Hanūmān assumed a body of immeasurable size right in front of the vānaras. Pressed down by the huge vānara, the mountain trembled for a moment which caused the fresh blossoms from the trees to fall; waters poured out from the mountain and it looked like an elephant in rut exuding ichor from its temples; huge boulders tinged with gold and silver tumbled down due to Hanūmān’s force. Preparing to leap, Hanūmān let out a mighty roar and had goosebumps all over his body. Planting his hind feet firmly on the ground, the determined vānara declared, “I will fly to Laṅkā like the swift arrow of Rāghava. If I don’t find Sītā there, I will fly to the devaloa, and if I don’t find her there as well, I will bind Rāvaṇa and bring him here!”
He flew up into the sky. The trees around him leapt up with him and followed him for a distance, just as people follow a kinsman who is setting out on a long travel. Unable to catch up with his speed, the trees fell into the ocean like friends turning back. The great vānara looked as though he was intent on devouring the skies and the ocean. His eyes blazed like the Sun and the Moon and his outstretched arms looked like two huge serpents. With his body high up in the sky and shadow down below in the waters, the vānara looked like a ship sailing over the ocean, driven by the wind. The shadow itself was ten yojanas in breadth and thirty in length. The portion of the sea below his body looked as though it was undergoing a convulsive seizure. Devas and gandharvas showered flowers over him, Sūrya did not burn him, and Vāyu aided his purpose.
Looking at him fly, Sāgara recollected the help he had received from Sagara, who belonged to the lineage of the Ikṣvākus, and decided to assist Hanūmān. Sāgara instructed the mountain Maināka, who was hidden within him as a barrier to the door of Pātāla, to rise in order to provide hospitality to Hanūmān. As the mountain rose up, the vānara thought that it was meant to pose an obstacle and pushed it aside, just as wind pushes a cloud. The mountain was delighted, took a human form, and stood on his own summit before Hanūmān. He said, “Please alight on my peak and rest for a moment. Sāgara was nourished in the past by the Rāghavas, and since you are serving Rāma’s purpose, he is helping you in return. One good deed deserves another; such is the principle followed in Sanātana-dharma. You may rest here awhile and feast on the roots, fruits, and bulbs on my peak. Even an ordinary guest must be hosted well by a wise man; how much more so when a guest of your stature is around! Long ago, in the Kṛta-yuga, mountains had wings and they used to fly in all directions driving terror in the hearts of the devas, ṛṣis, and all other creatures threatening to fall on them. Indra, who was furious with the mountains, chopped off their wings with his vajrāyudha but when he confronted me, Vāyu suddenly swept me away safely deposited me in these salty waters, with my wings preserved. Your father had thus helped me. Therefore, I extend even greater honour to you!”
Hearing these words, Hanūmān said, “Your very offer of hospitality has been a great favour to me. Please don’t get angry, I must hurry. Moreover, I have given my word that I won’t stop anywhere in the middle!” With a smile, he gently stroked the mountain with his hand and rose to the sky. He flew ahead on this father’s path, even as the mountain and ocean continued seeing him with affection regard. Pleased with the affectionate hospitality that Maināka had provided Hanūmān, Indra assured the mountain that he need not worry about any harm from him hereafter. Pleased, Maināka resumed his place underneath the ocean.
Now, upon the request on the devas, gandharvas, siddhas, and paramarṣis, Surasā, the mother of the nāgas took the form of a ferocious rākṣasī to impede Hanūmān and to test his strength. She declared to Hanūmān as she obstructed him, “You are going to be my food! Enter my mouth!” Hanūmān joined his hands in reverence and said, “I am on my way to find Vaidehī, the wife of Rāma and I am his messenger. You ought to help Rāma, as you live in his territory; once I have seen Maithilī and Rāma, I will enter your mouth – I promise you!” Surasā wouldn’t let Hanūmān go, so he challenged her, “In that case, open your mouth wide enough to prevent my passing!” Hanūmān grew to a height of ten yojanas and Surasā expanded her mouth to twenty yojanas. He grew to a height of forty yojanas and she stretched her jaws to fifty yojanas. The two continued to compete; Hanūmān grew to a ninety yojanas and she opened her mouth to a height of a hundred yojanas. The wide mouth of Surasā looked like naraka; in a fraction of a second, Hanūmān became smaller than thumb, entered her mouth and flew out. Her purpose fulfilled, Surasā regained her original form and wished him the best. The celestial beings were awestruck and praised him. Hanūmān then continued flying through the path taken by the Sun, the Moon, and Indra’s elephant.
