Rāma arrived at Lake Pampā that was full of lotus and lilies and was teeming with fish. The mere sight of the lake sent a joyous tremble through his body. But the next moment, he had an intense longing for love and said to Saumitri, “Look at Lake Pampā and the delightful woods around. The trees look like tall mountains with lofty crusts. But I still grieve over Bharata’s sorrow and the abduction of Vaidehī. This grassland, deep green and yellow, is carpeted with colourful flowers of different trees and captivates the eyes. The gentle and pleasant breeze that blows through trees full of fruits and flowers heightens passion. And look there, Saumitri, the trees shower down flowers and look like the clouds letting down rain. As the wind blows through the sandalwood trees, it gives comfort to the body. The forests are fragrant with honey; the bees add music to the forest. This Spring time, resounding with songs of various birds, only inflames my pain, Saumitri. As love burns my body, the cuckoo appears to challenge me with its cooing. The birds are enjoying themselves with their mates but the thoughts of the doe-eyed woman haunt me; I am tormented by the cruel breeze.
“Look at the pea-hen, Lakṣmaṇa; she is mad with love and dances with her beloved atop the hill; surely, no rākṣasa abducted the pea-hen. It is impossible for me to live without Sītā in this flowering season. I am sure Sītā is grieving just like me elsewhere. Only the crow caws happily now and it will lead my way to find Sītā. My eyes long to see the lotus petals on the lake as they resemble my beloved’s eyes; the wind that blows in contact with the lotus filaments are like Sītā’s sighs. The environs are filled with flowering trees – śirīṣa, śiṃśapa, dhava, śālmalī, kiṃśuka, kurabaka, uddālaka, tiniśa, naktamāla, candana, and syandana. Look at the does and deer enjoying each other’s company, while I crave for my doe-eyed Vaidehī.” Lamenting thus, Rāma set out with Lakṣmaṇa to the Ṛṣyamūka mountain.
Sugrīva and the vānaras living there were terrified looking at the two powerful heroes from a distance. Sugrīva said to his companions, “These men, disguised in bark garments, are surely Vālī’s spies.” Once Sugrīva’s companions had seen the two men, they leapt on to a higher peak. As they leapt from mountain to mountain, making the peaks tremble with their force and terrifying the deer and tigers, they assembled at a meeting place. Hanumān, an expert at flawless speech, spoke to Sugrīva: “Best among vānaras! I don’t see Vālī’s role here. There is nothing for you to fear, O vānara! You hop from place to place by your very nature and thus, your heat seems to be jumping around too. You are not able to arrive at a firm decision. You are endowed with intelligence and knowledge and should act after understanding others intentions.”
Upon listening to Hanumān, Sugrīva replied, “A man must recognise enemies who walk around disguised. People who cannot be trusted always strike the vulnerable ones at their weak points. Vālī is shrewd and kings usually use many kinds of strategies to destroy their enemies. Their intentions must be uncovered by ordinary-looking men. You should, O vānara, go disguised as a nobody and find out all about them by closely examining their appearance, talk, gestures, and features that might reveal what is in their mind. If they appear to be friendly and well-disposed, you may win them over by praising them. You must speak so that they become well-disposed towards me. Then, standing such that I can see your face, ask them what brought them to the forest armed with the bow. Find out if the two men are pure at heart!”
The powerful Hanumān honoured the words of the frightened Sugrīva and leapt from the Ṛṣyamūka mountain to the spot where the Rāghavas were. Hanumān approached them disguised as a bhikṣu. He asked them, “With your brilliant complexion and radiance, you both look like rājarṣis and devatās. What brings you to this region? You frighten herds of deer and other wild creatures as you walk along the banks of Pampā adding charm to the stream here. Your arms are like iron clubs, long and well rounded and are worthy of ornamentation. Why are they bereft of adornment? The two of you seem to be perfectly capable of protecting the entire earth. You carry such powerful weapons. Your long swords shine like snakes that have just shed their skins. There lives a leader of vānaras named Sugrīva. He is dhārmic but wanders the world in distress as he was mistreated by his older brother. I am his minister, a vānara by name Hanumān and have come here disguised as a bhikṣu in order to help Sugrīva. I can go wherever I wish, in whatever form I want.” The expert in speech spoke no more.
With immense joy radiating from his face, Rāma told Lakṣmaṇa, “Just as I was looking for Sugrīva, his minister has come here. Speak with gentle words to this vānara, who is skilled at speech.”
