Lanka in Flames | RAMAYAN

 

57. LANKA IN FLAMES 


His captors took him to the court of Ravana and placed him in front of the King. Forgetting the pain and insults he had borne, Hanuman gazed with wrathful curiosity at the giant monarch. As he gazed at him resplendent on his throne a sort of pitying admiration of the doomed Rakshasa entered his thoughts. 

Clad in silk of golden hue, with the royal crown on his head, the jewels inlaid in it shining brilliantly, Ravana sat there, a figure of dazzling splendor. The whole court was brilliant with shining gold and gems, pearls and silk. His dark body, lit up by the marks of royalty, looked like a great radiant hill. 

"Alas!" thought Hanuman full of anger, wonder and pity. "If only this great one had not swerved from the path of dharma, not even Indra could equal him. What a form, what radiance, what strength! Trusting to the boon he had secured, he took to wicked ways and has lost his happiness and forfeited his greatness." 

As Hanuman was lost in thought thus, Ravana addressed his ministers: "Find out from this wicked fellow who he is, where he has come from, who has sent him here and why he entered Lanka. Tell him to speak truthfully." 

As ordered by the king, Prahasta questioned Hanuman. "Do not be afraid, monkey! If you speak the truth, you will escape punishment. Did Indra send you here? Or are you Kubera's servant? Whose orders are you carrying out? Speak the truth and save yourself. Why have you come here thus disguised? Take care you hide nothing!" 

Hanuman, facing Ravana directly, said: 

"Neither Indra, nor Kubera has sent me here. I am a Vanara. I came here to have a look at the Rakshasa king. That was why I laid waste the garden. Otherwise I could not get to the king's presence. And because they attacked me and tried to kill me, I killed them in self-defence. I have come here as the messenger of Sugriva, the Vanara king. O Rakshasa king my lord looks on you as a brother and sends you his greetings. Ramachandra, the famous son of king Dasaratha of Ayodhya, has become a friend of Sugriva and slaying Vali has made Sugriva king. When Ramachandra, heir to the throne of Ayodhya, was living in the Dandaka forest to fulfil his father's word, his consort who had been left alone for a while was lost and at the behest of Rama and Lakshmana, Sugriva has sent his servant to look for her throughout the world. I came to Lanka on this search and here I saw the good princess. O lord of the Rakshasas, I speak to you with the respect due from the messenger of a brother king. I speak to you also as a devoted servant of the Prince of Ayodhya. You know well it was a cowardly act and totally contrary to dharma to carry off the princess Sita. This is sure to end in the destruction of your race if you persist in your wicked folly. Restore Sita to the prince and seek his forgiveness. Know that Death has come to you in the form of Sita. Do not mistake poison for food. It is not wisdom to oppose dharma and run into deadly danger. You know well enough that the sin of desiring another's wife will consume utterly the merit you have earned through tapas and destroy you inevitably. Your only recourse now is to seek refuge at Rama's feet. Do not make Rama your enemy and bring about your own destruction. The boons you have secured will avail you nothing against the Prince of the Raghu race. Consider well and realise the danger you are in. Pay heed to the words of this humble messenger of the Vanara king. Turn to the right path and find safety. These words from a brother king are true and meant for your welfare." 

Hanuman uttered this bitter warning in a loud and clear voice. When the Rakshasa king heard it, his eyes grew red with anger, and he ordered that Hanuman should be killed forthwith. But Vibhishana pointed out that it would be improper to kill a king's envoy. 

"According to the law of kings it is not permitted on any account to kill envoys and messengers. You can have him mutilated, whipped or branded, but not killed," so counselled Vibhishana. 

"What is wrong," asked Ravana, "in killing one who has sinned so greatly?" 

Answered Vibhishana with due politeness: "No matter how grievous his offence, it was done at the bidding of others. To leave his royal masters alone and to slay their instrument, a mere messenger, what use or sense is there in it? Let us by all means seek ways of punishing those that sent him here. They must be brought here and given due punishment. If he is slain now, what chance is there of our real enemies being brought here? If, on the other hand, he is sent back alive to them, they will come here and attack us. Then they will receive proper punishment at your hands." 

Ravana agreed. "Very well," he said, "a monkey's most cherished possession is his tail. Set fire to his tail, flog him soundly and turn him out." 

At these words of the Rakshasa king, his servants took Hanuman out. They wrapped his tail in rags of all kinds. His tail grew in size and, as it grew, they brought more and more old rags and wrapped them round. They soaked the whole in oil and set it ablaze like a huge flaming torch. 

Thus bound by ropes and with tail ablaze, Hanuman was taken through the streets of Lanka. 

