Kishkindha Kanda – Sugriva tests Rama’s strength
Hanuman meets Rama and Lakshmana
Rama and Lakshmana go to Rishyamuka hill to seek the help of Sugriva to rescue Sita, who has been abducted by Ravana, the king of Lanka. They begin to ascend the hill.
One day Sugriva, the Vanara king, sees these two mighty men coming up the hill, and fear arises in his heart. He takes refuge in the hermitage of Rishi Matanga, because he fears that they have been sent by his elder brother, Vali, to kill him. He discloses this to his ministers, and his mind disturbed, Surgiva keeps constantly moving from one hill to another to avoid meeting the new visitors.
Seeing the agitated Sugriva, one of his ministers, Hanuman, says,”Please give up your irrational fear. We are still on the Malaya (Rishyamuka) hill which is inaccessible to Vali. I don’t see Vali anywhere. A king like you should not be perturbed. We should watch the actions and gestures of others and know what goes on in their mind! That is wise statesmanship, my king!”
Hanuman’s words appeal to the heart of Sugriva. He says to Hanuman,”It is natural for one who sees mighty warriors such as these to be apprehensive. Kings like Vali, when they wish to destroy their enemies, resort to many deceptive means. Hence kings should not be trusted. Vali is shrewd; and we should also resort to a shrewd plan to foil his attempt to destroy me.”
Sugriva then asks Hanuman to disguise himself and find out who those new men are. Disguised as a mendicant, Hanuman humbly approaches the two princes. After bowing to them, he asks,”You look like the devas or rajarishis, but you are clad like ascetics. Please tell me who you are and what you are doing here. You have powerful arms like princes. Yet, they are not adorned by ornaments! Yet, your weapons are excellent and richly covered with gold and precious stones. Let me tell you who I am. A great leader of the Vanaras named Sugriva lives here, having been driven out of his kingdom by his cruel brother Vali. I am Hanuman, his minister. Sugriva seeks your friendship. I, too, am a Vanara, though disguised as a mendicant.”
Rama greatly admires the speech of Hanuman, for he feels that no one who is not a master of the three Vedas can speak like him. There is not a single fault in Hanuman’s language, mode of expression, choice of words or gestures! Lakshmana says to him,”We would love to meet your king Sugriva and cultivate his friendship for mutual benefit.”
Delighted to hear this, Hanuman asks Rama,”Please tell us why are you here in this forest. And in what way may we help you?”
Lakshmana gives a full and detailed account upto the abduction of Sita, and adds that they do not know where Ravana lives and what his powers are. They have come there at the bidding of Kabandha, who had given them the knowledge that Sugriva would help them find Ravana.”This is an extraordinary event, Hanuman! He who is the refuge of the whole world seeks the refuge of Surgiva. He whose gratification brings about the gratification of all, seeks the grace of Sugriva, the chief of the Vanaras. Sugriva should help accomplish Rama’s purpose.”
Hanuman is even more delighted by these words. He sheds the disguise of a mendicant and escorts the princes to the presence of Sugriva. Sugriva gives them a warm welcome them and extends his hand in friendship. Rama grasps Sugriva’s hand in his own hand and embraces him in genuine affection and friendship. Hanuman then kindles the sacred fire which bears witness to this new and significant alliance. Going round the fire, Sugriva says to Rama,”You are now my beloved friend. And from now on we shall share our joys and sorrows.”
Sugriva assures Rama
After this ceremony, they are all seated and Sugriva narrates his story. His elder brother Vali has deprived him of his kingdom. Even his wife has been taken away from him. He has since lived here on this hill which is inaccessible to Vali, owing to a curse by Rishi Matanga. But he still lives in great and constant fear. He then reveals that Hanuman has told him all about the purpose for which they have come there. He does not know where Ravana lives, nor what his powers are. But he will soon find out. “Let Ravana be on this earth or in the nether world: he will not escape!” Sugriva assures Rama.
And, to Rama’s great delight, Sugriva remembers and mentions an incident that happened not long ago. He had seen Sita being carried away by an asura who was obviously Ravana. Sita had seen the Vanaras sitting on the hill and had thrown down a bundle containing her jewels. They had heard her wailing aloud,”Oh Rama! Oh Lakshmana!” They had preserved the bundle and Sugriva asks for it to be retrieved.
