Hanumān, Aṅgada, Tāra, and other vānaras looked for Sītā in all possible places in the direction indicated by Sugrīva. They searched the caves and thickets of the Vindhyās and were exhausted. As they were craving for water, they came across an enormous cavern overgrown with trees and creepers. They saw swans, krauñcas, sārasas, and cakravākas flying out of the cavern, their bodies wet and red with pollen grains of lotus. Hanumān deduced that there must be water inside the cavern and entered it along with the other vānaras, who were excited. Neither sunlight nor moonlight could enter there; it was pitch dark. Now scared, the vānaras clung to each other as they waded through the trees and were soon exhausted. As they walked ahead, they arrived at a pleasant spot, full of golden trees of many kinds that illuminated the surroundings. There were lotus ponds with clear waters, filled with golden turtles and fish. They saw gold and silver mansions covered with ornamentations of pearls, round windows made of gold, and flooring set with emeralds. They saw beds, chariots, chairs, blankets, containers, and many other objects – all made of gold and precious gems. Not far from them was a woman, a tāpasī clothed in bark garments and black antelope skin.
Hanumān, with his hands folded in reverence, asked the lady, “Who are you? And who does this dwelling, cavern, and jewels belong to? We were weary with hunger and thirst; we found this huge opening in the earth and entered it. And now, upon seeing these marvellous objects, we are frightened and bewildered!”
The tāpasī, who was devoted to the welfare of all beings replied, “There once lived a brilliant and talented dānava named Maya. This golden forest was created by him through his magical powers. He had gained all the wealth that belonged to Uśanas, having performed tapas to Brahmā. Maya comfortably lived in this place for some time and grew attached to the apsarā Hemā. Indra, who was angry with his attachment to the apsarā killed him and Brahmā bestowed this brilliant forest upon Hemā. I am Svayaṃprabhā, the daughter of Merusāvarṇi and I guard this dwelling of my dear friend, Hemā. Once you have eaten the roots and fruits and drunk some water, please tell me what brings you here!”
Hanumān explained about Sītā’s abduction and Sugrīva’s instruction to them. Upon their request to let them out safely from the cave, Svayaṃprabhā said, “It is impossible for anyone who has entered here to get out alive. But, with the power of my tapas, will rescue all of you. Close your eyes! Those whose eyes are not shut, cannot get out!” The vānaras immediately closed their eyes and covered their faces with their hands. They were out on the shore of the endless ocean in a fraction of a second.
The vānaras looked around and realised that it was Spring already. They were anxious that they had well surpassed the time allocated by Sugrīva. Aṅgada said, “Don’t you see, O vānaras, that an entire month elapsed while we were in the cavern. Since the time prescribed by Sugrīva has elapsed, it is only fitting for us to fast unto death. Sugrīva is harsh by nature and if we go back to him without news about Sītā, he is sure to punish us. Instead, it is best to forget our sons, wives, and wealth and give up our lives here. In fact, it was Rāma who coronated me as the crown prince and not Sugrīva; he has always remained hostile to me. I will fast to death on the shore of the sea!” The vānaras immediately agreed with the words of the crown prince and decided to fast as well.
Tāra said, “Enough of this despondency; we can go and live happily in the magical cave, if you will. We need not fear anyone there!”
Looking at Aṅgada, who was so crestfallen, Hanumān, who knew his power and intelligence, took to the third path of polity – bheda and sowed dissension among the vānaras. He intimidated Aṅgada with the following words: “O son of Tārā, you are surely more capable than your father and can rule the kingdom very well. But monkeys are always fickle-minded. These vānaras will not listen to your commands if you abandon them from their wives and children. You will not be able to alienate me, Jāmbavān, Nīla, and Suhotra from Sugrīva either through sāma, dāna, or daṇḍa. And if you consider the cavern your protection, I tell you, it can easily be split open by Lakṣmaṇa’s arrows. If you decide to remain where you are, then the vānaras will soon desert you. But if you return with us humbly, Sugrīva will establish you in the kingdom as his successor. He is firm in his vows and would never want to kill you. Gaining the love of your mother seems to be the sole purpose of his life and he has no other offspring of his own. Aṅgada, come back with us!”
Upon hearing Hanumān’s loving words, that were filled with reverence for his master, Aṅgada said, “Steadfastness, integrity, valour, and kindness are qualities that Sugrīva does not possess. The disgusting creature has appropriated his elder brother’s wife, the queen, who by dharma is like his mother. He had blocked the mouth of the cave when his elder brother was fighting. How can he know dharma? Will he ever be grateful to anyone? He gave his word to Rāma and forgot all about it. He commanded us to search for Sītā out of fear of Lakṣmaṇa and not out of fear for dharma. A son, whether good or bad, must be installed on the throne as a successor. But will Sugrīva tolerate the continued existence of his enemy’s son? He will subject me to some secret punishment. Thus, it is better for me to fast to death and that is my firm resolve. You may all go back and salute my uncle. You must wish the best of health to my mother Rumā and console my mother Tārā, who is very fond of her son.” Aṅgada, who was thus dispirited sat down facing east on darbha grass with its ends pointing towards the South. The other vānaras too blamed Sugrīva and praised Vālī. They surrounded Aṅgada and decided to fast until death as well. They wailed so loudly that the mountains with their rivers and caverns seemed to fill with the thundering of rain-bearing clouds.
