Sundarakand - 97

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b:aS:mB:PN:inds:vy:m:en:S: v:dant:v: ev:B:m: .
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v:nd|h k,N:akr rG:v:r B:p:al:c:Ram:eN:m: ..

Talk By: Sowmya Ramkumar

It is an indeed an honor to narrate this wonderful portion of Ramayana, SundaraKaanDam. As the name suggests, this chapter is simply beautiful and it has been described as the piece de resistance of Ramayana - the ice-cream after a wonderful meal - without the calories and sugar.

Hanuman was an exemplary devotee of Lord Rama who is famous for his devotion and service. He was in every sense of the word, a trusted envoy of his Lord and this is the story of how he completed his mission with literally flying colors. Maybe, the phrase itself originated with Hanuman.
There are many interpretations as to why this chapter got its name. Many pundits feel that the word "Sundara" refers to Hanuman, because Sundara can mean a "Vaanara" or a messenger or an intermediary between the hero and heroine. In all these aspects this refers to Hanuman. It is also said that Valmiki himself considered that this chapter was his best effort in terms of literary excellence and hence decided to call it SundaraKaanDam. It is also Sundara because this chapter relieved Sita devi and Rama of their grief, to some extent and lightens the heart of the readers. Again, "Sundara" can also mean the recovery of something lost. Sita devi was so far considered lost by Rama and is recovered or rediscovered in this chapter and hence the name. This chapter is so superior in its sundarata that even each meaning given to its name is beautiful.

The story of SundaraKaanDam deals almost entirely about the achievements of Hanuman in one night, as he searched for Sita devi. Roused by Jambhavan, Hanuman assumes a gigantic size. Hanuman or Anjaneya is the son of the wind god Vayu and the goddess Anjana. His mother was cursed to be born as a Vanara and his father blessed that he would be the foremost in power and intelligence among the vanaras.

In his childhood, once when he was feeling hungry, he looked at the Sun and thought that it was a fruit. He flew towards it so that he could pluck and eat it. Indra feared the safety of the Sun and threw his Vajraayudha. This struck Hanuman and injured his cheek, from which he came to be known as Hanuman. The Gods feared the anger of Vayu and showered boons on Hanuman including the one making him immortal. Thus Hanuman became far superior to superman, batman or spiderman. I am sure the west must have got their inspiration from our own Hanuman.

Hanuman prayed to his Lord Rama, his king and the Gods of all quarters before embarking on his flight. In spite of being very powerful, he was exceedingly humble and this humility was revealed in all his actions. Hanuman assumed a gigantic size and jumped up to the sky. The Mahendra mountain shook under his weight. Trees were uprooted and flew along with him painting a colorful picture in the sky. It was a unique sight and only a unique person could have achieved it. When he was flying over the oceans, the Lord of the oceans thought to himself that he should help Hanuman who was a messenger of Rama, the scion of the Ikshvaku race. He summoned the mountain Mainaka, the offspring of Mena. Its peak was golden hued and hence it got its name. Mainaka had the power to grow big or small. Mainaka which was submerged under the sea, immediately grew as tall as the sky and came in the path of Hanuman. Hanuman, mistook it as an obstacle and pushed it away with his chest. The mountain then took a form and told him that it was not an obstacle, but had come in the way only to offer him a place to rest. Hanuman said that he would not rest till his mission was accomplished. Such was his commitment to duty!!

As he continued his journey, the Devas wanted to test his commitment. They urged the serpent Surasa to take up the form of a big Raskshasi and obstruct Hanuman. She told Hanuman, that she had been granted a boon by Brahma that no one could pass her without entering her mouth. Hanuman pleaded with her but it was of no avail. He then made himself gigantic and asked her to open her mouth wide to accommodate him. When her mouth was wide open, he made himself as small as a fly and entered her mouth and came out in a split second. He then spoke to her humbly that he had not denied Brahma’s boon and requested her permission to leave. Surasa was pleased and blessed and sent him on his way. This episode proves that Hanuman not only had brawn’s but also brains.

Hanuman continued his flight with a single minded purpose. Our Indian Airlines is also single-minded. But their mind is on money. If only Indian airlines could be single-minded on their destination, we would have punctual flights and fewer accidents. As he was passing by, a Rakshasi Simhika, who desired to eat him grabbed his shadow. As she opened her mouth, he made himself very big and when her mouth was wide open, contracted himself, entered her mouth and killed her with a blow.

