army of gigantic elephants; thunders rumbled and roared, lightning lit up the sky and the earth end to end. Storm shook the trees, ripped off their foliage, and scattered it in the air; scoured the earth and sprayed up mud and dust. Just as we felt the total heat and aridity where Thataka used to roam, now we must feel under our skin the dampness, the dimness, and the apparent lifelessness of the rainy days.

  All through the months, the rains poured, waters running, rushing, and stagnating in pools, and sometimes carrying down boulders or the portion of a mountainside. Cuckoos and nightingales were silent. Peacocks were unseen. Other creatures of the forest were incarcerated in stony recesses and caves. No animal stirred out. No movement. Every kind of life seemed to have become paralysed. Wild and uncouth vegetation overran the landscape in a variety of monstrous creepers and vines. The sky was perpetually overcast. Winds blew cold and damp and drenched one’s surroundings and person. For a few days, the change of season was fascinating, but, in course of time, the persistent gloom and wetness proved depressing.

  Rama, isolated in this climate, became subject to long periods of melancholy. The surrounding conditions made his inner turmoil more acute. He now felt hopelessly cut off from his wife and no action to seek her ever seemed possible. He felt thwarted and desolate. He began to feel guilty; he thought he was being too complacent. “While I live sheltered here, I cannot imagine what misery she might be facing.” When he saw foaming, frothing, reddish floodwater rushing down the mountain, bearing and rolling along uprooted trees, he was reminded of Sita being carried off. It created a hopeless ache in his heart and he said to himself, “There is no meaning in my continuing to live.” When he saw streaks of lightning splitting the sky, he pictured them as the monstrous fangs of asuras grinning and menacing him on all sides, and he pleaded, “Just when one of your clan has taken away the very core of my life, you want to take more? Nothing more is left.” When he saw an occasional deer emerge from its shelter when the downpour slackened a little, he addressed it, “You were jealous of Janaki; she was your rival in the grace of her movements. Now are you not pleased that she is no longer here? One of your kind drew me away from her. Now what is your purpose in strutting before me?” When he saw a slender streak of lightning edging a cloud, he sighed, “Why should you remind me of Sita’s figure and vanish again? When you rumble, does it signify your determination to restore Sita to me?” Then he addressed the god of love, Manmatha: “You are a tormentor. I feel scorched, and while I seek something to heal me, your darts stab again and again the same sore spot at my heart—merciless god! It is your good fortune that you are unseen, which saves you; my brother would have eliminated you, if he had seen how you torture me. Do you know what happened to Soorpanaka?”

  Lakshmana noticed Rama’s state of mind and felt it was time for him to comfort him. He said, “Are you worried that the rainy days are prolonged? Are you worried that the asuras might prove invincible? Do you fear that Janaki may not be traced at all? Please don’t let your mind weaken. Anjaneya is there, Angada and all the other stalwarts will be our helpers. Soon we will see the skies bright and clear. Time has been passing, and we will soon see the promised armies, and with ease they will bring Janaki to your side. You had assured the sages of Dandaka forest that you would eradicate the asuras from their midst and that has been your chief mission here. Muster your strength and fulfill your mission. Don’t let your spirit droop.” Rama was comforted by such words, and they sustained him through a second bout of rain which suddenly started after a brief interval of clear weather.

  The rains ended at las
t. The skies cleared. New leaves appeared on the trees; jasmine and other fragrant flowers bloomed. With brighter surroundings, Rama’s spirit also quickened. Now he could move out of his ashram and act positively.

  With the end of the rainy season, nature’s traffic resumed on land, air, and water. Flocks of swans crossed the sky; cranes and aquatic birds flew by; a variety of fishes newly spawned darted under the water surfaces. Lotus was in bloom; frogs which had croaked themselves hoarse in unison all through the wet days now were silent. Peacocks came out into the sun shaking off clogging droplets of water and fanning out their tails brilliantly. Rivers which had roared and overflowed now retraced their modest courses and tamely ended in the sea. Areca palms ripened their fruits in golden bunches; crocodiles emerged from the depths crawling over rocks to bask in the sun; snails vanished under slush, and crabs slipped back under ground; that rare creeper known as vanji suddenly burst into bloom with chattering parrots perched on its slender branches.

