Rama Prepares to Invade Lanka
Hanuman flew by aerial route and reached his friends Angad, Jambuwanta, Sugreeva and others who were eagerly waiting for his return. The news of Sita was received with jubilation. Immediately they all started off to inform Rama and Laxmana about their discovery so that future plans could be drawn to seek her release.
In Southern India at the base camp, Rama, Laxmana, Hanuman, Sugreeva, Jambuwanta, Angad and others met to chalk out their plan of action to seek release of Sita, now that the whereabouts of Sita were known. It was sure that Ravana was adamant and would not release Sita without force. It was imperative wage the war against mighty army of Ravana to achieve their goal.
But Rama and Laxmana had no army of their own, hence Hanuman appealed to all monkey leaders to rally behind Rama in this noble war of righteousness. A huge army of monkeys and bears was thus formed and Angad was chosen its leader. Rama and Laxmana had divine and supernatural powers. They could have easily defeated Ravana and his army, but the lord Rama wanted to unite various clans into one unified people. The division of society into lower and higher caste and superior and inferior races was a taboo that Rama wanted to erase from the face of Bharata -ancient India. Therefore, he sought help of monkeys and bears (lower clans) in his mission.
All the well-wishers, full of enthusiasm, participated in the noble cause lead by Rama. The monkey brigade marched on towards Lanka. They once again reached the southern tip of India and faced the mighty sea ahead! It stood as a mighty obstacle in their march ahead. Only Hanuman was able to cross it, but it was not possible for others to do the same. How could the whole army reach the shores of Lankan kingdom.
This almost impossible task forced Rama to over the solution, but none was in sight! Everyone became depressed and despondent. The enthusiasm of having found the whereabouts of Sita was lost in their inability to rescue her.
Bridge Over The Sea
Hanuman was restless. Constantly thinking of Rama and Sita, his mind was immersed in the depths of contemplation. He was sure that solution to this problem must be available as Rama was with them. But what would be the solution! He did not yet know. Can they all swim across the sea, no. Can they all fly over the sea, no. Engrossed in such deep thoughts and constantly taking the holy name of Rama, he threw a stone in the water in front of him. To his utter disbelief he saw that the stone was floating over the water!!!
He threw another stone and was puzzled that it sank down in the water, it did not float. He could not fathom the secret of this peculiarity: One stone staying afloat and the other sinking! He tried many times but in vain, all the stones subsequently sank down to the bottom of sea. He brought this peculiarity to the notice of his associates. But nobody could explain why one particular stone was floating when it should also have sunk. Angad, Sugreeva, Jambuwanta all tried but no stone remained afloat.
Then Hanuman took the name of Rama and also threw a stone, unintentionally though. And it stayed afloat! The mystery opened up its secret in the intelligent mind of Hanuman. "Oh, I see" shouted Hanuman in ecstasy, "Look brothers, when I throw a stone after taking the name of Rama it floats, and when I throw it without taking his holy name it sinks."
Everyone tried the same thing. And to their joy they all found stones remaining afloat when thrown in the name of Rama. Soon they decided to construct a floating bridge over the sea from Indian coast to the shore of Lanka. Rama also decided to contribute his share of labour. Therefore he threw a stone after taking his own name, but to his amazement the stone he threw did not float. Hanuman was watching this mysterious play of the Lord with great amusement. He came to Rama, bowed down in reverence, and said,
"O Rama, how can the one survive whom you reject? You are throwing this stone away, how can it float! it is surely doomed and would sink down and down. There is no liberation for any person (as well as non-living thing) who is denied your grace. Without your support nobody becomes fit to cross this ocean of worldliness! Taking your name is, However, sufficient to prevent drowning of mortals like us"
Story of tiny squirrel
A tiny squirrel was watching this divine play from a nearby tree. She also came down, rolled over the sand of sea shore, and then went over the bridge of stones. There she released the particles of sand in the name of Rama. This she continued for days together, oblivious to hunger and thirst. This was the most sincere contribution of a small animal for the noble cause. Thus every Indian takes pride in contributing, in whatever small way he/she can, in the noble spiritual mission.
