Sugrīva was immensely pleased with Rāma’s promise but he wanted to make him understand Vālī’s prowess. He said, “Even before the Sun rises, Vālī traverses from the western to the eastern ocean and from the southern to the northern, without even the semblance of fatigue. He scales mountains, tosses their peaks up in the air, and catches them again. He enters the forest, shattering all kinds of mighty trees. In the past, there lived a powerful asura in the form of a buffalo. He was called Dundubhi and possessed the might of a thousand elephants. He went around challenging all powerful beings in the world. The great ocean conceded his inability to rival him in battle and asked him to challenge the Himālaya instead. Dundubhi ravaged the Himālaya, who was not able to provide any defence. Then, hearing about Vālī from the great mountain, Dundubhi attacked Kiṣkindhā in the form of a buffalo. He roared like a kettle-drum and broke open the gates. Vālī, who was enjoying a moment with his women, rushed out at once. He seized Dundubhi with his horns, threw him on the ground in no time. The gigantic asura died and Vālī flung him away to a yojana. Drops of blood from the dead asura’s mouth fell on Mataṅga’s āśrama and the sage cursed Vālī that he would die if he ever stepped into the āśrama. Thus, the vānara, though powerful, refrains from entering the vicinity of the Ṛṣyamūka mountain. Therefore, without any worry, I roam about here along with my companions. Here are the skeletal remains of Dundubhi and over there you see seven sal trees, each of which Vālī’s arrow could penetrate. Rāma, I have explained to you the unparalleled might of Vālī. Will you be able to kill him in a battle? However, if you can split these sal trees with a single arrow, I would then be assured of your capability in vanquishing Vālī.”
Upon hearing the words of Sugrīva, Rāma hurled the remains of Dundubhi’s body to ten yojanas with merely a kick of his big toe. Looking at this feat, Sugrīva said, “In the past, when Vālī hurled Dundubhi’s body, it was fresh and was filled with flesh and blood. But now, it has become as light as straw as it is devoid of flesh. Thus, it is not possible for me to tell whether yours or Vālī’s strength is superior.”
When he heard the words spoken by Sugrīva, Rāma picked up his bow and shot an arrow aiming at the seven sal trees. The twang of his bowstring resonated in all the directions. The arrow split the trees, pierced through the mountaintop, and entered the earth, breaking its way through. It then rapidly returned to Rāma’s quiver. Immensely pleased, Sugrīva joined his hands in reverence to Rāma and fell at his feet. Sugrīva then spoke, “I am now assured that you can kill even the immortals in battle with your powerful arrow. My sorrow is now gone as I have gained you as my close friend. As a favour to me, this very day, you must kill Vālī, my enemy in the form of a brother.” Rāma embraced Sugrīva and suggested to him, “Let us head to Kiṣkindhā right away. Sugrīva, you go swiftly before us and challenge Vālī in combat.”
Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa, and the others concealed themselves behind trees, while Sugrīva bellowed loudly, challenging Vālī. Annoyed and enraged, Vālī rushed out from his palace like the Sun rising from behind the setting mountain. A tumultuous combat ensued between the brothers and they struck each other with their fists. Rāma, with his bow ready, closely observed the brothers but couldn’t tell one from the other as they were as similar to each other as the twin Aśvinī-devatas. Thus, Rāma refrained from shooting his arrow.
Beaten black and blue by Vālī and not seeing his protector, Sugrīva fled to the Ṛṣyamūka mountain. Vālī chased after him, but seeing that Sugrīva had entered the forest, he turned back fearing the curse of the sage. Vālī howled, “You have escaped this time!”
Rāma came to the same place along with Lakṣmaṇa and Hanumān. Sugrīva was ashamed and felt dejected looking at them. With his head bent down, he said, “Rāma! You first displayed your strength and encouraged me to challenge my enemy. But then, you let him subdue me. If you had told me back then that you would not slay Vālī, I would not have ventured into this at all!”
Rāma said, “Dear Sugrīva, do away with your anger and listen to me. Vālī and you are similar to each other in your ornaments, clothing, size, movements as well as voice, splendour, and glance. Confused, I refrained from shooting an arrow, but you will soon see Vālī struck down by me when you are engaged in a combat. Wear a mark that distinguishes you from Vālī. Lakṣmaṇa! Pull out the gajapuṣpī creeper and put it around Sugrīva’s neck.” Lakṣmaṇa did as instructed. Sugrīva now looked like a rain cloud in the evening sky with balāka birds like a garland around it.
