Upon listening to Hanūmān’s words, Rāma said, “Listen to my view in its entirety. I would, under no circumstance, turn away someone who has come to me seeking friendship; I would not do so even if his character was flawed. Irrespective of him being good or evil, the rākṣasa can do me no harm, can he? I can slay all evil creatures that reside on earth with the tip of my finger. I always grant protection to beings who seek refuge in me. So, bring him here, Sugrīva! I will ensure his protection, even if he were Rāvaṇa himself.” Sugrīva accordingly informed Vibhīṣaṇa.
Thus assured, Vibhīṣaṇa with hands joined in reverence, descended from the sky, accompanied by his followers. He fell at Rāma’s feet and said, “I am Rāvaṇa’s younger brother and have been humiliated by him; I have abandoned Laṅkā and have come seeking refuge in you. I will help you slay the rākṣasas, as long as I am alive.” As Vibhīṣaṇa spoke thus, Rāma embraced him and said in great delight to Lakṣmaṇa, “Get some water from the ocean and perform abhiṣeka to Vibhīṣaṇa; coronate him as the king of rākṣasas; I am extremely pleased with him!” Lakṣmaṇa ritualistically performed the paṭṭābhiṣeka of the rākṣasa; the vānaras were thrilled.
Hanūmān and Sugrīva sought Vibhīṣaṇa’s suggestion to cross the ocean. The rākṣasa advised that Rāma should pray to Samudra, for it was Sagara who was instrumental in digging the ocean; thus, Samudra would help in the mission of his relative. Rāma was happy with Vibhīṣaṇa’s suggestion, but sought the opinion of Lakṣmaṇa and Sugrīva in this regard as well. Once they gave their consent, Rāma sat down on a bed of kuśa grass and ritualistically prayed to Sāgara. He spent three nights that way, but Sāgara was unflinching and would not appear before Rāma.
Rāma, with his eyes red with rage, spoke to Lakṣmaṇa, “Look at the arrogance of Sāgara, who does not appear before me even though I have been praying to him. The virtues of noble men – calmness, forbearance, honesty, and kind words – are taken for signs of weakness by those who lack them. The world only respects the evil and the insolent. It seems like the sāma-mārga does not lead to positive results any longer. Saumitri! You will soon see the ocean choked with the dead bodies of its creatures. With my arrows, I will dry up the ocean of its waters. Sāgara has takes my forbearance for weakness. Get my bow, Saumitri! I will raise a turbulence in his waters!”
Rāma shot his arrows that were as powerful as the vajrāyudha; the arrows plunged into the waters terrifying all aquatic creatures. Nāgas and dānavas who lived in the Pātāla were in agony. Waves as tall as the Vindhyās lept up into the skies, along with sharks and sea monsters.
Thus perturbedm, Sāgara himself rose up from the ocean, along with pannagas, which had flaming mouths. His garlands and robes were red and his eyes, like lotus petals. With his hands joined in reverence, he said to Rāma, “The pañcabhūtas follow the eternal dharma and it is my nature to be endless; it is impossible to cross me. I cannot make myself shallow or become solid out of fear or greed. I will tell you a means by which you can take your army across without being harmed by the sea-dwelling creatures. Nala, the son of Viśvakarmā, is a skilled vānara, who has received a vara from his father. He may build a bridge over me and I will support it, for he is just like his father.”
Nala was thrilled and declared that he would construct the bridge. The vānaras brought together stones and boulders of various sizes; they also uprooted trees and gathered their branches. Nala constructed a bridge that was ten yojanas wide and hundred yojanas in length. Devas, gandharvas, and ṛṣis gathered in the skies to witness the wonder. The vānaras had goosebumps as they gazed at the seemingly impossible bridge floating over the ocean. The beautiful and well-proportioned bridge looked as though it divided the ocean into two halves.