War Begins: Story of Kumbhakarna
The bridge was completed and one by one all of them reached near the shore of Lanka. Ravana's spies informed him about the approaching army of Rama, but the proud Ravana did not attach any significance and importance to this. Vibhishana, on the other hand, was quick to grab the opportunity and joined Rama in his noble mission.
Rama Tries To Settle The Issue With Peace
Angad was selected to represent Rama to give diplomacy a chance. Hence as a messenger/ambassador of Rama Angad reached the court of Ravana. He explained that Rama had sent him to seek release of Sita. Ravana should heed this last appeal of Rama so that the war could be averted. But no. Ravana did not accept the peace proposal. When he had such a great army, when he was immortal by the boon of the God, when he had all the super powers and instruments of war Ravana maintained that it was futile and immature of Rama to think of victory. Thus he took pity on Angad and his friends that they had come to Lanka to get killed.
Scornfully he also told Angad go back peacefully and forget about Sita. He would not attack the retreating army of Rama. Thus the talks failed. the war was sure to follow.
Angad returned to the camp and briefed Rama and others about the adamant attitude of Ravana not to free Sita. Rama, Laxmana, Hanuman, Sugreeva, and Vibhishana held a closed door meeting to chalk out their final strategy. Accordingly, Angad led one team of his brave soldiers and attacked the Lankan guards. After a brief fight, the guards were defeated and Angad and company entered the border of Lanka. Rama and others followed.
The news was received with mild concern by Ravana who sent more number of troops to attack the advancing men of Rama. Hanuman and his men defeated them too. Vibhishana was quick to guide Rama through the secret inroads. This disturbed Ravana and he decided to take the things more seriously. He therefore sent for Kumbhakarna, his brother with immense powers, to come to the court for urgent meeting with him. Ravana was sure that Kumbhakarna alone was powerful enough to defeat Rama and his army of 'monkeys'.
Story of Kumbhakarna
This Kumbhakarna used to remain awake for six months and sleep for next six months! As he was preparing to go to his long spell of sleep, the message of Ravana was delivered to him. Kumbhakarna was in no mood to fight. He also thought that Ravana was in wrong in inviting this unnecessary war due to his useless insistence to marry Sita. He accordingly advised Ravana to release Sita and put an end to this avoidable conflict.
However, he was a loyal and patriotic Rakshasa. He was proud of his ancestors and glory of the demon rule and prosperity of Lanka. Hence when Ravana appealed in the name of glory of their forefathers, in the name and honour of their clan and dynasty, Kumbhakarna agreed to terminate Rama for ever. Thus full of enthusiasm and well prepared for the ensuing battle, he led his army to the battle ground.
A fierce fight raged between the two armies. Many monkeys were killed so also many Rakshasas. Even Angad and Sugreeva were on the defensive. Hanuman was helpless. Therefore, Rama took charge of the front himself. Kumbhakarna was adept in taking various illusory forms to confuse his enemy. It was difficult to attack his true body! as many Kumbhakarnas used to appear in front. All the missiles and arrows eluded him.
Moreover, Kumbhakarna could create 'rain of fire' engulfing the enemy. This caused confusion and chaos amongst Rama's army. To this, Rama replied by pouring rain of water to put off the fire. Kumbhakarna poured 'rain of stones', and Rama countered by appropiate protective cover. The battle went on for quite some time. At last Rama attacked the demon with his most powerful arrow fortified with deadly divine missile. This hit the mighty Kumbhakarna at his vital centre that led to his downfall.
On the death-bed Kumbhakarna took the name of Rama and thus he was liberated from his base instincts and tendencies.
The news of fall of mighty Kumbhakarna reached Ravana's court. With dismay and concern, Ravana quickly summoned his son Indrajeet and asked him to prepare for the deciding fight against Rama and Laxmana next day. Indrajeet was expert in all kinds of war games. In fact, second to Ravana, his son Indrajeet was the most powerful Rakshasa. He even easily surpassed his uncle -Kumbhakarna in many aspects. By special austerities and Tapas, he had once pleased God Brahma and had acquired special missile, as a boon, called Brahmastra. It could be used once only, but it was sure to render the opponent dead. Only rarely did it fail!
Thus armed with all these special powers and missiles, and with firm resolve to destroy Rama and his army, Indrajeet led his army to the battle ground. All Rakshasas were in joyous mood as they were sure of their victory under the leadership of Indrajeet. [The literal meaning of Indrajeet is 'one who has defeated the king of God -Indra!']
