Hanūmān grew in size and set forth from there. But as he left, he thought, I have found her, but there is one thing that remains. Among the four upāyas, sāma in case of rākṣasas will be fruitless; dāna is not required as they have amassed a lot of wealth; bheda doesn’t work as they are proud of their strength; I will take to the fourth, the daṇḍopāya. If I kill a few rākṣasas now, it will weaken them. The best person achieves things over and above what is assigned to him. Let me also get an estimate of the strength of the rākṣasa army. If I destroy this aśoka-vana, Rāvaṇa will send his most powerful rākṣasas to subdue me but I can vanquish them in no time!
Hanūmān started hurling down trees and destroyed the ladies’ park. In no time, he smashed the trees, ruined the ponds, and powdered the mountains to dust. Blazing in his might, he stood at the gateway to the garden, eager to fight, one against many.
The residents of Laṅkā were terrified at the shrieking of the birds and crashing of trees. Birds and animals, fleeing out of fear, uttered harsh cries and the rākṣasas saw bad omens. As the rākṣasīs woke up, Hanūmān assumed a colossal form that further terrified them. The rākṣasīs questioned the daughter of Janaka, “Who is he? To whom does he belong? Where has he come from and why? Don’t get scared. What did he speak to you? Tell us!” Sītā merely said, “How should I know about these rākṣasas, who change form at will? You all may know who he is and what he is going to do. Only a snake knows the number of feet it possesses. I fear him as well; I thought he must be a rākṣasa!”
Some of the rākṣasīs fled to Rāvaṇa and reported to him, “A huge monkey of immeasurable strength was talking to Sītā in the aśoka-vana. He might have been sent by Indra, or Kubera, or even by Rāma to look for Sītā. He has now destroyed the entire garden except for the place where Sītā sits! Who would dare to speak to Sītā, whom you have already married in your heart, unless it is someone who wishes to die?”
Enraged, Rāvaṇa command a huge army of rākṣasas called kiṅkaras to capture Hanūmān. Armed with spears and hammers, they rushed at him like moths towards fire. Hanūmān simply picked up an iron beam that was attached to the gateway, beat his tail, and let out a might roar. He vanquished the rākṣasas in no time. Hanūmān then destroyed the prāsāda, assumed a huge form, and clapped his hands, the sound of which echoed across Laṅkā. He proclaimed in a loud voice, “Victory to Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa! Victory to Sugrīva, whom Rāghava protects! I am dāsa of the king of Kosala; I am Hanūmān, the son of Māruta. Even a thousand Rāvaṇas cannot defeat me in battle. I shall destroy the city of Laṅkā and prostrate before Maithilī. My mission, thus, accomplished, I will escape before the very eyes of the rākṣasas! Sugrīva will come here with crores of vānaras; since you have incurred the enmity of Rāghava, you are all doomed!” Rāvaṇa kept sending his men and army in larger and larger numbers. Hanūmān vanquished them in no time, using his powerful arms, legs, and tail. He thus killed Jambumālī, the son of Prahasta as well as the five commanders-in-chief of Rāvaṇa.
Rāvaṇa then commanded his son Akṣa to capture the monkey. Akṣa, who had never been wounded was eager for battle. He gathered all his strength just as the Sun gathers power at the end of winter, and fought valorously with Hanūmān. The great vānara was impressed with the youngster’s strength but couldn’t help killing him. After a long fight, Hanūmān seized him by his feet, whirled him a thousand times, and hurled him on to the ground with all his strength. Thus, having killed Akṣa, Hanūmān returned to the gateway of the aśoka-vana.