"Here goes the thief that entered our city!" cried the women and children. They jeered at him as he was taken round by the exulting Rakshasas to the accompaniment of pipes and drums through all the highways and byways of Lanka. 

In the Asoka Vana the Rakshasis told Sita: "The monkey with whom you had secret talk, do you know what has happened to him? They have wrapped his tail in cloth soaked in oil and have set fire to it. His tail is ablaze. They are taking him in procession through the town." 

They told Sita the tale and laughed in scorn. She kindled a fire and offered a prayer to the god of Fire: "O Agni! If there be any goodness in me, any purity, be cool to Hanuman; do not hurt him." 

Hanuman endured the blows and the insults heaped upon him, and proceeded from street to street quietly observing everything. The Rakshasas, to amuse their women and children took him through all the streets and bylanes of the city. And he noted in silence, for future, use all the secrets of that fortified city. 

"But what is this miracle?" he thought. "The rags soaked in oil burn brightly but the fire does not hurt and is cool on my tail. The elements themselves seem kind to one engaged in Rama's purpose. Did not the mountain rise above the sea and offer me hospitality? Even so the god of Fire is gracious to me now and does not harm me. Or may be, Agni being a friend of my father Vayu, is gentle with me. Now, I think I should not let slip this opportunity which has come to me unsought to put the fear of God into these Rakshasas." 

Suddenly he shrank in size and shook off the ropes that bound him and, resuming his huge shape, jumped with his blazing tail to the top of a tall building. He plucked a pillar there and whirled it round, striking terror in all beholders. 

Then he jumped from mansion to mansion, setting fire to them. In a little while a strong breeze began to blow and the whole city was in flames. The Rakshasas and their women and children shouted in terror and ran hither and thither. 

"This monkey is no other than Yama," said some. "No, he must be the god Agni," said others. And they all fled from their burning houses. 

Recalling the insults he had suffered, Hanuman was pleased when he saw the flames rise. He sat on the summit of the Trikuta hill and contemplated with satisfaction the red glow of the burning city. Then he went to the sea and, plunging in, put out the fire in his tail and came ashore. 

"Alas! Alas! What have I done?" he said with uncontrollable grief. "I have lost my senses in my rage. What is the use of strength and skill and all other gifts if one cannot control one's anger? Sita too must have perished in this great conflagration I have raised. My angry deed has led to the utter ruin of my whole purpose. Alas, there is no fool, no sinner, like me on earth. My rage against the Rakshasas has ended in the death of Sita. Here and now I must put an end to my life and to my shame!" 

Then he heard some voices in the sky. The Charanas and Yakshas were rejoicing and saying, "What a miracle! Glory be to Hanuman's prowess! Except the spot where Sita is, all Lanka is in flames!" 

Hearing this ethereal conversation, Hanuman was relieved. "Sita has saved herself. She saved me, for it was her purity and power that kept the fire from harming me. How can fire help paying homage to the goddess of chastity? What can fire do to fire? This fire that I started could not go near Sita. And is not all this Rama's purpose? Did not the ocean king and Mynaka Mountain come to my help?" 

Thinking thus, Hanuman went straight to the Asoka Park again. There, under the Simsupa tree, he saw Sita who was greatly relieved to see him alive and cheerful. 

Rejoicing, he bowed before her and said, "Oh mother! I have seen you safe and sound. This is your power and my good fortune. Now give me leave to go." And Sita said, "You are indeed a hero. For you there is nothing impossible. See that my lord comes here soon and lays low the Rakshasas and redeems me. I depend on you. You alone can achieve this." 

"Be assured," said Hanuman. "Sugriva will soon be here with Rama and Lakshmana and the myriads of Vanaras. Ravana and his wicked hordes will perish. The happy prince will return with you to Ayodhya. Grieve no more. God bless you." 

Thus consoling her, Hanuman took leave of Sita. He went to the shore of the sea and, climbing up the beautiful hill called Arishta, rose into the sky. 

On the way he saw Mynaka eagerly awaiting him. He affectionately stroked it with his hand, but did not stop. He flew straight like an arrow shot from a bow. At the sight of Mahendra hill he knew that he was near the other shore and he roared. 

The Vanaras, meanwhile, who saw Hanuman flying towards them like a great eagle across the sky, shouted: "He is come. He is come!" 

Till now their hearts had been full of care and their eyes wet. Now they jumped in their joy. 

"It is certain he is returning in triumph," said Jambavan. "Else he would not roar in this manner." 

They climbed up trees and hills and stood watching with joy the approach of Hanuman returning from Lanka. 

And Hanuman rejoiced to see the mountains and trees all covered with his friends. Amid their glad uproar, he alighted on the Mahendra hill.





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