Sugrīva proceeded to Kiṣkindhā and was followed by Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa, and Hanumān as well as vānara leaders such as a Nala, Nīla, and Tāra. On their way, Rāma pointed to a region which had a dense overgrowth of trees and asked Sugrīva what it was. Sugrīva explained, “There lies an āśrama, which relieves people of their fatigue. Seven sages called Saptajana once lived there and observed strict austerities. They slept upside down in the water. They consumed air only once in seven days. After seven hundred years of such life in the forest, they ascended to the svarga with their bodies. Because of their power, the āśrama is unapproachable for everyone including the devas and asuras. However, one hears the sound of jingling ornaments and the melodious music of instruments from there. Celestial scents are wafted through air. The three Agnis constantly blaze there and you can see the dense smoke as well. Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa! You may bow down to the sages. No ill can befall those who bow before these ṛṣis.”
After paying their respects to the sages, Rāma and others hid behind trees in the dense forest, while Sugrīva challenged Vālī for a duel. Rāma assured Sugrīva that he would vanquish Vālī. Sugrīva roared, terrified by which cattle ran away like noblewomen scared because of the misdeeds of their king. Deer ran like horses in a battlefield and birds fell to the ground like planets with their puṇya exhausted.
Vālī, who was with his women in the antaḥpura could not bear the roaring of his brother. Filled with fury, he looked like the eclipsed Sun and rushed out, nearly shattering the earth with his powerful footsteps. His wife Tārā, however, embraced him and spoke loving words for his own good. “O valorous one, give up the anger that has risen within you like the flood of a river. Last time, Sugrīva suddenly appeared and challenged you, but ran away after he was defeated. But his coming back arouses my suspicion. There appears to be a significant reason behind his arrogance and determination. Sugrīva is smart and seems to have procured a powerful ally, whose strength he has also tested. Prince Aṅgada told me that your brother’s ally is the powerful Rāma, who vanquishes the evil and is the refuge of the noble. He is the residence of all fame and is endowed with knowledge and wisdom. You must not incur the enmity of the invincible Rāma. Pray, listen to me without anger. You must do away with the animosity you have towards your brother and consecrate him as the crown-prince. Become friends with Rāma and display affection towards Sugrīva. If you believe that I seek your good, you must do as I earnestly plead you.”
Even as Tārā spoke thus, Vālī reproached her with these words, “Lovely woman, how can I tolerate such insolent roaring of a brother, an enemy. For a hero to turn back from battle is worse than death. I don’t want to refrain from fighting the weak Sugrīva and you need not worry about me on account of Rāghava. He knows dharma and is always noble in his conduct. So, how can he wrong me? You have amply shown your affection and devotion to me, Tārā! Go back and don’t be anxious. I will fight Sugrīva but will not take his life. Pray for my victory. Once I have sufficiently subdued my brother’s ego, I will come back.” Tārā, with tears in her eyes went around Vālī in a pradakṣiṇa. She uttered mantras praying for his victory and returned to her quarters with other women.
His eyes red with rage and hissing like an angry snake, Vālī rushed at Sugrīva. With his clenched fist, he struck Sugrīva, who vomited blood. Sugrīva uprooted a sal tree and stuck Vālī, who staggered like a boat on an ocean overwhelmed by heavy load. The brothers clashed against each other like Candra and Sūrya colliding in the sky. Rāghava drew an arrow which was like a poisonous snake and shot it at Vālī, who immediately fell on to the ground like a toppled Indradhvaja.
Though Vālī fell to the ground, his life did not leave him, thanks to the golden necklace that Indra had bestowed upon him. The golden necklace, his body, and the arrow that had pierced him, conferred upon him, though fallen, a three-fold splendour. Rāma’s arrow had paved for him a path to svarga and granted him the highest state. Vālī lay fallen on the ground like Yayāti fallen from the world of devas upon the exhaustion of his puṇya. Rāma went to him, closely followed by Lakṣmaṇa.
