"LOOK, Rama, at this Vanara army," said Sugriva. "All these myriads, of wondrous strength, are yours to command. They are willing and able to do you all the service you demand. Consider this huge army as your own and bid them to do whatever you wish."
Rama, beside himself with joy; embraced Sugriva. He said: "First we should find out whether Sita is alive, and if so where she is. Next we should know Ravana's whereabouts. Then we shall do what needs to be done. But it is for you, not for me or Lakshmana, to command this army. You are their King. Besides, you know best what needs to be done and how to do it. Blessed am I to have a friend like you and a brother like Lakshmana!"
Then Sugriva issued stringent orders to his commanders at once to send divisions of the army to the four quarters of the earth to make a thorough search for Sita.
After sending away the other leaders, Sugriva took Hanuman aside and told him: "Son of Vayu, possessing the strength and splendor of your father, you alone can succeed in this task. You have strength, courage and intelligence and on you I rely to take up and discharge this responsibility of discovering Sita."
Rama too felt that Hanuman's efforts would be crowned with success. Whatever obstacles turned up, he felt that Hanuman would find a way of overcoming them. He gave his signet ring to Hanuman and said: "Take this ring. I am full of hope that you will discover Sita. This ring will tell her that you are my messenger. Dear Hanuman, may you bring Sita and me together again!"
Readers should realise the solemnity and pathos of the scene. Rama full of abiding trust in the devoted loyalty and valor of Hanuman placed the ring as though it was his own hungry heart in his servant's hand. The ideal servant accepted the sacred trust with a deep reverence and an unshakable resolve never to fail his master.
Sugriva gave orders to his army. "Sita must anyhow be discovered. No matter where she is hidden, you can and must find her. Within a month you must return with news of her."
And the army swarmed out like ants from an anthill and spread in the four directions.
Satabali and his army proceeded northwards. Vinata went east, Sushena westwards, Hanuman, Angada and General Tara travelled southwards. All were equally enthusiastic and equally eager to catch and kill Ravana and redeem Sita. Each group was anxious to be first to return with success. There was tumultuous rivalry.
Rama enquired of Sugriva: "You describe every quarter and region of the earth like one who has seen the whole world with his own eyes. How and when did you see it all?"
"You will remember, my Lord," said Sugriva, "how Vali pursued me in all directions. Wherever I went, he still pursued me. And so I had to wander over the face of the whole world. I thus had occasion to see every part of this planet. Later, I learnt about the spot where Rishi Matanga had built his ashrama. If Vali entered that region, his head would go to pieces by the sage's curse. I knew that he would not come to that place and could not harm me even if he came. So there I lay protected."
The hordes that went north, east and west returned in a month and reported that Sita was not to be found anywhere. "Carefully we searched forests, mountains, rivers and cities, but nowhere could we find her. Hanuman, who had gone southwards, is the lucky one. Did not the Rakshasa carrying Sita also travel southwards? And Hanuman has not yet returned."
Rama, hearing this, was satisfied that the Vanaras had done their best.
Hanuman and Angada entered and searched the caves and forests of the Vindhyas. Then they came upon a desert, where a rishi was performing tapas. By his curse it was devoid of trees and plants, of birds and beasts. Travelling further south, they saw a big Asura. The cruel one, regarding the Vanara crowd as a good meal sprang up to catch them. They thought at first that this was no other than Ravana.
Angada rushed towards him and gave him a mighty blow. Unable to stand it, the Asura spat blood and fell on the earth and lay dead like a great hill. Rejoicing in the thought that Ravana was dead, the Vanaras searched the forest for Sita. But, there was no sign of her. And so they carried the search elsewhere.
Often they would weary of their fruitless search and sit down in blank despair. At such times, Angada, Gandhamadana or some other leader would encourage them and make them resume the search. Many days were spent in this way. Yet Sita was not to be seen and they dreaded Sugriva's displeasure.
Very far they travelled southwards in their search.
Passing through a desert, fainting with hunger and thirst, they saw a cave from which issued a variety of birds full of the joy of life. The gentle breeze which came out of it covered them with the pollen of lotus flowers and filled them with fragrance. The Vanaras concluded: "undoubtedly there was water where the birds and perfume came from." And the Vanaras forming a chain with linked hands plunged cautiously into the dense darkness of the cave with hearts full of hope, though too parched with thirst even to shout.
At long last, all of a sudden, light appeared and they saw a lovely grove with streams of pellucid water and trees bowing under their wealth of fruit. Then they came to a city, with streets paved with jewels set in gold and great palaces beautiful as a dream. They went along and then they saw an aged tapasvini clad in the garments of a recluse and seated on a dark skin. The Vanaras trembled before the divine splendor of her face.
Hanuman took courage to approach her. Bowing low before her, he said: "Salutations to you, Mother. May we know who you are? Thirsty and tired, we entered the dark cave hoping for some water. And now that we see this unpeopled golden city with trees and tanks, we are afraid, lest this be a vain vision arising from the madness of too great sufferings. Explain all this to us and remove our fears."
She answered: "How did you find your way into this cave? You will have plenty of fruits and drink here. This palace was built by Maya, the architect of the Danavas. He learnt the art from Sukracharya. Long and happily did Maya live here, till he incurred the enmity of Indra, who slew him. Later Indra gave this golden palace to Hema, my friend. These buildings and parks are hers. At present she has gone to the abode of the gods. But what is your purpose in coming here? Why did you weary yourselves wandering in the forests? First eat, drink and refresh yourselves and then tell me all about yourselves."
They ate and drank and refreshed themselves and were happy. Then Hanuman explained to the ascetic the purpose of their wandering.
