As Laksmana and Rama hiked with ease up Rsyamuka mountain they did not know they were being watched from the top of the mountain by a scared vanara named Sugriva. Ever since Sugriva was chased from his kingdom by his brother, Vali, Sugriva was very neurotic and jumpy indeed. He could tell that these two men had bows and this discomforted Sugriva: what if his brother sent them to kill him?
vanara are mystical monkeys, not like everyday monkeys that one could see in a zoo. They have some blood of the gods in them from ancient times, and therefore some of them have fantastic powers. As the vanara are an ancient race they have, over time, become quite refined.
Sugriva ran to Hanuman—the son of Vayu—and told him of the strange men that he believed were sent by his brother to kill him. Hanuman, who was calm in even the most grave situations attempted to comfort Sugriva: “Please Sugriva, remember the curse that rsi Matanga put on Vali and his vanaras because he desecrated holy land by throwing an asura’s carcass on it. That curse does not allow Vali, or those who are employed by him, to come to this place. It will be alright.” But Sugriva was still quaking terribly: he was remembering how his brother took his wife Ruma and then exiled him from Kiskindha—the kingdom of the vanaras. Sugriva could not be comforted. “I will go down and talk to them,” Hanuman said, “if I think they are harmful I will take care of them, and if not I will bring them up to speak to you.”
Hanuman quickly dashed down the mountain, and changed his shape—as this was one of his special powers—into a tall Brahmin. Hanuman introduced himself to the two men, who he felt were powerful, but not harmful. “My name is Hanuman, I am the minister to the king of the vanaras, Sugriva, who was exiled to this mountain by his brother, Vali.” The men, who of course were Rama and Laksmana, trusted Hanuman instantly, and smiled at the Brahmin. Laksmana said to Hanuman: ” This is Rama and I am his brother Laksmana. We were also exiled from our kingdom, and have been wandering the forest for the past years. Rama’s wife, Sita, has recently been abducted, and we are on a quest to find her. We were climbing the mountain with hopes of meeting Sugriva.” With that, Hanuman changed back into vanara form, “come friends, I’ll take you to Sugriva now.”
After Hanuman found Sugriva, scared and huddled in a shivering ball in a cave, he told Sugriva of the ksatriya’s story, and explained that Rama and Laksmana were there to meet Sugriva, not to kill him. Sugriva, relieved, went out and prostrated himself at Rama’s feet, and told him that they would be great friends. Rama and Sugriva then performed the age old vanara ritual of friendship. Rama and Sugriva, Hanuman and Laksmana stayed up all night discussing their pasts. “Hanuman has told me of how you were exiled from your kingdom, and how your wife was taken from you while you were in the forest.” Sugriva said, over the blaze of the fire, “I too lost my wife and my kingdom.” Sugriva continued to tell the story of his brother Vali, and how he chased Sugriva from the kingdom of Kiskindha.
“My older brother Vali and I were really close. Out father died, and when Vali was crowned king I was so happy for him. One day an asura named Mayavi, who was smitten with the same woman as Vali, called him out to fight for her. His wife, Tara, and I pleaded with him not to go, but Vali was much too proud to listen to us. I went with Vali, and we followed Mayavi deeper and deeper into the forest. Finally, we came to a cave and Vali went in. He told me to guard the entrance, in case Mayavi tried to get away. I waited for days, and no one came out. Eventually, I saw a river of blood flowing from the cave. With tears in my eyes over my brother’s death I rolled a huge stone over to block the cave entrance so that the asura could not escape. I went back to Kiskindha, and was crowned king. Then one day, Vali came back. He accused me of attempting to kill him, so I could take over the throne. He put me in prison and took my wife. I escaped, and when he found out he tracked me down and he chased me all the way to where I am today.” Sugriva finished his story with a tear of loss for the brother he once looked up to. Rama was moved by his story, and thought Vali to be a very adharmic monkey for the pain and anguish that he caused his brother, Sugriva. Rama said, “I will kill your brother, and you will be reinstated to the throne, where you belong.”
Sugriva said to Rama “I appreciate it, but I am worried friend. Vali has a boon of strength from Brahma. I do not want my new friend to get hurt. If you can shoot an arrow through each of the seven hard wood trees over there, I am sure you will have no problem killing Vali.” Rama picked up his bow, and shot one arrow. It went through each of the seven hard wood trees consecutively. Sugriva shouted, “Vali is as good as dead!” The four hugged, and started their trip to Kiskindha to kill Vali.