As soon as Vālī saw Rāma, he spoke these harsh but dhārmic words, “What great merit have you gained by shooting from behind my back? Thanks to you, I have met with death amidst a heated battle with someone else. All the world praises you, saying ‘Rāma is full of compassion. He hails from a noble family, is dhārmic, knows when to act, and is committed to the well-being of his people.’ Keeping your virtues in mind, I engaged in combat with Sugrīva, though Tārā tried to refrain me. I never thought you would strike me when I was engaged in combat. I did not know that you were vicious and an embodiment of adharma, merely displaying the banner of dharma. You are like a deep, deadly well, covered by a spread of grass. I neither attacked your kingdom nor did I insult you. Why did you kill me, an innocent vānara, subsisting on roots and fruits in the forest? What kind of a man, born in a kṣatriya family and well read, performs such a heinous deed? Sāma, dāna, dharma, forbearance, honesty, steadiness, and courage as well as punishment of the wrongdoers are the qualities of a king. What possible benefit could you have by slaying me? Kings must never be driven by their selfish desires. You appear to be wrathful, unsteady, and confused about your royal duties. You are only interested in shooting arrows. Now that you have killed me, what will you tell an assembly of noble men? The killers of kings, brāhmaṇas, and cows go to naraka. People like you cannot even wear my skin and cannot eat my flesh. Only five among the five-nailed creatures may be eaten by brāhmaṇas and kṣatriyas—a vānara should not be eaten. What did you gain by killing me? With you as her lord, the earth is as good as being devoid of a king. If you had fought me in an open battle, you would now be staring at Yama’s face. I could have brought Rāvaṇa alive before you, with his neck bound by a noose, but you killed me in order to please Sugrīva. Even if Maithilī was kept captive in the ocean waters or in Pātāla, I would have brought her back to you. Though it is fitting that Sugrīva ascends the throne once I ascend to the svarga, it was not right for you to have killed me unjustly. But if you think what you have done is right, pray tell me how!”
Rāma, who was thus reproached, replied to Vālī, “You don’t understand dharma, artha, and kāma nor the conventions of statecraft; and yet, you censure me! This earth with its mountains and forests is governed by the Ikṣvākus and thus, they possess the right of punishing and rewarding its humans, birds, and animals. It is now ruled by Bharata, who is honest and dhārmic. Under his command, princes like me go around the world in order to ensure that dharma is observed and we punish those who tread away from its path. You have greatly violated dharma and behaved as per your passions. A younger brother, one’s own son, and a student of good conduct should be regarded by a dhārmic person as one’s son. Dharma is subtle and it is hard to be understood even by the good people. The Ātmā of each person truly knows the good and the evil. You are a frivolous vānara and only listen to the advice of weak-minded monkeys. Now listen to the reason behind me slaying you: You have violated the sanātana-dharma by consorting with your younger brother’s wife! Even while Sugrīva is alive, you had carnal relations with Rumā, who is like your daughter-in-law. You have committed a grave sin by violating your brother’s wife and thus, you are punished. Death is the prescribed punishment for a man who lustfully approaches his own daughter, sister, or younger brother’s wife. We follow the command of Bharata, who is intent on keeping under check men addicted to sensual pleasures. My friendship with Sugrīva is just like my affection for Lakṣmaṇa. For the sake of his kingdom and wife, Sugrīva is devoted to me. Moreover, I gave him my word in the presence of other vānaras and how can I transgress my vow? Thus, you can see that all the reasons stated by me are consistent with dharma and you must recognise that your punishment is dhārmic from all points of view. My ancestor, Māndhātā inflicted a terrible punishment on a śramaṇa, who had committed a sin just like the one you have committed. Now, stop grieving. Men capture, either openly or by remaining under cover, animals with nets, ropes, and various kinds of traps. Those who desire meat, shoot animals which may be in flight or in a state of alarm. Even the rājarṣis, who are well-versed in dharma, go out hunting. Thus, I struck you with an arrow, regardless of whether you fought back or not. You are only a śākhā-mṛga – an ape, after all! You must never censure kings who give life and prosperity to the world. You know no dharma and rebuke me, a man, who is following his ancestral dharma!”
Listening to Rāma’s words, Vālī answered with hands folded in supplication, “What you have said, O best of men, is undoubtedly true. An inferior person like me should not speak back to a noble and wise person like you. I made a mistake out of my arrogance by speaking harshly to you. You know the interests of the world and always think of the welfare of people. I certainly transgressed dharma.” His voice choked with tears as he continued, “I don’t grieve as much for myself as I grieve for my son Aṅgada. Fondled by me since his birth, he will be miserable once I am gone. Please take care of him. Display the same kind of affection on Aṅgada and Sugrīva like you do on Bharata and Lakṣmaṇa. Ensure that Sugrīva does not think ill of the innocent Tārā, who gained blemish because of me. The kingdom can only be taken care of by a person like you!”
Rāma consoled Vālī and assured him that his wish would be fulfilled. Vālī asked Rāma’s forgiveness one last time for criticising him and lost his consciousness.
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.]