With a mace in his hand, Vibhīṣaṇa occupied his position at the farther end of the sea shore, in order to ward off enemies. Rāma marched as the head of the army along with Sugrīva. Some vānaras walked in the middle of the bridge and others on its edges; some dove into the ocean and others flew like great birds. The roar of the vānaras surpassed the ocean’s roar. Once they crossed the ocean, the army camped on the shore in a spot that was rich with fruits, roots, and fresh water. Seeing Rāma who had performed an impossible task, devas, siddhas, and cāraṇas descended on to the earth and performed abhiṣeka to him. They blessed him again and again and wished him success.
When Rāvaṇa came to know that Rāma had crossed the ocean with his army, he commanded his ministers, Śuka and Sāraṇa to spy upon the enemy forces by disguising themselves. He instructed them to get him the exact count of the army and also determine which of the vānaras possessed truly remarkable strength. Thus instructed, Śuka and Sāraṇa assumed the form of two vānaras and mingled with Rāma’s army. The army was so huge that they couldn’t estimate its strength – some vānaras were on trees and mountaintops, while others were in the camp; a few others were still crossing the ocean over the bridge, while others were waiting to do so. Although they were in disguise, Vibhīṣaṇa recognised them and seized them. He reported to Rāma that they were spies of Rāvaṇa. Rāma told them, “If you have completed your mission of inspecting the army, you may go back and report to Rāvaṇa. Tell him that he may display the valour which he relied upon in abducting Sītā, but the city of Laṅkā will be destroyed tomorrow with my arrows.”
Śuka and Sāraṇa rushed back to Rāvaṇa and described to him everything that had taken place in the enemy camps. They advised him to make peace and return Maithilī to Rāma. Rāvaṇa brushed aside their advice and boasted about his own power. He climbed atop his palace along and asked Sāraṇa to point towards the leaders of the vānaras. Sāraṇa then showed him Nala, Aṅgada, Gaja, Gavaya, Nala and Nīla. Śuka pointed at Mainda, Dvivida, and Hanūmān. Describing Hanūmān’s strength, Śuka said to Rāvaṇa, “He is as strong as Vāyu and no one can stop him. Once, when he was child, he was hungry and leapt towards the Sun to a distance of three thousand yojanas; he thought, ‘I will eat the Sun, so that my hunger never returns.’ But he failed to reach Sūrya, who is inaccessible even to the devas, munis, and dānavas. He fell upon the mountain from which the Sun rises. His jaw got slightly broken as he fell on the stone; this strengthened his jaw (hanu) and since then he is known as Hanūmān. With his invincible power, he wishes to crush Laṅkā all by himself.” He then pointed at Rāma and said, “That is Rāma, the dark-complexioned lord of the Ikṣvākus. He is known for his valour and never transgresses dharma. He foremost among those who know Vedas and wields the Brahmāstra. Sītā, whom you abducted is his wife and he is marching upon you to get her back. And to his right stands Lakṣmaṇa, who is as radiant as gold, possesses a broad chest, and has dark, curly hair. He is dear to Rāma as his life itself. He is Rāma’s right arm and like his life-breath moving outside his body. He is ready to give up his life for Rāghava’s sake and plans to slaughter rākṣasas in the battle. And on Rāma’s left is King Vibhīṣaṇa. He was as the king of Laṅkā and is advancing against you. The unshakable mountain who stands amidst them is Sugrīva; you can see his necklace of a hundred golden lotuses shining brightly. He is the king of Kiṣkindhā, which is hidden amidst the mountains.”
Rāvaṇa glared upon his enemies as well as Vibhīṣaṇa. He was shaken for a moment, but then flared up with anger. He let loose his anger upon Śuka and Sāraṇa for heaping praises on his enemy. Rāvaṇa then commanded his minister Mahodara to summon spies who could understand Rāma’s plans of assault. Once the spies assembled before him, Rāvaṇa instructed, “Go forth and find out who Rāma’s allies are and what he plans to do. When does he sleep and when does he wake up? Come back only after you have discovered these without fail.”
As per their lord’s command, the spies hid behind the Mount Suvela, close to Rāma’s camp, but were soon discovered by Vibhīṣaṇa. They were beaten by the vānaras and rushed back to Rāvaṇa.
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.]