Looking at him in the sky, a rākṣasī named Siṃhikā, who took any form at will, seized his shadow. He recognised the evil rākṣasī, who had opened her mouth wide. Taking a note of her vulnerable parts, he plunged into her mouth in a contracted form. The vānara tore apart her vital organs using his sharp claws and rose to the surface at the speed of thought.
He flew in his huge form until he spotted a land covered with thick trees and rivers. Hanūmān then assumed his original form, just as a person who has transcended all worldly delusions attains his natural state. He landed on the peak of Mount Lamba which was filled with ketaka shrubs, uddālaka trees, and coconut palms. He gazed at the city of Laṅkā on the peak of the Mount Trikūṭa. He spied beautiful gardens, lakes, and pleasure groves in the city. As he went closer to the city, he saw its moats filled with lotus and lilies; it was guarded with special care by rākṣasas from the time Rāvaṇa had brought Sītā there. The city, that was built by Viśvakarmā looked as though it was floating in the sky. With its embankments and ramparts as her thighs, the wide moats as her new garments, its spears and cannons as her long hair, and the towers as her earrings, the city looked like a woman.
Hanūmān then reached the northern gate and looking at the strong fortifications, he stood brooding. He thought, ‘Even if the vānaras reach here, they can achieve nothing, as even the devas cannot defeat Laṅkā. Only Aṅgada, Nīla, Sugrīva, and I can even reach this place. I will enter the city at night to ensure that I will not be noticed by anyone. If I enter the city disguised as a rākṣasa, the rākṣasas will certainly figure out. It looks like even wind cannot pass without being detected here. I will take a tiny form, enter Laṅkā at night, and search the entire palace for the daughter of Janaka.’ He waited for the Sun to set and contracted his body until he was no bigger than a cat.
In the evening, he leapt into the city and gazed upon its beautiful avenues. The city had rows and rows of palaces, with columns made of gold and silver, and floors decked with pearls and gems. Desperate to find Sītā, he walked through the city of Laṅkā, which was guarded by Rāvaṇa’s mighty arms. As though to provide him assistance, the Moon rose amidst the stars, spreading over the world its canopy of light. It was a bright as a conch-shell, and as white as milk or lotus fibre; it looked like a swan gliding on a lake. As he walked through the city, he could hear the sounds of laughter and musical instruments issuing forth from its splendid mansions. The tall buildings were of various designs – svastika, padma, and vardhamānaka. He heard the sweet singing of women, who were traversing the three sthānas with their voice. He also heard the tinkling of the waist bands of women as well as the jingling of their anklets; and he heard the footsteps of people up and down the stairs. As he walked through, he heard some rākṣasas engaged in the recitation of the Vedas and others roaring the praises of Rāvaṇa.
Hanūmān saw various kinds of rākṣasas guarding the royal street. Some of them appeared to be the secret agents of Rāvaṇa. Some wore matted locks of hair and others had shaved heads; some were clad in cow-hide and others were naked; some held darbha grass in their hands and others held mallets, war hammers, and spears. Some had only one eye or ear and some were dwarfs; some rākṣasas were armed with swords and others held śataghnis. Hanūmān also saw others who were neither too tall nor too short; some were ugly and others marvellous. Some wore fragrant garlands and were smeared with unguents; some held lances, others nooses, and yet others vajrāyudhas. Rāvaṇa’s palace was atop the hill. It resounded with the neighing of horses and trumpets of elephants. There were chariots and aerial vehicles in the vicinity.
In the full moon night, Hanūmān could hear the drunken rākṣasas in brawl. Some were beating their chests and the others embraced their beloved. Many rākṣasas were engaged in various occupations, had lovely names, and were amongst the most-handsome people in the world. The women were pure in mind and noble at heart; their thoughts were centred around their beloveds and their intoxicating drinks. He saw some women seated comfortably in the laps of their loved ones on different floors of the skyscrapers. He also saw women who were heading out to meet their lovers, in extreme anticipation. But, he did not find Sītā, whose heart was rooted in the sanātana-dharma, and eyes longed only for Rāma. Her neck, which was once adorned with beautiful gold ornaments now only had droplets of tears as ornaments. She now resembled a streak of gold obscured by dust and an arrow wound superficially healed. Hanūmān was overcome with great sorrow, as he could not find Sītā.
