IN face of the unexpected difficulties that overtook them one after another, Rama and Lakshmana often lost heart. Their fortitude yielded place sometimes to great despair. But they managed to encourage each other and proceeded on their way.
Passing through the forest, the two princes were suddenly caught by a tremendously big Rakshasa of ugly form without head or feet. His mouth was in his great belly and he had two enormous arms which, without moving from his place, he would stretch out and clutch tiger, bear or any other living thing within reach, and swallow them.
He had only one eye which was placed in his chest but which was terrible to behold.
Caught by this monster, the princes were, for a while, bewildered and did not know what to do.
Then Rama told Lakshmana: "Let us not be confused. You will cut off one arm, I shall cut off the other."
And so they did. The name of the monster was Kabandha, which means the barrel-shaped one. Once his arms were severed, he was helpless and began to explain:
"On account of my evil deeds I was cursed by Indra to bear this form and this name. I believe you are Rama and Lakshmana. Indra promised me freedom from the curse when you two should come and cut off my arms and commit this body of mine to the flames."
The princes set fire to his body as desired by the unfortunate monster and there arose from the flames a lovely being which entered a heavenly chariot and ascended to the celestial world.
Before going, he said to Rama: "You will assuredly regain Sita. Go to the beautiful banks of the Pampa and seek the help of Sugriva living there on the Rishyamuka hill. Driven out of the kingdom by his brother Vali, he lives in constant fear and danger. Gain his friendship, and you will succeed in your attempt." Saying this Kabandha disappeared.
Rama and Lakshmana now set forward in the direction of the Pampa. In that lovely region they visited the ashrama of the aged sanyasini, Sabari, the disciple of Rishi Matanga, and accepted her hospitality. Sabari was a woman of a forest tribe and a faithful serving sister in the ashrama of the old saint Matanga. When he departed this life, she wanted to die too. But he said the time was not yet and she should await the arrival of Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu, for the bliss of his darshan was in store for her.
So the old and wrinkled woman lived her saintly life, looking faithfully after the ashrama as of old and keeping it sweet to receive the promised guest.
When the princes came, she produced the fruits she had gathered and kept for them, and described and showed to them the wonders of the Matanga ashrama.
Then with their leave, she kindled a fire and entering it ascended to heaven.
The meeting with this saintly woman and the waters of the river Pampa gave strength of mind to the princes. They thought over what should be done next.
Said Rama: "Lakshmana, I am beginning to think that we shall succeed. Let us search the forest for Sugriva whose help we should obtain."
They went all over the Pampa area. The place was lovely, but the loveliness of the spot and the animals, birds, trees and creepers only increased Rama's grief.
Every beautiful object wrung his heart and made him think: "How much would Sita have enjoyed this?" Try as he might, he could not control the human sorrow which by his incarnation he had undertaken to endure.
Lakshmana tried to revive his spirit. He said: "Even if Sita is kept hidden in the womb of Aditi, the mother of the gods, we will discover her. Ravana cannot escape. It is certain we shall kill him and redeem Sita. It is not proper that you should thus despair. How can you let anxiety or weakness come over you? If we lose a precious thing, we should work for its recovery with perseverance. Sometimes our very affection becomes our enemy. Too much love brings on grief and grief weakens effort. What need is there for me to tell you all this? You know it all. Let us not lose hope. Let us forget the grief brought on by love and bend our mind and body to exertion. Be brave. Be hopeful. We shall succeed. Get rid of your sorrow, brother!"
The younger brother thus advised Rama. Commentators look upon Lakshmana as Adisesha. Adisesha, the serpent, is said to be ever the protecting spirit of Vishnu. So Lakshmana ever tried to give Rama fresh energy and enthusiasm.
The fugitive Vanara prince Sugriva and his faithful adherents with the watchful vigilance of fear saw Rama and Lakshmana roving in the forests and were troubled with doubts. Having been ejected from his kingdom by Vali, Sugriva chose this mountainous spot because he believed that it was made by the curse of a rishi inaccessible to Vali. And now he feared that here, too, Vali in disguise was following him in order to kill him.
Or else, he feared, some Kshatriya warriors taking the side of Vali were there to kill him. The other Vanaras ran hither and thither in panic.