Sampāti, the king of vultures and the brother of Jaṭāyu happened to come to that very place. Emerging out of the mountain cave, the aged vulture spotted the vānaras and was immediately delighted. He exclaimed, “It is said that destiny invariably follows man. The food ordained for me is finally here, after this long wait. I shall feast upon these vānaras as they die one after the other!”
Aṅgada was rattled by the words of the greedy bird and said the following to Hanumān, “Look! Holding Sītā’s abduction as a pretext, Yama has himself come in the form of this vulture to cause the extinction of vānaras. Neither Rāma’s purpose nor our king’s command has been carried out. You must have heard of Jaṭāyu, who gave up his life in order to help Vaidehī. All creatures will give up life for the sake of Rāma, just like us. That king of vultures was fortunate, for he was killed by Rāvaṇa and is now free of the fear of Sugrīva. Because of the death of Jaṭāyu and Daśaratha as well as the abduction of Vaidehī, the vānaras have fallen into this trouble. All such misfortunes were caused by the boons granted to Kaikeyī!”
Upon hearing the words spoken by Aṅgada, Sampāti asked in a loud voice, “Who is this who proclaims the shocking news of the death of my brother Jaṭāyu, who was dearer to me than my own life? Why did the battle take place between the vulture and the rākṣasa in the Janasthāna? I would like to hear about the death of my brother.”
Although Sampāti’s voice choked as he asked about his dead brother, the vānaras did not trust him. They said to themselves, “We had anyway decided to give up our lives by fasting. Even if he eats us, we will anyway accomplish our purpose quickly!” Aṅgada brought the vulture down from the top of the hill. He explained to Sampāti about Rāma’s banishment from the kingdom, the abduction of Vaidehī, and slaying of Jaṭāyu by Rāvaṇa. He also added, “Upon Rāma’s request, we searched for Vaidehī, but were not able to find her, just as the sunlight cannot be found at night. The time allotted for the search is long gone and we are fasting unto death as we fear that our king will punish us.”
Sampāti, with tears in his eyes, replied to the vānaras, “The Jaṭāyu you speak about, is my dear younger brother. As I am old and have lost my wings, I must endure the pain of losing him – I no longer have the power to avenge for my brother’s death. Long ago, Jaṭāyu and I flew towards the Sun in a competition. When the Sun had reached the mid-sky, Jaṭāyu was tormented by the blazing rays of the Sun and I affectionately shielded him with my wings. But my wings got burned in the heat and I fell on the Vindhyās. And since then, have been living here and have had no news about my brother.”
When asked by Aṅgada if he knew anything about Rāvaṇa, Sampāti said, “Though old age has robbed me of my strength and my wings are burned, I will assist Rāma through my words. I know all about Varuṇa’s worlds, Viṣṇu’s three strides, and the battle between devas and asuras for amṛta. I saw the evil Rāvaṇa carrying off a beautiful young woman, who cried out ‘Rāma! Rāma! Lakṣmaṇa!’ She was throwing off her ornaments. That must have been Sītā. Rāvaṇa is the son of Viśravas and the brother of Kubera. He lives in the lovely city of Laṅkā, which is surrounded by the ocean and lies a hundred yojanas away from here. Vaidehī lies captivated there, guarded by rākṣasīs. You must quickly go there. From my special vision, I can say that you will surely find Sītā. We, vultures are gifted with powerful sight. Right from here, I can see Jānakī and Rāvaṇa. I can see farther than one hundred yojanas as nature has designed us to consume food seen from a long distance. You must find a means to cross the sea. Now, take me to the ocean as I would like to perform tarpaṇa for my dead brother.”
Delighted to have obtained the news, the vānaras took Sampāti to the shore and brought him back. Upon Jāmbavān’s request, Sampāti told them the exact way he got to know about Sītā’s abduction. He said, “Since I am in such a pitiable condition, my son Supārśva brings me food. Just as intense desire is natural for gandharvas and immense anger for serpents, we, birds are subject to intense hunger. One day, I was suffering from hunger after sun set, and my son returned without any meat. When I berated him, he told me, ‘As I was searching for food, I saw a person as dark as a heap of collyrium carrying a woman as bright as sunlight. As I was craving for food, I was resolved upon taking them, but he humbly begged me to let him go. He swiftly went away and seemed to compress the sky with his swiftness. I was then told by sages that I was lucky to be alive and as he had a woman with him, Rāvaṇa did not harm me.’ Well, I cannot fly but can help you with my speech and thought, for Dāśarathi’s purpose is also mine.”