Hanūmān entered the vicinity of Rāvaṇa’s palace. Pūjā was being performed there constantly and on the days of parvas, āhutis were offered. The vānara fearlessly roamed from the house of one rākṣasa to the other; leaping from the house of Prahastha, he went to Mahāpārśva’s dwelling and then to the house of Kumbhakarṇa, followed by Vibhīṣaṇa’s residence. He peeped into the house of Indrajit as well as many other rākṣasas. He finally entered Rāvaṇa’s palace, which was guarded by many rākṣasīs. Rāvaṇa had a separate mansion for lovemaking and another for day time activities. He saw many storerooms filled with gems, weapons, and luxurious goods – all won by Rāvaṇa through his might. He saw the best of the vimānas there, which was decked with gems. On its walls was pictured the entire earth with all its mountains, and the trees on each of them covered with a canopy of flowers; each flower was full of beautiful petals and filaments; white mansions, lotus pools, and forests were also fashioned on the vimāna. This was called the Puṣpaka. It was created by Viśvakarmā and was gifted by Brahmā to Kubera because of his intense tapas. It was procured by Rāvaṇa by force.
Hanūmān climbed the Puṣpaka and sensed divine aroma that seemed to be leading him to the place where Rāvaṇa was. Rāvaṇa’s palace was full of his rākṣasī wives as well as royal women who he had abducted. Hanūmān entered a grand hall, which catered to the five sense organs the best pleasure. There he saw a thousand women, dressed in brilliant ornaments and costumes, who had succumbed to the power of sleep and drink. With the tingling sounds of their ornaments gone silent, they looked like a huge bed of lotuses, whose swans and bees had fallen silent. The lord of the rākṣasas majestically slept amidst them. The garments of some women had fallen away, and the tilaka on others’ foreheads was partially erased. The marks left by ornaments on their limbs and breasts looked like ornaments themselves. Their breaths fragrant with wine wafted over the sleeping Rāvaṇa. Some women had their own arms as pillows and others slept on another’s breast or lap. Gripped by love and intoxication, they lay one over the another, mutually intertwined. Only because Rāvaṇa was now fast asleep, it seemed as though the blazing golden lamps unblinkingly gazed upon the beautiful sleeping women. All those women, the daughters of rājarṣis, devas, daityas, gandharvas, and rākṣasas had fallen for Rāvaṇa. Except for the daughter of Janaka, no other woman had ever desired another man nor was married to anyone else.
Looking at them, Hanūmān thought, ‘If the dharma-patnī of Rāghava was like one of these wives of the rākṣasa king, he is lucky. But, Sītā’s virtues are special and the lord of Laṅkā has been really brutal with her!’
Hanūmān saw Rāvaṇa sleeping on his exquisite bed, under a white chatra, breathing like a hissing serpent – the great vānara spontaneously drew back as if in fear. Rāvaṇa’s powerful arms bore the marks of the wound of Indra’s vajrāyudha and Viṣṇu’s cakra. His arms were like the trunks of elephants and iron beams that bolt a fortress. His breath bore the fragrance of mango and punnāga as well as tasty food and alcohol. His crown shone with gold and pearls. His muscular chest was smeared with red sandalwood paste and bore a dazzling necklace of pearls. He wore white and yellow silk garments and looked like a heap of black beans. Hanūmān once again gazed at the women who were at their master’s feet. One of the ladies had fallen asleep with her arm around her vīṇā and another with a maḍḍuka at her side. One was embracing a paṭaha and another ḍiṇḍima.
Hanūmān suddenly spotted an extremely beautiful woman sleeping on a magnificent bed away from the others. It was Maṇḍodarī, Rāvaṇa’s queen, but the vānara mistook her for Sītā looking at her youthful charm and brilliant jewellery. Thrilled at achieving his objective, he clapped his hands and kissed his tail. He climbed on a column and jumped back on the ground displaying his monkey nature. But the next moment, he dismissed the thought, regaining composure. He thought, ‘Sītā would never sleep with anyone apart from Rāma; she will not go to any other man. This must be someone else.’
Hanūmān spied upon the drinking hall of the rākṣasa, which was filled with all luxuries anyone could desire. He saw heaps and heaps of buffalo and boar flesh placed on golden platters as well as the flesh of porcupine, deer, and peacocks. There was wine and liquor made from various kinds of flowers and fruits. There were golden and silver jars filled with the finest drinks, some half-drunk and others empty. He saw many drunken women lying there, half-naked. But Hanūmān was distressed that he was not able to find Jānakī. He thought, ‘I have gone against dharma, as I have spied upon every woman belonging to another man, as they were asleep.’ He then consoled himself thinking, ‘Though I saw these women, my mind has been least perturbed. The mind makes the sense organs perform actions and my mind has remained undisturbed. Where else was I to search for Vaidehī, if not in the women’s quarters? A lost woman shouldn’t be searched amidst does, after all!’
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.]