"Rama, son of Emperor Dasaratha, for some reason, left his kingdom and lived in the forest with his brother and wife. Then a Rakshasa carried off Sita, the wife of Rama. The two went out searching for her. They made the acquaintance of Sugriva, the Vanara King, and became friends with him. He has sent us on this mission to search for Sita and find her for Rama. Our King fixed a time limit for us to return with a clue. We lost our way in the darkness of this cave and the period is now over. Now we do not know what to do. Sugriva is a strict master. For failure to do his bidding within the time set, he is sure to visit us with the penalty of death."
Swayamprabha, that was the name of the ascetic woman, said: "Alas! You cannot by yourselves go out of this cave. No stranger who enters it can go out of it with life. But yours is a great mission and I must, by my tapasya, transport you out. Now shut your eyes."
Accordingly they shut their eyes. All at once they found themselves on the seashore.
Reaching the seashore, they looked round and they were start led to discover that it was the beginning of spring. Angada lamented: "Alas! The time set has been transgressed. If we return to Kishkindha without any clue about Sita, the King will surely punish us with death. He hates me. It was under pressure from Rama that he agreed to make me Yuvaraja, not because of love for me.
Instead of going there and losing our lives, let us fast and seek death here and now." Many of his companions agreed with Angada.
The Vanara General Tara said: "I do not agree. Why should we end our lives? Let us return to the cave of the tapasvini Swamyamprabha and live there happily. There is everything in plenty there. Neither Sugriva nor anyone else can reach this spot. We shall spend the rest of our lives, free from care."
But Hanuman said: "What unworthy talk is this! What pleasure is there in eating, drinking and sleeping in the cave, leaving our families in faraway Kishkindha? Sugriva is a good king whom we need not fear. And if indeed Sugriva is angry with us and determined to punish us, how can this cave give us safety? Can it stand against Lakshmana's rage? Will he not smash it to pieces and kill us? I see no benefit in Tara's counsel. Let us return and tell Sugriva the whole truth and beg for his forgiveness. This is the only way to safety."
"I do not agree with Hanuman," said Angada. "Sugriva has no love or pity for me. He is sure to kill me. He is of a cruel nature. Remember how he killed my father. He does not want me to live. He will find some excuse or other for killing me. He regards me as an obstacle in his way and that of his progeny, who but for me would inherit Kishkindha. To break a promise is nothing to him. Did he not forget his solemn pledge to Rama that he would search for and recover Sita? Was it not only for fear of Lakshmana and his bow that he sent us on this search? My poor bereaved mother has succumbed to fear and accepted Sugriva's protection. She clings to life for my sake. Hearing that I am dead, she will end her life. Alas! I am miserable and know not what to do."
"My death is certain", he said again, "if I return to Kishkindha. It is far better to fast to death here."
He spread on the ground the kusa grass in the manner prescribed for the vow of death, bowed to the gods and the dead and sat facing east, determined to die.
When Angada the Yuvaraja took this vow and sat in the posture of a fast unto death, the other Vanaras cried in grief and, resolving also to fast with him and die, sat facing east.
From a neighboring hill, Sampati, the vulture King, saw this crowd of Vanaras, resigning themselves to fate. Having lost his wings and being unable to move, Sampati had been famishing for a long time. He now rejoiced, saying to himself: "So many monkeys are going to die here together. I shall have enough food for a long while without effort."
Meanwhile, the Vanaras, expecting death, were recalling the past and talking to one another and loudly lamenting over all that had happened. "Because of Kaikeyi, Dasaratha died," they said: "Because of Dasaratha, Rama had to dwell in the forest. Ravana carried off Sita. The heroic Jatayu lost his life in the attempt to save Sita. If the heroic bird had strength enough to continue the struggle a little longer, Rama and Lakshmana would have arrived on the spot and recovered Sita. By fate did all these things happen and the end of the tale is that we are dying here. In what curious ways does fate work!"
Listening to these lamentations, Sampati stared at the mention of Jatayu who was his brother. Hearing him spoken of as dead, he naturally wished to hear the whole story.
Sampati was very old. He and Jatayu were the children of Aruna, the god of Dawn and brother of Garuda, Hari's vehicle. Jatayu and Sampati in their youth competed with each other as to who could fly higher and rose in the sky. As they approached the sun the heat became intolerable and Jatayu was about to be burnt up.
But Sampati spread his wings and protected his brother from the fury of the sun. Jatayu was saved, but Sampati's wings were burnt off. Unable to fly, he fell down on a hill. Since then he could not move but stayed in the same place ever hungry for meal and just alive.
"Who brings sad news of my dear brother Jatayu?" he cried in agony. "Oh, Vanaras, is beloved Jatayu dead indeed? Why did Rama son of King Dasaratha, go to the forest? Why did he lose his wife? Was Jatayu killed by Ravana? Tell me all."
The Vanaras had resolved to end their lives. The wingless, old vulture had desired to make an easy meal of them. But now things turned out otherwise. The Vanaras got up, went to Sampati and gently led him down from the hill. Then they talked and exchanged information. Sampati recounted his story. Angada related all that had happened in Kishkindha and asked old Sampati how Rama could be helped.
Sampati was old and weak, but his eyes had not lost their keenness. He could see things very far off. He could see Sita captive in Lanka and described in detail the wealth of Ravana's kingdom. He saw and described how Sita sat surrounded by Rakshasis in Lanka. The Vanaras were wild with joy. They jumped about saying, "Now we know all about Sita. There is no need for us to die, Rama's purpose will be achieved."
Sampati's troubles were also over. The boon he had received that when he helped Rama he would get back his wings came true and even as they were talking, young feathers began to spring and grow on his sides. Sampati now shone with fresh
beauty and he found satisfaction in performing the funeral obsequies of Jatayu.