Sugriva stood at the edge of the kingdom, calling Vali to fight. He knew his brother could not resist a fight. Vali, as suspected came running out of the kingdom, eager to finish the grudge he had been harboring once and for all. Both of the vanaras grew to the size of trees, and began pounding each other with their fists, boulders, and anything that that they could get their large hands on. At first Sugriva was doing well, his confidence began to rise; he was winning the fight.
Meanwhile, Rama was sitting hidden in a tree, watching the fight. He realized that the vanara brothers looked too much alike and that he could not possibly try to shoot Vali with an arrow if there was a chance he could hit Sugriva. Sugriva’s attention was focused on why Rama was not shooting his brother, and this gave Vali the opportunity to give Sugriva three harsh pounds to the head. Sugriva reeled and ran back to Rsyamuka bawling like a child.
“Why did you let me be pummeled by my brother, when you were supposed to be my friend?” Sugriva wailed to Rama when he returned. Rama calmed him saying, “I could not tell you apart. We will go back tomorrow and try again, this time though you will wear a garland made out of gajapuspi, the most colorful of flowering vines, so I can tell you apart no matter what happens. Don’t despair friend, tomorrow will be the end of the awful Vali.” The next day, Sugriva called Vali out once more, and despite the attempts of his wise wife Tara, he went anyway. “He has Rama on his side,” Tara said, as most creatures of the jungle knew about Rama’s presence in their home by now, “why would that coward come back otherwise?” Vali’s pride was too much, and once again he flew at his brother. Rama watched from a tree, and waited, hoping that Sugriva could kill Vali himself. Rama was worried about the karmic seeds he would plant if he killed Vali. Finally, when he knew that Vali was going to win the fight if he did not intervene, Rama shot Vali in the chest. Vali’s wretched screams echoed through all the worlds.
Rama went to Vali, and stood over his dying body. Slowly Vali’s eyes opened and he saw Rama standing over him. Vali asked, “Why have you done this to me you coward? It was not your fight. This deed will surely sow terrible seeds of karma for you.” Rama hovered over Vali as he continued, “What will happen to my son Angada, my beautiful wife Tara, my kingdom? I had heard that your wife was stolen by Ravana. Why did you not ask me to kill him for you? I would have. This was not a dharmic act you have committed, but a cowardly one. Oh how you will pay in other lives for this; why Rama? Why did you do this to me?”
Rama answered Vali slowly and calmly, “Perhaps you do not understand the ways of dharma as well as you suggest. An older brother’s dharma is to his younger brothers, especially if their father is dead. You did not follow dharma when you chased Sugriva out of the kingdom. I have sworn an oath of friendship with your brother, and in that way he is like my younger brother. I am justified in what I did, it was a dharmic act.” As Rama talked, Vali was soothed by his voice. It was as if Rama’s voice made Vali realize the error of his way, and made him find peace from within himself. “I understand,” Vali said in a quiet and raspy voice of death, “please make sure that Sugriva is made king and that my wife and son are taken care of.” Vali died and Tara, who had heard her husband’s earlier cries, rushed to her dying husband’s side and broke down in tears. Sugriva also wept for his brother whom he had murdered. He felt he should die with his brother. Rama and Laksmana told Sugriva that his duty was to be strong. Angada and Tara built a pyre for Vali, and when they lit it, they set him free.
Rama told Sugriva that he could not go into the city to watch his coronation because it would be breaking the vow he made to his father. “Crown Angada yuvaraja” he reminded Sugriva, “Laksmana and I will go and take refuge in a cave during the rainy season. I will see you when the month of Krittika arrives, and we will begin the search for Sita.” Sugriva prostrated himself at Rama’s feet and said, “I will see you in a few months my friend, and at that time I will keep my promise to you: I will find your beloved Sita.”
During the rainy season plants grew by leaps and bounds in only a day. Rama and Laksmana found a cave on the mountain Prasravana to wait out the rainy period in. Rama started to get very anxious during the time that he was in the cave. Luckily, Laksmana was able to keep Rama occupied with stories, and he calmed him down when he started missing Sita too much. Meanwhile, in Kiskindha, Sugriva was having a rollicking good time in his harem. He had married Tara, and was enjoying the drunken stupor that he had been in since he was crowned.