Rama and Laxmana took note of this. They knew about the special powers of Indrajeet. Rama decided to send Laxmana to face Indrajeet and advised Hanuman to accompany Laxmana. Laxmana could counter every move of Indrajeet. But failure made Indrajeet irritable and restless. His mind was not focused nor concentrated. Indrajeet, therefore, out of frustration and anger, threw the deadly Brahmastra at Laxmana. The missile was sure to hit its target. No one could have averted its impact, nor could anyone divert its course. No counter missile was discovered against Brahmastra.
Therefore, Laxmana stood silently with folded hands and started mental repetition of the name of Rama. He knew it was only in the capacity of Rama to lessen its force of impact. And indeed the missile hit him with tremendous force. The nearby monkeys were also shaken. Even powerful Hanuman was put off balance! What was the condition of Laxmana! It uprooted his feet from the ground. he lay flat unconscious on the ground, almost dead. His breathing had stopped. His chest was red and swollen due to the impact. Everyone was terrified and thought Laxmana to be dead.
But Hanuman could not believe that Rama's brother could ever die under the protective umbrella of Rama. He rushed to Rama and narrated the incidence. Rama knew what had happened. He urgently sent for the physician. Rama, the physician and Hanuman rushed to the site where Laxmana lay unconscious. The physician after examination said,
"O Rama, the impact of Brahmastra leads everyone to death. I wonder how Laxmana is still faintly alive! But there is a warning. If Laxmana does not receive a particular herbal medicine within 24 hours, he cannot be revived. So, O Rama, please arrange to bring the medicine without delay."
Hanuman Brings the Medicine
The medicine specified by the physician was a herbal medicine available on a particular mountain in the North India. Who could reach there and bring the medicine within a day! The hope that Laxmana would survive was mingled with sadness of impossibility of finding the medicine. But Hanuman was sure of one thing; he knew that presence of Rama could solve any problem. Hence, he saluted Rama and said, "O lord, I know you are putting your devotees to test. Please bless me that I succeed in my mission to bring that plant for the sure cure of Laxmana."
Rama was pleased with his most faithful and brave devotee. he blessed Hanuman and said, "O Hanuman, I am pleased with your devotion and faith in me. I know today you are the only one who could bring the plant and save my dear brother, Laxmana. I bless you, go and get the plant."
Hanuman acquired huge form and flew northwards high in the sky. Within hours he reached the destined mountain top. But to his dismay, he found innumerable plants adoring the mountain top. And imagine the confusion all those green plants created in the mind of Hanuman! Which plant would be needed for the medicine! Hanuman was not sure. Utter anxiety prevailed in the heart and mind of this noble servant of Rama.
The delay was sure to put Laxmana's life in danger, and incorrect choice of the plant was sure make his efforts useless; and moreover, would make him a laughing stock! This tragi-comic situation is very nicely described in the original text. We also feel one with Hanuman in his peculiar predicament.
The success was near and so far!
And then last minute intuition dawns in the intelligent mind of Hanuman. He decides to lift the whole mountain and take it to Lanka! Taking the name of Rama, "Jai Sri Rama", he lifted the mountain, which had become as light as a flower, Hanuman returned to Lanka in time. The medicine was prepared and put in the mouth of unconscious Laxmana. As if awakened from deep sleep, Laxmana got up yawning and said, "Where am I?"
Indrajeet Is Killed
Rama had sent Laxmana to face Indrajeet to make the Brahmastra ineffective. Laxmana alone was capable of sustaining its impact; any other person was sure to die. As that missile could be used only once, Indrajeet became helpless. Now Rama decided to come in picture.
Next day, Indrajeet came to fight with Rama. The clash of weapons, noisy fights, and destruction all around made the battle ground the last desirable place to stay in. But show must go on! The illusory forms that Indrajeet took, made him a difficult target to hit. At times he would appear on the right, at others to the left, and at times he would fight even as floating in the sky. But Rama put an end to all his Mayawi warfare and killed him with one special arrow.