Enraged by the death of his son, Rāvaṇa commanded Indrajit to fight Hanūmān using his divine weapons. Indrajit mounted a chariot that was pulled by four ferocious lions, with sharp fangs and attacked the vānara. Hanūmān grew even bigger in size and effortlessly dodged Indrajit’s arrows. The heroes fought as if both were invincible. In order to arrest Hanūmān’s swift movements, Indrajit invoked brahmāstra and fired at him. Hanūmān recognised that it was the divine weapon of Brahmā and submitted himself to its power. He felt no pain and felt glad that he was now under the protection of Brahmā. He also thought that it was a good idea to get captured as he would be able to see the lord of rākṣasas face to face. Hanūmān remained still and the rākṣasas bound him with ropes. He let himself to be captured thinking, The lord of the rākṣasas might be curious to see me. As soon as he was bound by ropes, the brahmāstra released him, as the capture by astras cannot co-exist with any other bondage; but Hanūmān did not realise this. The rākṣasas beat him with their fists and sticks and dragged him to the presence of their lord.
Rāvaṇa looked at the vānara, his eyes rolling in anger. He instructed his ministers to question the vānara; upon their enquiry, Hanūmān said, “I have come here as a dūta – emissary of the lord of vānaras.” Hanūmān, his eyes red with anger too, gazed at the lord of the rākṣasas. Rāvaṇa dazzled with his own splendour, and brilliance of his golden crown decked with rows of pearls. He wore lovely jewels, which seemed as if created merely by thought. He wore silk garments and his body was smeared with red sandalwood paste, on which various beautiful designs were carved. He had ten large heads had terrifying red eyes, sharp fangs, and thick lips. He resembled a mound of black collyrium. His muscular arms looked like ferocious five-headed serpents. Rāvaṇa was seated on a splendid crystal throne and was fanned by beautiful young women, who stood all around him. He was surrounded by his four prime counsellors – Durdhara, Prahastha, Mahāpāśrva, and Nikumbha.
Hanūmān was astonished by his splendour and thought, Ah! What brilliance! What steadfastness and strength! The king of rākṣasas is truly endowed with all great qualities. If not for his adhārmic nature, he could have even ruled the world of devas! No wonder everyone is scared of him. He can reduce the entire world into an ocean!
Rāvaṇa instructed his minister Prahastha to further enquire into the vānara’s purpose, and Hanūmān replied, “I am vānara and this is my natural form. I destroyed the aśoka-vana to obtain an audience with the king of rākṣasas. I am a dūta of Rāghava. I am Hanūmān and have come upon the instruction of Sugrīva, who is like your brother. I leapt over the ocean only for the sake of Sītā. You are well versed in dharma and possess so much of wealth. You have performed great tapas as well. It is not right for a person of your stature to keep another’s wife by force. Because of your tapas, you have gained the boon of invincibility at the hands of devas and asuras—but Sugrīva is a vānara and Rāghava is a mānava. How will you save your life from them, O king! You will reap the fruits of your misdeeds. I can single-handedly destroy Laṅkā but I refrain from doing so as Rāma has pledged to annihilate all his enemies who abducted Sītā. You don’t seem to realise that Sītā is Kālarātrī – she will reduce Laṅkā to ashes.”
Enraged at his words, Rāvaṇa ordered to his men to execute the vānara. Vibhīṣaṇa did not approve of this. He spoke gentle words of counsel, “It is against dharma to kill a dūta – an emissary. No doubt, he has wrought immense destruction on the city; you may punish him by other means such as disfiguring his limbs, whipping his body, shaving his head, or branding him with a mark of ignominy; there is no point killing him; instead, punish the person who sent him. A messenger merely conveys the message, both pleasant and unpleasant, as instructed by his master. Moreover, if you kill him, I cannot think of anyone else who can instigate those wicked brothers into war. Don’t deprive your men of war!”
Rāvaṇa replied, “You are right; it is not right to kill a messenger. But he must be punished in some way. A tail is said to be the most cherished ornament of a monkey. Set it on fire! Let him go back his people with his with his tail disfigured! Let him be paraded through the city with his tail on fire!”