How impatient Rama is to see the bundle of jewels! But when Sugriva brings it, Rama is in tears. He says to Lakshmana,”Dear brother, look at this garment of Sita, with the jewels she was wearing at the time Ravana abducted her. It is lucky she dropped them on soft ground, for they are intact.”
Looking at them, Lakshmana replies,”I do not recognize the ornaments worn by Sita on her head or on her body; but I do recognize the anklets that adorned her feet for I saw them everyday as I bowed to her.”
Sugriva consoles Rama and speaks to him words of strength,”I do not know where Ravana lives. But I promise that I shall do the needful to bring Sita to you. Do not let sorrow enter your heart. See, I have also been deprived of my kingdom and my wife. Though I belong to a jungle tribe, I do not grieve. It does not behove you, who come from a civilised princely family, to grieve and to lose heart. For there is no happiness for those who worry and grieve; and they are robbed of their energy too. Give up sorrow and be brave, dear friend.”
Encouraged by Sugriva, Rama regains his composure. He says,”My dear Sugriva! Friendship such as ours is indeed rare in this world. I shall certainly accomplish your purpose, and I have always been true to my word.”
Sugriva shares his woes
They reaffirm their friendship and Sugriva continues his story,”Rama, Vali is a mighty Vanara. He not only usurped my throne, but threw me out of the kingdom after insulting me. Then he seized my wife and and also incarcerated my relations. He is always plotting to kill me. That was the reason why I was stricken with fear when I first saw you coming here. These few Vanaras are the only companions I have. But now that you have become my friend, I am sure that my sorrow has come to an end. For in joy and sorrow, friends are the only resort of friends.
My elder brother is exceptionally strong. Father was very fond of him. And I loved him too. When father died, naturally Vali was installed on the throne of our territory known as Kishkindha.
Vali had an enemy known as Mayavi, the son of Maya. One day Mayavi came to our territory and challenged Vali to a duel. The women in the court and even I endeavoured to hold Vali back from accepting the challenge, because we wished to prevent bloodshed. But Vali would not hear us.
When Vali came out to fight Mayavi, the latter suddenly got frightened and he began to run. Vali followed him, and so did I. The asura Mayavi entered a terrible cavern underground. Vali followed him, after instructing me to stay at the mouth of the cavern while he pursued the asura and killed him. I pleaded that he should take me with him also, but Vali refused.
I waited for a year at the mouth of the cavern. I heard terrible noises inside. But Vali did not return. Blood gushed out of that cavern. I could not heat Vali’s roar. I surmised that he had been killed by the demon. Heart-broken, I returned to the kingdom. The ministers who somehow came to know the truth, installed me on the throne.
Sometime later, Vali returned to the kingdom. I greeted him but he did not take any notice of me. He was filled with rage. I humbly offered him the throne and expressed our good fortune that he had returned to us alive. I told him that I thought he had been killed, seeing the blood rush out of the cavern. Out of fear and sorrow I had closed the cavern with a big rock and returned. The ministers insisted on installing me on the throne as they did not wish to endanger the security of the state by leaving it without a ruler. I did not desire it. ‘Please forgive me’, I said to him. ‘You are the ever adored king and I am as I was before.’
But, however much I pleaded with him, he refused to listen to me. He was furious. He accused me unjustly. He said,’I had asked you to stay at the mouth of the cavern. I killed the demon Mayavi and, trying to come out of the cavern, I didn’t even know the way, because you had covered the cavern with a rock. I kicked the stone off and have come here, only to see that you have become king!’ In great anger, he drove me out of the kingdom with just a single piece of cloth. And I have sought asylum on this hill which for another reason is out of bounds for Vali.”
Listening to his story, Rama reassures Sugriva,”Your sorrow will soon end, as soon as I behold the sinful Vali who has seized your wife.”
Sugriva says,”Surely Rama, when you are roused to anger, you can destroy even the worlds with your missiles, as the sun could at the close of the epoch. However, listen attentively while I describe the powers of Vali, and then please do the needful.