Hanuman was Sugriva's chief minister. He reassured Sugriva, saying: "This is not Vali, nor are they friends of Vali, it seems to me. There is no ground for fear. I shall go and talk to them and find out the truth."
Sugriva was pleased and said: "Do it, but be careful. Go, find out the truth and come back. Use all your skill. I am full of suspicion. They behave as if they are searching for someone. Could it not be that it is me they seek?"
Taking the form of a brahmana, Hanuman approached Rama and Lakshmana. As he went and stood in front of them, a confident feeling possessed his heart. Straight away he started speaking out frankly.
Hanuman went forward to learn the truth without discovering himself. But as he went on speaking, he threw all caution away and told in detail all about himself and the Vanara King.
Looking on Rama and Lakshmana, he was beside himself as a devotee in the presence of the Lord, and praised them. He said that he was a Vanara and had come there in disguise as desired by his King.
"Royal saints," he said, "your presence here fills my heart with joy. There is an aura round you as if you were gods. I take it, you are here in the forest for doing tapas. But why have you come to this inaccessible spot? Please tell me who you are. This river and this forest are made lovelier by your presence. Your faces and forms are radiantly beautiful. The creatures in the forest look on you with reverence and awe. Your strength and courage are manifest. Who are you? From which country do you come? It is clear you are entitled by birth to rule some mighty kingdom and yet you are dressed like ascetics. With matted hair and bark garments you carry also bows and arrows. Why are you silent? Here Sugriva, the Vanara King, driven out of his kingdom by his brother Vali, is in hiding. He is full of grief. I am his minister. My name is Hanuman. I am the son of Vayu. As ordered by my king, I put on the appearance of a brahmachari and am now here before you."
Listening to these courteous words of Hanuman, Rama said to Lakshmana: "Brother, this speech of Hanuman has inspired me with confidence. I trust him absolutely. Did you notice the beauty of his language and how correct and rhythmic his enunciation is? He speaks like one who has mastered the Vedas and the science of grammar. An ideal messenger he is. Fortunate is the king who has such a messenger. He whom we are searching for is himself in search of us. We came here to see Sugriva and he has sent this messenger to us. Let us welcome him."
Then they began to talk freely to one another. Rama and Lakshmana on the one hand and Hanuman on the other related their history, their joys and sorrows, hopes and fears.
As a result of this talk, Lakshmana conceived a great affection for Hanuman.
He said to Hanuman: "My brother, born to great wealth, the eldest son of an emperor, has left his kingdom and come to the forest. Here his wife, dearer to him than life itself, was abducted by Ravana, who had by a fraudulent trick inveigled us far away from the hermitage where she was. We seek Sugriva's help to rescue her and recover her, for a daitya, who under a curse took on the form of a Rakshasa, told us: 'If you secure the help of Sugriva, the Vanara King, you will regain the princess stolen by the Rakshasa.' And so we are here. We seek the friendship of your king."
Hanuman answered: "Sugriva too has been persecuted by Vali and deprived of his kingdom and his wife. It is now certain that he will regain both. My king will gain much by your friendship and with his help you will also succeed in your efforts."
Then the three went to Sugriva. The way was such that only a Vanara could traverse it. Hanuman resumed his natural shape and carried both the princes on his back.
The hearts of good men meet and instantly come together. As the Kural says, the spontaneous mutual attraction of two hearts and not long acquaintance creates friendship and this friendship was part of the divine dispensation. It was predestined that Hanuman's sublime devotion should be at Rama's service for the fulfilment of the purpose of the incarnation. And so there was acceptance at first sight.
His carrying the two princes on his shoulder was an outward symbol of inward union. As friends and lovers embrace each other, Hanuman, the loving servant, rejoiced in carrying his Lord on his shoulders.
Ascending the Malaya hill, Hanuman went in advance to Sugriva and, announcing the visit of Rama and Lakshmana, said:
"Rama is a prince full of wisdom and virtue. He is the eldest son of the famous Emperor Dasaratha. To fulfil his father's promise, he left Ayodhya with his brother and wife and came to the forest. King Dasaratha was compelled by his younger wife, in fulfilment of an undefined promise given long ago, to banish Rama. In the forest, taking advantage of the princes' absence, Ravana carried away the wife of Rama. Rama has come here, seeking your help in finding her. The princes are worthy of your friendship. You too will gain greatly from friend ship with such heroes."