He then continued on his flight and as he neared Lanka, having covered hundred yojanas, he decided to contract himself so as not to draw attention. He looked at the beautiful city of Lanka, which seemed heavenly in appearance. He decided to wait till it was night time and then entered the city. As he attempted to enter, the guardian goddess of Lanka, Lanka Lakshmi or Lankini confronted him. He spoke humbly to her, but she was aggressive and asked him to fight her and defeat her, thinking he was only a monkey. Hanuman hit her in her face and she fell down. This was in spite of the fact that he did not use power since she was a lady!! Add chivalry to the list of his superior qualities. She was immediately subdued and told him that she had been granted a boon by Brahma that she would be invincible. But if she was conquered by a monkey then it signified the end of the Rakshasas. Saying thus, she let him enter and vanished from the city forever.

Entering on his left foot, he walked through the city and took in the sights and sounds of Lanka. He waited till late night and then went into the palace of Ravana and entered the Harem, looking for Sita. In his search, he came across Ravana’s beautiful wife Mandodari and for a minute he thought that it was Sita.

Immediately, he dismissed these thoughts because he knew that Sita would not be resting in peace nor will she ever be in the Harem! He had looked everywhere, but since he was not able to see Sita, he was gripped with fear, wondering if Sita was dead. He was so desperate that he even thought of committing suicide. But he had the encouragement of Rama’s blessing and continued his search when he spotted the AsokaVana.

In the AsokaVana, there was a big Simshupa tree and beneath it he saw Sita. She was thin from constant fasting, in worn out clothes, desperate, tear stained and calling out to Rama. She was surrounded by ugly and horrid Rakshasis. As he watched, Ravana entered and tried to coerce Sita to marry him. Sita treated him with contempt as though he was not even equal to a blade of grass. He was angered and he gave her an ultimatum of 2 months and left. She was then coerced and persecuted by the Rakshasis. However an elderly woman Trijata, intervened and warned them saying that she had a dream that Rama would come and destroy the Rakshasas. Left alone, Sita was in great anguish and she contemplated suicide.

Hanuman who had watched enough, started singing softly about Rama. This was like honey to Sitadevi’s ears. Cleverly, Hanuman had aroused her curiosity without alarming her. He then met her and narrated all the events and how Rama spent every waking and sleeping minute in her thought. He also gave her the signet ring from Rama. She was overjoyed and thrilled to hear about Rama and wanted Hanuman to repeat the stories over and over again.

Hanuman was so joyous on seeing her that he immediately offered to save her and take her away. When he told this to Sita, she smiled and wondered how a little monkey could achieve this. Hanuman then revealed his huge form and Sita was convinced of his power. She however told him that she would want her Lord to come and save her and only that would be creditable to his bravery. Hanuman was overawed and humbled by her chastity and devotion to Lord Rama. She then gave Hanuman her crest jewel, which was her wedding present, as a token of remembrance and to authenticate Hanuman’s meeting. She also narrated some incidents that only she and Rama knew about.

Once, when Sita and Rama were resting together, Indra’s son came as a crow and pecked her again and again and hurt her. Rama was so incensed that he invoked the powerful Brahmasutra. The crow was followed by a ball of fire, wherever he went and finally, he fell at Rama’s feet and begged for mercy. Rama spared him, but since the Brahmasutra cannot go waste, he took his eye. Sita wanted to remind Rama, that when a mere crow had angered him so much, how much more punishment Ravana deserved for having imprisoned and persecuted her! Hanuman then left with tears in his eyes and determination un his heart.

Hanuman’s mission was to find Sita and this was accomplished. But due to his foresight, he did not stop with this. He wanted to survey the strength of their enemies, so that they could be prepared for the war. This is something many of us lack. When we are told to do a job, we stop there. We do not think beyond the immediate present and anticipate the future requirements. In fact such things are taught to students in management schools to help them in their jobs! Here was Hanuman with an inherent foresight which proved once again that he was the best person for the job!
In order to draw attention to himself, he set forth destroying Ravana’s prided AsokaVana. Should you teach a monkey to mess? Hanuman decided to let his monkey qualities take over and really wrecked the place - enjoying every moment of it and leaving only the Simshupa tree under which Sita devi was seated.