As soon Hanumān heard Rāma’s words, he immediately thought of Sugrīva. He said to himself, Since Rāma has come here with a purpose, the fortunate Sugrīva will certainly get back his kingdom. He asked, “Why have you come to this terrible forest inhabited by wild animals?”
Urged by Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa replied, “This is Rāma, the refuge of all beings and the eldest son of the dhārmic king Daśaratha. To fulfil his father’s wish, he came to live in the forest and was followed by his noble wife, Sītā. I am Lakṣmaṇa, his younger brother and his servant, for he possesses excellent qualities. When we were away, Sītā was abducted by a rākṣasa, who can take any form at will and we know not who he is. We were informed of Sugrīva by Danu, who was in the form of a rākṣasa due to a curse, and he assured us that the lord of vānaras will know of Sītā’s abductor. Rāma who is tormented by grief has come here to seek refuge in Sugrīva!”
Tears rolled down Saumitri’s eyes as he spoke this. Hanumān said, “The lord of vānaras will receive you both, as you are intelligent and conquered your anger and passions. It is indeed very fortunate you are here. Thanks to the hostility of his older brother Vālī, Sugrīva too is bereft of his kingdom and his wife. He, the son of Bhāskara, now lives frightened in the forest. He, along with us, will help you in your search for Sītā. Let us go to Sugrīva.”
The brothers were impressed with his words and realising that Sugrīva also seeks their help, they went ahead to meet him. Hanumān led them and rejoiced like he had already accomplished his purpose.
Hanumān announced to Sugrīva of their coming. He said, “This noble Rāma has come seeking your help in finding his wife. The brothers desire friendship with you. Receive them with honour!” Hearing Hanumān’s words, Sugrīva was free of anxiety. He took a human form and extended his hand of friendship to make a firm pack. Rāma held Sugrīva’s hand in his own and embraced him, as a sign of his acceptance of cordial friendship. Hanumān gave up his guise of a bhikṣu, kindled fire by rubbing together two pieces of wood, worshipped it with flowers, and placed it between the two. Rāma and Sugrīva pledged their alliance by going in a pradakṣiṇa around the agni. Supremely delighted, the two could not take their eyes off each other.
Sugrīva then said, “My advisor Hanumān has explained the reason behind you coming to the forest, Rāma and the abduction of your wife. You will soon be free of the sorrow of separation from your wife. I will bring her back like restoring the lost Vedas. Now I recall and infer that it was Maithilī who I saw being carried away by the cruel rākṣasa Rāvaṇa. She was struggling in his embrace and calling out, ‘Rāma! Lakṣmaṇa!’ When she spotted me with four of my companions on this mountain, she dropped her uttarīya and her ornaments. I shall show them to you.” Rāma couldn’t wait, and immediately exclaimed, “Why do you delay! Bring them quickly, my friend!” Sugrīva displayed them and Rāma picked them up. Tears covered his face just as fog covers the moon. Crying out, “Hā priye!” he fell to the ground. He pressed them to his heart and sighed again and again. Rāma showed them to Saumitri and said, “Look Lakṣmaṇa! Here are the uttarīya and ornaments that Vaidehī let fall from her body onto the ground as she was being abducted. She must have dropped them on the grassy land and that is why they look like this.” Lakṣmaṇa said, “I have never seen her bracelets and her earrings. But I certainly recognise the anklets as I used to bow down at her feet everyday.”
Rāma begged Sugrīva, “Where was the fierce rākṣasa taking my beloved wife? Where does he live? I will destroy all rākṣasas! This very day, I will send to Yama’s abode the rākṣasa who abducted my wife by deceit!”
With his voice choked with tears, Sugrīva replied, “I know nothing of the low-born rākṣasa’s dwelling, but I will surely put efforts to ensure that you regain Maithilī. Don’t despair! Recover the courage that is natural to you. A wavering mind is unbecoming of people like you. I too have suffered intensely, bereaved of my wife. But, I don’t grieve like you and I haven’t abandoned my composure. When faced with misfortune, the wise do not give up their sense of judgement, but the foolish man gives way to despair and sinks helpless in grief like an overladen boat in water. I join my hands and beseech you out of affection: rely on your valour. It is out of friendship that I advise you so. To honour our friendship, you should not grieve!”
Thus gently comforted by Sugrīva, Rāghava wiped his teary face with the edge of his upper garment. Gaining control over his emotions, he hugged Sugrīva and said, “A friend like you is hard to find, especially at testing times like these. You should make efforts to look for Maithilī and pray tell me what I must do. All efforts will bear fruit like seed sown in fertile soil, when there is plenty of rain. And what I have told you is wholly sincere; I have never uttered a lie in my life and never shall!”