Sugriva assumed the form of a handsome man and had a long and heartto- heart talk with the princes. Stretching forth his hand to Rama, he said:
"Princes, if you care for the friendship of a Vanara, here is my hand, accept it. Hanuman has told me all about your virtue and greatness."
Rama clasped his hand and embraced him. Soon Hanuman got together some faggots and kindled a fire. Circumambulating the flames Rama and Sugriva swore mutual friendship: "Let us share our joys and sorrows." They vowed: "Let our friendship be eternal."
They cut down the branch of a tree and sitting on it, Rama and Sugriva were engaged in cheerful talk and so, too, were Hanuman and Lakshmana seated on another. Sugriva narrated the story of his life. How greatly he and his elder brother, the mighty Vali, were once devoted to one another, and how malignant fate had through no fault of Sugriva's made deadly enemies of them.
It had comes about this way. Once a Rakshasa named Mayavi came at midnight to the gate of Kishkindha, their capital, and vauntingly challenged Vali to instant combat in pursuance of an ancient feud.
Vali, who never refused a fight, rushed forth impetuously, followed by Sugriva; and seeing them, the Rakshasa fled. Pursuing him they saw him disappear into a great cave the mouth of which was overgrown with brushwood. Vali bade Sugriva, exacting an oath from him, to wait at the entrance for him and plunged into the darkness of the cave after the foe.
Sugriva waited long, but Vali did not come out. As he stood racked with doubt, indistinct shouts and groans, which seemed to his horror-struck ears his brother's, issued from the cave. Presently there gushed out of it foaming blood which made him sure that Vali had perished in the struggle.
To make sure that the victorious Rakshasa would not rush out in the elation of triumph and destroy Kishkindha, Sugriva blocked the entrance of the cave with a huge rock and returned to Kishkindha with his tale of Vali's death. As a rulerless state invites disaster, he was persuaded by the ministers and elders to occupy the vacant throne.
While he was enjoying the sweets of power, like a bolt from the blue, Vali burst on them. Haggard with wrath and wounds, and accusing him of treason and unnatural conduct towards one who was at once his brother and his king, Vali drove him out with scorn and contumely as a wretch too vile to live, but whom he forebore to slay only because he was unfortunately also his brother.
So by a cruel fate he had been deprived of his home, throne, and all, including even his wife, and had to seek asylum in the forest with a few faithful friends. Here at least he was safe, for Vali had been forbidden by a rishi from entering the precincts on pain of instant death.
This incident between Vali and Sugriva is a good example of the moral teaching conveyed in the Puranas. There was nothing terribly wrong in the conduct either of Vali or of Sugriva. Anger confuses the mind. One who yields to anger loses the capacity to see the truth. That way lies destruction. Vali's anger led to his end. Sugriva humbly confessed the truth, but Vali would not listen.
He was beside himself with rage. Sugriva too, was guilty of imprudent haste. He concluded too quickly that his brother had died. He was afraid that the Asura who was victorious would come out and kill him also. So he closed the entrance of the cave and returned home. At first he was not keen on becoming king and yet he allowed himself to be persuaded by the people.
He yielded to a subconscious desire without sufficient thought. So difficulties came upon him. Thoughtless action leads to unhappiness. This is what we learn from the story of Sugriva. One should not desire what belongs to another. One has to exercise great care, and control one's desires.
In contrast to Sugriva, when the ministers and subjects in Ayodhya pressed Bharata to accept the crown, he was firm in his refusal. Bharata's strength of character was great. But Sugriva was different. He was weak, and suffered in consequence. Bharata had the courage to refuse and his name lives forever.
In every episode of the Ramayana some lesson which we should learn for our daily life is taught. The meaning is in some places plain; in others it may lie hidden. If we read with reverence and think deeply, we can always see the moral.
Sugriva concluded his story with a piteous appeal to Rama. "For fear of Vali I am a wanderer in the forest. I live concealing myself here. Could you, will you, kill Vali and restore to me my kingdom and my wife?"
Rama answered: "Certainly I will. Vali cannot escape this now. Be assured."
As Sugriva and Rama were talking thus, in the Asoka grove far away, the left eyelids of Sita throbbed, which is a good omen for women. At the same time, the left eyelids of the Rakshasa king also throbbed as an evil sign.