The month of Krittika came and passed, and Rama was very disheartened because he had not heard from Sugriva once. Laksmana was filled with rage because of the broken promise, and begged: “Rama let me kill Sugriva; he has no honor.” Rama replied quietly, “There is no honor in what you suggest Laksmana, it would be best if you went and reminded Sugriva of his duty to me. Ask him why he has not honored his promise to find Sita.” Laksmana arrived in Kishkindha. There were vanara guarding the palace that did not recognize him, and they sent for a back up army to fight the perceived threat. Angada lead the army, and when he saw Laksmana he stopped. “Bring me to your uncle,” Laksmana said, recognizing Angada at once. Angada brought him to his uncle’s harem. Once Laksmana was in the harem, he saw the absolute excess in which Sugriva had been living, while Rama was suffering in the forest. Sugriva, who was barely able to stand because he was so drunk, sent Tara over to reason with the angry ksatriya. Tara told Laksmana how Sugriva looked up to Rama, and how his excess of alcohol and women was due to his long exile in the forest. When Tara felt that Laksmana had been sated sufficiently by her words, she brought him to Sugriva. “Even as we speak now,” the monkey king said smoothly, “my troops are marching here to be deployed on a mission to find Sita. I have not forgotten about Rama, or my promise.” Laksmana smiled and said, “Let us go to the forest to tell Rama, and wait for your troops.”
When Sugriva got to Rama, he prostrated himself at his feet. “I have not forgotten my promise to you Rama,” Sugriva said with tears in his eyes, “even as we speak my soldiers are coming here to get their orders.”
Within ten days of Sugriva’s arrival in the forest, his troops arrived and were standing in the valley awaiting Sugriva’s instructions. Sugriva climbed onto a tree stump and started speaking to his soldiers: “Search to the ends of the earth my vanaras, and find the evil Ravana that has caused such pain for my dear friend Rama.” Sugriva continued on, telling the troops of all the places that they would be searching, which he was remembering from the days he was fleeing his brother Vali. “Vinata, go west with one quarter of the troops. Sushena, go east with one quarter of the troops. Satbali, you go north. Finally, Hanuman take Angada, who is like a son to me, and go south. I will give you all one month. If you have not found Rama’s Sita come back to this place in shame.” As the troops began to leave in their assigned directions, Rama and Sugriva went to Hanuman. “Hanuman,” Rama said with passion, “I believe that if anyone can find my Sita, it is you. Go and find her for me dear vanara, and when you do give her my ring.” Rama took the ring off his finger and gave it to Hanuman. “She will be afraid, and will not trust you at first. This ring will let her know that she can trust you.” Hanuman prostrated himself at the feet of both Sugriva and Rama and left on his mission to find Sita. Susena, Vinata, and Satbali searched high and low, day and night for a complete month respectively, but none of them could find Sita. Likewise, Hanuman, Angada, and their team searched, but to no avail. Angada, who could see that his troops were becoming dejected, said, “I know that we will be the ones to find Sita. It is Fate. Do not give up brave monkeys.” The vanaras’ spirits were lifted, and they continued searching, and to their relief found a cave that they had never seen before.
On entering the cave and walking down a long tunnel they came to a beautiful kingdom with fantastic gardens that they could not imagine even in their wildest dreams. Suddenly, an ascetic appeared before them, and seeing that she was friendly, they ate with her. The ascetic told them her name was Svayamprabha and that the kingdom they were in was called Riksabila and was created by Mayaa. Svayamprabha was guarding the kingdom. Hanuman reciprocated, introducing himself and telling her of their quest to find Sita. “I am moved by your honor,” Svayamprabha said. “Normally all that enter this fine place cannot leave, but since your hearts are pure, and you are on an honorable quest I will free you.” With that, the vanaras were at western shore of the Bharatavarsa.
Angada, being an observant monkey said, “Time is different in Riksabila than it is in our world. A week has passed since we have been in the cave. We have not found Sita, and our time is up.” Angada was visibly perturbed, and was pacing back and forth quickly. “I am worried,” he said quickly to the ministers that had gathered around him, “that Sugriva will not take kindly to our delay. He killed my father and this is just the excuse he needs to kill me as well.” Thara, agreed with Angada, “Sugriva killed our king with no thought for us, his people. Why would we continue looking for Sita for him, or go back to him, when we have no allegiance to him, and him to us likewise. Let us return to Riksabila and live our days out in that beautiful place.” Hanuman, who was always calm said, “It is not a good plan for us to make enemies of people that are as powerful and pious as Laksmana and Rama, and we surely will if we desert our mission and our king. We are capable of finding Sita, I can feel it. Let us continue on.” After much discussion, Angada had made his mind up to go and stay on the beach, to die there. Many others seeing their prince so distraught agreed to die with him on the beach.