Delighted by Rāma’s words and knowing heart of hearts that his purpose was as good as achieved, Sugrīva said, “I am blessed to have a friend and ally like you, Rāma. You will soon find that I too am a friend worthy of you, but it is not right for me to speak about my own qualities. Good men look upon their gold, silver, clothes, and other possessions as common property of all their friends. A friend is the ultimate refuge, rich or poor, happy or miserable, flawless or full of faults. Those who realise the value of friendship give up wealth, happiness, and life itself for the sake of a friend!” Rāma whole-heartedly agreed with him. Sugrīva then broke a branch of the sāla tree and offered it as a seat to Rāma, while Hanumān did the same to Lakṣmaṇa.
Sugrīva said, “Ill-treated by my brother and bereft of my wife, I am tormented by fear, Rāghava. You redeem the world from fear and should thus bestow your grace on me too, for I am oppressed by the fear of Vālī.” Rāma, with a slight smile replied to Sugrīva, “A friend is helpful and an enemy is hurtful. I will vanquish the person who took away your wife, this very day! You will see Vālī, who calls himself a brother but has deeply wronged you slain by these arrows!”
Sugrīva was delighted and said, “Vālī has been trying to kill me; several times, I killed vānaras that he had sent for that purpose. Even when I saw you, I was suspicious. Only Hanumān and the others here are my companions; they protect me on all sides. Here is the story of our hostility.
“In the past, my father and I held Vālī in great esteem. After my father’s passing away, he was crowned king. While he governed the ancestral kingdom, I reverentially stood by him like a servant. In the past, Vālī had developed animosity with Māyāvī, the son of Dundubhi as they quarrelled over a woman. One night, when everyone was asleep, Māyāvī came to the gates of Kiṣkindhā and raised a mighty uproar. Enraged, he rushed to kill the asura, though his women and I tried to dissuade him. Out of affection for my brother, I followed him. The asura fled terrified and jumped into a huge cavern in the earth. Vālī instructed me to wait attentively at the entrance of the cavern and went inside himself, though I begged him not to do so. I waited for a year and when Vālī did not come out, I feared the worst. Then, after a long time, I saw blood with froth issuing forth from the cavern and also heard the voice of the celebrating asuras as well as that of my ailing brother. From these signs, I concluded that my brother was slain and blocked the entrance to the cave with a boulder as big as a hill. I offered tarpaṇa to my dead brother and returned to Kiṣkindhā. Though I tried to conceal the truth, his counselors got it out from me. They crowned me king. I was ruling the kingdom justly when Vālī returned, having slain the asura. Seeing me as the king, his eyes turned red with anger. He put my ministers in chains and spoke abusively to me. Though I could have restrained him, I did not do so out of respect for my elder brother. With hands joined in respect, I offered to restore the kingdom to him, which I had merely guarded. I also told him that the ministers had forcibly coronated me. Though I spoke with all affection, he spoke words that were very unbecoming of him. Paying no heed to my words, Vālī brought together the citizens and ministers and proclaimed me a traitor. He said, ‘I searched for the asura for a year inside the cavern, finally found him and killed him. As I tried to head out of the cavern, I saw the mouth blocked and called out Sugrīva’s name. I did not hear any reply for long. Greatly grieved, I opened the barrier with many kicks and arrived here. Forgetting his love for the elder brother, Sugrīva has taken over the kingdom.’ And with these words, Vālī banished me from the kingdom with nothing but a single piece of garment. He has taken my wife. Out of my fear for him, I roamed the entire earth with its forests and oceans. Rāma, for no fault of mine, I have been subject to intense suffering. Please be gracious to me and punish Vālī!”
Rāma said, “These unfailing arrows of mine shall slay Vālī and he will not live a moment longer after I have set my eyes upon him. From my own experience, I can see how you must be submerged in an ocean of grief. I will help you cross over it and you shall procure everything you desire!”
To be continued...
[The critically constituted text and the critical edition published by the Oriental Institute, Vadodara is the primary source. In addition, the Kannada rendering of the epic by Mahāmahopādhyāya Sri. N. Ranganatha Sharma and the English translation by Sri. N. Raghunathan have been referred.]
 This reply of Lakṣmaṇa is a translation of the following verse, which beautifully captures his devotion to his sister-in-law. The verse is not a part of the critically constituted text.
nāhaṃ jānāmi keyūre nāhaṃ jānāmi kuṇḍale|
nūpure tvabhijānāmi nityaṃ pādābhivandanāt||