Ravana sent troops, sons of ministers, his army chiefs and even his favorite son Akshakumara. When all of them failed, Ravana was puzzled and grieved. Indrajit, Ravana’s son who had defeated Indra himself, then set forth to fight Hanuman. Indrajit used the Brahmaastra. Hanuman had Brahma’s boon and so, was unaffected. In order to meet Ravana, Hanuman pretended to be bound by the Astra and fell on the ground and remained motionless. The Rakshasas in their haste tied him with ropes. Indrajit regretted their hasty move since he knew that the Brahmaastra would become useless. When Hanuman remained tied and allowed himself to be dragged, Indrajit was extremely puzzled and thought "Daal mein kuch kaala Hai"

In Ravana’s court, Ravana treated Hanuman rudely. There are stories that Ravana did not even offer him a seat and Hanuman made himself a seat with his tail, which was so high that Ravana was forced to look up to him! Hanuman warned Ravana that he should return Sita or be prepared to face the destruction of himself as well as his entire tribe. Ravana was so upset that he ordered the execution of Hanuman. Killing the messenger instead of the originator of the message is an unpardonable crime and Vibhishana reasoned with Ravana and mollified him. Finally Ravana decided to stop with setting fire to Hanuman’s tail.

The Rakshasas wrapped the tail with cloth and Hanuman grew in size. They then set fire to the tail. Hanuman let himself be dragged through the city. When Sita devi was informed of this, she invoked Agni and requested him that Hanuman should not feel the heat.

Hanuman was not one bit affected by the heat. He was however burning with anger and he leapt into the air and set fire to Lanka, house after house, mansion after mansion. He wanted to put fear in the minds of the people and hence did not spare any place. When he had completed destroying the city, he stood on top of the Trikuta hill and suddenly remembered that he had acted impulsively without thinking of Sitadevi’s welfare and was filled with remorse. He then consoled himself that when he, a mere messenger of the Lord had been untouched by fire, surely the very embodiment of virtues cannot be burnt. However, he went back and confirmed that Sita devi was OK and then set forth on his return flight.

The return flight seemed much easier, since his mission was accomplished and he reached the Mahendra mountain and roared with joy. His roar sounded like thunder and the vanaras realized that he had succeeded in his task. He then narrated the story to them and they hurried towards Kishkinda. Upon reaching Kishkinda, they set foot in Sugriva’s treasured Madhuvana. With Prince Angada’s permission they started feasting in the Madhuvana. This would normally have invoked Sugriva’s anger, but when Sugriva was informed, he was happy because he realized that the Vanaras would not have dared such a thing unless their mission was a success.
Hanuman then met Rama and informed him of all the new. He gave the crest jewel of Sita and narrated the incidents she had told Hanuman. After this Rama and the Vanara leaders planned their campaign to fight Ravana.

The SundaraKaanDam tells about two outstandingly brave people who are portrayed in totally opposite ways. Hanuman is vividly described as an embodiment of strength and physical valor. Sita is portrayed as a soft person who is unparalleled in courage, faith and heroism. She is passive and yet in defiance of Ravana and stands up to all persecution without a physical display of courage. She epitomizes feminine courage and both the characters have a common source of inspiration - Shri Rama.

The spiritual significance of SundaraKaanDam is the most important. The quest of Hanuman is the quest of an awakened spiritual aspirant to cross over the ocean of Samsara and seek the divine spirit. Hanuman is the awakened soul or intelligence endowed with Sattva. Jambhavan is his enlightened spiritual teacher - like our Guruji. The vast ocean is the Samsara sagara. The Rakshasis Surasa, Simhika etc. are the various obstacles. Even the fact that Hanuman searched in the night, illustrates the Sloka from Gita which says "That which is night for all people is when the self controlled sage is awake" Lanka with all its forts, gardens and palaces represents the various Koshas in a man’s mind which have to be penetrated. The search is difficult and disappointing, as was with Hanuman but will succeed if you have faith in Lord.

Finally, I conclude saying that SundaraKaanDam is a mine of power, reading which devotees can gain mental strength and spiritual support in difficult worldly situations. Its recital with faith can help us get over difficulties and help us gain success and welfare.

November 12, 1999 06:08 PM

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