Once the sky was free of clouds, Rāma, who had waited patiently the entire rainy season, was overcome with intense desire to regain the company of Sītā. He looked at the clear skies of the autumn night and the shining orb of the moon. Realising that Sugrīva was given over to lust and that the right time for action had passed, Rāma lamented deeply. He cried, “My beloved, whose voice was as sweet as the sārasas, found delight in their calls; how will she find enjoyment now? The beautiful lady used to wake up to the calls of the divine swans in the past. What wakes her now?” As Lakṣmaṇa tried to console him, Rāma said, “Water-bearing clouds that looked dark like the water lilies had covered the ten directions. But now, the rains have now stopped and the clouds, elephants, peacocks, and waterfalls are silenced. The mountain peaks that have been cleansed by the downpour from the clouds look as if they were painted with the rays of the moon. Little by little the autumnal rivers reveal their sandbanks just as bashful women do their loins during their first mating. With their waters now clear, the lakes look beautiful, resounded with the music of kurarī and cakravāka birds. The time for military expeditions of the kings has come but I don’t see Sugrīva taking any action. Tormented by longing for Sītā, the four months of the rainy season felt like a hundred years. Sugrīva by himself gave his word and specified the time for Sītā’s search. But now that he has achieved his purpose, the evil-minded vānara disregards our agreement. Lakṣmaṇa! Enter the city of Kiṣkindhā and speak on my behalf to the foolish vānara, who is overcome by lust and indecent pleasures. He who first promises and then destroys the hopes of allies who have helped him in the past, is the worst kind of being. He probably wants to hear the ferocious twang of my bowstring. It is true that Sugrīva is valorous, but with you by my side, Lakṣmaṇa, I have nothing to worry about. You must tell him the following words, ‘The path taken by Vālī when he was slain by me, is not closed yet; stand by your agreement, Sugrīva! Don’t follow in Vālī’s footsteps! I slew your brother with a single arrow; but, if you neglect your oath, I will eliminate you with your entire family!’ Make haste, Lakṣmaṇa!”
Lakṣmaṇa was equally enraged and said, “The vānara is not going to be dhārmic and such a person should not rule the kingdom. I will kill the faithless Sugrīva right away! Vālī’s son and the other heroic vānaras can help us search for Sītā!” But Rāma consoled Lakṣmaṇa saying, “It is not right for a person of honourable conduct like you to choose an evil path now. Speak to Sugrīva with affection and friendship. Let us take to the sāmopāya and avoid harshness.”
Thus instructed by his brother, Lakṣmaṇa walked to the city of Kiṣkindhā in a fury and resembled Kāla, the dissolver of creation. As intelligent as Bṛhaspati, Rāma’s younger brother, reflected upon what he should tell Sugrīva, the latter’s reply, and his reply to him in return. He walked with long strides violently toppling many trees and crushing rocks with his feet like a charged elephant. He advanced with his lips trembling with anger and the vānaras protecting Kiṣkindhā picked up their weapons. Looking at the tawny vānaras grabbing their weapons, Lakṣmaṇa’s anger doubled just like fire fed with ample fuel doubly blazes. But as soon as the vānaras saw that he was enraged, they fled off in different directions, their limbs gripped by fear. They rushed to Sugrīva’s palace and reported to him of Lakṣmaṇa’s coming and his wrath. But the lustful vānara was enjoying privacy with Tārā and did not hear the words of the vānaras. Upon the instruction of the ministers, terrible-looking vānaras went forth from the city, having their claws and fangs as weapons. Some of them had the strength of ten elephants and some ten times that; others were as powerful as a thousand elephants.
Further enraged, Lakṣmaṇa gazed at Kiṣkindhā, surrounded by vānaras holding trees in their hands. The vānaras crossed over the fortifications and the moat surrounding the city and stood in full view. Lakṣmaṇa’s eyes grew red, he heaved heavy sighs of anger and was like the fire of universal destruction. Terrified, Aṅgada approached him and Lakṣmaṇa instructed him, “Tell Sugrīva, dear child, that Rāma’s younger brother is standing at the gate!’ Aṅgada rushed to his uncle and reported the same. However, the vānaras roared together as soon as they saw Lakṣmaṇa. The mighty din awoke Sugrīva, who was red-eyed and was unsteady in his gait as he was drunk. His garlands, garments, and ornaments were in a disarray. Plakṣa and Prabhāva, the two noble counsellors of Sugrīva joined Aṅgada and once again announced that Lakṣmaṇa had arrived to discuss dhārmic matters. They told him, “The illustrious brothers, Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa are your friends and have kept their promise. Lakṣmaṇa is standing at the gate and the vānaras are terrified. Your kinsmen, son, and you should bow down to him and stick to the compact you made!”