Thousands of little vanaras sat in groups on the beach. Angada and the monkeys surrounding him told stories about Rama, and Jatayu, and his noble death. Little did they realize, far above them, an old eagle was watching them.
Sampati the eagle was extremely old, and had not had a decent meal in a great time, considering his aged condition, and his visible lack of wings. Excited at the prospect of the meal he said, “I do not have to worry about searching my food out, today it has found me.” Angada heard him and screamed to his soldiers, “death is coming to kill us and he is in the form of a giant bird, run!” But Angada could not run; he was paralyzed with fear, and was so upset that he began to talk nonsensically about Jatayu and his noble death. Hearing this Sampati said, “How do you know Jatayu?” Angada suddenly felt a wave of trust come over him and he told Sampati the story of Rama, and how Jatayu had given his life in an attempt to save the chaste Sita from the adharmic Ravana. “I have not heard of Jatayu in many years,” Sampati said quietly, “you see I am his brother, Sampati.” “When we were just young,” Sampati said, “Jatayu and I were very competitive. One day we made a bet to see who could fly higher. We flew up for days and days, and we were neck in neck all the way. We were flying so fast that we did not realize how close we were to the sun until it was too late. Jatayu started to burn up, and fall. As soon as I saw he was in trouble I stopped flying and caught him, but as soon as I touched him my wings began to burn. I fainted and woke up when I came into contact with the ground. My wings were burned off that day, and I have not seen or heard of Jatayu since.”
Sampati walked to the edge of the water and peered out into the ocean. “What are you doing?” inquired Angada. “I am an old mystical eagle, and my family is blessed with amazing sight so that they can hunt from far above their prey. I am looking to the ocean to see if I can see Sita on the Island of Lanka, the home of Ravana.” After a long while, Sampati said, “I see her, she is within the palace walls.” Suddenly as if by a miracle, the stumps where Sampati’s wings once were began to glow and when they stopped, his wings were whole again. With tears in his eyes Sampati said, “A rsi once told me, that when I helped the avatara of Visnu by finding his love, abducted by evil, that I would have my wings back. Good luck friends, trust in yourselves and you will succeed.” Sampati flew off for the first time in thousands of years.
The vanaras were renewed because they had found Sita. The only problem was how they were going to reach her. Vanara are fantastic creatures and they are able to jump great distances, so they decided that their best bet would be for one of them to jump to the island. Angada said “I can jump at least 100 yojanas, I will do it.” Jambavan interjected, “I must insist that you do not do that. You are the heir to the throne, and you must not risk your life, even if it is for a good cause.” Continuing, Jambavan said, “Hanuman you are capable of jumping over 300 yojana, or do you not remember?” Hanuman shook his head no, bewildered by this amazing statement. “When you were only a young boy,” Jambavan started, “you thought that the sun was a piece of fruit, and you wanted it for yourself. You jumped all the way up to the sun, and Indra, seeing you, and thinking you were a very cocky boy, knocked you down with his lightening bolt. Your father, Vayu, caught you, and you were not harmed at all. Brahma, seeing what happened said that such an amazing child deserved a boon, and with his decree no weapon would ever harm you. Indra realized that it was not out of pride that you wanted the sun, but out of childish delight and he also gave you a boon. It was the boon of life because he said that you could choose when you would die.” Hanuman sat there shocked. “Don’t you see, Hanuman,” Jambavan said patting Hanuman on the back, “You were born to jump to Lanka.”
A smile crossed Hanuman’s face as if he was just realizing what he could do for the first time. “I’ll do it,” he said. Suddenly, the son of the wind began to grow, he grew to the size of the mountains and then he grew larger. When he stopped he stepped with a gigantic leg onto one of the mountains behind the beach. He was so large that he had to put the other foot on the peak beside the first. Hanuman began moving back and forth, preparing for his long jump across the ocean to save Rama’s Sita.