  All this was minutely noted by Rama, as indicating a definite change of season and a reminder that Sugreeva had failed to keep his promise to arrive with his army. He said to Lakshmana, “Does it not seem that Sugreeva has exceeded the four months’ limit? Do you think he is asleep? With our help, he has acquired a mighty kingdom to rule, but he has forgotten us. One who has snapped all ties of friendship, swerved from truth, and acted false, deserves to be taught a lesson, and if he is killed in the process, we could not be blamed; but first of all will you go and find out why he has defaulted, what has happened to him, and if he deserves to be punished? You will tell him that destroying evil is like destroying a poisonous insect and we will not be violating any code of conduct thereby. You will explain with due clarity and impress it on the mind of one who does not seem to have known proper conduct either at five years of age or at fifty. Tell him that if he wishes to flourish as a ruler of this Kiskinda in the midst of his kinsmen and people, he must first come up immediately with all the help he can muster to search for Sita. If he does not, we will not hesitate to destroy every monkey in this world, so that that tribe will become unknown to future generations. In case he has found someone stronger than Rama or Lakshmana as his supporters, remind him that we could meet any challenge from anywhere.” After relieving his mood and temper with these words, Rama probably felt that he had gone too far and might provoke Lakshmana to act violently. So he told him now, “Speak gently. Do not show your anger but let your explanations be firm and clear. If he does not accept the moral you indicate, do not lose your patience but give a careful hearing to whatever he may have to say and bring me his reply.”

  Properly armed, Lakshmana left immediately. He was overwhelmed with the seriousness of his mission, and his mind was fixed on reaching his destination in the shortest time possible. He moved swiftly, looking neither to his left nor right. He avoided a familiar path leading to Kiskinda, the old pathway trodden by them when Sugreeva went forth to encounter Vali. Now Lakshmana, feeling uncertain about their relationship with Sugreeva, chose a different route. It was also a measure of precaution as he did not wish to be observed by Sugreeva’s spies. He reached Kiskinda leaping along from crag to crag.

  Observers at the outpost went to Angada with the news of Lakshmana’s arrival. Angada hastened out to meet him, but even from a distance understood what temper he was in, and withdrew quietly; he rushed to Sugreeva’s palace, which had been designed and built by a master architect and was so gorgeous and comfortable that Sugreeva hardly ever left it. His bed chamber was strewn with flowers, and he lay surrounded by beauties with long tresses and heavy breasts, who provided his comforts, and sang and entertained him. The company of beautiful women, with their dizzying perfumes and the scent of flowers and rare incense, and above all much wine imbibed, left him in a daze of ecstasy. Sugreeva lay inert, unmindful of the world outside; Angada softly entered, respectfully saluted his recumbent uncle, and whispered, “Listen to me, please. Rama’s brother Lakshmana is come; in his face I see anger and urgency. What is your command to me now?”

  There was no response from Sugreeva. As he gave no sign of comprehending his words, Angada left, went in search of Hanuman, consulted him, and took him along to meet his mother, Tara. He explained to his mother what had happened and appealed to her for guidance. She lost her temper and cried, “You have all indulged in wrong acts without thinking of morality or the consequences. You gain your ends and then forget your responsibilities. You do not possess gratitude. I have dinned into you again and again that the time has come to help Rama; but it seemed as if I were talking to a stone wall. Now you must suffer the consequences of your indifference. You do not realize how Rama is bearing up and how hard it must be for him to remain alive at all. You are all lost in pleasures. You are all selfish and ungrateful. You are prosperous, with no thought for others. You now ask what you should do. You will all perish if you plan to wage a war on Rama and Lakshmana. What is there for me to advise you?”

  When she said this, the populace of Kiskinda shut and bolted the city gates and barricaded them with rocks and tree-trunks. Lakshmana watched them, both irritated and amused, and then, with a push and a kick, shattered the blockade and flung the gates open. Great confusion ensued; the monkey populace fled into the neighbouring forests, deserting the city. Lakshmana stepped majestically into the city and looked about. Angada and all the others who stood surrounding Tara, observing him from a distance, asked themselves anxiously, “What shall we do now?”

  At this moment, Hanuman counselled Tara, “Please move onto the threshold of the palace with your attendants. Lakshmana will not go past you. Otherwise, I dread to think what might happen if he rushes into the palace.”

  “All of you now leave,” Tara said, “and remain out of sight. I will go and face him.”