As soon as Sugrīva finally heard Aṅgada’s words, he spoke to his ministers, weighing his options. He said, “I have neither uttered an offensive word nor done anything wrong. I wonder why Lakṣmaṇa is angry. Perhaps, my enemies, who are always looking for an opportunity to harm me must have carried tales to Rāghava’s younger brother about my non-existent flaws. You should all deliberate carefully and come to a decision abiding by the rules of statecraft. I do not fear Lakṣmaṇa or Rāghava, but a friend who is angry for no reason causes fear. It is easy to make friends but hard to retain friendship. Human nature is fickle and anything can ruin friendship. I can never pay back the help Rāma has provided me.”
Hanumān then stated his own conjecture, “Rāma’s anger is entirely due to the affection he has for you. You have been careless and did not realise the time for right action. Autumn is here and the skies are clear. You must now bear with the harsh words of Rāghava, who is suffering because of the abduction of his wife. Since you are at fault, you have no other option but to bow down to Lakṣmaṇa with hands joined in reverence. A king needs to be advised by his counsellors and I have spoken thus keeping aside my fear.”
Then invited to enter, Lakṣmaṇa walked into Kiṣkindhā as the vānaras bowed down to him. The cave-city was crowded with mansions and studded with all kinds of gems. It was filled with trees bearing many kinds of fruits and flowers. The vānaras were dressed in heavenly garlands and garments. The main streets were fragrant with the scent of sandal, aloes, and lotus. There were multi-storied houses and Lakṣmaṇa also noticed many mountain streams. On the royal way, he saw the lavish mansions of Aṅgada and other vānara chiefs such as Mainda, Dvivida, Hanumān, Nīla, Nala, Suṣeṇa, Tāra, and Jāmbavān. Lakṣmaṇa entered Sugrīva’s palace that had white turrets, tall like the peaks of Kailāsa. He passed through the seven enclosures and saw many kinds of women, all proud of their beauty. He then saw Sugrīva, who was as bright as Sūrya, sitting amidst his women on his golden throne, tightly embracing Rumā. Looking at Lakṣmaṇa, Sugrīva and his women stood up, their hands joined in reverence.
Lakṣmaṇa spoke furiously to Sugrīva: “Only a king who is truthful, compassionate, and grateful is revered in the world. Long ago, Brahmā declared, ‘There are means of atoning all evil deeds including killing brāhmaṇa, drinking liquor, theft, and breaking of a vow; but, for the ungrateful, there is no atonement.’ O vānara! You are ignoble, ungrateful, and dishonest. If you wish to repay Rāma’s help, you must immediately look for Sītā. Rāma did not realise that you were a snake croaking like a frog. The path taken by Vālī when he was slain by Rāma, is not closed; stand by your agreement, Sugrīva! Don’t follow in Vālī’s footsteps!’
Tārā begged for Lakṣmaṇa’s pardon. She said, “The lord of vānaras does not deserve to hear harsh words, Lakṣmaṇa! He is neither ungrateful nor dishonest. Thanks to Rāma, Sugrīva got his kingdom as well as Rumā and me. But like the great sage Viśvāmitra, who lost track of time in the company of Ghṛtācī and felt ten years to be only a day, Sugrīva does not realise that the time for action has come. Rāma must please pardon Sugrīva, who is only following his carnal call. To please Rāma, Sugrīva will even give up his kingdom, Rumā and me, and vanquish Rāvaṇa in battle. We have heard that Laṅkā is filled with crores of unassailable rākṣasas and without killing them, Maithilī cannot be retrieved. In order to fetch you allies in battle, valorous vānaras have already been sent in different directions to bring more vānaras!” Lakṣmaṇa, who was tender by nature, acknowledged Tārā’s words.
Sugrīva then said, “I can never pay back Rāma’s assistance. Rāma is alone capable of vanquishing Rāvaṇa, yet I will walk behind him as his servant. May he pardon my transgression!”
Lakṣmaṇa said, “You must go at once and console your friend Rāma. Only you are his equal in power. Kindly forgive the harsh words that I uttered, for I was deeply touched by Rāma’s grief!”
Sugrīva immediately instructed Hanumān to summon vānaras residing in various regions. As soon as they learnt about their king’s call, a large number of vānaras from different places around the earth arrived. The vānaras who had gone to summon the others from the Himālayas came across a place where yajña for Maheśvara had been performed long ago. The fruits and roots there were as sweet as amṛta and one who ate them did not grow hungry for a month. The troupes of vānaras relished them and brought fragrant flowers from the place in order to please Sugrīva. Pleased with the vānaras who had arrived at his call, Sugrīva felt that his and Rāma’s mission was as good as accomplished. He headed to meet Rāma along with Lakṣmaṇa in a palanquin, which was carried by strong vānaras.
