[A novella based on the Ramayana and S R D Prasad's Bharatakaandam in Malayalam; continued from the previous post]
C K Kerala Varma
Lankalakshmi was the awesome female demon guarding the outer gate of Ravana’s capital. Hanuman knocked her down with a sleight of his left hand. He then walked stealthily into the ladies’ quarter of the palace, hoping to find Sita there. He initially mistook a lady of infinite charm lying in luxury in one of the rooms as Sita. Then he realized Sita would never have accepted such hospitality. He felt ashamed at his hasty and foolish conclusion. He later came to know that she was Mandodari, the wife of Ravana. Hanuman had a peek into a room where he found the strong and able bodied Ravana in deep slumber amidst a bevy of exceptionally beautiful maidens and great splendour.
Hanuman spent the night hiding in the palace garden. He did not notice Sita who had chosen to spend her days in captivity underneath a tree in the garden. He had never seen Sita before. It was also a dark night. Early morning he saw Ravana looking dazzling in his royal robes walking in, followed by pretty damsels holding jars of wine.
Ravana tried his best to charm Sita into agreeing to be his wife. He used in vain both enticements and threats. He finally stormed out of the garden.
Hanuman approached Sita with soft and reassuring steps, singing a hymn in praise of Rama. The sorrowful Sita brightened up when she realized who Hanuman was. He told her that Rama would soon rescue her.
He then went on a rampage of the city. The guards had a tough time overwhelming Hanuman and taking him to the court of Ravana. Hanuman matched Ravana in anger and arrogance. He threatened Ravana with immediate war if he did not send Sita back. “Set his tail on fire,” thundered Ravana, “that’ll teach this haughty monkey a good lesson.”
Hanuman used his burning tail as a tool for arson. He went around setting most of the city on fire before jumping into the ocean on his return journey.
Of all the demons of Lanka only two had won the respect of Hanuman. Ravana’s wife Mandodari by her noble bearing and charm, and his brother Vibheeshana who seemed critical of Ravana’s misdeeds. True to the early impressions that Hanuman carried, Vibheeshana defected to Rama’s camp just before Rama launched his assault on Lanka. His conduct turned out to be in sharp contrast with the way in which his brother Kumbhakarna, equally critical of Ravana’s methods, chose to fight for the king and the kingdom and would finally give up his life fighting Rama in a ferocious battle that initially would fill the monkey brigade with the fear of defeat.
X. Ravana meets his nemesis
Hanuman told Rama about Sita’s resolve to give up her life if Rama would not rescue her within a month. Rama lost no time in organizing the assault. They built a stone bridge across the sea to Lanka. They divided the army into teams led by stalwarts like Rama himself, Lakshmana, Hanuman, Sugriva, Angada and Nila. They effectively surrounded the capital of Ravana, blocking all the exits. Rama sent Angada, the son of late Bali, to Ravana as an ambassador of peace in his final attempt at reconciliation. Ravana would hear nothing about it. He threatened to kill the messenger.
Angada, slighted and angry, led the first assault. The equally strong Indrajit, one of the sons of Ravana, stopped him.
The tide soon turned in favour of the attacking army. Hanuman killed Dhumraksha, the bravest of Ravana’s warriors. He also killed Akampana, a demon highly skilled in archery. Nila killed Prahasta. Hanuman stopped Ravana in his ferocious march and engaged him in a one-to-one combat. They were surprised at each other’s invincible strength.
Later, when Ravana aloft on his chariot challenged Rama, Hanuman offered his strong shoulders as a carriage for Rama. Ravana became so tired he could no longer hold on. Rama knew he was at the threshold of victory. But his sense of fair play had the upper hand. He let Ravana go, telling him to return to his palace for rest. The arrogant and fearless demon king of Lanka must have been humiliated by Rama’s noble gesture. Rama had already won the psychological battle!
Ravana kept losing his key men. His brother Kumbhakarna was no match for Rama’s archery. So was Makaraksha. Lakshmana killed Atikaya and Indrajit. Hanuman accounted for Nikumbha. Sugriva chipped in with the brutal killing of Viroopaksha.
The final battle with Ravana turned out to be extremely strenuous for both Rama and Lakshmana. Ravana inflicted a near fatal wound on Lakshmana. The presence of mind of the wise and resourceful Hanuman, who lost no time in getting the right herbs for healing the wound, saved Lakshmana from certain death. It seemed for a while that the flag of victory was fluttering atop the magnificent chariot of Ravana. Rama had no chariot. He fought valiantly with his feet firmly on the ground. He deserved the final victory, for he was riding the chariot of strategy powered by horses of restraint. He held the reins of compassion in his hands. His coruscating pennant of truth and righteousness fluttered high atop his invisible chariot.
[C K Kerala Varma is a friend of mine and a senior officer in the State Bank of India. I am happy to publish his novella. These are the ninth and tenth chapters. Please go back in this blog if you wish to read the previous chapters. Santanu Sinha Chaudhuri]