Sampāti also described to them his meeting with the Sage Niśākara in the Vindhyās and how the earth appeared from the sky. The sage had told him the following: “You will gain new wings, eyes, vitality, and valour, for I have heard and have also seen it through my tapas. Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa will live in the forest as per their father’s direction and Rāma’s wife Sītā will get abducted by the rākṣasa Rāvaṇa. She will then be plunged in such deep sorrow that she will not consume any food. Indra will then give her divine food, and Maithilī will scatter it partially on the ground for Rāma. Vānaras will come as Rāma’s messengers to search for his queen and you must tell them where she is. I could have restored your wings but by staying here, you will do great service for the benefit of the whole world. I too would have loved to see the brothers, but I will abandon my body as I do not wish to live that long!”
Even as he was speaking to the vānaras, two wings sprouted on his body. Sampāti said, “Through the power of Sage Niśākara, I have regained my wings and this should give you confidence about your success!” The vānaras were delighted and Sampāti flew up from the mountain peak to test his wings.
Filled with immense joy, the vānaras went to the shore of the ocean, which looked like a reflection of the entire world. They lost heart when they saw the ocean filled with terrifying waves, scary creatures, and wicked dānavas. Aṅgada then told them, “There is no need for us to grow despondent. Just as an angry snake kills a child, despondency destroys a person. Tell me, who can leap across the sea and bring back happy news to Rāma and Sugrīva. All of you declare how far you can leap!”
Gaja, Gavākṣa, Gavaya, Śarabha, Gandhamādana, Mainda, Dvivida, and Suṣeṇa declared respectively that they could jump ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, and eighty yojanas. Jāmbavān said, “In my prime, I could jump large distances. Long ago, during Mahābali’s yajña, I had even performed a pradakṣiṇa of Viṣṇu who had appeared in the form of Trivikrama. Even now, I can leap ninety yojanas!”
Aṅgada declared, “I can jump a distance of a hundred yojanas, but I am not sure if I have the strength to return.”
Jāmbavān said, “Aṅgada, you have the power of leaping a hundred or even a thousand yojanas and returning; but you are our commander-in-chief and the root of all our endeavours. Only if the root is intact, can it result in good fruits and flowers. Thus, you should not take the leap. I know who can accomplish the task and here, I will summon him!”
Jāmbavān then spoke to Hanumān, “Hero of the vānaras, why are you silent, Hanumān? The might of your arms is like the strength of Garuḍa’s wings and you are the superior-most amongst us. The apsarā Puṅjikasthalā, because of a curse, was born as Añjanā, the daughter of Kuñjara and was the wife of Kesarī. Even as a vānara woman, Añjanā could change form at will. Once, in the prime of her youth, she had taken the human form and was decked in beautiful garments. Pavana, the deity of wind, saw her and was overcome with passion. Though Añjanā resisted recalling her vow as a faithful wife, Pavana promised her a mighty son and won her over. Through his mind, you were born to Añjanā in a cave. As a child, you leapt up to three hundred yojanas in order to grasp the Sun. As you flew through the sky, Indra was enraged and hurled his vajrāyudha at you. You fell on the peak of a mountain and your jaw was broken on the left side; thus, your name Hanumān. Pavana grew angry that you were wounded and stopped from blowing. This disturbed the three worlds and to pacify him, Brahmā gave you the boon that you no weapon can kill you. Seeing that you were unhurt even by his vajrāyudha, Indra gave you a boon through which you will die only when you so wish. In my prime, I reverentially went around the world twenty-one times when Viṣṇu appeared in the form of Trivikrama and collected all the herbs that eventually formed the amṛta of the devas. You are extremely powerful Hanumān. Rise up and show us your prowess!”
Thus motivated by Jāmbavān, Hanumān started growing into a gigantic form and caused immense delight to the army. He grew stronger and stronger and pressed his tail to the ground. His face glowed like smokeless fire. He stood up from amidst the army, with his hair bristling with joy. He said, “No one can match my power of flight. I can circle the mountain Meru a thousand times without a pause. I can take a leap from the eastern mountain after the Sun has risen and overtake him before he sets. As I jump, mountains tremble and the sea stirs up. Only Vainateya, Pavana, and I have such power. I will cross over the sea in the wink of an eye and am sure to find Vaidehī. I can even uproot Laṅkā and carry it away.” Jāmbavān praised him and the fear of all vānaras was dispelled. Jāmbavān said, “We will eagerly wait standing on one foot until you return, for the lives of the vānaras depends on you!”
Hanumān chose the top of the firm mountain Mahendra to launch himself across the sea. As he climbed the mountain, it groaned like a powerful elephant in rut struck down by a lion. Streams of water gushed out and its huge boulders crumbled; its deer and tuskers panicked and the trees tossed wildly. Serpents half-emerged and hissed in distress and the mountain looked as if it was decorated with flags and banners. As the frightened sages departed from the mountain, it sank lower like the heart of a wayfarer who is left behind in wilderness by his caravan.
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.]