As soon as they spotted Rāma, Sugrīva and his huge army of vānaras stood before him with their palms joined in reverence. To Rāma, the huge entourage looked like a lake full of lotus buds. He raised up the king of vānaras, who had fallen at his feet and embraced him. Getting Sugrīva seated, Rāma said, “A king must purse dharma, artha, and kāma at appropriate times. One who neglects dharma and artha and pursues kāma only, awakens only after he has fallen like a man who falls asleep on the top of a tree. The time for action is now ripe!” Sugrīva said, “I have gained my lost grandeur and glory because of you! Crores and crores of vānaras have arrived and many, who are the children of the devas and gandharvas, are on their way!”
Even as they were speaking, dust rose into the sky veiling the brilliant Sun. The mountains and forests trembled as countless vānaras appeared led by their chieftains. The chieftains included Śatabali, Suṣeṇa – Tārā’s father, Kesarī – Hanumān’s father, Gavākṣa, Dhūmra, Darīmukha, Mainda and Dvivida – the sons of Aśvinī-devatās, Gandhamādana, Aṅgada, Tāra, Indrajānu, Rambha, Durmukha, Hanumān, and Nala. Each commanded lakhs of vānaras and many had the power of changing their appearance at will. Sugrīva proudly presented his army to Rāma. Upon Rāma’s instruction, Sugrīva directed different troupes of vānaras to head to different directions. He commanded the first group to go to the North to explore all regions including the areas around the rivers Bhāgīrathī, Sarayū, Kauśikī, Yamunā, Sarasvatī, and Sindhu as well as the provinces of Brahmamālā, Videha, Mālava, Kāśī, Kosala, Magadha, Puṇḍra, and Vaṅga. He asked them not to forget the surroundings of mountains such as Mandara, Ṛṣabha, and Jātarūpaśilā as well as the islands of Yavadvīpa, Suvarṇarūpyaka and Sudarśana. He commanded another group of heroes headed by Aṅgada, Hanumān, Nīla, and Jāmbavān to search the regions of the South, especially those surrounding the rivers Narmadā, Godāvarī, Kṛṣṇaveṇī, Kāverī, and Tāṃpraparṇī as well as the provinces of Daśārṇa, Avanti, Āndhra, Cola, Pāṇḍya, Kerala, and Malaya mountains. He summoned his father-in-law Suṣeṇa and asked him to search in the West as well as the regions surrounding the mountains Pāriyātra, Cakravān, and Meghavān. He also instructed him to search the golden city of Prāgjyotiṣa, which sits atop the Varāha Mountain and is the abode of the asura named Naraka. He directed a troupe of vānaras headed by Śatabali to search the regions inhabited by the Bharatas, Kurus, Madrakas, Kāmbojas, Yavanas, Śakas, Āraṭṭakas, Bāhlikās, Ṛṣikas, Pauravas, Ṭāṅkaṇas, Cīnas, Paramacīnas, Nīhāras, and Daradas; he also asked him to look in the regions of the mountains Sudarśana, Krauñca, Mānasa, and Mainākha and warned him not to go north beyond the Kuru region. He asked them to turn back once they see the mountain called Somagiri, difficult even for the devas to scale. Sugrīva instructed all groups of vānaras to accomplish their task within a month.
Sugrīva had a special message for Hanumān, for he was confident that he was the best of vānaras and would achieve their purpose. He said, “I see no obstacle for your free passage either on the earth, air, sky, amaraloka, or in the waters. Your speed, power, and swiftness are equal to that of your father, Māruta. Only you can find Sītā. In you are an abode of strength, wisdom, strength, enterprise, and ability to adapt to circumstance.” Looking at the special confidence that Sugrīva had in Hanumān and knowing Hanumān’s qualities himself, Rāma gave him a ring engraved with his name as a token of recognition for Sītā. He said, “Once Janaka’s daughter sees this ring, she will not fear you. Your determination and valour as well as Sugrīva’s command assures me that you will be successful.” Hanumān received the ring and placed it on his head. He prostrated at Rāma’s feet with folded hands and started on his journey.
Once the vānaras had set out, Rāma stayed with Lakṣmaṇa on Mount Prasravaṇa, waiting out the month which had been allotted to search for Sītā. The vānaras screamed, roared and boasted as they went ahead. Some said, “I will find Rāvaṇa, kill him, and bring back Janaka’s daughter.” Others said, “I will get back Jānakī myself even if she is in Pātāla.” Even others declared, “I will scatter the trees and dry the ocean. I can leap one hundred yojanas!”
Rāma asked Sugrīva, “How do you know the regions of the entire earth?” Sugrīva replied, “When Vālī returned to Kiṣkindhā after vanquishing Dundubhi, he wished to kill me because he misunderstood my intentions. He chased after me and I fled from one region to another along with my companions. I saw the entire earth as in a mirror and it looked like the circle made by a whirling firebrand. Hanumān then told me that Vālī would not enter the āśrama of Mataṅga and if he did so, he his head would split into a hundred pieces as per the sage’s curse. Thus, we took refuge there.”
After a month’s time, all vānaras except Hanumān reassembled and reported to Sugrīva that they had not found Sītā even after thoroughly searching in the directions assigned to them.
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.]