Mandodari Tries to Persuade Ravana to Release Sita
The victory cry in Rama's camp contrasted sharply with the hush in Ravana's court. The news of fall of their beloved son caused immense pain in the heart of father Ravana and mother Mandodari. Both of them rushed to battle field, took the body of Indrajeet in their lap, and cried like any other parents. Their grief and suffering brought tears to the eyes their opponents as well.
The last rite of Indrajeet were performed with full honour. Representative of Rama also attended the funeral and offered prayers to the departed soul.
With remorse Mandodari said to Ravana, "O Lord, look what your adamant nature has done. It has taken away our most powerful son in the prime of his youth. I pray to you, O Lord, to free Sita and hand over her to Rama where she rightfully belongs. There is still time to avert further destruction and peril. I do not want to lose you, O my dear husband!"
The pathetic appeal, although reasonable and rational, fell on the deaf ears. Ravana was full of grief at the loss of his son, but his pride did not allow him to see reason. He replied,
"O, queen, do not try to put me in the line of cowards. Do you think I should accept defeat when my son and brother have made such great sacrifices? You speak like the traitor brother Vibhishana who has joined the enemy's camp. Have you lost faith in my power and skill! Listen, come what may, I am determined to continue this fight to its end. Tomorrow you shall see one of the mightiest Kings victorious: either I or Rama!"
The Final Battle
Now Ravana decided to put an end to the war. He went to the temple of his chosen deity -Lord Shiva, and prayed and meditated for whole night. There was grace and serenity on the face of Ravana. Next day he was to fight with the Master of Universe Himself. He knew his death was near as The Lord had come in the form of Rama to liberate him from the worldly bonds.
Anger, hatred, jealousy, and pride were gradually leaving him, and instead calmness and strength pervaded his whole being. He became conscious of his tremendous powers. All magical or illusory skills, knowledge of special missiles, all grace of an warrior entered his mind, body, and psyche.
The text of Vedas and Scriptures became visible to him. His Mantra flashed in front of his eyes. Lord Shiva appeared in his vision and blessed him. Ravana was to die as he wished, was to be liberated by the Lord Himself.
The sunrise made everyone aware of the reality of the day. The battle between Rama and Ravana was about to be enacted; the battle that would be remembered for centuries to come! The gods in the heaven supplied a beautiful chariot to Rama. They also sent special garlands and robes for Rama and special bow and arrows were offered.
In the morning Rama worshipped his chosen Ideal: Lord Shiva! and embarked on his final mission in his chariot to the battle-field.
Battle Between Rama and Ravana
Ravana was also ready in his huge chariot. The two armies arrayed themselves in special fronts. Rama and Ravana approached one another and halted at a distance. Conches and trumpets were blown, and the sound generated terror in the hearts of the opponents. Rama and Ravana saluted each other and the last fight began.
Ravana had ten heads which he had obtained as boon for his special worship of God. It also indicated extra intelligence, superhuman strength, and extra pride. It was also suggestive of long life, every head was compatible with life. Rama and Ravana hurled missiles at each other. Both were able to counter opponents attacks. When one head of Ravana rolled down, it was replaced by new one! If one arm of Ravana was cut, it was replaced by another! It was impossible to kill this powerful Rakshasa (demon).
Then Rama destroyed Ravana's chariot. But, instead of falling on ground Ravana flew high in the sky and started attacking Rama and his men with arrows and maces, and dropped magical fire and stones. Moreover, he took multiple forms to terrorize Rama's army. Some forms were having only head, while others were composed of trunks only! This "Mayawi Yuddha" -- Illusory War-- posed additional pressure on Rama to select the original Ravana and hit him. The energy was drained out from the tiring army men. Arrows and missiles made no impact on Ravana in the least. Many of the monkeys and bears from Rama's army were disheartened. They were tired and many tried to escape the rain of arrows and fire being poured by Ravana. Rama protected all his men by counter attacks and by providing special cover against Ravana's attacks.
Laxmana, Hanuman, Angad, Sugreeva, and Jambuwanta all tried their own missiles on mighty Ravana but in vain. When the arrow of Rama failed how could any other succeed!
The day turned into night, and both the armies retreated to their respective camps. The injured were treated with potions and ointments. Rama and Laxmana with their associates discussed the way and means to put an end to Ravana. But no definite answer could be had as Ravana was adept in this kind of war games. Moreover, he had the capacity to regenerate any lost part of the body. Death of Ravana was difficult to imagine!