Hearing this command of their lord, the rākṣasas wrapped his tail with ragged cotton. As they were doing so, he grew into a form of immeasurable size. The rākṣasas poured oil over his tail and set it on fire. Hanūmān thought, This is a good opportunity to see the defence works of the city; I did not notice them accurately at night. Let the rākṣasas torment me to the way they want; I will not get perturbed.
The rākṣasas paraded him through the city to the accompaniment of conches and bherīs. They announced that he was a spy. The rākṣasīs gladly informed Sītā of the news, “The red-faced monkey, who you were speaking with, is being taken around the city with his tail on fire.” Sītā, burning with grief, prayed to Agni, wishing for the safety and welfare of the great vānara: “If I have served my husband faithfully, practiced tapas, and been loyal to him, may you be cool for Hanūmān. If my husband knows that my conduct has been virtuous and that I am craving to be reunited with him, then please be cool for Hanūmān. If the noble Sugrīva is really coming for my rescue with his vānaras, may you be cool to Hanūmān.” Immediately, the flame of the Agni started moving in a pradakṣiṇa as though to assure Sītā that he would not harm Hanūmān. As his tail was on fire, the vānara thought, Why doesn’t this engulf my body, although it is burning with huge flames? It must be because of Rāma’s grace. Even the ocean and Mount Mainākha exhibited such kindness. Wouldn’t Agni do so as well? Agni does not burn because of Sītā’s compassion and Rāghava’s grace as well as due to his friendship with my father.
With a shrug, he freed himself from the rākṣasas and jumped upon the gateway of the city. He grew to the size of a mountain and then became tiny, to free himself of the bonds. He then grew big and killed the guards. He resembled the Sun covered with its blazing rays. Then, making up his mind to inflict more damage on the rākṣasa empire, the great vānara moved over the rooftops of the city and let loose a fire. Fanned by the wind, the fire grew bigger and bigger. All the lofty buildings with their bejewelled roofs came crashing down, just as siddhas come down to earth once they have exhausted their puṇya in svarga. He saw streams of molten metal flowing down from a mansion; it was filled with diamonds, corals, pearls, and silver. Just as fire is not sated with firewood and dried grass, Hanūmān was not satisfied killing the rākṣasa generals. The entire city of Laṅkā stood devastated as if by a curse. Hanūmān then put out the fire on his tail by dipping it in the ocean and thought of returning to Rāma.
In a moment’s time, he became extremely worried. He thought, Why did I burn Laṅkā? Couldn’t I have controlled my anger just as fire is controlled by water? I can see the entire city burning, and the noble Jānakī is consumed by fire as well. I have miserably destroyed my master’s task. I have behaved exactly a manner typical to monkeys! I have failed to protect Sītā though I was perfectly capable of doing so! If Sītā is lost, then the brothers will give up their life, and thus, Sugrīva too. That brings an end to the kingdom of vānaras and Ikṣvākus. But the next moment, he saw many good omens just as he had witnessed before and decided, The beautiful lady, I suppose is protected by her own brilliance, for fire does not prevail against fire. Also, Agni cannot touch the wife of the dhārmic hero. Because of Rāma’s power and Sītā’s virtuous nature, Agni, whose very function is to burn everything couldn’t harm my tail. How can she, who is so dear to Rāma and a devatā to his three brothers including Bharata, be consumed by fire?
He then heard celestial cāraṇas exclaim, “Hanūmān has accomplished an extraordinary feat. He has destroyed the city of Laṅkā with fire but Agni hasn’t harmed Jānakī.” Hanūmān was now satisfied and extremely delighted. He wanted to see Sītā once again before departing. He saw her unharmed, assured her that he would bring Rāma along with the army of vānaras, consoled her, and respectfully saluted her. He then climbed upon the Mount Ariṣṭa. As he prepared to leap, the boulders on the mountain crumbled under his strength and the trees collapsed. Kinnaras, vidyādharas, nāgas, gandharvas, and yakṣas, who resided in the mountain flew up into the sky. As the great vānara leapt up into the sky, the mighty mountain, which was thirty yojanas high got reduced to the ground.
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.]