  By the time Lakshmana had traversed the royal path and reached the palace, he heard the jingle of anklets and bracelets, looked up, and discovered an army of women approaching him with determination. Before he could decide whether he should retreat, he found himself encircled; he felt confused and embarrassed. He bowed his head, unable to face anyone, and stood with downcast eyes wondering what to do.

  Tara addressed him with all courtesy. “We are honoured and happy at your visit. But the manner of your coming has frightened us. Until we know what you have in mind, we will feel uneasy. Is there anything you wish to tell us?” she asked sweetly.

  Lakshmana looked up, and at the first glimpse of Tara’s face felt a sharp remembrance of his mother Sumithra and his stepmother Kausalya. Uncontrollably, his eyes filled with tears. For a moment he was assailed with homesickness. He overcame it and said, “I am sent by my brother to find out why Sugreeva has held himself back, having promised to bring an army for our help.”

  Tara replied, “Don’t let your anger turn on Sugreeva. Great ones should forgive the lapses of small men. Anyway, Sugreeva has not forgotten. He has sent messages to all his associates, far and wide, in order to mobilize an army, and he is awaiting the return of the messengers, which is the only cause of delay. Please bear with us. We know that Rama’s single arrow is enough to vanquish all enemies, and our help could only be nominal.”

  On hearing these words, Lakshmana looked relieved; noticing the signs of good temper, Hanuman approached him cautiously, and Lakshmana asked him, “Did you, too, forget your promise?”

  Hanuman explained, “My mind is always fixed on Rama and there can be no forgetfulness.” He spoke with such humility and sincerity that Lakshmana’s anger finally left him. He now explained, “Rama’s suffering is deep. He needs Sugreeva’s help at this stage; and fears that the longer he delays, the stronger the evil-doers may grow.” Hanuman said, “Please step into the palace and give Sugreeva a chance to receive you, sir. When you stand here refusing to enter, it gives a chance for our enemies to gossip and talk ill of us. Please forget the past and come in.”

  Accepting the invitation, Lakshmana followed him into the palace, and was received by Angada, who immed
iately went in to announce his arrival to Sugreeva. Meanwhile, Tara withdrew with her companions. Angada announced to Sugreeva that Lakshmana was there, and explained in what temper he had arrived and how the gates of the city fell at his touch. Sugreeva listened in surprise and demanded to be told why no one had informed him of Lakshmana’s arrival in proper time. Angada replied gracefully, avoiding any direct charge, “I came in several times and spoke, but perhaps you were asleep when I thought you were awake.”

  “You are very considerate to explain it this way,” Sugreeva said, “but I was drunk, and that made me forget my responsibilities and promises. Wine saps away one’s energy, senses, judgement, and memory; and promises are lost sight-of; one loses even the distinction between one’s wife and mother. We are already born into a world of Maya, born in a state of complete self-delusion; we add to this state further illusions that wine creates. No salvation for us. We turn a deaf ear to the advice of wise men and the lessons they point out, and instead just skim out the dirt and insects swimming in the fermented froth, quaff the drink and sink into oblivion. How can I face Lakshmana now?” He brooded for a little while and then declared, “I hereby vow in the name of the most sacred Rama that I will never drink any intoxicant again.”

  After this resolution, he felt braced up. “I will now receive Lakshmana. Meanwhile let all honours be properly presented to him and let there be public celebrations in his honour.” Angada busied himself to set the wheels in motion; by the time Sugreeva with his entourage sallied forth to meet Lakshmana, the atmosphere had changed into one of festivity, with the public participating fully in the reception. Music, chantings, incense, and flowers were everywhere and Sugreeva looked majestic.

  At the first sight of Sugreeva, Lakshmana’s anger revived for a second, but he suppressed it resolutely, clasped Sugreeva’s hand, and entered the palace hall. Sugreeva pointed to a golden seat and invited Lakshmana to occupy it. Lakshmana merely said, “Rama sits on the bare ground; I don’t need anything more than that.” So saying he sat on the bare floor, an act which saddened Sugreeva and the others. Sugreeva next suggested, “Will you have a bath and partake of our repast?” Once again Lakshmana said, “Rama lives on roots and greens; so do I. Every minute I delay here, he will be going without food. Immediately start a search for Sita and that will be equal to giving me a holy bath in Ganga and offering me a dinner of ambrosia.”

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