Vibhishana Suggests The Trick
However, Vibhishana remembered something about his brother -Ravana - that had a great bearing on the outcome of war. He recalled how he once had faintly overheard the weakness in the body of Ravana -- and that weak spot was his umbilicus (middle abdominal region), not head, nor heart, nor neck! If Rama could hit the arrowhead in that localized spot, the life-sustaining nectar would spill and Ravana was sure to die.
Thus, armed with the special knowledge, next day, Rama put an end to Ravana's life with the arrow in his naval. The mightiest king on the earth fell. This brought to an end clanging of weapons and associated bitterness and ill feelings. The injured Ravana was counting his last breaths. Mandodari came rushing to her injured husband with eyes full of tears and heart filled with unexplainable pathos. Rama went to her consoled the lady with soft words of sympathy. He also gave her advice about the impermanence of life and reality of death as the only truth after birth. He proclaim to her and all the people around that Ravana will be remembered for eternity for his good as well as bad deeds.
Then turning to Laxmana Rama said, "O dear brother, look the mighty Ravana is lying on his death bed. His knowledge of Vedas and Scripture is beyond doubt. But equally true is the fact that you will not find more knowledgeable authority on politics, statesmanship, and sociology on the earth today. Please go and get the knowledge from him."
Thus Laxmana, sitting at the feet of Ravana, learnt many useful things on diplomacy, politics, tax structure, social reforms, war preparedness and many more from him. When Ravana breathed his last, Rama himself conducted the last rites befitting the grandeur of Brahmin Rakshasa King. Thus one important aspect of the Divine Play - LEELA - enacted by the Lord came to an end.
Ravana and Hanuman, Laxmana and Sita, Sugreeva and Jambuwanta, (and all others) were but the actors playing their allotted or designated role. Nobody is all evil, nobody is all good! The human form by necessity brings weaknesses to the human character. Some appear sinner, some saint!
"Fire Test" For Sita
Without wasting any more time, eager to meet Sita, Rama (with his company) reached Ashokvan. Sita had heard about the battle between Rama and Ravana, and was expectantly waiting for victorious Rama to reach her. Joyous end to her suffering and grief was in sight. The sorrow was to be replaced with the joy of reunion.
Rama arrived. Emaciated but cheerful, Sita touched holy feet of her husband. The scene was too sublime; everyone watched with reverence flooding of Rama's feet with tears from Sita's eyes. Rama lifted Sita with tender love.
Then softly Rama spoke, "O Sita, you are the embodiment of tolerance and forbearance. Moreover, you represent purity at its highest. But you have lived under the shelter of Ravana. I know the fire of your chastity has prevented Ravana from even touching your nail. But I have my own limitations. As a king I am answerable to my people, and therefore, I would like you to prove you purity in front of all (publicly) so that in future people on this earth would not cast doubt - dare not put any blame - of infidelity on your noble character."
The Fire Test -- Agni Pariksha
Thus addressed, Sita responded by saying, "O my lord, how true you speak! Yes, by your grace, Ravana could not - dared not - come near me. I am as pure as Fire. Hence I will prove purity of my character by passing through the raging fire flames."
Soon a huge fire was ignited. The flames reached high up in the sky. Everyone retreated two steps backwards. Sita approached the Fire and prayed, "O Fire God - Agni Deva -, this humble daughter of yours prays to you protect her if she is pure. But if Sita has ever thought of any other man other than Rama -- in thought or word or deed, nay even in dream -- O Fire God, reduce me to ashes. Of what use such a body to me that is corrupt!"
So saying Sita entered the raging flames. Everyone was tense except Rama, Laxmana and Hanuman, for they knew the truth. Sita was Shakti of Rama, she cannot be impure. No fire would hurt her. And true! Sita remained in fire unscathed and unharmed. The Fire God could do nothing in the face of purity of Sita. Soon the raging flames reduced themselves to ashes. Sita was standing there, her face shining with divine luster!
The whole scene changed to jubilant cry of 'Victory to Rama', 'Glory to Mother Sita', Long live Sita. Sita since then is ever worshipped as a Goddess of Purity, Grace, Tolerance and Suffering. Her name is taken before that of Rama; as Sitaram.