Asura Dundubhi is Killed
There was once an asura known as Dundubhi who had the appearance of a buffalo. He too was extremely powerful. He wanted to fight someone who was matched in strength and so he came to Kishkindha, having heard of the mighty Vali. He lost no time in making his presence felt. He shook the earth, ravaged the forest and roared aloud. He challenged Vali to a fight. Vali grabbed the asura, lifted him up, whirled him around and dashed him on the ground. Vali hit Dundubhi with his fists and feet and the asura was dead. However, while Vali kicked the asura and hurled him to a distance of 4 miles, blood from the asura fell in the vicinity of Rishi Matanga.
Rishi Matanga was furious to see that his hermitage had been desecrated by blood and that the trees in the neighbourhood had either been destroyed or defoliated. Seeing the Vanaras there, he uttered a curse,’He who killed this asura in the form of a buffalo and who caused the blood to fall in the vicinity of my hermitage, and he who is responsible for the destruction of this forest which I have nourished like my own child, shall no longer enter this forest; if they do, they will instantly become rocks and remain petrified for thousands of years.’ The Vanaras ran to Vali and informed him about the curse. Vali immediately went to the rishi and apologised with joined palms, but the rishi would not listen to him.
From that time, this forest is out of bounds to Vali and his companions, and therefore safe for me to dwell in it. Hence, I have taken refuge in this place. There you see, Rama, the huge skeletal remains of the mighty Dundubhi. And, these are the trees that Vali would shake with his bare hands and defoliate! Such are his powers and such is his strength.”
Lakshmana is amused at this narration, which clearly expresses Sugriva’s anxiety and his uncertainty of the outcome of Rama’s encounter with Vali. He asks Sugriva,”Well well, tell me how you can be convinced of Rama’s prowess?”
Sugriva tests Rama
Sugriva suggests,”Vali kicked Dundubhi and the asura flew 4 miles and landed here. If Rama could kick the skeleton and throw it only to a distance of 300 yards, I should be convinced. My dear Rama, I do not belittle your might nor do I frighten you; but having seen Vali’s prowess, I am faint-hearted.”
So Rama goes towards the skeleton, lifts it up with his toe and tosses it to a distance of 80 miles! Sugriva is greatly impressed. But a doubt enters his mind: Vali kicked the full body of Dundubhi, whereas Rama tossed only the dry bones! Hence, Sugriva suggests another test:”Rama, Vali could cut these trees down with a single missile from his weapon. Can you also do so? I am sure you can, yet I want to see you do so.”
Rama shoots the Sala Trees
To create his confidence, Rama, beaming with effulgence, takes up his bow. Holding his terrible bow and an arrow, he fires it towards a Sala tree, and all the directions reverberate with the twang of his bowstring. The golden arrow perforates all the seven Sala trees, and even the levelled areas of the mountain and then enters the earth. Some versions of the Ramayana say that the Sala trees were shaking in the wind and so Rama set foot on a snake and when the snake became rigid, the trees straightened. It enters the seventh earthly plane, paataala, which is beneath the six planes – atala, vitala, sutala, paataala, rasaatala and mahataala. Thus that arrow which pierced all the trees comes up in a moment from under the earth and swiftly re-enters the quiver of Rama. Having witnessed those seven trees bored by Rama’s arrow, Sugriva is greatly surprised and delighted. He bows his head down on the earth and stretching his ornamented person on the ground, addresses Rama with clasped hands,”Rama! You are capable of destroying even the devas headed by Indra, what to speak of Vali! Who can stand before you in battle, who has pierced the seven trees, and the mountain and the sevenfold planes of the earth with one arrow? I pray to you with folded hands: for my welfare, destroy my brother Vali today itself.”
Convinced with Rama’s strength, Sugriva is now in a hurry to eliminate Vali.
The clash between Sugriva and Vali started. Confused by their similar looks, Rama told Sugriva that it would be difficult to hit Vali. Lakshmana plucked a creeper with flowers and garlanded Sugriva. The fight then continued.
Rama released an arrow like a thunderclap and Vali fell like an Ashoka tree.